Tag Archives: team hotel ‘verse

A Bedtime Box of Puppies

(Cross-posted on Tumblr)

I wore myself out writing a depressing blog post (which may or may not see the light of day). So I needed something to cheer me up. Box of puppies! Over one thousand words about boxes of puppies, in fact. Mine are simple pleasures.

Juliet: Juliet spots them while malingering outside a store while someone else does the shopping for the team. She spends the ride back to the hotel with the box in her lap. She has invented six different sets of themed names for them, all based on pop culture, by the time they get back. She becomes incensed when Ned suggests finding homes for them–now that she has them, she plans to keep them. She ends up getting all her new friends in the hotel to volunteer for puppy-sitting duty whenever she has to go out on a case. When she’s home, though, she does it all herself. She is especially prone to hand-feeding them things and she gets mobbed pretty much any time she sits down because of this.

Brigid: Brigid smells wet dog coming from a drainage pipe and is the only one small enough to squeeze inside and fish them out. She leaves naming them to Juliet, but secretly teaches them commands in nawa pidgin, which are the only things they ever obey. Each one picks a member of the team to guard, camping outside their rooms at night, and no one can figure out if Brigid trained them to do it or not. Once she has her pearl back, she slips her skin and runs with them in her true form until they all collapse in a snoring pile of fur.

Pam: Pam doesn’t find them herself and everyone is sort of hesitant about telling her about them. They’re still all arguing about whether they should ask her if she has a fear of dogs or if it will be worse with advance notice. Then Pam wanders in, spots them, and says in a voice no one has ever heard her use before, “Doggies!” And she’s on the floor with them, getting kisses and pretending to gnaw on their ears for them. Because, as it turns out, Pam had a favorite stray dog in her grandmother’s village in India, who she saw every summer for a few years growing up. Pam is imprinted on dogs like whoa. On bad anxiety days, she seeks them out for a puppy pile and they are the only reason she leaves her room some days.

Esta: After a village full of ill-tempered, snapping mutts, a training compound that made use of guard dogs to keep people in, and multiple missions nearly blown when her marks’ dogs could somehow tell when Esta body-swapped with their owners, Esta does not deal well with dogs. She finds their mother chained up, though, and that’s a metaphor she’s familiar with. She calls Ned and gets him to pick up the whole lot of them. She leaves the puppies to the others, who coo over how cute they are. She gets the first aid kit to disinfect the mother’s neck where the chain has started to bite into her skin. Esta fattens up her skinny body and takes up jogging in the morning. The dog doesn’t wear a leash, but she stays right at Esta’s heel anyway.

Caleb: This is not Caleb’s first street dog. He was homeless long enough to know the value of anyone who will keep watch and wake at small sounds and carry its weapons in its body. He finds the puppies in a garbage bin below the rooftop he’s lurking on. He’s thinking about sight lines and missing the cover of forest and wishing he was back on the ground and so he looks down and just sees them, right there. When he picks them up, he still smells of gun smoke and tar paper. Not a single one of them is a retriever of any kind, but he teaches them to fetch anything he shoots down, teaches them to leap into lakes, teaches them to not run around in a barking frenzy at the first sight of a rabbit, but to wait for the right moment.

Ken: Ken gets them from an actual rescue because he’s there delivering donated supplies from the local precinct. Even though he doesn’t work there, he’s made fast friends and convinced everyone to pitch in. The puppies have just been brought in by someone who claims to have found them. Ken’s seen it before, though, knows this is someone who couldn’t be bothered to fix their dog and has now gotten stuck with an unwanted litter. They’ve brought them to a private rescue, though, instead of a kill shelter, so he doesn’t say anything. When he shows up at the hotel with all of them, he takes everyone’s good-natured ribbing in stride and asks them all what they are willing to do to help take care of them. Because they’re a team and everyone has a part to play.

Ned: Ned gets a call from another social worker, a former coworker, who has just had one of her kids removed from their abusive home and who ended up with a box of puppies as a bonus. Ned delegates all dog-related responsibilities and steadfastly refuses to have anything more to do with them directly. They are especially not allowed in his room, his bed, or his lap because dogs shed. The dogs have never wanted to be near anyone as much as they want to be near Ned. Ned always sighs like it is this terrible hardship to have a dog rest its chin on his thigh while he reads the paper. He fusses with picking fur off his suits. For his birthday, every single member of the team gives him a lint roller.

Kylie: One of Kylie’s friends living on the street finds the dogs. He can’t feed them, so he passes them on to Kylie. Every one of Kylie’s name suggestions gets rejected and everyone else hogs the dogs when they all curl up to watch TV. But Kylie knows which dogs don’t get along and who will steal everyone else’s food and who prefers which kinds of treats. She spots two cases of dog aggression and one with a fear of small children and a budding case of hypothyroidism that even the vet can’t detect for another two months. And some nights, when the sunset paints the ocean purple and orange, Kylie takes them all for a walk on the beach to chase driftwood and harass the seagulls.

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Have a hug and story before bed!

(Cross-posted from Tumblr)

Refocus

The empty hallway outside rooms fifteen through nineteen echoed with Pam’s controlled breathing. Kylie made sure to let her sandals flap against the thin carpet and announce her presence before speaking. “Listen, mate, we all pay a price for this life.”

Pam laughed, the sound bleak. Her fingers fluttered to the scars on her shoulders in an unconscious gesture. The beds of her nails stood out white against the darker skin of her shoulders. “Really? I had no idea. It’s not like I burst into flame against my will, lost my job and home, became a hermit, and have now had my first new friend in five years get kidnapped.” She leaned back against the wall, but her shoulders still curled forward.

Kylie stood in what she calculated was minimum safe distance, should Pam lose control and ignite. “In the field–”

“The field?” Pam straightened away from the wall. At her full height, she actually stood over Kylie, plump and more imposing than Pam seemed to realize. “You haven’t gone out with us once in this past year. What do you know about the field?” She looked directly at Kylie, lifting her eyes from their permanent spot just to the right of everyone’s shoes. Kylie saw a glimpse of the steel inside Pam, the thing she could be one day. “What price did you pay?”

Kylie just rather wished that strength wasn’t standing in her way at the moment. She sighed. “Under pain of death,” Kylie said by way of warning, then she reached up and unfastened the wide band of cloth and wire from her upper arm. She looked away as the enchantment flickered and died. She found herself unable to watch the transition from the appearance of flesh to the reality of magical machinery.

When she looked back, Pam had her face close to the prosthetic arm. She did not touch without permission. She just angled her head to see the network of vines and yarn that wove between and around the wooden bones. “The work is astonishing. How much maintenance does it require?”

Kylie flexed her hand, wooden finger tips tapping audibly against her palm. She smiled to see Pam’s eyes jump to them, sharp and curious. “Not much. Yearly reinforcement. Little polish now and then.”

She refastened the charm band before Pam had looked her fill. Kylie did not care to let others see this part of her laid bare, but she knew the power of a well-timed show of vulnerability. “This life is riskier than most, the prices higher. Juliet knew that, too.”

Pam jerked away and curled her arms around herself. “Don’t. Don’t talk about her in the past tense.”

“She also knows,” Kylie said with careful emphasis, “that we’re coming for her.” She curled her prosthetic arm around Pam’s shoulders and gave her a squeeze. The evidence of their respective payments pressed close together. “So I need you to cool it and help us find her.”

 

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Team Hotel Plushies: Juliet

Juliet plushie
Click above to read more, including an excerpt from Juliet’s first appearance, “Membership Dues.”

After much delay (I finished her a while ago but didn’t get pictures taken and posted), here is Juliet. This is the second in my series of Team Hotel character plushies, made because I can’t draw you character sketches.

Brigid will probably be next, because Juliet and Brigid should never be separated from each other for long.

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“Adaptation,” a Team Hotel story

Inspired by the prompt here: “calendar seasons vs. natural seasons.” This is part of the November Creative Jam over on the Crowdfunded Creativity community. The theme is seasonal changes.

My story is part of the Team Hotel ‘verse. Kylie has been a lot of places, but even the mild seasons of coastal California take getting used to, not unlike her new team.

Kylie makes their hotel, their home, in California because she has lived half a hundred places and life here is easy. Expensive, but easy. The seasons pass gently. She has seen Australian summers and German winters and she must learn subtlety all over again in this place. Kylie haunts the corridors of the hotel, caught in the memory of harsher winters than what California’s coast can give her. The last attempt on Ned’s life, the damage to her arm, the perpetual fog–it has all left her maudlin and prone to sulking. She is not the only one who needs time to adapt.

Estrella and Caleb come to them in winter and they bear its mark. Estrella, fresh from the horrors of that compound, skulks from her room to the common areas to the gym. She speaks to no one. She is as smooth and unreadable as lake ice, as brittle and treacherous, too. If she notices Kylie watching her from the pool in the gym or the balcony overlooking the dining area, she does nothing to stop it. She seems entirely indifferent to her new home and housemates.

The others are not indifferent to Estrella. Kylie sees how the hunters avoid her eyes, rumor having spread of how her body-swapping ability works. The nawa do not trust easily and she does nothing to win them over. Kylie did not plan on this woman for her team and she cannot yet see if she can make use of Estrella.

The answer comes in Caleb, and Kylie fears at first the answer is “no.” Against Estrella’s silent indifference, Caleb storms and rages, blusters and wails. He picks fights with her from the moment they meet. Estrella hits him–a knee to the nose the first time, then punches, kicks, throws that leave him gasping for breath on the floor. Kylie considers intervening and cannot decide which one to remove. Caleb suffered enough abuse, but he keeps egging Estrella on. Estrella had to fight enough for one lifetime, but she refuses to stop training Caleb. Ned tells Kylie to wait, tells her to trust. She does the first, if not the second.

Then one night, the visiting hunters in the common room break out in a fight, beer-fueled and pointless. Caleb panics, eyes wide and seeing something half a continent away. Estrella, barely bigger than he is, moves him into the shelter of her body. His hands, so steady on a rifle, shake where they fist in the back of her shirt. Estrella backs them out of the room, eyes never leaving the fight, body never leaving Caleb exposed. Kylie finally trusts that, under winter’s harsh frost, something good has been growing.

Spring comes early in California, even the fog enough to bring up the first green shoots. It brings an abundance of fresh starts. It brings Juliet and Brigid and Anapamu, varied as wildflowers. This, Kylie has expected and planned for. She still does not get what she thought she would.

Brigid, for all that she has been a slave for fifteen years, shows no sign of being cowed. She leads her little pack in with the air of one conquering a frontier. Fisher brings up the rear and looks as happy as a petulant teenager, both his child and his slave oblivious to him. As they settle in at the hotel, Brigid speaks freely, goes where she pleases, and ignores Fisher blithely. She blooms wherever she is planted, hardy and adaptable, and Kylie wants her for the team more than she can stand.

Juliet follows Brigid like a sunflower with the sun. Ironic, considering how Brigid looks at Juliet like she hung the moon. Kylie cannot tell if either one of them realizes the other’s affection. Juliet brings the green and breeze of spring with her wherever she goes, thanks to her construct. Juliet was Ned’s idea. He’s been watching her solo work. Kylie is not convinced. She grew up with a nawa slave and now has bound one to her body. Is it loyalty or servitude that keeps them at her side? How can Kylie trust her?

Pam proves orchid-fragile. She explodes–literally–at the smallest threat. She seeks out Juliet’s company and reels away just as quickly. She fears even comfort. Estrella and Caleb approach with caution but persistence. They mist her with reassurances, sprinkle fortifying training at the safe edges of her. Juliet gives her sunny conversation and the shade of quiet nights in front of Juliet’s private television.

Kylie catches them in Juliet’s room one night. Pam, delicate and unsure, sits in the middle and laughs with her bald head thrown back carelessly. She and Estrella sandwich Caleb between them, sisters he once would have spat at for their darker skin and foreign names. Estrella sits with her back against Caleb’s arm, still watching the door, still keeping herself between him and the world.

Juliet sits on the floor beside Pam, and Brigid’s legs bracket Juliet’s shoulders from her perch on the bed. Brigid, so short, rests her chin on Juliet’s head, the afro there framing her tiny, elfin face. Her smallness deceives, though, for her supernaturally strong arms curl around Juliet’s neck like armor. Fisher may have ordered Brigid to protect Juliet, but Fisher is not in the room, is not privy to this. It might be loyalty keeping Brigid there, but to Kylie, it looks like possessiveness. It looks like two trees grown so long and so close together that they cannot be separated. Kylie sees an ecosystem taking shape and knows to leave well enough alone.

In summer, they finally find Ken, or rather, he finds them. Stable and social, big and cheerful, Ken seems too straight-forward, too undamaged to fit with the rest of them. Kylie has figured out, though, that happy accidents keep changing her plans for the better. She might be a control freak, but she knows how to roll with the changes.

She regrets it immediately. Fisher, military and stern, takes a shine to Ken, police and obedient, and Kylie sees disaster brewing. Juliet disdains Ken for gaining her father’s approval. Brigid follows Juliet’s lead. Caleb flinches from the combined male authority of Ken and Fisher with the instincts of the long-mistreated. Estrella does not show her thoughts so plainly, but where Caleb goes, so does she. Kylie wonders if it is too late to introduce something more to her garden. Has she planted something invasive and destructive without realizing?

She discovers Estrella sharing the gym with Ken. His leg, scarred from the encounter that introduced him to a world of nawa and magic and danger, still requires time and attention to recover. From one day to the next, silent proximity becomes casual chatter. After that, Kylie notices how Ken can talk to any of them about anything, if given half a chance. He drifts from Fisher’s rigid domination and into the welcoming anarchy of the others.

Caleb learns sports for the first time from Ken, the convict and the cop at ease over beers and television. Juliet teaches him everything he never knew about the world he has entered. Pam trades curry recipes with him, India meeting Japan in the kitchen. Brigid teaches him to fight with the cane he still uses and lets her small body show him how best to use his large one. Kylie realizes Ken is not a new plant; he is a bee, flitting between the others and gathering something from each.

It is only in the autumn, when work is hardest and the need most urgent, that they truly come together. In fire and stone and bullets, they harvest the first fruits of what Kylie planted seasons, years, ago. When it is over, when they are all that remains alive and moving in that factory, they fall together like wheat stalks before the scythe. She and Ned find them like that, led back to them by Fisher.

Estrella drips blood and bruises. Caleb smells of gunpowder. Ken shivers, shirtless, until Pam curls against him, skin shiny with burns and wrapped in Ken’s clothing. Brigid clutches the remains of her shattered pearl in one hand and Juliet with the other. Juliet, wrists bloody from iron shackles, can’t stop touching the others, like she cannot trust they are really there, that they came for her. Kylie does not care that they are crashing, that they must practically be shoveled into a van to go home. She only cares that they fall as one, attuned to the same rhythms, rising and falling with the same seasons.

Another winter has come to the hotel. Fog blankets the ocean and turns the world dim and soft. Kylie has no time for melancholy this year. The team moves and thinks as one and so too do they hunger for action together. Kylie plans and plots, looking toward the days of heat and change. The winter is short and mild here and Kylie must plant now what she wishes to harvest in the next year. Wild and delicate, hardy and damaged, her team grows, season by season.

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