AUTHOR'S NOTES: If this doesn't make sense to you, I'm going to ask you to hold off from grilling me until the other three parts are done. (Yes, I know, 'Trinity' with four parts? But Lois wouldn't shut up until I wrote her part.) The story will make a little more sense at the end of it. Not much, but a little. And I really don't know who will like this story because, frankly, it's weird.
- Lois -
Tonight had been a perfectly good charity ball until the bandits interrupted it.
In the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel, the guests mingled amidst the opulence of chandeliers and fine food, famous faces and beautiful piano music.
"I'm amazed that they got Tia Taijie in to play," Lois Lane muttered at her partner for the evening as she juggled purse and champagne glass. "I heard she was booked out until the New Year. Ms. Prinze must have pulled no end of strings to get her here tonight."
"Ms. Prinze seems to have a lot of strings to pull," came the sardonic reply. "As would anyone with the money and power she wields."
Having worked out how she could hold both purse and champagne glass and still have a hand free to take up the dainty pastries being circulated through the room, Lois gave her companion a sharply slanting look from beneath dark lashes. "As if you can talk about money and power, Bruce!"
"Are you referring to Wayne Enterprises?"
"Actually," she said smoothly, "I'm referring to your franchise of go-go clubs running from New York to New Orleans!" Lois rolled her eyes. "What else would I be referring to?"
He shrugged and didn't answer.
Lois scowled. "You're a very powerful man, Bruce, simply through your controlling interest in Wayne Enterprises."
"I don't use it for anything," he murmured, and nodded briefly at a couple he recognised - some of Gotham's more prestigious society. They eyed Lois, who smiled and nodded and gritted her teeth against the same old rumours that inevitably resurfaced after one of her appearances on the arm of Bruce Wayne.
"That," she said in a conversational tone, "is the most outrageous lie I have ever heard anyone utter with a straight face."
One corner of the full mouth quirked slightly in sardonic amusement. "Well, maybe just a little."
They passed a group talking about a recent snatch-and-grab attempt from a museum in Gotham. "...nothing taken. The thieves were found handcuffed to one of the exits, babbling about the guy who stopped the heist."
"Was it that Crusader fellow?"
"Apparently. The description matches..."
The voices faded as they moved past the speakers and across the room. Lois frowned a little. "What do you make of that?"
"Hmm?" Bruce had vagued out again. "Oh, the Crusader guy." He shrugged. "Seems to be doing a decent job cleaning up Gotham. Well," he corrected wryly, "as much as Gotham can be cleaned up."
"Such faith in your fair city," Lois murmured as they approached a couple they knew. "You're a cynic, Bruce."
"You wound me, Lois. And if I'm a cynic, what are you?" He regarded her archly.
"A realist," she muttered, sotto voce the moment before they reached the couple. When he shot her a slightly irritated look, she smiled sweetly at him. She loved annoying him. It was one of the best things about these fundraising evenings: the chance to needle Bruce where he had to put on a polite face for Gotham's fine society.
The couple they had stopped to talk with were vaguely familiar to Lois, who usually had very little to do with such fundraising activities. Socialising and smoothing things over was Bruce's area of expertise - he was a master at the fine art of calming nerves and soothing emotions.
It was more Lois' nature to ruffle things up and make things uncomfortable. And she did it well. As a reporter for the Gotham Daily, she even got paid for it - with sometimes entertaining results. Oh, there were no Pulitzers on the horizon yet, although she had a story in mind that might give her a shot at the Holy Grail of her writing. If she could only get the subject to participate!
She wasn't fully paying attention to the conversation. Instead, she was absently noting who was present, who was speaking to whom and whom she had to collar before the night was out. These were Gotham's wealthiest and finest citizens, the bejewelled denizens of the city's highest social strata. They were also the CEOs and businessmen of some of the biggest companies based on the east coast. Where there was big business, there was also big news, and where there was big news to be found, Lois was the one looking into it.
Lois was always on the job, even when she was saving Bruce from the hordes of slavering Gotham socialites, most of whom were yearning for the chance to get the glasses off Dr. Wayne and find out if the doctor's hands really were as skilled as rumour had it.
Judging from the prickling of her nape, there were several women here who were glaring at her with gazes that should have been able to punch through raw steel. Lois grinned at a joke made by the gentleman as Bruce made a cunning reply and entered the conversation in the break after the laughter died.
"There are so many people here tonight." There. She had contributed to the perpetuation of the conversation, however insipid her offering. Bruce arched a brow at her and she returned him a smooth smile.
"There are far more people here than we expected!" The woman looked around the room, evidently pleased with the turnout. "I wonder if they got wind of-" She broke off and glanced briefly at Lois and Bruce, then around the room before she leaned over and lowered her voice. "Lady Diana sent an invite to Superman."
Lois blinked. That took some guts to do. Superman, while well known and much admired, was not usually a guest at these events. "I thought he tended to avoid charity functions because of the paparazzi."
"Wouldn't you?" Bruce asked Lois dryly.
"You're asking the wrong person, Bruce," she replied with asperity, ignoring the slight churning feeling in her stomach at the thought of Superman coming here, tonight. "The only reporters who ever hounded me were the ones who wanted me to comment on something you did because they thought I'd have an inside angle!"
Never mind that she knew very little of the things Bruce did that made the media. As far as some of the more stupid gossip columnists were concerned, her proximity to Bruce Wayne meant she should know everything about what he did in his business and his practise, to say nothing of his personal habits.
"It's always my fault," Bruce said, adopting the air of a beleaguered man.
"Most of the time, it is," Lois replied and saw his eyes twinkle with amusement at her sharpness and changed the topic before he could get his own retort in. "So, do you know if Superman will come?" She knew that Bruce gave her a hard look and ignored it.
"He told Ms. Prinze 'yes,'" the man said. "And the donations started pouring in! Our original goal was one fifty thousand dollars, but we're already halfway there, so Ms. Prinze suggested we raise the bar to one hundred thousand."
"And she promised to match every dollar raised with fifty cents of her own," his wife added.
"A very generous offering," Bruce observed, and cocked a sly smile at Lois. "I might have to consider giving Ms. Prinze a run for her money."
Lois fought the urge to groan. When Bruce's competitive instincts came out, it was best to stand back. In that, he was a lot like her, but where his background was money and privilege, hers was a middle-class upbringing. She opened her mouth to say something sharp and teasing, but was interrupted by a voice as suave and sleek as velvet.
"Please do, Dr. Wayne," Lady Diana Prinze said as she swiped a glass of champagne from a passing waiter with a brief smile for the man. Lois noted the tide of scarlet that rose up over the white collar of the waiter's shirt, infusing his neck with a rosy glow. The Lady continued smoothly, unaware of the havoc she'd caused with her smile. "It would be lovely to have some competition."
As if anyone could compete against you, Lois thought, somewhat uncharitably. If ever one person had been given an excess of gifts and talents, it would have to be the Lady Diana Prinze. Apart from the obvious blessings of beauty, status, and wealth, she was formidably intelligent, very personable, and quite charming.
Tonight, she was charming in a deep blue dress that brought out the colour of her eyes - the intense blue of a Mediterranean sky - and wearing a collar of sapphires set in silver. Lois felt positively dowdy beside her - and this gown was the nicest one she owned.
"As if anyone could compete against you," said the charity director, echoing Lois' thoughts with overdone gallantry.
"It's lovely of you to say so," Ms. Prinze commented. "Although quite untrue." She stated it matter-of-factly, sparing neither her modesty nor her admirer's. Her eyes rested on Bruce with a mischievous twinkle in them. "Dr. Wayne is well capable of competing against me in the donation stakes. And doubtless many other stakes as well. I hear the Wayne Enterprises research on stem cells is nearing its completion, Dr. Wayne?"
Bruce shifted. If he was surprised that a socialite knew of the status of his most recent research project, he evinced no surprise. "We've reached the goals we set out to achieve, Ms. Prinze," he said simply. Give him a chance and he would warm to this topic, but for the moment, he was diffident. "We're looking into an extension, but our backers are not as willing to support further research in this area. We'll bring them around."
Ms. Prinze's gaze flickered to Lois for a moment, arching one delicate brow, and Lois rolled her eyes and grinned. "He means he'll bring them around," she said.
"I have no doubt he will," the other woman said with a sultry look at Bruce.
Lois was honest enough to admit that she was relieved the socialite had at least one weak spot. All manner of handsome men could be found in her company, and God knew, Bruce was handsome enough to drive any woman to distraction. Or obsession.
Did it say something about Lois that the distraction he drove her to was not the kind most people thought was between them? Probably. She'd learned not to care about the gossip many years ago. The death threats were another matter, but she had learned a thing or a dozen through her years of knowing Bruce and wasn't afraid to use them where necessary.
"I'm not sure if you're complimenting me or mocking me, Ms. Prinze," Bruce said lightly, but with a very direct look. If he was aware of the socialite's interest, he was no less polite, trusting in her good manners to ensure that no lines were crossed.
"You need to ask?" Dark lashes fluttered teasingly.
"I'm afraid to," came the retort.
The casual 'salute' she gave him was both respectful and mocking, and she turned to Lois, about to make a comment when her eyes widened as she saw someone over Lois' shoulder. "Oh, he's here! Please excuse me!"
A moment later Ms. Prinze was holding out her hand to the man who had paused at the edge of the balcony doors. A moment later, Lois had turned on her heel, drawn to his magnetic north like sensitised steel.
"Oh, my God," said the director's wife faintly, unable to take her eyes from the man who was bowing over Ms. Prinze's hand with an elegance that would have done a prince proud. "I can't believe he came!"
"I don't think many people thought he would," the director was saying.
"I didn't think he would," Bruce murmured dryly.
Lois barely heard them. She was watching Superman.
She'd only met him a couple of times, but each time had been...breathtaking. A part of her felt ashamed of admiring him so intensely - from what she'd heard, he had quite a fan club - and, indeed, the response to him could be seen all around the room.
Women were staring, blatant envy in their eyes as they watched Ms. Prinze smile and laugh and flirt with their latest guest. The guest himself seemed inclined to an easy friendliness towards his hostess, chatting in a personable manner. Rumour had it, he'd been brought up on an island of warriors - some unheard of, uncharted island in the Bermuda Triangle - although how anything could be uncharted in this day and age was a mystery to Lois.
And Ms. Prinze was bringing him over to their small group.
Her fingers twitched with the urge to run her fingers through her hair and make sure she looked properly groomed. Lois forced the urge away. She was not going to primp and simper like some stupid society bimbo just because a handsome man looked her way.
Beside her, she felt Bruce lean across her slightly to murmur, "Good girl."
She bristled at him, causing him to take a step back and bring his hands up in wry defence against her.
"...must meet a few people, Superman."
"Please," he said in a light, clear tenor. "Call me Kal El."
Lois felt uncharitably jealous of the society belle. It seemed that even legendary superheroes had their Achilles' heel, but how sad to find that Superman's was the smile of a beautiful woman. Still, she viciously kicked her brain into gear as Ms. Prinze introduced him to the director and his wife and took the moment to study him.
He seemed as neatly groomed as always, but not urbane, the way Bruce managed to look. There was a simplicity about him that Bruce would never have in a million years. It wasn't quite innocence, more of an uncomplicated ease that would avoid making things more difficult than they needed to be.
Usually clad in a very colourful costume of blue and red, tonight, he was dressed for a formal evening. The suit looked expensive, and familiarity with Bruce's dress habits forced Lois to admit that it probably was expensive. It would have been tailor-made to fit perfectly across broad shoulders and deep chest, giving him an air of calm formality. Or maybe that was just his manner, the air of royalty that clung to him like the sound of trumpets heralding his presence.
Frankly, Lois didn't care. Recognition was dawning on his face as Ms. Prinze began the introductions, and he interrupted the woman with the start of a smile for his rudeness before turning the full force of that easy, honest pleasure on Lois.
"Miss Lane, I believe?" Superman said, taking her hand and covering it with one of his own. "We meet again."
The touch of his hand sent tingles up her arm and down her spine. The room might as well have been empty but for him and her - she certainly didn't have the faintest idea if Bruce was laughing at her behind her back - although he probably was. If so, she didn't care. She was talking to Superman. And he remembered her name!
"Under less dramatic circumstances than the last time," Lois said. A part of her that wasn't dizzy over his attention was screaming at her. She suspected it was trying to tell her not to look like a simpering idiot. She had an awful feeling it was failing.
"You know of my colleague, don't you? Dr. Bruce Wayne?"
Superman turned his gaze towards Bruce and inclined his head. "I've heard of Dr. Wayne by reputation only, I'm afraid," he said. "Although the reports are one and all excellent. You're doing good work, both in that clinic of yours and at Wayne Enterprises."
"You're very kind, Superman," Bruce replied, "if mistaken. I have little to do with Wayne Enterprises."
"The name would suggest otherwise," Ms. Prinze murmured, just loud enough for both men to hear.
Lois barely held back a giggle at the woman's gentle dig at Bruce's modesty. Superman gave both women a hard look but only said, "As Ms. Prinze has indicated, your part in keeping Wayne Enterprises an open corporation is not exactly a secret. And has earned you the enmity of Lex Luthor."
She felt Bruce tense, for all that her hand was still firmly in Superman's, and barely held back a flinch herself. Still, for all that, Bruce's answer was easy.
"It doesn't take a lot to earn Luthor's enmity," he said. "All you have to do is show him up a couple of times and he'll hate you for life." He grinned, a touch of the devil in his smile. "I can show you if you like."
Superman stared for a moment, before he seemed to realise it was a joke and grinned back.
A moment later, the world splintered and shattered around their ears.