Author's note: Written for the Chlark Secret Santa last year, but not completed in time, so I'm posting it this Christmas. Based on a prompt by the_chlarkette.
"So what are you doing for Christmas?"
Chloe Sullivan shifted uncomfortably on the bus seat. She felt a little crowded. When she'd met Clark Kent a few months ago, just after she'd moved to the leafy little burg of Smallville, they'd been more or less the same size. But recently he'd begun shooting up like a cornstalk in summer, and he took up a whole lot more space than he previously had.
But the lack of room wasn't what was making her uncomfortable. It was the question Clark had just asked.
"Um..." she said, raising her voice to be heard over the racket on the bus. Kids in the sticks made just as much noise as the kids in Metropolis had. "Not much. Well, not anything, actually. Dad doesn't do Christmas."
"He doesn't... do... Christmas?" Clark echoed the words, enunciating them as carefully as if she'd said them in another language. "What do you mean, he doesn't do Christmas? You guys aren't like Jewish or anything, are you?"
"We aren't really anything, no. I mean, we don't go to church."
"Well, neither do we. But you still gotta have a Christmas tree."
"We never have. Not since my mom left. I guess Christmas sort of reminds Dad of her, and... well, he doesn't want to be reminded."
Clark looked horrified, as if she'd admitted to cooking up neighbors on the grill or robbing banks or something. "What about presents?"
"We don't do presents."
"Christmas cookies? Decorations? A wreath on the front door?"
"None of the above," she said with a little sigh she couldn't quite suppress.
"Oh, my God." Clark boggled at her. "That's terrible."
"It's no big deal." She shrugged. "I guess I'm used to it by now."
The truth was, she wasn't, not really. Christmas always left her with an empty feeling-- the feeling that everyone in the world was having fun except her. She was getting too old to cry over the lack of a Christmas tree, but... well, everyone was a kid at heart at Christmas, and she did kind of long for a nice normal Christmas every now and then.
"You have to come over to our house this Christmas," Clark said. No, he decreed it, with a sort of bossiness that was coming out of his mouth more often lately. Almost a sort of arrogance. He was a nice guy, but when he spoke in that tone, people seemed to have almost a compulsion to do what he wanted. It was kind of spooky, actually, although she recognized it was just that he was growing up, and becoming a litte more forceful about his opinions.
She sighed. "I'm not sure Dad would like that..."
"Tough luck." Clark looked irritated on her behalf, which warmed her heart a bit. Clark had appointed himself the big brother she'd never had, standing up for her against the world. She appreciated that, even if she didn't quite think of him as a brother. "He can't have it both ways. If Christmas doesn't matter, it doesn't matter. If he's not going to put up a Christmas tree and do presents, then he can't insist that you stay home, can he?"
"Yeah," she admitted, unable to argue with his logic. "I guess that makes sense."
"Then it's settled," he said. "Me and Dad'll come get you early Christmas morning."
On Christmas morning, the Kent house was awash in wonderful scents. Chloe stepped in and drew in an appreciative breath, inhaling the mingled fragrances of fir tree and gingerbread cookies and turkey. Memories of happy Christmases long ago flitted through her head, and she sighed in contentment.
"May I take your coat?"
She almost laughed at Clark's formality, but realized it had been drilled into him by his father Jonathan, who was a bit old-fashioned when it came to manners. She decided she didn't mind. "Thank you," she said, and let him help take her coat off. He hung it neatly on a wooden rack standing in one corner of the hallway, and she took off her boots as well, because they were covered in snow.
"I was a little worried you wouldn't be able to come," she said, smiling up at Clark. Really, really up. He'd grown four inches since she'd met him. She wondered if she was ever going to get any taller, or if she was destined to be a shrimp. Oh, well, at least their friend Pete Ross didn't seem inclined to grow any taller, either. Clark loomed over both of them now, and he didn't show any signs of slowing down any time soon, either. She'd almost think he took after his tall father, except everyone knew that Clark was adopted.
"Dad's good at driving through the snow," Clark said. He grinned at her, then bounded toward the kitchen, all his old-fashioned formality forgotten. "Hey, Mom! Can me and Chloe have cookies for breakfast?"
"Try eggs and bacon instead," Mrs. Kent said, placing two plates on the counter. Clark made a face, but he obediently picked up the plates and carried them to the battered pine table. Chloe sat down before he had a chance to hold her chair, and began eating.
"These are great," she said.
Clark still looked like he thought cookies would be better, but she noticed that didn't stop him from clearing his plate. She cleared hers, too. Her dad didn't usually cook breakfast anymore; she generally got herself a bowl of cereal in the mornings. Eggs and bacon were better than she remembered.
"Come on." Clark had finished with his food before she was half done. It was like he ate in fast forward or something, she thought with amusement. Now he was standing next to the table, shifting his weight from one foot to the other in an excited, shuffling dance. "We have to look at our stockings."
She blinked at him. "But I don't have--"
"Sure you do. I filled it myself."
"Oh, wow," she said, and gobbled the rest of her eggs.
The stocking had been hand knitted by someone-- presumably Mrs. Kent-- at some time in the distant past. It was distorted and stretched from being stuffed repeatedly at Christmas, but Chloe thought it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. She'd never had a stocking since her mom left.
She dumped the stocking's contents on the pine planks of the floor, following Clark's example, and was delighted to find all kinds of candy-- Hershey's kisses in bright red and green foil, candy canes, peppermints, chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas-- and a few little gifts, like a Christmas necklace with a red-enameled poinsettia pendant and a tiny book with the title, Inspiration for Writers. At the bottom was something larger that wouldn't come out on its own. She reached in and pulled out a greenish coffee mug in the likeness of an alien's head. She grinned in delight.
"That's 'cause you wrote that article for the Torch about UFOs last month," Clark said through a mouthful of chocolate. Obviously eggs and bacon did not constitute sufficient caloric intake for growing boys. "And you drink coffee all the time, so I figured..."
"I love it," she said, beaming from ear to ear. She happened to glance up, and saw Jonathan and Martha Kent standing stock still, wearing identical expressions of shock and anxiety. The instant they saw her looking, they both wiped their faces clear of all expression and turned away.
That was weird, she thought, but she was too happy to give it much thought.
Read Chapter 2 here.