Pre-Emptive Strike

By Bethy <bethyem@yahoo.com>

Rated PG-13

Submitted: November 2004

Summary: Clark comes home to find Lois plucking her eyebrows…but he soon realizes there's more going on than this ordinary activity.

Note: This story is a response to two challenges from the fic boards. Specifics are listed at the end.

***

"Ah-choo!"

Clark entered the brownstone to hear a ferocious sneeze from upstairs. He grinned. There was only one thing that could make Lois sneeze like that. He took a quick look through the ceiling to the upstairs bathroom. Yup, sure enough, there she was, plucking her eyebrows. "Ah-*choo*!"

He blew the front door shut with a small puff of superbreath and, whistling, headed to the kitchen to start putting the groceries away. In the year that they'd been married, he and Lois had established the habit of shopping together whenever they got a chance they said it was to educate Lois in the ways of the kitchen, but really it was just fun to do it together but this afternoon she'd had a doctor's appointment so he'd had to make a go of it alone. That was not nearly as scary as when he got called away and Lois had to go by herself. Then, it was always an adventure to see what she came home with.

"Ah-*choo*!"

A grin interrupted his tuneless whistling. She was still going at it. He quickly put all the frozen goods away, then moved on to the dry goods. He kept the newly purchased coleslaw and ramen noodles out and got the leftover barbecued chicken from the fridge. It only took him a few seconds to mix up the dressing, chop the chicken and gently crumble the noodles into the coleslaw. "Ah-*choo*!" Was she *still* plucking up there? He glanced at his watch. He'd been home for over 10 minutes. Even when she was being very exacting, Lois never took that long to tweeze her eyebrows.

He headed upstairs, taking a second to inspect the dust on the banister and make a mental note to clean it off soon, while calling out, "Lois? Honey, are you okay?"

He went into the bathroom just in time to hear another giant sneeze. "Ahhhh-*choo*!"

"Gesundheit."

In reply, she yanked out another hair. "Ah-choo!"

"Bless you," he said automatically. He gently grasped her shoulder and twisted her towards him. She faced him, but didn't meet his eyes. Her entire left eyebrow was gone completely plucked out and she was about halfway through the right one. "Lois, what's going on?"

"I'm plucking my eyebrows," she replied calmly as she turned back to the mirror, leaning her hips against the counter, and continued her yank-and-sneeze pattern.

"No, you're annihilating them!" Belatedly, he noticed the other supplies she had spread out on the bathroom counter. Scissors, an extra pair of tweezers, shaving cream, and a brand-new razor.

"Lois?" he asked when she didn't respond.

"Yes?"

"You want to let me in on what you're doing?"

"I told you, I'm plucking my eyebrows. Ah-choo!" She sneezed again.

Okay, so she was going to be stubborn about this. He decided to try another tactic. "Is there a particular reason you're plucking them into oblivion?"

"Pre-emptive ah-choo! strike. Ah-*choo*!" With one final sneeze, she finished off what had remained of the right eyebrow. She thrust her lower jaw forward and huffed to blow a lock of hair away from her eye, leaving it to trail across her forehead. It covered where her left eyebrow had been, making her face look oddly lopsided.

Setting her shoulders, Lois judged her work in the mirror. Apparently satisfied with her completely hairless upper face, she grabbed the scissors and started in on her head. After placing the small plastic bathroom garbage can on the counter, she took hold of a chunk of hair and snipped it within half-an-inch of her scalp. She let the hair fall into the trash and pulled another bunch straight up. *Snip.* Again, she let it fall into the trash.

"Lois?"

There was no response.

"Did you lose a bet?"

"No."

"Is this a dare?"

"No."

"Did Perry assign you some undercover story that he didn't tell me about?"

"No."

Clark sighed and ran a hand through his own hair in agitation. Hair which, while not long, certainly still covered his head. Something it didn't look like Lois's was going to do for much longer.

"Are you going to let me in on *why* you're doing this anytime soon?"

"Yes."

Finally! A hint of an answer. Then…nothing.

"Lois?"

"What?"

"Um…I'm still waiting for you to tell me the secret."

She swallowed hard. "Not yet."

He clenched his jaw and tried not to growl at her. Meanwhile, she finished her haphazard hair cut, leaving a short blanket of uneven fuzz covering her scalp. She carefully wiped off the scissors and laid them down. Then she turned the water on and let it warm up, sticking her fingers under the faucet in constant impatience as she waited for it to reach a tolerable temperature. When she was satisfied, she ducked her head down, thoroughly wet her scalp, and then lathered the shaving cream all over her head.

Clark simply watched in morbid fascination.

She picked up the razor and, with only the slightest hesitation, started to shave her head.

"Um…Lois, honey, is this some kind of test? You know, like when you get a new haircut and I tell you I like it and you ask if I'm telling the truth or just lying to spare your feelings and I tell you that I'd love you even if you were bald? Are you testing me to see if I really meant it or something?"

Being extra careful to avoid any nicks, she pulled the razor smoothly down her scalp to the back of her neck, shook off the shaving cream into the sink and rinsed the razor clean in the warm water. "No." Her voice was almost inaudible.

Clark flipped down the lid of the toilet and sat down. Lois continued to shave in careful, methodical lines. Her head looked funny, half completely shorn and half covered in white goop with little bits of brown poking through. Finally, she finished. She rinsed off the razor, cleaned out the sink, rinsed off her head, and toweled her shiny, smooth scalp dry.

Standing tall, she stared into the mirror at her new visage. It was then, and only then, that a single tear slid down one cheek.

"Lois, honey, what's wrong?" Clark jumped up and pulled her into an embrace. Now he was really worried. Before he'd been curious, maybe a little panicked at the thought of Lois completely bald, but he figured she'd let him in on the joke soon enough and they'd both laugh at this day for years. But when she started to cry, he knew this was more serious than a prank or a dare. "Please, honey, talk to me."

She shuddered with silent sobs, wrapped her arms around him and clung tight. Reaching down, he wrapped an arm around her legs and effortlessly lifted her up. He carried her into the bedroom, sat down on their bed and rocked back and forth, letting her cry and murmuring soft nonsense.

Finally the sobs slowed, then stopped. Lois sniffed and reached blindly for the kleenex box beside the bed to blow her nose. Then she looked at him. For the first time since he had come up there, she looked directly at him.

Without her hair, or her eyebrows, she somehow looked tinier…younger…definitely more vulnerable.

"You okay?" he asked, holding her hand.

She blinked hard to prevent more tears from coming, then nodded. "For the moment."

"You ready to talk?"

"I think so." But instead of talking, she fidgeted with their intertwining fingers, playing with them, comparing finger lengths, analyzing her nails, then his. He recognized her stalling for what it was but didn't feel like this was the time to push her.

"I went to the doctor's today."

"I know. And I missed you at the grocery store," he teased. She didn't respond at all and he regretted his words. This was not the time for teasing; he knew that, but he just hadn't been able to stop himself.

"You know how I've been bruising so much lately? And tired all the time? And bleeding a lot even from the tiniest cuts?"

"Yeah. I thought it was just anemia or something."

She smiled, her pale, hairless face looking wan. "So did I. So did the doctor, at first. But he said there were a couple other tests he wanted to do to make sure. And there was a lull in the lab so he just had me wait while they analyzed some stuff. 'Just to be sure,' he said. So that I 'wouldn't have to worry,' he said."

As she spoke, carefully at first, but with a little more of her normal fire as she mimicked the doctor, a knot began to grow in Clark's stomach. And grow…and grow…

"You know chicken pox?"

"Um…yeah." He was startled by the tangent.

"You know how it's a not fun thing to have as a kid, but really only an inconvenience for a week or so, but if you get it as an adult it can put you in the hospital and sometimes even kill you?"

"Yes. Are you saying you have the chicken pox?" He had been pretty sure she'd already been through that childhood disease. And he didn't understand what that had to do with her shaving her head.

"No." She shook her head and took a deep breath. "But leukemia kinda works like that, too. Only worse. For kids and adults."

"Leukemia?" he asked. "As in…cancer?"

Lois nodded.

"Are you saying…?" He couldn't even finish it.

"Yes. I have leukemia. And, like the chicken pox, it hits adults harder. Kids still die from it, but they have a much better success rate than adults do. Something like ninety-five percent or something. But adults get a different kind or something and have a harder time beating it. Which is really funny, when you think about it, because a kid's immune system isn't as good as an adult's so theoretically, they should have a harder time fighting it, which should mean adults would have a better chance at beating it, but with chicken pox and leukemia, it doesn't work like that. Ironic, huh?"

Stunned, he could only nod. "But it's not an automatic death sentence, right? I mean, can't they fight it? They can do chemotherapy and radiation and stuff, and there's a chance you can beat it, right?"

She nodded. "Small, but…yeah. He wants me to check in to the hospital tomorrow morning. They're going to start a round of chemo, and type my blood and check to see there's a match in the bone marrow registry. They don't usually do a bone marrow transplant except as a last resort, but he said they now have a policy of checking for possible donors right away, so that they have it all ready to go should it become necessary."

"Okay." Clark gave her a fierce hug. "You can beat this. I know you can."

Resting in the embrace, they took strength from each other's nearness. After a while, Clark spoke softly. "Um…you never did explain the new hairdo."

Lois laughed a little. "I decided that I had no choice about the cancer, I had no choice about the chemo, but I refused to give up all control. And if the chemo wants to make me horribly sick, fine, there's nothing I can do about it. But I decided I wasn't going to let it take my hair. And so the only way to prevent that…"

"…Was a pre-emptive strike." Clark finally understood her words from earlier. "So, you may have no choice about losing your hair, but you decided you could sure choose *when* you did."

"Exactly." She grinned at him, hairless and powerful. That was the stubborn Lois Lane he loved.

THE END

This is a combination response to two challenges on the fic boards a haircut challenge and darkfic challenge. Thanks to Andrea for letting me steal her sneezing, Annie for reading it through (but the mistakes are still mine), Rivka for a spelling (and any German- speaking FoLC can correct us if we're wrong) and Jill for some medical clarification (again, if I got it wrong, the mistakes are all mine).