It had never stopped him from evaluating her in all of their interactions. Elliot was keenly aware that his own greatest shortcoming was his inability to turn off his analytical mind. He could never simply enjoy a moment without thinking of its ramifications, except in very special circumstances. It had been that inability to stop treating her like a case that had ended his relationship with Lois – many times over, in fact. Elliot knew that just as well as he knew the reason why they'd continued to get back together after every breakup: no other man understood Lois as well as he did. She hated that, hated knowing that he knew where her vulnerabilities lay, hated knowing that her façade of aggression was transparent to him. Yet at the same time he was the only man in her life then who could withstand her at her most irascible, since he generally knew why she behaved that way.
Their time together had been tumultuous, almost combative, but both of them had enjoyed the challenge the other represented. She'd been good for him, and he liked to think he had been good for her as well. It had even ended fairly well, by his standards; while they were never casual friends as he would've liked to be, they had both moved on in the world without any new psychological scars, and hopefully with less old ones.
When he'd seen her again, the day she brought the twins to him, Elliot had been delighted. He had followed Lois' career with interest, knew she was doing well for herself. The revelation that she'd borne a set of twins was surprising, but he was utterly unsurprised by her devotion and dedication as a parent. She'd had one very good example and one rather poor one, so Lois knew both what to do and what never to do. It also failed to surprise him that Jason and Kala were inquisitive, smart, well-adjusted children. Elliot expected nothing less of Lois' offspring.
They had experienced a terrible shock when they were six, and so had their mother, but Elliot was glad to see that none of them took permanent harm from it. Over the past ten years he'd gone from seeing the twins weekly, to monthly, to quarterly. He had been aware of the rift developing between Lois and Kala, but both Lane-Kent women required delicate handling with such subjects as developing one's identity and acquiring parental pride and approval, so he hadn't had a chance to explore it in depth.
Recently sixteen-year-old Kala had been kidnapped and held captive for several days, which had to have reawakened old fears, and Jason had been badly shaken by nearly losing his twin. Both of them were scheduled for biweekly visits to help process that trauma. In their first sessions, Elliot had quickly discovered that more was going on than he'd previously suspected, and he insisted on seeing the parents as well: all four of them. Lois had protested that he was a child psychiatrist, to which he'd countered with the sign outside his office that read "Dr. Elliot Marrin, Family Psychiatry."
And now she was here, surly and reluctant, stalking into his treatment office as he held the door for her. Lois glanced at the stereotypical couch with a smirk, but seated herself in the overstuffed leather chair instead, crossing her legs at the knee. She started to cross her arms but dropped them to the chair arms instead.
Elliot needed no case file for Lois. He had known her very well during her young adulthood, followed her career, and treated her children. Therefore he knew her as well as anyone. He hid a smile, knowing that she knew the crossed arms were a defensive posture and that he would notice it. She probably expected him to remark on it, so he didn't, leaving her to speak first. "We both know why I'm here, Elliot. Let's just get it over with."
All of her armor was up, and unless he could do something about her defensiveness this would prove to be an exhausting and unprofitable session. So Elliot hooked his foot around the leg of the couch, turned it slightly, and sat down on it facing Lois' chair instead of taking his usual seat on the other side of the desk. She looked startled; good, he needed her off balance.
For a long moment Elliot simply looked at Lois appraisingly. She hated that calculating stare, as he well knew; Lois loathed any attempt to understand her. She had a deep fear of being judged, and cultivated an air of mystery as well as a façade of enormous confidence to prevent people from trying to figure her out. Better, to her mind, to think of her as difficult than to think of her defective.
When she was at the optimal point of being disturbed by his attention but not yet truly angry, opening her mouth to speak, Elliot fired his opening salvo. "You know why you're here, Lois. You've changed over the past twenty years, and to effectively treat your children I need to understand their environment and primary influences. Also, since I'm a family therapist, I'm concerned with the strength of your friendship with the twins' stepparents and especially the health of your marriage."
That delicate jaw clenched. Her back was absolutely rigid as she stared him down, but Elliot didn't stop. "Now, considering the twenty-odd years I've known you, I'm quite familiar with your personality at a very basic level, the things that simply don't change. For example, your defensiveness. You were a fairly lonely young woman when I first met you, largely because you refused to allow anyone to come close enough to you to develop a lasting relationship. You were too terribly proud of your independence to admit to needing such a thing as companionship. Further, it wasn't enough for you to be a beautiful, brilliant woman; you had to be the woman, the one everyone desired and no one could have, and even that wasn't enough. Then you had to compete with men at all their games: martial arts, drinking, guns, fast cars, proving yourself better than any man."
Again, those eyes sparked barely-banked temper. Elliot continued on with no regard of the fact that she had opened her mouth to speak again. "Your defensiveness has shaped everything you do. You were reluctant to come here, to admit that you might be human, that you might make mistakes, that you might benefit from a little professional assistance in sorting out your life. You were afraid to admit that maybe your cherished independence and your cultivated aggression might make you very difficult to live with, might make for a rather trying marriage. Why? Because after all these years, you're still proving yourself to your father, still refusing to admit to anything that smacks of weakness because it might mean he was always right about you, that you were born a disappointment and will always be one."
Those were the harshest and most truthful words she'd ever heard; Elliot could see her pupils dilating, every muscle tensed ready to punch him or flee. No one had ever dared hold such a pitiless mirror up to her face. At that moment, while Lois was frozen in shock, Elliot delivered the shattering blow. "In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, you are the best mother, the best parent I have ever seen in my forty-some years as a professional psychiatrist."
Oh, the way those eyes widened at that. He had succeeded in his plan and he had to hide a smile. Lois coughed then, blinking and looking away from him. It was as if he'd literally sucker-punched her. Elliot leaned forward without another word, took the box of tissues off his desk, and handed it to her. "Your father was wrong, Lois. I think we both know that. Nothing infuriates me more than to see parents twist their children up into little knots of misery. Sometimes it happens out of sheer ignorance; sometimes even the best parents have trouble with their kids because of personality conflicts, or because some kids simply are difficult; but what your father did to you was absolutely, unequivocally, inexcusably wrong. He was, in my professional opinion, an utter jackass."
Lois still wasn't looking at him, was silent for a beat, and then, "You didn't know him, Elliot."
"I know him by the stamp he left on you," Elliot countered. "You aren't perfect, Lois. No one is. No matter how hard you try to be everything you think you're not. But you do your best, and you've always done the best you could. Most especially in the case those children. I don't know many who could've gone through everything the twins did in their sixth year, with kidnapping and threats and parental relationship drama on top of it all, and still managed to come out as well-adjusted as Jason and Kala are. That's a credit to you, Lois. You've been there for them since the moment they were born, even though you never wanted children in the slightest." That had her looking up at him again, stricken and a little guilty before he went on, "And they never guessed that, have they? All they know is that you support them a hundred percent."
That got under her skin enough that Lois slouched back in her chair, seeming lost in thought. "I don't know about that. Kala seemed to doubt it a lot in the last couple years," she said finally, sighing.
"Kala is a teenage girl with a keen sense of drama. I'm fairly well-equipped to know that," Elliot replied with a small smile. "She'll be fine as soon as she moves out, Lois. Right now she's too busy comparing herself to her parents and falling short of the mark. Once she's living on her own she'll have too many other concerns to distract her from that futile task."
"No wonder we're getting along since Nevada, then. She's certainly got a lot on her mind right now." That guilt flashed across Lois' face then, and he knew it needled that she hadn't been able to protect her daughter.
"It wasn't your fault she ran away, Lois. In fact Kala herself tells me the deciding factor was a rumor spread by Jason's then-girlfriend, the one who was a spy for Luthor. Lay the blame where it belongs – on him."
"No, Elliot, I shouldn't have hit her. I don't know what the hell was going through my mind. I just lost it for second, lost control of the situation…" Lois couldn't look him in the eye to say that, her hands knotted around each other.
"No, you shouldn't have hit her. But it wasn't the end of the world, Lois, and Kala wasn't harmed by it." Elliot leaned forward and took Lois' hands between his own, something he normally didn't do with clients. She looked up, startled and wary, but he kept his gaze completely professional. "You cannot protect them every moment of every day, Lois. You cannot foresee every danger and defend against it before it happens. You cannot follow them at every step and shield them against all the troubles of this world. It does not matter how hard you try. They are not babies you can hide away any longer. What you can do, and have done, is give them the strength and the courage to face the world on their own."
Lois' gaze held his for a long moment, and Elliot let her. She'd stop once she felt she had the reins again. Her world righted again. Finally she said, raising an eyebrow ironically, "This is seriously freaking weird, having this conversation with you."
"Because we were lovers almost two decades ago?" Elliot asked. "Why should that matter now, except that I know more about you than I otherwise would?"
She drew her hands away from him. "That's part of it. I always thought it was unprofessional, analyzing someone you slept with."
Elliot chuckled at that. He should have known that would come up. She could never be an ordinary client; he'd met her too late to set her troubled path to rights as a child, and Lois was vastly different from the anxious mothers and neurotic wives he saw as part of his family practice. So certain of the rules he usually followed would have to be set aside, including the one about never sharing personal information with a patient. "I've never been very good at turning off my analytical side, Lois, as you may recall. It's one of the reasons I'm still a bachelor at my age. Tell me, did you feel it was unprofessional to ask your coworker Mr. Olsen to photograph your wedding?"
"No," Lois replied, her brow furrowing.
"And do you feel it unprofessional to seek your detective friend's advice when purchasing a firearm?"
That earned him a smile at last, Lois snickering in amusement. "Please, Maggie and I can spend a whole day arguing Smith & Wesson versus Glock."
"So think of this as simply another case of your personal and professional lives intersecting. I am, I hope, a friend with training and skills that happen to be useful to you at the moment."
She turned that over in her mind, giving it some consideration, and Elliot counted that as a victory. Getting Lois to take him seriously when he talked to her about anything vaguely psychiatric had been impossible most of her life.
Eventually he managed to turn the conversation to one of the real reasons she was here: the state of her marriage. Lois still bristled at the question, cagey again, and Elliot couldn't resist chuckling at her. "Please, Lois. Remember I've heard from both twins already. Any couple who've been married ten years and can still manage to disgust their offspring as often as you and Clark have since coming back from Nevada must be doing fairly well on some levels."
That got an embarrassed little laugh from her, and Elliot pressed on, trying to figure out exactly where the problems lay. He was already fairly certain that Lois was pathologically unable to ask for anything, the more so the more she wanted or needed it, so unless Clark had psychic powers there were going to be communication problems. It took some time to get the answer from her, her expression as she danced around it making clear it troubled her a great deal. What startled him was the eventual revelation that she'd been feeling old.
Elliot Marrin had earned the letters after his name, however, and refrained from caustically explaining that if she was old, he was ancient, and that from his perspective she was still a young woman. "It's true that none of us gets any younger," he admitted. "But Lois, consider. Clark is older than you are, by five years or so, right? Why would he suddenly decide to pursue a younger woman?"
Her lips compressed into a thin line. "Pure insane thinking on my part. Look, it wasn't him actually pursuing. It was…" A pause and a deep sigh here, complete with closed eyes. It was clear that this situation had truly bothered her. "Look, there's this woman, and she's not younger, she just looks it. And she's never made any secret of the fact that she likes him, even though she knows he's married."
"Yet he's never, to your knowledge, returned the sentiment?"
An aggravated groan this time. "He never even noticed it until Richard pointed it out to him. Which I find hard to believe, but I guess women see things in other women that men don't."
"There are times when men can be extraordinarily clueless about what goes on in the minds of women around them," Elliot replied, not adding that the same was true in reverse. "The point is, he's never shown any interest in this woman?"
An eye-roll at her own expense then. "No," she admitted.
"Do you think he's capable of having an interest in her and hiding it?"
"Probably not." Lois tilted her head then, pursing her lips sullenly. In that expression, he could see the resemblance between her and Kala so well. "Let me guess? You're going to tell me I don't have anything to worry about, right? That I should just let it go?"
"I would never be that presumptuous. But Lois, you effectively said so yourself just then. I would tell you to take your own advice - unless there's some other factor involved. Is he keeping secrets from you?"
Interesting – her gaze left his again, looked completely away this time. In his mental notes Elliot circled the word 'secrets' in bold; something was up. Lois groaned, eyes to the ceiling again. "No, not hardly. I'm the one who keeps secrets. That's part of what got us in this mess. You'd think I'd learn, as often as it comes back to bite me in the ass."
Immediately, her other ex came to mind, the caped one. He should have known that that would play a part somewhere. But that was neither here nor there, technically. "So why haven't you stopped keeping secrets? Is it important to you to know something other people don't?" he asked, even though he didn't think that was her reason.
Lois grimaced, clearly uncomfortable, but he simply listened. Sometimes attentive silence was a therapist's best technique; people often felt the need to fill it with things they wouldn't normally say. And after a long moment, Lois proved him right. The way she bit her lower lip made him think of a child afraid to seem like a tattle-tale. So reluctant, but needing to get it out of her system. "Look, Elliot… This is all off the record, right?"
"I'm not recording this session, Lois. The only notes are in my head," Elliot reassured her.
Lois sat in silence, seeming to turn things over in her mind before she spoke. Then, with a deep breath, she began telling him the story. "All right, a long time ago, someone thought I couldn't keep an important secret. And he royally screwed up my life because he thought I couldn't keep my mouth shut about it. The thing is, even though he screwed me over in a major way to try and make sure I didn't have to keep quiet, I kept the frikkin' secret anyway. Even though giving it away would've been … well, it would've been the perfect revenge on him and a success for me."
"Does this person know that you did in fact keep the secret?"
"Yes, they do now."
"Have you discussed with this person the way his actions affected you?"
"Oh, yeah. At length," Lois muttered, frowning uncomfortably. "And I forgave him, too. It was a work in progress for a while, but it was years ago now."
"It sounds like this incident is still fairly important to you," Elliot commented.
Lois leaned back in her chair and raked one hand through her hair. "Yeah, well, it's the only time he ever misjudged me. And he's damn near perfect; it's the only real, major, deserve-to-get-his-ass-kicked screw-up he's ever done. And he was doing what he thought was best for me. For all of us, really. But he was wrong." There was a pause then, hazel eyes going wide, something clearly occurring to her…
But she happened to glanced at the clock then, and grinned with relief. "Hey, look at that, it's time. My hour's up. Therapy's over for the day. Guess we'll have to pick this back up later."
"Next week, same time?" Elliot said quickly.
That earned him an impish smile as she stood up and slipped her purse over her shoulder. "If you're lucky, Doc. If you're lucky."
It was the two smiles that made him count it as a successful session.