By Sara <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: February 2004.
Summary: In this post-"That Old Gang of Mine" story, Perry reflects on Clark's time at the Daily Planet.
Author's Note: Well, this time last year I was still hacking my way through Wendy's section of the Archive, oohing and awe-ing at every step, so I was frankly terrified when she mentioned in passing that her birthday was coming up, because I knew I'd have to attempt something for her ;) So this is dedicated to her, hoping she had a fantastic day, and thanking her for everything. I'm not going to tell you that you deserve it, Wendy, because someone as terrific as you should already know that :)
Patience is a virtue, and Meredith; you have it in abundance <g>. Thanks so much for being such a great BR, sticking by me through *two* premises, nagging, thwapping, disembowelling and teaching me the name of <these pointy thingies> ;) You're the best!! And Sas, thanks for making me realise that I couldn't give… uhm… *that other thing*… the time it needed to be a suitably acceptable birthday-fic-for-Wendy <g>. Rest assured, you two, I will finish The One That Almost Was some day soon, so your efforts won't be in vain! ;) Thanks also to my Archive GE, Larissa Kaye, who made some very helpful edits.
Feedback is, as ever, welcomed and appreciated.
It's a marvellous thing, coffee. It wakes you up in the morning, enables you to do your work properly. For nearly thirty years, I'd depended on it — those tiny black beans — to shake me properly into my day. I knew it. Alice knew it — got slowly used to the fact that I needed it first thing, or I'd be grizzling like Papa Bear.
Coffee wakes you up. Simple.
Except sometimes you don't *want* to be woken up. Sleep is peaceful — it doesn't require thinking. Doesn't require feeling. Who wants to wake up and face the nightmare your life has become?
Coffee was all I could give her last night. I shouldn't have, maybe — should have let her sleep naturally — but I couldn't think of anything else to do. The void in her eyes scared me. It scared me to death. I could have dealt with tears; I could have dealt with denial; I could have dealt with anger; but that emptiness, that *nothing*, was uncharted territory. I patted her on the back, made her coffee, hugged her and stayed until I was sure she was asleep. No talking. Grim silence. I was a boulder — stony, impenetrable, but solid.
I waited until I got home to collapse.
I frustrate myself sometimes, how I can feel so much and show so little. I would have given anything to have known how to comfort her that night.
An Elvis story. That had always been my remedy for consoling her. I have a stack of them, much-loved anecdotes collected from a lifetime of following his career. The first song of his I ever heard — "Suspicious Minds", played as I whirled my date, Alice Brent, around the dance-floor — immediately hooked me. It was an obsession that would last for the better part of my life.
I have scores of Elvis stories, but somehow I just couldn't seem to find one that could possibly make her feel better about the death of her partner. Her best friend. The man she loved more than any other.
He never even had a *chance*. Day after day, he would watch her from afar, always with the same look on his face. Half fierce, acute longing; half terrible, painful love. Everybody noticed. Everybody knew. Everybody — except her. He never had a chance to show her how he felt about her. She never gave him a chance.
It makes me sad.
It makes me angry.
Time is a precious commodity. Everybody realises that at some stage of their life — usually when they've run out of it.
She knows it. She realises it now — now that there's no more left. There's never going to be a second chance. She never saw him standing there, loving her quietly — now she never will. He never noticed her attitude changing. Slowly, subtly, she came around. Mad Dog Lane was a thing of the past. She started smiling again. She laughed — Clark made her laugh, constantly. She was nice to Jimmy, even when he wasn't around; she treated Ralph with icy contempt, even when he was. As for Clark; she undermined him, then she respected him, then she liked him. Finally, she loved him. First as a brother, then as more.
I watched her through all of it. I saw all the steps, and I rejoiced. I cheered silently from the sidelines. I tried to push them towards each other gently. *Too* gently. I should have knocked their heads together till they woke up and recognised their feelings.
I should have.
She never told him what she felt; now it's too late.
My fault. Oh, I know that any shrink with more college degrees than common sense would tell me otherwise, but I know it. It's one of the risks you have to take as the Editor-in-Chief of a big city newspaper — the possibility that your reporters may not always make it back to write the story. It's funny how you never realise just how stupid, how pointless those risks are until one blows up in your face.
I *knew* what she would suggest to him. I *knew* they were going to that club. I *knew* it, and I just… sat back. For a nice headline. For a scoop.
I've got my headline, all right. But not the one I wanted. I didn't want to have to write about a Planet reporter getting shot in action.
Dammit, I'm a fool. A sad, sorry old fool.
He was more of a son to me than my own flesh and blood. A good reporter — a good man.
Look at what he's left behind. An old fool, teary-eyed and sentimental for the first time in his memory. A broken woman, the shards of her heart lying deep inside her — so deep that I fear her ability to find them and put them back together. A grief-stricken friend, barely more than a boy, fighting back his own tears. A silent newsroom. All of these together — all of them apart — should surely show you what a cherished man Clark Kent was.
I told Lois not to come in today. What else could I do? Leaving her at home to wallow in her memories isn't a great option, I admit, but what choice did I have? I *can't* let her come in here, viewing first-hand the raw sorrow of her colleagues, people who didn't even know him that well. It would surely kill her.
A lone figure, drifting ethereally through the newsroom, trailing her trembling fingers over a few items on her desk before coming to a halt, staring directly at the bare wood of his…
It's her. She's here. I told her not to come, and she just… ignored me. Like she ignored him.
I shake my head sadly, watching her through bloodshot eyes. Can she never listen? Will she ever learn? Why can't she realise that having her here is making my own grief ten times as strong? When will she accept the fact that sometimes other people do know what's best?
I turn away and head back into my office, suddenly feeling sick. It's that fighting spirit, that mulish stubbornness that moulded and shaped her into such a brilliant reporter.
It's that refusal to give in that got her partner killed.
I can't go to her now. Doggone it; I can't let her see me like this. My own grief is too raw, a dark red tunnel out of which there seems little hope of emerging. I have to be strong for Jimmy; for my reporters; for the Daily Planet; but not for her. I've never had to be strong for her and I'm darned if I'm gonna start today.
She's always pulled through the rough times; all I ever needed to do was stand back and watch, letting her know that I was there. That's all she ever needed, the knowledge that someone was in her corner.
Now, on the very day I fear she needs more, I can't give it to her.
*He* would have known what to do. He would have fetched her a chunk of the moon if she'd asked. He would have gone to the ends of the earth for her, and stayed there, too.
I swallow, acknowledging the fact that there's a story to be written and nobody in a fit state to write it — except me. Good old Perry White, pulling through again. I pull up my chair and resurrect my loyal black typewriter. I'll be darned if I'm using one of those worthless, electronic contraptions to write his obituary. He deserves better than that. He deserves the very best.
Half an hour later, I sit back, reading and re-reading it. A lump forms in my throat as I look over the last paragraph.
"Time whispers past us like butterfly's wings. We don't know — we *never* know — until it's too late. Shooting stars flame out almost the second they appear, but they make an unforgettable impact while they light up the sky with their brilliance. Clark Kent was a shooting star, one of the best and brightest to work for this paper. He will not be forgotten, and the Daily Planet will not rest until his killers are brought to justice."
I turn my chair around so that I'm facing out the window as a lone, disobedient tear makes its way down my cheek. An Editor is meant to be a strong man who fights his battles alone. Perry White, the Editor, is a strong man.
But the weak part of me — the "Chief" — grieves for his son.
(c) Sara, February 2004.