Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

Posting LS: Chapter Twenty-Six: Stutter Steps (Part Two)

Okay, since it wouldn't take both halves (said the post was too large), here's Part Two:

Lois glanced up from her desk, ready to snap at Perry for bothering her about the damn conference again, and saw Clark sidling into her office instead.  He was watching the editor as if concerned that Perry might catch him out of his department, and then turned to Lois with a nervous smile.  “Um, hi,” he said.

She had a brief moment of déjà vu, his coming into the office like that, most especially due to the way that her eyes seemed to no longer acknowledge the disguise.  Only that goofy smile stopped Lois’ suddenly train-wrecked feeling, the reminder that both the men she had always cared for were behind those glasses.  Her heart ached suddenly then, too strongly to ignore, to just forget the consequences and go to him now.  Forget Richard, forget the audience they’d have.  Just tell him everything, right here and now…

And then she felt like an idiot.

They had promised to leave all that mess behind; she had given her word yesterday that they would get past all of it, not to mention last night’s decisions on the matter.  For a moment, she couldn’t look away now that they were in the same room, but shook it off.  Glancing away, she murmured to her former partner in almost her normal tone, “Good morning, Clark.  Thank you for coming by.  Close the door, would you?”  There was a pause as he did so, then Lois dropped of management pretenses to ask cautiously, her gaze averted, “Hi.  Feeling any better?  No worlds to save on the way home?”

“No, not this time,” Clark replied, still a little unsure of where he stood with her.  “I…  While I was in Mexico, this attorney, Karla Smith-Bennett, called me about the Vanderworth case.  I guess she got my number when I worked in City and then took two months to call.”  He shrugged and laid the notes on Lois’ desk.  “Did a quick background check, she seems legit.  Here’s everything I could find on her in a hurry, and her callback numbers.  I think she could help.”

A fresh lead on Luthor’s trail could be invaluable at this point, most of her own having gone dead a while back.  And his resources were usually better, whether she had ever wanted to admit it or not.  At least these days she knew why.  Nonetheless…  Lois arched an eyebrow.  “Thanks … but I’m not exactly a beat reporter anymore, you know.”

Clark smiled at her knowingly.  Sarcasm he could handle.  “Uh-huh.  That’s why no one else is investigating the Vanderworth case, right?  And that’s why I saw your car parked up the street from the mansion a few days before I left.”

Lois tried to look outraged, but it was too true.  What did you say to someone who could check up on you with remote vision?  At last she simply muttered, “Shut up.”

He grinned and chuckled.  “You’re running it down on your own time, aren’t you?  Lois, you’ve never quit on a case.  Never.  If you think Perry wouldn’t let you take it, you just won’t tell him.  Better to ask forgiveness than permission, isn’t that your motto?”

His reaction to the entire thing was a million miles from what Richard’s would have been.  His light, taunting tone startled a laugh out of her, and for a moment it was like old times.  It had been a rare moment when he’d scolded her very hard, she remembered, even when he caught her in a dangerous situation.  Even as Clark, her most skeptical critic at such moment, he had always been just a bit exasperated.  As Superman, he would only chide her gently, usually touching her cheek.  He had always understood her so well, better than anyone else ever had.  That was what she had missed the most, if she was honest.

At that laughter, so free and for once without the bitter edge he’d grown used to hearing, Clark’s heart broke a little more.  Once upon a time, he could’ve coaxed a laugh from her two or three times a day, been blessed by her fond smile as often.  Lately, though, he had missed her happiness…

“All right, smart guy,” Lois said in a mock-warning tone, a little half-smile lurking around her lips.  As much a soft touch as she felt for letting something so simple affect her, she couldn’t dismiss the relief it afforded her.  Which she tried to dismiss.  Although, there was one thing she need to know… 

Reaching for the manila folder, she opened it and glanced at the contents before drawling, “I take it then that you don’t plan to rat me out Perry or Richard then?  Or make any dire pronouncements about putting myself in danger?  Something like that?  I mean, it is part of your job.”  Her hazel eyes came up to look into his, waiting somewhat anxiously for his reply in spite of herself.

“Well, if you already know what I ought to be telling you not to do, and I already know you won’t listen, what’s the point of actually saying the words?” he asked almost rhetorically.  Lois shrugged, lowering her gaze to the folder again.  Clark felt almost as though he was pushing his luck to continue their good-natured banter, especially considering what he wanted to ask her later on, when he had figured out how to frame the question.  So, Lois, are they mine? just seemed too bald a query.  Instead he kept on with the repartee for which the pair of them had once been infamous.  “The same goes for telling Perry.  You wouldn’t listen to him, either; you’ve had selective hearing as long as I’ve known you.”

Those hazel eyes rocketed back up to his with a hint of affront in them.  “I beg your pardon, Emperor of Eavesdroppers, you said something about my hearing?”

Clark wasn’t sure if the remark was just mock-vicious or truly venomous, and he hastily backtracked.  “I’m sorry, Lois, I had no right to presume…”

Clark, stop,” and her voice was gentler.  “I did call truce, didn’t I?”

His blue eyes widened at that, the memory of her voice in the night haunting him even after he had woken.  “You … you really said that?  I thought I was still dreaming…”  Remembering the subject of that dream, of her delicate hand on his arm, her voice so warm and knowing, Clark suddenly blushed and looked away.

What on earth…? Lois thought, her own eyes widening.  No, it couldn’t be.  “Uh-huh.  Yeah, well … I really said ‘truce.’  Not that it’ll be easy, but…”

He suddenly glanced over his shoulder at the door and frowned.  “Richard’s on his way in.  Lois … I’ll talk to you later?”

“Sure,” she said, glancing out the door as well.  “That’s all I need right now.  Thanks for the info, Clark.”

He was already at the door as Richard walked in on the opposite end of the bullpen.  “You’re welcome, Lois,” Clark replied as he stepped out of her office, pitching his voice to carry.  “I know you’ll see it gets to the right person.”

Lowering her voice so that only he could hear, Lois caught his gaze and whispered, “No, really … thank you.”

The only reply he could make was a smile as he left, followed quickly by a little wave to Jimmy and an innocent, friendly, “Hi,” to Richard.  Lois, watching him head back over to International, saw the speculative look on her fiancé’s face, saw also how exhausted he looked.  Jerk, her mind growled with a momentary lack of sympathy for Richard, and she turned resolutely back to her morning’s work.



Richard’s eyes felt gritty, and his temper frayed, but he showed up for work anyway.  At least the twins had been reasonably good that morning, only squabbling once and briefly; Lois’ absence seemed to have turned them somber.

His mood was not improved by the sight of Kent leaving Lois’ office as he walked in.  But Richard replied to his greeting with what he hoped was a natural smile, and headed for Lois’ office.

Perry waylaid him, though, and practically dragged him into the center office.  “Just what the hell did you think you were doing yesterday, skipping out like that?” the editor barked.

Richard’s eyes narrowed, and the calm façade began to crumble.  “Uncle Perry, I do not need this right now.”

“Yes, you do, and knock off that ‘Uncle Perry’ crap when I’m giving you a lecture,” Perry snapped back.  “Don’t think you can get away with giving yourself a half-holiday just because you’re my nephew.”

“I don’t think that, Mr. White,” Richard growled.  “I think I can take half a day off because I’m the managing editor who rescued your whole International department, and because I haven’t called in sick in three years, and also because if I’d seen Lois yesterday we probably would have had our extremely ugly fight here in front of the rumor mill!”

That wouldn’t have been a problem because Lane wasn’t here, either!”

“Oh, and I don’t suppose you yelled at her like this, did you?”

“No, as a matter of fact, I didn’t,” Perry replied hotly.  “One, she asked to leave – to get the kids.  Two, she came in early today to make it up.  Actually she came back last night, but regardless, she was here before me this morning, and you’re not.  And three, I never yell at Lois like this.  For her I yell a hell of a lot louder and I use more profanity, too!”

Richard felt all of the anger and frustration and sorrow rise up in his throat like bile, but he bit his tongue and held it back.  This was his uncle and his boss, after all.  Perry didn’t deserve the emotional equivalent of being puked on, no matter how much of a jerk he was at the moment.  “Fine.  Fine.  I shouldn’t have skipped out and I won’t do it again.  Happy?”

Perry crossed his arms and furrowed his brow.  “No.  I wish I knew what the hell was going on with you and Lois.  Better yet, I wish I knew how to fix it.”  Then the paternal concern vanished beneath the editor’s scowl.  “I’m getting sick of my best reporters being off their form.”

Exhausted, everything he had learned and suspected warring inside him, Richard gave up.  You’re not the only one who’s sick of it, he thought, and offered Perry a crisp Air Force salute.  “Sir, yes sir.  I will no longer pursue a personal life if it affects my career, sir.  Permission to go apologize to my fiancée, sir?”

Perry sighed heavily.  The boy had been through the ringer, from the looks of him, and he was now apparently beyond everything but tired humor.  “Fine, go on.  But don’t ever try this b.s. again.”

Richard left without another word, glancing over at the international department as he did so.  Clark was there at his desk, starting work as usual, looking as if everything was perfectly normal.  Richard didn’t know whether to envy or pity him, or some mixture of both.  Sighing, he went to Lois’s office and closed the door behind him gently.

She looked up, hazel eyes stormy, mouth tight with anger, and her whole body gone defensive.  “What do you want?  Here to take another couple potshots at me?” Lois said in low, even tones that still conveyed her tension.

Holding up both hands, Richard counted to five before he answered.  “I’m here to negotiate a ceasefire.”  Mainly because it’s the only way I’ll ever get you to tell me who the twins’ real father is.  And because I discovered I don’t sleep well without you in the house at least.

His only answer was a fine dark brow, arching up questioningly.

“Look, Lois, I was a jackass, okay?  Sometimes I wonder if you really do care about me or not, especially when you don’t tell me things, but that was not the way to start talking about it.  I apologize.  Can we just sweep last night under the rug and try again?”

Lois groaned, letting her head fall into her hands.  “Richard, I wouldn’t have moved in with you in the first place if I didn’t care about you.  I wouldn’t have let my twins anywhere near you if I didn’t care about you.”

He bit his lip again at my twins but let it pass, coming closer to lightly touch her shoulder.  “I had a bad day yesterday, and you had an enormously awful one.  Let’s just let it be for now, okay?  For the twins’ sake?  They were mostly quiet and well-behaved this morning, and they didn’t ask where you were.  I think they heard us fighting; neither of us wants them exposed to that.”

She closed her eyes tightly, knowing Kala had to have heard it.  Had to.  Nothing else on earth could make her want to curl up in a shivering ball of tears and self-pity quite like the thought that she was being a bad – or even a mediocre – mother.  “Fine.  I was a little sharp with you, too.  Let’s just forget about it and move on.”  She looked up at him, a sheen of moisture in those eyes, but he saw the deep steel in her underneath that.  “Richard, no woman ever tells a man all her secrets.  If you care about me, stop digging.”

“Okay.  I love you.”  For the moment, he would stop.  But Richard’s mind was filled with the image of his father trying to patch up the spreading crack in his wall, plaster drying on his forearms, cussing the thing under his breath.  They’d known all along that patching it was just a temporary solution; the wall would never be sound again with the growth of the tree and the weight of the house both pulling it in opposite directions.  “I just worry about us, Lois…”

Lois sighed heavily.  “Here, you still want an answer?  Yes.  Yes, it was romantic.  No, we never actually dated, I wouldn’t have called him my boyfriend, but yeah, we were more than just friends.  Then he left me without even a goodbye, and it was over.  There.”  Even as she looked up at him, she kept her thoughts from showing on her face.  In the middle of that, I found out my crush and my best pal were the same person, and we were both so giddy with the end of secrets that we did something a bit stupid, and being together almost cost us the world, literally, so we broke up and he stole my memories.  Two months later he was gone, and eight months after that I had his twins.  Kal-El’s twins.

Some of it showed; Richard knew she was still hiding something, even had an idea what it was.  And then you went to Paris to find him, and you found someone else there.  Someone who comforted you when you were lonely.  And his name wasn’t Garen; I proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt this morning.  He had lost his taste for confrontation, though, and let it pass.  Not that he wasn’t still heartsore, still feeling that vague dread like freefall way too close to the ground.  Richard just didn’t want to fight anymore.  He kissed the top of her head and said, “Thank you for telling me.”

Lois had reached a similar state of mind, and remembered with an ironic twist the way she had whispered truce to the wind.  “You’re welcome.”

Just then, Perry stuck his head in the door.  “Time’s up, nephew, if you haven’t made up by now you won’t succeed at it today anyway.  Lane – where’s that article on the fire yesterday?”

Lois opened her mouth, froze, and then slowly closed it with an expression of dawning horror.  “Oh, shit.”  She smacked her palm against her forehead, feeling a terrible kind of betrayal – I never miss a deadline, I never let anyone else get to the scene first, and I never sleep with anyone I work with.  Now I’ve screwed up two out of three – nice going, Lane.  “Goddamn idiot.  Perry, how much time do we have before the afternoon edition deadline?”

“You haven’t even started yet?” the editor asked incredulously.  “When you were here all night?”

“How much time, Perry?”

He glanced at his watch.  “About two hours ‘til we have to leave for the conference.  You better type fast, Lane.  And God help you if I hold a space on the front page for you and you don’t get it finished.”

In her precarious mood, she didn’t dare to answer.  Lois only swung away from both of them, booted up her computer, and got out her notes in silence.  After a moment, Perry nodded, and took Richard’s elbow.  “C’mon, son, time to let Lois earn her keep.  Something you might want to think about doing today, too.”



Two hours later, Lois’ eyewitness account of the fire was finished and proofread, and the reporter herself was on her way out of the city room with Perry.  The editor was oozing with smug satisfaction; not only had he goaded his three best reporters into seriously putting their noses to the grindstone, he’d scared the Olsen kid into getting some work done as well.  Best of all, Lois was going to an executive conference and for once not complaining about how she was a reporter, not a pencil-pushing middle manager.

He didn’t see Kent glance up as they passed International, didn’t see Lois meet his look for a heartbeat and then turn away almost shyly, without the frigid glare she would’ve given him before.  Nor did he see Kent’s eyes follow them both out of the room and to the elevator, unhindered by doors and walls, though Lois felt his gaze still on her.

None of them saw Richard in his office, watching Kent watching them.  He was not entirely happy with the way things had gone this morning; he needed more data before he would let his suspicion become a theory.  And then Richard saw the perfect source of info walk past the doors.  Olsen.  I bet there’s not much he doesn’t notice about Lois.  All three of them were thick as thieves back in the day.

Clark, still looking after Lois and worried by her somber mood, heard Perry ask as they entered the elevator, “Just what were you working on all night if not the fire?”  And as the doors closed, Clark saw the wide-eyed look she turned on him, all but saw the words uh-oh flashing neon over her head as she demurred.  But he didn’t have long to contemplate that incident, because he heard his own name from the city room.

He didn’t need his particular vision to see trouble brewing this time.  Richard was over at Jimmy’s desk looking down at the hanging files full of photos, trying to seem casual but failing.  “Looks like you have a bunch of office pictures from way back.  Is that Perry before his cardiologist made him stop smoking cigars?  Mind if I look?”


Tags: little secrets post

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