Past Tense

I don't really know when it hit me. Maybe it was in Metropolis at the Daily Planet, but maybe, just maybe it was all those years ago in Smallville. I would never admit it to myself of course, and neither would Chloe, but when I look back my cousin and I were far too sharp not to have somehow unconsciously known.

What am I blabbering about you might ask? Well, to explain that I have to go back a few years to an era when we should have just been teenagers having a good time, but Smallville, despite its small town, small name reputation was always about more than that.

Chloe Sullivan, my cousin, worked on the school newspaper back then- a career the 'army brat' in me had no intention of following. Yeah, right, look at me now! Anyway, Chloe worked with a guy named Kent, and after she got herself in a whole lot of trouble testifying against Lionel Luthor, I had the pleasure of meeting said Clark Kent in all his unclothed glory. Okay, so I wasn't complaining!

Still, back to the story. By the time Clark had come to his senses, (I still don't know the whole deal about him being a naked and dazed amnesiac in a field, but what the heck) we had found Chloe, and life was back to some semblance of normalcy. Or was it?

Chloe loved the guy, I could see that right from day one, but he just didn't love her back. And me, where did I fit in? Well, to put it simply, I'm sure we hated each other with a passion- at least it felt that way. My snappy comments and attitude obviously grated his nerves, and his totally naïve approach to everything left me gaping. I mean, come on, could someone like him really exist in the world today? He seemed to look at life with blinders on, but you see, there was the catch.

It wasn't really Clark who wore the blinders; it was the rest of us. I should have seen right through him from the start, but hey, that's a trick I found out later he could do quite literally!

Chloe and I were blinded by the Kent charm. I know that now, even though at the time I would have choked with laughter if someone had suggested I had even a tiny spark of affection for the farmboy. Me, Lois Lane, falling for a plaid wearing geek? Never! But somewhere deep down, right after we'd first met, I wasn't just falling for him, I'd hit the ground with a thud and there was no escaping the outcome. I just didn't discover the fact until years later.

How else can you explain how both Chloe and I managed to overlook his daring deeds? He'd vanish virtually in front of our eyes, pipes would burst just at the right time to save our asses from angry football players, and helicopters would miraculously develop engine problems in his presence. There are so many other instances, but I won't bore you with them. What I will do is take you back, back to a day when even discounting all the other impossible things Clark did, THAT day; I should have known for sure that he was different. I'll leave you to make your own minds up, but I think I already know the answer…

It was a beautiful morning in Smallville. Perfect for riding through the short country lanes with my red Mustang's roof down, taking in the air, and basically facing Clark Kent for the first time since I, and two other girls had all but killed him.

I had little memory of my actions, or Lana and Chloe's, but the scars on Jason Teague's face left nothing to the imagination. From what Chloe had been able to pry from him, we'd be no less inhuman with Clark. Jason had found the bloodied farmboy hanging up, tied, and half naked in the barn, and I had been a party in the proceedings.

If Lana had been on her way to the Kent farm, I have no doubt she'd have been all apologetic and brimming with that usual expression of virtuousness of hers, but hey this was Sam Lane's daughter, I didn't do apologetic. I was on my way to do what dear Daddy had taught me. I wanted answers as to what had happened, and I wasn't afraid to use the full frontal assault approach to get them.

The Mustang died as I killed its ignition in the Kent driveway, but I didn't climb straight out. Instead, I lifted my shades and peered at Clark tossing hay up onto the back of his father's tractor. Every bale seemed weightless in his grasp, and he was obviously so deep in thought he hadn't noted my approach.

"Hey, Smallville, I'm glad to see you finally finished cleaning all the lingerie out of the barn!" I let the comment slip out, and then waited for his eyes to narrow and an expression of contempt to shoot my way. Sure enough it did.

Clark dropped the bale in his hand onto the back of the tractor and then began pulling off his work gloves. "My parents knew I hadn't been up to anything. They trust me." He began walking forward, and then nodded towards the barn. "Besides, there were so many discarded clothes in there; they knew they weren't all my doing." A slight smile appeared, and his snow-white teeth glinted in the sun for a second. Then he realized it was 'the enemy, Lois' he was talking to, and he retreated back to his offensive mode. "So, what are you doing here?"

I raised a brow and couldn't resist a jibe as I climbed from behind the Ford's wheel. Chloe and I could never help ourselves when it came to sarcasm. "Oh, I just wondered if you'd like to be this week's sacrifice for the local Smallville coven."

That remark earned me a roll of his eyes and a deep sigh. For a second he seemed almost wary of me, and I had the intense feeling he might just turn tail for the house and ignore anything else I said. After a moment though, he took on an almost wounded expression and asked, "You still don't buy the witch story, do you?"

I shrugged. My father had brought me up to trust in science, things I could literally see or have proof of, but certainly not witchcraft and mythology. Until my trip to Smallville, the most amazing things I had ever seen were probably new army toys my dad always got to test out on the range. "This is Smallville, not Salem! Besides, I really don't believe in that kind of cra…"

Clark shook his head, cutting me off. "That's exactly why it could happen here! Since the meteor shower, bizarre things happen in Smallville all the time! You're Chloe's cousin; of all people you should know that."

I still wasn't buying it. Here he was, expecting me to believe I had been possessed by some French witch with not a shred of evidence save his trashed barn- and that could probably be put down to French brandy easier than a several centuries old cross Atlantic curse involving a French witch. If that wasn't enough, plaid boy was now suggesting that some alien meteor force had played a hand in it.

"Oh, c'mon, this isn't Midwich either, Clark! Unless you want to admit to being some alien child sent here to conquer the world?" I threw my arms up in the air, but all I got was a hurt expression for my mocking remark. I wouldn't truly realize why for years to come, but it must have sliced into his soul far deeper than I could have imagined possible.

"If you don't want to listen to the truth, why have you come here?" The farmboy's voice had dropped so low that hearing it instantly made me feel guilty. His eyes stared effortlessly at the dusty driveway, and he seemed to not want to look me in the eye.

It hit me then that if I truly had hog tied him, and hurt him like Jason had told Chloe, well then maybe I was being the rude one. My dear daddy had trained me a little too well in the art of being detached, and now it was biting me in the butt like a coyote. Of course, it wasn't just my ill-timed way of thinking that caused the sudden remorse on my part, it was Clark too. The spark was already there- just that little something I was yet to recognize that would later turn to affection and more between us.

"Look," I offered in my best rueful tone, "I know I did something. I can't even remember what the heck it was I did do. If you're so sure it was some black art from the past, show me!" Here I was, wanting the facts in front of me again, "Take me to those caves and let me see what all the fuss was about!"

At the mention of the caves Clark almost choked. His eyes went wide and I could see he had no clue how to answer my demand. That was good, I knew I had hit a nerve, and that put me in a position of control. At least, I thought it had. Farmboy hadn't given into girl power just yet.

"No!" Kent looked back up at me then, his blue-green eyes dancing with fear and a strange commanding presence I would see a lot of later in Metropolis. "Believe me, the last place you want to go are those caves…" To assert the order, he crossed his arms in front of him, and took on a stance like some iron sentinel. The very image conjured up the idea in my head that he was not going to let me investigate further, or indeed walk passed him until he was certain I wouldn't try.

Clark should have known that saying no to a Lane is like flashing Superman's red cape at a bull- not a good idea unless you actually happen to be Superman, or indeed the bull. I stifled back a snort. "Why not? If you'd lost several hours of your life and we're accused of doing bizarre things in a barn, wouldn't you want answers?"

He didn't waver, and although the midday sun was now beating down on us both, and he had been tossing hay for Lord knew how long, his blue t-shirt showed no signs of perspiration- yet another small fact I chose to overlook at the time. We stared that way at one another for over ten minutes.

"The caves are dangerous." He finally replied.

I could tell from his mannerisms he definitely would have wanted answers, just like me, and so I kept the pressure on. "Come on, Smallville, if you come with me how can I be in any danger?" I pushed while I still had the edge, and it was clear he didn't know how to wriggle free.

"Just the outer cave," he finally conceded, "I don't even know how to get the inner chamber open again. That was something you witches had already taken care of when I arrived."

I smiled. I had won my battle and he didn't even realize it. I shook my car keys at him and flicked my head back gesturing he should hop into the passenger seat. Clark seemed to hesitate then, and I saw his gaze venture towards the house. I knew what he was thinking, and it was not something I wanted him to do. "Whoa! Don't you even think about going blabbing to your parents! Didn't you cause enough trouble when you fessed up to visiting the ruins of Chloe's safe house?"

A flash of guilt crossed his almost perfect features, but I had trouble telling whether he had regretted confessing that day, or whether the guilt was for what he was about to do. Either way, he surprised me with his answer.

"My parents aren't home. Mom's at the Talon and Dad is at the feed store." Plaid boy walked past me then straight towards the farmhouse. He didn't supply an explanation, but when he returned he'd slipped on his letterman's jacket and had cleaned up. I suspected he'd probably also left the Kents a note, and the thought annoyed me. I remember thinking that the guy never did anything risky, which of course wasn't true. Still, later on I would be extremely thankful of Clark's forethought, and the note that probably saved both our lives.

The Kawatche land was quiet when we arrived. Not a bird or cricket chirped anywhere. In fact, only my Ford's engine broke the interminable silence. I hadn't remembered it being this way, but then I didn't really remember the caves at all except that I had seemingly 'woken up' there.

A tall mesh fence cordoned of the land and the entrance to the underground caverns, and displayed right across it on large white boards were the warnings that this was indeed private property, and there was to be no trespassing. The words highlighted in red only strengthened my resolve to get in, and I did after all have the perfect key- Kent was very much in favor with the Luthors.

"So, do we need to tell anyone we're here?" I looked across to Clark as I parked my car as close to the fence as I dared, and then grabbed my purse.

"I don't usually have a problem, but…" Clark's sentence was left trailing as he glared at something inside the perimeter. His eyes were wide enough to tell me it wasn't something he'd expected, and it wasn't good.

I climbed out anyway and took a look for myself. Reluctantly he followed. It was then I spotted the goons. There were at least four black suited individuals that looked like CIA operatives prowling the Kawatche land and cave entrance. I'd seen enough army training in my time to know these guys meant business. I had no doubt they each had a weapon under their jackets, and probably an ankle holster too. What I didn't get was why there was suddenly a need for such security.

"Something going on here you're not telling me, Smallville?"

Clark shook his head and was evidently as baffled as I was. He approached the gate a few yards away, clearly hoping once he introduced himself to the guards all would be well. It wasn't.

"Stay back, Kid. All access to this area is now strictly prohibited." The burly security officer reached his left hand towards his jacket and the 45 that was concealed beneath. By then, even Kent took the hint that we weren't getting in this way.

"Remind me to call Lex when we're done here…" Clark scowled at me and walked pretty rapidly back to my car.

"You mean we aren't done here?" I was suddenly liking his new attitude. Kent was going for the full frontal too instead of backing off. Maybe I could work with this guy after all.

Clark smiled cheekily and cocked his head slightly to one side. Now I was seeing why Chloe liked the dude so much. "Take the car far enough down the road so those guys think we've gone, then park it up out of sight." He grinned at me, and I was reminded of the day I'd knocked him into the dunk tank with just one throw.

Suddenly, I wanted to dunk him again just for the heck of it, but I followed his instructions anyway. "I take it you know a back way in?" I asked as I churned dirt all over my freshly cleaned car getting off the highway.

"I used to race my bike here with a friend. That's how I first discovered the caves. Maybe we can still get in that way…"

I shook my head sarcastically. What had dirt bike racing got to do with ancient Native American caves? "Bike racing connects to underground caves, how exactly?" I couldn't resist the query as I trudged after him into the thicket, abruptly thankful I was a jean and t-shirt kinda girl. "What did you do, fall of your bike into one?"

He grinned again. "Actually, yeah I did…"

I felt my cheeks begin to turn a rosy crimson and was helpless to stop them. I never normally blushed, especially not over something so trivial, but 'plaid boy' was starting to get to me. I wanted to shoot a retort at him about typical hick drivers, but before I had the chance Clark grabbed my arm like a vice and yanked me behind a nearby bush.

Had I been thinking straight I would have kept my big mouth shut, but somehow my brain had diverted into definite 'girly' thoughts- again, something that didn't happen too often with my tomboy upbringing. "Hey, I'm not that kinda…"

Clark put his hand over my mouth and I was tempted to bite into it. Luckily for me, I spotted Lex's goons and appreciated farmboy's intentions before I smashed my front teeth on his unbreakable skin.

Apparently the 'men in black' hadn't fallen for our little ploy, and had decided to send out a couple of scouts to make sure we didn't get to snoop. I still didn't see what the big deal was about the caves, but whatever it was my overly active jaw had just alerted them to our presence.

"C'mon!" Clark yanked at me again, tugging me to my feet, and this time I didn't resist.

I could hold my own in a fight and had proved it on too many an occasion. I was sure Clark could pack a punch too, but neither of us could stop a bullet if the guards decided to open fire. Well, that was as much as I knew, wasn't it? Clark could not only stop a bullet, he could catch one too if the need arose. Of course he didn't want to reveal that in front of me or Lex's goons though, so we made a run for it.

Even without his extra speed that I was oblivious to, Clark was a pretty mean sprinter. Had I not taken several assault courses with dad's unit I might not have been able to keep up, but then in hindsight that may have been a good thing.

We dashed across the piece of land just before two of the 'men in black' spotted our hidden position. I don't really know what happened next. Everything seemed to slam into hyperdrive, or that was the way it felt. I heard a crack and recognized the sound as a bullet being fired, or was it two bullets?

It didn't matter, the next moment Clark was pitching forward and I was carried with him. His grip on my arm, and sheer momentum jerked me off my feet and we were both falling into what appeared to be a black chasm. All I remember from the tumble was one never-ending thought. 'Clark's been shot, and we're now both going to die crashing into some cave floor like a brick'. Okay, so maybe that's a kind of poetic way of putting it. Maybe my real thought was something a little less floral, and a little less PG related, but it boiled down to the same thing.

As it happened, one part of my description was pretty darn accurate. Oh yeah, we hit that jagged rock floor like a brick- a ten ton one with no cushioning.