Summary: Lois and Clark's relationship seems to be falling apart, and things look grim until a kindly late-night cleaning lady decides to play matchmaker for the two reporters who have befriended her.
It had been a long frustrating day, and the Daily Planet news room was the last place Lois Lane wanted to be. But an ongoing investigation demanded her attention, and if she wanted to meet the deadline for the weekend edition, she had no choice but to spend her evenings at work, giving her story the attention it deserved. She closed the door to the darkroom, and headed toward her desk.
She was so engrossed in some pictures Jimmy had printed for her, that she failed to notice a cart full of cleaning supplies blocking the aisle between his desk and Clark's.
"Wha—oof!" Lois collided with the cart, sending rags, bottles, and paper towels flying in all directions.
"Oh, I'm so sorry miss, I hope you're all right." The sound of a feminine voice stopped Lois before she could utter a single curse. The woman who obviously belonged to the offending cleaning cart looked so distressed, Lois couldn't help but feel sorry for her.
"That's okay, I wasn't paying attention to where I was going." She picked up the dust rags that had fallen to the floor. "Uh, Renate—is that right?" Lois saw the name on her ID.
"That's Ren-a-ta. I—I'm really sorry."
"It's okay—don't worry about it." There was something about the woman that intrigued Lois. "You look tired, why don't you sit down and have a cup of coffee with me."
"Oh, miss, I couldn't, I might get fired."
"Now, Renate, there's no one here but you and me. I don't think taking a couple of minutes for a break will hurt. Besides, I'd like the company. It can get pretty lonely in the newsroom late at night."
"Thank you. You're very kind. I could tell the first time I saw you, you were a nice person." The cleaning lady gave Lois a hesitant smile.
Lois handed the woman a cup of coffee. "Here you go- it's not the greatest, but it's all we have. Tell me, how long have you been working here? I don't remember seeing you before."
Renate eyed the young woman before her. "I've only been with the janitorial service a couple of weeks. Just started on this floor a few days ago. Looks like an interesting place to work."
Lois smiled. "Yes, it is. It's a great place to work."
"If you don't mind me asking, why are you here so late at night? It's not very safe on the streets. I don't have to worry much, my husband picks me up at the end of my shift, before he goes to work."
Ordinarily Lois would ignore such questions, remembering how Sarah had tried to pry into her deepest, darkest secrets. But somehow, Renate seemed like someone you just naturally confided in—motherly, in fact.
"Well, Renate, normally I wouldn't be here so late, but I've got a story to finish—besides, I've been trained in self defense so I'm not too worried." In a slightly lower voice, she ruefully added, "And, I hate going home to an empty apartment." Lois bit her lip, to avoid saying anything more.
"Gee, that's too bad. You mean a pretty young woman like yourself doesn't have a boyfriend, or something?" The woman looked concerned.
"Uh, well, no—not really. I thought maybe I did, but I just don't know anymore." There was an obvious trace of sadness to Lois' voice.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't pry. It's just that I can't imagine you being lonely. You look like you should have a passle of boy friends!"
Lois laughed. "No, I'm a one-man woman, Renate, but that one man doesn't have his head screwed on straight, and for some reason we can't seem to have a decent conversation without him running off to Lord-knows-where. It's getting very frustrating. I'm beginning to wonder if there's something wrong with me."
"Um, he's not married, or gay, or anything like that, is he?" Renate looked a little embarrassed, as if the words just slipped out of her mouth without thinking.
"Oh, no. He's not married, straight as an arrow. I really don't know what the problem is. He's not seeing anyone else— I'm pretty sure of that." Lois shrugged her shoulders, as if defeated by something she had no control over.
"Does he work here?"
Lois thought she was getting a little nosy, but figured there was little chance the cleaning woman would put two and two together. "Yes, he does."
"And what does that mean?"
"Uh, office romances don't usually work out, do they?"
Well, Lois thought, the woman is certainly astute. "No, I guess not. But I thought we had something going. We've been friends—actually more than just friends—for quite a while. I know how I feel about him, but I don't know what's going on inside that thick skull of his! Goodness, I can't believe I'm telling you all of this." Lois shook her head in dismay.
Renate smiled at her sympathetically. "Sometimes talking to a third party can help put things into perspective. Besides, you may have to hit this guy over the head with a 2 x 4 to get his attention. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about!" Both women started laughing. Lois liked her.
Renate glanced at her watch. "Oh, my, I'd better step on it. I have another floor to clean yet. It's been fun talking to you—uh, Miss—?"
"Lane, Lois Lane."
"Oh, my, I should have known. I read your articles all the time. And you write stories with that—Mr. Kent, don't you? I'm really honored. Wait til I tell my husband I've met you. My goodness!"
Renate quickly gathered up her cleaning supplies, and pushing her loaded cart, headed for the elevator. She flashed a smile at Lois as the elevator door closed. Wow! That was pretty exciting, she thought. But she almost slipped and said she'd met Mr. Kent. No wonder the young man had looked so unhappy. And he was spending his evenings here at work, too. It wasn't hard to figure out that Clark Kent was the special man Ms. Lane was referring to. She wondered how in the world they avoided running into each other. But she remembered the gentleman came in fairly late during her shift, and usually Miss Lane was gone by the time he arrived.
She kept thinking about them as she made her rounds. Those two would make such a nice couple, she thought. What a shame if some silly misunderstanding was keeping them apart. Reminded her of a friend who had the same problem. She had cleverly intervened, and—well, why not? Why not try and find some way of getting them together. At least get them to talk to each other, if nothing else.
A few nights later, Renate ran into Clark Kent.
"Mr. Kent. Working late again? A nice young man like you should be out painting the town!" Renate found that Clark was different from a lot of the younger people she met. He was polite, quick with a smile, and liked to crack a joke or two. He was also very smart and easy to talk to—he knew a lot about many things. When he found out her two boys liked to read about animals and machinery of all kinds, he told Renate stories about growing up on his parents' farm. She in turn related these tales to her children, who begged for more.
Clark found the cleaning woman delightful, and discovered it was easy confiding in her. She seemed sincere in her concern for him, and in turn he liked to tease her about "mothering" him.
"Mr. Kent, I only "mother" people I care about. And I care that a nice man like you is spending all his time here at work. I can't believe you don't have a girlfriend! Now, if you're interested, I have a niece—"
Clark interrupted, laughing. "No, no—I, uh, have a girlfriend. Well, sort of—" His voice trailed off as if he were remembering something painful.
"Sort of? Now how can you 'sort of' have a girlfriend. Either you do or you don't!"
"Well, uh, she's a very good friend, and we've been close, but I'm not sure how she feels. We've been, uh, having some difficulty getting our act together lately." The sad look she'd seen in his eyes the first time she met him had returned. It wasn't hard to figure out that it was indeed Ms. Lane who occupied his thoughts. Uh, oh, Rhen, better watch it. Cupid don't fail me now, she prayed.
"Well, that's okay, you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. It's none of my business, it's just that you look a bit unhappy."
"It shows, huh?" Clark gave her one of his drop-dead handsome grins.
"Yes, it does."
"Well, I guess nothing short of a miracle is going to bring us together." He shook his head.
"Mr. Kent, stranger things have happened—you never know!" Renate gave Clark a quick smile, and patted his shoulder. "Gotta run—places to go, things to do!" She pushed her cart toward the elevator.
Clark laughed. Now there was a nice woman, he thought. Her husband's a lucky guy. Bet her kids are cute, too. Maybe he could have his mom send something from Smallville for her.
He returned to his desk, and settled in for a late evening session on the Internet. He found the best time to conduct his on-line research for stories was late at night, after most of the staff had gone home, but before his nightly patrols. There were fewer interruptions, and some of his contacts were more likely to open up to him at those hours than during the daytime. And he was spending more and more evenings here—it wasn't helping his social life any, but then again, without Lois, why even bother trying to have one.
He was so engrossed with lurking in one of the chat groups, that he ignored the sound of someone coming off the elevator. He thought it was just the cleaning lady returning for something she had forgotten.
"Well, well, well—burning the midnight oil, I see." Clark nearly dropped his keyboard when he heard Lois' voice.
"Lois! What in the world are you doing here?" He sounded suitably shocked.
"I might ask you the same thing. No wonder you're never home when I call." Lois regretted saying it as soon as the words left her mouth.
"Checking up on me, huh? Well, I have an excuse for not being at home. What about you?"
"Me? Why, I didn't think you cared." There was a tinge of sarcasm to her voice.
"Lois—" He acted as if he wanted to say something, but thought better of it.
"Um, I just came back to get some diskettes. I hope there's some left in supplies." Lois turned and headed in the direction of the storeroom.
"There should be—oh, wait—you might not be able to reach them. Somebody put them on one of the upper shelves. Let me get them for you." Before she could protest, Clark had reached her side and was walking down the hall with her.
"Really, you don't have to do this," she said. "I think I can find them myself."
"It's okay, I don't mind." He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. When they reached the storeroom, he opened the door, flipped on the light switch, and stepped aside. "After you." He gave her a mock bow, and waited until she had entered the room. Rolling her eyes at him, she turned and started searching for the diskettes. Clark knew where to look, and quickly found them. But, as he reached for a box on the top shelf he accidentally knocked several binders over—one of which hit Lois squarely on the head.
"Ow! Clark—you klutz!" Lois grabbed the side of her head, and turned toward the wall so he couldn't see the tears filling her eyes. "Why me?" she thought, desparately trying to rub the pain away.
Suddenly she felt his hand take hers. She tried to push him away as he turned her around, but he wouldn't let her. Instead, he pulled her toward him, putting his arms around her, holding her tightly.
"Oh, Lois, I'm so sorry—are you okay?" He sounded contrite, even a little bit scared. She could feel his lips lightly brushing the spot where the offending binder had surely made a dent in her skull. Stop it, she thought, willing him to cease and desist. But instead she muttered, "I'm fine, I'll live."
"Look, I think there's a first aid kit—"
"Clark, I 'said' I was fine."
"Well, pardon me for being concerned. You could have a cut on your head, or something."
"Clark, it wouldn't be the first time this has happened, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Just let go of me!" Lois pushed him away. "Why can't you leave me alone." Her voice started to crack.
"What is 'wrong' with you? You won't talk to me—what do you mean 'leave you alone?' I 'do' leave you alone. Maybe that's the problem—"
They were arguing so loudly, they failed to hear the click as the door was locked from the outside.
"Clark, I have nothing more to say to you. I'm leaving!" To Lois' dismay, when she tried to push the door open, it wouldn't budge. "What's going on—damn!" In desparation, Lois pounded on the door, hoping someone, anyone would hear her.
"Lois, I think we're stuck here until morning. Give it up." Clark found it hard not to laugh, even though he knew he was tempting fate by finding humor in the situation. He would have been out of the room in seconds flat, if she wouldn't have been there.
"Clark Kent—this is NOT funny!" Lois sat down on the floor, pulling her knees to her chest. Wrapping her arms around her legs, she put her head down, and started sobbing.
"Lois, for heaven's sake—we're just locked in the supply room, it's not like it's the end of the world and we're stuck in a bomb shelter. Someone will be here in the morning. Besides, we'd better make the best of it—I don't think I could stand spending the night fighting with you. Can we please call a truce?" She looked up at him and glared. Taking a chance, he sat down beside her, not daring to put his arm around her shoulders because of her mood.
"Oh, yeah, this is—uh—uh—going to look really great when they find us." She looked pathetic with her red eyes, rubbing the tender spot on her head, huddled on the floor.
"For heaven's sake, Lois—who cares what anyone thinks? All I care about is that you're okay. And I care that you've been avoiding me—and I care that I've made you unhappy." At last, she looked up into his eyes.
"Clark, I can't help it—it's this running away from me at the worst possible times that's driving me crazy. I can't take it much longer."
"Well, I don't think I'll be going anywhere tonight," he murmured, assessing the situation, and praying he didn't hear any calls for help.
"Great! Now you make it sound like this is a prison, and I'm your punishment!"
"Lois—stop it! Right now—I mean it. Obviously we're not going to solve anything this way. Let's just drop it and try and get some sleep. Unless you'd rather—"
"Oh, all right. Darn! It's bad enough we have to sit on the floor—you'd think there would be something soft we could use for a pillow." She scowled, wondering if anything else could go wrong.
"Come here." Clark had removed his jacket, and he was waiting for her to move closer.
"Why?" Lois looked at him with apprehension.
"For crying out loud, we can share my jacket as a blanket, and you can lean on me and pretend I'm a pillow— okay?"
"You'd better not try anything—I'm still mad at you."
Clark shook his head and said, "I wouldn't dream of it." He waited patiently until she made up her mind, and watched her inch closer.
"Look, Lois, I won't bite—"
"I know it—just watch your hands!" Lois glared at him, but beneath her anger he could see something in her eyes—was she weakening in her resolve?
"Promise—I won't do anything."
As she closed the gap between them, he slowly encircled her with his arms, covering her with his jacket. She snuggled closer, resting her head on his chest. She smiled to herself, thinking of the last time she had found herself in a similar situation. Then, her life had been in danger. Tonight, her emotions threatened to get the best of her. She sighed.
"Did you say something, Lois?" Clark asked. He had heard her sigh, but didn't dare attach anything significant to the moment. He didn't want to be disappointed again.
"No, Clark. Now go to sleep." She wanted to kiss him, to let him know that she really wasn't angry with him anymore, but she also wanted him to suffer a little longer for the frustration and anguish she'd been experiencing because of his unexplained disappearances.
He rested his cheek on her head. Her hair was soft, and her perfume was driving him crazy. You have to tell her, he chided himself. You can't continue to deceive her. This charade has gone on long enough. He continued his one-sided argument for several more minutes.
Finally, he eased her away from his arms. She was startled by the movement. Fully awake, she looked up into his eyes with a questioning look.
All right, this is it, he thought. "Lois—I, uh, I need to tell you something, and I don't know if there will ever be a right time. I know how upset you've been with me lately, and I want you to know there's a good reason for the way I've been acting." He gulped hard, and loosened his tie at his neck with one finger. "Uh, Lois, I—"
"Lois, I want you to know that I'm S—s—ss—"
They both heard it at the same time. Someone had unlocked the door. They scrambled to their feet, getting in each other's way, bumping heads as they both tried to grab Clark's jacket before it fell to the floor.
While they attempted to regain their composure, the door opened. To their surprise, they discovered their rescuer was none other than the cleaning lady.
"For heaven's sake! I didn't know you were in here— are you all right? Thank goodness I came along when I did. I don't understand how you two got locked in here. Tch, tch—"
"It's okay, Renate, honestly. We're fine." Lois tried to reassure the woman, giving her a hug. "Thanks, you're a life saver!"
Renate glanced over at Clark, who gave her a warm smile.
As Lois released the woman from her hug, she was startled to see the cleaning lady give her a wink—a deliberate, secretive wink. Lois wanted to laugh out loud.
"Mr. Kent, I think you'd better see that this young woman gets home safely. I'll be worried to death if she has to be out on the streets by herself at this time of night." Renate gave him her best admonishing look.
"No problem, I'll take good care of her. Shall we go, Lois?"
"Sure, I think we've had enough excitement for one night."
Renate watched as the two reporters headed for their desks—Clark to turn off his computer, Lois to pick up some papers. She continued to watch as they made their way to the elevator, and grinned as she saw Lois take Clark's arm. She waved goodbye to them as they got on the elevator.
"Rhen—you did it again!" Renate snapped her dust rag in celebration, and with renewed vigor, hurried to finish her work. What a story she had to tell her husband. She laughed out loud. "I think I'm really going to like it here."