Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Note: I started writing this series way back in 2007, long before Clark actually started work at the Daily Planet on the show. Thus canon doesn't match my story-- to canon's detriment, I like to think:-).
Read the series from the beginning here.
Shades of White, Part 4
The bullpen was quiet.
Perry White stepped out of his office and sighed. Plenty of reporters were milling around, bustling from place to place or talking or typing at their desks, and yet it was very quiet out here. Too quiet.
Two desks stood empty. The desk of Chloe Sullivan, his star reporter, who'd garnered more front-page headlines in her short career than most reporters could ever dream of. And the desk of Clark Kent, who'd only been working for the Planet for a couple of months, but who had already impressed Perry with damn good writing and a brilliant ability to get the perfect quote.
Sullivan and Kent had had a certain energy about them. The bullpen had crackled with ferocious electricity when they'd been working at their desks.
But that energy was gone now. Because he'd fired Sullivan and Kent.
He sighed, remembering the identical expressions of shock on their faces when he'd canned them. They'd both looked upset as hell, and deep down, he'd been every bit as upset. God knew he hadn't wanted to do it.
But he hadn't had a choice.
The problem was that Clark Kent was also Superman. Chloe Sullivan had been the reporter to first get an exclusive interview with Superman, and considering that she was Clark's girlfriend, that was just plain wrong.
Perry hadn't even bothered to tell them why he was firing them. He hadn't had to. He'd seen in their eyes that they knew.
Something rumbled, and Perry jolted, jerked back to the present by the feel of the floor shuddering under his feet. All over the bullpen, people were leaping up, and he caught startled words: What the hell? Is it an earthquake? What's going on?
Automatically, his gaze slid to the flatscreen televisions overhead, but the talking heads on GBS were still yammering about the fragile peace accord in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the floor beneath him began to shudder even harder. His staff stared at him, their eyes wide with something approaching panic.
He tamped down his own panic, and did what he always did... started yelling orders.
"What are you idiots standing around for?" he hollered. "Something is obviously going on. Get me that story!"
The shuddering was worse down on the street. Not an earthquake, he decided. Not a natural one, at any rate. Earthquakes didn't go on long enough for a guy Perry's age to make it down twelve flights of stairs. He wondered what this tremor measured on the Richter scale, and if the tall buildings lining the street would hold up under the stress.
He imagined the old brick and stone Daily Planet building collapsing, burying all the people on the street in tons of rubble, and a shudder ran through him that had nothing to do with the quaking of the earth.
Around him, people were screaming and wailing in panic. Some ran wildly, as if they might somehow be able to outrun the tremors. A light post crashed to the ground, right in front of a car, causing a screech of brakes and a five-car pileup. Fear hung in the air almost visibly.
And then Perry heard for the first time the words that would later become as indelibly a part of Metropolis as the Daily Planet globe or the Sharks or LexCorp.
"Look! Up in the sky!"
All around him, people were stopping, pointing, gaping. He could feel the mood of the crowd shifting, from terror and panic to hope and expectation. He looked up and saw a red streak, heading for them like a meteor.
"It's Superman," a hundred voices breathed at once.
Superman hit the ground hard. Perry barely caught a glimpse of his red cape before Superman tunneled right through the asphalt and disappeared.
For a brief moment, the tremors intensified.
And then there was only silence, and a blessed stillness.
Everything seemed to slow, and then stop. Perry had lived in Metropolis a long time, and had never heard such a profound silence. All the hundreds of people around him stood stock-still, staring at the hole in the asphalt, holding their breath while they waited to see what would happen next.
And then Superman lifted out of the hole, pulling a hideous, scaly monster behind him. It resembled no creature Perry had ever seen before. It looked, he thought, something like a cross between a Chinese dragon and a giant woodpecker. The monster was huge, with enormous, scythe-like claws and a huge, curved ivory beak, but it hung motionless in Superman's grasp, either unconscious or dead.
The crowd broke into cheers.
Apparently oblivious to the applause, Superman shot upward, the monster held securely in his grasp. His red cape waved behind him.
And then he was gone.
"Superman. I need to talk to you."
The next morning, Perry stood on the roof of the Planet building, in the shadow of the great golden globe, and spoke in a normal conversational tone. He felt a little silly, honestly. He had no idea if Superman could hear him, and if he could, he had no idea if Superman would show up. He was only one man in a city of millions, after all. Surely Superman had better things to do than talk to him.
But five seconds later, Superman stood in front of him.
Perry blinked. He hadn't seen Superman flying toward him. He'd just kind of appeared out of nowhere. He must be amazingly fast, Perry thought, and immediately questions came to his reporter's mind: How fast do you fly, exactly? Where did these powers come from? What are you?
He pushed the storm of questions back, and spoke, more quietly and respectfully than was his wont.
"I think maybe I was a little premature in firing you and Miss Sullivan."
Superman gazed back at him. His head was held high, and that indefinable aura of dignified nobility surrounded him. He bore surprisingly little resemblance to the awkward, bumbling, bespectacled reporter Clark Kent.
But he looked a great deal like the kid Perry remembered from Smallville, the one who'd saved Perry's life so long ago.
"I don't know what you mean."
Perry blew out his breath in an irritated sigh. "Kent. Don't insult my intelligence, all right? Let's be honest with each other."
Superman hesitated, and then his big shoulders lifted in a slight shrug of surrender. He tilted his head on one side, gazing at Perry thoughtfully. "Are you going to expose me?" he asked.
"It's a big story," Perry said. "One of the biggest I've ever had my hands on in my career. But no. I'm not."
Perry lifted his hands, unable to clearly articulate his decision. He turned away from the earnest green eyes and walked toward the wall that marked the edge of the roof.
"You saved a lot of people yesterday," he said, fumbling for an explanation. "You might have saved all of Metropolis from that monster. I don't think anyone else on Earth could have done much to stop it."
"I don't think it meant to hurt anyone. It was just building a nest."
"You mean it was going to spawn a bunch of baby monsters?"
"I believe so, yes. I put it on Mars, where it can't hurt anyone. It doesn't seem to mind the atmosphere there."
Perry blinked. "You can fly to Mars?" He shook his head, throwing off his incredulity. "Never mind. Look, the point is that whether or not that thing meant to harm anyone, it was causing tremors that could have ripped the city apart. Probably would have, before too long."
"But you-- you saved the city. And it's not the first time."
Superman said nothing. Perry stood at the edge of the roof, and stared out over the vast sweep of the city. He'd lived here, worked here, for a long, long time. This was his home, and he loved the city and its people a lot more than he'd ever admit.
He wanted what was best for Metropolis.
He gazed out over the tall buildings, and spoke softly. "If I tell everyone who you are... well, you might quit being Superman."
"I would have to quit, Perry." Superman answered him, just as softly. "I'd have to go create a new identity and make a new life in some other town. The thing is, I need a life, too. I don't want to be mobbed everywhere I go, or have people trying to put me into a lab, or being afraid of me just because I'm different."
There was a deep sorrow in the voice that suggested he spoke from experience of some sort. Perry nodded, remembering that the kid had been brought up by nice, ordinary parents in a small farming community. He'd had an essentially normal life, despite his compulsion for helping people out on the side. Obviously he didn't want to be a superhero twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He had a girlfriend, after all. Like anyone else, he must need an everyday, ordinary facet to his life.
"I can understand that. But I don't want you to quit." He leaned his hands on the wall, staring at the skyline, and spoke firmly. "Metropolis needs you. So your secret is safe with me."
A long pause. At last the deep voice behind him spoke.
"Thank you, Perry. I appreciate that."
"The thing is..." Perry sighed, and turned around. "You're news, Superman. Big news. The Planet has to report on the things you do. There's simply no avoiding it."
"I understand that."
"Of course you do. And you also know that my people are the best. If any of my reporters start digging too far-- they might just uncover the truth of who you are. Your identity." He smiled a little. "And that's why you wanted Sullivan covering you, isn't it?"
Superman inclined his head slightly, in a kingly gesture. Perry had the sudden, ridiculous notion he should bow, but he fought back the impulse. He was pretty sure the guy didn't want anyone treating him like royalty. If Superman had wanted to rule the world, he certainly could have done so, considering his powers. But obviously that wasn't on his agenda.
"It may be bad journalistic ethics, if you want to get technical about it," Superman answered. "But Chloe isn't in it for personal glory, and neither of us would ever manufacture the news."
"I know you wouldn't mean to. But the temptation..."
"No." Superman-- Clark-- spoke earnestly. "I've known Chloe a long, long time, Perry. You know we've been friends since high school. Colleagues since high school. She's always been all about the truth. Neither of us would ever create news to make ourselves look more important, believe me. This--" He waved an impatient hand at his gaudily colored costume. "The truth is, I'd rather still be working as the Red Blue Blur. I'd rather no one ever saw me at all. But Chloe..." His mouth curved in a reminiscent smile. "Chloe convinced me people didn't just need saving. That they needed a symbol."
"So you put on the suit..."
"Not for glory, Perry. It's not about glory. It's about hope."
Perry remembered the way the street had suddenly fallen silent yesterday, remembered how the panicked screams and wails of fear had given way to quiet anticipation and faces tilted expectantly up toward the sky.
Look! Up in the sky!
He understood what Clark was trying to tell him. It was about hope. The kid-- okay, he was a full-grown man now, but Perry still thought of him as a kid-- wasn't just trying to save people. He was trying to do something more profound than that.
He was trying to take some of the world's despair and tragedy and death away, to replace it with something better.
"Yeah," he said gruffly. "I get it, kid. I really do. And it's okay. I know that ethics aren't always black and white. Sometimes... sometimes you have to see things in shades of gray."
Clark's expression relaxed, just a bit. Perry looked back at him for a moment longer, remembering a teenager who'd inexplicably lost his amazing abilities, and yet had freely risked his life to save an old, washed-up reporter. He'd known then that Clark Kent was special. And not because of any powers he might have.
Perry trusted Clark Kent.
He trusted Superman.
He met Superman's gaze, then held out his hand.
"Welcome back to the Planet, kid."
Superman broke out in a goofy, wide grin that was much more bumbling Clark Kent than dignified superhero, and reached out and shook Perry's hand so energetically Perry wondered if he'd be able to type for the rest of the afternoon.
"Thanks," he said.
"You're welcome." Perry tested his fingers cautiously to see if he could still move them. "Now go get Sullivan, before she accepts one of the ten or twelve job offers I'm sure she's already gotten, and then the both of you get your asses back to the office. And for God's sake, get a move on, Kent. Why are you always so damn slow?"
Superman grinned at him, and was gone in a blur of red and blue.
Perry looked up into the blue sky, and smiled.
Olsen was in on it too, Perry decided the next morning, watching Jimmy sitting on Chloe Sullivan's desk and talking to her in earnest whispers. And that was okay. He figured Superman needed all the help he could get to keep his identity under wraps. Every reporter in the city was already trying to figure out exactly who Superman was, after all.
It was up to Perry and the Planet to see that no one ever figured it out.
Perry glanced back down at the printout in his hands, looking over the latest article Sullivan had turned in on Superman. This time a bridge had collapsed, and Superman had saved hundreds of commuters on an El train that otherwise would have plummeted to the pavement below.
Perry frowned a little. He was grateful for Superman, aware that he was saving people every day, and yet part of Perry still wasn't comfortable with the decision he'd made. He was helping cover up part of a really huge story, and letting someone entirely too close to the story report on it.
He remembered the GBS incident, where an overzealous organization had created the news in order to report on it, but pushed it out of his mind. Despite his reservations, he was pretty damn sure that wasn't going to happen here. Sullivan was a good reporter with a solid set of ethics. He was pretty sure Clark was right, and that she couldn't be tempted. He'd known Olsen just about as long, and thought highly of him.
And Clark-- well, he'd only known the kid a couple of months, not counting their brief encounter in Smallville all those years ago, but he was pretty sure Clark had no intention of doing anything but saving people.
Shades of gray, he reminded himself. Sometimes it's okay to let yourself see the world in shades of gray instead of black and white.
He watched with amusement as Clark Kent blundered through the door of the office, late as usual, spilling his coffee all over another reporter and stammering out apologies. A slight smile curved Perry's mouth as he watched Clark stumble across the bullpen. He saw Sullivan turn and smile, saw the clear love and adoration in her eyes, and a warmth filled him, which he tried hard to suppress. He was a crusty old editor, who wasn't supposed to be getting the warm fuzzies just because he saw two kids in love.
Clark got to his desk without causing any more accidents and fell into his chair. Perry turned around and headed back for his own office.
What Superman did, he reflected, was a lot flashier than what Clark Kent and Chloe Sullivan and Perry White did. But in the end, sometimes reporting was just as important. In a way, he and Superman were working for the same thing-- to better the world.
And even if his decision to keep Sullivan and Kent on, to allow them to continue reporting on Superman, hadn't been entirely ethical, he thought it was the best way to keep Metropolis safe. Metropolis needed help.
Metropolis needed hope.
He remembered Superman's words to him: It's not about glory. It's about hope.
He smiled, and headed into his office to get some work done.