Mindstorm, epilogue 1

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

He could hear everything. The bubbling of the tea kettle in the kitchenette attached to his Watchtower quarters. The clunk of stoneware mug against steel countertop. The crinkle of the tea bag being unwrapped. The brush of cotton against cashmere where Lois' sweater touched her jeans. The even quieter slide of cashmere over the satin of Lois' bra as she reached for something.

Of course, he always heard everything, but long habit had taught him not to listen. That habit was broken - temporarily, J'onn promised - by the hours of effort to hear over the delusions raging in his mind. Submerged below Bette's inventive collection of horrors, he had fought to reach toward the reality J'onn kept promising was there, was fine.

It hadn't been fine; he had seen the state of the medbay when the delusions finally stopped. He could still hear the reports relaying through the monitor womb. He had counted conversations between the Flash and 356 different heroes in the last 24 hours. Something big had happened. World threatening.

In the kitchenette, the leaves in the teabag hissed as hot water streamed over them and started the steeping process.

J'onn had left after retrieving Bette from Superman's mind, although he had been back periodically. Dr. Occult had covered a shift on monitor, but sometime earlier he had made an unnoticed exit. The rest of them - the Flash, Lois, Clark Kent - were left largely alone in the damaged Watchtower. The teleporter was still down, and while Superman could hypothetically fly down to the planet's surface...

"J'onn told me that this tea was part of Kyle's stash from Radu's, so don't let me forget to restock," Lois commented as she re-entered the bedroom. Her feet were bare, and they made a faint padding sound against the warmed steel of the floor. She smelled damp and freshly showered, and although the scent of shampoo borrowed from Wally was faintly jarring, she was still reassuringly Lois. Alive. He found himself watching her intently, wonderingly.

She didn't seem to notice as she carried the mug across the room and sat on the edge of the bed. She helped him take the cup in shaking hands. "J'onn also said it should help with the nausea," she reported with the voice of a skeptic taking something on faith because she had no better ideas.

The tea smell overlaid Lois' scent, and more because of her encouragingly anxious look than because he wanted to, he took a sip. For a split second he thought he would gag instead of swallow, but once he forced the first bit of hot liquid down, the churning of his gut eased.

Nausea. So that was the feeling that connected to the word.

Lois was still sitting on the edge of the bed watching him, her hand resting on his thigh. He met her eyes. "Lois, I-"

She tossed her head. "If you're going to say you're sorry, I don't want to hear it. Drink your tea."

Clark felt a smile pull at his lips as he obeyed. The tea really was helping. The warmth of it was suffusing his body, helping him steady himself. He finished half the mug before lowering it. He let the mug rest against his lap in order to let his eyes drink in Lois. "You're so beautiful," he said.

She snorted. "Yeah, the bags under my eyes are flattering beyond words. And you still look like shit."

"Lois, what happened? While I was under that -" he shuddered, paused, started again. "Why is half the Watchtower sealed off and the teleporter down and-"

She half-glared at him, but she made her tone somewhere between nonchalant and put out. "Oh, you know. Bad guys. Moon out of orbit. Global disaster. Another exciting development on planet Earth that thanks to you I won't get a Pulitzer for covering."

"I'm-"

"I already told you about apologizing. Finish your damned tea, and then you're going to sleep again."

He cocked his head, trying to read her face, but she had turned away. He took another swallow of tea. "Lois, I think-" He stopped, realizing there was a hitch in her breathing. "Lois?" He rested a hand against her back.

"Stop it, Smallville," she choked. "I'm supposed to be strong here."

He tried to reach for her, and as he shifted, the emptied mug rolled off the bed and smashed against the floor. Lois jumped back, pulling her feet up, and Clark gathered her desperately to him, his heart pounding. It took him a long minute to realize she had begun laughing.

"Look at us," she marveled, winding her arms around his neck. "Scared of shadows."

He caught her ankles in one hand, pulling her feet more solidly onto the bed. "You can't leave now, you know. The floor is dangerous."

Lois pulled closer, holding him tight. She leaned back enough to meet his eyes. "Don't ask me anymore, Clark. Please. Just - I almost lost you. I thought - I really thought -" Her voice caught, and he stroked her back.

"I'm okay, Lois."

She pulled back. "Don't bullshit me. You're not. Not yet. And god help me, I hate the fact that right now you're listening to Wally trying to figure out how you should be helping when what you should be doing is resting because - because dammit, it's not fair!"

He stroked his hand over her hair. "Am I that obvious?"

"You're you. And I love you and I hate you and I just want you to be mine for right now and be okay and it's selfish but-"

"I love you, Lois," he interrupted. "I love you more than I love anything else. Without you-" he shuddered and held her tighter, careful not to squeeze as hard as he wanted to. She clung back, her strongest hold barely felt, but still her, still alive, warm, with him. He pressed his cheek against her hair and listened to her heart beat.

"Don't scare me like this again," she murmured.

He hesitated. "I can't promise-"

"I know. I know." She sighed. "But let me pretend. Please?"

He kissed her hair and shifted them both until they were lying together, still holding tight. "You saved me, Lois," he whispered. "You always do."

The tightness of her hold was the only answer.

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