By Shayne Terry <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: March 2001
Summary: As the world mourns the apparent loss of Superman, a mysterious drifter tries to make sense of his shattered memory, sudden flashes of superhuman power and the images of a dark-haired woman that haunt his dreams.
Author's Note: I'd like to thank some of the best beta readers in the business. Wendy Richards, Dr. Klein's Labrat, Ann McBride and Jo March gave their unflagging support, and they were quick to provide feedback, even when it wasn't convenient.
I'd like to thank Labrat again for helping inspire this fic with her story Lonesome. While I might have ended up with something entirely different, my inspiration began with that story.
Jo March was there from the beginning, through the brainstorming sessions that eventually evolved into this story.
I'd also like to thank the readers at Zoom's Message Boards. I've been overwhelmed by the warmth of their response to this story. Their support kept me motivated, and their comments were both eloquent and enthusiastic. No one could ask for a more dedicated group of beta readers.
Rights to all recognizable characters in this story belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers, and no infringement is intended by their use in this story. Other characters are mine.
Memory was a shifting thing, a massive void left behind when time and life had conspired to rob him of all that had been him. It was elusive; the harder he tried to remember, the less he could recall. It was only when he was at the edge of sleep that he had flashes and images that might perhaps have been from his past.
He could recall the sun and the stars, and an airless, clinging void. His dreams had him gasping for air, suffocating as he struggled for life. In those moments he woke with his chest heaving, sweat pouring into his eyes, mixed with the tears of an inexplicable sense of loss and loneliness.
Those around him celebrated the end of Nightfall. Superman had shattered the asteroid, and the military had managed to destroy the smaller piece that had been left behind. Even the residents of the Hobb's Bay Homeless Shelter were upbeat. The world had survived, and if people had begun to wonder about the loss of their hero, that small pain was far overshadowed by the knowledge that the danger was finally over.
The streets were filled with the sounds of celebration. With the world only narrowing escaping death, people wanted to celebrate life, and the whole city was awash with the sounds of people seeking to push back the darkness.
It took him quite some time to realize that he was making himself conspicuous by his dark mood. He could hear the whispers from the other side of the room, and it aroused within him a sense of danger. He slowly finished his meal and carried the bowls to the dishwasher's window. He turned slowly, then slipped out of the shelter.
The cold wind didn't seem to bother him at all, but he hunched his shoulders, pulled his ragged coat tightly around him and slipped his hands into his pockets like the other people walking on the street. He knew instinctively that he had to avoid drawing attention to himself. He didn't know who was after him, or why, but he knew that he had to get out of the city.
It would be difficult for him to manage it without any money, but he knew he had to try. The thought of being captured was somehow more than he could bear; it reminded him strongly of the suffocating feelings in his dreams. His need to escape was overwhelming.
He walked as casually as he could; the people on the street were so caught up in the general good cheer of their celebrations that they did not notice the lone pedestrian making his way down the street.
There were roadblocks in places; many neighborhoods had restricted street traffic so they could have block parties; in many cases it was the first time people had met their neighbors. The same celebrations were happening all over the city, and it didn't occur to the lone figure to wonder that he could hear them all.
He walked for what seemed like an eternity. The neighborhood he'd been in had been poor but respectable; the area he was entering was simply dangerous. Somehow, though, he wasn't very concerned about human predators. It was as though all the fear had been burned out of him, at least pertaining to matters of the ordinary world. The void still frightened him immensely, as did the monstrous sense of loneliness that clawed at the edges of his consciousness from time to time.
He blinked, realizing that he'd walked farther than he had realized. He'd reached the docks, where the edge of Metropolis met the cold seas of the Atlantic.
If he'd had someone to call for help, it would have all been easier. He had a momentary flash of long blonde hair, and then the memory became elusive again.
Trucks were leaving the warehouses along the docks on an almost continuous basis; the end of the world hadn't changed the fact that people needed to eat. He stood motionless for a long moment, overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the sea. For a moment he was tempted to stow away aboard one of the many ships in the harbor, but somewhere deep down inside him he knew that east was not the direction he needed to go.
When he allowed himself to stand without thinking, he could feel a pull deep down within the depths of his soul. He needed to go west. It was a compulsion that was deepening into a certainty the more he thought about it. Whatever answers he could find would be in that direction.
He turned away from the sounds of the surf and the sea and began to make his way through the back streets, hoping to avoid the growing parties of revelers as they took to the streets. The areas he was traveling through were increasingly deserted; he felt safer knowing that no one knew where he was.
He was so distracted by the sounds of revelry several streets over that he turned a corner without hearing what was happening on the other side.
Three limousines sat with their lights off in a deserted cul-de-sac. A group of fifteen Hell's Angels sat astride their motorcycles to one side, and three men stood in the open space between, exchanging large leather suitcases.
It took him only a moment to realize what was going on. The drug trade had reached an all time high when people had become convinced that the world was going to end. Many had chosen to wait out their last days in a drugged stupor rather than face the inevitability of worldwide destruction.
Before he could react, one of the motorcyclists noticed him and shouted. He dodged quickly around the corner, but he could hear the distinctive sound of Harley Davidson motorcycles being kicked into life.
He was curiously unafraid as he ran. Perhaps he was numb to the thoughts of physical danger, but his breathing barely sped up as he sprinted down the street. He was less worried about the motorcyclists hurting him than by the idea that they might draw the attention of the authorities.
It only took a moment to reach the end of the street, but an instant later the headlights of the vehicles behind him were quickly followed by cries of triumph from those who had spotted him.
He ran so quickly that it almost seemed like he was flying. When he heard the sounds of confusion from those behind him his steps faltered, however, and the sounds of the motorcycles roared loudly in his ears.
He turned quickly into a narrow space between two buildings. It was too small for their vehicles, and they'd have to take the long way around. He heard the sounds of gunfire, and for a moment he thought he felt something strike his arm. Shrapnel from the bullets striking the wall, he assumed, and he quickened his pace, moving to the street on the other side as quickly as he could.
He ran through the streets, and the Angels were forced to scatter as they lost track of him.
He slid into the darkness of an alleyway, hiding behind a dumpster as he waited for one of the riders to search the alley.
The man slowed at the head of the alleyway, then pulled his weapon, slowly rolling into the area as he allowed his motorcycle headlights to illuminate the dark shadowed secrets of the place.
The world seemed to shift and slow as he leapt out from behind the dumpster. Before the rider could react, the fugitive lashed out, trying to push him off his vehicle.
The man flew the length of the alley, his helmeted head cracking against the pavement as he landed in a motionless heap.
The fugitive stared for a long moment, unable to believe what had happened. He shook his head, then absentmindedly lifted the heavy Harley Davidson up from the ground, where it had slid. He propped it up on the kickstand, and switched the engine off.
He approached the figure lying on the ground cautiously; he hadn't seen what had happened to the gun.
It took only a moment to realize that the man was still alive. The helmet had protected his head, and the heavy leather jacket he wore had protected his back . His heartbeat was steady, but the fugitive imagined that he could hear the sounds of broken ribs shifting in the man's chest.
He grimaced. He hadn't meant to injure the man as badly as he had.
His head snapped around as he heard the sound of a second motorcyclist coming down the side street. He quickly backed into the shadow, well aware that both the helmet and upper body of the injured man were visible from the street.
The world seemed to slow again as he moved around the corner in a blur. More careful this time, he punched the rider in the stomach, knocking him off his bike and making him retch and heave. Before the other man could reach for his gun, the fugitive grabbed him from behind and slammed him into a wall. The man slumped bonelessly to the ground, and the fugitive was relieved to see that he was only stunned.
He quickly slipped the man's leather jacket from his back and pulled the boots from his feet. He was closer to the fugitive's size than the other rider had been in any case.
It took only a moment to strip the man and slip into his clothes. The fugitive slipped the old, ragged clothes he had been wearing onto the man, and grinned. With the helmet on his head, no one would know him.
He glanced back at the injured man, who was beginning to shiver. He hadn't meant to injure the man, and it wouldn't be prudent to leave the two men lying out in the street. If he was sure the man's friend would be up and around soon, he'd have felt safe in leaving them.
He looked around, spotting a pay telephone down the road. He moved there quickly, so much so that he almost wasn't aware of the passage from one place to the next. Finding insufficient change in the pockets of the leather jacket, he dialed 911, using an oil stained rag from the man's back pocket to dial the numbers and to hold the phone. He covered the receiver with one end of the rag, and deepened his voice into a rasp.
"I just saw two guys get into a fight down on Madison and third. One of them is lying out on the concrete, and I don't think he's moving!" He spoke quickly, trying to give the impression of being an excited, anxious caller.
He listened to the voice on the other end of the phone, then said, "Yeah, I can see the two of them at the mouth of the alley. The one guy must have hit the other one with a tire iron, but he didn't get off so easy himself." He paused. "Yes of course they have guns. Doesn't everybody these days?"
The weapons that had been taken apart and placed high in closets all over Metropolis since Tempus had been revealed for who he was had been dusted off when it became clear that looting and riots might accompany the Nightfall asteroid. Oddly enough, there had been little looting in the US, though other nations hadn't been so lucky. President Heston called it a triumph for the second amendment, proof that universal gun ownership actually worked.
Opponents had different theories. Many praised the liberal Presley administration for laying the groundwork that had helped create civil order. Others assumed it was other factors, but all had agreed that the country had been much luckier than many of the nations in the world.
He hung up the phone quickly, being careful not to leave any fingerprints. He was amazed at how easy it had been to lie; somewhere in the back of his mind was the idea that it had once been harder for him.
He glanced down at himself and for the first time noticed that the jacket had a name sewn on the inner lining — Kade.
It was as good a name as any. For a moment, he wondered what his own name had been. The "k" sound seemed right somehow, so he made a decision.
He'd think of himself as Kade.
He looked back at the two men by the alley. One was beginning to stir. He walked back across the street and slammed the man's helmeted head back into the wall, stunning him again. He looked around, then leapt onto the man's motorcycle, kicking it into gear.
As the sounds of ambulance sirens came nearer, Kade rode into the night.
He'd ride west as far as he needed to, though he wasn't sure exactly what he was looking for.
Kade didn't relax until he saw the lights of the city fading in his rear view mirror. It took time to leave a city the size of Metropolis; taking the back streets made it twice as long. On three occasions he had ridden past Hell's Angels, and had simply waved. Once he'd seen a police cruiser and had a tense moment. He couldn't overcome the feeling that he had to escape without being recognized.
There was something mesmerizing about the road; the purr of the engine, the roar of the wind and the vibrations of the wheels against the pavement conspired to lull him into a hypnotic state. The roads were clear; in the aftermath of the meteor, people wanted to remain at home, close to family and friends.
Nevertheless, the stalled-out husks of vehicles pulled off to the side of the road helped break up the monotony of the landscape. Many people had tried to escape the city when they first heard that Nightfall would hit. No matter how much Superman and the military had pleaded, people had insisted on seeking higher ground. Many had been forced to abandon their cars by the side of the road.
They'd returned home with the news that the meteor was destroyed. Now Kade had the roads to himself, sharing them only with the occasional lone truck driver.
It felt good to fill his mind with only the sound and feeling of the road. There was a freedom in not thinking, in not worrying about the future or the past. For the moment, it was enough just to exist. It felt as though he tasted freedom for the first time in years, and he reveled in the sensation.
He drove through the night. He refueled in Charlottesville, Virginia, at three in the morning, noticing that the convenience store clerk seemed nervous around him. He continued on his way, and by sunrise, he was passing through the Allegheny Mountains.
The mountains were breathtakingly beautiful when illuminated by the rising sun. As he watched the scenery pass by, Kade found himself wanting to share them with someone special. He somehow knew that she would have a smile that eclipsed the sun, and something within him ached to see that smile.
For a moment he wondered if he had left that person behind in Metropolis; perhaps he was making a mistake in fleeing. Somewhere deep inside, however, he knew that there was nothing holding him to Metropolis. All his ties were severed, and all that remained were memories he couldn't bear to face.
Once again he found himself remembering the aching cold of the void, struggling to breathe as he drowned in nothingness.
It was a hideous image, one he wanted to forget. He shook his head and tried to appreciate the beauty around him. He was riding to escape the feelings of loneliness and pain, not to embrace them. After a time, the road managed to lull him again.
By the time he crossed the border into Kentucky, he was growing sleepy. It would be dangerous to fall asleep on the road, and he needed to fill up with gasoline again, so he decided to pull into the next town, looking for both fuel and coffee.
He slowed to a stop in front of a small truck stop. As he filled the tank on his Harley, he noticed that the small store of money the biker had kept in a jacket pocket was rapidly running out. He'd have to find more money, or risk abandoning the vehicle and hitchhiking across the country. While he wasn't particularly afraid of the sort of person he might ride with, it would leave him vulnerable to being picked up by the police.
When he was finished, he pulled the Harley into a parking space outside a huge window that revealed the diner inside. The diner was almost deserted, which was how he liked it. He slipped inside, noticing the waitress stiffen as she saw him.
He tossed a few bills on the counter, and said, "For the gas." He jerked his head back in the direction of his motorcycle, and she nodded. He wasn't in much of a mood to speak.
"We don't want any trouble around here, Mister." The waitress gave him an evil eye and pointed at a sign behind the counter.
It had a picture of a man in a chef's hat holding a loaded shotgun. The caption said, "We're ready for anything. Put the guns away before we add YOU to the menu."
He shrugged. Most people were armed these days; he hadn't bothered to take the biker's gun, but he wasn't worried. "You won't have any trouble from me," he said as he sat at the counter. "I'll have the special."
She nodded and hurried into the kitchen, carefully not taking her eyes off him.
He wasn't surprised; the Hell's Angels didn't have a good reputation. They tended to be more heavily armed than normal citizens, and much more likely to erupt into violence. The fact that they made most of their money dealing drugs made them even less popular, as did the fact that they had turf wars with the three other major motorcycle gangs on the highways.
If it wasn't the jacket or the leather pants, then it might have been the look in his eyes. He didn't have any doubt that he looked like hell; he hadn't slept in days, not since he'd wakened in the homeless shelter. He'd barely been lucid at first, his mind overwhelmed with images he didn't understand. One of the volunteers at the shelter had thought he might have a concussion.
He felt fine now, in spite of not having slept in almost a week. He'd had the same sort of dread as everyone else about the coming of the second Nightfall fragment; there had been a sense of taut expectancy across the entire world as the missiles had arced up towards it. The new, improved guidance systems had worked like a charm, and with the exception of a small fragment landing in the ocean, it was destroyed.
He hadn't felt the need to leave until he'd been sure the world was safe. In fact, as the countdown had begun, broadcast to radios and televisions across the world, he'd felt something unexplainable rising up within him, as though he alone could have made a difference.
He'd been even more relieved than everyone else when the world had been saved, and he'd finally been freed from the paralysis which had seized him. It was then that he'd felt the call to go west.
A television mounted over the bar was replaying the footage one more time. Although the set was turned down low, he could hear the announcer talking about the plans for organized celebrations across the world. In the wake of the asteroid, the world had fallen into a fragile peace as people had taken a long, good look at the precious gift that was life.
He glanced up and noticed that they were showing the same picture they'd been using for days; a small fragment of one of Superman's tattered capes, donated to the Smithsonian after it had been damaged. It was now being used as a symbol for the missing hero.
The waitress had returned, and he must have looked miserable, because her expression softened as she watched him. She turned toward the coffeepot, and poured him a cup. As she approached, she glanced up at the screen.
"That's a damn shame," The waitress said, as she set the steaming cup of coffee in front of him. "After everything he's done for the country, everybody's just giving him up for dead."
Kade didn't speak. He simply sipped at his coffee, wondering why it wasn't helping him to wake up.
"He gave up everything for people…all hopes for a normal life, all chances for someone to love…and he risked his life for everyone, and this is how they repay-"
Kade interrupted her, speaking abruptly. "Is this decaf?"
She shook her head. "It's black coffee, as strong as they make."
Perhaps he was more exhausted than he had thought, or perhaps it took time to kick in. He couldn't seem to remember what the effects of coffee felt like, although he was very familiar with the taste. He drank the steaming cup quickly, gulping the black brew down, and handed the cup to the waitress for a re-fill. She stared at him for a long moment, licking her lips, before turning to re-fill his cup.
There was a long moment of silence as Kade drank his coffee. He glanced around the diner, noting that it was cleaner than most such places he'd been through.
"They have showers here?" he asked. It wasn't the silence that was getting on his nerves; it was the way the waitress was staring at him, as though he was someone she almost, but not quite, recognized.
The waitress nodded. "You must have been on the road for a while."
A bell rang, and she turned quickly, returning with his order. He smiled at her, absently noting her dumbstruck look as he began to eat silently.
He could feel her eyes on him, and he resolved to leave as quickly as he could after he was finished. The idea that she might somehow lead his unknown pursuers to him brought the familiar choking sensation to mind.
He glanced back up at the waitress, and he realized that she was much younger than he had originally thought. She was probably close to his own apparent age, and the look in her eyes at the moment was making her seem even younger. Hard living had placed tiny lines around her eyes and mouth, and Kade felt a moment of pity. She'd probably been a very attractive woman when she'd been younger. Even now she wasn't bad looking.
He wasn't particularly attracted to her, and with the image of a blinding smile imbedded in his mind, he doubted he would find any woman particularly attractive. Still, it was flattering to be looked at that way, even if it made him a little uncomfortable.
He had finished most of his meal and was finally beginning to wake up a bit, when he heard the sound of the bells attached to the door behind him. The waitress looked up, and he could see her face paling. He could see several figures reflected in her eyes, and he knew that something was wrong.
He remained still even when he heard the deep voice from behind him.
"Keep your hands where we can see them, and this will all go nice and easy."
"Ed told you folks to never come back here."
"I don't give a damn what Ed wants. Why don't you just open the register, and we'll make this all quick and painless. Don't reach for that derringer you keep in the register either."
Kade calmly continued to eat the last few bites of his breakfast as he listened to the figures moving around behind him. He could hear each of them distinctly, well enough to pinpoint their exact positions.
He heard the sounds of several guns being cocked, and he was glad to notice that the waitress had moved to the register at the other end of the counter, taking her out of the line of fire.
"You have three seconds to put your hands where we can see them."
Kade stuck the last piece of sausage in his mouth and slowly set his fork down. He chewed slowly as he raised his hands.
"Turn and face us."
Kade slowly turned and stood up. Six men were standing in various positions around the room. All but one had their weapons trained on him; the other was covering the waitress. His mind calculated possible bullet trajectories, and the possibilities for ricochets, and he was surprised to realize that it felt like a familiar task. It was possible that he'd had some sort of violent past; it made his head hurt to speculate.
In the corner of his eye he saw a heavyset man in an apron burst from the door to the kitchen, a shotgun in his hand, and he knew that time had run out.
Inevitably, the attention of all six men shifted to the new threat; and the world began to slow around Kade. He launched himself forward, knocking the shotgun out of one man's hand, dropping him to the ground with a single blow to the solar plexus.
He almost imagined that he could see the stream of shotgun pellets as they flew through the room, and he kicked the feet out from under the second man, making him fall before he could be hit. He spun and hit the third, and he felt a pistol going off near his shoulder.
He launched himself at the fourth man, who was taking aim at the cook, and he knocked the man to the floor.
The other two men were beginning to react, turning their weapons on him. He grabbed a wooden chair and managed to toss it at the fifth man, knocking him to the ground.
In all cases he was careful. He didn't know where his freakish strength came from, but he had no desire to kill anyone. Even at the speed he was moving, however, the last figure, the leader, was too far away for him to reach.
He stared up into the barrel of a large automatic pistol fearlessly, even as he saw the man's fingers tightening on the trigger.
The pistol jerked as a shotgun blast struck the leader in the side. At the distance the shot was made from, the small shotgun pellets were stinging annoyances, but they were painful enough to cause the man's gun hand to jerk away.
Kade leapt to his feet and dived for the man before he could fire again. A single blow knocked all the fight from the man, and Kade stood up, noting that the world was beginning to slow around him. It was the effects of adrenaline, he supposed, and he was grateful for it.
He quickly checked the men groaning on the floor. All seemed to be relatively healthy. He moved quickly to kick their weapons out of their reach while the waitress pulled her small derringer out and the cook reloaded his shotgun.
The cook reached for a phone behind the counter, and Kade tensed. He'd have to make sure he left before the authorities arrived; he couldn't afford any questions.
"I've never seen anyone move that fast." The waitress's voice was low and almost awed.
"Martial arts," he said. It was the only explanation he could think of, and it seemed like one that was as good as any. For a moment he wondered why he felt the need to explain himself, then dismissed it as unimportant.
He glanced around the room. "I'd rather be out of here before the cops get here. They don't really like bikers."
"I wonder why?" Her voice was slightly sarcastic as she gathered up the weapons.
"Hey, Ed!" She moved quickly to lay the weapons out on the counter. "This customer wants to pay up and get out of here!"
The portly man grinned. "Hey, his meal's on me!"
"You cheapskate! How about giving his money back for his gas?"
The older man shrugged. "What the hell…give him that and twenty extra." He glanced at the groaning men on the ground. "It'll be worth it just to get these fellows behind bars."
The waitress pulled several bills from the still open register and said, "Can you handle these guys for a minute, Ed?"
Ed scowled. "The police are going to want some questions answered, and when these guys get to feeling a little better, I'm gonna need some help keeping them covered. You've got a minute."
The waitress handed Kade the money, then pulled him outside. "You saved my life in there, and you look like you could use a little rest."
Kade nodded. Thinking about what had happened inside and its implications for his past was giving him a headache. He was more tired than he had realized, and it would probably be dangerous for him to go much further. A shower and a nice soft bed would do wonders for him.
She hesitated for a long moment. "I don't usually do this…"
She reached into one pocket and pulled out a slender key. "I live in the double wide just up the road. It's only about a half mile, and you can hide your bike out in the back."
She stared up at him, and he felt uncomfortable, wondering what she was expecting of him. He wouldn't degrade himself and her by making love into a commodity; on the other hand, he was exhausted. The coffee hadn't done anything for him, and what the adrenaline from the fight had done to wake him up was being rapidly reversed. He needed to sleep.
"There is something about you…I can't put my finger on it…that makes me want to trust you."
He was silent for a long moment before taking her key. "This doesn't mean…"
She shook her head, though she blushed a little. "Most men would think that's what it was. I'm just offering a shower and a bed."
He nodded. "I appreciate it. I'll do what I can to repay you."
"You saved my life today. Len…he's the leader of that group, he's as mean as a snake, and he would have made sure I was dead."
She folded the key into his hand and said, "It says number nine by the mailbox. It's the double wide with the red fence around it."
"Annie! You better get back in here!"
"The cops will get here pretty soon…you'd better go."
He nodded and mounted his bike. It didn't take long to find her place; it was only a half mile down the road from the truck stop. It was concealed from the other homes in the area by small stands of trees, and it was easy for him to hide his bike behind her small carport.
The door opened easily, and he left it unlocked behind him. Enough afternoon sunlight came through the windows to reveal that the trailer house was kept neat and tidily clean. While the furnishings were cheap, they were well cared for. There weren't any signs of male habitation, not that he'd have expected to find any.
There were two bedrooms. He chose the one that seemed uninhabited, and allowed himself to drop face down on the bed. It felt delicious, and before he could even remove a single item of clothing, he was fast asleep.
He could hear the crash of thunder.
It was distant but audible as he floated in black nothingness. For a moment he wondered how he could hear; in space, no one could hear anything. It was a blank, deafening silence broken only by the sound of his own heartbeat, which pounded in his ears.
The thunder rang out again, closer this time. He turned his head, but could see nothing in any direction. He could breathe, but barely.
He let his mind drift, and the world changed around him. He was dressed in a black suit; the blonde girl beside him was wearing a prom dress. They danced and he looked down at her crown of blonde hair. She felt good in his arms, but somehow, it didn't feel quite right.
It felt worse when they slipped off into the darkness. She had the key to a room; he followed her into the semi-darkness, and when she turned her face up for him to kiss, he did so. Somehow, her features seemed to blur, but that wasn't what bothered him. Something wasn't right.
The woman he was with shouldn't be tall and blonde; somehow he knew that she was supposed to be a petite brunette, one with a million watt smile. This woman seemed to pale in comparison, and he wondered what he was doing with her.
He could hear the sound of thunder again, this time even louder. He was in bed with the woman, his back slick with sweat, gasping as he relaxed from his release. It had been exciting, but there had been something missing. It didn't feel right; somehow he knew there should have been more. He felt empty inside, and the loneliness that was always at the back of his mind yammered for attention.
The girl he was with lit a cigarette, and he wrinkled his nose in disgust. She wasn't who he'd thought she was, not at all, and he felt as though he had lost something in giving himself to her. He sighed and laid back on the hotel pillow. He felt cheapened by the experience, and the room, which had looked somewhat romantic, now looked tawdry, as though it was a place rented by the hour. He tasted bile in his throat as he realized he wouldn't be leaving the woman. She wasn't who he was meant to be with, but she was better than the void, better than the pit of loneliness and despair he'd fought against for his whole life.
He could smell ozone, and the thunder sounded louder this time.
He held a woman in his arms, and it almost seemed as though they were flying together. Something within him knew that this was the woman he was meant to be with, this was the woman he had been searching for all of his life. This was the one person who could understand his loneliness and could help drive it back into the darkness.
The feeling of her in his arms was almost indescribable; they fit together as though they had been made together in the same mold, and only later split apart. She was his soulmate, the other half of his soul, and for the first time, he felt complete.
A shadowed figure stepped from an alley and beckoned, and she stepped away from him. He blinked for a moment, unsure of how they had reached the ground. The figure took another step forward; he gaped when he realized that the figure was himself, stepping out of the shadows.
When the figure drew the woman away, he wanted to cry out, but he couldn't. He could hear the thunder again, and it was almost overpowering this time. It was close; he could feel the drops of rain stinging against his skin as he wept. The feeling of loss as the other half of his soul was ripped away was almost unbearable, but he knew he had no choice.
The rain grew harder, and the night grew darker. The buildings faded away from around him entirely, and he realized that he was in the country, standing out in the rain. He looked behind him, and saw an old farmhouse.
He heard the sounds of a car coming, and he felt excited. Mom and Dad were coming home! They'd have gifts for him, and lots of fun stories to tell.
He ran out in the rain, anxious to meet them as he saw their headlights swing around the corner of the old dirt road. He knew something was wrong when they didn't start slowing down as they came down the hill. He heard a truck horn, and he saw a truck coming from the other direction, and in a moment of stark realization he knew what was going to happen.
He ran. He ran as quickly as he could, and somehow he knew that he could run faster than any normal person, but it wasn't enough. The truck slid in the water as it tried to stop, and his parents' car didn't even slow down.
He heard the sound of thunder as they crashed together.
He was floating in the void again, and this time his chest was heaving for air. He couldn't breathe; it felt as though his chest had tightened and he was gasping for breath. There was no air, and he knew that no matter how much he struggled, he was drowning.
A shadow fell over him. He looked up, and saw the face of death.
He gasped as he woke up, his chest heaving as he clutched for air. It took him several long moments to realize that he was safe in bed, that he could breathe.
He was fully dressed, except that someone had removed his boots. A small blanket had been thrown over him.
By the look of the light coming from outside, it was twilight; the sun would be setting soon, and the world would drop into the blackness of night.
He rubbed a hand over his face, and felt the distinct bristly sensation of beard stubble. It had been several days since he had last shaved; he hadn't done it since waking up inside the homeless shelter.
Thinking about his dream made his head hurt, so he resolved to leave it in the back of his mind; with any luck, it would fade away like most dreams did, vanishing like the morning dew being burned off by the sun.
He sat up, hearing the bedsprings creak beneath him. He stepped through a small door to the left, and into a small bathroom.
The bathroom reeked of femininity; it was done in pinks and pastel colors, and there were items of makeup and perfume set carefully in place on the counter beside the sink.
A towel and washcloth had been set aside for him, laid atop the toilet lid, which itself was covered with a pink lace cover. Kade grimaced as he glanced from the towel to the mirror. He looked terrible; his eyes were bloodshot, the stubble on his face was considerably more than a three day growth. A shower might help him feel a little better.
As he stepped into the tub and turned the hot water on full blast, he wondered what he was doing. There was no way to be sure that the police were even on his trail, though the stolen motorcycle certainly gave them a reason to be.
He moaned as he felt a pain in his head again, and the faint echo of thunder. He shook his head and let his mind become a blank as the water spray hit his body. He closed his eyes and put his face directly into the stream of water. It was several minutes before he began to relax; by that time, the water had begun to cool.
He reached for the cold water faucet, only to realize that he hadn't ever turned it on. He hesitated for a moment, then shrugged. He began to wash himself as quickly and efficiently as he could. He could almost imagine that the water itself began to fall more slowly as he soaped up his body and rinsed it off.
He toweled himself dry, and his nose wrinkled at the smell of something burning. He wrapped the towel around his waist, and began to search for a razor.
The woman didn't have any. He scowled as he noticed both Nair and hot wax supplies. Sometimes he didn't understand women. He looked at himself in the mirror and mentally shrugged. Perhaps it would be better to grow his beard out. It would make him harder to identify, and if properly cut, a beard could look quite acceptable.
He heard a knock at the door. Making sure that the towel was wrapped tightly around his waist, he opened the door. The waitress was on the other side, and in the twilight, she looked much prettier than she had in the harsh fluorescent lights of the diner.
She looked down, presumably at his naked torso, and when she looked up again, her face was flushed.
"I have some old clothes I think would fit you…they belonged to my ex-husband. " She hurriedly handed him a small stack of clothes. He smiled at her in gratitude, and that only caused her flush to deepen.
He closed the door, and quickly slipped into blue jeans and a sweatshirt with a familiar Gotham City Knights baseball logo emblazoned on the front. It felt good to be in clean clothes again; they felt almost deliciously sinful against his bare skin. He could have done without the Superman logo splashed across the front of the boxer shorts she had given him, but it didn't bother him too much as long as he didn't think about it. Out of sight, out of mind.
He stepped barefoot out of the steaming heat of the bathroom, only to see the waitress working in the kitchen. The smell of cinnamon buns baking in the oven made his mouth water; it seemed like forever since he'd last eaten.
"I didn't really expect you to be here, you know." The woman hadn't bothered to turn any of the lights on, which left her face shadowed, lit only by the light from the street lamps outside. It was already dark; the sun had dropped below the horizon, and the sky had turned to black.
"I'm sorry, I thought…" He felt confused for a moment. Why would the woman have given him a key if…
"No, the offer was serious. I just half expected to find everything stolen by the time I got back here. The police took forever with their questions."
Kade nodded. "It's dangerous to trust strangers these days."
The woman looked up at him appraisingly. "When I look at you, it feels like I can almost recognize you…and somehow, I know I can trust you."
"That's not much to base trust on." He gratefully accepted a cup of hot cocoa from her.
She was silent as she opened the over and pulled a pan of cinnamon rolls out. She smoothed the icing over the buns for several long moments without saying a word. Then she spooned a couple of rolls onto a paper plate and handed them to him. He accepted them gratefully.
They ate in silence for several minutes. Finally the waitress spoke.
"My name is Ann." She smiled a little and shook her head ruefully. "I don't usually let men stay over until we're at least on a first name basis."
He smiled at her, and said, "Call me Kade."
"You don't carry a gun." Her voice was quiet. "I thought everyone did these days."
"I guess I've never needed one." He stared at the counter; somehow carrying a gun had never even entered his mind. It didn't feel right somehow.
"After today I can believe it." She stared at him for a long moment, and he began to feel a little uncomfortable.
"Did the police give you any trouble?"
"Len and the guys tried to claim they were ambushed by a group of Hell's Angels, but me and the boss told them how things really happened." She grinned. "They've been causing problems in these parts for quite a while, but the Sheriff never had anything concrete to pin on them. They won't be out for quite a while."
They ate in silence for a couple of minutes.
She glanced at him, then said, "We didn't say what happened to you, just that you left. I think if you left the jacket behind, nobody would hassle you."
"It doesn't leave a good first impression, does it?" It also drew more attention than he was comfortable with. He needed to ditch the jacket before he left on the next leg of his journey.
"You aren't really a Hell's Angel, are you?"
"I'm not much of anything at the moment." Kade sighed.
"Feel free to raid my husband's closet if you need anything." She stared at the counter. "He's not coming back, and even if he did, I wouldn't want anything to do with him."
Kade watched her intently for a long moment. "It gets lonely sometimes, doesn't it?"
"You just have to have a little faith that things will get better."
"That's hard to believe sometimes." Ann looked down. "One day starts looking like the next one, and pretty soon all you have is work and loneliness."
"Things will change."
She didn't say anything for a few moments, then she looked up at him, placing one of her hands on his.
He forced himself to keep from pulling back.
"It really does get lonely. I go to work every day, and nobody ever sees the person I really am." Her thumb slowly rubbed the back of his hand.
"People can be blind," he said. He did not meet her eyes, though he knew she was looking at him.
"Is it so bad to want a little companionship?" Her voice was hopeful, and it hurt him to see the light in her eye. He had to make his position clear, before she got hurt any more than had to be. Rejection was painful; having a lover leave was infinitely more so.
He shook his head. "No, it's not." He pulled his hand out from under hers and looked her in the eye.
"But being with someone you don't love…it makes you feel like less of a person."
"You sound like you know what you are talking about." The hopeful light in her eyes had died, and she was starting to withdraw into herself.
"There is someone out there for everyone."
"I don't know if I believe that anymore." The waitress said. The bitterness in her voice made Kade wince.
"I think I met my someone once." Kade's lips tightened as he looked away. If his dreams were actually memories, then he'd been a fool.
"What happened?" she asked.
"I think I let her get away."
"If you let her go, maybe she wasn't the person you were really meant to be with at all."
Kade nodded in acknowledgement, then said "Still, it would be wrong for us to…" He allowed his voice to trail off.
She nodded slowly. "I'd hoped…"
She sighed, and her shoulders slumped. "I don't suppose the fact that I got my divorce papers today would change anything."
"It might explain why you wanted to do this."
"I hated my husband!" She shook her head. "Can't a woman just want a little comfort now and then?"
"You must have loved him once." Kade stared off in the distance, and imagined he could hear the sound of thunder.
She took a deep breath. "I guess I always had the thought in the back of my mind that we might get back together again. When I got the papers today…I just wanted to feel something again."
"It's hard when love dies." Kade had the feeling that losing people he loved had been one of the great pains of his life. Thinking about it made his head throb.
"Being left alone…it's really hard" Ann shook her head. She stepped back, away from him, and turned to switch on some lights.
Kade blinked for a moment in the sudden light. He could see his own reflection in the windowpanes and he didn't like the haunted look in his own eyes. He wondered if he would always have the sound of thunder pounding in the back of his mind, if he would always have loneliness hammering away at any chance of happiness. Whatever life he had lived before hadn't been a happy one; he knew that with a sense of certainty.
"I suppose you'll be leaving soon." Ann finished switching on the lamps in her living room, and turned to him.
"I feel a lot better now that I've gotten a little sleep." It was a lie; the dreams had left his sleep troubled, but he didn't want to admit that to her.
"If you'd like to sleep a little more, feel free to stay."
He frowned, searching deep within himself. The urge to head west was there, but it wasn't pounding in his mind like it had been in Metropolis. Nevertheless, he needed to keep moving, lest any pursuers catch up with him.
"I could sleep a little more," he admitted.
"If you ever come through these parts again, I want you to promise to come see me. Maybe I'll have found my one true love." Her expression was sad, and Kade knew that she didn't believe him.
"I have a feeling that change is just around the corner for you."
She smiled slightly, and he knew it was mostly for his benefit.
"I'll be sure to visit if I'm ever back in these parts."
She nodded and sighed.
The conversation quickly turned to inconsequential things, and they spoke for quite some time. Ann allowed him to look through her husband's closet, and then they both slipped off early to separate beds.
Kade could almost imagine hearing her frustrated sighs all the way from the other side of the house. Eventually, he slipped away into a troubled sleep.
He woke early in the morning, and he was careful to slip away without waking her. He wrote her a letter of appreciation and thanks, and left it on the kitchen table.
He pushed the motorcycle almost half a mile down the street before starting it up, and then he was on his way.
The sound of thunder seemed to retreat as he headed west.
The battered old television by the counter was replaying the news that Superman was dead; officials were already beginning to plan his funeral, in spite of the fact that no body had ever been found. It was well known that Clark Kent had a strong moral streak; over the past four years he had become a role model for millions of children and adults. If he was alive, it was believed that he would find some way to come forward.
It was the sort of story that would have gotten Lois's juices going once; even now, she privately believed that she could have done a better job. She'd felt the same way when Superman had been revealed to the world, and also when the scandals surrounding the Heston presidency had begun to emerge.
When all was said and done, however, those sorts of stories were no longer Lois's concern. She needed to keep her thoughts focused on her own fictional worlds. The three novels she'd written as Jane Alexander had paid enough for her to live on, albeit not in the style she'd managed when working for the Planet.
The payment schedule stank though. Unless her publisher came forward with the advance for her next book soon, she'd have to dip into her emergency funds. That was a dangerous move; she felt a surge of trepidation every time she tried it.
"It's a pity, don't you think?"
Lois looked up, startled. "What?"
The old man behind the counter nodded toward the screen. "He was such a nice boy; he gave up everything to save people."
"Yes, it's a crying shame." Lois set her few purchases on the counter, mentally calculating how far she could stretch her limited funds until the next check came in.
The old man rang up the purchases, talking about the weather of all things.
As though the weather in the Arizona desert ever changed much. It was either hot, usually in the daytime, or cold, in the evenings. As far as Lois could see there wasn't much to talk about there, but people insisted on talking to hear themselves make noise.
She'd lost a lot of patience with people since living in the big city. Given her profession now, she didn't have to spend time with anyone she didn't want to. Five years of paranoia made it hard to trust anyone enough to start a relationship; even close friendships were hard.
It made her long for her days in Metropolis, but she knew that even there she hadn't had many friends; other than her editor, she couldn't remember anyone who had transcended the level of acquaintance. She'd always pushed people away; blaming her current circumstances was merely the easy way out.
She approached her 1987 Ford Taurus carefully, her eyes darting back and forth for any sign that she was being watched. Paranoia was exhausting, and while she'd never seen any sign that she was being pursued by the people she feared, it had twice saved her from being mugged. Luckily, she was as armed as anyone else these days, and she had also kept her martial arts skills honed.
After making sure that no one was looking, she leaned down and checked under the car, making sure that no one was waiting underneath. She opened the trunk and nearly threw her groceries in, then closed it quickly.
She checked under the front of the car again, this time looking for any devices that shouldn't be there. The people she was running from were well known for using bombs to make their points for them. As always, she felt nothing and the back of her neck prickled as she imagined a sniper waiting atop one of the flat roofs around her.
Without bothering to return the small shopping cart to its place in the front of the small store, Lois leaped into the car. In spite of her caution, she felt the same fear in her throat when she turned the ignition as she always did; these days, she tended to keep her trips outside the house short and sweet.
It took several false starts before the car's engine roared to life. It wouldn't be long before she needed a new battery, yet another item that wasn't in the budget. She glanced down at the instrument panel and cursed. She needed to refuel soon; it was better to have a vehicle that was ready to travel at a moment's notice, and an empty tank wouldn't get her very far in the desert.
She grimaced and decided to get the vehicle checked out as soon as she could; none of her purchases were perishable, even in the heat, and she'd prefer not to have to get out in the open more often than she needed to.
It only took a few moments to reach Stan's Auto shop. Lois was reasonably sure that Stan was honest; more importantly, she was sure he didn't know anyone important. He wasn't the sort to make idle conversation with anyone, and that was the way she liked it.
As she pulled into the garage, she had to shake herself. She hadn't been sleeping well lately; truthfully it had been five years since she'd had a really sound sleep, but lately she'd been having the dreams again. If she'd thought she could find someone she could trust, she'd have gone to a therapist. As it was, all she could do was try to sleep when she could and live with it.
She stepped out of her car and said, "I need to get the car battery replaced and the tank filled up."
Stan stood there for a moment the way he always did. Lois knew that some people in town assumed that Stan was a little slow, but he seemed to be a competent mechanic. He merely liked to take time to consider his replies before he spoke.
"Do you want to wait? " he asked. "It shouldn't take more than fifteen minutes."
Lois nodded. One thing she liked about Stan's was that the garage was easily viewable from inside the waiting room. It would be harder for him to place anything extra in her car while she watched. It wouldn't be impossible, of course, but she would be sure and check.
She stepped inside the waiting room and sat down. She idly watched Stan as he opened her hood, even as she ignored the old magazines strewn around on the small end tables. Most were automotive magazines, of course, but a few issues of Newsweek and USA Today were included. Some of them were so old that they had headlines screaming about the day Clark Kent had been revealed as Superman.
Lois felt the same old ache as she looked down at the magazine covers. Those stories should have been hers; they would have been if she hadn't been forced to go into hiding. She felt the old, familiar sensation of bile in her throat as she reflected on her life with bitterness. As far as her family and friends were concerned, she was long dead. In all likelihood, she'd never see any of them again, and it was a bitter pill to swallow.
She heard the sound of an engine approaching, and her eyes flitted to the front of the store. She could see a large Harley Davidson motorcycle pulling into the driveway, its rider wearing a full helmet. When he pulled it off, she found herself gasping out loud, and, impossibly, the rider's head snapped around and he stared directly at her.
The man had the scruffy beginnings of a beard, and he looked tired and covered with road dust. He looked good in black leather pants and a white T-shirt. Something about him stirred feelings and sensations that she'd thought long dead. It had been a long time since she'd even bothered to think of herself as a woman, but she suddenly felt the urge to sit up straight and preen.
He was staring at her, and he seemed so familiar to her somehow. For a moment she felt panic clawing at her throat. If he knew who she was, then her whole family would be in danger. Everyone she knew and loved would be at risk, all because someone saw her in a stupid garage.
She glanced back down at the magazine covers, then up at the stranger again. She gasped again. The resemblance to the alien the world knew as Superman was remarkable. If it weren't for the change in his general demeanor and his scruffy look, she'd have been certain it was him.
She quickly slid the magazines to the bottom of the pile. Superman was supposed to be dead. Either the person she saw in front of her was a ghost, Superman was alive, or he wasn't Superman at all, just someone who looked remarkably like him.
In any case, she knew better than to get involved. If he wasn't Superman, then he was likely to be a dangerous character. If he was, he was even more dangerous. When a man who could lift small mountains wanted to stay hidden, you didn't ask him any questions.
Besides, if it was him, it wouldn't be long before he was recognized. The last thing Lois needed was to be in the same town as a mob of press people. She had been well known among certain circles, and even if none of her colleagues recognized her, undue attention to the small town of Last Chance, Arizona, was the last thing she needed.
He was still looking at her. It was a moment before he turned and spoke to Stan, who had stepped out of the garage to greet him. Lois fumed; it would take that much longer to get her car repaired. She couldn't wait until she was safe at home.
Still, her reporter's instincts were screaming at her, as was her natural curiosity. Why would Clark Kent be out in the middle of the desert, letting the world think he was dead?
He hadn't had much of a personal life after his true identity had been revealed; most celebrities had at least some vestige of privacy, but even that had been denied to him. He'd tried to date a couple of times, but it had become such big news that he'd ended those relationships even before they had begun.
She could understand why he would want to escape. Still, by all reports, Clark Kent wasn't the sort of man who could sit by and allow innocents to come to harm. She'd heard reports of several incidents that could have used his help; he hadn't gone to any of them.
It took her a moment to realize that he was coming towards her; she stiffened, and it took her a moment to realize that her hands were fumbling through her purse, looking for her pepper spray, her gun, or perhaps just for her cell phone. It took her a moment to force herself to relax. He was hardly likely to attack her in the middle of the day in public. If he were who she thought he was, it would be out of character to attack her at all.
Still, the most basic lesson that she'd learned five years before was that you never knew who could be trusted. It only took one moment of betrayal to reveal months or years of bonding to be a lie.
She was tempted to flee into the garage; Stan didn't really like customers being there, but she could pretend to be anxious to leave. She glanced over; her hood was still wide open, and Stan was only now levering a large battery into place. It was larger than she really needed, but she'd had Stan make several modifications to her engine over the years, usually right after some advance money had come in.
The door opened, and the man stepped through.
He seemed bigger than life somehow; he almost seemed to fill the room, and yet he was smaller than she would have imagined as well. It was more a sort of physical magnetism, a charisma that undoubtedly made women interested in him.
Lois didn't know how much her suspicions about who and what he was were affecting her perceptions, but she found herself holding her breath as he began to speak.
"Do we know each other?"
His first question was unexpected. Lois sighed and stared at him for a long moment before saying, "You look familiar to me, but I'm sure we've never met."
"That's what everyone tells me." He looked confused for a moment, and the reminder of some long hidden pain seemed to come over his features.
"I can't help but feel like we've met somewhere before."
"Maybe in another life." Lois smiled tightly. "I'm sure I would remember if I'd met someone like you before."
To her amazement, he began to blush.
"I'd have said the same thing about someone like you, but somehow I can't seem to remember…"
"Do you say that to all the girls?" Lois was astonished to find herself smiling at him. It had been a long time since she'd felt the remotest need to smile, and now she found herself flirting with a man she didn't even know.
When he smiled back at her, she realized why. Even with the fashionably beard stubble, he was a very handsome man; when he smiled he was almost irresistibly good looking.
Lois found herself smiling broadly, and he stared at her with a stunned expression on his face.
"I've dreamed about a woman like you." His voice was quiet.
"That's the oldest line in the book. Try another one." She was actually flirting!
It was hard to believe that she was this attracted to a man after interacting with him for only a few seconds.
"Would you like some coffee?" he asked. "I'm sure there's a good place somewhere around here."
Lois sobered up quickly. She didn't know this man, not really, and it would be foolish to risk getting to know him. No matter who he was, he'd be poison to her and her plans for life.
"I have to get home."
The look on his face was almost enough to make her change her mind, but Lois stood firm.
Stan walked in a moment later, and as Lois turned to pay him, she could feel the man's eyes boring into her back. The sooner she could get home, the better.
The cost made her blink for a moment; she was going to have to dip into her emergency funds almost certainly now. There wasn't any other option.
"Maybe we'll see each other again." The man behind her said. "You can call me Kade."
He hadn't said that his name was Kade, she noticed. He'd only said she could call him that.
"Jane," she said. When he offered her his hand, she reached out to shake it.
The spark that leapt between them when her palm touched his startled her. Her eyes met his, and he smiled as he gently shook her hand.
"I hope we can see each other again sometime, Jane."
She nodded briefly and pulled away, her hand still tingling from the sensation of his touch. She turned and headed out the door as quickly as she could, but managed to bump the chair behind her with her hip.
"I…ah…that sounds nice…" she said as she struggled to get the door opened. She felt her face flushing; it was bad enough to feel attracted to a man for the first time in years; it was much worse to make a fool of yourself in front of him.
It was hard to merely walk to her car, and pull out of the garage slowly. Her first urge was to speed away, but she knew that would draw suspicion. It wouldn't be good for her to get a traffic ticket either; she'd prefer to leave as small a paper trail as possible.
It was embarrassing, the way she'd reacted to him. As she looked into the rear-view mirror, she knew that she'd never see him again. She didn't bother to wonder why that disappointed her.
Drifters, after all, never stayed in the same place long. The odds of meeting him again were astronomical.
Kade's palm still tingled from where they had clasped hands. He stared at the woman's retreating back, absently noting the make and model of the car she slipped into.
He could hear the proprietor behind him, filling out several entries in his ledgers. Inadvertently, he looked back, and it almost seemed as though his vision sharpened, because he could see her signature quite clearly even though he was halfway across the room. Jane's full name was Jane Alexander. There wasn't any address listed, but Last Chance was a small town. If he really wanted to find her, it shouldn't be too hard.
Her vehicle was turning the corner, and it was difficult not to jump on his bike and follow her. He hadn't been sure until she had smiled, but once she had it had all been clear. She was what he had been looking for all this time. She was the one who had been stolen from him, and somehow he sensed that his destiny lay with her.
A younger mechanic slipped into the room, heading for the coke machine. The old man grunted as he continued to finish writing.
"Interesting lady." He said, hoping the mechanic would know something about her. In spite of the fact that her vehicle had Arizona license plates, it was possible that she was just passing through town. If that was true, it would be difficult to find her again, and the thought of losing her made his gut clench.
The older man grunted and stepped out of the room.
"Don't even bother." The younger mechanic said without looking up. "The lady doesn't want to be bothered."
"How do you know?"
"She's something of a local celebrity…a writer. She likes her privacy and doesn't really like to be bothered by fans."
The older man stepped back into the room and said, "What was it you needed again? A fill up?"
"That, and the engine's making a pinging noise."
"We'll take a look at it. You writing an out of town check?"
"I'll pay cash."
He'd made it as far as Las Vegas before feeling a pull to the south and east again. He'd had an inexplicable run of luck at the craps tables; the dice had seemed to come up the way he'd wanted them to in spite of the casino having switched dice three times. He'd been thrown out on the suspicion of cheating, but he had been paid nonetheless, which had solved his money problems, at least for the time being.
An expensive mechanics bill might make a serious dent in the cash, but there wasn't any help for it, unless he wanted to start hitchhiking.
The older man glared at him suspiciously. "We'll hold on to the bike until you pay us."
Clark nodded. "I understand that." He paused for a moment then said, "Is there a bookstore anywhere nearby?"
"Down the street." The old man stared at him for a moment. "You don't really look like the reading type."
"Sometimes people surprise you. Besides, it looks like it may be a little while before the bike is ready."
The older man nodded. "It'll be after lunch for sure, since you brought it in this time of the morning."
Kade nodded and headed out the door. "I'll be back later."
The sun was shining, and Kade closed his eyes for a moment at the familiar feelings of pleasure and strength he got whenever he stood out in the sunlight. It was hard for him to understand how anyone could work while stuck inside an office all day long. If everyone felt the pleasure of the sun in the way he did, then surely people would spend more time outdoors.
He'd seen many beautiful things on his trip across the country. Sunrise in the Appalachian Mountains, sunset by Lake Michigan. The beauty of the Rocky Mountains, especially in Colorado. The breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon. He had a sense that they were all familiar, places he'd been to before. The sense of déjà vu had been strongest as he made his way through the plains of Kansas. It had been at night, and it had almost felt as though he could reach out and touch the faceless ghosts of his past.
He'd felt a sense of almost unbearable sadness as he made his way through the state, and he resolved quickly that he didn't want to return there anytime soon. It felt as though he'd had too much sadness in his life, and not nearly enough joy.
When he'd seen the woman smile, his whole body had tingled, and he'd felt a true sense of hope for the first time ever. Her smile really was as bright as the sun, and he'd found himself focusing so intensely on her that he couldn't sense anything else. He was intoxicated by her womanly scent; he could smell most people from dozens of feet away, and he was mostly used to the way they smelled. Something about her natural aroma intoxicated him. It was sweeter than perfume.
She was pretty, but once she smiled, her face lit up and became beautiful.
He finally reached his destination; a small bookstore called The Book Nook. It appeared to be a local store, not one of the chains which had been dominating the landscape for the last couple of decades.
Kade opened the door, ignoring the silvery tinkle of the bell over their door. He stepped inside, and inhaled the pleasant scents of printer's ink, paper and wax. The scents were both familiar and pleasant, evoking feelings of home, wherever that might be.
"Can I help you?" The woman behind the counter was in her mid forties. She had the flower print sheath dress, long hair and small glasses of someone who didn't want to leave the sixties behind. He could smell the faint scent of hanibis lingering on his clothes and he grimaced.
"Do you have anything by Jane Alexander?"
"Of course I do. She's a local, you know, so I always keep extra copies of her books stocked. I keep trying to get her to come in for a book signing, but she always refuses. She likes her privacy I guess."
"So she's something of a recluse?" He asked as the woman began leading him back through the stacks.
The woman glanced back at him and smiled. "Let's just say that she spends a lot of time working on her books."
"Has she written many?"
"Just three so far, but she's supposed to be having a new one out in a few months." The woman glanced back at him. "Are you buying copies for someone in particular? A girlfriend maybe?"
Kade shook his head. "I met her recently, and I wondered what her books were like."
"You're a lucky one then. She doesn't get out much. I've spoken to her a couple of times, but her phone number is unlisted, and she doesn't come out into the community very often." "You seem to know a lot about her."
"Last Chance is a small town, Mr…" The woman waited for Kade to offer his name. He didn't. "Everybody knows everyone else here, and being a published author, Jane Alexander has aroused a lot of curiosity over the years?"
"She's lived here for a while then?"
"About four years, give or take." The woman paused before a bookshelf. "Oh, here they are. We have them in both new and used version, paperback or hardback."
Kade bought new paperback copies of all three books. Hopefully the royalties would help her in some small way, even if they amounted to only thirty cents a book.
The lady led him back to the counter. "That'll be nineteen dollars forty one cents."
Kade silently handed her a twenty, then headed outside. He walked for a short time until he found a small park with a child's playground. It was deserted as this was a school day, but Kade quickly found a picnic table to sit at. He opened the bag and pulled out the three paperbacks.
The covers were simple; pictures of red velvet on which lay a single rose- white, yellow and red respectively in each of the three books.
There was no author's biography in either the front, or the back. Kade opened the first book, which was entitled The Rose City Murders.
'Fear settled over Rose City like a grim fog. The murders had been quick and efficient, and it was clear that no one was safe. From the moment the mayor was murdered, everyone knew that there wasn't anyway to stop what was happening. And no matter how often the police questioned the florists in the city, there was never any sign of the source of the single rose the murderer left at each scene.'
The pages flew by faster than Kade would have believed. When he finished the book, he looked up and was amazed to see that the sun hadn't moved at all. It was as though time had stood still while he was reading.
It was a grim story Jane Alexander was writing. Her heroine, police detective Lisa Laredo was assigned to track down the murderer who was plaguing the city. In the course of her investigations, she discovered that there were signs that the murderer worked in the city government, or perhaps even higher. Her partner disagreed, but went along with the ride.
The second novel was a sequel. It flowed just as well, and Kade was finished more quickly than he would have thought possible.
'The flames burned hot, a yellow, searing heat that burned away all evidence of blame and wrongdoing, leaving only emptiness behind. Only time would heal the wounds of fire, and there would always be scars left behind, deep, ugly wounds that would never get any better. Lisa stared at the fire, at the ruins her life had become, and she knew that she had failed.'
The second book was even darker in tone than the first one was. Her protagonist discovered that there wasn't only one rose murderer…there was a whole series of them, all working for a criminal organization which was shadowy in its power and influence. Lisa's partner betrayed her; he was working for the enemy from the very beginning. Lisa managed to escape being killed, but the enemy burned her home to the ground, killing her sister as a warning.
The third novel was the darkest of all.
In Japan, white was the color of death. White roses were sent to funerals, and white robes were worn as a sign of mourning. When Lisa found the white roses at the door to her hotel room, she knew it was time to move on.
Fearing for the lives of her remaining family members, and convinced that she would be killed, the heroine fled the city, only to be pursued by a mysterious bearded men. She tried to contact someone in the FBI to reveal what she knew, but was betrayed at the meeting; the conspiracy rose higher than she knew.
At the end of the book, the heroine faked her own death, finally realizing the ultimate futility of fighting corruption that permeated to the very highest levels of the government.
While Kade knew it was only a story, he felt as though he could read the author's loneliness in every line that was written. It matched his own, and he knew somewhere within him that she was a kindred spirit. She was someone who had been rejected by the world, or who had rejected it, and he wanted nothing so much as to comfort her, to remove that inner pain that had to be gnawing at her .
He looked up, and was surprised to see that the sun still hadn't moved much. He shrugged; maybe he was just a fast reader. He'd certainly enjoyed her books. He slipped them back into the sack, and headed back toward the mechanics.
He walked slowly back in the direction of the garage, lost in thought. The woman had to be lying about not having seen him before. He'd seen a look of recognition in her eyes, and there was the fact that he'd been dreaming about her. It had to have been a memory, perhaps one that was long suppressed.
She was just so familiar to him; it was impossible that he hadn't known her before. He didn't believe in love at first sight; people could be attracted to one another, but love came of mutual respect and understanding. What he felt for this woman was more visceral, but it also contained an element of respect that he didn't understand.
While he had spoken to her for only a moment, he knew instinctively that she would be stubborn and determined. He knew things about her that he couldn't possibly know without having met her.
He knew that he was going to have to be very careful in how he approached her. She was the sort of person who demanded that the world bend to her will; she wouldn't be very good at bending to his. If he pushed too hard, she would run or call the police, and he didn't want that.
A restraining order for being a stalker wasn't an auspicious start to a friendship.
He frowned for a moment. There hadn't been any address listed on the purchase order; it might take a little work for him to find out where she lived without arousing people's suspicions.
"You're back awfully early." The mechanic barely looked up as Kade entered the small office. "Luckily, your problem was just a clogged fuel line. It won't be much longer till it's fixed."
Kade nodded and sat down.
He stared outside for a long moment as he thought. If she'd purchased a home, the purchase would be a matter of public record. If she was renting, there were rental agencies he could investigate. Somehow the investigative procedures involved seemed easy and familiar to him. It shouldn't take him long to find her at all in a town of 4000 people. At worst, he could ride up and down every street in town. That would draw more attention than he liked, and might arouse people's suspicions. As the bookseller had said, people in small towns tended to know everything about each other.
All it would take would be a trip to the county courthouse, if that didn't pan out, he was sure he could find other avenues quickly. In the meantime, he'd have to find a place to stay the night. There was one motel at the edge of town. If he was to stay any longer than a few days, he'd have to find work, or people would start asking questions.
There was time to worry about that later, however. First he would find out everything he could about the author Jane Alexander. She liked to remain private, but it was difficult to do anything these days without leaving a wide open paper trail.
Then he'd have to find a way to meet her again without making her think he was a stalker.
For a moment he wondered if he was in fact being a stalker. He went over a mental checklist in his mind, and was dismayed to see the number of points checked.
He'd have to be careful of himself as well as her then. It would be all too easy to become obsessed with her, and that wouldn't be healthy for any relationship that might develop between them. In spite of the feeling he had in the pit of his stomach that they were meant to be together, he had to be aware of the possibility that she might not want him…even though she'd seemed to respond to him when they first met.
He couldn't help but feel that his time was limited. It felt as though there was a storm brewing back in Metropolis, one which would reach out across the country to drag him back into it's darkness. He didn't know what that storm was, but he knew that he had to grab any moments of happiness that he could. Life was too short to miss any of the god things.
As the older man shuffled back into the office, Kade smiled to himself. He needed to enjoy life in any way he could. He'd see the woman he'd traveled across the country for very soon; until then, it was a beautiful day outside.
He paid the bill; then headed out into the sunlight whistling.
What else was life about, if not banishing the darkness?
Lois couldn't get the drifter out of her head. Now that she'd had time to think about it, it seemed less and less likely that the man was actually Superman. While it was possible that Clark Kent might have decided to fake his own death, it was unlikely that he would have ended up in the tiny town of Last Chance, Arizona. With his abilities, he could go anywhere, and he wouldn't have needed a motorcycle to do it.
She sighed as she stuck the key in her lock. She had enough problems of her own without reviving her old Superman fantasy. The thought had long ago occurred to her that if she'd still been in Metropolis, the Superman story would have been hers. She'd have gotten the exclusive, and along with the string of Kerths she would surely have won, she'd have been the envy of all her peers.
She glanced quickly around the room before closing the door behind her. She stepped across the room and pulled open a small panel, punching the code to deactivate the alarm with more force than was needed.
If she hadn't gotten involved in the whole mess in the Congo, she'd still have her life; she'd already started to make it a success. Instead, she'd been a prisoner for the past five years, unable to take a breath without looking over her shoulder. It wasn't the sort of pressure a normal person was meant to bear; it was a lonely life.
Of course, loneliness was an emotion Lois had been quite familiar with, even before she'd left on her disastrous expedition. Her parents hadn't exactly been the warmest parents on earth; between her father's philandering and obsession with work, and her mother's alcoholism, it was surprising that Lois and her sister had received any attention at all.
They'd moved around a lot when she was young; by the time they finally settled down after Lois's parents had split, Lois had found herself unable to form close friendships. She'd had many acquaintances; she'd hated the nickname Lo Lo in high school, but had tolerated it for the sake of what friendships she could manage to have.
Inside, however, she'd always felt like an outsider looking in. She'd felt as though it wouldn't matter if she simply disappeared one day; she was slightly bitter now to know that it was true. She missed Perry the most; he'd been more of a father to her than her own had been. She'd allowed herself to drift away from her family, but it was surprising how much it still hurt, not being able to see them after five years.
Even those people she'd deemed mere acquaintances had had a place in her life; she'd never known how important they were to her until it was all gone.
She looked around at the sparse furnishings of her home. She'd never dared acquire too many things for fear she'd have to move at a moment's notice. Everything she really needed could be packed up in a laptop and a small bag. It wasn't much of a life.
She grimaced, suddenly angry. The drifter had brought thoughts and feelings to the surface, ones that she'd assumed were long dead. It was foolish to think that he could have been Clark Kent, and if he wasn't, he certainly wasn't the sort of person she could trust with the remains of her life.
For a moment, she entertained a brief fantasy of having a short lived fling, of living for the moment and throwing all caution to the wind. It was seductive, the idea of once more feeling the sweet sensation of skin on skin. If the man could make her blush without doing more than look at her, what would he be able to do if he really tried?
Lois realized that she was blushing again at the erotic images her mind conjured up. She'd given up on thoughts of love a long time ago; all having such an affair would do would be to re-open old wounds. As lonely as she was at the moment, she'd probably fall in love with the man. As empty as her life was now, she wouldn't survive being shattered when he inevitably left her. Drifters never stayed long in one place, and he had the look of someone who was used to travelling, someone for whom no place could be called home.
She shook her head grimly. She had other things to worry about at the moment, such as the fact that her publisher's advance check still hadn't arrived. She picked up her mail from the table and flipped through it again. Still no sign that the publisher had even received the book, even though they had sent confirmation when she had sent it to them electronically.
Her fourth book had been hellishly hard to write. At heart, Lois was a nonfiction writer, and she'd based much of her first three novels on her own situation. It hadn't been intentional at first; she'd had her first novel half written before she'd even realized that much of it was self-referential.
She'd been afraid for a time that it might have been too dangerous to reveal so much. She'd checked the shelves of the local bookstore for books in the genre she'd been writing in, and had been relieved to discover that government conspiracy stories were common. In a world where everyone felt the need to wear a gun, distrust of the government seemed only natural.
Still, she'd been careful to change the most relevant details. After that, the books had practically written themselves. She'd researched those aspects she didn't know personally as well as she could, given the state of her small town library, and the Internet. The resources had exploded over the past couple of years, but she still needed to occasionally make a trip to the local library.
When her well of personal experiences had dried up, so had her inspiration when she was asked to write a fourth book. It had been months before she'd even hit on an idea for a plot, precious months when her nest egg was dwindling.
Then she'd had to spend even longer doing the research; her latest story didn't have the easy familiarity that the others had had. Every page she'd written had been like squeezing blood from a stone. In time, however, it had gotten somewhat easier, though it'd never reached the ease of her earlier work.
Lois bit her lip. She NEEDED the money from the advance, and she needed it very soon. Unless she received the check in the next day or two, she'd have to dip into her secret fund of cash, and that was dangerous. She'd done it before, and it had always left her tense and uneasy for months afterwards.
Finally she sighed and headed for her phone. She'd been very careful not to use a cordless phone for anything; any idiot with a police scanner could listen in on his neighbors' conversations on cordless phones.
She tapped a couple of buttons on the device attached to her phone; no sign of taps. The device wasn't perfect, but it was better than nothing. To be on the safe side, she didn't use her telephone very much.
She dialed the number quickly and let the phone ring.
"Cohen and Company. How may I direct your call?"
"This is Jane Alexander. I'd like to speak with Mr. Cohen please."
"He's just coming out of a meeting. Please hold."
Lois stared impatiently at the cheap print on the wall as she listened to the Elvis Presley music coming from the telephone. Simply because the man had been president was no reason to believe his music was classic.
"Jane, dear…I hope you've started on that fifth novel you talked about." Sid Cohen's voice was smooth; Lois didn't trust him for a moment. Agents were an untrustworthy breed. If Sid wasn't receiving fifteen percent of her income, he'd throw her to the wolves.
"I haven't been paid for the fourth one yet. I was expecting the advance check to come in last week. Where is it?"
Sid was silent for a moment, and Lois could hear the sounds of papers being shuffled. "I've been wanting to talk to you about that. They want some last minute editing done on the book before they'll take it. They say it isn't sexy enough. It's missing something that your first three had, and they want you to fix it."
Lois flushed, trying to keep her temper. "When did they tell you this?"
"Yesterday. It was too late in the evening to call you, but I'd planned to call you this afternoon anyway. I'll fax you the list of changes they want made. You still have the original on your computer, right?"
"I'm not stupid," Lois fumed. If the publisher didn't like her book, they should have told her a month ago. She could have had the problems fixed by now, and have the money in her hand. As it stood, she had no choice but to dip into her emergency money.
"Send it to me. You have the number."
"I just did."
"I'll fix it as quickly as I can. Did you see anything in there you thought I'd object to?"
"You're a professional, Jane. I'm sure there's very little you'd object to."
"I'd be insulted, but I know you meant that as a compliment."
"True. When you write to make a living, you can't be too fussy. Now if you wanted to go the Emily Dickenson route…"
"I like to get paid for writing. It soothes the soul." Lois spoke flatly. Writing was the only real skill she had, other than singing, and her chances of making a living as a singer weren't good. In any case, she had little interest in making a living singing for drunks in Las Vegas. The fact that such a career would leave her terribly exposed had kept her from even considering it.
"Then I guess you'd better get to it. When you're done with that one, you'd better get started on the next one. Neither one of us can afford another long wait like the last one."
It was a veiled threat. If she didn't continue to produce, he'd drop her as an agent- while still collecting fifteen percent of all her royalties, at least from the books she'd written already.
"I'll send it back as soon as I can." Lois managed to keep her anger out of her voice. She'd learned the value of tact since her "Mad Dog Lane" days. The same behavior that got the best interviews in town also tended to draw attention, something she could no longer afford. It had been hard to hold her temper at first; now it was a simple exertion of will.
Sometimes it was harder than others, though. She set the ear piece back on the receiver slowly as she turned and headed for her fax machine.
They had ten pages' worth of revisions. Lois grimaced. When she'd been working with Perry, she'd been able to protest any editorial changes he'd made. She couldn't do that now, at least not without attracting a great deal of attention.
Of course, many of the changes they were wanting made a lot of sense. Her publisher knew his business. It was depressing that there were so many changes; she blushed when the notes pointed out a place where she'd gotten her facts wrong. She'd have to go back to the library and do her research a little better. She'd gotten sloppy, which was the best way to the poorhouse.
It wasn't easy, starting with a whole new character. It was even harder to write about things she had no experience with. If she'd had more experience as a reporter, she might have had a bigger base to draw upon, but as things stood, she had to rely totally on second-hand information.
She glanced over at the false electrical outlet in the wall. She'd have to pull some of the cash out and make a deposit the next day, on her way to the library. Beyond the danger that the money represented, it shamed her that she wasn't able to get along without it. Whether her name was Lois Lane or Jane Alexander, she should have been able to stand on her own two feet in any profession that she chose. The taste of failure was bitter indeed.
She sighed and headed for her laptop computer. She had a great many changes to make, including whole scenes to re-write. The sooner she finished, the sooner she'd get paid and be back on her own two feet.
She began pulling reference books from her shelves as the computer began to boot up. She had a long night ahead of her.
If her mind sometimes wandered to thoughts of flesh on flesh, to thoughts of a lonely drifter wandering the highways, who could blame her?
"I don't think he's dead, Frank."
"Then where is he?" The senior agent shook his head. "You don't think that Superman would have come back to help us with the second asteroid fragment if he could?"
Jim Creed shook his head. "He wouldn't if he was too badly injured. Maybe he's wandering around in a daze somewhere; a Superman who wasn't in his right mind would be a danger to everyone around him."
"Why are you bringing this up now? They're supposed to have his funeral the day after tomorrow."
Jim threw a pair of files over to his partner. "I have testimony that a man was found lying nude in a meteor crater not long after Superman shattered the first meteor. He was brought to a local shelter in a confused state, unable to remember who he was."
"You have the testimony of a homeless drunk."
"Shortly after the John Doe left the shelter under his own power, I have a report filed of an attack, allegedly perpetrated by an individual matching the description of the man found in the crater. Supposedly, the man knocked his victim fifty feet with one blow, breaking a number of ribs in the process, and bruising the man's chest horribly."
"The police report says that the man was involved in a fight with another Hell's Angel, and that he got hit with a tire iron."
Jim stared at his partner. "You've seen the pictures of the bruise pattern. Does that look like it was made with a tire iron to you?"
Frank shook his head. "All you have is the testimony of a homeless alcoholic and of a gang member with everything to gain by lying."
"I'll prove that I'm right, Frank. I know a woman down in Forensics, and I think I'll have her take a look at the bruise pattern…see what she has to say about them."
"This is a little out of our jurisdiction, partner. "
"The victim reported that his vehicle was stolen…a 1980 Harley Davidson motorcycle. If the vehicle has been taken across state lines, then it IS our business."
"Maybe the man just doesn't want to be found. From what I hear, his life has pretty much been hell since he went public. What are you going to do if you actually find him, hotshot?"
Jim was silent for a long moment. "If I find him, I'm going to try to convince him that the world still needs Superman."
Lois sighed as she left the drive-through window of the bank. She'd deposited as much money as she dared to, but it wouldn't last more than a couple of months, assuming she was frugal. While the bank was probably used to the periodic large checks she deposited, large sums of cash tended to raise eyebrows.
Still, hopefully she'd still be getting a few small residual checks from her other three books along the way that would help tide her over until her next advance came through.
It had been arrogance that led her to try for such a picky publisher; many of the other publishing companies simply didn't care. At the time she'd felt triumphant when they'd accepted her book; now she felt only irritated at the extra work they'd caused her.
She'd been up half the night, and now she had to make a trip to the public library. Luckily, Last Chance, Arizona had a bigger library than the town's size should have warranted; it had been the beneficiary of a large bequest upon the death of a local gold tycoon almost a half century before. He'd set up a trust that was meant to buy books and extra space in perpetuity. The size of the library had been one of the factors that had brought Lois to Last Chance, along with the romanticism of the name, which was a vestige of the wild west days when the town had been founded.
Even with the trust, building additional space was becoming more of a problem, and the building was bursting at the seams with books. If Lois had still been a reporter, she would have written a news story about it, or at least an op/Ed piece. These days, a simple letter to the editor seemed to be too dangerous to her.
Lois wondered when she had let fear take such control of her life. There had been a time when she wouldn't have let anything stop her. If she'd had to, she'd have barged into the White House, grabbed President Heston, and demanded to be heard.
The truth was, it wasn't fear for herself that motivated her so much as fear for her family and friends. The least mistake by her could result in horrible things being done to those she loved, and while she might have taken risks with her own life, she wasn't willing to risk the lives of others.
Still, caution had become such a habit that it sometimes bordered on paranoia…or cowardice. There had been a time that she wouldn't have given a second thought to going after a man she was attracted to. Of course, the men she had chosen to pursue had never been good for her, but Lois was sure that she would have found someone who was right for her by this point, had she been able to remain in Metropolis.
Her experiences with men had actually been somewhat limited. There had been Patrick in high school, the boy she'd lost to Linda King, and finally poor, misguided Claude. The five years since Claude's death had been free of any romantic entanglements, which wasn't surprising, given the level of paranoia she'd been forced to live with.
She sighed as she pulled into the library parking lot. At this time of day it was almost deserted, which was the way Lois preferred it. Over the past few years, she'd been careful to keep people at arm's length, not merely for fear of who they might work for, but also because of they way they might be used against her. She'd seen what happened when the people she was running from used friends as leverage. She wouldn't be doing anyone any favors if she befriended them, and the knowledge that she might have to move at any time didn't make her inclined to develop any friendships.
She'd developed a few acquaintances of course. The local bookstore owner special ordered research books for her on occasion; for all its resources, the local library often didn't have the precise volumes she needed. She was harmless, a neo-hippie, and Lois had probably talked with her as much as she had anyone. If it wasn't for her continued efforts to get Lois to do a local book signing, Lois would have enjoyed the small chats she'd had with the woman.
She'd made an acquaintance of the man who ran the local shooting gallery as well. While it was little more than an outdoor area filled with targets and dirt hills to protect the local countryside, Lois made sure to practice as often as she could. She still didn't know if she'd be capable of killing someone, but she wanted the choice to be hers to make.
It was depressing to think how few people even reached the level of acquaintance, but it was something Lois had decided on long ago. Her own recklessness would endanger no one other than herself. As Lois entered the library, she inhaled the familiar scents of paper and cleaning solution. She missed the smell of newsprint in the morning almost as much as she missed the sounds and sights of the big city. Every few months, she almost managed to convince herself that she'd be able to lose herself in the anonymity of big city life; she could move to Los Angeles, Chicago or Houston with no one being the wiser.
The bad side was that it would be harder to see an enemy coming. She allowed herself to chat with the bookstore lady as a way to keep in touch with the community. In small towns, everyone knew everyone else, and strangers stood out like a sore thumb. It was a delicate balancing act, being friendly enough to get important enough, while aloof enough to prevent a genuine friendship.
The librarian ignored her, the way she always did. Lois had a feeling that she considered the library her own personal domain. The old biddy had probably been working since the place had been built, a century and a half before.
Lois went to work. After three hours, she sighed. Her publisher had been right to reject the manuscript. She might have gotten away with some of her mistakes back before gun ownership had become so popular, but now a significant portion of her readers would be jarred by some of her elementary mistakes.
She'd carried the same gun for the past five years, a 9mm Glock. It wasn't considered a typical woman's weapon, but these days women were often more heavily armed than men were. She knew how to care for her weapon, and all the safety precautions that had to be taken, but she hadn't really paid much attention to other types of guns.
She sighed as she wrote her final notes into a notepad. She'd check out a few books, but it was clear that she'd need to add to her permanent reference library. She'd head over to the bookstore to see what was available.
She checked her car the way she always did, then slipped inside and headed down the street. As she passed the gas station, she found herself looking for a Harley motorcycle. There wasn't one to be seen.
In all likelihood, the drifter had moved on. That's what drifters did…they moved on. Like every man she'd ever had in her life, they left-
Lois cursed to herself. With no one to talk to, she'd found herself beginning to babble in her own mind, and it bothered her more than she wanted to admit. There was a limit to how much paranoia and loneliness one person could take before they started to crack up. Sometimes she was afraid she was standing on the edge of an abyss from which there was no return.
She stopped in front of the bookstore and sighed. Sometimes she almost wished they would finally come. The waiting was like living with one ear continually listening for the other shoe to drop; you could never really relax, or enjoy anything. Life lost much of the pleasure it had to offer, and instead became a dark, grim trial to endure.
She'd felt really alive for the first time in years yesterday, when she'd seen the stranger. He'd reawakened her nose for news, her lustful feelings as a woman, and her sense of loneliness…most likely, she'd never see him again.
She resented him for that.
She opened the door to the bookstore and gaped. Half the books were off the shelves and into boxes, which were strewn around the floor at various points. No one was at the register, and the air was filled with dust. The usual smells of incense that had always filled the place were missing, and Lois could only assume the worst.
At the sound of the bell, Lois could hear the familiar voice coming from the stacks in the back. Jessica Paxton stepped to the front quickly, her face besmirched by dust.
"Jane!" she said, her face broadening into a smile. "Have you thought about doing a signing lately? I know that new book of yours is coming out, and…"
"It doesn't look like you'll be open long enough to sell my book. What's going on?"
The woman looked around for a moment, then said, "Oh! No, I'm not moving out of business. My lease has come up, and Floyd wants to raise the rent again. I can actually get a better price than I'm paying now just across the street, and so…"
"So you're moving your entire inventory less than a city block." Lois frowned. "I need some references on firearms."
"Those were really popular back when the Gunowner's Protection Act was passed, but they haven't been selling all that well recently." The older woman frowned for a moment. "I may have already started boxing some of them up. You are free to look, if you'd like. It's back in the reference section, along with the books on cars and sports."
Lois nodded. She hadn't spent much time in that section, and wasn't surprised that she hadn't seen the gun books.
"If you need any help, feel free to call me."
Lois nodded soundlessly, and headed towards the back, weaving through aisles filled with massive boxes half filled with books. When she finally reached the section she needed, she sighed. Half the books were already packed, and some of the shelves had even been removed. She crouched down next to one of the boxes.
As she slowly sifted her way through the box, she could hear the sounds of activity from other sections of the store. The woman probably had only a few days to move her inventory, at least if Lois read Floyd right. The man who owned the bookstore property was also Lois's landlord, and he wasn't exactly known for his generosity of spirit.
Finally Lois found the books she was looking for. She flipped through them, and once she was satisfied that they'd be worth buying, she tried to stand up.
She'd been crouched longer then she'd realized; her legs had cramped from staying in an awkward position for so long, and Lois grimaced as she put one hand on a bookshelf to support herself. She wasn't as young as she had been five years before, and she really needed to try to get back in shape. Thirty was too young to be feeling the aches and pains of old age.
The bookshelf began to shift under her hand, and before Lois could pull away, it collapsed, dropping dozens of books on the floor with a loud clatter. Lois fell backwards, onto her rear end, and she felt her shoulders hit the bookshelves behind her. She stared with horrified fascination as the bookshelf above her began to teeter in her direction.
Abruptly the bookcase stopped tilting, but a heavy dictionary stored on a top shelf tipped over, and flew towards Lois's face. She brought her arm up to protect her face, but she neither felt, nor heard an impact.
She peeked, and gaped when she saw a masculine hand holding the book less than a foot from her face.
"You need to be more careful."
Lois gaped as she realized that the stranger from the garage had saved her. He carefully set the book on an empty shelf, and then held his hand out to her.
It took her a moment to realize what he wanted. She recoiled for a moment, then relaxed. She allowed him to grab her hand and pull her to her feet. Her hand tingled where it touched his, and she was once again aware of the unusual attraction she felt for him.
"You're still here!" she said. "I'd have figured…"
He shrugged. "I thought I might stay for a while."
They were both silent for a long moment as Lois struggled for something to say. Finally her eyes dropped to the piles of books on the floor and she flushed. She started to bend down to gather them together, but he grabbed her hand again and shook his head. With a small smile, he said, "That's what got us into this mess."
Lois nodded silently as he crouched down and handed her the two books she had chosen. Immediately, her suspicions were aroused. How could he have known what she was looking for, unless he had been spying on her?
"Why are you here?" she asked suspiciously. "And how did you know that I was looking for these particular books?"
"I'm helping the storekeeper move all this. She thought you might need some help finding the gun books, so sent me back to…"
"You need to do a little better job!" Lois found herself saying. "This place is an accident waiting to happen! I could have been killed!"
When embarrassed, go on the offensive. It was a tactic that had always served Lois well.
Kade's lips tightened, and he gave a curt nod. "I'll see what I can do."
Before she could open her mouth to speak, he was gone.
It took Lois a moment to react. She stormed after him, careful to avoid stepping on the books on the floor.
"I hadn't finished talking to you!"
He refused to look at her. "Is that what you were doing?"
Lois stared at him. "Do you have trouble hearing?"
"I thought you gave me an order." He bent down and effortlessly picked up a large box filled with books. "I don't work for you."
"I'm a customer here, and…"
"I'm just helping Ms Paxton out on a short term basis." He weaved easily through the mess on the floor, acting as though the box didn't weigh an ounce. "I can leave any time I want to."
"I guess that's the great thing about being a drifter…you can just pull up and leave any problems behind."
"At least I don't shut myself away from the world."
Lois stared at him for a moment, then said, "What's that supposed to mean?"
He set the box down and turned to face her. "I think you know."
"Who are you to comment on how I live my life?" Lois felt the old, familiar anger rising. Despite five years of practice, she was losing control.
He shrugged. "You felt free to comment on mine."
Lois stood trembling for a moment, her anger growing to a point where she almost couldn't speak. She shook her head, and finally managed to get herself under control. "That's a mistake I won't make again."
She turned and stormed out of the building, leaving the Jessica Paxton staring after her open mouthed.
She was halfway home before she realized that she hadn't purchased the books she'd wanted.
It was several hours before Lois could think back on the encounter without fuming, and when she did, one thought struck her.
How had he gotten to her in time to grab the book that had been hurtling toward her face? He'd seemingly appeared out of nowhere. He'd have had to be amazingly fast, especially since the floor had been covered with books.
It was hard to believe that the unshaven, unkempt man at the bookstore could possibly be the most powerful man on the planet. The world was idolizing Superman as an icon, an example of all that was good and noble.
The drifter was the most infuriating man she'd ever met. It was hard to believe that he could have once been anything else. Lois had spent years learning to control her temper, and in the space of a few minutes he'd undone all her work. He tore down her barriers and that made him a very dangerous man.
Lois hadn't felt so alive in years.
Kade stared at the retreating form of Jane Alexander, and he wondered where everything had gone wrong. He hadn't meant to argue with her; he'd come to the conclusion that he wanted to know her better and had hoped to start a conversation with her when he saw her enter the bookstore.
Why he'd lied about working for the owner of the bookstore, he wasn't sure. When she'd demanded to know why he was there, it was the first thing he'd thought of. However, now that she was gone, he was coming to the conclusion that it might not be a bad idea.
He walked to the front of the store and said, "It looks like you have a big job ahead of you."
Jessica Paxton sighed, looking depressed. "I've only got a few days to move twenty thousand books, and the people I hired to help haven't shown up."
"I have a few days free," Kade said.
The older women looked up at him, startled, and then she smiled. "That's generous of you, Mr…?"
"You can call me Kade."
"I'm not sure…" the woman started. She looked back at the mess she'd managed to create. "I can't offer more than minimum wage…"
"That sounds fine."
"Well, I could certainly use the help. When can you start?"
"Anytime you'd like."
He handed her a couple of hardback books. "Ms. Alexander will probably be back for these."
She looked at him for a long moment, then slipped the books behind the counter.
"All right. I could use some help boxing the reference books; they can get a little heavy at times. Let me show you what I'm doing…"
In a short time, Kade was hard at work boxing up books and moving the boxes into the back room. He was grateful for the work; it helped him forget the mess he'd made of things with Jane Alexander, and the trouble he'd been having sleeping.
He'd had more dreams of thunder the night before, nightmares of car crashes and airless voids. His sleep had been fitful, and he no longer had even the pleasure of dreaming about Ms Alexander. Now that they'd met, those dreams were gone.
As he continued to work, Kade realized that he could hear the conversations Jessica Paxton was having with customers as they entered and left the store. Most of the talk seemed comfortingly familiar to him -talk of births and marriages, affairs and alcoholism. It was as though he'd grown up listening to the rhythms of small town talk, and somehow he found it soothing.
Working steadily, and without stopping, he managed to clear an entire section before Jessica thought about coming back to check on him. She gaped when she saw the empty shelves on the walls, and he shrugged.
He picked up the last massive box of books, and carried it to the rear, where he'd stacked all the others. He was careful to hold the box by the bottom; the books were heavy and would likely rip through unless he was careful.
"You do good work."
He shrugged. "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right."
"If you need to be paid today, I can…"
He shook his head. "I've got enough to get by."
It was true. He had what he needed to survive. However, he lacked those things that made life worth living; family, friends, someone to love and be loved by. There was an aching void in his life. The moment he'd seen Jane Alexander he'd hoped that might change. Something within him responded to her, and he'd hoped she'd respond to him.
He still wasn't sure what had happened with their second meeting. She'd been angry and irritable, and she'd treated him as though he was no better than the hired help. Kade regretted his brusqueness now, but he'd been taken aback by her behavior. His dreams had led him to seek a smiling vision of a woman. While he hadn't been disappointed by her beauty, he'd been surprised at how quickly they'd come to be at odds with each other.
He'd managed to sneak a peek at the bookstore owner's Rolodex, and he'd found Jane Alexander's address. Apparently, the woman had delivered books for her in the past. He'd also gotten her phone number, which was noted to be unlisted.
On his way back to the dreariness of his motel room, he drove by Jane Alexander's home. It was smaller than he would have thought it would be; a trim little adobe house with a red tiled roof. There weren't many adobe houses in the area; the mud brick structures were common in the southwest, but Last Chance was mostly filled with cheap wooden houses. The adobe buildings were built to last, but this one was visibly older. The white plaster walls were peeling, and the building was set apart from the others in the neighborhood by a wide expanse of dead grass. The lots to the left and behind the building were empty, and the neighborhood itself was a poor one.
With the exception of the plaster on the walls, Jane Alexander's house was a well-maintained oasis in the middle of a poverty zone. Most of the other houses in the neighborhood were ramshackle older buildings, mostly made of wood. With walls probably a foot and a half thick, the house would stay cool in the heat of the day, would be mostly proof against outside sounds, and would be well defended against drive by shootings. The garage was a mismatched wooden add-on, but it seemed sturdy enough.
He was tempted to stay and watch the house. If he stared closely enough, he could imagine seeing her inside, sitting at a simple desk with a laptop computer, her face a picture of concentration.
He wanted to stay, but he knew better than to do so. His relationship with Jane Alexander was rocky enough without having her turn him in for stalking her.
He stared at the building for a long moment, then regretfully turned toward the motel. For some reason, he wasn't hungry, and he didn't feel like eating in any case.
He opened the door to his tiny motel room, and he barely closed the door behind him before dropping soundlessly onto the bed. His sleep had been disturbed the night before, and somehow, his encounter with Jane Alexander had left him both exhausted and exhilarated.
The woman was infuriating, and yet it was as though a black and white world was suddenly lit in a panoply of colors when she entered the room. It was as though he was alive for the first time since he'd awakened in the aftermath of the Nightfall asteroid.
He dropped onto the bed without bothering to take off his boots. After a few moments, he cursed. The walls of the motel had to be paper thin, because it felt like he could hear things coming from every corner. He could hear the couple next door having an illicit encounter, even though they didn't sound all that noisy. He could hear the sound of a television blaring down the hall. Ignoring the amorous couple, he concentrated on the television, and eventually found that he was able to ignore the couple altogether.
"The world mourned today as final services were held for Clark Kent, the man known as Superman."
His head started to throb as he continued to listen.
"Services were held in Centennial Park in Metropolis today. Almost ten thousand mourners attended, most of them individuals who had been saved, or who had relatives who had been saved, by the man of steel during his tragically short career."
The headache grew stronger.
"The eulogy was given by the mayor of Metropolis, Perry White. White, arguably the person who knew him best other than his estranged fiancée, Lana Lang, broke down and wept for the world's loss and for the loss of a friend."
The headache exploded into a migraine, and he found that he could no longer listen. For several minutes he merely lay on the bed and gritted his teeth. He refused to allow the others to hear his pain, and with walls so thin, they assuredly would.
He drifted through a fog of pain until at last it began to fade. As he relaxed, he grew drowsy and tired. Eventually he slipped off into a dream.
He was in a black room. The woman of his dreams stood before him; behind her was a man in shadows, holding a gun. She was afraid; the expression of fear in her eyes made every protective impulse in his being rise to the surface. He tried to move forward, but found that he was frozen in place. He couldn't move and was forced to watch in horror as the man forced her to move forward to the edge of an abyss.
She was afraid, and his feelings of helplessness and rage mounted. He knew that he had to help her, but no matter how he struggled, he couldn't seem to move at all. He tried to shout to them, but his mouth gaped soundlessly.
The man was quiet as he stepped behind her. The shifting shadows didn't allow a good look at his face, but the man's intentions were clear. He stepped behind her, and shoved her into the blackness of the abyss.
Kade felt a massive blow against his back, and he found himself plummeting after her. He could see nothing in the darkness, and he felt colder than he'd ever felt before. It was a biting cold, one which seemed to reach out with icy fingers to stroke his bones.
He still couldn't move, and by this point he couldn't breathe either. His mouth gaped open in a soundless scream as he fell. He looked desperately for the woman, but all he could see was blackness. The world was silent.
He struggled to breathe, and he was drowning.
After a time, he thought he could hear the beginnings of sound. At first it was almost inaudible, but it grew louder rapidly. At the same time, the cold began to fade, being replaced by a warmth that covered his entire body. At first it was almost pleasant; he'd been chilled to the bone, and the warmth slowly began to move through his body.
As the sound he'd heard began to grow into a roar, he noticed that he was growing hotter and hotter.
When the roar had risen to a sound that overwhelmed all other sounds, he realized dully that he was on fire. He saw the first flickers begin at his arms, and they rapidly expanded to envelop his whole body. It didn't hurt like fire should have hurt; instead, it made his entire body sting, a pain that grew until his eyes watered, making the scene below him blurry and unreliable.
He saw the ground as it approached, though. It was a wide, unyielding sea of stone and concrete. He could only stare as it rushed towards him. He closed his eyes immediately before he hit; after a moment, everything stopped. The sound dropped into silence, the fires covering his body vanished. The world was a dark, warm place, and he was standing alone.
He was in a dark alley; at the end, facing the street, he could see the silhouette of the woman. It felt as though he'd been pursuing her forever, and he knew that he'd continue for as long as it took. He stepped toward her, and she turned. She gaped at him, then turned to run.
He stared for a moment, then began to run after her. He ran quickly, but somehow she managed to widen the distance between them. He wasn't sure why she was running from him, but he knew that he had to stop her, to explain that he meant her no harm.
She turned a corner up at the next street, and he tried to run faster. As he ran, he noticed his reflection in the large windows on either side of the street, backlit by flickering streetlights.
He stopped when he saw his own face, and gasped in horror. His face was a red mockery of a man, and his eyes glowed with an unholy red light. His face looked distorted and alien, like that of a gargoyle. In that moment, he knew that he was not a thing of the earth. He had no right to pursue a woman, because he was a cursed thing, alien. He looked down at his hands, which were gnarled and red, with claws dripping with blood.
He wept as he looked back up toward his face, which had grown even more inhuman. He opened his mouth and saw teeth that had been filed down into points. He tried to scream, but his voice was only a soundless growl.
He woke up, and realized he was in his bathroom, facing the mirror, and his eyes were still glowing red. His face stung in a reminiscence of the fires that had wrapped his entire body earlier, and he gasped in horror as he realized that that his eyes were still glowing with a hellish light.
He sat up in bed, gasping. It took a moment to realize that he had not actually awakened from his dream the first time; he'd had a dream within a dream. His body was sweat soaked, and he felt a desperate need to soap himself clean.
As he passed by the mirror, he couldn't help but glance fearfully at his reflection. He gasped as he saw that the mirror had somehow managed to warp and crack during the night, its surface having bubbled and boiled until half the mirror was unusable. More terrifying was the reflection he saw in the corner of the mirror that was usable. His face seemed a little reddish, but somehow the beard he'd been growing had vanished. He was clean-shaven for the first time in days, and he hadn't even bought a razor.
Additionally, the corner of the counter was crushed, as though someone had taken a huge vise and wrapped it around the end of the Formica. He cursed. He'd had to lay down a large deposit in lieu of presenting a credit card; he was sure to lose that, and perhaps more.
He shook his head; he didn't understand what was happening to him. He stripped out of his clothing and stepped into the shower, turning it on as hot as it would get. As the water enveloped him, he began to sob. His feelings of loneliness and alienation were overwhelming, and like the sword of Damocles, he felt as though something huge was hanging over his head. Something in his past was so terrible that he wouldn't think about it. He couldn't think about it.
He could have been a murderer in his old life. As strong as he seemed to be, it would have been easy to do it accidentally, and if he had any sort of temper…Kade didn't want to believe that he could have hurt someone badly, but he couldn't deny it. It had been so easy breaking the ribs of that one biker; it had been effortless.
He could have been in the military, perhaps; he seemed to have some experience in calculating bullet trajectories. Perhaps he'd been a mercenary soldier somewhere. For a moment he had a glimpse of a rain forest, and of himself searching for any signs of someone…the memory faded quickly.
Still, he didn't seem overly familiar with guns.
He realized that he was developing another headache, and also that the water had turned cold. It didn't seem to bother him much, the coldness of the water, but he sighed and switched it off anyway.
He stepped out of the water, staring down at his body. To all appearances, he was as ordinary a man as anyone. It looked as though he kept himself in good shape, and while being uncircumcised was unusual for someone of his apparent age, it wasn't unheard of.
He sat on the edge of the tub with his head in his hands until the slight headache receded.
It was night time outside. He could hear the sounds of the evening; the snores of his neighbors; the sounds of the few cars which were still driving through the streets. From the sound of things, it was late, and Kade sighed. He grabbed a towel and dried off quickly. His nose wrinkled at the smell of burning cloth as he dropped the towel onto the floor in the corner beside the bathtub.
He dressed in the jeans and T-shirt he'd been given by the waitress. He felt restless, and felt the strong need to get away. He left his room quickly, and headed for his bike. Not bothering with the helmet, he kick started it into motion, and drove out into the night.
The night wind on his face felt cool and comforting, familiar. It was a sensation that seemed so familiar that it seemed deeply ingrained. He suspected that he'd often ridden through the night air, allowing the wind to whip through his hair as he sought answers to the questions in his life.
He didn't find any as he rode through the night. What he did find was a measure of calm. Whatever his life had been before, he was a different person now. He could only change the present; the past was immutable and couldn't be changed no matter how much he would have liked to.
The desert had its own sort of beauty by night. It was an austere sort of beauty, stark and powerful. It was the beauty of a landscape that seemed to encompass the universe, of a sky that seemed to stretch out endlessly with stars. Looking up at the heavens was enough to restore his sense of the order of the universe. In the scale of things, his own problems were infinitesimally small.
Eventually he returned to his motel room. He was careful to clear everything out; he was certain that the motel would force him to vacate the moment that housekeeping noticed the damage to the bathroom. Even thinking about the mystery of that damage was enough to impinge on his feelings of calm.
He reached the bookstore early, and found that Jessica, the proprietor, was already there. She offered him coffee, which he accepted gratefully. While it didn't seem to do much to wake him up, he enjoyed the taste. Unwilling to make much in the way of small talk, he set to work.
He managed to lose himself in the work, able to avoid thinking about anything other than the simple and repetitive tasks involved. So engrossed was he in his task that when he picked up a box of books and turned a corner with it, he nearly ran into Jane Alexander.
They stared at each other for a long moment without speaking.
"You look different." She was stammering a little, which gave Kade a small surge of confidence.
He resisted the urge to look down at himself; in jeans and a sweater he knew he looked different than he did in a leather motorcyclist's outfit.
"There's a little more to me than a pair of leather pants." Kade smirked.
Her eyes dropped, and then she flushed. "The casual look suits you."
"I could say the same about you." Kade had a sneaking suspicion that she'd just looked at his crotch, and her reaction amused him.
She flushed even more deeply, and looked away. "I see that you've cleared away this whole section."
The entire area was clear of books; only the skeletal remains of free standing bookcases remained. He nodded.
"I've managed to clean out half the store already. With any luck, Jessica will be able to reopen next week."
She bit her lip. "I don't suppose you saw the books I had intended buying…"
He nodded. "I had Jessica hold them for you at the front desk."
She smiled at him, and Kade found himself flushing. It was hard to think when she smiled like that. It was blinding, and it made him want to stammer like a schoolboy.
"That was really nice of you." Her voice was hesitant.
"You act as though you don't expect people to do you any favors." She stopped smiling, and Kade cursed to himself.
"It's easier not to be disappointed that way."
"It's safer not to take any risks, I guess." Kade's voice was carefully neutral, devoid of any emotion.
She looked at a point above his shoulder. "Taking risks is a good way to get burned."
"A life without risk isn't really living."
"You sound like a fortune cookie." Jane Alexander tapped her foot irritably. "You never did say what gave you the right to comment on my life."
"I like you." Kade carefully set the box of books on the floor.
Jane Alexander's face had turned a bright red. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"You want the best for people that you like."
"Who says you even KNOW what the best thing is? What makes you the expert?"
He shrugged. "I know what I believe."
"And what, pray tell, is that?"
"A flower can't bloom in the dark."
"Now you really ARE talking like a fortune cookie."
"If you shut yourself away from the world for long enough, eventually you'll wither away."
She was silent for a long moment. "I suppose there is some truth to that…but you don't really have any right to cast aspersions on anyone's lifestyle."
"Why would you say that?"
"Do you have a home and a family somewhere?" Jane's voice was challenging.
Kade felt a small throbbing begin between his eyes. "I'm between homes right now."
"So you just left your whole life and decided to travel." Her voice was flat.
Kade turned and started pulling shelves from the empty bookcase beside him, setting them carefully on the floor. "It seemed like the thing to do at the time."
His headache was getting worse.
"A flower doesn't grow without any roots, either."
"I suppose it doesn't." He continued to remove shelves. He could sense her staring at him, but he ignored her.
"There's a lot to be said for travelling."
"Sure. Grungy hotel rooms, never sleeping in your own bed." She smirked.
"Beautiful sunsets, sweet smells of summer, brisk mountain air."
"Living out of a knapsack, washing clothes in a sink, never getting a good night's sleep." She stared at him challengingly, daring him to deny her words.
"You get to meet new people; make friendships that might last a lifetime."
He glanced at her and said, "I guess that depends."
Their eyes met, and Lois stared at him for what seemed like an eternity before speaking. "Don't fall for me. It can't end well."
"That's a big assumption."
"You're a drifter, I'm an at-home girl…it'd never work." Her flippant remark didn't conceal the pain he glimpsed before she turned away.
She walked away from him, then turned back for a moment. "The whole problem is that I like you too."
He was tempted to follow her, but the minor headache hadn't quite faded, and he sensed that she wasn't yet ready for him to follow her. He sighed and turned back to work, absently listening to her as she made her way through the store.
He could hear her speaking to the bookstore owner near the front of the store.
"Did Kade leave something for me?"
"Yes…he said you'd be back for these."
"I hate to be so predictable."
Kade continued pulling shelves from the bookcases. They'd need to move the cases to the new store soon. He continued to listen to the women's' conversation.
"It was a stroke of luck, having him ask for work here. I don't know what I would have done without him."
"He's been a good employee?" The question was asked with a casual tone.
"He's a hard worker, and he's really fast. I wouldn't have gotten a quarter of what he has done, even if I'd been strong enough to lift the boxes."
"I guess it really was a lucky thing, his coming in."
"That'll be sixty-four dollars, eighty cents."
Kade could hear the sound of coinage being dropped into the register. There was silence for a moment, then Jessica spoke again.
"When is your new book coming out?"
"Three or four months, if I'm lucky." The conversation lulled for a moment, but Kade didn't hear the sound of the door chimes ringing.
"Has he said anything about his past?"
"Kade?" Jessica's voice was amused. "He doesn't talk very much about anything." She paused. "He really is a handsome man, isn't he?"
"He cleans up a lot more nicely than I thought he would." Jane's reply came slowly.
"The shave did wonders for him, didn't it?" Kade was surprised to hear a throaty laugh from Jessica. "I wonder if he might not…"
"Jessica!" Jane's voice was a little shocked, and Kade realized he must have missed something…a gesture, or an expression. His hearing seemed to be working just fine.
"Some men appreciate older women!" Kade could tell by her tone that Jessica was teasing, and he began to relax. She continued. "Not that I'm likely to ever do anything about it. I couldn't afford to lose him right now. Now, if he were to ask, it might be a different story…"
"Do you think he might be interested?" The tone of Jane's voice was casual.
"The only person he's shown any interest in has been you."
There was a long moment of silence, then Jane spoke again. "Thanks for the books. I'll be back in a few days to see if there's anything else I need."
The doorbell rang, and Kade knew she had left the building.
He sighed. She'd said that she liked him, and the feeling that evoked in him was one of exhilaration. He'd simply have to convince her to give him a chance. She didn't seem like the sort of person who gave her trust easily, and he wasn't entirely sure how to seem more trustworthy.
It would take time to woo her, time he feared he might not have. He'd had the sense that he was being pursued when he left Metropolis, and the impending sense of doom that created hadn't disappeared. Time was short, and it was frustrating that he couldn't make Jane believe that they had a chance together.
It would have to take as long as it took.
He blinked, realizing that he'd managed to clear away the empty shelves and disassemble the bookcases while he was thinking.
He walked to the front of the store, where Jessica was standing. "I've finished up with the bookcases."
She blinked. "Done already? That was awfully fast."
"We can move them as soon as you are ready."
She smiled, and locked the front door, setting a sign into place.
"I think Jane Alexander likes you."
"I'm not the sort of person a woman like her wants to have anything to do with."
"Maybe not looking like a biker," Jessica admitted. "But right now you look like you belong in a ski lodge." She stared at him for a moment. "Don't you get hot wearing that sweater in this climate? It's a nice day outside, but it's fairly warm in here."
He shrugged. "The heat doesn't really seem to bother me that much."
"You're a lucky one." Jessica shook her head. "Well, it IS wintertime, even if the weather's nice outside. Just feel free to slip it off if you want."
She winked at him, and Kade smirked. If he hadn't known she was teasing, he might have been uncomfortable, but as it was, he was enjoying himself.
He nodded. Jane walked to the back of the store, where she opened the door leading to a loading area. It was recessed about twenty feet from the alleyway, and was roomy enough for the rental truck Jessica had parked there.
Kade grabbed as many of the heavy wooden shelves as he could conveniently carry, and ignored the expression on Jessica's face as he easily leapt up into the truck with them. He set them down, and quickly gathered the rest. He'd loaded the truck with boxes of books and disassembled bookcases in under twenty minutes.
Jessica had stopped staring and simply pulled down the sliding door to the rental truck, being careful to secure it. She then locked the back door to the store.
Kade slipped into the passenger's side of the cab beside her, and she quickly pulled into the alleyway, being careful to avoid the dumpster and the gas main.
They reached the other store in under two minutes, and Kade was quickly hard at work unloading the truck.
He emptied the truck, and quickly began reassembling the freestanding bookcases. Jessica had explained the setup she wanted on the first day, and so Kade had no trouble setting things up.
Kade heard the sounds of someone at the front door, and Jessica quickly unlocked it and stepped outside. He could hear her talking to one of her customers, an older woman who had spent several hours gossiping the day before.
Kade knew that Jessica would have preferred to help him, but the woman insisted on continuing to talk.
He allowed the sounds of the conversation to fall into the background, and he set to work.
By the time Jessica had gotten the woman to go away, he'd finished setting up the bookshelves and had started putting the books away in alphabetical order.
She gasped, and he looked up.
"How did you…?"
"How did I what?" he asked.
"I was gone for only a second, and…"
"You must have lost track of time." He shrugged.
Jessica was silent as they locked up and returned to the truck, and he noticed that she kept glancing at him out of the side of her eye.
He sighed. It was going to be a long day, especially when he had to face the motel owner. He knew the man would be seriously unhappy. It wasn't a confrontation that he looked forward to, and he hoped that his small store of cash would be enough to cover it.
He'd have tried to fix it himself, but he'd checked; the one small hardware store in town didn't have any replacement mirrors, nor did they have the cheap type of countertop he would have needed. The fact that he'd have needed the use of a circular saw and other equipment, and that he was unlikely to make the repairs without being discovered had led him to one conclusion. He'd have to face the music.
He never bothered to wonder about his confidence that he could have repaired everything, given the appropriate materials and tools. Instead, ignoring Jessica, he daydreamed about a smile that eclipsed the sun.
"They've found the money, sir!" Agent John Green's voice was excited as he opened the door without knocking.
Sully Jameson snarled as the younger agent entered the room. The younger man was filled with the idealism of youth, and usually one of his pronouncements meant trouble. Sully was having a bad day, and he suspected that it was about to get worse.
"They found money from Lot five. We had an agent inside the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco; he managed to catch the money going through. It came from a batch that had been shipped in from a small town in Arizona."
Both the DEA and CIA occasionally wanted to track cash transfers involved in various operations. Sometimes they used marked cash, money that had been slightly altered, just enough that the machines at the federal reserve banks would spit them out. Most bank employees wouldn't be able to find anything wrong with the bills. With agents placed in the right positions, however, it was easy to track the money back to the banks they had been deposited at. Tracking the individuals who had actually made the deposit was harder.
"How much money are we talking about?" Sully grimaced. Lot five was an especially big headache because it was a problem that was supposed to have been taken care of long ago.
"Five thousand was deposited with the reserve. It's possible that that wasn't all of it. Some may still be circulating back at the bank where the money came from."
Sully shook his head. "We always knew that some of the money could have been filched instead of being destroyed."
It was a transparent lie. Five thousand dollars was a lot of money to have been slipped out of a briefcase. Nevertheless, he had to keep the younger agent off the case, or at least delay him.
"This is our first link to Lois Lane in almost twenty two months."
"I'll look into this one myself." Sully hoped the younger man wouldn't push the issue.
"We already have agents being dispatched to the small town of Last Chance, Arizona."
Sully cursed to himself. He'd have to move quickly. "Give me the information, and I'll take command of the situation."
Sully could tell that the younger man was hesitant.
"Miss Lane is only wanted as a witness to the death of Federal Agent Forrester." Agent Green's expression was troubled. "There isn't really any reason for you to take a personal interest…"
"If she's spending money used in a drug deal, she's guilty of a great deal more." Sully scowled. "I'm still the Agent in charge, and you overstepped your authority in dispatching those agents. Since you've already done it, I'll be taking command of the operation."
Agent Green sighed and nodded.
"Get back to work."
As the man closed the door behind him, Sully sighed. Lois Lane was supposed to have been long dead. If it hadn't been for the pictures of her standing over a prone Superman, they never would have known that she was alive. Lois Lane was a problem that needed to be taken care of.
He'd do everything he could to slow the official investigation. It wouldn't be good for Ms. Lane to be taken into official custody. In the meantime, he knew what he had to do.
He picked up the telephone receiver, and after checking to ensure that the line was clean, he made a call.
"Warren, we have a problem."
Some problems required a permanent solution.
Lois flushed as she left the bookstore. She couldn't believe she'd acted so oddly around Kade. His appearance had thrown her for a loop. He'd gone from being a dangerous, exciting drifter to looking like a safe, exciting Midwesterner,—the sort of boy she could have taken home to her mother.
She'd dropped her guard. It wasn't something she did very often, because she knew that it would only get her or someone else hurt. It had been one thing to fantasize about him when he'd been just a drifter on his way through town; flirting had seemed like a pleasantly dangerous diversion. Now that it seemed he might stay for a while, it was all becoming too real.
Something inside her desperately wanted to believe that there was someone out there for her. She'd been alone for a long time. But it wasn't fair for her to enter a relationship with anyone without letting them know what they were getting into.
She stared out at the bookstore, then slowly shifted her vehicle into reverse, carefully backing out and onto the main road. As she headed in the direction of the library, Lois continued to turn the problem over in her mind.
She still had a suspicion that Kade was actually Clark Kent, who was presumed dead. Now that he was clean-shaven, he looked even more like the pictures she had seen. As Superman, he would likely be the one person in the whole world who would have nothing to worry about from her enemies.
On the other hand, if he WAS Superman, it was only a matter of time before someone discovered him; and if she was involved with him, then her secret would be out. That would risk the lives of Lois's parents, her sister, and some of her friends.
She wouldn't risk that. She couldn't. She'd seen what happened to the families of those who displeased the people she'd found in the Congo. Poor Claude…
She pulled up in front of the library, and after going through her customary check of the surrounding roofs and windows for snipers, she opened the door and headed quickly for the main entrance.
She'd managed to get the revised version of her novel off to the publisher, but it was time for her to start on her next novel. The money she'd receive from her fourth book would barely cover her cost of living; she'd be behind if it sold more poorly than expected. It was a little different than her first three novels after all, even with the revisions the publisher had asked for.
The librarian wasn't at the front desk.
This wasn't enough to alarm Lois. While the endowments for books had been quite generous, the librarian herself was paid with public funds; and so she was forced to do the work of three or four people. If the woman weren't so ill tempered, Lois would have felt sympathy for her. As it was, Lois assumed she was probably working in the stacks.
Lois headed immediately for the second floor. A staircase along the back wall led up to the stacks. Underneath were the elevator doors, allowing for both handicapped access and the transport of returned books on a librarian's cart.
Lois took the stairs. The library was as deserted as always, for which she was grateful. She'd be stuck among the stacks for the next several days. Once she'd gone through all the information that she could find there, she'd be forced to resort to the books bought at the bookstore, those that could be special-ordered, and what she could find on the internet. She occasionally made special orders with the librarian, but the woman was so ill-humored about it that Lois found it easier to go to other sources. She preferred to create the smallest paper trail she could, in any case.
The computers on the second floor were set around poles, creating three monitor islands. Lois sat so that she was facing the head of the stairs, flipped her notebook open, and began her search.
She'd been at work productively for about an hour. The time flew by quickly; concentrating on work allowed her to forget the other troubles in her life. By focusing on one thing she was able to shut everything else out. The ability to focus to the exclusion of everything else had been her salvation as a child. Rather than listen to her parents having one of their countless screaming sessions, she'd retreated to the library. It had been a safe haven, a place where she could forget her troubles and instead strive to satisfy her endless curiosity about the world.
Lois had always hated secrets and lies. It was ironic that her life had become filled with them. She was meant to unearth secrets not keep them; and it was frustrating to be trapped in a lie.
She returned the computer to its main catalogue screen with a click of a button and closed her notebook. She was preparing to head for the stacks when she heard voices from the first floor of the library.
She cautiously stepped close to the head of the stairs. She could see two men in suits standing in the lobby down below. One was speaking into a small cell phone; the other was scanning his surroundings with a quick and practiced eye.
Lois's heart started to beat faster. The men had the look of Federal Agents, and they were obviously looking for something. Given what she knew, it seemed unlikely that they were looking for anyone other than her.
She stepped back from the staircase, out of sight of the men below. She had no idea whether they were alone or if the building was already surrounded, but she had to suspect the worst. For a moment her hand twitched for her purse, but she forced herself to hold still.
It would be better to escape without the enemy ever knowing she was actually there.
Her eyes darted, taking in the area around her. Odds were that her car was being watched. She'd have to escape on foot. Lois cursed to herself. If she'd known she was going to be involved in a foot race, she would have worn more sensible shoes. Instead, she'd dressed up, unconsciously hoping to see Kade again.
Even as she headed for the emergency fire exit in the back, she had to admit to herself that it hadn't been all that unconscious. She'd suspected he might be at the bookstore, and she'd deliberately put herself in a position to meet him.
Lois hesitated at the doorway. If she opened the door, the alarm would sound; and the people downstairs would know she was here.
On the other hand, the fact that the librarian was missing could mean that she was already dead. The people seeking her were ruthless; they wouldn't allow innocent bystanders to stand in the way of what they were going to do.
She heard footsteps coming up the stairs, and she knew she didn't have any choice. She pushed the door open, grimacing at the sound of the alarm ringing through the building. She stepped through to the area beyond, and she took the steps of the stairwell two at a time. She reached the ground floor a moment later, and pushed her way outside.
She squinted in the glare of the sunlight, tense and unsure of whether they would be waiting for her on the other side of the door. She was at the back of the library, her car was at the front, and she doubted there was time to reach it.
She ran quickly, hoping to be out of sight before the agents saw her. She caught a glimpse of the door opening a moment before she turned a corner. She continued to run, hoping that the sound of her footsteps would be obscured by the sounds of traffic and other outdoor noises.
As she ran, she cursed to herself. She'd known that it was dangerous to deposit tainted money. She'd dipped into the well several times over the years, each time only reluctantly. It seemed that her luck had finally run out.
If they knew where to find her, they might have already had her house under surveillance. She'd have to escape with the clothes on her back and the limited sums of cash in her purse. That wasn't much, and she'd need money to establish a new identity as well. Perhaps it was time to lose herself in the throngs of a big city.
Lois turned into an alleyway and slowed to a jog. She didn't see any sign of pursuit; but if the men behind her had been alone, it would have taken time to return to their vehicle. Luckily, she was in a residential area by this point. There weren't any convenient flat roofs for snipers to stand on. Instead, she was in an area where all the houses were built to the same specifications, a tribute to America's obsession with standardization.
She hid behind a dumpster, and leaned against a wooden fence, trying to catch her breath. Regular Tai Kwon Do practice was no substitute for running; if she got out alive, she'd remedy that.
A monstrous howl from the other side of the fence caused her to push back and almost twist her ankle as she fell to the ground. The dog on the other side rammed against the fence, and Lois bit back a curse as she rose to her feet.
She quickly began walking, hoping that she'd be able to get away without arousing any of the neighbor's suspicions. She could hear other dogs begin to bark; she needed to find a bus station and fast. Unfortunately, a town the size of Last Chance didn't have one.
As she reached the end of the alley, she heard the sound of a vehicle turning in behind her. Without looking back, she turned the corner and began to run down the side street. She ran as quickly as she could, once again cursing the shoes she'd chosen to wear.
She turned the corner again, moments before hearing the sound of a vehicle emerging from the alley.
She was standing in the yard of a brick house with a shingled roof. The front porch had a low brick wall in front of it with a hanging swing. Lois quickly ducked behind the wall that was a little less than three feet high.
She lay with her back to the wall, staring at the clutter around her.
"Bless this mess," a wooden placard hanging by the door said, and the porch was most definitely a mess. From the cutesy cat doormat, to the cat dolls hanging on the inside of the window by suction cups, to the carved wooden decorations which lay hidden behind the low wall, Lois was surrounded by homages to bad taste.
She wanted to laugh hysterically. To be killed in the middle of so much tackiness…it seemed funny somehow, and she was forced to stifle a giggle.
She quieted as she heard the sounds of a slow moving vehicle driving along the street. She froze and tried not to breathe. It seemed like an eternity before the sound of the vehicle vanished into the distance, and the whole time her heart was beating in her chest like a drum. She fumbled in her purse and felt the reassuring shapes of both her pistol and her pepper spray.
If there was only one of them, she could probably overpower him. She'd kept up her martial arts training, and those skills, along with her pepper spray, should allow her to overcome anyone who wasn't actually holding a gun on her. Unfortunately, there were at least two of them, and they would both be armed.
Even after the vehicle's noises had faded into the distance, she remained where she was until her breathing and heart rate had returned to normal.
When she saw the curtains fluttering, she decided it was time to go. She stood cautiously and looked around. With no one in sight, she began to limp down the road in the opposite direction from which the vehicle had headed.
She walked three blocks before turning onto a main thoroughfare.
Noon had already come and gone, so there were relatively few vehicles on the road. Lois knew better than to try to hitchhike; the sheriff kept careful watch on vagrants, and she couldn't afford to end up in jail. It would be too easy for the Feds to show up with forged papers and transfer her into their custody. Then she'd never be seen again.
She recognized the street and decided to make for the bookstore. She might be able to get a ride with Jessica Paxton, or perhaps with Kade.
She had a momentary fantasy of riding into the sunset with him, then shook her head. She was in enough trouble as it was; there was very little reason in getting him involved. She'd seen too many people killed to want to jeopardize his safety by asking for his help.
As she reached the first storefront facing the street, she caught her reflection in the glass.
She looked ragged and scared. She'd left her notebook back on the table in the library, but she'd managed to keep hold of her small purse.
On the other side of the four-lane street, she could see one of the suited men walking casually, trailing her by several hundred feet.
He was walking faster than she was; and as she watched, he began to cross the street.
She walked more rapidly. She considered stepping into one of the shops hoping that they wouldn't dare try anything in public. She knew that to be a lie, however, and couldn't see jeopardizing a poor shopkeeper and her customers. Even if they didn't kill any witnesses, they'd just claim she was a fugitive and that they were arresting her.
She turned a corner at the end of the building and quickly slipped around to the alleyway behind. She quickly began to run down the alleyway, passing a number of indented areas that served as loading and unloading docks for the stores on the other side. She passed a number of dumpsters; and when she judged that the man would have reached the alley, she ducked behind one.
Behind her was a loading dock that had an empty rental truck in it. Lois was tempted to check and see if it had any keys in it, but she suspected that even in a town the size of Last Chance the storeowner wouldn't be so stupid.
Her chest heaved as she tried to regain her breath. She peered around the corner and could see the man walking along the alley.
She heard the sound of a door opening behind her, and she stiffened. Had she foolishly walked into a trap?
She was almost afraid to look over her shoulder, but she whirled around and stared.
Kade was standing in the doorway staring at her.
"Jane?" he asked. "What's wrong?"
Lois cursed to herself and pulled her gun from her purse. "Get back!" she hissed. "I'm being-"
The man who had been following her appeared behind her without warning; and Lois gasped, throwing herself forward.
Lois didn't see Kade move; by the time she looked up, he'd already knocked something out of the man's hand and was holding him by the throat up against the brick wall behind the dumpster. He lifted the man with one hand until his feet were kicking against the wall. The man gasped, his sunglasses falling off.
"What's going on, Jane?" he asked, without taking his eyes from the man.
Lois slowly rose to her feet.
"This man and another one have been following me for the last thirty minutes. I don't know what's going on," Lois lied.
Kade shook the man slightly, and the man gasped loudly.
"Why are you following Ms. Alexander?"
The man tried to speak but couldn't. Kade slowly allowed him to drop to the ground, releasing the pressure on his throat but not taking his hand away.
"I'm just a reporter…" the man gasped. "I write society articles for the Phoenix Gazette."
Lois gaped at the man. Her eyes darted to the object that had fallen from the man's hand. It was a tape recorder.
Kade reached into the man's jacket and threw the man's wallet to Lois. She caught it and quickly rifled through the identification inside. She cursed under her breath, and Kade's head snapped around to look at her.
"Let him up. He's who he says he is."
The identification was authentic. The fact that the man wasn't armed was even more convincing. It was still possible that he worked for the enemy, but Lois had a gut feeling that she'd misjudged the situation. Of course, if the man was with the press, it might be almost as bad as if the enemy had shown up. On the other hand…
"I could have ended up shooting you!" she said as she handed the wallet back to the man. "Why didn't you make an appointment?"
The man took his wallet gingerly and tried to catch his breath.
"I've just been reassigned to this beat. You're known to be a reclusive local author, and my editor demanded that I get an interview."
With his glasses off, the man looked much younger than Lois had originally assumed. His suit was cheap and ill fitting, looking as though it had barely been worn. She grimaced. "Who's the other man with you, and how did you even find out that I lived in Last Chance?"
"He's my partner. As to where you live…" The man held up a hand, and slowly reached into his jacket pocket. He pulled out a small magazine page, folded into quarters.
Lois took the page, and stared at it. It was a Who's Who type listing of the important people living in Arizona. It gave her date of birth, the fact that she lived in Last Chance, and the titles of the books she'd published. It didn't give a phone number or an address, but it did give her publisher's address as a place to which to send mail.
Lois cursed to herself again. She'd have to move, and soon.
Lois looked up and stared at the reporter. She knew that his journalistic instincts had been aroused. If she didn't give him something, he'd nose around until he found something dangerous.
"I'm sorry… you spooked me. I had trouble with a former boyfriend, and…"
It was true. She'd had trouble with a former boyfriend. Poor, traitorous Claude.
The man nodded, and so did Kade.
"He's a violent, wealthy man; and I'd just as soon not have him know where I am."
"If you are using a pseudonym, I don't see that it would be a problem."
Lois sighed. "I'll give you a short interview, if you'll promise no pictures."
The man nodded.
Lois gestured to the open door, and the man followed her inside, followed in turn by Kade.
She gave a quick interview, artfully combining truth and lies. Kade stayed in sight, and Lois knew he was listening. The fact that he was listening probably encouraged her to lie less than she otherwise would have.
When she sensed that the reporter was satisfied, she declared that the interview was over.
The man's partner picked him up, and the two quickly left.
Jessica had returned by this point, and Lois realized that she needed a ride back to her car.
Kade had filled Jessica in while Lois gave the last of her interview, and Jessica was happy to give him time off to drive her back to the library.
Lois stood uncertainly as Kade handed her his motorcycle helmet. "Won't you need it?"
"I'll drive carefully."
Reluctantly, she slipped it on. She scrambled onto the motorcycle behind him; and after a moment's hesitation, leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his torso.
It felt good to touch him, even with all the cloth between them. He was warm to the touch, and his stomach felt as hard as a rock. As she leaned against him, she sighed.
Given the way he'd lifted the man with one hand, it was looking more likely that Kade might not be human.
And if he weren't, then there would be people looking for him.
The smart thing to do would be for Lois to leave town as soon as she could.
As the bike jerked to a start, Lois held Kade more tightly. Lois Lane had been doing the smart thing for a long time. Just once, she'd like to throw caution to the wind and take life as it came to her.
Kade was right. She was like a flower dying in the darkness.
Perhaps it was time to change all that
As Lois pressed up against Kade's broad back, it surprised her to realize how much she'd missed the simple comfort of touching another person. She'd never been a touchy-feely sort of person, but she'd always had some form of contact. However, she hadn't allowed herself to get close enough to anyone in the past five years to have any sort of physical contact.
She was disappointed when the motorcycle began to slow. In the aftermath of the adrenaline rush she'd had as she ran from a threat that hadn't existed, she was feeling shaky and unsure of herself. She'd remained tense during her interview with the young reporter; she'd had to remain alert so that she wouldn't reveal too much. It was only after she'd allowed herself to relax that the aftershocks had set in.
They pulled into the parking lot, and Lois slowly dismounted. She pulled the helmet from her head and handed it to Kade.
"I'm sorry I got you involved in all of that." Lois stared at the pavement. "I was being foolish."
"There are laws to prevent stalkers-"
"Some men are above the law," Lois said, somewhat bitterly. It was a truth within the lie. "Besides, how many stalkers heed restraining orders?"
"Not many, I guess."
"It's not really safe for me to be interested in anyone, even as a friend." Lois found herself saying more than she had intended.
"I'm not worried."
Lois found Kade's confidence reassuring. She stared at him for a long moment, and he returned her gaze without flinching.
"I'd like the chance to get to know you better," Kade said, finally speaking.
"What makes you think I'd even be interested in you?'
"You wouldn't be here if you weren't," he said. His tone of voice made Lois bristle. He was entirely too confident.
"Well, I'm not interested in you. I don't have any interest in you at all." Lois crossed her arms.
"Then why aren't you halfway home already?"
"Maybe I should be." Lois opened her purse and began to dig around for her keys. She jerked away when he put his hand on her arm.
"I don't have any expectations," Kade said quietly.
Lois smirked. "What planet are you from?" She watched carefully, but got no reaction. "Every man who spends time with a woman secretly expects to have sex."
"Is that such a bad thing?" His tone of voice was cool, and if it weren't for the look in his eyes, Lois would have thought him entirely unaffected.
"It is when all the woman wants is a nice dinner, some nice conversation and maybe a little dancing."
He nodded slowly. "I can see how that might be a problem."
Sometimes women wanted more than just a nice dinner, but she wouldn't admit that to him. Somehow, she kept finding herself being off balance when she was around him.
"Maybe all I want is to see you smile."
Lois started to relax. Flattery she could deal with, even if his offhanded comment did give her a small rush of pleasure.
"That sounds like a line you use with a lot of women." Lois had dealt with false sincerity all her life. It disappointed her to think he was like all the other men she had known, but she couldn't understand why she was surprised.
"I'm not interested in most women."
"Good looking men are so arrogant. They think that just because they have a smooth line that women will fall all over their feet. Well, I'm not going to fall for-"
He kissed her.
Lois was caught by surprise, and it took a moment to react. She felt a tingle go down her spine, and her left foot rose of its own accord. It had been a long time since Lois had touched someone; it had been even longer since she'd been kissed.
She didn't remember enjoying it as much as she was now either. She'd been attracted to Kade from the moment she saw him, and she'd been right about the effect he had on her. It was almost painfully intense.
Finally, he pulled back.
Lois stood still for a moment, a stunned expression on her face.
Then she slapped him. Her hand stung, but he showed no reaction.
"How dare you?" She found it hard to keep from shouting. "What did you think you were doing?"
"I've been wanting to kiss you since I first saw you."
"And that gives you the right to assault me?"
He shrugged. "I figured you'd let me know if you didn't like it."
"Well I didn't!" Lois closed her eyes for a moment in an effort to control her temper. "If I want you to kiss me, I'll tell you!"
He nodded slowly. "I'll keep that in mind."
"And you said you wouldn't have any expectations!"
"So you kissed me on the spur of the moment?" Lois lifted one eyebrow.
He nodded. "Haven't you ever done anything spontaneous?"
"I'm a spontaneous person!" Lois protested. She hadn't been for a long time, but when she was younger, she had been as spontaneous as anyone. If she hadn't been a natural risk-taker, she never would have gotten into so much trouble.
"You don't exactly strike me as a free spirit."
Lois scowled. "You don't know anything about me!"
"But I'd like to."
Lois flushed. He was very skilled at seeming sincere, but she knew what handsome men were like. He had the same confidence she'd seen in all of them, and it irritated her to no end.
"There's nothing wrong with being attracted to someone, as long as you are interested in more than just their bodies."
"So you want me for my mind?" she asked sarcastically.
"I've read your books," he said, as if in explanation.
"You don't look like someone who reads many books," Lois shot back. She realized how judgmental that sounded, but refused to apologize.
He grinned. "What DO I look like? Someone who spends all his time working on his motorcycle?"
At the moment he looked more like the boy next door than like a motorcyclist, and Lois refused to look him in the eye.
"You look like someone who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty." Lois flushed again as she had a mental image of his hands on her naked body.
"I'm well rounded." He grinned.
"What is it that you want from me?" Lois asked. She was on familiar ground now; she'd had to turn down offers from men even during her five years of isolation. What surprised her was that this time she didn't really want to.
"Let me take you to dinner."
"So that you can kiss me again?"
"If I'm very lucky." He grinned.
"I wouldn't get your hopes up."
"So does that mean you'll say yes?"
Lois shook her head. "I haven't made any promises."
It was a tempting offer. It had been a very long time since she'd even allowed herself to eat out in public, much less in the presence of a companion. Last Chance only had two real restaurants; one was a greasy spoon, and the other served Mexican food. Lois had allowed herself to eat alone on certain rare occasions, during off-hours, but hadn't bothered in recent months.
She hesitated. "It would be just an early dinner?"
"I'd never kiss an unwilling woman."
Lois scowled while he stared impassively back at her. They stared at each other for several moments before his mouth quirked into a small smile.
Lois sighed. It wouldn't hurt to be spontaneous just this once. "We'd have to take separate vehicles."
"When do you want to do it?"
"What about now?"
Lois glared at him. "I have this awful helmet hair, I'm hardly dressed for a date…"
"Is that what this is?"
Lois frowned. He'd accused her of not being spontaneous enough, and there were advantages to not calling it a date. If they left now, they could avoid all the pre-date things she'd always hated. She wouldn't have to struggle in deciding between the two nice outfits that she'd bought four years ago during a moment of optimism. Presumably, Kade didn't have many options as far as formalwear was concerned.
"No, this isn't a date…just a friendly dinner." Lois smiled. "Do you like Mexican food?"
Kade smiled. "I can eat just about anything."
"There's a Mexican food place just around the corner from the new lot at the bookstore."
Kade grimaced. "Casa Blanca?"
Lois grinned. "That's what I thought when I first saw the title, too, but the food was pretty good the last time I was there."
Kade nodded. "It'll give me a chance to tell Jessica that I'm taking off early."
"Is that going to cause her to fall behind?" Lois asked.
"I'll make it up in the morning," Kade said confidently.
Lois nodded. "I'll be there in a minute. I dropped my notebook in the library."
He grinned and swung onto the bike. "I'll be waiting for you at the entrance."
Lois nodded. As she watched Kade driving away, she felt a strange sort of excitement in the pit of her stomach. It had been so long since she'd felt it that she almost didn't recognize the feeling. Anticipation had been a foreign emotion for longer than she could remember.
She stepped into the library, ignoring the baleful look the librarian was giving her. She climbed the stairs quickly and found her notebook where she had left it.
When she returned, she ran through her car bomb check quickly, checking to see if anyone was looking.
As she slipped into the car, Lois wondered what she was getting herself into.
The diner seemed dingy somehow, with plywood placed over some sections where windows should have been. Jim Creed didn't care; at last he had the proof he needed to continue the search.
He held up the videotape, waving it in the direction of his partner. "Do you believe me now?"
Frank shook his head. "I don't know. The video was pretty fuzzy."
"The man took out six armed men in the space of a few seconds!" Jim shook his head. "I don't understand how there can be any doubt."
"The surveillance camera was pretty cheap; it won't be easy to make a definite ID on the basis of a few fuzzy face shots." The senior agent walked to the government issue Ford Taurus and paused. "This thing wouldn't even be a case if you didn't keep pushing it."
Jim followed his partner to the car and slid into the passenger seat.
"Someone has to look into this." Jim snapped his seatbelt into place. "If I don't do it, nobody will."
The older agent was silent as he put the vehicle into reverse and backed out of the parking spot. He put the car into drive, and turned off onto a side road.
"Maybe the waitress will be able to shed a little light on things." The older man's tone was noncommittal.
"You don't really believe that Superman is alive, do you, Frank?" Jim sighed. "Otherwise you'd be more concerned about all this."
"I believe that people have a right to live their own lives as they please. Have you ever thought that Clark Kent may want to disappear?"
Jim stared at his partner for a moment. "He injured a man badly — broke six of his ribs. That doesn't sound like the Superman any of us has come to know."
Frank was silent for a moment. "The man on the tape is pretty fast. He's fast enough for me to consider the possibility that he might be who you say he is. But you have to think about one thing…he fought six armed men, and defeated them without leaving a single bruise. Does that sound like someone who is dangerously out of control to you?."
"He stole the motorcycle and took it across state lines."
"That's just the excuse we used to get jurisdiction. As soon as the victim gets out of the hospital, he's going to jail on everything from drug smuggling to assault and worse."
"That doesn't give him the right to take the man's vehicle! If he were in his right mind, he never would have-"
"The point is, what sort of life did Clark Kent have? He couldn't even get a decent meal without being mobbed."
"The world needs him, Frank." Jim stared at the road passing outside the window. "The world was turning into a dark place before he went public; he's made a good start at turning that around."
"He's just one man." Frank shook his head as he slowed the vehicle in front of a doublewide trailer house. "Even a Superman can't carry the weight of the whole world on his shoulders."
"We all do what we have to." Jim sighed. "If he really doesn't want to go back, I'll drop this whole thing. But having the most powerful being in the world wandering around alone and confused…that's not a choice. It's just dangerous."
"So what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to remind him of his responsibilities."
The two agents were silent as they got out of the car. The waitress was the last person to see the man Jim suspected was Superman, and hopefully she could give them some clue as to where he'd headed next.
Jim had no doubt that they would find Clark Kent alive. Whether he'd want to return home when they found him was a different question altogether.
Kade had surprised himself. As he left the parking lot, he couldn't help but feel exhilarated. He'd managed to maintain a calm, amused façade in front of Jane Alexander, and it hadn't been easy. Inside he'd been a trembling mess; Jane Alexander was important to him.
The urge to kiss her had stunned him as much as it had her, but he didn't regret having indulged in it. It had been a great kiss, setting his mind and body on fire. He'd been overwhelmed, and if Jane had recovered faster, he'd have been lost. As it was, it had taken every bit of will at his disposal to keep the conversation light.
That he'd actually managed to get her to agree to dinner had been a surprise. Jane Alexander didn't strike him as the sort of person who allowed many others into her life. It was an honor and a privilege to be included in that group.
He knew that there was a chance that she'd change her mind now that she was off on her own. He didn't believe she'd stand him up, but he knew it was a possibility. If it happened, he'd deal with it as best he could.
He passed his motel and scowled. He still hadn't paid the owners for the freakish damage to his room. Just thinking about it gave him a headache, and he knew it would probably take much of the cash reserve he kept on him to pay for it. He'd have to deal with it by nightfall; there was only one motel in town, and he didn't particularly want to sleep by the side of the road. Jessica might allow him to sleep in the bookstore, but he hesitated to ask her. In any case, it was his responsibility to pay for the room.
He turned the corner and pulled into a space in front of the bookstore. He could hear Jessica moving around inside the store, and he dismounted and switched the motorcycle off.
He opened the door, and called out to her. "Jessica?"
She stepped into the open, and said, "I guess you got her back to her car?"
"Actually, I was wondering if I could get off a little early today."
She looked around. "We're three quarters done here. It's close to closing time anyway…why?"
Kade grinned. "She agreed to go have a bite to eat with me!"
"Jane Alexander?" Jessica gaped.
He nodded, secretly enjoying her astonishment. It was a real accomplishment to pull Jane from her shell, and her reaction only confirmed that.
"By all means, you should go." Jessica hesitated. "If you have that much pull, maybe you can get her to do a book signing."
"One step at a time," Kade said, grinning. "This is just dinner."
"I hope you are taking her to Casa Blanca and not Bob's Diner. Bob's diner is really a dive."
Jessica brightened. "Maybe I'll see you around, if I finish up in time." At Kade's expression, she smiled. "I promise, you'll never even know I'm there."
"I'll make it up to you tomorrow," Kade said.
"You've been a godsend." Jessica looked around. "I never would have managed to get this much done by myself, and I think I'd have had to hire three men to do this much work this fast."
"There's nothing wrong with a little hard work," Kade said.
"Not many people seem to think that way these days." Jessica sighed. She looked up at him and smiled. "Enjoy your date."
He nodded and stepped back outside. He looked at his motorcycle, and decided that he'd walk to the restaurant. It was less than a block away, and it would feel good to spend a little time in the sun.
He crossed the street and walked into the small shopping center. The communal parking lot was shared by a number of small shops and the restaurant. Jessica would have the advantage of more parking spaces as well as lower rent in her new shop. Most of the shops in town were clustered around this one small area.
He enjoyed the feeling of the sun on his skin as he walked quickly across the lot. There were very few cars at this time of day, and it took Kade only a couple of minutes to turn the corner and enter the area next to the Mexican Restaurant.
Although it was wintertime, the day was pleasantly warm.
Like Jane's home, it was built of adobe, with a traditional red Spanish tile roof. The outside was plastered white. He saw Jane pulling around the corner of the parking lot. By the time she'd turned the corner, he was already standing by the door.
She'd taken some time with her hair, leaving long flowing locks that reached her shoulders. Kade froze for a moment, almost overwhelmed by a vision in which she had short, curly hair. He shook his head. He preferred this look to that of his vision; it softened her face. He ignored the small headache he was developing, and it went away.
Otherwise she looked much the same as she had earlier; she'd thrown a jacket over her cream colored blouse, but her smart blue slacks, and her shoes were the same. She was beautiful, and for a moment Kade fantasized that she'd dressed up just for him.
He wished he'd had the foresight to spruce up a bit, but as she had almost reached him, there wasn't time.
"I wasn't sure you'd come," he said as she reached him.
She looked at him for a moment. She sighed, and said, "I couldn't stay away."
Kade opened the door for her, and ushered her into the dim interior of the restaurant. It was much cooler inside, probably due to the thickness of the adobe walls. They stepped into a small waiting area, where they were met by a smiling woman who quickly led them through a doorway and into the restaurant.
The décor was authentically southwestern, except for the occasional poster with Humphrey Bogart on it. The other wall decorations tended to be desert landscapes or almost abstract artwork in reds and browns.
The waitress led them across a large room filled with tables and seated them next to a window. Jane's car was parked where they could easily see it, and the emergency exit was nearby. Kade was careful to pull Jane's chair out for her, and she smiled at him in surprised gratitude.
Jane took too many precautions for someone who was just being chased by an old boyfriend. Kade frowned for a moment. When he'd seen the fear on her face, he'd been tempted to hurt the man who was pursuing her. Only the knowledge that he might be strong enough to actually kill the man had kept his anger in check.
She aroused all his protective instincts. The look of fear in her eyes had made him want to drop everything and go to her rescue, and he still felt the need to defend her against whatever nameless threat she was afraid of. He could only hope that she would come to trust him enough to accept his help.
They both made their drink orders, and the waitress left. They were left to stare at each other in silence for several moments.
Finally, Jane's lip twitched into a small smile. "This certainly feels like a date."
Kade shook his head. "If this was a date, I'd have brought flowers."
She smiled and looked down at the table. "I'm sorry for…overreacting earlier today."
"You wouldn't panic like that without a reason."
She looked up at him. "You sound so certain."
"You strike me as a brave woman."
She shook her head. "You don't have anything to back that up. People don't just look brave, and even if they did, it wouldn't mean anything."
"You're having dinner with a guy who wears leather pants."
She smiled slightly. "I suppose that IS brave."
The waitress arrived with the drinks, and they both spent a time in silence as they looked over the menu.
Kade spoke after looking over the choices for a minute. "Any suggestions?"
"Everything here is good," Jane said. "It's like injecting bacon grease directly into your veins, of course, but the taste is just out of this world."
Kade grinned. "Fried cheese, beans fried not once, but twice in lard…high fat guacamole…it's a healthy man's nightmare."
"Well, I'll be ordering a chicken fajita salad." Jane said virtuously.
"As close to rabbit food as it gets around here, I guess," Kade smiled to let her know he wasn't serious.
"I happen to care about my health." She paused. "What are you going to have?"
"I'll have the Deluxe Double Grande dinner."
"That has enough fat in it to give heart disease to an entire Ethiopian village!"
Kade grinned again. "I like to live on the edge."
Jane shook her head, a small smile on her face. "Just be careful that you don't fall off."
"The risk is half the fun." Their eyes met for a moment, and it almost seemed as though Jane blushed slightly. Kade felt somewhat disconcerted as he found himself becoming aware once more of how intense his attraction was for this woman.
He sipped his drink while he attempted to regain his composure. The waitress set a bowl of chips and hot sauce in front of them, then took their order. It was almost a relief to focus on something other than each other. On a spur of the moment impulse, Kade added small plate of hot peppers.
After the waitress left, they were both silent. Eventually Jane spoke. "I hope Jessica didn't have any problem with your taking off early."
"She was deliriously happy to get rid of me." At Jane's expression of surprise, Kade said, "I think she wanted me to lobby you to do a book signing for her."
Jane grimaced. "The woman has a one track mind."
"She means well," Kade said. He picked up a chip and dipped it into the small bowl of hot sauce.
"How many times do you have to tell someone that you aren't interested before they finally get the message?"
Kade smiled slightly. "Some people are persistent."
"There is a difference between determination and being obnoxious."
"You never get what you want unless you are willing to go for it." As Kade spoke, Jane looked up. Their eyes met, and they looked at each other for a moment that seemed to last forever.
"I suppose that persistence IS sometimes rewarded." Jane's voice was quiet, and she looked down at the table again.
"You must have had a few rejection slips as a writer," Kade said.
"Actually, they took my first submission." There was a note of quiet pride in her voice. "They required some revisions, but they bought the book."
"That's something to be proud of."
She nodded. "The publisher is really picky, which made it even better."
"I've read your books, and I really liked them." Kade reached across the table and touched her hand. "You really have a lot of talent."
It felt good to touch her hand. For a moment, Kade thought she was going to pull away, but she did not. She stared down at his hand on hers, and he could feel her trembling. "They haven't been best sellers or anything."
"They should have been. It just takes time to build up a reputation."
"That's what I've been telling myself." She looked down at his hand on hers and her voice was slightly breathless. "This is starting to feel more and more like a date."
"Is that a bad thing?" Kade asked quietly.
After a moment, she shook her head.
The waitress arrived with their meal. With some reluctance, Kade allowed his hand to slip away from hers as he leaned back. Jane received a salad with grilled strips of chicken mixed in, served in a thin, flaky, edible bowl made of fried tortilla shell.
Kade on the other hand received a meal consisting of three platters. Tacos, enchiladas, tamales, fried Chile Rellenos…it was a large meal by anyone's standards. Kade grinned at Jane as she scowled.
"I hate men," she said. "You eat whatever you like and don't gain a pound. It never even catches up to you until you have your first heart attack at the age of fifty."
Kade shrugged. "It's a fun life until then, though."
The waitress set a small plate of hot peppers on the table, then left.
Kade took one pepper and bit into it. He grinned when he saw Jane's eyes open wide in astonishment. Her eyes narrowed, and she took a pepper as well. She took a considerably smaller bite than he had taken, and Kade could see beads of sweat appearing on her forehead.
"You like it hot," Kade said, his lips quirking into a small smile.
Jane took a small drink then nodded. "I always liked Indian food…hot curry and hot Chinese mustard. It took time to get used to jalapeno peppers and the other spices they use around here."
She'd lived in another part of the country once. Kade would have asked her about it, but he sensed that it wasn't something she wanted to talk about.
They ate in companionable silence for a time. Kade was the first to speak. "I'm glad you decided to have dinner with me."
"I'm glad I accepted."
"I was a little surprised."
"After you made such a good case for yourself?" Jane smiled. "I'm starting to think you are right."
"Oh?" he asked, biting into another pepper.
"I was running from shadows today," Jane began. "Maybe I've been worrying about nothing for all this time."
"You think your boyfriend has forgotten about you?"
She looked down at her plate and said, "He's probably gone on to bothering another woman altogether." She sighed. "I've been looking over my shoulder for the last five years. Maybe it's time to relax."
"It'll probably feel great." Kade thought for a moment, then grinned. "You've had insomnia before, haven't you?"
She nodded, guardedly.
"So you know what it's like to listen for the alarm."
She nodded. She looked over his shoulder.
"You know it's going to ring, and the longer you are awake, the tenser you get. But once it rings, and you hit the snooze…"
"You finally relax and fall asleep," she finished his statement. Still looking over his shoulder, she continued. "It feels great to finally relax, but you don't get to do it for very long."
Kade looked over his shoulder, and saw Jessica Paxton moving quickly across the room in their direction. He sighed. He'd hoped to have time alone with Jane, and he would have thought Jessica was above interrupting his date.
Jessica ignored him as she came within earshot, and spoke directly to Jane.
"I just came by to warn you."
"Three men in suits came by the bookstore. They were showing your picture and asking if I knew where you were."
"Were they asking for me by name?" The grim expression of alarm on Jane's face made the hackles rise on the back of Kade's neck.
Jessica shook her head. "They didn't have a name to go with the face. But when I left the shop, I saw other men in suits coming out of the shops across the street."
It wouldn't take long to find someone who recognized Jane. Most of the businesses in Last Chance were concentrated in one small area, making it easy to canvas the area by foot. In fact, it wouldn't be long before they closed in on the restaurant.
"You may have just saved my life." Jane stood up and looked at Kade. "I wish we'd had more time to get to know each other, but I have to go."
She grabbed her purse and turned for the emergency exit. Kade caught the reflection of the sun against something metallic out of the corner of his eye, and the world seemed to slow around him.
He lunged across the table just as the window exploded into a thousand shards of glass. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as he slammed into her, covering her with his body.
Jessica had been farther back, out of the line of sight of the shooters, and far enough not to be hit by any of the shrapnel. She dropped professionally to the floor, and began to crawl away from the window. She obviously had been around a drive by shooting at least once before. Kade didn't think she'd been seen; he turned his attention to the men he could hear running toward the window from outside.
If they stayed where they were, they'd be sitting ducks.
The world was still moving slowly; even the sounds seemed distorted as he pushed Jane around a corner. The thick adobe walls would protect her from everything short of an anti-tank missile; if they had one of those, everything was lost anyway.
He lunged upward, knocking the gun out of the hand of the man who was the first to reach the window. Kade could see the second man coming up from behind. He hit the man with his open palm, hard enough to crack ribs, but not hard enough to break them. Hopefully that would be enough to put the man out of commission.
The man flew back, his body slamming into the body of the man behind him. Both men fell in slow motion, and Kade had time to look around for any other shooters. He didn't see any. Kade stepped over the window sill and onto the pavement outside.
The man Kade had struck seemed stunned and unable to move. Kade could see that his hand was bloody where the gun had torn at his finger. The man beneath him was struggling to get out from under his partner. Kade grabbed the gun and forcibly pulled it out of the man's hand.
Both men were wearing black suits and sunglasses. Kade grabbed the shirt of the first man, and he pushed him aside. The second man tried to punch at him, but Kade grabbed his shirt and lifted him into the air. He threw the man at the adobe wall, and he slid bonelessly to the pavement.
The man was still breathing, though Kade suspected he'd have a concussion. At the moment, he didn't care.
Jane had already begun to rise when Kade stepped back through the window. He grabbed the keys from her hand before she had time to react, and he stepped out the window, where he quickly unlocked her car doors. He made sure the two assailants were still out of commission with a glance, and checked to see if he could catch a glimpse of any other attackers.
He returned to where she was standing and picked her up. He stepped through the window, and even as the world began to speed up around him, he shoved her into the passenger's seat. He jumped into the driver's seat, and slipped the key into the ignition. He was forced to adjust the seat to get into place, and as the car roared into life, he saw the men beginning to stir.
He pulled out of the parking space with a squeal of rubber, and sped off as quickly as the car would go. He quickly found the entrance to the alley and sped into it.
A glance at Jane in the passenger seat showed that her face was as white as a sheet.
"You'd better fasten your seatbelt. This may get a little bumpy."
She moved quickly to do as he'd asked. Kade fastened his own as an afterthought.
He slowed the vehicle as they reached the end of the alleyway. He pulled out into traffic, and began driving.
Without looking at her, he said, "Those men wanted to kill you."
She was silent for a moment. "Yes, they did."
"This is something a little more serious than an abusive boyfriend."
She sighed. "I never wanted to get you involved in any of this."
Lois couldn't bear to look at Kade. She stared out the window at the passing streets as the familiar feeling of bile rose in her throat. She never should have accepted Kade's invitation, no matter how attractive he was. Five years before she should have learned her lesson. Because she hadn't, she'd gotten a good man involved in a situation that could easily prove fatal.
"Who were those men?" Kade's voice was carefully controlled. Lois was glad that he was so calm; she felt as though she couldn't stop shaking. She'd been going through the motions for the past five years, but deep down, she'd begun to believe that they had forgotten her. It was terrifying to see how wrong she had been.
Lois glanced in the rear view mirror and noticed a Ford Taurus trailing behind them. Slowly, she began to slip down in her seat, allowing herself to crumple bonelessly onto the floorboard.
"Do you see the car behind us?" She ignored his question; there would be plenty of time to answer it if they escaped. If they didn't, he'd learn soon enough.
He glanced in the rear view mirror. "Yes."
"They look like they could be with the same group as the men back at the restaurant."
Kade nodded. "Dark suits, sunglasses, government issue vehicle…"
"We have to lose them."
Kade's voice was calm. "They may not know what sort of vehicle we're in."
Lois stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "If we haven't called attention to ourselves yet, there isn't any point in clueing them in." She hesitated. "Do you think you can lose them?"
"They'll never even know we are here."
Even during the after work rush, there wasn't much traffic on the streets of Last Chance. If the men at the restaurant had managed to call in the make of her vehicle, there was no way they could avoid being seen.
Kade was silent for a long moment. Lois watched as his eyes flickered from the rear view mirror to staring straight ahead. They began to slow.
"Why are we slowing down?"
"There's a red light up ahead."
Lois grimaced. "Can you run it?"
"It's already red."
Running the red light would definitely catch their attention. Lois gritted her teeth and curled into the tightest ball she could manage. She felt the old familiar tension rising once again, and she wondered when she'd stopped enjoying the sensation. Her love of risks had made her a promising young reporter. There had been talk of an eventual Kerth Award, and great things had been expected of her.
In those days, the more risks she'd taken, the more she'd been rewarded. It had been thrilling; the world had seemed full of possibilities, filled with deep dark secrets just waiting to be brought to the light of day.
She should have learned her lesson with Claude. He hadn't wanted to get involved. The fact that he'd betrayed her in the end didn't change the fact that it had been her responsibility from the very beginning. Now she'd gotten Kade involved.
She stared up at him. Now that he was well-shaven, he looked more than ever like Superman. Lois hadn't gotten to see much of what had happened with the two men at the restaurant. She'd been stunned by the impact of his body on hers. By the time she'd gotten up, he was already moving towards her.
He'd been fast; so fast that everything had gone by in a blur. Still, Lois wasn't sure she could trust her own senses. Her head was still spinning from the impact of everything that was happening.
Lois spoke in a low tone. "There isn't any way you could… just fly us out of here, is there?"
He spoke without moving his lips or looking at her. "If you've installed a jet engine in this thing, tell me where the switch is."
He hadn't even flinched, except for a slight tension line appearing in his forehead. He seemed distracted, and Lois decided to worry about his reaction later. She concentrated on keeping her breathing low and even.
The wait was beginning to seem endless, when she heard Kade heave a sigh of relief.
She glanced up at him, and he smiled. "They've just turned off to the right."
They'd been sitting only a few feet away.
"Do you think they saw you?"
Kade shook his head. "The one in the passenger's side was talking on a cell phone, but neither one of them seemed to be paying any attention to their surroundings."
Lois shook her head and said, "Keep driving along this road for about nine miles. That'll take us some way outside of town."
Kade nodded. Lois stayed crouched down for the next several minutes, until her legs began to cramp. Eventually she asked, "Is it clear?"
"There's nobody coming for miles around."
Lois grimaced in pain as she struggled to uncurl and crawl back into her seat. Kade leaned over without taking his eyes from the road and offered her his hand. He pulled her quickly up and into her seat. She smiled at him weakly.
The sun was setting, and Lois could see mountains in the distance. They rode in silence for several minutes.
Lois stole occasional glances at Kade. Most men she knew would have been terrified; she had enough worries on her own without having to nurse someone else along. Kade, however, was as calm as a rock. She found that confidence comforting; his calmness made it easier to control her own fear.
It had been a long time since she'd been able to draw strength from anyone other than herself. She'd missed it.
She stared into the growing darkness, and said, "We need to start slowing down; there's a dirt road about a mile ahead to the left."
Kade nodded. "I see it."
She glanced at him. In the fading twilight she couldn't make anything out, and she knew he'd have to have had exceptional vision to see it. She knew he was strong and fast. Now that he was clean shaven, he looked even more like Superman. He'd denied her question about flying, but it was possible that he might have his own reasons to deny who and what he was.
Nevertheless, she hadn't seen anything that couldn't be explained away, and she wasn't willing to test out her theory with his body and a bullet.
He didn't speak as he turned off onto the dirt road. The car shook as they bumped over ruts.
"The road forks up ahead… take the left branch."
Lois knew how easy it was to get lost. It would be very easy to get off track, especially in the growing darkness. She'd had trouble with it, the few times she'd made the trip, even in the daylight. The dirt roads were almost indistinguishable from the hard, dry ground around them.
Kade, on the other hand, seemed to have no trouble. He turned to the left, and in a short time a series of buildings came into view on the horizon. They were ramshackle wooden buildings, all clustered together.
The only car in sight was a wreck with the front half missing. It was up on blocks, and there was only a gaping hole where the engine should have been.
Straggly, burned looking grass grew sparsely in the hard packed earth. Concrete blocks and automotive parts were strewn about the area, though the dirt road leading to the buildings was kept clear.
Kade stopped the car in the center of the three buildings. Before he could ask any questions, Lois leaned over and pulled the keys from the ignition. She jumped out of the car, and headed purposefully for one of the buildings. She flipped through her keys in the growing darkness, and it took her several tries to find the correct one.
She approached the overhead door, and bent at her knees. She fumbled with the padlock, and it took several tries before she managed to get the key to turn. She started when an arm came around her. She hadn't heard Kade coming up from behind her.
He lifted the door easily, despite the shriek of rusting metal. The darkness inside the small storage building was total; Lois couldn't see anything at all, and she sighed. The other times she had been inside had all been in the day. She'd seen the inside, but it had been several months, and she didn't remember the location of the light switch.
She pulled her keys from the lock and headed back toward the car. She'd switch the headlights on, and that'd give enough light to see.
She heard a click from behind her. She turned to look, and gaped as she realized that Kade had already found the light switch, halfway inside the room.
The shrouded hulk of a car covered in canvas took up most of the area. Kade glanced at her, and when she nodded, he pulled the tarp away.
Under the tarp sat a faded green 1979 Plymouth. It was a tank of a car, built in the fading years of free oil. It guzzled fuel, but it was built to last, and the engine was sound. It wasn't the sort of vehicle anyone would expect to see Lois Lane driving. She paid the owner in cash to store it, and visited only often enough to keep it in good condition.
She opened the trunk, which was huge. The spare tire inside was in good condition, but oily.
"Could you move this for me?" she asked quietly. She knew that the owner wasn't at home or she would have seen his beaten, worn out pickup truck.
He nodded, reached in with one hand, and easily lifted the heavy tire out of the trunk.
She ignored the duffel bag resting in the back of the trunk. It held a week's worth of clothing and other things she might need in case she had to leave quickly. She'd been careful not to include things that would be harmed by the desert heat, but had included everything else she thought she'd need.
Instead, her fingers worked to find a wooden panel covered with black cloth in the bottom of the trunk under the tire well. She found it and lifted the panel part way. She looked underneath in the weak light and heaved a sigh of relief when she realized that the money was still there.
It had been a calculated risk leaving a stash of money in the trunk, but it had been worth it. She'd replaced the originally tainted money with her earnings over the years so that this money was guaranteed to be clean.
It took her another few moments to find the small ziplock bag filled with alternate id's. She hadn't had to use any of them in almost five years, and she hadn't dared carry them in the car she used in her day to day existence. The odds of being pulled over by a policeman and having her vehicle searched were too great. It had cost a great deal of money to have the fake driver's licenses and social security cards made; now she would see if the identities they created were as good as the Jane Alexander identity had been.
She pulled the ziplock bag and the carefully wrapped packets of cash from under the board. She gestured for Kade to replace the tire, which he did.
"They'll be looking for my Taurus," she said quietly. "But nobody knows I even have this vehicle."
"Will it even run?" Kade's voice was dubious as he looked at the vehicle.
Slipping the ziplock bag into her purse, Lois pushed the small packets of money to the back of the trunk. She slipped a key from her keyring and handed it to Kade.
"Back the Taurus out of the way, then park it in the storage shed as soon as I'm out."
She closed the trunk and slipped into the driver's seat of the old car. The size on the inside always startled her; she felt tiny, dwarfed by the massive space inside.
It took several tries to get the ignition to turn over. It had been several months since she'd used the vehicle, and the battery was undoubtedly low. Lois gritted her teeth. She hoped that she wouldn't need to boost the engine; it wouldn't generate much confidence in the ability of the vehicle to reach Phoenix. Eventually the engine kicked over with a roar, and Lois backed out of the shed with a jerk.
Kade slipped the smaller car into the space easily.
Lois parked, leaving the vehicle running, and stepped outside. Kade was already out of the Taurus, and she took the key from him. She opened the trunk of the Taurus, pulling from it another travel bag, and her laptop.
Kade shut the light off, emerged, and turned to shut the overhead door. He slipped the padlock into place and pushed it closed.
Lois turned and headed back for the car, throwing her travel bag into the back seat. She set her laptop behind the driver's seat and gestured for Kade to get in. The moment he did, she slipped the vehicle into drive and with a jerk they set off.
"This isn't the way we came," Kade said quietly.
"I know," Lois said. She'd planned her escape route out several years before; and while she'd have to be careful in the darkness, she'd be able to find her way to a little used road heading for Phoenix.
She set the headlights on high, but it was still several minutes before they were off the dirt roads and onto a two lane road that was only slightly larger.
She didn't speak until they were well underway.
"I never meant to get you involved in all of this."
"You've said that already."
"I guess you have a few questions about what's going on."
"I have one or two."
Lois took a deep breath. "I guess the first thing you need to know is that my name is not Jane Alexander. My real name is Lois Lane, and I used to be a reporter for the Daily Planet."
There was a long moment of silence, and Lois glanced in Kade's direction. She was surprised to see that his face had turned as white as a sheet.
"Are you all right?"
He grimaced. "I've been having these headaches lately. They come without warning."
"We'll pick up something at the first convenience store we come across." As far as Lois knew, Superman didn't feel any pain. However, he could have been injured by the impact with the asteroid. He hadn't looked like someone who had been injured, but someone with an alien physiology might not react like a normal human being. Of course, he could simply be having migraine headaches, assuming he was actually human.
"I'll be fine. Go on."
"I got in trouble with a story I was writing… found out that people in the government were illegally selling weapons to rebel factions in the Congo." That was an understatement. Her entire life had changed when she'd left for the Congo. She'd learned things about herself that she didn't like, and she'd lost something she could never get back.
He nodded. His color was rapidly returning. "Why didn't you go to the authorities?"
Lois stared into the darkness at the road up ahead. "I did."
"And they weren't able to take care of the problem?" His voice was carefully neutral.
"They killed everyone I talked to, and threatened my family." Lois's voice was grim.
"So you've been on the run ever since."
Lois nodded. "I was starting to think that they might have believed me dead." She sighed. "It's been a long time since I've done anything as normal as go out on a date."
"I had fun," Kade said. He grinned at her incredulous look. "Well, at first anyway."
"I did too." Lois sighed again. "I'm sorry about all this."
"I always knew you'd be an exciting person to get to know."
"This is a little more excitement than anyone should have on a date." Lois glanced at him again, noticing that his face had smoothed out and relaxed. "Are you feeling better already?"
He nodded. "Sometimes the headaches go as quickly as they came… sometimes they last a little longer."
"Does this happen very often?" She looked more closely at him, concerned.
He shook his head. "It's more of a nuisance than anything."
"We'll pick up some medicine as quickly as we can anyway." Lois peered out into the darkness. "I'll need to pick up some stuff to help change our appearance."
"You're pretty serious about all this, aren't you?"
Lois stared unseeingly out into the distance. "You haven't seen what I have. The things they do to people…" She shuddered. "You don't want them to catch you."
Lois started as she felt his hand cover hers. He squeezed it reassuringly, and said, "I'll do whatever I have to do to protect you."
Lois stared down at her hand. She wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. She'd finally found someone she could respect as an equal, someone who was willing to step between her and a bullet, and she wasn't sure that they'd live to see tomorrow.
Her hand tingled where his bare skin touched hers. She moved her hand slightly, taking his hand in hers. She squeezed slightly, and said, "I'll do what I must so that you won't need to protect either of us."
He nodded, and they rode in silence for a long time. Eventually, Kade switched the radio on, and found a station that played classic seventies music.
They'd been riding in a companionable silence for almost an hour when Kade spoke. "It must have been hard, leaving your whole life behind."
"I didn't have any choice. As long as they knew I was alive, my family was at risk."
"Still… to lose everyone you loved… the people you leaned on…"
"I wasn't ever really close to anyone. My childhood wasn't exactly a happy one, and I was too wrapped up in my career to ever make any really close friends."
She glanced at him, and was shocked to see an old, familiar pain reflected in his eyes. Lois had never had an easy time making friends. While she'd had superficial relationships, especially in high school, it had always been hard for her to form deep, lasting attachments with anyone. Something deep inside her had always yearned for that sort of relationship.
She'd always been semi-isolated, but the almost total seclusion of the past few years had made her realize exactly how important the few friendships she had made really were for her. People craved human contact, and Lois had spent too much time looking in the mirror not to recognize loneliness when she saw it.
"You know what it feels like to be alone."
Kade nodded, and he grimaced.
"Headache coming back?"
"Just a little." He sighed. "It helps to lean back and close my eyes."
Lois nodded. She was about to speak when she saw something yellow reflected up ahead. Her attention snapping back into place, she tensed, trying to make out what was out in the darkness beyond the range of the headlights.
She began to slow when she realized that it was a warning sign. There was a stop sign and an intersection up ahead. She'd need to turn onto the larger road to make her way into Phoenix. It wasn't the interstate, but there was still a certain amount of traffic on that road, and there was the possibility that they might be discovered.
It wasn't likely. Even if they'd somehow found her vehicle, it'd be hours before they found the owner of the property. He had a girlfriend in a small town twenty miles away, and liked to spend evenings with her. It would take time for them to track him down, and in all likelihood he wouldn't be able to give them more than a general description.
Still, it might be a good idea to rent a different vehicle in Phoenix. They might be on the lookout at rental car agencies, but they'd be less likely to think of looking at a moving truck rental. She'd wear a cap to conceal her face, and she'd use one of her alternate driver's licenses for the rental.
She turned onto the main road. She glanced over at Kade, who was lying with his eyes closed. She'd been lucky in many ways to have met him. He'd saved her life, and furthermore, he'd reawakened feelings she'd thought long dead.
If she'd continued her day to day routine, she'd have been holed up in her house when they came for her, and the odds were that she wouldn't have escaped. She'd have tried, of course, but realistically speaking, she wouldn't have been able to get away without being warned.
Kade was a good man. Lois didn't care whether he was Superman or not; to her, he was a hero.
Lois spent the next hour listening to old love ballads on the radio and wishing things could have been different. If she'd never gone to the Congo, perhaps she and Kade might have met under different circumstances. They could have gotten to know each other slowly, and their friendship could have gradually grown into something more permanent.
Permanence was something that had been in short supply in Lois's life ever since she'd gotten on the plane all those years ago. It was hard to make long term plans when you weren't sure if you'd be alive the next day. She'd allowed herself to get lax, but now she knew the truth.
She'd always be looking over her shoulder. No place on earth was safe from the people who were chasing her, and it was only a matter of time before they caught her. She needed to live every day as though it was her last, because truthfully, it might be.
Of course, it was a big country. She might be able to hole up somewhere for years without being discovered. She glanced over at Kade. She wondered what life on the run might be like with him by her side.
It would certainly be less lonely, and she could at least grab for a meager measure of happiness. Life would be a great deal easier if she could share her troubles with even one other person.
Of course, it wasn't fair to him. She'd brought danger upon herself. It would be easy for him to slip away into anonymity, but they would never stop looking for her. There was no statute of limitations on murder or treason, and they couldn't afford to have her testify against them.
It was an hour before she could see lights on the horizon. Kade began to stir, and he opened his eyes to look at the horizon. He was silent, until they reached the first streetlights.
"Is your head still bothering you?"
"I'm feeling a lot better," he said.
"I need to stop off and pick up a few things," Lois said. She drove straight into town, looking for any sign of a grocery store. Eventually she found one of the ubiquitous Wal-Marts that seemed to be a landmark in every town in America. Parking in the lot, she unbuckled her seat belt and turned to grab the duffel bag behind her. She unzipped it, searched around, and found a baseball cap that she slipped onto her head.
"I'll just be a minute," she said. "It's better for the two of us to be seen together as little as possible. By this point, they'll be looking for a female and her male accomplice."
He nodded and sighed. "I'll keep watch for any sign we're being followed.
Lois nodded. "I guess I'll leave you the keys."
It was a sign of trust. She was leaving him the car and most of the money, and it would be all too easy for him to simply leave while her back was turned. If he was going to do something like that, Lois would prefer to know now, rather than later when it might get her killed.
It took longer than she had anticipated to gather supplies. It had been years since she'd been in the big city, and she'd forgotten what it was like to be in a store where there were many customers, long lines and rude employees.
Furthermore, there was a greater variety of goods than she was used to; and she was unfamiliar with the layout. All told, it took over thirty minutes to return to the parking lot. She was surprised and dismayed to see that the car was gone from the spot where she had left it.
She heard the sound of a car coming, and she sighed in relief when she realized that it was Kade. He pulled up in front of her, and leaned over to open the passenger side door. Such was the size of the car that it was a strain for even him to reach.
Lois shoved two bags into the back seat and slipped into the passenger's side. He set off the moment she got in.
"I filled the tank at the gas station across the street, and I got a map."
"I thought men didn't need maps?"
Kade smiled slightly. "I don't, as long as I don't care where I end up."
"Which is most of the time, I guess. I suppose that makes getting lost pretty difficult."
"I was lost until I met you, Ja… er, Lois." He seemed embarrassed the moment he said it, but Lois suspected that there was a grain of truth to it. She had been lost herself, in a way, until her first meeting with him.
"We need a hotel that's not on the main interstate. Those are the one's they'll be looking at first."
Kade began driving purposefully though the streets. "I checked the phone book. There are a number of hotels downtown, but…"
Lois nodded. Downtown areas tended to be the oldest, most decrepit part of cities, and hotels found there tended to be the worst of the worst. She'd slept in roach motels on her way through El Salvador and Central America as she'd made her way back up into the United States. She'd prefer not to do it again.
Hopefully they could find something that didn't make her skin crawl and that wasn't too conspicuous. Lois was tempted to seek out the most expensive hotel she could find, on the theory that they wouldn't expect her to do something like that. However, most expensive hotels had security cameras and required credit cards.
"We need to stay inconspicuous," Lois said. "Let's try to find the best we can."
It didn't take long for him to find them a motel, and Lois was pleasantly surprised. From the look of the lobby, this wouldn't be a roach motel. Kade made all the arrangements, paying a deposit and cash up front in lieu of offering a credit card.
He'd found them a two-room suite, and when he opened the door, Lois was pleased. While she'd stayed in places that were more expensive, this one was cozy. The main living area was spacious, with a comfortable looking couch and a glass dining table. Kade carried Lois's bags inside the room, and Lois checked the bedrooms.
The bathroom had a large, sunken tub. Lois was more than pleased. She'd expected a roach motel, but this place was not only clean, it was pleasantly functional.
Lois grabbed one of the bags she'd brought from the grocery store. "We're going to need to change our appearances if we expect to get away without being recognized. I bought you a couple of changes of clothes, and I bought some hair coloring solution and some scissors. It's too late to go to a hair salon, and I know I'll just end up butchering my hair, but I don't think I have any choice."
The mirror and sink for the bathroom were separated from the toilet and tub. Lois began pulling the various products out of the sack, and laid them all out. She pulled the cardboard packaging from the hair scissors, and looked up to see Kade standing behind her. He'd moved so silently that she hadn't heard him.
He lifted one hand, and ran it along the length of the hair that fell to her shoulders. "It's too bad that you have to cut all of this." He stroked her hair, and Lois found her eyes fixated on the shape of his hand as it stroked her.
Lois stood frozen. She trembled as long forgotten feelings began to awaken as she watched his hand slowly stroking her hair.
"I'll do it."
"I'll cut your hair. It'll be easier for me to reach the back."
Lois's gaze flickered up from his hand to the reflection of his face. He seemed quite sincere, but Lois could just imagine the horror he'd make of her hair.
Still, if she had a mohawk, she'd only be that much harder to recognize.
Reluctantly, she nodded. He found a chair and sat her in front of the mirror. He covered her with a white towel from the bathroom. When he reached for the scissors, she closed her eyes. She couldn't bear to see what he would make of her hair.
It was almost unbearable, feeling his hands brush her hair away from the nape of her neck. Lois found herself waiting for the moment when his flesh would touch hers, and she managed to ignore the sounds of the scissors clipping away.
He placed his hand on her shoulder, and she found herself leaning into his touch.
"All done," he said quietly.
Lois was reluctant to open her eyes for a moment, but eventually she forced herself to look. She gaped.
He'd cut her hair in a short, attractive style.
"You never told me you had experience cutting hair!"
He shrugged. "I think I've been cutting my own hair for a while. It wasn't too hard."
Lois was pleased again.
She looked up at him. "Your hair is getting a little long in the back. Why don't you sit down and let me trim it a little?"
He nodded and sat down meekly.
Lois tried to judge how much hair needed to come off the back of his neck. She noticed him tremble as her fingers ran across the back of his neck, and she was pleased to note that she affected him as much as he affected her.
She took a lock of hair and slipped the scissors around it. She tried to close the scissors; and for a moment, it seemed as though they were stuck. She bore down harder, and with a small cracking sound, the scissors came apart in her hand. The larger blade jabbed into the back of his neck, and Lois gasped.
He opened his eyes calmly and asked, "Is anything wrong?"
Lois stared at the smooth expanse of skin. The blade had twisted in her hand and jabbed at his neck. It should have dug in deeply, leaving blood in its wake. Instead, it had broken down the middle. He'd barely even noticed.
She hadn't been able to cut the lock of hair because it had the consistency of steel.
There couldn't be any doubt. Kade was Clark Kent, the man the world knew as Superman.
"Superman?" She whispered the word.
He looked up at her, but there wasn't any sign of recognition in his eyes. His forehead crinkled, and he winced.
"What about him?"
He had no idea who he was. The revelation struck Lois like a bolt of lightning. She didn't even know his last name, and for the first time she realized that he might not know it either.
"Um… it's too bad about what happened to him." She looked down for a moment. "I think I'm going to leave your hair the way it is for a while. I'm the one they'll really be looking for, and I don't think a couple of inches off the back will make any difference."
She bent down and began to gather up the pieces of scissors and the pile of hair that had been left on the tile. She dumped it into the trashcan quickly, before he could get a good look at it.
"I need to change the color of my hair, and it's likely to stink up the place." She hesitated. "It's getting pretty late, and I'm starting to get hungry again. Why don't you go out and pick something up?"
He looked at her for a moment, then shrugged. "I'm getting a little headache anyway. I doubt the smell of chemicals would do it any good."
A moment later, he was out the door.
Lois slumped against the counter. She'd been travelling in the company of the most powerful man on the planet, a man who could crush her with a single flick of his finger. He was an alien, and yet he was the most human man she'd ever met.
She sighed. At least she wouldn't have to worry about putting him in danger any more. She gathered a number of white towels and began opening the boxes.
She flipped a switch and the ceiling fan began to buzz as she poured the noxious smelling liquid into a bottle and began shaking it up. As she began to apply the substance, her eyes stung.
The chemicals were causing her eyes to water, that was all. She didn't have time for tears. As she sat waiting for the solution to set, Lois's shoulders slumped.
She was attracted to Kade, and she'd begun to entertain fantasies that they might be able to find a life together somewhere. It wouldn't have been fair to him, had he been human, but it would have been possible. She'd have tried to send him away, and he'd have insisted on staying. They'd have argued a bit, but in the end, they'd have been together.
The fact that Kade was Superman changed everything. Eventually, he'd regain his memory, and when he did, he'd feel obligated to return to the life he left behind. It was a life that she couldn't share with him. Under the hot glare of the media spotlight, she'd make a perfect target. She might try to use the venue to bring the crimes of the enemy to light, but it was more likely that the enemy would falsify evidence and accuse her of one crime or another.
In truth, she could serve hard prison time just for the false identities she'd had created for herself. The fact that she'd made off with government money would look even worse, even if it WAS money that was meant to be destroyed.
Clark Kent wasn't the sort of person who would allow people to suffer if he could do something to stop it, but he had also sworn to uphold the law.
Lois mourned the dream of what might have been.
She rinsed her hair, and then massaged the conditioner into it.
Her time with Kade was limited. Eventually he would have to leave her.
She was finished by the time he returned with Chinese food.
"You look… different," he said.
Lois had chosen to apply a sandy blonde color to her hair. She knew it wasn't the best color to go with her complexion, but it wouldn't draw any attention, and that was what was important.
They ate together in silence. Lois kept stealing glances towards him, only to find that he was already looking at her. They finished their meal, and by mutual agreement, Kade headed for his bedroom, while Lois headed for the shower.
As the hot waters sluiced over her naked body, Lois tried not to cry. Kade was the best thing to happen to her in years, and just as she was beginning to trust him, she found out that it couldn't last.
She stood alone in a tub built for two, and this time she did cry. She leaned against the wall, allowing the water to run down her back.
Eventually, an idea occurred to her. It was insidious, but enormously appealing, and the longer she thought about it, the more attractive it seemed.
Even as she dried off, she couldn't believe that she was going to go through with it.
She slipped into the complimentary robe, and she stepped out into the main living area of the suite. She brushed her teeth, and checked to make sure her newly dyed hair had survived the shower. She dug through her purse until she found her one bit of vanity. She sprayed the tiny vial of perfume on her wrists, the side of her neck, and after a moment of thought, behind her knees.
She then turned most of the lights in the apartment out. There was a little light coming in from the bedrooms; they had windows, and the streetlights outside, combined with the glow of the city provided enough light to see by.
She then walked to Kade's door and leaned against it.
"Kade?" she called, hoping that he hadn't fallen asleep already.
There was a moment's silence before his voice came from inside. "Yes?"
She opened the door slowly. The interior of his bedroom was dark, except for a single shaft of soft light coming from the window and she could barely make out his figure lying on the bed.
"I'm cold," she said. She stepped into the room, moving into the light and facing him. Illuminated by the light from the living room, she allowed the robe to drop from her naked body.
She shivered a little from the air conditioning until she saw him sweep the covers on his bed aside.
She closed the door and went to him.
She stood in the moonlight, her body bare, a goddess trusting him with all her innermost secrets. Kade was overwhelmed. Her beauty was enough to make his heart ache, and he couldn't tear his eyes away.
She trembled, and in that moment he realized that she was offering herself to him. She was giving him the choice, leaving herself vulnerable to his slightest whim. He could hurt her with the slightest word. That she could find such trust after years of paranoia, of shutting herself off from everyone was a gift in itself. He was amazed by her courage, and speechlessly, he threw his covers aside.
She stepped out of the moonbeam, and slipped silently into his bed.
She really was cold, he realized, when her petite feet touched his own. He didn't flinch away, unbothered by the cold, and she seemed to take comfort in his heat. He gently covered her, his hand grazing against the shape of her shoulder.
She was lying on her back, her body tense as she stared at the ceiling.
"We don't have to do this," he said quietly.
"Don't you want to?" He could hear the uncertainty in her voice, the sound of pain that he had caused, and it felt as though a knife had gone through his heart. She'd left herself vulnerable; he'd been given a gift of inestimable value. He held something precious, her trust, and he would never betray it.
She turned her head slightly and looked at him, her eyes chocolate pools that nonetheless seemed to reflect the contents of her soul. He could see the loneliness there, the pain which he instinctively knew had always been a part of his own life as well. They were kindred souls, yin and yang, male and female fitting together into a whole that was more than the sum of who they were apart.
"I want it more than anything," he said, as he swept her into his embrace. Instead of kissing her, he simply held her body against his own. It was a shock, the feeling of bare skin against skin, and Kade felt his body begin to respond. She was tense in his arms for only a moment; she relaxed into his hug, and embraced him tightly, like someone grabbing for a lifeline after struggling to keep afloat. He felt silent tears on the bare skin of his shoulder, and he held her.
He'd traveled the length of the country and back, and if fate hadn't intervened, he would have missed her, and that would have been a tragedy. She was the person he was meant to be with; he knew this with a certainty that soothed his soul. That he could hold and comfort her was a gift.
She electrified him, made him feel alive in a way he'd never felt before. It was as though he was a person able to see the world in colors for the first time, as though the heavens had opened up and delivered the fullness of grace to him, even though he was the most undeserving of sinners.
He'd have been content to have just held her forever, but she was the first one to move from their embrace. He felt a butterfly kiss against his shoulder, and she began to touch him with her hands. She was petite, but she fit perfectly into his arms, and he shuddered as he felt her hands running lightly up his sides. He pulled away for a moment, looking deep into her eyes, and he was reassured.
It was important that she want this as much as he did, for he was giving more than just his body. He was giving his heart.
He shuddered as she kissed her way up his neck, and for a moment, he felt a surge of panic. He had no recollection of having been with a woman; his past was a complete blank to him. For all intents and purposes this was the first time he would be making love.
As he kissed her deeply on the lips, he let his momentary uncertainty go. Making love was about feeling, not about thinking, and for the moment at least all he wanted to do was feel.
Time seemed to stretch into an endless moment as they lay together in the twilight glow from the window. They kissed, and her passion seemed to match his in every respect. His hands explored the peaks and valleys of her body, delighting in the voyage of discovery, moving with a feathery lightness that caused her breathing to catch. He explored her softness, and every curve was a delight to his senses.
He pulled away for a moment, and began worshipping her body, kissing the places his hands had discovered. He could hear her breathing beginning to speed up, and when he looked up into her eyes, he could see that the pain had been replaced by something he could not identify at first. She looked down at him, her eyes heavy lidded, and she moaned. Her fingers ran through his hair, and he thrilled when he realized that her look was one of desire.
He teased her, kissing her body inch by inch. She was a goddess, and he was worshipping at the altar of her body. He teased her until Lois couldn't take anymore, and she pulled him up to kiss him deeply.
They moved together to a beat of a music only they could hear. Kade lost himself in her eyes, and he could almost imagine that he could feel their souls intertwining.
After an eternity together, a long, endless moment in which two souls became one, they separated, lungs gasping for air as they were overcome by the sheer force of their own emotions.
Fearful that he might be hurting her, he gently rolled to the side, propping his head up on his arm as he stared at her. With his other hand he lightly touched the skin of her belly. She looked up at him, and for once he couldn't interpret the emotion in her eyes.
"You get more beautiful with every moment I know you."
She looked down at his hand, and didn't respond.
"You… overwhelm me, even now. I can't imagine what it'll be like… "
She put a finger on his lips. He thought he caught a moment of sadness in her eyes, and it worried him.
"Just hold me," she said quietly.
He looked at her for a moment, then took her in his embrace once again. They lay together, and in time, they began to doze.
It had been a mistake sleeping with him.
Lois had known he was a good man, and she'd known that he could be a good friend. If they'd left it at that she might have been able to leave him without regrets. Now… now she was feeling things she'd never felt before.
It would be impossible to leave without regrets now. Lois shifted slightly so that she could look at him. He was beautiful. She'd never described a man that way before, but this time she had no other word. It was more than his physical appearance; he was as handsome a man as she could remember seeing, but it was far more than that. He was beautiful in the one place where it truly mattered- in his soul.
Lois had had some experience with sex, but before tonight she'd never been made love to. She hadn't really even known what it meant. It had overwhelmed her, knocking down the defenses she'd erected over the years. For the first time in years, the void in her heart had been filled, and the idea of facing that emptiness was almost more than she could bear to consider.
He'd been kind. He'd simply held her, and she'd somehow known that if that were all she had wanted, he'd have been perfectly content. When he'd made love to her, he'd kissed her, and kissed her body with a reverence that bordered on devotion. When they'd finally been joined, it had been as though their souls were uniting. It had shaken her, and made her want to weep. She'd barely managed to keep the tears from flowing until she'd made sure he was asleep.
She'd been numb for as long as she could remember. Now that feeling was returning to her soul, it hurt more than she could have ever imagined.
She was tired of running, tired of always looking over her shoulder. She wanted more from her life than just security. Now that she'd had a taste of love, she'd never be satisfied again to return to a life of loneliness.
Kade was waking; he'd never been fully asleep, but had only dozed. He looked at her, and his fingers traced the tear tracks that would have been invisible to anyone else.
"What's wrong?" he asked softly.
"I wish it could be like this forever." Lois spoke softly, but she knew he could hear every word.
"It can be better."
She stared at him for a moment, and he grinned.
"If I love you like this now, how much will I love you in a month, or a year?"
Lois hugged him, her face in his chest. The knowledge that they didn't have a month or a year was a bitter pill. The tears spilled uncontrollably, and she shook for a moment.
"If you don't feel the same way… it doesn't matter." He sighed. "I feel the way I feel."
She gasped, looking up at him. She kissed him quickly and deeply. She rolled on top of him, straddling him and staring into his eyes. She leaned down and whispered, "I… I care for you, Kade."
She kissed his ear, and said, "Let's not worry about tomorrow."
She rubbed her body lightly up and down his, and she was delighted by how quickly he responded. There were advantages to super human stamina, and she planned to make use of them. If he'd been fully human, she'd have been more concerned about safe sex. She read the articles about his immunity to disease, however, and the chances of pregnancy seemed impossibly remote.
She'd spent years worrying about things that never happened. She'd wasted day after day, and now that her time was so short, she had no intention of wasting another one.
She'd live for the moment; she'd feel instead of think, and she'd accept the gift that fate had given her.
She touched him lightly, and he gasped.
A mischievous light appeared in her eyes. He'd tortured her with his kisses, teasing her from the very beginning. She decided to see how he liked it when the tables were turned.
As she worked her way down his body, she decided that he liked it very well. She knew that he was strong enough to tear her apart with a single out of control muscle spasm, but somehow she knew that would never happen. She trusted this man in a way she'd never trusted anyone before, not even her parents or sister.
He pulled her up to him much more quickly than she had him, and she smirked down at him.
She was ready for him, and as they joined, she clasped his hands and stared down into his eyes.
He'd been as lonely as she had; she knew this with a certainty that startled her. Even as feelings of pleasure began to crest over her in waves, she knew that she wouldn't ever want to leave him alone.
Maybe he'd never regain his memory. They could find an isolated cabin somewhere in Canada and live their lives out together. As long as they had each other, they wouldn't need anyone else.
Lois gasped finally, and relaxed, feeling exhausted once more. She lay on top of him, with her ear against his chest. She knew that her weight wouldn't bother him at all, and so she allowed herself to relax. He held her, and for the first time since she could remember, she felt safe. She slept.
She woke to the realization that while her front was perfectly warm, her rear was freezing. She opened her eyes and was startled to see that Kade was looking at her with an amused grin.
She felt sweaty, and yet she was aroused once again. It was strange how little she'd missed sex before, and yet how easy it was to excite her now.
The bathroom had a tub built for two… or maybe three.
"I need to take a bath," she said. "Would you like to join me?" she asked quietly, grinning a little at his small look of disappointment.
His face lit up into a smile, and she was overwhelmed yet again by how handsome he was. Before she could forget about her desire for a bath, she rolled off him and stood up beside the bed.
"Are you coming?"
He rose to his feet behind her, following eagerly behind.
She moved quickly for the bathroom, afraid that if she looked back at him she wouldn't be able to wait until she reached it. She felt the flutterings of excitement in her stomach, and she moved as quickly as she could to set things up.
To her surprise, there was a tiny complimentary bottle of bubblebath in the bathroom. There were no candles of course, but a small frosted skylight provided a warm, diffuse glow to the room. It wasn't much light, but they had all they needed.
She ran the water as hot as she found comfortable. She was startled to hear music coming from the living room; low, romantic love ballads. The increased glow from the television told her that he'd somehow found the perfect station. He'd turned the music down low, and by the time he returned, the tub was halfway full.
She didn't dare fill it any more until they both got in.
She stepped into the water and turned to beckon to him. She enjoyed the view as he walked the length of the bathroom to stand before her.
He pulled a cloth from a shelf and stepped into the tub.
"Let me bathe you," he said.
Lois nodded, and stood in the center of the tub. She closed her eyes as he began to wash her with slow, sensuous movements of the washcloth. It was the same torture as before; a gentle, sensual teasing.
Despite the fact that he was using the cloth as a means of seduction, Lois felt clean when he was finished. He rinsed her dry with a quick, hot blast from the shower. As always, he thought of her comfort, standing before her to shield her from any cold water that was already in the line.
When it was her turn, Lois felt challenged. He'd made her feel excited without ever touching her skin with his. She thought for a moment, then told him to sit in the tub.
She began with his hair. She'd quickly discovered that his scalp, and the back of his neck were an erogenous zone. She washed his hair slowly, and when she was done, she commanded him to stand.
Washing him was as much torture as being washed had been. She didn't have the patience he'd had, however; they made love standing up, and then they had to wash again.
They left water all over the floor, but Lois didn't care. For once, she'd left all thought behind. It felt good to feel things without inhibition, even if it was only for one night.
Kade knew that his life would never be the same. He held Lois in his arms, and even in her sleep, she held him in return. Life was beautiful, and all was as it should be. The night he'd spent with her had been a milestone; forever after he would measure the events of his life in terms of before and after… assuming he ever regained his memory. He smiled tenderly down at her, as she shifted in her sleep. She'd managed to turn his world upside down.
The one dark spot on the horizon was the issue of his past. He hadn't wanted to think about it before, but it was something he could no longer avoid. He wanted to devote himself totally to Lois; he knew with an absolute certainty that she was the person he wanted to spend his life with.
Without knowing who he had been, he couldn't offer everything to her. They were on the run, and it would likely be a while before he could look into his past. The idea that he might have been a criminal depressed him; the thought that he might have a wife and children was even more horrifying.
He ignored his growing headache as he caressed Lois's bare back. She stirred, and looked up at him with a slow, sensual smile.
"I usually need coffee to feel this good in the morning." Lois spoke softly, her hand touching his chest. "I don't think I've slept that well in years."
"I didn't sleep at all," he said.
"Why not?" She looked up at him, concerned.
"I was afraid it was all going to be a dream." He kissed her forehead. "I didn't want to wake up and find everything gone."
Her face sobered. She hesitated, then said, "That's happened to you before, hasn't it?"
Kade stared into the distance. "I was confused for a while."
"I woke up one morning, and I didn't remember anything."
"You don't have any memories at all?" Lois looked up at him, and her expression was strangely sad.
"I have dreams, sometimes." He sighed. His headache was growing worse all the time.
Lois sighed. "Kade, we need to talk. There are some things I need to tell you."
Kade tensed. "I'd have thought a hotel this nice would have had thicker walls."
She opened her mouth to speak. Kade stopped her with a gesture.
"The police are downstairs. Someone called the Pontiac in as stolen, and they've found it in the parking lot."
Lois stiffened, then leaped out of bed. Kade was quick to follow her example. He dressed quickly, and Lois did the same. Kade slipped into the jeans, black T-shirt and sneakers that Lois had bought for him the night before. The shirt was a little tight around his chest and biceps, but otherwise fit him quite well. The pants fit him perfectly.
Kade glanced over at Lois as she slipped into jeans and a white blouse. He was relieved to see her slipping on a pair of running shoes; the shoes she'd been wearing the day before hadn't been designed for running, and they might very well need to.
Kade helped Lois as she stuffed their clothing into the duffel bag. He was a little surprised to see her throw the plastic bag from the trashcan under the sink into the bag as well. It took him a moment to follow her reasoning. It wouldn't be a good idea to give the people tracking them a hint that Lois had changed her hair color. If she'd left the trash, they could have found the exact shade she'd used.
The packets of money were secure in the bottom of the duffel bag. Despite the quality of the hotel, Lois hadn't felt comfortable leaving thousands of dollars in the trunk of her car. She still hadn't told him where the cash had come from, but he was confident that she would in time.
Kade cocked his head, listening for a moment, then turned to Lois. "We need to get out of here."
Lois nodded. She zipped the bag shut even as she headed for the door; an instant later, they were both gone.
They headed quickly down the hallway, hoping to reach the back exit before the police thought to surround the place. They were careful to present the appearance of tourists with some place to go, but the moment they turned the corner, they stepped up the pace.
They took the back steps three at a time, and they pushed the back door open. Kade could hear the shouts from the police up in their room, and he let the door close carefully behind him.
He and Lois walked quickly down the street, then turned at the first side street. Like many of the cities in the west, Phoenix really wasn't designed for pedestrian travel. Luckily, the downtown area was more suited for people walking; with limited parking many people had to walk some distance to get into the surrounding buildings. They'd be able to blend in with that group for a time; the duffel bag they were carrying might arouse some suspicion, however.
Kade was the first to spot the small bus station. He could see a bus approaching, and he and Lois sped up to catch it. They were the last to board, and as Kade slipped onto the bus, he could see a police car turning the corner down the street.
He found a seat quickly. Hopefully, the police wouldn't have a good enough description of either of them to identify them by sight. They needed to rent a vehicle soon.
Kade slumped down in an empty seat across from Lois, who held the duffel bag in her lap. There weren't many passengers on the bus at this time of the morning, but Kade could see that they were all armed. Most had the common courtesy to keep the weapons concealed, though a few wore them proudly in the open. He caught several people eyeing Lois's duffel bag, and he resolved to keep an eye on them. The last thing they needed was to be mugged and robbed. They'd need all their resources to escape from the people chasing Lois.
He flinched as he had an image of Lois falling through the sky, screaming a name he couldn't quite make out. He grimaced; the headache was getting worse.
They rode the bus for almost an hour, until it left the downtown area. When it stopped in front of a mall Lois jerked her head, and Kade rose to his feet. They disembarked quickly. Kade caught the eye of a hardened looking man who made as though to get up and follow Lois. Despite the fact that the man was openly armed, Kade managed to stare him down until the doors to the bus closed between them, and the bus made its way into the distance.
They made their way into the mall, and to a conveniently located set of pay phones. Lois called a cab, and while they waited, she ordered them both a giant sized piece of fudge from one of the side shops.
They made their way outside, to the now empty bench at the bus stop. She sat beside him, and they ate. She didn't look at him. "Kade, we need to talk."
"I found the address to a truck rental agency in the phone book."
She nodded. "That'll make it a little easier. We can have the taxi driver drop us off a block or two away."
Kade took her free hand in his own and looked into her eyes. "No matter what happens… I can't regret a single moment we've spent together."
She let her head drop, staring at their hands intertwined.
"Last night meant the world to me." Her voice was quiet. "I… I never knew what I was missing before, and maybe that made it a little easier."
"You've been alone for a long time."
"It was more than that. I've never allowed myself to get really close to anyone, even before I had to go into hiding. Last night… I don't have the words."
"Flying." Kade spoke softly.
She looked up, meeting his gaze with a startled expression.
"That's what it was like for me at least. When I was with you, it was as though I had left the earth and all my cares far behind."
His headache was growing worse. He could almost imagine himself flying through the night sky, seeking to flee the loneliness which was his only companion.
She looked stricken. "Kade… I really ought to… "
Kade saw the cab, and he stood up. Lois looked back and noticed the cab at the same time. Kade wasn't sure, but she almost seemed to have a relieved expression on her face as she scrambled to her feet. Kade picked up the duffel bag, and he followed Lois into the cab. Kade gave the driver the address he had memorized, subtracting 100 so they'd be dropped off a block away.
They rode in silence. Lois paid the driver and they walked quickly to the Ryder truck rental office. As Lois was the one with the false identification cards, she went into the office by herself while Kade waited outside with the duffel bag.
Kade did his best to stay out of view of the main street without looking suspicious. It wasn't long before Lois returned with a salesperson in tow. She examined the truck she intended to rent while the agency employee went over a checklist. Eventually, she returned to the office to pre-pay the bill.
She was out a few minutes later. Kade slipped into the passenger side of the vehicle quickly, after a quick look around the area to make sure that he wasn't seen. They were out of the lot a few moments later.
Lois drove silently for several minutes. Kade could see that she was tense, and he could only imagine that the traffic was bothering her. Although it wasn't rush hour traffic, she was driving in the big city, perhaps for the first time in five years.
Kade broke the silence. "Where are we headed?"
"The Big Horn Mountain range in Wyoming." Lois didn't take her eyes off the road, though she kept looking in the side mirrors. It occurred to Kade that she was looking for any signs of pursuit.
"Why the Big Horn Mountain Range?"
Lois shrugged. "It isn't the sort of place that they would predict I'd head for, and I hear the country is beautiful. It'll be a nice change from the desert."
Kade nodded. As his headache had not yet subsided, he leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes. Eventually, he managed to relax, ignoring the sounds of the traffic all around them and focusing only on the hum of the road and the sound of Lois's breathing. He could almost imagine that he heard the beating of her heart, and in time, despite the growing pain in his head, he managed to doze.
His mind drifted. He imagined that he was holding Lois in his arms. Her hair was short and curly, and he was filled with a feeling of freedom he'd never felt before. The wind was blowing in his face, and she laughed as he held her.
It took him a moment to realize that he was flying.
He moaned as he woke, his head splitting with pain. He opened his eyes, and it took him a moment to realize that they were outside the city limits. They were surrounded by the flatness of the desert, with mountains in the distance. Lois was fiddling with the radio, and there were no other cars in sight.
She glanced at him. "Are you feeling ok?"
"I've had this headache since this morning, and it's just been getting worse and worse all day long." Kade grimaced. "I've had them before, but they've always faded quickly. This one just isn't stopping."
"I guess aspirin wouldn't help." Lois glanced at him anxiously.
Clark shook his head and grimaced. He closed his eyes and opened them almost immediately. It was as though he could see images being played on the inside of his eyelids, flashing by too quickly to be comprehended.
"I don't know what's happening to me."
Lois glanced over at him again. "You shouldn't be feeling any pain at all, not from what I've heard."
"What are you talking about?"
"You said that you couldn't remember anything about your past."
Kade nodded, staring out at the scenery that was flashing by.
"What's the first thing you can remember?"
"I woke up in a homeless shelter." Kade shook his head. "Everyone was celebrating in the wake of the Nightfall thing." He grimaced, as the pain in his head grew sharper.
"You don't have any idea of who you might have been? No memories surfacing?"
Kade shook his head. "Nothing that makes any sense. I have dreams about falling sometimes… and I dream about flying with you in my arms at others."
Lois blushed. "You must be getting your memories mixed up." She sighed. "I've had my suspicions for a while, but last night I found proof."
By this point, the pain had grown until Kade was barely following what she was saying.
"I know who you used to be."
Jim Creed scowled. The case had exploded into something neither he nor his partner had expected. They'd managed to trace Clark Kent across the country, and they'd learned that he was calling himself Kade. Until they reached the small town of Last Chance Arizona, it had seemed inevitable that they'd catch him eventually.
They'd found the local police worked up into a frenzy. Men purporting to be government agents had descended on the small town, questioning the residents, and sometimes perpetrating acts of violence. They'd engaged in a shootout of some sort at a local restaurant, and they'd set fire to the home of a local woman.
The man they had attacked matched the description of Clark Kent, who was apparently in the company of a prominent local woman, Jane Alexander.
Jim had made inquiries, and no agency seemed to want to claim responsibility for the incident at Last Chance. The fact that the attackers seemed to be after the woman Clark Kent was traveling with didn't make any difference. If they attacked him when he didn't know his own strength, someone was likely to get hurt.
They'd traveled to the next largest town, Phoenix, Arizona, and had been talking with local FBI agents and police officers when they'd heard reports over the radio.
Roadblocks had been set up on Interstate 17 by people in military uniforms. They were telling drivers that a toxic chemical spill was causing the road to be closed off.
Unfortunately, no official agency seemed to have any information about such an incident.
Jim had an uneasy feeling that there was no chemical spill. He glanced over at his partner, who was talking into his cellphone. His partner met his gaze and shook his head slightly. No one knew anything about such a spill.
They'd reach the first roadblock soon; Jim would bluff his way through if he had to. These people didn't have any idea what they were dealing with.
Three military helicopters flew by overhead in a vee formation. They were flying very low, and it looked as though they were fully armed. Jim glanced behind him; he could see other helicopters on the horizon.
Maybe they did know what they faced.
Jim knew they had to move faster, and he sped up. If he didn't reach Clark
Kent in time, it was possible that there might be a blood bath.
Lois repeated herself. "I know who you used to be."
Kade stared at her for a long moment, his head throbbing with an almost unbearable pain. He had a sudden feeling that he didn't want to hear what she had to say. Now matter who he had been, knowing would change things between them. His life would never be the same.
The sense of impending doom grew as Lois licked her lips. Kade spoke up quickly. "I'm not sure that I want to know."
The expression on her face was sad. "I'm not sure that I want to tell you."
Lois stared at him for a long moment, barely paying attention to the road. She looked tempted, and for a moment Kade had a moment of hope that things might be able to continue on as they had been. He'd find a way to hide them both, and they'd live out their lives together.
Lois sighed, then shook her head regretfully. "I wish we could just drive off into the sunset together, but that's not the way the real world works."
Kade closed his eyes. The pain had grown to the point where he was seeing flashes of light on the insides of his eyelids. He was confused and increasingly, he was frightened of what he would hear.
"Your real name is…"
Kade's eyes snapped open, and he interrupted her hurriedly.
"We've got trouble."
"What?" Lois looked confused for a moment.
Kade nodded in the direction of the horizon, and Lois squinted at the almost indistinguishable dark line ahead.
"They've set up a road block." Kade said tersely. "Four troop transport vehicles, eight jeeps and thirty men armed with AR-15 rifles."
Now that he was focusing on the problem at hand, the pain in his head began to recede a little, and he sighed in relief.
"Do you think they've spotted us?"
Kade nodded his head. "At least three of the officers have binoculars aimed at us, and the men are already starting to move."
Lois had pulled the Ryder truck to a halt on the side of the road. She stared at the line ahead of them and cursed. She checked her rear view mirror, then put the truck in motion, beginning to make a u-turn.
The entire truck jumped three feet in the air as an explosion from near the rear bumper threw them forward. It was a loud explosion, one which left Kade's ears ringing for a microsecond. Lois screamed, and for a moment Kade thought they were done for.
He could hear the sounds of the helicopters now, buzzing at them. His pain and distraction had kept him from hearing them, and he could smell smoke coming from the rear of the truck. He snarled, and after checking to see that Lois was unharmed, he looked back at the people who had launched some sort of missile at them.
Lois jammed her foot down on the accelerator, heading in the direction of the roadblock.
"There isn't any time left," she said. "I should have told you this last night."
She moved the truck in a zig zag pattern, but Kade knew there wasn't much chance of escape. The road ahead of them exploded into flames and the truck was rocked with the force of an explosion once again.
Lois screamed again as they passed through the flames, the tires bumping over the broken pavement and pieces of shrapnel. It was only a matter of time before the helicopters managed to score a direct hit, and there wasn't anything Kade could do about it.
"You have to stop them." Lois stared at the road up ahead as she continued to do everything she could to avoid the machinegun fire that was coming from the helicopter behind them.
When Kade saw a second helicopter heading in their direction, he knew they were lost.
"You are Clark Kent; they call you Superman." Lois almost screamed it as the sounds of machinegun fire drowned out the sound of everything else. Two of the tires burst, and the truck began to careen out of control..
Kade's head exploded. The pain grew unbearable; he could see the roadblock approaching; they were going over eighty miles an hour and there wasn't any way to stop. The men directly in front of them were scattering, even as the men to the sides began to open fire.
He wished desperately that there was some way to escape. The truck spun, and in a moment, all he could see through the front window was the open sky.
He braced for impact, even as his mind was being overwhelmed with images of a happy childhood, of life with parents who loved him. They'd taught him right from wrong, and he'd loved them with every fiber of his being.
He tensed, and it took him a moment to realize that they hadn't crashed. He looked out the side window and gawked. They were flying; the world was rapidly moving by below them, and they were leaving the enemy behind.
It took him a moment to realize that he was in control. His mind resisted the concept for a moment; he was a human being, not some sort of alien, someone destined to always stand outside. As the memories continued to flood through his mind, he felt a sort of calm resignation settle over him. He was what he was, no matter how much he wished things could be different.
He felt an odd calm. As he brought the truck down to a gentle landing, he looked behind them, seeing through the burning back end of the truck and back out to the horizon.
"They're chasing us already." His voice was flat. "I have to stop them."
Lois had a small trickle of blood on the side of her face; it looked as though she'd hit her head at some point. She stared at him dazed.
"You have to stop them," she said. "We both have to stop them."
He nodded, then turned as though to leave the vehicle. She grabbed his arm, and kissed him hard. Even that barely penetrated the protective calm that had descended upon him.
"Come back to me.," she said. "If you don't find me in Flagstaff, I'll be in a small town called Shoshoni in Wyoming, near the Big Horn Mountains."
He nodded absently, barely able to process the images going through his brain.
She kissed him again, hard. "I'll be waiting for you."
He opened the door without speaking, and launched himself into the sky. He extinguished the fire at the back of the truck with a single gust of breath. The world slowed around him, and everything became silent.
He saw the missiles coming from the planes, and he could have avoided them, but it almost felt good to feel the sting of fire on his skin. The explosions sounded like thunder, and he shuddered.
The world faded from around him. He was waiting on the front porch, hoping to see his parents before he had to go to bed. They'd gone for a night out, as they sometimes did, and he always enjoyed seeing them return with the hints of laughter and happiness in their eyes.
He heard the sounds of a car coming, and he felt excited.
He ran out in the rain, anxious to meet them as he saw their headlights swing around the corner of the old dirt road. He knew something was wrong when they didn't start slowing down as they came down the hill. He heard a truck horn, and he saw a truck coming from the other direction, and in a moment of stark realization he knew what was going to happen.
He ran. He ran as quickly as he could, and somehow he knew that he could run faster than any normal person, but it wasn't enough. The truck slid in the water as it tried to stop, and his parents' car didn't even slow down.
He heard the sound of thunder as they crashed together. He'd struggled with the crumpled remains of the door, cursing the fact that even though he was strong for a child, he was too weak to get the door open.
He'd managed to get the door open, and what he'd seen inside had seared him forever. He'd screamed in anguish, and forever afterwards, he associated raindrops with tears.
He'd watched them die. They'd died, and he was left alone in the world. He'd been helpless to save them, despite all his power.
He blinked. Back in the battlefield, he plowed through the helicopters one after another, pulling the people inside out and tossing them into the air. By the time he had destroyed the last of them, the people from the first began to fall past him, and he set them down on the desert floor, none of them gently.
He headed for the roadblock; they'd launched three shoulder mounted missiles in his direction. The missiles were moving in slow motion, and the men below didn't seem to be moving at all.
He detonated each of the missiles in midair with his vision, even as he was rocked by further memories.
The world faded again. He was standing on a porch in the darkness, trying to ignore the sounds of a screaming fight coming from behind him. It had been harder for him to ignore things; in recent months it almost seemed as though he heard EVERYTHING. He'd been mortified time and time again as he heard things he shouldn't.
These foster parents weren't any better than the last ones, or than the ones before. He couldn't sleep at night because of the sounds of their fighting, and the sounds they made as they made up afterwards. At least these weren't abusive; Clark had a thick hide, but it hurt him to see other children being abused.
He barely felt it when a belt struck him anymore, and he wondered sometimes whether it was all part of the growing numbness in his life. He'd lost interest in everything in the wake of his parents' death; he'd moved through the world in a gray fog. All three sets of foster parents thought he was odd; his foster brothers and sisters had all been far more caustic in their appraisals of him. The kids at school hadn't understood.
The only emotion he felt anymore was a sense of overwhelming loneliness. His soul ached, and some mornings it was all he could do to get up in the morning. In an odd irony, he seemed to be getting stronger with each passing day. He was already stronger than his stepfather, though he was careful to conceal it.
He was freakishly strong, and that just made him even more different from everyone else. He couldn't help but feel that if he'd been faster or stronger that he could have saved his parents and saved himself. It was ironic that he would be gaining the strength and speed only after if was far too late.
Each night he stared up at the stars and wondered if his parents were looking down on him. They'd been so happy together; he'd always remember them with laughter in their eyes. He desperately longed for a love like they'd had. Love healed the soul, and his soul was torn almost beyond repair.
He blinked. The battlefield was silent and still below him, and he knocked each of the trucks over with a single blow. He removed the weapons from the unmoving fingers of the soldiers. If he accidentally broke a finger or two, he was too distracted to notice.
Quick blasts of heat vision caused the gas tanks of the jeeps to explode, knocking the men around them to the ground.
He shook his head; the world faded around him again.
He was standing in front of Lana, and she was arguing with him. He'd been flattered by her interest in him, and for a time he'd hoped to find the love with her that he so desperately needed. In time, however, the empty feeling had returned.
Now he went along with what she wanted because it was easier than defying her. Lana had brought him back from the brink; she'd helped him realize that the world wasn't a gray void, but rather was something he could take an interest in.
The fact that half his soul was still empty was something he'd just have to live with. Even when he was with Lana, he still felt lonely. The only time that he felt really alive was when he was flying, and Lana wanted him to stop doing that.
He felt suffocated at times by her insistence that he hide what he was, but he understood the need. Lana loved him, and that was something he could say of no other person in the world. He needed her; without her, he'd be all alone, and that was something he never wanted to face again.
He still stared out at the stars sometimes, wishing for someone who would love him for all of who he was. Lana loved Clark, but she wished fervently that the things that made him different would simply vanish. She didn't understand his need to help people, to make sure that no other children would have to suffer the loss of their parents, that no parent should lose their child. He knew now that there wasn't a special someone waiting for him, and the loss of his childhood hopes made him sad.
He blinked. He was tearing through a tank like it was tissue paper. He'd lost time; three other tanks lay as smoking ruins around him, with their crew lying unconscious on the ground. His head still ached.
He stood on a podium, speaking before a crowd of people. He watched his one true love stepping into the shadows and out of his life, and he knew the true meaning of despair. He'd thought he was lonely before, but the waves of loneliness which swept over him now were almost more than he could bear.
For the first time he knew what he was missing; he knew what it meant to feel like he belonged with someone. Lois Lane had understood him better than he'd understood himself, and for all his strength, he couldn't hold on to her.
He'd lost more than any man should lose. He'd lost Lois, and he'd lost even the minimal comfort Lana had offered. The people in the crowd around him did not see him as a human being; they saw him as a symbol. He would never again be able to live a normal life. The thought of the empty days that stretched out before him in an endless vista was almost overwhelming.
The world had sped up around him again. He blinked, staring confused at the remains of trucks and tanks lying in smoking ruins around him. He felt a momentary flash of fear that he'd killed someone, but a quick check showed that none of the men on the ground were injured with more than a broken bone or cracked rib.
He gasped. He felt a hideous pain, and the world vanished. He was floating in a void, and he could see the vast immensity of the asteroid above him.
He'd failed. He'd tried to save the world, and he hadn't been fast or strong enough. All his strength was gone, and he could feel himself beginning to fall.
He couldn't breathe. The impact had knocked his breathing equipment away, and the air had escaped his lungs. They were on fire now. He was floating in the cold dark immensity of space, and he was more alone than anyone had ever been in the history of the world.
Everyone would die. No matter how strong he was, no matter how fast he was, he wouldn't be able to save them. For all the hell his life had been during the past couple of years, he couldn't bear to see the world descend into darkness.
He was weak, but he still had the power to push himself towards the earth. As he reached the edge of the atmosphere, and took in his first gasping breaths of air, he knew that he would live.
He'd live just in time to see the world die, and then he would be alone forever. He screamed even as he caught fire.
His chest heaved, and he stared wildly around him. The world had become something of smoke and fire. He was back on the scene of a battlefield, and he felt a long moment of confusion.
His name was Clark Kent. He was Superman.
It was a relief to see everything start to come into focus. He was Clark Kent. He was a symbol. He was alone in the world.
For a moment, he caught the edge of a memory, but like the fading of a dream with dawn, it escaped him.
The only sounds were those of men moaning, and of the crackles of fires. Clark stared at the carnage around him and was glad to see that no one was dead. His brow furrowed; the thought seemed familiar, but he couldn't quite place it.
The last thing he could remember was falling in the wake of the Nightfall Asteroid. His eyes snapped upward toward the sky. It was possible that there wasn't much time left.
His head snapped back in the direction of the highway. He saw a small gray Ford heading toward the battle scene at a breakneck speed. Clark felt a little dizzy and took a deep breath.
He checked the men around him a final time, categorizing them into men who would need the aid of paramedics, and those who wouldn't. He was disturbed by the appearance of the vehicles around him. The damage they had suffered didn't seem to be like anything he'd ever seen.
The car squealed to a stop near the edge of the battle zone. Two men in dark suits stepped out, and Clark walked toward them.
"Clark Kent?" At Clark's nod, the man flipped open a badge. "Special Agent Jim Creed. My partner and I have been looking for you."
"Does Ephrad still need my help?"
The older agent gaped at him, but the younger one shook his head. "You broke the asteroid up small enough that we were able to blow it out of the sky."
Clark looked around. "What am I doing here?"
"You've been a little confused, Mr. Kent." The younger man sighed, looking at the scene behind Clark. "I think it's going to be a while before any of us are able to sort out exactly what happened."
Clark glanced at the older agent. He was calling for medical assistance.
"You think I did all this?" he gestured at the carnage behind him. He had a hard time believing that he would have attacked a branch of the US military, and he felt shaken.
As though reading his mind, Jim Creed spoke. "These men are AWOL, and the equipment is being listed as stolen right now." He looked closely at Clark. "You don't remember anything about this?"
"The last thing I remember, I was falling through space after striking the Asteroid." Clark shook his head ruefully. "I have no idea how I got here."
Jim put his hand on Clark's shoulder, and said, "Don't worry, we're taking you home."
Clark wondered why he felt such a sense of loss.
Rain beat against the windowpane, a perfect counterpoint to Clark's mood. He felt an unbearable sense of melancholy; as though he were grieving for the loss of something he'd never had. It was a mood that hadn't lifted in the week since his return. Everything seemed unreal somehow; he'd barely been affected by the media frenzy at the announcement he was alive. Nothing seemed to penetrate the veil that had dropped between him and the world. Nothing seemed important any more.
He couldn't remember anything. It was as though he'd flown up into the sky and been instantly transported in space and time into the Arizona desert. He felt as though he was in mourning, and he wasn't sure why. The pervasive feeling of loss was something that he couldn't shake, although he had no idea what he might have lost.
He shook his head. It had been difficult to focus on anything lately. Everyone was bending over backwards to make things easy for him; they treated him as though he was made of spun glass that would shatter at any moment. There were times that he wondered if he didn't agree with them.
Officially, he had lost his memory and been wandering the desert during the time he was missing. The Hell's Angel was happy not to press charges for either assault or the theft of his motorcycle in return for reduced charges for his own crimes.
That didn't change the deep sense of shame Clark felt every time he thought about it. He'd broken the man's ribs. Later on, he'd caused dozens of injuries to the people who had attacked him. It would have been horribly easy for him to kill someone. He lay awake some nights wondering if they'd find a body somewhere along the trail.
It terrified him, knowing how close he might have come to murder. He couldn't claim self defense; his attackers hadn't had any weapons that would do more than sting a little. For him to injure them was a terrible crime, no matter what they had done.
The investigation of the soldiers who had attacked him was continuing. Agent Jim Creed had been careful to keep him informed of all developments in the case. The entire battle was being kept secret; the official story was that a toxic waste spill had actually occurred.
Clark was disturbed and worried by reports that he had been traveling with a female companion, the writer Jane Alexander. No sign of her had ever been found, and no picture of her could be found anywhere. It tortured Clark to know that she might be dead somewhere because he was too confused to protect her.
He heard the footsteps coming down the hallway long before they reached the room he was in. He didn't look around even when he heard the door behind him open, and someone step inside.
"Am I a lunatic?"
He spoke quietly, his voice barely showing any hint of emotion. That question tortured him the most. If he was insane, then the world was in danger. The idea that he might spend the rest of his life waking up in the midst of smoking ruins terrified him.
"Lunatic isn't a word we like to use in my profession."
Clark turned to face the elderly man who was taking a seat at a leather chair behind a large desk. He'd been impressed by the décor when he first came in; leather and dark wood, bookshelves straining under the weight of meaty, erudite tomes; the faint scent of cigar smoke. It all spoke of someone who loved the past. While the rest of the facilities were modern, sterile and clinically white, this small office had a sense of character.
"What word would you use? Crazy? Insane?" Clark couldn't help the trace of bitterness in his voice.
"I wouldn't use those either, Mr. Kent. Why don't you take a seat?"
Clark sighed. He walked slowly across the room and sat down.
The elderly man opened the thick file folder he had been carrying. "Before we make any sort of psychiatric diagnosis, we like to rule out the possibility of underlying physical causes."
Clark nodded slowly. The idea that he might have something physically wrong with his brain was scary. No one would be able to help him, and were he to lose his mind, the damage he could do was incalculable.
"It's been problematic, trying to run the usual physical tests. Your aura seems to blank out any attempt to use an MRI, a Cat scan, or even an x-ray." The older man looked up. "Normal tests of reflexes aren't indicative either; have you noticed any changes in your abilities since before the incident with the asteroid?"
"I haven't noticed any differences in my abilities from before." Clark frowned. "I seem to see as far, smell as well, fly as fast… with the exception of my memory, I seem to be as good as new."
He felt as healthy as ever. That was why it was so frustrating, being unable to remember. If he'd been an invalid, he could have told himself it was something else.
"We've interviewed the staff at the homeless shelter you found your way to. They didn't notice any of the usual signs of concussion… no nausea, vomiting, or signs of poor coordination. You didn't speak, and you did seem almost catatonic at times, but otherwise you seemed to be perfectly healthy."
Clark stared at the floor. He'd been a danger to every one of them, if only they'd known. He'd attacked a man only hours after leaving them, and broken his ribs. There had been talk of a second person he'd attacked, but that person had never been found.
Clark had nightmares that the body was going to be found in a trash container. He closed his eyes and listened to the sound of the rain.
It took him a moment to realize that the doctor was speaking again. "We can't fully rule out physiological causes for anything, as your anatomy is so inadequately understood. However, you were raised in a human household, and you seem to react to situations the same way anyone else would, so let's proceed as if you were a normal person."
Clark nodded soberly. There were times in his life that he'd wanted nothing more than to be a normal person. If he'd been normal, he could have had a life. He could have found someone who loved him, had a family, raised children and grown old with them. His differences had always set him apart, even when they had been secret. Now that they were public… he'd never be normal again. Lana had warned him, and now even she was long gone.
"Do you think hitting the meteor could have caused my amnesia, Dr. Fielding?" Clark looked up. He hoped it was something as simple as that. He'd struck the meteor full on… perhaps the blow to the head had caused the problem."
"This isn't television, Mr. Kent. People don't simply get hit on the head and lose all sense of who they are." The old man shook his head. "Amnesia does occur with physical trauma, but physical damage tends to erase sections of time. To lose your sense of self… that's something different."
"So you're saying I AM crazy."
"It is suggested that up to fifty percent of the American populace suffers from one of the disorders listed in the diagnostic manual at some point in their lives." The doctor shook his head. "When the mind is exposed to traumatic events, it can use all sorts of coping mechanisms to survive."
"I'm invulnerable to almost everything. What sort of trauma could I possibly have had?" Clark shook his head. "It just doesn't make sense."
"You weren't always invulnerable." The doctor spoke quietly. "There are reports of incidents in your childhood… there were suspicious patterns of injuries in your foster brothers and sisters… you witnessed the deaths of your parents… "
"I couldn't sto- " Clark's voice trailed off. "I don't see what any of that has to do with what happened to me last week." His voice sounded strangely defensive even to his own ears, and he wondered what the doctor was making of it. The idea that his every movement and gesture was being analyzed made him shift uneasily in his chair.
Dr. Fielding looked at him for a long moment, then sighed. "You experienced what is known as a Dissociative Fugue State. It's a rare disorder that occurs mostly in men. It's characterized by sudden, unexpected travel away from home or one's customary place of work, with an inability to recall one's past. Confusion about one's personal identity, or the assumption of a new identity is part of the disorder."
"You've given me a name for it, but that doesn't tell me much." Clark's voice was cautious. What the doctor described was exactly what he'd been told had happened, but it didn't tell him what he needed to know.
"It's a dissociative disorder. Dissociative disorders tend to occur when people are exposed to extreme traumas, either as children, or as adults. It's related to amnesia, and to what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder."
"That sounds serious." Clark stared at the floor. "I can't afford to be crazy."
"It's a defense mechanism against psychological trauma. Nearly everyone has experienced fugue-like altered states of consciousness." The doctor continued, "Most people have driven from one place to another, and when they get to their destination been unable to recall driving from one point to another."
Clark looked up and nodded soberly.
"They performed all the complex operations needed for driving, but their consciousness had split, allowing their body to operate on auto-pilot."
"What happened to me was a little more serious than that." Clark's voice was grim. "Am I going to keep waking up, finding that days or weeks or months have disappeared?"
The thought was almost more than he could take. Clark felt agitated; the thought of living his life that way made him want to fly away and never stop running. He tensed for a moment, then stood up and walked toward the window.
"Am I going to have to live in fear of what I'm going to be doing for the rest of my life?" He stared out at the city; the rain dulled the light of the afternoon sun, making the sky dull and gray. A wave of depression rolled over him.
"I broke a man's ribs… committed felony theft, and got into a fight that destroyed thirty million dollars of US Military property. What will I do the next time? Kill someone?" He sighed. "I'm the most powerful man on the planet. It's like giving a president the nuclear launch codes… and then finding out that he has periods where he blacks out and isn't himself."
He could hear the doctor moving around behind him. The doctor spoke, and for the first time his voice had lost its clinical tone. Clark almost cringed at the sound of compassion in the man's voice. The last thing he wanted from anyone was pity; all he really wanted was for it all to go away.
"There is some good news." The doctor spoke quietly. "In most cases with adults, single episodes are all that are reported. Some individuals have multiple recurrences, but that's not the norm."
That wasn't completely reassuring. Nothing about Clark had been normal from the moment he'd been born. It did quell his fears somewhat, and for that he was grateful.
"I just wish I could remember any of it." Clark shook his head. "I can't even remember hitting the asteroid, much less anything that happened afterward."
"That's to be expected. It's common for people who have been in fugue states to be unable to recall anything that happened to them while they were in the fugue state. Sometimes, when they've recovered, they even have trouble remembering other earlier stressors in their lives."
Clark could hear the doctor shifting through the papers on his desk. "The mind protects itself, Mr. Kent. You've been doing rescue work for almost two years… seeing people with gunshot injuries, victims of natural disasters, rape, assault and war, and yet you've never sought any sort of counseling."
"I was never in any personal danger. I had no right to be traumatized."
"Being witness to the trauma inflicted on others can be just as damaging. I'll bet you've had trouble sleeping because of nightmares."
Clark nodded cautiously. He'd had nightmares since he was a child. Since he'd become Superman, he'd had them more often. Since he'd reawakened from his fugue Clark had barely slept at all.
"You've had recurring periods of low self esteem, depression… moments of anger and rage at the way your life has gone."
Clark turned back toward the doctor and shrugged. "Who hasn't experienced something like that?"
"You feel numb sometimes."
Clark froze, staring at the doctor for a long moment. There were periods in his life when he'd been unable to feel anything; he'd taken his parents' death harder than he was willing to admit to anyone. What he was feeling now eclipsed all that.
"Post Traumatic Stress is more common than anyone is willing to admit. Rescue workers often suffer from symptoms, especially when they don't have anyone to talk about their experiences. It helps, talking. Post-crisis counseling is becoming the norm these days." The doctor shook his head. "The fugue was just a symptom for the underlying problems in your life. You've been under a lot of stress for a long time. I'm not surprised that you wanted to get away from it all."
Clark found it impossible to look the doctor in the eye. His life wasn't what he had hoped it would be. If he could have flown away to live on a deserted island with the woman of his dreams, he'd have done it in an instant. In a way, he felt like the titan, Atlas, from Greek mythology. He held the weight of the world on his shoulders, and there was never a single instance of freedom.
The doctor was right. He felt trapped by the life he was living, and yet there wasn't any way he could stop. He couldn't simply stand by and allow people to die, no matter how it impacted his life.
The telephone rang, and Clark was almost relieved. He heard the doctor speaking in a low voice, but chose to listen to the rain outside instead. The sound was soothing in its own way. He turned back to the window to stare out at the city.
"I have an emergency downstairs. When I return, we can discuss treatment options." The doctor's tone was regretful, but Clark understood. The man had his responsibilities, just as Clark himself did. Life wasn't always fair.
Clark didn't speak. He heard the sound of the door opening, and of the doctor's footsteps moving quickly off into the distance.
The rain continued to fall like tears from the sky. Clark found a moment to wonder when he had last shed tears; he couldn't remember. He didn't think that he'd shed a single tear since his parents had died.
He saw a man and a woman walking down below in the rain. They were sharing an umbrella and the woman was laughing at something the man said. Clark felt a moment of intense jealousy. In all the world, only he was irredeemably alone. He was the last member of a dying race, and it looked as though his soulmate had been lost to him forever.
He couldn't help but feel cheated. For a moment he almost thought he could feel her out in the world somewhere, but he knew it was an illusion. His Lois Lane was long dead, and he was just going to have to adjust to a life without love, no matter how dreary that made the prospect of endless days to come.
The world had gone onward in the wake of his "death" and for a moment, he was tempted to flee it all and find a deserted island somewhere. Perhaps it wouldn't hurt so much if he weren't reminded daily of what he'd lost. He'd fallen in love with a woman who didn't exist on his world, one who loved his twin on another.
That Clark had everything. He had parents who loved him, a love that spanned time, and a life of his own.
Clark hoped that Clark knew how lucky he was. All this world had to offer was rain.
Lois had always hated the rain.
She stood waiting for the train in the light drizzle, staring impatiently at the dull, leaden sky.
She'd waited for Kade as long as she could in Flagstaff, and then she'd gone on. It had taken time to see the news about Superman's return, about his amnesia and his inability to remember what had happened in the desert.
Her heart had nearly shattered at the news.
She'd stayed in her hotel room for two days after finding out, alternately crying and raging at the fates. It had taken time for rage to become the predominant emotion, but in time it had.
They'd taken Kade from her as surely as though they'd killed him. If she could have been with him when his memory returned, she could have helped him remember. Instead, they'd taken that chance from her.
Lois had come to a realization; she was tired of looking over her shoulder. She'd been on the run for a sixth of her life, and she couldn't do it anymore.
She could see the train in the distance, and her fingers tightened around the handle to her new luggage. Even with her umbrella, she was getting wet, and it was only feeding the rage she felt inside.
They'd taken everything from her; her career, her family, her innocence about the world, and her feeling of security. They'd taken Claude away from her, and they'd taken the life she had been meant to live.
They'd taken all they were going to. Kade had made her feel things she'd been afraid to feel, and she wasn't going to lose him. She refused to lose anything else. It was time to fight back.
The train pulled to a slow stop, and Lois boarded impatiently with all the other passengers. She handed her ticket to the conductor, and found a seat next to the window. She slipped her small suitcase under the seat and sighed.
She'd been without resources before. The few people she'd thought she could trust would have been targets if they tried to help her. Perry, her family… she couldn't have gotten them involved without endangering their lives.
Clark Kent was the most powerful man on the planet. She'd seen some of the battle in her rear view mirror as she had escaped into the desert. If anyone could help her, it was him. He not only had the power of a large army in his hands, he had access to high level public officials.
They'd be watching him closely; they'd wonder how much she had told him, and they'd suspect that she would try to contact him. She'd have to be careful, but she would find him.
She'd make him remember what they'd had together, and she'd get his help. Together they would stop the people who had made her life a living hell.
Lois hated the rain, and she hated running. She stared at her reflection in the window, her expression one of determination. She'd played the victim for the very last time. She'd find Clark Kent, and she'd make him remember. With his help, she'd bring the enemy to their knees.
She was mad as hell, and she wasn't going to take it anymore.
TO BE CONTINUED IN FUGUE II: FUSION.