Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
-"I'll Be Home for Christmas," Perry Como
Clark Kent trudged through the snow, toward the brightly colored lights that decorated the old Kent farmhouse. He could see lights and greenery strung along the railings of the porch, and inside the front window, a tree sparkled like starlight. He picked up the pace a little, knowing his friends and family were waiting for him.
He went up the front steps almost in superspeed, and opened the front door. The familiar Christmas scent of sugar cookies and fir branches wafted to him, and his parents turned toward him with identical wide grins.
"Clark," his mother said in her soft, gentle voice, and ran toward him. He opened his arms and hugged her, unable to stop the huge smile that spread over his face.
His father walked toward them both, wrapping his arms around them. "It's good to see you, son," he said in his deep, familiar voice.
Tears suddenly prickled at Clark's eyes, but he blinked them back. "Yeah," he said gruffly. "You too, Dad." He let go of his parents, a little reluctantly, and looked around. "Where's Chloe?"
His mom smiled up at him and inclined her head toward the living room. He flashed her one more smile, then spun around and headed in that direction.
The tree glittered with lights and tinsel and a hundred years' worth of delicate glass decorations. Beside it, Chloe stood, smiling at him. She was dressed in a green silk dress, her hair falling loosely to her shoulders in dark gold waves, and she looked so impossibly beautiful he suddenly couldn't draw a breath. He stared at her for a minute, frozen, then crossed the distance between them in two steps and flung his arms around her, hugging her so hard he lifted her right off her feet.
Her arms were soft around his neck, and her face was wet with tears. "Clark," she whispered. "Oh, Clark. I missed you so much."
Unable to speak, he kissed her tears away, grateful to finally be home.
In a fortress of crystal and ice, hundreds upon hundreds of miles away from Smallville, Kansas, Clark Kent opened his eyes and discovered he wasn't home at all. Far from it. He was in his Fortress of Solitude, a huge construct engineered to resemble Krypton, the lost planet he'd been born on. He'd been here in the Fortress almost a year now, undergoing training at the direction of an artificial intelligence that called itself Jor-El. The AI possessed his father's memories and will, but no hint of the compassion and love the original Jor-El had apparently been known for.
In all that time, he hadn't set foot outside this structure. He'd promised Jor-El when he arrived that he'd stay until his training was completed, and he had every intention of keeping that promise. Even so, it was Christmas Eve, and he desperately wanted to see his mother and his girlfriend, Chloe Sullivan.
The dream hadn't helped matters any. He felt almost dizzy with homesickness and loneliness. Closing his eyes, he tried to call back the images. He remembered that he'd seen his father again. Not Jor-El, but his human father, Jonathan Kent. Jonathan had been dead for three years now, but that didn't stop Clark from dreaming about him. He'd never forget the man who'd raised him.
He'd dreamed about his mother, too. His mother was still alive-- he'd managed to glean that much information from Jor-El, who apparently had a link to the outside world he wasn't sharing with Clark-- and he missed her terribly. She'd loved him like her own son, even though he was an alien from a distant world, with a lot of bizarre powers that might have frightened anyone else. The memory of her gentle smile and kind eyes were etched into his mind for all time.
And then there was Chloe. He hadn't seen Chloe, or even spoken to her, for months, but that didn't stop him from dreaming about her, either. He and Chloe had been close friends for a long, long time. But a year and a half ago, they'd become more than friends, and he'd finally realized exactly what she meant to him. He'd finally realized how desperately he loved her.
Unfortunately, he'd had to leave for his training not too long after he'd had that epiphany. He hadn't seen Chloe, or even talked to her, in almost a year, and for all he knew she'd given up on him and was dating someone else. Hell, she could be married by now, for all he knew.
He pushed the bitter thoughts away, aware that they were foolish. He felt certain Chloe would wait for him, no matter how long it took. He just hated that they had to be apart, particularly on Christmas.
He'd very diffidently broached the subject with Jor-El yesterday, suggesting that maybe he could go to Smallville, just for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Jor-El had cut him off instantly.
"You have not yet completed your training," he'd intoned in his deep, solemn voice.
"I realize that," Clark said patiently. He'd figured out a while ago that he might as well be patient with the AI. Intelligent though the AI was, it wasn't truly sentient, and it had a fairly limited range of responses. Yelling at it was an exercise in futility. "But I'm not asking to leave forever. Just for a day. Twenty-four hours. I really want to see my mom and Chloe."
"You gave your word that you would stay."
"And I will. I just want to go for the day. Even for an hour. I just want to see them. I need to see them."
Jor-El's voice was implacable. "You must not leave until you have completed your training."
"I'll be back, damn it!" Clark realized he was losing his temper and cut off the rest of what he'd been about to say. Swearing at the AI was as pointless as yelling at it. "Look," he said, more calmly. "I'm just talking about leaving for a single day. Will you let me leave the Fortress for one day if I promise to come back?"
The AI thought about that for a moment.
"No," it said at last.
Which was why he was here, in a cold, icy fortress in the Arctic circle, instead of helping his mom and Chloe put the finishing touches on the Christmas tree, or singing Christmas carols, or stealing his mom's sugar cookies.
He'd been totally alone for almost a year, away from the people he loved, away from his home, away from everything that was familiar and beloved to him. He was so lonely his throat hurt and his eyes stung. He blinked hard, refusing to cry, even though there was no one here to see him give in to a moment of weakness. He closed his eyes and tried to fall back into the dark, quiet realm of dreams.
It took him a long time to fall asleep. And when he finally drifted into unconsciousness, he dreamed of Christmas trees and sugar cookies and a beautiful blonde.
He dreamed of home.
In the morning, Clark got up feeling bleary-eyed and tired. He got a perfectly nutritious, bland breakfast of oatmeal, milk, and orange juice, the exact same food the Fortress had provided him with every morning since he arrived. He listlessly stirred the oatmeal with his spoon, thinking longingly of the donuts his mom usually bought for Christmas morning. Chocolate donuts with sprinkles. Jelly donuts. Boston cream donuts...
He realized he was making himself crazy, thinking about stupid things that weren't even all that important. What did it matter whether he ate oatmeal or donuts? What mattered was that it was Christmas day. Christmas wasn't about donuts or sugar cookies or fir trees. Somewhere in the world, people were celebrating peace and joy and love.
He could celebrate all those things too, even if he had to do it alone.
He broke into a slightly off-key rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," one of his mom's favorite carols, but his voice faltered at the thought of his mother, and he gave it up before he'd finished two lines. Damn it. No matter how hard he tried to concentrate on peace and joy and love, he just didn't feel merry this morning.
Sighing, he pushed his uneaten oatmeal away. Might as well get started on the day's training, he decided. The sooner he got it all finished, the sooner he could get out of this icy mausoleum and go home. He slowly walked out to the chamber where training took place.
Chloe was standing there.
Clark blinked. Apparently he was dreaming again. Or maybe he'd just moved right on into hallucinations. The solitude must really be getting to him.
He stood still for a long moment, staring and blinking, but she didn't go away. She wasn't wearing the green silk dress he'd envisioned in his dreams, but a pair of jeans and an oversized green t-shirt. She was barefoot, and her hair stood on end, as if she'd just rolled out of bed.
In his dreams, he remembered, she'd looked gorgeous and glamorous and perfect. He was pretty sure his subconscious wouldn't dream up a scruffy Chloe with bedhead and bare feet. He was a guy, and just like most guys, he was pretty superficial, deep down. So he was fairly certain she was real.
"Chloe?" he said incredulously.
"C-c-clark," she whispered, and he suddenly realized she was shivering violently. And no wonder, since the Arctic wasn't a good place for either t-shirts or bare feet. It wasn't much warmer inside the Fortress than it was outside, and she would freeze to death before long. He flashed into superspeed and wrapped his arms around her.
He wanted to tell her how much he loved her, how desperately he'd missed her, how happy he was to see her. But all the words somehow tangled together and wouldn't come out coherently.
"Let's get you warmed up," he said instead.
"I don't know what happened," Chloe said, her face pressed into his chest. He'd taken her to the chamber that served as his bedroom, plopped her into his bed, and wrapped her in every bedcovering he had, then used his heat vision to warm her up. "I'd just gotten out of bed, and I got dressed. And then all of a sudden... I was here."
He tightened his arms around her. After eleven months of solitude, he was desperate for contact... and especially desperate for contact with her. "I figured you'd come through the cave."
"No. I tried that, not long after you left. I wanted to see you really badly, and the key was still there. But it wouldn't work for some reason. I've tried it a whole bunch of times, and it just won't work. It won't let me through."
"Jor-El doesn't want anything interfering with my studies," Clark said. "I've wanted to come see you about a million times, too. But when I got here, I promised I wouldn't leave, and he won't let me go, even for a microsecond."
"It's okay. I understand." She snuggled against him. "Anyway, I'm here now."
"Only for twenty-four hours," a voice said.
Chloe looked up, her eyes widening. "Is that Jor-El?"
Clark nodded, then spoke to the air. "Did you bring Chloe here, Jor-El?"
"Yes. You seem to place a great deal of emphasis on friends and family on this particular day, Kal-El. I thought to bring this human who means so much to you to the Fortress."
"What about my mother? Couldn't you bring her too?"
"Teleportation requires a significant energy expenditure, Kal-El. I could only bring one person. I guessed you would prefer the company of this one."
Clark grinned despite himself. "You guessed right."
Chloe looked up at him, her hazel eyes sparkling, and he looked into her eyes and reached up with his hand, brushing his fingers over her cheek. After enduring the long months of solitude, he was incredibly grateful to see her again, to touch her again. It was far and away the best gift anyone had ever given him.
"Thank you," he said, then added, "Father."
He'd never used the word to address Jor-El before, and there was a long pause. Then the AI responded, sounding as pleased as it was able to sound.
"You are welcome, my son."
The voice fell silent, and Clark looked down at Chloe, smiling. "So," he said. "We have twenty-four hours. What do you want to do?"
"Uh, let me see." She made a show of frowning in deep thought. "We're all alone in a vast, snowy wasteland. In a bed. I really don't know, Clark. Whatever should we do?"
He laughed, and it occurred to him that it was the first laugh he'd uttered since he'd come to the Fortress. Chloe had always been able to make him laugh, and he was incredibly happy to have her here. He just wished she could stay here with him forever. But she had her own life to live-- a job at the newspaper she'd always dreamed of working for, a college education to pursue, and a father who needed her. He knew that Jor-El was right. She had to go back.
Despite his joy at seeing her again, part of him still really wanted to go home, but maybe his training would be complete sometime in the next year, so he could be home next Christmas. Or maybe the Christmas after that. But he wasn't going to worry about it today. Because he had Chloe in his arms, and right now, that was enough.
"Hurry up, farmboy," she said, wiggling against him. "The clock's ticking."
He laughed again and tightened his arms around her. They had one day together, and he intended to make the most of it. He lowered his head, and she tilted her face up to his.
Their lips brushed together, and it felt like coming home.