By LO <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: February 2002
Summary: In the aftermath of September 11, Clark's two personas collide — what will be the price?
For some time I have been wondering how Clark gets away with being absent from work so often. I realize that being a journalist allows some flexibility but… there must come a time when even Perry reaches his limit of tolerance. When coming up with scenarios for how that crunch point could come, I kept coming back to September 11. It was the most televised event ever and it places Clark's two jobs in direct conflict. The choice he has to make is obvious but what is the price of that choice?
This is not to detract in any way from the superhuman efforts of the men and women of real life New York City. Indeed, when you look at the logistics of it, even Superman would be unable, as one man, to do much more than what was done in this world. As far as I am concerned the firefighters, police, paramedics and people of New York are all heroes.
The purpose is simply to highlight the clash of Clark's two lives as he, like any of us, tries to live up to his ideals and beliefs.
Please note that it is not set in our world. It deals with equivalent events in the New York of the DC Universe and some of the names and places are different as a result. I don't own any of the characters and am not seeking to make a profit or infringe copyright. I have borrowed or paraphrased some dialogue from the LnC series, the movie and the comics, both to enhance and support the tenor of the story. Oh and Lois does quote Star Trek at one point. In doing so, I acknowledge the writers of those works.
A particular thank you to Hazel for her insightful comments and encouragement, as well as the participants on the IRC for their many excuses for Clark's absence.
"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." — J F Kennedy
When the first plane hit the Twin Towers in New York, Clark Kent was eating dinner, struggling manfully against chronic boredom. More specifically, he was attending a formal dinner for an Asian Economic Trade Forum at the Port Douglas Resort in Far North Queensland, Australia. Former US President, William Jeffers, was the keynote speaker. Clark, in his capacity as overseas roving reporter for Metropolis' newspaper, The Daily Planet, was covering the event. Jeffers had given his speech to much applause, but had really said nothing new or world shattering. The dinner was not yet finished and Clark was stuck making small talk until it did. He was counting the minutes until he could justifiably take his leave for the night and get some fresh air.
When the first plane hit the Twin Towers in New York, Clark Kent did not hear about it immediately. There was no reason why he should have. New York was not his city and he was too far away to be monitoring direct US news broadcasts. It took time for the world news organisations to filter the information through to Australia, and the media present at the Forum were focused on reporting that event, rather than other overseas news. That was the responsibility of other colleagues.
When the first plane hit the Twin Towers in New York, Clark Kent was not notified of that fact by the monitors in the JLA Watchtower, although the event was noted. At that stage it was thought to be an accident; the Big Apple's fire and police departments were responding. There was little for costumed heroes to do, even ones with super powers, except get in the way of the professional rescue teams. The Tower was being evacuated in an orderly fashion. There was no need to disturb the JLA membership, or even call out the local JLAer, Green Lantern, for what was essentially a mopping up operation.
When the second plane hit the Twin Towers in New York, Clark Kent was observed doubled over in pain, complaining of severe stomach cramps. He excused himself hurriedly from dinner, and was last seen heading for his hotel room.
That was the last that anyone, including Clark's editor, Perry White or his wife, Lois, heard from Clark Kent for over a week. He simply disappeared from his hotel room, leaving his belongings to be collected by an Australian-based staffer from a Planet affiliate after the Resort had made several concerned phone calls querying why Mr Kent had not checked out.
That was not to say that Perry did not attempt to locate his missing reporter. The events of September 11 caused a media frenzy on a scale previously unknown, and he wanted all his reporters on the job. In particular, he wanted reaction from the recently retired President, who was stranded in Australia until secure air travel could be resumed. Jeffers was visibly desperate to get home to the States. With the current President and administration on a war footing, which meant controlled media statements, Jeffers was the face of America overseas. His comments were highly newsworthy.
It infuriated Perry that the experienced journalist he had sent to cover Jeffers, who could report on events from the perspective of distance and experience, was nowhere to be found. It put White in a difficult position, and he was not pleased that he had to rely on a junior affiliated reporter for the story that should have been obtained directly by a seasoned newsman.
Although he would not admit it, Perry was very fond of Clark Kent and was personally worried at the reporter's absence. As time went on, when he was not distracted by the events unfolding around them, that concern turned to anger. Clark still did not surface and it was clear that Lois, although obviously concerned with her husband's wellbeing, was not concerned that he was severely injured or missing. Yet, she could not come up with a plausible explanation as to her husband's whereabouts.
No stories were filed by email; no telephone calls were received. Clark had gone AWOL in the tropical paradise of Queensland, at a time when Perry most needed him. If it had been anyone else, his letter of dismissal would have been already written. In Clark's case, his previous reporting credentials and Perry's affection for him bought a stay of execution and the benefit of the doubt, but Perry's patience was wearing thin.
When Clark did appear in the newsroom over a week later, he had a haunted look about his eyes, he had obviously lost weight, and he appeared exhausted. Of course, this also described the majority of people in the building. Everyone had been running on a combination of adrenaline, caffeine and nervous energy in the wake of the terrorist attack and their ongoing threats. Emotions were high, patience was stretched thin and tempers were taut. There was more than one member of the Planet staff who harboured resentment towards the absentee reporter.
They felt they had been let down by Clark. In his absence they had been forced to shoulder his workload as well as their own. This was not the first time Clark had left them in the lurch either. He had disappeared for extended periods before without much explanation, but he always came back with a page one story as justification. The staffers reluctantly accepted that Kent might deserve special treatment for bringing in so many scoops; the stories were usually of such high calibre that they would tolerate Clark's 'eccentricities.' But this time there did not seem to have been an email or copy produced, and from the look of the reporter as he entered the newsroom, there was unlikely to be.
In any event, there was no bigger story than the events of September 11, and, unless Kent had a one on one interview with the terrorist mastermind admitting all, they were not prepared to forgive what they saw as dereliction of duty. Even the ebullient Jimmy Olsen, one of Clark's staunchest friends, was looking at him in with a mixture of disappointment, confusion and disillusionment.
Clark was exhausted, traumatised, guilt ridden and emotionally distraught at the feelings of helplessness he was experiencing. Of course, most of the world's population was feeling that in varying degrees. In Clark's case, though, there was an additional dimension. He felt this trauma as only one at the frontlines of the disaster could. In addition, he had to adjust to the realization that sometimes even extraordinary men are helpless against evil. He was accustomed to always being in control, always being able to save the day. He was usually invulnerable to defeat but never had he felt so impotent.
In failing to do his job as a reporter, and by disappearing at the most crucial moment, he knew that he would be viewed by some of his workmates as a coward, a shirker, and, in some eyes, a traitor. He had to deal with his colleagues' scorn as well as coping with a major trauma in his life, processing what he had seen over the last week. His 'secret identity', years in the making — its purpose to give him a so-called 'normal life' — was rebounding on him. The price of being a hero _and_ an ordinary guy was extremely high.
Taking a deep breath, Clark walked off the elevator into the bullpen, squared his shoulders and headed straight for the editor's office. A hush descended on the newsroom. A question was whispered around the room in his wake. Was Kent going to get what was coming to him?
*September 11 — 16, 2001*
When the second plane hit the Twin Towers in New York, the JLA emergency beeper had gone off in Clark's ear. J'Onn J'Onzz, the telepathic member of the team, was frantically broadcasting that the presence of all JLA members was required in New York immediately.
Less than sixty seconds after leaving the banquet room of the Resort, Clark changed into his familiar red, yellow and blue costume, streaking towards New York at top speed and leaving numerous sonic booms in his wake.
As he flew, he received telepathic updates from his comrades who were arriving at the disaster site. Fully focused on getting there to help rescue efforts, he gave scant thought to making excuses for his absence. He could not have anticipated the scope of what he was to face.
Superman is a man of extraordinary powers, speed and strength, but he is still just a man, not God. He could not travel halfway round the world instantaneously. It still took precious seconds for him to travel the distance from the East Coast of Australia to the East Coast of America, even breaking his own previous speed records.
When he did arrive, he was met with the sight of the two buildings, severely damaged. Gouts of flame and billowing masses of smoke roiled upward, powered by the jet fuel scattered through them from the exploding planes. There were still thousands of people gathered in the buildings and nearby streets. Seeking out the Fire Chief and his staff co-ordinating the rescue efforts, Clark offered his services.
He was soon employed in collecting people trapped on the roof of the buildings, but it was slow going. If he travelled too quickly, the air currents in his wake would fan the flames. It was difficult to see people in the heavy smoke, even with his enhanced vision. He could only carry a few people at a time and at relatively slow speeds — he had to make allowances for their more fragile physiology. In many cases, he had to administer makeshift first aid before they could be moved. He had to determine who he should rescue first, and who could be stabilised and left behind to be retrieved on a later trip. Finally, he had to ensure that the people he did rescue were transported to appropriate aid stations for ongoing triage care.
This was not the same as punching a supervillian into orbit or moving the trajectory of a meteorite. It took time and infinite, agonizing patience.
Unfortunately, on that sunny September day, time was not something that the inhabitants of New York City had. In short succession, both the Twin Towers fell. Clark was buried in the rubble of the first collapse and had to spend precious moments digging himself out before attempting to assist others trapped with him. He then turned his attention to extinguishing the fire in the second Tower, but he was hampered by the intensity of the blaze and the need to take care of the people still in the building. In the end, time ran out. The second Tower fell and Clark was left, hovering above what later came to be known as Ground Zero, in impotent sorrow.
Of course, there was still much to be done. He immediately went to assist in the frantic attempts to remove rubble and rescue trapped victims. Again, this was not an easy task. He could not simply use his strength to rip pieces of rubble away. It was all too precariously balanced; precipitous action could cause huge slabs of burning debris to slip, possibly crushing victims inside. Clark set to with a will, working alongside the numerous unnamed heroes of New York's fire, police and paramedic departments in a desperate effort to save lives.
There are some benefits to superstrength and stamina and Clark and his comrades saved a great many lives that day. But in the end, they were not miracle workers and many lives were still lost.
The sights that Clark and his fellow workers witnessed that day were almost beyond belief. There were things found in the wreckage that were incomprehensible. Burdened with guilt at being unable to do more than he had, weighed down with regret that he had not been able to foresee the collapse of the buildings, Clark worked doggedly at the site for four days straight. By then, it was becoming clear that this could no longer be a rescue mission. It had become one of recovery.
The superhero was unrecognisable; his brightly coloured suit was now black and gray, his cape in tatters. His face and hair were covered in dust and streaked with various unidentifiable substances. His eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot. Nonetheless, Clark kept going.
It was on the fifth day after the disaster that a female reporter clad in stained and torn jeans and hardhat, managed to get past a barricade to a co-ordination point where Clark was working. She pointed out to both the startled site manager and the bedraggled superhero that even a Superman has his limits. Didn't they think it was time for a shift change? She gestured to Green Lantern, who was waiting nearby to take over.
After that, both she and Superman had left separately. No one noticed that as she walked two blocks from the site into a side alley, the woman was plucked from the ground by a grey streak, which resolved itself into Superman. As the pair flew from the city towards neighbouring Metropolis, they wrapped their arms tightly around each other, both sobbing.
Once they had arrived back at their townhouse, Clark and Lois had fallen into an exhausted sleep. When they woke twenty-four hours later they realized that, in addition to some major emotional reactions to what they had both seen, they had another major hurdle facing them: the question of Clark's absence.
What could he say to Perry? Over the years, Clark and Lois had come up with numerous excuses for his absence — some plausible, some less so. The events of the last five days had been so traumatic that Clark simply could not find it in himself to hide behind a blatant lie. He saw only one option available to him.
*September 17 2001, 9 am*
Although Perry had been aware of their arrival the moment that Clark and Lois had stepped out of the elevator, he did not storm into the bullpen bellowing their names as he usually did. Rather, he waited in his office, giving all appearances of concentrating on the layout of the next edition of the paper. When Clark and Lois entered the room, he did not look up, but merely said, "I will see Kent on my own, Lois. Shut the door on your way out."
"Now wait a minute, Perry," retorted Lois with some heat, "Clark and I are a team…"
"Not on this occasion, Lois." Perry held up his hand to forestall further argument. "This issue is between an employee of the Daily Planet and myself, as Editor in Chief. I realize that you want to support your husband, but this is a professional issue, not a marital one. If you have comments as an employee of this paper and not as Mrs Clark Kent, I will discuss them with you later." He moved to show her out.
Lois was furious. She could not believe Perry was acting this way. Sure he was their boss, but he was also their friend! She adjusted her stance and was ready to let fly.
"Please, Lois." Clark took her hand and placed a finger on her lips. "For me."
Lois took a shuddering breath and gritted her teeth. She was still angry but would, on this one occasion, support her husband's wishes. That did not mean that she agreed with him. If she didn't like the outcome of this meeting, then watch out world: Mad Dog Lane would let rip!
"Only for you, Clark," she said grudgingly. With a quelling glare at Perry, she strode out, slamming the door. As the glass shuddered in its frame, her voice could be heard addressing the newsroom. "Well, don't you people have stories to write?!"
The two men looked at each other in silence. Clark knew that Perry was torn between the responsibilities of their friendship and the positions of relative authority that they held at the Planet. Perry's reaction was so atypical that it was a clear barometer of his hurt and anger with an employee whom he had always treated like a surrogate son.
Perry sat down behind his desk once more. He made no effort to offer Clark a seat and Clark made no attempt to take one. He would stand and face this head on.
"Well, Kent. I presume you have some cockamamie excuse for your absence during the biggest story ever? One that involves a reason why, given the numerous affordable and effective means of electronic communication currently available, you were unable to let either myself or your colleagues know where you have been during the last week?" Perry drawled deceptively.
"No, sir. I don't," was the reply.
"You *don't* …? Just where in Sam Hill have you been the last five days? Can you tell me why you are even in the States, given that you are supposed to be in the tropics of Australia?"
"Sir, I have been at Ground Zero, helping. How I got there is irrelevant. Being there was what was important."
"More important that doing your job?! Son, in case you have forgotten what it says on your paycheck, you are a reporter. You are employed by this paper to report the news — not get involved in it. You go where I assign you and you report the news I request you to." Perry's hold on his temper was beginning to fray.
"I could not stand by and not help…"
"God dammit, Kent! Who do you think you *are*?! The place was swarming with people whose job it is to help — firefighters, paramedics, and construction workers — people who are trained for these situations, people whose job it is undertake that work. *Your* job, Kent, when you choose to remember it, is to report on their efforts." Perry attempted to reign in his temper.
"Hell, son! We all wanted to help. How could we not? But each of us has a different role to play. The workers on Ground Zero have their responsibilities; but as newsmen, we do, too." Perry rose from his chair and started to pace. "When something like this happens, it terrifies people; they look to us for information. They rely on our calm reporting of events so that they can feel some semblance of control in the middle of the chaos. *That* is our job and our duty. Which, I might add, you are paid very well to do."
Clark opened his mouth to speak but Perry gave him no chance to do so. He stood in front of Clark and regarded him sternly.
"Clark, I've made allowances for your lame excuses and many absences in the past because you're such a good writer, but this time… I am your editor and your boss. I have a responsibility to the Planet and its owners. You really let the side down. Can you give me one good reason why I should not hand you your marching orders?" He looked at Clark expectantly.
Clark squared his shoulders and looked Perry in the eye.
"You are quite right, Mr White. I *do* have a responsibility to the planet. I had my reasons for what I did, and I would do it again if necessary. But I do know that I let you down and did not satisfy my employment contract."
Clark reached into his coat pocket.
"Sir, I want to thank you for your patience with me and your friendship. With that in mind, I hope you will accept my resignation." With that Clark handed an envelope to Perry and left the room.
As Clark moved towards his desk, he replayed the events of the last few hours over in his mind.
*Earlier that morning*
Clark jolted awake gasping. After their return from New York, Lois and he had given in to their exhaustion, both sleeping deeply. In the early morning hours, the nightmares had started. He relived the images of the last week over and over, his feelings of impotence and sorrow growing with each repetition.
Being careful not to disturb Lois, he slid out of bed and went to the window. In the predawn quiet he rested his forehead against the glass, staring out unseeingly at a beautiful Metropolitan autumn day. For the first time since it had all started, he had the dubious luxury of being able to think about and feel the consequences of the events of September 11 and his actions in them. He also began to dwell on what Superman's job would do to Clark Kent's employment. The two aspects of his life had collided spectacularly and disastrously. How was he going to get out of this one?
Two slender arms slid around his waist as his wife joined him at the window.
He turned and gathered her to him, holding her close. "Hey yourself."
She was, as always, his anchor in the middle of the storm of emotions that he was experiencing. He had thought he was beyond tears, but in the safety of her arms, he felt his eyes sting once more.
"Ah, Lois. All those people. All that loss. All the things I can do, all these powers and I couldn't save them."
"You couldn't save *all* of them, Clark. But you *did* save a lot of them. Focus on that." Lois cupped Clark's chin in her hand and looked him in the eye. "You did your best, Clark. You gave it your all and you tried. In the end, that's all anyone can do. That's all that anyone can ask of you. Think about all the people you did save, the ones your powers did help. Think about the hope you gave us that we could go on."
Clark gazed down at his wife through a sheen of tears, and kissed her deeply.
"Thank you," he said, choked with emotion, "for accepting me as fallible, for loving me unconditionally, for reminding me of the reasons why I do this — for just being here for me."
"Always, flyboy," Lois smiled at him softly and held him close. "And don't you forget it!"
Some time later, as they dressed to face the day, Lois broached the topic that they had both been avoiding.
"So have you decided what you're going to say to Perry? I've stalled him, but I didn't want to give him a detailed explanation until I'd spoken with you."
Clark sighed and ran his fingers through his hair in agitation.
"Not yet. I just can't think up an excuse that he would buy, Lois."
"How about: You've been trying to get home since it started, but it took a while to get a flight?" Lois suggested.
"Why didn't I call?"
"The phones were down and you couldn't get through?"
"The phones have been working quite well the last few days, Lois. Anyway, why wasn't I reporting on Jeffers?"
"You were unconscious with a bad bout of flu?"
"For *five* days?!" Clark shook his head. "Besides, you told me yourself that Perry knows I wasn't in the hotel room."
"Hmm." Lois paused in thought, before snapping her fingers in inspiration. "I know! You risk associating yourself with Superman in saying this, but how about: Superman was battling bushfires in Northern Queensland and you contacted him about New York. He gave you a lift with him to Ground Zero, where you tried to get story details. Superman was rushing to get there, so you had no time to get your cell phone from your room. You were caught in the chaos of the Tower collapse, inhaled a lot of dust and were taken to the hospital, unconscious and unidentified. You did not fully wake up until yesterday and you called me on my cell phone. I was reporting from Ground Zero. Lucky that Perry had sent me up there!" Lois grinned at her husband, who was listening to her explanation with a mixture of amusement and awe on his face. "I came and got you and we drove home last night. In my concern for your health, I forgot to ring Perry," Lois finished triumphantly.
Clark smiled at his inventive wife. "I knew there was a reason you were a writer." He shook his head. "It is plausible — just. Perry would probably accept it. But I don't know, Lois. I just don't feel right about using it."
Lois regarded her husband in shock. "What are you saying? What will you tell Perry, then? The *truth*?"
"No. And I hope you won't tell him, either." Clark guided Lois to a seat and took her hand. "Lois, when I decided to put on the Suit, I knew I would have to make sacrifices. I haven't liked lying to Perry and Jimmy, and even you, all these years. But even if I told Perry the Secret, it wouldn't absolve me of the fact that I didn't do my job."
"How can you say that, Clark? Your job is to help all those people."
"Not my *paid* job," Clark answered simply.
"But it's like being a member of the National Guard, or those firefighters in the Australian bushfires," Lois protested. "They do it in a voluntary capacity. No one criticizes them for leaving their jobs in a time of crisis to take up their volunteer role. Being Superman is just like that!"
"Maybe, Lois, but their employer knows about their second job. They take that into consideration when they hire them. There are contingency plans in place to cover the volunteers' absences. No. I chose to mislead Perry from day one. I've let him down when I was most needed, and I can't expect him to excuse me from failing my duties as a reporter."
"Let him down?! Hindsight is a wonderful thing, Clark. Do you seriously regret going to help?"
"No, of course not. I said to you once, Lois, that 'Clark' is who I *am* and 'Superman' is what I can *do*. I know now that I was wrong. I'm *both* Clark and Superman — I couldn't stand back and commentate on the tragedy when I could actively do something to lessen it. I can live with the anger of my boss and co-workers but I cannot live with doing nothing." Rising, Clark began to pace the room as he spoke, coming to a stop to stand before his wife. As he did so, he unconsciously adopted his trademark "stance" — head up, shoulders back, feet apart and arms crossed over his chest. "I did what I had to do, and I would do it again." He spread his hands out to his sides in weary acceptance. "I've been given great gifts and now I have to pay the price for them."
Lois regarded her husband with concern.
"So what are you going to do?"
"I hope you can understand, Lois, but I know that I have not fulfilled my obligations as a reporter. The only honourable thing I can do is resign."
"What?! Clark! *No*!" Lois sprang to her feet in shock. "You can't be serious!"
Clark smiled sadly at his wife, "Never more so."
"Clark, think about this. We'll talk to Perry. Sure, he's angry right now, but give him a chance to calm down," Lois pleaded with him. "I'm sure he'll forgive you, give you a second chance."
"You're right, Lois. He probably would." Clark moved away from his wife, hating to see the distress he was causing her. "But what about the next time there's an emergency, and I have to make a choice between 'Clark's' job and 'Superman's' responsibilities? And the time after that?" Clark gestured upwards as if in query, "And the time after *that*?" He turned back to Lois and cupped her face with his left hand, a gesture he often made when he was worried or concerned for her. "Lois, I would make the same choice then as I did last Tuesday. People's lives are more important than a newspaper, or Clark Kent's job. In making that judgment, I would let Perry down again and again. I can't do that. And frankly, I'm just too tired to have to try and come up with a dumb lie or shallow excuse while looking my friend and boss in the eye when I do so." He closed his eyes briefly and then looked back at her. "No, Lois. Resigning is the honourable thing to do."
"Spare me the 'needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few' speech, Clark!" Lois pulled away from her husband in distress. "Honestly, sometimes I think you're just too honourable for your own good!" She turned back to confront him once more, right index finger jabbing towards his chest. "You're so worried about hurting Perry, but what about hurting yourself?" She took a deep breath to calm herself. "Look, Clark, I understand. I really do. But there's no need to go to this extreme. Haven't you heard of the word 'compromise'? There's got to be another way. Please just take some time to think about this."
"Lois, I can't…"
"Clark, I know Perry is angry. But I really don't think he'll fire you, as long as you give him a reason that will let him save face and justify keeping you on. If you resign now, without an explanation, everyone will believe the worst! They'll think that you're unreliable, a liability! Think about that. What media organization of any standing will hire you if you've left the Planet in disgrace? Clark, you're destroying your career!" Lois' voice caught with emotion.
His emotions already strained, Clark suddenly felt his temper snap. "Don't worry, Lois," he said coldly. "I might not be able to work as a reporter, but I'm big and strong! I'll pick up work somewhere! You won't starve!" He whirled away from her. Why couldn't she understand how he felt?
Lois jerked back in shock. She couldn't believe that her kind, loving husband had just made such a snide, hurtful comment. Reminding herself that he was emotionally distraught, and lashing out at the nearest available person, she choked back her anger and fixed him with a stern glare. When it came to determination, Clark was not the only 'person of steel' around here!
"I cannot believe you just said *that* to *me*!" Her eyes flashed at her husband, who had the grace to look somewhat shamefaced. "Might I remind you who has the higher number of journalism awards and bigger paycheck in this marriage?" She advanced toward him until they were almost nose to nose. "This is not about money, and you know it. This is about trying to make my stubborn, thickheaded husband think twice about making such a life changing decision when he is too tired, traumatized and guilt ridden to think it through rationally. This is about reminding him that life does not always have to be lived at extremes." She felt tears pricking her eyes and turned away, trying desperately to keep her composure.
There was a pause before she felt her husband gather her in his arms. "Lois, you're right. What I said was totally out of line. I know you would never put money first." His grasp tightened, a little desperately, "I… I shot my mouth off without thinking. The last thing in the world I want to do is hurt you. Lois, please, can you forgive me?"
Lois felt tears start to fall as she turned in his arms. "Of course, Clark. I just hate seeing you so upset." She sighed as she saw the determination in his eyes. "You won't be swayed in this, will you?"
Clark touched his forehead to hers. "Please understand, Lois. I do hear what you are saying, but I have to do this."
She brought her lips to his in a soft kiss of comfort. "All right, Clark. I don't agree with you, but I love you and will always back you up. If you are adamant about resigning, then I will support you. We're a team, farmboy, and don't you forget it!" She gave him a watery smile. "But, if you are going to do this, then you have to do one thing for me. That's my price."
Clark regarded his wife with love, and more than a little apprehension. What was Lois up to?" And just what might your request be?"
*September 17, 2001, 10 am*
Clark began to pack up his belongings from his desk. Few of his colleagues spoke to him. He was being treated as a pariah. Although Clark had expected that this would be the case, the reality of his co-workers' behaviour still cut deeply.
As for those few workers brave enough to consider making some derogatory comment or cutting jibe at his expense, they were quickly discouraged from the attempt by the presence of Clark's veritable 'spitfire' of a wife.
Lois hovered close by, keeping a protective watch on her husband. She alternated between muttering threats towards Perry for excluding her from discussions, and fixing would- be critics with a steely glare if they came too close. Even Ralph took the hint.
Although she was furious at her colleagues for their treatment of Clark, Lois was bound to silence, not only because of her promise to Clark, but, also, because she knew that an angry outburst now would only cause her husband more pain.
As Clark finished clearing his desk, Jimmy came up to him and shook his hand.
"I know you had your reasons, CK. Whatever they were, I'm sure they were good ones."
Clark struggled to speak past the lump in his throat.
"Thanks, Jimmy. That means a lot. Keep in touch?"
"You bet, CK."
Jimmy moved away, and Clark looked back towards Perry's office with regret. There had been no further discussion between them. One of the paper's directors had called shortly after Clark had ended the meeting. It looked like Perry would be tied up for some time. Clark was saddened that there was no opportunity for him to say goodbye, but he felt that he had said all that there was to be said.
Lois, of course, had a lot more to say to Perry. But that would keep until after Clark had left.
"How are you holding up?" Lois asked softly, regarding her husband with concern.
"I've been better," Clark gave her a twisted smile. "But, I've done what I had to do."
"Hmpf! You know my views on that!" Lois moved to her husband's side. "Just don't forget your promise to me!"
"Of course not, Lois. Thank you for supporting me." Clark gave her a brief hug. "I realize how hard this has been for you."
Kissing his wife goodbye, Clark turned and left. It had been a high price to pay, but the inner peace of knowing that he had done what he could to help the victims of 9/11 was more than enough reward.
*September 18 2001, 8 am*
The day after Clark's departure, Perry White slowly made his way into his office. "I'm getting too old for this," he told himself.
It had been a very long week. After the first reports of the strikes on the Towers came though, he hardly left the office; as Editor, he had been needed to co-ordinate the Planet's coverage of the events. Even before the meeting with Clark, he had been exhausted. The discussion with Clark had been emotionally and physically taxing, and in hindsight, he knew that he should have handled the situation in a better way. He still was not sure that he ought to have accepted Clark's resignation. When all was said and done, Clark was an excellent reporter who would be hard to replace.
The subsequent interview with Lois had been equally trying. She, too, gave no excuses for Clark's absence, and she supported her husband's decision; but, it would be a long time before she forgave Perry for excluding her from the meeting between him and Clark.
Sighing, Perry booted up his computer and checked his email. He was surprised to see a message from the Kents' private address. Opening it up, he saw it was from Clark.
Once again, I thank you for your support over the years. I am sorry to have betrayed your trust in me. I could not leave without sending you one last story. Please do not put my byline on it. I have simply acted as a conduit to tell the story.
The attachment was entitled *Perspectives from Ground Zero.* Succinctly written, with little excess emotion but great empathy, it contained interviews with numerous participants at the site, covering all viewpoints. There were comments from workers in the Towers, medics, firefighters, police, rescue co-ordinators, shocked bystanders and, finally, Superman and some of the other members of the JLA. It was a powerful piece, objectively written and one of the best articles that Clark had ever submitted. Perry was certain that the story would gain Clark the Kerth award, and possibly even the Pulitzer.
When he had finished reading, Perry slowly reviewed one of the closing paragraphs.
*When he left for New Krypton, Superman stated that every one of us has the capacity to be a hero. The events of September 11 have proven him right. It is not superhuman powers that define a hero; rather it is people's strength of character, their courage and self sacrifice, their willingness to give their all to help their fellow man. The people of New York have paid a terrible price, but have shown the true depth of their heroism.*
Sitting in silence, Perry was stunned. Once again, despite his contradictory behaviour, Kent had come through for the Planet. How did this obvious dedication to the paper add up with Clark's seemingly irresponsible behaviour over the last week? He replayed yesterday's confrontation, trying to find an answer to the question, picturing in his mind's eye the distressed young man's unsuccessful attempts to hide his emotions behind a mask of formality.
Why, if Clark felt that it was the right thing to do, hadn't he defended his decision to put aside his duties as a reporter and rush to New York to help? Why did he give Perry no justification for his actions? There was something about the situation that just didn't gel.
With a sigh, Perry set to work editing the story, all the while turning the problem over in his mind. He had overlooked Clark's odd comings and goings in the past due to the high standard of the stories Clark submitted, and the number of front page scoops he had obtained for the paper. The trouble was that this time Clark's absence had been too long and too public to ignore or gloss over. After all, Perry had a paper to run. He had responsibilities to the 'bean-counters' upstairs, not to mention the rest of the paper's staff. To let one person 'get away' with such blatant dereliction of duty would have a very adverse effect on staff morale and cause significant unrest.
No, the point had to be made that as a journalist and an employee, Clark had a responsibility to his employer. As Editor, Perry just could not overlook what was a serious breach of Clark's employment contract. If he simply refused to accept Clark's resignation and reinstated the reporter scot-free, Perry would not be doing *his* job. Whether Perry liked it or not, Clark had to accept a penalty for his actions. *Still*, there had to be a way to have the best of both worlds — the talented writer, and a dedicated, responsible workforce. He just had to find it!
Realizing that he had been staring blankly at his computer screen for some time, Perry put the finishing touches on Clark's story and sent it off for formatting. He continued to sit, pondering the conflicting nature of Clark's actions. If only Perry could be assured of Clark's dedication to his profession. As he sat there, Perry's gaze fell absently on a stack of old editions of the Planet, which were piled haphazardly on the corner of his desk. On top was the paper dated September 12, 2001. The front page of the first edition published after the fall of the Towers contained a photo of some of the rescue efforts then underway. Firemen joined with Superman and Green Lantern to pull a trapped policeman from the rubble. The photographer had done his job well. The impact of what each man had seen and experienced was apparent to the reader; even the usual stoic demeanour shown by the "superheroes" had slipped, their emotional turmoil clearly on display.
There was something about that photo that tugged at his consciousness… Perry bent forward and examined the picture more closely. The look of anguish on one of the faces was hauntingly familiar… Where had he seen that look, and on that face, before? He was sure that it had been *very* recently… He paused in thought…
Bolting upright and swearing to himself, Perry called himself three types of blind fool. As he sat there, an idea began to form. It might just work, and if it did, Perry could have his star reporter back, and Clark could have the flexibility he needed. Things wouldn't be as they had been, but… Perry grabbed the phone and dialed. It was answered on the third ring.
"Hello?!… Yes, I got the article — Excellent bit of writing… one of your best ever… as for this "no byline nonsense", your name is going on it!… Save your arguments — current employee or not, I'm still Editor of this newspaper and what I say goes!" Perry leaned forward in his chair as he spoke. "Son, I wish you had felt that you *could* tell me the reason why you disappeared like that, but I understand your difficulty… We're going to have a *long* talk about that later. Right now, though, let's talk about that damn fool resignation of yours. I'm *not* going to accept it…" Straightening in his chair, he held up his hand as he addressed the person on the other end of the line. "Now you just hold your horses, son, and listen to me! I've got the solution to the dilemma of balancing your *two* jobs… *Yes*, you heard me! Fulfilling your duty to both *planets*, Clark. Tell me, how do you feel about freelancing…?"
Concentrating on his phone call, Perry was unaware of a movement just outside his office. Lois, who had been listening at the door, smiled to herself and turned away. The price of her supporting Clark's resignation, the request he had to fulfil, was that one final story. Clark had not let her down. It was after all, a piece that he strongly wanted to write in tribute to the participants of September 11. In complying with Lois' request, Clark fulfilled, albeit in a slightly different way, his obligations to his "paid job." Lois had hoped that the story would be the catalyst to re- establishing Perry and Clark's professional and personal relationship, but the results far exceeded her expectations.
It seemed that Clark had finally found a way to balance being both Clark and Superman. Of course, there were still hurdles to overcome; it would take time and hard work for Clark to regain his co-workers' trust and respect. Perhaps the relationships that had been there before would never be completely reinstated. The journey had been costly, and would continue to be so. That was the price of being a hero, the price of satisfying the guiding principles Clark chose to follow. But in the end, if it meant that Clark could be true to himself and fully satisfy the joys and demands of both aspects of his life, it was a price worth paying.