1Title: The Guardian

Author: Marcy

Summary: The sequel to Future Tense. If you don't read that - this will be really, really confusing.

Notes: Okay - it's begun. I wanted to take my time with this - and then I realized that if I did, it just simply wouldn't be written. So I'm going to try to go chapter by chapter, and write as fast as I can.

Deep breath

Here goes nothin...

Prologue

It started, as most life-changing events tend to, with a split-second decision.

Chloe Sullivan popped her car into reverse, and her tires ground stubbornly into the gravel. The familiar hand-carved wooden sign swung invitingly in the cool, night breeze. For a moment she sat considering the alternatives - the mountains of financial aid packets that needed to be filled out and filed; her editorial for Monday's edition of the Torch that was still many drafts away from print-worthy; the prospect of a goodnight's sleep after hours behind the wheel. And then finally, on a whim - a gut-shot choice - she veered off the road that would take her home and set out towards the Kent Farm.

Her five day college tour had been cut short after her visit to Metropolis University. The moment her wheels had hit the blue and silver streaked asphalt of the student parking lot, she was greeted by her cousin - who gave her a careful hug before announcing that she'd skipped out of her morning lab to pick them up a couple of coffees. She handed Chloe one of the tall Styrofoam cups (2 sugars and non-fat creamer, just how she liked it), hooked her arm, and led her towards the ivy-wrapped campus.

Lois played tour guide, and did it exceedingly well. She showed her the high lights; ushered her quickly past the low lights. For someone who personally cared little for the college itself, Chloe had mused, Lois sure knew how to sell it.

As they walked the main drag that led to the Student Union, Lois had warned her not to look up. That urbanites could always spot the out of towners - jaws gone slack and necks craned. That's why tourists were natural marks, she'd explained - it wasn't because they were inherently naive ("You aren't all suckers." ) - but because the cityscape worked like a ready-made distraction, a big neon 'look over here' sign while someone swiped your wallet.

But Chloe ignored the advice, her eyes saucer-wide. She was positive she couldn't have looked more out of place if she tried, but she didn't care. The city had a pulse; a heartbeat that quickened her own. It felt new and exciting.

Like a million stories waiting to be unearthed.

Before she knew it the admissions papers were all but signed and she was puttering her cherry red VW bug back home, leaving Lois behind, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

She should've known better than to make Met U her first stop.

As she saw the farm house crest into view, Chloe thought idly about the speed at which a life course could shift. In a matter of moments her future had forked and she'd chosen her new direction.

Another split-second, and another destination.

Chloe rolled into the driveway and killed the engine. She was surprised to see Lana's Jeep parked a few feet ahead. Or, maybe, not so surprised. Because as much as things changed, they still had that annoying way of staying the same.

As she got out of her car, she began to wonder if the impromptu pit stop had been a good idea, after all. She looked up to see the loft's light on, burning the midnight oil. Voices floated down, and she tried to make them out, even thinking for a moment that she had heard her name. Chloe had never had many reservations when it came to eavesdropping - a reporter's prerogative - but the wind shifted and her stomach tightened and she began to get the feeling that she was supposed to be somewhere else - anywhere else - but there.

But before she had a chance to investigate the reaction, fate flipped the light switch for her.

"Lois?"

Chloe watched, stunned, as her cousin walked slowly into frame and bent over the telescope.

Over the years Chloe had developed a sixth sense about certain things. After all, nothing in her little town could ever be simply taken at face value. Whether it wore a polite veneer or flashed a frightening mask, it was never exactly as it appeared to be. She'd learned that early and adapted.

Only in Smallville could paranoia double as a survival mechanism.

Impulsively, Chloe jogged to her car and reached through the open window, grabbing her cell phone from the passengers seat. She scrolled through her digital phone book, while keeping a mindful eye on the figure in the window. She pushed send and waited.

"Hello?"

"Hey. It's Chloe."

"Miss me, already?"

"Lois, where are you?"

On the other end, Lois hesitated and then answered, "The library."

"The library?"

"Okay, fine, the bar. But the library was my next stop, I swear."

"So you're at school?"

"Where else would I be, Chlo?"

The woman in the window walked out of view. "I don't...I don't know."

Chloe looked down at her shaking had and realized she was beginning to panic. Was she losing her mind? Were years of meteors freaks finally taking their toll on her good judgement?

Lois' voice broke in.

"Is everything okay?"

"Huh?" Chloe shook off her daze. "Oh, yeah. Fine. Lois, I've gotta go."

"Chloe-"

She cut the line, and pocketed her phone.

Inside the barn she moved slowly, mindful of the way the straw crunched like cornstarch beneath her feet.

When she got to the base of the steps, she stopped. She didn't want to move any closer - but she couldn't, for the life of her, turn away.

"You're going to regret this," she mumbled to herself. "But since when is that new?"

She crept her way up the stairs, and settled just out of view.

Chloe closed her eyes and drew in a breath, and for the first time in a long time, silently prayed for a sensible - and preferably exceedingly dull - explanation. That she hadn't seen her cousin. That this was all a giant misunderstanding. That she had no reason to worry.

She held in her breath and waited.

"Why are you here?" she heard Clark ask finally.

Chloe's arms tightened around her knees. She squeezed her eyes shut and braced herself.

"Ahh...straight to final Jeopardy, huh?"

Chloe winced in recognition. The voice was confident, familiar...

"Lois," she whispered, in disbelief.

She twisted around and slowly peered over the ledge.

The first thing she saw was Clark. His jaw was set, his arms folded tightly across his chest.

Lana was only a few inches behind him, but looked as though she could have been a million miles away.

And then...

Lois.

She was older, but not by much. Her hair was now a deep chestnut and fell by her shoulders. The woman standing in the loft looked professional. Polished. But it was definitely her cousin. The same one that, hours before, had been pointing out Frat Row and showing her how to get around tickets issued by Parking Services. No, Chloe thought, not the same.

"Never let it be said that Lois Lane couldn't get right down to business," she said, spinning on her heels.

"Kent."

Chloe watched as she stopped dead. "What?"

Chloe shifted her weight to the balls of her feet, and rocked up for a better view. They wouldn't notice her. They were too engrossed in whatever this was.

Something fell from Clark's hands and danged like hangman.

"Your name. It's Lois. Lane. Kent."

Chloe's eyes went wide.

Another split second. Another destination.