Ace made it a point to only be out of costume when Batman was. Any good partner would be ready at all times when there was work to be done and there was certainly no shortage of crime in Gotham City or Metropolis, for that matter.
So when Bruce Wayne appeared in the Batcave dressed in slacks and a sweater,
Ace gratefully tugged off his hood and shook out fur flattened by a little too much synthetic fireproof, water resistant, stealth-friendly material laying on it heavily for hours at a time.
Bruce stroked him heartily as he walked by. "Good boy," he murmured, before taking a seat at one of the myriad computer consoles lining the Batcave. With a somber look, Wayne clicked a key on the board and Ace watched as a high definition video of Superman in action came up on the screen.
The video showed the Man of Steel speeding like a bullet, leaping over mountains and even changing the course of the Mississippi River at one point, with his bare hands.
"Impressive," Ace growled, as Bruce absentmindedly scratched between his ears.
"It's pretty amazing," Bruce said through a grimace, almost as if in reply. It wasn't as if Bruce had an interspecies communicator like Kevin Whitney had, but somehow, it was as if he understood what Ace meant when he "spoke", at least some of the time. "And pretty dangerous."
Ace's ears picked up at this. Dangerous. That was one way he'd never heard Superman described as before. And yet, it could fit. Especially ...
"If he ever went out of control, even through no fault of his own," Bruce mused,
"we'd be in serious trouble, boy. Not just you and I, but the entire planet."
A picture of a crazed Superman filled his mind and Ace could feel his tail instinctively tuck a little closer between his legs.
That wouldn't be good. No, not at all.
One warm hand continued to scratch at Ace's ears. Bruce picked up a familiar glowing green rock with the other. "That's why I carry this at all times," Bruce said somberly, showing the rock to Ace.
Kryptonite. What the ... Ace looked up at his mas ... partner ... and whimpered in askance.
"It's a fail-safe piece of equipment," Bruce explained gently. "Just in case something bad happens to our friend. And now that there's another like him on the scene ..."
The video switched to one of Krypto flying through the air, his heat vision turning a nearby flood into a wave of harmless steam.
"I think you might need a piece of this as well," Bruce said. Taking a hammer from a utility belt hanging nearby, he gingerly cracked a small piece of meteor rock off of the larger one. "Bring your collar here, Ace," he ordered.
Quickly, the dog did as he was told, laying his utility collar in Bruce's lap. The
Kryptonite was deposited in a locked chamber in the back, safe against accidental
discharge. "It's only to be used in the most extreme emergency," Bruce said.
"And by extreme, I mean, only when there is absolutely no other choice."
Ace swallowed past an unfamiliar lump in his throat. He'd never even entertained
the possibility ... but Bruce, as always, was right -- in a very fatalistic sort of way.
If Krypto ever went bad ...
Bruce strung the collar around Ace's neck, making the dog's heart sink a little in
his chest. As practical as it was, it felt so much like a betrayal of his cheerful,
honest friend that Ace began to hope he wouldn't run into Krypto anytime soon.
He wasn't sure he could keep the guilt from showing.
Rising, his partner let out a long, tired breath. "I know it's not easy to hold onto something like that, boy. But we have to do what's in the best interest of the many, even if it goes against what we alone believe in our hearts."
With another whimper, Ace slid down to the ground, resting his chin on his paws.
"I knew you'd understand," Bruce whispered, before disappearing in the far shadows of the Batcave.
Ace's hope not to see Krypto again was destroyed less than twenty-four hours later.
Catwoman's slinking pet, Isis, was on the move again. Ace darkly wished she'd somehow have a tragic canning accident in the tuna factory before he was called to duty, but no such luck.
She was headed toward a crime and Ace was headed out to stop her. It was as simple as that.
Of course, being that crime was in Metropolis, there was no avoiding Krypto.
Ace ran into him less than five minutes past the city limits.
"Hey there," Krypto cried, flying besides Ace's mini-Bat Jet. He was as bright and happy -- not to mention innocent -- as a puppy, Ace thought unhappily. "Let me guess. Bud and Lou are planning to rip off the joy buzzer factory?"
"Jimmy the Rat is working for the Penguin now?"
"You came to hang out with me and chase some cars together?"
"Unfortunately ... no," Ace replied, making sure to add the 'unfortunately.' The
compartment holding the Kryptonite was making his neck itch and he squirmed
uncomfortably beneath it. "Isis is slinking around the Metropolis Museum of Art,
where the Renoir exhibit is showing. The artist was a big fan of cats. Painted a few of them. I'm guessing Catwoman wants to add one to her collection of stolen goods."
Krypto thought for a minute. "I saw a painting of dogs once. They were playing cards. Is that a famous work of art?"
It was a known fact that Ace never laughed. Not unless he was dosed with giggle gas. But, for some reason, he couldn't help but chuckle. "Only if you live in a doghouse," he replied with a snort. "Come on, no time to waste. She's on the move."
"Gotcha," Krypto replied. With a "ruff, ruff and away!" he was airborne.
Ace followed on his flyer. Sure enough, they caught Isis in the gallery, one razor-
sharp claw out and ready to remove a masterpiece from its gilded frame.
"Stop right there," Ace rumbled. "Art appreciation time is over."
The only response he received was a tiny missle-like device whistling his way,
shot from Isis' collar. It was fast, too fast, and Ace was sure he was about to be hit when a white blur jumped in front of him.
With a ping! it bounced off of Krypto's chest. Ace looked down to see a sharp dart lying harmlessly on the polished floor, its tip stained with something bright green.
Kryptonite, he thought, horrified, but Krypto seemed no worse for wear, standing beside him, peering at the device. "Look at that stuff on the tip. I don't think I want to know what's on there," he said, wincing.
Ace took a tentative sniff at it. "You're right," he said, as the odor of something highly toxic assailed his sensitive nose. "You don't."
"Let's get her," Krypto growled, loping off after the fleeing feline.
It was a matter of seconds before they nabbed her, hissing and wailing. Ace deposited the flailing cat none-to-gently on the back of his flyer and turned to Krypto. "Thanks for taking that bullet for me back there."
Krypto only smiled, the bright, generous dog grin he always had for all his friends.
"No problem, Ace. Nothing you wouldn't do for me."
More itching assaulted the back of Ace's neck, a crawling sensation he couldn't
seem to shake off. And he knew now it definitely wasn't a flea he was feeling.
"Yeah," he replied with a sigh. He pawed at the start button, the engine roaring to life. "I'll catch you later."
"Right. And next time, we are chasing some cars."
Ace didn't reply, simply taking off into the night sky, a snarling feline at his back and something as heavy as a rock in his heart.
Later that evening, Ace snuck out to a far corner of the Wayne Manor, beneath a pile of heavy brush, into a space so tight and twisted only something as agile as a dog could possibly access it.
He started to dig as best he could in the cramped space, until a deep hole was achieved. Once finished, he popped open the back of his collar and dropped the shining piece of Kryptonite into the hole's depths.
"Sorry partner," he said mournfully to an absent Bruce. "But ... it's different for us dogs. Loyalty is something we can't compromise. Not even in emergencies."
He nosed the dirt until the hole was completely covered. Two pats with his tail and Ace crawled out of the brush, shaking his fur free of leaves.
Determinedly, he ran back to the mansion, the back of his neck no longer itching and his heart as free as a puppy's.