Clark sat at their usual table as Chloe brought over a coffee for each of them. For a moment she looked in his eyes and then turned away. "Clark" she inquired softly, "how much do you know about Danny?" Clark was surprised; he hadn't expected this to come up. "He's a good kid." Was Clark's reply. For him it was enough, Danny strove to help everyone and somehow managed to lead two lives. "Why?" he asked. "Well, it's just that in the Fortress he was thrown pretty hard, but he got up like nothing happened." So Chloe had observed that, Danny had explained that he was thrown through the console, intangibility saving him from being skewered. "Clark," She continued concern apparent in her voice. "His whole home was destroyed by a meteor. It's possible he's been infected. Just, be careful."
Chloe sat at her computer at the Daily Planet, absently tapping her pen against the desk. There were a lot of things on her mind. She was worried about the Christmas Charity Drive that she had been put in charge of coordinating, she had already amassed a large collection of gifts and there was still more to come in. She also worried about the disappearance of Fine and his spaceship. It didn't make sense for it to have just vanished. And how was it that Lionel Luthor even knew to put her on to that paper trail.
Her largest concern though was Danny. It had been four months since Danny Fenton had moved in with the Kent's. He was a nice kid, sure. But there was something odd about him. Whenever she went to the Kent's he was sweet, kind of clumsy but also seemed insanely naive. When he thought no one was looking he was more graceful and had a deeply serious look in his eyes. Then there were the few times that they'd been in danger, like when Undergrowth was around or when Fine tried to destroy the fortress. He gained a confidence and strength that said that he could handle anything the world threw at him.
Danny seemed a paradox. He was klutzy, but could be graceful. He was shy, but poured confidence. He always acted the fool, but he wasn't. Absently Chloe reached to her bag where the ecto-gun that Danny had given her resided. After the battle with Undergrowth he'd taken it back and modified it. He said it wouldn't harm humans at all now. That concept alone was amazing. In the first place he'd made the weapon from the dismantled bits of other weapons in her car. She couldn't have done that and he did it without any blueprints or schematics. But to then be able to not hurt a human, and only damage ghosts... Chloe knew that Danny was no simpleton.
He had known what Fine was. Danny, a kid who by rights shouldn't know the first thing about Krypton had known that the Professor was an AI robot thing bent on destruction. He had known that Fine was the Brain Interactive Construct. He'd known the story behind Fine's creation and history. He'd said he knew because he touched one of the crystals, but that didn't sit right with Chloe. She'd touched them and got nothing, so how did Danny know?
And yet there still was more to it than that. When they'd gotten to the Fortress she'd notice Danny run a quick analysis of the place and had run straight to the Portal that Fine had opened. He'd jumped into it, as if he could block whatever was coming. He fell out of it just as the portal was closing. Although Chloe wasn't sure if that was Danny's doing or Clark's pulling out the Dark Crystal. He had survived being thrown by Fine over fifty feet, getting up like nothing had happened. Danny was a riddle, a paradox, an enigma.
Chloe wanted to make sure Clark was safe. If Danny was going to pose a threat to him then Chloe wanted to head it off. The first thing to do was to confirm her suspicions. She called up Smallville High, still having contacts from the previous year. She found out that Danny's work was brilliant, but his attendance record was woeful. On a whim, Chloe had decided to ring up Danny's old school. She pulled up the school's information, amused by the similarities between the two schools. The mascot was a raven, not a crow, but the school team colours were red and white, so close to the red and yellow of Smallville high as to be laughable. Eventually she found the phone number for the school and dialled.
Chloe was able to get past the receptionist and onto a Mr Edward Lancer, the vice principal of the school. He was apparently the one to speak to about all school affairs, going between the role of teacher and assistant to the principal. After three rings the phone was answered. "Good afternoon Edward Lancer speaking" the man had the tired tone of a man who had been disappointed many times, yet was able to put a brave face on for the world.
"Good afternoon Edward. I'm Chloe Sullivan, and I work for the Daily Planet." Chloe stated in a cheerfully professional tone. "The Planet?" the man asked curiously. Chloe imagined what the man may be thinking now, probably that she was working on a big exposé for the paper. Well, she didn't have to tell him why she was looking into Danny, only that she was. "I'm actually looking into one of your former students, a Daniel Fenton."
There was a slight pause on the other end of the line, and Edward's lamenting reply was "Such a shame, his whole family gone like that. His parents were some of the strangest and most loving people I've ever met. They helped keep the city safe, protecting everyone. Their daughter Jasmine was about to go off to college, she had six Ivy League schools offering her a full scholarship in Psychology. Such a terrible loss."
It was interesting to hear about Danny's sister. So she too was remarkably intelligent, but unlike Danny she chose not to hide it. "What about Daniel himself?" Chloe asked. "Daniel, Danny has always been an... interesting child." Edward was hesitant, almost sounding protective. "Why do you want to know about Danny?" He asked, perfectly reasonably. Chloe knew that this could go badly, she wanted as much information as possible, but didn't want to offend Edward. Perhaps introducing herself as working at the Planet hadn't been the best idea.
Eventually she was able to convince him that she wasn't looking to publish libel about Danny, that she was inquiring for the sake of a biography of the lives of the Fenton Family and wanted the truth about the family rather than the rumours that had been spread over the internet. "They were a strange family." Edward commented. "Maddie and Jack always seemed to leap into the spotlight whenever it came to ghosts. They were fairly public figures, much to the children's dismay. Jazz seemed to want to create her own spotlight, pushing herself into academic brilliance and carving herself a path in Psychology. But Danny was always very private. He stayed out of the spotlight, and seemed perfectly happy to do nothing but spend time with his two friends."
Come to think of it Chloe had noticed this. Danny was always fairly invisible when they were in Smallville together; there were a number of times when she'd forgotten he was in the room. He moved so silently he was almost like a ghost. "Interesting, so he never seemed outstanding in any way?" she inquired of the elderly gentleman.
"Well, I wouldn't say that exactly. He was reclusive; I'd almost say he was outstanding in how ordinary he was. I remember the first day of his freshman year here. He had a bright spark; he seemed so keen to learn. Then a month after school started he became overly clumsy. He was banned from handling anything fragile until late last year. At the time we thought it was just a phase; that he'd settle down. Great Expectations we hoped that he'd settle down. Then he changed, he'd run out of classes at the most random times and not come back for hours. The rest of freshman year he was mostly asleep in all his classes, the vigour he'd shown had vanished."
"The strange thing is whenever he handed in work it was good quality. I recall an excellent paper he handed in on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He showed such depth and insights that I'd never even realised. His main problem was that he was never in class or awake enough for assessments. Last year he got a bit better, he was able to pay attention in class, although his in class responses were simple. Sometimes I wondered if he was scared to show his intelligence."
"What would make you think that?" Chloe asked curiously. She was getting more information than she'd initially believed. It seemed Danny had had the same peculiarities regarding his education since before the meteor had hit. That was, to Chloe's mind, very strange.
"Well, I am ashamed to say that he was the favourite target of many members of the football team. Many times I had wanted to stop it, but my superiors encouraged giving the football team a blind eye. One of many complaints I have against the school board, but I digress. He was the victim of much more than any other in the school, mostly because of his parent's occupation. I imagine he did not want to be outstanding in any way that could draw attention."
Edward paused for a moment and his tone changed as he mused aloud "You know this last year even that changed. He seemed to be picked on more often, teasing the footballer and letting another victim get away. As if he was baiting the bully. But then he'd just stand and take it. He never fought back, but there was a look in his eye as if he was... bored. Strangely I never noticed that before now."
This was news to Chloe. Of course she hadn't observed Danny at school, but if Edward was to be believed Danny took beatings for other kids. The question was why. And was he still doing it at Smallville High. Ah Chloe thought the mystery deepens. "So you're suggesting that he willingly plays the victim to stop other kids getting hurt?"
"Hmm" Edward replied thoughtfully. "I suppose so. I can't see why though, he was never the strongest child. In fact he had about the worst grades in gym. I don't know; there's just something about Danny." Chloe thought on that. Danny did seem a little... weak, but Jon had said he was actually pretty helpful on the farm. He'd handled being thrown by Fine, but sometimes seemed to strain with manual tasks while wandering around town. Either he was insanely good at hiding, even better than Clark or there was something else going on.
Chloe thanked the man for the information, and ended the conversation. This left Chloe with a puzzling dilemma. Really she wanted to prove once and for all which end of the scale Danny was on. She chose to call up Smallville High. It took a lot of persuading, but she was able to convince them to give Danny the tests for the grade above when he sat his mid-yearly examinations. She had a suspicion that he'd do well in them, and it would prove his intelligence once and for all. The next question was going to be finding out whether he had any special abilities...
It was coming up to Christmas, and the last few hours of school were drawing to a close. It had been almost five months since Danny had awoken in the hospital to the worst news he had ever heard. Five months since he'd found out they were gone. Five months since he'd come down to the kitchen to see his parents working on some invention. Five months since he'd heard Tuck's lame jokes or Jazz's bright laughter. Five months since he'd watched Sam smile in the moonlight as he took her for a midnight flight over Amity Park.
Really, he was desperately glad that the Kent's had been there to catch him. They had welcomed him into their lives no questions asked. But Danny's heart still ached for the loss of his family. He was devastated when he'd found out that he'd failed. That he couldn't protect them. The longer he was in Smallville the more he realised that. Nothing could change the fact that they were gone. He had woken up in a stark white hospital room with Vlad's physicians crawling over him. One of the very few benefits to knowing the Froot-loop's secret was that he'd do just about anything to keep both their secrets safe.
The days had become colder, while there was no sign of snow everyone was bundled up to stay warm. Well, everyone except Danny. He was still donning the same t-shirts he'd worn in summer. His ghost half had pretty much made him immune to the cold, actually he was a lot happier out in this sort of weather than he had been in the summer. Clark had donned a thicker jacket to protect him from the cold. The two of them were gradually fixing one of the fences in the back field.
It was the beginning of the Christmas break. Danny had finished the last of his exams last week. He'd actually managed to get to all of them, surprising himself. It seemed most of the ghosts were excited about Christmas and were readying their lairs for the Christmas season, so he wasn't being bothered quite as often. The exams had been actually kind of fun. Of course he'd limited himself to getting eighty percent in all of them. It should be enough to repair the damage from his constant absences and still not put him too far ahead of everyone else.
It was Christmas in two days; to be honest Danny was tempted to disappear into the Zone for most of the time. With the Christmas Truce he would more safely be able to visit with the friendly ghosts. Really, Danny just wanted something familiar. This would be the first Christmas he'd without any of his family. Last year was the first time he'd been able to truly enjoy Christmas after Ghostwriter's lesson when he was fourteen. He had made up with Ghostwriter since then, and he had become a good friend. One of the few friends he had left from his life in Amity Park.
Danny sat on top of the Barn. He'd often come up here when he wanted to be alone. He looked over the frosty fields as the sun set. A gentle mist that had not quite gone away all day danced on the chilled ground. Idly he played around with ice, creating a crystal and then focusing it into different shapes. He made a windmill which turned into a caterpillar, then a butterfly and finally a bat. He frowned and dispelled the ice. This year there was no Sam to talk to when his parents went mad with the Santa Clause debate. He sat in the fading light as the night closed around him, watching as the stars slowly lit up the night sky.
He'd always loved the stars. Since he was a child Danny had wanted to be an astronaut, to explore uncharted worlds and escape the ties of Earth. The past two years he'd done that and more, he had gone to space when he was just fourteen to stop Technus. So in a way he had fulfilled that dream. But he still held his fascination with the stars. They were one of the few things that never changed. Humans came and went; the ghosts flitted in between realities. But the stars were permanent; they would last far longer than him. Perhaps that was why he had started liking them in the first place. No matter what else changed the stars would always be there for him.
He sighed, it was close to dinner, and Aunt Martha was going to be calling him in soon. He jumped down from the roof, landing lightly on the ground and went inside the house. Aunt Martha had long since gotten used to his peculiar eating habits. The house was warm and cheery, a few lights were up, but they hadn't put everything up. Aunt Martha and Uncle Kent were having a big Christmas Party this year. But with his campaign they hadn't had much time to put everything up. Dinner was pleasant, and they were going over a few last minute plans.
This was going to be Clark's first Christmas with Lana, and they wanted to put up the tree together. But there was a lot more to be done. The three Kent's went upstairs to retire for bed, but Danny was going to put his insomnia to good purpose. He went out into the barn to the boxes of Christmas decorations that were out. He pulled out the first box out and got to work. Ghostwriter had not so subtly reminded him that everyone celebrates Christmas in their own way two Christmases ago. Danny was going to put on a brave face and help the Kents like they'd been helping him these four months. Danny was going to make sure that his first Christmas with the Kent's was a good one.
The sun rose on Christmas Eve and Clark was early to rise. He could hardly contain his excitement; today he was going to spend the whole day with Lana, the love of his life. He got out of bed quickly and was showered and dressed for the day within five minutes. Unsurprisingly Danny's room was vacant. He hardly spent any time in there, preferring to sit on the barn roof or out in a field in his spare time. It had been just over five months since he'd come into their lives, and Clark was glad he was there, somehow the halfa fit right in to their family. Clark smiled as he went down the stairs.
"Hey Clark, just because you get to spend the day with Lana doesn't give you the right to spoil my breakfast." Danny joked from the kitchen as Clark came down the stairs. This morning it looked like his Mom and Danny had made breakfast together, usually they alternated on who made the breakfast. Clark's Dad came downstairs and the four of them sat down for breakfast, Danny just sipping on a hot chocolate while Clark and his parents tucked into cinnamon pancakes. Danny had a huge smile on his face, and he actually seemed sort of excited.
"Well," Clark's Dad said "We have a long day and a lot to get done before tonight. Clark, what time are you meeting Lana?" Clark looked up at his Dad and smiled "Eleven, we're going to the lot and then we'll come back here." His father smiled back at him, and there was an unspoken message of pride and joy for Clark. "Well then, we'd better get started then if we want everything else ready for tonight." Clark and his Dad put on their jackets, but surprisingly Danny stayed at the table, a knowing grin plastered on his face.
"You coming?" Clark asked, genuinely puzzled. Danny just smiled at him and replied "in a minute." Clark's Dad went out the door and froze. "Martha, come have a look at this." He said with quiet awe in his voice. His Mom went out; tugging her gown around her and Clark popped his head out the door. His eyes widened at the sight in front of him. Clark's Mom turned to Danny "You did this?" Danny nodded. "Hope you like it" he smiled "Happy Christmas". The three Kents stared out at their garden which had been transformed overnight.
Green garlands were wrapped around the porch pillars, laced with a fine sprinkling of crystalline snow. Delicate icicles and large crystal snowflakes hung gracefully from the eaves of the roof. The Christmas light reindeer that they had bought three years ago were tastefully placed amongst a herd of ice sculpture reindeer. The pathway was accentuated with delicate icy spirals with gossamer thread like strands between them. The white picket fence was decorated with green foliage. In the daytime it looked like a winter wonderland, and Danny had pulled it off overnight.
Danny appeared by them on the family porch, still smiling. Clark's Mom gave him a big hug "it's wonderful" she said. She gave him one more squeeze before heading in to escape the cold.
"So" Danny began, nervously looking at Clark and his Dad and rubbing the back of his neck. "What do you think?" Clark and his Dad looked at each other and then back to Danny. "I think the operative word is wow." Clark exclaimed. Danny smiled again.
"But don't you think this is a bit close to exposure?" Clark's Dad asked, and to be honest Clark worried too when he first saw it. The ice statues looked wonderful, but they were a kind of giveaway. Adding that to that little light display and it was as if Danny was advertising his secret. But then Danny grinned. "See that's the brilliant thing about it. Sure, I used my powers, but every single thing here I could rig up with a mix between my parent's tech and stuff bought in shops. Probably within an afternoon." He gave them a brilliant smile that dismissed their concerns.
The three of them went back inside. There was one less job done, but the living room was still bare and they needed a Christmas tree before the day got too much later. Clark checked the clock; there was forty minutes before he had agreed to meet Lana in the Talon, so he should head off soon. Still smiling he jumped in the truck and headed into town. Half an hour later Lana and he were sharing a coffee before they went to the Christmas Tree Lot.
As they wandered through the trees Clark and Lana simply chatted enjoying each other's company. The two of them eventually found the perfect tree and Clark loaded it in the back of the truck. It was so large that the attendant felt obliged to help, and since now wasn't the time he wanted to reveal himself to Lana he gratefully accepted the help. Soon enough it was loaded and Lana and Clark began the drive back to the Kent Farm. They both sat in the car, Lana softly leaning on Clark's arm as they drove out to the Farm. The sun was dipping towards the horizon as they neared the house. Lana shivered as she stepped out of the truck as the winter air bit into her. Clark went over and gave her a quick hug to warm her up before guiding her towards the garden gate. As they approached Lana gasped.
"Who did this?" she whispered a hand pressed over her lips, Clark smiled. "Danny did." The dimming sun sparkled softly off the ice and the soft glow of silver was beginning to permeate the garden. Clark had to give Danny credit, he did have excellent taste.
"It's beautiful." Lana said slightly awed. "But not as beautiful as you" Clark couldn't help but say as he met her bright eyes. Lana smiled, and Clark couldn't help but feel content. They stood for a minute, Lana enjoying the sunset's reflections on the ice. She shivered once more, so Clark took her inside. The house was warm, the soft smell of baking permeating the air. Much of the house had been decorated since this morning, but the lounge room was vacant, waiting for the arrival of Clark, Lana, and the Christmas tree.
Clark left Lana to warm by the fire as he went back outside to get the tree. He was just lifting up the tree when he heard a voice "So, how'd it go?" Danny said smiling as he stepped out of the air. He had obviously been invisibly watching him. Or maybe not, it was always hard to tell when the halfa was just hiding as a full human.
Clark smiled at the younger boy. "Pretty good. How long have you been there?" Danny shook his head, his raven hair rustling in the cold air. "Not long, just long enough to wonder how you plan to get that inside without blowing your secret. It doesn't look light." Clark looked between the boy and the tree. Danny raised a fair point; it was a very big tree. With a gesture Danny picked up the other end and the two brought it inside to stand it in the centre of the lounge room.
Since Clark had been out, the inside of the house had been transformed; Christmas decorations adorning almost every surface, but tastefully so. There were leafy tinsel trails framing each window, laces with colourful fairy lights and shiny baubles. The front staircase had red tinsel around each vertical beam, making it look as if it were made of peppermint. Red, white and golden candles were artfully placed on each surface, making the whole house seem warm and welcoming. However the pile of boxes in the living room filled with baubles and decorations that were reserved for the tree made Clark smile.
Clark's Mom came in to the room with Lana, a tray of tea and cookies in hand. The four of them took a seat for a short break. There was enough space in the front of the room that the tree fit in easily, and Danny raced back to clear away the few needles that had dropped on the ground before sitting down himself. Lana smiled and complimented Danny on the garden. He blushed and brushed it off saying it was nothing. He and Clark's mom went into the kitchen to prepare the food for that night and Clark and Lana set about decorating the tree.
Clark and Lana laughed together as the warm scent of cinnamon and gingerbread drifted through the house. It seemed Danny and his Mom were having fun in the kitchen together. Danny seemed to genuinely enjoy cooking, although that may be the distinct lack of ectoplasm based appliances. For a moment Clark could have sworn he felt strange sense of warmth, of pure positivity wash over him, Clark looked over into the kitchen to see his cousin positively beaming as he laughed along with Clark's mom. Both he and Lana smiled as they placed the last few decorations on the tree. Finally there was one more box left. Clark opened it up to reveal the golden angel that had sat on the tree for as long as he could remember.
"There" Lana smiled as she placed the angel on top of the tree "She's perfect."
"Yes she is" Clark couldn't help his cheesy reply as he leaned in and kissed her. There was another bout of laughter from the kitchen and it seemed that Clark's Dad had come in and stolen a gingerbread man while he was at it. Clark and Lana made their way towards the kitchen to join the rest of his family.
"It's usually just me and Nell at Christmas." Lana commented. "Lots of tinsel and an artificial tree. Thank you Clark," Lana said, smiling at him "for saving me from another plastic, store bought Christmas." Clark felt his heart melt. He couldn't love Lana more than he did right now. He couldn't be happier than he was with her, and his family than right now.
"You're welcome" Clark replied, leaning in for a kiss. Sadly his phone started to ring, the polyphonic tune of jingle bells announcing the caller. Clark heard laughter from the kitchen as he looked at the caller ID. It seemed Danny had changed the tune on him. "Hi Chloe." Clark said, rolling his eyes at his cousin who had just stepped into the room.
Chloe's response came quickly in the form of an overwhelmed "Clark, I've got a problem. Can you meet me at the Planet?"
Chloe was overwhelmed. The Toys for Tots drive had been wildly successful. She'd managed to double the donations since last year. The problem was that the delivery company was on break so there was nobody to deliver the presents. And there were a lot of presents to be delivered. Chloe had wanted this to be perfect, since she'd gotten herself into this problem in the first place. She needed a way to get these presents out to all the kids on her lists and before morning, but there was no way for her to do it alone. She really didn't want to do it, especially since Clark had said that this was going to be his and Lana's day, but she really needed the help. So she got on the phone to call Clark.
After three rings he answered, "Hi Chloe" in a slightly annoyed but mostly happy voice. "Clark, I've got a problem. Can you please meet me at the Planet?" Chloe asked. "What sort of problem?" he queried. "Well, I'm a bit over my head here, and I need your help." It didn't take much to convince him to come and help. Clark really was a hero at heart. Within ten minutes he was at the planet too. What she hadn't expected was for him to bring Danny along as well, although the help was appreciated.
Chloe led the two of them down to the basement bull-pen, explaining the current situation and begging them to help. She opened the door and watched as Clark's eyes widened. "Chloe, this isn't Toys for Tots, this is Toys 'R Us!" Clark said shocked. "How many are there?"
Chloe shrugged awkwardly "Couple of thousand, give or take. Now I Map-Quested these addresses and the sooner you can get started the better." Chloe picked up the address sheets. There were two thousand children on the lists, and Chloe had hoped to be able to organise a delivery route, but had run out of time. She had also wanted to sort the presents out into age groups, but hadn't found time to do much of that either.
Surprisingly Danny picked up the list of addresses, and flicked through them. Barely thirty seconds later, he pulled out a pen and a piece of paper, jotting down a dozen addresses within the same city block area. Quite a feat considering that the names had been sorted alphabetically. "Start there." Danny instructed Clark, quickly walking over to the small pile of already sorted gifts and pulling out twelve appropriate presents. Chloe was surprised at how quickly he'd managed to figure all that out, and she hadn't even told him where the sorted pile was.
Chloe pulled out a Santa hat and placed it on Clark's head before he could escape. "Here comes Santa Claus" She laughed, and Clark smiled as she pulled out a camera and took his photo. Clark raced off to deliver the first round.
"So" Danny said shyly "Where do we start?" Chloe gazed over the massive piles of presents that surrounded them. There was a lot of sorting to do, and it would help if they could calculate a quick route for Clark to follow. But since he was here this was a great opportunity for Chloe to figure out what was going on with Danny. She handed him the address lists, noticing how he baulked at the sheer length of it the second time around.
"Can you do that address trick again and figure out the easiest paths for Clark?" She requested "And then we can sort these into age groups. I think we can get it all done." She finished in a half-hearted question. Danny nodded, taking the address book. He spent five minutes pursuing it before Clark came in, but he was not alone.
"Hey Chloe, Danny" Phantom waved at them, smiling boldly.
"What are you doing here?" Chloe asked, genuinely surprised. She hadn't seen Phantom in person since the Undergrowth incident. Compared to last time she'd seen him, his white glow was powerfully bright, and his green eyes sparkled in silent laughter. The white cloak floated softly around him, billowing in an absent breeze. He seemed exotic and mysterious, the ethereal being placed on Earth. However his smile was genuine and Chloe couldn't help but feel comforted by his presence.
"I saw Clark running around Metropolis, and I figured I could give him a hand." Phantom commented by way of explanation. Chloe noticed Clark poke Phantom who rolled his eyes at the Kryptonian. There was something more to the story, but neither seemed to want to tell her about it.
"Well," Chloe commented "I'm not about to turn down the help." Phantom, Clark and Danny all beamed at her, and Danny handed Clark and Phantom each a list of addresses.
"Clark, you go from the eastern suburbs, west. Phantom you go west to east. That way you'll meet back here in the middle when you're done." Danny instructed quickly before indicating to Chloe for further instructions.
"Right." Chloe added "Um, Danny..." She trailed off, realising she had no idea which gifts to give each boy to take with them. Danny smiled and walked over to the piles she'd gotten to, quickly pulling out gifts for the kids. Chloe was glad he was here, it was going to make everything run much smoother, and she needed this done perfectly since her job was sort of on the line. Phantom and Clark quickly picked up their respective gifts and were about to head out when Chloe had one more idea.
She pulled a second Santa hat out and placed it firmly on Phantom's head. It sat, flopping over his snowy hair, clashing with his emerald eyes. For a moment it looked out of place, the human item didn't fit in with his ghostly outfit. There was a soft flash of white light, the red in the hat inverting to become a beautiful shade of forest green. The once kitsch hat became otherworldly itself in his presence. He looked like an archaic version of Saint Nicholas with the white cloak fluttering elegantly around him and the elegant green hat lightly falling from his snowy hair, the once white frill around it gleaming silver. Chloe couldn't help herself and pulled out her camera, asking if she could get a photo.
Phantom light-heartedly scowled before rolling his eyes and breaking into a smile. "So long as it doesn't wind up in the Paper." He replied and Chloe beamed, there was a quick flash and the Kryptonian and the Ghost were off, leaving Chloe and Danny to sort out the presents. Danny and Chloe split up, each attacking the huge mound of gifts from the opposite end and stacking it in smaller, more orderly piles. Every now and then Clark or Phantom would come back in to pick up another pile and be on their way. Chloe was surprised that they'd been able to rope Phantom into this, but believed that he was there to help, and she was not going to turn that down.
They were making quick progress of sorting. Chloe was surprised at how quickly Danny was able to sort through them. She took a much needed coffee break and studied him for moment. He seemed happy, there was a gentle smile on his face as if he was privy to a joke that no one else was. Chloe was intrigued by the younger boy. He had proven beyond a doubt that he was above average intelligence wise. She didn't know anyone else who could have sorted through a list of addresses and found the best routes that quickly. It was almost as if he had an aerial mental map of all of Metropolis.
And there was also the way that he was able to quickly sort the gifts. He'd been arranging them into smaller piles on either side of the room; one for Clark and the other for Phantom. Each corresponded to the next area on the map that they would have to go to. It was... astounding. He seemed to have memorised every name on that address list, it had been almost an hour since he'd last looked at it. Chloe smiled, happy that Danny was letting her see this side of him. It made everything so much easier for her with Danny helping her organise everything so efficiently.
Phantom came in for another pile of gifts and Chloe realised that Clark hadn't checked by for quite a while. In fact Phantom had made three whole rounds since Chloe had last seen Clark. "Wonder where Clark got to." Chloe commented not long after Phantom had left again. Danny looked up at her briefly, his blue eyes briefly looked distant before he quickly shook his head and smiled. It wasn't a minute later that Phantom came back himself.
"Clark has been temporarily waylaid." Phantom announced looking at Chloe "He's on a rooftop, helping Santa out. It looks like he was about to..." Phantom trailed off for a moment before finishing "Well Santa looked pretty drunk and was looking for a way out. But Clark's talking to him. He'll probably have to head home soon though. I'll finish up for him." Chloe looked down at her watch blushing. Clark was already running late for his Christmas party and he absolutely had to be there for his dad's sake. Danny would probably get a lift back with her, or at least she hoped he'd stay. Chloe didn't want to lose her little Christmas elf.
Phantom departed with another pile of gifts and Chloe stood up to get back to work herself. As she stood she accidentally bumped into the massive stack of presents. She didn't have time to move or even to think as the huge pile toppled towards her. Suddenly she felt strong arms around her; there were loud thumps as the pile collapsed on the place she stood bare moments before. She looked into Danny's blue eyes, filled with a strange mixture of worry and... something unidentifiable. It was almost like prise or satisfaction, but there was something more to the look in his bright blue eyes.
"Great reflexes" Chloe commented lightly, still shocked that she hadn't been buried by the pile of gifts that now lay scattered on the floor. "Thanks" Danny just smiled at her, awkwardly rubbing his neck as he dismissed the comment. Chloe went to sit down to catch her breath and Danny started picking the toppled presents up. Chloe watched the younger boy as he worked and her eyes widened. Mere moments ago Danny had been on the farthest side of the room from her. There was no way he could have gotten all the way across in time to save her unless...
Danny was meteor infected. There was no other explanation. However, looking at him it was hard to believe that he would go psycho like all the others had. He'd just saved her from being crushed. Chloe decided that it wasn't harmful to Clark for his cousin to be meteor infected if Danny's inclination was to save people. Besides, if Danny got out of line Clark could save him before it got too bad. Chloe smiled; she'd protect Danny's secret for now. He didn't have to know that she'd figured him out. Like with Clark she wanted Danny to trust her enough to tell her on his own. If that meant she had to feign ignorance that was fine with her, although she did wonder what exactly his power was. All she knew was that Danny had suddenly been there to save her.
Danny grinned as he placed the last gift on the top of a small pile. "That officially makes the sorting finished." He announced, happily flopping into an empty office chair. His blue eyes sparkled gleefully from beneath his raven locks and Chloe couldn't help but think how innocent and naive he looked like that. She saw about twenty piles of gifts, carefully laid out on the desks. It seemed that Danny had managed to finish the job while she was busy musing.
Phantom faded in to pick up the next pile. Chloe was tapping away on her computer, but looked up when she noticed that both Danny and Phantom were gazing curiously towards the door.
"Merry Christmas Chloe" A warm elderly voice said, making Chloe jump slightly. She looked up to see a slightly pink cheeked man in a Santa suit smiling at her.
"Santa?" She queried and the man laughed. His hands coming to rest in the thick black belt he wore as he wandered over towards Chloe.
"Suit gave me away, huh?" the man jested. Chloe was curious as to what he was doing here, not to mention a little worried; after all a strange man had broken into the Planet after hours. While Danny was here to help, she didn't want to know how badly this could spiral out of control.
"What... what do you want?" She questioned, hoping to sound cautiously confidant to head off any problems before they arose.
"I met a friend of yours. Young Clark Kent" The mad replied and Chloe raised a sceptical eyebrow. "He told me what you, Danny, and he were doing. How you were all giving up your respective Christmas Eves. I figured you could use a little help." It was strange that he hadn't mentioned Phantom as well, but maybe Clark hadn't mentioned Phantom to the man. What did ghosts even do for Christmas anyway?
Chloe was sceptical of the man's offer, but looked over for the boys' input now that Clark wasn't here. Both were looking curiously at the man before Danny turned back towards her with a playful smile on his lips. Chloe turned her sceptical gaze back to the man.
"Shouldn't you be standing on some street corner with a bell?" Chloe asked and the man laughed lightly.
"Come on, let me give you all a hand. Take a little bit of the pressure off. I am familiar with the job, you know." He said, lightly tapping his pink nose and winking cheekily at her. Chloe wasn't yet convinced.
"I don't know." Chloe answered, crossing her arms in scepticism.
"Come on Chlo'" Danny interjected "What's the worst he could do, make off with a few free squirt guns?" Chloe looked over to the two boys to see both of them pleading with big pouting eyes. Emerald and blue twinkling at her she shook her head finally warming up to the idea. After all, Clark had gone home, and Chloe didn't want to be here all night. There was only so much that Phantom could do; and besides she had trusted him to help out, why not 'Santa' too?
"Well" she sighed "we definitely could use all the help we can get." Chloe smiled Santa, and was met by three pairs of happily twinkling eyes. "At least no one's gonna accuse you of being a scab in a Santa outfit." Chloe turned to pick up the address sheet for the closest pile and a warm wind washed over her. There was a faint sound of jingling and she spun around again to find Santa gone. Not just that, every single present was gone too.
Chloe looked over to the boys, but found that Phantom too had vanished. Danny looked slightly disoriented, but he stood up with a broad smile on his face. "That was pretty awesome" he commented, and Chloe couldn't help but to agree. It seemed Santa had managed to take all the gifts in one go, if he could manage that there was no doubt that he could deliver them all. The two of them quickly decided to head back to Smallville, after all Chloe was expected at the Kent Party too, and Danny needed to at least put his face in. Danny kindly helped her pack up for the night and Chloe donned her jacket. As she exited the building she had a strange thought; this time of night it was only key-card entry. To have gotten in... maybe the man really was Santa Claus.
She stepped outside into the Planet's Parking garage, shivering in the freezing cold. Danny seemed completely unconcerned with the biting cold in his single long sleeved t-shirt. Chloe shrugged it off as one of the strange things about Danny. After all, there had been kids at Smallville High who refused to put on a warm jacket even when the barometer hit freezing. The two of them jumped into her car and began the hour long drive to Smallville.
Chloe smiled, musing about what she knew of Danny. He was a good kid, he was meteor infected, but that didn't seem to change the fact that he tried to help people. He had saved her from being buried under all those presents. He was very smart, but he hid it most of the time and she didn't know why. But he was still a kind person. Just being around Danny made Chloe feel happy and safe; like she had a guardian angel would protect her from anything. It was weird to think that. She looked over at the younger boy. In a way he was like a little brother, in a strange cosmic sort of way. She knew Clark often felt that way about Danny, he'd said as much to her before.
The drive passed comfortably, although Chloe was surprised to learn that Danny hadn't applied for his driver's permit yet. The two chatted companionably. Chloe had long since felt that she could trust the boy, her only concern was for the safety of Clark. But now she was certain that Danny would help protect Clark's secret too. That didn't mean she wasn't curious though. "So, how did you find out about Clark?" She asked, her eyes briefly flicking into his shimmering blue through the rear-view mirror.
Danny's mouth twitched into a half-smile. "It was actually the first day I came into Smallville. You remember Sean Kelvin came up to us?" Chloe frowned and nodded. That boy still sent shivers down her spine. "Well," Danny continued "You and Lana ran off, but I had no idea I was supposed to follow. Sean froze Clark, and when I called you to ask what to do you said "just leave him in the sun.""
Chloe blushed at her own obliviousness. "In retrospect, that probably wasn't the best advice, but you couldn't take him to the hospital either."
Danny laughed. "Yeah, but hey, you were panicked, and just said the first thing that came to mind. Although next time maybe it'd be better to say just take him home to warm up. That was the first clue that something was different about Clark. But later that day a ghost came to Smallville. He was looking for Phantom, but that didn't stop him firing rocket, and Clark caught it."
"Ah" Chloe interrupted "The man of steel strikes again." Danny laughed at her comment. So Clark had gotten himself caught twice in the one day. Sometimes it amazed her that she'd been kept in the dark for six whole years when Clark made slip-ups like that.
"Yeah" Danny smiled "It kinda makes it obvious when someone catches a rocket that could have trashed a building." Danny shook his head and the two of them laughed. "But it's probably a good thing, in a funny way. He doesn't have to hide himself in his own home anymore, and he puts human life above his own secret. That just shows he's gonna be a great man someday." Chloe couldn't help but agree. But there was something in the conviction with which Danny had just said that that made Chloe wonder.
"And what's your excuse for arriving with me?" Chloe asked, wondering if he'd come up with a decent alibi. Danny smiled at her.
"I was invited to a get-together with some of my friends and wanted to put my face in. You were kind enough to bring me home, since I didn't want to pull Clark away from the party and it was on your way." Chloe blinked. That was both reasonable and stuck to the truth. They had had a get-together of sorts at the Planet, and she had offered to drop Danny off since he was going in the same direction as her. She'd need to remember to call Danny next time she was in need of an alibi for Clark.
Chloe happily pulled up into the Kent Farm, knowing that her curiosity had been satisfied. She knew that Danny would protect Clark's secret, and in a funny way he had explained his own standpoint. By judging that Clark was a good man for putting life in front of his own secret it suggested that Danny would do the same if the time came. Chloe stepped out of the car, heading towards the house. There were still a few things that she wanted to talk to Clark about, like the fact that the old man he had saved from jumping seemed to really be the actual Santa Claus.
Chloe stepped into the front yard and stopped in awe. It was beautiful. On either side of the garden path spiralling spires of ice shone, glowing white from within. Hanging between the spirals were twinkling snowflakes that swung gently in the breeze. There were two store-bought reindeer, shining brightly. But they were perfectly accentuated with crystalline reindeer, each one lit from below with a pure white light. In the bushes by the fence lay twinkling fairy lights, glimmering from beneath a gentle layer of frost.
Looking to the porch was more amazing, there were webs of glowing gossamer thread weaving through each of the railings. Thick garlands of leafy tinsel were interspersed with glowing bulbs of white and silver. Hanging between the eaves were delicate icicles, each glowing with elegant blue light. Interspersed between the icicles hung glowing snowflakes that twirled elegantly in the breeze. It looked beautiful, like a page from a long forgotten fairytale.
Danny just guided her into the house when she started shivering in the cold. She was going to ash Danny who had designed that display, but he had already vanished into the party crowd. She eventually found her way over to Clark and he said that it was Danny who decorated the outside of the house. Chloe had no idea that he had such artistic talent too. She smiled as she began her recount of her evening at the Planet after Clark had gone back home.
Danny smiled as he retreated up to his room. He was actually having fun with the whole family, but there was almost too much positive emotion in the air for the young halfa to stay around. That man at the Planet had been strange. Danny wasn't sure what to make of him, but he was a good person. That surge of energy he'd made when he'd taken all the presents had forced Danny to reabsorb his duplicate, but at the same time rejuvenated both halves and making him feel buzzed with energy. Then arriving at the party with so many happy people and especially a happy Clark had given his ghost half a ridiculous amount of excess energy. He could feel the cool tingle as his body demanded being in ghost form.
In a flash of white light Phantom soared out the window and up into the Smallville sky. He had one last surprise for the whole of Smallville. He summoned the ice energy in his core, letting it build and then releasing it carefully. He smiled as the snow he'd created started falling from the sky. This was just freezing the water molecules in the air around him, so it would act like normal snow. That didn't change the fact that his core thrilled at the presence of the ice in the air, nor the joy he felt as he flew through the falling snow, sending it twirling in fluttering circles in his wake.
Phantom soared back down to the Kent house, switching into invisibility as he went back to his bedroom. From downstairs he heard the dulcet tones of his aunt proclaiming "Look, everyone, it's snowing. It looks like we're going to have a white Christmas. He shifted back to his human half and drifted downstairs to join the crowd that had gathered outside to watch the falling snow. Danny smiled as he saw Clark and Lana hugging each other tightly in the falling snow. He may not have his own family this Christmas, but he was glad to be able to bring so much joy to the family that had accepted him as their own. This was exactly what he had envisioned when he made the garden decorations and imagined the snowfall.
The crowd drifted inside, but Danny stayed outside, enjoying the cold night air. There was the crinkle of moving gravel, and Danny saw the headlights as a black car pulled up. It was strange; all the invited guests had long since arrived. The car came to a stop and it was then that Danny caught the numberplate. It was registered in Wisconsin, the numberplate read M4DD13. It was Vlad Masters' car. Danny retreated inside, not prepared to face the froot-loop today. Not when it had been such a good day.
From the window in the living room Danny watched the silver haired man step out of the car. Long hair tied in a neat ponytail and his dark grey suit neat and crisp. He held an air of superiority that betrayed his own image of self importance. Danny ducked behind the window, letting the curtain fall back into place. The billionaire knocked on the door and Uncle Jonathan went to answer it. The elder half-ghost was welcomed into the house, and he spent a good ten minutes talking with Jonathan and Martha.
If Danny didn't know Vlad better he would have said he was being genuinely friendly. To all appearances he was the family friend of Danny's deceased parents come to visit their son for Christmas. But Danny was not that naive, he could hear the dangerous undertones and slight strains in his voice that told that he was up to something. Danny didn't have to wait long before he felt a firm hand grasp his shoulder.
"Hello Little Badger" Vlad said, smiling down at Danny.
"Good evening Vlad" Danny replied politely, not wanting to hint at the bad blood between the two of them in front of the Kents. Danny knew that Vlad would only use it to his advantage and Danny couldn't risk Vlad getting too interested in the Kents. Clark had his own secrets and Vlad did not need to know them.
"Is there somewhere more private we can talk?" Vlad asked cordially and Danny guided the man outside around the back of the barn and towards one of the fields. He didn't want Vlad in the barn since it was Clark's space, so the field would do. Looking at Vlad who was staring disgruntledly at the falling snow Danny sighted and raised a dome of energy to keep it out for now. It flickered out of visibility in the sky, but Danny knew it was still there. It also had the benefit of keeping their conversation within the dome. Not that Vlad needed to know that.
"You have better control than when I last saw you, Little Badger" Vlad commented lightly. And it was true, last time they'd encountered each other and used their powers Danny had still been training himself to use his powers in his human form. Danny simply nodded in response and elected to take a seat in the air, sitting cross legged and floating two feet above the ground.
Vlad sighed and formed a sofa of pink ectoplasmic energy, taking a seat himself. Danny had hoped to avoid a ghostly light show, which was why he'd decided not to make the shield visible. It seemed that Vlad just wanted to make his life more difficult.
"Now Little Badger" Vlad said after a minute's silence. "I've given you four months to consider your options. You've almost gotten yourself caught here so very many times. I think it's time you abandon this rural facade and come join me."
Danny looked into the elder half-ghost's blue grey eyes. The sad thing was there was a small part of Danny that desperately wanted to go with Vlad. They weren't the same, but Vlad knew the burdens of being half-ghost. He could teach Danny how to live with himself and control his powers. He could understand Danny in a way that the Kents just couldn't. But it wasn't worth the price. It wasn't worth the corruption or the starvation his ghost half would suffer for being there. He would literally make himself sick if he lived with Vlad; besides there were good things about the Farm.
"I like it here." Danny replied with a shrug and a half-smile. "It's peaceful, and the Kents actually like me for me. It's different than living in Amity, but I like being able to help out on the Farm. Vlad, I'm happy here." Danny finished looking the elder half-ghost in the eyes. Vlad looked unperturbed.
"Little Badger" He sighed patronisingly "You were meant for bigger things than living on some farm. With me you could be great. I can teach you things about yourself, your powers that you've never imagined. You can't find that here. They can't accept you for what you are. The Kents could never understand." Danny looked away. Vlad had offered the same thing back in the hospital, but Danny would never join Vlad. Their ideals were too conflicting and Danny didn't just want to be a pawn or another trophy for Vlad. He wanted to shine on his own. Danny smiled as he realised one thing.
"The Kents may never understand me for what I am. But they care about me for who I am, and to me that's what matters the most. I'm sorry Vlad, but the answer today is the same as it was the first time we met. I won't abandon my family." Danny replied. And he was being genuine, the Kents had been nothing but kind to him. They had welcomed him into their lives unquestioningly. Vlad may not know that they knew his secret – and if Danny had his way Vlad never would – but they had embraced him for what he was, half ghost and all. Being around Clark made Danny feel less freakish, like maybe being the only one of his kind wasn't such a bad thing.
That was the sad truth of it. Danny was alone being what he was. He was the middle ground between life and death. He was a Halfa, caught in the twilight between two worlds. Vlad was half-ghost but he wasn't a Halfa. He was still fully human; he just had the benefit of ghost powers. He wasn't bound by ghost laws, and he was pretty much above human ones. Danny fell under the jurisdiction of the ghost laws. There some which he was immune from, but the major ones he was honour bound and bound by ectoplasm to obey.
Vlad scowled at Danny, sending a bright pink beam of ectoplasm from his eyes straight at Danny's chest. Danny grunted in pain and fell to the ground, but could do nothing about it. He was bound by the Christmas truce not to attack, but Vlad was not. The Christmas Truce lasted forty-eight hours; the whole day cycle across the globe, since Christmas started earlier in other countries. It was a good thing because Danny got a break from fighting ghosts, but it meant that he couldn't defend himself against Vlad. The man stood up, dispelling his sofa. Danny quickly got to his feet.
"Impertinent boy!" Vlad exclaimed, closing the distance between them "My hospitality will not last forever. You are the last thing left of my love Maddie, but don't imagine that you are special. I am offering you the opportunity to live as a king. However my patience is waning. You will submit to me..." Vlad was cut off as Clark approached.
"Danny?" Clark called, and Danny lost focus on the shield, the snow once more falling down around them. Danny was still firmly in Vlad's grasp as Clark came into sight. "It's time to come back in. Mom's cutting the cake now." Clark paused as he surveyed the scene and Danny saw Clark's gaze fall suspiciously on Vlad. The pressure on Danny's arm increased and he felt the bone snap. It took all the self control he had not to flinch. He didn't want Clark to incur Vlad's wrath. 'It's only a greenstick fracture' Danny rationalised, managing to smile at his cousin 'it will be gone in a couple of hours'.
"Well, Little Badger." Vlad said, his tone returning to his usual light and cheerful demeanour "I trust you will have a lovely Christmas." Vlad let go of him and took a step back. "I really must be going now, but it's been wonderful to catch up. Don't worry, your dear Uncle Vlad will be around if ever you need someone to talk to." Vlad took a few steps back towards the house before turning around and brightly saying "I'll be seeing you very soon. Ta-ta." And with that he walked off, completely ignoring Clark's suspicious glare.
Danny managed to smile at Clark. The important thing was to keep Clark away from Vlad's attention. If that meant that Danny had to take a few extra broken bones it was worth it. He didn't want Vlad to turn Clark into a pawn. The two boys made their way back to the house. Danny watched as the crowd dwindled, the happiness in the air restoring some of Danny's own confidence.
It didn't matter that Vlad was back on the scene; Danny would protect all of them from the man's scheming. All that mattered for now was that it was Christmas and the whole family was together and happy. Danny noticed Clark gazing curiously at him, and suspected that he'd been subjected to an x-ray. However by now the bone was mostly healed, it shouldn't be too identifiable. He smiled at his cousin, and allowed his own aura to expand. He enjoyed the smile that lit both Clark's and Lana's faces as Danny's own energy released into the environment. It was nice to make people happy.
Danny smiled. Unsure whether it was just the day or if he'd overdosed on Clark's sunlit energy something told Danny that it was all going to be alright. He settled into his bed happily. For the first time since his family had died he actually felt something like happiness. He looked out the window to the bright full moon, the snow still falling softly. It was Christmas, and he was with people who cared for him for who he was. He was with people who knew what he was and had accepted him for it. A satisfied smile played on his lips and he faded into gentle slumber, dreaming of the good time's he'd lived with his family and friends.
It was going to be a perfect Christmas Day.
AN: Well, Chloe knows that Danny is meteor infected. Yay!
Vlad is officially back on the scene and in Danny's life. What's more, Clark is suspicious of the man.
Please tell me what you think, this chapter decided to die on me halfway, so I had to retype it. :( Anyhow, hope you enjoyed.
Till Next Time