Debra Fran Baker

Lately, he'd been finding the messages on his answering machine, whether it was in cultured English tones or a clear, young tenor. It was even, on occasion, a teen age boy or the harshness of an electronic mask. It didn't matter. It didn't even matter what they said. He knew what those voices meant.

Tonight, though, he needed no voice mail. All he had to do was pay attention to late night cable news after dropping Lois at home.

"In national news today, it seems it's business as usual in Gotham City, as one of its more notorious psychopaths went on yet another rampage through the streets. The scarred former DA brutally..." He was in uniform and in the air before the anchor had time to finish the sentence. Ten minutes later, he knocked on the manor's front door. The man who opened the door wore dignity as a garment, despite his robe and pajamas.

"Mr. Kent." Alfred didn't bother hiding the relief in his voice, any more than he could hide the exhaustion and worry in his eyes. "I was moments from telephoning you."

"How is he?" Clark strode into the manor as Alfred closed the door behind him, avoiding the cape with the ease of long practice. "The news sounded pretty bad."

"He's not good, sir. He lost lives tonight, and the villain was. Him." Hatred and anger filled Alfred's voice as he led Clark to the entrance to the Cave. "He shouted at me to leave him alone. Please, sir. Help him if you can."

"I'll try." He didn't always succeed, but the price of friendship, or whatever it was he had with this man, was that he try each time. Sometimes he wondered if he did it for Alfred, who was tearing himself apart with all the love of a father.

Clark knew as well as any that "father" was a fluid term.

He allowed Alfred to open the secret passage and made his way down the stairs, allowing his feet to touch the treads and make noise. God only knew what would happen if he startled the man sitting by the monitor.

"Superman." He didn't bother turning away from the vast monitor screen. Whether he'd seen Clark's reflection or had deduced it - or recognized Clark's footsteps - he showed no surprise at all.

"Bruce." Bruce wore his own robe over his tights, his discarded cowl and cape draped neatly over a chair.

"Get out. Go back to your sunny little Metropolis and your pretty girlfriend, *Superman*. You have no place here."

"Yes, I do. Right here." He strode off the last distance and, reaching around the high back of the chair, placed his left hand on Bruce's right shoulder. Bruce tried to shrug it off, but Clark kept it in place. He turned the chair until Bruce faced him. His dark blue eyes, swollen and red with exhaustion, stared at him over a face twisted in anger.

"You can't force yourself on me, Superman. I don't care how strong you are - you don't have it in you."

"I won't hurt you. That doesn't make me weak. It doesn't make you weak, either. Bruce." He touched Bruce's cheek with his other hand, stroking it just below the bone, avoiding a faded bruise. Bruce glared at him but didn't pull away.

"Let go of me. I want you to leave my house."

"You don't want me to go." He leaned closer, moving his hand to Bruce's other shoulder, his stomach twisting.

"Leave!" Bruce could intimidate psychopaths with a look and a swirl of cape, and superheroes with a well-placed word. He could make Clark back down with a single gesture.