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La Belle et la Bête

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Wayne Manor was even more empty than usual, and the emptiness made it feel haunted. Diana found it horribly unsettling.

"Bruce?" she called, and it echoed through the empty halls. She opened the curtains in the front parlor to let the sunshine in. "I'm sorry it took me so long to get here, I was in Italy." She'd come as quickly as she could once she'd gotten his message, but he'd sent it in the dead of night.

Something's happened. It's not life-threatening, but I'm not myself. I sent everyone away to minimize the incident, but I think you're the only one who can help. Come alone if you come at all.

"Bruce?" she called again. Perhaps he was downstairs. She listened carefully. There was the distant muffled clicking of a mechanical keyboard, intermittent and slow. She didn't think she'd ever heard anyone in this house ever type so slow. Not even Alfred.

Her phone chimed. She checked it. A message from Bruce. In my office. She looked toward the stairs. The clicking had stopped.

Her walk up the stairs was cautious. What could possibly have happened to him?

In the hall, one of the side tables had tipped sideways. Its former contents had been neatly arranged into a stack beside it on the floor.

"... Bruce...?" She peered into his office.

She shrieked, then put her hands over her mouth to try to muffle her shrieking. It lessened to a high-pitched squeal.

"Tiny baby!"

"I am a grown man, Diana."

He was a black Pomeranian of less than five pounds, standing on his computer desk.

"Tiny!" she repeated.

"Diana, please take this seriously." He wasn't speaking, but barking; a peculiarity specific to people who shifted into animals, that the sounds they made were understandable as language to her. True animals were much more impressionistic in their communications.

"Your little tail is wagging," she said through her fingers, her voice still high-pitched.

"I don't know how to make it stop doing that." It continued to wag furiously behind him. His eyes were still the color of the sea.

"You're so little," she said, descending on him to pick him up from the desk. His little legs flailed as she picked him up.

Put me down, he demanded, the contact allowing a telepathic connection between them.

"So fluffy!" she said, tucking him into the crook of her elbow like an infant.

I didn't ask you here for bellyrubs. He tucked his paws in neatly, his tail thumping against her arm.

"How did such a wonderful thing happen, you sweet little lovebug?"

I am not any of those things. An indignant huff of air escaped his tiny twitching nose. I've been cursed.

"Is it really a curse, though?" she asked, holding a tiny paw between her fingers.

Yes.

"Do you know who cursed you?"

I think it was a carnie.

"What?"

I took Vicki to the carnival. I may have accidentally insulted a carnie.

"When we communicate directly, I can tell when you're lying," she reminded him. Her lariat was humming on her hip, besides.

I very deliberately mocked his shitty dog, he amended.

"There is no such thing!" she gasped, offended on behalf of all involved.

It looked like a moldy Bubble Eye goldfish in a sweater.

"Be nice," she scolded, tapping him on the nose. "Bad boys don't get kisses."

Since when? No, that wasn't—

She took him out of the crook of her arm, in her hands to rub her face on his fur. "You're so fluffy!" she said. "I can't stay mad at such a fluff." She started burying her face into his fur to dot him with aggressive kisses.

That wasn't an invitation, he said, pressing his paw to her mouth. She frowned. His tail was wagging furiously again.

"Oh, fine," she said, holding him against her chest. She couldn't help continuing to rub her fingers through his fur, but he didn't complain. "Where is this carnival?"

Disappeared off the face of the Earth, he said. I've been looking for two... nights. He exhaled another huff too large for his body. I'm only like this during the day.

"How convenient!" she said. "You can still... do so many things." She'd nearly forgotten his blanket ban on referencing Batman within the house, paranoid as he was about being spied on.

I have a company to run, he reminded her. And this makes it very hard to travel.

"Won't Alfred or the children help you?"

They're at Tokyo Disney for another week.

"Why?"

I told them there was a mystery.

"And they believed you?"

Probably not, but they know better than to look a gift unicorn in the mouth.

"I don't think that's how that saying goes."

I improved it.

"Why did you send them away at all?" she asked, sitting down in his desk chair. Even the relative disarray of his office was tidy, everything that had fallen stacked into impromptu stairs. There was a half-eaten bowl of mixed nuts on the desk, next to a bowl of water. She could only assume he'd left them out for himself.

I wanted to be alone.

She waited for him to remember that he couldn't lie to her.

I misinterpreted the nature of the transformation that was occurring.

She set him down in her lap, and he sat stiffly on her thighs. She scratched along the back of his neck and behind his ears. He remained stiff and alert, but his tail beat against her leg.

Did being a dog make things more enjoyable, or was he always enjoying things more than he let on?

"So what are we to do?" she asked. Then she gasped. "We can go on mystery-solving adventures!"

We always go on mystery-solving adventures.

"But not with a talking dog!"

You're the only person I can talk to.

"It counts! Clark will—"

No. Bruce sat up on his hind legs in her lap, pawing aimlessly at the air between them. Don't tell him. No one can know about this.

"Clark can be discreet."

I don't want him to know.

"He might be able to help."

He's worse at dealing with magic than I am. You're used to this kind of thing, and you can talk to me while I'm like this. You're the logical choice.

"Oh, fine." She picked him back up to rub her face in his fur again, with plenty of noisy kisses. "Only because I would like a talking dog sidekick."

Please stop babytalking at me.


I don't like this idea, Bruce said again.

You haven't liked any of my ideas, Diana reminded him. He won't know it's you.

He's a detective. He'll figure it out.

You're too paranoid. She pressed the doorbell again, and listened carefully for activity inside the apartment.

She heard a muffled and slurred, "Fuck off."

"I wish to speak with you," she said, projecting her voice to reach him.

There was muttering and mumbling and a great clattering of things.

Finally, the door opened a crack. John Constantine's face peered out at her, reeking of cigarette smoke and beer. His eyes were bloodshot and dark-circled, his face pale. He had a split lip, and a trail of blood down the front of his shirt. He opened the door wider. His initial gaze had been too low. He did not correct the mistake. Bruce growled.

"Sorry, love," John said, looking up at her face. "I wasn't looking at your tits, I was looking at the dog. Well, I was looking at both. Why've you got a dog in your tits?" He put the cigarette he'd been gesturing with back in his mouth.

"I don't have a purse," she said.

You can set me on the ground, Bruce pointed out, again. He'd done his best to make himself as small as possible since she'd tucked him into her bodice. She thought it was marvelously convenient.

I wouldn't want to lose you, she said. There was something comforting about being able to feel him breathing when he'd become so delicate.

"Makes sense," John said, standing out of her way to let her inside. "I assume you're not here for the pleasure of my company."

"What do you know about werewolves?" Wonder Woman asked, stepping over discarded clothing not his own.

"Who's asking?"

"... I am?" she said with a frown.

He wants to know if you're a werewolf, Bruce explained.

"I've not been bitten," she added.

"Thank Christ for that," he said, trailing ash along the floor. "Don't think I could handle Wonder Werewolf today."

"Could you ever?" she asked with an arch of one eyebrow.

He exhaled smoke. "No, but especially not today."

"Werewolves," she reminded him.

"What kind we talking?" he asked. "Genetic, viral?"

"A curse."

"General punishment for violating the laws of man kind of curse, or a specific curse?"

"Specific," she said. John clicked his tongue, took another drag of his cigarette. He exhaled, and the smoke made Bruce sneeze. She squealed with delight, bending her head to snuggle at the top of his head. John stared. Bruce made an indignant attempt to paw her away, so she pulled him out of her bodice to tuck him into her arms again. "Is that bad?" she asked, trying to smooth out Bruce's fur. He sneezed again.

"Pretty bad," John said. "No consistency to that kind of thing. Need to know how to kill it?"

"No!" She clutched Bruce so tight he started to whine. John squinted. "I need to know how to break the curse."

Diana please let me breathe.

John looked at Bruce. He looked at Diana. He looked at Bruce again. He took a long drag of his cigarette, then pointed with it. "That it?"

"What?"

"Your werewolf," he said. Her face must have given her away. "Anyone I know?"

"I found him, and he asked me for help," she said, stroking Bruce's head.

"Right—because you can talk to animals."

"Yes."

John scratched his head, the cherry of his cigarette nearly at the filter. "He know who cursed him?"

"He believes it was a carnival man, but the carnival is now missing."

"Oof. That's a toughie." He dropped the filter into a beer can sitting on a nearby shelf.

"Is there a book we can consult? A ritual we can perform?"

"Nothing I'd be comfortable trying blind," he said. "Best thing to do is find the original caster. Second-best is find an experienced witch you don't mind owing a favor. And it can't hurt to try the usuals."

"The usuals?" she repeated.

"True love's kiss'll take care of most of these, if he's got someone."

She and Bruce exchanged a look. "I don't think that's an option," she said delicately.

She wasn't offended that her earlier flurry of kisses hadn't been effective. When it came to magic, 'true love' often had a very specific meaning, unique to the spell's caster.

"You sure?" John asked. "It doesn't have to be romantic. Parents will do, in a pinch."

She tried to keep her face neutral.

I told you he'd figure out who I was, Bruce said.

He'd know not to say that if he knew, Diana protested. "Thank you for the suggestion," she said. "We'll have to see what we can do."

"Can I pet him?" John asked. "I know he's not really a dog and all, but he's a cutie."

Bruce growled.

"He'll be nice," Diana assured him, holding Bruce out with both hands so his paws dangled in the air.

"Aww." He bent down to Bruce's level, and scratched him gently between the ears. Ears that were pinned back against his head. "What a sweetheart." Bruce's snout twitched with the threat of a snarl. "I like him better like this, personally. I'll want an explanation next time I'm in Gotham."

Diana's eyes widened. She pulled Bruce back close to her chest. Then she slapped Constantine flat across the face. He staggered backward, nearly falling to the floor, pressing his hand over where she'd hit him.

"His parents are dead!"


Bruce had asked Diana to close him in the bathroom when the sun began to set. She sat on his bedroom couch, playing games on her phone while he showered.

When he emerged, he was fully dressed and wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

She didn't think that she had ever in her life seen him wear a hooded sweatshirt.

"What's wrong?" she asked, standing to approach him.

"Nothing. I'm going downstairs to change."

"You need sleep," she said, standing between him and the door. "You've been awake since I got here, I'm sure you were awake for some time before that." She'd tried to convince him to nap, since she was carrying him anyway, but he'd refused.

"I have work to do while I have opposable thumbs."

"I can cover for you for one night," Diana said. Then she reached out, and knocked the hood off his hair.

He shut his eyes with an expression of the most profound mortification as she unleashed another high-pitched squeal of delight.

"You still have ears!" she said finally.

"It lends another layer of urgency to the situation at hand, yes."

He still had his usual ears on either side of his head. But there, almost hidden in his hair, were proportionally-sized triangles of skin and fur. The same color and even the same texture as the rest of his hair, they could almost look like they belonged.

"Those won't fit under your cowl," she accused.

"They fit," he said. "Not comfortably, but they fit."

"Bruce. You have to sleep eventually, so you may as well do it while you're big and strong and not so... vulnerable."

Her attempt to be practical made him hesitate.

"Just for a few hours," she added. "If anything major happens, I'll come get you."

It was such a subtle thing when he gave in, the slightest tilt of his head to avert his face and gaze from hers. "I might be able to get some work done on the laptop," he said.

This meant she'd won. In contrast to if he had, for instance, looked her right in the eye and said 'fine'. That would mean that he was going to do whatever the hell he wanted once she'd stopped watching him.

She was becoming gradually more fluent in Batman.

Unable to help herself, she reached out to stroke his ears.

"Don—nnn—"

He was cut off with a sound like his tongue had grown too big for his mouth. He went slack but not limp, his eyes fluttering half-shut and glazing over.

"Bruce?" she asked, still rubbing one of his ears between her fingers. She waved her other hand in front of his face. He looked like he was struggling to respond, but they were only weak twitches of his mouth.

She let him go. He blinked, swallowing hard as he recovered. His face started turning pink. "Don't do that," he said, smoothing his hands over his hair and ears. The ears popped right back up.

"That looked fun," she teased. "You're sure you wouldn't like me to do it again?"

"Not right—no."

"What's that sound?"

"I don't know."

Her lariat hummed. "Do you still have a tail?" He pressed his mouth into a thin line, saying nothing. The sound had stopped. "May I kiss you?"

The sound resumed.

"I question your motives in asking," he said.

She giggled. "Go to bed, Bruce," she said, patting his cheek. "You need your rest if we're going to solve this thing you've decided is a problem."


Bruce went still as he woke all at once.

"It's just me," Diana said quietly from near the door. The sound of her coming in must have roused him. He relaxed. He was sore and tired, even more than he was usually sore and tired. Being a small dog was exhausting. He kept wanting to shiver all the time. He wasn't even cold. He thought he was using about eighty percent of his energy on not shivering.

He now knew what it felt like to be tucked into the cleavage of an enormous woman, and he had no idea what he was supposed to do with that information.

Diana was climbing into his bed. Faced with no good options, he rolled onto his back to pin his tail beneath him. And was attacked. By something small, and fluffy. He recoiled and wiped his mouth with disgust.

"Please tell me you didn't try to buy me a friend," Bruce said, as a Yorkshire Terrier puppy jumped at his face, licking whatever it could reach.

"I'm borrowing him," she explained, lounging sideways. She had to have been deliberately posing.

"Why."

"I wanted to see if it would work."

"What."

She reached out, and ruffled his hair.

He frowned. He ran a hand through his hair. Just his hair. Nothing but hair.

"You're fucking shitting me."

"What an unpleasant combination of verbs."

Bruce picked up the puppy. It wiggled and licked his hand. "A kiss," he said.

"True love's kiss," she corrected.

"This counts?"

"For your carnie."

"Of fucking course it does."

"You are very welcome," Diana said.

Bruce sighed. "Thank you, Diana."

She pulled one of his pillows close to prop her head on it. "Bruce?" she asked, taking the puppy back from him. It curled up against her so that she could stroke its fur.

"Yes?"

"Why did you ask for my help?" she asked. He glanced at her hip. Her lariat rested there, waiting. "I think that it was humiliating for you, to be seen that way," she said. "I think that you would have preferred no one to see you. You would have solved it yourself, eventually. You could have called Zatanna." She reached out, and touched the back of his hand.

I was very small.

Alone in a big house full of big things. Unable to leave, unable to speak. Trying to account for everything he might need before daylight came to steal his autonomy away. Everything so loud, even in the silence.

She squeezed his hand.

"I miss the ears already," she said.

"You had your fun," he said. "Now you have six hours to get that dog out of here before the kids see it and decide they want one."

She kissed the puppy's head. "It will be our secret."