It was the sixth time Behrad was running after the small, adventurous black puppy that walked through the Waverider, exploring all rooms, hallways and everything there was to see in that ship.
“Hey, little guy. There you are!”, he exclaimed as he finally found the animal under his table. “Come here, I need you to behave a little bit or the moms are gonna be mad at me”, he said, picking the puppy up. “And we don't want that, right?” He was met with an enthusiastic woof! “Yup! That’s what I thought.”
He had been planning this for a while. It's been months since Astra told him she liked puppies but he just couldn't forget it. It was the perfect gift. Puppies are cute, and adorable, and Astra would sure like it. Plus, it could be a part of her transition to living in society as a human. Every human has had a dog at some point, right? It would be a good, thoughtful gift.
What if she didn't like it? That's a big responsibility, to have a dog. Does she even want one? Maybe she only said that as an observation, like: yup, dogs are cool, puppies are cute. Adorable, really. Wouldn't want one, though. Playing with someone else’s puppy is good enough. Moving on!
Behrad sat on his couch with the small dog in his hands and stared at him for some solid seconds. “Wow, you’re really cute”, he said, laying the dog on his lap. “Hey, do you think she’s gonna like you? I think so.” He petted the puppy as he tried to imagine Astra’s reaction – unsuccessfully. “I hope so.”
“She who?”, Zari said as she entered the Lounge, eyes on her phone. “Hey, B”, she greeted him before noticing the animal on his lap. “Oh, hey puppy.” She patted the dog’s head.
“She is Astra. I adopted this puppy for her as a birthday present. Do you think she’ll like it?”
Zari stared blankly at Behrad as if he had just said the most unbelievable thing. “You adopted her a puppy”, she stated, emotionless.
“Uhm… yeah. I just said that.”
“I can't believe your…”, she took her time thinking. “Thing for bad girls is actually a thing.”
Behrad frowned. “What does that mean?”, he asked, genuinely confused about what puppies had to do with mean women.
The younger Tarazi knew he had made a big mistake by asking that question when Zari smiled that smile. The one she does when she’s about to ruin someone’s life. “You’re in love with her, B! That’s really cute.”
The silence that perpetuated for exact four seconds was deafening.
“Whaaaat? Noooo”, he laughed awkwardly. “No, I’m not. That’s- That’s nuts. You’re crazy.”
“Adopting a dog is a really advanced step in a relationship, though. It's like a little kid”, she continued, teasingly.
“Cut it, Z”, Sara said, suddenly appearing in the room. “I bet she’s gonna love it, B. Don’t sweat it. Never thought of Astra as a dog person, though.”
“Yeah, she does seem like more of a cat person”, Zari concluded.
“Nah, she loves them. She told me once that they should stay puppies forever”, he chuckled, remembering the conversation. “She thinks they’re hella cute”, he said, excitingly, as he played with the dog.
“Why are you anxious, then? Doesn't that mean she’ll love it?”, Sara asked, not understanding where the nervousness came from.
“I don't know, what if she just... doesn't?”, he replies, excitement quickly vanishing from his tone. “I wanna do something cool for her. She’s been feeling a little tense and on edge lately, learning magic stuff and all. It’s her birthday. She deserves a little break, you know? I’d just hate to ruin it.”
Zari and Sara shared a look. Zari raised an eyebrow and smiled as if she was saying “hah! Told you so.”
The captain sighed. “I think you’re thinking too much into this. Relax”, she said as she reached for Behrad’s shoulders from behind the couch and briefly massaged them. “I’m sure she’ll like it”, she said before circling the couch and sitting on it too.
“Yeah. I think you’re right.” He suddenly stood up and grabbed his pack of gummies. “Well, time to relax a little!”, he said as he picked a blue gummy and unceremoniously ate it. Behrad looked at Sara and Zari. “Gummy?”, he offered. They both shook their heads, Zari with a slightly disgusted face.
Gideon’s voice resonated. “Captain Sharpe just boarded the ship.”
Just as she finished her sentence, Ava stormed through the door. “Hey! What’s going on here? I thought we were gonna throw Astra a party? Where’s everything?”, she said, walking towards Sara and reaching her from behind the couch for a quick kiss, Spider-Man style. “Hi, babe.”
Sara rested her head on the cushion and smiled, still looking in Ava’s eyes. “Hey.”
“Behrad fell for Astra”, Zari immediately said, making Ava turn abruptly. “He adopted her a puppy.”
“Oh my God! Behrad, honey, that's so sweet.”
He shot Zari an angry look. “I’m not in love with Astra! What's with you today?”
Ava raised an eyebrow, asking herself why he got so annoyed with this when he rarely minded Zari’s teasing. She eyed him and then her wife, who just shrugged, too busy wondering how long it would take before the drugs hit his system..
“Huh. Anyway, I’ll get everything done. Gideon?”
“Miss Logue is now at her house, sleeping.”
“Great! So I have some time. Thank you!”, she said as she left the room.
Sara got up. “Guess I’m gonna go too. And, B?”
Behrad looked up from where he was playing with the dog, sitting on the ground. “Huh?”
“Relax”, she said, already leaving the room.
“On it!” He smiled and went back to playing with the puppy.
Zari stared at him for some seconds before sighing and leaving too, shaking her head incredulously as she walked.
Alone again, Behrad sat on the couch. “Hey, Gideon? Wanna play some Mortal Kombat? I need to chill”, he asked as he watched the small ball of black fur stumble on its own feet and fall.
“I was wondering when I would get to kick your ass again, B.”
Honestly, he really thought he would be able to be more calm, but the truth is all chilliness left his body as soon as he heard Ava whisper yell “Astra’s coming! Get down!”.
Now here he was: in the dark, bent down uncomfortably in front of his couch, hungry and with butterflies throwing a party in his stomach.
He didn’t even know why he was so anxious. Astra was a friend. There was no reason for him to feel this way… right?
Yeah. Right. No reason to feel this way. No reason at all.
No, he tried desperately to censor his own thoughts. No, that’s not it. Chill, dude, it’s just Astra.
Footsteps – fortunately – interrupted Behrad’s train of thought, the sound of heels clacking on the floor bringing him back to the present.
He saw Astra’s silhouette enter the Lounge just as Ava whispered now from her place by the lightswitch.
Ava turned the lights on. They jumped and smiled, shouting in unison. “SURPRISE-”
“PERMUTO!”, Astra yelled back at Ava, startled.
Everyone went silent.
“Aaaand she turned her into a binder again”, Nate said.
Astra looked at them, her hand on her chest. “I’m sorry, I’m not very used to surprise parties, if you know what I mean”, she shot back. “Permuto”, she said, more calmly this time, and watched the binder become Ava again. “Sorry, Ava.”
“It’s okay, that’s fine, let’s just- let’s just go back to the party, okay? Uhm… Gideon?”
“Yes, co-captain Sharpe?”
“Light up the mood, please?”
“Right away”, she answered, some upbeat song starting to play in the background.
Astra recognised it immediately, a smile growing on her face. “Gideon… is that my playlist?”
“Yes, it is. Happy birthday, Astra.”
Everyone looked at Astra, smiling.
She sighed, rolling her eyes and fighting the urge to smile. “Come on, I promise I won’t turn you into objects.”
Everybody exploded in happy exclamations of ”happy birthday, Astra!”, overwhelming her with kind words and their signature group hug, making her lose her battle with herself and smile at the gesture.
“Just this once, though. Never try this again.”
“Wouldn’t be Astra without a threat”, Zari said, stepping out of the hug.
“Well…”, Sara voiced, getting something on the desk and then walking towards Astra as the group hug dissipated. “Threatening gift for a threatening woman”, she handed her the wrapped box, smiling proudly. “Happy birthday, Astra.”
Astra smiled back. “Thanks, Cap.”
Quickly, everybody went back to their initial excitement, all getting their gifts and giving it to Astra, who, despite her efforts to look intimidating, was radiating happiness, laughing with every silly joke, smiling brighter at every word of fondness her team offered her.
Her team. In the beginning, it never sounded right to say she was a part of it. She was never part of something. She hadn't had people care about her for so long; so long that she even forgot someone could care about her.
Now, as she watched Nate and Sara sing Single Ladies and dance clumsily, she felt thankful for having these idiots, for finding her family. People who genuinely wished all the best for her, and her for them.
Behrad just stood, watching everything from the opposite side of the room, having long ago separated himself from the rest of the group, needing some space to calm himself down yet again. Looking around, he realised he was the only one who hadn’t talked to Astra yet. He took advantage of the fact that Astra was distracted talking to Ava and quickly exited the Lounge, heading to Nate’s quarters, where he hid – left – the puppy.
On the walk there he noticed how his hands were sweaty. How his heart was beating fast, how nervous he was.
Deeply, he knew Zari was right.
There had never been an oh moment. Behrad just... always knew. With every late night conversation, every playful bickering, every exchange of looks, he just knew he was falling for Astra, slowly drowning himself in his own emotions. And, as much as he tried to push that feeling away, he also knew it wouldn’t be gone like that.
And, as always, he just kept walking, ignoring the feeling that sat deep in his chest and filled his body and soul with something he couldn’t name yet.
It took him some seconds – minutes? – before he realised he was already in front of Nate’s room, too immersed in his own thoughts to notice. He went in, looking around for the dog and finding him on the bed. “Oh, hey, puppy”, he said, picking him up and interrupting his profound battle with Nate’s pillow. He sat on the bed, puppy on his lap. “How you doin’, buddy?” The dog just stared at him. “It’s time for you to meet your mom.”
He sighed, looking at the door.
“Sorry to interrupt, B”, Gideon said, suddenly. “You seem to be quite nervous.”
“Oh, hey. It’s cool, G, and, yes, I am nervous”, he replied, playing with the puppy.
“Because of Miss Logue’s birthday?”
Behrad hummed. “Yup. It’s just… she’s so happy right now. What if she doesn’t like it and I ruin her vibe?” He said, lying down with the dog on his belly.
“I think we both know that’s not why you’re nervous, B.”
He sighed, letting the words sink in, knowing she was right. Some seconds went by before he spoke again. “I think… I’m just scared it’ll be all too real if I admit to myself it’s true.”
“Denial is one of the most common forms of defense mechanisms. I’m sure you’ll be able to move past it. Feelings are hard, take your time allowing yourself to feel and express them.”
Behrad chuckled, sitting on the bed again. “When did you become such a great therapist?”
“I have my own hobbies. Also, we’re friends. I do have feelings, despite being an AI, and I care about you and how you feel. I’m willing to be your therapist.”
He smiled. “I care about you too, G. Thanks for this. You really helped, actually.”
“You’re welcome. And I would advise you to go back to your Lounge.”
He frowned, confused. “Why?”
“Miss Logue has asked about you two times. I believe she’s noticed your absence.”
He got up. “Oh, okay. Did you cover for me?”
“Always. But I don’t think she believed it.”
“Okay. Thanks, Gideon!”, he said, his usual excitement back again and feeling significantly less anxious.
“Good luck, B!”, she replied as he walked away, holding the puppy carefully.
He was already by the Lounge’s door when–
“Oop!”, he said, accidentally bumping lightly on someone. “I wasn’t paying attention-” He looked at the person’s face, realising it was Astra and quickly hiding the puppy behind his back. “Hey, you.” He smiled.
“Look who’s back! Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you.”
Behrad smiled cockily. “Looking for me?”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t get too happy. It was just because Nate is in desperate need of someone to play videogames with him, and it’s getting annoying. I need you to occupy him before I lose it and punch him.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you get arrested for murder, I’ll play with him. But before… I don’t think I’ve given you your present yet”, he replied, looking up and thinking.
Astra smiled. “You know you don’t need to give me anything.”
He looked at her. “I know. But I want to.” He brought his hands to his front, revealing the black puppy. “Happy birthday, Astra.”
The butterflies in his stomach came back the second Astra smiled brightly, looking at the dog. “Oh my God! Behrad, this is…”, she said, picking the puppy up and petting him. “How did you know I’d like a dog?”, she completed.
“You told me some months ago. Don’t you remember?”
She stared at him, speechless. “Months ago? That was a year ago! How do you remember that?”
“How would I forget? You said you liked puppies so bad. Plus, I thought it would be a good gift to welcome you to your human life. I know it’s been some time since you’ve been here on Earth, but it’s the thought that counts, right?”
She smiled fondly, thinking it was cute how much thought he put into her present. “Yeah. Right.”
“And I couldn't make him a puppy forever cause that would be a painful process for our little guy but, well… half the fun of having a dog is growing up with him, right?”
Astra chuckled. “This is perfect, Behrad.”
Behrad smiled, happy and slightly nervous. “Okay.”
Astra smiled back. “Okay.”
They just stood there, looking at each other with small smiles on their lips.
“Hey!”, Sara said, suddenly next to them. “What are you two doing here? Nate got bored of waiting and decided to end our food. Come in or he and Gary are gonna eat all of it by themselves”, she spoke, already going in again.
Both Astra and Behrad looked at each other and giggled. “See, now I’ll have to murder him”, Astra said, conspiratorilly.
“I’ll have to agree with you, sadly”, he replied, walking inside side by side with her.
Silence, and then–
“You know what?”, Astra said, looking at the puppy.
“Nope, I’m not a telepath yet. Enlighten me.”
Astra scoffed. “What’s gotten into you? You’re cheeky today.”
Behrad just chuckled.
“I like it”, Astra said, flirty, and Behrad swore his heart skipped a beat. “Anyway, as I was saying…”, she continued. “He kind of… looks like you”, Astra looked back and forth between Behrad and the puppy as she said.
“What?”, he said, incredulous. “I don’t think so.”
“He really does. Look-” She lifted the dog until he was side to side with Behrad's face. “-same weird look.”
“... Was that a compliment?”
“Interpret it as you will”, she said, holding the puppy closely again.
“I mean, I don’t think-”
“It’s the puppy dog eyes!” Behrad's monologue was interrupted by Astra’s sudden epiphany. “You have puppy dog eyes!”
Behrad giggled. “What does that mean?”
“It means it’s harder for me to threaten you”, she said, playfully. “Actually…” She looked Behrad up and down. “You look like a little puppy yourself. With all the annoying happiness and the “please don’t be mean to me” energy.”
“Really? Could I have fooled you and given you myself as a birthday present?”, he replied, struggling to wink as Astra laughed.
Ava and Sara watched them from afar.
“Sorry, I’ve been meaning to ask this for a while: are they flirting? I can't tell”, Sara blurted out, as if the question had been stuck in her throat for hours.
“I have absolutely no idea”, Ava deadpanned.
“Don’t even try to figure it out”, Zari advised, joining the conversation. “It’s impossible.”
“But, I mean…”, Ava said. “It’s not just Behrad, right? They’re both-”
“Yup, definitely”, her wife replied.
“They think it’s one-sided, though”, Zari said.
“How are they this oblivious?”, Ava asked.
“Girl, don’t even ask”, she answered, sighing and watching them both sit on the couch.
“You know…”, Astra started. “It was really cool that you did this for me. I’m not the best at expressing how I feel sometimes, but I’m really happy. I really liked this.” She smiled at Behrad, who played with the dog on her lap.
He looked up and smiled back “Well, I’m happy you’re happy. Now–” He stood up. “–I believe I haven’t shown you my immaculate dance moves yet”, he completed, starting to dance horrendously and pulling Astra by her hands.
She laughed, getting up. “You’re horrible at this, you know that, right?”
“It’s how much fun you have that counts!”
He didn’t feel nervous anymore. The anxiety had gone away long ago, giving space to something even more terrifying: a feeling that made him warm.
This time he let it in, welcoming the warmness with open arms, letting it cloud his senses.
It would still take him some time until he learned Astra felt just the same way as he did.