“No pets.” Isabela stared down at him, hands planted on her hips and a deep frown of disapproval on her face.
“But--“ Sebastian tried to object.
Isabela let out an annoyed huff and the frown shifted to a scowl. “Pets need to be fed—and that either cuts into our stores or takes up space that could be holding more food for the crew. Not to mention that they are messy. No. Pets.”
She whirled on her heel and stalked back to supervise the cargo being loaded into the hold. Sebastian was staring down at the small furry pile in his lap and missed the wink Isabela dropped at Merrill as she passed the other woman. He reached out one scarred, long-fingered hand to stroke one of the animals, only glancing up when bare feet adorned with red toenail polish entered his field of vision. Merrill was looking down at him with her hand over her mouth and her bright green eyes open wide.
“She’s transported animals before,” Sebastian muttered, glancing down again. “We smuggled those horses out of Orlais last year, and sometimes there’s livestock.” He reached down and scratched under a fuzzy chin. “None of these will take up nearly that much space.”
“Well,” Merrill drawled, dropping her hand and kneeling down to crouch beside him, “I think she sees it differently when the animals are cargo. That space is bought and paid for, isn’t it?” She leaned over his shoulder and he could feel her smile as she reached down to tickle a floppy ear.
“Oh!” He turned and caught her eyes, a grin spreading over his face. Planting a kiss on her cheek, he scooped the creatures out of his lap and handed them to Merrill. “That’s brilliant!” He didn’t wait to see if Merrill would protest her sudden custody of his charges, chasing after Isabela with a gleam in his eye. He slid to a stop in front of her, barely pausing to catch his breath before launching into his pitch. “Mabari pups, Isabela,” he said without preamble. “Do you have any idea what kind of price they’d fetch in Antiva? The Crows alone would pay a fortune for even one, and we have four. Four! Whatever inconvenience they might be on the journey, you would more than be repaid for it once they’ve been sold.”
Isabela arched one eyebrow and pursed her lips. She shot a glance back at Merrill, who was using her scarf to play a game of tug with the puppies. Shaking her head, Isabela let out a short sigh, still looking unconvinced. “I don’t know, Sebastian. They’re very young. They’ll require constant care, and we didn’t stock our larder with hounds in mind.”
“I’ll care for them,” Sebastian insisted. “They can stay in the galley with me, and I won’t let it interfere with my other duties.” He paused, and could see that she was considering it. Wanting to press his advantage, he added, “You can consider them cargo, if you’d like. You can use my share of this job,” he nodded at the cargo being lowered into the hold, “to pay for the space they take up, and to replace any of the food they consume on the voyage. We’re amply stocked at the moment, there’s more than enough for a few extra mouths between here and Antiva.”
“And will the profit of selling them be yours as well, then?” Isabela asked in an arch tone. Sebastian didn’t buy her suspicion, he could see the glint in her eyes, and the hint of a smile playing across her face.
“Equally split between the whole crew,” he said without hesitation, a grin crossing his own face, “not counting the Captain’s share, of course.”
“Oh, very well, then,” she relented with a laugh. “Just have a care not to let any of them imprint on you, hmm?”
He started to reply, but was interrupted by a tugging on his boot. He glanced down to find one of the pups standing with her front paws on his leg. When she saw she had his attention, she yipped and scrabbled a bit, as if trying to climb, and didn’t desist until Sebastian bent down to scoop her up with a sheepish smile at Isabela.
“Ooh,” Merrill called, “I think that one likes you, Sebastian.” She joined them, cradling two of the pups in her arms. The third was sitting on her shoulder, for all the world like a parrot, glancing around with bright eyes and taking in the crew’s movements. Sebastian blinked at the sight.
“Andraste’s ass,” Isabela huffed, but there was laughter in it. She shook her head and threw her hands in the air. “All right. Keep them away from the rest of the crew though. You’re the only one that handles them,” she paused and shook her head again as she glanced at the puppy on Merrill’s shoulder. “Merrill can help if you need it, but no one else. I’d like to leave the last two available to actually sell by the time we get where we’re going.”
She turned back to the cargo, muttering something under her breath, and Sebastian retreated a few steps, pulling Merrill along with him. She glanced at him in confusion. “Two? But there are four puppies. What did she mean?” The puppy on her shoulder reached up a paw to bat at one of her braids.
“That you and I have made new friends,” Sebastian told her, offering a warm smile. He glanced down at the puppy in his arms and scratched under her chin again. “Also, that I think she may be reconsidering the rule about pets.”
“Oh,” Merrill said with a smile. “That’s good then.”
“Two weeks,” Isabela said as she rejoined them. She shared a glare between them, but there was no real heat in it. “You have two weeks to convince me a pair of mabari hounds can be useful members of this crew. If they’re going to stay, they’ll need to earn their keep.”
“Oh!” Merrill tilted her head in thought. Her mabari took advantage of the movement to seize a braid in his mouth and tug once or twice, but she took no notice. “Well I’m sure they’ll be quite useful, Isabela.”
“Hmph. They’d better be.” Isabela turned to leave them again, but paused after a few steps and called back over her shoulder, “And you’d damn well better train them to use the head, Vael!”
“Yes, Captain!” Sebastian called out, taking hold of Merrill’s arm and steering her toward the lower deck.
“She’s not serious about that last bit, is she?” Merrill whispered as they descended. “We can’t really teach puppies to use the, well…” she flicked her eyes at the doors to the facility in question as they passed them.
“I think we’d better at least try, if we want to keep them.” Sebastian answered with a laugh. “Mabari are quite intelligent, after all. Who knows, maybe they won’t have any trouble with the concept.”
“Hmm.” Merrill pursed her lips and appeared to consider it. “Hawke’s mabari was at least as smart as some of the crew.” She shifted both puppies to one arm and reached up to untangle the third from her hair, picking him up and favoring him with a sunny smile and a kiss on the nose. “I suppose it won’t hurt to try.”
Sebastian glanced down at his own precious burden and nodded, his smile softening. “No, I don’t suppose it will, at that.”