Hold Your Tongue
Chapter Seven: Hip to be Square
Jimmy's little laughing fit trailed off after a while, and Clark's horrified expression mollified into something that seemed to suggest a sense of imminent doom, which was something of an improvement. Jimmy watched as his friend was called back to earth (figuratively speaking) and his desk (quite literally) with a ring on his phone. He was about to get back to work himself, when he heard Chief bellowing from across the bullpen.
"Olsen! My office!"
As soon as he was inside, Jimmy cut right to the chase (or at least what he assumed the chase to be), pulling out the shots that he would have been turning in anyway, but Perry swatted them away.
"Sit down, Jimmy." Jimmy froze. He had never once been asked to "sit down" in Chief's office; no one was. Not ever.
But he did as he was told, and looked up. It was odd how, from this angle, the Chief looked so indescribably old, older than he has ever looked before. The lines of his face seem grotesquely pronounced, the shadows under his eyes deeper than they should have been. Late nights in the office, deafening arguments with the print crew, verbal fist fights with the fogeys on the board, those weren't the things that put the white streaks in Chief's hair. It had to be something else, something more than that. But what the hell could stress out Perry White?
Jimmy waited, but his boss seemed reluctant to speak, his initial hesitation drawn out into a long and awkward pause, so unlike the frighteningly lightening-like actions and reactions that had characterized his long reign in the newspaper industry.
"You know, I don't really know why I bother." God, was his voice old. The words seemed forced around some sort of breathing apparatus, from a walker, a death bed. Exactly how many years did their Almighty Editor-and-Master really have under his belt? Still Jimmy waited, reluctant to reply to something he was sure had to be a rhetorical question…or something like that.
"The thing is, I'm not sure what it is that I can do." His initial feelings of confusion were gone. Jimmy knew exactly what it was that Perry was talking about, exactly what had him stretched so thin.
"I just can't' stand to see three people so young and so unhappy." Being right really wasn't all that much of a comfort.
Still, even in this terribly unconventional mood, Perry wasn't one to go off on some emotional monologue in front of his junior photographer. There was more purpose to this meeting than just giving the older man a chance to vent his feelings, Jimmy was certain of it.
Sure enough, the greatest editor in the history of the Daily Planet didn't take his time in getting back on his feet, pacing in front of his desk in that way that was quintessentially his own.
"Chief-" Jimmy began, the hold of silence on his voice released by this characteristic display of action. "I don't know if either of us are really up to the challenge"
"You spoke with Richard yesterday." The tone of his voice was snappy, and Jimmy read loud and clear that there were more questions waiting where that one came from. Perhaps he would counter with a few of his own.
"He told you that?" And more, Jimmy allowed himself to guess. A scathing glance from Perry confirmed his suspicions.
"More important is what he didn't say."
Oh great. Ethical dilemmas. These were the one things Jimmy could not stand. Any idiot off the street could have understood that what Perry wanted right now was information, and he was willing to push his own particular brand of reporter's logic to get to it. Jimmy wasn't quite sure how much time his boss had actually spent as one of the elite, turning in copy as opposed to turning it out, but he had a distinct feeling that the terms "anonymity" and "off the record" had not been in his vocabulary at that particular period in time.,
"It wasn't much of a conversation, to be honest." Perry didn't look remotely convinced, and he let it show. Jimmy could only pray that Richard hadn't exactly gone into much detail in regards to the topics which they had covered in their "something-of-a-sort-of-conversation". He didn't really know how much the Planet's only nepotistic team confided in each other.
"Is that so?" Dammit.
"Well, it wasn't a long converstion…" That, at least, was true, but Jimmy was still going to have to figure out how to fight himself out of the corner he found himself in.
"Did he mention anything about the kid? How's he doing?"
Jimmy blanched. It only took a second or two for him to register the fact that Perry was only concerned about his grand-nephew's well being and state of mind after being faced with his father's absence, which was more than understandable. It would do no good to relay what Richard had actually said about Jason.
"I-I don't know. He seems alright, though. Doesn't he?" Jason had come into work with his mom that morning, and was still sitting by her desk, fiddling with the "Bushisms" calendar that she never updated. Perry spared a glance at the little boy, apparently satisfied, before returning his attention to Jimmy.
"He's a tough kid." Jimmy nodded his agreement.
They sat in silence for a moment or two, and Jimmy thought that he might actually get let off the hook this time.
"What were you and Clark discussing earlier?" The question was like a slap to the face, and before he could gather his wits, come up with a convincing lie, he had already screwed up to his utmost ability.
Perry replied with an annoyed little huff.
"So he's told her then? Took him long enough."
Time stopped. Outside the glass walls of Perry's office, Clark's eyes had grown to the size of dinner plates, and his fingers, which had been typing away so dutifully, halted mid-motion.
Perry knew? The instant the thought completed itself he knew that it was the stupidest question he had ever asked, even within the confines of his own mind. Of course Perry knew. Suddenly, Perry knew everything, from how to reverse the effects of global warming to the number of questions Jimmy had cheated on during his ninth-grade biology final. How could Jimmy ever have assumed that Perry didn't know?
Behind that executive desk of his, Perry seemed patiently waiting for Jimmy to work his mind around the idea. Well, perhaps "patiently" was the wrong word to use.
"Stop gawking, Olsen, and pay attention!"
"Sure Chief," he muttered, his voice dry.
A cloud of "now what?"s descended upon the two of them, and Jimmy found himself staring at his shoes again.
"He's been an idiot. Clark, I mean." He had neither any idea where the statement had come from, nor any doubts about its truthfulness.
Perry answered him with an imperious nod. Yes, they both knew about that. Now they had to fix it.
"What do you suppose he plans to do next?" Chief's question showed signs of vulnerability again, and Jimmy panicked for a second time, giving a reply before really taking the time to think things through.
"I haven't the faintest idea." He should have known better than to answer weakness with inompetence, one of the Perry's greatest pet peeves, and he fumbled to atone for his mistake.
"I-I mean, Lois didn't take it real well, so I can imagine-" An idea had entered into Jimmy's mind, and he decided to pursue it. "Chief, why do you think she never figured it out on her own?"
It seemed that he had asked a difficult question, because Chief sat back with a frown, considering his response.
"Lois is the best damn reporter this paper has ever had, and one of the most intelligent people I have ever known. The quickest minds can make the quickest judgments." Jimmy wasn't entirely sure he understood, and Perry didn't seem to be one-hundred percent convinced himself, because he quickly jumped ship and landed on a whole new topic.
"Well, there was always going to be that hurdle to cross. He's dug his own grave, as far as I'm concerned."
"His problems, not ours."
"They'll just have to figure out how to fix this on their own."
"No matter how long it takes them."
At this, they both halted. No matter how long... Taking a look at the combined track record of the Daily Planet's two best reporters, even disregarding the way they had behaved lately, "No matter how long" could end up taking a very long time. And as much as Jimmy really wanted to wash his hands of the whole debacle, as much as Perry abhorred the idea of getting entangled in the personal business of his employees, all of those involved, Clark, Lois, Richard, Jason, were as good as family to the two of them. And if there was one thing Jimmy had learned from growing up in a sitcom-addicted household, the term "family" justified just about any kind of meddling.
Though Chief seemed to have shied away from pairing them together when Clark had initially returned, "Lane and Kent" were saddled together for their next story, and the one after that, and the one after that. They were kept out on assignment so much of the time that Jimmy rarely saw them at the office anymore, and he had little idea how Perry's plan to catalyze some sort of change between them was actually going. "Man are you in trouble"- he never really got the chance to know whether or not he had been right or wrong with that little prophecy of his. Though that was just fine by him.
"Jimmy, is it an 'e' or an 'a' in the last syllable of 'demulcent'?"
Though he couldn't quite recall ever actually seeing that word in print, he was quite confident that it was the former.
"It's an 'e'. At least, I think so. Still working on that one about the spiked-up cough drops? Isn't that a bit out of your league?" She grimaced at Jimmy's tactlessness in pointing out that she hadn't really taken any serious work for a while. The wires had been pretty dry, and though this normally would have thrown her into a state of great annoyance, Jimmy noticed that she had been careful not to complain about how boring their city seemed to have become in the absence of all the crime and corruption that reporters fed on so reflexively. It was oddly mature of her, in Jimmy's opinion. Still, the soft stuff seemed to be getting to her, and commercially-marketed cough drops laced with illicit substances wasn't really her thing.
"Thanks for that." He watched her prod out a few more syllables, and then jab at the print button, without any of her usual fervor. She rose from her chair, heading for the printer, but about half way there she decided to take something of a detour.
"Hey, Jimmy?" She waited until he turned around, for once patient enough to actually wait for eye contact.
"I wanted to apologize for my behavior the other day. It was inappropriate, unprofessional, and, well, sort of silly." Though Jimmy had no trouble whatsoever knowing what it was she was talking about, he had to admit to being a little taken aback, first that she should have chosen to bring it up now, of all times (though she so casually referred to it as "the other day", it really had been a while), second that she should be apologizing, for anything. Still, he had to give credit where credit was due. Any one else would have been brought close to tears just recalling the events that immediately preceded and followed her little breakdown, but not her. Lois Lane was so much stronger than that, so much more resilient than that. And what she needed right now, Jimmy knew, was to prove that to herself.
"Don't worry about it." He smoothed things over as best he could, giving her his most child-like smile.
She didn't continue to the printer right away. Though Jimmy couldn't be sure, he had a distinct feeling that she was watching Clark (or the back of his head) where he stood busying himself with the copier, which seemed to be giving him something of a hard time.
"So, you've gotten everything worked out…there…I mean…" She turned back to face him, and gave him a sad little smile and a comforting nod. She noticed his eyes travel to the spot where her own had been resting earlier.
"I know you had a hand in it, Jimmy. And I appreciate it. We all do."
Jimmy took this has permission to dive right in, and finally be able to speak openly (if not obviously) about those things which had gone unresolved for such a horribly long time. Besides, he would need a few more details, if he was to know whether or not Perry's intrusion into this whole thing was really necessary (which it was not, from the looks of things.)
"I'm sorry, that it didn't happen sooner than it did…" He trailed off, afraid that he had said something he shouldn't have. But she didn't seem to mind.
"Oh no, Jimmy. You've done more than your share, you really have. It's just…" Now it was her turn to not get to the end of her sentence. She turned away from him again, her eyes falling once more upon the object of both their observation and conversation alike. Jimmy knew she wasn't finished.
"The world is so big, Jimmy. And he is so small."
He had never really thought about it like that.
I apologize for the agonizingly long time it took me to get this posted. Between school, sports, and whatnot, there isn't nearly as much time for writing as the summer provided. From the looks of things, I'm not the only one who has been put in such a situation.
On another note, this story is (quite clearly) drawing to a close. I have one more chapter planned, which may end up being more of an epilogue than anything else. It may not manage to tie up all the loose ends that I have carelessly left lying around, but I will excuse this by pointing out that I'm not exactly writing from an omniscient point of view. Though Jimmy has found himself stuck in the middle of this great big mess more than he ever really wanted to, it is important to remember that this is not, in fact, his mess. And as such, there will be bits and pieces in the general flow of things that occur without his knowledge, whether sudden or eventual. Lois and Clark's inexplicably sudden made-up status was left inexplicable for a reason, for example. What good is this whole fanfiction thing if you don't leave a little room to play afterward?
One more thing- I do have another story in works, to be continued in earnest after Hold Your Tongue is finally put to bed. Something a little more in-depth, a little more serious, and generally unconnected with the SR plot that we have all had so much fun running forward in our minds, it's an idea that's been fermenting (and, for that matter, giving off quite a smell) in my head for some time, and shouldn't be too long in the making. Expect something of a preview with the next (and last) installment of this lovely little venture.