sean_montgomery (sean_montgomery) wrote,

Underground - Chapter Nine - Ache

            From her angle at the table, there was a bright glare across the glass of the picture frame. It was difficult to see Richard’s smiling face, but the features that captured her attention belonged to the other man in the photo. He was a good head shorter than Richard and nowhere near as attractive, but his smile was genuine and he carried himself well.

            “A phone call?” she heard Clark ask behind her. “Who was it from?”

            Lois lifted a finger and pointed at the picture. “That man there. Doug Petty. He’s an officer at the Metropolis Police Department and one of Richard’s best friends. When we found out he had been accepted to the force, Richard sought him out and asked him about a radio emergency signal he could use in case something happened with one of his flights. Richard sends the signal, Doug receives it, calls me. I didn’t know what to think at first because it had never been used before, but when Doug said that he received the signal…” The cold worry flooded her heart again, and Lois turned back to Clark, seeking the warmth of his company. “I left on my lunch break early that afternoon. I wanted to get some information about where Richard had gone, but the building was empty. The rest is history.” She lifted up her arm cast for emphasis.

            Clark stared thoughtfully at the cast for a moment. He looked to be taking in the information, but Lois didn’t miss the concern that flashed through his eyes. He met her gaze. “Is that everything about the phone call?”

            “All that I can give you with the way I am now.”

            “And Doug is a dependable guy? You can trust him, I mean?”

            Her brow furrowed. “Of course. Richard has known him since high school.”

            He leaned closer and seemed to stare even deeper into her eyes. “No, Lois – do you trust him?”

            “Of course I do! We’ve had dinner with him and his family, he calls Richard often to talk about that plane of his… Doug’s a good man.”

            Clark leaned back in his seat and pulled up a Word Document. Lois leaned over his shoulder curiously. He was writing down Doug’s name and… the cursor blinked back at him when he paused.

            “Erm,” he said, adjusting his glasses, “I was wondering if you didn’t mind… that is, since you can’t really move around well… no, that didn’t come out right, uh… would you mind if I called Doug? You know, and asked him about… the wreckage?”

            His refusal to meet her gaze combined with his hesitance in asking brought a crooked smile out of her. When his eyes shifted to look at her, she raised an eyebrow. “Since I can’t move around well?”

            His gulp was audible. He was genuinely frightened of taking a story away from her. Good. Nothing like putting the fear of God into a working partner; they’ll never take anything from you. Then again, Clark Kent is the last man I’d ever expect to take something from anybody. Heck, he’d probably openly apologize about using someone’s pen without permission.

            Her compassion for him silenced the fiery reporter inside. She smiled fully and waved her hand at him. “Oh, come on Clark, you know I’m kidding.”

            He seemed genuinely relieved. Nervously chuckling, he adjusted himself in his seat. “R-right, Lois. I just wanted to be sure.”

            “Well, since Doc Lane is doing her best to keep me in line and out of the reporting world,” Lois turned her head and rolled her eyes in the direction of the living room, “I have no choice but to rely on you. Actually, I was going to ask you if you’d go see Doug in my name. The last I knew, he was personally handling the investigation.”

            She expected his eyes to light up. Instead, he regarded her warily, raising an eyebrow. “You’re sure?”

            “Yeah, I’m sure. I’ll prove it to you.” Leaning over further, she hid a grimace when she stretched her good arm over the keypad and typed in two numbers. “The first is Doug’s cell, and the second is his office number. You might have to ask for him by name. He may have a secretary by now, but I don’t know for sure. Just tell him you’re a good friend of mine, and he’ll give you all the information you need. You’ll need your press pass too, of course.”

            Clark nodded and saved the file. Closing the laptop, he took a look around the kitchen and craned his head to look into the living room. “So, where’s Jason?”

            “He’s upstairs. Asleep, I’ll bet. I don’t know if Lucy got him into bed or anything.”

            His face seemed to fall at that, and Lois couldn’t help but wonder why Clark wanted to see Jason. The man paused for a moment, staring intently at his laptop, then relaxed and sighed. “Well, I guess I shouldn’t come over so late next time. I don’t want to keep you from motherly duties.”

            “Oh, don’t think like that, Clark. The last thing I want is for Jason to be involved with this in any way. Really, I’d rather we discuss this when Jason isn’t around, or if he is in bed. The more he doesn’t know about this, the better.”

            “Are you sure that’s the best idea?”

            Lois’ brows furrowed. Fighting back the desire to snap at him, she calmly said, “It’s for the best.”

            Clark turned his head to the stairway. “He’s a bright boy. He might know more than you think, Lois.”

            She could feel the blood drain from her face. Leaning back completely in her wheelchair, Lois suddenly realized she hadn’t thought about the overall effects this would have on Jason. She gave a despairing glance to her casts. They were the biggest clue of all that something was wrong. If Richard didn’t come back in a few days, there would be no end to her boy’s curiosity. Could she lie to him? Richard had been on his way to meet a contact in the Atlantic, but how long could she keep that story going before Jason discovered that Mom was keeping secrets?

            Clark’s gentle voice startled her out of her thoughts. His hand had been reaching out for her, but he pulled it back when she jumped. He clenched it for a moment and brought it to rest on the table. “Are you okay? Gee, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

            “I’m fine. It’s just…” Lost in a haze of mixed emotions and the dead end of her investigation, Lois turned at looked at the picture one more time, drinking in Richard’s smiling face and letting herself become captured with the warmth of his eyes. The ache inside of her that longed for his company intensified. Tears began to prick at her eyes again. I’m not gonna cry yet. Not here, not now…

            “We’ve got to find him, Clark,” she whispered, doing her best to keep her voice from feeling as lost as she suddenly felt. “If only for Jason’s sake. Sooner or later he’s going to ask questions, and one of these days I won’t have the answers. What am I going to do then?”

            He was quiet beside her. When she gathered the nerve to look at him, he was looking at the picture she had been staring at moments ago. His expression was hard to read, but the warmth and confidence that was shining from his eyes when he looked at her was almost enough to lift her mood. “It won’t come to that, Lois. I promise. One way or the other, we’ll find Richard. I’ll do everything I can to help you.”

            Darn the man and his confidence. Darn his stupid farm boy charm. Can’t he see how this is killing me? Her rising hope at Clark’s words clashed with the anger and frustration she felt inside. Instead of responding, her head dropped her to chest. The brilliant blue of her cast, similar to the blue of Clark’s eyes, cheerily stared back at her. Never had she wanted to tear off the casts like she did in that moment. She clenched her eyes shut, thankful for the length of her hair, and fought back the tears again. Not yet. Not. Yet. She raised her head and gave Clark a fake smile. “Thanks. I appreciate that.”

            Before Lois could finish her sentence, the front door opened. Clark rose from his seat and walked to the threshold of the kitchen, turning his back to Lois. She leaned forward and tried to see past his frame. “Who is it, Clark?”

            “Just me,” Lucy said. The jingle of keys echoed into the hallway, and Clark suddenly stumbled and bent over to the floor. Apparently, Lucy had caught him off guard by throwing him the keys. He lifted them from the ground and set them on the table. Lucy grinned at him when she walked by carrying a plastic bag in one hand. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. I snuck out while you two were busy doing your investigative reporting stuff. I believe that Miss Lane needed some pain meds?”

            Lois’ eyes lit up when she saw that the bag had the logo of the local pharmacy. “Tell me those things will knock me out tonight.”

            Taking a capsule out, Lucy turned it around and read the label. “Bingo - one snoozing reporter coming right up.”

            Clark gave a nervous chuckle. “Well, great. Glad to see you’re going to have something help you out. For a moment there, it looked like the pain was really getting to you.”

            Lucy, her head buried in a cabinet looking for a glass, gasped. “Really? Lois, you should have said something! I would have gone for these earlier. It’s the sack ASAP for you, sis!”

            Wrong kind of pain, Smallville. “I’m doing fine, Clark. Two of those now and a good night’s rest are what I’ve got in store tonight. Will you promise me that you’ll call Doug tomorrow and see what else you can find?”

            Clark was already putting on his vest and jacket. With his laptop in hand, he smiled brightly at her. “First thing I’ll do. I promise. Is there anything else I can do to help you out tonight?”

            Lucy put a glass in front of Lois and grabbed Clark by the arm. “Yes, actually. You can leave. And I mean that in the best possible way.”

            Clark’s eyebrows shot into his hairline. Before he could say anything else, Lucy was all but forcing him through the hallway and to the front door. “Really Clark, I don’t mean to be rude. It’s just that Lois really needs to get her rest right now, and lollygagging isn’t going to help her.”

            Clark was the only thing Lois could see when she leaned forward. He straightened his glasses and smiled awkwardly at her sister. “Oh, of course, Lucy. I, um, guess I’ll be seeing you tomorrow, then?”

            “You’re coming back here tomorrow, Clark! You’ve got information to dig up, and you’d better have something good when you do!”

            Clark turned to her with the look of a frightened animal. She could hear her sister sigh. “We’ll call you,” she whispered. Opening the front door, she grabbed Clark’s arm again and shoved him out. Clark only had time for a quick, “’Bye Lois!” before the door was slammed in his face. Lucy walked back into the kitchen with a small smile.

            “That was a little rude, y’ know,” Lois said, catching the pills between her teeth and taking a large gulp of her water.

            “Desperate times call for desperate measures. We’ve got something bigger to tackle here.” Lucy walked behind Lois and wheeled her away from the table into the hallway. When she stopped, the Lane sisters were facing the stairs. “We’ve got to figure out how to get you up this thing.”

            Lois couldn’t believe that staring at eighteen steps would be so… degrading. Looking at the cast on her leg, she shifted her weight a bit. “Could I hop up the stairs?” the question sounded ridiculous as soon as it left her mouth.

            “Lois, you have a hairline fracture in your knee. Granted, that’s not as bad as your arm, but the last thing you want to do is tempt yourself into putting weight on it.” Lucy stepped to the side and held out her hands. “I want you to take hold of my hands, put your weight on your good leg, and lift yourself up. And don’t get pushy. This might take a few tries.”

            Lois’ patience nearly wore out at the third try. When her sister finally did get her out and readied her to climb the stairs, Lois was ready to say she’d rather sleep on them instead of climb them. Ten minutes was the longest time she had ever taken to climb eighteen steps, and she did stumble a few times, but at the end of the night Lois was an even bigger mess than she was when Clark left.

            When Lucy finally set her into bed with a fresh change of clothes and brushed teeth, her drowsiness hit her like a blow to the head. Those sheets had never felt better.

            “I’m gonna clean up the kitchen and put your wheelchair in a safe spot, okay?” Lucy’s warm hand ran through her hair. Her affectionate touch nearly sent Lois into dreamland. When she tried to find her voice, the best she could do was grunt.

            Lucy smiled. “Here come the meds. I’ll be across the hall if you need me.” She bent her head and kissed Lois on the forehead. Turning off the bedside lamp, Lucy snuck out into the hallway and closed the door.

            Lois’ eyes snapped open. While the drowsiness remained, nothing compared to the ache that finally settled when she realized she really was alone. She turned her head to the space beside her. Empty. Cold. A harsh dose of reality that was almost too much to bear. Turning herself on her side the best she could, Lois grabbed Richard’s pillow and held it close to her. It still smelled of him and the deep breath she took sent her over the edge.

            Burying her face into it, haunted by the picture in the kitchen, Lois clutched the pillow in her shaking arms and sobbed.

Tags: underground
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