A/N: This is dedicated to Jade as a sort of sorry I'm taking forever to finish your Valentines fic and I hope you'll forgive me kinda thing.

Standing In

It's a moment he always knew would come, yet still manages to shock him with it's inevitability. For some reason, he had never truly prepared himself, unable to grasp the enormity of the role he's expected to take over.

They're large shoes to fill- ones that he knows he'll never be able to because he's tried, and with each attempt came the bitter realization that he's not her- and no matter how much he wishes otherwise, he will never come close.

For a while, there had been the naive belief he would be enough. Through his heartbreak, he had vowed that even though the love of his life was gone, he could maintain the life she had so happily built for them all.

It wasn't until later that he realized the extent of all they had lost. Never realized how much she had done to keep their little universe in order.

He can still remember his first trip to the store; his bewildered stare at the many selections of toothpaste, and the sharp sting of failure when informed that no, his daughters would not, in fact, brush their teeth with anything but the bubblegum flavor.

It was those small day to day choices that left him stunned, how should he know they preferred cold cereal to oatmeal in the mornings, or that there was a different bedtime story on Tuesdays than Wednesdays?

He had tried, desperately in those first weeks- knowing if the situation had been reversed, she would have handled it with grace and strength- until grief and pressure finally broke him, making him desperate to pass off the responsibility. Chain of command is what he had used to reason with himself- how he had explained to his daughter that she was now in charge of herself and the life of her younger sister.

It was the cowards way out, and he wonders if either of his children have figured that out.

If there is one thing he does know, it's that he's failed his girls- all three of them, and even if his babies don't yet realize the full extent of it, she does. Sometimes late at night, that thought terrifies him and he dreads the moment he'll be reunited with his other half, because as much as his heart aches for her, it trembles in fear of her wrath.

She's going to be pissed, if there ever was a mother more fierce in her love, he hasn't met any. His excuses are flimsy and redemption will not be forthcoming- the only thing she had ever truly demanded of him, he wasn't able to do- and for that, he will never be able to forgive himself.

It's his many shortcomings that make him all the more determined to get this right. At least he'll be able to say he did this one thing to the best of his abilities.

This is the moment, and he won't pass it to the next person like he's done so often with his little girls. He knows he could have written this task off to the woman that has taken in his little girl as her own, but no matter how grateful he is that at least one of his daughters has a mother's love in her life, it feels wrong to allow any other person this spot; the place that rightfully belongs to her.

Somehow, he knows that Lois feels the same.

She's looking at him and he knows that once again he can't live up to the memory of a ghost. There's a sheen to her hazel eyes and the tremble of her lips tell a story she probably doesn't even realize herself. She would rather have her mother there than him, even if she would never admit it to anyone, but he can't blame her because really, isn't he thinking the exact same thing?

Not for the first time since he lost his wife, he wishes that they could trade places and it was her standing in this spot. She would have known just the right words, a perfect blend of sentimentality and humor. There would have been tears and laughter, wise advice dispensed as well as promises of a wonderful future.

Without trying, she woud have made it a perfect moment.

His chest constricts as he feels the despair of knowing that there will never be that special moment between mother and daughter; no giggling preparations and proud declarations that there never was a more beautiful bride in all the world.

He doesn't know what whispered reassurances that are supposed to come, only that there should be some, and for the first time in years feels the same sharp brunt of being truly and completely lost- because this isn't where he was supposed to be. He should be standing by the chapel's entrance, waiting to walk her down the aisle, not looking at the flowing sheer material in his hands and wondering just how it's supposed to be settled atop her head.

This was never his forte, the delicate situations were always left up to her, because she would have known the right way to settle the delicate material into a halo of lace, but she's gone and he's never felt more regret that he didn't take these years to figure out how to ease the gaping hole of her absence.

He wants to say all these things to the radiant woman his daughter has become; how proud her mother would be, how even now she's with them looking down and giving her blessing and how sorry he is that he wasn't what they needed him to be, but he's never been a man of many words, much less sappy declarations, so he settles for a gruff "You look stunning, Lo." and a soft pat on her trembling hand. It's probably the most emotion he's shown her in years, and there's shame with the realization.

The feel of her hand slipping into his tells him that she understands the things he hasn't been able to say, and all he can think about is the relief he feels that this is one thing he hasn't ruined.

A/N: I decided that I wanted this view of the Clois wedding even if it is kinda depressing.