Author's Notes: This was written for the Winter Wonderland Chlark ezine, which you can find here: http://www.loony-archivist.com/winter/
Thanks to Tara for inviting me to write for the 'zine and for the beta reading, and thanks to LaCasta for the primary beta reading.
Clark reached for the colored lights Pete held up to him. They were helping Lana and Chloe decorate the Talon for the Christmas season. Lights of red, green, and blue were strung everywhere in place of the usual white ones, and Lana had used some of the Talon's small budget to buy an artificial pine tree and decorations to put on it. The girls were working on the tree, and as soon as Clark fastened this last string of lights to the ceiling, he and Pete would be finished with their appointed task.
He glanced over to where his two female friends were bickering over an ornament.
"It is not," Chloe said, raising her voice slightly, but still smiling.
"Yes, it is. Trust me, Chlo', Lex said tasteful and that one is not tasteful."
"Clark! Pete!" Chloe said, turning her head in their direction. She held up a hand-made ornament. It looked something like a snowflake, only constructed of Popsicle sticks and painted red. Two strips of yellow felt were glued to each end, giving it the desired-- at least, Clark hoped it was desired--effect.
"Uhoh," Pete whispered to Clark as he climbed down from the ladder he'd been standing on to reach the high ceiling. Clark nodded his agreement; Chloe's tone was ominous.
"Lana thinks this is too gaudy for her tree. Do you think it's gaudy?"
"Oh no!" Pete held his hands up in front of him, as if to ward off an attack. "I'm not touchin' this one. Sorry, Chlo'."
"Clark?" she rounded on him and practically shoved the ornament into his hand.
"Uh..." Lana stopped picking through the remaining decorations to give him her full attention as well. It was one of those tense moments Clark hated that seemed to be cropping more now that Lana and Chloe were living together. Even when they argued, if he said one wrong thing, they'd suddenly both turn on him. The trouble was, Clark never knew what to say.
"It's... nice?" he supplied at last. It was lame, it sounded lame, and judging from the fallen look on Chloe's face, she knew how lame it was, too. Lana perked up a little, as if she was about to smile, but that faded when Chloe's face began to cloud over. Clark should have followed Pete's example and refused to answer the question on grounds of self-preservation. "No, it really is nice!" He flashed her one of his best Kent smiles, hoping to lay it on thick and cover up his mistake before Lana decided to defend her housemate and flay him. Chloe eyed him warily. "It's just... Lana's right. Lex would probably flip out if he saw it hanging on a tree in his establishment. You know how he gets sometimes about appearances."
"Lex isn't even going to be in Smallville until after New Years," countered Chloe, but she also yielded, returning the snowflake to the box. "So, we're done then?" she said, almost too cheerfully for the tense moment her words followed.
"I think so. Shall I turn off the main lights so we can see how it looks?" Lana asked. The others agreed, Clark more emphatically, grateful for the change in topics.
Once the lights were out, the four friends stood silently basking in the glow of the Christmas lights. Clark looked over at Chloe, partially to se her reaction to the tree and partially because he just wanted to see her. He hadn't told anyone this, but sometimes he really wished they hadn't agreed to be "just friends." Sometimes, he wanted to tell her that--tell her she was special to him, more special than anyone. He wanted to do so right now, in fact--looking at her with the lights shining in her eyes and tinting her blonde hair in shades of blue, green and red.
Instead he looked away, focusing on a string of lights on the other side of the room.
"That garland looks like it's going to fall," he said to no one in particular when the lights came up.
"We can fix them later," Lana replied, coming forward with a Santa hat in her hand. She held it out to Clark. "We have to pick names now."
Pick names? Oh, right! Lana'd asked them all earlier that week if they wanted to exchange names and get the person whose name they'd gotten a surprise gift. Like they had in grade school almost.
"You can't tell anyone who you get," Chloe reminded the boys as she stuck her hand into the hat and pulled out a folded square of red construction paper. Pete took his turn, then Lana. Clark pulled the last slip of paper from the hat, but did not open it as the others had done.
"Remember," Lana added as she gathered the decoration box into her arms and headed for the door. "No gifts over twenty bucks."
Clark nodded, glancing down at his still folded red paper. He let his gaze intensify until the layer created by the fold melted away before his eyes and the name written in black permanent marker revealed itself to him.
Clark stood in the middle of Fordman's store, staring at a row of cheap pencil and pen sets. They weren't what he wanted for Chloe. He wanted something nicer, something that screamed "I'm for Chloe." None of the things he'd looked at did that.
"Shopping for your 'person' I see," a voice came from behind him.
"Chloe, hey!" Clark felt himself blushing and ducked his head. "I, ummm, yeah. I had some last minute shopping to do and that was part of it. Yeah." Not a lie, but it felt like one in front of her. "Did you get yours already?" he asked.
Chloe laughed. "I got it days ago. Mine was a cinch."
Unlike his own, Clark thought, inwardly sighing. He was stumped. Which was the hardest part of this whole thing, he realized. He couldn't tell anyone who he had to buy for, therefore, he also couldn't ask for gift ideas. At least, not from any of his closest friends, and right now, he was dying to have Pete's input on this one. Or even Lex's, were Lex here to give it.
"Hey!" Chloe interrupted his train of thought with a light punch to the arm. "Weren't you listening? I asked if you wanna go get some coffee or something."
"Sorry," he mumbled, apologizing. "And sure! I don't see anything here I like anyway."
He found it a few days later in a department store at the mall while he waited for him Mom to finish some last minute Christmas shopping-- the perfect present for Chloe. It was a snowflake-shaped pendant, silver with aquamarine gemstones. It probably cost three times what his friends had agreed upon for their gift exchange.
He had to buy it, price limit or no.
At home and in the seclusion of the Fortress, he wrapped it silver paper, with gold ribbon that curled around the entire box. It had taken him three hours to get it that way.
He was already imagining the look on her face when he gave it to her, though. The colors would glitter in her eyes as he handed to her and he'd hold his breath while she slowly untied the ribbon and lifted the tape to reveal this treasure. Then, she would know how much he really cared about her.
Either that or she'd laugh at him.
Clark chided himself for thinking such mushy thoughts. Chloe had told him enough times that she just wanted to be his friend. He couldn't help but want more, but he also couldn't risk chasing her away again.
Shoving the tiny jewelry box under a cushion of the musty old couch, he sighed heavily. He'd have to give her something else.
Except that he didn't have any money now. The necklace had taken of most of what he'd had saved for his entire gift buying this year. Which, admittedly, wasn't much, especially after he'd had to tap into it to help pay off the credit card bills he'd run up while under the effects of the red meteor rocks.
Muttering about his own stupidity, he trudged through the snow back to the house, dreading the 'no' he'd get from his parents when he asked them for more money. That dread must have shown on his face, because his mom seemed to know something was wrong right away.
"Go wash up for dinner, Clark," she started to say, but stopped setting the table when she saw him. "Is something wrong, honey?" she asked, sounding concerned. His father looked up from the newspaper he'd been reading.
"I, uh, sort of," Clark stammered.
"Son, whatever it is, you know you can tell us," his father added.
"I know, Dad, it's just... " Screwing up his courage, he bit back the 'never mind' that rose to the tip of his tongue and blurted out. "May I have an advance on my allowance?"
Jonathan Kent folded the newspaper and set it aside. Clark felt the weight of his father's scrutinizing gaze and shifted self-consciously from one foot to another. "May I ask why?" The words weren't harsh and didn't contain any hint of the outcome of his request.
"I, uh, need to buy a present for the gift exchange."
"Clark, honey, didn't you buy one at the mall today?" Thanks, Mom, Clark thought as he watched his father's eyes narrowing.
"Yeah, but I can't give it to her," he explained, inwardly praying his parents wouldn't ask why he couldn't give Chloe the necklace. "Please, Dad? Mom?"
"I guess it couldn't hurt, Jonathan," his mother said, the look in her eye saying she understood what Clark wasn't saying. Clark looked from her to his father, heaving a sigh of relief when he saw the nod of consent.
It was Christmas Eve and two presents lay before him, both wrapped and ready to go. Clark, however, was not ready to go to the Talon tonight. He had every intention of giving Chloe the present he'd bought at the last minute--a small sample-sized bag of Starbucks' latest flavors of gourmet java. But the necklace--which he'd promised his parents he'd return if he wound up not giving it to anyone--beckoned to him. He wanted to give it to her. He wanted...
"Clark!" His mother called up to the loft. "Aren't you going to be late?"
"I was just leaving, Mom!" he called back, impulsively snatching both boxes and shoving them into his coat pocket.
"Super speed, and you still manage to be late for everything! How is that even possible?" Pete accused in hushed tones when Clark entered the Talon.
"Is that Clark?" Lana's voice rang out from the back room. "Tell him he's late!"
"Already scolded the man," Pete replied, just as Lana walked back into the room with a handful of red Santa hats in her arms. She thrust one at Clark.
Clark took the hat, eyeing it dubiously.
"Put it on, silly!" Lana demonstrated by dropping a similar hat onto Pete's head. Pete shot him a look that clearly said "Just humor her" and adjusted the hat on his head. Clark followed suit, grinning a little. At least, if they were going to look silly, they would do it together.
"Where's Chloe?" Clark asked, trying to sound normal as he walked over to the Christmas tree. Three presents were already underneath.
"She went back for her camera," Lana told him. "Just put your gift with the rest, Clark."
Easier said than done, Clark thought as he reached in to his coat pocket. His fingers twisted themselves into the gold curls on the smaller of the packages, willing him to put it with the other gifts. Instead, he pushed it aside and grasped the gourmet coffee tightly. He was just slipping it under the tree when the Talon door swung open.
"Merry Christmas, everyone!" Chloe called out cheerfully. She held up her digital camera pointedly and said "Let's get this show on the road!" Lana tossed her a Santa hat and they all gathered around the Christmas tree.
Clark wondered how they were going to do this thing. Was someone going to hand the gifts out, or would they take turns finding their own names on the tagged gifts under the branches. He suddenly wished he'd hidden Chloe's coffee back a little further instead of leaving it right out in front. If she overlooked it, maybe he could have pretended he'd forgotten to put it out and given her the necklace instead.
Like he still wanted to.
"Yo, Clark! You gonna get yours or what?" Pete's voice cut through Clark's teen angst.
He shook his head to clear it and realized that while he been obsessing, everyone else had just grabbed their own gifts. A thin rectangular box that reminded Clark of a VHS tape wrapped in bluewith -green-elves paper was the only thing left under the tree. Blushing, he picked it up.
"Okay, so..." Chloe began getting her camera ready. "I want to get a shot of each of us opening these, so we have to take turns." They all nodded in response.
"And we're still going to try and guess who bought what?" Lana asked.
"Wouldn't that get a little too easy after the first couple of right guesses?" Chloe countered.
Lana shrugged. "It could still be fun."
They agreed and Chloe aimed her camera at Pete. "You're up!" she said with a grin.
Pete tore into his present--a box the size of a deck of cards--and discarded the holly covered paper on the floor. "A deck of cards?" he mused at the box, as this was indeed what it appeared to be.
"May someone here thinks you need to take up solitaire?" Clark offered.
"Very funny, Kent. I'm not the one spending his nights with the cows." Pete shot back. They both laughed, and Pete peeled off the tape on the box to reveal what every ladies' man truly needs--a little black book. "Now *that's* more like it!" He grinned, waggling his eyebrows and Chloe snapped his picture, preserving the moment for posterity.
"Now you have to guess who gave it to you," she reminded.
"Well, that's a no-brainer," Pete declared confidently. "It has to be my man Clark. Who else would recognize my need to--"
"Keep track of the girls who've dumped you?" Clark finished for him, teasing. "Sorry, Pete. It wasn't me."
"It wasn't?" Pete echoed, his brow furrowing. He flipped throw the address book, his expression growing more thoughtful with each empty page. He stopped on the L section, and looked up. "What's Lana's name doing in here?"
Lana was quietly blushing when his eyes rested on her and realization dawned on Pete that the gift was from her. "Oh," he said in a less-cocky and more thoughtful voice. Then he smiled, a real genuine smile. "Thanks, Lana. It's really nice."
"I even gave you a first entry," she answered.
"Right, but we haven't--" Pete stopped mid-protest, as if something had suddenly dawned on him. "So now it's your turn, right? Boy, girl, boy, girl?"
"Right." Lana opened hers very neatly, peeling off the tape and gingerly unfolding the pink-with-sugar-plums paper as if she intended to save it for next year. Smiling for the camera, she held up a box of personalized stationary.
"Guesses?" Clark asked. His turn was next and then Chloe.
Lana chewed on her lower lip thoughtfully, as if weighing her options. "Was it you, Clark?" Clark felt sheepish as he shook his head. Lana made a second guess. "Chloe?"
Chloe beamed a little, as if she were proud for having stumped her housemate. "I thought you could use it to write to people, you know, like Nell and Whitney." Then she turned to Clark, giving him an evil elf's grin. "Last guess is yours." She aimed her camera in anticipation.
Clark nodded, swallowing the lump that had risen in his throat when she'd smiled at him and started on his present. He fumbled with the tape and tore the blue paper in half before revealing a rather obvious VHS cassette. E.T.? Chloe's camera captured his puzzled expression. "Well, I'm gonna take a stab in the dark and say it wasn't me," he joked, before turning an amused look on Pete. "How'd you know it's one I haven't seen?"
"Lucky, guess." Pete shot back.
"So the last one is from Clark," Lana commented, nodding to the oblong shaped package at Chloe's side.
"I, uh, yeah, I guess," Clark stammered. He trained his gaze on the gift, wishing somehow that he could still switch them.
"Well, it is or it isn't?" Chloe joked, grinning at him and handing over her camera so he could take the picture of her turn. She laughed when she saw the Starbucks sampler. "Don't let Lana see this," she said in a mock-whisper. "She'll never serve either of us coffee again."
Clark laughed along with the others at her joke, but was surprised into silence when she hugged him in thanks.
"Okay, Clark, what's up?" Chloe stopped him as he was headed for his father's truck. The party was over and Pete was helping Lana clean up a little. Clark could see them laughing about something through the window.
"Up?" He looked in the direction of the night sky. "Stars?"
But Chloe wasn't buying it, apparently. She fixed him a no-nonsense look that reminded him too much of his mom--maybe it was a woman thing in general?--and said, "Uhuh, don't even try it. I know you. Something's up. You've been acting strange all week, even for you."
"You're right, I have." He put his video on the seat of the truck, purposely not facing her as he continued. His stomach was fluttery, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd felt that way, unless it was when he'd asked her to the Spring formal last year. "H-have you ever wanted some... thing really badly?"
"Yeah?" Her voice sounded quizzical and Clark could almost imagine the look on her face--her head cocked slightly to one side, eyebrow raised, as if she were trying to unravel him.
"Did you go for it?" he asked.
"No, I... didn't. Clark? Where are you going with this?"
"Do you wish you had?" he pushed. "Honestly, Chlo'?"
"So, I should go for it then?" he pushed even further, all the while reaching into the pocket of his coat to retrieve her other present. He turned around, holding it out to her.
"Clark, what are you--?" Words fell away from her lips when she saw the silver box with its curling golden ribbons. "What's that?"
"It's your present. The one I really bought for you." He pushed it into her hand. "I... I want you to have it, regardless."
"Regardless of wha--oooh!" Silver paper fell to the ground as Chloe stared in silent awe at the necklace. "It's beautiful..."
"Mom says that each new snowflake is a unique creation... special," Clark whispered, stepping closer to her. "Just like you..."
Before she could answer him, he pulled her into his arms, kissing her tenderly. He felt her body stiffen at the surprise contact, then melt against him, returning his kisses rather than just allowing them. She tasted like peppermint candy canes, coffee, and something sweeter he couldn't describe. Some Chloe-ness there wasn't a word for yet, maybe.
"I don't want us to be 'just friends' anymore, Chloe," he whispered into her hair when the kiss ended. "We've tried that, and it's not working out."
"But we... I... Lana..."
"I don't think Lana will mind," Clark told her, nodding to the front window of the Talon, where at that very moment, Pete was luring Lana underneath some mistletoe.
For a moment, they were both silent--stunned--and then, Chloe laughed. "I had no idea that was coming, did you?"
"Not a clue," Clark admitted. "But what about us?"
Chloe seemed to consider him, as if she weighing the pros and cons carefully.
"Please, Chloe... give me a second chance?"
"What if it ruins our friendship?" she asked.
"It hasn't already?" he countered, then continued. "I can't just go back to thinking about you as my best gal pal. I tried that, but every time I see you with someone else, I get jealous. I was even jealous of Pete for a while."
"Yeah... and I mean... we'll still be friends, just better."
"Better? How will it be better?"
"Because I love you." Clark punctuated the statement with another kiss, which she responded to in kind. Behind them, the lights of the Talon dimmed, leaving them standing surrounded by the glow of the Christmas lights.
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