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Title: And They Called It Puppy Love
Fandom: Star Trek-- TOS in my mind, but eh, it could be XI
Characters/Pairing(s): Chekov/Sulu
Word Count: 2226
Rating: PG
Summary: Somewhere out there were others like her, but for now she was in the care of a strange animal with a flimsy yellow shell who called himself a "sulu". (Written for prompt #4 at [livejournal.com profile] st_respect : "In the Doghouse Again")
Author’s Note: Much love to [livejournal.com profile] moonlitelupines for beta-reading this and not laughing too hard at my technology fail. Thanks also to [livejournal.com profile] greenteaduck and [livejournal.com profile] ranka_lee for being my cheerleaders when I told them I wanted to write about unicorn dogs. I might have gone a very different route without your enthusiasm, guys ♥

Cut-text from "The Puppy Song" by Harry Nilsson.

This actually goes a bit over the word limit because it isn’t exactly what I submitted, because I am incredibly nitpicky and couldn’t post this until I’d made a few little changes.


*

After the last of her brothers died from the mysterious plague, she wandered for days looking for someone like her. But all she found were tiny scampering ruikchiks. For the first time, she felt guilty snapping their needle-thin bones between her teeth. They were her only companions now, but what could she do— die of starvation rather than loneliness?

Then suddenly she was scooped up and taken, in a haze of glittering lights, to a place that was cold and shiny and filled with animals much larger than her. They made strange sounds to communicate with each other, and she did her best to understand them, but to her, it was all gibberish until one of them gently put his paw across her forehead. Then, all at once, her thoughts slowed and her eyelids drooped and she understood that these creatures meant her no harm, that they were trying to find the other survivors of the plague, but until then, she would have to stay there with them.

She was jabbed with an assortment of strange sticks that would apparently ward off any traces of the plague, and she wondered where these creatures had been when her eldest brother’s mate had started losing her fur—the first sign of the plague, although they hadn’t known it then.

She was passed over to one of the animals and told that he would take care of her. Like all of them, he had a strange flimsy shell over his top half. His shell was bright yellow, with a stripe around one of his front legs. He smelled like rain after a hot summer’s day and called himself a "sulu". He seemed to be waiting around for her to tell him what she was called, but she’d never had a name made of sounds. She’d only ever been identified by her smell, but the sulu’s nose was so small and weak that he’d always be deaf to that name. He made up his own name for her out of low rumbling sounds, and it was pretty enough, she supposed.

The sulu took her to his den, which was a little less cold and shiny than the rest of this place because it was full of strange and beautiful plants. One plant was covered in sweet-smelling tubular blossoms, and it smelled so good that she opened her jaws and bit off a mouthful of flowers.

It turned out the smell was deceptive—the flowers were bitter and grainy, and she immediately turned her head to spit up the whole mess.

The sulu was not happy. He put the plant up on a ledge that was too high for her to reach. She barked angrily that he couldn’t keep such pretty plants around and not expect people to try to eat them, but he didn’t understand. She gave up trying to talk to him, since she’d noticed that no knowledge passed between them when he touched her.

Later he brought her strips of fragrant meat and he scratched behind her horn while she ate begrudgingly. She would have preferred to catch her own dinner, but as far as she could tell, there was nothing worth hunting in this place.

It was hard to tell time in the sulu’s den, where the light could go from midday-bright to pitch-dark in the blink of an eye. It was safe to say that a good deal of time passed, enough time for her to grow used to having her belly rubbed after every meal and for the sulu’s smell to become as familiar as her own brothers’ had once been. Every night before he slept, the sulu would throw a ball around the den, and she would catch it and bring it back to him. It was a simple game, but for some reason she found it irresistible.

Every now and then, even though she felt perfectly healthy, the sulu would take her through a series of tunnels to a place filled with harsh white lights where a blue-shelled creature would jab her side with more of those sticks, but the sulu would be there ruffling the fur on her back and that would be enough to keep her from giving in to her instinct to bark and snap.

More often than that, he would take her to a place that looked just like her old home. There were even a few ruikchiks that ran faster than usual, always just out of her reach. She knew it wasn’t real, though— the smells were all wrong. She preferred the sulu’s den, even with the forbidden plants and the strange light, because she knew it was real.

*

Eventually, the sulu brought another animal back to the den. This one had a yellow shell too, but without any stripes. He was a little smaller than the sulu and his voice was a series of whines and yips that reminded her of her youngest brother, the runt of the litter. They entered the den smelling nervous and excited, the stranger making all sorts of noise and holding one of the sulu’s paws. The sulu smiled and crouched down to tell her that the stranger was called a "chekov".

She wrinkled her nose and tried to get a hold on the chekov’s scent, but the chekov started sneezing and backed away from her until he hit the far wall of the den.

The sulu laughed at him and she laughed too, flipping over on her back. The sulu rubbed her belly dutifully and refilled the bowl of food by her bed. He said something to the chekov, who was still standing against the wall. Then the sulu gave her head a single pat before he straightened up and the two of them left her all alone.

The sulu came back eventually, smelling like the chekov. He scratched behind her ears when she asked, but his mind was somewhere else. He yawned and stretched and flopped onto his bed. The den went dark and when she jumped up onto his bed, he was already fast asleep.

She curled up by his chest and decided that she didn’t like the chekov one bit.

*

She didn’t see the chekov again for a while, but his scent was a constant presence. She saw less of the sulu and more of another animal in a red shell. This animal had large rounded yellow bump on the back of her head that looked like it might be a fat horn that had been worn down like an overlarge tooth. This animal brought her food and water and scratched behind her ears and took her to the place that wasn’t quite her old home, but she still missed the sulu.

And then one day, she woke up to see the sulu watering his plants. He smelled cold and clean, and under that was a hint of something the sulu rarely gave off—anger. But there was no trace of the chekov on him.

She whined and he looked down and murmured the name he’d given her.

Then there was a sound at the den’s entrance and the sulu gave a heavy sigh before he let the chekov in.

They spoke in quiet voices as frustration wafted off them in heady waves. The chekov’s familiar scent burned her nostrils once again, but there was someone else’s smell on him too. She cocked her head, trying to place the memory. Ah! That was it— one of the blue-shelled animals from the bright place. And under that, he reeked of embarrassment. He had his head angled down, and he held his eyes wide open like she had that time she managed to climb up onto the ledges along the wall and knock over three of the sulu’s plants.

The chekov leaned forward and tried to lick the sulu’s face, but the sulu stepped back and turned his head so quickly that she thought the chekov might fall right over. Instead, he just let his head droop lower and he whined, but the sulu just shook his head and said something the she understood instantly, even if she couldn’t translate the individual sounds. It was the same sentiment she used to express to her little brother when he would follow her around, begging her to play with him. The sulu told the chekov he was being a baby.

The sulu’s anger was contagious, and she growled a quiet threat from her corner of the den.

The chekov looked back and forth between her and the sulu. He took the hint and left.

The sulu let out a long breath and his anger faded slowly. He got her ball from beside his bed and tossed it across the room for her to chase. But even though he laughed when she leapt up into his arms with the ball clamped tight between her jaws, he still had a faint whiff of sadness hanging about him.

The chekov came back later that night while they were still playing. He offered up a plant that he held between his paws, but the sulu didn’t move from his seat on the bed. The chekov started sneezing, and she approached him and growled her intention to bite his ankles. He sighed, put the plant down on the ground, and trudged way with his hunched shoulders.


*

It wasn’t long before the sulu went away again, but she’d come to trust that he would always return.

Before the sulu came back, though, she saw the chekov again. He crept into the den while the lights were still off. She curled her lips back and growled and watched as the chekov popped something into his mouth.

She stopped her growling. The chekov had swallowed something. What was he eating? A treat? He stank of meat. Had he brought her food?

She approached him warily and for once, he didn’t sneeze, just reached down to scratch behind her horn.

He produced a square of dried meat. It smelled just like the meat that the sulu brought for her and after much deliberation, she decided to give it a taste.

It was good, and when she’d finished eating, she sniffed him to see if he had any more.

That was when she caught the scent of his loneliness. After some deliberation, she licked his paws to let him know that she missed the sulu too, and he smiled and rubbed her belly without even having to be asked.

*

The sulu came back just like she’d known he would. From the way he was moving, she could tell he’d hurt one of his legs, but he only laughed when she tried to inspect the wound.

He’d only been back a few minutes before the chekov was asking to be let in again. The sulu looked at her and shook his head and sighed, that old sadness wafting from him again.

She scratched at the door and whined. The sulu took one look at her and obediently let the chekov in.

He had no plant with him this time. His head was down, but he didn’t whine, just made low rumbling noises for a long time.

The sulu looked at her again and she gave a single affirmative bark. The chekov bent down and passed her another square of meat, which she snapped up at once.

The sulu sighed heavily again, but he stood up and called the chekov by name. She watched him let the chekov lick his face, and their scents got a little warmer, a little sweeter.

Later, the two of them sat on the bed and she draped herself across their laps as she drifted off to sleep, basking in the fragrance of their affection.

*

And finally, she got to leave the cold shiny place. The sulu held her in his arms and everything dissolved into glittering lights and then they were standing in a familiar landscape—the same rocks and plants she’d known growing up, with all the right smells. She leapt from the sulu’s arms when she saw that there were a few others like her crouching under a nearby rock. Their scents were unfamiliar, but they yipped in welcome.

One of them was smaller than the others. He held his tail down and he looked so much like the little brother she’d lost that she was moved to nuzzle his neck. But she still remembered the old customs, no matter how long she’d been among the sulu’s kind. She showed them her belly to show that she wasn’t a threat and after a few moments, they invited her under the rock.

With a strange humming sound, the sulu returned to his cold shiny home. She called goodbye over her shoulder and saw him wave a paw before he disappeared.

The little one sniffed around her paws and she took the opportunity to lick his nose affectionately. He squeaked and without thinking, she called him by the chekov’s sound-name. She apologized immediately, but he cocked his head to the side and told her he liked the noise.

So she grinned and barked it again.

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