Timeless by Becky Bain

Part 3 of 3


Four of Clark's "deep heat treatments," as Lois had dubbed them, had rendered Catherine's bruises nearly invisible. Careful application of makeup took care of any lingering shadows, so when she stepped off the elevator and into the D.A.'s office the next morning, Clark, who was following her quietly, was her only concern. Any hopes she had of getting to her desk without being noticed were dashed before they were through the door.

"Hey, Cath." The first to greet her was Larry, the most competent clerk they had on this floor. "You feeling better?"

She'd been thinking so hard about Clark, she'd managed to forget she'd been out of the office for a week. Blindly she wondered what excuse Peter had given for her absence; if he'd told her, she'd forgotten. "Yeah," she answered cautiously. "I'm fine."

"Glad to hear it. Food poisoning's nothing to mess around with."

Food poisoning? She didn't know whether to praise or curse Peter's imagination. "No, it isn't," she answered aloud. "But I'm better now."

"Great. Maxwell's spent half his time worrying 'cause you were sick, and the other half getting mad because your work's piling up..."

He was carefully not noticing Clark, who waited patiently a pace back, and Catherine didn't try to introduce them. Instead, she gave Larry a cheerful wave and smile and moved past him.

"Hey, Cathy." Joe's secretary Charlene was the next to greet her. She glanced over Catherine's shoulder. "Who's the hunk?" she asked, lowering her voice.

For an instant Catherine pictured Charlene's face if she told the truth: "My bodyguard." But of course she couldn't say that. Couldn't say the other truth, that he was a reporter, either. Joe would hit the roof.

"He's a... law student," she said, improvising. "Here to observe."

Charlene accepted that with a knowing smile, and Catherine moved past her. She threaded her way through the crowded warren of desks and filing cabinets with Clark on her heels, rounded the final corner, and stopped short, staring in dismay. Her desk was heaped with buff file folders, unopened mail, pink message slips, slippery-curly faxes, and computer printouts.

"Somebody remind me never to take a day off again, ever," she muttered under her breath. Behind her, Clark chuckled, and she remembered his hearing was as acute as Vincent's. Maybe more.

She sighed. "Look at it. I'll never get through all that."

Clark moved closer and touched her arm. "Sure you will. I'll help."

"I can't let you help, Clark, what if somebody saw you?"

"It won't even take a minute..." He fingered his glasses and glanced around the room. "Nobody's looking..."

Before she could protest further, Clark moved a few files, then pulled his glasses down, peering over the rims and staring hard, as if he could see right through the buff folders and envelopes.

Which, she reminded herself, he could. Some things weren't easy to get used to.

His hands blurred in a flurry of motion; when they stopped, the untidy piles of folders, unopened mail, interoffice memos, and faxes had been turned into a half-dozen neat stacks.

"Wow."

"I tried to sort things by case; if I wasn't sure, I put it in that pile there." He pointed. "And there were a few things with Callahan's name on them; they're here." He offered her a slender sheaf of faxes, smeary copies, and unopened brown envelopes.

"Wow," she said again. She'd thought, after knowing Vincent, she was beyond amazement... but Clark was, well, amazing. His grin was infectious; she grinned back as she sat down and began slitting envelopes and opening files. "You're handy to have around."

"That's what my mom used to tell me." Clark dragged a spare chair over and began helping her open mail.

"You must miss her very much."

"I do." Clark looked wistful. "I wonder if I'll ever see her again."

She laid an impulsive hand on his wrist. "Of course you will! You'll find a way to get home..."

"I hope so."

"Radcliffe!" Joe's voice made her look up. "Can I see you in my office?"

"Be right there!" she called back. She looked at Clark. "If you'll excuse me?"

He nodded and she crossed to Joe's glass-walled cubicle.

"Close the door," Joe said, before she was well and truly through the opening.

"Okay." She shut it behind her, gently. "What's up?"

"Good to see you back here," he said. "You feeling okay now?"

She gave a cautious nod. "Fine, thanks."

"Good."

"I took the Bradley case away from you and gave it to Mark," he told her. "Seeing as how it goes to court tomorrow."

"Okay. I'll check with him, make sure he can read my notes."

"Fine. I'll try not to put anything new on your desk until you've had time to go through stuff."

"Okay, good. Thanks." She hesitated. "Anything new on the Callahan case?"

"The cop's wife? I don't think so. The police still don't have a suspect there."

"I've been thinking about that, Joe. And the more I think about it, the more I think the husband's involved."

"Yeah? What does Jimmy Briggs say?"

"Last time I talked to him, which was the day of the murder, he was saying his buddy Dave wouldn't do a thing like that."

Too bad she couldn't add a detailed rendering of exactly what Jimmy Briggs's friend Dave had done to her.

"Look, Radcliffe, I know you get really focused on domestic violence cases, but we don't even know that's what this is, and anyway, you've got plenty on your desk to keep you busy. Let the cops..."

"...do their job," she finished for him. "I remember. You mind if I go through things, get the facts in order?"

"As long as it doesn't interfere with pending cases," Joe agreed. "We're going to trial on Monday on the Faston thing..."

"I saw it on my desk, I'll take care of it," she promised. "Is that it?"

He leaned back in his chair. "One more thing."

She waited expectantly.

"That guy you brought in with you... nice looking guy."

"Yeah," she agreed. "Nice guy, too."

"You don't usually bring guys to work with you. Is something going on that I should know about?"

She made her expression as innocent as she could. "No. He's a law student from Columbia University. Where I went to law school," she added, in case he'd forgotten. "He's going to be here a couple of days observing. Didn't you get my memo?"

"Uh... yeah, I think I saw it." Joe was bluffing like mad, pretending to have seen her fictitious memo. "Just remember some of the stuff that goes across your desk should be kept confidential."

"I'll be careful," she promised.

"Okay." He leaned back and tapped a pencil against his open palm. "Speaking of being careful, Radcliffe..."

She paused, waiting.

"I know it's none of my business, but you do realize he's wearing a wedding ring, right?"

Relief made her smile wide. "Yes, I know. I've met his wife."

She wasn't sure, but she thought Joe might have been blushing. "Oh, okay," he said, nearly stammering in his haste to regroup. "The two of you seemed pretty friendly... I was just making sure..."

"You were just watching out for me," Catherine interrupted him, fondly. "I know. And I appreciate it."

She went back to her desk. Clark had finished slitting all the envelopes and was standing by the window looking out, his hands in his pockets. He turned as she approached.

"Sorry," she began. "He just wanted to talk to me..."

"I'm fine." He hesitated. "He cares about you, you know."

"Joe? I guess he does."

"Enough to warn you about me," Clark added.

"You heard that? Of course you heard it," she added, to herself. She couldn't help a sigh. "It's not enough I have Vincent knowing everything I feel..."

She didn't finish the thought, but Clark hunched his shoulders. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to eavesdrop... sometimes I can't help overhearing..."

She waved off his apology. "No, it's okay. I'm... kind of used to it now... someone else knowing..." She took a deep breath, summoned her will, and turned brisk. "So, let's see what's in all these envelopes..."

*****

Playing bodyguard to someone who never left the office had to be the most boring job in the world. Clark spent the day alternately watching Catherine work and looking out the window. The only break came near lunchtime, when he heard distant cries for help punctuated by shouted oaths and the smack of fists against flesh.

And abruptly he decided he'd stood by long enough. New York was his new home; it was time for it to be Superman's home, too.

"Listen, Catherine," he said hurriedly. "I'm going to get us something to eat, okay?"

She looked up, distracted. "What? Oh, sure, that sounds good."

He hesitated. "You won't go anywhere while I'm gone, will you? Not to meet a witness, or be in court, or visit with the newspaper vendor in the lobby?"

Her look was amused confusion. "What?"

The cries were more frantic now... he tugged at his tie. "Promise?"

"I promise."

Before the words were well out of her mouth, he was gone.

The cries were coming from a nearby side street, where an angry mugger was taking his frustration out on his victim. Clark changed on the fly, swooped into the alley at superspeed and yanked the mugger up by his collar. It was the work of split-seconds to push the punk up against the high board fence that blocked the alley's end, wrap him up in scrap wire, and fix the wire's end to a post exposed by broken slats.

An instant after that, he was kneeling at the victim's side. "Are you all right, sir?"

The man's injuries were severe; Clark was about to gather him up in his arms and fly him to the nearest hospital when he heard the wail of sirens. Someone in this huge, heartless city must have called the police. Paramedics too.

Passersby were starting to gather, pointing and staring. He stood a moment, letting them get a good look at the tights and cape, then shot into the air. A moment later he pushed through the excited crowd in his street clothes.

He wondered if he should repeat what he'd done as a new reporter at the Daily Planet and make his first big story one about Superman, but the second time around it seemed like cheating. Before he could decide, a police car pulled up with a squeal of brakes.

To Clark's surprise, the officer who stepped out of the passenger side was Gary Stevens. That settled the question of whether or not he was writing this story; Stevens had seen him up close twice last night, once as Clark and once in the suit. It would be tempting fate to let Stevens see him again in either guise so soon.

The crowd surged forward, eager to tell the police about the strange man in the red cape. Clark eased back and waited on the periphery to make sure the injured man was cared for.

Stevens pushed the people back without listening. A second police car pulled to the curb; one of its officers stepped in to help with crowd control, while the other went to check on the perpetrator, still wired to the fence and yelling bloody murder.

The officer came back a minute later, shaking his head. "We're going to need pliers or wire cutters or something to get him loose," he said. "Wonder who tied him up like that?"

A chorus of voices answered, telling of the strange man in the blue suit.

This time Gary Stevens heard them, and understood. Clark watched him go pale, and glance nervously over his shoulder.

The officer with him noticed. "Hey, Gary, you don't look so hot," he said. "And what happened to your face?" He indicated the livid bruise that marred Stevens's jaw. "Your brother take a swing at you?"

Stevens shook his head. "It wasn't Dave," he answered. "It was... some other guy. Not Dave."

"Whoever he was, he must pack a hell of a punch. You look like you're about to fall over. Go sit down or something."

But apparently the absence of the blue suit was enough to let Stevens recover; he shook his head and went back to crowd control, saying, "Just wait, we'll take statements from you folks in a while, just step back now and give the ambulance room..."

The paramedics arrived, and hurried through to attend to the injured victim. Clark lingered and listened just long enough to be sure the man was going to be all right, and walked away.

He stopped for sandwiches and then hurried back to the D.A.'s office, half-convinced by long association with Lois that despite her promise, Catherine would be gone, and knee-deep in trouble.

But she was there, right where he'd left her. He let out the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding and laid her sandwich on her desk.

She looked up. "Thanks. What'd you get me?"

"Chicken salad," he answered, and smiled at her questioning look. "I heard somebody say you liked it."

"Oh, yeah, that great hearing again." But she smiled as she said it and reached for her sandwich.

"Speaking of hearing..." Clark began, sitting down beside her.

"What?"

"I overheard something when I was out just now."

"Oh?" She took a bite of her sandwich and chewed, listening.

"I... happened on the scene of a mugging," he began, choosing his words carefully.

"Uh-huh." She looked skeptical.

"And I stopped to see if I could help..."

"Uh-huh," she said again, and took another bite.

She was clearly not buying his story so far; what had she and Lois discussed during their private conversations?

He plugged on. "Anyway, when the police responded, one of the officers was Gary Stevens."

That got her. She swallowed a half-chewed mouthful. "Ginny's husband?"

He nodded. "And... some stuff was said that kinda startled him, made him go pale."

"Uh-huh." That again.

He sighed. "Okay, I'm coming clean here. I heard the cries for help from here and on the way I decided that if we're here for good, Superman - that's the name I use when I'm... helping - ought to be here, too. So I changed into the suit..."

"The blue tights?" she asked, looking intrigued.

"Yeah. Blue tights, red cape, the whole thing. I stopped the mugging and detained the mugger. By that time, people had noticed..."

"I'll bet."

He glanced at her sharply; the look she gave him in return was bland to the point of deadpan, but her eyes were dancing. "Okay." Doggedly he went on. "So I let 'em look for a minute, then flew off. I changed and came back, blending into the crowd..."

"Dressed as you, this time," she said, seeking clarification.

"Right. I wanted to be sure the victim was okay before I left for good. Stevens and the other officers showed up and the crowd started talking about, well, me having been there..."

"In the tights and cape," she supplied. There was no mistaking the little smile that played on her lips.

"Yeah. And since I wore the suit last night, when I was trying to put a scare into Stevens..."

"Wait a minute, Zach said you decked the guy, but he didn't say anything about tights or a cape. And I'm pretty sure he'd have mentioned it."

"Yeah, well, I decked him before I changed. Because Clark Kent can do that. But only Superman flies."

"You took him flying last night?"

"I hoisted him up over the city and threatened to drop him if he didn't change his ways."

"You wouldn't have dropped him." There was no doubt in her voice.

"No, but he didn't know that. It was the best I could do on short notice."

"And it just might work," she said wonderingly. "So go on about this afternoon."

"Okay, so Stevens heard about the cape and he started to look not so good, and one of the other officers commented on it."

"Okay," she said carefully. He could see she was starting to wonder where he was going with this.

"What he said was something like, 'Did your brother hit you?' And Stevens answered, 'It wasn't Dave.'"

"Dave?" He saw her expression change as she got the connection. "Clark, there are lots of men called Dave..."

"Yeah, I know, but..."

"And their last names are different."

"I know that, too, but I have a hunch. Is there any way we can run a check, find out who Stevens' brother Dave is?"

Catherine studied him for a long minute, then sighed. "Yeah. Let me call someone I know at the police department..."

Five minutes later she put down the phone and gave him a look of amazement. "You're good, Kent. And you're right. David Callahan and Gary Stevens are stepbrothers; Stevens's mother married Callahan's father when Stevens was just a toddler. Callahan senior was a cop, too, and apparently influenced both boys into joining the force. And my friend told me one other thing."

"What's that?"

"David Callahan's mother, his real mother, died under suspicious circumstances. Her husband claimed she fell down a flight of stairs, but according to my source, the story that went around the department at the time is that it looked more like she'd been beaten."

"Family history of violence," Clark said instantly. "No wonder both sons think hitting women is okay."

Catherine's expression went grim. "Wonder if the son-of-a-bitch who called himself their father hit the boys, too?"

*****

When the day ended, Catherine gathered a few files, the Callahan one among them, and put them in her briefcase. She snapped it shut and smiled at Clark. "You must be dying to get out of here."

"Looking forward to it," he agreed, and followed her toward the elevator.

"Does it really bother you," he asked hesitantly, when they were riding down, "that Vincent knows what you feel?"

Where did that come from, she wondered. And then she remembered her comment of this morning, after a brush with Clark's superhearing: "It's not enough I have Vincent knowing everything I feel..." He must still be thinking about that.

She took a moment to frame her answer; she didn't want to accidentally give Clark a wrong impression. "I used to," she said finally. "He feels everything, you know, not just what I want him to feel."

"I kind of figured that," Clark agreed. The elevator reached the ground floor and he stood back to let her exit first.

"It was hard at first," she continued, when he caught up with her. "I'd get angry, and of course he'd know. He never asked about it, but he knew, and he'd be sort of extra formal for a while, extra careful. I hated that, hated thinking he had to edit what he was feeling, on my account. So I learned to edit what I was feeling."

"Really? Can you do that?"

"It isn't easy, but yeah, I can do it. It's almost automatic by now. I can't let myself get too depressed, or too angry, or even too scared, unless I really need him to come... and I'm trying really hard not to need him that way anymore..."

"Why?"

"Because it puts him in danger. Look how you and Lois followed the trail back to me and found him. I can't risk that anymore."

"Oh. That was Lois, mostly... but I see what you mean."

"And it tears him up inside," she added, her voice soft. "Every time he kills for me..."

"Vincent wouldn't like having to kill," Clark offered. Was it her imagination, or did he sound tentative?

She dragged in a deep breath. If she was going to bare her soul, she might as well bare it all. "Well, you see, that's the trouble. He does like it. He likes it too much."

*****

"I hate research," Lois announced as she slid into the cab beside Clark.

"I know. Is that what Alex had you doing today?"

She shook her head. "Alex had me write a piece on a retiring elementary school teacher. The research was my own. Or rather, ours."

Catherine leaned around Clark, who was between them in the cab's back seat. "Ours? You mean on Callahan?"

"Yeah," Lois confirmed, and pulled out an abbreviated stack of dusty file folders. "I pulled everything there is on police corruption and domestic violence. There's even a very thin folder on Detective David Callahan."

"You took the files from the morgue? You didn't make copies?"

"Clark, it would take days to make copies of all this! Besides, we'll take good care of them and give them back when we're done."

Clark sighed. If the clippings made it back into the morgue, it would be because he returned them. By then, Lois would be hell-bent on the next story, and far too busy.

"I don't know that any of it will actually help Catherine's case," Lois added, patting the files, "but I've been thinking about a possible article..."

"Me, too," Clark agreed. "After being at the D.A.'s office all day, I think I might have an angle for it, too."

"I don't know much about the newspaper business," Catherine said, "But I'm guessing there's not much story until you have a bad guy."

"Well, I made some progress on that, too," Lois announced.

Clark felt a familiar clenching in the pit of his stomach.

"I got done early with the story for Alex," she went on, blithely. "So I went down to the precinct where Callahan works and talked to some of the cops there."

Clark's hands formed themselves into fists. "You did what?"

"I found out that on Wednesday afternoons - and remember Lucille Callahan died on a Wednesday night - Callahan and some of his buddies meet at a park and play basketball.

"And then I went to the park and asked around... a couple of the guys there play on Wednesdays, too, and they know Callahan. And they remember that Wednesday."

"How can they be sure?" Catherine objected. "That was weeks ago..."

"Because of something that happened," Lois said, sounding smug.

"I can't believe you went off by yourself..." Clark began, trying without much success to keep his voice level. "After what you said to Catherine last night, I thought you finally understood..."

"I do," she said, and patted his hand. "But this was important."

"And what if Callahan had been there, and seen you? What if he'd recognized you?"

"He works nights, which means he's asleep in the daytime," she said, dismissing his concern. "I was fine, Clark. And anyway, you haven't heard what I found out."

She was never going to change. And he was never going to stop worrying about her. He let his breath out in a long sigh. "Okay. What did you find out?"

"That Callahan was mad when he went home that night. Really, really mad."

"Why?" That was Catherine, leaning forward to see past Clark.

"I guess there were some women there that day, and they asked if they could play. Callahan and some of the other guys didn't want to let them, but some of the other guys did, so they finally let the women into the game. Callahan ended up guarding one of them... and I guess she cleaned his clock. From what the other guys said, he couldn't get a rebound, couldn't keep her from scoring, couldn't score himself. They found out later she's a starter for the NYU women's team."

"That would have made a guy like Callahan furious," Catherine said.

"Yeah. The guys he played with say he stomped off the court in a huff; none of them have seen him back there."

"Not that a wife-beater ever needs much to set him off," Catherine said, "but I think you just found out what triggered Callahan, Lois. Thank you."

*****

On their way back to the tunnels, they stopped off at Catherine's apartment building. "I want to be sure Vincent's really okay before I come home for good," Catherine explained as she led the way toward the building's polished glass doors. "But I really need to pick up a few things... like a change of clothes!"

"No problem," Clark answered, taking Lois's hand.

She squeezed his fingers, letting him know she loved him. He smiled and squeezed back.

"Miss Chandler." The doorman tipped his cap. "You been on vacation?"

"No, Roger, just staying with friends for a few days. I'm not really home yet, just stopped by to pick up some things."

"Yes, ma'am." He swung the heavy door open and held it. "There was a gentleman asking for you a few days ago."

Catherine stopped walking. "A gentleman?"

"A man." Roger modified his description. "On Tuesday, I believe it was. Wondering if we knew where you could be reached."

"What did you tell him?" Clark sounded worried.

The doorman gave him a look of mild affront. "We don't give out information on our residents, sir."

"I know you don't, Roger," Catherine soothed him. "What did this man look like?"

The description was sketchy, but it matched Gary Stevens. "Lois was right," Clark said as soon as they were in the elevator. "He's been looking for you."

"Tuesday isn't today," Catherine reminded them. "But I guess you were right, Lois. It wasn't a bad idea to have Clark come with me today. If nothing else, it put Vincent's mind at ease. I want him resting and getting well, not worrying about me."

"I'm sure he'll be much better when we see him," Lois offered. She knew, better than anyone, the way Catherine felt. She'd felt that way herself more than once. And Clark, after all, was invulnerable. Vincent wasn't.

Catherine's apartment was small but gracious. "Make yourselves at home," she invited as they came in. "I'll just get a few things..."

She disappeared through double louvered doors.

"Look, Clark," Lois whispered. "A TV." She touched the dust-free surface of the screen. "I haven't watched TV in weeks." She glanced at her watch. "And the news is on..."

"Catherine, do you mind if we turn on the TV?" Clark raised his voice so Catherine could hear him from the other room. "The news is on."

"Sure, go ahead," Catherine called back.

Lois hit the power button. The screen came to life with a slight hiss, and she switched through channels until she came to a local news broadcast.

"Most amazing of all," the impeccably dressed and coiffed anchor was saying, "is that all of the witnesses agree that when the mysterious man left the scene... he flew away, apparently under his own power."

The camera angle changed to include a second anchorperson, this one a woman. "I don't know, Phil, I'm not sure even New York's ready for an incredible flying man wearing blue tights and a red cape..."

Lois punched the volume switch, turning it down. "Superman?" she whispered, turning to stare at Clark. "You brought Superman out where people could see him?"

Clark looked sheepish. "Well, yeah. I figured it was about time I came out of hiding..." He paused, and peered at her. "Honey, what's wrong?"

Her breath caught, the tiniest hitch. "Does this mean we can never get back?"

His arms came around her quickly, drawing her close. "No, honey, no! We won't give up trying. But we've been here so long now..."

She nodded against his chest, keeping her head down so he wouldn't see her tears. "I know," she whispered. "You just couldn't stand it any more..."

She'd seen his ultra-alert listening pose more than a dozen times the past few weeks, and then seen the dejected slump of his shoulders when he remembered he wasn't Superman here, that he couldn't safely respond. Now he'd decided to do something about it, and she was determined not to dampen his enthusiasm.

But he knew, just as he always did. Careful fingers cupped her chin and tilted her face upward. "Lois?"

Emotion came on in a rush. "I'm sorry." The words trembled on her lips. "I guess I'm just a little homesick."

"I know."

She sniffled and lifted a hand to wipe the errant tears away. "Would you believe it?" she said, trying for a note of levity. "I'm even missing my mother."

He chuckled as he was supposed to, and let go of her chin to stroke a finger down her cheek. "You know what? So am I."

"What's so funny?" Catherine asked, coming back into the room.

"We're homesick," Clark answered, moving to take the zippered nylon bag that dangled from her hand.

"And that's funny?" They stepped out into the hall and Catherine fumbled for her keys to lock the door.

"Kind of," Lois explained. "Since we're both to the point of actually missing my... Clark?"

He'd gone on alert, listening to something only he could hear. When he looked at her a moment later, she was ready.

"Go."

His finger was already tugging at his tie, but he hesitated. "You're sure?"

"I'm sure. Go. We'll see you down there."

"All right." He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "Be careful."

"We will be," she promised.

"Catherine, what's the quickest way out of the building?" he asked.

"The elevator... you mean for you?"

He nodded.

"The balcony," Lois remembered. "You can go from there."

"But if someone sees him..." Catherine began, obviously thinking that attention drawn to her balcony could be dangerous later for Vincent.

"No one will," Lois assured her, and pushed the door open.

Clark vanished in a blur of color; the sheer curtains over the french doors leading to the balcony swung wildly in his wake.

"Wow," Catherine said, looking at the space where he'd been.

Lois grinned.

*****

They traveled down in the elevator, bypassing the lobby and going all the way to the basement.

"There's a tunnel entrance here," Catherine explained in answer to Lois's questioning look. "Vincent made it for me. It's safer."

It involved a climb down a vertical ladder, no mean feat for a woman in a skirt and heels, but Lois managed it. Catherine, who had changed to jeans at her apartment, followed more easily.

"This way," she said, and started down a long, dusty passage.

Clark caught up with them just as they reached the inhabited area of the tunnels.

"Traffic accident," he explained, straightening his tie. "I freed a trapped driver."

"It's so incredible that you can do those things openly," Catherine marveled. "Vincent could do so much more if he didn't have to worry about being seen."

"That's why I have a secret identity," Clark answered. "Er, everyone here does know they shouldn't talk about me being the guy in the blue suit, right?"

"I'm not sure anyone besides Vincent and me knows you have a blue suit," she answered. "But Vincent will take care of it. Don't worry, everyone here knows how to keep important secrets."

"I know that," Clark answered, with dignity. "I just wanted to be sure they knew that part was a secret." He turned to Lois. "There was a reporter for the Times there..."

"Did you talk to him?"

"Her. Yeah, I thought I'd better. I didn't tell her much."

"Enough to blow our chance at the scoop." She sighed. "Oh, well, writing about Superman's not as much of a challenge as it used to be, when I had to worry about how to get hold of him for a quote." She gave him a coquettish sideways glance. "You always seemed to get the good quotes."

"Yeah," he agreed cheerfully. "But I cheated."

*****

When they reached his chamber, Vincent, looking much improved over yesterday, and as if he'd never been at death's door seventy-two hours ago, was on his feet, waiting for them.

Catherine hesitated just inside the doorway, conscious of Clark and Lois standing behind her, but most of her attention was for Vincent. The look he gave her was so intense it made her soul ache, but he made no move to touch her. She curled her fingers around the handle of her briefcase and concentrated on keeping her breathing even.

After an eternity, Vincent's gaze flickered and shifted. "You kept her safe," he said to Clark, who nodded. "Thank you."

Catherine, having spent the entire day with Clark in attendance, half-expected him to brush it off with a joke, but he didn't.

"My pleasure," he answered, instead, and he sounded as if he meant it. "I owed you one, remember?"

Now Vincent looked bewildered. "I beg your pardon?"

"For Lois," Clark explained. "I know you were going for Catherine, but Lois was there, too. I could never have found them in time, by myself. Lois's mouth was taped," he said, as if that were an explanation. And, considering his hearing, it probably was. Catherine remembered Lois giving an abbreviated yell as they were thrust into the police car.

Even without that knowledge, Vincent seemed to understand. He nodded briefly. "Even so, I am grateful."

And now Clark lost his solemnity, breaking into a broad smile. "Any time, my friend. All you have to do is ask."

After a supper brought on trays by some of the children, Catherine opened her briefcase. After she and Clark opened her mail this morning, she'd gone through what she had on Callahan and requested reports that were missing. Most of the items she'd requested had arrived on her desk this afternoon. She spread the files and envelopes on Vincent's round writing table.

There was no way to know what was important until they'd looked at it, so each of them grabbed a file.

"Wow, you asked for everything," Lois murmured, head bent over a sheaf of photocopies stapled together in one corner. "Lucille Callahan's medical records. She's been to the emergency room more times in the past five years than I have in my whole life."

"And I'll bet that every time she told them she fell down, or ran into a door," Catherine answered bitterly.

She could feel Lois and Clark both pause in their own reading to look at her, and was even more conscious of Vincent, sitting on the bed behind her, watching her. She bent her head to her own file, the original police report, plus an update summarizing later investigation. There wasn't much she hadn't seen before.

"Hey," Clark said, a moment later. "Callahan has an official reprimand in his personnel file. For hitting his wife back when they were first married."

"No kidding, really?" Lois said, and caught his wrist, pulling the papers in his hand over so she could see them. Good-naturedly, Clark allowed this. Seeing for herself seemed to satisfy Lois; a moment later she released Clark's arm and settled back in her chair. "Wonder if he ever got the counseling Internal Affairs told him to get?"

"Don't know," Clark answered, riffling through the few sheets in his hand. "There doesn't seem to be any follow- up."

"I can work on that tomorrow," Lois offered. "After I churn out whatever heartwarming syrup Alex wants."

"Don't call it that, honey..." Clark began.

"Why not? That's what it is. I'm an investigative reporter, Clark, and all this sickening-sweet stuff is making me crazy!"

"I know." He reached across and patted her hand. "Just stick with it a while longer."

"Until we break the story about Detective David Callahan beating his wife to death," she agreed.

"Which you can't do until we have enough evidence to have him arrested," Catherine pointed out.

"Right," Lois agreed. "So let's get back to work."

She returned to her perusal of the dispatcher's log for the night Lucille Callahan died. "Two calls," she announced, running a finger down the list. "Two calls, nearly twenty minutes apart, from the same neighbor. And her body wasn't found until her husband got home the next morning."

"No response at all?" Catherine asked.

"No... wait, yes, here it is. An hour and forty-five minutes after the first call... an officer went to the address, got no answer to his knock, and left."

"Is there a copy of that officer's report?" Clark asked. "Will there even be a report?"

"If he didn't get an answer and didn't talk to anyone, probably not, but I'll put in a request for it tomorrow, anyway," Catherine answered. "Maybe we can talk to the officer. I'm thinking about the neighbors... if someone called it in, someone must have heard something."

"Yeah," Clark agreed. "Right."

"So why are there no reports taken from any of the neighbors? Does the police report say anything about that?"

Clark skimmed the official report. "No. Not a word."

"But somebody called it in," Lois said. "I could go over there and..."

"Honey..." Clark interrupted, looking dismayed.

"Maybe it would be better if Clark and I went," Catherine suggested. "I can make official inquiries."

"But people might be more willing to talk to a reporter," Lois argued.

"I'm a reporter," Clark reminded her gently. "They can talk to me."

*****

Catherine lingered after Clark and Lois said goodnight, hoping Vincent would talk to her, touch her, anything. She tucked files away in her briefcase and then looked up to find him watching her.

"You should rest, too," he said gently.

"Really, Vincent, I'm not that tired. I'd like to..."

But he was shaking his head, shutting her out, as he had so often done before. "That's not true. You're exhausted. You need a good night's sleep."

Not as much as I need you, she thought wanly. She forced a smile past the misery in her throat. "I guess you're right."

She hesitated, hoping he would reach for her, give some indication that her touch would be welcome.

But he only sat, looking at her with an expression she couldn't read.

"Goodnight, Vincent." I love you, she added silently.

He rose to walk her to the door. "Goodnight, Catherine."

*****

Lois and Clark were nearly to their chamber when Clark stopped. "Listen, honey, can you go on without me? There's something I have to do..."

"You hear something?"

He hesitated. "I just need to talk to Catherine."

"About the story?" She had turned to look at him; suspicion was creeping onto her face.

But he couldn't lie to her. "Not about the story. About... something else."

"Oh." Her look was doubtful and for an instant, Clark thought she was going to protest, but at last she nodded, grudgingly. "Okay. Don't be long."

He kissed her quickly. "I won't," he promised, and headed back the way they had come.

The sound that had attracted his attention grew louder as he approached Catherine's chamber. He paused at the entrance, and in the custom of a community without doors, called out. After a moment Catherine's voice, muffled but recognizable, answered. "Go away!"

He stepped closer and tried again. "Catherine? May I come in, please? It's Clark."

There was a longer pause, one he tried hard not to listen to. Finally she appeared in the entrance, eyes moist and voice just the tiniest bit shaky. "What do you want?"

"I just want to talk to you for a minute. Please?"

He could sense her reluctance in the way she hesitated, the way she held her arms folded across her body, but finally she gave a brief, jerky nod and stepped aside.

Like the space he shared with Lois, this chamber was charming, but in an impersonal, nobody-really-lives-here kind of way. It reminded him that her residence here, like his and Lois's, was temporary.

She didn't follow him in, didn't offer him a seat. Instead she waited, stiff and formal, by the entrance. "It's late, Clark, I'm tired. Can we make this fast?"

He brushed that aside. "Are you all right?"

She flinched, just a little, but didn't unbend. "Of course."

"But you've been crying."

She dashed furtively at her eyes, as if afraid a lingering tear was giving her away. "I'm fine," she insisted. "What do you need?"

I need to help you, he thought, but didn't say. She probably wouldn't understand his compulsion to assist when he could. "I just... I thought you might need somebody to talk to. Vincent was kind of - stiff - this evening."

She let her breath out in a long sigh. "I know. He worries..."

"Yeah, I know."

The look she gave him was startled. "You...?"

"We talked some, last night. When neither of us could sleep."

"Oh." She swallowed. "I'm glad. He needs somebody to talk to, and you can probably understand better than most people."

He nodded. "He's afraid, you know."

"Afraid of hurting me. I know."

"It terrifies him. He wants to love you, Catherine, but he's so scared."

"I know," she said again. "I don't understand it, but I know."

He found his gaze drawn by a the flame of a candle that sputtered and hissed, as if its wick were wet. "I understand," he said softly.

"What?"

"I hurt her once." He looked at his hands, clenching his fists in remembered guilt.

"Who? Lois?" Startlement was in her voice.

He nodded.

"You wouldn't do that, Clark. I know you wouldn't."

"But I did. I didn't mean to, but I did." His voice dropped to a whisper.

She stood quietly, her eyes full of compassion. "What happened?"

"There's this... substance... in our world, where we come from. It affects me oddly, and differently each time. This time, it made it impossible for me to control my powers, my strength.

"I hugged her. That's all, I just hugged her. She didn't want me to know, so she tried to hide it, but I saw it later. A bruise on her arm, just the size of my hand. I could see the marks of my fingers..." His voice trailed off as he relived the devastation of that moment.

"You weren't yourself," Catherine said, her voice even. "You'd never do that if you were yourself."

"No, but see, that's the point. I wasn't myself, and I hurt her. Vincent is sometimes not himself, and he's terrified he'll hurt you. It's the same thing. And the fact that neither of you is afraid doesn't make any difference."

"But you don't let it keep you from loving her."

"No. But if I'm feeling even the slightest bit... off... I'm careful not to touch her. I don't think she's noticed because I haven't had to do it often, and I usually figure out what's wrong pretty quickly, but I'm always aware now."

She gave him a shaky smile. "Lois is a very lucky lady."

"I'm a very lucky guy." He peered at her. "A lot of people figure you and Vincent are pretty lucky, too."

She looked up quickly. "We are."

He took a deep breath. Now was the time to ask. "Then what did you mean, this afternoon when we were leaving your office, when you said he... liked it... when he... protected you?"

He saw her throat muscles working as she swallowed convulsively once, twice. "I meant what I said," she managed finally, whispering.

"That he likes to... kill for you."

And then, in a way that reminded him suddenly of Lois, defiance sparked in her eyes as her chin came up. "I shouldn't have said it. You shouldn't have heard it."

"But I did hear it. You did say it. But I can't reconcile it with the Vincent I know. So what did you mean?"

She closed her eyes against his gaze.

He waited.

Finally she spoke. "When he kills. What he feels... I feel it, too."

Astonishment nearly stole his voice. "You feel... I didn't know you could feel him, I thought he..."

"Usually," she interrupted, eyes still shut tight. "Usually only he can do it. But when he's coming for me... when he... it's so intense. I feel it... I feel it all. It's like... almost like... making love... but not. And I have so little, I have to fight so hard not to want him that way, not to put myself in danger... and sometimes I do anyway, even though I don't think I mean to..."

Her words were coming fast and breathless, like Lois in full spate, only this wasn't to cover confusion or disquiet, this was deep and so full of despair he wanted to weep.

She stopped and stared at him, appalled. "Oh, God," she whispered. "I've never said that to anyone before. Never even dared to think it... Oh, God."

Clark hovered for an instant, indecisive. Should he try to touch her, offer her the comfort of an embrace? Or mutter a hasty apology and hurry out? Or maybe just wait until she collected herself and could talk to him reasonably, rationally. If she could talk about it, she'd feel better.

The sound of running feet reached him a bare second before Vincent, breathless and ashen, burst in snarling. Clark backed up a hasty step and put his hands up, palms out. "Hey, it's okay," he said. "I'm not doing anything..."

The change in Vincent's face took place in the space of a heartbeat; his expression eased, and humanity returned to his eyes. "Catherine," he breathed, and turned to find her.

"I'm here, I'm okay," she said, as he gathered her into his arms.

Vincent must have sensed her distress and misinterpreted it, Clark decided. A simple "Help!" was easier... but then the victim had to be able to yell, and the rescuer to hear. Maybe their way was better, after all.

He started to excuse himself, not that either of them was noticing his presence any longer... but paused when Vincent's knees buckled.

"Vincent!" Catherine cried, and struggled to hold him up.

Clark was at his other side in a flash, easing Vincent's considerable weight from Catherine's shoulders and moving him toward the bed. "You're not healed enough for a mad dash through the tunnels," he said, trying to lighten things up. "Should we get Father?"

"No," Vincent rasped, through quick, painful breaths. "He'll just fret and lecture. I'll be all right in a minute..."

On his other side, Catherine was murmuring something that sounded suspiciously like "I'm sorry."

And then, from outside, came Lois's voice, calling Catherine's name. She looked up, startled, but it was Clark who rose to his feet. "I'll talk to her," he muttered, and went out through the short passage that connected the chamber to the tunnel beyond.

Lois looked both guilty and petulant. "Aren't you coming back?"

"Yeah, I am. In a minute. Something's happened..."

"What, in there?" Lois craned to see around him, then glared when he refused to budge. "Clark, what is going on here? You're keeping secrets from me, and you promised you wouldn't do that any more."

"I know, honey, but it isn't my secret to tell..."

He saw her struggle between impatience and courtesy, trying to quell her inborn drive to *know* with the tenets of civility.

He reached for a desperate promise to keep her at bay. "I'll be there as soon as I can..."

"It doesn't matter, Clark." From the chamber came Catherine's voice, sounding infinitely weary. "She can come in."

Surprised, Clark shrugged and stepped aside. Lois hesitated, then stepped past him, into the chamber. He followed.

"Oh," Lois said, catching sight of Vincent. "I didn't realize..."

"I said something that got Catherine upset," Clark explained. "Vincent didn't know why she was upset, he only knew she was, so he came to see about her. But he came a little more quickly than his state of healing called for."

Vincent was sitting up now and had more color in his face, but clearly wasn't as strong as he'd seemed earlier, in his own chamber.

Lois frowned. "What did you say, Clark? Vincent wouldn't have been running unless it was something... big."

Clark glanced at Catherine, who was white-faced, her expression pleading. The look Lois was giving him was implacable and demanding. He sighed. "Look, I can't..."

"Can't betray Catherine's confidence by repeating whatever the two of you were discussing," Lois finished for him. "Okay, fine. I can live with that. And anyway, I think I can guess. Some of it, anyway."

Catherine dropped her gaze; Vincent fixed his on the far wall.

Lois crossed her arms and planted her feet. "I've been watching you two dancing around each other and it's driving me crazy." She let out a low, exasperated laugh. "You remind me of me and Clark."

Vincent's eyes widened. "But you and Clark do not..."

"Not anymore," she answered. "But we used to. I figure it cost us at least a year... how long do you suppose it's cost you?"

Catherine gave Vincent a swift, surreptitious glance, then looked away. Vincent stared at the floor.

"Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about." Lois pointed. "You love him, right?"

Startled, Catherine nodded. "Yes," she whispered.

Lois turned on Vincent. "And you love her."

Vincent's gaze went to Catherine, who was watching her hands. "More than my life," he admitted softly.

"But you don't talk to each other. Not about the things that are really important." She eyed them both narrowly. "You both have secrets you're keeping."

Catherine glared at Clark, fury in her eyes. There wasn't any way to tell her that Lois was working on pure intuition. He shrugged.

Vincent closed his eyes briefly and looked away.

"Don't you?" Lois demanded of him.

He nodded. "Yes." His voice was so low, even Clark could scarcely hear it, but Lois seemed satisfied.

She looked at Catherine. "You know what? I'm betting it's different sides of the same secret."

Vincent shook his head. "It is my shame," he whispered. "No one knows. No one can ever know. It is too deep, too dark, for sharing."

"But it'd be lighter if you shared it, Vincent." Clark spoke up for the first time. "I know."

Lois glanced at him with approval. "And anyway," she added, "I'll bet Catherine already knows. Some of it, anyway." She gave Vincent a small, almost tender smile. "You can't hide from someone who really loves you. So talk to each other. Tell each other. It'll be all right." She turned and slid her hand into Clark's. "Come on," she said to him. "They'll be all right by themselves now."

*****

Vincent watched them go with growing dread. Lois couldn't be right that Catherine knew this terrible darkness, this shameful secret, but she was right about something else. They had to talk about it. He had to tell. Catherine had to know.

He would open himself, let her see all the darknesses gathered inside. Then she would be horrified. Then she would leave. It would be over, all of it. The lying... and the loving. Her loving.

Because of course he would continue to love her until the day he died.

Only his love gave him courage to speak. "Catherine..."

"No, Vincent, let me. Please."

The intensity in her voice surprised him. "All right." The delay was welcome; he'd have a few more moments with her before the end. He studied her, memorizing the curve of her cheek, the shining fall of her hair. Soon memory would be all he had.

He regretted the troubled look on her face, the apprehension he could feel in her heart. He hated that he had put them there.

She closed her eyes briefly; he could sense her gathering courage. "You feel everything I feel," she began.

He nodded, perplexed. They had both known this for a long time.

"But what you don't know is that sometimes I can feel you, too."

"I do know that," he reminded her. "When Father and I were trapped in the Maze, you knew, and you came to help. When you were in California, and in danger..."

"Okay, right, I remember those times. But there've been other times. Times I haven't told you about."

"Why not?"

"Because I was afraid."

"Of me?"

"Of what you would do if you knew."

His heart ached. He swallowed hard. "What... might I do?"

Hurt me, he waited to hear her say. Take pleasure in hurting me. Like Gary Stevens and David Callahan took pleasure in hurting their wives. He was no different, no less a monster. He hated himself.

"You might leave me," she whispered.

Astonishment held him in place. "Catherine, I could never..."

"You could," she interrupted. "You might. You... have. When you thought it was for my own good."

Oh. "Why might I have thought it was for your good this time?" he asked carefully.

"Promise you won't leave. Promise you'll stay, and hear it all. Please?"

He'd already decided to do so, but she couldn't know that. The plea in her voice wrenched at his heart. "Whatever it is, Catherine, you can say it to me. I will listen. I promise."

"Okay."

He watched her straighten her shoulders, lift herself with determination, and braced himself.

"When I am in danger... and you come to me..." She brought the words out slowly, haltingly. "...I know what you feel. I feel... what you feel."

"No..." Nothing he'd imagined was this terrible. He shook his head. "No. Not..."

"Yes, Vincent." She was looking at him now, her gaze strong and sure. "I know what rushes through you when you kill. I know... because it rushes through me, too. It's dark, and terrible... and glorious. It makes my heart pound, makes my mouth go dry, makes me want to tip back my head and shout. And sometimes it's all I can do to keep from putting myself into danger so you will come to me, and I can feel it again."

"No." He sank to his knees, and clutched his head in his hands. "No. Not that. Please."

And then she was beside him, her arms around him, holding him close. He should pull away from her, should end it now, before he dragged her any more deeply into the darknesses that gripped him. But he couldn't. There was comfort in her touch, a peace he never had at any other time. He gave in to longing and laid his head on her shoulder, breathing her scent, hearing the murmur of her voice in his ear as her hands stroked through his mane.

At last he found voice to speak. "I should never have... I should never... it's my fault, all my fault..."

And then she was drawing away from him, pushing him away. "It's not," she argued, her expression fierce. "It's not your fault, Vincent, don't you see? I wanted you to come. I... it filled a need in me, when you killed for me. Maybe it goes back to when I was attacked the first time, when my face was cut. Maybe I needed to feel that power, to know what it felt like to stop them, to hurt them the way they hurt me. And then... that power is addictive. You know it is. I think I've known for a long time how destructive it all was... but I didn't want to admit it, didn't want to give up the feeling when you..." She paused, and shook her head. "There are so many things we can't share, don't share... but we could share that."

Of course. For the first time in this painful conversation, he lifted his gaze to meet hers. "What will we share now?"

She studied him for an endless moment. "May I ask you something?"

"Of course," he answered instantly. "You know you may."

"Will you answer me? Truthfully, with no evasions?"

Trepidation beat inside his chest, making his answer slow to come. But at last he nodded. "If I can."

"Right." She looked away; he could feel her gathering strength, marshalling courage. "Why haven't you ever kissed me?"

Panic clutched at his throat. But he'd promised. He swallowed, and closed his eyes against the earnest, pleading look in hers. "Kissing you... is an intimacy I dare not allow myself..."

"Why?"

"Because... because it leads to... it might..."

"Because it's a first step?"

"Yes."

"Why are you afraid of that?"

He dropped his gaze to his hands, curled against his thighs, the deadly claws catching the candlelight in dull reflection. "Because of what I am..."

"I know what you are," she answered. "I love... what you are. Who you are. All of you. You have to believe that now."

Amazingly, he did. Finally. She knew all of him, his darkest, most shameful feelings... and she loved him. Wonder and gratitude made him drop his head once more to her shoulder. Her arms went around him, holding him close.

"What if I hurt you?" he whispered. "If I ever hurt you..."

"But you wouldn't, Vincent." Her voice was low and certain. "You always know, and you would never hurt me. Even when you were so sick..."

"Clark said that," he interrupted, remembering. "That I was delirious, lashing out... but that when you touched me, I knew you, and I stopped."

"Yes. I held you still when he cauterized your wound. With just my fingers against your skin, I held you. It was terribly painful, and you would have fought him, otherwise. But you knew my touch, and you were still."

"Perhaps..." He wanted so badly to believe.

"If you know me when you're delirious with fever, or when you lose yourself in rage... you'll know me in passion. You will."

If only she was right. If only.

Catherine let go of him, sliding her hands across his shoulders, down his arms. She paused with her hands on his. Her fingers caressed his palms. "Kiss me, Vincent."

He hesitated, his fear stronger than his desire.

After an endless, aching moment, Catherine let her breath out in a long, soft sigh and moved away from him. "I'm sorry," she whispered. Heartbreak was in her voice, but he didn't need to hear her. He could feel it, vibrating between them. "I asked for too much... I'm sorry."

'Maybe you should fear what you might do to her heart. Because if you keep on the way you have been, always pushing her away when she gets too close, someday it may be too much, and you'll lose her.' Clark Kent's voice echoed in his mind.

'You'll lose her.'

He desperately didn't want that.

And what harm could there be in a single kiss?

He put out a trembling hand and laid it on her arm.

Her eyes, when she looked up, glistened with unshed tears, and he felt his own heart breaking.

"Oh, my love," he whispered, and drew her into his arms.

She came without protest, wrapping her arms around him and holding on hard. He held her tight, rocking her, burying his face in her hair.

But an embrace, even one as intense as this one, wasn't what she'd asked for.

Hesitant, he brought a hand to her face. He let his palm caress her cheek while he gathered courage, then tipped her face up to his.

She waited, breathless, watching him, letting him set the pace. She'd never looked so beautiful.

And at long last, after years of wanting, years of denial, he bent his head and pressed his lips to hers.

*****

Something was up. Vincent and Catherine could hardly look at each other this morning, but there was none of the tension that had pervaded the air the day before. Today, Clark had the distinct feeling that if they'd actually met each other's shy glances, one, or possibly both, would have blushed and broken out in giggles.

Lois sensed it too; when he caught her eye, she smiled a knowing smile, no doubt pleased with the way things were going, relationship-wise.

Their suspicious were confirmed when it was time for Lois, Clark, and Catherine to go topside for work. Catherine paused at the entrance to Vincent's chamber. Vincent hesitated an instant, no doubt because of the audience, then switched his focus to Catherine and gathered her into a very tender, very intimate hug. "Take great care," Clark heard him whisper, before he let her go.

"I will," she promised, gazing deep into his eyes.

Lois squeezed Clark's hand and gave him a smug little grin when he glanced her way. Who'd have thought matchmaking would suit her so well?

In the passage outside, she let go of his hand and hurried to catch up with Catherine, who was setting a quick pace.

"Well?" she demanded.

"Well, what?" Catherine answered, with clearly feigned innocence.

"What happened last night? From the sappy look on your face, it had to be terrific."

"I don't have a sappy look on my face," Catherine defended herself.

"Yes, you do," Lois countered. "You look just about like I probably did after... well, after a few things, actually. So what happened?"

Catherine glanced back at Clark, obviously reluctant to share feminine secrets with him within earshot.

"Don't mind him, he's pretending he's not here," Lois said. "What happened after we left last night?"

Catherine lowered her voice, which of course didn't keep Clark from hearing every word, but which probably made her feel better. "We talked... about things."

"Like..." Lois prompted.

"Like... things." Catherine clearly did not want to talk about this.

But Lois was persistent. "Come on. You're dying to tell somebody."

"No, I'm not." Was there a quiver of uncertainty, an undercurrent of excitement, in Catherine's voice?

"Yes, you are. Or at least, you're dying to talk about something." Lois thought for a minute. "Okay, skip what you talked about. What did you do?"

"Nothing!" Catherine's denial was a bit too emphatic.

Lois circled in for the kill. "Did he finally kiss you?"

Catherine could keep her face impassive, but she didn't seem to be able to stop the rosy flush that crept up her cheeks.

Lois clapped her hands together. "He did! He kissed you!"

"Shhhh!" Catherine looked around anxiously, obviously worried about being overheard.

Clark pulled his glasses down for a quick peek through the nearest walls. "It's okay, nobody's around."

Catherine pressed her hands to her eyes; when she removed them, her expression was calmer. "I guess it doesn't matter. You won't say anything to Father, will you?"

"If Father gives you any trouble, I'll just turn Lois loose on him," Clark offered, and was gratified by Catherine's quick smile.

"She does seem to have a way with him, doesn't she?"

"Hey, I've been dealing with Perry White for years. That's our editor, back home," Lois added. "Father's a pushover in comparison."

"Not quite a pushover..." Clark began, but Lois had already shut him out.

"Tell me about the kiss," she prodded Catherine. "Was it good? Was it great? First kisses are so important..."

Clark rolled his eyes.

Catherine sighed. "It was... I don't know. Unusual."

"Unusual? How? You mean because his upper lip..."

"Do you know, I don't think I even noticed that. His mouth felt... well... but... remember your first kiss? Eighth grade or so?"

"Eighth grade, exactly," Lois said. "Yeah."

"I was in tenth grade when I had my first kiss," Clark volunteered. That might distract Lois long enough to get Catherine off the hook.

Lois spun around and began to walk backwards. "Who was it?" she challenged. "Lana, or Rachel?"

"Neither," he answered, grinning. "Julianne Simmons."

"What are you doing kissing somebody I never heard of?" she demanded.

"At the time, I'd never heard of you!"

"That's no excuse." But she was smiling, obviously intrigued by this glimpse into his completely un-sordid past.

Catherine shot out an arm to keep Lois from backing into a low lintel.

"Thanks," Lois said, turning around. "Okay, back to Vincent," she said to Catherine. "He kisses like an eighth grader? And you're starry-eyed over it?"

Catherine cast a quick glance at Clark, who had exhausted his repertoire of distractions. He shrugged and dropped back, giving them the illusion of privacy.

"Ignore him," Lois commanded. "Give."

Catherine blushed, smiled, and gave in. "He kisses like an eighth-grader because he's... well... inexperienced."

"Inexperience isn't necessarily a bad thing," Lois said. "In fact, my last encounter with inexperience was pretty darn good."

By now Catherine was clearly longing to share what had happened. She glanced again at Clark, who did his best to look uninterested. She turned back to Lois. "There's something... primal... in his kiss."

"Ooh." Lois all but shivered. "Primal. I don't know if I've ever had a kiss I'd call primal. Primal is good. And inexperience can be cured. In fact, curing it can be a lot of fun. The main thing is, he kissed you."

Catherine's face lapsed into the slightly unfocused look it had worn earlier. "Yeah," she agreed. "Yeah."

*****

"No, ma'am, no police ever came to my door when that woman died." The woman in the apartment immediately above the Callahans' was positive. "My boy was sick that day, too, so I was home."

"Well, I'm sure they just missed you," Catherine said, though they shouldn't have. According to the police report, all the neighbors had been questioned, and no one had heard anything unusual the night Lucille Callahan died. But maybe they had just missed this one apartment. Catherine struggled to keep an open mind. "Well, I'm here now. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"

The woman glanced over her shoulder. "Huh? Oh, yeah, I guess so. If you don't mind the mess... I was up half the night with my boy. He's sick again."

She stepped back to let Catherine and Clark into the apartment.

The boy in question appeared to be eight or nine years old; he was lying on the couch under a colorful knitted afghan, watching TV.

"My throat hurts, Mom," he said, as they came in.

"Just a minute, Brad, I have to talk to these people first."

"But I want a drink!" Brad's voice rose near whining.

"I said in a minute!"

"Go ahead and get him his drink," Clark said, quietly. "I'm sure he doesn't feel well..."

"Well, all right..." The mother went to the tiny kitchen and returned a moment later with a canned soda. She popped the top and set it on the coffee table where the boy could reach it.

He didn't bother to thank her before grabbing for the drink.

"If he's sick, wouldn't juice be better for him?" Catherine regretted the impulsive comment before she'd finished making it; no one liked criticism, even when it was only implied.

"He don't like juice," the mother bristled. "He likes pop."

"Oh." Catherine bent over her notebook to hide the blush she could feel creeping up her cheeks. "Can we sit down somewhere?"

The woman had lost some of her already grudging cooperation, but she led Catherine and Clark to the aluminum-and-formica kitchen table. "Here," she said. "Brad's got the couch."

Catherine carefully stayed away from the subject of Brad. "Mrs. Willow, were you home the night your downstairs neighbor was killed?"

"All night. My boy was sick, like I told you."

"What time did you get home?"

"I never left. Brad come home sick from school, so we just never went anywhere. Stayed right here."

"So you were home all evening."

"I said that."

"Yes, I'm sorry. Mrs. Willow, did you hear any unusual noises coming from the apartment downstairs? Any time that night or early the next morning?"

The expression on the woman's face changed subtly. "Unusual? No, can't say I did."

"No sounds of a scuffle, banging, perhaps shouting? Someone calling for help?"

"You didn't ask that. You asked was anything unusual."

Catherine contained the retort that sprang to her lips. "I'm sorry, I'll rephrase. Did you hear any sounds of scuffling, any shouting, any other loud noises, from the apartment downstairs, any time that night or the next morning?"

From the corner of her eye, she could see Clark nodding approval under the guise of taking notes.

"About seven o'clock," the woman answered, after some thought.

"In the morning?" Catherine glanced at her own notes; according to the police report, the body had been found by Detective Callahan at about 7:15 am.

"Not the morning. The night before. About seven the night she died. I know because Brad was trying to watch his favorite show, and we had to keep turning it up, the sound, you know, so he could hear. They were so loud!"

"Who? Who was loud?"

"Them downstairs. I don't know the name, but the husband's a cop."

"The Callahans?"

"I guess. The ones downstairs. The ones where the wife got killed."

Her lack of compassion would have been shocking if Catherine hadn't seen it so often before. Now it just made her sad. She wondered what Clark thought, and how people reacted to murder where he came from. His expression, when she glanced up, told her nothing.

"Mrs. Willow, what did you hear?" he asked.

"The usual. Him yelling, her crying, then a couple loud knocks like this..." she demonstrated by reaching over and striking the wall sharply with the side of her closed fist. It made a clear, loud thud. "... and then more crying and more yelling."

"Did you call the police?"

"You gotta be kidding. Call the cops? They don't come. We've called before and they don't come. And then if they do, they talk about Brad leaving his bike downstairs in the hall, and Mike, that's my husband, about Mike playing his stereo too loud. They never talk to the man downstairs. Cops stick together, is what. Us civilians don't count."

"Mrs. Willow, the police are there to protect 'us civilians,'" Catherine said. "They're also supposed to respond to every report of possible domestic violence."

"Supposed to and do are two different things," the woman snapped. "Now, I've told you what I know."

"One more question," Clark interjected gently. "Did you notice what time the noise downstairs stopped?"

"Of course I noticed. It stopped a little after eight."

An hour. The argument that was very possibly a beating had gone on for an hour, and the police never came. Catherine resolved to talk with the officer who finally had responded as soon as she got back to the office. "Thank you, Mrs. Willow, you've been very helpful. I hope Brad feels better soon."

*****

Other neighbors reported hearing sounds of a struggle the night Lucille Callahan died. The second one they talked to was the one who had called the police. "An hour and a half!" she told Catherine, indignant. "An hour and a half! What that poor woman must have been through."

"Yes," Catherine agreed.

"Wasn't the first time, either," the woman went on. "I swear, that man used his wife as a punching bag every time she looked at him sideways. She was always having bruises on her face and her arms, saying she fell or ran into something."

"Did you ever see her husband hit her?" Clark asked.

"No, but I saw him grab her arm one time. Rough, like he was real mad. He pulled her into their apartment and I didn't see her again for a day or two. She never answered the door the day after. Never."

"Did she ever say anything to you about her husband hitting her?" Catherine asked.

"We didn't really know each other," the woman explained. "Just to nod hello to in the hall, is all. One time she left some shirts in the dryer downstairs and I brought them up to her. She said then, when she thanked me, that her husband was particular about his shirts. But we didn't talk. I wish now we had."

*****

"She's a witness, isn't she?" Clark asked as they left the building. "To what Callahan might do?"

"I wish she'd actually seen Callahan hit his wife, even once," Catherine said. "But she's something. If we can find enough other evidence, her testimony will help."

Their next stop was the police station. Catherine introduced Clark to a detective named Greg Hughs. "We have some questions we'd like to ask," she said, after the men shook hands.

"Sure," Greg answered. "What's up?"

She showed him the 911 call sheet. "What's the usual response time to a domestic violence call?"

He peered at the report. "A lot less than an hour and forty-five minutes, unless it was a really busy night, but from this, it doesn't look like it was."

"That's what I thought. Could we talk to the officer who finally responded?"

"Let me see if he's on duty right now."

Greg showed them into a tiny, grubby interrogation room. Police officer Paul Stuart joined them a few minutes later. "Detective Hughs says you want to talk to me?"

"Yes, thank you, Officer. Please, sit down."

Stuart, young and visibly nervous, obeyed. As she had done with Greg Hughs, Catherine showed her printout of the 911 log and explained what she wanted.

"I went as soon as I got the call," he reported earnestly. "I remember because the dispatcher told me a police officer lived there. But when I got there, no one was home."

"How do you know that?" Clark asked, then wondered if he should have. This was, after all, an official inquiry by a member of the D.A.'s office. But Catherine didn't seem to mind.

"I knocked and no one answered."

"Did you try the door?" Catherine asked.

Stuart nodded. "I did. It was locked. I knocked several times, but no one was home."

"Or at least, no one was answering the door," Catherine observed dryly.

The young officer flushed. "Right. No one was answering the door."

"Did you talk to the neighbors who called it in?"

He shook his head. "Dispatch told me the call was anonymous."

Catherine glanced at the automatic log; Clark didn't have to look. He knew as well as she did that there were two separate calls, and that the caller had indeed given her name, both times.

"I did talk to a couple of the neighbors," Stuart went on, obviously anxious to redeem himself. "But none of them wanted to talk to me. They all said they hadn't heard anything unusual."

Clark recalled the upstairs neighbor saying the same thing, maintaining she was telling the truth because the violent sounds from the Callahan apartment that night weren't unusual at all. They were far too commonplace.

 

"I don't like this," Catherine announced when they reached sunlight again. "From what Stuart told us, it was an hour and a half from the time the call came in until he was dispatched to the scene. And I think I believe him."

"There are records you can get to bear him out, aren't there?" Clark asked.

She nodded. "I'll request them as soon as we're back in the office."

"And if he's telling the truth?"

She sighed. "Internal Affairs will have something to say, I'm sure."

"And Lois and I have our story."

*****

"Hey, Radcliffe!" Joe sounded more curious than mad when he spotted Catherine and Clark walking into the D.A.'s office a little before lunchtime. "Where've you been?"

"Following a lead," she answered. "I may have something on the Callahan case."

"Really? Good for you. I hear the cops are stymied."

Catherine fought to keep her tone dry. "I'm not surprised."

Beside her, Clark was very still, probably thinking the same thing she was.

But she didn't want to give away what they knew just yet. "I'll let you know when we have something concrete," she told her boss.

"You do that. And you think you might get something done on the Marpesa case today? Seeing as how it's going to trial on Thursday?"

The Marpesa case. Of course. She was supposed to be breaking down the testimony of four witnesses, and she hadn't even started yet. "I'm on it," she said with confidence. "I'll have it to you soon."

The look on his face was one of warning. "Good. And hey, here, Charlene asked me to put this on your desk." He handed her a pink message slip.

"Thanks, Joe." She glanced at the slip, then passed it on to Clark. "I think she'd rather talk to you," she said dryly.

He grinned, and picked up the phone on her desk to dial. "Lois Lane, please. Hi, honey. We just got into the office. What's up?"

He listened for a moment, then filled her in on what he and Catherine had learned. "Great. See you then. Love you." He put the phone down gently. "She says Callahan never did get his court-ordered counseling."

"Really? Was there any official follow-up?"

"Doesn't look like it. She's waiting for a call back from a source."

Catherine felt her eyebrows rise. "You two have only been here a matter of weeks, and already she has sources? It took me years to build my network, and half of them came from Vincent."

He grinned. "I married a talented woman."

She grinned back. "Yeah. I guess you did."

He settled onto a corner of her desk. "So now what happens?"

She pulled the phone a little closer. "Now I think it's time to call Jimmy Briggs."

*****

"How are you coming on the Callahan investigation?" Catherine asked, when Briggs answered.

"We don't have any solid leads, but we're working on it." The man's voice, easily audible to Clark, was just this side of testy.

Catherine stayed cool. "Have you reconsidered the husband as a suspect?"

Briggs' voice tightened. "Miss Chandler, I know the husband is an automatic suspect in a violent death, but I know Dave Callahan, and he wouldn't..."

Catherine broke in. "Are you aware Callahan has a history of hitting his wife?"

There was a long silence. "Where are you getting that?"

"It's in his personnel file. He got an official reprimand and was ordered to go for counseling. I have a source telling me he never got that counseling."

"I didn't know that."

Catherine pressed on, showing no mercy. "Are you aware that on at least three occasions in the past year, Lucille Callahan visited the ER with suspicious injuries?"

"No."

"Or that on the day she died, David Callahan left a pickup basketball game angry because he'd been shown up on the court by a starter for the NYU women's team?"

"How do you know that?" Briggs was blustering now.

Catherine kept on. "Did you know an upstairs neighbor heard shouting and scuffling that went on for over an hour the night Lucille Callahan died? And that she's sure it all took place before 8:00 pm?"

"Uniforms said they didn't find anyone who heard anything," Briggs said.

"Well, they were right about that. The neighbor says no one ever came to her door. The neighbor who called 911 that night never saw a police officer, either."

There was another long pause. "How do you know that?"

"Because I talked with the neighbors myself, just this morning. I'll be happy to give you their names if you'd like to follow up on it."

This silence was even longer than the preceding ones. "I guess," Briggs said at last, sounding lost and defeated, "you'd better do that."

*****

Shortly before lunch, Briggs called back. "I talked with the neighbors," he said. "You're right about what they had to say." He sighed. "I guess Dave Callahan's a suspect after all. I can't believe it. I knew he had a temper, but..."

"Yes," Catherine told him. She forced sympathy into her voice, but couldn't summon much genuine emotion for anyone but Lucille Callahan.

"But Dave still says Lucille was fine when he left her, and none of the neighbors actually saw him that night."

"I know," Catherine admitted, working hard to keep the tiredness from her voice.

"So I don't know if we can place him there after she was hurt."

"I know," Catherine said again. "What about the fact that she never called for help?"

She could almost hear Briggs shaking his head. "The autopsy say she died from massive internal bleeding, but it's inconclusive on whether or not she was conscious when the beating ended. She might have been, but if she wasn't, she couldn't have called for help."

"I know," Catherine said, for the third time.

"I have men asking questions," Briggs went on. "Nothing else is going to slip by me, you can count on that."

The determination in his voice was convincing. He'd been embarrassed by the holes she'd pointed out in his investigation; she didn't think he'd let it happen again, and she didn't think he was part of the apparent coverup. "Good," she told him. "Keep me informed."

She put the phone down and glanced at Clark to see if he'd been listening, but he was looking past her with a glow on his face that could only mean one thing. She turned to see Lois Lane walking quickly in their direction.

Clark was on his feet to greet her. "Hi, honey. I didn't expect to see you here."

"I finished up early for Alex," she answered breezily. "And I thought I'd come see if you two needed any help. Or at least if I could snatch my husband away for lunch."

"If Catherine will come, too," he agreed.

But Catherine was shaking her head. "I can't. I have so much to do..."

"Come on," Lois wheedled. "The break will do you good, you'll come back fresh. Aren't you hungry?"

"Starved," Catherine admitted. "Maybe you could bring something back for me?"

Clark went around and took hold of the back of her chair. "You're coming with us," he said firmly. "Now, do you come willingly, or do I have to carry you?"

She looked up at him, her expression wary. "You wouldn't..."

"Yes, I would," he assured her. "So are you coming?"

"Clark, really, I have all this..."

"But I agree with Lois, the break will refresh you. Besides, I really want to go, and I can't unless you come too."

"Why not?" Catherine's expression was genuinely mystified.

"Because Briggs talked to Callahan today," he answered. "He already took a huge risk snatching you and Lois off the street last week; no telling what he might do now, if he thinks the evidence is piling up against him. I couldn't look Vincent in the eye if anything happened to you."

"What's going to happen to Cathy?" Joe had emerged from his office and come up without anyone, even Clark, hearing him approach.

"Nothing, Joe," Catherine answered, too quickly.

Joe didn't fall for it. "Okay, what risky thing are you thinking about doing?"

"Risky?" Lois all but crowed. "You do risky, too?"

Catherine scrabbled for the shreds of her dignity. "Sometimes," she answered. "I'm trying not to, anymore, though."

Clark was shaking his head. "I knew it," he muttered. "I knew you two were alike."

"Who's this?" Joe asked, looking at Lois.

Catherine recognized the gleam in his eye and grinned. "A friend of mine. Lois Lane, from the West Side Sentinel."

Joe held out his hand. "A reporter? I'm tempted to ask what a reporter is doing in my office, talking to my top investigator."

"Not your top investigator any more, Joe," Catherine reminded him.

"Right, sorry. Talking to my newest trial attorney. But I think I'll just ask if you like Italian food?"

"I love Italian food," Lois answered, and took his hand. "I'm pleased to meet you, Joe...?"

"Maxwell," Catherine supplied helpfully. "My boss."

Joe never took his eyes from Lois's face. "I know a great little restaurant in Astoria..." he began.

"Really?" Lois beamed. "That sounds nice."

Clark took pity on Joe, and cleared his throat. "I'm sorry to say these two risk-takers are enjoying themselves at your expense."

Joe's expression flickered. "Huh?"

"What they're not telling you is, Lois is my wife."

Lois glanced at Catherine with a grin. "Busted," she whispered.

Joe hurriedly extracted his hand from Lois's. "Sorry," he muttered. "I didn't mean to..."

"She was egging you on," Clark said kindly. "They were both egging you on. You probably deserve an apology..."

The mortified look on Joe's face took all the pleasure out of the joke. "Sorry, Joe," Catherine said.

"I'm sorry, too," Lois said. "It is nice to meet you, though."

"Nice to meet you, too," Joe answered carefully. "Sorry about that, Clark."

"Can't blame a guy for trying," Clark told him.

Joe shoved his hands in his pockets. "So, did you guys see the news last night?"

Catherine's nerve endings went on alert. "Some of it," she answered. "And the paper this morning."

Joe bulled on, obviously wanting to move the topic of conversation far, far away from Lois Lane. "What do you think about this guy they're talking about? You know, the one in the blue tights and the cape."

"I wish I'd been there to get the interview," Lois answered promptly. "Scoop of the century."

"Well, yeah, if he's real. But is he real? I mean, do we really believe in a man who can fly?"

"There were a lot of witnesses," Catherine said, keeping her voice even. "Some of them sounded pretty credible."

"If he is real, someone will get a picture, or some video, sooner or later," Lois put in. "Then we'll know."

"Unless it's all a hoax and the picture or the video is part of it," Joe said glumly. "I guess you're right. If he's real and he hangs around, we'll eventually know for sure. But until then, I'm not believing in men who fly!"

*****

Lois watched Joe walk away grinning, then turned and caught sight of the contents of the Callahan file strewn across Catherine's desk. She poked an idle finger against the stack of photos, sending them sliding. "Can we take these with us?"

Catherine sighed. "I guess I'm going with you, then."

Clark grimaced. "And I guess it's going to be a working lunch."

Over juicy burgers at Catherine's favorite nearby diner, Lois took a closer look at the photos. "Catherine, did you get a chance to visit the crime scene?"

"Yes, the morning the body was discovered. Why?"

Lois beckoned her closer. "These pictures... I can't tell what this is..."

Catherine leaned over to see. "That? That's a dishtowel."

"What was it doing on the floor?"

"I don't know... there were lots of things on the floor. My guess is that's where most of the beating took place."

"The kitchen?"

Catherine nodded. "There was a canister of flour overturned, some dishes broken on the counter and floor... a dishtowel isn't much."

"Yeah." Lois studied the photo again. "Clark, can you see anything else?"

"Let me look." He took the photo and slid his glasses down so he could peer over them. After several long seconds of intense study, he pushed the glasses back up and laid the picture down. "Not really. Except..."

"Except?" Lois prompted him.

"There's something small, colorless... glistening just at the towel's edge. It might be a plastic bag..."

"Plastic bag?" Catherine repeated, surprised. "Wait, there was something in the police report..." She scrabbled through the papers she'd thrust in her briefcase at Lois's urging. "Here it is..." She started to skim, then thought better of it and handed the report to Clark. "You're faster."

He accepted the explanation with a small grin, and riffled quickly through the report. "Here it is," he announced a moment later. "The dishtowel was wet, and was wrapped around a plastic bag. The plastic bag, which wasn't sealed, but only twisted closed at the mouth, had traces of water in it."

"Ice," Lois and Catherine said together.

"She made herself an ice pack," Clark guessed.

"She must have," Catherine agreed. "And if she could make up an ice pack, she could reach the telephone. That means she was conscious after her attacker left the apartment. She could have called for help, but she decided not to. That's a pretty strong indication she knew her attacker and was protecting him."

"Or was afraid of him," Lois suggested. "But is it enough?"

"Not for an indictment or a conviction, but it's a start." Catherine looked more hopeful than she had in days. "Where's the forensics report?"

"Over here," Lois reported, producing it from beneath her elbow. "What are you looking for?"

"If she got ice, she had to get it from..."

"The freezer!" Lois finished for her, triumphant. "And she was bleeding..."

"So you're looking to see if they checked the freezer." Clark completed the idea.

Catherine grinned. "Actually, I'm going to let you look to see if they checked the freezer." She passed the report along and once again Clark riffled through it quickly.

"Nothing in here about the freezer," he said, when he finished.

"Can we get in there for a look?" Lois asked, eager. "Clark could see if..."

Catherine was already shaking her head. "We're going to do this one by the book. I don't want to lose it on a technicality. I'll have a forensics team sent over there right away."

"But what if Callahan gets there first..."

"Lucille Callahan died over three weeks ago," Clark pointed out. "He's had plenty of time to remove anything he wanted to."

"But I doubt he has," Catherine said. "The apartment is still under police seal; he's not allowed to go there. I don't think he'd risk being tied to the murder by going back now and being seen by one of the neighbors. Anyway, he's so arrogant, he probably thinks he took care of any evidence before he reported finding his wife's body. I'll call as soon as we get back."

*****

Catherine walked quickly, anxious to get back to the office and make her phone call. Forensic evidence that Lucille Callahan had the opportunity to call for help and chose not to would go a long way toward convicting her husband.

Behind her, Lois and Clark trailed by a good half-block, holding hands and talking.

"Catherine Chandler." The voice was male, rough and tremulous.

Catherine froze; the last time she'd heard a voice call her name on the street like that, she'd been kidnapped and beaten. Warily she turned toward the voice.

Gary Stevens, looking worn and distraught, huddled against the side of the building. "I've been waiting for you."

"I don't know where your wife and son are, Mr. Stevens," she said crisply, "and if I did, I wouldn't tell you."

"That's not it, that's not," he protested. "There's this guy, you wouldn't believe it, I wouldn't believe it except it happened to me... this guy's after me, I swear he is. You've never seen anything like him, he's crazy, dresses in this wild outfit with a red cape..."

Catherine had her first glimmering of what this was about.

"Oh?" she said, working at keeping her voice neutral.

"Yeah, and this is the crazy part... he flies. I thought maybe I'd dreamed it, or made it up, like maybe I was losing my mind, but then I saw it on the news last night. If it was on the news, it has to be true, doesn't it?"

"I heard about the flying man," Catherine admitted. "What does that have to do with me?"

"He's after me," Stevens said. "He warned me. Threatened me. He knows where I live, he took me home. And he said he'd come back if..."

"If?" Catherine prompted.

Stevens dropped his gaze, shamefaced. "If I hit Ginny again."

"But you haven't, have you? You haven't seen her."

"No, but..."

"Well, then, he won't hurt you."

"But he was there, yesterday!" Stevens insisted, his voice shrill.

"You saw him yesterday?" Catherine was almost sure Clark's version of the story had him in street clothes by the time Stevens showed up, not the outlandish costume she had yet to see.

"No, but he was there, all the people said he was. He's after me and I can't sleep and I can't eat and I'm really scared!"

Good, thought Catherine. Now you know what it feels like. Aloud she said only, "I still don't see what this has to do with me."

"I thought maybe if I did something good," Stevens blurted, the words coming as fast as he could produce them. "If I helped you..."

"Helped me in what way? You're not making sense, Mr. Stevens."

Stevens gaze shifted to something behind her. Catherine glanced back to find Clark at her elbow. "You okay?" he asked quietly.

"So far," she answered. "Mr. Stevens was about to tell me what he can do for me. If anything."

But Stevens's attention was completely focused on Clark now. "You," he said, his voice accusing.

"Me?" Clark's voice was carefully polite, with no trace of the apprehension that shot through Catherine.

"It was you," Stevens said. "You hit me."

"Yeah, I did," Clark admitted. "I'd do it again."

Stevens rubbed his jaw. "You knocked me out, and the next thing I knew, that crazy guy had me."

Catherine let her breath out. Clark hadn't been recognized as the "crazy guy" after all.

"I carried you up to the street," Clark answered.

"Out of those tunnel things where Ginny was," Stevens said. "I didn't think she wanted me to be there."

"She didn't want you to be there because you were threatening her," Catherine said impatiently. "If you have some business with me, Mr. Stevens, please say so. Otherwise, I need to get back to work."

"It's Dave. My brother, my step-brother Dave. He killed his wife."

"How do you know?" All Catherine's nerve endings went on alert.

"He told me."

She let her breath out in a gust. "He told you."

"Yeah. I'll tell you everything he said, I know a lot of things Dave did, I'll tell you about all of it. Just keep that crazy guy away from me."

"I've heard," Lois said quietly, "that the crazy guy is calling himself Superman."

*****

Stevens refused to go upstairs to the D.A.'s office. "Dave'll find out, he'll hear about it and he'll kill me..."

"I need to take your statement, Mr. Stevens," Catherine told him.

"But you don't have to do that here, you can do it somewhere else, I know you can. A restaurant or something..."

Catherine sighed and glanced at Clark and Lois. "I suppose we can do that," she conceded. "Let me just go upstairs and make a phone call..."

"There's a pay phone, you can call from there," Stevens said, pointing.

"But the number is upstairs, on my desk," Catherine countered. "You wait here with Mr. Kent and Ms. Lane and I'll be back in a few minutes."

Clark caught up with her three strides later. "Wait a minute. You're not going alone."

She stopped. "If you come with me, who waits with Stevens? Lois?"

Clark glanced over his shoulder to where Lois and Stevens stood together on the sidewalk.

"I thought not. Come on, Clark, I'm just running up to the office for a minute. I'll be right back. We don't want Stevens to change his mind and run off, do we?"

"I don't know that he'll do that," Clark answered. "He seems pretty scared to me."

"Yeah. I'm going to have to get a look at this crazy Superman guy."

He grinned. "I'll see if I can't arrange a meeting. Meanwhile, I'll wait with Stevens, and Lois can go with you. Okay?"

She sighed and rolled her eyes. "All right, if you insist."

"I do," he answered, and glanced to his wife. "Lois? Why don't you go up with Catherine. Mr. Stevens and I can wait right here."

Lois caught on quickly. "Okay."

She and Catherine hurried into the building. Clark stuck his hands in his pockets and settled in to wait.

Stevens paced nervously, furtively, while Clark kept his ears open for the sound of his name - either of his names. He heard nothing even vaguely alarming.

Five minutes later Lois came out alone. "Is Catherine here?" she asked, breathless.

Clark went on full alert. "No, isn't she with you?"

"I went to the ladies' room while she made her phone call," she answered. "When I came out, she was gone. I thought she might have come down without me."

He concentrated, listening for her voice. Nothing.

With a surreptitious glance at Stevens to make sure he wasn't paying attention, Clark pulled his glasses down a fraction and tipped his head back, scanning the whole fourteenth floor. "She's not there," he growled, and shoved the glasses back up his nose.

"Who?" Stevens had finally caught on that something was wrong.

"Miss Chandler," Clark said, snapping the words. "She's missing."

Stevens flapped a careless hand. "She's probably powdering her nose or something."

"No, I checked there," Lois answered.

Clark's fists clenched. "She has to be somewhere." The idea of facing Vincent and telling him Catherine was missing was not appealing. He reached for his tie. "I'll look for her."

Lois grabbed his arm. "Not without me."

He moved her a few steps away from Stevens. "Lois, I can't take you! You can't be seen with me, not yet."

She took a moment to process that, then let go of his arm. "You're right," she admitted, looking disappointed. "Not if we're going to stay here and keep our secret."

Clark took a last look at Stevens, who was finally figuring out that something was really wrong. "Go inside, okay?" he urged Lois. "Where you'll be safe."

Reluctantly, she nodded. "I will. Now go."

Tugging at his tie, he sprinted to the nearest alley. Once out of sight, he spun into his crimefighting togs and took off. There hadn't been time for Catherine to get far, so he paused above the Criminal Justice building and began to scan it painstakingly, floor by floor. It took longer than he wanted, but at this time of day, the place was teeming with people. If she was in danger, would she think to cry out for him? Probably not. She'd just be afraid, and know Vincent was coming for her.

And if he knew Vincent - and by now, he thought he did - Vincent would be on his way. Despite his still-healing injuries, despite the distress he'd evinced just last night, rushing to Catherine's chamber, he'd be coming.

Maybe, if he could find Vincent, he could figure out where he was going and find Catherine that way. He intensified his x-ray vision, going deeper, through the uppermost levels of tunnels, looking for points Vincent would have to pass to reach the vicinity of the Criminal Justice building.

He heard Vincent before he saw him, his breath harsh and labored, his footsteps irregular and heavy.

Vincent had come farther than Clark expected in the short time since Catherine's disappearance. He staggered through the uppermost level of tunnels, his eyes glazed with more than distant focus, but still stumbling forward, still straining to reach her. Clark looked ahead, following Vincent's expected path, but there were too many choices; all he could tell for sure was that Vincent was headed for the building below, and he already knew that much.

He resumed his fierce, desperate sweep of the building. And then he heard it - a shrill voice calling out. "Superman! Help!"

It was Catherine. In an instant he'd followed the sound with sight and found her, in a grimy hallway in the subbasement of the justice building. Before his mind had quite registered the scene, he was streaking downward. He hit the sidewalk at full speed and kept going, boring through thirty feet of compacted dirt and rock.

Clark burst through the thick concrete foundation and stopped, face to face with police lieutenant David Callahan.

Callahan stumbled back, dragging Catherine with him. "You stay away!" he warned, pointing his service revolver at Clark's chest.

"You can't hurt me with that," Clark told him. "Put it down."

In answer, Callahan fired.

Clark reacted instinctively, throwing his hand up to catch the bullet in his palm. "See?" he said, opening his hand and letting the bullet fall to the floor.

But Callahan was quick as well as vicious. He swung the gun around and pressed the barrel into Catherine's temple.

Growing ever nearer was the unsteady sound of Vincent's enraged approach. Clark didn't have much time.

"Look," he said. "There's nothing you can do now. You're caught."

"I can kill her!" Callahan growled, jerking Catherine tighter against him and shoving his pistol harder against her head.

"Then what?" Clark worked to keep his voice reasonable. "You can't kill me with your gun. I'm stronger than you, and faster. You can't get away."

"She knows too much!" Callahan yelled, and it was clear that anger had overcome his reason. "She told Jimmy Briggs I killed Lucille!"

"So Briggs knows now," Clark answered. "Killing Catherine won't change anything."

"She ruined my life!" Callahan shouted, so angry there were tears in his eyes. "She ruined everything! She deserves to die!" His finger began to tighten on the trigger.

All Clark's choices were gone. He flung himself forward, snatching for the gun with one hand, reaching for Catherine with the other.

The gun went off with a sharp crack that echoed against the cement walls as the bullet jolted against Clark's palm. Callahan cried out and let go of the gun; Clark crumpled it into a misshapen wad of metal and dropped it to the floor.

"You okay?" he asked Catherine, who was picking herself up from the dusty floor, where he'd pushed her.

"Yeah," she answered, staring. "Thanks."

"No trouble," he assured her, while using Callahan's own handcuffs to bind his hands behind him.

And then Vincent, wild-eyed and breathless, lurched into the room.

Clark spun Callahan around, blocking his view, and shoved him around the nearest corner. "You can stay right here," he growled, and jammed the chain linking the handcuffs deep into a steel door frame. A quick blast of heat vision welded it into place. "I'll be back."

He zipped back to Vincent, taking his weight from Catherine and easing him down. "You okay?" he asked.

Vincent nodded. His breath was coming easier, and color was coming back to his face. A quick peek with x-ray vision showed the wounds had not only not reopened, but looked like weeks-old scarring.

Vincent looked up. "I must thank you," he gasped. "For Catherine's life..."

"More likely for your life," Clark answered dryly. "You nearly killed yourself getting here."

Vincent leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. "Catherine needed me," he answered. "So I came."

*****

"And after the police took Callahan away, Superman patched the basement wall and filled in the hole he made, all in about two seconds." Catherine finished telling the story to a chamber full of rapt visitors and sat back.

"Fixed it good?" Mouse, a blond boy bordering on manhood, leaned forward eagerly.

Lois had already figured out there was something not quite right about Mouse; he was something of a savant, someone had told her.

"Could use him in the tunnels," Mouse continued.

"I'm sure he'll be glad to help if he has the chance," Clark assured him.

Mouse, who clearly had no idea who Superman really was, sat back, satisfied.

"All right, children!" Mary, who acted as surrogate mother to all the tunnel kids, including the ones who had parents here, stood up. "You've heard the story, now it's time for bed!"

"Aw, Mary!" Amid grumbles and disgruntled whispers, the children, and many of the adults, filed out.

"Quite an adventure, I must say," Father commented, when the room had cleared. "It's fortunate you came to no harm, Vincent, running to the surface the way you did."

"I had no choice." Vincent's voice was steady.

"Yes, I know that, too," Father answered. "Thank goodness Clark was there to help."

"Thank Catherine," Clark said. "She's the one who thought to yell for me. I don't know if I'd have found her in time otherwise."

Catherine looked abashed. "I'm just glad I remembered to call you Superman. Lucky we were talking about him right before. I didn't want Vincent to have to... you know."

"Right," Clark answered. They all did know.

"Amazing," Father muttered. "So tell me, is this Callahan fellow likely to be put away?"

"It looks like it," Clark answered. "The police arrested him for kidnapping Catherine, so he'll go to jail for that, anyway."

"And then Joe and I spent the afternoon with Gary Stevens, who told us everything he knows about his brother," Catherine added. "I think we can get him for abusing his authority as a police officer, among other petty crimes."

"But most important, Forensics called this afternoon to say there was blood smeared inside the Callahans' freezer, and even on some of the ice," Lois volunteered. She'd been present when the call came through to Catherine. "It's Lucille Callahan's blood type."

"They're doing DNA tests to be sure, but no one really doubts it's Lucille's blood," Catherine finished. "It pretty much shuts the door on the argument that she didn't call for help that night because she was too badly injured. If she could make an ice pack, she could use the telephone to call 911."

"But she didn't," said Father, who was obviously up on the basics of the case.

"She didn't," Catherine agreed. "And the only reason that makes sense is that she knew her assailant. Joe's filing murder charges in the morning."

"Very good." Father gave his approval. "What about his brother? Ginny's husband?"

"That's an amazing story by itself," Lois offered. "He wants to go to counseling. His idea. He says he wants to learn how to be a good husband to Ginny."

"I'll believe that one when I see it," Clark muttered. Lois had her own doubts, but she squeezed Clark's hand anyway. Maybe he had scared Stevens into genuinely trying to change. She liked to think so, anyway.

Catherine evidently thought so, too. "He doesn't seem to be a bad guy," she said, more to Clark than to Father. "I talked to him a little bit, after he gave his deposition. He just seems to be essentially clueless about how to treat a woman, and doesn't know how to handle his anger when he flounders. Counseling might actually help him." She smiled. "It doesn't hurt that he seems downright terrified of Superman."

"Ah." Father cleared his throat. "Speaking of Superman..." He turned to Clark. "Mouse may be intrigued with your earth-moving abilities, but I confess to a more scientific curiosity." He fingered the handle of his black doctor's bag. "Would you mind if I just..."

Clark gave a rueful smile. "My dad always said it would come to this. Where do you want me?"

"Right in that chair would be fine," Father assured him. "If you could just remove your tunic and sweater?"

Clark began to strip off the layers of patched and mended clothing common to the tunnel folk. As he got down to his t-shirt, Catherine began to look alarmed. "Maybe I should..."

"No, you're fine," Clark said. He removed the last layer, revealing a smooth, muscular chest but no sign of the blue suit. "This is far as I'm going." Clad only in jeans and boots, he sat back down.

Father fairly trembled with eagerness as he pulled out his stethoscope and bent to listen eagerly. "Heart rate is remarkably fast," he noted. "Is that usual for you?"

Clark nodded. "I seem to move at a faster pace than normal people."

"Hmmm... very different from Vincent," Father said. "His heart rate's about half that of what you call a normal person - yours is well over twice the normal rate..."

Clark concentrated. "Is this better?"

Father looked startled. "Now it's dropped to about seventy beats per minute."

"I can drop it all the way down to where Vincent's is, if you want," Clark offered.

"You can do that? Regulate your heart rate at will?"

"I have to think about it, but yeah. That's one way I've kept my secret."

"Remarkable. May I...?" With skilled physician's hands Father continued his examination, checking reflexes, palpating abdomen and neck, peering into ears and throat. "Remarkable," he murmured again, finally, sitting back.

"Father, I think you're embarrassing Clark," Vincent observed.

"Am I?" Father looked startled. "My apologies. It's just the physician in me..."

"It's all right, Father," Clark interrupted. To Lois's discerning eye, he looked more amused than embarrassed. "It's fine."

"Well." Father tucked the stethoscope away and changed the subject. "I read the article you and Lois wrote for your newspaper. I see you even implicated the police dispatcher."

"Yes," Clark agreed, reaching for his clothes. "He's now under investigation by Internal Affairs for delaying the 911 calls the night Lucille Callahan died. Catherine says it looks like he'll be indicted for obstruction of justice."

Father nodded approval. "A good day's work, and a most informative piece."

"Not only that, but it got them noticed," Catherine put in. "They've been offered a job in Philadelphia."

"Oh, have they?" Father looked to Clark. "Will you take it?"

Clark glanced at Lois, who raised her eyebrows. He could field this one. "We haven't decided yet," he said. "It's a wonderful opportunity, for a bigger paper, and we'd be able to get back to real investigative reporting and not just human interest stories."

There was a real feeling of something unsaid, and Vincent filled the gap. "But...?"

Clark shrugged. "But we don't know anybody there. We'd have to start all over, again."

"We've already done that once," Lois added. She wasn't sure herself if that was a plus or a minus. She did know she wasn't looking forward to doing it again.

"You know you may stay here, as long as you like," Vincent said quietly.

"We know," Clark answered, with no small measure of gratitude in his voice. "And we're factoring it into our deliberations."

"You know, we have some pretty big papers right here in New York," Catherine said. "Sooner or later, one of them's going to want you two. And I'm betting investigative reporting is a lot like criminal investigations - it helps to have lots of contacts." Obviously Catherine wasn't above dangling a little temptation if it suited her.

Lois nodded. "It does."

Father picked up the theme. "Our helpers make a nice group of contacts. We know someone in nearly every area of business, in every area of the city."

Clark grinned. "That's true." He looked to Lois. "Do you get the feeling they don't want us to go?"

"That would be my guess," she answered, smiling. It was nice to be wanted.

The scud of small feet made them all look up.

"Samantha!" Father's tone was just short of scolding. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"

"I'm sorry, Father." The girl - age eleven or twelve, Lois guessed - came down the steps clutching something in her hand. "I forgot to do something when I was here before listening to the story. Mary said I could do it now if I hurried."

"Very well. What is it?"

"I have a present for Vincent." She crossed the chamber to Vincent's side. "I found it one day when we were playing near the top," she went on. "It was all crusted and muddy, but when I finally cleaned it up... well... it's pretty neat. I was going to keep it, but then when Vincent got so hurt..."

"Yes, yes, my dear." Father's voice hurried her along.

"So anyway... here." She thrust a small cylindrical object into Vincent's hand. "Because I'm glad you're better."

"Thank you, Samantha," he said gravely. "I will treasure it."

The girl's smile lit the chamber. She gave Vincent a quick, impulsive hug and darted away.

"The child's a whirlwind," Father commented, when she was gone. "What is it she's given you, Vincent?"

He turned the object in his hand. "A pen," he answered. "A very fine one, from the look of it."

"Vincent, may I look at that?" Clark's voice had taken on a peculiar, strangled note.

"Of course." Vincent passed the pen along.

Lois rose from her seat to look over Clark's shoulder. "It's the same one," she said, her voice quivering. "Isn't it?"

"Yes," Clark answered. "It is."

"You've seen this before?" Father asked.

Clark looked up. "We think it might be the transport device."

Father looked bewildered.

"The thing that brought us here, to your universe," Clark went on. "I was holding it in my hand when..."

"Oh. Oh, I see. Do you think..."

"Can it take you back?" Catherine asked, bluntly.

"I don't know. We don't even know how it works."

"We're not even sure it's the pen that brought us here," Lois added. "We just think it might be."

Clark tipped his glasses down and peered at the pen.

"What do you see?" Vincent asked him, having obviously recognized the gesture.

"Circuitry," Clark answered. Excitement quivered in his voice. "This is it, Lois, it really is!"

She gripped the back of his chair, almost afraid to hope. "And it can take us back?"

"If I can figure out how it works. I was never much good at electronics..."

"Mouse," Vincent said suddenly.

"What?" Clark looked up.

"Mouse can help you."

"Vincent, no offense, but Mouse couldn't even see the circuitry in this thing, it's so miniaturized..."

"Would a microscope help?" Father asked.

"I don't know," Clark said doubtfully. "It might."

But as it turned out, Mouse and the microscope didn't quite get along. "Can't see anything!" the boy complained, pushing the device away. "Can't see, can't help."

Lois's heart fell. What good was the device if they couldn't operate it?

"And I can see it fine, I just have no idea which circuit does what," Clark said in disgust. "There are tiny switches, but I don't know which ones, if any, have to be moved to take us back. And I don't want to just guess. Who knows where we might end up?"

Inspiration struck. "You can draw him a picture," Lois said.

"What?" Clark looked at her, confused.

"You can draw him a picture," she repeated. "Put in all the detail and see if Mouse can tell what's what from that."

"It might work..." Father mused.

Vincent produced a pad of clean white paper. "I've been keeping it," he said in an apologetic aside to Father.

"Don't apologize, Vincent, I know you like to draw on occasion. Here, I've been keeping these aside thinking to give them to you next Winterfest, but Clark has more use for them." He dug out a box of fresh, sharp pencils and handed them over.

"Thank you," Clark murmured. He set his glasses aside and stared at the pen, deep in concentration. After a moment he picked up the pencil and began to move it rapidly over the paper's surface. He paused, looked again at the pen, and added a few more lines. "Here," he said, and pushed the complete, intricate drawing in Mouse's direction. "Does this help?"

Mouse pored over the drawing for far longer than it had taken Clark to produce it; finally he looked up. "Figured it out," he said smugly.

*****

The next afternoon, Father's chamber was packed with tunnel folk crowding in to say their goodbyes. "Any excuse for a party," Catherine murmured in Lois's ear.

"Yes, they do seem to enjoy a good celebration, don't they? I don't know whether to be honored or insulted."

"We'll miss you and Clark very much," Catherine answered, "but we want you to be happy, and we know that means going home. It's too bad, though. New York could sure have used more of Superman's time."

"He did a little good while he was here, though." Lois glanced at her husband, who was currently surrounded by children.

Catherine glanced that way, as well. "Yes, he did. We're going to miss him. We're going to miss both of you."

Gradually the party died down and the crowd thinned out. When everyone else had gone, Clark and Lois turned to Father. "We can never thank you enough for taking us in," Clark told him.

"And I can never thank you enough for my son's life," Father answered. "And for Catherine's life, as well." He embraced first Clark, and then Lois. "Goodbye."

"Goodbye, Father."

Catherine and Vincent waited to accompany them to the surface.

"Where will you go to trigger the device?" Vincent asked as they left Father's study.

"Back to the spot where we came in," Clark answered. "Mouse isn't sure exactly how the device works in terms of actual physical placement, but we're hoping if we start there, we'll end up at the spot we left."

"But you're sure you can get home?" Catherine asked.

"Not entirely sure, no," Clark admitted. "But Mouse seems pretty confident it'll work."

Catherine stifled a laugh. "That's not exactly a guarantee. I hope he's right this time, though."

"I hope so, too," Clark answered. "If it doesn't work, we'll come back, but if it does..." he reached into his pocket and withdrew a long, white envelope. "... could you see that this reaches Alex Martin at the Sentinel? It's our resignations."

"We didn't want to hand them in ahead of time, in case it doesn't work and we end up needing the job," Lois explained. "But we don't want to just disappear on him."

Catherine took the envelope. "Sure. I'll take care of it."

"Thanks."

Deep in conversation, Clark and Vincent gradually drew ahead.

"Should we try to catch up?" Lois asked, eyeing their retreating backs.

"I don't think Clark is going anywhere without you," Catherine answered. "Let's let them say whatever they have to say."

"Okay." She settled into a comfortable pace at Catherine's side. "It's been good for Clark to meet and talk with someone as different as he is."

"Yes," Catherine agreed. "It was really good for Vincent, too. I can never thank Clark enough for that."

She said it with so much fervor that Lois smiled. "So things are going to be okay between you two?"

Catherine flushed and looked down. "Yes, I really think they are. I'm not sure what Clark said to him, but Vincent is actually starting to believe it's safe for him to love me." She gave a rueful laugh. "Of course, he's still not convinced there's anything in it for me, if he's not saving my life."

"You're kidding, right?"

Catherine shook her head, her eyes on the ground in front of them. "No."

Lois looked ahead to Vincent's broad back. "He doesn't know how incredibly sexy he is?"

Catherine looked up quickly. "So it's not just me?"

Lois nearly laughed out loud. "Not hardly. He positively exudes pheromones."

Catherine's smile went wistful. "He doesn't think so. Right now, he's half-convinced himself I just feel sorry for him, and I'm grateful."

"Don't be silly, Vincent knows you love him."

"Yes, but he has this idea that it's just a friendship kind of love, that he can't possibly be... well..."

"Sexually attractive to a woman?" Lois suggested.

Catherine sighed. "Right."

Again Lois looked at that broad, retreating back. "Boy, has he got his wires crossed!"

"If you really think that, I wish you'd tell him," Catherine said. "He's sensitive to you, so he'd know you were telling the truth. When I say it... when I even try to say it, he acts like he thinks I'm biased, or deranged, or something."

"I will if you want me to..." An idea, slightly devious but very attractive, made her smile. "But I'd rather show him. If it's okay with you."

"Show him?" Catherine repeated uncertainly.

"Yeah. There's something I've kind of been wanting to do for a while now."

"Well," Catherine said doubtfully. "I guess it's okay."

*****

Ahead of them, Vincent and Clark reached a narrow, brickwalled passage. A rusty iron door blocked the end of the passage.

"There is where you go out," Vincent said, as Catherine and Lois caught up.

"Then this is where we'll say goodbye," Catherine said.

The couples faced each other for a long, awkward moment.

"Oh, this is silly," Clark muttered finally, and leaned down to wrap his arms around Catherine.

She reciprocated, and planted a warm kiss on his cheek. "Thank you," she whispered.

"My pleasure," he answered. "You take care of Vincent."

"I will."

They stepped back, smiling shakily.

Lois faced Vincent. "Guess this is goodbye," she announced.

"Yes," he answered softly. "Not afraid anymore?"

"Not of you. In fact, I'm noticing something quite different about you these days."

His look was questioning, but when she stepped forward, he bent down to receive her hug.

She wrapped her arms around his neck, but instead of a chaste embrace, she pulled his head down and kissed him full on the mouth.

Clark's eyebrows shot up and he glanced at Catherine. She had her hand over her mouth, but her eyes were merry.

Vincent's eyes were open, his expression one of startlement, and he didn't seem to know what to do with his hands. None of this deterred Lois, which surprised Clark not at all, but finally he cleared his throat and spoke.

"Vincent," he said firmly. "If you don't stop kissing my wife, I'm going to have to ask you to step outside with me."

Vincent finally pulled free. "I wasn't kissing her!" he gasped, his expression equal parts alarm and bewilderment. "She was kissing me!"

Lois stepped back to Clark's side. "Wow," she muttered, half to herself. "You hang on to him," she instructed Catherine, who had recovered enough composure to uncover her mouth.

"I plan to," she answered. "Thanks."

"Definitely my pleasure," Lois answered, and the two women embraced.

Clark grinned. "Good thing we're leaving, or I'd have to punch you out."

"I swear I did not..." Vincent began, obviously still reeling from Lois's kiss.

"I know that," Clark told him, stepping forward to catch Vincent in a brotherly hug. "I'll miss you."

"I will miss you, as well," Vincent answered softly. "Thank you for all you have done, for me and for Catherine."

"You take care of her," Clark instructed. "Don't ever let her go."

"No," Vincent answered, pulling back to look at Clark. "I won't."

"Well," Clark said at last. "We'd probably better be going. Honey?"

Lois slipped to his side and took his hand. With a last, wistful look back, they left the tunnels.

*****

Vincent pushed the rusted door closed and secured it, then waited until he could no longer hear Clark and Lois's retreating footsteps before he turned to Catherine. She stood patiently. She was always so patient.

"Can you tell me," he asked, still bemused, "why Lois... did... that?"

"Why she kissed you?"

He gave a scant nod, afraid of the question and afraid of the answer.

"Well," Catherine said thoughtfully, "I guess she wanted to."

Denial rose up, quick and instinctive. "Catherine, that is not..."

"You're the one who's empathic, you tell me! Did she want to, or didn't she?"

Vincent had been so stunned by her act, he hadn't had much focus left, but now he reached back, trying to recreate the sensations of that moment. He bent his head to hide the flush that rose on his cheeks, and closed his eyes. Lois's kiss had been... evocative... stimulating... exciting. Horrifying.

But only horrifying because he hadn't known what was happening, because he'd been so keenly aware of Clark there, and Catherine.

Although Catherine hadn't really seemed to mind.

Neither, now that he thought of it, had Clark.

And Lois hadn't been afraid. She'd been... eager. Willing. Curious. And... had there been the faint stirrings of prurient interest? No, it wasn't possible. He'd mistaken her feelings for him. She loved her husband, completely and absolutely.

Just as he loved Catherine. Yet there had been that moment of... awareness. When his body had wanted to respond to the woman in his arms.

Lois had found him attractive. She offered nothing more than the kiss, but she had wanted to kiss him. Had liked kissing him.

Lois, whose husband's appearance was completely human. Who, like Catherine, was lovely enough not only in her appearance but also in her spirit, to attract any man. She had found him desirable, and had wanted to kiss him.

He turned to Catherine, who was still waiting. Still patient.

"Yes," he answered softly. "She did want to kiss me. She was not afraid, not repelled."

Something glimmered in the depths of Catherine's heart. "And what about you? Did you like it?"

The glimmer grew into a spark, and finally he recognized it. Catherine was jealous! She'd watched the kiss, and even laughed, but now, thinking about it, she didn't like it. Didn't like another woman kissing him.

He took her hands in his. "I did... but I would have liked it better if it had been you."

The flicker of jealousy went out, and she smiled. "It can be me," she suggested. Was he imagining it, or was there the faintest note of seduction in her voice?

Boldness was called for here, he decided. He let go her hands and swept her up in his arms. "I want it to be you," he answered. "Always you. Forever you. If you will have me?"

She tucked her face into his neck and sighed. "Oh, Vincent. I thought you'd never ask."

*****

Clark and Lois poised on the sidewalk where they'd arrived scant weeks ago. "You ready?" Clark asked.

In answer, Lois took a firmer grip on his arm. "Whenever you are."

He checked the settings of the microscopic switches one last time, then triggered the device.

The world lurched and disappeared in a glare of white; when it reappeared a moment later, they were outside the Daily Planet building, right where they'd started.

"We did it!" Lois said, looking around. "We made it."

"Yeah," Clark answered, grinning, and swung her around for a kiss. "Hey, mister!" he called, lifting his head.

A business-suited man paused. "Me?"

"Yes, sir. What day is it?"

"Today?" The man looked at Clark as if he might be missing a few marbles. "It's Wednesday."

"The date, what's the date?" Lois demanded.

"It's the thirtieth. September thirtieth."

"And the year?"

The man began to edge away. "1998."

It was Lois's turn to throw her arms around Clark. "We did it! We're right back where... and when... we started!"

He responded with exuberance, picking her up and swinging her around. But her expression went abruptly serious, and he set her down. "What?"

"We forgot about Tempus. If he went to all the trouble of sending us... you... to another universe, he must have been plotting something here, and needed to get you out of the way."

"Yeah, but I'm back now." He kissed her hard. "You go on home, honey. I'm going to see if I can find out what our friend Tempus is up to."

She kept hold of his arm. "I'm not going home, I'm going with you!"

He put his hands on her shoulders. "Lois, you can't, it's too dangerous, and anyway, we don't even know where he is or what he's planning. I'm going to have to search for him, and that means lots of high flying..."

She sighed. "All right, all right. Go on. But I'm not going home! I'll go to that bank and talk to the guard. You remember, the story Perry sent us on that morning...?"

His blank expression cleared. "Oh, right. Okay, and I'll see you either back at the Planet, or at home."

"Right, our own home and our own bed..." She pulled him in for a quick, hard kiss. "Be careful."

He grinned, tugged at his tie, and sprinted away.

Lois reached the Bank of Metropolis by more sedate means and found the guard who'd foiled the robbery attempt. The bank manager was thrilled to have a prestigious paper like the Daily Planet interviewing one of its employees, and happily gave over the use of a small, private room. Summoning years of experience and professionalism, Lois put away her worries over Clark and Tempus and concentrated on the guard's story.

Twenty minutes later she emerged from the bank, unable to contain her smile. Now, what would be the quickest way to find Clark? Too impatient to check home or the Planet, she opted for the easy, if somewhat conspicuous, way. She tipped back her head and shouted at the top of her lungs. Before she'd quite gotten out the second "Superman!" he was there, hovering before her, looking anxious.

"Lois! Are you okay?"

Her grin wouldn't stop. "Fine," she answered airily. "I'm fine. You?"

His expression morphed into annoyance. "I'm busy, remember?" he hissed, floating closer and lowering his voice. "Tempus?"

"You won't find him."

"I..." He finally seemed to recognize the significance of her smile. "Excuse me, Miss Lane," he said for the benefit of anyone who might be watching. "I have to go."

He disappeared in a blur of red and blue; an instant later she heard his voice from behind, calling her name. "Lois, wait up!"

He hurried up beside her, still adjusting his tie. "Okay, what do you know?"

She began to walk, letting him fall into step beside her. "The bank robbery this morning? The one the guard foiled?"

He nodded.

"You'll find Tempus down at the city jail, awaiting arraignment."

"For the robbery?"

She nodded, smug. "He must have been so convinced he was safe with you gone, he forgot about things like bank guards. The guard walked right up behind him and took his gun. His henchman saw that and gave right up."

"But... but I hadn't even found the pen then!"

"I guess Tempus didn't do his homework, and didn't know you'd be delayed getting to the Planet. He thought you were long gone by the time he entered the bank."

"I was," he answered, grinning. "I was in Greece."

"So let's get back to the Planet, write up this story, and take the afternoon off! It's been a long day."

*****

"Where the blue blazes have you two been? How long does it take to follow up on a bank robbery?" Perry White was shouting before they'd even stepped off the elevator.

"It's okay, Chief, we'll have our story for you in..." Clark consulted his watch, which he'd remembered to set to local time when they'd arrived back, "...half an hour."

Perry glowered.

"Twenty minutes?" he revised.

"On my desk," Perry warned, pointing a finger. "Not a minute later."

"It'll be there," Clark promised. "Come on, honey, let's..."

But Lois wasn't standing beside him. She wasn't even at her desk, getting started on the bank robbery story.

He finally found her across the newsroom, deep in conversation with Jimmy Olsen. She looked up as he approached. "Oh, Clark, there you are! We need to get started on that story, don't we?"

He forbore to point out that she was the one causing the delay, and let her take his arm and tug him over to where their desks stood only feet apart. "You type," she ordered, and pushed him toward his chair.

He dropped into it obligingly and began to transcribe her dictation, inserting the occasional sentence or paragraph of his own as needed. They finished with two minutes to spare.

*****

Jimmy came to Lois's desk while Clark was in Perry's office, showing him the story. "Here's the stuff you asked for," he said, offering her a pair of file folders. "It's not much, but it's all I could find."

"Thanks, Jimmy," Lois answered. She laid the files on her desk and waited pointedly for him to leave.

"Well," he said awkwardly, after a moment. "I guess I'll finish up that thing..." He gestured vaguely and backed away.

"What's this?" Clark asked, from behind her. Funny, she hadn't heard him coming. "I thought we were going home?"

"We will in a minute," she answered. "I just wanted to find out..."

"What?"

The files lay closed on her desk while she stared at them.

"About them," she said finally. "Catherine and Vincent."

"They're not here," Clark answered. "I already looked - there are no tunnels underneath New York... or under Metropolis, either. No tunnel community. No Father, no Mary, no Mouse. And definitely no Vincent."

"But just because there's no tunnel community doesn't mean there's no Catherine or Vincent. They could be here, just somewhere else."

Clark looked thoughtful. "I guess it's possible. Just because we didn't find versions of ourselves or our friends in New York doesn't mean they weren't there somewhere. After all, there's no Metropolis there."

"Right! So maybe they're here somewhere, and we could find them."

"It's worth a try," Clark admitted.

"That's what I thought. So I asked Jimmy to pull anything he could find on either Catherine Chandler or a mysterious lion man." She tapped the files. "This is it."

"Open it." Clark nudged the top file.

"I'm kind of scared to. I mean, here we've finally found another couple to be friends with. You have a lot in common with him, and, well, I don't think I have so much in common with Catherine, but I like her a lot, and I think she likes me."

"She does," Clark said softly.

"I'd really love it if they were here. I don't suppose you're going to let us visit the ones we met."

Clark touched the pocket that held the device. "I wish we could. I wish we dared. But no matter where we kept the pen, someone might find it. Besides, we don't really understand how it works. What if we went for a visit and it quit on us? We'd be stuck there, and we already know we'd rather be here. We shouldn't chance it."

She sighed. "I know. Are you going to throw it into the sun?"

"I was thinking more in terms of crushing it," he answered. "As soon as we get home."

She grimaced, nodded... and opened the top file.

It held a single newspaper clipping, yellowed with age. At the top, someone had written a date - January 12, 1956. Print on the clipping had faded, but the headline - "Lion cub or baby?" could clearly be discerned, and there was a photo... harsh and grainy, it showed a blanket-wrapped bundle whose tiny face had a flattened nose and cleft lip. Lois touched it softly. "He died," she whispered. "He was just a baby, and he died."

"We don't know for sure that this was Vincent," Clark argued feebly.

But she shook her head. "No, it's him. Read the article. He... this baby was found outside St. Vincent's hospital in New York. I heard the stories... that's where Vincent, the other Vincent, the one we know... that's where he was found. When he was just a tiny baby, and somebody brought him to the tunnels. He grew up safe and loved, and this poor little..."

Her voice broke, and Clark put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "What's in the other folder?"

Carefully Lois set aside the folder containing the single clipping. The second folder was thicker, but not by much. The Catherine Chandler they'd known had been a public figure, often newsworthy - a file there would have been much fatter.

With a deep breath, Lois opened the folder. An article on debutantes, in which Catherine's name was mentioned, lay on top.

"Look!" she said, with a surge of excitement. "She's real. She's here."

"Looks like it," Clark agreed.

"I wonder where she is, what she's doing? Maybe we could find her."

"Let's see what else is in the file," Clark answered. His voice sounded strained, and she wondered if he'd cheated, peeked ahead in the folder. His hand, warm and comforting, never left her shoulder.

She set the article on debutantes aside. A New York newspaper article on local graduates from Ivy League schools - in this dimension, as in the other, Catherine had graduated from Radcliffe - was next. She skimmed it and put it with the first clipping.

And then she found herself looking at a news story from an eleven-year-old issue of a New York newspaper. *Not* the West Side Sentinel, she noted wryly, and glanced down at the headline. "Oh!" She put an involuntary hand to her mouth. "Oh, no."

Clark squeezed her shoulder.

'EASTSIDE DEB KIDNAPPED' read the headline. The story below described how socialite attorney Catherine Chandler had disappeared after a party one night; her father and her boyfriend were frantic.

"That happened in the other universe, too," Clark said, from behind her. "That's how she met Vincent. He told me."

"What, this happened? She was kidnapped?"

"Yes. She was mistaken for someone else, kidnapped, beaten up, her face slashed, and her unconscious body dumped in the park. Vincent found her and carried her home so Father could treat her. He saved her life."

"But he wasn't here to do that, this time. He died..."

She moved the clipping, uncovering the one - the last one in the file - beneath it.

She caught her breath, painfully. "And so did she. Because he wasn't there to save her..."

On the sheet in front of her, the headline flared: "BODY FOUND IN CENTRAL PARK." Below was a subhead: "Identified as Missing Deb Catherine Chandler."

"Oh, Clark, that's so sad. They died - they both died. They never even knew each other."

"No," Clark agreed, sadly. "But they have each other in the other universe."

"That's true. They're not alone there."

"No," he agreed. "And we're not alone here. So I guess we're all lucky."

"Yes," she agreed, closing the file. "I guess we are."

THE END