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18 April 2009 @ 03:07 pm
Heirs to the House of El: Harder To Breathe (Chapter Fifteen)  
Okay, here it comes. I won't say more than that. And yes, the next chapter is more than half done. We've been months getting here and so it should be no surprise. Read on if you dare.

Maroon 5-Harder to Breathe


How dare you say that my behavior is unacceptable
So condescending unnecessarily critical?
I have the tendency of getting very physical,
So watch your step cause if I do you'll need a miracle...

And like a little girl cries in the face
Of a monster that lives in her dreams,
Is there anyone out there?
'Cause it's getting harder and harder to breathe
Is there anyone out there
'Cause it's getting harder and harder to breathe...


~Maroon 5-Harder to Breathe


The decision had been made that Lana and Richard would drive Giselle home, leaving Jason and Lois to keep vigil. He still didn’t know what exactly Lois had said to them, but she must have convinced them she was okay. That left him alone with Mom, who was definitely not okay. She’d retreated to her study, from which he could hear her tapping away intermittently at her laptop keyboard. Jason, who could hear just about anything in the apartment when he chose, thought it didn’t sound like her usual working pattern. More as if Mom was trying to keep her son from finding out how upset she was.

It was a little late for that, he thought ruefully. Dad was out somewhere saving the world, Kala was late going on really late, and either of those could be just cause for mother and son to seek each other’s company and comfort. But something had to be very wrong for Lois to hide away in the study, and Jason’s stomach felt queasy at the thought. He didn’t want to go up and bother her, but he really hated sitting alone on the couch, watching the clock and worrying.

He was so wrapped up in his anxieties that he didn’t hear Kala until she burst in the door, panting heavily and clutching her side with the hand that wasn’t carrying her boots. She looked disheveled, her hair windblown and her eyes wild. Jason jumped up, startled by her appearance, and practically yelped, “Where the hell have you been, Kal?”

“Had to … run…” she gasped, taking a few steps to lean against the wall.

Jason hadn’t realized just how focused he had been on his sister until he nearly jumped at the sound of the voice coming from the second floor stairs. And the look on Mom’s face wasn’t friendly as she stared at Kala. He could almost feel the warmth of her irritation radiating off of her. “Really? And exactly where were you that you’re more than half an hour late and out of breath? Looks like someone laid on the super-speed in public, hmm?”

The panicked expression fell from Kala’s face, replaced by a mulish one. “I was out,” she said, catching her breath. “I just lost track of time…”

There was no missing the flare in his mother’s eyes. “Oh, come off it, Kala! You weren’t out with Sebast,” Lois snapped, cutting her off. “I called him at 12:15. He’s home with his brother because his grandmother is in the hospital. There was no way he could have gone with you. Did you even go to Fuel?”

“Of course I did!” Kala retorted, taking an angry stride forward. Unfortunately, that brought her all the way into the living room, which was better-lit than the hall. Now Jason could see that the shadow on Kala’s neck wasn’t just her hair – from her jaw down to the collar of her blouse, her skin was marked with irregular purplish bruises. It took him a moment to realize those were hickies.

It seemed to only take that long for their mother to notice it as well, an instant of surprise passing over her features before her eyes narrowed. Jason knew her well enough to know that she was just barely reining in her infamous temper. “Really?” she said through gritted teeth, stalking down in the stairs toward her daughter. “From the looks of things, you may have, but that wasn’t the only place you went. Your father will be thrilled. This is what he gets for trusting you out on New Year's.”

Both of their gazes had gone to Kala’s neck, and it was as if she’d only just realized the love-bites showed. Kala blushed furiously; she’d always been Daddy’s little girl, and the mention of disappointing him stung her where nothing else could. But she wasn’t the kind to back down when challenged. “So what, I can’t have a boyfriend now?” she snapped, tossing her hair back defiantly. “Jason gets to have his little slut up in his room when the door’s closed and nobody’s home, but I come home with a couple hickies and you yell at me?”

Jason yelped in surprise at her betrayal. “Kal!” He couldn’t add, you promised not to tell, but he wished he could.

“Kala, watch your mouth! And what you did tonight has nothing to do with your brother.” Her mother’s expression darkened, although it didn’t seem possible that she could look any more livid than she did now.

His twin’s hazel eyes swung to Jason, full of resentment. “Must be nice to be Mommy’s favorite. You’ve been getting away with crap for years, Jase. Nobody even yelled at you for breaking that cup in Smallville, except me, and I got yelled at for that!”

Jason was too shocked by her sudden viciousness to do more than stare. Lois, however, wasn’t so easily put off.

“I know what you’re doing, Kala, and deflecting the blame on Jason doesn’t change the facts. Your brother wasn’t the one who was allowed to go out to do as she pleased on New Year's, despite the fact that I told your father I didn’t think it was a good idea, and came home with her neck marked up, not to mention more than half an hour late!” Now Mom was right up on Kala now, jaw tight with fury. “And a closed door is pretty goddamn different than coming in here looking like this. It has nothing to do with whether one of you is favored over the other, whether you’re trying the sympathy card or not. Your dad’s not here right now; I am.”

“And boy, do I know it,” Kala shot back. He might have at least been worried if I was okay. It’s only half an hour, and they’re just hickies, Mother. There’s no reason for you to freak out.”

Every word out of Kala’s mouth just seemed to dig her into an even deeper hole. “You may think you’re sixteen going on thirty-five, young lady, but you’re not there yet,” Lois replied hotly. “Which is the exact reason why I didn’t want you out of the house on a night like tonight, but your father caved over what his precious princess wanted, as usual. I hope you thoroughly enjoyed this little escapade, kiddo, because it stops now. You knew the house rules; you don’t like it, tough shit. My house, my rules. You want to act like an adult and cat around like this, probably break your dad’s heart? You can move your little butt out and see how well you do. It stops now.”

Kala’s mouth twisted in a furious scowl, and she glared right back at Lois. Only Jason seemed to see the tears smudging her eyeliner. “Oh, yeah? You’re gonna throw me out over this? No wonder I don’t bother trying to live by your rules. Nothing I do is ever gonna be good enough for you, so why bother trying?” She laughed harshly, the sound sour in Jason’s ears, and added with a contemptuous snort, “You know what really cracks me up, Mom? You trying to tell me how to act. As if.”

“Kala, don’t,” Jason warned, his voice full of misery. It tore him apart to see the two women he loved best – his mother and his twin sister, the one who’d brought him into the world and the one who’d been beside him from the very beginning – fighting like this. He felt as though he was being slowly pulled in half. “Stop it. Please, just stop it.”

Mom’s eyes flicked over to him and he thought he saw a flash of guilt there before she turned away again. Every sign told him she didn’t want to do this, that the brakes where off now. He also knew that this argument had been coming for a long time, and that there was nothing he could do without physically standing in between them. And both he and Mom knew that maybe he had done that a little too much. “Jason, honey, you need to stay out of this. Your sister has something she wants to say.”

Those hazel eyes were again on the pair that matched her own, her expression dark. Anyone that knew her would’ve known just from her expression that Lois Lane was holding her tongue by a fraying thread. “Okay, we’re waiting. Go ahead, Kala, let it out. Originally, you were only going to get grounded for the next two days, but since your mouth seems determined to write checks your ass can’t cash, enlighten me. What exactly was that little snark supposed to mean?”

“It means you can’t say anything to me,” Kala shot back, taking a step toward Lois. That meant she spat the next antagonistic words right into her mother’s face. “Where do you have the right to criticize me for doing something like this? You sure weren’t perfect! Hell, from what I’ve heard, you were the same at my age ­– maybe worse! You’re fucking legendary for it! That’s probably why Grandpa Sam made you move out and now you’re acting just like him!”

Jason saw the rush of warmth over his mother’s face, saw her hands clench tight, saw the wrathful expression that bloomed there. The young man could only wince in horror as it played out before his eyes. Kala had gone too far; they all knew it the moment the words had left his twin’s lips, and he waited for the inevitable. And when it came, it occurred so fast that none of the three expected it, Lois’ palm cracking against Kala’s cheek with righteous fury and more than a little shame.

Kala’s face crumpled in pain and surprise; the twins didn’t quite have their father’s invulnerability, so a blow like that hurt them as much as it hurt Lois. But it wasn’t the physical pain that made tears glitter in Kala’s eyes. She’d been frightened enough to just run home when a moment’s thought would’ve led her to at least call the house. Something had terrified his gutsy sister right out of her wits, and the instant after Lois slapped her, she looked six years old again, scared and about to cry.

Lois drew in a breath, her face already softening when she realized what she had done, and Jason thought she might weep too. It was rare to see Kala look so vulnerable these days, and for a second he thought the two of them were so stunned by what had just happened that they might hug, cry on each other, and forgive. But then another expression stole over Kala’s face, and this one was pure Lois: unadulterated outrage. None of the Lane girls dealt with fear and pain well; they tended to turn it into anger. And take it out on whoever had the audacity to hurt them.

Without a word, he saw Kala’s expression grow determined and she cocked her arm back for a payback slap. Jason was already moving, trying to dive between them, but he was too slow for Kala, always too slow. Kala’s hand whistled through the air, and Lois barely had time to flinch…

…before the French doors slammed open, the curtains blowing into the room. Kal-El was suddenly there in all of his primary-colored glory, gripping Kala’s arm, and staring at her with a look of angry dismay that neither twin had ever seen their father use with them. “How dare you raise your hand to your mother!” he thundered, and Kala wilted. That wasn’t just her Daddy’s voice, that was Superman scolding her, and she seemed to suddenly lose several inches of height.

There was a beat of silence, in which Kal-El released his daughter’s arm, and then he added, “Kala, you have the strength. If you hit Lois, you could break her neck.”

Kala stared at him, her eyes wide with comprehension. Jason’s gut wrenched in sympathy with her; every nasty thing she’d said to Mom had come from fear and shame, and this just made it all worse. Kala took a stumbling step backward, her chest hitching, and the tears in her eyes began to spill over. “Daddy…” she whispered, choking back a sob.

Kal-El turned to Lois then, and the look he gave her was thunderous. She stiffened, glaring right back at him, her eyes shining with hurt and embarrassment. “Don’t you go looking at me like that!” Lois snarled. She’s the one who came in half an hour after curfew, after lying about where she was going and who she’d be with!”

“I didn’t lie,” Kala protested, her voice barely audible, arms crossed around herself. Jason wanted to go to her, but he felt so torn; Mom had a point, and so did Kala, but neither of them should’ve been that mean to each other.

Lois’ gaze tore into her daughter, snapping, “Sebast sure as hell didn’t do this,” as she grabbed at Kala’s sleeve. Knowing what the move would reveal, Kala instinctively jerked away, but it was already too late. Lois had a good grip on the fabric, and that pulled the blouse down Kala’s shoulder, showing the marks.

Kal-El looked at his daughter with genuine disappointment and pained surprise. Kala couldn’t handle it; Jason saw her expression race through a half-dozen emotions before completely dissolving into tears. “No one ever tries to understand! I hate you! I hate this family!” she screamed, and bolted for her room in a torrent of tears.

Seeing the agony on his twin’s face, Jason tried to catch her as she sprinted up the hall, to comfort her; he and Kala had always been each other’s shoulder to lean on, as far back as they could remember. But not now. “Kal! Kal, wait! I…” Her bedroom door slammed shut in his face, and from the living room Jason could hear Mom and Dad starting to yell.

He leaned back against the door to his bedroom and slid down it, unable to help the way his chest was hitching. This isn’t right. This isn’t right! Where did it all go wrong?

At least the kids were out of it for now, Jason going into his own room and shutting his door after a few moments. Clark let loose a sigh and tried to shake himself back into some semblance of coherent thought, part of his mind still worrying about the nuclear reactor half a world away, and the team he’d left abruptly to finish dealing with it on their own. “Lois, what on earth…?” he began to ask.

Her teary eyes carried an angry, wounded light when she cut them up at him. She didn’t even have to say a word; her air was one of accusation, her hands in fists at her sides and tension in every line of her body. There was a long moment where she didn’t even speak, but when she did, her voice was trembling and low. “And now you show up. Now you want to know what’s happening. After it’s all over and done. You were too late this time, that’s what.”

“Lois, I’m sorry,” he said, trying to keep the aggravation out of his tone, and not completely succeeding. “A nuclear reactor in Russia overheated and had a meltdown. There are only a handful of us who can even get near a situation like that. I had to go – if we didn’t take care of it, it could’ve been another Chernobyl.”

He could see the flicker of guilt across her face and it seemed as though it would blow over like it always did. There were moments when she would be hurt and infuriated at his being called away, but she always managed to cool down enough to understand why he had to be there. But this time that delicate jaw set, her eyes going cold. “Really? None of this would have happened if you had been here to stop it. Have you ever noticed that they’re all a holocaust in the making, something only you alone could do? It’s a shame that you can manage to save millions of lives from death, but you can’t even be here when your family is falling apart. Or, at least, until the little princess is in trouble.”

He stared at her disbelievingly. What?” he asked, hearing the shocked and furious tone in his own voice before he even recognized the emotion tightening his chest. “Are you serious?” Did she really just question the mission? And did she just imply I stayed away because I wanted to? That I came home because Kala was in trouble, and not because the two women I love best were about to get into a physical fight that could’ve ended with one of them dead?

The fire in her eyes blazed then. “Don’t I look serious? After dealing with this for a decade, after having to deal with one crisis after another, I needed you here and you left. Without an explanation, abrupt enough that I just barely managed to get away with an excuse, and when there had to be at least another member of your little club that could have done it for you! Or that it happens all the damn time now! You don’t want to discuss something? It’s off to save the world – and don’t worry, Lois will understand. And it’s fine that you spoil the kids rotten; Lois took care them the first six years, why not let her finish it out now that they only have two years to go?”

Those accusations, coming right after the depressing sense of failure caused by those three deaths in Russia (and how many more would die of radiation poisoning in the next few months, he dared not ask), shocked Clark speechless. A part of him tried to believe this somehow wasn’t real – he’d left behind a wife who was purring and affectionate, expecting to return home to make apologies and then ring in the New Year in style. Instead, he found himself being berated for – it seemed – everything he’d done in the past few years.

Shocked, hurt, and still grieving for the loss of life at the reactor, Clark forgot everything he knew about Lois. He should’ve remembered that she always got angry when she felt shame or sorrow; he should’ve known that she tended to hide her hurt as long as she could, lashing out when she could no longer pretend the pain didn’t exist. All of that was blown out of his mind by the vicious eruption of angry words, and he responded in a much hotter temper than he ever would have imagined himself using.

“Do you seriously believe I think that way?” Clark snapped at her. “Do you really think I’d use my mission as an excuse? Sometimes, Lois, there isn’t anyone who can step in and do my job for me. Out of the whole League and the reserve members, there are only four who can handle nuclear radiation, and one of those can’t be in a potentially flammable situation! That leaves me, Hal, and Diana, and we needed all three of us plus J’onn’s telepathy just to rescue the people we did manage to get out – not to mention preventing nuclear fallout across most of the planet!”

She suddenly went pale, but Clark was too angry to realize that the last thing he should’ve mentioned when Lois was feeling neglected was that he’d spent New Year’s Eve – however traumatic – with Wonder Woman. He pressed onward. “And what do you mean, spoiling the kids rotten? Half the time I’m trying to balance it out – as far as you’re concerned, Jason’s an angel who can do no wrong, and Kala’s the devil’s own child. Did you even ask her what happened tonight, or did you just start slapping her?”

He couldn’t ever remember seeing the look that crossed her face then, looking at him as if she’d never seen him before. Her pulse had picked up at his words, her respiration quickening as well, her eyes closing for a moment. “You bastard,” she ground out, and he could see the tears starting to dampen her cheeks. “It was your idea for her to go out there tonight. I said she was too young; I told you she’d get herself into trouble. And you told her she could anyway, just like you always do.”

Clark was too shocked by that to respond, and she stepped closer to snarl in his face, “Well, guess what, hero? When Sebast couldn’t go with her, did she come home like a good little girl?”

The laugh she gave then was cynical, shaking her head slightly as the barest of smiles curved her lips. “Our Kala? No. No, she went out and got herself all chewed up by someone who sure as hell wasn’t Sebast. She’s not an angel, Kal-El, any more than Jason is! You and your damn tunnel vision! I love her, God knows I’ve loved her from that moment she was born, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s been pushing the damn envelope for years now and you’ve let her! Yes, I yell at Jason a lot less, but that’s because he actually listens when I tell him something and doesn’t go running to you when I say no; hell, I yelled at him at Christmas and didn’t even say a word to your daughter! Jason knows when enough’s enough and usually punishes himself for what he’s done wrong before we even say a word; not like Kala, who has to argue every single request made of her and then resents you for the fact that she’s made to do anything more than she’d like! And the worse of it is, half the time you’re not around to back me up and then, when you are here, you coddle her. God, even my own damn children are turning against me!”

“I don’t know what happened tonight,” Clark said angrily. “And now it’s going to take twice as long to find out, because she’s all out-of-sorts thanks to you jumping to conclusions! And now Jason’s been upset by this, too! Lois, you love her so much, but the two of you can’t go a week without scrapping. You’re the adult here; you ought to be the one trying to keep things civil with your own daughter! She’s a teenager, she’s supposed to be moody and temperamental and irrational – why are you acting the same way?”

“Who’s the adult here? Who’s the adult here?” Something inside Kal-El was starting to wish he had never begun this. It was a rare moment when he had ever seen Lois this angry – and never at him. Her voice was shaking when she stalked up to him, locking eyes with him in fine fury. “How ironic that you drop that on me. You know what, hero? Come talk to me when you can actually tell me where the fuck you’re going before you run out on me while I’m begging you to stay! Obviously I need you here - very mature of you to run off without even wondering why. But then again, you’ve always been able to do it before, why shouldn’t you now?”

Tears still lurked in her eyes, but her chin was tilted up defiantly when she looked him in the eye and added, “Do me a favor next time you waltz out of here without a word; see what you can do about finding my husband and sending him home to me. Somehow he managed to get lost on one of his outings and I haven’t seen him since. Can you do something about that, Superman? Because I’m really starting to miss him.”

Her meaning was perfectly clear, and hideously ironic: after all these years and all their struggles with his public and private identities, she felt he’d become a little too much Superman and not enough Clark. The joining of the two – the truth of who he was, when no one else was watching – was Kal-El, but according to Lois, the balance was off. And who would know better than his wife, his partner, his chronicler?

But still, he’d heard her use the name she’d given him matter-of-factly, playfully, seriously, and mischievously … but never cruelly. It was a twist of the knife into an already sore wound; the suspicion that he might be failing as a father and a husband, that after all his promises and all of this time, he simply couldn’t be the man he wanted to be. Nor could he be the hero he was meant to be – Clark had tried to be both, and thought he was halfway succeeding, but evidently he was wrong.

“What do you want from me?!” Clark exclaimed. He was so hurt and so confused at that point that all he wanted was direction. Just please tell me how to fix this, his heart pleaded. I don’t know what went wrong, I don’t know how we got to this point, I’ll do anything you ask of me if only you’ll tell me how to make things right again.

Her arms were crossed protectively over her chest, those hazel eyes mirrored his own mixed-up feelings. There was a wall between them, invisible but substantial just the same. He couldn’t tell what would happen next and air was charged with that knowledge. Lois’ voice was choked with that same emotion as she stepped back a little from him and finally murmured with great dignity, “I think we both know what I want from you.”

He saw that look, but where he could have once read volumes in the tiniest gesture of eyebrow, the slightest movement of her lips, he saw only broad strokes of anger and pain. “I don’t have any idea what you want!” Clark said in frustration, feeling as though he was being torn apart. Everyone needed him, and he needed Lois, now more than ever, but right now all he was getting was more blame, more stress. Sick at heart by the whole mess, he snapped, “Well? If you want a divorce, Lois, I’ll give you one!”

The moment the words left his mouth, Clark regretted them, but it was too late. They’d struck home, and the look on Lois’ face was perfectly clear: from the wide eyes looking back at his, the blood draining from her face when she stumbled back from him, that obviously hadn’t been the answer she was expecting. Her breath was coming fast as she reeled, her heart rate faster. His wife looked achingly young in that moment, a look of complete disbelief as her face paled, before her facade shattered absolutely. She opened her mouth to say something, her lips trembling, and then she turned her back on him. Her breath was coming fast, her heart rate faster, when she turned suddenly on her heel and strode away in a blur of silver, as if all the demons in hell were at her ankles.

That was the worst mistake I’ve made since taking her memories and leaving for Krypton. The cold realization froze Clark to the spot just a moment too long to go after Lois; he heard the study door slam and lock. Too late.

Clark sighed, covering his face with his hands. How did we come to this? When everything was so bright and full of hope, when we pledged forever, we never imagined we would find ourselves here. And the worst part is, I’m not even entirely certain I’m not the one at fault. Fighting down the urge to simply fly off to the Fortress and refuse to come back until the world started making sense again, Clark went to get his dog. At least one family member loved him.

Bagel was hiding, having squeezed her black and tan and white body into the small space under one of the living room chairs. Clark talked to her softly; she’d been left in the study most of the evening to keep her from jumping on the party guests, and she must have come out just in time for their argument to begin. In the end, he had to pick up the chair and scoop her up to get her out of there. Once in his arms, she wagged her white-tipped tail and licked his face, frantic in her search for comfort.

“Easy, girl,” Clark whispered, kissing the top of her head as he strode wearily into the bedroom to get ready for bed. “It’s all right, Bagel.” Even if no one would comfort him, he could still offer comfort, especially to a creature who couldn’t understand why her family was suddenly so angry at each other.

Clark put the little dog down on the bed, where she promptly burrowed under his pillow. He was still wearing the super-suit; he couldn’t remember ever arguing with Lois while he was in uniform before. Normally she got a little tongue-tied around the suit, but tonight she’d been simply furious.

He hid the suit in the secret compartment at the back of their closet and picked up the clothes he’d haphazardly tossed onto the bed earlier. His cell phone fell out of his jacket pocket, the message light blinking. Clark sighed and flipped it open to see a text from Richard. Let us know when you and Kala get home. We worry about you, big guy. Is everything okay?

“Nothing’s okay,” Clark muttered, but he used his hearing to check on the twins anyway. Jason and Kala were both crying, though they were in separate rooms; Clark felt guilt pierce him at the realization that they had to have heard his entire argument with Lois, including that awful word divorce. Lois was also crying, and Clark felt tears threatening as well; he had never managed to ruin an evening quite as completely as he’d wrecked this one.

But at least they were all safe. He replied to Richard’s text with a short, Everyone’s home and okay. For a given value of ‘okay’, at least, one that allowed for psychological trauma.

The reply came instantly. Good news. We’ll talk tomorrow?

Only then did Clark remember Lana hinting at needing to talk to him and Lois, and he snorted in bitter amusement. If anyone could see what was going on in the Lane-Kent marriage, it was Lana, and she’d been a day too late with her intervention. All he sent to Richard, however, was, Sure. Good night.

He put away his clothes and his phone, lying down in the too-empty bed. Bagel crawled over to snuggle against his side, giving him pathetic looks and occasionally licking his hand. “It’ll be all right,” he murmured softly, patting her side. “Somehow I’ll make it all right. Tomorrow…”

Lois woke up to her face pressed into cushions and the worst headache she’d had in quite some time. She started to stretch, then froze, whimpering. She had a kink in her neck, her back was stiff, one arm was asleep, and her legs felt cramped, not to mention that her back was screaming blue murder. And to top it all off, a shaft of morning sunlight struck her directly in the eyes when she rolled over. All of that was directly attributable to the fact that she’d spent the night on the couch in the study.

Trying to find the will to move any further, she heard a scratching noise at the door. She groaned in misery, wanting nothing more than to just disappear back into the forgiving oblivion of sleep. Facing what happened last night was a prospect that turned her stomach, and the longer she could put that off, the better. But Bagel had other ideas; the whining from the doorway intensifying as if she had heard that thought. Unable to handle the pitiful sounds, Lois rose with a heavy sigh. Trying not to fall over the pile of last night’s finery on the floor next to the couch, the silver dress and lingerie in a forlorn heap where she had shed them in the wee hours of the morning, she managed to get across to the door without falling over. She slowly opened it a crack to see Bagel standing there, wagging her tail hopefully. The mournful look on the beagle’s face, sadder than usual, made the reporter bite her lip at a swell of guilt. Everything seemed to point to the disaster that was yesterday.

“Poor Brat. I know, I know. I didn’t like it, either,” Lois sighed as she knelt down to pet her and was promptly covered in kisses. “C’mon, girl. I’ll let you out while I take a shower.” Bagel trotted down the stairs a little stiffly herself, following Lois as she stood and headed to the French doors. The rest of the apartment was quiet, a good sign after the night just passed. She wasn’t sure if she could face anyone this morning. Kal-El was probably out on rounds, so Lois took advantage of his absence to hurry into the shower, hating the dry, foul taste in her mouth and the feel of her makeup smeared around her eyes. One glance in the mirror as she entered the bedroom and shed the slip she had slept in told her all she needed to know. “Great, I look about as lousy as I feel,” she growled in an unsteady voice, forcing herself into the shower.

The memories of the previous night were crystal clear and the sound of rushing water was the only sound in the shower. In spite of her determination not to do so, the reality of the world she had woken up to tore at her as she washed her hair. How much harder could God laugh at her? And could things have gone any more wrong? From the moment she’d gone into work yesterday, it was a chain-reaction of huge misunderstandings and just plain bad damn luck. It had just all gotten out of control at an alarming rate and the worst had happened just after the New Year had begun. Kala or Kal-El? Which had been the worst of it? There wasn’t even an absolute answer, just a question of degrees.

Looking back on it several hours later, it just sickened her. It wasn’t that both confrontations hadn’t been necessary; it was just the way it had all come down that made things as painful as they were. Kala had had the tongue-lashing coming and the girl had known it from the moment she came in the door; missing curfew by as late as she had been was an instant ‘scolding and restriction’ for both twins. The few times that Kala had been grounded since she and Jason had been allowed to stay out at night, she had played it smart and been appropriately meek. Easier to get a lesser sentence than to argue. But the way Kala had flown into a defiant rage, Lois knew her own daughter well enough to know more than the usual guilt lay behind it. There’d been shame there, although one other thing had made her daughter that nasty, and Lois hadn’t caught it at the time: fear.

Part of her own reaction to the tantrum had been the huge and constant upsets of the day, making Lois irrational as well, although there was no way Kala could have known what the emotional weather had been while she was gone. She couldn’t have known her mother’s own guilt. Everything at the office, then Kal-El’s unexplained disappearance, had all combined to put Lois’ temper on edge, which was then blind-sided by this one final disappointment. Not that she hadn’t been justified to be angry with the girl for blowing off her curfew, but the snappy attitude had been like a red flag. The volcano had been boiling before Kala had come in the door, but she had kept it under control … until she’d seen the marks.

Growling under her breath, she leaned her face into the steamy spray. It seemed that from the day Kala had turned fifteen, her mother had become the enemy. All of her life, her little girl had been so proud of the similarities between their looks, some of their traits, so happy to be recognized as Lois Lane’s daughter. Overnight, a nearly-invisible wall had gone up between them with Lois not understanding why, a wall that the reporter was unconsciously slamming into over and over again. In the last two years, Kala had tried to find every way she possibly could to show that she was nothing like her mom, rebelling against everything Lois said or did – and paradoxically, acting just like Lois had when she was that age. And when you brought that up now, woe to both you and her mother. So I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. With no way to get through to her. And every time I try, it’s like trying to catch jagged glass and makes it pretty clear that I’m still not great at the ‘Mom’ thing.

Closing her eyes with a deep sigh, she turned her back on the spray to wash the shampoo out. Usually, the sandalwood and rose scent would make her smile, but something that simple just wasn’t enough. Not today. The hardest part for the reporter was watching Kala make many of the same mistakes she’d made, and she didn’t want her daughter to suffer the same heartbreaks if there was a way to stop it. But none of her efforts seemed to reach the girl, sending her running to her father, and Kala just became more and more determined to resist her guidance. Whether Kala realized it or not, it hurt to be shoved aside for Kal-El, ‘who understands me’, when she had been the one there for Kala since she was born. And in confrontations like last night, Kala showed how disastrously alike she and her mother really were. Feeling guilty and wounded, they’d both lashed out viciously at each other, protecting their battered feelings with the best defense either of them knew: a swift offense.

Even now, she felt regretful tears burning her eyes. She’d never raised a hand to either of her children, although Kala’s smart mouth had more than once brought about an idle thought of it. There were no excuses for what she had done. She could blame it on the fact that her own daughter had compared her to Sam Lane, the most illogical and demanding man she had ever met. Did Kala even know how deeply that cut? She’d tried her hardest to do right by her children, to make sure they knew that she loved them regardless of their little weaknesses and shortcomings. Let them know that they could grow up to be whatever they wanted and she’d always love them no matter what. Near as she could see, she had nothing to do with her father’s teachings. And still… still she had managed to fail with them. Struggling with the reality of last night’s actions, she leaned her head against the cold tile of the shower stall and hid her tears in the water sluicing over her cheeks.

And then, as always, her husband had butted in at the very last second and made a dicey situation worse, once again reminding everyone that Lois was the fragile, defenseless human in the midst of the mighty Kryptonian family. And that hurt more than anything else he could have said about her, to be considered the breakable one amongst them. Not only was it personally hurtful her, Kal-El had no idea, on a parental level, how much that undermined her authority. A fresh wave of bitterness washed over her then, remembering the incident. Freshly hurt, Lois had been unable to stop herself when she lashed out again – at him. She couldn’t believe some of the things she’d said to her husband, things that had been building up in the back of her mind and heart for a long time. Things she had been too scared to say out loud, for fear of the answers she would get. Not that they weren’t true, but she had to admit now that she’d phrased them for maximum emotional suffering. To make him acknowledge that there were problems. Make him see her.

And that was utterly beside the point considering the things he’d said back to her, ending with the phrase that had rocked her to the core. Of all of the things she had expected to come out of his mouth, that had been the last. She forced the memory away, unable to handle it. How had everything gotten so bad? And was there any way to fix it now? That’s what she had to focus on now. With all of the times Fate had managed to shove them back together, had their luck finally run out? The thought made her ill feelings all the worse. Was their story, having been to such great heights, going to finally end in burning wreckage? No. No, it’s not going to end like this. I have to talk to him. There has to be a way that we can find our way back to each other. I won’t let it end like this.

This line of thinking was too much for her. Getting herself under control, she managed to finish her shower and dress before the kids woke up and before Clark got home. Although the shambles of her home life was put to the back of her mind, she made the decision that something would have to be done. Even if she had to be the one to do it. In the meantime, Lois decided to do the wise thing, grab her briefcase, and get out of the house without speaking to any of them. It would be for the best if it started this evening, though; she was still unsettled, and there was work to be done at the Planet. Maybe the four of them could their heads together if they had the day to consider everything that had happened. The work at home could start when everyone was present and accounted for. They’d work things out, once and for all.


There's some things we don't talk about,
Rather do without,
And just hold the smile.
Falling in and out of love,
ashamed and proud of,
Together all the while.

You can never say never.
Why we dont know when,
Time and time again,
Younger now than we were before...


~The Fray, Never Say Never
 
 
On the Verge of: enthralledenthralled
Beautiful Noise: The Fray-Never Say Never
 
 
saavikam77: Clark Jimmy Photosaavikam77 on April 18th, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC)
And now for my 'reader's' reaction.

Oh, shit. ~O_O~ The first time I read this, I'd already been in a bad mood, and it just intensified it through exposure. It's *that* powerful a fight. Lois and Kala... if I didn't know what was gonna happen, I'd have sworn Kala was gonna knock Lois to kingdom come. O_o And it would have been just about deserved, on Lois's part, for blowing everything out of proportion and dumping all over Kala like she did. Thank goodness we got to see some of Lois's motivations afterward.

I LOVED the moment when Clark showed up to stop their fight, suit and Superman-voice and all. ^_~ Very heavy, just the right amount of "HOLY SHIT, IT'S REALLY COME TO THIS?!" And that right after Kala and Jason head upstairs, Clark seems to lose all that gravitas, even as he tries to defend himself against her accusations. Poor guy, at a complete loss. I felt so bad for him there. That Lois is still jealous over Diana makes me feel even *worse* for him. As if he'd ever done a single thing to give her a reason to be jealous. O_o

I also loved how you mirrored Jason's thinking with Clark, how all they want to do is keep the two women they love best from ripping each other apart. Poor boys.

All in all, my Aftermath muses are horrified by the whole situation.

Anyway, fantastic chapter, as always, ladies. ^__^ *applauds wildly* I can't wait to see how this gets us to the next major plot point! ^_~
clarks_girlclarks_girl on April 18th, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC)
OMFG!! I'm sorry but did you somehow build a time machine and go back to my teenage years. Dear God did that remind me of my mother and I at that age.

And I guess Clark's head has been finally pulled out of his ass. Hmmmmmm. I am soooooooooo loving this!!

Love Jody
AlphieLJ: Original Movieverse Cloisalphielj on April 19th, 2009 03:43 am (UTC)
This chapter should come with a warning for all women who have had the "D" word dropped on them at New Years only to face a night alone with their son and daughter crying in their bed rooms.

Wait... that would be just me, huh.

Yeah. I wish I would have known. I might have been able to read it without bawling. Seriously hit way too close to home for me.
Anissa Roy: Group Huganissa7118 on April 19th, 2009 04:28 am (UTC)
Oh, God, Lori, I'm so sorry. I must've forgotten that it happened to you at New Year's. If I'd remembered, I would have warned you.

*hugs you tight*

This story seems to have a lot of synchronicity. Dawn read the first prologue - dealing with Ella Lane's death by cancer - when she was working the oncology ward, and it hit home way too hard for her as well. I can only hope that when we get to the triumphant parts of the story, those echoes with our readers as well.

I will tell you two things: one, Lois and Clark will be back to speaking to each other next chapter. Though all their issues aren't neatly and instantly resolved, we will show a ray of hope. And two, as much as we're ripping out everyone's hearts with where the story is now, the ending will be worth it. You know Lois and I are hardcore Clois fans - we will not let their story end like this.
AlphieLJ: Original Movieverse Cloisalphielj on April 19th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, I know you will get them back together. You wouldn't be THAT mean. But just so you know, once the D word is out there, it hangs over everything you do from then on. It's way way difficult to forgive someone for even mentioning it. And it's very difficult to move forward. It is always on the back of your mind as a threat. And since he did leave her once...

It just seemed to me a bit of our character for Clark. You don't say that word unless you are willing to follow through with it, and would he really walk away from her and his family when he loves them as much as he does? I could see him bringing up counseling more than divorce.

And FYI - the chapter at fan fiction dot net says Harder THAN Breathe. I read the chapters over there because the print here is SOOO very tiny and it's usually in two posts. But I comment here so we can banter back and forth! LOL!
Lois: LS :: Superman Lois :: Love Youkalalanekent on April 20th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)
I hadn't remembered that it was at New Years, either. I'm sorry, sweetheart. *snugs* We've been planning this for a while now, his finally losing his temper with her, and all of this was planned so far in advance that I'm not even sure that your incident had happened yet when it was first discussed. I'm so sorry that this brought back bad memories for you. It truly wasn't meant to be directed at you.

And *headdesk* I went back and fixed the title. See what happens when you post half-awake? :D
ladymackenzie: S Shieldladymackenzie on April 19th, 2009 03:49 am (UTC)
Ok ladies, you have me crying here! I hope that they get the marriage and family stuff sorted out next chapter! You can have angst without the marriage falling apart, ladies. Please let them talk and get it all straightened out!! The teenage stuff won't go away until the teenagers are no longer teenagers. Fact of life. Lots of angst there!

I know that one talk isn't going to fix the whole marriage, but hopefully it will make the characters resolve to work on their marriage and not quit. Clark needs to find out that Lois is jealous of Wonder Woman ASAP! That's one of the things that needs to be addressed.

Anyway.... Looking forward to the next chapter. I put my feedback here because I was having trouble signing into fanfiction.net. I'm still having internet connection problems. I'm just glad I was able to read it today and review!

{{{{{{hugs}}}}}}

Mac