One final chapter follows this one to tell us just what Dr. Marrin has discovered about our family. And what exactly he may do with this knowledge. Posting the chapter early this week to make up for all the recent delays. Let's see if we can maybe get ATU posted by this time next week. ;)
At last, the elusive Clark Kent arrived in Dr. Marrin’s office for his consultation. To Elliot’s surprise, he turned out to be more uncomfortable than Lois, something that ought to have been impossible. Funny how the one he thought would be the most difficult had turned out much easier than planned – then again, he knew Lois in ways he didn’t know any of the rest of the family.
Clark chose the chair over the couch, as Elliot expected, and greeted him with restrained courtesy. To outward appearances, he seemed calm, no overt displays of anxiety such as fidgeting. But to Elliot’s trained eye, Clark showed the signs of high tension in the line of his shoulders and a dozen other tiny clues.
Actually, once Elliot really studied it, Clark’s body language was quite odd. He had terrible posture, his shoulders slumped, and his stride was hesitant – taken as a whole, Clark seemed awkward and diffident. But he was keeping those signs of tension so well repressed that it gave the impression of superb self-control, the opposite of the awkwardness he projected.
As Elliot ran through his standard greetings and simple questions, designed to put the patient at ease, he reflected that Clark had to be a complicated individual. Lois Lane had never been drawn to simplicity – well, except for the primary-colored savior in the sky. But she was madly in love with her husband, with a man everyone described as kind, gentle, unassuming, and a host of other traits Lois had never seemed to look for.
He must’ve paused a moment too long, because Clark spoke up. “I am awfully sorry about my missed appointments, Dr. Marrin,” he said.
“It’s not a problem,” Elliot replied smoothly. “Your daughter was kind enough to fill in last time. Besides, I understand you have other priorities, especially in that instance.”
“Kala told you,” Clark sighed, and to Elliot’s surprise his cheeks actually flushed a bit. Of course, the Smallville contingent of the family was fairly repressed, at least when it came to talking about such things.
“Lois is your wife, by all accounts you love her very much, and you came altogether too close to losing her,” Elliot said in his most level tones. “I would be surprised – and frankly worried – if the pair of you weren’t eager to get back to normal.”
“I’m glad you understand,” Clark said, pushing his glasses up. Weirdly, that wasn’t shyness and relief in his tone. There was something more complex there, and Elliot had a guess what it was.
“Better than most. I enjoyed Lois’ company, when she was mine.” That was as close as flinging down a gauntlet as Elliot dared to go.
Clark sat up straighter, his shoulders went back, and the look in his eyes was anything but timid. “Lois hasn’t been yours for a very long time.”
“Indeed she hasn’t,” Elliot agreed. “Better for both of us, I think. She’s a fascinating woman…”
To his immense surprise, Clark cut him off. “And she doesn’t appreciate being looked at like a bug under a magnifying glass, either.”
Elliot smiled broadly. I think I’ve discovered the lion who was raised by sheep, he thought, remembering an old children’s tale. All I have to do to find the real measure of the man is talk about his wife. “I’ve never been very good at turning off my analyst’s perception. Lois was neither the first nor the last case in which it worked to my detriment. Still, I’m glad my insights into her character – regardless of how they were gained – can be useful to help Jason and Kala.”
“You have been a tremendous help with the twins,” Clark admitted, but he wasn’t quite mollified.
Elliot decided to take a slightly different tack. “It’s my pleasure to be able to treat them. So often in this practice, I’m seeing children from broken homes, children who’ve been abused, children traumatized by violence. Kala and Jason, no matter what else happens, know they have a firm foundation of love and support from all four parents. That’s a gift beyond price.”
Clark hesitated a fraction of a moment. “It’s the same gift my parents gave me. How could I not pass it on?”
“If only Lois’ father had seen things the same way,” Elliot mused aloud.
Surprising, Clark didn’t take the bait. “We don’t know what General Lane’s life was like, what led him to make the choices he did. I can’t condemn a man I never met. I do know he was wrong about Lois – and I’ve spent most of my life trying to convince her of that.”
Elliot chuckled. “I spent the better part of two years trying to convince her of the same thing. Not to mention every chance I get these days.”
“It doesn’t seem to have worked,” Clark said, not unkindly.
“Two of her exes, her husband, and her boss-slash-surrogate father haven’t been able to prove Lois’ own worth to her. I suspect she won’t really slay that particular demon until Jason turns to her as a grown man and tells her how proud he is to be her son. And knowing Jason, that day is coming soon.”
“He carried himself like a man in Nevada,” Clark replied. “He’s my son, but I’d be proud to call him my friend if he wasn’t.”
“It’s hard to watch them grow up, though,” Elliot mused.
“Oh, it is. It is. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday he was running around with a trashcan on his head, doing his best Godzilla roar. But it’s not without its joys as well. I’m so very proud of both of them.”
Elliot smiled at the reminder of a younger Jason. Someone had told him he could be anything he wanted when he grew up, and for a while his life’s goal had been to become Godzilla, which led to teasing from his sister that continued up to the present day. “Your pride in both of them is certainly justified. Jason and Kala have been through a lot of things the average child never experiences, but they’re both fortunate enough to have a great deal of resilience. And that comes from the way they were raised.”
“Half the problems they’ve had to deal with were my fault, directly or indirectly,” Clark said, his voice so low he was almost speaking to himself.
“Clark, we all know that lovers and spouses come with baggage. What no one bothers to say aloud is that parents do, too. There’s no child on earth who starts out with a clean slate. We’re all affected by our parents’ histories, shaped by the cycles they’re determined to break as much as the ones they fail to escape. Who our parents are shapes who we are, and in the case of your twins, that’s a good thing. There are moments you regret, burdens you wish you hadn’t passed on, but that happens to all parents. Concentrate on the strengths they acquired instead.”
“They did get a decent mix of the two of us,” Clark admitted.
“That they did. Jason’s steadiness has to come from you; not that Lois is flighty, only that the most constant aspect of her personality is her drive. You couldn’t call her calm or collected.” Elliot watched Clark carefully as he spoke, waiting for another flash of temper.
Instead Clark smiled. “No, but I love that about her. It’s funny; in a lot of ways we have nothing in common, we make no sense whatsoever as a couple, but we do love each other. It’s not an easy marriage, but I don’t think many people get those.”
“From a professional standpoint, I have no evidence that easy marriages exist,” Elliot remarked. “Everyone has to compromise; everyone has issues to work out. I suppose you and Lois prove the old adage about opposites attracting? And that does create difficulties.”
Clark nodded. “It was easy, the first time around. The first time the opportunity just kind of fell into our laps. That’s what ruined it for us, I think. It was too easy. The last ten years we’ve fought for this, in Nevada most of all. And having to fight to be together just makes us appreciate what we have that much more. Lois and I are both very stubborn people, and the more adversity we have to overcome, the stronger it makes our marriage.”
So that was the key trait the couple had in common – tenacity. Which was why Jason especially had it in double-strength. This was an interesting conversational path to pursue, for several reasons. Without looking as though he’d given any real thought to it, Elliot mused, “Several philosophers have held the opinion that strife is necessary to social functioning. Perhaps you and Lois prove the point, if your relationship is better now that the two of you have more obstacles to overcome. Truthfully, though, have you ever wished it was easier?”
“Of course I have.” Clark shrugged. “In the middle of an argument, when we both think the other one’s being totally unreasonable, I think both of us have wished this marriage wasn’t difficult. But you know, if I wanted something easier and more comfortable, I’d have taken my mother’s unsubtle hints and married Lana.”
That made Elliot raise his eyebrows slightly, and he was generally in control of his facial expressions while patients were in the room. “Hmm. So you think your life would be easier if you were with Lana?”
Clark seemed utterly unaware that this idea could be surprising. “Of course it would. We’ve known each other since we were three years old. We had the same small-town upbringing. And even though our lives have taken us very different places since we grew up, we still have a great deal in common. I’d argue with her less, if only because Lana prefers subtle manipulation to arguing, and either way everyone winds up doing what she wants them to. The thing is, I don’t think either of us would be as happy with each as we are with Lois and Richard.”
Elliot leaned forward with an encouraging expression, and Clark elaborated willingly. “One of the things Lana and I have in common is a typical Midwestern work ethic. We value things more if we have to strive for them. She had to overcome some serious reservations and really go out on a limb for Richard; I had to fight for Lois in more than one sense of the word. So we’re both happy in our marriages, and we get all the benefits of having each other around as friends. Lana is a very good person to know, and she’s told me in no uncertain terms that she’ll never let me and Lois mess things up quite so badly again.”
“She said as much to me, also. I’m a bit surprised you welcome even well-intentioned meddling,” Elliot replied.
Clark just shrugged. He was getting much more relaxed as they went on, which was rather odd considering they were discussing the woman he’d once been in love with and who was now married to his wife’s ex-fiancé. “I’m smart enough to know that sometimes I need a swift kick in the rear, just like anyone else. And Lana and Richard are both willing to step in and do that. They see things Lois and I don’t, and I appreciate it.”
It was very strange how the things Elliot expected to produce tension just didn’t, while Clark was undeniably tense about something. He might as well see if that held true for other topics. “Speaking of Richard, I understand you two are friends. Quite an unusual situation.”
“Not to me it isn’t. Richard and I have a lot in common, including our taste in women. And the things we don’t have in common are things I need in my life. For instance, Richard can find the humor in any situation, while I tend to be too serious at times.” Clark’s voice was matter-of-fact, and he smiled slightly at the example he’d drawn. No, he wasn’t worried about Richard at all.
“It doesn’t bother you that he and Lois were engaged – or that they’re still quite clearly attracted to each other?” He added that last in a deliberate attempt to rattle Clark. Elliot himself wasn’t a particularly jealous person, but possessiveness was a common personality trait, and he’d known very few men who could become friends with their wives’ exes. It wasn’t impossible, just unusual.
To his very great surprise, Clark laughed, an easy laugh free of anything resembling nervous tension. “Dr. Marrin, if I was threatened by everyone who’s attracted to Lois, I’d have to move to a private island to feel safe. She’s absolutely mesmerizing, and that’s not my bias as her husband talking – you know it, too. No, Lois and Richard are still drawn to each other, but they have a lot in common, and they have fun together. They’re the ones taking the kids on the roller coasters when we go to theme parks. Besides, although I had a moment of uncertainty recently, Lois and I are back to communicating like we should, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she’ll never leave me. We’re in this together, ‘til death do us part.”
There was only one more possible source of conflict. “And Superman?” Elliot asked, keeping his voice casual.
Clark straightened slightly, his chin coming up. Oh, he’d heard that one a time or two. “Dr. Marrin, I’ll tell you the same thing I’ve told everyone else who asked that. If I didn’t trust Lois, I wouldn’t have married her in the first place.”
“But you have had trouble trusting her,” Elliot pointed out. “She keeps secrets, and she’s terrible at letting you know what she needs. Being with her, you have to figure out what she’s not asking to get around to what’s really going on, and that gets difficult, especially for someone as forthright and open as yourself. So my question is valid.”
Shaking his head, Clark replied, “You don’t know Superman, or Lois, if you think either of them would go behind my back and have an affair. Yes, all right, I happen to know her relationship with him was a bit more than strictly professional, but I also know it’s nothing like public opinion thinks. He is a friend of the family, and my children’s godfather. I’ve trusted him with Lois’ life. So I have absolutely no worries about him trying to take her away from me.”
That rang true, yet another example of the weird skew to the family’s reactions. No one was worried about the cape flapping in the breeze above Lois’ head, in spite of the fact that any woman could be forgiven for looking up wistfully. He was Superman, after all, and Lois herself had given him that name.
“Hmm. Interesting,” was all Elliot would say, deciding to ruminate on the family’s secret later. Several possibilities were beginning to gel in his mind, but he wasn’t ready to choose a firm hypothesis yet. The possibility existed that he would never be able to figure it out, but he didn’t mind that. His job was to get them all working together again, and now that he was certain the secret wasn’t some kind of covert affair, he could get on with it. “Our allotted hour is almost over, and I’d like to leave you with some advice, if I may.”
“I would appreciate it,” Clark said.
Elliot leaned his elbows on the table and looked the younger man steadily in the eye. “We both know that Lois considers asking for something – other than lunch – an admission of weakness. I’m afraid that means the burden of relationship maintenance is going to fall to you.”
“I’m aware of her quirks. I wish she had an easier time recognizing her own strengths, but I married her as she is and I’ll love her until the end of time even if she never changes.” Ah yes, this was certainly where Jason got his steadfastness.
Time to drop a bomb. “The biggest problem in your marriage right now is that Lois doesn’t think she’s good enough for you.”
Clark scoffed. “That’s ridiculous!”
“It’s true. She loves you like nothing else on earth except the twins, but in her heart of hearts she doesn’t feel worthy of you. Or them, or her position, or her friends. Lois doubts herself, and she hides that from everyone. The only reason I even know it’s there is because I knew her when she was younger and had less experience keeping up a façade. You know she’s more than good enough – in my session with Lana the other day, I made a guess that you thought you were the lucky one.”
“I am. You have no idea what Lois means to me. She can’t think…”
Elliot cut him off. “She can. Her doubt isn’t rational, Clark. These kinds of deep fears that come from childhood never are. It doesn’t help that she’s lost her mother, the first and for a long time the only person who loved and accepted her completely. In her mind, she knows your marriage is strong and that the two of you complement each other. In her heart, she’s afraid. You have to soothe that fear without making it obvious that you know her weakness.”
“I’m hoping you have some specific ideas on how to do that,” Clark said, looking abashed. “I’ve done some foolish things, trying to help. That’s kind of a theme with my life. I tried to spare her the burden of dealing with my stress, because she was so close to breaking after Ella passed, and by doing that I stopped talking to her and made her wonder who I was unburdening myself to.”
Something clicked for Elliot. Clark’s central fear was inadvertently hurting the people he loved. “Fortunately she found out that your confidant was someone she trusted implicitly. My guess would be Lana, since she is the self-declared counselor of the family, but I digress. As for specific suggestions, just one: take fifteen minutes out of every day and spend it showing her how much she means to you.”
Clark looked startled. “I’m sure I spend more than fifteen minutes…”
Elliot interrupted again. “This is different. This is in addition to all the things you normally do. You can’t tell her, she works with words for a living and so do you. Show her that she matters. Lois won’t admit it, but she likes gifts almost as much as she likes physical affection. So the stereotypical chocolates and flowers would actually work, even if she complains about the cliché. A foot-rub or a long cuddle on the couch would also be a good idea. Never let it become routine, though, and never look on it as a chore. You’re just reminding her every single day that her father was wrong and you are right: she is an amazing woman, a wonderful mother, a fantastic wife, and she deserves every ounce of joy that comes her way.”
At that, Clark smiled slowly. “And maybe in five or ten years, she’ll believe me. I think you’re right, and that would never be a chore. It sounds like fun, actually, figuring out little ways to surprise her over and over again.”
Elliot grinned at him as they both stood up and shook hands. He’d never really had any doubts that Lois and Clark would work out their difficulties, especially not after everything he’d heard from the kids following the incident in Nevada. Hopefully, with Lois forced to deal with physical vulnerability and Clark bolstering her self confidence – and in the process working on his own tendency to do what he thought was best without consulting anyone else – they would make some real progress.
That would leave him to work on the remaining mysteries. Just what was this family trying so hard to hide from him? And what was going on with Clark, who certainly wasn’t what he seemed on the surface?