Author's note: Answer to Maveness' fairy tale challenge. This story was originally published in winter wonderland. Please check out my profile for a link to the 'zine for more great Choe/Clark!

Match Girl
by Tara O'Shea

It was snowing.

It hadn't been snowing when Chloe'd left Metropolis. Now, however, the world beyond the windshield was white, and she could barely see the road front of her through the thick, white flakes falling from the sky.

New Year's Eve traffic had been hellacious getting out of the city. But as soon as she turned off the road to Smallville, the cars thinned until she couldn't see any red ghosts of tail lights in front of her. For the last half-hour she'd been pretty much the only car on the road.

Turning up the heat in the car, she switched on the radio to keep her awake as the dry warm air from the vent poured over her, making her sleepy. She decided that as soon as she got home, she'd change into her sweats and take a nap.

When she was little, she'd always loved Christmas in Metropolis. She and her dad had had a ritual—the week-end before Christmas, they'd go to Troy Plaza to see the giant tree that the city put up every year and to look at the animatronic windows of the big department stores across the street. Dad had always bought her a bag of roasted chestnuts from a street vendor, and sometimes there would be buskers playing carols.

For a month, every tree in the city sparkled with lights and throngs of people enjoying the season. She'd gone skating in the giant rink across from the tree every year they'd lived there, until they moved to Smallville. Pete and Lana had invited her to go skating on Crater Lake with them this year, but it just hadn't been the same.

When her aunt and uncle had invited her to spend the week-end in the city, she'd leapt at the chance to go skating with her cousins. It had been just as much fun as she'd remembered, and the three of them had risked frostbite, staying on the ice for hours until Aunt Ella had showed up and bundled them into the van with promises of hot cocoa.

Tapping her gloved fingers in time to the music, Chloe leaned forward in the driver's seat of the vintage Ford Fairlane, peering through the windshield as the wipers swished back and forth. The snow was coming down thicker now and she flipped to the AM dial to get weather news.

"—zard warning now in effect for Ordway, Byrne and Lowell counties for the remainder of this afternoon and tonight. Travel is not recommended. That area is being hit with heavy snow, strong winds, and bitter-cold temperatures—"

"Great," she muttered as she switched back to FM. What was normally a three hour drive now looked like it might stretch into four or five. Holding the wheel steady with one hand, she fished around in her bag with the other, groping for her cell so she could call her dad and let him know she was going to be late.

"Dammit!" she swore as the bag slipped off the passenger seat and hit the floor with a clunk. She grabbed the strap to yank it up when the car hit a patch of ice and began to skid.

She had one of those stupid driver's ed film moments—she could totally picture the car like one of those cheap-ass CGI cars, with a little dotted line showing her path. It was just a flash, but it was enough to snap her right into survival mode as she made a grab for the wheel, her foot pumping the brake.

Wrenching the wheel to one side, she threw up both hands as the car ploughed into a drift. Her head slammed into the dash, and darkness engulfed her.


Cold.

That was the first sensation. Pain was next. Her head ached, and she opened her eyes and was met with darkness. At first she worried she'd gone blind, but then her eyes began to adjust and she could make out the shape of the dash and the seats. She fumbled with her seatbelt, and reached up to gently probe her forehead. Her fingers came away wet and sticky, and she began to shiver. She wasn't sure if it was shock, or cold. Most likely a combination of both, despite the fact that she'd actually turned the heat down a few moments earlier. Patting the seat and floor blindly, she finally found her bag, half its contents spilled out onto the passenger side floor mat.

"Phone, c'mon, I know you're in here somewhere..." she muttered as she fished through the pockets and finally dumped the bag upside down onto the passenger seat. Pawing through its contents, she grew increasingly worried when her fingers never closed on the familiar shape of her cell.

She dug around in the bottom of the pile until she came up with a paper matchbook from the restaurant she and her cousins had gone to the night before. She tried lighting a match, tugging off her gloves as they were more of a hindrance than a help, and finally was able to get one of the flimsy paper matches to spark to life.

It sputtered, illuminating the inside of the car. The windows were a dark dull blue—covered with snow. Her breath plumed in the air and she swore as the match burned down and singed her fingers. She shook it to put it out, and was once again plunged into gloom.

Her eyes began to adjust to the dimness, and she reached for her keys, which were still hanging from the ignition.

The car wouldn't start.

"Dammit, dammit, dammit..." she chanted as she tried to get the engine to turn over. She finally gave up, and sat back, heart pounding and lungs aching as she sucked in mouthfuls of rapidly cooling air.

"Okay, Chloe—think. Think."

She tugged her gloves back on, tied her coat more closely around her, and tried to open her door. It wouldn't open.

Swallowing the panic that threatened to rob her of her last shreds of rational thought, she crawled over the back of the driver's seat, landing with a "thump" in the back seat. There was slightly more light coming from the snow-covered rear window, and she tried both passenger doors. The right one finally creaked open, and she dove outside, trying to shield her eyes from the wind and blowing snow with her gloved hands. She had hoped that there might be someone on the road she could flag down, but there were no headlights or taillights as far as she could see—which wasn't far.

Moving around her car, she saw that the entire front end was blocked by snow—she'd gone into a ditch, ploughing into a deep drift made up of last week's packed snow as well as today's. The rear of the car was already disappearing beneath a coating of wet, sticky snow, and when she pried the back door open again she tried to brush it off her coat and jeans as best she could before she got inside. But it was no good. She was half-soaked, and her teeth began to chatter. Her hair was wet and icy cold against the back of her neck, and she wished she'd taken Aunt Ella's proffered loan of a floppy wool hat after all. Suddenly, arriving in Smallville with hat-hair seemed the least of her worries.

"Okay, you've been in worse spots than this. Think. You just gotta think."

She wracked her brain, trying to remember what little she knew about how to prevent hypothermia. She had vague memories of reading an article last year online about a woman in North Dakota who had survived 40 hours stranded in a car. But Chloe seemed to recall she'd had her cellphone with her, with rescuer workers on the other end talking her through it.

"Okay, crack a window for ventilation..." Chloe muttered as she leaned forward and rolled the rear passenger side window down a half an inch. The last thing she wanted was to suffocate, or to due of monoxide poisoning before the cold could get to her. Snow fell inside, and she brushed it off the seat with one gloved hand. She could see the sky—a sliver of silvery-white—and while it did let a draft of cold air in, it was air. And that was what was important.

Next was doing something about her clothes.

Her overnight bag was on the floor behind the driver's seat. She unzipped it, pulling out her flannel night-gown, the sweater Grandma Sullivan had given her for Christmas, and a pair of sweatpants. Struggling to get out of her wet coat, she pulled the night-gown on over her turtleneck, and the sweater over that. Tucking the long gown between her jean-clad legs, trying to insulate them, she pulled the sweats up over the jeans. Lastly she tugged on a second pair of socks, pulling her boots back on with numb fingers. She couldn't manage the laces, but with the thick socks on, she figured they weren't going anywhere.

The arm holes of her coat weren't cut generously enough to fit over the added layers, so she draped it over her like a blanket, curling up with her knees to her chest beneath it to try and stay warm.

"C'mon, Chloe... it'll be okay," she told herself as she tucked her gloved hands beneath her armpits. "People survive this sort of thing all the time. You've been kidnapped, nearly burned alive, drowned. Your one ex hung you from the ceiling using the power of his mind, and the other one tried to throw you off a dam."

She clenched her jaw, trying to keep her teeth from chattering, and it made her head ache even more. Her breath sounded so loud in her ears. She tucked her chin and huddled under the coat.

"A little snow? That can't kill you. Buck up."


"Okay, we've got a Mexican hot chocolate with whipped cream for Pete," Lana said as she set the steaming mug down on the table, "and Clark? You had a mocha with a shot of espresso, right?"

"Perfect. How was Metropolis?" Clark asked as he accepted the second cup from Lana.

The Talon was still decked out with garlands and wreaths that would come down tomorrow, and a large artificial Christmas tree was set up in one corner, sparkling with lights and brightly coloured ornaments. Clark had taken stock of the sprigs of mistletoe hung strategically over the doorways when he'd first come in, and made sure to avoid them whenever the establishment's proprietor was near. His friendship with Lana had had a lot of pitfalls over the last few months, and it seemed the wisest course.

Pete, of course, had spent ten minutes when they'd arrived stationed under one and while it had gotten him a peck on the cheek from Lisa McLean, the hottest girl in the junior class, it had also gotten him some seriously scary looks from Adam Carter's mom. While admittedly she was what Pete would normally call a "MILF" (Clark remembered having to ask what that meant, and really really wished he hadn't, because it put several Smallville High locker room comments into perspective that would have gotten a third of the football team killed) Pete's expression as she'd closed in like a barracuda was more one of panic than anticipation. Apparently, there was still something to be said for the object of one's fantasies remaining safely unattainable and pure and mostly chaste from afar.

"It was okay—Nell and Dean have really done wonders with their place. You'd never guess they'd just moved in. But I got homesick. It's good to be back."

"When's your roomie getting back?" Pete asked, licking whipped cream off his upper lip.

Lana glanced at her watch, which had slipped around so that it was on the inside of her wrist. "She should be home by now, actually."

"Maybe the snow slowed her down?" Pete suggested, but Clark glanced over at the window. Main street was pretty as a picture, snow that would be grey slush by Monday was drifting against the buildings, and the street was awash in the warm orange glow of the street lamps.

"My dad put the plough on the front of the tractor this morning. He said he hasn't seen weather like this since January '96."

Lana stared out the window, frowning. "Yeah—it's really coming down out there."


Chloe had stopped shivering.

She hadn't noticed at first. Her feet were like blocks of ice in her boots, and she kept her hands tucked into her armpits, trying to warm them. It had grown dark outside. She could see a ribbon of dark blue sky through the cracked window. The snow had stopped. She hadn't noticed when that had happened, either. She hoped that meant ploughs and salt trucks would be passing by soon—then surely someone would find her. She'd be home in time for dinner and would write up her ordeal for the first Torch of the new year.

She'd look up on the 'net a nice long list of emergency blizzard supplies she should have had in the truck of her car but didn't because she was a transplanted city girl who didn't know any better and who had no business driving a vintage car way out in the country. She'd laugh and wouldn't mind being laughed at by her Smallville neighbours. Like Pete, who had put his own vintage Ford in the family garage under a cloth cover at the first sign of winter weather and had gone back to taking the yellow school bus every morning. Or Lana, who probably had everything from a standard first aid kit to flares and spelunking gear in her trunk.

Lana would never have gotten herself into this mess in the first place. And if she had, well, then Clark would have magically sensed she was in danger and come to her rescue in the nick of time, just like that giant cat guy she'd seen in reruns on Lifetime. Then he'd read her poetry on her balcony before disappearing into the night, or whatever.

She giggled at that thought. Clark wasn't much for poetry, truth be told. Or candles and flowing poet shirts. He pretty much sucked at the whole "grand romantic gesture" thing.

Except for that one time. Corsage, tux, her favourite song, no Lana or Lex in sight to render her invisible. He'd only had eyes for her, that night. He'd finally seen her. That night had been perfect. Until the storm.

Chloe could really learn to hate Mother Nature.


The Talon had almost cleared out by nine as folks headed off to New Year's Eve parties. Pete and Clark sat at their booth, sugared up and caffeinated and laughing over Pete's re-enactment of his brother's Playoffs touch-down dance when Lana appeared, pale and shaking.

"Lana, what's wrong?"

"Clark—I tried Chloe's cell to see where she is, and I got Chloe's cousin Lucy." Her voice rose a notch, and she was twisting the edge of her apron in her hands. "She said Chloe left her cellphone at their place, and left for Smallville this morning. She should have been here hours ago."

"Let's not panic yet—" Clark tried to calm Lana down. "You know Chloe. Maybe she's just holed up in some truck stop, drinking coffee and driving the truckers and waitresses crazy. Have you called her dad?"

"He hasn't heard from her." She shook her head. "If she was stranded someplace, don't you think she'd call from a payphone?"

Pete tugged on his jacket. "I'm gonna go over to the Sheriff's station, see if maybe her car's been found."

"I'll go with—let me just go ask Cassie if she can close up for me." Lana wiped at her eyes quickly, trying to put on a brave face, but Clark could tell she was in full-out panic mode, and his own attempts at reassurance were failing as he looked out the window and saw the snowdrifts getting higher and higher.

Pete grabbed Clark's arm, shaking his head. "Clark, man—"

"I'm on it." Clark zipped up his jacket. "Take care of Lana?"

Pete nodded, but his expression was grim.


Chloe came awake with a start in darkness, the wind howling outside the car. Reaching for the paper matchbook, she tugged one glove off with her teeth, then the other. Frantically yanking layers back so she could see her watch, she struck a match so she could read it. It took several tries, and she tried not to dwell on how her fingers refused to obey her commands. Only an hour had passed since the last time she'd checked it. She didn't remember falling asleep, and that scared her. She stared into the bright flame, its warmth filling her vision until it the flame began to shrink as it got closer to her fingers. She blew it out before it could burn her, and the smoke curled lazily in the air.

She lit another one, and cupped her hands around it. She imagined the warm glow of a fire in the fireplace at home—they'd lit one as they'd trimmed the tree that year. She and Lana had made Christmas cookies which they'd given out as gifts, in snowman and angel tins they'd gotten from the Wal-Mart. Pete had eaten half his that afternoon, and Clark—who could usually be counted on to polish off at least two whole tins before lunch— had been a regular Scrooge, meeting his out one at a time, barely making a dent in his hoard.

The match went out and she dropped it to the rubber mat on the floor. Lighting another, she cupped her hands around it, trying to warm herself. She knew it was stupid, but she didn't know what else to do. She stared into the flame, picturing herself tucked warm and safe in her bed at home. In her mind's eye, her favourite stuffed animal, Mister Shoes, was nestled beneath her chin. She could almost smell the spiced pear scented candle she had on her bedside table, coupled with the fabric softener Lana had used on her quilt last week.

She lit another match. The yellow flame seemed so cheerful in the dimness of the car. She imagined lit candles at some fancy restaurant. Whenever she daydreamed of her future, it was always back in the thick of things in Metropolis. Not because she missed the city. After all, as a twelve year old, she'd basically just lived in the few blocks around her house and school. She'd seen more of the city since they'd moved to Smallville, what with her internship last summer and visiting her cousins.

She always knew Smallville was just a pit stop—just a link in the chain that would lead her to a career as a world-famous investigative journalist. So instead of picturing her prom, or the summer corn festival, or some small church wedding on Main St., she day-dreamed of all of the fancy French bistros, Japanese hot spots, and havens of haute cuisine that lined the trendiest parts of Metropolis. She cut out restaurant reviews from the Planet, and looked up show times on their website for plays and concerts she could never afford—let alone attend.

Smallville was just supposed to be an interesting chapter in her epic autobiography. An early chapter, full of hokey, corn-ball anecdotes to rival Garrison Keillor—Lake Wobegon, with mutants. She just had bigger dreams than Smallville. Metropolis, New York, Chicago—those were the landscapes she craved. Not out of nostalgia; she wasn't looking back. She was looking forward.

Lately, heck—since puberty—those daydreams had stopped featuring studly city-types, and for the last year plus, Clark Kent had always been sitting across from her at the linen-covered tables. A taller, older Clark, with a much better haircut and no flannel within eight miles. Clark had solidly and quickly supplanted any prospective crushes from boy bands or Hollywood, and as much as she tried to shake her doomed crush, it had hung on for dear life. No matter how they hurt each other.

She swore as the match burned down, and she dropped it and stuck her injured finger in her mouth. Tears began to burn her eyes.

She couldn't die out here, all alone. She couldn't.


Clark wished his dad's truck had super powers. If he'd been running, he could have x-rayed the entire road to Metropolis in under ten minutes. But the truck, even with the snow chains, was only making forty-five. It wasn't fast enough.

Pete had been the one to convince him that he had to take the truck. He'd reminded him exactly how lucky he'd gotten when he'd found her buried alive in Chandler's Field—Gabe and the cops had been just so happy Chloe was okay, no one had questioned how that Kent kid had gotten out to the edge of town with no wheels. But that sort of luck couldn't be counted upon. It would be just a little too suspicious if Clark were to rush Chloe to the hospital in the middle of a blizzard, on foot.

Clark was starting to get a headache, using his x-ray vision full time like this. So far, he'd seem plenty of roadkill, and two abandoned cars—neither of them Chloe's red and white Falcon. The snow had stopped, and the moon was out, casting a silvery glow over the snowdrifts. Clark wiped at his eyes with one hand, pressing down harder on the gas pedal.

When he was eight, one of their calves had gotten lost in a snowstorm. He and his dad and Pete had searched half the night and finally found it unconscious in a ditch. He remembered his father and the vet in the barn trying to save the young calf. Dr. Billings had said something about needing to raise the core temperature slowly—otherwise the baby cow's heart would stop. They'd wrapped the calf in blankets, tucked it safely between two cows to try and warm it.

It had still died.

He'd cried all night and slept between his parents that night, afraid to be alone in his room. It hadn't been the first time he'd seen death on the farm, but it had been one of the most memorable. He'd had nightmares for weeks, and when Sean Kelvin had gone on a killing spree last winter, the nightmares had returned.

He was filled with the same sense of dread now that he had felt as a child. It pushed at the edges of his mind, and he tried to ignore it, focusing instead of scanning the road as the truck crawled through the slow.

He slowed as he saw a car buried in a drift, his heart pounding in his ears as he could see a human skeleton stretched out in the back seat. Pulling the truck over and switching the hazards on, he swept snow off the roof and windows of the vintage Ford with one jacketed arm. Peering inside, he could see blonde hair peeking out from beneath a long winter coat. The rubber mats on the floor were littered with spent matches, and an empty matchbook was clutched in pale white fingers.

"Chloe! Oh God..."

She remained silent and still. Resisting the urge to rip the door off, he went around to the other side. The window was open a crack and the door unlocked. He crawled into the back seat, pulling back the coat with trembling hands.

She was pale, her lips blue, and her chest was barely rising. There was an ugly bruise on her forehead, blood matting her hair. Her skin felt cool to the touch, and Clark could feel panic welling up inside him as he felt her neck for a pulse. It was there, but weak and thready.

She was dying.

Taking a deep breath, he knelt on either side of Chloe's still form, and willed his heat vision to work. He was so used to quick, short bursts to light candles or lanterns. He had no idea if he could even do this, but he had to try. Widening his eyes, he tried to bathe Chloe in warmth as slowly and carefully as he could.

All Clark could think, as steam rose from her damp clothes, and the windows of the car fogged, was this can't be happening. It simply could not be happening. Not after all that had happened in the last two years. From the moment Lex's car had hit him at sixty miles an hour, nothing in his life had been the same. From finding out he had arrived in Smallville on the day of the meteor showers in a spacecraft, to battling shape-changing psychos cheerleaders and boys with the power to throw cars at people with their minds, he had been able to somehow take them all in stride. Even after for all intents and purposes flying after Lana's truck in the muddle of a funnel cloud, the idea of losing his best friend to something so simple and so stupid as a blizzard was robbing him of the ability to think. Move. Process.

"C'mon," he said softly, brushing her hair back from her forehead and flinching at how cold her cheek felt beneath his fingers. As if she was already gone. "C'mon, Chloe... Don't leave me."

This could not be happening. Chloe couldn't die— not like this. Not the life slipping away with every beat of her heart, cold and still. He had to be able to save her. He had to be able to do something.

"You can't leave me," he whispered, unshed tears burning his eyes.

The car was stifling now, the scent of wet wool assailing him. He stretched out, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her neck. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, feeling scalding tears slip down his cheek to get lost in her hair.

"...please," he whispered, unsure of what else he could do. "Please, Chloe."

After a few moments, she began to shiver and suck in raspy breaths. He opened his eyes, and saw some of her colour had returned, her lips no longer terrifyingly blue. She blinked and coughed, eyes finally focusing on his.

"C-Cl-Clark?" she managed despite the chattering of her teeth, and he laughed in relief, hugging her closer.

"Hey," he said, smiling, and brushing her hair carefully away from her forehead. "You left your cell in Metropolis. Lana was worried."

Her face crumbled, eyes filling with tears. "Oh God, Clark—I th-thought—"

"Shhhhh, it's okay. It's gonna be okay." He breathed in and out slowly, trying to slow the staccato beat of his heart. "It's gonna be okay."


Smallville Medical Centre was becoming an all too familiar stomping ground, these days. Clark sat in one of the moulded plastic chairs in the waiting room, forearms resting on his thighs as he watched Mr. Sullivan talk to Dr. Burke outside Chloe's room. He looked up as Lana and Pete came running down the hall.

"We came as soon as we heard," Lana said as she enveloped Clark in a hug. "Thank God you found her!"

Gabe, looking tired but happy, came down the hall. Lana let Clark go just long enough to throw her arms around Gabe, who patted her shoulder with a smile.

"Is Chloe gonna be okay?" Pete asked, shifting his weight from foot to foot nervously.

"The doctor said she was suffering from mild hypothermia. They're just keeping her overnight for observation." He nodded at Clark over Lana's shoulder, "You can go see her now."


Chloe smiled brightly as Clark entered, carefully shutting the door behind him. The cut on her forehead had been bandaged and was hidden almost completely beneath her bangs. She had chemical heat packs draped around her neck and she was bundled warmly in a dark blue sweatsuit that was about ten sizes too big. She'd rolled the sleeves up, and he could see a bruise where the IV was taped to the inside of her arm.

"Hey," she grinned at him as he perched on the edge of the bed, reaching for her free hand. Her fingers were warm in his.

"Hey," he replied, unable to keep from smiling. "I think your car's dead."

"I think even if it wasn't, I wouldn't want to spend another minute in that land yacht. I hear the new Volkswagen bugs are nice. Hey—every cloud has a silver lining, right? Maybe I can sucker my dad into getting me a little red convertible."

Clark laughed. "Glad to have you back."

"Yeah—that was a little closer than I would have liked. I kept having that stupid Anderson fairy tale running through my head—you know, the little match girl one? Creepiest damn story. They should so not read it to kids. Anyway, Dr. Burke said if you hadn't found me when you did—"

"Lana and Pete went to the Sheriff's station. You would have been okay," he said quickly, and she chewed on her bottom lip, nodding.

"Maybe."

"They're waiting outside—Dr. Burke said only one visitor at a time. Do you want me to...?"

"No—" she said quickly. "I mean, not yet?"

He nodded, and she scooted over so he could sit more comfortably. He hadn't released her hand, and she gave his fingers a squeeze. She rested her head on his shoulder, and he laid his cheek against her hair.

"Clark, um... This is gonna sound crazy, I know, but most of my near-death experiences lately—and I can't believe I just said, by the way—have been awfully quick. You know, not a lot of time to have my life flash before my eyes." She paused, her thumb stroking his palm absently. "No time to dwell on all the stuff I did or didn't do. But in that car I had a lot of time to go over my regrets, I guess, and... I miss you, Clark. I miss being your friend."

He looked down at her, eyebrows disappearing into his bangs in surprise. "Chloe, we're still—"

"Not the way we were," she cut him off, and took a deep breath. "I know I'm the one who played the friends card after the dance, only then it was like we weren't even that anymore."

She let go of his hand and reached up to wipe away a sudden tear. He grabbed a tissue from the box on the table and pressed it into her fingers.

"I just miss having you in my life. I miss just... hanging out. Stuff like Orange Food Day and the Annual Losers-in-Love Valentine's Day 80s Movie Marathon. I just miss how close we used to be, and want that back. I don't know how to get it back, exactly, but I want to try."

"I miss you too, Chloe. I—things have just been so weird the last couple of months. I didn't want to exclude you from stuff—"

"—but some stuff is guy stuff, not best-gal-pal stuff. I know," she said with a shrug. "And it's okay. I'm not saying I want us to spend every waking minute together. But I want you to know that no matter what else you are to me, you'll always be my friend first."

He draped his arm around her shoulder, giving her a one armed hug, and she snuggled deeper into the crook of his arm.

"I got so sick after last year's Orange Food Day," he said finally, and he could feel her silent laughter.

"Well, you ate nothing but cheetos and circus peanuts all day! What did you expect?" She whapped him lightly in the chest with the hand that wasn't attached to the IV. "You should have had some of the chicken burritos—orange and protein. All that sugar was bound to mess you up."

Clark shifted on the bed, so that he was facing her. "Chloe, how about we start over? Clean slate?"

Her green eyes narrowed, and he could see the confusion shining in their depths. "What do you mean?"

"Hi." He stuck out his hand. "My name's Clark. You wanna come over and eat nothing but cheese puffs and watch John Hughes teen movies?"

He waited, watching the parade of emotions cross her face before she finally laughed, and shook his hand. "Sure!"

"See?" He grinned. "That wasn't so hard. Oh, I almost forgot..."

She blinked as he leaned forward and kissed her quickly on the mouth—just long enough to process the warm, soft pressure of her lips against his.

When he was fourteen years old, he'd met a girl. She'd transferred from Metropolis in the middle of the fall semester, and she'd been completely different from any girl he'd ever met in Smallville. She wore cool, funky, sometimes outright bizarre clothes, and she'd been to places he had only imagined, she'd known things he'd never realised someone their age could know. Knew how to do stuff he could only marvel at. She had been smart, and funny, and snarky, and the day they'd met she'd kissed him. Right there, in the middle of the loft his dad had built, in the middle of the warm afternoon sunshine. He'd never been kissed by a girl before, and he'd been so surprised he hadn't moved. He'd barely remembered to breathe.

They had ended up best friends.

Clark kissed her, not even thinking about the last time he'd tried to kiss her, or the disastrous results. Not even remembering how much it had stung when she'd told him for the second time in their lives that they'd be better off as "just friends." Not wanting to think about what consequences and complications and confusion he was adding to their already mixed up relationship. He kissed her because in that split second, he couldn't think of anything else he'd rather do in the world and because, in that split-second, he didn't care about anyone else. Just Chloe.

When he pulled back, she looked positively shell-shocked. She reached up to brush her fingers across her bottom lip, her green eyes wide with confusion.

"Figured we should get that out of the way first," he said, feeling his cheeks staring to burn with a blush. "You know—in the interests of starting fresh and all."

"Uh-huh," she said softly, her cheeks pink.

He grinned and climbed back up to sit beside her again, long legs stretched out beside hers and hanging half off the bed. "Happy New Year," he said, lips against her hair.

She glanced over at the cheap LCD clock sitting on the bedside table. "It's not even ten."

"Huh. Guess I'll just have to stick around for another couple of hours, then. You got any circus peanuts?"