By Pam Jernigan (ChiefPam@nc.rr.com)
Summary: Being married to Superman has its downsides. But in working through a mild bout of depression, Lois decides that the good outweighs the bad. Written in response (as an antidote, the author says) to the fanfic "Like Pieces of a Puzzle That Don't Quite Fit."
"Thanks to my editors, Sarah Wood & Chris Mulder -for laughing at my jokes, bonking me on the head when I went wrong, and helping me get the mood I wanted."
[written before & during the INPY arc as therapy **double asterisks means thoughts**]
"Can you reach your keys, Clark? Mine are buried." Lois was balancing a half-gallon of ice cream (chocolate, of course), two bags of takeout (Thai for him, and Italian for her), and a six pack of soda (they'd made a few stops on their way home from work); fumbling for her purse would probably topple the whole set. She slid sideways to allow Clark to pass her and reach the apartment door first. It had been a long, unsatisfying week, full of more than the usual chaos, with few tangible results, and she was really hoping for a quiet night to relax with Clark.
"Yeah, they're here somewhere," he replied with a self-satisfied grin, jingling them on his finger. He was carrying a box of records that had some loose files thrown on top, so she could only assume he'd been thinking ahead to this moment from before they'd left the car.
She smirked tiredly, acknowledging his forethought. "I should have known."
He got the door open, smiling at her over his shoulder, holding it open for her to enter. She walked down the stairs and towards the kitchen to put the ice cream in the freezer and set the food up with real plates and utensils. Clark set the box down on the dining room table. They were tracking a possible case of embezzlement (Clark had gotten a tip from an accountant he knew), but they had more than a few suspects, and no idea, as yet, of how the money disappeared, or where it had ended up. Hopefully these records contained some clues. They were looking at a long weekend of dry reading, otherwise.
Lois carried the food over to the table. "Here we go…"
"Mmm, thanks," Clark mumbled, already starting to page through one of the folders. This was more his type of story than hers; he could puzzle through the intricate details that left her yawning. Lately, she'd had a dry spell, story-wise, which was frustrating. Intellectually she knew it happened to everyone once in a while, but she couldn't suppress the little, nagging fear that she'd lost her edge. She hadn't even been able to share her fears with Clark yet; he'd been unusually busy all week. She looked across the table at him, burrowing into a file, searching for another, lost in thought. Now was obviously not a good time, and it was nothing, really; it could wait.
"So, what am I looking for, anyway?" She opened up the first of the folders to see a stack of spreadsheets.
"Just look," he offered, still poring over his files. "You've got a great instinct for when something's not quite right, so just follow that."
Lois eyed the spreadsheets doubtfully. "Right." Hopefully they'd move on to interviewing suspects soon; she'd feel much more useful then.
Lois had barely finished her dinner when she saw Clark startle, his head coming up and his gaze going off in the distance. She waited while he listened for details; she knew from experience that when he'd heard all he could, he'd turn his attention back to her. When he did, she could tell from his expression that it was urgent, but not catastrophic.
"There's gunfire on Sixth - the police are chasing some bank robbers, who are firing on everyone." He rose as he spoke, putting down his napkin. "I'll be back in a jiff."
She nodded acquiescence and lifted her face for a short, sweet kiss. Then he was out the balcony door and streaking off into the night sky. She looked at the remains of dinner and forced a smile. "Well, this is what I get for marrying Superman. Although sometimes I wonder why I put up with it."
As soon as she said the words she was shocked by them. **Wow, I must be more tired than I thought…** She banished the thought from her mind and resolutely went back to reading through her files.
By the time Clark returned, Lois had put dinner away and the dishes in the sink, and was halfway through her stack of papers. She heard the familiar whoosh of his landing and called out, "How did it go?"
"Pretty routine," he replied. "They didn't want to surrender, but they didn't like me flying their car around, either, so we came to a compromise." He came back to the table and sat down, picking up the file he'd been working on before the interruption.
She smiled at that. "Let me guess - they did it your way."
Clark faked an expression of surprise. "How did you know? Anyway, they're downtown now." He hesitated, flipping the folder through his fingers. "The police want to give me one of their radios, or preferably a beeper, so they can call me."
She glowered at the suggestion. She shared him more than enough already; the last thing she needed was for the police to have him on call 24 hours a day. "You're a superhero, not a dog. You don't come when called." He raised an eyebrow at that, and she modified her statement. "Okay, except for when I call you. But you're not a policeman, honey, they just need to be grateful for whatever help they get."
"Well, that's more or less what I told them - only more tactfully, of course." He grinned, and she started to relax.
He seemed to sense her mood. "It's been a busy week for us, hasn't it."
"Well, for you, anyway," she admitted, trying her best not to feel neglected. She'd known what she was getting into when she'd married him, and she didn't intend to start whining now. She made an effort to focus on the good side. She knew there must be a good side somewhere, although at the moment, for some reason, it was hard to see. Once again, some part of her brain wondered why she put up with it, and this time, the thought was harder to dismiss.
Having gauged her mood, Clark thought he knew a solution. "Let's ignore this case for a while and watch a movie instead, okay? What do you want to see?"
Ah, some quality time together, that was exactly what she needed. "Let me think… how about the Princess Bride?" She deliberately picked one of his favorites, as extra incentive for him to stay put during the whole thing.
He smiled in approval of her choice — or possibly of her tactic — and went to pull the tape from its place on the shelf (his videos, naturally, were alphabetized by category). Lois fixed some drinks and popcorn (briefly remembering the time he'd popped popcorn for her merely by staring at it; she'd been giggling too hard to eat the result) and brought them over to the couch. She sat down next to him on the sofa. He reached out to pull her close in an automatic reflex that cheered her, so she cuddled up to him and watched as the movie unfolded.
Lois was so comfortable curled up with Clark, and so familiar with the movie, that she was dozing off before it was halfway through. Until, that is, she felt Clark tense and heard him mutter what she suspected to be swear words. "What is it now?" she asked quietly, in resignation.
He listened a while longer, then slumped back into the sofa. "There's a ship in the harbor that's had an explosion. A big one." His voice held a distinct note of regret. "They're going to need lots of help - I'm sorry, honey. And just when the sword fight's about to start, too!" Now he sounded like an aggrieved child, deprived of a promised treat. She had to smile as she glanced over at the movie, still playing. Sure enough, the Man in Black was just about ready to face Montoya in the best sword fight she'd ever seen in the movies.
Lois sat up, and patted Clark on the knee, reaching for the remote with her other hand, stopping the movie. "It's okay, sweetie, the tape will still be here when you get back. Be careful out there, okay?"
"I promise." He still hesitated, trying to see if she were as upset as he feared.
She smiled as sincerely as she could, determined not to inflict her moods on him - he clearly didn't want to go, but he was needed, and they both knew it. "It's okay, Clark, really. Now, go! They need you at the harbor."
He took her offered reassurance and visibly brightened. "See you when I get back, then. Love you!" They kissed briefly, and then he was off. Lois whispered, "I love you too," as he departed, and was rewarded with a jaunty wave.
She looked at the table, full of nearly-incomprehensible files. For once, there wasn't any work to occupy her in his absence. She briefly toyed with the notion of following him to the docks to report the fire, but if she did that, Clark would see her, and know something was wrong. Luckily for her, he was still essentially guileless, even after a lifetime of hiding things, so she'd been able to conceal her rapidly darkening mood from him before he left, but he wasn't blind. If he were worrying about her, he might make mistakes, and Superman-sized mistakes could be disastrous.
Why *did* she put up with this, anyway? She could no longer ignore the question. She retrieved the ice cream from the freezer and, foregoing a bowl, grabbed a spoon. Lois realized that this was a bad sign for her, but she couldn't seem to help herself. She settled down on the sofa with her ice cream.
She needed to think. She did love Clark, of that she was certain, but his absences could still drive her crazy. She knew it was part of who he was, and she didn't want him to change, and yet… her thoughts chased each other in circles, getting nowhere. They rarely went out to dinner or a movie, fearing that Clark wouldn't be able to stay through the whole thing. It wasn't unusual for her to spend time alone in the evenings, and sometimes it seemed like she saw more of her husband on TV than in person. And, a reluctant honesty prompted her to add, despite their best efforts, they hadn't yet been able to get her pregnant.
Lois had never planned on wanting children, but marriage had somehow had that effect on her. She knew it was too soon to give up, and that the problem might not even be Clark's Kryptonian genetics; it might be her problem, and trying sure was fun… but it was hard to continually fail at something they both wanted so badly.
She reminded herself that there were advantages to being married to Superman - the flying, the dinners in Paris, the times alone in remote corners of the world - but they seemed like scant compensation.
Wallowing in self-pity, Lois was startled when the phone rang. She answered it in the kitchen, sitting down at the file-covered table with her ice cream.
"Lois, is that you?" Her mother's tone was almost accusatory, and Lois stifled a sigh. Clark had needed to duck out of their last lunch with Ellen, and Lois was sure that the reckoning was now due.
"Yes, Mother, it's me. How are you?"
"*I* am fine, but your sister is ruining her life!" Relieved to hear she wasn't the main target this time, Lois settled down to listen to a five-minute dissection of Lucy's current boyfriend and living arrangements, recognizing the maternal mood. She knew better than to defend her sister when Mom was in that mode; steamrollers had nothing on Ellen Lane.
"Yeah, that's a shame, Mom," Lois commented mechanically when her mother finally came to a break in her monologue. Maybe she should at least try to get back to checking out these files, and get some work done on the story while Clark was out…
"But that's not why I called, Lois," her mother sighed dramatically. "I wanted to talk to you about that husband of yours."
She should have known she couldn't escape. "What about him?" She sank back in the chair, embezzlement case forgotten.
"Well, it's about our lunch the other day. He left so abruptly! What on Earth was all that about?"
"Oh, that. Well, see, he, ah… " **had to stop a carjacking, incidentally saving the lives of a mother with two small children** "He remembered that he had an appointment." **No, wait, we used the dentist excuse not too long ago.** "A meeting with one of our sources. He was working."
"Mmm-hmm." Ellen was not convinced. "That's what I'm worried about, Lois. It seems like he's *always* working." Her tone softened. "Is everything alright with you two?"
This was worse than Lois had expected - not an indictment, which was usual, but genuine concern. She forced a cheery tone to her voice. "Yes, Mom, everything's fine, really."
"If you say so, dear," she replied, still skeptical. "It's just that I've noticed some odd things about him. He's always running off; is he there when you need him?"
"Of course he is, Mom, don't worry about it." At least he would be if he could, Lois thought, uncomfortable about deceiving her mother. **He does his best, Mom, really he does, and you'd be proud of him if you knew what all he does… but I can't tell you; you'll never understand, and we'll never be able to be close…** She dug her spoon into the carton, suddenly needing a large dose of chocolate.
"Well, it's your marriage, I'll let you manage it. Lord knows my own was no good model for you."
**Yeah, Mom, remind me that Daddy consistently chose work over his family, that'll cheer me right up,** Lois thought morosely.
"I guess I'd better be going, then," Ellen said into the awkward silence. "Take care of yourself, Lois, and say hello to Clark for me."
"Oh, yeah, sure Mom. I'll talk to you later." She hung up the phone, more depressed than ever.
Alright, so she could admit that her marriage had some rough spots, and living with a superhero had its drawbacks, including constant lying and barriers between her and almost all of her friends and relatives. They were hardly new problems, though; she'd been dealing with them for over a year. So why *did* she put up with it all?
In a remote corner of her brain, she knew that she was being neither rational nor fair. After all, she wasn't any great bargain to live with, either. She was a workaholic and wasn't very good at confronting or voicing her feelings. Her headlong pursuit of stories had certainly given Clark plenty to complain about over the years, and, to be honest, his disappearences didn't usually bother her if she had work of her own to do in his absence. But she was in no mood to be rational.
She put the rest of the ice cream back in the freezer, and then wandered back over to the TV. It was almost time for the news, so she settled down to watch - nothing like seeing other people's problems to put hers in perspective. She was mildly surprised to see that the harbor explosion was the lead story, and as she watched the footage of the burning and hull-damaged freighter, she could see why Clark was still working. She caught sight of him zipping around and smiled sadly. She loved him, she was proud of him, she missed him… and he was obviously going to be busy for quite a while yet, so she went to bed.
Hours later, she was wakened by Clark sliding stealthily into his side of the bed, anxious as always not to disturb her sleep. She stayed quiet, waiting to see if he'd curl up behind her as he sometimes did. Nope, seemed like he was lying on his back, instead, not touching her. She opened one eye far enough to glimpse the glowing clock face, and discovered why. It was the wee hours of the morning, and he was very likely feeling guilty for having been gone so long.
Well, she couldn't let that continue. She rolled over and arranged her head on the hollow of his shoulder, intertwining her legs with his. He put his arms around her, holding her gently. She looked up at him and smiled sleepily. "Hi."
"Hi," he whispered back.
Lois felt him relax in her embrace as he realized she wasn't upset at being awakened. She enjoyed the feel of his chest against hers and his arms around her. "I saw the harbor thing on the news - have fun?" He frequently wanted to talk after his excursions. He liked to tell her about his experiences - the funny ways people reacted to him, the decisions he had to make about how to handle problems, and his regret when he couldn't do all he wanted to do. Sharing it with her, getting her views on things, was important to him, she knew. There were so few people to whom he could talk about these things. She suspected he didn't even tell his parents as much as he told her, and she still remembered how special she'd felt when he'd started to really open up to her. She was his safety valve to express his doubts and fears - and he was hers.
"Not as much fun as I would have had watching a movie with you, but it wasn't bad. Pretty routine, actually - big, and complicated, but the fire and boat crews all knew what they needed to do, and what they needed me to do, so it went pretty smoothly, all things considered. Just took forever to make sure that *everything* was under control."
As she lay there next to him, listening to him explain how they'd fought the fire and saved the ship, it dawned on her. *This* was why she put up with all the rest, this was what balanced out all the negatives. It was this feeling of being completely loved and cherished, of being needed by the most powerful man on Earth.
He paused. "I was glad to get it finished, finally, so that I could get home to you - sorry it was so late."
"That's okay, I'm just glad you're back…"
"Are you okay?" The question was tentative. "You seemed a little down, earlier…"
**Bless his heart, he had noticed.** She was glad for the opportunity. "Well, I was a little depressed, what with work and all… but I think I'm doing better now.
She felt him lift his head to try to glimpse her face, but she didn't meet his eyes. "You were depressed about work? Why?"
"Well… I haven't found any good stories lately, and I was a little worried… I thought I might be losing my edge." It sounded ridiculous when she actually voiced her fear, but Clark didn't laugh.
"No, of course you're not losing your edge, Lois." His voice was low and persuasive. "You're having a very small dry spell, that's all. All the criminals are probably afraid to try anything, because they know you'll catch them."
She chuckled at that, grateful for his support. He was always encouraging her - when he was there. She reluctantly broached the topic. "If all the criminals are lying low, why have *you* been so busy?" She couldn't keep the note of complaint out of her voice, and she felt him tense slightly.
"Um… they're too dumb to be intimidated?" He didn't wait for her to respond to his feeble joke. "I don't know, Lois. It's just been a crazy week. It gets like that sometimes." He sighed, dropping his head back onto the pillow. "There's not much I can do about it… unless I stop being Superman."
She caught her breath as she realized his offer was sincere. If she asked him to, he would stop running off all the time, stop living a lie and forcing her to live one too, all in order to please her. She was more important to him than Superman. She'd known that, actually - when had she forgotten it?
"Oh, Clark… I believe you mean that." Her voice held a note of wonder. That knowledge blew her away, comforted her, and gave her the strength to continue sharing him - because she could never ask him to give up such an important part of himself.
"Lois, I want to make you happy." His voice was low, earnest.
She propped herself up on one elbow, eager now to see his face. "Clark… I love you. And yes, sometimes, Superman drives me nuts, because he takes you away from me. But he's a vital part of you - I couldn't try to stifle that. This is what you are meant to do." She searched his eyes, seeing only his boundless love for her, his willingness to do whatever she decreed. "For a little while, there, thinking about Superman, I forgot how wonderful Clark is. Thanks for reminding me."
He smiled at that, coaxing a return smile from her. Once he saw that, he relaxed, drawing her back down next to him. "Well, I'll be glad to tell you I'm wonderful anytime you need me to."
She chuckled, sleep rapidly overtaking her now that her worries and complaints had been aired. "See, you're a package deal. And if I have to share you in order to have you, well…" She yawned noisily. "I can deal with that. I know you'll always come home to me."
His arms tightened around her in silent affirmation of his love, and together, they slid easily into sleep.