30/30 - Puppy Love

by Darklady and Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "Opening Credits"

Rating: G

Bruce Wayne rested his head against the leather wing of the leather armchair, dismay shading into despair as a black and tan ball of fluff toothed though the tassels of one of his abandoned loafers. A Papillion, to go by the ears. Which was, Bruce wearily conceded, and improvement on the Yorkie that had terrorized this same chamber fifteen minutes before. At least in terms of volume.

The dog show may have bored Bruce - but it had inspired Ace.

Since breakfast, the little Martian creature had morphed it's way though a copious number of toy breeds - presumably all pulled from Bruce's personal recollections of past mis-encounters. Unfortunately... Bruce watched the furry form morph again. Black and white this time. A Shih Tzu, by the flat nose. No change to the teeth, to judge by the dissolution rate of his former footwear.

Unfortunately... Bruce Wayne life had apparently intersected with a shocking number of the little pests. Starting with 'Aunt Harriet's' obese poodle, and working trough to which ever imposition on his social forbearance this particular specimen had been.

Despite the... cultivated... general belief, neither Bruce Wayne nor the Batman's memory was actually elephantine. Retention required a certain... attentiveness. Attentiveness which he had not devoted to the sundry lap yappers of his female acquaintances. But then?

"Please! Ace!"

Bruce lifted his foot quickly out of range. The loafer might be lost - but he drew the line at yielding a sock. Before today he had not entered 'companion breeds' on his list of potential threats.

Apparently an oversight.

Bruce glowered as the now- Chihuahua left off pawing at his toes in favor of a maddened race around the room - apparently in pursuit of invisible mice. Or some such. Whoever would have though tiny toenails could make so much noise?

Bruce sighed. He couldn't leave the little creature. It was - after all - a symbiote. And an animal. And thus acting innocently according to its nature.

A little voice inside his head mocked him with the reminder of just where he had heard all those arguments before - and just how little he had been moved by them at the time. Still, as the dog book said... He glanced down at the volume open on his lap... a misbehaving animal was the sign of an unprepared owner. Which meant it was his duty and his alone to correct matters.

He ignored the section in chapter one subheaded 'Why Some People Should Not Own Dogs.' He had one, so...

"Ace?" Bruce kept his voice low but firm, just as recommended in chapter two. He patted the side of the chair gently, exactly as suggested in chapter three.

The King Charles Spaniel trotted over.

Excellent. Exactly as predicted.

"Good Ace!"

Positive feedback - just as in chapter four.

The tiny plumed tail thumped the floor. So far - so good.

Opening the book to its center section, Bruce picked out once of the large color photos. Lowering it to just one inch before Ace's twitching ebony nose, he commanded. "Rottweiler, Ace! Rottweiler!"

The spaniel cocked its head curiously, looking up at Bruce with inquiring brown eyes. Bruce kept his expression stern, and Ace began to grow, its fur getting shorter and glossier over muscled dog flesh.

Bruce allowed himself a trace of a grin. "That's better," he stated approvingly, closing the book.

Ace took advantage of his fleeting distraction to plant its front paws on the edge of the chair and begin licking Bruce's face.

"Ace!" Bruce objected ineffectually, pushing his hands against the chest of what he suddenly realized was meant by a large breed.

"Master Bruce? What-"

Before Alfred could finish his alarmed sentence, Ace suddenly shrunk down, abandoning any hint of canine form and zipping up Bruce's sleeve. Bruce reached into his pocket for a handkerchief, scrubbing at his dog-slobbered features. "Yes, Alfred?"

Alfred gave him a puzzled look. "Am I to infer that what I just witnessed was something to do with this 'zo'ok' you have mentioned before?"

"That's Ace, yes," Bruce confirmed, eager to change the subject.

Alfred bent down to pick up one of the much abused loafers on the floor, wrinkling his nose in well-mannered disdain. "I trust this will not become a habitual use of your footwear."

Bruce hid a guilty wince. "Maybe we should keep that pair around," he suggested awkwardly. A little bark reinforced the point, and Bruce realized belatedly that Ace had once again found its way to the floor, this time taking on the dimensions of a miniature Dachshund puppy. Its tail wagged eagerly as it sat at Bruce's feet and looked appealingly up at Alfred.

Alfred looked from puppy to shoe and back. "Very well. I will put these downstairs where the furnishings are more suited to the ravages of housebreaking."

"Yes, Alfred," Bruce agreed meekly, reaching down to stroke Ace's ears and encourage the little zo'ok back to its normal disguise as his wrist watch.

Alfred picked up the second demolished loafer. "Miss Sareeta Punjabnalaram is waiting for you downstairs. I believe you have a date?"

Bruce nodded and stood up, careful not to step on the still-puppy-form Ace. "Please let her know I will be down shortly."

"Very well, Master Bruce.

Rottweiler Ace barked and kept pace at Bruce's side as he loped over the lawn. "It's working!" Sareeta exclaimed with delight, watching as the kite she released caught the brisk autumn wind and began to rise in the air.

Bruce slowed his run, letting out line as fast as the kite would take it, careful not to allow it to go slack. The brightly colored kite rose higher and higher against the crisp blue of the sky. Sareeta caught up to Bruce and Ace, eyes wide and laughing. "It's so pretty," she remarked.

"You want to try it?" Bruce asked, carefully maintaining the line tension.

Sareeta smiled shyly. "You think I could do it?"

Bruce nodded, settling the spool into one hand and reaching the other invitingly to Sareeta. Sareeta moved into the circle of his arms, pressing her back against his body as he placed her hands on the spool. "You want to feed it as much line as it can take without letting it go slack," he explained.

"Okay," she said hesitantly, putting her hands gingerly beside his.

"Get a better grip there," he directed. "Can you feel it?"

"It's fighting me!" she delighted, moving her arms against the tug of the kite.

"That's it," Bruce encouraged, leaning his face forward to breathe in the scent of her ebony hair. He lowered his lips to her ear. "Let a little more line out... that's it..."

"I've never done this before," Sareeta marveled. "It feels almost like it's alive."

"I know," Bruce agreed. "You ready to take full charge?"

"Um-"

"I'll be right here," he promised. "Hold tight."

She nervously obeyed as Bruce removed his hands from the spool. "Keep letting out line," he coached.

She complied, struggling a little as a sudden gust caught the soaring kite. Then the line went unexpectedly slack, and the kite began to dive toward the ground.

"Oh!" Sareeta gasped, and beside them Ace began to bark.

Bruce reached forward, reclaiming the spool, expertly halting the kite's dive and steering it back to a steady current. "It's okay," he reassured. "Ace, calm down. See, Sareeta. It's heading back up."

"Wow," Sareeta breathed, her hands under Bruce's tightening on the spool.

Bruce brushed a kiss over her ear. "A few more minutes and we should be able to plant the spool and just watch it."

Sareeta nodded, intent on keeping the kite aloft.

"You ready to take charge again?" Bruce asked.

Another distracted nod, earning a smile as Bruce released the kite string and stepped back.

"I'll set up the picnic, then," he told her.

"Y'know," Sareeta commented, "I've never seen a zo'ok do something like this before."

Bruce pulled her closer on the blanket. "So you mentioned yesterday. What's different about it?"

Sareeta gestured toward the Rottweiler sniffing around the blanket. "This kind of independent animal."

"Not so independent," Bruce pointed out. "It won't go more than 20 feet away from me."

"Well, it's still a symbiote, but still." She fingered the zipper of the windbreaker she was wearing. "Zo'ok is always part of me. It acts on its own to a limited degree, but the kind of bond..."

Bruce kissed Sareeta's forehead. "You're Martian. Natural environment."

"True enough. It's still interesting, the way it's half bonded. It makes me wonder at the adaptability. And the way perhaps Mars limited-"

"Shh," Bruce interrupted. "No weird guilt over zo'oks allowed."

As if to emphasize the point, Ace paused in its restless exploration of the blanket's edge and stuck its nose in Sareeta's face, giving a rough lick to one cheek. Sareeta laughed and pushed the zo'ok away. "Fine, fine," she conceded. She settled more comfortably against Bruce's chest and sighed. "It really is a beautiful day."

Bruce nodded, kissing her neck. "And beautiful company."

Sareeta smiled and turned, giving him access to her lips. He leaned her back, putting a fiery intensity into their kiss that was interrupted when her eyes suddenly went wide and she pushed him back. "The kite!"

Bruce looked up as the line snapped and the wind carried the brightly colored silk off over the Bristol cliffs. Ace froze in its exploration and gave a little yip, disappearing up Bruce's sleeve.

Bruce patted the little creature reassuringly. "We can get another one," he pointed out.

Ace only trembled and stayed at Bruce's wrist. Bruce looked at Sareeta, who shrugged and took Bruce's hand. The fabric of her windbreaker brushed Bruce's wrist, and she leaned in to kiss him again. "Don't worry, Ace," she murmured as Bruce's hands pulled her closer. "We're not letting anything else get away."

"Agreed," Bruce confirmed, once more claiming Sareeta's lips and proving he meant his promise.

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