This story was written in February 2008 for a friend who requested a waffy married fic. Many thanks to Alcyone for her insightful beta work; her friendly but constructive comments led to some real improvements in the story.
I've been home exactly forty seconds and the kitchen counter is already cluttered with food. Tonight I will cook the twenty-third dinner Lois and I have shared as husband and wife, but I'm still having a good time thinking up new meals to impress her. Although now that I think about it, she's impressed by pretty much any meal that requires turning on the stove, so I don't need to try very hard. I do anyway, though, because it's for her.
I'm eyeing a few iffy stalks of celery in the crisper drawer when it occurs to me that the house, although dark, isn't silent. The thu-thump, thu-thump of Lois's heartbeat echoes softly in my head. She's home after all. I can't believe I missed that when I came in. Is she napping? No, the rhythm isn't steady enough.
I shove the celery back in the fridge and stand. It isn't in Lois's nature to sit quietly in a dark house unless she's spying on someone. She often beats me home in the evenings, but usually I find her watching the news, giving Dan Rather a piece of her mind, or dancing with a broom around the living room, her Police CD turned up so loud that passersby on the street are singing along.
Easing the kitchen door open, I tiptoe into the living room. I'm feeling skittish; Lois's unnatural silence makes me nervous in a way few things can. I find her on the couch, her arm thrown over her eyes and her stocking-clad feet propped up on the arm of the couch, crossed at the ankles.
"Lois, honey." I kneel down next to her and touch the top of her head. "Are you ok?"
She makes a small sound of acknowledgment. I wait a few seconds, but that's apparently all she has to say. Now what? I know how to handle Angry Lois, Sarcastic Lois, Annoyed Lois, Frustrated Lois, Sad Lois and Scared Lois. But Silent Lois - Depressed Lois? - is new to me.
"Ok... is there anything I can do for you?"
I think that was wife code for 'If I have to tell you what to do, then don't bother.' Apparently I have to navigate this particular minefield all on my own.
I've never seen her so empty and still. A knot forms in my stomach and I run my fingers through her silky hair as if my touch can push the life back into her. She makes a noise that's a cross between a murmur and moan, and I hope it doesn't mean 'get away from me.'
Gently I slide my arms underneath her. Lifting her up, I sit on the couch myself and arrange her body across mine. She turns and buries her face in my neck and I sigh softly in relief. I caress her arm, enjoying the feel of smooth sturdy fabric under my fingers. She's wearing a new red pantsuit, and before work this morning she came down the stairs and twirled in front of me, inviting my admiration.
Lois leans up a bit and whispers in my ear. "Let's just stay like this for a while, ok?"
"Sure," I whisper, and the tension begins to leak out of my body. This is one my favorite parts of this new thing called marriage; I come home to Lois, my friend, my wife, and I hold her, and the stress of the day escapes out my toes. I have no idea how I survived day to day before her.
"I got into a fight with Perry," she says after several minutes.
"Really? A fight fight? Because you argue all the time."
"He tried to kill my story," she tells my neck. "And I have a headache. Even my hair hurts."
"I'm sorry. What can I do?"
She's quiet for several seconds before looking up at me. My heart almost stops when I see a tear rolling down her cheek.
"Oh, sweetheart." I press my palm against the warm skin of her jaw and wipe the tear away with my thumb. "Is something else wrong? Please tell me."
But Lois just shakes her head. "I'm just in pain and had a bad day."
"Are you sure? Because I've never seen you act like this..."
She gives me a half smile. "Before we got married, I spent evenings like this watching trashy soaps and eating vats of ice cream. I just made sure nobody was around to see it."
"Really? I'm..." I'm at a loss for words. Lois watches soap operas. I never would've bet money on that one.
"But tonight, I think I want a bath."
This seems odd to me, but I figure it's probably a girl thing, so I simply confirm: "A bath."
"Yeah," she says softly. "With candles and really hot water and bubbles. Can you fill up the bathtub for me?"
"Sure," I reply. Definitely a girl thing. I'm torn between amazement at this side of Lois's personality – soap operas and bubbles baths! – and pride that I'm the only person who gets to see it.
Five minutes later I'm in our bathroom watching the water in the bathtub rise centimeter by centimeter. It takes a long time to fill a bathtub, and there isn't a single thing I can do to speed it up. I find the bubble bath and line up the bottles on the edge of the sink - green, purple, pink. After some exploratory sniffing, I pour a generous amount of the green stuff into the tub. Then I light four candles stolen from the dining room table and place them on the windowsill.
Finally the water in the bathtub seems deep enough and I turn it off. I take one last look around the room – Candles? Burning. Water? Steaming. Bubbles? Um, bubbling. – and run down the stairs into the dark living room.
"Sweetheart. It's ready." Lois silently holds out her hand, but I ignore it and pick her up, cradling her against my chest like I do when we fly together. We're in the bathroom in seconds, and Lois gasps and covers her eyes with her hands.
"The light hurts, turn it off, please!"
"Sorry!" I hit the switch, and then the only light is from the flickering flames dancing against the walls. I set Lois down. She doesn't move.
"Would you like me to undress you?"
She looks up at me, her brown eyes big and wet, and nods. And so I do. I unbutton her top and slide it off her shoulders, pull her camisole over her head, unbutton her pants and watch as they fall down into a puddle on the tile floor. Lois leans her forehead against my chest and I put my arms around her to unsnap her bra. The white fabric is soft in my hand, and I hold it for a few seconds before opening my fingers, allowing it to drift down and join the red fabric on the floor. I tighten my arms around her and lay my cheek on her smooth hair for just a few seconds before stepping back.
This is the first time I've ever undressed her when it wasn't a prelude to love making. I wonder if she's thinking about that, too.
Taking a steadying breath, I loop my thumbs around the thin fabric on her hips and pull her panties down. I kneel at her feet to untangle them from her ankles. Lois places her hand on my shoulder as she steps out of the pool of red and white fabric and for a heady moment I am worshipping her. For a few seconds I'm suspended in a haze of adoration and desire.
"Ohhhhh," she moans. I snap back to the present and realize that she has left my side and lowered herself into the water. The blissful look on her face makes me smile.
"That good, huh?"
"You have no idea." She stretches out full length and everything below her neck is hidden by clouds of bubbles. I watch her for a moment before turning to the door.
I look back over my shoulder. Her hair is a dark shadow above the lighter shadows of the bubbles. I turn toward her and sit on the floor next to the tub.
"I'm not leaving." I reach into the hot water to grasp her hand. She laces her fingers through mine and raises our joined hands to rest on the edge of the tub. She leans her head against the wall and closes her eyes.
Lois obviously isn't in a talking mood, so I close my eyes too and tune into to a college football game on the neighbor's radio. There are 23 seconds left in the 2nd quarter when she speaks.
"Hey." I open my eyes and look at her. "Can you zap this?" She points down at the water. It's not steaming any more.
I lean over and give the water a very quick blast of heat vision. I don't want to boil my wife like a lobster. "Is that ok?" I ask. At her nod, I continue, "Are you feeling any better?"
"My head doesn't hurt as much," she murmurs and closes her eyes again.
For a moment I consider tuning back into the game, but instead I just look at her. Her breasts, visible now that the bubbles are melting away, rise and fall in the water. There are shadows under her eyes and a thin thread of worry flows through me.
"You're fragile tonight." I hope she denies this, protests that 'fragile' is not a word one applies to Lois Lane.
She opens her eyes. Her face is pale gold in the candlelight. After a moment she nods. "Yes. A little."
A surge of panic mixes with the worry in my chest and sits on my heart like a rock. I look down at our hands and trace my thumb over her textured skin of her knuckles. I don't know what to do with a fragile Lois. Her strength is such a tangible presence in my life; what would I do if it doesn't come back?
"Penny for your thoughts," Lois says after a few moments.
I hesitate. "What I'm thinking makes me sound like a selfish child." I look back up at her dark eyes watching me patiently. She raises an eyebrow in what is clearly a 'go on' gesture, so I do. "I don't know how to be the strong one in this relationship."
She lets go of my hand and leans forward. The water sloshes against the edges of the bathtub. "What in the world are you talking about?"
"You are the rock that I am built on," I tell her. "I lay all my troubles at your feet, and you make them disappear."
"Good," she answers. "You do that for me, too."
I shake my head. "I've seen you go through many things. Fear for your life. Emotional devastation after the Luthor thing." Her eyebrows quirk and I continue on quickly. "But your pilot light, your Lois Lane-ness, was always lit, and all I had to do was be there while you made your way back to it. But tonight... it's like that flame has gone out, and since that's the light I live by, I can't see well enough to help you reignite it."
Lois sighs and rubs the heels of hands against her eyes. And then she looks at me in a way that makes me think I've said something very stupid. "There are so many things wrong with that statement," she says, "that I don't even know where to begin."
She pauses to gather her thoughts, and I am absolutely certain she's thinking about what an idiot I am. The rock in my chest feels lighter already.
"Clark, the simple fact is that sometimes my reserves of energy wear thin. That's it. That's all. Tomorrow I'll be fine."
I watch her face, her expression a mixture of exasperation and reassurance. I release a breath I hadn't been aware I was holding and nod. "Ok," I reply, "I won't worry about it. We'll just sit here in Bubble Land until you're a prune, and then we'll have dinner."
She shakes her head at me. "No," she answers. I must look surprised, because she shakes her head again. "I mean, yes, don't worry, but there's more that I need to say." She presses her palm against my cheek. Water drops slide down my neck and soak into my t-shirt.
"You keep my pilot light burning, Clark. Before I met you, I ran on fear and anger and righteous indignation. You made the fear disappear. The anger and righteous indignation come back when I need them," she says with a smile, "but, mostly, you keep me going."
She picks my hand up again and presses a kiss into my palm. "So, evenings like this one, I come home empty and you..." She pauses for a moment and a wicked grin spreads across her face. "Fill me up."
Her eyes are dancing now, her skin glowing with water and reflected candlelight. My breath catches in my throat, and I get to my knees and lean over the bathtub to kiss her.
"You're obviously very tired tonight," I say, rubbing her nose gently with my own. "I think you're going to need a good many kisses to get that light burning strong again."
Her arms loop around my neck and she bites me lightly before pulling my body toward her own. She has the advantage of surprise, and suddenly I'm in the water with her, clothes and all.
"Oh, definitely," she agrees. "I'm going to need lots of fuel."