No infringement on copyrights held by DC Comics, Warner Brothers, Deborah Joy Levine, Republic Pictures, Witt-Thomas Productions, Ron Koslow, or anyone else who might have a finger in the pie, is intended.
by Becky Bain
Clark Kent crossed the Daily Planet's newsroom, trying to be unobtrusive. From habit, his gaze went to his wife's desk, but it was unoccupied. A mug next to the keyboard still steamed softly, though, so Lois was probably in the newsroom somewhere.
In his guise as Superman, he'd left home in the middle of the night, responding to a half-heard news broadcast from the radio he sometimes left playing in the living room - a Greek passenger ferry had overturned and hundreds of lives were at stake.
He'd flown straight there and salvaged the ferry, carrying it to dry land so rescue workers could enter safely and treat the injured, then spent hours plucking other survivors out of the debris-filled water. By the time he got home, Lois had already left for work. He wondered what excuse she'd given for his absence.
Clark turned his smile on Jimmy Olsen. "Hey, Jimmy."
Jimmy's grin turned to concern. "How's the tooth?"
Apparently his delay had been an emergency trip to the dentist. Clark grimaced, feigning remembered pain. "Much better, thanks," he answered. "Have you seen Lois?"
"Yeah, she's in with the chief," Jimmy answered.
Clark wheeled to look toward Perry White's closed office door. "Do they need me in there, too?" he wondered aloud.
"Gee, I don't know, CK. I can ask," Jimmy offered.
"Never mind. Let me get some coffee, and I'll just go on in."
"Good idea," Jimmy approved. "Oops, I gotta go. I'm supposed to be taking pictures at the museum this morning. That big opening, you know."
"The Van Gogh tour," Clark said. "Yeah. Good luck!"
"Thanks!" Jimmy bounded off.
Unlike Lois, Clark always cleared his desk off at the end of each day, so even without his special visual talents, he could clearly see the small rectangular object centered on his otherwise clean blotter. The object was about six inches by two, wrapped in shiny silver paper and bound with a glittery red elastic cord tied in a bow. A white card said simply, "For You."
He grinned. Lois was mostly understanding about his being called away on unexpected emergencies, but occasionally, when the timing was especially bad, she succumbed to vocal frustration. Lately she'd taken to giving him small gifts, to apologize, he was sure, for the blowups, because she really did know the importance of the work he did as Superman.
He pulled off the cord and parted the paper to reveal a long, red velvet jeweler's box. Intrigued, he lifted the lid. Inside, nestled in a white satin hollow, lay a gleaming black ballpoint pen. "Wow," he muttered to himself. "She must have been really mad this time." He lifted the pen from its nest; it balanced perfectly in his hand and its oversized barrel fit neatly between his fingers. He flipped open a notebook and scratched a few lines to test the point. It flowed smoothly and left a bold, crisp line. He smiled. "Nice pen."
He clicked the retracting mechanism and tucked the pen into his shirt pocket, then found his coffee mug and headed for the machine. He was on his way back, steaming mug in hand, when Lois emerged from Perry's office. She spotted him across the room and waved. "Clark!" she called. "You're here!"
He lifted his mug in acknowledgement and quirked a smile.
They met near her desk. "How'd it go?" she asked, her voice low.
"Fine. We saved nearly everybody..."
"And the ones you couldn't save weren't your fault," she said firmly.
"Right," he agreed, though he knew the deaths would haunt him for a few days anyway. If only he'd gotten there sooner, if only he could have performed CPR on more victims at a time, if only, if only.
You did what you could, son. His father's voice sounded in his head, making perfect sense, just as Lois did. "Right," he said again, more firmly. "I did what I could."
"Right," she agreed. "Come on, Perry's got an assignment for us."
"Great." He set down his mug and followed her to the elevator. "What's up?"
"Robbery at the Bank of Metropolis," she answered, stepping into the waiting car.
Out of habit, his hand went to his tie. "Do I need to...?"
She shook her head and punched the button for the ground floor. "The attempt was foiled by an alert security guard. "Both suspects are in custody. Perry wants us to interview the guard." She grinned. "We'll have to find out if he's trying to put Superman out of business."
He grinned back. "Right."
Outside, the sun was bright. Clark rested his hand on Lois's arm to steady her until her eyes adjusted; once, she would have thrown off his concern, but now she leaned into him. "I missed you this morning," she murmured.
"Yeah, I know. I found..."
"Excuse me? Sir?" A pair of teenagers, looking uncertain and a bit lost, approached.
He stopped politely. "Yes?" Automatically his hand went to his pocket, ready to dispense a dollar or two to those in need. Beside him, Lois rolled her eyes; he nudged her with a subtle chiding elbow and she subsided.
"Could you tell us how to get to the Metropolis Museum of Art? We came to the city to see the Van Gogh exhibit, but so far nobody we asked has been able to help us."
Clark took another look at the pair and this time noted the paint smudges on faded jeans and worn t-shirts. Budding artists, no doubt, here to see the work of a master. He couldn't really blame them; he'd seen the paintings himself yesterday, since Superman had been asked to be present during delivery and set up, and they were truly magnificent. He and Lois planned a visit this weekend to see the paintings again.
"You bet," he told the teenagers. "It's up on Eighty-second. You go north for about eighteen blocks, then go right on Firth until you reach Maxwell..."
The girl shook her head pleadingly. "We'll never remember all that."
"It's really very easy to find," Lois offered, eager to get rid of these pesky kids and be on her way.
Clark suppressed a grin. "Here, let me draw you a map." A few strokes with his new pen on a clean page of his notebook showed the way - he inked in the street names and tore out the page. "Here you go."
The boy studied the map for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, we can find it now," he said. "Thanks."
"Yeah, mister," the girl chimed. "Thanks!"
"Boy scout," Lois muttered as the teenagers moved off. "Nice pen," she added, as Clark went to return it to his pocket. "Where'd you get it?"
Oh, so she wanted to play games. Well, he could do that, too. "Like it?" He held it out, letting the gleaming black barrel catch the sun. "I found it, gift-wrapped, on my desk when I got in this morning."
"Really?" Lois's brow puckered. "Who'd leave you an expensive present like that?"
"I have no idea," he said, putting as much sincerity as he could muster into his voice. "Look, the point retracts, and it's got this neat carving on the clip..."
The sidewalk lurched and tilted; faster than thought, Clark whipped an arm around Lois to steady her. The world around them went bright white and dead quiet, and tipped crazily on its axis.
Catherine Chandler silently berated herself. It was stupid to have stayed so late at Jenny Aronson's party; it was stupid to have brought her car, and to have parked it two blocks away. Stupidest of all was not accepting Paul Tucker's offer to walk her there - she hadn't wanted to take him from the party he was so obviously enjoying, hadn't wanted to make him walk the four block round trip, so she'd lied, said her car wasn't far.
Now, walking alone on a quiet, deserted side street, she had time to reconsider. Jenny's west side neighborhood was generally considered a safe one, but this was New York; after dark, there was no such place as safe.
Was that a footstep she heard behind her?
Uneasiness crept between her shoulder blades. Uneasiness... and a kind of shameful longing. She pushed the feelings away and walked faster, her heels tapping nervously against the pavement. Almost there; she could see the gleam of her windshield in the nearest street lamp.
Her keys were already out, clutched between her fingers like so many jagged teeth; she scanned the sidewalk, then flipped the key ring around and found her car key by feel. She was bending to unlock the passenger door when someone grabbed her arm.
She spun sharply, wrenching her arm free and raking the key viciously at eye-height. A blond boy, no more than eighteen, with stringy hair and torn jeans, leaped back, swearing. "Bitch," he muttered, and she saw the glint of metal. He had a knife.
Fear rose up, clutching her throat. Knives terrified her.
She swallowed, forcing the fear down, and shifted her purse, holding it in front of her like a shield.
"I want your money, bitch!" the boy shouted, slashing with his knife. "I want it now!"
If he'd only stop moving, only step back, she'd gladly open her purse and give him her wallet to be rid of him, to be rid of the danger, but he kept moving in, crowding her back until she was pinned against the side of her car, and the swinging knife came closer and closer.
Something fierce and glorious rose up in her; she swelled with it and feinted to the right, swinging her purse left, into the path of the knife, and kicking out with her left foot, aiming at his knee. She landed only a glancing blow that sent her foot skidding off to the side; she lost her balance and went down clumsily. In an instant the boy was on her, holding the knife perilously close to her cheek.
"Your money, bitch!" he shouted again, kneeing her shoulder roughly. "Now!"
"My purse," she stammered. Something dark inside her demanded action; she quelled it frantically. "It's in my purse..."
With hands shaking more from the effort of control than from fear, she untangled the purse from its strap and pulled it open. Her wallet came easily into her hand and she held it up. "Here, see? Take it."
He grabbed it and stuffed it into a pocket of his ragged jeans, but didn't take the knife away.
"I gave you what you wanted," she almost shouted. If only he'd go. Quickly and without hurting her. If only he'd go now. Time was short; she could feel the rage building, getting nearer.
But instead he caught a handful of her hair, forcing her head back painfully. "You hurt me, bitch," he told her. "You shouldn'ta done that."
Kneeling on the sidewalk, head arched back, she had a perfect view of the lethal dark form that dropped soundlessly from the nearest rooftop. Too late; it was too late. The knife at her throat burned briefly, then was snatched away. An angry roar split the night; along with it came a familiar rush of sensation. She gasped with the dark pleasure of it, longed to lose herself fully, let it complete her.
Instead she fought it, struggling to her feet, reaching out for the cloaked figure who'd struck once and now coiled to strike again.
"No, Vincent!" she shouted, catching his arm. "No!"
He pulled against her grasp, but not hard enough to break free, then dropped his arms, set his feet apart, and tipped back his head, loosing a spine-tingling roar of triumph.
Catherine's keys had gone flying when the boy seized her; she had no idea where they'd landed and there was no time. Lights were going on in windows; any moment someone would look out and see... if they hadn't already. The boy lay slumped against the front tire of her car; a slow stream of blood flowed steadily from his shoulder where his shirt and flesh were torn. She bent quickly and pulled her wallet from his pocket; she couldn't leave it behind.
She took an extra second to check him. He was breathing - she could see the rise and fall of his chest, hear the slow wheeze as he struggled to fill his lungs. Please God he wouldn't bleed to death before help arrived; in this neighborhood, New York or no, someone had certainly already lifted the telephone to dial 911.
Vincent stood now, head bowed, over the unconscious form of his victim. The bloodlust was gone; what was left was a vast sea of shame. She knew, because she felt it, too.
"Vincent," she said, quietly. "We have to go."
He roused enough to look at her; his eyes, pale and human in an inhuman face, held only despair.
"Come," she said, tugging. "We have to go."
Colors and shapes and noise reappeared with a jerk. Clark thrust out a hand to catch the sidewalk that loomed up, holding Lois tightly to keep her from falling. The world leveled and steadied; cautiously he stood straight and loosened his hold on his wife.
"Did you feel that?" she demanded. "Was it an earthquake?"
"Shouldn't have been - Metropolis is built on solid bedrock," he answered, glancing around. None of the buildings looked damaged, and no cries for help reached his sensitive ears.
But the buildings - they looked different. And...
"What happened to the sun?" Lois sounded scared. "Clark, where's the sun?"
The sky above them was navy, not azure, and pinpoints of the brightest stars gleamed through the haze of light pollution from the city.
"The sun's still there. It's night." He pointed at a sliver of crescent moon in the eastern sky.
Her grip on his arm tightened. "But it was morning just a minute ago. Wasn't it?"
"Yeah. It was." Clark looked around.
None of the people passing by seemed disturbed - indeed, most of them were hurrying on about their business, except for a couple, nearer, who were frankly staring at him and Lois.
Momentarily horrified, he glanced downward, but despite his fears no telltale blue peeped out of tears in his business suit. Lois looked a bit disheveled, but otherwise fine, and was already slipping back into reporter mode.
"Excuse me, sir," she said to a passing man. "Did you feel the earthquake?"
He stared at her as if she'd lost her mind and passed by. Lois, not one to give in to adversity, turned to the next pedestrian. "Ma'am, what do you think about the sudden time shift?"
The woman, too, looked confused and mildly appalled, and hurried past.
"Look, lady," said the next passerby. "I don't know what you're on, but leave me alone."
"On?" Lois squawked, indignant. "What's he talking about?"
"Lois, come here." Clark took her arm and drew her, protesting, to the side. "Look around."
She grumbled, but she looked. And froze. "This isn't where we were!" she hissed. She spun, looking back the way they had come. "Where's the Planet building?"
"Not there. Lois, I don't think this is Metropolis. It doesn't look right."
"Not Metropolis? But where else could it be? We were just walking down the sidewalk! It was just a little earthquake! And a little time shift..." her voice trailed off.
"I think it's more."
"Maybe you should..." she opened her hand in a swift, uplifted motion. "Reconnoiter?"
He shook his head. "I have a better idea." He towed her in his wake, two blocks to the newsstand he'd spied. "Could I get a local paper, please?" he asked the vendor.
"Which one? Times? Star? Evening Standard?"
"The Daily Planet," Lois insisted. "Do you have one?"
The man's eyebrows rose beneath his grimy cap. "Daily Planet? Never heard of it. Sorry."
"Never heard...?" Lois began to bristle; Clark silenced her with a touch.
"What paper would you recommend as a reliable news source?" he asked.
"Oh, for that you want the Times," the man said. "'All the News That's Fit to Print.' Over there."
Clark picked up the evening edition and paid for it, then dragged Lois safely away.
"What does he mean, there's no Planet?" she demanded. "Clark, what is going on...?"
For answer, he folded open the paper. The New York Times, published on June 4, 1989, New York City, New York.
"New York?" Lois muttered. "What happened to New Troy?"
"What happened to 1998?" he muttered back.
"Time travel?" she guessed.
"Parallel universe," he countered.
"Both," he agreed.
"Tempus!" they chorused.
Catherine's urging finally worked; Vincent bowed his head and let her tug him off the sidewalk and into the darkness of a nearby alley. Desperation made her resourceful; he was too acquiescent. She found the round outline of a manhole cover, but he nudged her aside before she could kneel to struggle with it, hooking strong claws into the crevice around it and lifting.
She went first, finding the ladder by feel and descending until she reached the dusty floor. She stood aside, giving him room. He replaced the cover and came down to join her.
She studied his face in the faint light, the flattened nose, the high, arching brows, the cat-like mouth. She longed to touch it, but she knew he wouldn't permit it, not now.
She put out her hand to slip it in his, but he shied away. "Don't. My hands..."
Were sticky with blood. "I know," she answered sadly. "So are mine. I'm sorry, Vincent."
His head swung her way; his eyes held surprise. "Sorry? Why?"
"Because I was careless. Because I know what it costs you to come to me that way..."
He was no more than a shadow in the gloom of the tunnel, but still she saw him look down at his clenched fists.
"He's not dead," she added. "He's hurt, but he's not dead."
"You stopped me," Vincent answered. "I would have killed him, but you stopped me. Thank you for that."
"If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't have been there at all," she answered, her voice harsh in her throat. "Don't thank me. Please don't."
"If I hadn't come... he might have killed you. You might have died, Catherine. Stopping that is worth any cost. Any cost."
To him, perhaps, but not, any longer, to her.
In silence, he walked her to the threshold beneath her apartment building. She turned to him there. "Will you be all right?" Her voice came out sounding thin and uncertain.
"You are unharmed, Catherine," he answered quietly. "I must weigh that against the injuries of the boy who would have harmed you."
The boy had been about to murder her, Catherine thought. And yet that would count for little against Vincent's sense of shame, no matter the words he said. And he'd noticed her assailant's youth. She'd hoped he wouldn't, hoped he would believe he'd attacked a full-grown man.
"He had a knife," Vincent added.
Catherine suppressed a shudder; the assault that led her to Vincent had taken place over two years earlier, but she could still remember the sharp blade slicing into her forehead and cheeks, still feel the warm gush of blood flowing into eyes and mouth. Every morning the harsh light in her bathroom showed the pale spidery lines of scars left behind by careful plastic surgery, the bolder, unrepaired scar in front of her left ear. She'd managed to turn the association of those scars from vicious assailants to what they'd led her to - the wondrous being standing beside her, dark and brooding. He loved her. He would die for her. He would kill for her.
"Yes," she agreed, forcing her voice to be strong. "He did have a knife, and he would have killed me, Vincent, and it was his choice to be there. We have to remember that. You have to remember that. It was stupid of me to walk down that street alone, but he was the one with the knife."
"Yes," he agreed. She hoped he meant it. Hoped he would remember it later, when the dreams came. "You'll be all right?"
She nodded. "I'm fine." She didn't mention how her knees and hands stung from striking the pavement, or how she was sure the trickle of blood she could feel on her neck was her own and not her assailant's.
He wouldn't embrace her tonight, not with blood on his hands, on his clothing. No matter that the same blood stained her fingers and palms, and probably spattered her clothes. He wouldn't touch her.
"Good night," she said softly, letting her love for him rise up, letting it engulf her, so it would show on her face, and so he would feel it, too.
"Good night, Catherine," he answered, and if there was no joy in his face, at least there was no despair, either.
She clung to that pale thought as she started up the narrow iron ladder.
"Tempus. How did he do it?" Lois wondered. Like Metropolis, New York seemed never to sleep, and the sidewalks were crowded even at this late hour. She and Clark picked an aimless path among the pedestrians. "I never saw a time machine."
Their old nemesis from the future had tried more than once to rid the world of Superman; to that end, he'd used both time travel and a parallel universe. So far, he hadn't been successful.
"I didn't see one, either," Clark confessed. "But we're here, and until we figure out how he did it, we can't get back."
She stopped. "Oh! And if it's 1989 New York... we can't go home. We don't even have a home!"
"Unless our counterparts work for this New York Times," Clark said. They'd already established that here, there was no such place as Metropolis, or even the state of New Troy. There was a Kansas, but not, to Clark's dismay, a town called Smallville, which was where he'd grown up, and where his parents still lived.
"Except in '89 I was barely starting out, and you were still off wandering the world," Lois pointed out.
"Yeah," he admitted. "Well, maybe we can find you, then. Or Perry."
But a careful scouring of the Times masthead showed not a single familiar name. A phone call elicited the terse information from a night editor that neither a Perry White nor a Lois Lane worked there. They got the same response from the other publications they tried. A call to information revealed there was no Martha Kent or Jonathan Kent in any of the Kansas towns Clark asked about. He hung up the pay phone with a sigh.
"Lois, how much cash do you have on you?"
"Cash? I don't know, maybe twenty dollars..."
He frowned. "And I have about thirty..."
"Why? What's wrong?"
The look he turned on her was very gentle... and frightening. "We're in the wrong universe at the wrong time. We're lucky our cash seems to be good, but I don't think we're going to be as fortunate with our credit cards. And your ATM card's probably not worth the plastic it's printed on."
Lois's heart fluttered up into her throat. "That can't be right, Clark, because if it's right, then we're here in a parallel universe with no money and no jobs and no home and no idea how we got here so we can't get back and..."
"...that would be really bad, because what would we eat and where would we sleep..."
"...so the plastic just has to work, Clark, can't you see that?"
"Lois!" He took her shoulders firmly.
She let out a long, shuddering breath. "Oh, Clark," she whispered. "What are we going to do?"
Clark held up a finger. "First, we need a place to sleep."
"Fifty dollars would buy us a cheap motel room, but then what would we eat?"
"And we're going to need some other clothes."
"Other clothes? What for? What's wrong with what we have on? Did I spill on myself, or do I have a thread, or..."
She caught herself in mid-word. "Sorry. I just can't help myself."
His look was tender. "I know. Look, there's nothing wrong with our clothes, but they're our only clothes, and likely to be our best clothes for a while. I think we should save them for job interviews and things like that."
"Job interviews?" Lois practically squeaked. "I'm not going on any job interviews! We'll just fax our resumes. Any paper would be proud to have two Kerth-award-winning reporters like us!"
She glared at him. "Well?"
He sighed. "They may not even have Kerth awards here. And if they do, we certainly haven't won any of them."
"We might," she said stubbornly.
"You're right," he conceded, "we might have. If we're here, which I'm increasingly convinced we aren't. We'll check that out at the library, just in case. But if we aren't here, honey, then we have to face facts - in this universe, we're nobodies. We don't have any clippings, any references, any journalism awards, we can't even say we have journalism degrees. The Times is not going to hire us."
Lois set her jaw. "Maybe not right away. But we're good, Clark, and once we show everybody..."
"We're not trying to show anybody anything. All we want is to get home. Right?"
"Okay, so you're right, we need some more clothes..."
"No, no, go back. All we want is to get home. Right?"
"...and then maybe a place to stay, nothing fancy, well, it can't be fancy since between us we only have fifty bucks and we have to use some of that for the clothes and maybe something to eat, although since we're technically homeless I guess we'd qualify for free meals at the nearest soup kitchen if we knew where that was, but we don't because we just got here, and anyway we have to get the clothes first because if we show up at a soup kitchen looking like this they wouldn't feed us anyway, do you think?"
"I think we'd better see about finding someplace to sleep tonight. Tomorrow morning we look for jobs."
"I'm hungry. I know we don't have much money, but can we get something to eat?"
His grin promised that nothing truly bad could happen as long as they were together. "Sure."
They found a modest diner that was still open and went in. "I don't need a menu," Lois told the weary waitress who came to their booth. "I want a hamburger and french fries, and a diet cola."
"You got it," the woman promised. "Sir?"
"I'll just have coffee, thanks."
He met her glare with one of his own, so she waited until the waitress moved away before she went on.
"You're not eating?"
"I'm not really hungry..."
He'd been out half the night on a rescue, and she was sure he hadn't stopped for breakfast before showing up at the Planet for work. "Clark..."
"I don't need to eat, Lois. You do. Please don't argue with me."
"You don't need to eat if you're still... you know. But what if you're not? We could be in a virtual world, or a universe where you don't have your powers, or..."
She stopped, breathless.
"Positive. So I don't need to eat."
"But you like to. You get hungry."
His expression remained implacable, and she sighed. It touched her to think he meant to go without in order to stretch their funds so that she could eat more often. Or longer. Or whatever. She slid her hand across the table to touch his. "I love you."
His grin, as always, made her heart melt. "I know. It's because I'm such a great guy."
She responded with her first real smile since the earth lurched and threw them into another dimension. "Yeah," she agreed. "You are."
"There you go." The super pushed Catherine's door open. "You gonna need new keys?"
"I have a spare set here, but thank you," she answered. "And thank you for coming all the way up to let me in after I was silly enough to lose my keys. I appreciate it."
"All part of the job," he answered. "No trouble. Oops, there goes your phone."
"Thanks again, Mr. Fowler," she said, and took time to lock the door before turning to the phone. "Hello?"
"Cathy! It's Joe."
Deputy District Attorney Joe Maxwell, her boss and her friend, almost never called her at home, and never so late unless something was wrong. The skin on the back of her neck prickled uneasily. "Hi, Joe. What's up?"
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, why?"
"Some punk got beat up over on the west side; landed up against a car - Greg Hughs called me because the car traces to you."
"My car?" She tried to sound shocked.
"Looks that way. If that's where your car is?"
"Uh, yeah," she answered, her mind racing. "I went to a party at Jenny's - she lives not far from where I left the car." That much was true, anyway. "But I lost my keys somehow, so I took a cab home."
"Thank God." Joe sounded fervent. "I gotta tell you, Cathy, when Greg called me, I was scared. And then you didn't answer your phone..."
A quick glance down showed three messages on her machine. "Sorry. I didn't know."
"No, how could you? Lucky night for you to have lost your keys, though. You might have walked right into trouble."
"Yeah, I guess. How's the kid who got hurt?"
"I don't know, some superficial wounds to his shoulder and a concussion, I think Greg said. It was the blood on the car that scared me; it's probably the kid's, but we couldn't be sure, and then when the car turned out to be yours..."
"I guess I'll have to wash it." She struggled to keep her voice light, and blessed the instinct that made her snatch back her wallet. She could never have explained that. "Did they impound it?"
"No, Greg said they didn't need to; it's right where you left it."
"I'll get it tomorrow. Thanks."
"All right. See you in the morning."
"Yeah. 'Night, Joe."
She replaced the phone in its cradle and let out a long, shaky breath. She hated lying to him.
In the bathroom, she washed her hands, rubbing hard to get the dried flecks of rusty red from around her nails. The cut on her neck didn't look as bad as it felt; she washed away the thin crust of blood and smeared it with some antibiotic ointment, then daubed the scratches on her palms.
Close examination showed dark spatters on her navy blouse and gray slacks; she bundled them together and shoved them into a paper bag. She'd throw it away on the way to work in the morning. Her shoes received a good scrubbing with wet paper towels; the towels went into the bag of clothes. A good forensics team wouldn't be fooled, of course. There were probably still traces of her assailant's blood in crevices of her shoes and even in the drain pipe of her sink.
She'd been lucky so far; only reporter Bernie Spirko had ever noticed her connection to the slasher killings. Of course, he'd been helped by Vincent's enemy Paracelsus, who had killed Spirko and then been killed himself by Vincent.
But how much longer could her luck hold? Someday someone would figure it all out, the killings, the attacks. The fact that she was always involved, always nearby. When they did, what would she do? Stay up here and never see Vincent again? The very thought tore at her heart.
But equally impossible was the idea of abandoning her life, her friends, her work, and fleeing to Vincent's world. Someday, maybe, but not now, not with so many things still unsettled between them.
Someday someone would put the pieces together... and when they did, her life would shatter.
Amazing what a juicy hamburger with a healthy side of fries could do for a person's outlook. There'd been so much food that Lois was able, with much teasing, to feed Clark the last few bites of her burger and nearly half her fries. Her rejuvenated spirits lasted until Clark announced, after a half hour wedged in a phone cubby, that the very cheapest room he could find would cost them twelve dollars a night - in the very worst part of town.
"I'm not afraid," Lois declared, then mustered a coquettish smile. "Not with you around."
"I'm not so much worried about that," he answered. "But it'll be squalid. I mean, really, really squalid. Dirty room, dirty bed linens, a shared bathroom..."
"Don't tell me, the bathroom will be dirty, too."
"I'm afraid so."
She tried to look intrepid, but her imagination prompted a shudder she couldn't quite suppress. "I don't suppose we have any other choices?"
"Well, we could do what the other homeless people do."
"Sleep on the streets?"
He offered a little grin. "Or on a rooftop?"
So they wouldn't have to sleep in squalor after all - she should have known she could count on Clark. "A rooftop sounds just fine to me. Got one in mind?"
"Not yet. I'll have to look for one."
"Okay. Are you going to..." she lifted her brows in silent question and described a quick circle with her finger.
"I don't think so. You-know-who isn't known here, and I don't know if it's a good idea for him to make a sudden appearance."
"Oh." A good point, and one she hadn't thought of. "So what will you do?"
He glanced down at himself. "Luckily my suit's dark; I'll blend in pretty well, I think." He reached into his pocket and extracted a five dollar bill. "You're going back into our favorite diner and have dessert while I find a nice, dark alley..."
"Clark, no! I'm coming with you..."
He shook his head. "Not this time. We don't know this city, Lois. Let me take a look around, and I'll come back for you."
She never seemed to be able to help the rebellious feelings that rose up whenever he tried to protect her this way. "Clark..."
"Lois." Something in his eyes, his voice, stopped her. "Please."
He was truly frightened for what might happen; the shift in time and universe had shaken him, too, more than she'd realized. In ordinary times, she'd have pushed anyway. Now, reluctantly, she retreated. "All right." She took the folded bill from his hand. "I'll let you buy me a piece of pie. And I'll wait inside until you come back. Okay?"
Relief showed in his smile. "Okay." He brushed a brief kiss across her lips.
At the diner's doorway she looked back; he still stood on the sidewalk, watching to be sure she was safe. She lifted a hand in farewell; he returned the gesture, then melted into the shadows.
"Hi, honey." It was the same worn waitress. "Your boyfriend go off and leave you?"
"He's my husband," Lois corrected, "and yeah, I guess he did. He had something he had to do. He'll be back for me in a few minutes."
The woman nodded, but her world-weary air said clearly that she'd heard it before and didn't believe a word. Lois stifled the explanation that sprang to her lips. She knew Clark would be back for her; what difference did it make what someone else, someone who'd obviously been through a lot, and much of it unhappy, thought?
"I saw French Silk pie in the dessert case when I was in earlier," she said instead. "Can you bring me a piece?"
"Sure, honey. Drown your sorrows in chocolate, hmmm?" She moved away before Lois could retort.
With a sigh, she turned to look out into the night. Strange. She never thought of herself as clingy; even though she and Clark were partners at work as well as in life, she wasn't joined to him at the hip or anything. They frequently split up to pursue different angles of a story or even different stories and thought nothing of it.
But that was in Metropolis. Where things were familiar, and safe, and they had a home to go to at the end of the day. Here, who knew? At least there probably wasn't any Kryptonite, she consoled herself. And Clark was impervious to other kinds of harm. He'd be fine. And back before she could finish her pie.
She nodded sketchy acknowledgement to the waitress who placed a fresh, fluffy slice in front of her, and turned her attention to the copy of the New York Times Clark had purchased earlier. Might as well catch up on the news.
Two hours later she was still there, a cup of coffee gone cold in front of her. After she finished her pie, she'd set the paper aside to watch for Clark; after the first hour of staring through the glass so hard her eyes ached, the waitress had wordlessly set the coffee in front of her. Lois had looked around in startlement, so frantic for Clark that she couldn't find the words to say she hadn't ordered it, that she didn't want it.
The woman gave her a small, sad smile. "On the house," she whispered. In her eyes, Lois saw sympathy she didn't need, didn't want. Clark was coming back. Of course he was.
Unless he couldn't.
Now, sick with dread, she closed her eyes. "Where are you, Clark?" she whispered.
Her head snapped up. He stood beside the booth, looking disheveled and weary, but solid and real. She leaped up, and into his arms. "I was so scared," she murmured, into his ear. "I didn't know where you were, and I was so scared..."
He held her tightly, patting her back. "I know, I'm sorry. There was a serious accident in a tunnel that runs under a river near here - a tanker full of hydrochloric acid overturned. I had to help..."
"Of course you did," she agreed promptly.
His arm around her shoulders, he guided her out of the diner. "I used my superbreath to clear the fumes," he said. "And, um, arranged for some debris to move in such a way that it formed a dam to keep the spilled acid contained. I thought about changing..." his finger described a quick whirl, "...but like I said earlier, I don't know if having Superman here is a good idea or not..."
"I'm glad you were able to help." She leaned into him.
"And while I was out..." His voice held a note of suppressed grief.
"I took a quick side trip to Kansas."
She wanted to berate him for it, when she'd been sitting in the diner worried sick, but she knew the trip would have taken him only seconds; even looking around wouldn't have consumed more than a minute or two. She took a deep breath. "Did you find them?"
He shook his head. "There's a farm where ours is - in the other universe, I mean - but the farmhouse is in a different place, the road is different. It's not our farm, and my parents weren't there. Not anywhere around there, either. I looked."
She linked her arm with his and gave a sympathetic squeeze. "I'm sorry, Clark."
"Yeah," he agreed. "I didn't have a lot of hope, after I found out they didn't have a phone, but..."
"Yeah." She tugged at his arm. "So, did you find a place for us to sleep?"
"Yep." He glanced around quickly, then slipped into an alley.
She followed him, grinning. When they were deep in the shadows, he put his hands on her waist and floated them both straight up.
"Are you warm enough?" he asked a little later.
"Mmm. You picked a very nice roof," she murmured. Wrapped in Superman's cape and snuggled into Clark's arms, she floated with him lazily a mere inch above the concrete surface. "I can almost see the stars..."
"Almost," he agreed, and tightened his grip.
She twisted to look up at him. "Clark?"
"What are you thinking?"
He shrugged, taking care not to dislodge her head from its place on his shoulder. "About us. About being here, when we ought to be home, in our own house, in our own bed."
"Mmm. Safe and fed and warm?"
He grinned, just a little. "Something like that."
"I'm happy, as long as I have you."
He turned a tender look on her. "I was thinking that, too. I keep thinking it must have been me Tempus was trying to get rid of; what would have happened if you hadn't been right there, beside me, when it happened? If I hadn't grabbed you? Would I have come by myself? Left you behind?"
"I thought of that. In the diner, when you didn't come back." She shuddered and pressed her face into his neck. "That would be awful, Clark. Not knowing where you were - not being with you. I can stand anything as long as we're together."
"Yeah. Me, too." He kissed her forehead. "I just wish there was a way to let our friends know we're okay."
"And your parents."
"Yeah." His reply was so terse, she knew he'd been thinking about them, worrying about them.
"You don't think we're going to be stuck here, do you?"
His quiet "no" didn't quite carry the conviction she'd have liked. "However Tempus got us here, there's got to be a way back. We just have to find it."
"Right," she answered.
He pressed a kiss into her hair. "Right. Tomorrow. And now..."
"We go to sleep."
"Radcliffe!" Joe Maxwell hailed Catherine from his office before she even had time to reach her desk.
Her boss invited her into his tiny, glass-walled cubicle with a crooked finger. "I've got something for you."
She set her briefcase and purse - a different purse than last night's, since she didn't know what evidence it might carry - on the battered naugahyde couch and picked up the file he slid toward her.
"Woman found dead in her apartment this morning," Joe explained as she scanned the faxed copy of the preliminary - and very sketchy - police report. "Looks like she suffered a pretty severe beating. I want you to get over there, see what you can find out. And Cathy..."
She paused in the act of retrieving her things.
"The victim is a cop's wife, so the detectives at the scene are going to be touchy. Watch your step."
The victim's apartment was a modest one in the East Village. Catherine flashed her ID at the uniformed officer guarding the building's entrance and was directed to the fourth floor. There, she found a dozen police personnel - uniforms, detectives, and forensics techs - milling in and out. "Excuse me," she said to the nearest uniform. "I'm from the D.A.'s office." Once again she displayed her ID. "Can you tell me who's in charge of the investigation?"
"Over there." The young, and thoroughly shaken looking officer pointed. "Detective Briggs."
Catherine thanked him and picked her way across the room. Detective Briggs, a burly man in a crumpled tan suit and stained tie, was talking in a low voice to a man whose face and posture spoke of deep distress.
She stopped a discreet distance away and waited for Briggs to finish. At last he clapped the man on the shoulder. "It's going to be okay, Dave," Briggs said. "We're going to get the bastard who did this. I promise."
"Yeah," Dave answered.
The victim's name, Catherine knew from the police report, was Lucille Callahan. Her husband's first name was David; no doubt the man being comforted was him.
He pushed past her unseeing; she stepped back to recover her balance and turned to Briggs. "Detective?"
"Yeah?" The look he gave her was swift and superficial. "I don't know what you want, lady, but this is a crime scene. You don't have any business here."
For the third time that morning, Catherine pulled out her ID and flipped the folder open. "I'm with the D.A.'s office," she said crisply; she had no patience for sexist attitudes. "Tell me where you are in your investigation."
It didn't improve Briggs's attitude, but he became marginally more cooperative. "Here," he said, shoving a dog-eared notebook into her hands. "You can read my notes. I'm busy." He stalked off, calling instructions to one of the forensics techs.
Catherine followed closely. "Excuse me," she said sharply, when she caught up with him. "My office sent me over to check on the status here, not to read your notes." She slapped the notebook into his hand. "I'm sure all this information will end up in your report, which will no doubt be on my desk by the end of today. What I want from you now is an overview of what's happened."
"What's happened is a cop's wife got killed!" Briggs snapped. "Any fool can see that."
"I'm not a fool, Detective Briggs," she answered. "My office will be prosecuting when you bring a perpetrator to trial; do you want us well prepared, or don't you?"
That stopped him. He flushed, looked away, and finally muttered, "Sorry. You're right. We're just upset here..."
"And with good reason," she answered, letting her voice soften. "The man you were talking to... that's Officer Callahan?"
"Detective Callahan, yeah," Briggs confirmed. "Dave and I have been buddies for as long as he's been with the force. This is tearing him up..."
"How did it happen?"
He shrugged. "He came off shift this morning, found her lying in the kitchen. She was already cold..."
"When did he last see her?"
"Last night. Dinnertime. They ate, and then he went to work..."
"Any signs of forced entry?"
He waved towards the forensics team. "Nothing obvious - no splintered door jambs or broken windows - but we're still looking."
Catherine nodded. "The report I have says she was beaten?"
Briggs hunched his shoulders and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Her face was swollen and bruised; so were her arms, legs, and torso. Looked like a pretty savage beating."
"Have you canvassed the neighbors?"
"I've got some uniforms taking care of that."
"And you'll let me know what they find out."
His muttered "yeah," was grudging, but she accepted it.
"Okay if I take a look around?" She made her tone brisk, daring him to challenge her. He didn't.
"Suit yourself; the body's been removed."
She expected as much - it had been hours since the murder had been reported and officers had responded. And she hadn't seen the coroner's wagon outside.
She surveyed the scene. Except for scatterings of black fingerprint powder and one broken vase lying on the floor near the television set, the living room was almost unnaturally neat; the forensics crew looked incongruous against such a setting.
The kitchen, where the body had been found, was not so tidy; a canister was overturned and white drifts of flour spread across the counter. Footprints showed where the flour had sifted down to cover the floor. The ugly taped outline of a sprawled body surrounded a wide smear of blood on the floor. Near the outline, a bunched dishtowel lay crumpled and damp.
Catherine swallowed the despair and sorrow she always felt at such scenes, and went down the short hallway to the apartment's single bedroom. It had the pristine neatness of the living room, marred only by a man's white dress shirt tossed onto the bed so carelessly that one arm dangled onto the floor.
Not surprisingly, the bathroom was immaculate. After a cursory look, Catherine returned to the living room. "I think I've seen all I need to, Detective," she told Briggs. "Here's my card. I'll expect your report, and of course you'll keep me apprised of anything that turns up..."
He muttered something that might have been agreement and shoved her card into his pocket.
Catherine opened her mouth to speak, thought better of it, and retreated quietly. She didn't have to like the man, all she had to do was work with him.
She nodded politely to the lone forensics tech left in the living room and went out.
Clark's carefully chosen roof faced southeast, so about mid-morning, Lois woke to a dazzling ray of sun warming her face. She tried turning away, but it was just too bright; there wasn't anything for it except to wake up. She yawned and stretched... and dropped abruptly to the roof as she accidentally lost contact with Clark and his aura quit holding her up.
"Ouch." She sat up grumpily, rubbing her elbow.
Clark, who evidently hadn't wakened until he heard her grunt of surprise, sat up beside her. "Are you okay?"
"Bumped my elbow." She showed him it wasn't even bruised, then laughed when he kissed it anyway.
"Sorry you fell," he murmured.
"My fault. I forgot where I was."
"Mmm." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I slept okay. How about you?"
"Very comfortable, thank you, except for the drop at the end."
"I said I was sorry."
"I said it was my fault." She pretended to glare until he grinned. "So what's on the agenda for today?"
"First the clothes."
They gathered up their few possessions and Clark spirited away the red cape. After a careful look around, he floated them down between buildings to land lightly in a dank alley. Lois made a face and tried not to breathe as she picked her way to the alley's mouth, and fresh... well, fresher... air.
They outfitted themselves at a Goodwill outlet and changed in the restrooms of a nearby McDonald's restaurant.
Lois emerged plucking at the sleeve of her buttondown blue denim shirt. "I hate wearing other people's clothes." She sniffed. "They smell funny."
"You'll get used to it." Clark looked great in a maroon t-shirt and tight jeans. Red boots peeked out at the bottom, and Lois stared. "Those are..."
"Yep. My dress shoes looked weird."
He had his suit slung over his shoulder; he must have tucked the shoes into pockets. Or put them wherever it was that he kept the cape.
Lois sighed and draped her own suit - her best suit, the one that hugged her waist without pinching and laid just right over her hips and always made her feel terrific - over her arm and offered silent thanks that she'd chosen comfortable shoes with a medium heel yesterday; she could have been stuck with spikes!
"At least it's not a total backwater here," she muttered. "They have McDonald's. Can we get something? I'm starving."
Clark hesitated - adding up their dwindling funds, she was sure. "Yeah, why not?" he said finally.
By afternoon, Catherine had not only the preliminary police report on Lucille Callahan's murder, but also what looked like a full set of forensic photos. Slowly she shuffled through the stack of 8x10 black and white glossies. The woman had been horribly beaten, over enough time for the bruises to discolor and swelling to distort her eye, her cheek, her jaw. Trails of dried blood ran from mouth and nose. Her unswollen eye was open, staring accusingly at nothing.
"My God," Catherine muttered, half to herself and half in prayer. The police report contained little that she hadn't observed or surmised for herself. She picked up the telephone.
"Detective Briggs, please."
It was minutes before Jimmy Briggs came to the phone; when he did, he was brusque. "What?"
"This is Catherine Chandler, from the D.A.'s office," she answered, keeping her voice civil. "I have the preliminary report on Lucille Callahan on my desk. Thank you for the photos, by the way."
"Right," he said grudgingly. "Thought you could use them."
"Since I didn't get to see the body in situ, I do appreciate them. I'm wondering, though... there's no mention in your report of any suspects?"
"Don't have any suspects yet," Briggs answered. "Still working on it."
"Any evidence of a sexual assault?"
"Doesn't look like it."
"How about the possibility that the victim's husband could be involved?"
There was a long silence. "Look, lady," Briggs said finally. His voice trembled with what she guessed was suppressed rage. "I've known Dave Callahan for ten years, and he's one great guy. I'd trust him with my life. I have trusted him with my life. So, no, the husband is not a suspect in this case."
"I'm sorry if I upset you, Detective, but I had to ask."
He backed off. "I know, Miss Chandler, and I'm sorry, too. Losing his wife this way is tearing Dave up. If you knew him... if you could see him..."
"I understand." And she did. But still, if the husband wasn't the suspect, who was? "You're looking at an outside perpetrator, then," she said aloud. "With what motive? Robbery?"
"Possibly," Briggs answered. "We'll know more about that when we get the results of the autopsy and the forensics report."
"Right," Catherine agreed. "I'll get copies of those too, of course."
Lois felt like hitting somebody. Unfortunately, the only victim handy was Clark, and he wouldn't notice. So she growled instead. "I can't believe you expect me to recreate all the articles I've written in the past week." She kept her voice down to keep from disturbing other patrons in the library.
Clark leaned back from the computer terminal beside her and grinned. "Come on, Lois, you know no paper is going to hire us unless we provide them with clippings. So write. Don't forget to leave out specific references to Metropolis, or New Troy."
"Yeah, yeah. I don't remember what I said, or how I said it. I hardly remember what the articles were about! Write it and move on to the next story, that's what I do." The faint click of the keyboard accompanied her muttering; paragraph after paragraph rolled up the screen.
She stopped muttering just about the time she hit the last period. "There. Happy?"
"Yeah." Clark, who'd probably finished recreating all his articles an hour ago, grinned. "Want me to look them over?"
"You'd better. Tell me what Perry took out or added."
"Okay. And you can look over mine."
Right. As if he wouldn't remember, word for word, what he'd written, what Perry had changed. They switched terminals.
"It all looks great," Lois said, after skimming Clark's articles. "How're mine?"
"You did really well," he answered. "You forgot the paragraph Perry asked you to add to your story about the drug ring... and you left in the part about the mayor's office that Legal thought was treading a bit close..."
"Okay," Lois muttered. "Go ahead and fix it. I still think the Planet's readers should know what the mayor's office is up to."
"What you think they're up to," Clark corrected absently. His fingers flew over the keyboard. "There. Let's save all this to disk..." he performed the action as he spoke, "and take it to one of those printing places to use their laser printer."
Technologically, 1989 New York seemed about on a par with 1989 Metropolis - which meant that laser printers were still new and very expensive. They had to visit four print shops before they found one with the capability they needed. Clark formatted the stories for the print shop's system and printer at high speed, then printed them. Lois gathered the stories into a neat stack and tucked them safely into folders.
"Thanks," Clark told the shop's proprietor as he paid for the printing. "You were a big help."
"You're mighty fast on that computer, young man," the proprietor replied. Lois glanced at him quickly, but he didn't seem to have noticed anything out of the ordinary. Probably he'd just noticed how quickly the job got done.
Clark nodded. "Thanks."
"You must be one of those computer whizzes I keep hearing about."
Clark gave a little laugh. "No, I've just used them a lot..."
"Listen, I have customers come in with jobs they don't quite know how to manage for themselves," the man went on, as if Clark hadn't spoken. "And goodness knows I'm not much on the computer myself! I'd get more use out of all this expensive machinery if I had someone to operate it for me..."
Clark gave Lois a glance that could only be called inquiring; she nodded tightly, giving her approval. Who knew how long it would be before they found real jobs? They had to eat. Or at least, she did.
"I could help you out some," Clark offered. "If I knew what time to be here...?"
"I can't pay you unless there's a job," the man warned. "But if I put a sign up - Computer Expert, maybe?"
"Computer Consultant," Lois suggested.
"Computer Consultant," he agreed, nodding. "Yes, that's better. I'll put a sign up, with hours - say, two 'til six?"
That would leave mornings open for job hunting. "Perfect," Clark agreed. "Starting tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow," the proprietor agreed, and extended his hand. "I'm George Schofield."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Schofield," Clark answered, taking his hand to seal the agreement. "I'm Clark Kent, and this is my wife Lois."
"Ma'am." Schofield acknowledged the introduction with a bob of his head. "Pleasure."
The smile that came to Lois's lips wasn't even forced. "No, Mr. Schofield, believe me. The pleasure is all mine."
It was late when Catherine got back to the office. Most people were gone for the day, but light spilled from Joe's office.
"Hey," she said, sticking her head in. "You're here late."
He waved toward his heaped desk. "Got some stuff to finish up. How're you coming on the Callahan thing?"
She shrugged. "There's not much so far. We're waiting on the forensics and autopsy reports."
"Police have any suspects?"
"Okay. Then in the morning I want you to work with Rita preparing the witnesses for the Brugundi trial. Opening arguments are tomorrow, so they'll be calling witnesses soon, and we can't afford to lose that one."
Catherine understood that. Nineteen year old Alan Brugundi was accused of robbing a pizza restaurant - and shooting all four of the restaurant's employees so they wouldn't be able to identify him. Three of his victims had died. Losing the case would not only mean bad publicity for the D.A.'s office, but would also mean putting a callous, cold-blooded murderer back on the street. Nobody wanted to be responsible for that.
"Sure," she agreed. "I'll put Callahan on the back burner."
"Fine," Joe said. He fished in his desk drawer and tossed something onto his blotter. "Look familiar?"
"My keys!" She started to reach for them, then remembered, with a start, where she'd seen them last. She drew back her hand. "Where did you get them?"
"Greg brought them by. Said they were found underneath that punk they found bleeding on your car last night."
"Oh." Catherine stared at the keys. Ordinarily, something found that close to a crime scene would be held as evidence. Joe was looking at her oddly; she grasped for something to say. "I must have dropped them when I was getting Jenny's present out of the car." That sounded reasonable.
"Yeah," Joe agreed. "Cathy, are you all right? You're white as a sheet."
"I'm fine," she insisted with perhaps a bit more fervor than was strictly warranted. "Just a little startled, I guess... and it's been a long day."
"And not a particularly pleasant one for you, either." He pushed the keys toward her. "Here. Go on home, get some rest."
She gestured vaguely toward her desk. "I was going to finish up the Ketter appeal..."
"It'll keep. Do it in the morning, before you start on the witnesses."
"Yeah. Okay. Thanks, Joe." She swept the keys into her hand. "See you in the morning."
"Right." He was engrossed in the file on his desk before she'd even made it all the way out of his office.
Four days after their arrival in New York, after interviewing with progressively smaller and smaller newspapers and magazines, Lois and Clark landed a job.
"Good, tight writing." Editor-in-Chief Alex Martin of the West Side Sentinel laid the folder of their clippings aside.
"Thank you, sir," Clark answered.
Lois waxed indignant for a moment; how did he know the man wasn't talking about one of her pieces? Then she realized he was offering thanks from both of them. She let out a tightly held breath and tried to relax; this process of interviewing was wearing on her, and she was sick of hearing editors praise their reporting styles... and then dismiss them because they lacked experience. Next time she got thrust through a temporal warp, she was bringing her journalism awards along to wave in the faces of tight-lipped editors who didn't want to hire her. She'd bring Clark's awards, too.
"Not much experience in a big city, though, huh?"
Here it came. Lois gritted her teeth, determined not to scream. The stories, of course, were as close to the originals as she and Clark could make them - but the paper they were claiming to have written them for was a small midwestern daily that had closed its doors a month ago. Lois understood the logic behind it, but the small town aura it gave them had closed too many doors already.
"Trouble is, there are two of you, and I have only one opening," Martin went on. "I'm willing to hire either of you, though, so you two talk it over and let me know who's coming to work tomorrow."
Coming to work tomorrow? Lois gave Clark a cautious glance. Had she heard right? Did they have a job? Or rather, did one of them have a job?
As quickly as it had risen, her heart sank. She'd spent months resisting the idea of a partner - but now, the thought of working without Clark beside her seemed hollow. "You take it," she almost said, but then it would be him working without her, and that would be just as bad.
"We'll both be here, sir," she heard Clark say.
"I'm sorry," Martin repeated. "There's only one opening. I have only enough in the budget to pay one reporter."
"We understand that, sir, but we're a team. Partners. We'll both work."
Martin's eyebrows went up. "For one salary?"
Only Clark's increasingly strong grip on her hand kept Lois silent as Martin outlined the job parameters. Was he nuts? Two reporters for the price of one... and a bargain basement price, at that. Her salary at the Planet was nearly twice the figure Martin named.
"That's fine, sir," Clark said. "Full medical benefits, of course?"
That was for her; Clark never got sick or hurt unless Kryptonite was involved, and he couldn't very well go to a conventional doctor for that. For a moment, Lois lamented the loss of STAR Labs and Dr. Klein.
Martin confirmed the benefits and offered his hand, which Clark took. Lois, recovering, shook hands as well.
"We'll be here first thing tomorrow," Clark promised.
Outside the shabby building, he swept her up in a bear hug. "We did it, Lois! We're hired."
"For peanuts!" she growled. "And two for the price of one. Have you lost your mind?"
"I'm not working without you," he answered. "I thought you felt the same way?"
"Well, I do," she admitted. "But Clark, he's getting both of us, and for that salary!"
"It's not much, I know. But with two of us on the job, I can keep on working for Mr. Schofield in the afternoons."
Lois admitted the sense of that; Schofield's print shop had kept them eating for the past four days.
"Well, he's not going to be paying us peanuts for long," she vowed. "We'll find a big story to crack and he'll see what we can do! The whole city will see. We'll have our choice of jobs."
"Lois, we don't need our choice of jobs. We have great jobs, remember? We just have to figure out how we're going to get home to do them."
But all those slamming doors had Lois's back up; she hardly heard him. Somewhere in this city was a huge story just waiting for them to stumble on it, she knew it. And she'd find it.
Catherine stepped onto her balcony for a breath of night air before retiring. She studiously did not look to her right, toward the shadowed corner. He wouldn't be there, any more than he'd been there the past five nights.
And she missed him, with a deep ache that wouldn't be soothed.
The boy who'd attacked her, and been attacked by Vincent in return, had been released from the hospital this morning. His injuries had turned out to be minimal, and he was expected to make a full recovery. Catherine wished she could expect as much from Vincent. But each time he descended into that darkness on her behalf, it took something from him. Each time, he retreated a little farther into himself, and it took a little longer for him to come back.
And he wouldn't let her help him.
She bent her head in sorrow. He had to stop coming to help her; she had to stop putting herself at risk.
Tomorrow. She'd talk to Joe tomorrow.
"Hmmm?" He was reading a copy of the West Side Sentinel in light so dim she could barely see.
She curled against his side, floating on the cushion of air provided by his aura and his ability to fly. She shook his arm. "Clark!"
"Hmmm? What?" He finally tore his eyes away from what he was reading and looked at her, his glasses glinting in the faint glow of distant streetlights.
"Why do you wear those? They don't help you see, and I know what you look like without them."
"What?" His hand went self-consciously to his face. "I guess I'm just used to them. I'll take them off if it'll make you happy."
She sighed. "No, that's okay. I'm just bored."
"Well, do something."
"Like what? We're on a rooftop here, Kent, in case you hadn't noticed. Not even enough light to read by. Unless, of course, you're Superman. Which I'm not."
"I'm sorry, honey. Want me to read to you?"
She laid her head back down against his arm. "No." She couldn't summon much interest in what their new employer's paper might have to say.
He folded the paper and laid it aside. "Want to talk?"
"I want to be home, with my computer and my TV and my VCR..."
His arm slipped around her, bringing her close. "I know. I do, too."
"I just wish I knew how we got here. And if we're ever going to get home again."
"Well, actually, I've been thinking about that. How much do you remember about the day we came here?"
"Everything," she said fervently. "I remember it all."
"Specifically? Right before the shift?"
"Before we came?" She thought back. "We were on our way to talk to that bank guard..."
"And those kids came up to you." She looked at him. "Do you think the kids were in on it? Zapped us somehow and sent us here?"
"Zapped us?" he repeated, teasing gently.
"Well, you know what I mean."
"Yeah, and no, I don't. I think they were just kids, looking for directions to the museum."
"Well, that's all I remember. We started walking and next thing we knew, we were here."
"And I had that pen in my hand!" He said it as though it were a new discovery.
"Yeah? That was a nice pen, by the way."
"Yeah, it was, and I never thanked you for it."
"Why would you thank me?"
"Because you gave it to me?" He made it a question, but there wasn't any uncertainty in his eyes.
She frowned. "I did not."
"Well, then, who did? I found it on my desk that morning, gift wrapped. I figured it was another one of your 'I'm sorry I got mad about you having to...'" his hand sliced the air and he looked at her questioningly.
Lois sat up straight. "I do not give you presents to apologize for being mad! I don't even get mad anymore. All that much. Hardly ever." She paused, thinking over what she'd just said, and decided not to amend it any more. "I give you presents because I love you."
He drew her toward him for a kiss. "I know," he answered. "And I love getting them for just that reason."
"But I didn't give you that pen."
"If you didn't, then who..."
"That means it must be the transport device!" Clark exclaimed.
"That means, if we can figure out how it works, we can go home!" Lois clapped her hands in excitement.
"Clark, you have the pen, don't you? It was in your hand when..."
"Yeah. But I haven't seen it since we got here. In all the confusion, I didn't even remember having it."
"It came with us, though. It had to have come with us."
Neither of them really understood how H.G. Wells's time machines worked, though, much less any modifications Tempus might have made. "I don't know," Clark answered slowly. "I hope it came with us."
"But if it did, you'd have it. And you don't."
"I could have dropped it. The ground was lurching and shaking and I was scared you'd be hurt. I grabbed you, remember? I wasn't even thinking about the pen."
"So it might be there, where we came in?"
"It might be." Clark's voice was cautious. Remembering the expensive gleam of the pen's black barrel, Lois understood. But still they had to look.
"Let's go," she said, popping to her feet. "Right now."
Five minutes later, they stood on the pavement where they'd arrived so precipitously nearly a week before. "Right here," Lois said. "Wasn't it? Right here."
"I think so," Clark agreed. "I remember this storefront, and down there's the newsstand where we bought the paper..."
"So if you dropped it, it should be around here someplace." She scuffed at a bit of trash in the gutter. "I wish I had a flashlight."
"It's okay, honey, I don't need a flashlight, remember?"
Of course she remembered, but she hated just standing by not doing anything. It made her feel even more helpless than she already did. Feeling helpless made her cranky, and poor Clark had already put up with a lot of cranky this week.
He already had his glasses pulled down; she waited with as much patience as she could muster as he slowly scanned the sidewalk, the gutter, and the nearby street. He walked up and down, covering half a block in either direction before he finally sighed and pushed his glasses back up. "It's not here."
"Are you sure? It could have rolled, people might have kicked it..."
"I'm sure. I looked everywhere, even into the storm drain under the street," he pointed to a nearby grate. "It's not here. Honey, I'm sorry."
For the first time since their ordeal began, her resolve wavered. "Then how will we get home?" she whispered, hating it that her voice trembled. "Clark, how will we get home?"
He wrapped his arms around her. "I don't know," he answered softly. "I don't know."
"Joe, could I talk to you about something...?"
"Yeah? About what?" It was almost a growl, and she very nearly lost her nerve. Only the memory of anguish in Vincent's eyes kept her going.
"I've been an investigator for you a long time. Longer than most new hires..."
He looked up then, dark eyes suspicious. "You're good at it, Radcliffe."
"But there's more risk. Joe, I want to get into trials. More than I have been, I mean. I don't want to go out on any more investigations."
Joe's expression changed subtly, softening with surprise... and something else she couldn't quite read. He got up, came around his desk, pushed his door shut with a quiet click, and turned to face her. "What's going on? You getting scared?"
Compassion. That was the something else. She mustered a smile. "Not scared so much... just, like maybe I've used up all my luck. I think it's time I started watching my step."
Joe scowled at the papers scattered on his desk. "Yeah," he said finally. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense. You've scared the life out of me enough times, I know that. Be nice to know you're sitting in a nice, safe courtroom. And you did a nice job on the Nolan case. Pulled it out when half the office didn't think you would."
She refrained from asking which half he'd been in. "So, is it a deal? No more investigations?"
He let out a long sigh. "Yeah. I'll talk to Moreno. I'll go to bat for you, and I don't think he'll object."
"Great. Thanks, Joe."
"Yeah," he agreed morosely. "Great for you. But I've got to find somebody else to do my investigating."
She laughed, and returned to her desk with a lighter heart. Maybe tonight she'd go below, find out if Vincent was ready to see her. She could tell him about the arrangement with Joe; she wouldn't say so, but he'd understand she was removing herself from danger for his sake... for her own sake. For them.
Lois and Clark shared a job, but they didn't actually have to share a desk; Martin had arranged to have a second battered metal desk wedged into the tiny cubicle that was barely large enough to hold one. It was crowded, but they could manage. Barely.
But there was only one computer. Lois had custody of the keyboard all morning, playing with the software and generally getting acquainted with the antiquated system.
"It's not antiquated here," Clark reminded her, when she muttered aloud. "Well, not very." The West Side Sentinel was a small neighborhood paper; its budget hardly ran to state-of-the-art technology.
"Yeah, I know," Lois answered. "Actually, it's not much different than what they had at the Planet when I started. I just got used to bigger and faster."
"I wouldn't know," Clark said pointedly. "I haven't gotten to touch it yet."
"Yeah, but your learning curve is shorter," she answered absently. "Boy, not much stored on the network server."
"Lois, you aren't looking..."
"Trying to," she admitted, and gave a sheepish grin. "But I don't have Jimmy's knack with computers. I can't crack the passwords."
"Good," Clark said, with emphasis.
"Anyway, it doesn't matter," she announced, and thrust the keyboard in his direction. "Here, you can play for a while."
"Where are you going?" he asked suspiciously.
"Not out of the building, I swear!" But mischief was dancing in her eyes as she waved goodbye.
She was back twenty minutes later with a cardboard box. The way she handled it made it look heavy, and he jumped up to take it. "You could have called me," he scolded lightly. "I'd have carried it for you."
"I'm perfectly capable of carrying my own boxes," she reminded him archly.
"I know, but..."
"Right," he conceded, grinning. "Partners. So what've you got?"
She plunked the box down in the middle of his desk and opened it. "Back issues," she announced, and started pulling them out.
She nodded, dividing the stack unevenly and pushing the shorter pile over to her own desk. "Back issues of the Sentinel, along with the last couple weeks' worth of the Times and the Post and the Daily News."
Clark gazed at the stack of newspapers remaining on his desk. "What am I supposed to do with them?"
Her grin was teasing. "Read them."
She settled into her own chair and opened the top paper in her stack with a snap.
She peered over the top of the paper. "Because we're in a new city."
Light began to dawn. "Oh."
"We don't know anything about the people who run this city," she went on. "Or who live here, who operate businesses here..."
"Familiarization," he said.
The look she gave him was smug. "Of course."
Clark sat and began to riffle through his own stack of papers, learning about the city and its government and its people. Names became familiar; so did places, and situations. He finished the stack in short order, and turned to see how Lois was doing.
She was racing through the papers, turning pages quickly. Her discard pile nearly rivaled his.
"Hey," he challenged. "I thought we were reading."
She looked up guiltily. "I am."
"No, you're not. What're you doing?"
"Reading," she insisted.
He dropped his voice. "Superman doesn't read that fast."
"Yes, he does," she answered, with a pointed look at the stack of papers he'd already been through.
"Okay, but you're giving him some competition!" Clark waved at Lois's discard pile.
"I'm just good at weeding out the important stuff," Lois said, glancing sideways at him to see if he was buying.
He wasn't. "Lois, you're skimming. What are you looking for?"
"I'm not looking for anything," she began. "Okay, in particular!" she added, when he gave her a pointed look.
"But in general?"
She sighed and came clean. "I'm looking for a story."
"The editors in this world assign stories just like they did back home," Clark told her.
"Not just any story. A big story."
So that's where this was going. He sighed. "Lois..."
"I know you say we don't need a big story, Clark, but face it, we've been here over a week and we don't really know how we got here, it might be that pen, but it might not be, and we don't know how we're going to get back, and I hate living on a rooftop and taking showers at the Y and brushing my teeth in the ladies' room at McDonald's and only having two outfits to wear and one of them wasn't mine to begin with and we have to go to the laundromat practically every day and I don't have my car and we're crammed into this little cubicle, and no one respects us..." Breathless, she wound to a stop. Clark stared at her, hurt.
"Oh, Clark, I didn't mean..."
"I hate it, too, Lois," he said quietly. "I hate not giving you the things you want, I hate us not being able to go home at the end of the day. But we have a home, and we have jobs. I want to concentrate on getting back, not on making our way here."
"But we're not even sure how we got here!" she wailed.
"I know. But we'll figure something out. Meanwhile," he nudged the papers on his desk, "I think your idea was good. We do homework."
"Yeah." She went back to the paper in her hands. Slowly, this time.
"Hey," she said, a few minutes later. "Here's something."
"What?" Clark murmured, without looking up.
She folded the paper in her lap and used it to swat his upraised knee. "Clark!"
"What?" He dropped his feet to the floor with a thump.
She thrust the paper into his hands. "Look at this article."
"Little bitty thing," he commented. "Buried on the back page."
"Yes, but read it!"
He did, very quickly. "Okay, I read it. A teenager with questionable intentions got hurt. I'm sorry for him, but I don't see a story..."
"No, it's how he got hurt! See, it says here he was slashed, but the police don't know what kind of weapon or tool might have been used, it looks kind of like claws..."
"Ninja claws," Clark answered promptly. "I'm surprised you didn't think of them, considering your martial arts background."
"I did think of them, but apparently they've been ruled out somehow... wait, you didn't see that article yet, it's in the next day's paper, wait a minute, I'll find it..."
A moment later she came up with the succeeding article. "See, it says here that there have been other slashings, with some deaths, over the past couple of years."
"And you think we ought to make it our business to find out who's been doing the slashing?"
"Yes! This could be the story that makes our reputations!"
"I already have a reputation. I'd just like to get home so I can enjoy it."
"Yeah, me, too, but as long as we're stuck here... and we're writing stories anyway..."
He looked at her first with doubt, then with alarm as he saw her expression. Uh-oh.
With a seductive smile, she insinuated herself into his lap and wound her arms around his neck. "Please?" she murmured, close to his ear. "I'll be really nice to you..."
He couldn't help it - he laughed. "You're shameless."
"Yeah," she admitted, smiling. "But only with you."
Persuaded, Clark flipped rapidly through the rest of the stack, reading at superspeed and pulling out the few articles related to the slasher attacks, then went down to the Sentinel's clippings library and brought back the file of slasher-related articles.
"Looks like it started a couple of years ago," he said, placing the copies in front of Lois.
"Mmm," she agreed absently, intent on the article she was reading. A minute later she looked up. "There's a name that keeps cropping up as a witness. An assistant D.A. Her name's Catherine Chandler."
"Yeah, I noticed that."
"And didn't tell me?"
He grinned. "What, and take away your joy of discovery?"
She gave him a mock glare and turned back to the clippings. "Wonder why the police never made the connection?" she mused. "I mean, you'd think they'd have hauled this woman in for questioning by now."
"Probably because the killings have taken place in so many different precincts," Clark suggested. "The same officers haven't investigated every time."
She peered at him. "We've only been here a week - how do you know where the precincts are?"
He grinned and gestured toward the towering stack of papers on his desk. "I read."
"Oh, yeah. It's not fair, either. You whiz, I slog..."
He leaned down to kiss her. "You don't slog. You read pretty fast, actually."
She smiled up at him. "Yeah," she agreed. "Maybe." She looked back at the clippings. "I think we need to talk to this woman."
Clark's smile faded. "Lois, maybe we should just stick to the story we were assigned..."
"A new lion cub at the zoo? I don't think so. This is the story that's going to put us back on top!" She stabbed at the clippings with an emphatic finger, then grabbed her notebook. "You write the story about the lion, okay? I'm going over to the D.A.'s office."
"Lois!" But it was too late. She was already gone.
Lois got all the way down to the sidewalk before she remembered she didn't have a car here. She didn't have enough money for a cab either. And to top it all off, she hadn't been here long enough to know where to find the D.A.'s office. Exasperated, she spun around and stalked back into the building.
The Sentinel's part time receptionist provided a phone book and a map of the city. It didn't take Lois long to locate the D.A.'s offices - far south of where she was - and call for a bus schedule.
The bus ride took longer than she expected; when she finally did step off, tired and disheveled, Clark was waiting out in front of the Criminal Justice building.
"Hi," he greeted, with aggravating cheer.
"How'd you...? Never mind," she answered herself. "Did you write the story?"
"Wrote it and sent it off to Alex," he agreed, still cheerfully. "He liked it."
"He would. Aren't you supposed to be at the print shop about now?"
"I called Mr. Schofield and told him I'd be a little late."
She gave up being grumpy with him. "Okay. I guess I'm glad to have you along."
They made their way up to the fourteenth floor, where the D.A.'s offices were housed.
"Miss Chandler? I think she's... yes, she's over there." The clerk they'd waylaid pointed out an attractive woman of about thirty. Her fair coloring and small stature made her look vulnerable, but the look she turned on them was anything but.
"May I help you?" she asked, glancing from one to the other.
"Yes." Lois plunged forward. "I'm Lois Lane, and this is my partner, Clark Kent. We're reporters for the Da - West Side Sentinel. Is there some place we can talk?"
"I'm sorry, I'm on my way out. If you see Charlene," she pointed out the receptionist who was just returning to her desk, "she'll make you an appointment. Excuse me."
Catherine moved past them, toward the door.
Lois wheeled and hurried after her. "Miss Chandler, it'll only take a few minutes. We'll walk down with you."
Catherine looked skeptical, then shrugged. "Suit yourselves. The West Side Sentinel. I've heard of it, but I'm not sure I've ever read it. It has a good reputation."
The remark sounded just a touch wary to Lois's cynical ear, but Clark seemed to take it at face value. "We haven't been with the paper long," he said, "but its reputation was one of the things that drew us."
"I see." She punched the button to summon the elevator, then turned to face them. "What can I help you with? You realize I can't talk about any of my current cases."
Clark managed to sound apologetic. "No, Miss Chandler, we wanted to talk to you about something else."
"A series of slasher murders," Lois added, watching the other woman closely. "You were a witness to a number of these murders..."
The elevator arrived just then; Catherine turned toward the opening doors, lowering her head so that her hair swung down to hide her eyes.
By the time they'd all entered the car and arranged themselves, she seemed composed, but the color was gone from her face. "I'm familiar with the killings," she said, and punched the button for the ground floor. "But I've already told the police everything I know."
Clark took up the questioning. "We're wondering how it is that you seem to be in the vicinity when so many of these incidents take place."
"I don't know." Her voice was flat and expressionless, but the look on her face was one of defiance.
All Lois's instincts prickled. "In at least a couple of the cases, you were reported missing shortly before the slashings occurred," she pursued. "Can you comment on that?"
Catherine Chandler seemed to look inward for a moment. "Sometimes my job is dangerous," she said, finally. "I deal, obviously, with the criminal element. Sometimes I am threatened in an effort to get me to change my actions."
"Yes, but that doesn't explain the slashings," Clark pointed out. "Is it someone who's protecting you? And if so, why hasn't he or she made a statement to the police?"
"I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to tell you that," she answered, looking grim. The elevator arrived on the ground floor and the doors slid open. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment..."
She walked away rapidly. Lois would have followed and continued to question, but Clark held her back. "Let her go."
"All right," Lois agreed. "But tonight, when she gets off work..."
He looked at her wearily. "I know. We follow her."
In the tiny threshold chamber below Catherine's apartment building, Vincent stood braced against the wall; his stillness was stark counterpoint to the agitation within.
Catherine was distressed to the point of tears, and had been since mid-afternoon. It was well past the supper hour now, but Catherine had only reached her building a few minutes before. Her urgency had drawn him, and held him here. She wouldn't be long.
They hadn't met since that night nearly a week ago. He dreaded the moment, fast approaching, when she would climb down the ladder and turn to look at him.
In her eyes, he knew, would be tenderness, and boundless love.
And in him would rise up a magnitude of shame. So it had been each time he protected her, and so it would continue. Until finally she realized what he was and what he was not.
Then the love she had for him would turn to horror. And he would be once more alone.
The low door at the top of the ladder opened, spilling light into the small, dark chamber. She climbed down quickly. He waited for her to turn and find him in the dim little room.
He ached to sweep her into his arms; it had been days since he'd held her and he missed the comfort of her touch. Instead, he asked, "What is it?"
She shook her head in weary frustration. "Some reporters. Asking me about..." She stopped.
Searching for the right words. But he knew. "About me. When I... come to you."
"Yes. It's been months, Vincent, and we've been so careful! I've been careful... except for the other night..."
"You were on a public thoroughfare, going about your own business..." His first instinct, always, was to shield her.
"After dark, alone," she countered bitterly.
Despair ran between them; hers, he thought, though he couldn't be sure. He succumbed to longing and instinct and took her arm, drawing her toward him. She came willingly. He hoped she found as much strength in their embrace as he did.
"I wish..." she began, speaking softly from just under his chin. She let the words trail away. What did she wish? "I wish I'd been smarter," she said finally. "I wish I'd paid more attention to what I was doing - to you, to myself..."
"Don't blame yourself, Catherine," he said gently. "It is I..."
"Who saved my life more times than I can count," she answered quickly, roughly, pulling away. "Who would do anything to keep me safe. I'm the one who got into trouble, Vincent. I'm the one..."
"If you have committed any crime, Catherine, it is only one of carelessness."
She swung around to stare at him.
He looked down at his own clenched fists. "Not of murder."
"It's not murder to protect yourself, Vincent. It's not murder to protect the life of someone else."
"Is it murder... to glory in the killing of another? No matter the justification for the killing itself?" There. He'd said it. He'd dropped the terrible thing into the silence between him. Now she would be horrified. Now she would go.
But she stayed. Stayed looking at him with compassion and love. "No," she answered softly. "It's a terrible thing, but it's not murder." She approached him, and put her hand on his arm. "Will you talk to me about it?"
Shame rose up, closing his throat. He couldn't meet her look. She must not have understood, and he couldn't say it again. How could he explain the joy and triumph that surged within him at each kill? Where would he find the words? "Perhaps... later," he temporized. "But now... tell me about these reporters."
"Vincent..." There was pleading in her voice.
"The reporters," he repeated. "You've been distressed all afternoon..."
She gazed at him a moment longer, then looked away with a sigh. "They came to me asking about... the killings. My involvement." She seldom was agitated enough to pace, but she did so now, crossing and recrossing the small square chamber with impatient strides.
Vincent settled against the wall and strove for calm. "Your story has always been, in every case, that you were being threatened, and that you didn't see what came to your rescue."
"Yes," she answered. "But I'm not sure it'll hold up in front of experienced reporters who are linking all the... incidents... together."
"They may conclude there is something - someone - who protects you," he said, wishing only to dispel her fears. "But they cannot disprove your assertion that you have not seen your protector and do not know who it is."
"They can't disprove it, but they don't have to believe it, either." The look she gave him was ragged with desperation. "If I were them, I'd be following me right now. We have to be very careful now. I can come to you here, they can't get past the doorman, but I shouldn't use any of the other entrances, and you should be very careful about getting messages to me, if you should need to."
"Yes," he agreed immediately. The precautions made sense. But the idea of separation was agonizing. Seeing her used to be a desire; now, in some way he couldn't explain, it was a need, deep-running and constant. "How long do we go on this way?"
"I don't know," she confessed. The look on her face said she was as anguished as he. "The paper they work for is reputable - at least we're not dealing with the Inquiring Star this time - but it's also very small... I'd guess they wouldn't have the resources to keep two reporters on one story for very long. A week or two?"
He nodded acceptance, but the longing made him reach up and touch her face. "You must be even more careful. It would be dangerous for me to come to you while these reporters are watching."
"I know." She moved her head, pressing her cheek into his palm. "I talked with Joe today... about not doing investigations any more."
Something inside him went cold and still. "What did he say?"
"He thinks it's a good idea. He's going to talk to Moreno, but he thinks it'll go through. I'll be safer then. Just office and courtroom work." She bent her head. "I don't want you to have to come for me any more, Vincent," she said, her voice low. "I don't want it to be that way, between us. Not ever again."
But if it was not that way, what way would it be? Regret rose where there should have been relief. Was he so addicted to the kill? So drawn by that rush of ecstasy that he would rather risk Catherine's life than give it up? "I want you to be safe." That much he could say, truthfully. Somehow, shamefully, he couldn't summon gladness.
A week's separation from Vincent, enforced by occasional glimpses of one or both reporters from the West Side Sentinel, was wearing on Catherine; once again she hadn't slept well, and got to the office a few minutes late.
Joe's voice summoned her before she could even reach her desk. "Radcliffe!"
She headed toward his office. "Yeah?"
He motioned her all the way in.
"What's going on, Joe?"
"I need you to go check out a case."
Catherine stiffened. "I thought I wasn't doing investigations any more."
"You aren't," Joe answered. "Just like we agreed. Except this one."
"I know, I know, but we need you on this."
"Let Baxter do it," she said, naming the newest investigator in the D.A.'s office.
"Baxter wouldn't be any good at this, Cathy. We need you."
"Why? What's happened?"
"Greg Hughs just called me - about a 911 call that came in last night." He slid a shiny-curly sheet of fax paper across his desk. "Here's the police report."
Catherine owed Hughs a number of favors, the most recent of which was the return of her keys. She couldn't begin to track what she owed Joe, who had always been her friend. Reluctantly she reached for the folder and flipped it open, skimming quickly. "Domestic call?" She glanced at Joe. "No charges filed? I thought that was a requirement now, whether the victim wanted to press charges or not."
"Yeah, it is," Joe confirmed. "Except in this case, the husband is Officer Glen Stevens... of the NYPD. By the time a patrol got there - and they took their sweet time on it - it was all over, including the shouting, and the wife wouldn't even come to the door to talk to the officers."
"Who went away without insisting they at least see her to be sure she was all right." Catherine could see it all.
"Yeah. Hard to insist, I guess, when it's your fellow officer telling you things are fine."
"Has anyone talked to her today?"
"Greg called the house after the husband's duty shift started. She answered the phone, but when he identified himself, she hung up on him. I don't like this, Cathy. Greg and I are hoping she'll talk to you."
"Because I'm a woman," Catherine guessed.
"And because you're not a cop," Joe agreed. "It's investigation, Cathy, but it should absolutely not be dangerous."
"Where have I heard that before?" she muttered, wryly.
"Daytime, good neighborhood," Joe coaxed. "You go down there, you talk to the wife, you see what you can find out. Okay?"
"All right," she conceded, finally. "I'll do it. But this is the last one, okay?"
He regarded her thoughtfully, then offered his first smile of the day. "Okay."
Clark and Lois watched Catherine emerge from the Criminal Justice building and turn left, striding down the sidewalk with confidence. "Where do you suppose she's going?" Lois asked. "Not the courthouse."
"No," Clark agreed. "Wrong direction. Maybe something's finally happening."
At the corner, Catherine lifted her arm; a yellow taxi swerved obligingly to the curb and she got in.
"Uh-oh," Lois muttered. "We're going to lose her. Darn, I wish I had my car!"
"We could splurge on cab fare," Clark suggested tentatively. "Wait a minute." He gestured for silence and focused his superhearing, then turned to Lois. "Any idea where 744 South Logan might be?"
She rolled her eyes in answer. It took a few minutes to find a phone booth with an intact phone directory, but after that it was only a matter of seconds to locate South Logan on the map. Clark slapped the book shut and caught Lois's hand. "Come on. A cab will take too long."
He dragged her into a nearby alley, glanced around to be sure no one was looking, then put his arms around her and shot into the air faster than the human eye could follow.
"Whew!" she exclaimed, when he slowed, high above the city. "Sometimes you take my breath away!"
He held her closer and grinned. "Oh, yeah?"
She pressed a kiss to the underside of his jaw. "Yeah. And sometimes we aren't even flying."
The only answer for that was a kiss. When it ended, Clark flew them to where he judged 744 South Logan would be and located a secluded spot in which to land. "We have to go down as quickly as we went up," he warned.
"Taking my breath away again already," she teased, in answer. "This time I'll be ready." She tucked her head under his chin. "Okay."
"Okay." He took careful aim and dropped straight down, easing up only in the last foot to land them gently.
"Wow." Lois stepped back and smoothed her hands over her mussed hair. Usually when they flew together, he held her cradled in his arms, and went more gently. But she didn't seem to mind the more rapid form of transit.
The alley they'd landed in gave out on Logan Street only a half-block from 744. Mere minutes after their arrival, Catherine's cab pulled up to the curb. They waited a discreet distance away while she paid the driver and entered the building.
Clark surveyed the area, then veered to cross the street.
"Hey!" Lois called, then scrambled to follow. "Where are we going?" she asked, catching up.
The buildings on either side of the street were three- and four-story brownstone townhouses in varying stages of disrepair. Clark zeroed in on the wide concrete steps of a house across the street from the one Catherine Chandler had entered. He took Lois's shoulders and guided her to sit, then sat beside her. "We're about to have a heart-to-heart talk," he told her.
"About anything your little heart desires," he answered, grinning. "Since I won't be listening."
"Oh." She glanced at the building across the street. "Actually, we'd better be having a low-voiced argument. Since you're not going to be looking at me."
Lois slid away from him, turned, and leaned toward him, making her body language confrontational. She began speaking, keeping the pitch and volume low.
Clark had already tuned her out, concentrating his hearing on the house across the street. After a minute he took off his glasses and rubbed his forehead, as if weary.
The house across the street had apparently been converted to apartments; his x-ray vision located Catherine climbing to the third floor. She approached one of the two doors opening onto the dingy landing and knocked gently.
"Mrs. Stevens?" Catherine pitched her voice to carry through the battered door.
"Who is it?" The voice behind the door was stiff and inhospitable.
"My name is Catherine Chandler," she answered. "I'm with the District Attorney's office. I'd like to talk to you about the 911 call you made last night?"
The silence that ensued went on so long that Catherine wondered if the woman had simply walked away from the door. "Mrs. Stevens?"
"I don't know anything about any 911 call," the woman answered.
"A call was made from your number," Catherine answered. "Please. I'll only take a moment of your time."
She heard the snap of a lock being turned and the door opened on the chain; beyond, she could see a wedge of the apartment. It looked tidy; in a corner stood a baby's playpen. No one had mentioned children might be involved.
"I told you, I don't know anything about any 911 call." The voice came from behind the door. "So you can just leave now."
"Please. I want to help you."
A woman's face - her lip split, her cheek vivid with bruises, her eye swollen nearly shut - slid into view. "You can't help," she hissed, between bruised lips. "No one can. Don't you understand that?"
The door shut; locks clicked back into place with grim finality and nothing Catherine could say roused any further response.
Clark blinked and turned off the x-rays. He let his hearing come back to normal too, and only then realized that instead of invective, Lois was giving him a detailed description of what she might do to him if they were only in private, occasionally adding a comment about what he might do to her in return.
It distracted him enough to make him glance at her, but wasn't enough to hold his attention. His gaze returned to the building across the street.
Lois put her hand on his. "Clark? What is it, what's going on?"
Only then did he realize his fists were clenched so tight the knuckles were white. "I couldn't hear it all," he said, his voice choked. "There're kids playing in an apartment downstairs, making noise..."
"Okay, but what did you see?"
"The woman... she's been beaten, Lois. Beaten so badly..." Part of him longed to get his hands on the man - he was sure it was a man - who'd administered the beating. The rest of him suspected it was just as well the culprit was safely out of reach.
"Bruised and swollen... on her face, her arms..."
Lois's voice went soft and tentative. "Maybe she fell..."
He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. "You didn't see her. Nobody gets hurt like that from a fall. She looks like a boxer the day after a losing match."
That was an image Lois could understand. She let her breath out slowly. "Who do you think might have..."
"I don't know. I heard Miss Chandler say something about a 911 call, but the rest of it..." He shot to his feet. "Come on. I want to talk to some of the neighbors..."
He'd only taken a step when the front door of the building opposite began to open. Catherine Chandler was coming out; another second and she'd see them. Clark didn't doubt for an instant that she would recognize them, and know they were following her.
Lois had risen to follow him; he swung around and caught her up in a hard embrace, pressing his lips to hers. She went stiff with startlement, then, just as quickly, relaxed and began to kiss him back.
Without breaking the kiss, Clark tipped his head just a little and peeked across the street; Catherine emerged from the house with her head down and did no more than glance their way before turning north.
Clark waited until she was halfway down the block before he ended the kiss.
"Mmm," Lois said, when he released her. "Not that I'm complaining, but what was that for?"
He nodded at the rapidly retreating back of their quarry. "If she'd recognized us, you can bet she'd have been over here accusing us of harassment."
Lois smacked him in the chest. "You kissed me as a cover?"
He grinned. "Yeah. But I enjoyed it."
"Hmph." She started off down the sidewalk, but stopped when he didn't follow. "Come on!" she urged. "We're going to lose her."
Still he didn't move.
"Listen, Lois, you go on and follow her, okay?" He glanced at the converted brownstone across the street. "I want to ask a few questions... and then I have to get to Mr. Schofield's."
She came back to him. "Questions? Clark, I have nothing but compassion for that poor woman, but an assault - or even domestic violence - just isn't as newsworthy as what we're after."
"The slasher," he said heavily.
"You know I'm not enthusiastic about that story..."
"Yeah, and I don't know why not. It's the kind of thing we're good at! Hunting down the truth."
Clark looked to where Catherine Chandler was turning the corner. "Yeah. But somehow, I don't think this truth needs to be hunted down."
"You're a sentimental softy, you know that, Kent?"
He managed a grin. "How could I forget? You remind me often enough."
Her look softened. "So, we're splitting up?"
"Yeah. Don't go anywhere too unusual, okay? I want to be able to find you. If the earth suddenly shifts under my feet..."
"If it moves under mine, I'll yell," she promised.
"And I'll be there before you finish," he answered. "I'm not going back to our universe without you, and I'm not letting you go without me."
"My hero." She stretched up to give him a quick kiss. "Gotta go, or I'll lose her."
"She went left at the corner," he advised, and stood on the sidewalk, hands in his pockets, until Lois disappeared from view.
That night, Vincent came to Catherine's balcony. His claws clicked lightly against the glass of her French doors; she leaped to her feet and hurried outside.
"You shouldn't have come," she said as she went into his arms.
He held her close. "How could I not come? I know how distressed you are."
"It's just work," she answered, pressing her face into his vest, inhaling his scent. "Not anything I can't handle..."
"But it's upset you, Catherine," he said gently, releasing her and stepping back. His expression, in the dim light from her living room, was grave. "More than your work usually upsets you. I thought you needed to talk."
She glanced uneasily over the balcony rail. "I don't suppose my faithful shadows can see you," she decided. "Stay back from the edge, though, please?"
"I will if you will talk to me," he agreed. "What's troubling you?"
She looked out over the city, gathering her thoughts. "I went out on a new case today. A woman was beaten viciously, almost certainly by her husband, and she won't talk to us about it."
He looked horrified. "Why?"
"Because she's scared. She made a 911 call last night, but when the police finally got there, things were quiet and her husband sent them away. Joe wanted me to see if she'd talk to me. She wouldn't, though. She acted terrified. I left my card, but I really don't expect to hear from her... and she'd been severely beaten, Vincent. If you could have seen her face..."
Vincent sank onto a narrow, wrought iron bench. "I cannot comprehend the thinking of a man who would use his strength against someone who loves him."
"I can't, either," she answered, sitting beside him.
His hand crept over to cover hers. "She needs your help, Catherine."
"How can I, when she won't talk to me?"
"You must try again. And keep trying until she listens to you. You must not let her be alone in this."
Catherine nodded slowly. "I won't. I'll go back tomorrow. And the next day, and the next. Until she listens."
"No, Lois, I'm not going to x-ray the building."
"Oh, but, Clark!" Lois leaned against his arm and wheedled. "Just a little peek?"
He pulled his glasses down and peered at her over the rims. "No. Not even the tiniest glance. Those are people's homes in there! I'm not going to spy on people in their homes."
"I don't want you to spy on all of them. Just Catherine Chandler." She leaned back and crossed her arms. "You didn't mind peeking into people's homes earlier."
"Just the public hallway," he said, not without a squirm of conscience.
"But you saw the woman's face..."
"Uh, yeah. But she was standing at her front door, talking to Miss Chandler..."
"You're splitting hairs, Kent. I don't want you to watch women undressing... in fact," she poked him with her elbow, "you'd better not watch women undressing! I just want a little peek to see which apartment's hers, and make sure she's there, and alone..."
"And if she's undressing when I peek in?"
"I expect you to do the virtuous thing and look away."
"Virtuous. Right." He sighed. "Okay, but just a quick peek."
Lois settled against him with a happy sigh. "Great. I checked her address - her apartment's 21E. So start with the twenty-first floor."
Clark counted windows. "There is no twenty-first floor."
"What?" Lois counted, too. "You're right. It stops at twenty floors. How'd she get to be 21E?"
"Some builders skip the thirteenth floor," Clark suggested. "I'll try the twentieth floor." He scanned quickly, and frowned. "Those apartments are numbered 23, A through F."
"Weird," Lois commented. "Twenty-one from twenty-three is two; try two floors down."
"Got it. 21B... 21D... ah, there it is, on the eighteenth floor. And I thought your old apartment building was numbered strangely."
"Is she there?"
"What, you think she slipped out the back when we weren't looking? I have to be careful here... don't want to intrude..."
"Have to avoid peeking at women undressing," Lois agreed solemnly. "Did you find her?"
"Yeah. She's on her balcony." He frowned. "She looks kind of pensive... I wonder what's wrong?"
"Well, she knows we're on to her, for one," Lois said.
"I suppose." Clark slid his glasses back up where they belonged. "Lois, I've been thinking about that woman this afternoon..."
"The one in the apartment?" Lois guessed.
He nodded. "I think there's a story in there..."
Lois took a deep breath. "Clark, it's not that I don't have compassion for that woman - I do. But vile as domestic violence is... and I'm making a leap here by assuming that's what happened... it's not news. It probably ought to be, but it's not."
"Not usually," he agreed. "But I talked with some of the neighbors, Lois. The husband's a police officer."
"Even that's not so uncommon," Lois argued.
"This isn't the first time she's had bruises. The neighbors all told me it always takes the police a long time to respond when they call. Too long."
"Maybe they were busy with more urgent calls?"
Clark tapped his ear. "The city was quiet last night, honey. Oh, there were the usual rash of muggings and a couple of hits on liquor stores and stuff... but for the most part it was quiet. And it still took the police over an hour to respond. The reporter's instinct you helped me to hone tells me there's something there."
"You think the police are covering for the husband?" Lois asked thoughtfully.
"I think it's possible. And if it's true, it's a heck of a story."
"Yeah. Police corruption always is." She nodded. "Okay. When we get to the office tomorrow, we'll have to see about getting a copy of the police dispatcher's log."
Clark grinned. "I think that's a good idea." He gestured vaguely upward. "So, can we give up on this slasher thing now?"
"No!" Lois looked affronted. "The police corruption thing's only a maybe, Clark. We need a big story, and *my* reporter's instinct says we're onto something here."
He sighed, and looked sideways at her. "It means splitting up again tomorrow. One of us has to work on the mood piece Alex assigned us."
"Oh. Yeah. I forgot about that."
"I know you hate doing that kind of thing... want me to take it, while you work on the dispatch logs?"
She smiled. "Okay. And then I'll pick up Chandler in the afternoon, while you go to the print shop."
"Great." He leaned back, glancing upward. "Oh, her lights are out. Guess that means we can go home?"
"Home. Right." Lois gave him a crooked smile. "Rooftop, sweet rooftop."
The darkened expanse of Central Park was at their backs; they faded into its shadows. When Clark was sure they were invisible from the street, he put his arms around Lois and took off.
He set her down a moment later on the rooftop they'd come to think of as theirs and, whipping his cape into being, spread it out.
She sank down on it and looked up at him. "Clark, how long do you suppose it'll be before we can afford a place to live?"
He sat beside her and tugged at his boots. "I don't know. A few weeks, maybe. The Sentinel doesn't pay much, and we'd have to save up first and last month's rent and a damage deposit."
"A few weeks!" Lois modulated her voice with effort. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to sound critical... but Clark, I can't live another few weeks on a rooftop! With no running water, and no furniture and we have to worry about someone seeing us..."
"Yeah, Lois, I know," he said. "I wasn't going to tell you yet, but I was talking with Mr. Schofield about that this afternoon. About us needing a place to stay."
"And he thinks he might know of a place. He's going to check and let me know tomorrow."
"Oh! Oh, Clark, that'd be great! Just think, a bathroom..." she ran a seductive finger down his chest, "...and a bed..."
He caught her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing her fingers. "I miss having our own place... and bed... as much as you do. This probably won't be much - a furnished room in a boarding house, maybe, but it'll be better than a rooftop."
"Especially..." Lois held out an experimental hand. Yes, she was right, moisture was dropping from the sky, "...when it's raining!"
Quicker than thought, Clark scooped her and their belongings up and whisked them across a handful of rooftops to one that boasted a deep overhang. They stood in its shelter, watching water run from the edge.
"You rat." Lois's smile and hug belied her words. "You've been holding out on me."
"I spotted this a few days ago," he admitted. "It's not as comfortable as our usual rooftop, and I don't think it's as secure, but I thought it might come in handy."
"It's kind of nice," Lois admitted, looking out at the rain. "Kind of cozy."
Clark tightened his arm around her shoulders, turning her towards him. "Yes, it is," he agreed softly.
"Kind of... intimate."
"Mmm." He nuzzled her neck.
"Even kind of... romantic?"
"You know, we've been here nearly three weeks, and we haven't..."
"I know." He nibbled delicately on her ear.
"And it doesn't look like we're going to be disturbed..."
"No," he agreed. "What with all the rain..."
"Mmm." She leaned against him. "But we're warm and dry..."
"So we can..."
Catherine was at Virginia Stevens' apartment first thing the next morning. She lingered outside until a fair, slender man emerged from the building that housed the Stevenses' apartment. He wore the uniform of a patrolman in the NYPD; he whistled as he strode down the block.
Catherine had done her homework yesterday, and recognized the man as police officer Glen Stevens. She shook off the chill that went down her spine and mounted the steps, thinking of Virginia Stevens and her eight-month-old son.
"Mrs. Stevens?" she called through the closed apartment door.
There was no answer; the chill came back.
Catherine knocked harder. "Mrs. Stevens, it's Catherine Chandler from the D.A.'s office again. I'm not leaving until you talk to me."
At last she heard the rattle of locks.
"Go away!" An eye, the surrounding flesh bruised and swollen, showed in the narrow opening between door and frame. "You've done enough harm!"
"Mrs. Stevens, I want to help you."
"And I told you yesterday, you can't! No one can. All you're doing is making it worse!"
"Mrs. Stevens, please..."
"Don't you understand? He talks to the neighbors! They told him you were here yesterday."
Catherine went cold. "Did he hurt you again?"
There was no answer, but the door didn't close.
"Mrs. Stevens, I can take you, you and your baby, to a place where you'll be safe. Someplace he can't get to you."
The answering hiss was low and bitter. "You still don't get it, do you? He's a cop. He knows where the safe houses are. He'll find me. He'll kill me."
"No. I know a place he can't find. Mrs. Stevens, I promise you... for your own sake, for your child..."
"I can't..." But there was a waver in her voice.
Catherine leaned closer, pitching her voice low. "Mrs. Stevens, I am not making this up. I know a place your husband won't know about. It's not an official safe house, so the police aren't aware of it. But I have friends who live there, and I know they'll take you in. They'll keep you safe."
"But for how long? Sooner or later I'd have to come out... try to make my living. He'd find me then."
"Not this place. You can stay there forever if you need to. You can live there and work there, your child can go to school... Mrs. Stevens, please believe me. Get your baby and come with me, now. Your life could depend on it."
A low moan sounded from behind the door. "If I do, he'll kill me. If I don't... he's going to find out you were here. He's going to be so angry..."
"Then you have no choice. You have to come now."
Half an hour later, Catherine carried a suitcase and bulging diaper bag down the stairs. Virginia Stevens followed, her son clutched in her arms. A cab, summoned by a telephone call once Catherine had been admitted to the apartment, waited outside. They hurried into it and sped off.
Catherine watched, but no one followed. Still, a police officer could access the cab records, so she asked the driver to let them off at a random corner, where she let the cab disappear into traffic before hailing another. They changed cabs in this way three times before Catherine was satisfied, and gave the driver a legitimate address. "These are friends," she said, as they pulled up in front of Long's Grocery. "They'll help."
Young Edward Long was waiting to guide them. "I sent a pipe message after you called, Miss Chandler," he said as he led them into the shop's basement. "Someone should be waiting."
Someone was. Catherine recognized the blond young woman, and the dark-haired teenager at her side.
"Hi, Catherine," the young woman greeted. "Edward said you need help."
"Not me," Catherine said, moving aside. "But my friend does. This is Virginia. Virginia, this is Jamie..."
Jamie's eyes widened, but whether that was at Virginia's battered appearance, or just that Catherine was bringing her to the tunnels, Catherine wasn't sure.
She pushed on doggedly. "...and Zach."
Zach was better at covering his surprise. "Hi, Virginia."
Virginia mustered a tiny smile. "Nice to meet you. You can call me Ginny."
"Ginny," Zach repeated, politely.
Jamie fixed Catherine with an incredulous stare. "Does Father know...?" she hissed.
"It's okay, Vincent and I talked about this last night."
"Did he tell you to bring her?" Jamie's voice held more than a trace of suspicion.
"No," Catherine admitted. "But he'll back me up."
"You know he will, Jamie," Zach said. "He always does."
"Father," Jamie predicted grimly, "is going to explode." She reached for the suitcase.
"Are you coming, Catherine?" Zach asked.
"I can't. I have to get to the office... I'm late already." She turned to Ginny Stevens. "Jamie and Zach will take care of you. You'll be safe."
Fear shone in the woman's eyes. "Where will you be?"
Catherine smiled. "Acting as if I don't know anything about it." She pressed Ginny's hand. "I'll come see you, all right? Tonight, if I can."
Ginny glanced uneasily at Jamie. "If it's okay with these people...?"
"It'll be fine," Zach assured her. "Catherine comes to visit all the time. Here, can I carry the baby for you?"
"I don't know if he'll go to you," she answered doubtfully.
"Sure he will," Zach answered cheerfully. "Babies like me. Come on, little guy, I'll bet you get heavy after a while. Let's give your mom a rest."
Catherine had tried several times to carry the baby herself, but he would have none of it. But to her surprise, he hesitated only a moment before consenting to be taken into Zach's arms.
"See?" Zach bragged. "What'd I tell you?"
Catherine laughed. "Well, I can see you're in good hands."
Ginny was staring at her young son, who seemed enthralled with Zach's nose. "I guess so," she agreed. "Thank you so much, Cathy. I can't believe I'm finally going to be free..."
"I'm sorry you lost your story, Clark." Lois worked at putting sympathy in her voice, but must not have been as successful as she'd have liked; the look her husband gave her was baleful. "I am!" she insisted.
"Yeah, honey," he conceded. He was sprawled on the park bench across the street from Catherine Chandler's apartment building, where they'd spent the past few evenings. "I know you are. I just wish I knew where Virginia Stevens was, so I could talk to her."
She shifted on the hard bench. "Don't you have any leads?"
His grin was wry. "One. The person who took her away was a woman, late twenties or early thirties, dark blonde hair, wearing a gray suit..."
Uh-oh. "Catherine Chandler was wearing a gray suit today..."
"I know. And she's the one person in this city I can't approach."
"Oh, Clark! That means you lost your story because of mine. Now I feel awful."
He grinned. "About me losing my story, and about your story being responsible. But not about your story."
"Well, no." She wrapped her arms around his upper arm and leaned against him. "But you knew that."
He kissed her nose. "Yeah. Hey, I forgot to tell you, Mr. Schofield wants us to come by the shop tomorrow afternoon - there's somebody who wants to meet us."
"Yeah. I have the feeling we're going to be under the microscope. But if we pass muster, it means we'll have a place to stay."
The thought of even the tiniest, grubbiest room sounded heavenly, as long as it had running water and a bed. "Oh, Clark! What is it, a rooming house, a tenement apartment, what?"
"I don't know, Mr. Schofield didn't say. But I got the impression it's more of an extended community."
"Like a group of families living in the same building, but with common rooms. Maybe kind of like a college dorm?"
"Oh. So you have to fit in with the community to be accepted?"
"I guess so. Anyway, we're supposed to be there at three."
"No problem. Alex really liked the piece we did on the church renovation; now he wants us to write a feature on a championship girls' soccer team..." She just barely kept from rolling her eyes.
Clark laughed. "You did most of the work on the church piece; the least I can do is cover the soccer story for you. At least I understand the game."
"Huh. You probably even played when you were a kid."
"Sure. I was a pretty good keeper in my day."
"Goalkeeper. You know, the one who keeps the ball from going in..." He broke off, staring upward. "There's someone up there."
Lois followed his gaze, but from this distance, she could barely discern which balcony was Catherine Chandler's. "Catherine?" she wondered aloud.
"No. I mean, she's there, too, but there's someone else." He tipped his glasses down to peer over them. "Big guy, long hair, dressed in this black..." He stopped again.
"Clark? What is it, what do you see?"
He stood. "I need a closer look. I'll be right back."
Before she could protest, he'd stepped into the bushes. A puff of wind stirred her hair; seconds later another puff heralded his return.
Lois craned her neck to look up at him as he stepped out behind her. "Who is it?"
"That's exactly what I'm asking myself... and if I told you, you wouldn't believe me." He held out his hand. "Come on. I'll show you."
He picked her up. She locked her arms around his neck and held on as he lifted off, rising slowly until they were level with Catherine Chandler's apartment.
Two figures stood together on the little balcony. Chandler was already prepared for bed, wearing a very pretty and not very concealing silk robe. The other figure had his back to them. A hooded black cloak covered him from shoulders to mid-calf; long golden hair cascaded over his shoulders.
"Who is he?" Lois wondered quietly, into Clark's ear. "And what are they saying? Take me closer so I can hear."
"Lois..." his voice was doubtful.
"Come on," she wheedled. As his ear was so convenient, she coerced him further by gently nipping the lobe.
He caught his breath, then turned his head to grin. "No fair."
But he drifted closer, edging sideways to keep them in shadow and rising a bit to take them out of the line of sight of the pair on the balcony.
"I'm glad Ginny's okay," Chandler said. Her voice carried clearly. "I was worried about leaving her. She seemed so lost..."
"And so she was, but Mary and Olivia have taken her under their wings." The voice was deep, husky, obviously male.
"What about your reporters? Are they still following you?"
Lois gave Clark a quick glance, but he seemed intent on the conversation on the balcony.
"Not in the daytime. And they definitely weren't with me this morning. But I thought I saw them this evening, when I came home."
Lois remembered the quick look Chandler had cast over her shoulder as she entered her building. "She saw us," she whispered into Clark's ear, keeping her voice low so it wouldn't carry beyond the two of them.
The black-cloaked figure whirled, and stared right at them.
Lois caught her breath in an audible gasp as his face came into the light; at the same time, Clark darted upward, carrying them away.
A moment later he set her down on a nearby roof.
"Did you see him?" she hissed in excitement. "His face?"
"His hands," Clark answered. "Yes. I saw him."
Already her imagination was framing the first paragraph of the story she'd write. "This is enough to get us a Pulitzer!" she crowed. "I wish we had photos, but... his hands, you said you saw his hands. He's the one who killed those people, he had claws, did you see them, they looked sharp. And maybe we can get some pictures later. She's a D.A., I wonder how she squares what he does with her job and her conscience, but she must be in danger when he comes to her, so I guess it's justifiable, I mean..." She broke off, and looked around for Clark.
He stood at the roof's edge, staring down. His arms were crossed, his back stiff.
Something was wrong. "Don't you think so?" she prodded, gently.
"I think it's enough to ruin their lives," he answered finally. He turned.
The grim look on his face made her hesitate. "What... what are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about being different. About being so different that if people found out about it, it could destroy you."
Funny, she never thought of Clark as different. He was just... Clark. That he could fly, that bullets bounced off his chest, that he could see through things, or lift buildings, was just incidental. But the tone of his voice, the rigidity of his stance, reminded her that his differences were something he never forgot.
"But you aren't that different," she argued aloud.
"Aren't I?" he asked. For the first time in her memory, his voice sounded bitter. Suddenly he floated in the air over her head. "Isn't this different enough?"
He settled to the tarred and graveled roof beside her. "But my differences aren't on the outside, where people can see them," he finished for her. "What if they were? What if you'd been able to see, the moment you met me, how different I am?"
I'd have loved you anyway. She started to say it, but paused. If she said it too quickly, without thought, it wouldn't mean anything. So she considered, carefully. Of course she loved his dark eyes, with their faintly foreign slant. His thick hair, and the one endearing lock that kept falling over his brow. She loved his broad chest and wide shoulders, the smooth skin of his arms and back.
But those things weren't why she loved Clark. She loved him for his gentleness, for his quick wit, and easy humor. For his intelligence, and honesty, his generosity and his sensitive heart. And for a hundred other things she couldn't begin to name.
Then she tried to picture him, with those inner qualities she treasured, with that face she'd seen on Catherine Chandler's balcony. Tried to imagine Clark looking at her with those light, alien eyes, smiling at her with that odd, cat-like mouth. Touching her with those big furred hands whose fingers were tipped with deadly claws.
"It might have mattered then," she answered slowly. "If you had looked like that. It might have taken me a while to see past it."
His faint smile reminded her of just how long it had taken her to see past a blue and red costume. She resisted the urge to smack him.
"But once I knew you, if you were the same person you are now... I'd still love you. I couldn't help but love you."
He gazed at her a minute, silent and pensive, then opened his arms. She went into them willingly, feeling them folding her close. When he spoke, his warm breath ruffled her hair. "I can't write a story about him just because he's different, Lois. I can't."
Visions of Pulitzers wavered, faded, and finally collapsed in understanding. "I know," she whispered, into his chest. "Neither can I."
From the tunnel beneath Catherine's building, Vincent looked up. When he'd left her, Catherine's hands were shaking, her voice trembling as she urged him to go. Even now, five minutes later, he could feel her fear. For him.
He shouldn't have gone there two nights in a row. It was a terrible risk, and one he shouldn't have taken, no matter how much he longed to see her, hold her, hear her voice.
Someone had been watching them. He'd heard the voice, though he couldn't make out the words, and then he'd sensed a presence. More than one presence, actually, though the sensation, like the sound, had disappeared so quickly he couldn't be certain. He thought he'd caught a flicker of movement when he spun toward the sound, the sensation, but he couldn't be sure of that, either.
Perhaps it was the two reporters who wanted to write of the slashings. His handiwork, he thought darkly, gazing at his own lethal hands. Perhaps it was someone else, in which case the danger to him, to his world, was doubled.
But whoever it was, nothing he could think of would explain why the voice he'd heard, the presences he'd sensed, had come from a point in mid-air, ten feet from the nearest building and nearly two hundred feet off the ground.
Lois woke early, to the realization that instead of the usual cushion of air, she was lying on the hard concrete surface of the roof. Clark must have heard something, and gone, in the dark clothing he reserved for those instances, to see if he could help.
But he wasn't gone. He was sitting, very still, at the roof's edge.
Stiffly she got up and crossed to him. "Hi."
He smiled, but didn't take his eyes off that distant something only he could see. "Good morning," he answered. "Sleep well?"
"Not as well as I might. I missed you." She settled down beside him.
"Sorry. I couldn't sleep." He looked pensive.
She laid her head against his arm. "So. What are we going to do on our day off?"
"I want to find him, Lois. I want to talk to him."
"Him? The guy from last night?"
"Vincent," he said softly. "I heard her call him Vincent."
She suppressed a shiver. "He scares me, a little."
Clark looked at her. "Because of how he looks?"
"Because of what he's done. You saw the photographs..."
"Yes. I saw them." He let his breath out in a long sigh. "But you know, my hands aren't entirely clean. People have died because of things I've done... things I haven't done..."
"It's not the same thing," she argued. "You can't be everywhere."
"I'm talking about when I am there. And people die."
She stared; she'd never heard him say this before. "Like when?"
"Like Spencer Spencer, and his doctor. I froze them, Lois, and when a ricocheting bullet struck them, they shattered. They wouldn't have died if I hadn't frozen them."
She remembered the incident clearly, but never knew he'd been letting it haunt him. "Clark, Spencer Spencer was trying to kill you, or have you forgotten that part?"
"I haven't forgotten. But I'm stronger. I'm faster. I say I stand for something higher, something bigger... and then I make people die."
"It wasn't your fault. You weren't the one firing the bullets, you weren't the one putting them in danger."
"But I'm the one who froze them," he answered quietly. "And there've been others. Johnny Corbin - I melted his legs, and he died."
"Clark, he was already a cyborg. You didn't know Rollie Vale was going to remove the kryptonite that powered him, and kill him."
"What about Nor? I didn't kill him... but I wanted to. I tried to. It was only his own superpowers that saved him from me."
"Nor was trying to..."
"I know what he was trying to do!" Clark's voice had a sudden angry edge to it. "I know. But that doesn't absolve me from responsibility for my own actions. I froze Spencer Spencer. I melted Johnny Corbin's legs. I tried my best to kill Nor."
Lois stared at him. She hated feeling so helpless.
He looked at his hands. "I've saved you, Lois, so many times. I never killed anybody doing it. I never even came close. Because I'm so much stronger, so much faster. But what if I wasn't? What if I were an ordinary man? With an ordinary man's speed and strength? I might have had to kill in order to save you."
"No, Clark, you're not like that. You don't hate. You don't kill."
"But if you were in mortal danger... if there were no other way. I would. If I had to, if it was the only way, I would." He looked at her then, his eyes stark. "I would."
Under the intensity of his stare, she believed him. She swallowed once, hard, before she spoke. "Okay. Okay. But the reality is, you don't have to. You never have had to. And this other guy... this Vincent. He has."
"Yes," Clark agreed softly, turning his gaze back to the horizon. "He has."
He was lost again in dark thought.
"Clark, the people who got hurt because of you... that wasn't your fault. Or," she amended, when he fixed her with a merciless gaze, "not entirely your fault. Those people chose to do the things they did; if they got hurt, if they were killed, it's because of the choices they made. They were trying to hurt other people, innocent people, and you stopped that. You didn't mean for them to die, but it's always been the bad guys who've gotten killed. You always save the good guys."
"That's true," he admitted. "I tell myself that constantly; if I didn't, I don't think I could continue being Superman."
"The world... our world... needs Superman, Clark."
"I know. And so I try to learn from my mistakes, and I keep on. But still, people have died. At my hands. Just as they have at Vincent's hands."
Lois remembered the grisly crime scene photos and shuddered. "I think his hands are a little more closely involved than yours are."
"But the people who have died... who he's killed... they've all had criminal pasts, been armed, been threatening people."
"Threatening Catherine Chandler," Lois clarified.
"Mostly, yeah. I understand that. But he's only going after the bad guys, too."
Lois could see his point, sort of, but she still couldn't reconcile in her mind the idea that Vincent, who killed bloodily, with his hands, was anything like her Clark, who tried his best to be noble and good. "I guess so."
Clark didn't seem to notice her reluctance. "I feel an empathy with him," he went on. "A... kinship. He's as different in his way as I am in mine. I've never met anyone like that before."
"What about the New Kryptonians who came to Metropolis?"
"It's not the same. They're Kryptonian, like me, but they grew up in a Kryptonian society. They were just like everyone else. I grew up Kryptonian on Earth, and I've always known how different I am."
"I guess I can see that," she conceded. "If you find him, do you think he'll talk to you?"
"I don't know. But I have to try."
"How will you find him? Following Catherine Chandler hasn't done us much good."
"I have an idea about where he might be." Clark tipped his glasses down and raised his eyebrows; obviously he planned to utilize his x-ray vision. "Want to come with me?"
The idea of looking for the fearsome creature of last night was faintly appalling. And anyway, she had something else on her mind. "I don't think so. I've been thinking, too. About Catherine Chandler. I keep remembering all the times it looked like our secret was going to get out. How scared I've been. We scared her, Clark."
"I know we did. I wish now we hadn't. She loves him, you know."
Love? Affection, certainly, Lois could see that. But love? For that alien creature with his bloody hands? "How can you tell?" she asked, her voice going ragged.
"When I first saw him... them. They were hugging. And the way she looked at him..." His expression went tender. "You look at me that way."
She managed her first smile of the morning and forced away all her doubts. "Then you must be right. I want to tell her we aren't going to write our story, Clark. I want to apologize."
After breakfast at their favorite diner, they separated.
"Yell if you need me," Clark said as they parted.
"If the earth moves," she agreed, smiling. "I'll probably find her and be done by lunchtime. Want to meet somewhere?"
"I don't know yet. Tell you what, I'll leave a message with Mr. Schofield if I can't make it. And we have to be at the print shop by three, anyway."
"Oh, that's right. Okay. Be careful."
"You, too." Her hurried kiss fell half on his cheek, and he had to grin as he watched her striding away.
Only when she had passed from sight did he start on his search. He began at Catherine Chandler's building, which he x-rayed carefully; Vincent had reached Chandler's balcony without Clark's seeing him, and he certainly hadn't used the front door. The only two logical points of access were from the roof and the basement, so he focused his attention in those areas. And there, in the basement, he spotted an opening, carefully hidden, that led into a small, forgotten subbasement. From there, a brick-walled passage gave way to a veritable warren of other tunnels and passages.
"It's like a maze down there," Clark mused aloud, pushing his glasses back up. "And I'll bet all those passages go somewhere."
But where? There was one way to find out.
He supposed he could try to talk his way into Chandler's building, and access the tunnels from there, but he'd noticed that some of the brick-walled tunnels tied into storm drains and utility access tunnels beneath the city streets.
He strolled in and out of three different alleys before he found what he wanted - a manhole cover out of sight of the street. With a quick glance around to be sure he was unobserved, he toed aside the heavy steel cover, stepped out over the opening, and floated down, pausing only to replace the cover.
He found himself in a round cement pipe, large enough in diameter that he could stand comfortably without hitting his head. The floor of the tunnel was dusted with a fine layer of silt; from the look of it, no one had passed this way since the last rain turned dust into mud.
He peered over the top of his glasses, scanning the area, but it didn't help much. Tunnel after tunnel wound off into the distance, but he saw nothing to indicate where Vincent might be found.
He did, however, know where to find Catherine Chandler's apartment building. He pushed his glasses back into place and set off.
Before long, he came to an intersecting passage. He paused, studying it. The dirt floor here had been disturbed, and recently. Imprints left by large, heavy boots showed where someone had traveled, and then come back the same way. Other impressions appeared older, and were less clear, but tipping his glasses down for closer inspection revealed a number of other tracks, including a faint set that were clearly made by a woman's heeled shoe.
Catherine Chandler's apartment was to the north; Clark went south.
He'd expected it to be quiet underground, but pipes running along the sides and top of the tunnel clattered and gurgled and hissed. The clattering was the loudest, and the most annoying. The pipe to his left rang in a flat pattern that sounded repetitious.
There were lights here, too, and the faint scent of damp wool underlying the more earthy smells.
"That's far enough."
The voice seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. Clark tugged his glasses down and swung his head from side to side, seeking the source. It didn't take long to locate a false wall cleverly built into the side of the tunnel. Beyond the false barrier, looking fierce and protective, was Vincent.
"I didn't come to make trouble," Clark said, lifting his free hand in a conciliatory gesture. "I only want to talk to you." He saw startlement in Vincent's eyes before he pushed his glasses back into place. He waited, and noticed for the first time that the clatter of the pipes had stilled. The tunnel was ominously quiet.
The voice, when it came again, was more definitive, and more easily located. Vincent, if it was Vincent who spoke, had moved to a spot some yards ahead of where Clark stood. And he had done it so stealthily that Clark hadn't heard him go.
He turned toward the voice, showing his open hands. "Please. I just want to talk. Vincent."
"You know my name."
"Yes. Mine's Kent, Clark Kent."
This time he did hear something - the rustle of fabric, maybe?
"The reporter," Vincent said, after a moment.
Clark was only faintly surprised. "Yes. I'm sorry about that. We didn't know."
"About you. Until last night."
"It was you I heard from Catherine's balcony."
"My wife, actually. Whispering to me. You have very sharp hearing."
Vincent let that go by. "Your wife... the other reporter?"
Clark nodded, then remembered Vincent couldn't see him. "Right. But you don't have to worry about that now. There won't be any story. Not about you."
"You frightened Catherine." Vincent's tone was carefully neutral, but still it sounded like an accusation. Clark wondered how his own voice would sound, speaking to someone who scared Lois that much.
"I know. I'm sorry. My wife is looking for her now, to apologize."
"And you are here. Why? To amuse yourself?"
"No." He hesitated. Standing in the cold, damp tunnel wasn't exactly what he had in mind. "Is there someplace we can talk?"
"We can talk here," Vincent answered.
Right. Vincent obviously had no intention of taking him further into the tunnels. Clark let his breath out slowly. "Okay. I'm not here for fun, or to get a better look at you, or anything like that." He swallowed; saying this was harder than he'd expected. "I want to talk to you... because for the first time in my life, I've found someone who's as different as I am."
The silence that ensued seemed to go on forever.
Clark almost tugged his glasses down for a peek, but changed his mind. "Vincent?"
"I am here," the voice replied. "But I am wondering what you saw last night, or if you have recently consulted a mirror. You and I are... not alike."
"Not like each other, no," Clark agreed quickly. "But not like those around us, either. You're different on the outside... my differences are inside, where they can't be seen. But they're there."
"Look," Clark said, feeling desperate. "I'll show you."
Except that Vincent couldn't possibly see him, unless he, too, had x-ray vision, and somehow Clark doubted that.
"You'll have to come forward," he added. He didn't wait for a response. He levitated, rising above the tunnel floor and hovering there, his hair brushing the ceiling.
Clark folded his arms and waited, tracking Vincent with his ears. The sound of slow breathing, barely audible even to him, came closer. Something dark and formless moved at the bend in the tunnel. Clark waited until he was sure Vincent had a clear line of sight, then rotated his body forty-five degrees, until he was suspended, on his back, in the middle of the tunnel. He hung there for a handful of heartbeats, then rotated again to hover upside down. A half twist brought him around to face Vincent. "Convinced?" he asked, keeping his tone conversational.
For the first time, he detected uncertainty in the other man's voice. "This is... not possible."
Clark flipped neatly and settled on his feet. "Some people," he pointed out, "would say that about you."
Tracking down Catherine Chandler was harder than it should have been, but Lois finally caught up with her outside the courthouse.
"Miss Chandler!" she called, and hurried across the sidewalk.
Catherine paused just long enough to see who was calling, then walked on, her expression suddenly grim.
"Miss Chandler. I've been looking for you."
"What do you want?" The question was snapped, not asked. "If it's about your absurd theories..."
"They aren't absurd," Lois retorted, stung. "We both know that. We saw him last night on your balcony."
If she hadn't been watching for a reaction, she'd have missed the tiny hesitation in Catherine's stride. She took a momentary satisfaction in that, before remembering why she'd come. She reached out and caught the other woman's arm.
"Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that... at least, not in that way. I scared you, and I didn't mean to."
Catherine Chandler's gaze was haughty. "Scared me? Don't be ridiculous." Only an experienced eye would have noted the terror lurking behind the cool exterior.
Lois consciously softened her voice. "I'm not. We did see him last night. Vincent."
Catherine paled visibly. "I don't know what you're talking about," she managed, and tugged to free her arm.
Lois held on. "And we realized... Clark realized," she corrected, wanting to be honest, "that we couldn't do a story about him. And that means no story about the slashings. He protects you, doesn't he?"
Catherine pulled loose and stalked away.
Lois hurried after her. "He does. That's why you don't turn him in."
Catherine continued walking as if she hadn't heard.
"Look, I'm going about this all wrong. I didn't mean to say those things. Not yet, anyway. I just meant to say I'm sorry."
Catherine stopped so abruptly that Lois overran her. "Sorry for what?" she demanded.
"For scaring you. For threatening to expose your secret."
"Assuming I have a secret. Which I don't."
"Right. Whatever. But if you did have a secret, I'd feel bad about coming too close to it... because I know how it's felt the times people have come too close to my secret. Mine and Clark's."
Catherine refused to be deflected. "Speaking of your partner, where is he? I thought you two were a matched set."
Lois managed a grin. "Not always. Today's our day off; I wanted to come find you... and he wants to talk to Vincent. He's looking for him."
If it was possible, she thought Catherine would have gone even whiter. Lines of strain around her eyes and mouth grew deeper, and her breath caught in her throat.
"Catherine Chandler!" A man's voice, harsh and demanding, interrupted.
Catherine swung toward the voice, her expression at once annoyed and expectant. Lois turned, too.
A mid-sized blue sedan pulled up to the curb beside them. The passenger threw open his door.
"Where's Gary's wife and baby?" he demanded, coming toward them.
Puzzled, Lois looked to Catherine.
"I don't have any idea what you're talking about," Catherine said, standing her ground. But her voice held the same indefinable note it'd had when Lois and Clark had first approached her about the slashings. She was lying.
And in an instant Lois knew what was going on. The story Clark had been following, the policeman's wife who'd been beaten and then spirited away. By Catherine Chandler.
What Clark could learn, a policeman could learn. And while Clark had morals and ethics, Gary Stevens had no such restraints. He'd obviously sent someone to make threats to learn what he wanted to know.
Somehow, though, Lois didn't think Catherine Chandler could be coerced by threats.
The man moved closer, invading Catherine's personal space, forcing her to take a step back. "Tell me where to find Gary's wife and son."
Catherine had to crane her neck to look up at him, he was so close. "I told you," she said, through gritted teeth. "I don't know."
"And I know you're lying, lady." This came from another man, dark and burly, who'd emerged from the sedan's passenger side. He seized Catherine's arm and her shoulder, spinning her and shoving her up against the car.
"Callahan!" The name came out in a gasp. Catherine struggled briefly, but the man had her in a solid grip, exerting pressure to hold her in place. When she let out a whimper of pain, he grinned.
Never one to back away from battle, Lois stepped forward, looking for a way to effectively intervene.
"Johnson!" snapped the man. "Get her."
She remembered the first man too late; suddenly he was behind her, gripping her wrist and twisting her arm painfully. "What do I do with her?" He sounded anxious. "You said we were just going to..."
By now, Catherine was in handcuffs; the man who held her forced her into the rear of the car. "Shut up and bring her. She might be useful."
"Hey! What's going on here?"
Johnson swung around to see who had spoken, giving Lois a clear view of an older man in a coat and tie, looking concerned.
Callahan brought out a slim leather folder and flipped it open. "Police business," he snapped, showing the man a badge.
"Oh, sorry, officer. Detective." The concerned citizen backpedaled. A pair of women who had stopped to watch clutched at each other's arms and pointed.
There would be no help from that quarter.
Callahan swung around on his partner. "I said, put her in the car!"
Johnson hesitated and Callahan growled, coming around the car to deal with her himself. As Johnson released her, Lois kicked backwards, trying to free herself, but Callahan knew his stuff; he deflected the kick and caught her arm, forcing it high behind her back, until she thought her shoulder would come out of its socket.
If Superman were here, in this universe, now would be the time to shout for him. She could shout anyway, and Clark would be here in an instant, but that would expose him, or force him to conjure up Superman after all, or...
She felt the cold snap of handcuffs around her wrists as the pressure on her shoulder eased, and then Callahan was pushing her into the car. It was now or never...
She took a deep breath. "Help!" she shouted. "Superm..." The rest was lost as a meaty hand, stinking of nicotine, slapped over her mouth.
"Shut up!" Callahan hissed. "Johnson, get me some of that duct tape."
The hand was replaced by a strip of wide silver tape, sticky and cold across her lips and cheeks. With it in place, all she could manage was a muffled "mmmm!"
She tumbled into the back seat of the car. Behind her, the door slammed. The men threw themselves into the front seat, and sped off.
"I know what that's like," Clark said. "I know now where I came from, why I'm so different, but for years I didn't have any idea. I..."
Across the room, Vincent's expression went from interested to distracted, quivering alertness. Clark listened, but didn't hear anything out of the ordinary. And then he did.
*Help!* He snapped to attention himself. That was Lois. *Superm...* Her voice cut off in mid word, and there hadn't been time for him to get a fix on her location.
"Catherine," Vincent breathed. He was on his feet; he snagged a long, black garment from the back of a chair and rushed out the door.
Clark was right behind him. He protects her, Lois had said. He remembered the slashed and bloody bodies left behind. Catherine was in danger... and Lois was with her. With her, and calling not for Clark, but for Superman.
Vincent sprinted through the winding passages faster than anyone Clark had ever seen. Even so, the pace chafed at him. He left his feet and hovered alongside. "Where are they?" he shouted. "I'm faster than you. I can help!"
Vincent ran on as if he hadn't heard. And perhaps he hadn't; his eyes were glazed and far-seeing, focused totally on something Clark, with all his supersenses, couldn't detect.
And Lois didn't cry out again.
Clark reached out and caught Vincent's shoulder. "Where are they?"
Vincent shook him off with a force so powerful, it threw Clark against the tunnel wall; shocked, he went down in a shower of dislodged rock and dust. He was up again, running this time, before the debris finished rolling.
It was clear he wasn't going to get any direction from Vincent. He'd have to follow, have to confine himself to Vincent's pace, which, fast though it was, seemed laborious to him. But running felt like he was working harder; flying was just too frustrating. Simmering with impatience, he pounded along in Vincent's wake.
"I'm sorry." Catherine Chandler's voice was low, in her ear.
Lois fought her way up until she was sitting, more or less straight, in the back of the car. "Mmmph?" She tried to look questioning.
"For getting you involved in this. I'm sorry."
In the front seat, Johnson leaned across to his partner. "Should I put tape on the other one?" he hissed, barely loud enough for Lois to hear.
Callahan shook his head. "She's not yelling, is she?"
"I thought we were just going to scare her!" Johnson continued, a little louder.
"Well, we did," Callahan answered, casting a glance over his shoulder. "She looks plenty scared to me. They both do."
To Lois, Catherine looked not so much scared as determined. But she knew her own heart was pounding in apprehension.
"But the one, the D.A.... she knows who you are!"
"So what? She talks about cops kidnapping her off the street, who's going to believe her?"
Probably just about everyone, Lois thought. It wasn't a pleasant notion.
"We're just going to take them someplace where we can scare them good," Callahan continued. "Someplace quiet, where we won't be interrupted."
He was taking entirely too much pleasure in the situation for Lois's comfort. She could only hope Clark had heard her half-voiced cry for help, that he was on his way. But how could he ever find her?
She couldn't identify the area to which Callahan drove them; if she had to write a story based on what she knew now, she could only say it was minutes from the courthouse, and looked pretty seedy. The car pulled up in front of a boarded-up warehouse and stopped. Lois wrenched her body around to fight when the door on her side was yanked open.
Johnson dodged her awkward attempt to kick, reached in, and dragged her out of the car by her arm. Once out, she tried to twist away from him, but he held her easily, and in such a way that she couldn't reach him with any telling blows.
On the other side of the car, Catherine was putting up a similar struggle with Callahan, with similar results. Finally he cuffed her hard on the side of the head, growling, "Cut it out!"
Catherine quieted; Lois hoped she hadn't been badly hurt by the blow, but her eyes seemed clear. And then Lois wondered why Catherine, whose mouth was not taped, didn't call for help. The area looked deserted, but surely someone was near enough to hear.
The men wrestled them over to a metal door set flush with the smooth concrete side of the warehouse. Callahan produced a small tool and worked for a moment on the lock.
"Breaking and entering. That's good." Catherine's tone was calm but acerbic.
"Breaking and entering's the least of my worries," he retorted, and shoved her through the open door.
Lois, still held firmly in Johnson's grip, was forced to follow.
The warehouse was wide and cavernous... and very, very empty. Their footsteps echoed in the hollow space. The men took them to a small room tacked onto the far wall - an office, Lois guessed, spotting the battered metal desk and two wooden chairs that still occupied the space.
Callahan pushed Catherine roughly into one of the chairs; on his command, Johnson forced Lois into the other.
With a hard hand on her wrist, forestalling any chance of escape, Johnson unlocked one of the handcuff bracelets around Lois's wrists, then fastened it again, very quickly. He released her, stepping away for the first time. A tug confirmed her fear - the handcuffs had been threaded through the slats in the back of the sturdy wooden chair before being refastened. She was now chained to the chair.
A quick glance showed that Catherine had been similarly restrained.
"Now what?" Johnson looked to Callahan for instructions.
In answer, Callahan swaggered around to stand in front of Catherine.
"Lieutenant Callahan," she said coolly. "I'd think you'd be concerned with finding your wife's murderer."
"Oh, I am. But right now, I'm more interested in helping Gary." He stood before her, cold and menacing. "Now, Miss Chandler," he said. "Tell us where to find Gary's wife and son."
Catherine's expression went grim. "I don't know."
Callahan's hand swung so fast, Lois barely saw the blow. But she heard it, as his hand connected with Catherine's jaw with solid force. Catherine let out a grunt and slumped to the side. "Wrong answer." He tangled a hand in her hair and pulled her upright. "I'll ask again. Where is Gary's wife? Where's his son?"
"I don't know."
This time, Catherine tried to dodge the blow as it came, but she wasn't quick enough. When she lifted her head again, blood trickled from her nose and mouth.
"Again," Callahan said. The pleasure in his eyes was unnerving. "Where...?"
Lois thought she might be sick. Each time Catherine denied knowledge of Stevens's family's whereabouts, Callahan hit her. Her jaw was becoming misshapen, and one eye was swelling shut.
"This isn't working," Callahan announced, after one more telling blow. "She's just too damn stubborn. I hit her many more times, she'll be unconscious, and that's no good."
"What are you going to do?" Johnson asked him. He looked uneasy.
Callahan's gaze turned toward Lois. "You know what?" He sounded scarily cheerful. "Chandler's a do-gooder. Softhearted. What you want to bet it'll be harder for her to watch her friend get beat up?"
"She's not my friend," Catherine managed, between split and swollen lips. "I don't even know her."
"No?" Lieutenant Callahan was plainly skeptical. "I guess we'll just have to see about that."
He whirled on Lois so fast, she didn't have time to try to dodge the blow. It exploded against her cheek, driving her head sideways and bringing the sharp metallic taste of blood to her mouth. Callahan turned away. "So, you going to tell me now? Where is Gary's wife?"
Catherine's eyes, seeking hers, were full of sorrow as she answered. "I don't know."
It seemed they'd been running forever, and Clark was sure they'd changed direction entirely at one point. Still, he hadn't a hope of finding Lois by himself unless she called for him again, so he stayed close on Vincent's heels. They were in a maze of brick-walled tunnels now, near to the surface; above them, Clark could make out the whir of rubber tires on asphalt, of heels on cement. In the distance a siren wailed; somewhere nearer, jackhammers stuttered. The tunnels twisted and turned, divided and joined.
Vincent charged unerringly through them, never pausing to choose his path, never slowing to catch his breath. And then he let out a savage roar and hurled himself straight at the bricks that marked another turn.
At first, Lois thought the roar was in her ears, the result of another heavy blow to her head, but Callahan pulled back, turning to look at the little office's far wall. She looked too. At the edge of her peripheral vision, she saw Callahan yank out his gun.
And then the wall imploded, scattering bricks everywhere. A figure, black and golden and terrible, burst through the opening and sent Johnson flying with one sweep of his arm. Beside her, two shots rang out, and then Clark was there, too, shoving Callahan against the wall, dropping a bullet, caught in midair by an invulnerable hand at superspeed, into the dust.
One bullet. When there had been two shots.
She heard Catherine say in a choked voice, "Vincent."
The creature, gold and black but no longer terrible, staggered and went to his knees. Crimson blossomed on the gray of his vest. He fought for balance... and then, with terrible slowness, toppled forward.
"Vincent!" Catherine was struggling to free herself, struggling to reach him.
Clark hesitated for a heartbeat, hanging on indecision, then flashed across the room to Catherine's chair. An instant later he was back at Lois's side, pulling her to her feet. Her hands were free, and beyond him, she could see Catherine falling to her knees beside the recumbent creature. Vincent, she reminded herself. Vincent.
Clark clutched her to his chest. "Are you all right?"
She reached up between them to pull the tape gingerly from her mouth. "I'm okay," she mumbled, through swollen lips. "More or less. But he..."
Clark glanced over his shoulder.
Catherine hunched over Vincent, struggling to turn him over. "Vincent?" she whispered.
Clark gave Lois one last squeeze, then moved away. "Here," he muttered. "Let me..."
He put a hand on Vincent's shoulder and eased him over to his back. The dark splotch on his chest had grown, and was still visibly spreading. His eyes, half-closed, sought Catherine's face.
"Oh, God..." Catherine's voice was low, heartfelt, despairing. "Oh, no."
"Shhh," she whispered. "Don't talk."
"He's bleeding badly," Clark said, slipping an arm under Vincent's shoulders. "I have to get him to a hospital..."
Catherine caught Clark's wrist. "No! You can't. He can't."
Clark paused, uncertain. "He needs help. He needs it now."
Vincent moaned, and tried to escape Clark's supporting arm. "No. Catherine..."
"She's fine," Clark told him. "You're the one who's hurt. I'm getting you to a doctor."
Catherine paused, swallowed hard. "His father is a doctor. If you can get him home... he lives..."
Clark broke in. "I know where he lives. I'll get him there as fast as I can."
He looked past Catherine to where Lois stood, watching. "Be careful."
She nodded once, jerkily. He lifted Vincent in his arms and was gone.
Catherine staggered back. Where had the sudden gust of wind come from? And where had the man carrying Vincent disappeared to? She hadn't seen him go. The reporter - Lois, she reminded herself - caught her arm, steadying her. "How did he..." she broke off, and shook her head. She was woozy from the beating she'd taken; she must have just lost a few seconds of time. "Never mind." She dragged in a deep breath, and looked at the other woman carefully.
Lois's face looked the way Catherine's felt: bruised, swollen, and very painful. "You're all right?"
Lois offered a grimace that was meant to be a smile. "Pretty much. You?"
The ache in her head was nothing compared to the deep, pounding fear in her heart. "Better if I knew Vincent was all right. But okay." She longed to race after him, to see how badly he was hurt. But protecting him came first. She looked around. "We have to clean up here before we can go..."
Lois looked confused. "Clean up... can't we just call the police?"
Catherine glanced at her. "We could have. Before. Not now. What could we say? How would we explain..." Her gesture took in the gaping hole in the wall beside them.
Blessedly, that seemed to be enough. "Oh," Lois said. "I guess you're right."
Catherine didn't like placing so much trust in someone who had so recently been threatening to expose Vincent, but reality gave her no choice. "We can't leave evidence to link us to this place." She took the handcuffs that had so recently restrained her and tucked them into the waistband of her skirt, then scrubbed hard at the back slats of the chair with her sleeve. "No fingerprints. Did you touch anything but the chair?"
Lois looked thoughtful, then shook her head. "No." She put her own handcuffs in her pocket, and wiped down the back of the chair.
"Did they touch anything?"
"Clark touched the bullet," Lois said, and bent to scrabble in the dust.
Catherine gave her a long, incredulous stare. She couldn't possibly have heard what she thought she'd heard. The ringing in her ears, the slow dull thumping of her pulse in her head, must be interfering. She turned to examine the body of Officer Stevens. He breathed with slow, noisy breaths, but he wasn't bleeding. Vincent must have caught him with a backhand, or a forearm, instead of deadly claws. She said a brief, chaotic prayer of thanks for small blessings, and glanced toward Callahan, sprawled against the wall where the other reporter - Clark - had thrown him.
"He's alive," Lois said, mumbling through swollen lips. "Clark doesn't believe in killing."
Catherine wondered if that was some kind of challenge, wondered if Lois thought Vincent did believe in killing, if maybe he liked it. Just as quickly she shied away from the perilous thought.
"They were going to kill us if you'd told, weren't they?" Lois went on.
"They would have had to," Catherine admitted, giving in to a thought that she'd kept at bay until now. She suppressed a shudder of horror and rubbed the back of her hand across her bruised forehead. There was no time for that now.
A palm-sized pool of dark liquid on the concrete floor showed where Vincent had fallen. How much blood? A couple of tablespoons? A quarter cup? She didn't have any idea, but it looked like a lot. More than should have dripped in the minute or so Vincent had lain there. Much more.
Oh, God. She wanted to cry. How badly was he hurt? Was he still alive? No, he had to be. She'd know if he wasn't. She'd feel it. He was alive, he was hanging on, and she had to be strong for him, had to protect him.
She stiffened her spine and lifted her chin.
Lois came to crouch beside her. "Blood," she said.
Catherine nodded. "We can't leave it here."
"Why not?" Lois sounded genuinely curious, rather than challenging, and Catherine found herself answering.
"Forensics. I don't know what story these two..." she gestured impatiently toward the two unconscious men, "will come up with when they wake up, but it's just possible they'll call in the lab. We can't let them test Vincent's blood."
"They'd trace it to him?" Lois ventured, a sounding little lost.
Catherine shook her head. "No. It just... let's just say it's not a good idea for them to test it. Come on, help me clean it up."
Lois's purse was lying beside her chair. By some miracle, it had made the whole trip with them, though Catherine had lost her own briefcase somewhere early on. Lois snatched up the bag and rummaged. "Here are some tissues," she said.
Catherine accepted the wad of crumpled tissues and pressed them into the pool. They came away crimson, leaving the concrete wet and smeared.
Lois stood over her, watching. "Water," she said. "We need water. A building this size should have a restroom, shouldn't it?" She didn't wait for Catherine to formulate a reply; a moment later she was back with a handful of soaked paper towels. "Here. Guess the building's not as abandoned as it looks."
"Thanks." Catherine exchanged the wad of blood-soaked tissues for the dripping towels; when she finished mopping, there were no visible traces of blood. No traces of the dust that pervaded the room, either.
"It's too clean," Lois said. "And no way you got rid of all the traces." She kicked dust toward the spot. It billowed up in a cloud, then settled wetly. "That's going to stick."
"Give it a minute to dry," Catherine advised. She held the wad of tissues and paper towels cradled in both her hands.
"No, wait." Lois disappeared for a minute, returning with another handful of paper towels, these dry. She blotted at the damp spot, absorbing what she could, then sat back. "It's still going to have to dry some more. Here, you're dripping." She soaked up the spots of moisture at Catherine's feet, then offered the dusty, damp paper towels as a cradle for the soggy ones in Catherine's hands. Catherine accepted gratefully.
When the spot on the floor looked drier, Lois kicked and shuffled her feet, stirring the dust until it looked as disturbed and no cleaner than the rest of the floor. Catherine eyed the dirt on the tunnel side of the broken wall.
"Footprints in, no footprints out," she murmured, thinking aloud. "That ought to cause some confusion." She didn't voice her own.
Lois ignored her questioning look. "Look, they could wake up any time," she said instead. She put a hand to her head.
"Hurting?" Catherine asked.
"A little." Her look, unexpectedly, was wry. "Probably not as bad as yours; they hit you harder, and more. I don't know how you're still on your feet."
"Me, either," Catherine confessed. Except she couldn't stop, couldn't rest, until she knew how Vincent was. And she couldn't do that until she'd finished covering their tracks. "We should go."
She let Lois go first, and paused in the doorway to be sure they hadn't missed anything. Chairs, wiped. Handcuffs going with them. Weren't they? "Do you have your cuffs?" she asked aloud.
"Yeah," Lois said, from behind her. "Right here."
Okay. So everything was wiped, and the blood spot scarcely noticeable, unless you knew where to look. Satisfied, she started across the warehouse. "The bathroom," she said suddenly, stopping. "When you got the water. What did you touch?"
Lois thought. "The door and the faucet, I think. I'm pretty sure."
Catherine nodded toward the tissues and paper toweling filling her hands. "Can you get it?"
"Yeah. I'll be just a minute."
Catherine thought about hurrying away; if she was quick, she could lose Lois and make her way to the tunnels unobserved. But with her head pounding and her mouth tasting of blood, her heart racing and her hands shaking, quick wasn't really something she felt up to. Besides, this part of town wasn't the safest, even for someone who seemed to have her own very capable protector. She'd wait.
But she'd do it outside.
The sunshine and open air was a relief after the oppression of the dank, unlighted warehouse. She crossed to the locked car and peered through its windows to make sure they'd left no evidence that would link either her or Lois to the scene.
Her briefcase, tweed and honey-colored leather, was wedged on the floor of the backseat.
"Damn," she muttered, under her breath.
"What?" Lois stood behind her, squinting against the bright sun.
"My briefcase." She nodded toward it and held out the wad of soggy, bloody paper towels and tissues. "Look, can you hold these for a minute?"
Lois gingerly accepted the dirty, wet mass, holding it at arms' length and looking as if she were trying not to think too hard about what it was.
A discarded length of two-by-four lay against the warehouse wall. Catherine picked it up and hefted it, then swung it hard against the rear door window on the passenger side of the car. The window shattered into small, roundish bits of safety glass that cascaded down into the back seat. She used the two-by-four to brush away bits of glass that clung to the window frame, then reached through and pulled out her case.
"Got it," she said. "Here." She opened the briefcase and pulled out a stiff manila envelope. "Put that mess in here."
Lois deposited the soggy mass in the envelope and wiped her hands on the thighs of her jeans.
"I know," Catherine said, grimacing. "Thank you for helping."
"I kind of didn't have a choice," Lois pointed out. "Now what?"
Now I get you out of here, so I can go to Vincent. "Do you know where we are?"
Lois looked reluctant, but finally shook her head. "Not really."
Catherine pointed. "Two blocks that way will bring you to a major street. You can catch a cab there."
Lois whirled on her. "And where will you be?"
Catherine's face was stiff with bruising. She tightened her lips. "You don't need to know that."
But Lois wasn't so easily dissuaded. "You're going to wherever Clark took him," she persisted. "I'm going, too."
Oh, God. She had to get below, had to find out how Vincent was. And she couldn't bring a stranger down with her. "It's no place for you," she countered. "You won't be welcome. I'm sure your partner will be back at your office soon."
Lois's eyes narrowed. "He's not just my partner, he's my husband," she all but spat. "He won't leave until he knows... Vincent... will be okay. And where he is, I'm going."
Worse and worse. "You can't, okay? Father's going to be angry enough without me bringing some stranger down..." she broke off, knowing she'd said too much, and fought back sudden tears.
Lois started to speak, then seemed to reconsider. "Look, I'm sorry. I know you're worried, and you want to get to where he is to be sure he's okay. But you need to understand, I'm worried about my husband, and I know he wants to see me, too."
Catherine softened as she eyed Lois's face, swollen and bruised, and all because she happened to have been standing at Catherine's side when Callahan and Stevens approached. She wondered briefly if her own face looked as bad, and let out a long breath. This argument could go on all afternoon, and Lois Lane obviously had no intention of backing down. And she couldn't wait any longer.
What difference did it make, really, anyway? Clark Kent was already down there. Already knew... everything. "All right," she said roughly. "Come on."