By Ruth Ellison (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: A married Lois and Clark have an argument on the way to an early-morning interview.
This is my Christmas present to everyone with whom I've had the pleasure of discussing L&C over the past year, whether online or in person. I really wanted to call it The Big Chill but Jenn F. beat me to that title. It's a story about that other Lois and Clark — the ones who grieved me by their misunderstandings, bitterness and conflict as much as they delighted me by their humour and moments of connection. Note: This story describes climatic conditions of which I have no personal experience. Please forgive me any faux pas.
Deep in the arms of Morpheus, Clark was suddenly aware of having his face soused with very cold water. He opened his eyes and stared balefully at Lois. She was clutching a toothbrush in one hand and a now-empty glass in the other.
"It's 6:20, we're leaving at 6:30. And you can't have the bathroom yet, but there's coffee in the pot."
"I'm not going anywhere, Lois." He rolled over and buried his head under the damp pillow.
"Yes, you are, you're coming to an interview with me."
He pretended not to hear.
Seven minutes later, she breezed past him again in her usual search for her car keys. "Three minutes, Clark, and you're *not* going to keep me waiting."
"I only got back two hours ago," he groaned.
"Two minutes… You haven't kidnapped my keys, have you?"
He lobbed the pillow at her and staggered towards the bathroom. Precisely two minutes later, she announced, "All right, I have my keys and I'm going now. If you ever want to experience orgasm again, you're going to be at the car before I am."
She was vaguely conscious of a black streak passing her on the stairs. When she reached the car, he was leaning casually against it as if he'd been waiting for some time. He'd even cleared the ice off the windows.
Lois looked him over minutely. His appearance was hardly to be faulted, except that "You've got milk on your upper lip." She kissed it off him perfunctorily. "Oh, and you're driving," she added, tossing him the keys. He favoured her with a none too affectionate look as he slouched around to the other side of the car.
He turned the corner from their peaceful side street into the main flow of traffic. "Well, my love, my delicate little flower, where am I taking you on this fine winter morning?"
"Metropolis General. Dr Bevan, the forensic surgeon. I *did* leave you a note."
"I was in no mood to go hunting for notes. I went straight to bed." He weighted his words meaningfully.
"Yes, you woke me up. You're still letting your hobbies interfere with your work."
"Thank you for the sympathy, my dear." He focused on navigating across the icy lanes.
Then he suddenly threw his head back in annoyance. "God, and I promised to attend that Christmas charity do tonight." His eyes closed momentarily in an uncanny imitation of physical pain. "I'm going to look like death warmed up by this evening."
"No, you won't. You'll look splendid as usual. Do you think you can get me a ticket?"
"Ha! What about I take you as my escort? I believe there's tickets on sale at the door, if you're really bothered."
They proceeded in silence for a few minutes.
Eventually Clark glanced in Lois's direction and said, "Lois, it's just a Christmas party."
"It's not 'just' anything if you'll be there. It's fun to watch you deal with people. When you're wearing the suit you seem to grow a little bigger, you make people notice you *and* they start believing everything you say. There's a sort of muscular *splendidness* about you…"
"You're losing your touch, Lois. That's twice you've used that word now."
She sighed. "I know you don't like the pressure — I know I don't always make things easy for you. But you're still a big story, you're still worth writing about."
He echoed her sigh. "I guess…sometimes I just wish you'd back off a bit."
"I know." She looked at the lines of tension around his mouth and eyes. "I can't, Clark."
"I know. That's just how you are."
"Clark, I'm trying to change, really. I want to help you, I want to help *Superman*. I want to be the best wife for you that I can be."
"Does that include throwing cold water on me and using sexual blackmail?"
"That's different, that was for work. "
"So you've decided that you're married to Superman, but not to the man you work with?"
"Clark, why are you always so damn paranoid about yourself?!"
"You're trying to compartmentalise me."
"You compartmentalise yourself."
"I was hoping with you I wouldn't have to anymore." He spoke with well-remembered bitterness.
"Clark, whether you like it or not, Superman is how most people on the planet see you. I'm just trying to do my job by reporting on that."
"You haven't even asked me what I was doing last night."
"I don't need to, I heard on the radio. An oil spill in Hong Kong harbour and a 40-car pile-up on the M25."
"But you weren't interested in my perspective, and it never occurred to you that I might be tired, that I might appreciate sleeping a bit longer… It's not even as if you needed me for this interview."
"You're angry with me."
He swung viciously left across the oncoming traffic. "Well, lack of sleep will do that to a man."
When she'd caught her breath, Lois laid her hand on Clark's arm and said, "OK, let's stop and talk this through before you run us up a tree."
Clark turned into a side street and parked, but left the engine idling. He turned to Lois and said, "OK, talk."
She winced at the inflexible tone of his voice, but nodded agreement. Taking a deep breath, she said, "I owe you an apology. I was really insensitive this morning, and when I realised I was wrong, I compounded it by blaming you."
Clark opened his mouth to speak, but she forestalled him. "It's because I'm still learning, Clark. You've always seemed so capable, I forget you have needs and limitations like the rest of us. But I'm not going to apologise for how I feel about Superman, and you shouldn't still be making me feel guilty about it. OK, your turn."
He grimaced. Neither of them was in the mood to make concessions. "I feel as though we keep cycling back to the same point. It's like I'm just an avenue for you to get your Superman fix, except sometimes being Superman's wife gets too hard too, and then you switch back to Clark because he's so crazy about you that he doesn't know how to say no. I've fought so hard to keep my sense of self intact, but nothing's changed with you. Even when we make love, sometimes I wonder just who you think…"
Lois gasped, less from hurt than horror. Clark registered the dismay in her eyes and immediately threw up his hand in apology. "I'm sorry, that came out hurtful and unjust. How come I write so well but I can never express myself properly out loud?" He looked grim. "I'm just trying to be completely honest about how I feel."
"I know," she said in a small voice. "Clark, is that really what you think? Do we still know each other so little? Yes, maybe I still fantasise about Superman sometimes" — and the proud jut of her jaw dared him to question that — "but you don't know how many times I look at Superman and think of you fetching me a cup of coffee, or sharing the blame for my mistakes, or putting that star on top of our Christmas tree."
The ghost of a smile played across his mouth at the memory.
Lois plunged on gamely. "Superman is… a distillation of all the things I love best about you, Clark. There are shades of your personality that I only get to see when you're in the suit, and that excites me. But I can't think of Superman separate from the rest of you. I loved you all along, you know — and I wish you'd do me the credit of believing it. But I seem to recall it was Clark Jerome Kent that I actually married."
"We have a piece of paper to that effect." His tone was ironic, not bitter.
"Do you think I only married you because you're Superman? Is that what you think?" The sudden flare-up in her eyes was a caution to tread warily. Clark swallowed hard and stayed silent.
"I once told you that I'd love you even if you were an ordinary man." Lois looked at him challengingly.
"I remember." It was a bitter memory for them both.
"I was wrong." She gave him a few seconds to squirm in. "It doesn't matter what you're wearing, you'll never be ordinary. I don't *want* you ordinary. The world is full of ordinary men who spend their days selling out on their ideals and their nights selling out on their wives. You're the only man I've ever met who refuses to compromise on what you believe in. I think you're the only really *good* man left. That's why I married you."
Clark swallowed again. The cloudy look in his eyes told Lois she'd touched him deeply but he was grasping for the words to respond.
"We want two different things," he said at last. "We'll never resolve this."
"But we have to! Why not?"
"Because we both think we're right, and neither of us is much good at backing down."
Lois smiled understandingly. Clark wasn't smiling, but his sense of humour never lurked too far below the surface. "Sometimes I think we're just a little bit too alike."
"Which is a pretty remarkable fluke of genetics, when you think about it."
"We can meet halfway. I can compromise if you can," Lois said, and her eyes challenged him.
"You start trying to understand my attitude towards Superman, and I'll stop hounding you when you're in the suit."
"And then we establish democracy in Burma and solve Canada's geopolitical problems."
Lois thought she was entitled to be exasperated by now. "Clark, why don't you just stop?"
"Being Superman. If it's such a problem for you, why don't you just stop? Then you wouldn't have me or anyone else hassling you, and maybe I'd get the chance to prove to you that Clark suits me just fine."
He looked at her in frozen astonishment. Then, most surprisingly, he relaxed back into his seat with a radiant smile on his face. "Thank you, Lois."
"For what?" It was her turn to be confused.
"For revealing the obvious solution. For pushing my reasoning to its logical conclusion. Of course, all I need to do is stop being Superman. Simple."
Lois gazed at Clark pensively while she tried to figure out this change in attitude. Behind his glasses, his eyes had regained their customary brightness. "Not simple," she concluded.
"Not possible," he replied cheerfully. "Here I am thinking Superman restricts my freedom, and I'd forgotten that the whole idea was to preserve that freedom. No Superman would mean I'd have to choose between not helping people or having no private life at all, which really *would* make a mess of things between us. And I can't not help people, any more than you can help being…" He flung his arm out expressively.
"Headstrong, aggressive, pushy…" she suggested.
"'Devoted' was the word I was after." He reached to stroke the side of her face, slid his fingertip along her jawline and tilted her chin on it. "The thing is, I've come to depend on your approval and belief. All those things you said before… Maybe 'headstrong', 'aggressive' and 'pushy' are just the price I pay for that."
Lois bent her head and bit his finger, so he poked her in the nose.
"What do you think would happen if we both stopped? No more Superman from me, no more chasing Superman for you?"
"We'd be divorced within a month."
"Yes, that's kind of what I thought. Though I don't think you can get a divorce that quickly…"
"Is that a vote for the status quo, Clark?"
"I don't know." He smiled. "I did say we keep ending up where we started from."
"No, we haven't. Talking about it is a step forward." Lois looked at him for confirmation, then she frowned. "Neither of us has much of a track record when it comes to communicating. We're both still learning."
"I always wondered why everyone kept giving us strange looks when we announced our engagement."
"We *can* compromise, Clark. Are you willing to try?"
"Of course I'm willing."
"Shake on it?"
She offered him her hand. He held it briefly, contemplating what to do with it, then raised it to his lips and kissed it. He flashed her a mischievous smile as he did so. They exchanged a moment of affectionate non-verbal communication before Clark returned Lois's hand to her, reached for the ignition key and revved the engine.
"Come on," he said. "Let's see what this doctor of yours has to say, and then you can treat me to breakfast at Lucille's. How's that for compromise?"
"Always thinking of your stomach… So let's move it!"