Martha and Jonathan took him home, in the end, and he rode quietly in the bed of the pickup. Though he could hear both of their voices perfectly despite the closed window between them, neither of them seemed inclined to discuss the incident. Well, not much beyond Martha’s remark that they were lucky to have found him, and Jonathan’s reply that the tire wouldn’t have been blown out if he hadn’t needed to swerve in the first place. Clearly he hadn’t won the man’s trust.
That hurt, and he didn’t quite understand why. He didn’t know who he was, so why should he expect these people to just assume he was a friend? The only solution was to do everything he could to prove his good intentions.
Once they arrived at the farmhouse, he asked if there was anything he could do to help. Martha wanted him to just lie down and rest, but he insisted gently. They were helping him, he should do what he could for them. It was only fair. And that resulted in him going outside with Jonathan to pick up debris and re-set part of a fence that had fallen. Undemanding work, really, but he went to it with a will, eager to prove himself to the older man.
His prodigious strength was useful, but he was careful not to use too much of it. He didn’t want to seem like a showoff, or break anything, for that matter. Still, Jonathan let him carry the heavier loads, and it was a start, at least. He could almost see the older man thawing toward him, and it was gratifying.
The sun beat down on them both, and Jonathan had to mop his face with a towel several times. He, on the other hand, wasn’t uncomfortable. The sun’s warmth was pleasant, and he kept tilting his face up to it with his eyes half-closed against the glare.
After a couple of hours they both went inside for tall glasses of iced tea, wonderfully refreshing. He drank the beverage down gladly, and Martha refilled his glass before he could even ask her. “I don’t mean to badger you, but if you remember anything, anything at all, it could be a big help.”
“I’m trying,” he said earnestly. “I want to know, too. But the first thing I remember is waking up in a hayfield and walking, this morning.” He stooped his shoulders a bit, feeling embarrassed by that. There were memories somewhere, as proven by the words that would suddenly come to him where he had been blankly confused a moment before.
“That’s all right,” Martha said, and patted his hand. He smiled at her, grateful. Her kind face never failed to make him smile even when he wasn’t entirely sure why. The smile somehow turned into a yawn, which he covered up, but Martha asked after it solicitously anyway. “Are you tired?”
“I don’t…” he trailed off, looking miserable. It wasn’t weariness that he felt, but he had no word to describe it. He didn’t want to sleep, he wanted to lie still and think. Preferably in the sunlight.
Martha only chuckled. “It has been a long morning, hasn’t it? Listen, I made up the spare bedroom upstairs. Why don’t you lie down and take a bit of a nap?”
That sounded like a good idea. The room she mentioned was small, the walls painted a pleasant blue, and sunlight streamed in when he opened the curtains. He took off his shoes and lay down on top of the bed, letting his mind drift. It was peaceful, just the right environment for letting his fractured memory return…
…until he heard the older couple arguing downstairs in the kitchen. “Jonathan, that boy saved your life. I can’t believe you’d think so ill of him.”
“He’s a stranger, Martha. We don’t know anything at all about him—and if he’s telling the truth, neither does he! Of course I’m not gonna drive into town and leave you here with him. What if he suddenly remembers he’s not so nice a guy?”
“Nonsense,” she scoffed, but he could hear the wavering in her tone.
“And he held that truck up like it was a toy,” Jonathan added. “He doesn’t even have to mean harm to cause it, as strong as he is. No, you go on to town and pick up those supplies. I’ll stick around here. You’re probably right, but just in case.”
There was a long pause, and then a new, steely note in Martha’s voice. “Fine, then. But I swear to you, Jonathan Eben Kent, if I come home and find out you’ve run that boy out while I was gone, you will never again eat a hot supper, drink a cold beer, or sleep in a warm bed in this house, do you understand me?”
“Go on with you, Martha,” Jonathan replied in wounded tones. “The thought never crossed my mind. You’re too protective of ‘im already, to be jumping at shadows like that.”
A few minutes later the truck started up, and then drove out onto the road. He rolled over in bed, clutching his pillow miserably. The last thing he wanted was to cause the two of them to fight. How much they loved each other was readily apparent, even to him, and he disliked being a point of contention. Perhaps it would be better if he simply left, he thought morosely, and then realized that doing so would cause Martha to blame Jonathan, and he couldn’t have that.
He fell into a thin, troubled sleep, in which blots of shadow moved through a brilliantly white-gold world, and flowers sang to him in the voice of a woman he loved.
Lana didn’t like leaving Lois and baby Connor alone at a time like this, but with the phone lines out, she needed to get in touch with her family somehow. They had laid in all the necessary supplies for the new baby weeks ahead of time, so at least she didn’t have to run around trying to get those. Although Lois would surely benefit from a little something to pick her up, and Lana needed to talk to Silas anyhow.
The first thing she noticed, pulling up to Main Street, was the camouflage-painted Army trucks parked along the road. Lana’s instinct was to turn tail and flee, just run and snatch Lois and Connor up. If they saw her, maybe she could draw them off, warn Lois somehow and drive in the opposite direction to buy the younger woman some time.
That was desperation speaking. Fort Leavenworth wasn’t far away, and the tornado had been close enough to cause some damage. These might just be reservists coming to help set things to right, but a panicked flight would get their attention and then Lois’ cover would be blown. She had to brazen it out, hope for the best, and if caught, lie so much they wouldn’t believe the truth when she finally had to tell it.
Lana parked the car and got out, trying to act casual, which only made her seem hesitant and nervous. But everyone else was still shaken up by the storm, so she wasn’t too out of place.
And then she had to walk past two of the soldiers, giving them a studiously casual glance that neither noticed, and saw the poster they were putting up. A wanted poster.
Everyone knew there were three prisons up at Fort Leavenworth. The federal penitentiary had been downgraded recently, and one of the military prisons was also medium security. But the United States Disciplinary Barracks—or the Castle, as it was called—was the only maximum security prison operated by the military, a place designed to hold the most dangerous felons convicted of the most heinous crimes. And if the Army was here tacking up wanted posters, that could only mean it was one of theirs. Lana hoped it was one of the less-violent offenders from the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility. She felt very protective of Lois, and very grateful for the strong locks on the doors. Then again, Lana imagined a lot of locks would be turned tonight in Smallville, most of them rusty with disuse.
The storm, the prisoner, and the soldiers’ mere presence all seemed like three dark omens tied together. Even if the soldiers weren’t here for Lois, they were a danger to her; who knew how many of them might’ve served with her father? Lana tried not to shiver, ducking into the general store.
Silas immediately drew her attention; the store was packed with people either picking up things they’d forgotten to stock up on—despite the fact that this was Kansas, after all, and tornado damage was to be expected sooner or later—or just there to gossip. “How’s Sarah?” he asked.
At least that question could make her smile. “Fine, just fine,” Lana said and leaned across the counter to whisper the rest of the news under the guise of giving Silas an affectionate peck on the cheek. “She had the baby. In the middle of the storm, of course. A gorgeous baby boy, Connor.”
“That’s good news,” Silas replied, reining in his delight only because Lana had. Luckily she didn’t have to explain the situation to her cousin. He likely thought she was just trying to buy a day or two of relative peace before the well-wishers swarmed them.
“So what’s going on?” Lana asked, tipping her head toward the door.
Silas scoffed. “The Castle lost one. According to the poster he’s extremely dangerous. They won’t even mention what charges he’s wanted on, so it’s got to be bad. Supposedly he’s not all right in the head, either. Delusional or something. I got one of the soldiers talking while the CO was looking the other way. This guy might well walk right up to someone’s house in broad daylight.”
“Good Lord,” Lana murmured, her heart sinking. It had been the Castle, which meant the escaped convict was extremely dangerous indeed. And if he was mentally ill, too, that made it worse.
There were other concerns, especially with that last warning. “Around here, that’ll get him shot,” Lana commented. Many homes, especially on the edges of town and out on the farms, kept a ‘varmint gun’ behind the back door. That was usually a .22 caliber rifle or a .410 gauge shotgun, used on prowling animals that might kill livestock. Either weapon could be just as lethal if fired at a human being. Prisoner or not, it turned Lana’s stomach to think of anyone getting killed in Smallville. Things like that didn’t—shouldn’t—happen in her hometown.
“That’s what I said,” Silas replied with a sigh. “They’re warning everyone not to engage him, just call the hotline if he’s spotted. Probably have ‘im inside of a day, with this many men swarming around. They want him alive and unharmed if they can.” He shrugged; who could guess why it would be so important to save one fleeing convict?
Lana was certain of one thing. She wasn’t going to enjoy bringing Lois this news.
Martha was still thoroughly annoyed with Jonathan when she pulled up to the general store. She knew full well that his mulish insistence had more to do with protectiveness than real animosity. He wasn’t willing to trust a stranger with the most important things in his life, that was all. No matter how helpful and kind the boy was, Martha suspected he was much more of a stranger than she or Jonathan had guessed.
She missed the wanted poster on her way in, her view blocked by a couple of lollygagging youngsters clustering around it. They only needed a few more things for repairs, and luckily Silas was well-prepared, so he had it all in stock. As she checked out, Martha asked after those members of his family she hadn’t seen in a few days—which oddly enough, included Lana. Normally the Senator’s wife was very much a part of town life when she was able to be in Smallville, but then, on this particular trip she’d had her hands full taking care of Sarah.
Whatever else she might feel about it, Martha thought it was a sad day when a young woman had to give birth to a child far away from her own family and the baby’s father. It was a shame that some people would see her condition as a stain on her parents. Sure, a girl her age ought not to be getting pregnant, but to disdain her and her family was to compound the error, and such contempt was unchristian. Sarah was already going to have enough difficulty added to her life, all thanks to what might have been a moment’s lapse in judgment. Of course such lapses could have profound effects, but Sarah was learning that on her own without any disparaging hypocrites glaring down their noses at her for it.
Silas answered her lightly, telling her that she’d missed Lana by less than an hour. He volunteered no further information, but there was a twinkle in his eye that made Martha wonder if he hadn’t had some exciting news from the redhead. Sarah was quite far along, and good news was always welcome.
And then he took on a more serious mien, adding, “Have you spoken to one of these soldiers yet, Mrs. Kent?”
“No, I haven’t,” she replied. She’d noticed the trucks and the young men and women in fatigues, but hadn’t paid much attention, assuming they were reservists called out to help deal with storm damage.
“Well then, take a look at one of those posters they’ve been pasting up,” Silas warned. “There’s a convict on the loose, escaped from Leavenworth. They’re telling everyone to watch out, especially the farms further out. Good clear picture of ‘im on the poster, make sure you don’t open your door if you see someone like that.”
Oh, heavens, just what she needed! As soon as Jonathan got wind of this he’d be baying like a hound about the danger of taking in strays. Never mind that she was certain to the bottom of her soul that the boy they’d found was no prisoner. He was too young, too innocent; the royal blue of his eyes held not a trace of fear or suspicion. Only a sweetness that was very childlike.
Still, she had to take a look for appearances’ sake, and Martha found her reading glasses at the bottom of her purse as she walked out with her purchases. The knot of kids was still clustered around the poster, discussing it with the kind of morbid curiosity that often startled their parents. “I bet he’s a killer,” one boy said.
“Nah, gotta be worse than that, if it says ‘use extreme caution’,” another boy said, leaning close.
“Well what’s worse’n killing people?” the first one asked.
The second had an answer, but at the sight of Martha he flushed deep crimson, and the whole pack of them dissolved away. She shook her head slightly, and adjusted her glasses to peer at the poster.
Once when she was five or six years old, she’d gone to the swimming hole late in the year, when the water was starting to get cold. It had been in the middle of the week, and probably no one else had been there in a few days. She remembered practicing her backstroke from one side to the other, missing the summer in the poignant way of children sent back to school. Minding her own business, not especially worried about being out there alone, or the scolding she’d get for coming home late.
And then something big and cold and slimy had brushed her leg, and it had felt like she hadn’t so much swum to the edge as run across the water. Martha knew now, of course, that it had just been a big old catfish, curious about the solitary intruder to its realm. Then, her skin had felt like it was trying to crawl off her body, and she’d shuddered with fear for long minutes after getting out of the water.
She felt like that now. The face on the poster was her boy, right down to the stray curl falling right down the middle of his forehead, those wide blue eyes looking out at her from above words in big block capitals, cautioning her not to engage him at any cost.
Lois knew something was up when Lana locked the front door behind her and immediately walked through the house to lock the back door as well. That ticked one dark brow up, the girl’s hazel eyes following the redhead’s every move while she carefully set her paperback on the coffee table. Oh, yeah. Something was definitely up. “Red?” she called from the couch, but softly—Connor had been asleep for the last hour, cradled on her chest as she’d read.
Her unease only deepened when she heard Lana latching windows as well, even though the day was pretty hot. The first few days it had seemed very odd to leave everything unlocked except at night, but she’d quickly realized that in a small town like this, anyone who tried to break in and steal something would likely get caught within a week, either trying to sell it or for having it themselves. Smallville felt safer to her than most places she’d lived, and Lois was used to having armed men on guard.
Finally Lana came into the room and sat down with her. “We have a problem,” she said.
“What kind of problem?” Lois asked, her chill of unease morphing the steel spine of high alert. When someone like Lana said that, you listened. This was a woman who had tried to treat a tornado as a mere obstacle to be worked around.
Lana sighed heavily. “You know we’re not that far from Leavenworth, right? Well, a prisoner escaped from there. Possibly armed, probably mentally ill, and definitely dangerous. The town is swarming with soldiers, too.”
Lois could only blink at that news. Under normal circumstances, the escaped convict wouldn’t have worried her. She had been trained by her father, and had learned how to fight an early age. She didn’t doubt herself against most grown men, even if they were armed. Too many people thought a gun made them dangerous, when it was perfectly easy to snatch it away while they were waving it around in a threatening manner. At least, it was easy for someone born with the Lane stubborn courage.
But Connor, he couldn’t defend himself, and Lois found herself bristling at the notion than anyone might try to come after him. She could almost pity this faceless con, if he picked this house to break into. Lois was certain she’d tear his throat out with her teeth before she’d let him set hands on her baby. Just come and try it…!
Seeing the maternal fury in her face, Lana put a hand on her knee. “We ought to be safe enough, I think. It’s those soldiers, Lois. As many as there are, they must think this guy is somewhere nearby, and they won’t leave until they have him, or until they get news of him being somewhere else.”
Lois realized what she meant immediately, and hunched her shoulders defensively. “Dammit! It just figures that it would happen now. I can’t risk one of them seeing me. My dad’s the Vice Chief of Staff, and we’ve been stationed all over the place. The odds one of them might recognize me are pretty high, especially if the General passed one that I wasn’t touring for one.” The bitter fury rose up again, feeling almost like a force-field of heat around her. She wouldn’t have put it past him; her father would pull every dirty trick he knew to get what he wanted and she knew he had to be looking.
“That’s what I was thinking,” Lana said, giving her a sad smile. “The good news is, we do have a plausible excuse for you not to be seen in town for a while. And I think you might just be a bit busy for a little while, anyway.” Her sea-green eyes sparkled on those last words, glancing down to Connor.
Lois glanced up at Lana, her brows furrowed, only to catch her gaze and follow it. At some point during their discussion, the baby had woken up and was now staring up at her in rapt silence. It made her chest ache to see just how curiously he peered up at her. Just that quickly, the resentment was blanketed, forgotten. Looking down at him, Lois couldn’t help but soften. Her son’s eyes never failed to remind her of his father, and she found it difficult to be angry with Kal-El in mind. “Well, little guy, welcome to the life of a fugitive,” she said, stroking his cheek, and Connor grabbed onto her finger.
The boy was asleep. Jonathan had glanced in at him once or twice, just checking. He slept troubled, twisted around and gripping the pillow tight, but he looked more like a worried child than a grown man. Jonathan was beginning to wonder if he might be a little touched in the head. It might account for Martha’s instinctive, immediate protectiveness; she was the sort of person who gravitated toward any kind of wounded creature. He’d lost track of how many injured fawns, fledglings, and other critters she’d nursed back to health. Heck, the one fox she’d found with a broken leg hadn’t stopped hanging around the house for over a year after she turned it loose, and that had been full-grown when Martha rescued it!
Something about him still left Jonathan uneasy. Maybe it was the great big question mark he saw in the boy’s eyes; not for a second did he think the amnesia was feigned. And that was unusual enough to be a matter of concern. The boy himself was clearly perplexed by it, too.
As for the immense strength he had shown, Jonathan had almost convinced himself it was a fluke. People could do incredible things with a sudden jolt of adrenaline, after all. And those who were a bit slow could often be very strong. Not that the boy seemed particularly slow, just childlike in a way. As if every commonplace thing was a source of wonder.
He heard the truck rattle up the drive, and a few moments later Martha came in, looking very distressed. “Now you listen to me,” she began, without even letting him ask what was wrong. “I don’t believe a word of it, Jonathan, not one single word. If he’d ever done anything like that in his life they’d have put it on the sign. Just because it’s his picture doesn’t mean what they’re saying is true. And I won’t let you turn him over to them, don’t even think it!”
“Martha, for the love of God, what are you babbling about?” he asked, perplexed. Jonathan had the uncomfortable feeling that he was about to get yelled at, and for all her sweetness Martha Clark Kent had always been a champion yeller. Something had her worked up, that was for sure.
“Those idiotic wanted posters the Army’s pasting up all over the town,” she huffed, arms crossed and eyes blazing.
Then Jonathan could make the leap. The Army—which administered not one but two prisons up in Fort Leavenworth—was searching for an escaped convict. Just like he’d suspected from the first time he saw that brand-new shirt with the cardboard still in its collar, like the boy hadn’t worn ordinary clothes in longer than he could remember.
And the face on the wanted poster was the boy’s, which was why Martha was in a lather. She’d convinced herself of his innocence when they knew absolutely nothing about him, and be damned if he was going to harbor a runaway prisoner! Good grief, and she’d tried to talk him into leaving her alone here with the boy! God alone knew what could’ve happened in his absence. Jonathan’s stomach churned just thinking of it. They didn’t put petty thieves up in Leavenworth, after all.
“That’s it,” he snapped, and she tried to grab his sleeve, but he stormed off up the stairs, not even thinking clearly. Later on, he’d realize that if the boy had been some kind of a dangerous ruffian, going to confront him unarmed and in a rage was a very foolish idea. At the moment Jonathan was only conscious of protective anger, and guilt that he’d been duped so far.
Martha called his name, but he ignored her. It’d be worth a month of cold suppers and sleeping on the couch, two months even, to keep her safe. She was just a little too good for this world, a little too willing to believe that her compassion would be returned. He’d once seen her fish a hornet out of the iced tea pitcher with her bare hand and blow on it until its wings dried enough for it to fly away—and then used the fact that she hadn’t been stung as justification for such recklessness, when really she’d only been lucky.
Jonathan flung the door open and burst into the spare bedroom … but the accusations died on his lips.
The boy was floating in midair, three feet above the bed.
“Good God Almighty,” Jonathan said in a strange, hoarse voice.
Just behind him, Martha called angrily, “Jonathan, don’t you dare…!” She fell silent as she came abreast of the door, and saw the boy there, hovering impossibly.
He heard them, one of them, and woke up. Apparently the situation was as much a shock to him as it was to them, because he gave a strangled yelp and promptly fell, making the bedsprings creak in sharp complaint. The next moment, the boy was scrambling off the rumpled coverlet, landing on his rump on the floor and staring at the bed as if it had somehow been the cause.
Only then did he turn to them, confusion bleeding into fear in his eyes. “What’s going on?!” he asked plaintively. Jonathan couldn’t even answer. This had gone far beyond worrying about who the boy was. Now he was starting to wonder what he was.
Martha only crossed her arms, leaned against the door frame, and said in acid tones, “You still think he’s some runaway from Leavenworth, Mr. Know-It-All?”