Abel huffed and puffed as he unloaded bags from The Ashi, the massive ship still humming after its landing. As always, Abel’s task was making sure that every scrap of the crew’s luggage made it off the ship safely. He whistled a little as he hopped along the high-rise scaffolding, the walkway screeching and waving with every step. The dalmatian pup’s heart swelled like the ship’s engine in his chest in response but he just whooped into the open hangar, echoing throughout the chamber and a grin spreading across his spotted muzzle. He reached the top, in line with the ship, and tapped away at a few buttons on a flat piece of metal. It rose from the floor with a light-blue glow radiating off it. Then Abel slid over to the cargo compartment, pressing down on it with his full weight, hissing and releasing the atmosphere filters. Inside were piles on piles of bags of various colors, shapes and sizes.
The pup grabbed the baggage tossing each piece onto the sheet of floating metal stacking them neatly while humming the tune to “Tetris”. Once he loaded everything, he pressed another assortment of buttons, shutting the cargo hold and sending the bags moving down the scaffolding autonomously.
All the slim metal rattled as the bags dragged along and one wrong move sent the pup teetering, losing his footing and plummeting toward the ground. As the gray of cold concrete approached faster and faster the pup closed his eyes and he suddenly collided with soft plush fur. “Careful little one, what will I do with a steward that’s flat as a pancake?”
Looking down at the little pup with a warm smile was Lambros, a large lion with chocolate-and-cream fur. The pup nuzzled into the soft-serve coat, the scent of caramel filling his lungs and radiating warmth. “I’m sorry cap’n; I just lost my footing. How old is this station?” Lambros put the small dog down gently and patted him between his red and blue mismatched ears. The lion wiped away the loose bits of white fur from his vest and button-down top. Crouching down, he met the pup's gaze, offering a soft, sharp-toothed grin.
“I am not entirely sure little Abel, how old do you think this station is?” The pup looked around, eyes running over the building’s supports, walls, and the scaffolding before scratching his chin.
“Hmm, well, the supports look like they’re plasteel which would push me toward late New Shang but the scaffold looks like plain steel so I’m going to guess a little under two-hundred and fifty?”
“Almost right on the dot bud!” Lambros tussled the fur on Abel’s head and gave him a little piece of jerky causing the pup to yip and quickly unwrap the little piece and shove it into his mouth. “Now see you looked above but that is not always the best way to look at things.” He waved a hefty arm directing Abel to the concrete floor. “Do you know how long it has been since human’s poured concrete pup?” Abel shook his head and Lambros laughed, taking a seat on a pile of old crates and beckoning the pup beside him.
Lambros and Abel squatted off to the side chattering about the architecture as the luggage descended, joining them at the bottom of the scaffold, the flat metal clicking into place on a push cart. Abel hopped up and Lambros followed, pressing his hands down and leveraging himself off the crates. He lifted the pup up and dropped him onto the cart beginning to push it into the station through a long dimly lit tunnel.
“So how much of the crew’s staying here this time?” Abel said, kicking his legs over the edge, careful not to nudge the cart with his tennis shoes.
“Thirty-six including Jeremiah,” Lambros grunted out, struggling to push the cart, the veins in his heavy arms pulsing from the strain, “we must find a suitable…huff…replacement while we’re here but it needs to be cheap.” He was wheezing a bit and Abel hopped over, eyebrows furrowed and a frown painting his face with concern, the lion just shook out his swirling mane and smiled up at the pup with bright eyes, sweat running down his brow. “Do not worry pup, this is nothing compared to the salt mines of Bnor.” Abel’s eyes grew wide as he crossed his legs, tail wagging behind him.
“I was only a bit older than you when I started working. It was a big ‘ol hole in the ground and they dropped me from a ship with a dozen other boys. I was waved into a deep mine at the very bottom of the pit, crystals long as you are tall and sharp as knives lining the walls!” Lambros poked at Abel’s belly causing the pup to squeal, kicking his legs and laughing. “We spent hours laboring away, chipping at the crystals with pick and chisel. It was dangerous work, I still remember the cries of a cub, speared all the way through by one of them!”
Abel cocked his head a bit while continuing to stare at into Lambros’ teal eyes. “Was he okay?”
“Oh, bah, he’s fine, opened a little shop on Aiklinossa, making more money than I could even dream of.” Lambros scratched behind his ear looking up and away from the pup. “Uh… shit… where was I?”
“Ah yes, we spent hours in those mines picking at the crystals, once the larger ones fell, we would lift them out of the cavern and the foreman would send in the luckier kittens who would drag it away and pick it apart. This little cart is nothing compared to lugging those crystals out of the cave, we had to carry them just right or risk losing a finger!”
Abel cocked an eyebrow and his head holding a hand under one chin with one leg crossed over the other. Lambros looked at the little pup and let out a bellowing laugh from deep in his gut that rocked the cavern. “Pup. What has all your gears turning?”
“Well, I was just… mmm, never mind it’s nothing.”
“Sure didn’t seem like nothing, you sure pup?”
“Mmmm… I just, I was trying to think of what I’d do without you Cap’n.” Abel’s ears drooped as he tugged on his paw and looked down at his feet. Lambros frowned and his heart sank look at the pup.
“What brought this on pup?” Abel was still reluctant to make eye contact using his hands to play with the short fur on his legs curling it and then raking his fingers through it.
“I was just imagining if you were the one speared through and never picked me up after…” The pup trailed off as his face grew hot and his eyes were getting misty. Lambros pushed the cart into place and locked it at the end of the tunnel before grabbing Abel and hugging him softly. The dalmatian felt hot tears stream down his muzzle and onto Lambros’ vest. The feline rubbed up and down Abel’s back, patting him gently and rocking him.
“It’s okay pup I am not going anywhere anytime soon and remember whatever happens we have to stand strong and never give up.” The pup sniffled pushing off Lambros’ arm and looking at the soft smile reflecting at him.
“Y-yeah,” Abel said wipe his eyes and straightening up a bit, “happy faces are happy people.” He smiled back at Lambros and crossed his arms.
“Good, now little pup I have one last question for you.” The tiger said before lowering Abel to the ground who dusted off his t-shirt and looked up, cocking his head at Lambros. “What flavor ice cream are you going to have?”
The pup’s eyes darted over to where Lambros pointed and saw a little shop with a sign reading “Frostbite” in flickering neon icicles.
“Yes please!” The pup said hopping and scrambling up to the window. He looked over all the flavors his tongue pressed against the glass and his breath fogging the window. Lambros chuckled before following Abel, leading the pup into the shop with a large hand on his back.
* * *
Abel licked his spoon clean of the last scraps of mint ice cream, his mouth icy and cool, as they entered a robotics shop only a few doors down from “Frostbite”. Written outside on a crooked sign were the squiggles of a language Abel didn’t know. “It says Hot Temper pup; I’ll teach you Kanji at our next stop.” Lambros said before walking over and chatting up a tall human behind the counter, more words that Abel couldn’t understand.
The canine wandered through the isles looking at the various model of service bots lining the shelves. His favorite models were always the alarm pet series tucked away at the back corner of the small store. Three-and-a-half feet tall on average, just a bit shorter than the pup, and each designed after an animal with a large clock across the abdomen. Currently he was studying a bot designed after a jackalope, nubby horns and big ears on its head giving it away. He tapped away at his comm-pad, scanning the details and specifically the price. Ten-thousand credits, Abel’s mouth dropped, at best he had maybe a hundred credits and he frowned remembering Lambros’ response when he last asked for an alarm pet. “We need a bot that can service the whole ship with little issues, these bots are just too small, we would need over a hundred.”
“Aww, can’t afford yer’ bot little man?” a strange gecko approached the pup, spindly arms crossed over his chest. He had a hood pulled a bit over his face and Abel could only make out the strange man’s eyes, glowing yellow cut by slatted, black irises. Abel gave the man a once over and noticed the familiar bulge of a mag pistol in the pocket of his hoody. “Want a little bit of cred kid? I could proly’ spare a couple if ya’ wanna do something for me.” Abel tensed up, slowly backing away from the gecko, met with another man blocking his way, a bulky warthog in similar garb, his hoodie hugging his bulkier curves leaving his gun with little actual cover.
“Uh, no I was just browsing, I need to go meet my dad anyway.” The boy laughed awkwardly walking passed the warthog who put his hand down impeding the canine’s progress and feeling up and down his chest rubbing circles around the nubs under his shirt.
“Why don’ you just come with us now, forget ya pops hmm?” the gecko approached from directly behind him and placed a cold hand on his shoulder. The pup shivered at the touch and tried to duck away only met with a push back on his chest or a tight grip on his t-shirt.
“I just want to go home; you’re making me uncomfortable, please stop.”
“And if we don’ who’s gon’ stop us hmm?” a slim hand reached under the pup’s shirt and he yipped at the intrusive touch, sticky fingers running up the small of his back, his face growing hot.
“Can I help you gentlemen with something?” Lambros appeared from behind the warthog a large box under one arm and eyes squinting at the pair. His eyebrows furled as he approached a sharp glare forming, the warthog pushed Abel back and the gecko grabbed him, forcing the pup into his grasp. From behind Abel could make out an emblem on the back of the hog’s hoodie, the skull of a dragon with wire threaded through empty sockets.
“I don’t see a problem here kitty cat just chatting with our new friend here.” The warthog huffed at Lambros who shot daggers at the stout pig.
“I will give the two of you all of three seconds to step away from him before I have to do something… less than kind.” Lambros bared his teeth at the who remained unimpressed the gecko continuing to kneed at the pup’s soft flesh exploring more and more hidden fur and making Abel’s heart race.
“Alright big guy, you’re real scary,” the warthog replied reaching in to pull out his pistol, “we’re gonna just leave with the kid and nob—” Lambros interrupted him by sticking two thick fingers into his mouth and pulling down, an audible crack sounding from the hog’s jaw. The man reeled in pain clutching his jaw and squealing loudly, snorting intermittently. Abel released a breath as the gecko’s hands retreated and he lunged at Lambros.
“That was a real bad move, now I gotta bust ya up hmm?” the gecko smiled as his hands gripped the lion’s forearm adhesive tips sticking to his sleeve. Lambros just huffed before grabbing the lizard’s thin forearm digging through the jacket’s material with his claws. The gecko shrieked in pain before Lambros pulled the man over his head and dropped him with a hard thud on the wood floor of the shop. Air evacuated the gecko’s lungs landing on his back.
“The two of you get out of here now. It only gets worse for you from here.”
Both men scrambled to their feet and then out the door, the gecko screaming obscenities and “You’ll pay for this.” Back at the hefty lion.
Lambros turned back to Abel who was sitting on the floor staring off into space and clutching at his sides. The large cream-colored paw of his mentor was a happy shift ruffling his hair lightly. “Are you ok little pup? They didn’t harm you, did they?” Lambros asked squatting and look over the pup before helping him to his feet.
“No, I’m fine they didn’t hurt me.” The pup said straightening his shirt and dusting off his jeans. “Who were those guys?”
“Pirates, always pirates. Captain Grendel I think.” Lambros looked back toward the store’s entrance, the pair moving farther and further until they were dots on the stations edge. He returned his sight to the pup his head cocked to the side, looking up at Lambros expectantly. “Where I came from; they had a saying about pirates: ‘they are parasites, and we must go about tearing out their jaw and driving them back out to sea.’ I may have taken that a bit too seriously, though.” He chuckled bringing a small smile to the boy’s face. “How about we get home and put this together while we wait for the crew?” A large hand patted the box under his arm and Abel nodded following behind him back to the ship.
* * *
After Abel and Lambros returned to the ship everything continued as per usual: The pair built the new bot, a humanoid with six long arms jutting out of a short torso, while they waited for the rest of the crew to finish up on the station. Once everyone was accounted for Lambros took his seat at the captain’s helm and guided it from the platform and into the void. “Alright Cap’n Lambros I’m gonna head down to the rec room and see if anyone needs me!” Abel hollered back as he hustled toward the ship’s elevator, waving at Lambros who returned the gesture.
The elevator travelled down to the personnel deck opening out into a hall lined with door and splitting off into three directions. Stepping out Abel darted left rushing through the hall and into the hustle and bustle of the ship’s lounge, a smaller space filled with rowdy crew members off-duty or on break. The pup set to work cleaning first, ducking under crew members to grab trash. He grabbed empty bottles from a squat table and the couch behind it where a few members were playing video games on a television screen, tossing the bottles in a bag. One crew member, a slender tiger sitting at the counter and sipping at a can of cola, waved Abel over to him.
“Hey, Abe, would you get my comm from Neal in engineering?” Abel nodded at him with a big grin before tossing the bag of empty bottles in the trash with a clink.
The pup swung back out of the room and into the elevator taking it back down a few levels to engineering, the heat of the engines permeating through the doors of the confined space before they opened and spilled out over the pup. He could smell the tinge of metal and sweat in the air as he entered flying through the space with a dash and waving at the handful of engineers working down there.
Abel slid into one of the back rooms to meet Neal, a young human boy with a metal claw replacing his left forearm. He was working diligently on the scraps of a prosthetic hand with its guts splayed out over his worksurface. Sparks jumped from the metal bits he soldered together landing and fading on his bare shoulders which he patted at softly. The pup waited until the light from his device faded before speaking up. “Hey Neal!” he said watching the young man turn around, lifting round goggles from his eyes and running his hands through an unkempt mohawk perched on his head.
“What’s going on Abel? Did we leave drydock?” Neal set his tools down and adjusted the overalls he wore sticking his hands in the pocket and sitting back on his stool. He had sweat running down his face but didn’t seem to mind only breathing slowly and gently.
“Henry asked me to come down and get his comm-pad. Can I have it? Is it ready?” Abel approached the bench quickly, taking a glance at Neal’s project. The hand was translucent with boxy metallic innards with a panel pulled up in the front allowing Neal access. Neal crossed the room and starting digging through an organizer, pulling open tall drawers and retrieving his prize in short time.
“Tell Henry to stop taking this into the bath with him; I had to replace most of the circuit board and the microphone, they were soaked through.”
“Alright, sure thing, uh, may I ask? What is all this?” The pup waved over the arm and hardware on the table. “I thought you didn’t were against a realistic prosthetic?” he asked, cocking his head and blinking at the young man.
Neal smirked and crossed his arm over his claw-like prosthetic. “I am, but it’s not for me, I was building you a gift believe it or not.”
Abel’s eyes widened looking between Neal and the arm back-and-forth before landing on the boy, closing the distance between the two with a short couple bounds. He playfully hopped at him like a pup making the young man laugh and push Abel back with a short “down boy”.
“Yeah, I know how you’ve been looking at those fancy alarm pets and, it might not be perfect but, I’m building you a little bot.” Neal pulled his organizer back open and grabbed out another arm and a leg setting them down on the table before gently removing a watermelon-sized head. “I thought it would fit that you have a human robot since humans buy animal bots and all, hehe…” Abel interrupted the boy throwing his over the boy’s shoulders and neck, soft fur running over soft skin. Neal’s face grew hot, and he returned the gesture in full with a content smile across his face.
“Thank you, Neal, I love it.” Abel said gently to the human, “I want to help next time okay?” Neal couldn’t help but smile at the pup and nod. The canine hopped with joy, his claws clicking on the steel flooring as he landed. “Alright, I’ll be right back down when I’m on break, I can’t wait.” He said, scrambling out the door and waving at the other boy who sat watching him for a moment before returning to his work.
Vitalized Abel nearly sprinted down the halls of the ship, ducking under boxes and around crew members. He made it back to the ship’s lounge, skidding to a stop in front of Henry handing up to the tiger the repaired comm-pad. Henry was chuckling along with a few other crew members, all gathered around the counter, chips scattered across the counter in a path back to their home.
“Oh, come on, I give it a few more weeks before he does it!” A burly looking cheetah grinned at the others slapping the table before pointing his finger across at Henry. “Twenty creds say he won’t make it another month.”
“Fine I’ll take that bet but I say another two months, Lambros’ would kick the crap out of anyone that made him!” A puma said, tossing his creds to the center of the table. The cheetah tossed in his bit a moment later. “You joinin’ the pool J or you more a pussy than a kitty?” the cheetah asked laughing at his own joke loudly and looking over at the tiger. “Sure. And I’ll say three weeks this place can leave quite the impression.” Henry tossed his creds and then looked over at the pup who was waiting patiently.
“Thanks Abe.” Henry grabbed it from the pup, swiped at the screen and then placed it in the pocket of his sweatpants. The tiger turned back to his friends, “So, why Aegmert?”
“To sell shit, why else?” A panther standing across from him said before taking a swig from his drink, cringing and replacing it on the counter’s surface a chip crumbling under it.
“Yeah, I know but why that shit hole, cold and the tech makes me want to…” Henry looked down at the pup who was still standing there with his tail wagging, “do some unpleasant things in places you’d never imagine.”
Abel cocked his head a bit and yawned before looking around the room. It was quieter now, most of the crew going to work or turning in to their quarters before they’d need to work. He cleaned up around the couch a bit, taking bottles and empty bags off the table and into the trash, wiping the coffee table down and washing off rings from soda cans and beer bottles. Once it was sufficiently clean, he felt his stomach grumble and realized how long it had been since ice cream with Lambros.
The pup walked from the room and down the hall making a turn away from the elevator and past the long walk passed the crew quarters until he could smell the fresh scent of bread and began to pick up pace. His feet stopped when he felt the carpeted floor of the hallway turn to the tile that lined the cafeteria. Sliding up to a counter close to the entrance he waited for Elsted to notice his big blinking eyes. A tall a finely muscled puma woman with deep red fur turned back to him and smiled her tail swishing as she gave the big pot in front of her a final stir.
“Ah, little Abel, what do we want to have today?” Elsted said turning away from the stove top and grinning at his spotted face as he looked up at the digital menu above him.
“Uh, Elsted do you think I could maybe order off menu this time, please?” He flashed her his big blue eyes as best he could from behind the counter’s clear plastic.
“What is wrong with my menu hmm? Is nothing good for you today?”
“No, no, it’s nothing like that, I just… I was hoping for a grilled cheesed and some tomato soup. Something weird happened while me and Lambros were out and I think it’ll help.”
The large feline gave him a concerned look down her snout before sighing and smirking down at him. “Okay, little Abel but you will be helping me make it since I need to have gumbo ready for the supper tonight.” Elsted pushed open a little door letting the pup back into the kitchen and pulling a step stool over to the cooktop and placed a matching pot and pan in front of him. She poured a can of tomato soup into the pot and then cut a thin pad of butter into the other.
“Okay all you have to do is stir the pot and when the butter melts add the cheese and bread, flip the sandwich after five minutes and then I will come and check you after ten minutes.” Abel nodded smiling and Elsted patted him on the head before returning to the larger pot and continued her work, chopping veggies and tossing them in with the stock.
Abel followed the instructions and hummed an old tune he heard about summertime. Soup made him think of Summer; he missed seeing seasons when he was on the ship and after a while it made him yearn to go home. ‘Maybe if I ask Lambros will take me back to Aiklinossa, Corethosian Star Fruit might be growing in.’ he thought, his mouth water a bit as his mind drifted off.
Abel snapped back when he heard Elsted whispering behind him, his ears twitching with every word. “I cannot help you anymore,” she whispered, a lilt of concern in her voice Abel hadn’t heard before, “last time we were almost caught.” A goat was standing behind the counter he was spindly, and his face drooped a bit Abel had seen him before working janitorial but never in person.
“Please Elsted, I’m saving as much as I can but it’s starting to hurt. I haven’t eaten in three days, but it’s not enough for them.”
“Look Heydon, I cannot help you anymore. If we both lose our job then what will we do?” She grew a bit louder and clicked her claws on the countertop before taking a deep breath. “Just do your best to find a little work when we land and buy some food for your family because there all no scraps left for you.”
Abel pushed the two dishes back from their burners and approached Elsted tugging on the apron tied at her waist. She looked down at him and then shot dagger eyes at the goat who bowed his head and walked out back down the hall. She turned back turn the pup, “All done Little Abel? Let’s go see.”
Abel led her back to the burner, and she took a spoon from her apron to taste the soup, it was a good mix of sweet and savory that washed over her taste buds and she nodded as the warm soup flowed down her throat. The puma reached into the cupboard to the right of the stove and put down a blue ceramic plate and bowl spooning out a heaping spoonful of the dark red soup into it, slicing and serving the sandwich to each side of the bowl.
Elsted served the soup at the counter and Abel slid in behind it dipping his sandwich in and munching happily on the soupy bread. “So Little Abel, what was bothering you?” The puma bellowed from the pot as she continued to stir.
“Uh actually it can wait, is Heydon gonna be okay?” Abel asked through a mouthful of bread and soup. Elsted stopped stirring a bit, dropping the spoon and letting it clink against the side of the pot and sink into the stew. She wiped her hands on her apron slowly before walking up to the counter with a gloomy look on her face.
“Well Abel you should not be concerned with other people’s affairs, Heydon got himself into a sticky situation and now he is suffering for it.”
“Why couldn’t you help him?”
“I did the last couple of times we landed, my shop took a hit and I almost could not make with my rent.” Elsted felt her face getting hot and turned away from Abel who was staring up at her as his soup grew cold. “He has to deal with his own problems; I cannot keep spoon feeding him like a child.”
“Well does he open up a booth?”
“No…” Elsted turned back to Abel, her face was suddenly brighter, “he could though! Heydon use to make these plush blankets and give them to some of the crew and if he could produce them faster, he could make a good bit of credits!”
“Maybe you could convince him to do it!” Abel took another big bite of the sandwich and smiled at the puma.
“No, I cannot, not after I was so harsh with him.” Elsted blushed a bit and turned away from Abel.
“Well what if I came with you!” The pup beamed at her and Elsted did her best to do the same slowly making eye contact again.
“Fine but I will not if you are not there, come to dinner I will ask Hayden to stay behind and we meet after eating!” She smiled wide at the pup as he finished slurping up the soup and returned the grin with a little soup-stache on his lip that made the bigger woman laugh up into the roof. Abel blushed a little bit and wiped the soup from his muzzle with a chuckle.
The pup hopped off the stool and grabbed his dishes from the counter dragging them to the sink and cleaning them before waving off to Elsted and hustling his way back upstairs.
* * *
Abel and Lambros sat on the bridge of the Ashi, looking out at the stars, only feet from each other. Their shifts nearing an end the lion sat nodding off, his head dropping up-and-down, at the control helm. The bridge was eerily quiet, most of the crew on autopilot, hands moving autonomously to push buttons and flip switches.
“Little pup, I need you to help me stay awake.” Lambros muttered as he shook his head from side-to-side. Abel stretched his arms over his head before rising to his feet and walking over to the husky lion, his muzzle stretching wide with a yawn.
“Yes sir?” Abel scratched at his belly fur and stuck his tongue out with a goofy grin.
“Just take a seat and keep me company.”
“Okay.” The dalmatian flopped down, kicking his legs out in a y-shape from his small frame. “Um Cap’n can I ask you a question?”
“You just did little pup.” Lambros laughed heartily, his belly jiggling slightly with each laugh and his face growing a faint shade of red. “I kid of course, go ahead.”
“Uh,” Abel said nearly inaudibly looking at his feet and flexing his bare toes, “who were those people from earlier?”
Lambros’ frown silenced his laughter. He stared down at the pup with heavy bags under his eyes. “They are pirates, some of the worst kind.” The lion played with the switches under his hand as the gears in his head spun. “I mentioned Grendel before when they left but I did not give you a proper explanation and I apologize for that.” He scooped up Abel and placed him on the arm of the captain’s chair his normal smile and joy replaced with a reluctant stare. “They are cruel men who thrive on the misfortune of others, if you come to meet one again, I want you to find me, you got it?”
“So, who’s Grendel?”
Lambros’ finger curled around his panel, a read-out popped up on screen with a variety of information on the ship. His eyes scrolled through the list of data checking the engine’s temp, shield strength, oxygen consistencies, “Well, he is scum, just like the rest of them.” The lion swiped the read-outs away and stroked at the fur on his chin. “He has been around for a long while, my captain used to say that Grendel was ‘unwounded by the folly of man’ although as Garth got on in years he played into whimsy.”
“What does that mean?”
Lambros stopped with the fur under his chin and moved to swiping at fur on his shirt. “Simple enough, just meant that Grendel had never been harmed by blade, gun, cannon, laser, fist, anything.” When he couldn’t dust the fur off his shirt, he began to pick at it. “Never thought he existed, just kind of figured it was all a story to keep traders from leaving their sector.” Abel nodded he wasn’t making eye contact with Lambros instead focusing on the chair or the stars or his other crew members. Lambros stopped picking at the fur to focus on the dalmatian. “You okay there pup?”
“W—what were they doing to me?”
“Um… well… Its something people usually do together when they love each other.”
“So, does that mean the pirates love me? Why don’t you do that kind of stuff to me? Do you love me?”
Lambros’ eyes grew to the size of saucers as he was buffeted by every inquisitive question. “Woah little pup, slow it down, how long has this been on your mind?” Lambros said stroking the fur on the dalmatians head and lowering his voice a bit. A couple crewmates turned to look at the pair but the big lion shot them a look and they whipped back around to their workstations.
“Well, it was just creeping in on me since back on the station, I tried to vent a little to Elsted but she was busy.” Abel was tugging on his paw as he spoke, he blushed a bit as his mind flooded with flashes of the pirates from earlier. “Am…am I weird Cap’n?”
Lambros in that moment swept the boy into his arms holding him close to his chest and surrounding him in the warmth from his breast. Abel took a deep breath, the lion’s sweet scent filling his nose with mocha and cinnamon. “You are perfect Abel, never doubt yourself about these things, your heart is full of warmth and kindness, a rarity as of late. Follow that, and I guarantee you will always be okay.” He looked the pup in the eye and smiled running a big thumb over his cheek and clearing away his tears. “I am so happy I can call you my son.”
Abel was warming up now, his frown starting to fade into a smile and making eye contact with the lion. “Thanks, Lambros.”
“Anytime pup, now you go run off, I am quite sure you have better things to do than hang out with an old man.” Lambros laughed again grabbing Abel and lowering him back to the ground.
“Ooh, yeah I’m supposed to go help Neal!” Abel sprung to life with renewed vigor rushing across the room to the exit waving haphazardly at Lambros and sprinting down the hall toward the elevator.
* * *
“All right Abel you’re just going to take your plug and push it in the socket.” Neal said as he and Abel hunched over the prosthetic. Abel had gone down to engineering and dragged Neal, with a couple handfuls of tools, up to his quarters to work. They’d spread out all the pieces on Abel’s desk and now Neal leaned over the pup, guiding him on the basic hardware within one of the bot’s arms. The pup was having difficulties with the implements, tiny tweezers and screwdrivers, his paws lacked the dexterity and he fumbled them a couple times now.
Abel was shaking his head as he tried to shove his fingers between the pieces of hardware. Neal lightly pulled the dalmatian’s paw away, “hey, gentle. This tech is finicky at best and needs a delicate touch.” He said taking his index and middle finger and threading them through the inner working and retrieving the screwdriver.
“Oh, you show off!” Abel laughed and pulled him closer draping an arm over his shoulder gently. The other boy laughed and blushed his eyes darting all over the device. Neal could feel heat radiating off the pup who smiled at him from the corner of his eye.
Abel cocked his head at the human as he worked. The implements looked so much smoother with every miniscule move and turn. Neal flew from one piece to the next like a dance, connecting wires to sockets, throwing screws into place. His heart was racing a bit but Neal couldn’t help but smile. He could feel the pup’s tail wagging.
“So… why did you want to make this?” Abel asked directly into Neal’s ear making him shiver a little bit.
“I wanted to give you a gift.” Neal fidgeted with the screwdriver in his hand, picking at a piece of uneven metal on the surface. He looked back at the pup who didn’t seem all that convinced.
“Yeah but why me?” Neal’s heart slowed and sank in his chest. His throat suddenly felt dry, like he’d swallowed a handful of sand, and he couldn’t speak.
“Mm… well… uh…” Neal managed to stutter out as he turned to Abel at his side. “P—promise you won’t get mad at me… okay?” Abel nodded at him with a stern look on his face to match Neal’s new tone. The boy cleared his throat as best he could and closed his eyes. His face was red and hot like he’d spent a long day in the engine room. “I—I like you Abel…”
“I like you to Neal!” Abel said smiling back at his overwhelmed friend. Neal didn’t think he could feel any more nervous, he wanted to run away but he couldn’t get his legs to move.
“No Abel, not like you but I really like you. Like you fill my heart with goo when your around, make me wanna scream, never want to leave your side kind of way.” Neal choked out the words as quick as he could before waiting. The silence killed him, his heart was threatening to burst from his chest. Every excruciating second peeled away layers of his sanity and as he felt his eyes growing misty, he was surprised.
Abel’s soft muzzle crashed into his lips and suddenly all his cares washed away. He was a million miles away and, though tears began to fall they were relieving and soft. Seconds grew into minutes that grew into hours just spent enveloped in each. Abel’s soft paws pulled him closer and suddenly they pushed together and when the kiss broke the two just pressed their foreheads together.
“Why didn’t you say something sooner you goof?” Abel asked with a gentle laugh.
“I was worried you’d hate me, or I’d never see you again, or…or--”
“It’s okay.” Abel brought his hand up to Neal’s cheek, the radiating warmth invading his paw pad. “Everything’s okay.” The two sank into a quiet comfort, arms pressed together as they snuggled in close. Neal’s heart was still racing but feeling the rise-and-fall of Abel’s weight on his shoulder helped him find some comfort.