A CHIEF DILEMMA
A Lois & Clark story
by Rachel Smith Cobleigh
Perry sat behind his desk at the Daily Planet, his chair swiveled away from the doorway, facing the back wall. He was staring at a small cardboard box on the floor. The box had been pushed back against the wall and largely covered by office debris. He looked at it for several seconds, unsure of what to do with it. He knew what was in the box, but he didn't want to look at its contents, for fear of what might happen if he did. He'd been purposely ignoring this box for weeks, but its contents were really too dangerous to just leave lying about any longer.
Perry turned his chair back around slightly, and looked out through his office door to the newsroom. The huge room was quiet, the lights were dimmed, and except for the janitor, Renate, the Daily Planet newsroom was empty.
His glance fell to the desk directly across from his office door, that of Lois Lane—well actually, now that he recalled it, Lois Lane Kent. They'd finally managed to get to the altar with almost everything intact. Ah, youth...! Those two must be having the time of their lives right now!
He grinned and leaned back in his chair. After everything that had conspired to keep Lois and Clark apart for what seemed to be an agonizingly long time—and if he felt that way about the whole horrible situation, Elvis only knew what the two of them had had to go through!—they deserved all the happiness they could get. Perry shook his head. Another more perfect but star-crossed pair he knew he'd never meet again. Norcross and Judd couldn't hold a candle to Lois and Clark.
They would be coming back from their two-week honeymoon this evening. They had told Perry that they planned to start work again at the Planet tomorrow morning. He grinned; he couldn't wait to see their faces when they walked into the newsroom. They'd probably both be shining and giggling and having the time of their lives and he wouldn't be the one to stop them. Oh no, they were going to get good treatment tomorrow. After that, perhaps he'd start cracking down on them again. Though they had never really needed his 'cracking down'. They were always working hard—too hard, it seemed at times. Well, whatever happened, he was looking forward to having them back in the newsroom again. There seemed to be a huge hole without them there.
Perry sighed quietly as he looked at the empty, cavernous room. He could hear Renate's mop squeaking occasionally as she wrung it out in the bucket. It seemed uncannily quiet for this time of night. Even though it was late, Perry felt something was missing. He had sent Jimmy home early that afternoon—the boy had been suffering from a pretty miserable head cold and looked like he needed a lot of rest. Perhaps that was it...but no, not entirely. As reluctant as Perry was to admit it, he missed that nagging feeling that had always plagued him around this time of night for over thirty years—that Alice wanted him to come home, that he'd stayed out too late once again, worked too long, and left her to climb into a lonely bed. As much as he hadn't liked the feeling before his...divorce, as much as he'd made jokes about it and grumbled about it, he missed it. He didn't feel wanted. He felt like he'd been left adrift, aimlessly floating about on the sea of life, no really close confidante for him to talk to. Jimmy was a great kid, but he just didn't know the ways of love yet.
Perry took a deep breath, held it for a couple seconds, and raggedly let it out. He could only hope for Lois and Clark... He'd try everything he knew to help them. Which brought him back to the box.
It was a nondescript white cardboard box, one he'd probably seen used for general packaging a thousand times. It was the generic Post Office issue for mailing good-sized objects or a stack of incriminating manila folders to the city prosecutor's office.
There were no words written on it, no address or return address, no packing tape, nothing. It was just a plain, white, cardboard box with a lift-off cover. He reached down and, grunting slightly, pulled the box out from under the pile of discarded memos and copies of the Daily Planet and a stack of Elvis Christmas cards. The box itself wasn't heavy, or at least its contents weren't.
Perry lifted it up to his desk, but after a second, lowered it back down to the floor beside him. It wouldn't do at all for Renate to accidentally catch sight of it; the fewer people who knew about this box, the better. Perry rested his arms on his knees and looked down at the white cover. Looking at it, he felt as if he were in the presence of something that could easily destroy law and order in Metropolis, perhaps even the world, if knowledge of what he had fell into the wrong hands. Shaking his head slightly, he reached down and lifted off the box's cover.
Laying it aside, he looked down at the red cape that was unceremoniously pushed down and crumpled in the box. It looked exactly as he had left it the last time he'd seen it, a few months earlier. He breathed a deep sigh of relief. No one had touched it since then and, thinking optimistically, he was the only one who knew of its whereabouts. Jimmy had seen it, but there had been no questions asked when it disappeared shortly after the incident that had landed the box in Perry's office. Perhaps Jimmy had forgotten about it. What with the whirlwind of events since that day, the box had even slipped Perry's mind for a while. It would be better if Jimmy never remembered it.
Perry looked at the red material that held so much symbolism for the entire world. The gold-colored S-shield curved and folded with the material it was affixed to. Perry reached down into the box and lifted the red cape out part way, straightening out the S-shield and smoothing it against his hand. Funny, the thought occurred to him that the shield needed to be ironed before it would smooth out completely. He had never thought of Superman as needing to iron his clothes before. The thought didn't surprise him, however. He'd always harbored a secret belief that Superman was really someone else who lived a normal life. Watching the superhero's movements, they seemed to Perry so cardboard-like, so two-dimensional, as if their sole purpose was to be a façade. A real, whole person could never be so...flat. Perry ran his fingers over the gold shield, smoothing it as best he could. The material felt plain, a little rough, even. It wasn't the soft fabric he'd thought it would be. The thought struck him that this cape and emblem seemed homemade. It was a strange feeling.
Renate's floor buffer whirred to life a few feet away from his office door. Perry jumped slightly in his chair at the sound. He lowered the cape behind his desk quickly and glanced out the doorway at the cleaning woman. She was humming to herself over the whine of the buffer and going along, completely oblivious to the man sitting behind the huge mahogany desk in the Editor-in-Chief's office. Perry watched her for a minute, noting her every move. Satisfying himself that she was completely engrossed in buffing the newsroom floor, he turned back to resume what he had been doing.
He pulled the rest of the red material out of the box and left it draped partially across his knee and partially across the arm of his chair. Then he looked back down into the box and stared for a few seconds at the two things sitting on the bottom: a small, paint-spattered note with a hideous outline of a smiling skull on it, and a softball-sized chunk of softly-glowing kryptonite.
This chunk was the only one Perry had seen since he first heard of the material three years ago in an article that Lois had written, but the chunk of green rock produced such an unearthly glow that Perry was certain that it was kryptonite. When Lois had written her article, it had only been theory that the substance could harm or even kill Superman, but now, three years later, it was proven fact that it could force the Man of Steel to his knees. Perry grimaced at the thought. He'd read Lois's piece on that story, too. Her description of the scene between Superman and that kryptonite-powered cyborg was chilling, and it was little wonder that her descriptions had had such an emotional impact. Her writing had never been the emotional type, usually just cold facts and a lot of hinted accusations, but in that piece, he could tell she had been deeply affected. He couldn't bear to tell her that she was too close to the story, so he ran her piece on the front page, despite its obvious bias.
Now that Perry had a piece of this lethal substance, he was loath to move too quickly in how to deal with it. At the same time, he knew that the longer he kept it relatively unprotected, the more risk there was of someone finding it and using it with disastrous results. He had to get the information of its whereabouts to Superman, and find out how to deal with it. If he called for Superman himself, there was a good chance the superhero would show up to help with whatever Perry needed. However, now that he had resolved to safely dispose of the chunk of kryptonite, Perry didn't want to let it out of his sight. And if it wasn't out of his sight, it wouldn't be out of Superman's sight, so the big guy would most likely be unable to stay near it long enough to effectively destroy it...
Perry shook his head. What a quandary. What would the King do in a situation like this? Perry knew well that the fate of the entire city of Metropolis, not to mention the world, could hinge on how he handled the situation. What to do? Perry sat thinking for a long moment, trying to find a way to contact Superman and not expose him to the kryptonite, but nothing seemed to work.
Perhaps Perry could get word to him through someone else. STAR Labs, perhaps. No—too risky. He knew there were bound to be people in that huge place whose loyalties definitely tended towards the criminal. He needed someone he could trust and could get word to Superman for him.
Wait—of course! The only two people who could contact the Man of Steel at what seemed to be a moment's notice! He had no idea how they did it, but they were two people he knew he could trust: Lois and Clark.
Perry left the cape and the note inside the white cardboard box and hid it back against the wall under the office debris and the Elvis memorabilia. He took the chunk of kryptonite home, hidden in his briefcase, and slept peacefully the whole night.
Lois got up early the next morning. Well, early compared to what time she'd been getting up over the last week or so. She smiled to herself, remembering how Clark had roused her only the day before, in their last morning at their remote beachfront bungalow. Now they were back at his apartment in Metropolis, and soon she and her new...husband would be going into work together. Mmm. The thought was reassuring. Finally finally finally, she hummed to herself and the percolating coffee. She was tempted to go over to her husband and tickle him awake, but he'd been out late last night with that overturned tractor trailer on the Metropolis Parkway. A few extra minutes wouldn't hurt. He could probably be ready for work in a little under three minutes, anyway, so Lois decided to stay and hum to the coffeemaker.
She heard him shifting around a little on the bed and changed her mind.
When Perry arrived at the newsroom that morning, he arrived to find a small festivity underway for the newlyweds. Slapping backs and female giggling was about the extent of it, but to his strained situation, it seemed to be a minor party.
"What is this, the Sheehawkin' Gazette? Let's get some work done around here!" he barked.
Everyone hopped to their desks and made themselves busy quickly, leaving Lois and Clark standing next to her desk, raising their eyebrows at the sudden disturbance. They hadn't expected their boss to be so heavy-handed this morning.
"Morning, Chief," Clark said, as Perry walked down the ramp.
Perry broke into a grin when he saw them. "Good morning, you two. Have a good time?" He watched them with a mischievous glint in his eye. Lois and Clark, however, had had their expected share of ribbing already that morning, and took it in stride.
"We sure did, Chief," said Lois, with an equally mischievous quirk of her lips. Clark just grinned.
Perry dropped all sign of humor as he continued walking by. "I need to see you two kids in my office as soon as you're able."
As he turned towards his office, Clark suddenly inhaled a sharp breath.
Lois turned back towards Clark, and when Perry was out of earshot, she mumbled, "I wonder what's happened while we were gone. He seems pretty tense, huh? I expected at least an 'I remember when Elvis married Priscilla' anecdote."
Clark smiled at her attempt to lighten the situation. He wondered what had come over him just a few seconds earlier. Oddly, it felt like the sharp, stabbing pains he felt when...but no, the stuff wasn't anywhere around that he could see...
Lois looked up to see his reaction to her statement. He was smiling at her, but he looked a little pale. "Clark, are you feeling okay?" she asked quietly.
He nodded and took a deep breath. "I felt a little strange there for a second. Maybe I overexerted myself last night with that tractor trailer."
Lois looked at him critically. They both knew that idea was pretty farfetched.
"Well, let's go see what the—" Clark started as he looked over at the Editor-in-Chief's office. Perry was pulling all the blinds down on the windows facing the newsroom. "What's he doing?" Clark whispered. Lois shook her head.
"I don't know," she whispered back, "but whatever it is he wanted to tell us, it must be pretty important."
Clark nodded as he looked around. The newsroom seemed to be at its normal fever pitch for this time of the morning. Everything appeared to be in place, and looking through the blinds, Perry's office was in its usual almost-organized order. Although it seemed to require more effort than usual to peel back the layer of wood to see inside... Strange.
"Everything looks okay," Clark said quietly. "Let's go see what new assignment he's got for us."
He could tell Lois was building everything up in her mind. She was letting a hundred possible reasons for why Perry would be drawing his office blinds flood through her mind, and there was a definite anticipation in her stance. Clark smiled to himself. He loved to watch her when she got all worked up. They walked over to Perry's office door, which was opened just a crack, and poked their heads in.
Clark glanced around the office. The blinds were closed on the side facing the street, too. It was pretty dark with all the light blocked out, and the dimness in the room only contributed to Clark's heightening sense of foreboding. There was a tightness in his chest, and he felt...nauseated? The unpleasant sensation was faint but palpable, and a headache threatened behind his eyes.
Come to think of it, he'd been feeling like this around the newsroom for a while now, but he had chalked it up to the weeks of stress prior to the wedding. If it hadn't been one thing, it was another, and another, and another—
But all that was at an end now. So why did he still feel this disquiet?
"Ah, Chief?" Lois asked. "You wanted to see us?"
Perry was sitting behind his desk, his chair facing to the side as he stared at something on the floor. He looked up quickly at the sound of Lois's voice and seemed visibly relieved to see them there.
"Come in, come in," he said with a wave. "Go ahead and sit down, too. We might be here for a little while. Close that door behind you, won't you?" He sat up a bit straighter in his chair and turned part way around to face them, as Lois entered and took her seat in the big armchair across from Perry's desk.
Clark shut the door behind him and heard a tiny click as he did so. The door was locked. He tensed and glanced quickly around the room again, fighting the urge to open the door for some fresh air. Everything seemed fine, except for a heavy feeling of being closed in. He wondered if Lois felt it, too.
"Go ahead and sit down, there, Clark," Perry said, gesturing towards the sofa on the far wall.
"If it's okay, Chief, I'd prefer to stand," Clark replied. Lois looked up at him in question as he took his place beside her and rested his hand on the back of the armchair. He didn't meet her gaze.
"Oh, no problem, no problem," Perry said in a distracted tone, as he looked back down at the floor behind his desk.
Lois began to wonder why everything seemed so...oppressive. Perry usually never repeated everything he said twice. That he was doing so disconcerted her, and Clark seemed tense next to her. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. What was going to happen?
Perry turned and looked at his two best reporters. Yes, he could trust them with the fate of the planet. They had been in the thick of it before and knew how to handle it. He had to do this and get through with it quickly. Besides, he hated the oppressive feeling in the room, something that told him that what he was about to do would not just be passing the lethal substance to his two reporters, but would also be endangering their lives. The thought made him hesitate for a second. No, this was the best way to deal with this. He took a deep breath and started.
"Do you two remember that whole situation a few months ago with Tim and Amber Lake?" he asked. From the looks on their faces, that situation was clear as day to them and they didn't want to dredge it all up again. Perry felt sorry for them, knowing what they'd gone through, almost losing each other and—stay on track here, old boy. "Well, remember how we thought that you'd...died, Lois?" Perry didn't even want to look at their faces for the reaction to that one. "Shortly after we received the anonymous videotape that we later learned was sent to us by the Lakes, I received another anonymous package..." Perry reached down to pick up the white cardboard box, and both Lois and Clark tensed as he got to his feet and put the box down on his desk. He lifted the cover off of it. "Jimmy and I opened this up and found these things."
Perry reached inside the box and pulled out the red cape with the gold S-shield on it, looking up to see their reactions. Clark's eyes widened considerably. Lois's expression revealed nothing; it was her carefully-studied poker face.
Perry put the cape on his desk next to the box and reached inside to pick up a small note from off the bottom. From the looks on their faces, Lois and Clark both immediately recognized the painted-spattered paper and the skull.
"These aren't the only things I found in this box," Perry continued. "There was one other item that I'd forgotten about all these months. I don't want to keep it, since I can't keep it properly protected." He paused and looked at Lois and Clark. Were they following him so far? Lois, he still couldn't figure out what she was thinking. Clark, on the other hand, looked like he was putting some pieces together pretty quickly, but still didn't know what the final picture was supposed to look like.
Perry turned around and picked up his briefcase from the floor, where he had hidden it behind a stack of printer paper and a framed portrait of Elvis. As he put his briefcase on his desk and started to open it, Clark twitched, blinking a couple of times and shaking his head. With a frown, Perry quickly lifted the glowing chunk of kryptonite out of his briefcase and snapped the latches shut.
Clark let out a weak "No!" and suddenly collapsed back against the corner of the couch, his head hitting the carved wood and twisting away from the edge too late. He landed on the floor with a sickening thud, crumpled up between the protruding edge of the sofa and the legs of the armchair that Lois was sitting in. Lois gave a little cry and jumped out of the chair faster than Perry thought possible. She was kneeling on the floor next to Clark in an instant, her hand going to the blood seeping into his hair on the back of his head. His face was turned away from the edge of the sofa and his skin was a paler shade than Perry had ever seen it before.
Perry was still holding the chunk of kryptonite out above the desk when Lois suddenly looked toward him, her face almost as white as Clark's.
"Get it away!" she hissed.
Seeing that Perry was still staring at Clark's fallen form, she leapt up, grabbed the chunk of kryptonite, went around the desk, and stuffed the chunk in his coat, where it hung on the coat tree.
"Help me pull him away from the door," she commanded quietly, and went back over to support her husband's head and shoulders. Perry woke up and moved around to take Clark's legs.
"On the sofa?" he asked, his throat dry. Lois shook her head.
"He's too heavy for the two of us. Just pull him away enough so that I can open the door."
"Open the door?!" Perry squeaked out. Lois just looked at him and nodded for him to pull. They moved Clark's body out from between the sofa and the armchair, and Lois gently lowered his head to the floor again.
"I'll be right back. Leave the blinds shut!" she whispered as she unlocked the door. "He'll be all right." She slipped out the office door and shut it behind her.
Perry stood by Clark's feet for several seconds, dumbfounded by the events of the last forty seconds. What in Graceland...?
He looked down at Clark. The younger man's face seemed to be gaining some of its color back, but his breathing was still strained. His glasses had been knocked askew by his fall. When Perry reached down, he noticed that one of the lenses was cracked. He gently cradled Clark's head and slipped them off. How could so much have happened so quickly? He looked up at Lois' insistent knock. What had happened so quickly?
When he let Lois in, he noticed that she was carrying her shoulder bag. He quickly shut and locked the door behind her as she moved over to Clark and unzipped her bag. She pulled out a small pouch and gestured for Perry to come closer.
"Put the kryptonite in this," she whispered, handing it to him. He nearly dropped it. It was heavier than a bag its size should have been. He looked at her in confusion.
"Lead-lined," she whispered, as she reached inside her bag and pulled out a pair of glasses identical to the broken ones Perry held in his hand. She looked back up at him, noticing that he hadn't moved since she'd told him to. "Hurry, Chief, please!"
He quickly stepped over Clark and put the piece of kryptonite in the small pouch. Almost immediately, Clark's breathing returned to normal, and he groaned slightly. Lois bent over him and turned his head farther to the side. She took out some dripping wet paper napkins from her shoulder bag and began to wipe the blood from the back of her husband's head.
"Open the blinds," she commanded.
Perry realized she was talking to him. "What?"
Lois jutted her chin towards the street-side windows. "Open the blinds. Let the sunlight in."
Perry, still somewhat in shock, moved to obey as he watched Lois kneeling on the floor. He looked at Clark's face, the color now fully returned to it, and back up to Lois' calm one. Clark opened his eyes a crack. He tried to move, but Lois' hand prevented him from turning his head. Perry watched as Clark closed his eyes again. Suddenly, the strangeness of seeing Clark without his glasses struck Perry, and he gasped. He stepped closer, and in one, shocked instant, all the strange pieces fell together for him. Why Lois was so calm, why she wasn't in tears, why Clark was so strangely calm, too. Why everything had happened so fast. Perry blinked to confirm that he was, indeed, not dreaming the whole thing.
"Great Caesar's Ghost!" he breathed, plopping back down into his swivel chair, in one hand, Clark's broken glasses, and in the other, the lead-lined pouch.
"So, Chief...now that this whole thing is over, what are you thinking?" Clark asked, sitting down at his and Lois' apartment for dinner with Perry. Perry had been looking lonely that evening, with Jimmy at home sick and no one else to go to. Lois, sensing his mood, had invited him over for their first 'let's entertain a guest for dinner, now that we're married' feast.
Perry grinned and reached for the mashed—or should he say 'smashed', having watched Lois beat at them with a seemingly unsatisfied vengeance—potatoes. "Oh, let's see...I've been considering all the blackmail possibilities, but since I already know what you make for a salary, I've come to the conclusion that it wouldn't be worth it."
Clark raised his eyebrows at the remark and feigned hurt.
"Oooh. A double insult, there, Chief," Lois shot back, grinning.
"Mm! I hadn't considered blackmailing both of you...now there's a possibility." Perry grinned as he spooned a rather sizeable lump onto his plate.
"You won't have to, Chief. You can get just as much out of us by coming over here to eat instead."
"Oo-hoo-hoo. Now you're insulting me, there, Clark," Perry replied, putting all his weight as the Daily Planet's Editor-in-Chief into his reply.
"Isn't he scary?" Lois whispered loudly to Clark. "Maybe we should blackmail him."
"It's a thought," Clark replied, studiously avoiding Perry's gaze.
"Seriously, though," Perry continued. "I don't really know what to think of everything, besides the fact that a lot of the things about you two make sense now...like how you're able to find the things you do in your investigations, and your constant disappearances," Perry nodded towards Clark, who pressed his lips together in a chagrined smile. "I just want you two to know that if you ever need anything: a getaway, a day off, an excuse for why you've been gone for the past three hours without a word to anyone, advice, I'll do my best." Perry grinned. "Although it seems Jonathan and Martha have done an excellent job with that last part already."
"I do have one question, though," Perry said, looking at Clark.
"What is it?"
"Ah...hmm...ah..." Perry floundered, embarrassed.
Lois and Clark glanced at each other, flushing a bit.
Clark cleared his throat and spoke slowly. "What do you want to know, Chief?"
Perry took a deep breath.
"You're a grown man, Clark...don't you sometimes feel ridiculous in that suit?"
Clark nearly choked on his food. Lois broke up laughing. Perry turned bright red. There. He'd finally said it. He never thought he'd get the chance.
Clark took a swallow of his drink, his own cheeks a bit red. The last time he'd been asked this question, it had been by a lunatic who hated him. His reply had been smug and had come easily then, but for some reason, now that he was going to answer Perry with it, it stuck in his throat.
Seeing his discomfort, Lois grinned. "His mother made it for him."
Perry threw his head back and roared with laughter.
First published 13 March 1996, under the name Rachel Smith; edited 20 August 2016.
This was the first fanfic I ever wrote, and the positive reception I received for it encouraged me to continue writing stories. Thanks go to all of you readers and fellow FoLCs for your encouragement; to Deborah Joy LeVine for bringing such a wonderful interpretation of the Superman mythos to the screen; to Teri Hatcher, Dean Cain, and Lane Smith for breathing so much life, humor, and passion into these beloved characters; and to God, for my beautiful family, for Your grace and inspiration every day, and for the joy of writing.
I do not own any Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman properties, nor do I make any money from the writing of this story.
Characters and situations, created by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and Deborah Joy LeVine, and based primarily on the episode "Don't Tug On Superman's Cape", written by David Simkins, are taken from Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Seasons 3-4 (1995-1996) © December 3rd Productions, Gangbuster Films Inc., Roundelay, Warner Bros. Television.