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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.

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.”