By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted March 1999
Summary: When a new Metropolis dating agency boasts a 75% success rate, Perry decides to send Lois and Clark to pose as potential clients — but without either of them knowing that their conniving editor has them both on the case. Will they become part of the agency's success rate?
This short, and I hope humorous, story takes place right after IGACOY, although I have taken some liberties with the calendar. According to Annemarie Pace's excellent Episode Guides (which I have used extensively for this story!) IGACOY was originally screened in late October; I assume that it was intended to have taken place around the same time of year. For reasons entirely of my own convenience, I have shifted the date forward about five months.
Grateful thanks to a number of people who sent some very helpful and constructive comments after this story was posted on Loiscla-general-l: Sheila Harper, LabRat, Sandy McDermin, Zoomway, Georgia, Donna Burton, anonymous5658, Hazel Brown, Suzanne; and to anyone I've forgotten to include, my thanks and apologies.
The usual disclaimers apply: the main characters in this story are (c) DC Comics, Warner Bros etc; no infringement of anyone else's rights is intended by the electronic publication of this story.
It was a fairly typical Wednesday morning at the Planet, Clark Kent mused as he skimmed through his email. Of course, he had only been employed by 'The Greatest Newspaper in the World' (c. Perry White) for about six weeks, but he liked to believe that he was getting used to it. He had seen his share of front-page headlines during that time as well, some shared - albeit usually grudgingly on her part — with Lois Lane. 'The best darn reporter I've ever worked with', as Perry White had referred to her in a conversation with Clark, still seemed to resent his presence most of the time, although there had been a few moments when they had seemed to be reaching some sort of understanding. Unfortunately, usually something would then happen which set them back to square one …
Certainly it hadn't helped matters, Clark reflected wryly, that he had thrown her over his shoulder and deposited her in a dumpster a few days ago. She had been angry enough that he had muscled in on her story about the Metro Club; but the fact that he had subsequently blown her cover to save his own and had then humiliated her had simply added insult to injury. He winced now as he remembered the final insult before he had thrown her into that dumpster: he had patted her backside. It was clear that Lois saw it as a petty-minded gesture, just as Clark now recognised that dropping her into that dumpster had been. He suspected that she also thought that his choice of the one containing rotting vegetables had been deliberate. Well, it had been, but not for the reason *she* thought. He had X-rayed the other dumpster, and it had contained debris such as broken glass and cans. He couldn't have taken the risk that she might have been hurt.
He had wanted to ensure that she wouldn't return to the Metro Club, because he had been afraid that — regardless of his own actions — her cover had been blown anyway. Luthor had recognised her. And Luthor had been with Toni Taylor … In those few moments available to him after he had noticed Luthor, Clark had tried to work out how to get Lois out of the situation and *keep* her out. Blowing her cover had been the only idea which had occurred to him: pretty drastic, he admitted, but effective. But there had still been the danger that she might have tried to get back into the club somehow … In desperation, he had decided to make her so angry with him that she would be distracted. Hence throwing her over his shoulder and 'taking out the trash'!
As for slapping her … well, okay, perhaps that had been excessive, but he had been under cover! He had been trying to stay in character as 'Charlie' the barman. Just as he had thrown Lois over his shoulder to carry her outside, he had remembered seeing one of the night-club bouncers pat one of the dancers on the backside earlier, and it had occurred to him that to do the same to Lois would not only reinforce his own cover, but would allow him an opportunity to … well, to take her down a peg or two. Or so he had thought at the time …
But while it had seemed to Clark at the time that there were reasons to justify his actions, now in retrospect he could see the sequence of events from Lois's perspective. And it wasn't at all difficult to imagine how she would view the situation! He now felt guilty and embarrassed at his behaviour. Lois was a colleague, and someone he would like to have as *more* than a colleague; and yet he had undermined her, muscled in and blown her cover on *her* story, patronised her, touched her inappropriately - and then accused her of being jealous when she had turned up at his apartment demanding to know precisely what he had thought he was doing. Hardly surprising she was still mad at him, was it?
And yet they were supposed to be partners now — well, on special stories at any rate. That was what the Chief had said. So perhaps they weren't partners the whole time — and maybe that was just as well. Given the filthy looks Lois had been giving him for the past few days, if looks could kill he would be a pile of dust on the floor. But then … he allowed himself a secret smile. He hadn't yet come across anything that *could* hurt him physically. Invulnerability did have its advantages …
He glanced around the newsroom curiously. He hadn't seen Lois since the end of the morning news conference, about twenty minutes earlier. So where was she? Despite — or perhaps even because of — their cat-and-dog relationship, Clark loved being around Lois. Of course, the other reason he loved being with her was precisely because he was *in love* with her. He had been smitten from the moment he had been introduced to her, in the Editor-in-Chief's office. However, Ms Lane had clearly not been similarly smitten by Clark Kent. She had responded dismissively to his greeting and had proceeded to ignore him. She had complained vociferously at being paired with him for the Messenger investigation and had instructed him as to his precise duties as the junior — *very* junior — partner in the team. And a couple of days later, when they had been working late alone in the newsroom and the sexual tension between them had fairly crackled, she had completely broken the mood by warning him not to 'fall for' her. She didn't have time for it.
No, Clark thought, she doesn't have time for it. 'Mad-Dog' Lane, as she was known in the newsroom, seemed to have little time for anything other than work. She was at her desk or pounding the streets before nine every morning. She rarely went home before seven, frequently working late into the night. And from what he had heard on the newsroom 'grapevine', it had been some time since Lois had been in a relationship. No time for love; no time for a life, according to Cat Grant.
Well, he had tried to get her attention on a personal level during his first few days at the Planet, but he had made little or no progress there. So he had instead decided to concentrate on making a name for himself as a reporter; and since they had been teamed up together, he intended to be a good and supportive partner. Perhaps that might impress her more, he had thought.
<Too bad you forgot about that at the Metro Club!> his conscience taunted him. He sighed. Yes, he had behaved badly, and the fact that Lane and Kent had nailed the story in the end — together — was no particular credit to him. Oh well, he would have to try to make up for his behaviour somehow. Unfortunately, that would necessitate getting Lois to stay still and listen to him for long enough to enable him to get his apology out … which wouldn't be easy. Of course, if it was Superman wanting to speak to her, that would be another matter. But then, Lois's reaction to Superman was another story altogether …
She had been in the Chief's office, Clark realised suddenly, as the door opened and a very grumpy-looking Lois emerged. He could have discovered her location by scanning the office with his Super-vision, but he hadn't bothered as he'd assumed that she was around somewhere. Well, whatever Mr White had wanted to discuss with her clearly hadn't pleased her, Clark thought as he got to his feet and strolled to the coffee-machine. He poured two mugs and, gripping them in one hand, seized two of the remaining doughnuts in the other and headed to Lois's desk, deciding that perhaps now was his opportunity to make his peace with her.
Lois swung around and saw Clark. "We are *not* partners," she snapped.
"No?" he replied innocently. "Could have sworn I heard the Chief say we were the other week."
She glared at him, tossing her hair. "That was then."
He deposited one of the mugs and a doughnut on her desk. "Lois, if this is still about the Metro Club — "
She turned away, busying herself with calling up her email. "This is about *nothing*. We are not partners. Now if you don't mind, I have work to do."
Clark hesitated, not wanting to anger her further, but badly wanting to apologise. "Look, I was out of line to behave the way I did, and I've been looking for an opportunity to say I'm sorry."
"Yes, you were out of line. That was *my* investigation — *I* was the one under cover, and you had no right to barge in and blow it." She began to read her email, silently seething. That man had a *nerve*!
Clark took a step closer to Lois's desk, and leaned towards her. "I'm not convinced I shouldn't have done that — it was a pretty dangerous situation. Luthor had recognised you, and he looked to be in pretty close conversation with Toni Taylor. I was afraid that he was telling her who you were. But I patronised you and humiliated you, and that was wrong."
Lois flushed, and dipped her head so that he wouldn't be able to see. "You? Humiliate me? Not in this millenium, Kent."
Clark sighed and shook his head; clearly she wasn't going to listen to him. "Okay. Have it your way, Lois — but I did try to apologise." He hesitated, then enquired, "Has the Chief given you a new assignment?" <Do you need my help with it?> he wondered, but thought better of voicing the question.
He saw her visibly bristle. "Some stupid flakey idea for an investigation - I told him I wasn't going to do it," she muttered acidly, failing to add that Perry had *insisted* that she should do it. Irritated by Clark's continued presence by her desk, she called up a blank screen and began typing furiously, hoping that he would get the message and leave her alone. He did.
"Kent? Come in here a minute." Perry White's voice resonated across the newsroom a little later. Clark, who had been just about to make a quick getaway in order to check out a siren which had caused his Super-hearing to kick in, sighed and crossed the office to obey his boss's summons. Sometimes it was hard to remember which was more important: his job or his extra-curricular activities.
"I got a story for you," the Chief explained.
"For me?" Clark enquired. "Do you want me to work with Lois on it, Mr White?" he asked hopefully.
"No, this is just for you — Lois is busy with another investigation," the editor emphasised, as he passed a magazine across the table to Clark. A large boxed advertisement was ringed in red.
"The Perfect Match Introductions Bureau," Clark read aloud read. "A *dating agency*?" he added incredulously. "You want me to investigate a dating agency?"
"Sure," Perry shrugged. "See, this place has been open about six months, and they're boasting that they have a 75% success rate."
"A success rate meaning … ?" Clark prompted.
"Marriage, Clark. 75% of their clients have so far got married or engaged to someone they've been introduced to by The Perfect Match." Perry settled himself into his chair. "See, this is an agency specifically for 'busy professional people' who don't have time to get involved in the kind of social activities you need to do in order to meet 'that perfect partner' … " Perry made quotation marks with his fingers as he spoke. Glancing on the editor's desk, Clark could see a glossy brochure which bore what looked like the agency's logo.
"Word is, they use a foolproof computer programme to match people up - there's an extensive questionnaire about personality, likes and dislikes, what the person wants in a potential partner … you get the idea. I want to know what's so special about this agency, why they can make that claim about their success rate. So I want you to pose as a client."
Clark's jaw dropped. Pose as a client of a dating agency? But he wasn't looking for a relationship … though that wasn't strictly true, he acknowledged. He *did* want a relationship — that was one of the things he had told his father he wanted when they had talked about his move to Metropolis. Unfortunately, since his first visit to the Planet, Clark had only been interested in having a relationship with one woman … who was not interested in him!
"Well, get onto it!" Perry insisted. "Great shades of Elvis, what do you think you do around here, Kent, if not what your editor tells you? Make an appointment for your initial interview — and make it as soon as possible!"
Clark exited the editor's office deep in thought. This was a rather odd assignment for the Chief to have given him; it seemed to be quite lightweight. Although he was aware of his status as a very new member of the Planet's staff, he was by no means the most junior reporter. Added to this was the fact that he had been asked to do this alone, without Lois: since they had been given separate assignments, did this mean their partnership was over? If so, why had this happened? *Had* Lois complained to Perry about the way he had treated her at the Metro Club? Was that why she had been so emphatic in insisting that they were not partners?
But the little knowledge he had built up about Lois so far made him pretty sure that she was not the type of person to tell tales. Nor was she the type who needed other people to fight her battles for her. No — if she felt he needed a reprimand for what he had done, she would have seen to it herself. However, none of that answered his concerns about why they were not working on an assignment together. Had he failed in some way? Had he completely blown it with Lois?
He shook his head, realising that he was unlikely to find any answers to his questions in the immediate future. All he could do was try to do a good job on this story, however lightweight he considered it to be, and therefore prove to Perry that he did have potential to be one of the Planet's top journalists.
Lois paused outside the offices of The Perfect Match Introductions Bureau and considered, yet again, turning tail and getting out of there. As she had insisted to Perry, she had *absolutely no* desire to investigate a dating agency. She did *not* want to be interviewed and fill out a questionnaire, and she *definitely* did not want to have to go on a date with some geek who wasn't able to find himself a girlfriend by conventional means.
This was a waste of her time, Lois had argued. She was one of the Planet's top reporters; why send her on this stupid fluff story? Perry had responded by insisting that she was perfect for it. The agency dealt with busy professional people; well, that was Lois. Lois was the right sort of age: late twenties, there should be no difficulty in finding her a list of suitable matches. And last but not least, Lois's cynical nature should enable her to write a suitably critical piece should the agency not live up to its boasts.
<Which it won't!> she thought caustically. She began to turn around again, intent upon heading for her car; but then she remembered something else Perry had said to her. If she didn't want to do this for herself, he had argued, then she should do it for other women. Women who were desperate to find a partner, so much so that they parted with the thousand dollar fee for the screening and two initial introductions. That was a lot of money, Perry had argued. Shouldn't someone check that this agency wasn't getting it under false pretences?
Sighing heavily, she pushed open the plate-glass doors and marched into the foyer. The reception area was expensively but discreetly furnished, she thought; it could have been the reception of a wealthy company or even a private hospital. A smartly-dressed woman sat at a desk in the corner, and at the far side were some armchairs and a selection of magazines.
Lois gave the name she was using to the receptionist. She had agreed with Perry that it would be better to use a false name and occupation for this investigation; after all, while Lois Lane of the Daily Planet *could* conceivably be using a dating agency because she wanted to find a partner, she didn't want anyone working out exactly what her motives were.
"I'm Laura Lang — I have an appointment with Ms Pearson." The receptionist ticked a list, and directed Lois to take a seat. She handed over a couple of brochures and suggested that Lois read them while she waited to be called.
Half an hour later, Lois wanted to scream. She had had the agency's mission statement — dedicated to fostering love and romance in the lives of busy people — repeated to her *ad nauseam*. She had heard the sales pitch, been shown testimonials from satisfied customers, and was now being interrogated as to her own reasons for wanting to join The Perfect Match bureau. She had prepared her cover story: she had decided that Laura Lang should be a lawyer. It was a suitably professional job, and would also provide cover for the long hours Lois worked as a journalist. It would also explain why she needed to use an agency, Lois thought: the only men 'Laura' met were lawyers, and after all, who would want to date a lawyer?
Following a lengthy grilling by Ms Marian Person, Director of The Perfect Match Introductions Bureau, Lois was then given a questionnaire which extended to several pages, and was shown into an small office where, she was told, she could complete it. She grimaced as she read through the list of questions. Age, occupation, likes and dislikes and preferred social activities were fairly easy, but some of the others … She frowned as she read the question 'What do you want out of a relationship?' Nothing, would be the true answer. Men were untrustworthy, usurious wastes of space … But she was posing as a woman who wanted to meet a man … Biting her lip, she wrote, 'Love and romance, possibly marriage.'
A later question asked whether she wanted children. Again Lois grimaced; if she answered according to her own instinct, she would write, 'Not in a million years'. But this was not Lois Lane completing the form … She wrote 'yes, at least two'.
And what would her perfect man be like? Lois considered for a moment; she knew very well what *her* perfect man was like, but she somehow couldn't see the agency having on their books any gorgeous men who could fly. So … what would 'Laura's' perfect man be like? After some consideration, Lois wrote that she liked intelligent, creative men with a good sense of humour, and that income was less important to her than personality.
<Wonder what sort of hopeless case I'll get as a result of this?> Lois wondered with a humourless smile.
Later the same day, Clark stared at his six-page questionnaire in disbelief. Was he really expected to fill in all this stuff about himself? Still, he supposed, he had better keep it truthful, apart from the name; after all, if he was supposed to be investigating the agency's efficacy at matching couples, he couldn't expect them to make a suitable match for him using false data. If, for his article, he wanted to criticise the choice of date identified for him by The Perfect Match's computer system, he would need to ensure that he had been as honest as possible, otherwise any comments he made could be rebutted with the suggestion that as he had provided inaccurate information, then naturally the match would be unsuitable.
He briefly wondered about the kind of woman he was likely to be paired up with; looks weren't that important, Clark considered, but intelligence, determination, a sense of humour and a strong sense of loyalty were. With a pang, he realised that — apart from the question of looks — he had very accurately described Lois Lane. Well, he was highly unlikely to meet someone like Lois, but … well, perhaps if he was very lucky he might actually be matched with someone he could *like*. And would that be a bad thing … ?
He had to admit that he had been impressed so far with the professionalism of The Perfect Match; the staff he had spoken to had seemed to have knowledge of every aspect of the operation at their fingertips. He had asked a number of questions during his interview with Ms Pearson about the software used in order to select suitable matches; he had spent some considerable time before his appointment looking up psychology journals for articles on personality, psychometric testing and relationships analysis. He was well aware that there was still some controversy about personality analysis, and also that one of the greatest difficulties in computer dating was the reliance on individuals answering the questions honestly; although, to be fair, that wasn't really the fault of the agency. His interview had certainly been very thorough, and since he would be called back for a second interview later he was aware that any inconsistencies between the questionnaire and his answers at interview would be picked up.
Clark concluded that, while the agency's fees were expensive, they were probably justified in terms of the effort put into vetting clients and ensuring that matches were suitable. Well, at least, he would reserve his conclusions on that final point until after he had met his first 'Perfect Match'.
"Lois! How are you getting on with the investigation?"
Lois was halted in her progress across the newsroom by the sound of Perry's voice calling to her. She winced; she certainly didn't want to discuss her enrolment — even under a false name and purely for the purposes of research - at a dating agency in front of the entire newsroom staff. She therefore altered course and marched through the editor's door, pulling it firmly shut behind her.
"Like I told you yesterday, this is a *complete* waste of my time, Chief! I don't know why Cat couldn't have done it — she is the social correspondent after all."
Perry took up position behind his desk, leaning forward towards Lois. "Because I wanted *you* to do it. Anyway, Cat is a little too … obvious." Adopting a more brisk tone, he asked again, "So what's happened so far?"
Lois shrugged. "Well, I went over there yesterday, was given a sales pitch, subjected to an interrogation, made to fill in a *six-page* questionnaire, and then subjected to a further interrogation. And I can tell you now, Chief, some of the questions they ask are downright intrusive. I mean — " she glared, and gesticulated furiously, "what the hell business is it of theirs how much I earn? Or what previous relationships I've had? Or why they didn't work out? I mean, that woman was acting like it was *my* fault that I don't have a man in my life! As if the main purpose in life for a woman is to get married! Typical sexist, misogynistic assumptions … as if no matter what a woman achieves, she is nothing without a man!" Concluding her rant on a breathless note, Lois prepared to turn on her heel and march out of the editor's office.
However, Perry had other ideas. "All right, Lois, I appreciate your opinion, and if it's relevant you can put it in your article. But I want to know what's happening next."
Feeling frustrated — she *really* did not want to do this! — Lois raised her eyes to the ceiling before answering. "The woman who interviewed me said they'd have to input all my data into the computer, and then screen any possible matches the computer identified. Then they'd call me, and set up a date with whichever of the men I preferred."
"All right — well, let me know when that happens," Perry instructed, before gesturing to her that she could leave. As Lois exited his office, the editor allowed himself an amused smile.
Clark had just returned to the Planet after a quick Super-trip to avert a near-disaster on the city's subway when he heard his beeper go off. He glanced at the number displayed on the screen, recognising it as the Perfect Match's phone number. He had given the agency his beeper number rather than his home or mobile numbers, because he didn't want to risk answering the phone as Clark Kent and finding that it was a call for his assumed identity. He grabbed his mobile phone from his inside jacket pocket, and ducked into the conference room for some privacy.
"Yes, this is Jerome Clark," he confirmed. He listened to the agency representative tell him that the computer had identified three initial possible matches, and he arranged to visit the bureau later that day to examine the profiles of the three women. Once he'd chosen the woman he would prefer to meet first, the agency would then arrange the meeting.
Clark couldn't help feeling just a little bit excited at the prospect of seeing who the agency's computer had selected as suitable partners for him. Would he like the sound of them? Would he like whomever he chose to meet? Would she like him? Maybe this investigation would turn out to be a good thing for him: if he met a woman he could like, and enjoy spending time with, he might be able to stop thinking about Lois all the time, and hoping, and wishing … and trying to fulfil his fantasies by visiting her as Superman. That was a dangerous pastime, and one which could get both of them into trouble if he was not careful.
Of course, if he did meet someone with whom he could envisage having a relationship, there would then be the issue that his approach to the agency had been for the sake of a journalistic investigation. He might have to confess that at some stage, and it might cause problems. Still, he could face that if and when it came to it …
Lois sat in the small room at The Perfect Match's offices, casting a jaundiced eye over the profiles she had been given. No names were attached; she had been told that she would only be given a name once she had chosen the man she wanted to meet. As she had suspected, they were not a particularly impressive bunch. She could almost have predicted what she was now reading: there was indeed a computer geek, who appeared from the profile she had been given to spend practically all his waking hours in front of a screen. <No wonder he hasn't managed to find a girlfriend!> Lois thought sardonically.
The second man didn't seem much more of an attractive proposition: the details Lois had indicated that he was divorced, with custody of his two young children. <Looking for a substitute mother, I'll bet!> Lois speculated, making mental notes of the caustic comments she would include in her article.
The third man looked slightly more promising, she conceded grudgingly. About her own age — a year older, in fact, single, and a writer. <Well, unless he writes tacky stuff for porn magazines, or Western novels, there's a chance that he might have half a brain> she reflected cynically. The profile indicated that this man had described himself as tall, dark and slim, with interests including football, current affairs and spending time with friends. The agency matchmaker's summing up, which was printed at the bottom of every profile, described him as confident in terms of his professional activities and his relationships with family and friends, but somewhat shy and retiring in romantic relationships. 'Not a love 'em and leave 'em type,' the matchmaker had written; 'the test scores indicate a very high sense of loyalty, commitment and responsibility.'
<Well> thought Lois <if I have to choose one of these, it might as well be No. 3. The other two are complete no-hopers!>
Clark had arrived at the up-market bar in good time; he chose a stool at the bar counter and ordered a Perrier, which he sipped as he cast a discreet eye around the place. It was a little too showy for his taste; although at the moment it was fairly quiet, he imagined that it would get very full and noisy later on. Full of shallow poseurs, who were there to be seen rather than to have a romantic evening with a partner. Still, he thought, if he and his date hit it off, he would suggest they have dinner together. He had already chosen the restaurant: an Italian trattoria with a reputation for excellent food and a low-key atmosphere. Perfect for a 'getting-to-know-you' conversation, Clark had thought when he had made the reservation. And if they didn't get on, he would simply make his excuses after a couple of drinks.
He was conscious that the Chief was expecting him to produce a 'date diary', as well as an article commenting on the agency's service overall. Clark, at this stage, was unsure as to what he would actually say: although he had been quite impressed at the rigour of the two interviews and the detailed nature of the questionnaire, he had been surprised at the results of the matching process. He had been given three profiles from which to choose, but at first glance two of them had appeared to him to be completely unsuitable. One was a very young woman — barely nineteen — who, it seemed, was an advertising executive trainee, but whose preferred social activities were clubbing and partying — not at all Clark's choice of pastime. The second woman — who, Clark was sure, was probably a very nice person — just hadn't appealed to him at all. She was thirty, and already twice divorced; somehow, with the example of his parents' happy and enduring marriage, Clark couldn't see himself dating someone who had already made a 'lifetime' commitment to two different men.
So he had chosen the third woman — who had, he had to admit, really taken his fancy. She was a year younger than he; while he wasn't a particular fan of her profession, her list of interests seemed compatible with his, and she had stated that she wanted marriage and children. Ms Pearson's summary of the woman's character had also seemed attractive; a highly intelligent, if intense, individual, secure and confident in her work but a little less sure of herself in terms of personal relationships. Since that was how Clark saw himself, he thought that they might well hit it off.
He mused then that it had been almost as if he had been *intended* to choose this woman for his first date; the other two had certainly not been 'perfect matches' for him. Taking a sip of his drink, he glanced around the bar again; it was time for his date to arrive and he wanted to spot her before she saw him, if possible.
Lois was late; she had taken longer than planned to get ready, and then the traffic into the city had been worse than she had expected. She *really* did not want to go on this date. All right, she conceded, the man's profile had seemed … okay … but she just wasn't interested in dating. Even simply trying to approach the evening as just another undercover investigation wasn't helping.
<With any luck, we'll be completely incompatible> she thought as she hurried towards the wine bar where she was supposed to meet her date. She had arranged for her beeper to go off in about an hour's time, as a precautionary measure; on the *very* slight chance that she actually liked her date, she could dismiss it as not being important, but if she was hating every minute of the encounter, she would have an excuse to leave. She had agreed with Ms Pearson that she would carry a copy of Cosmopolitan - not a magazine of which she was a regular reader. Her date would be, she had been assured, carrying a copy of GQ.
<I hope that doesn't mean he's only interested in his own appearance> Lois thought, scowling to herself as she pulled open the heavy plate-glass door. She quickly darted behind a pillar and scanned the interior. It was early yet, and apart from a few people propping up the bar counter, and a small group occupying one table, the place was nearly empty. She discreetly studied the men at the bar; one she dismissed immediately as being too old - over forty, she guessed, and probably imagined himself as the next Warren Beatty. Another was younger, but short and balding; her date was supposed to be just over six feet tall. Two stockbroker-types drinking imported beer were also dismissed as unlikely prospects.
Then Lois's eye fell on a man sitting alone further down the bar. There appeared to be a magazine — she was unable to see the title — lying on the counter in front of him. The man looked as if he was probably tall, although as he was perched on top of a bar-stool it wasn't altogether easy to tell. From behind, he looked moderately attractive and certainly presentable: he had short dark hair, neatly cut, and was wearing what looked like a dark suit with a white shirt.
She frowned in puzzlement; something about him, even from the rear view, looked familiar. As she watched, he turned his head, clearly looking for someone, and she turned pale and gasped.
It was Clark!
But what on earth was Clark doing *here*, where she was supposed to be meeting her date?
Her first instinct was to turn tail and get out of the wine bar before Clark could see her and ask what she was doing there. But before she could make it to the door, he was striding towards her, calling her name.
Something had made Clark turn around at that precise moment: a slight tingling at the back of his neck which seemed to warn him that he was being watched. As he'd turned, searching for — he hoped — his date, he had caught sight of a woman skulking behind a pillar. Then his Super-hearing had picked up a gasp of shock. He descended from his stool and took a closer look: it was Lois! Wondering what she was doing there, he went over and called to her.
As he caught up with her, he realised that she was carrying a magazine; taking a closer look, he noticed the title. Slowly, the explanation dawned on him; catching Lois's arm, he asked incredulously, "*You're* Laura Lang?"
Lois stared at him in disbelief. "How did you … ?" Practically speechless, she tried to figure out how it could possibly be that Clark knew her assumed name. Had Perry told him about the assignment? Had he come to queer her pitch once again — or to get a cheap laugh?
Clark was relaxing now that he had realised that, however bizarre it seemed, *Lois* was his date for the evening. And she had certainly not expected to meet him either; seeing her reaction was going to be enjoyable! "Lois, I'm 'Jerome Clark'."
Lois's mouth was opening and closing like a fish. She tried to speak several times, but was unable to frame a coherent sentence. Finally, she gritted, "You *can't* be!"
"No?" Clark enquired dryly. "Let me see — Jerome Clark, a writer, enjoys football and current affairs, aged twenty-nine, carrying a copy of GQ, and meeting Laura Lang, who is carrying a copy of Cosmopolitan." He finished his statement with a pointed glance at her magazine.
Lois glared at him. "Where's the GQ then?"
Clark nodded in the direction of the bar counter. "Over there." He took hold of her arm and gently steered her over to a corner table, well away from any of the other clientele. "Look, we're attracting attention — let's sit down and discuss this."
"I don't want to discuss anything with you — except what you're doing here!" Lois muttered angrily.
"Same thing as you, by the look of it," Clark replied irritatingly. "Wait here." He walked swiftly back to the bar and collected his belongings, ordering Lois a glass of white wine at the same time. He was grateful for the couple of minutes to compose his thoughts; while he had attempted to project a calm manner in front of Lois, his inner mood was anything but calm. What on *earth* was Lois doing there? Why was she using a false name? Was she so desperate for a man in her life that she would use a dating agency, but so embarrassed about it that she felt the need to lie about herself — a false name, a different occupation?
Then it dawned on him that this was a very interesting proposition indeed. The computer software used by the agency had selected Lois and himself as ideal matches for each other. He had picked her from the three choices offered to him — and *she* had picked *him*! Surely this said something about the two of them and the prospects for a relationship between them?
Lois, meanwhile, now recovering from her shock, was swiftly assembling the pieces of the puzzle together in her mind. Clark was registered with the agency, under an assumed name; the occupation of 'writer' was certainly true, if a bit unspecific. Why was he using an introductions bureau? She had quickly dismissed the idea that he had come to spy on her; it was clear to her now that he had been just as surprised to see her as she had been to see him. She frowned; while Clark was still relatively new to Metropolis, it hadn't seemed to her as if he was lonely, or short of friends. Was he that desperate for a girlfriend? And what a horrible coincidence that she had picked him from the three potential dates! But … she had been told that he had also chosen her. Which meant … that he must have been attracted to her profile. She, of course, had simply chosen the least worst option of the three available to her.
She was abruptly dragged back to reality by Clark's return; she accepted the glass of wine with an automatic 'thank you', but then glared at him across the table. "Clark, I want to know exactly what you're doing here. And don't fob me off with an excuse. Why are you registered with 'The Perfect Match'?"
"I was going to ask you the same question," Clark pointed out. "Okay, though, you asked first. I'm on an assignment — Perry asked me to pose as a client in order to investigate the agency's claims about their success rates."
Lois's jaw dropped once again. "That's exactly what he … *oohh* — I could *murder* Perry." She clenched her fists in fury. "He put us both on this assignment and didn't tell us!"
"And we got matched with each other," Clark pointed out softly, with a maddening grin.
"Well, that just shows how crazy this whole computer dating thing is, doesn't it?" Lois retorted. "I mean, you and me — 'perfect partners'? Not in — "
"Not in this millenium?" Clark finished for her. "Well, that just gives us about six years of *not* being 'perfect partners', you know."
Lois groaned in frustration. "You know exactly what I meant, Kent — and that's another thing. Jerome Clark … I *should* have known! I mean, your full name is Clark *Jerome* Kent, isn't it?"
Clark inclined his head. "And you wouldn't just have happened to remember a conversation in which I told you about my high school girlfriend, Lana Lang, would you?"
Lois ignored that. "Anyway, you and I are … chalk and cheese. Oil and water. Incompatible. So any so-called perfect matchmaking system which managed to pair me with *you* up is clearly phoney and a complete rip-off."
"Oh yeah?" Clark riposted. "And what makes you think that?"
"Well … of *course* it is." She sipped her wine, continuing to glare at Clark over the rim of the glass. "And that's precisely what my article is going to say."
"But Lois, wouldn't you agree that a computer can only work with the data it is given?" Clark enquired, catching her gaze and holding it with a suspiciously reasonable expression.
"What do you mean?" she demanded.
"Well, the software determines compatibilities on the basis of the information provided by clients about themselves. If that information is not accurate, then the results won't be as accurate as they should be either." Clark leaned back in his seat, enjoying the temporary expression of discomfiture on Lois's face. It wasn't often that he felt he had the upper hand in a discussion with Lois, and he liked the feeling.
"Are you implying that I lied?" Lois's glare became even more annoyed.
"Well, you did, didn't you? Since when has Lois Lane, ambitious award-winning journalist, expressed a desire to settle down with a husband and kids? I distinctly remember you stating in no uncertain terms a couple of weeks ago that you *never* intended to have children." Clark allowed a smile to hover about his lips.
"See? See? We couldn't be more incompatible!" Lois insisted excitably, stabbing the air with her index finger as she spoke. "You actually believe in happy-ever-after. You *like* kids! You want a house with a picket fence and half a dozen little Kents running around in the garden, and a little woman inside baking cookies in the kitchen."
<Sounds idyllic> Clark mused <though my wife would have her own career too, if she wanted … >
"But Lois, how could you expect the software to know that, when you told them something completely different?" he pointed out, still adopting that calm, reasonable tone which Lois was quickly finding extremely infuriating. "You can't blame 'The Perfect Partner' for matching you up with someone you find incompatible when you lied on your questionnaire." He grinned at her, revealing a flash of very white teeth. "And another thing — you picked me out!"
Lois snorted. "Don't get your hopes up at that, Kent! You didn't see the opposition!"
"Nooo … " Clark replied slowly. "Come to think of it, my alternative choices weren't particularly appealing either … " <although I would have chosen you even if they were more compatible> he mused.
"So you think … ?" Lois prompted, distracted from the issue of the agency's efficacy by the implications of this new information.
"I suspect — it's a bit of a wild guess, but I think we might have been set up," Clark offered tentatively.
Lois considered the evidence, then emitted a noise of frustration. "I *bet* that's it! Who was in on it? The Chief had to be, since he put us on the assignment … maybe Jimmy … Ralph better not know anything about this!"
Clark shrugged. "Dunno. But it's up to us how we handle it. We either confront the Chief with it, or say nothing — leave him wondering."
"He couldn't have *known* we'd be matched with each other could he?" Lois asked thoughtfully. "I mean, the chances against that happening have to be … oh, hundreds to one."
"Possibly — I don't know," Clark considered. "Anyway, I think we should say nothing, and each hand in our own reports as if we'd had dates with strangers."
Lois drained her glass. "I guess you're right — I have no intention of letting him know the truth! I'm sure I can make up something convincing … I can say I met my date, we had a drink, decided we didn't suit, and went our separate ways — which is exactly what's happening now!" she added, picking up her bag and preparing to leave.
"Hold on a minute, Lois." Clark's quiet request stopped her. She turned back to face him. He had got to his feet and was regarding her thoughtfully.
"There is another way we can take our revenge on Perry," he murmured, a faint smile curling around the corners of his mouth. "The Planet is paying for this date, right? Let's go out to dinner, and have a great meal and some good wine, all on expenses. How about it?"
About to refuse, Lois hesitated. What harm could it do? After all, it wasn't a real date. They were just going to compensate themselves for what Perry had managed to put them through — which, seeing as she wasn't going to confront him about it, was a pretty reasonable proposition. She nodded. "Okay. Where do you suggest? I know a few good restaurants … "
"Actually, I already have reservations at the Azzuri," Clark informed her. "It's not too far from here — you want to walk?"
Lois covertly observed Clark as they walked; he was certainly very well turned out this evening, she thought in some surprise. While he wore a jacket and tie for work, his shirt and jacket frequently clashed and his ties tended to be on the garish side. His suit, however, was clearly very good quality, well cut, and the charcoal colour suited him. His shirt was crisp white, and his silk tie was — for Clark — very sober. The overall impression, when added to his unusually confident manner, suggested that he could have stepped straight out of the pages of the men's magazine he was carrying.
Outwardly, Clark managed to maintain a casual conversation as he explained where the restaurant was and how he knew about it; inwardly, he was analysing the situation. The Chief *hadn't* actually given them separate assignments after all; it looked very much as if he had been having a joke at their expense instead. So perhaps there wasn't a problem with Clark's work; maybe the partnership wasn't over after all. He felt enormously relieved; although there was still the problem of his relationship with Lois. Except that she *had* agreed to have dinner with him, and she had calmed down and started discussing the situation with him once they'd realised that Perry had to have been behind things.
Lois's pager went off *en route*, and Clark immediately felt a pang of disappointment. Did this mean she was going to have to go and meet a source? He had been really looking forward to having dinner with her …
But to his surprise, she simply switched off her pager and made no attempt to contact whoever had been paging her. She must have become aware that he was looking at her in puzzlement, for she glanced at him and favoured him with an ironic smile.
"That was my escape route," she threw at him mock-caustically.
"Escape route?" Clark threw back at her, grinning, although he had a pretty good idea what she had meant.
She raised an eyebrow in a meaningful glance, but didn't comment.
"So you've obviously decided you don't need that excuse since you're with me?" he suggested, feeling gratified that she hadn't chosen to take the easy way out of spending the evening with him. "I'm glad, Lois," he assured her sincerely.
She threw him a taunting glance and spoke acidly. "Since I'm with you, I figure I don't need an excuse. If I want to go home, I'll go."
<True … > Clark thought. <She would — unless I can make her enjoy herself in my company … >
He simply smiled back at her, therefore, and commented, "That would be a shame. After all, from what I've heard you love Italian food — especially desserts."
Lois glanced at him, only mildly irritated. Did *everyone* know how much she enjoyed sweet foodstuffs?
The restaurant was a pleasant surprise, Lois felt. She hadn't quite been sure what to expect; she had never gone out for a meal with Clark before, even when they had been working late on assignment; the most they had shared was a take-out. She hadn't really given much thought to his preferences in relation to food, although she was aware that he seemed to love junk food. <And just how does he get away with eating all that junk, and snacking on doughnuts four times a day, and manage to keep in shape?> she marvelled enviously.
They were shown to a booth near the back of the trattoria, and the waiter left them to study the menus. Clark immediately selected the wine list and gave Lois a conspiratorial grin. "Okay, let's really push the boat out here - what's your favourite expensive wine?"
Lois leaned across the table to see the list, her gaze skimming down the list of Italian reds and whites; after a discussion of the relative merits of Frascati versus Chianti, they settled on the Chianti. She was initially surprised to discover that Clark was so knowledgeable about wine, until she remembered that he had of course spent several months travelling in Europe some years earlier. He had obviously spent some of that time in Italy, for he began reading aloud the Italian-language descriptions on the menu and translating them for Lois.
"You trying to impress me, Kent?" she taunted good-humouredly.
He raised an eyebrow. "I don't think that's possible, Lois — is it?"
Rising to the bait, she caught and held his challenging gaze. "You never know, Clark — one of these days you might just do it."
He didn't take his eyes off her. "I'll aim to surprise you."
Feeling, contrary to all of her expectations and intentions, that she was enjoying herself, Lois switched her attention to her menu and tried to block out the sudden and unexpected thought that Clark Kent was actually pretty good company. If she *had* to go out on a date, she realised, there were a lot worse men she could have been with. Even on the occasions she had spent time with Lex Luthor, who was certainly good company and had the ability to make her feel eminently desirable, she had never felt quite so at ease and relaxed. On the other hand, that might just be because with Clark there was no excitement, no *frisson* of sexual attraction … just the comfortable feeling of being with a friend.
And yet … Clark wasn't a friend, he was a work colleague. Her occasional partner, and someone who had the ability to irritate her intensely on occasion. Although, she grudgingly conceded, there were also times when he had proven to be a good journalist, and another point in his favour was that he had not allowed her bad moods and occasional sarcasm to put him off. He was almost invariably helpful and courteous — with the *major* exception of their work on the Metro Club story, she remembered suddenly with a spurt of anger.
Clark broke the silence after they'd ordered by asking Lois's opinion on the forthcoming mid-term elections, and the ensuing political discussion occupied them until they had almost finished their main courses. Again, Lois found that she was learning more about this near-stranger who was her partner; she had been aware that he had a sharp intelligence — although she considered that it was at times severely compromised by a rather naive outlook on life — but she was also being made aware that he possessed a keen sense of the ridiculous and a lively sense of humour. Well, maybe he wouldn't be such bad company on stake-outs after all …
He caught her gaze after their plates were removed. "Lois, I meant it when I said I was sorry about what I did to you the other day. It was unprofessional of me, and a lousy way to treat a colleague I respect enormously."
Afterwards, Lois wondered whether she had been mellowed by too much food and good wine. She let him off lightly; she simply studied his earnest expression and decided that the apology was genuine. Simply because she wanted to know, she asked, "So why did you do it?"
He shrugged. "I really was worried that you were in danger — I knew Luthor had recognised you and I thought he'd blow your cover. I suppose I thought I'd better act convincing in front of Toni Taylor and her associates, though that's no excuse at all for being patronising. All I can say is that that's not my usual style, and it won't happen again."
She held his gaze. "See that it doesn't." Something else occurred to her then, and she added irately, "You smirked!"
Taken aback, Clark stared at her. "I didn't smirk!"
"You did so!"
"Clark, you *definitely* smirked." Her tone was insistent, her expression condemnatory.
His eyes narrowed, he studied her. "How would you have known? You were hanging over my shoulder!"
She shrugged. "Your shoes were very shiny — I could see your reflection. And you *definitely* smirked. No doubt about it!"
Clark threw her a conciliatory smile. "Okay Lois, I promise — I will not *smirk* at you again."
"You better not." But this time she was smiling, although she was trying to disguise it by dabbing at her lips with her napkin.
Clark hesitated; was it time to clear something else up? "Lois, I didn't invite Toni Taylor around to my apartment. She turned up out of the blue, and I decided to take advantage of it as a way of finding out more about her involvement with the Metros."
Lois froze; she remembered a conversation …
Clark had said to her, "You're jealous."
She had replied, "Jealous? Hah! That'll be the day … " And yet, unaccountably, she had been; and even the arrival of Lex Luthor, to assure her that he had no intention of blowing her cover, had not succeeding in cheering her up. But she had *no* intention of allowing Clark to guess any of that. She raised her chin, fixing him with a challenging glare.
"And just tell me, Kent, why do you think that information is of any interest to me?"
Watching her carefully, Clark shrugged. "Just thought I'd clear it up." He wasn't fooled by her sarcastic tone; he had noticed Lois's initial — though quickly disguised — expression of pleasure. Maybe 'The Perfect Match' hadn't got things quite so mixed up after all … Who knew?
Clark insisted on escorting her home in a taxi after the meal; although she would never have admitted it, Lois was quite glad of the transport. She had been unable to resist the *torte cioccolate* on the dessert menu, and although Clark had helped her to finish it, she had still eaten far more than she should.
He parted company with her at the entrance to her apartment; she hurried upstairs and immediately went to boot up her lap-top. She had a couple of articles to write; her opinion of the agency's service could wait for the time being, but the date diary was crying out for her immediate attention. She sat, brow furrowed, for a few moments as she puzzled out the angle she would take; then began to type furiously.
An hour later, she re-read the piece with some satisfaction. It was suitably bland, which would serve Perry right for wasting her time. She had also managed a couple of subtle digs along the way, about the idiocy of going on a blind date with someone a person had never met, and criticising the pseudo-science of believing that psychometric techniques could possibly identify the basis of romantic attraction.
She reviewed her closing paragraph with a contented smile.
"I will concede that my date turned out to be reasonably good company in the end, and if I hadn't been registered with the agency solely for research purposes, I might have considered seeing him again — but only as a friend. There was certainly no romantic 'spark', and for me that proves that romance cannot be reduced to a set of questions and answers, and a series of algorithms on a computer. Human beings are far more complex than a computer programme. If I really was looking for my 'Perfect Match', if such a thing exists, the man who could sweep me off my feet is probably not one who believes love can be programmed."
The following afternoon, Lois marched into the editor's office and dropped a couple of double-spaced typed pages onto his desk. "Here's those dating agency pieces, Perry — you'll be disappointed, 'cause there's no real scandal there. It's all pretty predictable stuff."
The editor threw her a sceptical glance. "Did you go on your date?"
Lois shrugged. "Yeah, last night. Nothing to write home about — but he was inoffensive enough, I guess. Anyway, it's all yours now, and I'm through doing this kind of teen-magazine stuff!"
She marched out of the office, slamming the door behind her. Perry ignored her tetchy exit, and began instead to skim through the article. For Lois, it was anodyne in the extreme; but on the other hand, Perry had not been editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet for as long as he had without knowing how to read between the lines. And, of course, Clark Kent had handed in his account of his own date earlier that same afternoon.
Perry smiled in secret amusement, wondering if Lane and Kent had any idea of how comprehensively they had been set up. He would publish the articles, bland as they were; Alice's friend Marian Pearson deserved the free advertising. She had delivered the goods exactly as discussed, even arranging the 'date' for the day they had agreed upon. She had even returned the cashier's cheques with which Lois and Clark had paid their membership fees.
Alice would enjoy her lunch-date with Marian tomorrow, Perry thought fondly, as his eye fell on his desk-calendar, displaying today's date. April 2nd …
Lois searched the newsroom discreetly; there was no sign of Clark anywhere, and his jacket was not hanging on the back of his chair. That meant he had to be out of the office somewhere. Sidling over to his desk, she sat down and called up his file menu to search for anything which looked like it might be his dating agency article.
<Bingo!> she thought, spotting a file entitled 'Perfect Match'; she opened it and found an article which commented on the agency's methods and vetting procedures. It was written in quite positive terms, which didn't surprise Lois. Her own piece had contained some barbed criticisms in relation to the cost and the matches she had been offered, and she had also criticised the underlying premise behind agencies such as this one: that they promoted the idea that people could not possibly achieve fulfilment without marriage or a committed relationship. She scanned down the article, but found no reference to the 'date', so she returned to the file manager, finally discovering Clark's account saved as 'Report'. <Not exactly obvious> she thought sardonically, conveniently ignoring the fact that Clark presumably hadn't expected her or anyone else to be searching for the file on his computer.
Clark had written an account of the evening in a style which she recognised as one of his strengths. His description was humorous and self-deprecating; his 'date' was portrayed as an attractive and interesting companion, and Clark made it clear that he had enjoyed the evening. The final paragraph caught her attention: Clark had written,
"As far as my impressions of my date were concerned, 'The Perfect Match' had lived up to the promises in their brochure: I felt that my partner for the evening was someone I would like very much to see again. Unfortunately for me, she wasn't of the same opinion. Although we did get on well, it seemed that I wasn't her type. You can't win 'em all, as the saying goes - though if she reads this, I would remind her that she picked me as her date too!"
A voice from over Lois's shoulder remarked, "You did, Lois, you can't deny it!"
She swung round; Clark stood behind her, a broad grin on his face as he realised that she had been reading his article. She glared at him. "Like I said, you were the least worst choice — so you needn't read anything into it."
Clark shrugged. "You still chose me — *and* you had a good time last night, contrary to your expectations."
Lois got to her feet in what she hoped was a dignified manner. "Maybe I did - but don't hold your breath for a repeat performance."
As she brushed past him, head held high, he watched her walk away, a wry smile on his face. <One of these days, Lois … one of these days … >