No infringement on copyrights held by DC Comics, Warner Brothers, Deborah Joy Levine, Republic Pictures, Witt-Thomas Productions, Ron Koslow, or anyone else who might have a finger in the pie, is intended.


TIMELESS

by Becky Bain


Clark Kent crossed the Daily Planet's newsroom, trying to be unobtrusive. From habit, his gaze went to his wife's desk, but it was unoccupied. A mug next to the keyboard still steamed softly, though, so Lois was probably in the newsroom somewhere.

In his guise as Superman, he'd left home in the middle of the night, responding to a half-heard news broadcast from the radio he sometimes left playing in the living room - a Greek passenger ferry had overturned and hundreds of lives were at stake.

He'd flown straight there and salvaged the ferry, carrying it to dry land so rescue workers could enter safely and treat the injured, then spent hours plucking other survivors out of the debris-filled water. By the time he got home, Lois had already left for work. He wondered what excuse she'd given for his absence.

"Hey, CK!"

Clark turned his smile on Jimmy Olsen. "Hey, Jimmy."

Jimmy's grin turned to concern. "How's the tooth?"

Apparently his delay had been an emergency trip to the dentist. Clark grimaced, feigning remembered pain. "Much better, thanks," he answered. "Have you seen Lois?"

"Yeah, she's in with the chief," Jimmy answered.

Clark wheeled to look toward Perry White's closed office door. "Do they need me in there, too?" he wondered aloud.

"Gee, I don't know, CK. I can ask," Jimmy offered.

"Never mind. Let me get some coffee, and I'll just go on in."

"Good idea," Jimmy approved. "Oops, I gotta go. I'm supposed to be taking pictures at the museum this morning. That big opening, you know."

"The Van Gogh tour," Clark said. "Yeah. Good luck!"

"Thanks!" Jimmy bounded off.

Unlike Lois, Clark always cleared his desk off at the end of each day, so even without his special visual talents, he could clearly see the small rectangular object centered on his otherwise clean blotter. The object was about six inches by two, wrapped in shiny silver paper and bound with a glittery red elastic cord tied in a bow. A white card said simply, "For You."

He grinned. Lois was mostly understanding about his being called away on unexpected emergencies, but occasionally, when the timing was especially bad, she succumbed to vocal frustration. Lately she'd taken to giving him small gifts, to apologize, he was sure, for the blowups, because she really did know the importance of the work he did as Superman.

He pulled off the cord and parted the paper to reveal a long, red velvet jeweler's box. Intrigued, he lifted the lid. Inside, nestled in a white satin hollow, lay a gleaming black ballpoint pen. "Wow," he muttered to himself. "She must have been really mad this time." He lifted the pen from its nest; it balanced perfectly in his hand and its oversized barrel fit neatly between his fingers. He flipped open a notebook and scratched a few lines to test the point. It flowed smoothly and left a bold, crisp line. He smiled. "Nice pen."

He clicked the retracting mechanism and tucked the pen into his shirt pocket, then found his coffee mug and headed for the machine. He was on his way back, steaming mug in hand, when Lois emerged from Perry's office. She spotted him across the room and waved. "Clark!" she called. "You're here!"

He lifted his mug in acknowledgement and quirked a smile.

They met near her desk. "How'd it go?" she asked, her voice low.

"Fine. We saved nearly everybody..."

"And the ones you couldn't save weren't your fault," she said firmly.

"Right," he agreed, though he knew the deaths would haunt him for a few days anyway. If only he'd gotten there sooner, if only he could have performed CPR on more victims at a time, if only, if only.

You did what you could, son. His father's voice sounded in his head, making perfect sense, just as Lois did. "Right," he said again, more firmly. "I did what I could."

"Right," she agreed. "Come on, Perry's got an assignment for us."

"Great." He set down his mug and followed her to the elevator. "What's up?"

"Robbery at the Bank of Metropolis," she answered, stepping into the waiting car.

Out of habit, his hand went to his tie. "Do I need to...?"

She shook her head and punched the button for the ground floor. "The attempt was foiled by an alert security guard. "Both suspects are in custody. Perry wants us to interview the guard." She grinned. "We'll have to find out if he's trying to put Superman out of business."

He grinned back. "Right."

Outside, the sun was bright. Clark rested his hand on Lois's arm to steady her until her eyes adjusted; once, she would have thrown off his concern, but now she leaned into him. "I missed you this morning," she murmured.

"Yeah, I know. I found..."

"Excuse me? Sir?" A pair of teenagers, looking uncertain and a bit lost, approached.

He stopped politely. "Yes?" Automatically his hand went to his pocket, ready to dispense a dollar or two to those in need. Beside him, Lois rolled her eyes; he nudged her with a subtle chiding elbow and she subsided.

"Could you tell us how to get to the Metropolis Museum of Art? We came to the city to see the Van Gogh exhibit, but so far nobody we asked has been able to help us."

Clark took another look at the pair and this time noted the paint smudges on faded jeans and worn t-shirts. Budding artists, no doubt, here to see the work of a master. He couldn't really blame them; he'd seen the paintings himself yesterday, since Superman had been asked to be present during delivery and set up, and they were truly magnificent. He and Lois planned a visit this weekend to see the paintings again.

"You bet," he told the teenagers. "It's up on Eighty-second. You go north for about eighteen blocks, then go right on Firth until you reach Maxwell..."

The girl shook her head pleadingly. "We'll never remember all that."

"It's really very easy to find," Lois offered, eager to get rid of these pesky kids and be on her way.

Clark suppressed a grin. "Here, let me draw you a map." A few strokes with his new pen on a clean page of his notebook showed the way - he inked in the street names and tore out the page. "Here you go."

The boy studied the map for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, we can find it now," he said. "Thanks."

"Yeah, mister," the girl chimed. "Thanks!"

"Boy scout," Lois muttered as the teenagers moved off. "Nice pen," she added, as Clark went to return it to his pocket. "Where'd you get it?"

Oh, so she wanted to play games. Well, he could do that, too. "Like it?" He held it out, letting the gleaming black barrel catch the sun. "I found it, gift-wrapped, on my desk when I got in this morning."

"Really?" Lois's brow puckered. "Who'd leave you an expensive present like that?"

"I have no idea," he said, putting as much sincerity as he could muster into his voice. "Look, the point retracts, and it's got this neat carving on the clip..."

The sidewalk lurched and tilted; faster than thought, Clark whipped an arm around Lois to steady her. The world around them went bright white and dead quiet, and tipped crazily on its axis.

*****

Stupid.

Catherine Chandler silently berated herself. It was stupid to have stayed so late at Jenny Aronson's party; it was stupid to have brought her car, and to have parked it two blocks away. Stupidest of all was not accepting Paul Tucker's offer to walk her there - she hadn't wanted to take him from the party he was so obviously enjoying, hadn't wanted to make him walk the four block round trip, so she'd lied, said her car wasn't far.

Now, walking alone on a quiet, deserted side street, she had time to reconsider. Jenny's west side neighborhood was generally considered a safe one, but this was New York; after dark, there was no such place as safe.

Was that a footstep she heard behind her?

Uneasiness crept between her shoulder blades. Uneasiness... and a kind of shameful longing. She pushed the feelings away and walked faster, her heels tapping nervously against the pavement. Almost there; she could see the gleam of her windshield in the nearest street lamp.

Her keys were already out, clutched between her fingers like so many jagged teeth; she scanned the sidewalk, then flipped the key ring around and found her car key by feel. She was bending to unlock the passenger door when someone grabbed her arm.

She spun sharply, wrenching her arm free and raking the key viciously at eye-height. A blond boy, no more than eighteen, with stringy hair and torn jeans, leaped back, swearing. "Bitch," he muttered, and she saw the glint of metal. He had a knife.

Fear rose up, clutching her throat. Knives terrified her.

She swallowed, forcing the fear down, and shifted her purse, holding it in front of her like a shield.

"I want your money, bitch!" the boy shouted, slashing with his knife. "I want it now!"

If he'd only stop moving, only step back, she'd gladly open her purse and give him her wallet to be rid of him, to be rid of the danger, but he kept moving in, crowding her back until she was pinned against the side of her car, and the swinging knife came closer and closer.

Something fierce and glorious rose up in her; she swelled with it and feinted to the right, swinging her purse left, into the path of the knife, and kicking out with her left foot, aiming at his knee. She landed only a glancing blow that sent her foot skidding off to the side; she lost her balance and went down clumsily. In an instant the boy was on her, holding the knife perilously close to her cheek.

"Your money, bitch!" he shouted again, kneeing her shoulder roughly. "Now!"

"My purse," she stammered. Something dark inside her demanded action; she quelled it frantically. "It's in my purse..."

With hands shaking more from the effort of control than from fear, she untangled the purse from its strap and pulled it open. Her wallet came easily into her hand and she held it up. "Here, see? Take it."

He grabbed it and stuffed it into a pocket of his ragged jeans, but didn't take the knife away.

"I gave you what you wanted," she almost shouted. If only he'd go. Quickly and without hurting her. If only he'd go now. Time was short; she could feel the rage building, getting nearer.

But instead he caught a handful of her hair, forcing her head back painfully. "You hurt me, bitch," he told her. "You shouldn'ta done that."

Kneeling on the sidewalk, head arched back, she had a perfect view of the lethal dark form that dropped soundlessly from the nearest rooftop. Too late; it was too late. The knife at her throat burned briefly, then was snatched away. An angry roar split the night; along with it came a familiar rush of sensation. She gasped with the dark pleasure of it, longed to lose herself fully, let it complete her.

Instead she fought it, struggling to her feet, reaching out for the cloaked figure who'd struck once and now coiled to strike again.

"No, Vincent!" she shouted, catching his arm. "No!"

He pulled against her grasp, but not hard enough to break free, then dropped his arms, set his feet apart, and tipped back his head, loosing a spine-tingling roar of triumph.

Catherine's keys had gone flying when the boy seized her; she had no idea where they'd landed and there was no time. Lights were going on in windows; any moment someone would look out and see... if they hadn't already. The boy lay slumped against the front tire of her car; a slow stream of blood flowed steadily from his shoulder where his shirt and flesh were torn. She bent quickly and pulled her wallet from his pocket; she couldn't leave it behind.

She took an extra second to check him. He was breathing - she could see the rise and fall of his chest, hear the slow wheeze as he struggled to fill his lungs. Please God he wouldn't bleed to death before help arrived; in this neighborhood, New York or no, someone had certainly already lifted the telephone to dial 911.

Vincent stood now, head bowed, over the unconscious form of his victim. The bloodlust was gone; what was left was a vast sea of shame. She knew, because she felt it, too.

"Vincent," she said, quietly. "We have to go."

He roused enough to look at her; his eyes, pale and human in an inhuman face, held only despair.

"Come," she said, tugging. "We have to go."

*****

Colors and shapes and noise reappeared with a jerk. Clark thrust out a hand to catch the sidewalk that loomed up, holding Lois tightly to keep her from falling. The world leveled and steadied; cautiously he stood straight and loosened his hold on his wife.

"Did you feel that?" she demanded. "Was it an earthquake?"

"Shouldn't have been - Metropolis is built on solid bedrock," he answered, glancing around. None of the buildings looked damaged, and no cries for help reached his sensitive ears.

But the buildings - they looked different. And...

"What happened to the sun?" Lois sounded scared. "Clark, where's the sun?"

The sky above them was navy, not azure, and pinpoints of the brightest stars gleamed through the haze of light pollution from the city.

"The sun's still there. It's night." He pointed at a sliver of crescent moon in the eastern sky.

Her grip on his arm tightened. "But it was morning just a minute ago. Wasn't it?"

"Yeah. It was." Clark looked around.

None of the people passing by seemed disturbed - indeed, most of them were hurrying on about their business, except for a couple, nearer, who were frankly staring at him and Lois.

Momentarily horrified, he glanced downward, but despite his fears no telltale blue peeped out of tears in his business suit. Lois looked a bit disheveled, but otherwise fine, and was already slipping back into reporter mode.

"Excuse me, sir," she said to a passing man. "Did you feel the earthquake?"

He stared at her as if she'd lost her mind and passed by. Lois, not one to give in to adversity, turned to the next pedestrian. "Ma'am, what do you think about the sudden time shift?"

The woman, too, looked confused and mildly appalled, and hurried past.

"Look, lady," said the next passerby. "I don't know what you're on, but leave me alone."

"On?" Lois squawked, indignant. "What's he talking about?"

"Lois, come here." Clark took her arm and drew her, protesting, to the side. "Look around."

She grumbled, but she looked. And froze. "This isn't where we were!" she hissed. She spun, looking back the way they had come. "Where's the Planet building?"

"Not there. Lois, I don't think this is Metropolis. It doesn't look right."

"Not Metropolis? But where else could it be? We were just walking down the sidewalk! It was just a little earthquake! And a little time shift..." her voice trailed off.

"I think it's more."

"Maybe you should..." she opened her hand in a swift, uplifted motion. "Reconnoiter?"

He shook his head. "I have a better idea." He towed her in his wake, two blocks to the newsstand he'd spied. "Could I get a local paper, please?" he asked the vendor.

"Which one? Times? Star? Evening Standard?"

"The Daily Planet," Lois insisted. "Do you have one?"

The man's eyebrows rose beneath his grimy cap. "Daily Planet? Never heard of it. Sorry."

"Never heard...?" Lois began to bristle; Clark silenced her with a touch.

"What paper would you recommend as a reliable news source?" he asked.

"Oh, for that you want the Times," the man said. "'All the News That's Fit to Print.' Over there."

Clark picked up the evening edition and paid for it, then dragged Lois safely away.

"What does he mean, there's no Planet?" she demanded. "Clark, what is going on...?"

For answer, he folded open the paper. The New York Times, published on June 4, 1989, New York City, New York.

"New York?" Lois muttered. "What happened to New Troy?"

"What happened to 1998?" he muttered back.

"Time travel?" she guessed.

"Parallel universe," he countered.

"Or both."

"Both," he agreed.

"Tempus!" they chorused.

*****

Catherine's urging finally worked; Vincent bowed his head and let her tug him off the sidewalk and into the darkness of a nearby alley. Desperation made her resourceful; he was too acquiescent. She found the round outline of a manhole cover, but he nudged her aside before she could kneel to struggle with it, hooking strong claws into the crevice around it and lifting.

She went first, finding the ladder by feel and descending until she reached the dusty floor. She stood aside, giving him room. He replaced the cover and came down to join her.

She studied his face in the faint light, the flattened nose, the high, arching brows, the cat-like mouth. She longed to touch it, but she knew he wouldn't permit it, not now.

She put out her hand to slip it in his, but he shied away. "Don't. My hands..."

Were sticky with blood. "I know," she answered sadly. "So are mine. I'm sorry, Vincent."

His head swung her way; his eyes held surprise. "Sorry? Why?"

"Because I was careless. Because I know what it costs you to come to me that way..."

He was no more than a shadow in the gloom of the tunnel, but still she saw him look down at his clenched fists.

"He's not dead," she added. "He's hurt, but he's not dead."

"You stopped me," Vincent answered. "I would have killed him, but you stopped me. Thank you for that."

"If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't have been there at all," she answered, her voice harsh in her throat. "Don't thank me. Please don't."

"If I hadn't come... he might have killed you. You might have died, Catherine. Stopping that is worth any cost. Any cost."

To him, perhaps, but not, any longer, to her.

In silence, he walked her to the threshold beneath her apartment building. She turned to him there. "Will you be all right?" Her voice came out sounding thin and uncertain.

"You are unharmed, Catherine," he answered quietly. "I must weigh that against the injuries of the boy who would have harmed you."

The boy had been about to murder her, Catherine thought. And yet that would count for little against Vincent's sense of shame, no matter the words he said. And he'd noticed her assailant's youth. She'd hoped he wouldn't, hoped he would believe he'd attacked a full-grown man.

"He had a knife," Vincent added.

Catherine suppressed a shudder; the assault that led her to Vincent had taken place over two years earlier, but she could still remember the sharp blade slicing into her forehead and cheeks, still feel the warm gush of blood flowing into eyes and mouth. Every morning the harsh light in her bathroom showed the pale spidery lines of scars left behind by careful plastic surgery, the bolder, unrepaired scar in front of her left ear. She'd managed to turn the association of those scars from vicious assailants to what they'd led her to - the wondrous being standing beside her, dark and brooding. He loved her. He would die for her. He would kill for her.

"Yes," she agreed, forcing her voice to be strong. "He did have a knife, and he would have killed me, Vincent, and it was his choice to be there. We have to remember that. You have to remember that. It was stupid of me to walk down that street alone, but he was the one with the knife."

"Yes," he agreed. She hoped he meant it. Hoped he would remember it later, when the dreams came. "You'll be all right?"

She nodded. "I'm fine." She didn't mention how her knees and hands stung from striking the pavement, or how she was sure the trickle of blood she could feel on her neck was her own and not her assailant's.

He wouldn't embrace her tonight, not with blood on his hands, on his clothing. No matter that the same blood stained her fingers and palms, and probably spattered her clothes. He wouldn't touch her.

"Good night," she said softly, letting her love for him rise up, letting it engulf her, so it would show on her face, and so he would feel it, too.

"Good night, Catherine," he answered, and if there was no joy in his face, at least there was no despair, either.

She clung to that pale thought as she started up the narrow iron ladder.

*****

"Tempus. How did he do it?" Lois wondered. Like Metropolis, New York seemed never to sleep, and the sidewalks were crowded even at this late hour. She and Clark picked an aimless path among the pedestrians. "I never saw a time machine."

Their old nemesis from the future had tried more than once to rid the world of Superman; to that end, he'd used both time travel and a parallel universe. So far, he hadn't been successful.

"I didn't see one, either," Clark confessed. "But we're here, and until we figure out how he did it, we can't get back."

She stopped. "Oh! And if it's 1989 New York... we can't go home. We don't even have a home!"

"Unless our counterparts work for this New York Times," Clark said. They'd already established that here, there was no such place as Metropolis, or even the state of New Troy. There was a Kansas, but not, to Clark's dismay, a town called Smallville, which was where he'd grown up, and where his parents still lived.

"Except in '89 I was barely starting out, and you were still off wandering the world," Lois pointed out.

"Yeah," he admitted. "Well, maybe we can find you, then. Or Perry."

But a careful scouring of the Times masthead showed not a single familiar name. A phone call elicited the terse information from a night editor that neither a Perry White nor a Lois Lane worked there. They got the same response from the other publications they tried. A call to information revealed there was no Martha Kent or Jonathan Kent in any of the Kansas towns Clark asked about. He hung up the pay phone with a sigh.

"Lois, how much cash do you have on you?"

"Cash? I don't know, maybe twenty dollars..."

He frowned. "And I have about thirty..."

"Why? What's wrong?"

The look he turned on her was very gentle... and frightening. "We're in the wrong universe at the wrong time. We're lucky our cash seems to be good, but I don't think we're going to be as fortunate with our credit cards. And your ATM card's probably not worth the plastic it's printed on."

Lois's heart fluttered up into her throat. "That can't be right, Clark, because if it's right, then we're here in a parallel universe with no money and no jobs and no home and no idea how we got here so we can't get back and..."

"Lois."

"...that would be really bad, because what would we eat and where would we sleep..."

"Lois."

"...so the plastic just has to work, Clark, can't you see that?"

"Lois!" He took her shoulders firmly.

She let out a long, shuddering breath. "Oh, Clark," she whispered. "What are we going to do?"

Clark held up a finger. "First, we need a place to sleep."

"Fifty dollars would buy us a cheap motel room, but then what would we eat?"

"And we're going to need some other clothes."

"Other clothes? What for? What's wrong with what we have on? Did I spill on myself, or do I have a thread, or..."

"Lois!"

She caught herself in mid-word. "Sorry. I just can't help myself."

His look was tender. "I know. Look, there's nothing wrong with our clothes, but they're our only clothes, and likely to be our best clothes for a while. I think we should save them for job interviews and things like that."

"Job interviews?" Lois practically squeaked. "I'm not going on any job interviews! We'll just fax our resumes. Any paper would be proud to have two Kerth-award-winning reporters like us!"

"Lois."

She glared at him. "Well?"

He sighed. "They may not even have Kerth awards here. And if they do, we certainly haven't won any of them."

"We might," she said stubbornly.

"You're right," he conceded, "we might have. If we're here, which I'm increasingly convinced we aren't. We'll check that out at the library, just in case. But if we aren't here, honey, then we have to face facts - in this universe, we're nobodies. We don't have any clippings, any references, any journalism awards, we can't even say we have journalism degrees. The Times is not going to hire us."

Lois set her jaw. "Maybe not right away. But we're good, Clark, and once we show everybody..."

"We're not trying to show anybody anything. All we want is to get home. Right?"

"Okay, so you're right, we need some more clothes..."

"No, no, go back. All we want is to get home. Right?"

"...and then maybe a place to stay, nothing fancy, well, it can't be fancy since between us we only have fifty bucks and we have to use some of that for the clothes and maybe something to eat, although since we're technically homeless I guess we'd qualify for free meals at the nearest soup kitchen if we knew where that was, but we don't because we just got here, and anyway we have to get the clothes first because if we show up at a soup kitchen looking like this they wouldn't feed us anyway, do you think?"

"I think we'd better see about finding someplace to sleep tonight. Tomorrow morning we look for jobs."

"Right. Except..."

"Except?"

"I'm hungry. I know we don't have much money, but can we get something to eat?"

His grin promised that nothing truly bad could happen as long as they were together. "Sure."

They found a modest diner that was still open and went in. "I don't need a menu," Lois told the weary waitress who came to their booth. "I want a hamburger and french fries, and a diet cola."

"You got it," the woman promised. "Sir?"

"I'll just have coffee, thanks."

"Clark!"

He met her glare with one of his own, so she waited until the waitress moved away before she went on.

"You're not eating?"

"I'm not really hungry..."

He'd been out half the night on a rescue, and she was sure he hadn't stopped for breakfast before showing up at the Planet for work. "Clark..."

"I don't need to eat, Lois. You do. Please don't argue with me."

"You don't need to eat if you're still... you know. But what if you're not? We could be in a virtual world, or a universe where you don't have your powers, or..."

"Lois."

She stopped, breathless.

"I'm fine."

"You're sure?"

"Positive. So I don't need to eat."

"But you like to. You get hungry."

His expression remained implacable, and she sighed. It touched her to think he meant to go without in order to stretch their funds so that she could eat more often. Or longer. Or whatever. She slid her hand across the table to touch his. "I love you."

His grin, as always, made her heart melt. "I know. It's because I'm such a great guy."

She responded with her first real smile since the earth lurched and threw them into another dimension. "Yeah," she agreed. "You are."

*****

"There you go." The super pushed Catherine's door open. "You gonna need new keys?"

"I have a spare set here, but thank you," she answered. "And thank you for coming all the way up to let me in after I was silly enough to lose my keys. I appreciate it."

"All part of the job," he answered. "No trouble. Oops, there goes your phone."

"Thanks again, Mr. Fowler," she said, and took time to lock the door before turning to the phone. "Hello?"

"Cathy! It's Joe."

Deputy District Attorney Joe Maxwell, her boss and her friend, almost never called her at home, and never so late unless something was wrong. The skin on the back of her neck prickled uneasily. "Hi, Joe. What's up?"

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, why?"

"Some punk got beat up over on the west side; landed up against a car - Greg Hughs called me because the car traces to you."

"My car?" She tried to sound shocked.

"Looks that way. If that's where your car is?"

"Uh, yeah," she answered, her mind racing. "I went to a party at Jenny's - she lives not far from where I left the car." That much was true, anyway. "But I lost my keys somehow, so I took a cab home."

"Thank God." Joe sounded fervent. "I gotta tell you, Cathy, when Greg called me, I was scared. And then you didn't answer your phone..."

A quick glance down showed three messages on her machine. "Sorry. I didn't know."

"No, how could you? Lucky night for you to have lost your keys, though. You might have walked right into trouble."

"Yeah, I guess. How's the kid who got hurt?"

"I don't know, some superficial wounds to his shoulder and a concussion, I think Greg said. It was the blood on the car that scared me; it's probably the kid's, but we couldn't be sure, and then when the car turned out to be yours..."

"I guess I'll have to wash it." She struggled to keep her voice light, and blessed the instinct that made her snatch back her wallet. She could never have explained that. "Did they impound it?"

"No, Greg said they didn't need to; it's right where you left it."

"I'll get it tomorrow. Thanks."

"All right. See you in the morning."

"Yeah. 'Night, Joe."

"Bye."

She replaced the phone in its cradle and let out a long, shaky breath. She hated lying to him.

In the bathroom, she washed her hands, rubbing hard to get the dried flecks of rusty red from around her nails. The cut on her neck didn't look as bad as it felt; she washed away the thin crust of blood and smeared it with some antibiotic ointment, then daubed the scratches on her palms.

Close examination showed dark spatters on her navy blouse and gray slacks; she bundled them together and shoved them into a paper bag. She'd throw it away on the way to work in the morning. Her shoes received a good scrubbing with wet paper towels; the towels went into the bag of clothes. A good forensics team wouldn't be fooled, of course. There were probably still traces of her assailant's blood in crevices of her shoes and even in the drain pipe of her sink.

She'd been lucky so far; only reporter Bernie Spirko had ever noticed her connection to the slasher killings. Of course, he'd been helped by Vincent's enemy Paracelsus, who had killed Spirko and then been killed himself by Vincent.

But how much longer could her luck hold? Someday someone would figure it all out, the killings, the attacks. The fact that she was always involved, always nearby. When they did, what would she do? Stay up here and never see Vincent again? The very thought tore at her heart.

But equally impossible was the idea of abandoning her life, her friends, her work, and fleeing to Vincent's world. Someday, maybe, but not now, not with so many things still unsettled between them.

Someday someone would put the pieces together... and when they did, her life would shatter.

*****

Amazing what a juicy hamburger with a healthy side of fries could do for a person's outlook. There'd been so much food that Lois was able, with much teasing, to feed Clark the last few bites of her burger and nearly half her fries. Her rejuvenated spirits lasted until Clark announced, after a half hour wedged in a phone cubby, that the very cheapest room he could find would cost them twelve dollars a night - in the very worst part of town.

"I'm not afraid," Lois declared, then mustered a coquettish smile. "Not with you around."

"I'm not so much worried about that," he answered. "But it'll be squalid. I mean, really, really squalid. Dirty room, dirty bed linens, a shared bathroom..."

"Don't tell me, the bathroom will be dirty, too."

"I'm afraid so."

She tried to look intrepid, but her imagination prompted a shudder she couldn't quite suppress. "I don't suppose we have any other choices?"

"Well, we could do what the other homeless people do."

"Sleep on the streets?"

He offered a little grin. "Or on a rooftop?"

So they wouldn't have to sleep in squalor after all - she should have known she could count on Clark. "A rooftop sounds just fine to me. Got one in mind?"

"Not yet. I'll have to look for one."

"Okay. Are you going to..." she lifted her brows in silent question and described a quick circle with her finger.

"I don't think so. You-know-who isn't known here, and I don't know if it's a good idea for him to make a sudden appearance."

"Oh." A good point, and one she hadn't thought of. "So what will you do?"

He glanced down at himself. "Luckily my suit's dark; I'll blend in pretty well, I think." He reached into his pocket and extracted a five dollar bill. "You're going back into our favorite diner and have dessert while I find a nice, dark alley..."

"Clark, no! I'm coming with you..."

He shook his head. "Not this time. We don't know this city, Lois. Let me take a look around, and I'll come back for you."

She never seemed to be able to help the rebellious feelings that rose up whenever he tried to protect her this way. "Clark..."

"Lois." Something in his eyes, his voice, stopped her. "Please."

He was truly frightened for what might happen; the shift in time and universe had shaken him, too, more than she'd realized. In ordinary times, she'd have pushed anyway. Now, reluctantly, she retreated. "All right." She took the folded bill from his hand. "I'll let you buy me a piece of pie. And I'll wait inside until you come back. Okay?"

Relief showed in his smile. "Okay." He brushed a brief kiss across her lips.

At the diner's doorway she looked back; he still stood on the sidewalk, watching to be sure she was safe. She lifted a hand in farewell; he returned the gesture, then melted into the shadows.

"Hi, honey." It was the same worn waitress. "Your boyfriend go off and leave you?"

"He's my husband," Lois corrected, "and yeah, I guess he did. He had something he had to do. He'll be back for me in a few minutes."

The woman nodded, but her world-weary air said clearly that she'd heard it before and didn't believe a word. Lois stifled the explanation that sprang to her lips. She knew Clark would be back for her; what difference did it make what someone else, someone who'd obviously been through a lot, and much of it unhappy, thought?

"I saw French Silk pie in the dessert case when I was in earlier," she said instead. "Can you bring me a piece?"

"Sure, honey. Drown your sorrows in chocolate, hmmm?" She moved away before Lois could retort.

With a sigh, she turned to look out into the night. Strange. She never thought of herself as clingy; even though she and Clark were partners at work as well as in life, she wasn't joined to him at the hip or anything. They frequently split up to pursue different angles of a story or even different stories and thought nothing of it.

But that was in Metropolis. Where things were familiar, and safe, and they had a home to go to at the end of the day. Here, who knew? At least there probably wasn't any Kryptonite, she consoled herself. And Clark was impervious to other kinds of harm. He'd be fine. And back before she could finish her pie.

She nodded sketchy acknowledgement to the waitress who placed a fresh, fluffy slice in front of her, and turned her attention to the copy of the New York Times Clark had purchased earlier. Might as well catch up on the news.

Two hours later she was still there, a cup of coffee gone cold in front of her. After she finished her pie, she'd set the paper aside to watch for Clark; after the first hour of staring through the glass so hard her eyes ached, the waitress had wordlessly set the coffee in front of her. Lois had looked around in startlement, so frantic for Clark that she couldn't find the words to say she hadn't ordered it, that she didn't want it.

The woman gave her a small, sad smile. "On the house," she whispered. In her eyes, Lois saw sympathy she didn't need, didn't want. Clark was coming back. Of course he was.

Unless he couldn't.

Now, sick with dread, she closed her eyes. "Where are you, Clark?" she whispered.

"Right here."

Her head snapped up. He stood beside the booth, looking disheveled and weary, but solid and real. She leaped up, and into his arms. "I was so scared," she murmured, into his ear. "I didn't know where you were, and I was so scared..."

He held her tightly, patting her back. "I know, I'm sorry. There was a serious accident in a tunnel that runs under a river near here - a tanker full of hydrochloric acid overturned. I had to help..."

"Of course you did," she agreed promptly.

His arm around her shoulders, he guided her out of the diner. "I used my superbreath to clear the fumes," he said. "And, um, arranged for some debris to move in such a way that it formed a dam to keep the spilled acid contained. I thought about changing..." his finger described a quick whirl, "...but like I said earlier, I don't know if having Superman here is a good idea or not..."

"I'm glad you were able to help." She leaned into him.

"And while I was out..." His voice held a note of suppressed grief.

"What?"

"I took a quick side trip to Kansas."

She wanted to berate him for it, when she'd been sitting in the diner worried sick, but she knew the trip would have taken him only seconds; even looking around wouldn't have consumed more than a minute or two. She took a deep breath. "Did you find them?"

He shook his head. "There's a farm where ours is - in the other universe, I mean - but the farmhouse is in a different place, the road is different. It's not our farm, and my parents weren't there. Not anywhere around there, either. I looked."

She linked her arm with his and gave a sympathetic squeeze. "I'm sorry, Clark."

"Yeah," he agreed. "I didn't have a lot of hope, after I found out they didn't have a phone, but..."

"Yeah." She tugged at his arm. "So, did you find a place for us to sleep?"

"Yep." He glanced around quickly, then slipped into an alley.

She followed him, grinning. When they were deep in the shadows, he put his hands on her waist and floated them both straight up.

 

"Are you warm enough?" he asked a little later.

"Mmm. You picked a very nice roof," she murmured. Wrapped in Superman's cape and snuggled into Clark's arms, she floated with him lazily a mere inch above the concrete surface. "I can almost see the stars..."

"Almost," he agreed, and tightened his grip.

She twisted to look up at him. "Clark?"

"Hmmm?"

"What are you thinking?"

He shrugged, taking care not to dislodge her head from its place on his shoulder. "About us. About being here, when we ought to be home, in our own house, in our own bed."

"Mmm. Safe and fed and warm?"

He grinned, just a little. "Something like that."

"I'm happy, as long as I have you."

He turned a tender look on her. "I was thinking that, too. I keep thinking it must have been me Tempus was trying to get rid of; what would have happened if you hadn't been right there, beside me, when it happened? If I hadn't grabbed you? Would I have come by myself? Left you behind?"

"I thought of that. In the diner, when you didn't come back." She shuddered and pressed her face into his neck. "That would be awful, Clark. Not knowing where you were - not being with you. I can stand anything as long as we're together."

"Yeah. Me, too." He kissed her forehead. "I just wish there was a way to let our friends know we're okay."

"And your parents."

"Yeah." His reply was so terse, she knew he'd been thinking about them, worrying about them.

"You don't think we're going to be stuck here, do you?"

His quiet "no" didn't quite carry the conviction she'd have liked. "However Tempus got us here, there's got to be a way back. We just have to find it."

"Right," she answered.

He pressed a kiss into her hair. "Right. Tomorrow. And now..."

"We go to sleep."

*****

"Radcliffe!" Joe Maxwell hailed Catherine from his office before she even had time to reach her desk.

"Yeah, Joe?"

Her boss invited her into his tiny, glass-walled cubicle with a crooked finger. "I've got something for you."

She set her briefcase and purse - a different purse than last night's, since she didn't know what evidence it might carry - on the battered naugahyde couch and picked up the file he slid toward her.

"Woman found dead in her apartment this morning," Joe explained as she scanned the faxed copy of the preliminary - and very sketchy - police report. "Looks like she suffered a pretty severe beating. I want you to get over there, see what you can find out. And Cathy..."

She paused in the act of retrieving her things.

"The victim is a cop's wife, so the detectives at the scene are going to be touchy. Watch your step."

 

The victim's apartment was a modest one in the East Village. Catherine flashed her ID at the uniformed officer guarding the building's entrance and was directed to the fourth floor. There, she found a dozen police personnel - uniforms, detectives, and forensics techs - milling in and out. "Excuse me," she said to the nearest uniform. "I'm from the D.A.'s office." Once again she displayed her ID. "Can you tell me who's in charge of the investigation?"

"Over there." The young, and thoroughly shaken looking officer pointed. "Detective Briggs."

Catherine thanked him and picked her way across the room. Detective Briggs, a burly man in a crumpled tan suit and stained tie, was talking in a low voice to a man whose face and posture spoke of deep distress.

She stopped a discreet distance away and waited for Briggs to finish. At last he clapped the man on the shoulder. "It's going to be okay, Dave," Briggs said. "We're going to get the bastard who did this. I promise."

"Yeah," Dave answered.

The victim's name, Catherine knew from the police report, was Lucille Callahan. Her husband's first name was David; no doubt the man being comforted was him.

He pushed past her unseeing; she stepped back to recover her balance and turned to Briggs. "Detective?"

"Yeah?" The look he gave her was swift and superficial. "I don't know what you want, lady, but this is a crime scene. You don't have any business here."

For the third time that morning, Catherine pulled out her ID and flipped the folder open. "I'm with the D.A.'s office," she said crisply; she had no patience for sexist attitudes. "Tell me where you are in your investigation."

It didn't improve Briggs's attitude, but he became marginally more cooperative. "Here," he said, shoving a dog-eared notebook into her hands. "You can read my notes. I'm busy." He stalked off, calling instructions to one of the forensics techs.

Catherine followed closely. "Excuse me," she said sharply, when she caught up with him. "My office sent me over to check on the status here, not to read your notes." She slapped the notebook into his hand. "I'm sure all this information will end up in your report, which will no doubt be on my desk by the end of today. What I want from you now is an overview of what's happened."

"What's happened is a cop's wife got killed!" Briggs snapped. "Any fool can see that."

"I'm not a fool, Detective Briggs," she answered. "My office will be prosecuting when you bring a perpetrator to trial; do you want us well prepared, or don't you?"

That stopped him. He flushed, looked away, and finally muttered, "Sorry. You're right. We're just upset here..."

"And with good reason," she answered, letting her voice soften. "The man you were talking to... that's Officer Callahan?"

"Detective Callahan, yeah," Briggs confirmed. "Dave and I have been buddies for as long as he's been with the force. This is tearing him up..."

"How did it happen?"

He shrugged. "He came off shift this morning, found her lying in the kitchen. She was already cold..."

"When did he last see her?"

"Last night. Dinnertime. They ate, and then he went to work..."

"Any signs of forced entry?"

He waved towards the forensics team. "Nothing obvious - no splintered door jambs or broken windows - but we're still looking."

Catherine nodded. "The report I have says she was beaten?"

Briggs hunched his shoulders and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Her face was swollen and bruised; so were her arms, legs, and torso. Looked like a pretty savage beating."

"Have you canvassed the neighbors?"

"I've got some uniforms taking care of that."

"And you'll let me know what they find out."

His muttered "yeah," was grudging, but she accepted it.

"Okay if I take a look around?" She made her tone brisk, daring him to challenge her. He didn't.

"Suit yourself; the body's been removed."

She expected as much - it had been hours since the murder had been reported and officers had responded. And she hadn't seen the coroner's wagon outside.

She surveyed the scene. Except for scatterings of black fingerprint powder and one broken vase lying on the floor near the television set, the living room was almost unnaturally neat; the forensics crew looked incongruous against such a setting.

The kitchen, where the body had been found, was not so tidy; a canister was overturned and white drifts of flour spread across the counter. Footprints showed where the flour had sifted down to cover the floor. The ugly taped outline of a sprawled body surrounded a wide smear of blood on the floor. Near the outline, a bunched dishtowel lay crumpled and damp.

Catherine swallowed the despair and sorrow she always felt at such scenes, and went down the short hallway to the apartment's single bedroom. It had the pristine neatness of the living room, marred only by a man's white dress shirt tossed onto the bed so carelessly that one arm dangled onto the floor.

Not surprisingly, the bathroom was immaculate. After a cursory look, Catherine returned to the living room. "I think I've seen all I need to, Detective," she told Briggs. "Here's my card. I'll expect your report, and of course you'll keep me apprised of anything that turns up..."

He muttered something that might have been agreement and shoved her card into his pocket.

Catherine opened her mouth to speak, thought better of it, and retreated quietly. She didn't have to like the man, all she had to do was work with him.

She nodded politely to the lone forensics tech left in the living room and went out.

*****

Clark's carefully chosen roof faced southeast, so about mid-morning, Lois woke to a dazzling ray of sun warming her face. She tried turning away, but it was just too bright; there wasn't anything for it except to wake up. She yawned and stretched... and dropped abruptly to the roof as she accidentally lost contact with Clark and his aura quit holding her up.

"Ouch." She sat up grumpily, rubbing her elbow.

Clark, who evidently hadn't wakened until he heard her grunt of surprise, sat up beside her. "Are you okay?"

"Bumped my elbow." She showed him it wasn't even bruised, then laughed when he kissed it anyway.

"Sorry you fell," he murmured.

"My fault. I forgot where I was."

"Mmm." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I slept okay. How about you?"

"Very comfortable, thank you, except for the drop at the end."

"I said I was sorry."

"I said it was my fault." She pretended to glare until he grinned. "So what's on the agenda for today?"

"First the clothes."

They gathered up their few possessions and Clark spirited away the red cape. After a careful look around, he floated them down between buildings to land lightly in a dank alley. Lois made a face and tried not to breathe as she picked her way to the alley's mouth, and fresh... well, fresher... air.

They outfitted themselves at a Goodwill outlet and changed in the restrooms of a nearby McDonald's restaurant.

Lois emerged plucking at the sleeve of her buttondown blue denim shirt. "I hate wearing other people's clothes." She sniffed. "They smell funny."

"You'll get used to it." Clark looked great in a maroon t-shirt and tight jeans. Red boots peeked out at the bottom, and Lois stared. "Those are..."

"Yep. My dress shoes looked weird."

He had his suit slung over his shoulder; he must have tucked the shoes into pockets. Or put them wherever it was that he kept the cape.

Lois sighed and draped her own suit - her best suit, the one that hugged her waist without pinching and laid just right over her hips and always made her feel terrific - over her arm and offered silent thanks that she'd chosen comfortable shoes with a medium heel yesterday; she could have been stuck with spikes!

"At least it's not a total backwater here," she muttered. "They have McDonald's. Can we get something? I'm starving."

Clark hesitated - adding up their dwindling funds, she was sure. "Yeah, why not?" he said finally.

*****

By afternoon, Catherine had not only the preliminary police report on Lucille Callahan's murder, but also what looked like a full set of forensic photos. Slowly she shuffled through the stack of 8x10 black and white glossies. The woman had been horribly beaten, over enough time for the bruises to discolor and swelling to distort her eye, her cheek, her jaw. Trails of dried blood ran from mouth and nose. Her unswollen eye was open, staring accusingly at nothing.

"My God," Catherine muttered, half to herself and half in prayer. The police report contained little that she hadn't observed or surmised for herself. She picked up the telephone.

"Detective Briggs, please."

It was minutes before Jimmy Briggs came to the phone; when he did, he was brusque. "What?"

"This is Catherine Chandler, from the D.A.'s office," she answered, keeping her voice civil. "I have the preliminary report on Lucille Callahan on my desk. Thank you for the photos, by the way."

"Right," he said grudgingly. "Thought you could use them."

"Since I didn't get to see the body in situ, I do appreciate them. I'm wondering, though... there's no mention in your report of any suspects?"

"Don't have any suspects yet," Briggs answered. "Still working on it."

"Any evidence of a sexual assault?"

"Doesn't look like it."

"How about the possibility that the victim's husband could be involved?"

There was a long silence. "Look, lady," Briggs said finally. His voice trembled with what she guessed was suppressed rage. "I've known Dave Callahan for ten years, and he's one great guy. I'd trust him with my life. I have trusted him with my life. So, no, the husband is not a suspect in this case."

"I'm sorry if I upset you, Detective, but I had to ask."

He backed off. "I know, Miss Chandler, and I'm sorry, too. Losing his wife this way is tearing Dave up. If you knew him... if you could see him..."

"I understand." And she did. But still, if the husband wasn't the suspect, who was? "You're looking at an outside perpetrator, then," she said aloud. "With what motive? Robbery?"

"Possibly," Briggs answered. "We'll know more about that when we get the results of the autopsy and the forensics report."

"Right," Catherine agreed. "I'll get copies of those too, of course."

"Of course."

*****

Lois felt like hitting somebody. Unfortunately, the only victim handy was Clark, and he wouldn't notice. So she growled instead. "I can't believe you expect me to recreate all the articles I've written in the past week." She kept her voice down to keep from disturbing other patrons in the library.

Clark leaned back from the computer terminal beside her and grinned. "Come on, Lois, you know no paper is going to hire us unless we provide them with clippings. So write. Don't forget to leave out specific references to Metropolis, or New Troy."

"Yeah, yeah. I don't remember what I said, or how I said it. I hardly remember what the articles were about! Write it and move on to the next story, that's what I do." The faint click of the keyboard accompanied her muttering; paragraph after paragraph rolled up the screen.

She stopped muttering just about the time she hit the last period. "There. Happy?"

"Yeah." Clark, who'd probably finished recreating all his articles an hour ago, grinned. "Want me to look them over?"

"You'd better. Tell me what Perry took out or added."

"Okay. And you can look over mine."

Right. As if he wouldn't remember, word for word, what he'd written, what Perry had changed. They switched terminals.

"It all looks great," Lois said, after skimming Clark's articles. "How're mine?"

"You did really well," he answered. "You forgot the paragraph Perry asked you to add to your story about the drug ring... and you left in the part about the mayor's office that Legal thought was treading a bit close..."

"Okay," Lois muttered. "Go ahead and fix it. I still think the Planet's readers should know what the mayor's office is up to."

"What you think they're up to," Clark corrected absently. His fingers flew over the keyboard. "There. Let's save all this to disk..." he performed the action as he spoke, "and take it to one of those printing places to use their laser printer."

Technologically, 1989 New York seemed about on a par with 1989 Metropolis - which meant that laser printers were still new and very expensive. They had to visit four print shops before they found one with the capability they needed. Clark formatted the stories for the print shop's system and printer at high speed, then printed them. Lois gathered the stories into a neat stack and tucked them safely into folders.

"Thanks," Clark told the shop's proprietor as he paid for the printing. "You were a big help."

"You're mighty fast on that computer, young man," the proprietor replied. Lois glanced at him quickly, but he didn't seem to have noticed anything out of the ordinary. Probably he'd just noticed how quickly the job got done.

Clark nodded. "Thanks."

"You must be one of those computer whizzes I keep hearing about."

Clark gave a little laugh. "No, I've just used them a lot..."

"Listen, I have customers come in with jobs they don't quite know how to manage for themselves," the man went on, as if Clark hadn't spoken. "And goodness knows I'm not much on the computer myself! I'd get more use out of all this expensive machinery if I had someone to operate it for me..."

Clark gave Lois a glance that could only be called inquiring; she nodded tightly, giving her approval. Who knew how long it would be before they found real jobs? They had to eat. Or at least, she did.

"I could help you out some," Clark offered. "If I knew what time to be here...?"

"I can't pay you unless there's a job," the man warned. "But if I put a sign up - Computer Expert, maybe?"

"Computer Consultant," Lois suggested.

"Computer Consultant," he agreed, nodding. "Yes, that's better. I'll put a sign up, with hours - say, two 'til six?"

That would leave mornings open for job hunting. "Perfect," Clark agreed. "Starting tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow," the proprietor agreed, and extended his hand. "I'm George Schofield."

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Schofield," Clark answered, taking his hand to seal the agreement. "I'm Clark Kent, and this is my wife Lois."

"Ma'am." Schofield acknowledged the introduction with a bob of his head. "Pleasure."

The smile that came to Lois's lips wasn't even forced. "No, Mr. Schofield, believe me. The pleasure is all mine."

*****

It was late when Catherine got back to the office. Most people were gone for the day, but light spilled from Joe's office.

"Hey," she said, sticking her head in. "You're here late."

He waved toward his heaped desk. "Got some stuff to finish up. How're you coming on the Callahan thing?"

She shrugged. "There's not much so far. We're waiting on the forensics and autopsy reports."

"Police have any suspects?"

"Not yet."

"Okay. Then in the morning I want you to work with Rita preparing the witnesses for the Brugundi trial. Opening arguments are tomorrow, so they'll be calling witnesses soon, and we can't afford to lose that one."

Catherine understood that. Nineteen year old Alan Brugundi was accused of robbing a pizza restaurant - and shooting all four of the restaurant's employees so they wouldn't be able to identify him. Three of his victims had died. Losing the case would not only mean bad publicity for the D.A.'s office, but would also mean putting a callous, cold-blooded murderer back on the street. Nobody wanted to be responsible for that.

"Sure," she agreed. "I'll put Callahan on the back burner."

"Fine," Joe said. He fished in his desk drawer and tossed something onto his blotter. "Look familiar?"

"My keys!" She started to reach for them, then remembered, with a start, where she'd seen them last. She drew back her hand. "Where did you get them?"

"Greg brought them by. Said they were found underneath that punk they found bleeding on your car last night."

"Oh." Catherine stared at the keys. Ordinarily, something found that close to a crime scene would be held as evidence. Joe was looking at her oddly; she grasped for something to say. "I must have dropped them when I was getting Jenny's present out of the car." That sounded reasonable.

"Yeah," Joe agreed. "Cathy, are you all right? You're white as a sheet."

"I'm fine," she insisted with perhaps a bit more fervor than was strictly warranted. "Just a little startled, I guess... and it's been a long day."

"And not a particularly pleasant one for you, either." He pushed the keys toward her. "Here. Go on home, get some rest."

She gestured vaguely toward her desk. "I was going to finish up the Ketter appeal..."

"It'll keep. Do it in the morning, before you start on the witnesses."

"Yeah. Okay. Thanks, Joe." She swept the keys into her hand. "See you in the morning."

"Right." He was engrossed in the file on his desk before she'd even made it all the way out of his office.

*****

Four days after their arrival in New York, after interviewing with progressively smaller and smaller newspapers and magazines, Lois and Clark landed a job.

"Good, tight writing." Editor-in-Chief Alex Martin of the West Side Sentinel laid the folder of their clippings aside.

"Thank you, sir," Clark answered.

Lois waxed indignant for a moment; how did he know the man wasn't talking about one of her pieces? Then she realized he was offering thanks from both of them. She let out a tightly held breath and tried to relax; this process of interviewing was wearing on her, and she was sick of hearing editors praise their reporting styles... and then dismiss them because they lacked experience. Next time she got thrust through a temporal warp, she was bringing her journalism awards along to wave in the faces of tight-lipped editors who didn't want to hire her. She'd bring Clark's awards, too.

"Not much experience in a big city, though, huh?"

Here it came. Lois gritted her teeth, determined not to scream. The stories, of course, were as close to the originals as she and Clark could make them - but the paper they were claiming to have written them for was a small midwestern daily that had closed its doors a month ago. Lois understood the logic behind it, but the small town aura it gave them had closed too many doors already.

"Trouble is, there are two of you, and I have only one opening," Martin went on. "I'm willing to hire either of you, though, so you two talk it over and let me know who's coming to work tomorrow."

Coming to work tomorrow? Lois gave Clark a cautious glance. Had she heard right? Did they have a job? Or rather, did one of them have a job?

As quickly as it had risen, her heart sank. She'd spent months resisting the idea of a partner - but now, the thought of working without Clark beside her seemed hollow. "You take it," she almost said, but then it would be him working without her, and that would be just as bad.

"We'll both be here, sir," she heard Clark say.

What?

"I'm sorry," Martin repeated. "There's only one opening. I have only enough in the budget to pay one reporter."

"We understand that, sir, but we're a team. Partners. We'll both work."

Martin's eyebrows went up. "For one salary?"

"That's right."

Only Clark's increasingly strong grip on her hand kept Lois silent as Martin outlined the job parameters. Was he nuts? Two reporters for the price of one... and a bargain basement price, at that. Her salary at the Planet was nearly twice the figure Martin named.

"That's fine, sir," Clark said. "Full medical benefits, of course?"

That was for her; Clark never got sick or hurt unless Kryptonite was involved, and he couldn't very well go to a conventional doctor for that. For a moment, Lois lamented the loss of STAR Labs and Dr. Klein.

Martin confirmed the benefits and offered his hand, which Clark took. Lois, recovering, shook hands as well.

"We'll be here first thing tomorrow," Clark promised.

Outside the shabby building, he swept her up in a bear hug. "We did it, Lois! We're hired."

"For peanuts!" she growled. "And two for the price of one. Have you lost your mind?"

"I'm not working without you," he answered. "I thought you felt the same way?"

"Well, I do," she admitted. "But Clark, he's getting both of us, and for that salary!"

"It's not much, I know. But with two of us on the job, I can keep on working for Mr. Schofield in the afternoons."

Lois admitted the sense of that; Schofield's print shop had kept them eating for the past four days.

"Well, he's not going to be paying us peanuts for long," she vowed. "We'll find a big story to crack and he'll see what we can do! The whole city will see. We'll have our choice of jobs."

"Lois, we don't need our choice of jobs. We have great jobs, remember? We just have to figure out how we're going to get home to do them."

But all those slamming doors had Lois's back up; she hardly heard him. Somewhere in this city was a huge story just waiting for them to stumble on it, she knew it. And she'd find it.

*****

Catherine stepped onto her balcony for a breath of night air before retiring. She studiously did not look to her right, toward the shadowed corner. He wouldn't be there, any more than he'd been there the past five nights.

And she missed him, with a deep ache that wouldn't be soothed.

The boy who'd attacked her, and been attacked by Vincent in return, had been released from the hospital this morning. His injuries had turned out to be minimal, and he was expected to make a full recovery. Catherine wished she could expect as much from Vincent. But each time he descended into that darkness on her behalf, it took something from him. Each time, he retreated a little farther into himself, and it took a little longer for him to come back.

And he wouldn't let her help him.

She bent her head in sorrow. He had to stop coming to help her; she had to stop putting herself at risk.

Tomorrow. She'd talk to Joe tomorrow.

*****

"Clark?"

"Hmmm?" He was reading a copy of the West Side Sentinel in light so dim she could barely see.

She curled against his side, floating on the cushion of air provided by his aura and his ability to fly. She shook his arm. "Clark!"

"Hmmm? What?" He finally tore his eyes away from what he was reading and looked at her, his glasses glinting in the faint glow of distant streetlights.

"Why do you wear those? They don't help you see, and I know what you look like without them."

"What?" His hand went self-consciously to his face. "I guess I'm just used to them. I'll take them off if it'll make you happy."

She sighed. "No, that's okay. I'm just bored."

"Well, do something."

"Like what? We're on a rooftop here, Kent, in case you hadn't noticed. Not even enough light to read by. Unless, of course, you're Superman. Which I'm not."

"I'm sorry, honey. Want me to read to you?"

She laid her head back down against his arm. "No." She couldn't summon much interest in what their new employer's paper might have to say.

He folded the paper and laid it aside. "Want to talk?"

"I want to be home, with my computer and my TV and my VCR..."

His arm slipped around her, bringing her close. "I know. I do, too."

"I just wish I knew how we got here. And if we're ever going to get home again."

"Well, actually, I've been thinking about that. How much do you remember about the day we came here?"

"Everything," she said fervently. "I remember it all."

"Specifically? Right before the shift?"

"Before we came?" She thought back. "We were on our way to talk to that bank guard..."

"Right."

"And those kids came up to you." She looked at him. "Do you think the kids were in on it? Zapped us somehow and sent us here?"

"Zapped us?" he repeated, teasing gently.

"Well, you know what I mean."

"Yeah, and no, I don't. I think they were just kids, looking for directions to the museum."

"Well, that's all I remember. We started walking and next thing we knew, we were here."

"And I had that pen in my hand!" He said it as though it were a new discovery.

"Yeah? That was a nice pen, by the way."

"Yeah, it was, and I never thanked you for it."

"Why would you thank me?"

"Because you gave it to me?" He made it a question, but there wasn't any uncertainty in his eyes.

She frowned. "I did not."

"Well, then, who did? I found it on my desk that morning, gift wrapped. I figured it was another one of your 'I'm sorry I got mad about you having to...'" his hand sliced the air and he looked at her questioningly.

Lois sat up straight. "I do not give you presents to apologize for being mad! I don't even get mad anymore. All that much. Hardly ever." She paused, thinking over what she'd just said, and decided not to amend it any more. "I give you presents because I love you."

He drew her toward him for a kiss. "I know," he answered. "And I love getting them for just that reason."

"But I didn't give you that pen."

"If you didn't, then who..."

"Tempus!"

"That means it must be the transport device!" Clark exclaimed.

"That means, if we can figure out how it works, we can go home!" Lois clapped her hands in excitement.

"Um..."

"Clark, you have the pen, don't you? It was in your hand when..."

"Yeah. But I haven't seen it since we got here. In all the confusion, I didn't even remember having it."

"It came with us, though. It had to have come with us."

Neither of them really understood how H.G. Wells's time machines worked, though, much less any modifications Tempus might have made. "I don't know," Clark answered slowly. "I hope it came with us."

"But if it did, you'd have it. And you don't."

"I could have dropped it. The ground was lurching and shaking and I was scared you'd be hurt. I grabbed you, remember? I wasn't even thinking about the pen."

"So it might be there, where we came in?"

"It might be." Clark's voice was cautious. Remembering the expensive gleam of the pen's black barrel, Lois understood. But still they had to look.

"Let's go," she said, popping to her feet. "Right now."

Five minutes later, they stood on the pavement where they'd arrived so precipitously nearly a week before. "Right here," Lois said. "Wasn't it? Right here."

"I think so," Clark agreed. "I remember this storefront, and down there's the newsstand where we bought the paper..."

"So if you dropped it, it should be around here someplace." She scuffed at a bit of trash in the gutter. "I wish I had a flashlight."

"It's okay, honey, I don't need a flashlight, remember?"

Of course she remembered, but she hated just standing by not doing anything. It made her feel even more helpless than she already did. Feeling helpless made her cranky, and poor Clark had already put up with a lot of cranky this week.

He already had his glasses pulled down; she waited with as much patience as she could muster as he slowly scanned the sidewalk, the gutter, and the nearby street. He walked up and down, covering half a block in either direction before he finally sighed and pushed his glasses back up. "It's not here."

"Are you sure? It could have rolled, people might have kicked it..."

"I'm sure. I looked everywhere, even into the storm drain under the street," he pointed to a nearby grate. "It's not here. Honey, I'm sorry."

For the first time since their ordeal began, her resolve wavered. "Then how will we get home?" she whispered, hating it that her voice trembled. "Clark, how will we get home?"

He wrapped his arms around her. "I don't know," he answered softly. "I don't know."

*****

"Joe, could I talk to you about something...?"

"Yeah? About what?" It was almost a growl, and she very nearly lost her nerve. Only the memory of anguish in Vincent's eyes kept her going.

"I've been an investigator for you a long time. Longer than most new hires..."

He looked up then, dark eyes suspicious. "You're good at it, Radcliffe."

"But there's more risk. Joe, I want to get into trials. More than I have been, I mean. I don't want to go out on any more investigations."

Joe's expression changed subtly, softening with surprise... and something else she couldn't quite read. He got up, came around his desk, pushed his door shut with a quiet click, and turned to face her. "What's going on? You getting scared?"

Compassion. That was the something else. She mustered a smile. "Not scared so much... just, like maybe I've used up all my luck. I think it's time I started watching my step."

Joe scowled at the papers scattered on his desk. "Yeah," he said finally. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense. You've scared the life out of me enough times, I know that. Be nice to know you're sitting in a nice, safe courtroom. And you did a nice job on the Nolan case. Pulled it out when half the office didn't think you would."

She refrained from asking which half he'd been in. "So, is it a deal? No more investigations?"

He let out a long sigh. "Yeah. I'll talk to Moreno. I'll go to bat for you, and I don't think he'll object."

"Great. Thanks, Joe."

"Yeah," he agreed morosely. "Great for you. But I've got to find somebody else to do my investigating."

She laughed, and returned to her desk with a lighter heart. Maybe tonight she'd go below, find out if Vincent was ready to see her. She could tell him about the arrangement with Joe; she wouldn't say so, but he'd understand she was removing herself from danger for his sake... for her own sake. For them.

*****

Lois and Clark shared a job, but they didn't actually have to share a desk; Martin had arranged to have a second battered metal desk wedged into the tiny cubicle that was barely large enough to hold one. It was crowded, but they could manage. Barely.

But there was only one computer. Lois had custody of the keyboard all morning, playing with the software and generally getting acquainted with the antiquated system.

"It's not antiquated here," Clark reminded her, when she muttered aloud. "Well, not very." The West Side Sentinel was a small neighborhood paper; its budget hardly ran to state-of-the-art technology.

"Yeah, I know," Lois answered. "Actually, it's not much different than what they had at the Planet when I started. I just got used to bigger and faster."

"I wouldn't know," Clark said pointedly. "I haven't gotten to touch it yet."

"Yeah, but your learning curve is shorter," she answered absently. "Boy, not much stored on the network server."

"Lois, you aren't looking..."

"Trying to," she admitted, and gave a sheepish grin. "But I don't have Jimmy's knack with computers. I can't crack the passwords."

"Good," Clark said, with emphasis.

"Anyway, it doesn't matter," she announced, and thrust the keyboard in his direction. "Here, you can play for a while."

"Where are you going?" he asked suspiciously.

"Not out of the building, I swear!" But mischief was dancing in her eyes as she waved goodbye.

She was back twenty minutes later with a cardboard box. The way she handled it made it look heavy, and he jumped up to take it. "You could have called me," he scolded lightly. "I'd have carried it for you."

"I'm perfectly capable of carrying my own boxes," she reminded him archly.

"I know, but..."

"Partners, Kent."

"Right," he conceded, grinning. "Partners. So what've you got?"

She plunked the box down in the middle of his desk and opened it. "Back issues," she announced, and started pulling them out.

"Back issues?"

She nodded, dividing the stack unevenly and pushing the shorter pile over to her own desk. "Back issues of the Sentinel, along with the last couple weeks' worth of the Times and the Post and the Daily News."

Clark gazed at the stack of newspapers remaining on his desk. "What am I supposed to do with them?"

Her grin was teasing. "Read them."

She settled into her own chair and opened the top paper in her stack with a snap.

"Why?"

She peered over the top of the paper. "Because we're in a new city."

Light began to dawn. "Oh."

"We don't know anything about the people who run this city," she went on. "Or who live here, who operate businesses here..."

"Familiarization," he said.

"Right."

"Good idea."

The look she gave him was smug. "Of course."

Clark sat and began to riffle through his own stack of papers, learning about the city and its government and its people. Names became familiar; so did places, and situations. He finished the stack in short order, and turned to see how Lois was doing.

She was racing through the papers, turning pages quickly. Her discard pile nearly rivaled his.

"Hey," he challenged. "I thought we were reading."

She looked up guiltily. "I am."

"No, you're not. What're you doing?"

"Reading," she insisted.

He dropped his voice. "Superman doesn't read that fast."

"Yes, he does," she answered, with a pointed look at the stack of papers he'd already been through.

"Okay, but you're giving him some competition!" Clark waved at Lois's discard pile.

"I'm just good at weeding out the important stuff," Lois said, glancing sideways at him to see if he was buying.

He wasn't. "Lois, you're skimming. What are you looking for?"

"I'm not looking for anything," she began. "Okay, in particular!" she added, when he gave her a pointed look.

"But in general?"

She sighed and came clean. "I'm looking for a story."

"The editors in this world assign stories just like they did back home," Clark told her.

"Not just any story. A big story."

So that's where this was going. He sighed. "Lois..."

"I know you say we don't need a big story, Clark, but face it, we've been here over a week and we don't really know how we got here, it might be that pen, but it might not be, and we don't know how we're going to get back, and I hate living on a rooftop and taking showers at the Y and brushing my teeth in the ladies' room at McDonald's and only having two outfits to wear and one of them wasn't mine to begin with and we have to go to the laundromat practically every day and I don't have my car and we're crammed into this little cubicle, and no one respects us..." Breathless, she wound to a stop. Clark stared at her, hurt.

"Oh, Clark, I didn't mean..."

"I hate it, too, Lois," he said quietly. "I hate not giving you the things you want, I hate us not being able to go home at the end of the day. But we have a home, and we have jobs. I want to concentrate on getting back, not on making our way here."

"But we're not even sure how we got here!" she wailed.

"I know. But we'll figure something out. Meanwhile," he nudged the papers on his desk, "I think your idea was good. We do homework."

"Yeah." She went back to the paper in her hands. Slowly, this time.

"Hey," she said, a few minutes later. "Here's something."

"What?" Clark murmured, without looking up.

"A story."

"Mmm?"

She folded the paper in her lap and used it to swat his upraised knee. "Clark!"

"What?" He dropped his feet to the floor with a thump.

She thrust the paper into his hands. "Look at this article."

"Little bitty thing," he commented. "Buried on the back page."

"Yes, but read it!"

He did, very quickly. "Okay, I read it. A teenager with questionable intentions got hurt. I'm sorry for him, but I don't see a story..."

"No, it's how he got hurt! See, it says here he was slashed, but the police don't know what kind of weapon or tool might have been used, it looks kind of like claws..."

"Ninja claws," Clark answered promptly. "I'm surprised you didn't think of them, considering your martial arts background."

"I did think of them, but apparently they've been ruled out somehow... wait, you didn't see that article yet, it's in the next day's paper, wait a minute, I'll find it..."

A moment later she came up with the succeeding article. "See, it says here that there have been other slashings, with some deaths, over the past couple of years."

"And you think we ought to make it our business to find out who's been doing the slashing?"

"Yes! This could be the story that makes our reputations!"

"I already have a reputation. I'd just like to get home so I can enjoy it."

"Yeah, me, too, but as long as we're stuck here... and we're writing stories anyway..."

He looked at her first with doubt, then with alarm as he saw her expression. Uh-oh.

With a seductive smile, she insinuated herself into his lap and wound her arms around his neck. "Please?" she murmured, close to his ear. "I'll be really nice to you..."

He couldn't help it - he laughed. "You're shameless."

"Yeah," she admitted, smiling. "But only with you."

Persuaded, Clark flipped rapidly through the rest of the stack, reading at superspeed and pulling out the few articles related to the slasher attacks, then went down to the Sentinel's clippings library and brought back the file of slasher-related articles.

"Looks like it started a couple of years ago," he said, placing the copies in front of Lois.

"Mmm," she agreed absently, intent on the article she was reading. A minute later she looked up. "There's a name that keeps cropping up as a witness. An assistant D.A. Her name's Catherine Chandler."

"Yeah, I noticed that."

"And didn't tell me?"

He grinned. "What, and take away your joy of discovery?"

She gave him a mock glare and turned back to the clippings. "Wonder why the police never made the connection?" she mused. "I mean, you'd think they'd have hauled this woman in for questioning by now."

"Probably because the killings have taken place in so many different precincts," Clark suggested. "The same officers haven't investigated every time."

She peered at him. "We've only been here a week - how do you know where the precincts are?"

He grinned and gestured toward the towering stack of papers on his desk. "I read."

"Oh, yeah. It's not fair, either. You whiz, I slog..."

He leaned down to kiss her. "You don't slog. You read pretty fast, actually."

She smiled up at him. "Yeah," she agreed. "Maybe." She looked back at the clippings. "I think we need to talk to this woman."

Clark's smile faded. "Lois, maybe we should just stick to the story we were assigned..."

"A new lion cub at the zoo? I don't think so. This is the story that's going to put us back on top!" She stabbed at the clippings with an emphatic finger, then grabbed her notebook. "You write the story about the lion, okay? I'm going over to the D.A.'s office."

"Lois!" But it was too late. She was already gone.

*****

Lois got all the way down to the sidewalk before she remembered she didn't have a car here. She didn't have enough money for a cab either. And to top it all off, she hadn't been here long enough to know where to find the D.A.'s office. Exasperated, she spun around and stalked back into the building.

The Sentinel's part time receptionist provided a phone book and a map of the city. It didn't take Lois long to locate the D.A.'s offices - far south of where she was - and call for a bus schedule.

The bus ride took longer than she expected; when she finally did step off, tired and disheveled, Clark was waiting out in front of the Criminal Justice building.

"Hi," he greeted, with aggravating cheer.

"How'd you...? Never mind," she answered herself. "Did you write the story?"

"Wrote it and sent it off to Alex," he agreed, still cheerfully. "He liked it."

"He would. Aren't you supposed to be at the print shop about now?"

"I called Mr. Schofield and told him I'd be a little late."

She gave up being grumpy with him. "Okay. I guess I'm glad to have you along."

They made their way up to the fourteenth floor, where the D.A.'s offices were housed.

"Miss Chandler? I think she's... yes, she's over there." The clerk they'd waylaid pointed out an attractive woman of about thirty. Her fair coloring and small stature made her look vulnerable, but the look she turned on them was anything but.

"May I help you?" she asked, glancing from one to the other.

"Yes." Lois plunged forward. "I'm Lois Lane, and this is my partner, Clark Kent. We're reporters for the Da - West Side Sentinel. Is there some place we can talk?"

"I'm sorry, I'm on my way out. If you see Charlene," she pointed out the receptionist who was just returning to her desk, "she'll make you an appointment. Excuse me."

Catherine moved past them, toward the door.

Lois wheeled and hurried after her. "Miss Chandler, it'll only take a few minutes. We'll walk down with you."

Catherine looked skeptical, then shrugged. "Suit yourselves. The West Side Sentinel. I've heard of it, but I'm not sure I've ever read it. It has a good reputation."

The remark sounded just a touch wary to Lois's cynical ear, but Clark seemed to take it at face value. "We haven't been with the paper long," he said, "but its reputation was one of the things that drew us."

"I see." She punched the button to summon the elevator, then turned to face them. "What can I help you with? You realize I can't talk about any of my current cases."

Clark managed to sound apologetic. "No, Miss Chandler, we wanted to talk to you about something else."

"A series of slasher murders," Lois added, watching the other woman closely. "You were a witness to a number of these murders..."

The elevator arrived just then; Catherine turned toward the opening doors, lowering her head so that her hair swung down to hide her eyes.

By the time they'd all entered the car and arranged themselves, she seemed composed, but the color was gone from her face. "I'm familiar with the killings," she said, and punched the button for the ground floor. "But I've already told the police everything I know."

Clark took up the questioning. "We're wondering how it is that you seem to be in the vicinity when so many of these incidents take place."

"I don't know." Her voice was flat and expressionless, but the look on her face was one of defiance.

All Lois's instincts prickled. "In at least a couple of the cases, you were reported missing shortly before the slashings occurred," she pursued. "Can you comment on that?"

Catherine Chandler seemed to look inward for a moment. "Sometimes my job is dangerous," she said, finally. "I deal, obviously, with the criminal element. Sometimes I am threatened in an effort to get me to change my actions."

"Yes, but that doesn't explain the slashings," Clark pointed out. "Is it someone who's protecting you? And if so, why hasn't he or she made a statement to the police?"

"I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to tell you that," she answered, looking grim. The elevator arrived on the ground floor and the doors slid open. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment..."

She walked away rapidly. Lois would have followed and continued to question, but Clark held her back. "Let her go."

"All right," Lois agreed. "But tonight, when she gets off work..."

He looked at her wearily. "I know. We follow her."

*****

In the tiny threshold chamber below Catherine's apartment building, Vincent stood braced against the wall; his stillness was stark counterpoint to the agitation within.

Catherine was distressed to the point of tears, and had been since mid-afternoon. It was well past the supper hour now, but Catherine had only reached her building a few minutes before. Her urgency had drawn him, and held him here. She wouldn't be long.

They hadn't met since that night nearly a week ago. He dreaded the moment, fast approaching, when she would climb down the ladder and turn to look at him.

In her eyes, he knew, would be tenderness, and boundless love.

And in him would rise up a magnitude of shame. So it had been each time he protected her, and so it would continue. Until finally she realized what he was and what he was not.

Then the love she had for him would turn to horror. And he would be once more alone.

The low door at the top of the ladder opened, spilling light into the small, dark chamber. She climbed down quickly. He waited for her to turn and find him in the dim little room.

He ached to sweep her into his arms; it had been days since he'd held her and he missed the comfort of her touch. Instead, he asked, "What is it?"

She shook her head in weary frustration. "Some reporters. Asking me about..." She stopped.

Searching for the right words. But he knew. "About me. When I... come to you."

"Yes. It's been months, Vincent, and we've been so careful! I've been careful... except for the other night..."

"You were on a public thoroughfare, going about your own business..." His first instinct, always, was to shield her.

"After dark, alone," she countered bitterly.

Despair ran between them; hers, he thought, though he couldn't be sure. He succumbed to longing and instinct and took her arm, drawing her toward him. She came willingly. He hoped she found as much strength in their embrace as he did.

"I wish..." she began, speaking softly from just under his chin. She let the words trail away. What did she wish? "I wish I'd been smarter," she said finally. "I wish I'd paid more attention to what I was doing - to you, to myself..."

"Don't blame yourself, Catherine," he said gently. "It is I..."

"Who saved my life more times than I can count," she answered quickly, roughly, pulling away. "Who would do anything to keep me safe. I'm the one who got into trouble, Vincent. I'm the one..."

"If you have committed any crime, Catherine, it is only one of carelessness."

She swung around to stare at him.

He looked down at his own clenched fists. "Not of murder."

"It's not murder to protect yourself, Vincent. It's not murder to protect the life of someone else."

"Is it murder... to glory in the killing of another? No matter the justification for the killing itself?" There. He'd said it. He'd dropped the terrible thing into the silence between him. Now she would be horrified. Now she would go.

But she stayed. Stayed looking at him with compassion and love. "No," she answered softly. "It's a terrible thing, but it's not murder." She approached him, and put her hand on his arm. "Will you talk to me about it?"

Shame rose up, closing his throat. He couldn't meet her look. She must not have understood, and he couldn't say it again. How could he explain the joy and triumph that surged within him at each kill? Where would he find the words? "Perhaps... later," he temporized. "But now... tell me about these reporters."

"Vincent..." There was pleading in her voice.

"The reporters," he repeated. "You've been distressed all afternoon..."

She gazed at him a moment longer, then looked away with a sigh. "They came to me asking about... the killings. My involvement." She seldom was agitated enough to pace, but she did so now, crossing and recrossing the small square chamber with impatient strides.

Vincent settled against the wall and strove for calm. "Your story has always been, in every case, that you were being threatened, and that you didn't see what came to your rescue."

"Yes," she answered. "But I'm not sure it'll hold up in front of experienced reporters who are linking all the... incidents... together."

"They may conclude there is something - someone - who protects you," he said, wishing only to dispel her fears. "But they cannot disprove your assertion that you have not seen your protector and do not know who it is."

"They can't disprove it, but they don't have to believe it, either." The look she gave him was ragged with desperation. "If I were them, I'd be following me right now. We have to be very careful now. I can come to you here, they can't get past the doorman, but I shouldn't use any of the other entrances, and you should be very careful about getting messages to me, if you should need to."

"Yes," he agreed immediately. The precautions made sense. But the idea of separation was agonizing. Seeing her used to be a desire; now, in some way he couldn't explain, it was a need, deep-running and constant. "How long do we go on this way?"

"I don't know," she confessed. The look on her face said she was as anguished as he. "The paper they work for is reputable - at least we're not dealing with the Inquiring Star this time - but it's also very small... I'd guess they wouldn't have the resources to keep two reporters on one story for very long. A week or two?"

He nodded acceptance, but the longing made him reach up and touch her face. "You must be even more careful. It would be dangerous for me to come to you while these reporters are watching."

"I know." She moved her head, pressing her cheek into his palm. "I talked with Joe today... about not doing investigations any more."

Something inside him went cold and still. "What did he say?"

"He thinks it's a good idea. He's going to talk to Moreno, but he thinks it'll go through. I'll be safer then. Just office and courtroom work." She bent her head. "I don't want you to have to come for me any more, Vincent," she said, her voice low. "I don't want it to be that way, between us. Not ever again."

But if it was not that way, what way would it be? Regret rose where there should have been relief. Was he so addicted to the kill? So drawn by that rush of ecstasy that he would rather risk Catherine's life than give it up? "I want you to be safe." That much he could say, truthfully. Somehow, shamefully, he couldn't summon gladness.

*****

A week's separation from Vincent, enforced by occasional glimpses of one or both reporters from the West Side Sentinel, was wearing on Catherine; once again she hadn't slept well, and got to the office a few minutes late.

Joe's voice summoned her before she could even reach her desk. "Radcliffe!"

She headed toward his office. "Yeah?"

He motioned her all the way in.

"What's going on, Joe?"

"I need you to go check out a case."

Catherine stiffened. "I thought I wasn't doing investigations any more."

"You aren't," Joe answered. "Just like we agreed. Except this one."

"Joe..."

"I know, I know, but we need you on this."

"Let Baxter do it," she said, naming the newest investigator in the D.A.'s office.

"Baxter wouldn't be any good at this, Cathy. We need you."

"Why? What's happened?"

"Greg Hughs just called me - about a 911 call that came in last night." He slid a shiny-curly sheet of fax paper across his desk. "Here's the police report."

Catherine owed Hughs a number of favors, the most recent of which was the return of her keys. She couldn't begin to track what she owed Joe, who had always been her friend. Reluctantly she reached for the folder and flipped it open, skimming quickly. "Domestic call?" She glanced at Joe. "No charges filed? I thought that was a requirement now, whether the victim wanted to press charges or not."

"Yeah, it is," Joe confirmed. "Except in this case, the husband is Officer Glen Stevens... of the NYPD. By the time a patrol got there - and they took their sweet time on it - it was all over, including the shouting, and the wife wouldn't even come to the door to talk to the officers."

"Who went away without insisting they at least see her to be sure she was all right." Catherine could see it all.

"Yeah. Hard to insist, I guess, when it's your fellow officer telling you things are fine."

"Has anyone talked to her today?"

"Greg called the house after the husband's duty shift started. She answered the phone, but when he identified himself, she hung up on him. I don't like this, Cathy. Greg and I are hoping she'll talk to you."

"Because I'm a woman," Catherine guessed.

"And because you're not a cop," Joe agreed. "It's investigation, Cathy, but it should absolutely not be dangerous."

"Where have I heard that before?" she muttered, wryly.

"Daytime, good neighborhood," Joe coaxed. "You go down there, you talk to the wife, you see what you can find out. Okay?"

"All right," she conceded, finally. "I'll do it. But this is the last one, okay?"

He regarded her thoughtfully, then offered his first smile of the day. "Okay."

*****

Clark and Lois watched Catherine emerge from the Criminal Justice building and turn left, striding down the sidewalk with confidence. "Where do you suppose she's going?" Lois asked. "Not the courthouse."

"No," Clark agreed. "Wrong direction. Maybe something's finally happening."

At the corner, Catherine lifted her arm; a yellow taxi swerved obligingly to the curb and she got in.

"Uh-oh," Lois muttered. "We're going to lose her. Darn, I wish I had my car!"

"We could splurge on cab fare," Clark suggested tentatively. "Wait a minute." He gestured for silence and focused his superhearing, then turned to Lois. "Any idea where 744 South Logan might be?"

She rolled her eyes in answer. It took a few minutes to find a phone booth with an intact phone directory, but after that it was only a matter of seconds to locate South Logan on the map. Clark slapped the book shut and caught Lois's hand. "Come on. A cab will take too long."

He dragged her into a nearby alley, glanced around to be sure no one was looking, then put his arms around her and shot into the air faster than the human eye could follow.

"Whew!" she exclaimed, when he slowed, high above the city. "Sometimes you take my breath away!"

He held her closer and grinned. "Oh, yeah?"

She pressed a kiss to the underside of his jaw. "Yeah. And sometimes we aren't even flying."

The only answer for that was a kiss. When it ended, Clark flew them to where he judged 744 South Logan would be and located a secluded spot in which to land. "We have to go down as quickly as we went up," he warned.

"Taking my breath away again already," she teased, in answer. "This time I'll be ready." She tucked her head under his chin. "Okay."

"Okay." He took careful aim and dropped straight down, easing up only in the last foot to land them gently.

"Wow." Lois stepped back and smoothed her hands over her mussed hair. Usually when they flew together, he held her cradled in his arms, and went more gently. But she didn't seem to mind the more rapid form of transit.

The alley they'd landed in gave out on Logan Street only a half-block from 744. Mere minutes after their arrival, Catherine's cab pulled up to the curb. They waited a discreet distance away while she paid the driver and entered the building.

Clark surveyed the area, then veered to cross the street.

"Hey!" Lois called, then scrambled to follow. "Where are we going?" she asked, catching up.

The buildings on either side of the street were three- and four-story brownstone townhouses in varying stages of disrepair. Clark zeroed in on the wide concrete steps of a house across the street from the one Catherine Chandler had entered. He took Lois's shoulders and guided her to sit, then sat beside her. "We're about to have a heart-to-heart talk," he told her.

"About what?"

"About anything your little heart desires," he answered, grinning. "Since I won't be listening."

"Oh." She glanced at the building across the street. "Actually, we'd better be having a low-voiced argument. Since you're not going to be looking at me."

"Good idea."

Lois slid away from him, turned, and leaned toward him, making her body language confrontational. She began speaking, keeping the pitch and volume low.

Clark had already tuned her out, concentrating his hearing on the house across the street. After a minute he took off his glasses and rubbed his forehead, as if weary.

The house across the street had apparently been converted to apartments; his x-ray vision located Catherine climbing to the third floor. She approached one of the two doors opening onto the dingy landing and knocked gently.

*****

"Mrs. Stevens?" Catherine pitched her voice to carry through the battered door.

"Who is it?" The voice behind the door was stiff and inhospitable.

"My name is Catherine Chandler," she answered. "I'm with the District Attorney's office. I'd like to talk to you about the 911 call you made last night?"

The silence that ensued went on so long that Catherine wondered if the woman had simply walked away from the door. "Mrs. Stevens?"

"I don't know anything about any 911 call," the woman answered.

"A call was made from your number," Catherine answered. "Please. I'll only take a moment of your time."

She heard the snap of a lock being turned and the door opened on the chain; beyond, she could see a wedge of the apartment. It looked tidy; in a corner stood a baby's playpen. No one had mentioned children might be involved.

"I told you, I don't know anything about any 911 call." The voice came from behind the door. "So you can just leave now."

"Please. I want to help you."

A woman's face - her lip split, her cheek vivid with bruises, her eye swollen nearly shut - slid into view. "You can't help," she hissed, between bruised lips. "No one can. Don't you understand that?"

The door shut; locks clicked back into place with grim finality and nothing Catherine could say roused any further response.

*****

Clark blinked and turned off the x-rays. He let his hearing come back to normal too, and only then realized that instead of invective, Lois was giving him a detailed description of what she might do to him if they were only in private, occasionally adding a comment about what he might do to her in return.

It distracted him enough to make him glance at her, but wasn't enough to hold his attention. His gaze returned to the building across the street.

Lois put her hand on his. "Clark? What is it, what's going on?"

Only then did he realize his fists were clenched so tight the knuckles were white. "I couldn't hear it all," he said, his voice choked. "There're kids playing in an apartment downstairs, making noise..."

"Okay, but what did you see?"

"The woman... she's been beaten, Lois. Beaten so badly..." Part of him longed to get his hands on the man - he was sure it was a man - who'd administered the beating. The rest of him suspected it was just as well the culprit was safely out of reach.

"Beaten...?"

"Bruised and swollen... on her face, her arms..."

Lois's voice went soft and tentative. "Maybe she fell..."

He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. "You didn't see her. Nobody gets hurt like that from a fall. She looks like a boxer the day after a losing match."

That was an image Lois could understand. She let her breath out slowly. "Who do you think might have..."

"I don't know. I heard Miss Chandler say something about a 911 call, but the rest of it..." He shot to his feet. "Come on. I want to talk to some of the neighbors..."

He'd only taken a step when the front door of the building opposite began to open. Catherine Chandler was coming out; another second and she'd see them. Clark didn't doubt for an instant that she would recognize them, and know they were following her.

Lois had risen to follow him; he swung around and caught her up in a hard embrace, pressing his lips to hers. She went stiff with startlement, then, just as quickly, relaxed and began to kiss him back.

Without breaking the kiss, Clark tipped his head just a little and peeked across the street; Catherine emerged from the house with her head down and did no more than glance their way before turning north.

Clark waited until she was halfway down the block before he ended the kiss.

"Mmm," Lois said, when he released her. "Not that I'm complaining, but what was that for?"

He nodded at the rapidly retreating back of their quarry. "If she'd recognized us, you can bet she'd have been over here accusing us of harassment."

Lois smacked him in the chest. "You kissed me as a cover?"

He grinned. "Yeah. But I enjoyed it."

"Hmph." She started off down the sidewalk, but stopped when he didn't follow. "Come on!" she urged. "We're going to lose her."

Still he didn't move.

"Clark!"

"Listen, Lois, you go on and follow her, okay?" He glanced at the converted brownstone across the street. "I want to ask a few questions... and then I have to get to Mr. Schofield's."

She came back to him. "Questions? Clark, I have nothing but compassion for that poor woman, but an assault - or even domestic violence - just isn't as newsworthy as what we're after."

"The slasher," he said heavily.

"Right."

"You know I'm not enthusiastic about that story..."

"Yeah, and I don't know why not. It's the kind of thing we're good at! Hunting down the truth."

Clark looked to where Catherine Chandler was turning the corner. "Yeah. But somehow, I don't think this truth needs to be hunted down."

"You're a sentimental softy, you know that, Kent?"

He managed a grin. "How could I forget? You remind me often enough."

Her look softened. "So, we're splitting up?"

"Yeah. Don't go anywhere too unusual, okay? I want to be able to find you. If the earth suddenly shifts under my feet..."

"If it moves under mine, I'll yell," she promised.

"And I'll be there before you finish," he answered. "I'm not going back to our universe without you, and I'm not letting you go without me."

"My hero." She stretched up to give him a quick kiss. "Gotta go, or I'll lose her."

"She went left at the corner," he advised, and stood on the sidewalk, hands in his pockets, until Lois disappeared from view.

*****

That night, Vincent came to Catherine's balcony. His claws clicked lightly against the glass of her French doors; she leaped to her feet and hurried outside.

"You shouldn't have come," she said as she went into his arms.

He held her close. "How could I not come? I know how distressed you are."

"It's just work," she answered, pressing her face into his vest, inhaling his scent. "Not anything I can't handle..."

"But it's upset you, Catherine," he said gently, releasing her and stepping back. His expression, in the dim light from her living room, was grave. "More than your work usually upsets you. I thought you needed to talk."

She glanced uneasily over the balcony rail. "I don't suppose my faithful shadows can see you," she decided. "Stay back from the edge, though, please?"

"I will if you will talk to me," he agreed. "What's troubling you?"

She looked out over the city, gathering her thoughts. "I went out on a new case today. A woman was beaten viciously, almost certainly by her husband, and she won't talk to us about it."

He looked horrified. "Why?"

"Because she's scared. She made a 911 call last night, but when the police finally got there, things were quiet and her husband sent them away. Joe wanted me to see if she'd talk to me. She wouldn't, though. She acted terrified. I left my card, but I really don't expect to hear from her... and she'd been severely beaten, Vincent. If you could have seen her face..."

Vincent sank onto a narrow, wrought iron bench. "I cannot comprehend the thinking of a man who would use his strength against someone who loves him."

"I can't, either," she answered, sitting beside him.

His hand crept over to cover hers. "She needs your help, Catherine."

"How can I, when she won't talk to me?"

"You must try again. And keep trying until she listens to you. You must not let her be alone in this."

Catherine nodded slowly. "I won't. I'll go back tomorrow. And the next day, and the next. Until she listens."

*****

"No, Lois, I'm not going to x-ray the building."

"Oh, but, Clark!" Lois leaned against his arm and wheedled. "Just a little peek?"

He pulled his glasses down and peered at her over the rims. "No. Not even the tiniest glance. Those are people's homes in there! I'm not going to spy on people in their homes."

"I don't want you to spy on all of them. Just Catherine Chandler." She leaned back and crossed her arms. "You didn't mind peeking into people's homes earlier."

"Just the public hallway," he said, not without a squirm of conscience.

"But you saw the woman's face..."

"Uh, yeah. But she was standing at her front door, talking to Miss Chandler..."

"You're splitting hairs, Kent. I don't want you to watch women undressing... in fact," she poked him with her elbow, "you'd better not watch women undressing! I just want a little peek to see which apartment's hers, and make sure she's there, and alone..."

"And if she's undressing when I peek in?"

"I expect you to do the virtuous thing and look away."

"Virtuous. Right." He sighed. "Okay, but just a quick peek."

Lois settled against him with a happy sigh. "Great. I checked her address - her apartment's 21E. So start with the twenty-first floor."

Clark counted windows. "There is no twenty-first floor."

"What?" Lois counted, too. "You're right. It stops at twenty floors. How'd she get to be 21E?"

"Some builders skip the thirteenth floor," Clark suggested. "I'll try the twentieth floor." He scanned quickly, and frowned. "Those apartments are numbered 23, A through F."

"Weird," Lois commented. "Twenty-one from twenty-three is two; try two floors down."

"Got it. 21B... 21D... ah, there it is, on the eighteenth floor. And I thought your old apartment building was numbered strangely."

"Is she there?"

"What, you think she slipped out the back when we weren't looking? I have to be careful here... don't want to intrude..."

"Have to avoid peeking at women undressing," Lois agreed solemnly. "Did you find her?"

"Yeah. She's on her balcony." He frowned. "She looks kind of pensive... I wonder what's wrong?"

"Well, she knows we're on to her, for one," Lois said.

"I suppose." Clark slid his glasses back up where they belonged. "Lois, I've been thinking about that woman this afternoon..."

"The one in the apartment?" Lois guessed.

He nodded. "I think there's a story in there..."

Lois took a deep breath. "Clark, it's not that I don't have compassion for that woman - I do. But vile as domestic violence is... and I'm making a leap here by assuming that's what happened... it's not news. It probably ought to be, but it's not."

"Not usually," he agreed. "But I talked with some of the neighbors, Lois. The husband's a police officer."

"Even that's not so uncommon," Lois argued.

"This isn't the first time she's had bruises. The neighbors all told me it always takes the police a long time to respond when they call. Too long."

"Maybe they were busy with more urgent calls?"

Clark tapped his ear. "The city was quiet last night, honey. Oh, there were the usual rash of muggings and a couple of hits on liquor stores and stuff... but for the most part it was quiet. And it still took the police over an hour to respond. The reporter's instinct you helped me to hone tells me there's something there."

"You think the police are covering for the husband?" Lois asked thoughtfully.

"I think it's possible. And if it's true, it's a heck of a story."

"Yeah. Police corruption always is." She nodded. "Okay. When we get to the office tomorrow, we'll have to see about getting a copy of the police dispatcher's log."

Clark grinned. "I think that's a good idea." He gestured vaguely upward. "So, can we give up on this slasher thing now?"

"No!" Lois looked affronted. "The police corruption thing's only a maybe, Clark. We need a big story, and *my* reporter's instinct says we're onto something here."

He sighed, and looked sideways at her. "It means splitting up again tomorrow. One of us has to work on the mood piece Alex assigned us."

"Oh. Yeah. I forgot about that."

"I know you hate doing that kind of thing... want me to take it, while you work on the dispatch logs?"

She smiled. "Okay. And then I'll pick up Chandler in the afternoon, while you go to the print shop."

"Great." He leaned back, glancing upward. "Oh, her lights are out. Guess that means we can go home?"

"Home. Right." Lois gave him a crooked smile. "Rooftop, sweet rooftop."

The darkened expanse of Central Park was at their backs; they faded into its shadows. When Clark was sure they were invisible from the street, he put his arms around Lois and took off.

He set her down a moment later on the rooftop they'd come to think of as theirs and, whipping his cape into being, spread it out.

She sank down on it and looked up at him. "Clark, how long do you suppose it'll be before we can afford a place to live?"

He sat beside her and tugged at his boots. "I don't know. A few weeks, maybe. The Sentinel doesn't pay much, and we'd have to save up first and last month's rent and a damage deposit."

"A few weeks!" Lois modulated her voice with effort. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to sound critical... but Clark, I can't live another few weeks on a rooftop! With no running water, and no furniture and we have to worry about someone seeing us..."

"Yeah, Lois, I know," he said. "I wasn't going to tell you yet, but I was talking with Mr. Schofield about that this afternoon. About us needing a place to stay."

"Yeah?"

"And he thinks he might know of a place. He's going to check and let me know tomorrow."

"Oh! Oh, Clark, that'd be great! Just think, a bathroom..." she ran a seductive finger down his chest, "...and a bed..."

He caught her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing her fingers. "I miss having our own place... and bed... as much as you do. This probably won't be much - a furnished room in a boarding house, maybe, but it'll be better than a rooftop."

"Especially..." Lois held out an experimental hand. Yes, she was right, moisture was dropping from the sky, "...when it's raining!"

Quicker than thought, Clark scooped her and their belongings up and whisked them across a handful of rooftops to one that boasted a deep overhang. They stood in its shelter, watching water run from the edge.

"You rat." Lois's smile and hug belied her words. "You've been holding out on me."

"I spotted this a few days ago," he admitted. "It's not as comfortable as our usual rooftop, and I don't think it's as secure, but I thought it might come in handy."

"It's kind of nice," Lois admitted, looking out at the rain. "Kind of cozy."

Clark tightened his arm around her shoulders, turning her towards him. "Yes, it is," he agreed softly.

"Kind of... intimate."

"Mmm." He nuzzled her neck.

"Even kind of... romantic?"

"Yeah."

"You know, we've been here nearly three weeks, and we haven't..."

"I know." He nibbled delicately on her ear.

"And it doesn't look like we're going to be disturbed..."

"No," he agreed. "What with all the rain..."

"Mmm." She leaned against him. "But we're warm and dry..."

"Yes..."

"So we can..."

"Yes."

*****

Catherine was at Virginia Stevens' apartment first thing the next morning. She lingered outside until a fair, slender man emerged from the building that housed the Stevenses' apartment. He wore the uniform of a patrolman in the NYPD; he whistled as he strode down the block.

Catherine had done her homework yesterday, and recognized the man as police officer Glen Stevens. She shook off the chill that went down her spine and mounted the steps, thinking of Virginia Stevens and her eight-month-old son.

"Mrs. Stevens?" she called through the closed apartment door.

There was no answer; the chill came back.

Catherine knocked harder. "Mrs. Stevens, it's Catherine Chandler from the D.A.'s office again. I'm not leaving until you talk to me."

At last she heard the rattle of locks.

"Mrs. Stevens?"

"Go away!" An eye, the surrounding flesh bruised and swollen, showed in the narrow opening between door and frame. "You've done enough harm!"

"Mrs. Stevens, I want to help you."

"And I told you yesterday, you can't! No one can. All you're doing is making it worse!"

"Mrs. Stevens, please..."

"Don't you understand? He talks to the neighbors! They told him you were here yesterday."

Catherine went cold. "Did he hurt you again?"

There was no answer, but the door didn't close.

"Mrs. Stevens, I can take you, you and your baby, to a place where you'll be safe. Someplace he can't get to you."

The answering hiss was low and bitter. "You still don't get it, do you? He's a cop. He knows where the safe houses are. He'll find me. He'll kill me."

"No. I know a place he can't find. Mrs. Stevens, I promise you... for your own sake, for your child..."

"I can't..." But there was a waver in her voice.

Catherine leaned closer, pitching her voice low. "Mrs. Stevens, I am not making this up. I know a place your husband won't know about. It's not an official safe house, so the police aren't aware of it. But I have friends who live there, and I know they'll take you in. They'll keep you safe."

"But for how long? Sooner or later I'd have to come out... try to make my living. He'd find me then."

"Not this place. You can stay there forever if you need to. You can live there and work there, your child can go to school... Mrs. Stevens, please believe me. Get your baby and come with me, now. Your life could depend on it."

A low moan sounded from behind the door. "If I do, he'll kill me. If I don't... he's going to find out you were here. He's going to be so angry..."

"Then you have no choice. You have to come now."

Half an hour later, Catherine carried a suitcase and bulging diaper bag down the stairs. Virginia Stevens followed, her son clutched in her arms. A cab, summoned by a telephone call once Catherine had been admitted to the apartment, waited outside. They hurried into it and sped off.

Catherine watched, but no one followed. Still, a police officer could access the cab records, so she asked the driver to let them off at a random corner, where she let the cab disappear into traffic before hailing another. They changed cabs in this way three times before Catherine was satisfied, and gave the driver a legitimate address. "These are friends," she said, as they pulled up in front of Long's Grocery. "They'll help."

Young Edward Long was waiting to guide them. "I sent a pipe message after you called, Miss Chandler," he said as he led them into the shop's basement. "Someone should be waiting."

Someone was. Catherine recognized the blond young woman, and the dark-haired teenager at her side.

"Hi, Catherine," the young woman greeted. "Edward said you need help."

"Not me," Catherine said, moving aside. "But my friend does. This is Virginia. Virginia, this is Jamie..."

Jamie's eyes widened, but whether that was at Virginia's battered appearance, or just that Catherine was bringing her to the tunnels, Catherine wasn't sure.

She pushed on doggedly. "...and Zach."

Zach was better at covering his surprise. "Hi, Virginia."

Virginia mustered a tiny smile. "Nice to meet you. You can call me Ginny."

"Ginny," Zach repeated, politely.

Jamie fixed Catherine with an incredulous stare. "Does Father know...?" she hissed.

"It's okay, Vincent and I talked about this last night."

"Did he tell you to bring her?" Jamie's voice held more than a trace of suspicion.

"No," Catherine admitted. "But he'll back me up."

"You know he will, Jamie," Zach said. "He always does."

"Father," Jamie predicted grimly, "is going to explode." She reached for the suitcase.

"Are you coming, Catherine?" Zach asked.

"I can't. I have to get to the office... I'm late already." She turned to Ginny Stevens. "Jamie and Zach will take care of you. You'll be safe."

Fear shone in the woman's eyes. "Where will you be?"

Catherine smiled. "Acting as if I don't know anything about it." She pressed Ginny's hand. "I'll come see you, all right? Tonight, if I can."

Ginny glanced uneasily at Jamie. "If it's okay with these people...?"

"It'll be fine," Zach assured her. "Catherine comes to visit all the time. Here, can I carry the baby for you?"

"I don't know if he'll go to you," she answered doubtfully.

"Sure he will," Zach answered cheerfully. "Babies like me. Come on, little guy, I'll bet you get heavy after a while. Let's give your mom a rest."

Catherine had tried several times to carry the baby herself, but he would have none of it. But to her surprise, he hesitated only a moment before consenting to be taken into Zach's arms.

"See?" Zach bragged. "What'd I tell you?"

Catherine laughed. "Well, I can see you're in good hands."

Ginny was staring at her young son, who seemed enthralled with Zach's nose. "I guess so," she agreed. "Thank you so much, Cathy. I can't believe I'm finally going to be free..."

*****

"I'm sorry you lost your story, Clark." Lois worked at putting sympathy in her voice, but must not have been as successful as she'd have liked; the look her husband gave her was baleful. "I am!" she insisted.

"Yeah, honey," he conceded. He was sprawled on the park bench across the street from Catherine Chandler's apartment building, where they'd spent the past few evenings. "I know you are. I just wish I knew where Virginia Stevens was, so I could talk to her."

She shifted on the hard bench. "Don't you have any leads?"

His grin was wry. "One. The person who took her away was a woman, late twenties or early thirties, dark blonde hair, wearing a gray suit..."

Uh-oh. "Catherine Chandler was wearing a gray suit today..."

"I know. And she's the one person in this city I can't approach."

"Oh, Clark! That means you lost your story because of mine. Now I feel awful."

He grinned. "About me losing my story, and about your story being responsible. But not about your story."

"Well, no." She wrapped her arms around his upper arm and leaned against him. "But you knew that."

He kissed her nose. "Yeah. Hey, I forgot to tell you, Mr. Schofield wants us to come by the shop tomorrow afternoon - there's somebody who wants to meet us."

"Meet us?"

"Yeah. I have the feeling we're going to be under the microscope. But if we pass muster, it means we'll have a place to stay."

The thought of even the tiniest, grubbiest room sounded heavenly, as long as it had running water and a bed. "Oh, Clark! What is it, a rooming house, a tenement apartment, what?"

"I don't know, Mr. Schofield didn't say. But I got the impression it's more of an extended community."

"Extended...?"

"Like a group of families living in the same building, but with common rooms. Maybe kind of like a college dorm?"

"Oh. So you have to fit in with the community to be accepted?"

"I guess so. Anyway, we're supposed to be there at three."

"No problem. Alex really liked the piece we did on the church renovation; now he wants us to write a feature on a championship girls' soccer team..." She just barely kept from rolling her eyes.

Clark laughed. "You did most of the work on the church piece; the least I can do is cover the soccer story for you. At least I understand the game."

"Huh. You probably even played when you were a kid."

"Sure. I was a pretty good keeper in my day."

"Keeper?"

"Goalkeeper. You know, the one who keeps the ball from going in..." He broke off, staring upward. "There's someone up there."

Lois followed his gaze, but from this distance, she could barely discern which balcony was Catherine Chandler's. "Catherine?" she wondered aloud.

"No. I mean, she's there, too, but there's someone else." He tipped his glasses down to peer over them. "Big guy, long hair, dressed in this black..." He stopped again.

"Clark? What is it, what do you see?"

He stood. "I need a closer look. I'll be right back."

Before she could protest, he'd stepped into the bushes. A puff of wind stirred her hair; seconds later another puff heralded his return.

Lois craned her neck to look up at him as he stepped out behind her. "Who is it?"

"That's exactly what I'm asking myself... and if I told you, you wouldn't believe me." He held out his hand. "Come on. I'll show you."

He picked her up. She locked her arms around his neck and held on as he lifted off, rising slowly until they were level with Catherine Chandler's apartment.

Two figures stood together on the little balcony. Chandler was already prepared for bed, wearing a very pretty and not very concealing silk robe. The other figure had his back to them. A hooded black cloak covered him from shoulders to mid-calf; long golden hair cascaded over his shoulders.

"Who is he?" Lois wondered quietly, into Clark's ear. "And what are they saying? Take me closer so I can hear."

"Lois..." his voice was doubtful.

"Come on," she wheedled. As his ear was so convenient, she coerced him further by gently nipping the lobe.

He caught his breath, then turned his head to grin. "No fair."

But he drifted closer, edging sideways to keep them in shadow and rising a bit to take them out of the line of sight of the pair on the balcony.

"I'm glad Ginny's okay," Chandler said. Her voice carried clearly. "I was worried about leaving her. She seemed so lost..."

"And so she was, but Mary and Olivia have taken her under their wings." The voice was deep, husky, obviously male.

"Good."

"What about your reporters? Are they still following you?"

Lois gave Clark a quick glance, but he seemed intent on the conversation on the balcony.

"Not in the daytime. And they definitely weren't with me this morning. But I thought I saw them this evening, when I came home."

Lois remembered the quick look Chandler had cast over her shoulder as she entered her building. "She saw us," she whispered into Clark's ear, keeping her voice low so it wouldn't carry beyond the two of them.

The black-cloaked figure whirled, and stared right at them.

Lois caught her breath in an audible gasp as his face came into the light; at the same time, Clark darted upward, carrying them away.

A moment later he set her down on a nearby roof.

"Did you see him?" she hissed in excitement. "His face?"

"His hands," Clark answered. "Yes. I saw him."

Already her imagination was framing the first paragraph of the story she'd write. "This is enough to get us a Pulitzer!" she crowed. "I wish we had photos, but... his hands, you said you saw his hands. He's the one who killed those people, he had claws, did you see them, they looked sharp. And maybe we can get some pictures later. She's a D.A., I wonder how she squares what he does with her job and her conscience, but she must be in danger when he comes to her, so I guess it's justifiable, I mean..." She broke off, and looked around for Clark.

He stood at the roof's edge, staring down. His arms were crossed, his back stiff.

Something was wrong. "Don't you think so?" she prodded, gently.

"I think it's enough to ruin their lives," he answered finally. He turned.

The grim look on his face made her hesitate. "What... what are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about being different. About being so different that if people found out about it, it could destroy you."

Funny, she never thought of Clark as different. He was just... Clark. That he could fly, that bullets bounced off his chest, that he could see through things, or lift buildings, was just incidental. But the tone of his voice, the rigidity of his stance, reminded her that his differences were something he never forgot.

"But you aren't that different," she argued aloud.

"Aren't I?" he asked. For the first time in her memory, his voice sounded bitter. Suddenly he floated in the air over her head. "Isn't this different enough?"

"Yes, but..."

He settled to the tarred and graveled roof beside her. "But my differences aren't on the outside, where people can see them," he finished for her. "What if they were? What if you'd been able to see, the moment you met me, how different I am?"

I'd have loved you anyway. She started to say it, but paused. If she said it too quickly, without thought, it wouldn't mean anything. So she considered, carefully. Of course she loved his dark eyes, with their faintly foreign slant. His thick hair, and the one endearing lock that kept falling over his brow. She loved his broad chest and wide shoulders, the smooth skin of his arms and back.

But those things weren't why she loved Clark. She loved him for his gentleness, for his quick wit, and easy humor. For his intelligence, and honesty, his generosity and his sensitive heart. And for a hundred other things she couldn't begin to name.

Then she tried to picture him, with those inner qualities she treasured, with that face she'd seen on Catherine Chandler's balcony. Tried to imagine Clark looking at her with those light, alien eyes, smiling at her with that odd, cat-like mouth. Touching her with those big furred hands whose fingers were tipped with deadly claws.

"It might have mattered then," she answered slowly. "If you had looked like that. It might have taken me a while to see past it."

His faint smile reminded her of just how long it had taken her to see past a blue and red costume. She resisted the urge to smack him.

"But once I knew you, if you were the same person you are now... I'd still love you. I couldn't help but love you."

He gazed at her a minute, silent and pensive, then opened his arms. She went into them willingly, feeling them folding her close. When he spoke, his warm breath ruffled her hair. "I can't write a story about him just because he's different, Lois. I can't."

Visions of Pulitzers wavered, faded, and finally collapsed in understanding. "I know," she whispered, into his chest. "Neither can I."

*****

From the tunnel beneath Catherine's building, Vincent looked up. When he'd left her, Catherine's hands were shaking, her voice trembling as she urged him to go. Even now, five minutes later, he could feel her fear. For him.

He shouldn't have gone there two nights in a row. It was a terrible risk, and one he shouldn't have taken, no matter how much he longed to see her, hold her, hear her voice.

Someone had been watching them. He'd heard the voice, though he couldn't make out the words, and then he'd sensed a presence. More than one presence, actually, though the sensation, like the sound, had disappeared so quickly he couldn't be certain. He thought he'd caught a flicker of movement when he spun toward the sound, the sensation, but he couldn't be sure of that, either.

Perhaps it was the two reporters who wanted to write of the slashings. His handiwork, he thought darkly, gazing at his own lethal hands. Perhaps it was someone else, in which case the danger to him, to his world, was doubled.

But whoever it was, nothing he could think of would explain why the voice he'd heard, the presences he'd sensed, had come from a point in mid-air, ten feet from the nearest building and nearly two hundred feet off the ground.

*****

Lois woke early, to the realization that instead of the usual cushion of air, she was lying on the hard concrete surface of the roof. Clark must have heard something, and gone, in the dark clothing he reserved for those instances, to see if he could help.

But he wasn't gone. He was sitting, very still, at the roof's edge.

Stiffly she got up and crossed to him. "Hi."

He smiled, but didn't take his eyes off that distant something only he could see. "Good morning," he answered. "Sleep well?"

"Not as well as I might. I missed you." She settled down beside him.

"Sorry. I couldn't sleep." He looked pensive.

She laid her head against his arm. "So. What are we going to do on our day off?"

"I want to find him, Lois. I want to talk to him."

"Him? The guy from last night?"

"Vincent," he said softly. "I heard her call him Vincent."

She suppressed a shiver. "He scares me, a little."

Clark looked at her. "Because of how he looks?"

"Because of what he's done. You saw the photographs..."

"Yes. I saw them." He let his breath out in a long sigh. "But you know, my hands aren't entirely clean. People have died because of things I've done... things I haven't done..."

"It's not the same thing," she argued. "You can't be everywhere."

"I'm talking about when I am there. And people die."

She stared; she'd never heard him say this before. "Like when?"

"Like Spencer Spencer, and his doctor. I froze them, Lois, and when a ricocheting bullet struck them, they shattered. They wouldn't have died if I hadn't frozen them."

She remembered the incident clearly, but never knew he'd been letting it haunt him. "Clark, Spencer Spencer was trying to kill you, or have you forgotten that part?"

"I haven't forgotten. But I'm stronger. I'm faster. I say I stand for something higher, something bigger... and then I make people die."

"It wasn't your fault. You weren't the one firing the bullets, you weren't the one putting them in danger."

"But I'm the one who froze them," he answered quietly. "And there've been others. Johnny Corbin - I melted his legs, and he died."

"Clark, he was already a cyborg. You didn't know Rollie Vale was going to remove the kryptonite that powered him, and kill him."

"What about Nor? I didn't kill him... but I wanted to. I tried to. It was only his own superpowers that saved him from me."

"Nor was trying to..."

"I know what he was trying to do!" Clark's voice had a sudden angry edge to it. "I know. But that doesn't absolve me from responsibility for my own actions. I froze Spencer Spencer. I melted Johnny Corbin's legs. I tried my best to kill Nor."

Lois stared at him. She hated feeling so helpless.

He looked at his hands. "I've saved you, Lois, so many times. I never killed anybody doing it. I never even came close. Because I'm so much stronger, so much faster. But what if I wasn't? What if I were an ordinary man? With an ordinary man's speed and strength? I might have had to kill in order to save you."

"No, Clark, you're not like that. You don't hate. You don't kill."

"But if you were in mortal danger... if there were no other way. I would. If I had to, if it was the only way, I would." He looked at her then, his eyes stark. "I would."

Under the intensity of his stare, she believed him. She swallowed once, hard, before she spoke. "Okay. Okay. But the reality is, you don't have to. You never have had to. And this other guy... this Vincent. He has."

"Yes," Clark agreed softly, turning his gaze back to the horizon. "He has."

He was lost again in dark thought.

"Clark, the people who got hurt because of you... that wasn't your fault. Or," she amended, when he fixed her with a merciless gaze, "not entirely your fault. Those people chose to do the things they did; if they got hurt, if they were killed, it's because of the choices they made. They were trying to hurt other people, innocent people, and you stopped that. You didn't mean for them to die, but it's always been the bad guys who've gotten killed. You always save the good guys."

"That's true," he admitted. "I tell myself that constantly; if I didn't, I don't think I could continue being Superman."

"The world... our world... needs Superman, Clark."

"I know. And so I try to learn from my mistakes, and I keep on. But still, people have died. At my hands. Just as they have at Vincent's hands."

Lois remembered the grisly crime scene photos and shuddered. "I think his hands are a little more closely involved than yours are."

"But the people who have died... who he's killed... they've all had criminal pasts, been armed, been threatening people."

"Threatening Catherine Chandler," Lois clarified.

"Mostly, yeah. I understand that. But he's only going after the bad guys, too."

Lois could see his point, sort of, but she still couldn't reconcile in her mind the idea that Vincent, who killed bloodily, with his hands, was anything like her Clark, who tried his best to be noble and good. "I guess so."

Clark didn't seem to notice her reluctance. "I feel an empathy with him," he went on. "A... kinship. He's as different in his way as I am in mine. I've never met anyone like that before."

"That different?"

He nodded.

"What about the New Kryptonians who came to Metropolis?"

"It's not the same. They're Kryptonian, like me, but they grew up in a Kryptonian society. They were just like everyone else. I grew up Kryptonian on Earth, and I've always known how different I am."

"I guess I can see that," she conceded. "If you find him, do you think he'll talk to you?"

"I don't know. But I have to try."

"How will you find him? Following Catherine Chandler hasn't done us much good."

"I have an idea about where he might be." Clark tipped his glasses down and raised his eyebrows; obviously he planned to utilize his x-ray vision. "Want to come with me?"

The idea of looking for the fearsome creature of last night was faintly appalling. And anyway, she had something else on her mind. "I don't think so. I've been thinking, too. About Catherine Chandler. I keep remembering all the times it looked like our secret was going to get out. How scared I've been. We scared her, Clark."

"I know we did. I wish now we hadn't. She loves him, you know."

Love? Affection, certainly, Lois could see that. But love? For that alien creature with his bloody hands? "How can you tell?" she asked, her voice going ragged.

"When I first saw him... them. They were hugging. And the way she looked at him..." His expression went tender. "You look at me that way."

She managed her first smile of the morning and forced away all her doubts. "Then you must be right. I want to tell her we aren't going to write our story, Clark. I want to apologize."

*****

After breakfast at their favorite diner, they separated.

"Yell if you need me," Clark said as they parted.

"If the earth moves," she agreed, smiling. "I'll probably find her and be done by lunchtime. Want to meet somewhere?"

"I don't know yet. Tell you what, I'll leave a message with Mr. Schofield if I can't make it. And we have to be at the print shop by three, anyway."

"Oh, that's right. Okay. Be careful."

"You, too." Her hurried kiss fell half on his cheek, and he had to grin as he watched her striding away.

Only when she had passed from sight did he start on his search. He began at Catherine Chandler's building, which he x-rayed carefully; Vincent had reached Chandler's balcony without Clark's seeing him, and he certainly hadn't used the front door. The only two logical points of access were from the roof and the basement, so he focused his attention in those areas. And there, in the basement, he spotted an opening, carefully hidden, that led into a small, forgotten subbasement. From there, a brick-walled passage gave way to a veritable warren of other tunnels and passages.

"It's like a maze down there," Clark mused aloud, pushing his glasses back up. "And I'll bet all those passages go somewhere."

But where? There was one way to find out.

He supposed he could try to talk his way into Chandler's building, and access the tunnels from there, but he'd noticed that some of the brick-walled tunnels tied into storm drains and utility access tunnels beneath the city streets.

He strolled in and out of three different alleys before he found what he wanted - a manhole cover out of sight of the street. With a quick glance around to be sure he was unobserved, he toed aside the heavy steel cover, stepped out over the opening, and floated down, pausing only to replace the cover.

He found himself in a round cement pipe, large enough in diameter that he could stand comfortably without hitting his head. The floor of the tunnel was dusted with a fine layer of silt; from the look of it, no one had passed this way since the last rain turned dust into mud.

He peered over the top of his glasses, scanning the area, but it didn't help much. Tunnel after tunnel wound off into the distance, but he saw nothing to indicate where Vincent might be found.

He did, however, know where to find Catherine Chandler's apartment building. He pushed his glasses back into place and set off.

Before long, he came to an intersecting passage. He paused, studying it. The dirt floor here had been disturbed, and recently. Imprints left by large, heavy boots showed where someone had traveled, and then come back the same way. Other impressions appeared older, and were less clear, but tipping his glasses down for closer inspection revealed a number of other tracks, including a faint set that were clearly made by a woman's heeled shoe.

Catherine Chandler's apartment was to the north; Clark went south.

He'd expected it to be quiet underground, but pipes running along the sides and top of the tunnel clattered and gurgled and hissed. The clattering was the loudest, and the most annoying. The pipe to his left rang in a flat pattern that sounded repetitious.

There were lights here, too, and the faint scent of damp wool underlying the more earthy smells.

"That's far enough."

The voice seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. Clark tugged his glasses down and swung his head from side to side, seeking the source. It didn't take long to locate a false wall cleverly built into the side of the tunnel. Beyond the false barrier, looking fierce and protective, was Vincent.

"I didn't come to make trouble," Clark said, lifting his free hand in a conciliatory gesture. "I only want to talk to you." He saw startlement in Vincent's eyes before he pushed his glasses back into place. He waited, and noticed for the first time that the clatter of the pipes had stilled. The tunnel was ominously quiet.

The voice, when it came again, was more definitive, and more easily located. Vincent, if it was Vincent who spoke, had moved to a spot some yards ahead of where Clark stood. And he had done it so stealthily that Clark hadn't heard him go.

He turned toward the voice, showing his open hands. "Please. I just want to talk. Vincent."

"You know my name."

"Yes. Mine's Kent, Clark Kent."

This time he did hear something - the rustle of fabric, maybe?

"The reporter," Vincent said, after a moment.

Clark was only faintly surprised. "Yes. I'm sorry about that. We didn't know."

"Didn't know...?"

"About you. Until last night."

"It was you I heard from Catherine's balcony."

"My wife, actually. Whispering to me. You have very sharp hearing."

 

Vincent let that go by. "Your wife... the other reporter?"

Clark nodded, then remembered Vincent couldn't see him. "Right. But you don't have to worry about that now. There won't be any story. Not about you."

"You frightened Catherine." Vincent's tone was carefully neutral, but still it sounded like an accusation. Clark wondered how his own voice would sound, speaking to someone who scared Lois that much.

"I know. I'm sorry. My wife is looking for her now, to apologize."

"And you are here. Why? To amuse yourself?"

"No." He hesitated. Standing in the cold, damp tunnel wasn't exactly what he had in mind. "Is there someplace we can talk?"

"We can talk here," Vincent answered.

Right. Vincent obviously had no intention of taking him further into the tunnels. Clark let his breath out slowly. "Okay. I'm not here for fun, or to get a better look at you, or anything like that." He swallowed; saying this was harder than he'd expected. "I want to talk to you... because for the first time in my life, I've found someone who's as different as I am."

The silence that ensued seemed to go on forever.

Clark almost tugged his glasses down for a peek, but changed his mind. "Vincent?"

"I am here," the voice replied. "But I am wondering what you saw last night, or if you have recently consulted a mirror. You and I are... not alike."

"Not like each other, no," Clark agreed quickly. "But not like those around us, either. You're different on the outside... my differences are inside, where they can't be seen. But they're there."

Another silence.

"Look," Clark said, feeling desperate. "I'll show you."

Except that Vincent couldn't possibly see him, unless he, too, had x-ray vision, and somehow Clark doubted that.

"You'll have to come forward," he added. He didn't wait for a response. He levitated, rising above the tunnel floor and hovering there, his hair brushing the ceiling.

Clark folded his arms and waited, tracking Vincent with his ears. The sound of slow breathing, barely audible even to him, came closer. Something dark and formless moved at the bend in the tunnel. Clark waited until he was sure Vincent had a clear line of sight, then rotated his body forty-five degrees, until he was suspended, on his back, in the middle of the tunnel. He hung there for a handful of heartbeats, then rotated again to hover upside down. A half twist brought him around to face Vincent. "Convinced?" he asked, keeping his tone conversational.

For the first time, he detected uncertainty in the other man's voice. "This is... not possible."

Clark flipped neatly and settled on his feet. "Some people," he pointed out, "would say that about you."

*****

Tracking down Catherine Chandler was harder than it should have been, but Lois finally caught up with her outside the courthouse.

"Miss Chandler!" she called, and hurried across the sidewalk.

Catherine paused just long enough to see who was calling, then walked on, her expression suddenly grim.

"Miss Chandler. I've been looking for you."

"What do you want?" The question was snapped, not asked. "If it's about your absurd theories..."

"They aren't absurd," Lois retorted, stung. "We both know that. We saw him last night on your balcony."

If she hadn't been watching for a reaction, she'd have missed the tiny hesitation in Catherine's stride. She took a momentary satisfaction in that, before remembering why she'd come. She reached out and caught the other woman's arm.

"Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that... at least, not in that way. I scared you, and I didn't mean to."

Catherine Chandler's gaze was haughty. "Scared me? Don't be ridiculous." Only an experienced eye would have noted the terror lurking behind the cool exterior.

Lois consciously softened her voice. "I'm not. We did see him last night. Vincent."

Catherine paled visibly. "I don't know what you're talking about," she managed, and tugged to free her arm.

Lois held on. "And we realized... Clark realized," she corrected, wanting to be honest, "that we couldn't do a story about him. And that means no story about the slashings. He protects you, doesn't he?"

Catherine pulled loose and stalked away.

Lois hurried after her. "He does. That's why you don't turn him in."

Catherine continued walking as if she hadn't heard.

"Look, I'm going about this all wrong. I didn't mean to say those things. Not yet, anyway. I just meant to say I'm sorry."

Catherine stopped so abruptly that Lois overran her. "Sorry for what?" she demanded.

"For scaring you. For threatening to expose your secret."

"Assuming I have a secret. Which I don't."

"Right. Whatever. But if you did have a secret, I'd feel bad about coming too close to it... because I know how it's felt the times people have come too close to my secret. Mine and Clark's."

Catherine refused to be deflected. "Speaking of your partner, where is he? I thought you two were a matched set."

Lois managed a grin. "Not always. Today's our day off; I wanted to come find you... and he wants to talk to Vincent. He's looking for him."

If it was possible, she thought Catherine would have gone even whiter. Lines of strain around her eyes and mouth grew deeper, and her breath caught in her throat.

"Catherine Chandler!" A man's voice, harsh and demanding, interrupted.

Catherine swung toward the voice, her expression at once annoyed and expectant. Lois turned, too.

A mid-sized blue sedan pulled up to the curb beside them. The passenger threw open his door.

"Where's Gary's wife and baby?" he demanded, coming toward them.

Puzzled, Lois looked to Catherine.

"I don't have any idea what you're talking about," Catherine said, standing her ground. But her voice held the same indefinable note it'd had when Lois and Clark had first approached her about the slashings. She was lying.

And in an instant Lois knew what was going on. The story Clark had been following, the policeman's wife who'd been beaten and then spirited away. By Catherine Chandler.

What Clark could learn, a policeman could learn. And while Clark had morals and ethics, Gary Stevens had no such restraints. He'd obviously sent someone to make threats to learn what he wanted to know.

Somehow, though, Lois didn't think Catherine Chandler could be coerced by threats.

The man moved closer, invading Catherine's personal space, forcing her to take a step back. "Tell me where to find Gary's wife and son."

Catherine had to crane her neck to look up at him, he was so close. "I told you," she said, through gritted teeth. "I don't know."

"And I know you're lying, lady." This came from another man, dark and burly, who'd emerged from the sedan's passenger side. He seized Catherine's arm and her shoulder, spinning her and shoving her up against the car.

"Callahan!" The name came out in a gasp. Catherine struggled briefly, but the man had her in a solid grip, exerting pressure to hold her in place. When she let out a whimper of pain, he grinned.

Never one to back away from battle, Lois stepped forward, looking for a way to effectively intervene.

"Johnson!" snapped the man. "Get her."

She remembered the first man too late; suddenly he was behind her, gripping her wrist and twisting her arm painfully. "What do I do with her?" He sounded anxious. "You said we were just going to..."

By now, Catherine was in handcuffs; the man who held her forced her into the rear of the car. "Shut up and bring her. She might be useful."

"Hey! What's going on here?"

Johnson swung around to see who had spoken, giving Lois a clear view of an older man in a coat and tie, looking concerned.

Callahan brought out a slim leather folder and flipped it open. "Police business," he snapped, showing the man a badge.

"Oh, sorry, officer. Detective." The concerned citizen backpedaled. A pair of women who had stopped to watch clutched at each other's arms and pointed.

There would be no help from that quarter.

Callahan swung around on his partner. "I said, put her in the car!"

Johnson hesitated and Callahan growled, coming around the car to deal with her himself. As Johnson released her, Lois kicked backwards, trying to free herself, but Callahan knew his stuff; he deflected the kick and caught her arm, forcing it high behind her back, until she thought her shoulder would come out of its socket.

If Superman were here, in this universe, now would be the time to shout for him. She could shout anyway, and Clark would be here in an instant, but that would expose him, or force him to conjure up Superman after all, or...

She felt the cold snap of handcuffs around her wrists as the pressure on her shoulder eased, and then Callahan was pushing her into the car. It was now or never...

She took a deep breath. "Help!" she shouted. "Superm..." The rest was lost as a meaty hand, stinking of nicotine, slapped over her mouth.

"Shut up!" Callahan hissed. "Johnson, get me some of that duct tape."

The hand was replaced by a strip of wide silver tape, sticky and cold across her lips and cheeks. With it in place, all she could manage was a muffled "mmmm!"

She tumbled into the back seat of the car. Behind her, the door slammed. The men threw themselves into the front seat, and sped off.

*****

"I know what that's like," Clark said. "I know now where I came from, why I'm so different, but for years I didn't have any idea. I..."

Across the room, Vincent's expression went from interested to distracted, quivering alertness. Clark listened, but didn't hear anything out of the ordinary. And then he did.

*Help!* He snapped to attention himself. That was Lois. *Superm...* Her voice cut off in mid word, and there hadn't been time for him to get a fix on her location.

"Catherine," Vincent breathed. He was on his feet; he snagged a long, black garment from the back of a chair and rushed out the door.

Clark was right behind him. He protects her, Lois had said. He remembered the slashed and bloody bodies left behind. Catherine was in danger... and Lois was with her. With her, and calling not for Clark, but for Superman.

Vincent sprinted through the winding passages faster than anyone Clark had ever seen. Even so, the pace chafed at him. He left his feet and hovered alongside. "Where are they?" he shouted. "I'm faster than you. I can help!"

Vincent ran on as if he hadn't heard. And perhaps he hadn't; his eyes were glazed and far-seeing, focused totally on something Clark, with all his supersenses, couldn't detect.

And Lois didn't cry out again.

Clark reached out and caught Vincent's shoulder. "Where are they?"

Vincent shook him off with a force so powerful, it threw Clark against the tunnel wall; shocked, he went down in a shower of dislodged rock and dust. He was up again, running this time, before the debris finished rolling.

It was clear he wasn't going to get any direction from Vincent. He'd have to follow, have to confine himself to Vincent's pace, which, fast though it was, seemed laborious to him. But running felt like he was working harder; flying was just too frustrating. Simmering with impatience, he pounded along in Vincent's wake.

*****

"I'm sorry." Catherine Chandler's voice was low, in her ear.

Lois fought her way up until she was sitting, more or less straight, in the back of the car. "Mmmph?" She tried to look questioning.

"For getting you involved in this. I'm sorry."

In the front seat, Johnson leaned across to his partner. "Should I put tape on the other one?" he hissed, barely loud enough for Lois to hear.

Callahan shook his head. "She's not yelling, is she?"

"I thought we were just going to scare her!" Johnson continued, a little louder.

"Well, we did," Callahan answered, casting a glance over his shoulder. "She looks plenty scared to me. They both do."

To Lois, Catherine looked not so much scared as determined. But she knew her own heart was pounding in apprehension.

"But the one, the D.A.... she knows who you are!"

"So what? She talks about cops kidnapping her off the street, who's going to believe her?"

Probably just about everyone, Lois thought. It wasn't a pleasant notion.

"We're just going to take them someplace where we can scare them good," Callahan continued. "Someplace quiet, where we won't be interrupted."

He was taking entirely too much pleasure in the situation for Lois's comfort. She could only hope Clark had heard her half-voiced cry for help, that he was on his way. But how could he ever find her?

She couldn't identify the area to which Callahan drove them; if she had to write a story based on what she knew now, she could only say it was minutes from the courthouse, and looked pretty seedy. The car pulled up in front of a boarded-up warehouse and stopped. Lois wrenched her body around to fight when the door on her side was yanked open.

Johnson dodged her awkward attempt to kick, reached in, and dragged her out of the car by her arm. Once out, she tried to twist away from him, but he held her easily, and in such a way that she couldn't reach him with any telling blows.

On the other side of the car, Catherine was putting up a similar struggle with Callahan, with similar results. Finally he cuffed her hard on the side of the head, growling, "Cut it out!"

Catherine quieted; Lois hoped she hadn't been badly hurt by the blow, but her eyes seemed clear. And then Lois wondered why Catherine, whose mouth was not taped, didn't call for help. The area looked deserted, but surely someone was near enough to hear.

The men wrestled them over to a metal door set flush with the smooth concrete side of the warehouse. Callahan produced a small tool and worked for a moment on the lock.

"Breaking and entering. That's good." Catherine's tone was calm but acerbic.

"Breaking and entering's the least of my worries," he retorted, and shoved her through the open door.

Lois, still held firmly in Johnson's grip, was forced to follow.

The warehouse was wide and cavernous... and very, very empty. Their footsteps echoed in the hollow space. The men took them to a small room tacked onto the far wall - an office, Lois guessed, spotting the battered metal desk and two wooden chairs that still occupied the space.

Callahan pushed Catherine roughly into one of the chairs; on his command, Johnson forced Lois into the other.

With a hard hand on her wrist, forestalling any chance of escape, Johnson unlocked one of the handcuff bracelets around Lois's wrists, then fastened it again, very quickly. He released her, stepping away for the first time. A tug confirmed her fear - the handcuffs had been threaded through the slats in the back of the sturdy wooden chair before being refastened. She was now chained to the chair.

A quick glance showed that Catherine had been similarly restrained.

"Now what?" Johnson looked to Callahan for instructions.

In answer, Callahan swaggered around to stand in front of Catherine.

"Lieutenant Callahan," she said coolly. "I'd think you'd be concerned with finding your wife's murderer."

"Oh, I am. But right now, I'm more interested in helping Gary." He stood before her, cold and menacing. "Now, Miss Chandler," he said. "Tell us where to find Gary's wife and son."

Catherine's expression went grim. "I don't know."

Callahan's hand swung so fast, Lois barely saw the blow. But she heard it, as his hand connected with Catherine's jaw with solid force. Catherine let out a grunt and slumped to the side. "Wrong answer." He tangled a hand in her hair and pulled her upright. "I'll ask again. Where is Gary's wife? Where's his son?"

"I don't know."

This time, Catherine tried to dodge the blow as it came, but she wasn't quick enough. When she lifted her head again, blood trickled from her nose and mouth.

"Again," Callahan said. The pleasure in his eyes was unnerving. "Where...?"

Lois thought she might be sick. Each time Catherine denied knowledge of Stevens's family's whereabouts, Callahan hit her. Her jaw was becoming misshapen, and one eye was swelling shut.

"This isn't working," Callahan announced, after one more telling blow. "She's just too damn stubborn. I hit her many more times, she'll be unconscious, and that's no good."

"What are you going to do?" Johnson asked him. He looked uneasy.

Callahan's gaze turned toward Lois. "You know what?" He sounded scarily cheerful. "Chandler's a do-gooder. Softhearted. What you want to bet it'll be harder for her to watch her friend get beat up?"

"She's not my friend," Catherine managed, between split and swollen lips. "I don't even know her."

"No?" Lieutenant Callahan was plainly skeptical. "I guess we'll just have to see about that."

He whirled on Lois so fast, she didn't have time to try to dodge the blow. It exploded against her cheek, driving her head sideways and bringing the sharp metallic taste of blood to her mouth. Callahan turned away. "So, you going to tell me now? Where is Gary's wife?"

Catherine's eyes, seeking hers, were full of sorrow as she answered. "I don't know."

*****

It seemed they'd been running forever, and Clark was sure they'd changed direction entirely at one point. Still, he hadn't a hope of finding Lois by himself unless she called for him again, so he stayed close on Vincent's heels. They were in a maze of brick-walled tunnels now, near to the surface; above them, Clark could make out the whir of rubber tires on asphalt, of heels on cement. In the distance a siren wailed; somewhere nearer, jackhammers stuttered. The tunnels twisted and turned, divided and joined.

Vincent charged unerringly through them, never pausing to choose his path, never slowing to catch his breath. And then he let out a savage roar and hurled himself straight at the bricks that marked another turn.

*****

At first, Lois thought the roar was in her ears, the result of another heavy blow to her head, but Callahan pulled back, turning to look at the little office's far wall. She looked too. At the edge of her peripheral vision, she saw Callahan yank out his gun.

And then the wall imploded, scattering bricks everywhere. A figure, black and golden and terrible, burst through the opening and sent Johnson flying with one sweep of his arm. Beside her, two shots rang out, and then Clark was there, too, shoving Callahan against the wall, dropping a bullet, caught in midair by an invulnerable hand at superspeed, into the dust.

One bullet. When there had been two shots.

She heard Catherine say in a choked voice, "Vincent."

The creature, gold and black but no longer terrible, staggered and went to his knees. Crimson blossomed on the gray of his vest. He fought for balance... and then, with terrible slowness, toppled forward.

"Vincent!" Catherine was struggling to free herself, struggling to reach him.

Clark hesitated for a heartbeat, hanging on indecision, then flashed across the room to Catherine's chair. An instant later he was back at Lois's side, pulling her to her feet. Her hands were free, and beyond him, she could see Catherine falling to her knees beside the recumbent creature. Vincent, she reminded herself. Vincent.

Clark clutched her to his chest. "Are you all right?"

She reached up between them to pull the tape gingerly from her mouth. "I'm okay," she mumbled, through swollen lips. "More or less. But he..."

Clark glanced over his shoulder.

Catherine hunched over Vincent, struggling to turn him over. "Vincent?" she whispered.

Clark gave Lois one last squeeze, then moved away. "Here," he muttered. "Let me..."

He put a hand on Vincent's shoulder and eased him over to his back. The dark splotch on his chest had grown, and was still visibly spreading. His eyes, half-closed, sought Catherine's face.

"Oh, God..." Catherine's voice was low, heartfelt, despairing. "Oh, no."

"Cath..."

"Shhh," she whispered. "Don't talk."

"He's bleeding badly," Clark said, slipping an arm under Vincent's shoulders. "I have to get him to a hospital..."

Catherine caught Clark's wrist. "No! You can't. He can't."

Clark paused, uncertain. "He needs help. He needs it now."

Vincent moaned, and tried to escape Clark's supporting arm. "No. Catherine..."

"She's fine," Clark told him. "You're the one who's hurt. I'm getting you to a doctor."

Catherine paused, swallowed hard. "His father is a doctor. If you can get him home... he lives..."

Clark broke in. "I know where he lives. I'll get him there as fast as I can."

He looked past Catherine to where Lois stood, watching. "Be careful."

She nodded once, jerkily. He lifted Vincent in his arms and was gone.

*****

Catherine staggered back. Where had the sudden gust of wind come from? And where had the man carrying Vincent disappeared to? She hadn't seen him go. The reporter - Lois, she reminded herself - caught her arm, steadying her. "How did he..." she broke off, and shook her head. She was woozy from the beating she'd taken; she must have just lost a few seconds of time. "Never mind." She dragged in a deep breath, and looked at the other woman carefully.

Lois's face looked the way Catherine's felt: bruised, swollen, and very painful. "You're all right?"

Lois offered a grimace that was meant to be a smile. "Pretty much. You?"

The ache in her head was nothing compared to the deep, pounding fear in her heart. "Better if I knew Vincent was all right. But okay." She longed to race after him, to see how badly he was hurt. But protecting him came first. She looked around. "We have to clean up here before we can go..."

Lois looked confused. "Clean up... can't we just call the police?"

Catherine glanced at her. "We could have. Before. Not now. What could we say? How would we explain..." Her gesture took in the gaping hole in the wall beside them.

Blessedly, that seemed to be enough. "Oh," Lois said. "I guess you're right."

Catherine didn't like placing so much trust in someone who had so recently been threatening to expose Vincent, but reality gave her no choice. "We can't leave evidence to link us to this place." She took the handcuffs that had so recently restrained her and tucked them into the waistband of her skirt, then scrubbed hard at the back slats of the chair with her sleeve. "No fingerprints. Did you touch anything but the chair?"

Lois looked thoughtful, then shook her head. "No." She put her own handcuffs in her pocket, and wiped down the back of the chair.

"Did they touch anything?"

"Clark touched the bullet," Lois said, and bent to scrabble in the dust.

Catherine gave her a long, incredulous stare. She couldn't possibly have heard what she thought she'd heard. The ringing in her ears, the slow dull thumping of her pulse in her head, must be interfering. She turned to examine the body of Officer Stevens. He breathed with slow, noisy breaths, but he wasn't bleeding. Vincent must have caught him with a backhand, or a forearm, instead of deadly claws. She said a brief, chaotic prayer of thanks for small blessings, and glanced toward Callahan, sprawled against the wall where the other reporter - Clark - had thrown him.

"He's alive," Lois said, mumbling through swollen lips. "Clark doesn't believe in killing."

Catherine wondered if that was some kind of challenge, wondered if Lois thought Vincent did believe in killing, if maybe he liked it. Just as quickly she shied away from the perilous thought.

"They were going to kill us if you'd told, weren't they?" Lois went on.

"They would have had to," Catherine admitted, giving in to a thought that she'd kept at bay until now. She suppressed a shudder of horror and rubbed the back of her hand across her bruised forehead. There was no time for that now.

A palm-sized pool of dark liquid on the concrete floor showed where Vincent had fallen. How much blood? A couple of tablespoons? A quarter cup? She didn't have any idea, but it looked like a lot. More than should have dripped in the minute or so Vincent had lain there. Much more.

Oh, God. She wanted to cry. How badly was he hurt? Was he still alive? No, he had to be. She'd know if he wasn't. She'd feel it. He was alive, he was hanging on, and she had to be strong for him, had to protect him.

She stiffened her spine and lifted her chin.

Lois came to crouch beside her. "Blood," she said.

Catherine nodded. "We can't leave it here."

"Why not?" Lois sounded genuinely curious, rather than challenging, and Catherine found herself answering.

"Forensics. I don't know what story these two..." she gestured impatiently toward the two unconscious men, "will come up with when they wake up, but it's just possible they'll call in the lab. We can't let them test Vincent's blood."

"They'd trace it to him?" Lois ventured, a sounding little lost.

Catherine shook her head. "No. It just... let's just say it's not a good idea for them to test it. Come on, help me clean it up."

Lois's purse was lying beside her chair. By some miracle, it had made the whole trip with them, though Catherine had lost her own briefcase somewhere early on. Lois snatched up the bag and rummaged. "Here are some tissues," she said.

Catherine accepted the wad of crumpled tissues and pressed them into the pool. They came away crimson, leaving the concrete wet and smeared.

Lois stood over her, watching. "Water," she said. "We need water. A building this size should have a restroom, shouldn't it?" She didn't wait for Catherine to formulate a reply; a moment later she was back with a handful of soaked paper towels. "Here. Guess the building's not as abandoned as it looks."

"Thanks." Catherine exchanged the wad of blood-soaked tissues for the dripping towels; when she finished mopping, there were no visible traces of blood. No traces of the dust that pervaded the room, either.

"It's too clean," Lois said. "And no way you got rid of all the traces." She kicked dust toward the spot. It billowed up in a cloud, then settled wetly. "That's going to stick."

"Give it a minute to dry," Catherine advised. She held the wad of tissues and paper towels cradled in both her hands.

"No, wait." Lois disappeared for a minute, returning with another handful of paper towels, these dry. She blotted at the damp spot, absorbing what she could, then sat back. "It's still going to have to dry some more. Here, you're dripping." She soaked up the spots of moisture at Catherine's feet, then offered the dusty, damp paper towels as a cradle for the soggy ones in Catherine's hands. Catherine accepted gratefully.

When the spot on the floor looked drier, Lois kicked and shuffled her feet, stirring the dust until it looked as disturbed and no cleaner than the rest of the floor. Catherine eyed the dirt on the tunnel side of the broken wall.

"Footprints in, no footprints out," she murmured, thinking aloud. "That ought to cause some confusion." She didn't voice her own.

Lois ignored her questioning look. "Look, they could wake up any time," she said instead. She put a hand to her head.

"Hurting?" Catherine asked.

"A little." Her look, unexpectedly, was wry. "Probably not as bad as yours; they hit you harder, and more. I don't know how you're still on your feet."

"Me, either," Catherine confessed. Except she couldn't stop, couldn't rest, until she knew how Vincent was. And she couldn't do that until she'd finished covering their tracks. "We should go."

She let Lois go first, and paused in the doorway to be sure they hadn't missed anything. Chairs, wiped. Handcuffs going with them. Weren't they? "Do you have your cuffs?" she asked aloud.

"Yeah," Lois said, from behind her. "Right here."

Okay. So everything was wiped, and the blood spot scarcely noticeable, unless you knew where to look. Satisfied, she started across the warehouse. "The bathroom," she said suddenly, stopping. "When you got the water. What did you touch?"

Lois thought. "The door and the faucet, I think. I'm pretty sure."

Catherine nodded toward the tissues and paper toweling filling her hands. "Can you get it?"

"Yeah. I'll be just a minute."

Catherine thought about hurrying away; if she was quick, she could lose Lois and make her way to the tunnels unobserved. But with her head pounding and her mouth tasting of blood, her heart racing and her hands shaking, quick wasn't really something she felt up to. Besides, this part of town wasn't the safest, even for someone who seemed to have her own very capable protector. She'd wait.

But she'd do it outside.

The sunshine and open air was a relief after the oppression of the dank, unlighted warehouse. She crossed to the locked car and peered through its windows to make sure they'd left no evidence that would link either her or Lois to the scene.

Her briefcase, tweed and honey-colored leather, was wedged on the floor of the backseat.

"Damn," she muttered, under her breath.

"What?" Lois stood behind her, squinting against the bright sun.

"My briefcase." She nodded toward it and held out the wad of soggy, bloody paper towels and tissues. "Look, can you hold these for a minute?"

Lois gingerly accepted the dirty, wet mass, holding it at arms' length and looking as if she were trying not to think too hard about what it was.

A discarded length of two-by-four lay against the warehouse wall. Catherine picked it up and hefted it, then swung it hard against the rear door window on the passenger side of the car. The window shattered into small, roundish bits of safety glass that cascaded down into the back seat. She used the two-by-four to brush away bits of glass that clung to the window frame, then reached through and pulled out her case.

"Got it," she said. "Here." She opened the briefcase and pulled out a stiff manila envelope. "Put that mess in here."

Lois deposited the soggy mass in the envelope and wiped her hands on the thighs of her jeans.

"I know," Catherine said, grimacing. "Thank you for helping."

"I kind of didn't have a choice," Lois pointed out. "Now what?"

Now I get you out of here, so I can go to Vincent. "Do you know where we are?"

Lois looked reluctant, but finally shook her head. "Not really."

Catherine pointed. "Two blocks that way will bring you to a major street. You can catch a cab there."

Lois whirled on her. "And where will you be?"

Catherine's face was stiff with bruising. She tightened her lips. "You don't need to know that."

But Lois wasn't so easily dissuaded. "You're going to wherever Clark took him," she persisted. "I'm going, too."

Oh, God. She had to get below, had to find out how Vincent was. And she couldn't bring a stranger down with her. "It's no place for you," she countered. "You won't be welcome. I'm sure your partner will be back at your office soon."

Lois's eyes narrowed. "He's not just my partner, he's my husband," she all but spat. "He won't leave until he knows... Vincent... will be okay. And where he is, I'm going."

Worse and worse. "You can't, okay? Father's going to be angry enough without me bringing some stranger down..." she broke off, knowing she'd said too much, and fought back sudden tears.

Lois started to speak, then seemed to reconsider. "Look, I'm sorry. I know you're worried, and you want to get to where he is to be sure he's okay. But you need to understand, I'm worried about my husband, and I know he wants to see me, too."

Catherine softened as she eyed Lois's face, swollen and bruised, and all because she happened to have been standing at Catherine's side when Callahan and Stevens approached. She wondered briefly if her own face looked as bad, and let out a long breath. This argument could go on all afternoon, and Lois Lane obviously had no intention of backing down. And she couldn't wait any longer.

What difference did it make, really, anyway? Clark Kent was already down there. Already knew... everything. "All right," she said roughly. "Come on."

*****

Shock. It must be shock, or reaction from the beating, that made her legs so shaky. Only dogged determination kept Lois trudging along behind Catherine through sewer pipes ("storm drains," Catherine had corrected her tersely, the one time she'd said it aloud) and brick tunnels and now these cave- like passages that seemed to be carved out of solid rock. At least, she hoped it was solid rock, thinking of the tons of earth that must be above their heads by now. She had no idea what was keeping Catherine, whose beating had gone on longer, on her feet.

But Catherine never hesitated, striding along as if she knew exactly where she was going. After a while, the dim electric lights gave way to flickering torches in sconces, and candles set into niches. The passages through which they traveled widened and the floors smoothed. And then Catherine turned into a wide-mouthed opening, almost like a door. They came into a room about the size - and curiously, about the configuration - of Clark's old apartment. As in the apartment, the entrance opened onto a wide kind of landing that stood above the main level.

Below, the hum of voices stilled as at least two dozen faces turned their way. Suspicion blossomed as they caught sight of Lois.

"It's all right," Catherine said quickly. "She's with me. Pascal, how is he?"

A short, balding man with prominent ears came to his feet. "He's in surgery. Father and Peter... but we don't know yet how it's going. Father said he lost a lot of blood..."

Catherine nodded once, jerkily, and descended a short flight of wrought iron stairs to reach the level where the others had gathered. They parted before her, some reaching out to touch her shoulder or press her hand, then closed ranks behind her, leaving Lois standing, a bit bewildered, at the top of the stairs.

Then she spotted Clark, hands deep in his pockets, leaning against the wall nearby. Gingerly, expecting at any moment to be accosted or questioned, she crossed to him. He watched her progress, lowering his head as she neared.

"Are you okay?" One hand came out of his pocket to gently trace the side of her face.

"It aches," she admitted. She wouldn't tell him about the pounding in her ears, or the alarming way her vision blurred at the edges. "But I'm okay."

His eyes closed. "After they got Vincent into surgery, I went back for you, but you were gone. I knew you'd make Catherine bring you here."

She laid her head against his shoulder and nodded.

"I hated leaving you there, especially with you hurt. But he was bleeding so much...

Had bled much, she could see from the state of Clark's t-shirt. The front of it was soaked through, stiff around the edges of the massive stain, damp and sticky-looking in the middle. Some of the dark stain had spilled down one hip, to mark Clark's jeans. "My God," she murmured, making it a prayer. "So much blood."

"If I'd taken any longer getting him here..." Distress was evident in his voice, and she slid her hand into his and squeezed. "He'd have died. He may still die." He nodded toward the far side of the cave-like room. It was partitioned off with white curtains; behind the curtains shone bright light, incongruous in the otherwise dim place.

"I can hear them," he whispered, more to himself than to her. "They're having trouble reaching the bullet, they're afraid of him losing any more blood."

"They're going to help him," Lois said, with more assurance than she felt. "He's going to be fine."

"I hope so."

"You saved us today," she reminded him. "Catherine and me. It was only going to get worse, the beating, because she couldn't tell them what they wanted to know. If she had told, they would have killed us. I don't know how you found us, but..."

"It wasn't me."

"What?"

"I didn't find you. I heard you call for me, but you were cut off, and I wasn't sure where you were. Vincent found you. Somehow he knew Catherine was in danger, somehow he knew where she was. I only followed." He looked down at his hands. "I think, if I hadn't been there, he'd have managed to save both of you all by himself."

"With a bullet in his chest."

His glance was full of irony. "Yeah. With a bullet in his chest. The man has an incredible will, Lois. He should have died right there. He was bleeding so much that even as fast as I could bring him, I didn't think we'd be here in time. I tried to cauterize the worst of it, but I was afraid to stop for long, and there was so much blood, and I was afraid of doing more damage than good... I don't know if I helped."

"You did. Of course you did. He'd have bled to death on that office floor if not for you. Catherine and I could never have moved him by ourselves."

Someone nudged her elbow. She looked down to see a child of perhaps ten or eleven holding out a cloth-wrapped bundle. "Olivia said to give you this," the boy said. "For your face."

He was trying to be polite, she thought, but the marks on her face were too compelling. He stared, looked away, then stared again.

She held out her hand, let him put the bundle into it. It was cold... an ice pack, she realized. "Thanks. Um, Catherine could use one of these, too."

The boy pointed. "She has one."

Lois looked. Someone must have brought Catherine the ice pack while Lois was absorbed in talking to Clark.

The boy still stood at her elbow.

"Did you need something else?" Clark asked gently.

The boy looked embarrassed. "I'm supposed to ask if she's okay. If her face is okay."

Clark managed a smile. "Yeah. She's going to be fine. Thanks."

In the lower part of the room, a woman was going from person to person with a big steaming pot, dispensing streams of dark-colored liquid into proffered mugs and cups.

"Coffee," Lois murmured longingly, then wondered if the hot drink would sting the cuts on the inside of her cheeks.

"It's tea," the boy said, sounding apologetic. "Do you want some? I could get you a cup..."

Tea was better than nothing, and maybe it'd wash away the metallic taste of blood.

The boy darted off, returning moments later with a heavy mug and a chipped china cup. "I'll tell Olivia you want some," he said, handing them the vessels. He hurried down the stairs and crossed to whisper into the woman's ear. She glanced their way and nodded, then kept pouring. Someone brought her a second big teapot to replace the first, which must be nearing empty by now. Eventually she reached the upper level where Lois and Clark stood in relative isolation.

"Geoffrey said you wanted tea," she said, offering the pot.

"Please," Clark answered, and held out the mug and the cup.

The woman filled the cup, then hesitated, looking at Clark's shirt. She leaned up and murmured in his ear.

He nodded, then handed Lois her cup of tea, whispering, "I'm going to go change my shirt."

The blood-soaked shirt must be sticky and stiffening; probably he could even smell the blood as it dried. It was kind of the woman to offer him a change of clothes.

She almost asked to go, too, but her head was aching and she didn't want to alarm Clark by doing something stupid, like swaying or stumbling. "Okay," she whispered, instead.

"I'll be right back," Clark promised, and followed the woman out.

Lois pressed the ice pack against her temple and looked at Catherine Chandler.

More and more people had trickled into the room over the past hour, until now it was a seething, if reverentially silent, mass of waiting humanity. Except for a small, polite circle around where Lois stood... and an equally polite circle around Catherine.

She could understand the space here. She and Clark were strangers, not a part of this strange community. But Catherine was one of them... wasn't she? Of course she didn't live down here, but then Lois's reporter's eye already told her that many of the people crowded into the chamber didn't. There was a clear distinction between the clothing worn by people like the boy and the woman with the tea, and the clothes worn by those who lived in the city proper.

Maybe it was out of respect for her grief; everyone must know how she felt about Vincent. Or maybe they blamed her for his injury. After all, he'd been hurt while saving her. They must all know that by now. But she remembered the quiet murmurs, the simple touches when Catherine had first gotten here. Even now, new arrivals pressed forward to pat her shoulder or nod in mute sympathy before withdrawing into the crowd.

Suddenly Lois wanted very much for the fearsome creature behind the curtain to live. Not because she could write a story about him, nor even because he'd led Clark to where she and Catherine were, and saved them. No. She wanted him to live for one reason; because Catherine Chandler loved him.

"Excuse me."

She looked down. The boy was back, looking up at her uncertainly. "Lena says you don't look so good, and you should come sit down."

She followed the boy's gaze to the lower level, where a wispy young blonde woman stood with an equally blonde baby on her hip. The young woman smiled, and gestured toward the empty chair she was guarding.

Lois hated showing weakness, but her head ached, her face hurt, and every once in a while the room tilted a little. Sitting down probably wasn't the worst thing she could do. She stretched her bruised mouth into a smile and followed the boy to the narrow wrought iron stairs that led to the lower portion of the room. The way was crowded, but the boy led her through with ease.

"Hi," the blonde woman greeted, when they reached her. "I'm Lena, and this," she hitched the baby higher, "is Cathy. I hope you don't mind me saying so, but you look pretty bad."

"I'm okay," Lois said stubbornly.

"Yeah?" Lena looked skeptical. "Well, I'm sure you'd be more comfortable here than leaning up against that wall."

"I guess so." Lois made the concession grudgingly, and eased herself into the offered chair. It did feel good to sit down. "Thanks."

Lena crouched beside her and balanced the baby on her knees. "Geoffrey, bring her some more tea, would you?" The boy vanished and Lena transferred her attention to Lois. "So, what's your name?"

"I'm Lois Lane." Habit made her give her full name.

Lena smiled. "I'm glad to meet you, Lois Lane. Except you'll find we don't use last names much, here. It's okay if we call you just Lois?"

She managed a little smile. "Yeah. It's okay."

"You came with Catherine, didn't you?" Lena went on. "Is she a friend of yours?"

Lena's expression was curious. Well, Lois hadn't seen much of this underground world, but she supposed there wasn't a lot to do down here. Gossip was probably a prime entertainment.

"Not a friend," she said carefully. "Just someone I know."

"Oh."

"Excuse me, Lena? I believe William's looking for you. You have kitchen duty this afternoon?" It was the woman who'd been serving the tea, the one who'd taken Clark off to change his shirt.

"Oh. Yes, right." Lena flushed and scrambled to her feet. "Here, Livvy, could you take Cathy to Brooke for me? I appreciate it." She handed off the baby, gave Lois an apologetic smile, and hurried away.

The older woman watched her retreat, then turned to Lois. "I'm sorry about that. Lena hasn't been with us long and sometimes she forgets we don't ask many questions here." Her gaze softened. "I don't know your name. I'm Olivia."

"I'm Lois." Mindful of Lena's comment, she gave only her first name.

"Oh," Olivia said, in recognition. "You're Clark's wife."

"That's right," Lois answered cautiously. Clark must have been talking about her.

"He should be back here any time," Olivia continued. "Are you comfortable? Can I get you something?"

A place to lie down would be nice, but Lois would rather die than ask. "No, thanks. I'm fine."

"All right. If you're sure. Keep that ice pack on your face, it'll help with the bruising and swelling."

"Okay." Lois pressed the cold pack to the sorest part of her cheek. "Thanks."

"Well." Olivia looked across the crowded room. "I'd better get Cathy to the nursery and then see about taking care of all these people..." She drifted away.

Even with the ache in her head, the growing stiffness of her face, Lois couldn't help observing and making mental notes about everything that went on around her. The throng of people constantly shifted and surged, although they did it so quietly, and kept their voices so hushed, that it seemed almost surreal. She caught occasional glimpses of Catherine, who sat not far away, but there was no chance to exchange so much as a sympathetic look, much less a word.

Clark came back a few minutes later, dressed in his own jeans - she could still see the dark splotch down one hip - but wearing a light-colored shirt with full sleeves and a dark tunic-like thing that made him look impossibly romantic. Lois couldn't help a little smile as he paused in the entry and swept the room with his gaze. He found her, and visibly relaxed. He came down the stairs quickly and threaded a path to her side.

"Hey," he said, hunkering down beside her. "You moved."

"Yeah. Somebody named Lena found the chair for me, and then tried to pump me for information, but somebody else named Olivia ran her off."

He smiled. "Olivia. She's the one who found these." He plucked at his sleeve.

"Yeah. Same one. She seems nice."

"They all seem nice." His expression grew distant.

"What? What do you hear?"

He refocused on her and shook his head. "Vincent. I think they've got the bullet..."

"And he's still...?"

"Yeah. So far."

"Good. That's good. Isn't it?"

"Yeah. It's good."

He rose and stood beside her chair, a protective hand on her shoulder.

Someone came by and filled his teacup, someone else proffered a plate of cookies and small cakes. Clark took a cookie, but didn't eat it. Lois, swallowing the faint beginnings of nausea, declined.

Time crawled.

And at last a man, gowned in dark-spattered white, emerged from behind the curtain. He pulled his surgical mask down with a sigh that was clearly audible in the sudden hush.

The room seemed to lurch toward him as people shifted, straining to see and hear. Lois came to her feet and was swept forward before Clark's arms came around her, steadying her, his bigger body shielding her from the crowd. They came to stand not five feet from where Catherine stood poised as if holding a precarious balance.

"How is he, Peter?" asked a lone voice, near the front.

"We removed the bullet," Peter answered, pulling off his surgical cap and running a hand through his hair. "It nicked several major blood vessels, and he had lost a lot of blood by the time we could get in to repair them. But he's strong; he's holding on."

A second man, similarly gowned, stepped out beside Peter. "I'll need four of you to help move him to his own chamber," he ordered. "Peter will supervise." He pulled off his own cap and moved down, into the crowd. It parted for him, making a path straight to Catherine. He stopped before her.

"Is he going to be all right, Father?" she whispered, her voice strained. "Is he?"

The man she called Father looked drained and weary. "I don't know, Catherine," he answered. "I hope so. You'll stay with him?"

"Of course," she answered swiftly. "As long as he needs me."

"Good." He nodded to where the other doctor was overseeing a small knot of men in moving the stretcher. "Go along with Peter," he said. "I'll have a look at your bruises later."

She didn't have to be told twice.

Father swung around, scanning the crowd. "Now, where's that young man who brought him here?"

"Here, sir." Clark moved forward, taking Lois with him.

Father looked at him. "What's your name?"

"I'm Clark Kent. I'm sorry about what happened to Vincent, sir..."

"You can call me Father," Father interrupted. "If my son lives, it is because you brought him here so quickly. I want to thank you for that."

Clark went utterly still; for a moment, Lois thought he wasn't going to answer. "I'm glad I could help," he said, finally.

"If ever you need anything we might be able to provide," Father went on, "you have only to ask. We are in your debt."

Clark shook his head. "Thanks, but I don't need anything."

Father swung Lois's way, fixing her with a steely gaze. "Young woman. I haven't seen you before, have I?"

Before Lois could answer, Clark put his arm around her shoulders. "This is my wife," he said, sounding proprietary and protective. "Lois."

Father looked vaguely puzzled. "But she wasn't with you..."

"I was with Catherine," Lois said, working to keep her voice steady. Clark's grip on her shoulders tightened.

And Father's expression softened. "Ah," he said, nodding. "How's your jaw?"

The ice must have had an effect; it hurt, but not as much as it had at first. "I'm okay," she answered.

"We'll have a closer look after we've seen Vincent settled," he said. "Before you go back."

He turned and gestured; a young woman of perhaps twenty appeared at his side. "Yes, Father?"

"Jamie. These are our new friends, Clark and Lois. Please take them to William and find them something to eat, and when they're finished, take them to the hospital chamber. Peter or I will be along to attend to Lois's injuries. After that, you may escort them up top, and give them instructions on how to contact us in the future."

"Sure, Father," Jamie answered. "Father... is Vincent really going to be okay?"

The strained, grim look came back to Father's face. "I hope so, Jamie," he answered. "I hope so."

He patted her shoulder, then moved off through the crowd, but his progress was slow; people thronged around him, all of them asking after Vincent.

"Come on," Jamie said, after a moment. "I'll take you to the kitchen."

It seemed almost like charity, and that stung Lois's pride, but she was dead on her feet, and her face hurt, and Clark probably had saved Vincent. She was too nauseated to be hungry, but Clark probably wanted to eat, and she didn't want to be rude. So she allowed Clark to accept for both of them, and permitted him to guide her in Jamie's path with a hand in the small of her back.

"Clark!"

The voice was familiar, and Clark's hand dropped from her back as he stopped. "Mr. Schofield?" He sounded incredulous.

The print shop owner edged out of the crowd. "Clark," he said again. "And Lois, too. I waited at my shop for you, you know."

Clark looked dismayed. "I'm sorry, Mr. Schofield, I forgot all about it..."

"It's all right," George Schofield answered. "I heard about what you did. We're all very grateful." He looked past Lois to where Jamie waited. "I hear Vincent's doing okay."

"So far," Jamie agreed. "I think it's too soon to tell. But the council meeting's been canceled. Your candidates will have to wait. I hope that's okay."

Schofield's quick glance took in both Lois and Clark before returning to Jamie. "Well, as it happens... they're here."

"Here?" Jamie sounded horrified. "You brought them down? George, you know the rules..."

He held up a hand to stop her. "I do, and you know I would never endanger the community that way. In fact, I was on my way to tell Father that my candidates hadn't come when I heard about Vincent. Imagine my surprise to find that my candidates hadn't shown up at the shop... because they were here."

"Here?" Jamie wasn't stupid. "You mean..." Her gesture took in both Lois and Clark.

"Yes. Lois and Clark Kent. Hard workers, proud... and in desperate need of a place to stay."

"But..." Clark began.

Schofield shook his head playfully. "Don't tell me different, Clark," he said. "I know the pair of you have been sleeping on the street, or in a shelter. You have that new job at the Sentinel, but you're still down on your luck. I thought you could use a little help to tide you over."

Jamie looked at them. "Why didn't you tell Father you needed a place to stay?" She sounded genuinely bewildered.

Clark shuffled his feet, and Lois might have grinned, if she weren't all but swaying on her feet. So he did have his pride, after all.

George Schofield answered for them. "It's difficult for some folks to accept a helping hand," he explained. "I'm betting that right now, these two are trying to figure out how to offer to pay for anything you give them."

"Pay?" Jamie's eyebrows went up. "You mean, like money?"

Clark's feet shifted again, and Lois felt her cheeks warming beneath the bruises.

"Except I'm guessing that might be considered insulting?" Clark said, sounding sheepish.

"Don't worry, Clark, you'll pay for anything you receive," George Schofield assured him. "Only you'll pay for it in friendship, and by helping when you can."

"Like you've already done," Jamie added. "With Vincent."

"I didn't really..." Clark began, but stopped when Lois put her hand on his arm.

If she didn't shut him up, there was no telling what he'd say. She knew he felt bad about Vincent, but saying he should have stopped both bullets wasn't going to help now, and it would give away his secret. Their secret.

"Clark was glad to help Vincent," she said.

"Yeah," Clark agreed, catching on. "I'm only sorry I couldn't do more. But we're glad to accept any help you can give us."

Lois supposed that if said help included a place to lie down, she was glad to accept it, too.

"I'll catch up with the two of you later," George Schofield promised, and disappeared into the crowd. Jamie led Lois and Clark the other way, taking them out of the crowded chamber and through a warren of intersecting rock-walled passages to a warm room full of mismatched tables, chairs, and benches. There she introduced them to a florid, beefy man called William, who fed them steaming bowls full of hearty stew. Nausea kept Lois from doing more than nibbling at hers. "Just tired," she assured Clark, when he looked at her worriedly. She didn't want to tell him how her head pounded, or her jaw ached.

Afterwards, Jamie showed them to a small, cave-like room furnished simply and lighted with candles.

"Here," she told them. "You can stay here. As long as you like."

It was spare, but it was neat and it was private. "It's very nice," Clark said. "Thank you."

Jamie left, and Lois leaned against Clark's arm. "A real bed. I'm so tired I could sleep standing up, but we can sleep in a real bed."

"Yeah." He sounded distracted. "Lois, honey, are you all right?"

She peered up at him. "Yeah, sure. Why?"

"You're not acting right."

"I'm just kind of fuzzy," she assured him. "And my face hurts, but I guess the reason for that is obvious."

"Yeah." He touched her cheek. "Here, let me help you."

Moments later she was tucked under layered blankets and quilts. "Hey," she murmured, summoning her most seductive tone. "Wanna join me?"

He grinned and kissed her forehead. "Not right now, honey. Later, okay? You need to rest."

She affected a pout, but already her eyes were drifting closed. "Not fair," she muttered, into her pillow. "We haven't been in a bed together in weeks."

"I know. Later, I promise."

"Hmph." She would have argued with him, but sleep came up and silenced her.

*****

Vincent was so still. He lay flat on his back, his head elevated by a single pillow. An IV line went into one arm; the other arm, like the rest of him, was hidden by a sheet pulled to his chin.

Catherine held his exposed hand in both of hers, stroking, kneading, trying to warm it with her own too-cold fingers.

Behind her, Father and Peter conferred quietly, while Mary fussed over things that had been brought in and placed on Vincent's writing table. Catherine didn't acknowledge them.

Instead, she watched Vincent's slow and shallow breathing, too quick for him, Father had said, and agonized through the interminably long second at the end of each exhale, before his broad chest lifted again.

My fault, she thought numbly. He's here because of me. Because I was in danger. All my fault.

Incredible that it should have happened now, after she'd made the conscious decision not to endanger herself any longer, after she'd insisted Joe pull her off investigations.

Except this last one. She'd let him talk her into this last one and now Vincent might die.

Her head and jaw ached from the beating she'd taken; Father and Peter had both prodded her bruises, peered into her eyes, and checked her reflexes before diagnosing a mild concussion in addition to the various swellings and discolorations. Rest, they had advised, but she couldn't. Not until she knew Vincent would be okay.

And how could she know that when he lay so terribly still?

She should have protected him. Should have kept herself safe.

Then she thought of Virginia Stevens, whose face was no less battered than her own. Her fingers tightened convulsively over Vincent's still ones. How could she have left the woman in such a dangerous situation? Even if doing so would have kept Catherine - and by extension, Vincent - safe? How was she supposed to make that kind of choice, valuing one life above another?

She let out a weary, pained sigh and put her head down on the bed.

Jamie arrived at just that moment, entering the chamber cautiously. Her first glance was for Vincent, lying so still in the bed, before she turned to Father. "The new people, Clark and Lois... they've eaten and I've put them in the guest chamber, but Clark's worried about his wife and wonders if somebody can come look at her?"

Father ran a weary hand through his already mussed hair. "Of course, I said I would. But what are they doing in the guest chamber? I thought they'd be on their way home by now."

"Because George said... oh, that's right, you weren't there for that part," Jamie remembered. "George's candidates... they're them."

"What?" Father looked bewildered. "The young man who brought Vincent to us, the young woman Catherine brought down... they are the young couple George planned to present as candidates for residence with us?"

Catherine had thought she'd used up all her body's reserve of adrenaline coping with the day's events, but Jamie's words dredged up another surge from somewhere; her heart quickened and her throat constricted. Beside her, Vincent stirred restlessly, moving for the first time since emerging from surgery. She tightened her hold on his hand and fought for calm.

"I'll stop by on my way out, Jacob," Peter was saying. "You need to be here with Vincent."

Father nodded acquiescence; Peter gathered up his coat and his medical bag and followed Jamie out.

"Here, what is it?" Father asked, coming to Vincent's side. He took Vincent's hand from Catherine's grasp and turned it, pressing his fingers to the wrist, laying his other hand against Vincent's forehead. "He's agitated, but there's no fever..." he muttered, and reached toward his bag.

"Father, don't." Catherine caught his arm. "It's not him. I mean, he's okay. It's me. He's reacting to me."

Father stopped dead still. "To you?"

"To my fear."

Father's expression softened. "Oh, my dear, you mustn't be frightened. He's badly injured, yes, but if there are no complications he should be able to make a full recovery..."

"No. I mean, I am scared for him, but that's not what... it was what Jamie said. About the Kents."

"Clark and Lois?" Father went tense and wary. "What about them?"

"It's what I know about them. What I know that no one else knows."

Father's face couldn't have turned any whiter. He pulled a chair close and sank into it. "What do you know?"

"That they're reporters... newspaper reporters. For the West Side Sentinel."

Father relaxed perceptibly. "Yes, I believe George mentioned that. The young man also has a way with computers, and works afternoons in George's shop."

"I don't know about that. But I do know they were planning a story - were researching a story." There wasn't enough air in the chamber; she fought to fill her lungs. "About the series of slashings, of killings..." she gasped for breath "...following me..."

Even though she couldn't quite manage all the words, Father got it. His fingers gripped the arms of his chair. "What?" He very nearly roared the word, and Catherine bent her head.

Vincent writhed on the bed, almost pulling loose the IV needle that went into his arm.

Father reached out and caught that arm, restraining it, just as Catherine seized the other hand. It took a minute or two to calm him and get him tucked back under the blankets; when he was settled, Father snatched Catherine's wrist and hauled her bodily to the far side of the chamber.

"Are you telling me," he hissed, "that we have newspaper reporters, intent on exposing Vincent as a murderer, living among us?"

"I don't know!" It burst out of her before she could stop it. "I don't know," she repeated, more softly. "The woman... Lois... she was saying something about Clark looking for Vincent and about a secret when Callahan and his buddy..."

"And you brought her down here? Are you mad?"

"Clark was already here!" she shouted back. "What difference did it make?"

Vincent let out a strangled growl and lurched off the bed. He tangled in the blankets and fell.

Catherine reached him first, dodging a flailing hand and throwing herself to her knees beside him. Father was almost as quick, bending to place a comforting hand on Vincent's head. Vincent shook him off. Catherine caught at his arm, but he threw her off, too, and tried to struggle to his knees. The glazed, unfocused look in his eyes frightened her.

"Please, Vincent!" She lunged, wrapping her arms around him as far as she could, holding on hard. "Please."

He quieted, rolling toward her and burying his face against her. His eyes closed and his big body went limp.

"Oh, thank God," Father muttered. "He could have pulled out his stitches..." He busied himself setting Vincent to rights, then heaved himself to his feet. "If you can hold him for just another minute, I'll summon help, and we'll get him back into bed."

Catherine nodded, though Vincent was heavy and supporting the weight of his head and shoulders made her arms ache.

Father was back a half a minute later with what looked like a small army. A closer look revealed it to be four of the community's older teenagers, plus Matthew, an adult whom she knew only slightly.

"Be careful of the IV," Father warned. "And don't jostle him... watch out for those bandages..."

While Father fussed, Matthew took charge, directing Zach, Joshua and Stephen; Catherine eased herself away as Matthew bent to take his share of Vincent's weight. Lea, the sole girl in the group, kept the IV line from tangling or getting in the way, and in moments Vincent was once more ensconced in his bed. Catherine tucked him in, smoothing the blankets.

"Thank you, all of you," Father said, behind her. "How fortunate you were passing by just as you were needed..."

Catherine turned in time to see Lea and Stephen exchange glances; Matthew cleared his throat. "Actually, Father, we weren't passing by. We were coming to see you."

Father's eyebrows rose. "To see me? What for?"

Again the exchange of uneasy glances among the teenagers.

"The kids..." a sweep of Matthew's hand took in the four at his side, "...were on sentry duty this morning. Lea was up near the northern Broadway entrance; the boys were strung out along a series of passages leading to the docks on the south side."

"And...?" Father prompted.

"And they saw some things. Some things that sound really strange, maybe even impossible. But they insist they saw what they did, and so I thought you ought to know."

"Go on."

Matthew turned to Lea. "You start."

She nodded and visibly braced herself. "It's about the stranger who brought Vincent back after he got shot. That man."

"Clark?" Father asked.

Lea nodded. "Yeah, him. He was down here before, this morning. In the north tunnels, where I was. There was an intruder alert, you probably heard it, and Vincent came."

"Yes?"

"And I left my post to check on where Vincent was, to make sure, and..."

"And she saw the stranger do some weird things," Matthew offered.

"What sort of weird things?" Father asked.

Lea swallowed. "After Vincent came... he... the man... he floated."

"What?"

"In the air. He floated. And then he turned so he was lying on his back, but it was the middle of the tunnel, not the floor and there wasn't anything under him or any wires holding him up or anything, he was just floating! And he stood on his head that way, not touching anything, just there."

Father stared. "Lea, when was the last time we had your eyes checked?"

"There's nothing wrong with my eyes!" she burst out. "Vincent saw it too! And he talked to him - the man - and they went off together."

"To Vincent's chamber," Zach added. "Mouse saw them."

Father's eyebrows all but disappeared into his hairline. "Vincent brought Clark here?"

"And then later, I saw them." That was Joshua.

"So did I," chimed Stephen.

"Me, too," said Zach.

Father ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "Tell me what you saw." He jabbed a finger at Stephen. "You first."

"I saw Vincent run by; in a hurry, you know? Like he gets sometimes." The boy carefully did not look in Catherine's direction, but it was clear that everyone in the room knew why Vincent got like that sometimes.

Father nodded understanding.

"And the other guy... Clark... he was with him. Running with him."

"Running behind him, surely," Father interjected.

Catherine had seen Vincent run, knew how fast he could be. No one could keep up with Vincent when he was in a hurry.

"Right behind him. Right with him."

Father's sharp glance flicked to Zach. "Is that what you saw?"

Zach nodded. "The other man keeping up with Vincent. Running with him."

Joshua had seen the same.

Father ran that same thoughtful hand through his hair once more. "I suppose it's possible for someone to be as quick as Vincent. A world-class runner, perhaps, one who is in top condition... this Clark is built like an athlete..."

"There's more, Father," Matthew said soberly.

Catherine fought the sudden urge to sit down. At least Vincent was quiet, seeming impervious to the tension filling the room.

"Go on, then," Father said.

"When he came back, when Clark came back, carrying Vincent..." Stephen stumbled over his own words and paused, swallowing visibly. "He wasn't running anymore. I swear to you, Father, when he passed me, his feet weren't touching the ground."

"That's impossible!" Father burst out, echoing Catherine's own instinctive response. "Stephen, you've imagined this..."

"But I saw it, too," Joshua insisted. "And he was going fast. Faster than when he and Vincent were running. Way faster. Almost a blur..."

"Same when I saw him," Zach echoed. "Father, he was flying. I don't know how he did it, but he never touched the ground. And he was going faster than Vincent can run. We all saw it."

"People can't fly, Zach," Father said kindly. "You know that. You all know that."

"That's what I told them," Matthew said, "but they insisted. And with all four of them seeing the same thing..."

"Yes, I see what you mean," Father agreed. "Now, children, this isn't some practical joke you've dreamed up, is it? Zach?"

All four shook their heads vehemently. "We wouldn't joke about something like this, Father!" Lea sounded more angry than defensive. "We all saw it. He can fly."

"Father." Even to herself, Catherine's voice sounded thin. "What if they're right?"

He swung her way, his expression incredulous. "Catherine, think what you're saying! It's impossible..."

"That's what Vincent said to him... to Clark," Lea said quietly. "That it was impossible. And then Clark said that's what some people would say about Vincent."

*****

Lois woke slowly; her head felt stuffed with cotton, one eye wouldn't open all the way, her jaw ached, and her mouth tasted faintly of blood. She struggled to focus, blinking until she could mostly see. Flickering candlelight and bare rock walls reminded her of where she was, and she pushed to one elbow.

"Clark?" She turned to look for him, but though his side of the bed was mussed, the pillow still indented where his head must have been, he was gone.

She sank back down on the pillow. She remembered Jamie showing them to this chamber, remembered climbing into bed, but the rest of the night was a jumbled blur. She had a dim memory of Clark waking her, of another man prodding and poking at her face and shining a bright light into her eyes, but sleep had seemed to be the important thing at the time.

And she had to admit, despite the way her face hurt, she felt better for the rest. If only she knew where Clark had gone.

Slowly she sat up, surprised to find her muscles, especially in her neck and shoulders, stiff and sore. Gingerly she stretched as far as she could, then slipped out from under the covers and onto the thickly carpeted floor. A pair of moccasin-like slippers waited for her; she scowled and slipped her bare feet into them. It was too cold down here to be choosy, even though the moccasins showed clear signs of previous wear. At least they looked clean.

A similarly worn but clean-looking dressing gown was draped over the foot of the bed and she sighed and put it on. She wished Clark would get back; she could send him for their own things, which were safely stashed... well, wherever it was that Clark stashed things.

Not that her own things here included warm slippers and a thick robe.

A white square of paper propped against a candlestick on the dresser caught her eye; she moved closer and read her own name... in Clark's writing. Fury began to build even before she snatched up the paper and unfolded it to read Clark's apologetic note.

'Lois, I'm sorry I'm not there to see you wake up, and to take care of you. But Dr. Alcott -' that must be the man who'd been poking and prodding last night - 'promised you weren't seriously hurt, and if at least one of us doesn't show up at the paper, we'll lose our job.' And they needed the job desperately. 'Jamie promised to look in on you,' the note continued. 'Please do what Dr. Alcott said, and rest today. I'll see you tonight. I love you.' It was signed with a scrawled initial C.

She'd bet a dollar - not that she had a dollar - that Clark was keeping an ear out for her. She put her hands on her hips and addressed the ceiling. "You rat! Going off and leaving me... I'll get you for this, Kent, see if I..."

She broke off, suddenly aware she was no longer alone.

The girl called Jamie stood in the doorway, her expression at once confused and amused. "Talking to somebody?"

Lois vacillated for an instant, wondering what to say, then decided to go with the truth. "I was yelling at my husband," she admitted. Jamie didn't have to know she actually expected Clark to be able to hear her. "For going off and leaving me here."

"Oh." Jamie's grin reflected understanding. "He didn't want to, you know. But he said..."

"We'd lose our job if he didn't. I know." She fingered the note in her hand. "He said you'd be looking in on me, too."

Jamie moved closer. "Are you feeling okay? You look pretty..." Her voice trailed away, her hands fluttering wordlessly.

"I haven't looked yet," Lois confessed. "But I feel okay, yeah. Kind of sore."

"I'll bet. Are you hungry?"

Lois thought about it. Last night's nausea was gone. "I guess so."

"If we hurry, we can just make it."

"Make it where?"

"To the dining chamber. William serves breakfast from six-thirty until nine, and not a minute later. Or so he says. Actually, he feeds anybody who's hungry. But if we're there before nine, we won't have to listen to him complain."

Lois looked down at her borrowed robe. "I'm not exactly..."

"Oh, right. There should be some things in the dresser over there." Jamie pointed. "Olivia said she took care of it."

"Oh." Lois crossed to the dresser and found the right-hand drawers full of patched sweaters, darned blouses, and mended skirts. The clothes on the left side were larger and definitely masculine - for Clark, obviously. She remembered how dashing he'd looked last night in the shirt and tunic Olivia had given him to wear, and wondered if these worn and patched garments would suit him as well.

Behind her, Jamie cleared her throat softly and Lois hurried to choose a skirt and sweater.

"Dress in layers," Jamie advised. "You'll be warmer."

Jamie's words made Lois conscious of the chill creeping in through the thick robe; quickly she chose a soft, longsleeved shirt to go under the sweater. Remembering the layers that everyone down here seemed to favor, she added a long knitted vest to the stack and stepped behind the wooden screen standing in the corner. She dressed quickly, fumbling only a little with the unfamiliar ties and fastenings, emerging a few minutes later to Jamie's approving look.

She had to admit the unusual fashions made her feel feminine and pretty. That lasted just until she looked in the mirror to comb her hair.

"Oh, no," she murmured, touching fingers to her bruised and swollen cheek. A trail of dried blood showed where her split lip had opened during the night.

"It's not too bad," Jamie encouraged her. "Catherine looks worse."

"I'll bet she does," Lois answered, remembering yesterday's brutal beatings. Catherine had absorbed a lot more blows than she had. She bent over the china basin and splashed a handful of tepid water over her face, then swilled another handful around in her mouth to wash away the bloody taste. She spit carefully into a china mug sitting beside the basin, and grimaced.

"We'll get you a toothbrush," Jamie promised. "Are you ready?"

Lois took another look in the mirror. "I guess so." She thought of something else. "How's Vincent?"

Jamie lifted one shoulder in a shrug that was meant to be casual, but Lois could see anxiety beneath the surface. "He's okay, I guess. Sleeping, mostly. He does that when he's hurt." She pushed away from the wall where she'd been leaning. "Come on, I'll take you to breakfast."

After breakfast, Jamie showed Lois the way back to the guest chamber and left her there. Lois tried to rest, but sitting back passively while things went on around her was not her style. Unfortunately, she was also a guest in this place, and further, she had no idea where she was. The tunnel world, she was discovering, was a maze of intersecting passages that turned, climbed, and dropped with no discernable pattern. Lois wasn't even sure she could find her way back to the dining chamber where she'd eaten; she certainly couldn't find her way to the top, where things were happening.

So she paced. Five steps took her from the rough-hewn doorway, across a faded carpet to where an antique cherry dresser stood against the far wall. Five paces took her back.

She'd lost track of the number of times she'd crossed the room when a voice, male, British-accented, and more than a little frayed, called her name. She looked toward the open archway. "Come in!"

The man called Father entered slowly, leaning on a stick. His face looked worn and haggard. "I'm sorry to be so late," he began. "I wanted to see to your injuries."

Lois touched her cheek; she'd been so busy fuming over Clark's going off and leaving her, and fretting over what to do with the next few hours, she'd almost forgotten about her face. "I must look a sight."

"A bit battered," Father agreed with a smile, setting a worn black doctor's bag on the round pedestal table that stood in the corner. "But quite beautiful, nonetheless."

Beautiful? When she knew she was unkempt and bruised? Was the guy hitting on her? But his expression was open and caring, his smile warm and friendly. So maybe he just wanted to make her feel better. She smiled back, cautiously, careful of her hurt lip. "Thanks."

"Sit here, my dear." He patted the back of a straight-backed chair. "Let me look at you."

She sank gingerly into the chair. Father moved an oil lamp from the nearby dresser and turned up the wick. "There," he said, and put gentle fingers under her chin, tipping her face toward the light.

"So," she said, as he studied her bruises, "what's a doctor like you doing in a place like this?"

He sat back and looked at her in consternation. "I beg your pardon?"

Geez, she hadn't meant to upset him. She was just making conversation. "I mean, you are a doctor, aren't you? You operated on Vincent..."

He studied her for a moment. "Yes. I'm a doctor. As for why I'm here - this is my home. For over thirty years."

That piqued her curiosity. "You've been down here for that long?"

His smile was kind. "Not everyone enjoys the hustle of the city," he said, prodding gently along her jaw. "Some of us are happier with a slower pace, more traditional values."

"I guess so," she said doubtfully. She couldn't see spending more than a few days in all this peace and tranquility, herself.

"You have some cuts here... and here." His fingers just brushed her cheek. "I'm sure Peter disinfected them when he looked at you last night, but I'm going to do it again, and leave you some salve to apply. I'm as sure as I can be, without an x-ray, that your jaw isn't broken."

That possibility hadn't occurred to her; her jaw ached, but not sharply enough, surely, to be fractured. "Maybe when Clark gets back, he can..." She broke off, appalled that she had been thinking aloud.

"Ah. Clark. Your husband is... a very unusual young man." Father took a small brown bottle from the bag and opened it. Pungent fumes wafted up, stinging her nose and eyes.

She went cold and still. "Not really. He's pretty average."

"Is he? This will smart a bit," Father warned, and dabbed at her cheek with a bit of gauze soaked in the pungent liquid.

"Ow." She tried not to flinch.

"Some of the sentries seem to think your Clark is more than average," he went on. He produced a small glass jar and used a narrow wooden paddle to scoop out a bit of yellow salve that soothed the sting of her cheek. Father capped the jar and placed it on the table. "I want you to put some of this salve on those cuts twice a day, and let me know if there are any signs of infection. Redness, swelling..."

"I know what to look for," she answered. Maybe they'd gotten off the topic of Clark and his oddities.

But no. Father sat back and looked at her. "I have a feeling your Clark is as far from ordinary as my own son."

Stonewalling seemed the only option. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh, I think you do." Father busied himself putting away the bottle of disinfectant and tidying away the gauze and wooden paddle.

Maybe a change of subject was in order, and there was certainly something she wanted to know more about. "You called Vincent your son?"

"Not my natural son, of course," he said, snapping his bag closed. "But my son in all ways that count."

"Clark is adopted, too," she said, then could have kicked herself for bringing him back into the conversation.

"Ah." Father set the bag aside and settled back into his chair. "So Clark is as ignorant of his origins as is my son."

"No, he knows where he comes from," she answered automatically, then clamped her mouth shut. All those blows to the head must have addled her brain; what was she thinking? Worse, what was she saying?

Father gazed back at her. He looked tired, she thought, and worried, but there was a gleam of curiosity in his eye that she'd seen too often in her own mirror.

"Is Vincent going to be all right?" she asked hastily, hoping to distract him.

Father rubbed a hand over his face. "It's too soon to be sure," he answered. "He lost so much blood... and there's always the danger of infection. But if he stays quiet, and heals cleanly... Peter and I both believe he will make a full recovery."

"Good. That's good."

"No small thanks to your Clark," he added. "He brought Vincent to us so quickly... I wonder how he did that." The look he gave her was openly speculative.

"He works out a lot," she improvised. "So he's pretty strong."

"Yes, I imagine he is." He shook his head and levered himself to his feet. "I'm sorry; I've kept you talking when your head must ache - I'm not entirely sure you don't have a concussion. You should rest, my dear, and I should go check on my son."

*****

Catherine floated in a haze of exhaustion; in the two days since Vincent had been shot, she had slept only in snatches, mostly sitting up beside him. Twice she had been persuaded to go to a nearby chamber to rest, but each time she had managed only an hour or two of fitful sleep before anxiety brought her back to Vincent's side.

She'd hoped - they'd all hoped - Vincent would be awake by now, and on the road to recovery. Instead, he seemed weaker than ever.

Catherine sighed, roused herself, and reached for the compress laid across Vincent's brow. She turned to dip it in the basin of water at her elbow, but someone took her wrist and removed the compress from her hand.

"I'll do this, Catherine." Mary's voice, soft and caring. "You need to go lie down for a bit."

"I can't." She was so tired, she could scarcely form the words. "Not until he's better. I can't."

"You've been hurt, you haven't rested, you've scarcely eaten. What good will it do Vincent for you to make yourself ill? Please, Catherine. Go and rest, just for an hour or two. I'll watch over him for you."

The thought of putting her head down for a few minutes was tempting; it still ached from the beating she'd taken two days earlier. But Vincent was so very sick, and she was so scared for him.

"Go on, Catherine." Father, looking as weary and heartsick as she felt, added his encouragement. "You can't go on the way you have been. When he's better, Vincent will need you to be strong."

If he gets better. She stifled the traitorous thought as quickly as it came, and felt guilty for even letting herself think that way. If only he weren't so terribly still. If only he'd wake up.

Finally, reluctantly, she nodded. "For an hour," she said. "I'll go rest for an hour. Send someone to wake me up?"

"I'll send someone right away if there's any change," Mary said, and Catherine knew that was as much promise as she was going to get.

She nodded, and lifted Vincent's hand, pressing her lips to his fingers. It made her heart ache to put his hand down, to untangle her fingers from his. She lingered a moment, smoothing the ruffled fur with her fingertips, then finally, wearily, turned toward the exit.

Father wrapped an arm around her when she passed him. "Nothing will happen in the next few hours," he said, his voice gentle. He seemed to know how much she was hurting. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Go on."

She was so tired that walking took most of her meager concentration; she rounded a corner without looking and ran head-on into someone coming the other way. Embarrassed, she stumbled back.

Strong hands caught her wrists, steadying her. "You okay?"

The voice was only vaguely familiar; she looked up to see who it was.

Clark Kent, still wearing a coat and tie from his day's work, looked down at her. "You okay?" he repeated.

She managed a nod. "Fine. Just... really tired."

"I'll bet. Come on, I'll walk you to wherever you're going."

"It's not far," she demurred. "I'll be all right. The guest chamber where I'm staying is just down this passage. I'm supposed to get some rest."

He nodded. "No offense, but it looks as if you could use it. You look worn out. Please, let me help you."

He seemed genuinely concerned for her, and she had no strength to resist him. "All right," she conceded, and took the arm he offered. A moment later she stumbled, too tired to pick her feet up properly, and felt his arm slip around her shoulders, holding her up. It felt good to lean on someone. He guided her gently, not hurrying her.

"How is Vincent doing?"

"He's... still pretty sick."

"I'm sorry. Is there any change? Any improvement at all?"

She shook her head; her eyes filled with sudden tears. "He's worse. He's started running a fever; Father says there's an infection. He's been trying antibiotics, but they aren't working..."

"Oh, no." His eyes, when she looked up at him, were stricken.

Instinctively she reached to pat his hand. "Don't blame yourself, Clark," she said tiredly. "You did everything you could for him."

They reached the entrance to the guest chamber. "This is it. Thank you for your help. I'm so tired, I'm not sure I'd have made it on my own."

Behind the wire-framed glasses, his eyes were sad. "You get some rest," he told her. "Good night."

"Good night, Clark."

*****

Lois looked up as Clark came into the room. Chamber, she reminded herself. Down here they call it a chamber. After two days' confinement in the tunnels, she was beginning to get the hang of things. "Hi."

"Hi." He bent and kissed her. "Payday. I brought you a present."

She all but clapped her hands. "A present? For me?"

"Yep." He pulled a flat paper bag from his pocket. "Here."

She opened it eagerly; she hated surprises, but she loved presents if they were from Clark. Inside the bag were two wide, flat bars, wrapped in bright blue and white. "Candy?"

"Chocolate crunch bars," he explained. "They don't seem to have the Double Fudge Crunch brand here, so I got you these."

"Nestle's Crunch," she read, from the wrapper. "Chocolate! Clark, I love you." She already had two fingers inside the colorful outer wrapper, tearing the paper.

"Yeah. Because I bring you chocolate."

"Among other things." She stopped unwrapping the chocolate long enough to give him her best seductive look - they'd spent two nights in a real bed and still hadn't done anything but sleep.

"Yeah." His answering smile didn't quite reach his eyes.

She put the candy down. "Clark? What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

She recognized evasion when she saw it. "It's not nothing. Did something happen at work? A story?"

"Today I wrote a story about graffiti, and what the city's doing to remove it."

He was trying to divert her. "Clark?"

He looked at the candy bars in her lap. "I was thinking, next payday, I'd like to get something for the community. Like a thank you."

So he was determined to be cheerful. Well, she could be determined, too. But for now she'd follow his lead. "I thought Jamie made it clear they didn't want us to buy them things."

"I know, and I'm not talking about something big. We couldn't afford that, anyway. But the kids have so little in the way of small pleasures - little toys, candy, that kind of thing. So I was thinking, maybe we could get something for the kids. But I couldn't think of anything appropriate. That all the kids would enjoy, but that wouldn't be too expensive, or seem like charity, you know? Maybe you could think of something, you've spent more time here than I have."

She had to smile at his generosity. "Yeah, I felt better this afternoon, and ended up helping wherever they needed help - did you know they make their own candles down here? And that melted wax is really hot, hot enough to burn?" She held out her hand so he could see the faint pink burn on the back of her thumb.

As she expected, he picked it up and pressed a gentle kiss to the spot. "I'm sorry you got hurt."

She grinned. "That's all right. It's better now. Did you know they gossip a lot down here, too?"

"My mother always said I shouldn't listen to gossip," he answered automatically.

"Hard not to, when it's going on all around you," she muttered. "Okay," she added more clearly, "I'll think about what we can do for the kids. Maybe together we can come up with something. But you know, the way they look at it, they owe us. Because you saved Vincent."

There. That was it. She could tell by the way his expression changed, turning vulnerable and a little hurt. And so very sad.

"What is it?"

He ran a hand through his hair and let out a long sigh. "It's Vincent. I ran into Catherine on the way home tonight... or rather, she ran into me. She was exhausted, so I helped her get to the chamber where she's staying. And she told me Vincent isn't doing well. He's running a fever now, there's an infection. She looked really scared, Lois. And I kept thinking about you."

"Me?" She rubbed one hand across her cheek; it was still sore, but most of the swelling was gone and the bruising was starting to fade.

"And when I was so sick that Christmas, you remember?"

Of course she did. A creative genius had resurrected a Kryptonian virus and infected him with it; he'd nearly died. And she'd been so frightened. "Oh."

"And I just feel so guilty."

"Don't. You tried to save him. You caught the second bullet."

"I should have caught the first one. But I was distracted... I followed Vincent through the wall, and the first thing I did was look for you. Not for the danger, the threat, but for you. And Vincent might die because of it."

"You looked for me because you were scared for me," she said, laying her hand on his. "Because you love me, and you knew I was in danger. I don't know how you could have expected to do any different."

"But I do expect it. I'm Superman, Lois, I'm supposed to protect people. And I didn't. So many times, I didn't..."

"... Clark?"

His gaze had gone distant, focused on something neither of them could see.

She touched his arm. "Clark?"

He made a quick, impatient gesture, asking for quiet. Then he blinked, breathed, and came back to her.

"Trouble?" She knew that look, that gesture.

"In Vincent's chamber. There's something wrong in Vincent's chamber."

Lois lurched up out of her chair and followed him at a dead run. She lost ground with every step, but he couldn't move as fast here in the close confines of the tunnels as he could up top in the open, so she could almost keep up and Vincent's chamber wasn't far.

She could hear the commotion long before she actually reached the small knot of people gathered outside the entrance to Vincent's chamber. Apparently everyone within earshot had been drawn by the noise - it sounded like a combination of scalded cat and angry lion in there, accompanied by a half-dozen more human voices shouting a frenzy of instructions or just plain yelling.

The entrance itself, a low, narrow tunnel about four feet long, was jammed with bodies; the ones Lois could see seemed to be straining forward, trying to get in. She couldn't make out what was stopping them.

Clark yanked down his glasses and peered at the wall; he must not have liked what he saw, because he jammed them back up his nose, reached for the nearest obstacle - a young man dressed in the patched layers that were endemic in this community - and pulled him out of the way.

"Get back!" The voice that emerged was Superman's, bold and commanding. "Let me through!" A few people were startled enough to obey. Meanwhile, the roars and snarls continued from inside the chamber. She couldn't see over the people crowding the doorway, and headroom was scarce enough that Clark couldn't fly or float over, either. And of course he couldn't bore straight through the wall with so many people around - rock chips would fly and someone would get hurt.

She had just caught up with him when Clark seized another person blocking the doorway and moved him aside. She caught hold of Clark's jacket and hung on, following closely as he cleared a path. Once the people trying to get in were moved, the tide changed; those already inside the chamber were trying to get out. Clark flattened against the wall of the tiny passage, flinging one arm back to protect Lois. As soon as the bottleneck cleared, he charged through.

Lois followed.

Inside, pandemonium reigned. Vincent, not looking nearly as sick as Lois had been led to expect, half-crouched, half-sprawled beside quilts and pillows tumbled from a high, narrow bed. His face contorted savagely; the roars and snarls she'd been hearing were issuing from his throat. Two men circled warily to either side of him, feinting forward and dodging back, trying unsuccessfully to get hold of him.

Father filled a hypodermic needle with trembling hands. "If you can just hold him, just for a minute," he said. "I can try to sedate him..."

Vincent rose from his crouch to strike, fast and deadly, at the man nearest him. The man leaped back, stumbled over a chair, and fell. Vincent advanced, letting out a low growl as he went.

"Dear God!" Father cried. "Matthew, get him!"

The other man moved forward, but Clark was faster. "Get back!" he commanded, sounding even more like Superman than he had outside. "I'll get him."

"Clark, you mustn't, he isn't himself..." Father began, speaking quickly.

But Clark never hesitated. He caught Vincent's arm in mid-strike, holding it fast, then caught the other flailing arm, as well. "Where do you want him?" He was speaking to Father, but his hard gaze never left Vincent's frenzied face.

Father's mouth opened and closed once before he managed speech. "On... on the bed, if you please," he said at last.

Clark nodded once, curtly, and moved Vincent back.

Vincent didn't go quietly. He arched his body and bared long, vicious teeth.

"Someone stop him!" Father called. "He's going to break open those stitches... he can't afford to lose any more blood..."

But by that time, Clark had Vincent to the bed. He pushed him down, still holding his wrists. Vincent bucked and flailed, kicking and struggling, wild-eyed and snarling like a vicious animal.

"Stop him!" Father pleaded again.

The man called Matthew moved forward, but Clark spoke sharply. "No," he said. "I have him."

He rolled Vincent back and pinned him with his own body. Vincent arched again, trying to fling Clark off; Clark applied more pressure, holding him down with visible force.

Father, filled syringe in hand, approached cautiously. "If you can just keep him still for another moment..." he muttered, and reached for Vincent's arm.

Vincent was effectively pinned to the bed, unable to move arms or legs. Snarling, he bared his teeth and snaked his head toward Clark's throat.

Father jumped back. Behind Lois, someone gasped.

Vincent closed his jaws on Clark's neck and jerked; the motion, Lois was sure, would have ripped an ordinary man's throat out. Clark merely grunted and shifted his hold on Vincent's wrists, pinning Vincent's head to the mattress with one forearm.

Clark must have consciously relaxed the muscles in his neck; Vincent's teeth looked undamaged and still very, very deadly.

The main casualty seemed to be Clark's glasses - they'd been knocked askew by Vincent's lunge, and now hung half-off his face. He tossed his head to try to get rid of them, but the glasses clung tenaciously.

"Lois." His voice, like the look he gave her, was pleading.

She gave a wary look at Vincent, who was still struggling as best he could, considering it was Superman holding him down, and stepped forward.

"No, you mustn't go near," Father said, catching at her arm. "He could break free..."

"He won't," she told him, with assurance. "Clark can hold him." Clark would never summon her unless he was certain of that. She stepped closer and reached out, grasping the glasses by one temple and plucking them away. Vincent emitted a savage snarl and she stepped back quickly, folding Clark's glasses and tucking them into her pocket.

Father gave her a look of disbelief, and stepped forward himself, wielding the loaded hypodermic.

"Let me through. Let me through!" The voice was female, and very determined. The people - there were only a half-dozen or so, Lois realized now - in the entrance shifted and Catherine slipped in.

She looked frantic. Even Father didn't try to stop her from hurrying to Vincent's side. She spared one incredulous glance for Clark, still exerting a great deal of effort to hold Vincent in place, and then slid her hand under Clark's arm and placed it against Vincent's temple. "It's okay," she crooned, softly. "I'm here now."

The result was instantaneous. Vincent was pinned so effectively he couldn't move, but he let his breath out in an audible sigh, and all the fight went out of him. His eyes fixed on Catherine's for a moment before they slowly closed.

Clark released his hold on Vincent's wrists and climbed off. He stepped back from the bed, running a hand over his ruffled hair and straightening his tie. His jacket, Lois noticed, loose enough not to be completely protected by his aura, had been torn in the scuffle.

Catherine knelt beside the bed, soothing Vincent with murmurs and touches. Now that the danger was over, the people gathered in the chamber entrance pushed inside, spreading out. All of them stared at Clark.

Father finally managed to close his mouth and bustle over. "Are you hurt? Let me see your neck..."

Clark warded him off with a raised hand. "I'm fine, Father. He didn't hurt me."

"He had your throat in his teeth," Father said sharply. "He struck at you."

"Yes, but he didn't hurt me. See?" Clark turned his head, letting Father - and everyone else crammed into the little room - see the smooth, undamaged skin of his throat.

The murmurs became louder, and Lois could pick out a phrase here and there. "...should have torn his throat out..." "...not possible..." "...stronger than Vincent..." "...who is this guy?"

Father stepped back. "Yes, I see. Well." He hesitated, as if searching for the right words. "I'm rather surprised you were able to restrain Vincent by yourself. He's quite strong..."

"Oh." Clark looked momentarily flustered. "Well, I work out a lot... I guess I'm stronger than I look..."

"Do you know, some of the sentries had some rather startling stories to tell about you, the other day. When you brought Vincent back."

"Oh." Clark's expression turned wary. "They did? I don't know why..."

"Father." Catherine interrupted, looking worried. "You'd better come here."

Father turned to the now-quiet patient on the bed. "Yes? Let me... dear God, he's burning up." He spun toward the small group gathered to watch. "Matthew," he snapped. "Go up, right now, and fetch Peter. Tell him Vincent's infection has spread, his fever's higher, and he's suffering from delirium. He'll know what to bring."

The young man nodded crisply and pushed his way from the chamber.

Father addressed the others. "The rest of you, I do appreciate your concern for Vincent, but he needs quiet now, so if you could all be on your way..."

"Is there anything we can do for him, Father?" The voice was young and earnest.

"Yes, Zach. You can pray for him. You can all pray."

*****

Clark, sitting quietly with Lois at Vincent's round table and trying to keep out of the way, watched Peter Alcott straighten and run a weary hand through his hair. "It's as you said, Jacob. The infection's spread. It's not responded at all to the antibiotics."

Father looked dismal. "I was hoping you might have something new, something more powerful..."

Peter shook his head. "We've already tried the most powerful antibiotics I know. This infection is very resistant..."

"There's nothing more you can do?" That was Catherine, looking frail and weary, and very, very scared.

Peter dropped a gentle hand on her shoulder and shook his head. "Do what you're doing. Try to keep his fever down, keep him calm..."

"Keep him calm." Father's voice was resigned. "Easier said than done, Peter. You weren't here earlier, when he was raging... it's lucky he didn't pull loose any of his stitches, though we did have to re-start the IV - he'd pulled the needle right out."

"I know, Jacob. I'm sorry. I wish I could be of more help." Peter turned away, folding his stethoscope and tucking it into his bag. Only then did he seem to notice Clark and Lois. "Hello, young lady," he greeted Lois, and came closer, peering intently at her face. "Looks as if those are healing up nicely."

"Yes, thank you. I feel much better."

"You and Catherine both took quite a beating the other day. How's the jaw?"

Lois opened and closed her mouth experimentally. "Okay, I guess. Still a little stiff. Father says he's pretty sure it's not broken."

"If the stiffness continues, let me know, and we'll see about getting you some x-rays," Peter said.

Alarmed, Clark eased his glasses down and took a surreptitious peek. But not, evidently, surreptitious enough.

"So, is it?" Lois inquired, without bothering to lower her voice.

"What?"

"Is it fractured?"

"How would I know?" He could hear the pitch of his voice rising.

"Come on, Clark, I saw you..." she mimed peeking over glasses. "So is it fractured?"

His glance at the others in the room bordered on frantic. "Lois!"

The look Lois gave him was half weary, half amused. "Give it up, Clark," she told him. "I've been hearing all kinds of stories about you the past couple of days. Four sentries saw you bring Vincent back, and I hear there's a girl telling everyone she saw you stand on your head in midair. Not to mention what you did in here a little while ago, when Vincent was... well, you know. This was just the last straw. You're not a secret anymore."

"Secret," Father said flatly. "I knew there was something..."

Peter was frankly staring. "What's going on here?" he demanded.

Lois rolled her eyes and lifted her hands in a tiny I-give-up motion. "He just x-rayed my jaw."

Peter's mouth dropped open. "What? That's impossible."

Clark looked at Lois in horror. "No, I..." he began, but stumbled to a stop. What could he possibly say now?

Lois said it for him. "He's not what he seems to be," she said. "He's different."

Clark stood up, flustered by Father's intense gaze. "Sir, I'm sorry. It's just such a habit, to keep the things I can do... to myself."

"Things you can do," Father repeated. "Like x-ray your wife's jaw, just with your eyes."

Any minute now somebody was going to want to dissect him. Like a frog. "I know it sounds impossible..."

"It is impossible. Except that I watched Vincent try to tear your throat out, and you don't have a scratch. So maybe it isn't so incredible that you can x-ray things with your eyes."

"He can do Catherine's, if you want," Lois offered. "She was beaten worse than I was."

Catherine, listening from her place at Vincent's side, gingerly touched her bruised cheek and looked at Clark with disbelief.

He fingered his glasses but didn't pull them down. "Would you mind?"

"If you x-rayed my face. With your eyes. Just your eyes."

"Yeah."

This time, Catherine's glance went to Vincent, who hadn't moved once. "Sure," she said finally, in an I'm-humoring-you tone. "Whatever you want."

Clark lowered his glasses and looked. Catherine stared back at him. When he made a little "move, please" motion with his fingers, she turned her head, but her eyes never left his face. Finally he pushed the glasses back up his nose. "You've got something right here..." he ran a finger over his own cheekbone, under his right eye. "But I can't quite tell..."

"My God," Catherine whispered. "You really can see through things with your eyes."

"Cathy?"

She touched her cheek in the place Clark had indicated. "It's an old fracture, Peter... you remember, when those cops came to my apartment..."

"I remember." He turned an incredulous gaze on Clark. "And you could see it. Just by looking."

Clark all but squirmed. Dissection seemed more and more likely. "Well, it takes a little concentration..."

Catherine had thought of something else. "You really did catch that bullet."

"Uh..." Clark glanced at Lois, who openly grinned at his discomfiture. "Well, yeah." His gaze went briefly to Vincent, lying so still. "I wish I'd caught both of them."

Father's look was incredulous. "How can you be fast enough to catch a bullet? And why didn't it tear up your hand?"

"For the same reasons I can see through Catherine's skin, I guess. Because I'm not from here, and my biology's totally different than yours."

"Like Vincent," Peter suggested.

Right. Like Vincent. Maybe he wasn't in for dissection, after all. "Well, different from humans like Vincent's different from humans. But I don't think Vincent and I are anything alike, really."

"You are, in your willingness to help others," Father observed. "Don't think we aren't grateful for that, Clark. It seems we owe you so much already, I hesitate to ask for one more thing..."

"Whatever I can do," Clark answered instantly. "Anything."

"You're evidently stronger than Vincent is..."

Clark nodded cautiously.

"...and he doesn't seem to be able to hurt you. His fever's so high, he could go off in another delirium at any time. I know you worked all day, you must be tired. But if I had a cot brought in for you, would you be willing to stay here tonight, with him? Just in case? If you don't, I fear what he might do..."

"Catherine seems to have a calming effect on him, sir," Clark observed, glancing that way.

"So she does," Father agreed, "but in his delirium he might not know her, and she isn't strong enough to hold him. Nothing would devastate him more than to recover and learn he'd hurt her..."

Lois sighed. "Another perfectly good night in a bed, wasted," she muttered under her breath.

*****

After Vincent's outburst, Catherine refused to leave him again, even to get some much-needed sleep. Clark made her take the cot brought in for him, pulling it close to the bed so she could reach out and touch Vincent without getting up, but she slept scarcely more than he did, waking every time Vincent grew restless, touching him and speaking to him in soft, unintelligible murmurs until he quieted.

At first, Clark tried to help, but it soon became clear that Vincent didn't tolerate Clark's touch as well as he did Catherine's. They both feared the resulting agitation would offset any benefit, so Clark settled for being Catherine's support system, bringing her water, making sure she was covered when she napped. In between, he sprawled in a chair and dozed.

Morning brought Father, who bent over his patient with a worried scowl. He answered Catherine's questioning look with a slow shake of his head. "His fever's up, his pulse is racing. There's no question the infection is still raging; the antibiotics seem to be having no effect at all..."

"What happens now?" Catherine's voice held just the faintest tremor.

"We wait, and hope he is strong enough to fight it off," Father answered. "We pray. We... I just..." he broke off, burying his face in his hand.

Clark had seldom felt so helpless. Father's fear for Vincent was palpable; clearly he believed Vincent might die.

Catherine recognized it, too; fear and the faint beginnings of grief shone in her eyes.

"Hello?" It was Lois's voice, calling from the outside passage.

Clark started for the entrance, but on this occasion Father was faster. "Come in!" he called.

Lois came in dressed in her best business clothes, with the air of someone on a schedule.

"Where do you think you're going?" Clark demanded.

"To work," she answered.

"No, you're not." He said it despite the defiant gleam in her eye.

"Yes. I am. You've been up all night, Clark, and besides, you've been working the past two days while I got better. Now it's my turn."

"You're still hurt," he protested. "You're still healing. You look awful."

She put a self-conscious hand on her cheek, where bruising was still visible. "I feel fine. Perfectly capable of writing a story about whatever fascinating subject Alex has for us today."

"Pigeons," Clark said.

"What?"

"He said he was going to send us out to talk to a boy who raises pigeons on his tenement's rooftop."

Lois closed her eyes and sighed. "Pigeons. Right. Express story, straight to a Pulitzer." She opened one eye and looked at Catherine. "Er, you have Pulitzers here, right?"

"Huh?" Catherine looked blank for an instant, but tiredness must have kept her from noticing the true oddness of the question. "Yeah. We have Pulitzers. You should do something about those bruises first, though."

"I'm going to tell people I got mugged," Lois said, sounding just a bit defensive. "I won't say what really happened."

"No, I meant to cover them up. They're pretty... stark."

"Oh. I tried, but the makeup I use isn't really made for..."

"I have something that works pretty well." Catherine crossed the chamber to where her briefcase was propped against the wall. She rummaged inside, coming up with a small bottle of flesh-colored liquid. She squinted at it critically in the flare of candlelight. "My skin tone's lighter than yours, I think..."

"Let me see..." Lois reached for the bottle, turning it in her hands. "Yeah, but maybe if I cover it with my own..."

The discussion of makeup ended with Catherine's bottle tucked into Lois's purse. "I'd better hurry, I'm going to be late."

"You're not going," Clark said again. "I can..."

She spun sharply and glared. "I... Am... Going... To... Work," she said, emphasizing each word. "You," she stabbed at his chest with a finger, "are going to stay here and get some rest. Got it?"

He knew when to give up; he raised his hands in surrender. "Got it. But you be careful!"

She nodded, kissed him quickly, and hurried out.

*****

Over the next two days, Vincent's temperature soared even higher as his body fought the infection raging through him. He slipped in and out of a delirium that frightened everyone and kept Catherine within arms' reach. Clark stayed close, too, when he could, but circumstances conspired to draw him away more than once.

First he diverted a minor flood created by a city water main break. Then he helped clear a tunnel whose saturated roof had collapsed, trapping some of the tunnel folk beyond it. Later, he helped the tunnel engineer, a mild man named Kanin, shore up the passage so it would be safe. After that, he rescued a little girl who'd taken a dare to climb up a near-vertical wall and was unable to get herself back down. Most of these jobs, he came to understand, would have fallen to Vincent, had he been well.

He wondered how Vincent did it. Even Superman had limits, especially down here in the dark, and Clark was tired in body as well as spirit when Peter Alcott came on the second evening to examine the patient and confer with Father. Clark tried not to overhear, but even their quiet murmurs carried to him clearly. Both physicians believed Vincent was at the end of his strength. The antibiotics had made no difference to his condition. Barring a miracle, Vincent would die.

*****

Lois hurried through the tunnels in the wake of her long-legged teenaged guide. She wished she'd paid a bit more attention when the boy had come to get her; if she knew his name, she could ask him to slow down. But she didn't know it, didn't want to yell, "Hey, you!", and pride wouldn't let her give up. She was breathless and footsore when they reached the hub of the community. She'd asked to be taken to wherever Clark was; that, apparently, was still Vincent's chamber. She wondered if he'd had a chance to rest today at all. She knew he hadn't slept much the past two nights, and while Superman didn't need as much sleep as the average human, he did require some rest.

The boy left her at the entrance to Vincent's chamber, which this evening was guarded by a middle-aged man Lois hadn't seen before.

"Excuse me," she began, but the man cut her off.

"Sorry. You can't go in. No one can go in. Vincent's really sick and Father doesn't want him disturbed."

Habit and inclination made her bristle, but memory of Vincent, lying so still this morning when she'd stopped by to see Clark, moderated her reply. "You don't understand," she began, working at staying pleasant. "My husband's in there, and I think I have an idea..."

The man was stubbornly shaking his head, standing by his instructions, and she was considering bopping him one and dashing past when Clark appeared in the entrance behind him.

"It's okay, Marc," he said quietly. "She's with me."

It didn't surprise Lois at all that in the few days they'd been in the tunnels, Clark had already become someone who was listened to, and obeyed.

Marc nodded a sketchy apology and stepped aside. Lois went past him and into Clark's open arms.

The way he held her told her the gravity of Vincent's condition. She hugged back hard, offering her own strength to supplement his. It was a long time before he released her.

A quick glance over her shoulder showed the sentry, Marc, studiously ignoring them. She turned back to find Clark looking into her eyes with a sadness she could feel. His face was drawn; she'd seldom seen him look so drained.

She took his hand in hers and squeezed; he squeezed back gently, then led her into the quiet chamber.

Catherine slumped in a chair, her head pillowed against Vincent's forearm. Father and Peter conferred quietly, sadly, on the far side of the room.

Both turned when she and Clark came in. "Lois," Father said, not unkindly. "Perhaps this isn't a good time to visit... Vincent isn't well."

What was it with these people and their attempts to keep her from her husband? She quelled the sharp retort that sprang to her lips, and said instead, "I know. And I've been thinking."

"Thinking?" That was Clark, behind her; did she detect the faintest note of alarm in his voice?

She turned to him. "You remember the article we wrote a couple of months ago? About an experimental treatment for infected wounds that resisted antibiotics?"

His brow puckered for a second, then cleared. "Oh, yeah. Laser therapy."

It was Peter's turn to look perplexed. "Lasers? They've been used for many things in the medical field, but treatment of infected wounds? I haven't read anything..."

"As I said, it's very experimental," Lois rushed to say. She didn't want to get into interdimensional time-travel right now. "They use a laser beam to sterilize and cauterize the wound. If I'm remembering right..." She looked to Clark for confirmation.

"I think that's right," he answered; she could see he was thinking back, remembering.

Peter's hopeful expression fell. "Even if this treatment would work, we don't have access to the kind of laser we'd need... and if we did, how would we get Vincent there?" He put a kind hand on Lois's arm. "We do appreciate your thinking of ways to help, but..."

"No, you don't understand. Clark could do it."

"What?" Both men spoke simultaneously.

Catherine, awake now, stared from her chair.

Clark looked at her with incredulity. "Lois, have you lost your mind? I don't have the knowledge to do what you're suggesting... I could do him irreparable damage... I could kill him."

"Wait, are you saying Clark... can somehow produce a laser beam?" Excitement crept into Father's voice.

"Yes, but I don't know enough!" Clark repeated, more loudly. "I haven't studied anatomy, I wouldn't know how much, or for how long..."

"But if you don't, he'll die." Catherine was standing now, swaying slightly. "He's going to die. The infection is killing him." There was no question, no doubt in her voice. Lois wondered how long she'd known the grim truth, and more, how she stood there quietly when inside, she must have wanted to scream.

Clark's resistance faltered. "I know," he answered quietly.

"If there's a chance... even a small chance... you have to try, Clark. Please." Hope spawned desperation. Catherine's hands wound together in supplication. "Please."

Clark's fists clenched helplessly. "I don't know what I'm doing," he repeated, with a glance for Vincent.

"If you can really do this, he has a chance." Peter's voice shook with fervor. "Any chance is better than none."

Clark's desperate glance returned to Lois. "How much do you remember from our notes? About intensity, or the amount of time... anything?"

She shared what she could dredge from memory; it wasn't much, but added to what he remembered, it might be enough. It had to be enough.

Father produced a battered medical text and opened it to a color-plate diagram of a man's chest, showing Clark nerves and blood vessels, things to be avoided. "We think Vincent's anatomy is very similar," he said at last. "But there are differences, you'll have to be careful. Will you be able to see what you're doing?"

"Yes," Clark assured him. "I can x-ray him first. And intermittently as I go along."

"Soft tissue injury won't show on an x-ray..." Peter began.

Clark shook his head. "It will for me. I think I'll be able to trace the path of the bullet, and possibly even see the infection, or rather the signs left by the infection."

Father shook his head in disbelief. "It's not possible," he murmured, even as he moved to the bed and began to unbutton Vincent's shirt. "Catherine, you'd better step back," he advised.

"No," Clark objected. "I want her here. He'll be quieter if she's holding him. If he moves..."

Lois had seen what an intense blast of his heat vision could do; she shuddered to think how it would affect flesh and bone. But of course he could control the intensity; more than once he'd used a mild burst to warm her when she was cold.

Catherine crouched at the head of the bed, cradling Vincent's head in her hands, crooning to him. Father stepped back, giving Clark room at the bedside.

Clark removed his glasses, folded them, and placed them carefully on the table. He stepped forward and spent agonizing long minutes simply staring; using his x-ray vision to assess the wound and plan the best approach for the use of his heat vision, Lois was sure. Finally he moved, placing one knee on the bed at Vincent's waist, and bending over him. He reached out, taking Vincent's wrists in his hands, and narrowed his eyes.

Lois, standing between Father and Peter, waiting breathlessly for something to happen, saw Catherine go even whiter, if that was possible. Catherine grimaced and swallowed hard, but kept her hands against Vincent's skin, kept up her low, wordless crooning.

The stench reached Father, Peter, and Lois a moment later. It smelled like burning, rotted meat. Lois's stomach roiled; she didn't know how Catherine stood being so close to the source.

Vincent bucked suddenly, letting out a sharp cry that sounded more human than animal. Clark lifted his head for an instant and murmured something to Catherine, who nodded briefly and moved her hands down so that her palms were in full contact with the bare skin on Vincent's neck. Vincent quieted, and Clark turned his gaze back to the angry wound on Vincent's chest. When he looked up again, it was to release Vincent's arms and back away from the bed. The edges of the wound were charred and the whole chamber reeked with the stench of burnt flesh.

"There," he said quietly. "I think I got it all. I hope I did."

Father hurried forward to tend to his son; it was Peter who lavished Clark with effusive thanks.

He shook it off, shaking his head. "Don't. I don't know if what I did will make a difference. I don't know if it will save him..."

"But he has a chance now," Peter answered. "He has a chance."

*****

Catherine had never smelled anything quite so nauseous. She'd been close enough, too, to see the swollen, reddened flesh of Vincent's wound bubble and sear as Clark stared, to hear the hiss that reminded her of broiling meat. Only the knowledge that Vincent needed her to be close, to be touching him, kept her there.

It had hurt him, the cauterization. He'd stiffened immediately, trying to lift his arms against Clark's restraint, but he'd listened to her half-voiced pleas to be still, to let them help him. Only once had he given in to his desire to fight this new agony, arching helplessly against a man who was stronger than he.

"Touch him." Clark's voice, a frantic whisper. "His skin with your skin. So he knows you're there."

He knows I'm here, she thought, but nevertheless she did as Clark asked, sliding her hands from Vincent's wild, tangled mane to his neck, her fingers grazing the soft fur on his shoulders. He seemed to hear her then. He stilled, holding himself rigid as Clark continued his gruesome task.

Relief surged through her when Clark finally let go of Vincent's wrists and stepped away from the bed. Vincent relaxed slowly, letting his big body go limp.

Catherine let out a long sigh and lowered her head to the pillow beside Vincent's. He turned his face toward her; he always knew where to find her, even in the depths of illness. She stroked his cheek and wished she could just close her eyes and sleep right here.

It had been so long since she'd slept; exhaustion oozed from every pore in her body.

Father bent over the bed, examining Vincent's wound, checking his pulse, listening to him breathe.

Catherine blinked gritty eyes and swallowed a yawn. An hour's sleep... just an hour.

She must have dozed off; when she next became aware of her surroundings, her neck ached, and only Clark and Lois, standing close together on the far side of the room, were there.

"Where... where are Father and Peter?" she managed thickly.

"Peter's gone home," Clark answered, coming toward her. "He has surgery in the morning. Father's gone to get some sleep."

Catherine nodded. Father had spent nearly as much time at Vincent's side as she had, and he was older. "How long was I asleep?"

"About two hours." That was Lois. Her smile was tentative, as if unsure of her welcome.

Catherine rubbed at her face with her hands, then winced.

"Still sore, huh?" Clark asked, sympathetic.

"A little." She shrugged. "It'll heal."

"Maybe I could speed that up a little bit," Clark offered. "For Lois, too. I've been thinking about it."

"How?" Lois looked suspicious.

He touched the edge of his glasses. "I think a little heat vision might help. It couldn't hurt."

Lois, at least, was willing. "I guess not," she agreed. "Now?"

"Now's as good a time as any. If you want me to try."

In answer, Lois pushed her hair back and lifted her face. "Go ahead."

Clark pulled his glasses down and gazed intently at Lois's face for a few seconds. "There," he said, pushing the glasses back up. "How's that?"

"Warm," Lois answered, smiling. She touched her bruised cheek experimentally. "Better, I think."

"Good." He gave her a soft smile full of love and tenderness, and brushed his fingers along her jaw.

Lois smiled back and said, "Now Catherine."

Involuntarily Catherine drew back. Whatever he'd just used on Lois was the same thing he'd used on Vincent earlier, the same thing that had burned away the infection in Vincent's wound. Now he wanted to use it on her face?

"It's okay," Lois said. "He won't hurt you."

Had she been that obvious? Embarrassment overcame exhaustion. "I'm sorry, I just couldn't help..."

"Remembering," Clark finished for her. "I won't if you don't want me to, but I really think it will help with the bruising."

She'd seen her reflection in a mirror only that morning. Most of the swelling was gone, but the bruising, faded now from vivid pinks and purples to ugly greens and yellows, was still clearly visible. Anything that minimized it could only be good. And Clark, she reminded herself firmly, wouldn't do anything to hurt her. He'd already used the technique on Lois.

"All right," she said, and lifted her face.

Clark took his glasses off completely and laid them on Vincent's table, then turned to face her.

Catherine closed her eyes and waited.

Her first perception was simply one of warmth, like the sun. It did feel nice, but not particularly healing. Then, suddenly, the sensation changed, moving deeper somehow, soothing aches she didn't know were there. Too soon, the warmth faded. Catherine opened her eyes to find Clark putting his glasses back on.

"Better?" he asked.

As Lois had done, she touched her cheek. "Actually... yes. That's amazing."

"It should look a lot better by morning."

"Thanks." When she rubbed at her face this time, it didn't hurt.

"You look exhausted. Why don't you lie down and sleep?" He gestured toward the cot.

She shook her head. She hated the low, narrow cot. It was hard and uncomfortable and she had to stretch to touch Vincent without getting up. She'd rather nap in a chair. She flatly refused to leave the chamber. "I'm going to sit with him a while longer..."

"Okay. But come around here..." He moved her chair from the bed's head to its side, so she could not only stroke Vincent's face, but also hold his hand.

"Thanks."

Clark ran a hand through rumpled hair. He looked nearly as tired as she felt. "Listen, if you're going to be awake for a little bit..."

She owed this man Vincent's life. Whatever he wanted, whatever he demanded, she would do. Even if it killed her. "What?"

"I kind of need to get out for a while." He glanced at his wife, who looked no less puzzled than Catherine felt. "I think I could use a little sun."

From the look of it, that made sense to Lois, but Catherine was still perplexed. "Sun?" She glanced automatically at her watch. "But it's dark up there now... isn't it?" She'd been awake for so long... had she managed to confuse day and night? But no, it must be evening because Lois had arrived from work only a few hours ago.

Clark offered a small grin. "Don't worry, I can find sunlight when I need it. But I don't want to leave Vincent unless you're here."

Vincent didn't like Clark touching him, anyway. "Sure," she agreed. "I can stay awake."

"Just an hour or so..."

"Sure," she repeated. Anything. She'd do anything.

"Lois will sit with you, if you like..."

The look Lois flashed him might have been one of alarm, but Catherine was far too tired to take offense. "If she wants," she answered. "I'll be okay by myself."

"No, you need someone to sit with you," Clark said. "Lois will stay. Won't you?"

Lois looked rebellious, then glanced at Catherine and softened. "Sure," she said finally. "I'll stay."

"Thanks, honey." He kissed her so tenderly that Catherine felt like an intruder, watching.

She looked away, trying not to wish that once, just once, Vincent would kiss her that way. That Vincent would kiss her at all.

"Be careful." Lois looked more sad than truly worried, and Catherine found the energy to wonder just how powerful Clark was, anyway.

He touched her cheek with his hand. "I will," he said, making it sound like a promise. "I love you."

*****

Lois watched him go with just the tiniest twinge of panic. She wasn't good at sickrooms, she wasn't good at comforting. What should she say? What should she do?

Well, she'd have to do something. Resolute, she turned to face the sickbed.

Catherine was watching Vincent, stroking his arm with absent fingers.

"Can I get you anything?" Lois offered, feeling awkward.

Catherine shook her head. "I'm fine. Just thinking."

"Oh." Lois wondered what she should do now. "Thinking about anything in particular?"

Catherine seemed to feel Lois's gaze upon her. Without turning, she spoke. "About something Clark said. Vincent never would have said that to me." Her voice was very quiet, very tired.

"What?" Lois ran back over everything Clark had said to her, and fixed on the most recent. "That he loves you?"

Catherine's mouth twisted in a small, wry smile. "No, actually, he's said that. Finally. Bolstered with qualifications and circumstances, but he said it."

"What, then?" Curiosity drove away discomfort. Lois drew up a chair and sat, leaning forward.

Catherine looked at her. "Something he said yesterday morning. When you were... disagreeing about whether or not you were going to work."

"Oh. What did he say?" Lois tried to remember the conversation. "That I wasn't going, but he says that kind of thing all the time, and I never listen."

"No, not that. He looked at your face, and said you looked awful."

Lois grimaced and touched her face self-consciously. "He didn't mean it that way. He was just..."

"I know how he meant it." For a moment she looked wistful. "There was such concern in his voice when he said it. And such affection. But Vincent would never tell me I looked awful, even if I did." She managed a small grin. "Even though I do."

Lois answered with a smile of her own. "Neither of us would win any beauty contests this week, that's for sure," she agreed. "But I'm not sure what you're getting at."

Catherine sighed. "What you and Clark have between you - it's so easy, so comfortable. I love Vincent, more than I ever thought it was possible to love anybody, and I know he loves me, but we don't have that. He's always so worried about who he is, what he is, and I'm always afraid I'll say the wrong thing and he'll leave, or send me away."

"Send you away? Would he do that?"

Catherine looked to where her hand entwined with Vincent's large, alien one. "He would. He has."

Lois leaned her chin on a fist. "Really? Just because he's different?"

"Yeah. Just because he's different."

Lois pondered that. "I guess Clark's done that, too," she said finally. "He broke up with me once, before we were married. Because he said that his being involved with me was putting me in danger. Which was really stupid, since we work together, we're partners! How was his loving me going to put me in more danger than I was in already? But he can be really hardheaded sometimes."

"Vincent, too. He worries about me... and some of that's my fault, I guess. I've done some stupid things..."

"Most of the trouble I get into is my own fault," Lois admitted. "But if you tell Clark I said that, I'll deny it."

Catherine managed a tired smile. "I won't tell."

That topic exhausted, Lois kicked into reporter mode. "So, tell me about you and Vincent?"

The look Catherine flashed her was wary. "Tell you about...?"

"You know, how you met."

"I'm not sure I want to share that with a reporter..."

Lois rolled her eyes. "You know my husband's from another planet, and you're worried what I'll say about your boyfriend?"

Catherine stared. "Another planet?"

Oops. Hadn't they said that before? She was sure Clark had said something... or maybe not. Well, the cat was out of the bag now. "Another planet," she repeated firmly. "It was called Krypton. It exploded when Clark was a baby, but his parents sent him to Earth, so he didn't die when they did."

"Another planet," Catherine said again. She looked stunned, or maybe that was just the exhaustion.

"I said that." Lois tried not to sound irritated, but she was tired, too. "You don't think ordinary humans can do what Clark does, do you?"

Catherine's smile was faint but genuine. "No," she admitted. "I never thought that."

"Well. We think it's because Krypton had a red sun. He has a dense molecular structure, and somehow he draws energy from the Earth's yellow sun, and nobody knows why he can do the rest of the things he does."

"The sun? That's why he wanted to go up and find sunlight. He was tired."

"Yeah. Pretty drained, I guess, from the stuff he'd been doing down here, and not seeing the sun at all for a couple of days. I don't think he's ever gone this long without seeing the sun."

"Oh. And you're sure he can find some."

"He'll just fly west until he finds it," Lois answered. "He's probably in California by now..."

"So fast?"

Lois couldn't resist a grin. "He was probably in California ten minutes ago," she answered. She glanced at her watch. "It's later than I thought, maybe he's in Hawaii..." She blamed the twitch of nostalgia on exhaustion. "We were supposed to spend our honeymoon in Hawaii..."

"Why didn't you?"

"Oh, well..." To her amazement and horror, Lois felt herself blushing. "I guess we got sort of... distracted. It was our honeymoon, after all. Don't you and Vincent get caught up in each other like that?"

It was Catherine's turn to blush. "He doesn't... that is, we don't..."

It took Lois a moment to figure out what it was that Catherine and Vincent didn't do; then she blushed even more. "Oh. Well, Clark and I waited. Until after we were married. It was hard, but I'm glad we did."

Catherine looked away. "This is different."

Lois frowned. "Different?"

She nodded slowly. "Because there isn't going to be a wedding for us. He isn't ever going to ask me..."

Lois had never felt quite so bewildered in all her life. From everything she'd heard and seen, if any two people loved each other, Vincent and Catherine did. "Why not?"

Catherine shrugged, making light, but Lois could see the deep, unrelenting hurt. "Because of who he is. What he is."

"He's different. So what?"

"He's afraid."

Lois thought of those deadly claws, those long, sharp teeth. "Oh." And then she thought about Clark, bending iron bars and lifting cars. "Just because he can hurt you doesn't mean he will."

"I know that. I know." Defiance was in Catherine's voice, and Lois remembered how, even when Vincent was in the depths of rage, Catherine hadn't feared him. She'd gone to him, touched him, and brought him back.

"I'm so tired..." Catherine's voice was so low, Lois wasn't sure at first she'd heard it. "When do you think Clark might be back?" That was stronger, but weariness still showed.

"I don't know, but you don't really have to wait for him, do you? Vincent can't tell if you're asleep or awake, just that you're close or not close. Right?"

"Yes. Well, I think so. All the times I've been asleep, I've been away from him, too, so it's hard to tell."

"No, you haven't," Lois disagreed. "Clark and I watched you sleep for two hours with your head on the pillow there and Vincent never moved."

"I can't sleep that way for long. I get so stiff..."

"Vincent's bed isn't that narrow. If I were you," Lois said decisively, "I'd just crawl up there beside him and go to sleep. The IV line's on the other side, so you wouldn't have to worry about tangling with it."

Catherine's glance at the spot Lois had indicated was longing, but she shook her head. "I couldn't. Father would have a fit."

"Let him."

"What?"

"Let him have a fit. I don't know what he's thinking, anyway. You're exhausted. It's been four and a half days and you haven't slept in a bed at all, have you? Plus you took the same kind of beating I did. Peter made a point of telling me I needed to get extra rest because of it and you haven't had any rest at all. Whatever Father's afraid of, it isn't going to happen any time soon, what with you so tired and Vincent sick, and..." She shut up abruptly. "Sorry. I get carried away sometimes..."

Catherine was smiling. "It's okay." She took a deep breath. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I should lie down here and sleep a little bit."

"Not a little bit. The whole night." Lois got up and crossed to the bed. "Maybe we can move him over." She put her hand out to try pushing, then thought better of it. "He won't mind if I touch him, will he?"

"I don't know," Catherine answered. "Try and see."

"What if he...?" She left the thought unvoiced, but Catherine understood.

"He won't. I'm right here. He'll be all right."

Lois put a tentative hand on Vincent's shoulder. He shifted a little at her touch, but didn't seem to mind. His body, through the thin nightshirt, was big and muscular... bigger and more muscular than Clark's, even. She tried not to think about that. "Here, you push and I'll push and we'll see if we can scoot him over."

They moved him a little bit, but Vincent really was solid, and dead weight besides, and they couldn't get much leverage.

"I wish Clark would come back," Lois muttered, panting. "He could move him with one hand."

"Vincent doesn't like Clark touching him," Catherine answered. "I guess because he held him down. Or maybe just because he doesn't know him. He doesn't seem to mind you, though. Let's give it another try."

They shoved again, and succeeded in moving Vincent another couple of inches.

"I don't know." Lois was skeptical. "It's not much room."

"As tired as I am, I'm not going to be doing any tossing and turning," Catherine answered. "There's enough space."

"Lie down, then," Lois said, "and I'll cover you up."

"Tuck me in?" There was a hint of laughter in Catherine's voice as she stretched out on the bed beside Vincent.

Lois wrestled a pillow out from under Vincent's shoulders and positioned it to support Catherine's head, then took a quilt from the foot of the bed and spread it over her.

"Thank you, Lois." Catherine's eyes were closed, her voice barely discernable. "Good night."

"Good night."

Catherine was asleep in seconds. Lois stood by the bed a moment, wondering what she should do. She couldn't just leave - Clark would be disappointed if he came back and she wasn't here. Anyway, she wanted to see him again before she went to bed and he'd be back soon. But if she stayed, what would she do? Watching Vincent and Catherine sleep wasn't exactly exciting, and anyway it felt intrusive.

Before she could turn away, Catherine sighed and shifted, settling against Vincent's side; reflexively his arm came around her, holding her close.

They're like us, Lois thought. Like Clark and me. In the way they love each other, in the way they take care of each other.

Abruptly she turned away, unwilling to intrude on their privacy any longer. She selected a book from the many in the chamber, turned her chair firmly away from the bed and sat down to read.

The book she'd chosen was Jane Eyre. She'd read it in college, for one of her classes, but she seldom had time to read for pleasure these days. She moved the candelabra closer, opened the book, and soon was engrossed in the story.

She didn't hear Father until he cleared his throat. She jumped.

"I'm sorry, my dear," he apologized. "You didn't seem to hear me." He looked around the chamber. "They haven't left you here alone, have they?"

"No, Catherine's here." Lois set the book aside and stood up.

Father's glance went to the cot, then darted to the bed. "Has she lost her mind...?" He stepped forward, as if to wake her.

"No," Lois said quickly, and caught at his arm. "Don't."

"You don't understand, it isn't safe..." He tried to shake off her restraining arm.

Lois held on. "Of course it's safe," she answered. "You trust Vincent not to hurt her when she's awake, why do you think he'd hurt her when she's sleeping? And he's too sick for you to be worried about anything else."

He spun around, glaring at her.

Lois glared back, and finally he deflated. "I suppose you're right. It just shocked me, seeing them like that..."

Like what? Lois looked to see that while she was reading, Vincent, still on his back, had shifted himself, giving Catherine more room on the single bed. For her part, Catherine had rolled onto her side, facing him; one arm was draped across Vincent's waist, and her forehead was pressed against his shoulder. The quilt that covered her had shifted, and Lois moved to straighten it.

"They look fine," she whispered, coming back to where Father stood. "Catherine was exhausted, and she wouldn't leave him. I don't blame her," she added, with a touch of defiance. "If that were Clark, I wouldn't leave, either. She needs to sleep," she added, belatedly trying to make her voice conciliatory.

Father sighed. "Yes, I can see that," he answered. "But how can I examine him with her..."

"Reach over her," Lois said firmly. "I'll bet ten dollars she doesn't wake up."

She'd have won the bet, if Father had taken it. When he finished his cursory examination, Father sighed again. "He's holding on," he said. "Perhaps the treatment was effective after all..."

"When will we know?"

"He heals fast. Faster than anyone I've ever seen."

He'd obviously never seen Clark heal. But then, without any green Kryptonite around, Clark wouldn't be getting himself wounded any time soon. "So..." she prompted, when Father seemed to stall.

"So we should know something tomorrow. He'll either be appreciably better, or..." He didn't finish his sentence. "I suppose your husband will be back soon?"

Lois nodded. "Any time now. He just went out for a little while."

"It must be difficult for him, cooped up in this sick-chamber as he has been..."

"I don't think it's that. Clark likes helping people. He just needed... well, he just needed to go up top for a little while."

Father's keen look said he suspected there was more to Clark's excursion than simply a need for fresh air, but he didn't press the issue. "It's very late," he said instead. "I can sit with him - with them - if you'd like to return to your own chamber."

Her own chamber, where she'd spent the past two nights in solitary splendor. Not likely. "Thanks, but Clark will come here when he comes back. I'll wait for him, if that's all right."

Father rubbed at his eyes with a tired hand. "Of course," he agreed. "I'll be in my chamber, just down this passage if you need me."

"There's a sentry right outside who can call for help faster than I can," she pointed out. "It'll give him something to do besides keep out visitors."

"So it will," Father agreed. "I'd forgotten he was there. You'll be all right by yourself, then?"

"Fine," Lois answered.

He stumped out, making enough noise with his walking stick that she wondered how she'd missed hearing him come in. Must have been the book.

Clark came back not five minutes later. "Hey," he said softly.

"Hey," she answered. "Find the sun?"

"Yeah. Somewhere over the Pacific." He grinned.

"You look better. I didn't know being out of the sun would drain you that fast."

"I didn't, either. I guess this is the longest I've been without seeing the sun at all. Plus I've been using a lot of my powers. X-raying, and cauterizing Vincent's wound and stuff."

"Stopping a flood and clearing a cave-in and shoring up the roof," she added, and smiled at his look of surprise. "Not to mention the rescuing of small children. I heard."

"News travels fast around here," he said.

"Yeah," she agreed. "I'm glad you're back. I was getting lonely."

"Lonely?" His gaze finally strayed from her face. "Where's Catherine?"

"There." Lois pointed.

Clark's eyebrows went up. "Father's going to have a fit," he predicted.

"That's what she said. And he kind of did."

"He's been here?"

"Right before you came. But I talked to him..."

His grin said he could guess how she'd talked.

"... and he finally went away again. He said to call him if I needed him, but neither one of them has moved. Catherine's so tired..."

"She'll probably sleep into tomorrow," Clark agreed. "Wish she'd thought of crawling in bed with Vincent sooner, but I suppose she was afraid of what Father would say."

"She didn't think of it this time, either," Lois announced. "I did. It was just plain silly for her to sit there, too tired to think, when the bed's big enough for both of them." She glanced at it. "Barely."

She adopted her best coquettish expression. "So since Catherine's here and Vincent's sleeping, can you come sleep with me tonight? We have that nice, big bed..." She couldn't have made the hint any broader, but regretfully he shook his head.

 

"I can't, honey. You know I'd like to. But I promised Father I'd stay with Vincent until he was better."

"You could be here in less than a second," she cajoled.

"If I knew there wasn't going to be anybody standing or walking in the passages, or the entry," he agreed. "But the tunnels are narrow, the turns tight. I wouldn't dare fly anywhere near my fastest in such close confines, when people are around. If I ran into somebody..."

"Oh." She hadn't thought of that. "Yeah. It'd be messy."

"Right."

"Then I'll stay with you."

"No, you won't, you need your sleep."

"I can sleep just fine right here," she insisted. "There's the cot..."

"And where will I sleep?" he inquired. "The cot's not big enough for two."

"You can float beside me," she decided. "Right close beside me. It'll be almost as good as the bed."

"No, it won't," he answered. "There's a sentry right outside that door, and Father or Mary or one of the others could come in at any time. Nothing's going to happen."

"Well, I know that. What do you think I am, an exhibitionist? All we'd need is for Catherine to wake up in the middle..." She reached up and caught hold of a fold of his long, soft tunic, and pulled him toward her. "But we can neck a little bit."

He smiled. "Good idea."

*****

Vincent opened his eyes slowly, to muffled pain and soft candlelight, and a feeling of peace so deep he didn't want to move for fear of dispelling it. He blinked quietly and things slowly came into focus.

He was lying on his back, in his own bed, in his own chamber. The last thing he remembered...

His breath caught in his throat and he tried to heave upward. "Catherine," he murmured.

"Shh." Strong hands pressed him back down. "She's right here."

The face that hovered over him was only vaguely familiar - dark hair and kind eyes partially masked by wire-rim glasses that glinted in the candlelight. He struggled for a name. "Clark?" he managed, finally.

"Yeah. I've been sitting with you while you were sick." He grinned. "Father thinks it's safer with me here, but I'm thinking that as long as she's with you..." He nodded toward something at Vincent's side.

Vincent craned his neck to look.

Catherine, soft and warm and deeply asleep, curled against his side.

"Let's not wake her up," Clark suggested, keeping his voice low. "She's been sitting with you for days now..."

Vincent stirred, trying to edge away, but the movement made the muffled pain flare sharply. He gasped and sank back down. "She should not... it isn't safe... I might..."

As little sense as he was making, Clark seemed to follow it. "You already did," he said, shaking his head. "Your wound is infected and your fever went so high you became delirious."

Vincent closed his eyes and rolled his head away.

"Nobody got hurt," Clark said, as if he knew what Vincent was thinking. "I got here quick and held you..."

Vincent rolled his head back to stare; Clark, by himself, had restrained him?

"...but that was all I could do, keep you from hurting somebody, or hurting yourself. I couldn't calm you down. Then Catherine came back, came running in... and as soon as she touched you, you quieted. I think you missed her, knew she was gone, and maybe flashed back to right before you got hurt, when she was in danger. I think you wanted to go to her, and it enraged you that you couldn't."

He mustered words with effort. "I could... have killed..."

"You didn't," Clark said flatly. "When I got here, there were a half-dozen other people in the room, and you hadn't hurt any of them. You were just roaring and flailing and trying to get up. You were just trying to help Catherine, that's all."

"Catherine." He thought back to the danger she'd been in, the fear she'd felt, and found the strength to speak again. "...all right?" Muddled memory gave him a blurry image of the scene when he'd burst in to rescue her. "And... another woman..."

"My wife," Clark told him, and nodded toward the far side of the chamber.

Vincent looked, and saw a dark-haired woman sleeping on a narrow cot set up against the bookshelves.

"They're both going to be okay," Clark assured him. "They were seriously beaten, but there's no lasting damage."

Vincent went inside himself, to the link he shared with Catherine, examining it closely. There was sadness and exhaustion, but no thread of physical pain. "Yes," he agreed, aloud. Just staying awake was tiring; talking, even in abbreviated sentences, was wearing him out. But he had to know if Catherine was all right. "She grieves..."

Clark looked surprised. "You can tell that?"

He nodded. "...connected... I know... always."

"What she's feeling? Father said something about that, but I thought I must have misunderstood."

Vincent managed a small shake of his head. "No..."

"That's how you knew she was in danger," Clark said suddenly. "That's how you found her?"

Vincent nodded, grateful that Clark seemed to be making these leaps by himself, that he didn't have to find the words to explain.

"You can feel where she is." There was wonder in his voice, and awe.

"Grieving now..." Vincent reminded him. "Sad..."

Understanding shone in Clark's eyes. "That's for you," he explained. "She's grieving for you. Because until a few hours ago, we all thought you were going to die."

*****

Vincent slipped back into sleep. A healing sleep, Clark hoped. But he supposed he should call for Father, just in case. He cast a regretful look at the cot where Lois lay giving every appearance of enjoying a good night's sleep. Clark wasn't sure how she managed that - he'd lain on the cot himself, and found it narrow, hard, and lumpy. But then, Lois was half his size and scarcely more than half his weight. Maybe that made a difference. He didn't know. In any case, he wasn't likely to be joining her any time soon.

He was right. Father came at once when Clark sent the sentry after him; he was still pulling his robe on when he entered the chamber. He crossed directly to Vincent's bed and bent over him in a swift examination that ended with him grasping Vincent's hand and calling his name.

There was no response, not even the flickering of an eyelid.

Father spun sharply. "Marc says you told him Vincent was awake?"

"He was," Clark answered, and wondered why he felt defensive. "For just a couple of minutes."

"Did he say anything? Did he seem lucid?"

"Very lucid. He asked about Catherine, mostly. Almost entirely," he amended, remembering. "Talking seemed to tire him out, but he wouldn't relax until he knew she was okay."

Father grunted. "I'm surprised he couldn't tell without asking."

"I guess she's still pretty upset," Clark offered. "Vincent seemed to think she was... grieving." It was a strong word, but it was the one Vincent had used.

"Grieving. Well, of course. None of us knew if he'd get better or not, even after you... treated him. She must have gone to sleep thinking about him, worrying about him."

"Probably," Clark agreed.

"I should have thought of that," Father chided himself. "Well, I can do something about it now."

He bent over the bed. While Clark was still wondering if he should interfere, Father laid a hand on Catherine's arm and shook it gently, calling her name.

She came awake with a start and a gasp.

"Catherine, my dear," Father said. "I'm sorry to wake you."

"Vincent? Is it Vincent?" Panic was in her voice. "Is he..."

"He's better." Father said it quickly, overriding whatever she'd been about to say.

She stared at him, uncomprehending.

"He was awake for a little while," Clark told her, crouching at Father's side. "He talked to me."

That brought her bolt upright. "He did?" She looked over her shoulder. Vincent hadn't moved. "What did he say?"

"That he was worried about you."

"Oh." She rubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands. "I was dreaming... a nightmare, almost, except it wasn't scary, only sad..."

"I thought you might be," Father said kindly. "I wouldn't have awakened you otherwise."

"And he's better." She looked from one of them to the other, her eyes beseeching. "He's really better."

"I'm not the doctor here," Clark said softly, "but he really seemed better to me."

"I am the doctor," Father added, "and he seems better to me, too."

"He's better," she said again. "Oh, thank you." This last was directed to no one in particular; Clark thought it might have been a prayer. "I guess I should get up." She sounded sheepish, even embarrassed.

"Don't you dare."

Clark spun. Lois stood behind him, sleepy-eyed but with all the signs of being ready to do battle.

"You've only been sleeping..." she paused and leaned over Clark, picking up his wrist to look at his watch, "...a little over four hours. It can't possibly be enough. So you just put your head right back down on that pillow."

"I recommend you do what she says," Clark said mildly. "You don't want to see her get mad."

Lois smacked his shoulder, as he'd expected she would.

"See?" he asked.

He wasn't sure, but he thought he heard Father suppress a chuckle.

The look Catherine gave Father was wary, but when he didn't protest, she gingerly lowered her head. After an interminable moment, Father pulled the quilt a little higher over her shoulder. "You go back to sleep," he told her. "We'll keep watch over Vincent."

*****

Catherine woke slowly, consciousness creeping in like morning mist. She was warm and safe, and for the first time in days, completely rested. She blinked in the hazy candlelight, and then caught her breath, remembering where she was.

She lifted her head to find Vincent wide awake... and watching her, his expression solemn.

"Hi," she whispered.

"Good afternoon," he answered.

Stricken, she rubbed at her face with both hands. "Oh, no, is it that late?"

"I'm afraid so."

She looked at him. "You're better."

"Yes."

"Really better."

"Yes. Father's been in half-a-dozen times to examine me today, and he concurs."

"I slept through Father examining you?" Self-consciously she eased away from him, just a little. "I must have been more tired than I thought."

"You've been sitting with me for a long time," Vincent answered. "Father says you scarcely slept."

"You were so sick, Vincent." She shuddered, remembering. "So sick, and I was so scared."

"I'm fine now."

"Not fine, but certainly on the road to recovery." That was Father, who entered briskly. "Catherine, you're looking refreshed."

"I feel refreshed, Father, thank you." She sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed, trying not to feel guilty. After all, Vincent said Father had been in and out all morning, and besides, she had a dim memory - or maybe it was a dream - of Father actually tucking her in.

But now he was all business, opening his black doctor's bag and pulling out instruments.

"Well," she said, embarrassed. "While you do that, I think I'll go freshen up."

"Good idea," Father murmured absently. "Vincent, would you open your nightshirt for me, please?"

Catherine fled.

There was time enough, while Father examined Vincent, to not only make use of nearby sanitary facilities, but also to stop by the guest chamber assigned for her use and wash her face and brush her hair. That done, she examined her reflection critically. Clark's heat treatment the night before seemed to have done some good; the bruises were visibly lighter. In a couple of days they'd be gone. Her split lip was nearly healed, too. The dark circles had been erased by sleep, and the tight lines around her mouth had been eased with relief. All in all, she'd looked worse in her life - and she knew Vincent's love wasn't dependent on how she looked, anyway.

So why, when she was lying beside him, did he hold himself so tensely? Why did he shrink away, almost imperceptibly, when she laid her hand on his arm?

She shook her head. She knew why. He was afraid. Once, she'd accepted his fears, and the limits he set. Now, envy of Lois Lane, whose husband's differences were on the inside, who'd been able to marry the man she loved, rose up hot and ugly. She fought it back as she fought the tears prickling her eyes. Envy didn't do anybody any good, least of all her.

If she stood here feeling sorry for herself much longer, Vincent would try to come to her, so she took a deep breath and forced composure. The simple truth was, she loved Vincent with all her heart, all her soul. And if loving him meant accepting limits, then she'd accept them. No matter what.

*****

Clark stayed near for the rest of the day, just in case, but Vincent grew better rapidly. That night, he was able to sleep in his own chamber, which made Lois happy. Catherine spent a lonely night in her own chamber.

The next morning, the second following Clark's radical treatment of his infection and cauterization of his wound, Vincent was able to sit up.

Catherine spent the morning with him, reading aloud just as he'd once read to her when she was recovering from injury, and watching over him when he napped. After lunch, Father came again to examine Vincent, and Catherine tactfully retreated to her own chamber for a few minutes.

She allowed enough time for Father to finish his examination, then made her way back to Vincent's chamber. She had just reached the entrance when she heard voices from within. She paused, uncertain. She didn't want to interrupt Father or embarrass Vincent if the examination wasn't over.

"Catherine?" Clark's voice, soft and questioning, preceded his appearance in the doorway. He smiled at sight of her. "Hi."

"Hi," she answered, and moved past him, pausing in the doorway.

Lois was here, too, standing stiff and awkward at Vincent's bedside.

Vincent was propped up on pillows, just as she'd left him. The look he gave her was puzzled. "You didn't come in," he said, and she understood that was how Clark had known she was there. Unless, she thought suddenly, he'd divined her presence through one of his mysterious powers. The idea made her shiver inside.

"I heard the voices," she explained, feeling suddenly as awkward as Lois looked. "I didn't want to intrude..."

"We just stopped by to see how Vincent's doing," Clark explained, looking perfectly normal, perfectly human.

Once more she fought down unreasoning resentment. Clark couldn't help who he was, any more than Vincent could. And besides, she liked Clark, who was kind and gentle and, she'd noticed, very nice-looking. "Thank you. I think he's much better now."

"We can see that," Lois said. She looked to Clark. "We should probably be going..." she began.

"Please don't," Vincent said. "You've only just come."

Lois seemed reluctant, but Clark smiled. "Sure. We can stay for a little while, as long as we don't tire you out."

Catherine gave Vincent an appraising look and decided he was probably as strong as he looked, which meant he was good for an hour or so. She stepped easily into the role of hostess. "Sit down," she invited. "I'll get us some tea."

"Geoffrey's already gone for it," Vincent told her. "He tells me there are freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies, too. He's going to try to filch some."

The note of conspiracy in his voice made him sound like a little boy; it was such a contrast to the way he'd been only two days ago that she almost laughed. "And you're encouraging him?"

"Let's say I'm not discouraging him," Vincent answered. The tips of his teeth showed in a small smile. "I think William would be disappointed if he baked and no one tried to make off with the results."

"It's like a game," Lois suggested.

"Yes," Vincent agreed. "Why else would William leave baked goods out on the kitchen tables when he has a perfectly good cupboard that locks?"

They all smiled; just about that time, Geoffrey called out from the corridor.

"Come in!" Vincent called back, his voice surprisingly strong for someone who'd been at death's threshold not forty-eight hours earlier. He really was better.

Geoffrey and two other children carried in laden trays and set them carefully on Vincent's writing table. "This is regular Earl Grey," Geoffrey explained, pointing to a flowered teapot with a mismatched lid. He indicated the other steaming pot, its surface crazed by tiny cracks in the glaze. "And this is an herb tea. Father says Vincent should only drink this one, but everyone else can drink what they want."

"I brought cookies," Samantha announced. "We didn't have to steal them, either, William said we could bring them. He sent some carrot cake, too."

"I got to bring the cups and plates!" young Jeremy announced, his face aglow.

"You did well," Vincent approved, while the others hid smiles behind their hands. "Would you like some cookies before you go?"

Geoffrey could take a hint. "Come on, you guys," he said, taking charge. "Get your cookies and let's leave the grownups alone."

"Yeah," Samantha chimed. "Come on."

Each of the children took a handful of cookies before running out. When they were gone, Catherine spent a few minutes serving tea and offering cake and cookies, while Clark moved chairs to include Vincent in the circle.

When everyone was served, Catherine settled into the chair nearest Vincent with a cup of Earl Grey and groped for small talk. Relieved of worrying over Vincent and with two good nights' - and the better part of the intervening day - sleep behind her, she could spare the energy now to be curious. "So, Clark," she began. "If you have all these powers, how come no one seems to have heard of you? Or your abilities?"

Clark and Lois exchanged glances.

"Well," Lois said, too brightly, "It's not exactly the kind of thing we'd want to make public, is it?"

"People who are different are a curiosity," Clark added. He looked at Vincent. "You know that."

Vincent nodded. "Someone would demand answers, and the only way to get them would be from you."

"Yeah. I wouldn't especially like that." Clark's grin was crooked, and quite endearing. "My dad used to tell me that if people found out about me, they'd dissect me like a frog."

Vincent chuckled. "My father tells me much the same thing. Repeatedly."

"Guess fathers are all alike, huh?" Clark's grin widened.

"Is your father... like you?" Catherine asked. "Different, like you?"

Clark shook his head. "No, I'm adopted. Like Vincent is. My folks are completely normal. Completely human. I grew up in Kansas. Which," he added, "is a lot like the Kansas you have here."

"What kind of statement is that?" Catherine remembered something from the haze of time when Vincent was so sick, and she so very tired. She turned on Lois. "Wait a minute, you said something like that, didn't you? Except you were asking about Pulitzer Prizes."

Lois actually looked flustered. "Oops."

"Oops?" Catherine repeated.

Vincent spoke. "Is there something... about your past... that you might wish to share with us? We don't mean to pry, but..."

Clark lifted a hand. "No, that's okay, we don't mind if you know. We're just not sure anybody's going to believe us."

"Hey, we believe you fly," Catherine told him, to lighten the moment.

Clark obliged with a grin. "Okay. Then let's talk about parallel universes."

"Parallel... what?" That was Vincent; she'd seldom heard him sound so bewildered.

"Parallel universes. The real reason you haven't heard of me and the things I can do is because we aren't from here. Not just from New York, but from your whole world. We're from a parallel Earth, from a city called Metropolis. And we're from nine years in the future."

Only great dint of will kept Catherine's jaw from dropping. "What?"

"He's telling the truth," Lois said, with a trace of belligerence. "We're reporters, we know how it sounds... but it's true. About five weeks ago, we were walking down the street outside our newspaper in broad daylight... and the next thing we knew, we were on a New York City street at night, with no idea how we got here. And instead of being 1998, it was 1989. We've been here ever since."

It was incredible, yes, but after all, was it really any more astonishing than a man who could catch bullets with his bare hands? "Can't you get back?" Catherine asked.

Lois looked down; Clark reached across the small space separating them and took her hand. "Not so far," he answered. "We're still not completely sure how we got here."

"Oh."

"Would it be so terrible," Vincent asked softly, "if you had to stay?"

"Not terrible, I guess," Clark answered slowly. "But this isn't our home. We have our families, our friends."

"Our jobs, our house," Lois added. "And I really, really miss my car!"

That evoked a laugh, as Lois had clearly intended it to.

"And," she added, "I'm kinda starting to miss Superman."

"Superman?" Vincent raised his eyebrows in a question.

She grinned. "Yeah. Big guy, nice pecs, blue tights."

Clark rolled his eyes. "Lois..."

"Oh, and did I mention he flies?"

Vincent's puzzled expression turned to one of amusement. "Blue tights?" he asked, managing to sound skeptical.

"Hey, my mother made the costume," Clark answered, smiling. "And she says it..."

He broke off abruptly; his face went still and distant.

Vincent's expression was similarly intent. A moment later he threw back the covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed.

Catherine caught hold of his arm. "Where are you going?"

"Intruder," he answered, and tried to shake her off. "I must..."

"Vincent, no! You're still weak..."

"I'll go," Clark interrupted. "A man... following a woman?" He gave Vincent a questioning glance.

"You understand our pipe codes?" Vincent asked him.

"I'm sort of good with languages." Clark looked almost embarrassed at the admission. "But there are some parts I didn't quite understand."

"Ginny Stevens. There's a man following Ginny Stevens."

"So she's here," Lois said. "We should have guessed."

"I knew," Clark told her. "She was there, in Father's study, when Vincent was in surgery. You've never seen her, so you wouldn't have recognized her."

"The lady with the baby and the black eye," Lois guessed. "I remember her, sort of."

"Right. And the man who's following her now is probably her husband," Catherine said.

"Possibly," Vincent answered.

She looked at Clark. "He's a police officer - he may be armed."

Clark grinned. "Don't worry. Bullets don't have any more effect on me than Vincent's teeth did, remember?" He vanished in a puff of wind that left the candle flames fluttering.

Behind him, Vincent said, "My teeth...?"

*****

Clark streaked through the tunnels as fast as he dared, using every aerobatic trick at his disposal to make the tight turns. This part of the tunnels was unfamiliar to him, so he followed the insistent sound of the intruder alert that vibrated through the pipes. Long before he reached the upper level, he could hear a woman crying and pleading. Fury leaped in him and he increased his speed. A low cornice shattered into pebbles and dust when his shoulder brushed it at high speed, but he didn't slow down. An instant later he was there. He dropped to the ground and ran.

Ginny Stevens, her baby clutched in one arm, tugged futilely to free the other. Her husband held it in a hard grip. "What do you mean, trying to run from me?" he growled.

"Gary, no, please!" she begged. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry! Please, Gary, the baby!"

"You don't run away from me!" he thundered, and pulled his hand back.

Clark leaped forward. "Hey!"

Stevens dropped his hand and turned, still holding his wife's arm. "This is none of your business, pal," he snapped. "So just keep moving."

"I don't think so," Clark answered, planting his feet and crossing his arms. "This stops now."

Stevens was obviously spoiling for a fight. "Yeah? And who's going to stop me?"

"Please, mister! It'll be okay. Just go away, and it'll be okay." There was real fear in Ginny Stevens' voice as she pleaded with him not to make things worse.

Clark remembered Lois's battered face and struggled for control. No man should hit a woman. Ever. "Let her go," he commanded.

"This is a family thing, so you just go on to wherever you were going," Stevens retorted.

"No," Clark answered. "Let her go."

"Okay." Stevens shoved Ginny away; she cried out as she stumbled against the rock wall, twisting to protect the baby. "Come on," Stevens challenged. "Let's see what you've got."

Clark could take Stevens out with the flick of a finger, but he had to make it look hard, and he didn't want to misjudge and really hurt the man. Easy, easy, easy, his mind chanted. He swung his arm in a lazy arc, tapping Stevens on the chin with his fist. Stevens dropped like a stone, out cold.

Rapid footsteps echoed down the tunnel and a moment later Zach, breathless from running, reached them. "Oh, good, you got him," he said to Clark. He turned to Ginny. "Come on, let's get you where it's safe."

Ginny held back, looking at her unconscious husband. "Gary..."

"Clark will take care of him," Zach said. "Won't you?"

Clark didn't have any good ideas about how to do that; at home, he'd just drop the fellow off at the police station. Superman's word was all the police needed to effect an arrest. Here, things were different. Nobody knew who Superman was, and the man at his feet was a police officer himself. He nodded anyway. "Yeah. I'll take care of him."

"You won't hurt him, will you?" Ginny Stevens' voice was pleading.

I'd like to, he thought. I'd like to show him how it feels to be at the mercy of someone stronger. I'd like to make him that afraid.

But doing so would go against everything he believed in. "No," he said, sighing. "I won't hurt him."

"You promise?"

Amazing that the woman could trust in promises after all she'd been through. "Yes," Clark said gently. "I promise."

"Come on," Zach urged. "I'll take the baby..."

Clark waited until they were out of sight before bending to scoop Stevens, still unconscious, into his arms.

*****

The pipes had been repeating one insistent message; Lois picked up on the repetition after about the first three rounds. But suddenly the familiar pattern changed. Vincent cocked his head, listening.

"It's over," he said. "Clark stopped him, Ginny and the baby are safe." He gave Catherine a quizzical look. "What was she doing topside?"

"I don't know. I haven't talked to her since she came down..." Catherine sounded regretful, which made Lois wonder; after all, Catherine had scarcely had time to breathe in the past few days. When did she think she should have been seeing Ginny Stevens?

Catherine stood up. "I should go make sure she's all right." She sounded regretful about that, too, which Lois could understand. Leaving the man you loved to attend to duty was always cause for regret.

Alarm blossomed in her as she realized that if Catherine left, she'd more or less have to stay; it would be rude to just walk out and leave Vincent alone. Not that she had trouble being rude when circumstances - like a breaking story - warranted, but this was different. This would be rudeness to cover discomfort and she was trying really hard not to do that any more.

"Come back," Vincent said to Catherine, "after you've seen to Ginny."

She nodded. "I will." She threw a quick glance Lois's way and then bent to give Vincent a brief, chaste hug. Lois wondered if it would have been more, maybe even a kiss, if she hadn't been here watching.

Catherine hurried out, leaving Lois feeling awkward. Stupid to feel this way about Vincent, who had so recently hovered near death. Who was still so weak he needed to be helped out of bed.

"You're upset," he observed quietly.

She stiffened with surprise and embarrassment. "No, I'm not."

"Is it Clark?" He went on as if he hadn't heard her denial. "All the messages say the intruder has been subdued. Is there something there that might harm him? I know he's impervious to bullets... and teeth..."

She was surprised to hear him bring up the teeth... Catherine had a hard time explaining Clark's last remark to him, and even after she did Lois wasn't sure Vincent was comfortable with it. She knew she wasn't. If Clark wasn't invulnerable, he'd have died right there in a gush of blood.

"I'm not upset," she insisted, as if saying it could make it so.

"You are," he answered softly. "I can feel it. If it isn't worry for Clark..."

"I thought you could only do that with Catherine," she broke in, alarmed.

"I can only do it all the time and at a distance with Catherine. But I am sensitive to strong feelings in people nearby... and I feel you now. Are you... afraid of me?"

Shame made her rush to deny it. "No! Of course not..." The remembered image of him bursting into the warehouse, roaring defiance and scattering bricks, tossing a grown man aside with a casual backhand blow, rose up in her mind's eye; involuntarily she shivered.

"You are. You're afraid of me." He looked away. "You've seen me... at my worst." He worded it delicately, but she suspected his thoughts were darker, more explicit. "I'm sorry."

"No, I'm the one who's sorry. I'm not afraid, exactly... it's more like nervous, and I'm ashamed of how I feel, because I know that most of the time, you're kind and gentle and good. Like Clark."

"But Clark doesn't lose himself in rages so dark he cannot control them." Bitterness edged his voice. "Clark doesn't try to tear out the throats of men who are only trying to help."

She swallowed hard. "No, he... his parents made him learn to keep his temper. Because he could do so much damage if he ever lost it."

"Yes," Vincent agreed. "I know. Even though he is stronger than I, you've never been afraid of Clark."

She blinked, remembering. "Actually, I have been. Sort of..."

"Sort of?" he repeated. His look was questioning.

She sighed. "Things happen in our universe that don't seem to happen in yours. Like time travel, and parallel universes, and alternate dimensions."

"Like men who can fly," he offered.

"Yes. And once... there was a small-time crook who needed to get close to a big-time crook... only the big-time crook had a contract out on him. So the small-time crook had to change his appearance. He did this... by switching bodies."

"Excuse me?"

"Switching bodies. He took possession of another body, and the person, the soul, of that body ended up in his."

"All right." Vincent sounded cautiously accepting, so she plunged on.

"The body the small-time crook switched with... was Clark's."

He looked distinctly startled at that. "So for a time, Clark was completely human? Or did his abilities transfer with him?"

"No, it's the body that has the superpowers. And anyway, Clark has been without powers before, that's not the point. The point is, here was this small-time crook inside of, in control of, Superman's body. And he got angry because I wouldn't tell him where to find Clark, the real Clark in the other body..."

"Yes, I see," Vincent said, encouraging.

"And he came toward me... with such malice on his face. I knew he could kill me, probably without even meaning to, because he wasn't used to having that kind of strength. It was worse because it was Clark, I mean, his face, his eyes, his expressions. Only he'd never looked at me that way before. I was sure he was going to kill me."

"And you were frightened."

"Terrified," she admitted. "I've never told Clark about it; I never wanted him to know I was afraid of his strength, his abilities."

"But it wasn't really Clark."

"No. And so I don't have to be afraid of him now. Of the real Clark, body and soul together."

"But I am not always in control," Vincent said softly, looking at his hands. Those strong, furred hands with their deadly claws. From his expression, he was looking inward, brooding. She wondered if sometimes he frightened himself.

She swallowed. "Vincent, can I ask you something?"

That shook him out of introspection. He looked up. "Of course."

She forced herself to meet his steady gaze. "What would have happened to me, when you burst into the warehouse, if Clark hadn't been there, if they hadn't shot you? You came to save Catherine, because she was afraid. But what would you have done to me?"

His fists closed tight around the blankets; if he was easily able to walk, Lois thought he'd be pacing now. "Nothing," he insisted, quickly. "Have you been thinking I would have... no. You weren't a threat, not to me, not to Catherine. I would have known that. I wouldn't have harmed you."

"How can you be sure?"

Despite his earlier instinctive protest, he had to think about it. "I just... I have never harmed anyone who was not threatening harm to others. Never."

She'd seen the rage at its fullest; it left little room for cognizant thought. "But how do you know? How do you tell who's a good guy and who's a bad guy?"

He looked thoughtful, perplexed. "I don't know. I just do."

"Even when you're..." She let the words trail away, unsure how to say it.

But he knew. "Yes. Even then."

She let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. "So it's not the same."

"Not the same as what?"

"As when Clark... wasn't Clark. Even when you're... the least you, there's some you left. Some control."

He looked surprised, and then thoughtful. "I don't know..."

"Catherine does." Lois's words surprised her as much as they did Vincent. She hadn't known she'd been thinking this way, but once said it made perfect sense. "She knows who you are, Vincent. And she's not afraid."

He looked again at his hands, pensive. "Perhaps," he said quietly, "she should be."

*****

Clark waited patiently, arms folded. A soft night breeze briefly lifted the folds of his cape. It felt good to be wearing the red and blue again. At his feet, Gary Stevens moaned and stirred. He was waking up.

Before Stevens regained full consciousness, Clark grabbed a fistful of his leather jacket and lifted off. When Stevens opened his eyes, they were hovering a good thousand feet above the city. Clark tightened his grip; much as he despised the man, he didn't want to make a mistake and drop him.

Stevens blinked hazily a couple of times then came to alertness with a jerk. "Uhhh... what... oh, God, we're going to fall!" He flailed like a panicked drowning victim, grabbing any part of Clark he could reach.

Clark held him carefully at arm's length. "No, you're not. I've got you."

Stevens grabbed a fistful of cape and pulled one side loose from Clark's neck. This seemed to panic him even more and he pinwheeled his arms and legs frantically.

Clark had begun with little patience for the man; now it ran out. He gave Stevens a shake. "Stop that," he commanded. "I won't drop you on purpose, but if you keep struggling like that..."

He switched hands on Stevens' jacket and used his newly freed hand to tuck his cape back into place.

Stevens got a death-grip on Clark's forearm, which was all he could reach, and hung on. "Who are you?" he demanded. "Get me down from here!"

"I'm a friend," Clark said. "Here to give you a piece of friendly advice."

"Friendly?" Some of Stevens' bluster came back. "This isn't too friendly."

"I didn't say I was your friend. As a matter of fact, I'm a friend of your wife's."

"That bitch..."

Clark cut him off with another shake. This one was rougher than the last, and Stevens gasped, his grip on Clark's arm tightening convulsively.

"Real men don't hit women," Clark said, keeping his voice even only with effort. "Real men don't hit anyone who's smaller or weaker, and if they can help it, they don't hit at all. There are other ways of resolving conflict."

He didn't wait for Stevens to respond. "So you're not going to hit your wife anymore. You aren't going to bully her. I don't care what she does, or how angry you get, you aren't going to respond with violence. You're going to find another way."

Stevens responded with reflex bluster. "She's my wife, she does what I say! And if she doesn't..."

Clark cut him off. "I know who you are, I know where you live. And if you touch your wife again in violence, if you touch any woman," Lois's bruised face flashed in his mind's eye, and his voice hardened, "I'll know, and I'll come and find you."

Stevens made the mistake of looking down; he jerked convulsively at the end of Clark's outstretched arm. "You..." he gasped, struggling for words. "There's nothing holding you up!"

"Nothing but me," Clark agreed.

Stevens' eyes rolled back in his head; the acrid stench of urine rose between them. Overcome by terror, Stevens had wet himself - and fainted.

*****

"We trusted you!" Father was in full rant. "We took you in when you had no place to go, and you repay us with betrayal!"

Catherine tried to intervene. "Father, she didn't mean..."

Father turned on her. "And you! You brought her here. You promised she would obey our rules..."

"And she will! Father, she made a mistake..."

"A mistake that could cost our community dearly!"

Ginny Stevens cowered, in tears, in a nearby chair. Father had been lecturing, with increasing passion, ever since Catherine and Zach had brought her back. Thankfully, Mary had already come and taken the baby to the nursery. "I'm sorry," Ginny sobbed, for the dozenth time. "I'm so sorry... I didn't mean..."

"It doesn't matter if you meant it, it happened! Our secret's been exposed..."

Catherine couldn't stand it any more. "Father, that's enough."

He broke off to stare at her in shock. "I beg your pardon?"

"I said, that's enough. She knows what she did was wrong, and she's sorry. Now, if you're going to kick her out, say so, so I can find her someplace else to live."

Father's mouth worked, but it was a minute before any sound came out. "Kick her out? Of course we're not going to kick her out, Catherine, you know that."

Satisfied that she'd succeeded in jolting him out of his tirade, she softened. "Yes, I do know it, but Ginny doesn't. Look at her, Father, you've scared her half to death."

Father looked, and his expression went from fierce to tender in an instant. He drew a chair up beside Ginny's and took her hand. "My dear, I'm so sorry I frightened you. Vincent frequently warns me about my temper..."

Ginny lifted her tearstained face. "I'm sorry I broke your rules. I didn't think it would hurt anything, I tried to be careful!"

"But, my dear, if you're happy here, and safe, why did you go?"

Ginny swallowed a sob. "I had to see my mother."

"Your mother? She lives above, in the city?"

Ginny nodded.

"And alone," Father went on, guessing.

Ginny nodded again. "I'm all she has, and... her mind's not quite right anymore. I help her with cooking and cleaning, and I do her shopping once a week... she needs me!"

"Why didn't you say something? One of our helpers could have gone to see about your mother, and done so without putting the community at risk."

"I don't know." Ginny started crying again. "I didn't think of it. She's my mother, she's my responsibility. Gary always said that."

"Gary was wrong." Catherine made her voice firm and sure. "You have a larger family now, Ginny. There are lots of people who will help you. All you have to do is ask."

"But she needs so much... and she's all alone. She knows me, and she wouldn't know your helpers."

Father cleared his throat. "If there's truly no one else, then perhaps we should consider inviting your mother to live with us."

Ginny gaped. "Really? You'd let... but she can't work, not any more..."

"That doesn't matter," Father said. "She can do as much... or as little... as she is able. That will be enough."

"Oh. Oh." Overcome, Ginny pressed her fists to her mouth and tried not to burst into fresh tears. "Oh, Father... Catherine."

As usual, Father responded to gratitude with gruffness. "I'll speak to Mary in the morning... I wouldn't be surprised to find your mother here with us by evening!"

"Oh, but what if Gary tries to follow her..."

"Don't worry," Catherine said. "We have a friend who will see to that."

"But he knows about the tunnels now..."

"The passage he used is even now being closed off," Father said. "He may find his way down, but he won't find his way to us. I promise you."

*****

Vincent watched Lois prowl his chamber with increasing restlessness. "He'll be back soon," he offered, in an attempt to comfort. "I'm sure of it."

The smile she offered him was wan, but at least there was no longer any wariness in it. "I know. I just can't help..."

"Wishing he was here?" He finished the sentence for her. "I know. I can feel it."

"I just... miss him," she explained. "I don't so much at home... where we're from, I mean."

He nodded to show he understood.

"But here... I miss him." She shrugged, as if that was all the explanation there was.

And perhaps she was right. "When you've been apart, and you see one another again... what you feel in that moment is very strong, and very beautiful."

"Oh." Her cheeks went pink. "I guess so."

"You love him very much."

"Of course." She looked surprised.

"Sometimes..." he felt suddenly shy. "Sometimes what Catherine feels... when she sees me... is very like what I sense in you..."

"When I see Clark?" she finished for him.

He couldn't meet her steady, sympathetic gaze. "Yes."

"Well, she loves you, Vincent. Don't you know that?"

The torrent of feeling that was his love for Catherine rushed through him. "Sometimes I know it," he said softly. "Other times..."

"You're afraid."

He looked at her quizzically.

She smiled. "Catherine said you were. You shouldn't be."

"You have a faith I cannot seem to find," he observed, avoiding the point.

The smile she gave him was playful. "Well, you have to remember, I'm the one who's married to an alien."

"Alien?" he repeated. Odd, how he hadn't thought of Clark in that way.

"You know, extra-terrestrial. Not from around here."

"Yes," he agreed, and would have said more, but footsteps sounded in the corridor outside.

Clark came in, looking none the worse for expelling the intruder. Lois went into his arms for a brief embrace; Vincent closed his eyes, partly to give them a moment of illusory privacy, and partly to savor the rush of emotion that suddenly filled the little chamber. There was so much love between those two.

And then his own love rose up as Catherine came in. "Hi," she greeted Clark. "You took care of him?"

He nodded. "Yeah. I left him at his apartment. I hope he'll leave Ginny alone now."

Catherine sank into a chair. "His kind isn't likely to be put off by you telling him to stay away," she said in disgust. "If he thinks he can terrify Ginny, he'll be back."

"I hope not," Clark answered mildly. "I tried to put a good scare into him. He's afraid of heights."

The look Lois gave him was startled; she slid a hand through the air and lifted her eyebrows. Clark smiled just a little and nodded.

"Oh," Lois said, and settled into a chair.

Catherine hadn't noticed. "I'm getting a lot of domestic violence cases lately. I think Joe - that's my boss," she explained in an aside to Clark and Lois, "I think Joe's assigning them to me on purpose."

"Because he knows you have compassion," Vincent said gently.

"I suppose," she agreed wearily. "I wish I could do more to help. I have a homicide sitting on my desk right now that's probably a domestic violence. Almost certainly, now that I know the husband better." She glanced at Lois. "He's one of the cops who picked us up that day. Dave Callahan."

"The mean one," Lois said, running a hand along her jaw. "I remember."

"Right," Catherine answered. "But you and I can't bring charges against him without exposing Vincent..."

"...and Clark," Lois added.

"And Clark," Catherine agreed. "And the police don't have enough hard evidence on his wife's murder to make an arrest."

"Could we help?" Clark asked. "We're pretty good investigators."

"I'd love to be able to put that guy in jail," Lois added.

Vincent could sympathize.

Catherine looked worried. "I really can't let reporters work on a criminal case. Joe would have a fit."

Lois looked at Clark. "Well, we could work on it on our own. Wouldn't be the first time we cracked a case before the authorities did."

Catherine looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Can't you just let me..."

Lois shook her head. "No. Look what happened when you just tried to help Ginny Stevens. The man's vicious. He needs to be put away. You can't trust the police to do your investigating for you, if he's one of them, and we can't wait."

Reluctantly Clark nodded agreement. "But it'd be easier for us if we had access to the same information you do. We can request the reports, but it takes a while to get them and we haven't developed any contacts in the police department yet."

"No," Lois agreed. "Just you."

Now Catherine looked surprised. "Now I'm a contact?"

"Sure, why not? Back home, we have a police lieutenant and a couple of detectives who are happy to help us out when they can. Why should you be different?"

"Catherine." It was Vincent, speaking up for the first time. "If it's true you cannot call upon the police..."

Reluctantly Catherine shook her head.

"...and it is also true that Clark and Lois have experience in this kind of investigation... I think you must let them help you. Lois is right, this man must be brought to justice. It can't wait."

Catherine hesitated a little longer, then gave in with a gusty sigh and a shrug of her shoulders. "Sure, why not? Let me get my briefcase from my chamber..."

She was back quickly, briefcase in hand. Vincent's round writing table took up the center of the room; she placed the briefcase there and opened it.

Vincent settled back into his pillows to watch. He seldom got to see Catherine working.

She was absorbed as she took folders and papers from the case and sorted through them. "Here," she said a minute later. "Here's the file on Lucille Callahan's death. Joe wanted me to back off while the police conducted their investigation, so I haven't spent a lot of time on it."

Clark pulled the file around in front of him and began to flip through it rapidly.

"Is Callahan the only suspect?" Lois asked.

"As far as the police are concerned, he's not a suspect at all."

"What? The man's brutal..."

"I know that, and you know that, and his wife knew that, but apparently his buddies on the police force don't."

"He enjoyed hitting us," Lois remembered.

Vincent saw Clark's fist go white at the knuckles. He supposed it was a blessing of sorts that he'd had only an instant in which to take in the details before the bullet from Callahan's gun felled him.

"This man is the one who shot me," he said aloud.

Catherine's gaze met his, nearly blistering him with its intensity. "I know," she answered, and Vincent understood that her determination to put this man away was magnified by what Callahan had done to him.

Clark went back to his perusal of the file.

"And he beat his wife so viciously she died of it," she went on. "It had to have been him. Why else wouldn't she have called for help?"

"The police report suggests she was too severely injured," Clark murmured, without looking up. He had several eight-by-ten photographs spread in front of him. "Is this all there is?"

"It's all I have with me; I should have gotten copies of the coroner's report, the forensic results, stuff like that, as a matter of course, but I haven't seen them yet. Of course, it's been a week since I was in the office. The reports are probably on my desk."

"I'd like to see those reports," Clark said. He set the police report and photos aside.

She sneaked a glance at Vincent. "I was thinking about going back to work tomorrow, anyway..."

Vincent forced a look of approval, though his heart pounded at the idea of her going above when he was too weak to protect her.

"Lois and I have to work tomorrow, too," Clark said. "But tomorrow evening, maybe we could meet you somewhere..."

"Right here is good," Catherine answered quickly. "I'll be coming down to see Vincent, and of course you live here now..."

"Okay, we'll meet here," Clark agreed. "After work."

"After supper," Vincent interjected.

"After supper, sure."

"I'll bring everything I have on the case," Catherine promised. "We can all go over it."

Clark looked at Lois, who had picked up the police report and was absorbed in reading it. "Is that okay with you?"

He had to ask again before she looked up with a blank, "Huh?"

He reiterated the plan. "Is that okay?"

"Yeah, I guess so." She glanced down at the police report in her lap. "Clark, are you sure about Stevens backing off on finding Ginny?"

"Not completely sure, no," Clark answered, sounding surprised. "Why?"

"Because if I were him, and I was still interested in finding my wife, I'd still be looking for the last person who saw her."

"Oh." His gaze, like Vincent's, went to Catherine.

"I'll be fine," Catherine argued. "I'm only going to the office, I don't have anything scheduled in court this week."

"But you have to get to and from the office," Clark said. "Lois is right, it could be risky."

"I'll be fine," Catherine insisted.

"Callahan took us right off the street in front of the courthouse," Lois reminded. "Stevens probably still has Callahan to help him. They wouldn't have to be particularly creative to get to you even inside the Criminal Justice building. I've been kidnapped in all sorts of ways, so I know."

"I have to go back to work." Catherine's voice was low; Vincent could feel her determination. His heart quailed, but he kept his silence. Lois, apparently, was on his side.

"I know," Lois said, and from her expression, she did. "I'd feel exactly the same. But maybe you ought to take along some protection."

"My gun...?" Catherine guessed.

"I was thinking of something a little more personal. Like a bodyguard."

Catherine's glance went to Vincent, who struggled to keep his face impassive.

"Much as I hate to volunteer for this," Lois continued, "I'm thinking I should handle the Sentinel tomorrow by myself. Clark can go to work with you."

Vincent let out a long-held breath at the suggestion. Clark would be perfect. He would never let anything happen to Catherine, and he was the only man Vincent knew who could do a better job of protecting her than he could himself.

"Go to... no. I don't need a babysitter."

"It's not babysitting." Lois sounded very serious. "It's more like... being careful. Watching out for yourself. In this case, by letting Clark watch out for you. Vincent couldn't come to you if you got into trouble right now, and think how awful we'd all feel if something happened to you..."

Clark's expression showed something very like disbelief, and Vincent could sense it as an undercurrent through the haze of determination from Lois and stubbornness from Catherine.

"I know how weird this is, me advising caution," Lois told Clark in an aside. "Call it a temporary aberration."

Clark grinned. "And here I thought you were maybe turning over a new leaf..."

"Nope. Not a chance." She looked back at Catherine. "What do you say?"

"Okay!" Catherine sounded annoyed. "Okay, Clark can come to work with me tomorrow. Though I have no idea how I'm going to explain him to Joe."

*****

None of them stayed in Vincent's chamber much longer; it was getting late, and all of them were tired. Now, Clark lay beside Lois in the privacy of their own chamber. She breathed in the quiet rhythm of sleep and he wished he could join her in slumber, but tonight the smallest, most insignificant sounds made themselves known to him. Water dripped steadily a couple of passages over; small, cautious feet - mice, he guessed, or maybe rats - scurried along a wall. Nearby sleepers murmured and snored and mumbled. Somewhere farther away, a couple were making love...

He turned over, trying to shut out the sounds. He hated intruding, even when he couldn't help it. The small sighs and whispers, the creak of a bed, all served to trigger memory. At least he and Lois had finally found the opportunity to take advantage of their new bed and privacy. He put out a gentle hand and stroked a finger down her cheek. She sighed and rolled toward him, draping an arm around his waist. He pressed his cheek against the top of her head and breathed quietly, loving her.

After a while, a new sound intruded. He couldn't quite identify the dry scratching noise, but it came from the direction of Vincent's chamber. He narrowed his focus. In fact, it most likely came from inside Vincent's chamber. Another crisis? But Vincent had seemed so well just a few hours earlier. Carefully he disengaged himself from Lois's embrace and slid from the bed.

Accustomed to his leaving unexpectedly in the night, she merely sighed and turned over, burying her face in the pillow.

Clark dressed silently, quickly, and hurried out.

The glow of many candles reached from Vincent's chamber, spilling into the corridor outside. Clark paused there, listening. There was only one heartbeat, slow and steady, the quiet rustle of fabric as someone shifted weight or posture, and still the dry, irregular scratching. He hesitated, then called out, careful to keep his voice low.

The scratching stopped. The heartbeat accelerated. "Who is there?" Vincent's voice, low and cautious.

"It's me," Clark answered. "Clark."

Again the rustle of fabric, louder this time, and footsteps. Vincent, looking startled, appeared in the doorway. "Clark? It's very late..."

"I know. I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you. I heard something and thought I'd better check..."

"Heard...?"

Clark was starting to feel foolish now; clearly there was nothing amiss here. "A kind of scratching noise. I couldn't place it..."

"You heard this all the way from your own chamber?"

He squirmed; it made people uncomfortable to know how much he could hear. "Um, yeah," he admitted, finally. "Sorry."

"Don't be." Vincent stepped back from the opening and gestured him in. "I thought I was the only one who could hear things happening from far away."

Clark stepped past him, into the chamber. A book, its right-hand page pristine, the left half-covered with sharp, spiky writing, lay open on the table. "It was you," he said. "You were writing. But what kind of pen makes that sound?"

"A fountain pen." Vincent held it out for his inspection. "I'm sorry if it disturbed you."

Clark shook his head. "Most times, I can shut it out, shut it off. But once in a while..."

"And tonight was such a time."

Clark nodded.

Vincent offered the ghost of a smile. "Don't tell Father; such things upset him."

"I won't... I didn't hear anything I shouldn't... not much, anyway."

"I trust your discretion, Clark," Vincent answered. "But as we're both wakeful, will you join me for a cup of tea?"

Tea and a bit of companionable conversation sounded great. "Sure."

Vincent lifted a shiny copper kettle and set it on an iron grate over a coal-burning brazier. "It will take a little while for the water to heat."

Clark gestured him back. "Let me..." He aimed a moderate burst of heat vision at the kettle; it obliged with a rattle of the lid and a gout of steam from the spout. "There."

Vincent's glance seemed one of admiration. "You did that the same way you cauterized my wound."

Clark nodded.

"I can see such a gift could come in handy at times." He poured the steaming water into a china teapot and replaced the lid. "The tea will take a moment to steep... unless you have a way to hurry that along, as well?"

Clark laughed. "No, that's got to happen on its own." He took the offered chair. "Should you be up?"

"Not according to Father," Vincent answered. "But I'm much stronger this evening. I have always healed quickly."

"I'm not sure quickly is the word for it," Clark answered. "I'm impressed."

"Don't be. It is not something that requires any effort on my part - it simply is."

"Yes." Clark knew what that was like. "So why are you awake and writing in the middle of the night?"

Vincent sank into the chair opposite and shrugged. "I've slept so much the past few days," he said. "Healing. Now, I find myself unable to rest."

"What are you writing?" Clark looked toward the open book.

Vincent reached out and closed it, then glanced at Clark curiously. "I suppose you could still read it if you wanted to."

"I could, but I won't. If you don't want to tell me what it is, you don't have to."

Vincent sighed. "It's just my journal. I was recording my thoughts, my feelings. Trying to make sense of them. Trying to find some resolution..."

"Resolution?" Clark hesitated. Surely Vincent had friends he could talk to. He didn't have to bare his soul to someone he'd known only a few days. But on the other hand, could any of those friends truly understand what it was to be different? He wasn't sure what he should do. "Does writing help, when you're like this?"

"Sometimes," Vincent said. He poured tea into mismatched cups and handed one to Clark. "I could easily envy you, Clark Kent."

Clark accepted the cup and sipped carefully at the tea, a soothing herbal blend. "Why?"

"Because of all the things you have..."

"That you don't?" Clark finished the sentence. "But you have so much, Vincent."

"And yet there are things I have never known... things I ache for, sometimes... the touch of a mother's hand. To know where I came from, who I am. Why... I am."

"Oh."

Vincent's expression had gone distant and unfocused. He seemed unable to stem the stream of longing. "To be able to love Catherine as she deserves to be loved... as she longs to be loved..."

Clark shifted in his chair, bringing Vincent's gaze and attention back to the present.

"I'm sorry," he began. "I didn't mean to..."

Clark stopped him with a raised hand. "No, it's okay. I'm sorry I can't help you out with a mom... you'd love mine, she's terrific. She'd like you, too, once she got over..."

"The initial shock?"

"Well, it's kind of hard to shock a woman who raised a kid who floated in his sleep," Clark answered, grinning. "But yeah, I guess that's what I mean. And I don't know any more about your origins than you do... but that last thing..."

"Is the most impossible," Vincent finished, in a whisper. "I know this."

Clark rocked forward in his chair. "Well, I'm not so sure. I've been where you are, remember? Trying to love a human woman, when I know I'm not human. Can never be human. No matter how hard I try."

"Yes." Vincent's expression showed not the slightest glimmer of hope.

"I made a lot of mistakes when I was courting Lois," Clark went on. "One of them, a big one, was forgetting that a relationship is two people, a partnership. I tried to make decisions for both of us - in what I thought at the time were Lois's best interests - without consulting her. She was furious, and for a while I was afraid she'd never forgive me. I'd hate to see you make the same mistake with Catherine."

Vincent seemed about to say something, then checked himself. When he finally did speak, Clark had the feeling it wasn't what he'd originally been going to say. "Catherine... does not react in anger."

"The way Lois does," Clark finished for him. He let the unspoken comment pass. "No, she doesn't seem to, does she? But it's hurting her, the way you keep her at arms' length."

Vincent's gaze sharpened. "Did she tell you so?"

"No. But she's talked with Lois some. And I think it's pretty easy to see."

Vincent bowed his head. "How can I put her at risk?"

"In our universe, Lois is at risk every day, just because she knows me," Clark said softly. "She's been threatened, kidnapped, hypnotized, tied to bombs, pushed out of airplanes..."

Vincent's head came up; his eyes were wide with alarm. "Bombs... and airplanes..."

"So far, I've gotten there every time... in time. But it terrifies me to think that one day I might be too late."

"I know that fear. But I have as much fear... for what I might do to her with these." Vincent studied his hands with an expression that might have been loathing.

"Maybe," Clark suggested, keeping his voice very soft, "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."

"But she'll be safe."

"There's more to life than physical safety," Clark said quietly. "Much, much more. For both of you."

"If she left, perhaps she would find a man, a better man..."

"She can't do that, Vincent. She won't. Any more than you're going to find a better woman; any more than I am. We aren't the kind of people who love easily, carelessly. When we love, it's deeply and completely, and for always. Isn't it?"

Vincent let his breath out in a long sigh. "Yes. Always..."

"So maybe you just need to talk to her about this. About loving each other."

"She will say she doesn't fear me."

"She doesn't. You didn't see her when you were delirious. Everyone else kept back, but not Catherine. She came right to you. She knew you wouldn't hurt her. And you didn't."

"Because you were holding me," Vincent countered.

"No. You started to quiet even before she touched you. Just because she was near. Once she did touch you, you completely relaxed. I could... and did... let go of you right away. After that, if you got restless, all she had to do was reach out. You knew it was her, even in your delirium, and you couldn't hurt her. You never will."

Vincent's eyes were very wide, and full of sudden, impossible hope. "If only I could believe that..."

"You can," Clark answered firmly. "You have to."

*****

Long after the candles had been extinguished, Vincent lay awake, staring into the darkness. The things Clark said had given him brief hope. If he could be sure of not hurting her...

Only in the silence did the shadows in his soul return to haunt him. He was a creature of the night. He killed... and gloried in the killing. How could he touch Catherine in love with the same hands that had slain in blood?

*****

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