Story:Before and After - Simon

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Before and After - Simon
Written by TrianglePascal

June 2016 - After H2O

Desi walked out of the change room quickly, her head held low. Simon fell into step behind her as they made their way down towards the water.

"So… painless?"

She stiffened in surprise, then glanced back at him. She stared for a moment or two, as though she were surprised to see him there. Then she gave herself a shake, and said, "Yeah, I guess so."

She turned away and kept walking, not focusing on the other perch. She was too hyperaware of everybody's eyes on her. She still couldn't figure out if it was all in her head or not. All she knew as that ever since she'd gotten home, she'd noticed eyes moving over to her. Did people look at her that often before?

"So you never told me, what was it like swimming in salt water?"

"Huh?" Desi shot a glance back at him, and blinked. "Oh, uh, fine, I guess. Weird. Made me feel super light. Like, took way more work to get down to the floor. I always felt like I was hungover in the mornings, too."

"Fuck, that sounds like it sucks."

"Ehn." They splashed into the shallows, and once the lake water got high enough, both dove down underneath. Once the bubbles and disruption of their entrance had dissipated, and they'd started swimming, she spoke again. "Thanks for getting all my stuff from the men's change room."

"No problem." She was sure that he meant it, too. Simon hadn't batted an eyelid, walking out of the men's change room carrying a few sets of women's clothes for her. She was pretty sure she'd felt more self-conscious taking them from him than he'd felt holding them. "Hey, any idea what your dad's making for dinner tonight? Think I could come over?"

"Oh, fuck…" She thought about going down towards the actual aquatic section of Black Bay, into the city. All the eyes on her. "You know, why don't we just… I dunno. I don't feel like going home yet."

There was a moment of silence. Then, Simon muttered, his voice low, "Did something happen in the change room?"

"It doesn't matter."

"It fucking matters, Desi."

"I don't want to… fuck, I just don't want to deal with it right now. Could we just go, like, fucking anywhere but home?"

Simon regarded her for a long time. Finally, he sighed, then turned, and kicked off along the shore. "Sure. When's the last time that you went to Grey Straight?"

Desi blinked, and then raised an eyebrow at him. "I think the last time was when we went out there on Halloween when we were like… twelve?"

Simon was already off and swimming, and Desdemona was following him. The other perch let out a laugh that drifted back to her. "Right, right. I seem to recall that you didn't even make it to the edges of the town."

"Yeah, because it's scary as fuck. Besides, I thought that was basically where people just went to get high and shit now."

She couldn't see him from up ahead of her, but Desdemona swore that she could feel Simon rolling his eyes. The two travelled along in silence for a while, with Simon taking the lead. Desi was glad for the silence. Things had been a whirlwind since she'd returned to Black Bay from the H2O tournament. Sure, there had been maybe a day or two of quiet after she'd gotten back, and she'd been able to just hang out at home and decompress. Shortly after that, though, she'd started getting letters and phone calls from universities, all of them… weirdly complementary, and talking up her performance at the tournament.

She'd known that H2O was pretty widely followed in the basketball world. She hadn't quite realized just how… impactful that following was.

It had soon gotten to the point where her dad just kept a list. Every time that a phone call came in, he would stand beside her and write down the name of the school, along with all of the promises they were making her. She had laughed the first time he did it, especially at how ridiculous she felt just repeating what they'd said back to him. As time wore on, though, and his list grew longer, she started to understand how smart the idea was.

Her mother had spread out a map of North America for her, and the three of them had started marking off where all of the schools were. By this point, whenever she looked at the list, it just made her feel sick to her stomach. It was late for many of those schools to accept her, but all of them had made it clear that they would make an exception for her.

Desi gave her head a shake as Simon dove lower, and she followed him. They were further out in the bay now, and the water was getting cooler as they approached the main body of Lake Superior. The land masses of Grey and Edward Islands rose up on either side of them. Desi glanced past Simon, and shuddered as the depths of the Grey Straight came up closer to them. She could just make out the beginnings of abandoned and wrecked homes down below. In some places, all that were left were the tether chains that were meant to hold the old homes in place. In other places, the full, round exteriors of people's houses still loomed out of the darkness. She could see gaping holes in some of them - be they from looters or just exposure and ill-repair, Desi didn't know.

As they went further, they finally came to the spot that the Grey Straight was known for. Deep into the straight, they started coming across the remains of more homes. These ones, though, showed the violence of their destruction. It wasn't just small holes or smashed in doors or windows. Here, the homes were torn apart from the very edges. In some places it was possible to see half of a home ripped away and lying on the lake floor not too far away. In other places, all that remained were bits of shattered debris, that the shifting mud of the lake's floor was beginning to devour.

They followed the path of destroyed homes until a dark, angular shape loomed ahead of them. It was still lying on a bed of ruined houses, which were keeping all of its body from sinking into the bottom of the lake. The long black hull of a ship was laid out in front of them, a gaping hole torn into the base of it. In the dim light coming down from the surface, Desdemona could barely make out the white letters on the side of the hull, fading and partially overtaken with rust. She didn't need to read it to know that she was looking at the remains of The Dredless.

Simon slipped down into the gouge in the hull without any hesitation, but Desdemona kept staring up at it for a long moment. After a few seconds, she gave her head a shake, and then swept in behind the other perch.

The interior had long since been picked clean. The most interesting things left to look at were the layers and layers of graffiti that covered every surface. Desi let her eyes wander over it distractedly. Much of it was random bullshit - people's names, or random tags or strings of words. Here and there people had put phone numbers. In other places, though, the graffiti was more deliberate. Desi noticed more than a couple anti-surface slogans. In one or two spots, carefully untouched by the rest of the graffiti, there were old scratchings and bits of now-illegible writing on the hull. Rumour had it that they were the etchings of the ringleaders of the strikes and riots that used to be based out of the old sunken ship.

Simon was swimming a quick circuit of the cavernous interior, cutting close to the base. Desdemona watched him, not feeling too eager to take a look around. At length, she called over. "What, did you lose a fucking dollar in here or something?"

Simon let out a sharp exhale of air from his gills, then turned and streamed back over to her. He was rolling his eyes. "Y'know, I heard that they once found some divers in here."
 Desi blinked. "What, like, in the ship?"

"Yeah." He shook his head. "Like, what surface idiot would be stupid enough to come in here? They ought to know better."

"Maybe out-of-towners?" Desdemona shrugged. She hesitated for a second, unsure if she wanted to ask, but eventually she went on. "Uh… did you hear what happened to them?"

"Meh," Simon muttered. "I think somebody scared them off or some shit. We would've heard about it if it'd been the aqua-centrists or whatever."

"Right, right." Desi glanced around the big empty space, then gave a small kick, carrying herself deeper. "But I guess… I mean, come on, it's not like anybody's used The Dredless in years or anything."

"It's still important, y'know?" He shrugged. "Whatever. I'm glad I got some time to talk to you, though."

"Why?" Desi shot him a grin. "You've never been much a one for keeping anything to yourself."

"Ass," he chuckled. "No, I mean, I'm glad I'm getting to talk to you alone. Just sorta feels like…" He trailed off, and she raised an eyeridge at him. At last, he just let out a frustrated noise, then muttered, "Well, you and Braydon have been hanging out so much, and after everything with the fucking tournament, you've barely been around."

Desi blinked at that, and then snapped back, "Well sorry for having a few other friends who are excited about-" She stopped as she saw the look on his face. There was that bit of anger that was always present on Simon's face, but behind it there was something that looked genuinely hurt. She forced herself to take in a deep breath, and then let it back out. "I'm sorry. I've just been… this has been stressful as fuck, man."

"I know. Like, I do, I seriously do. And like, I'm super fucking happy for you, but like…" He trailed off again. It wasn't like Simon to be at a loss for words. He let out a frustrated sigh, and then tilted himself back. His tail flicked a bit, and he started a slow, lazy circuit of the ruined hull. "I never see you underwater anymore. If I hadn't learned to breathe air, would I ever even see you?"

"Come on, that's stupid," she replied. Simon immediately tucked his head down to look along his body down at her, and raised an eyeridge. "I haven't been out of the water that much."

"You know, I can never tell if you actually thing you're good at lying, or if you just always hope I'll give you a by."

She rolled her eyes. "Okay. Alright, fine. But… basketball's become a really big thing for me. I can't really do it underwater."

"Right, right, I get it." He was quiet again, still drifting. She watched him for a few more moments, then sighed and kicked after him. As she drifted overtop of him, she crossed her arms.

"Alright, I'm shit at lying, but you're even worse at hiding when you have something to say."

He blinked at her, and then gave her a small, hesitant grin. "So… like, is Glitterbendz dead, then?"

She blinked, and then stared down at him. The way he'd said it hadn't been confrontational, or sad, or anything like that. It had been more of a lighthearted resignation. He was asking her, but he already knew the answer.

Still, Desi stammered. "Wait, w- no. What? No, that's fucking stupid."

"I mean, you've barely even had time for band practice in the past few months, and we haven't played a show since we kicked Emmett out last year."

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean that we should- like, we're not going to quit."

"You're going to be moving away."

"Fuck… no, I mean, like, we can make this work, alright?"

"This isn't a fucking relationship, Desi. We can't just be a band long-distance." He was laughing now, shaking his head. He kicked away from underneath her, leaving her drifting.

"Well then maybe I just won't go for school! I can stay here instea-"

"Desi." She stopped, and finally looked over at him. He was leaning back against the wall of the hull, ignoring the rust. His arms were crossed, and he was giving her a serious look now. "You're my best friend. You know that, right?"

"Yeah. Of course."

"So I'm not allowed to just let you make a stupid decision."

"…I guess not."

"Cool. So Desi, you are not staying here. You are going out there, you're kicking ass, and you're going to make every damn person that watches you wonder where that fish learned to jump."

She kept staring at him. "What'll you do, though?"

He snorted. "I dunno. Start another band? Maybe one with less sequins this time."

"Still glam?"

"Dunno. Been in the mood to try something a bit more modern. Maybe some punk?"

Desi eyed him for a long moment, and then raised an eyeridge. "So when you said 'more modern', you meant 80s instead of 70s?"

"Ah, fuck off," he snorted.

The two of them passed into silence for a little while. Desi closed her eyes and focused on the feeling of drifting in the big, enclosed space. They were far enough away from the settled area of Black Bay that none of its sounds were drifting over to her. There was just the comforting echoing of being in the deep water.

Her head bumped against something warm, and she opened her eyes. She was looking up at Simon, who was glancing down at her. She'd drifted until she'd run into him. Their eyes met, and then both of the yellow perch grinned.

"We're gonna be fine," he said.

"Nah," she replied. She reached up, and gave him a gentle punch in the stomach, pushing herself away from him. "We're going to be fucking amazing, man."



February 2019 - All Star Week

Desdemona finally felt back in her element when the show started. She'd spent the better part of the afternoon out on Winnipeg's frozen Red River, trying desperately to learn how to skate. Fortunately, she'd had some help with it - Akiak and Kaspaar, a husky and a lynx who were also FBA players, had come out to give her a hand. Even with their help, though, she'd been off-balance for the entire afternoon, flailing around in the freezing wind of February in Winnipeg. She'd still been shivering when they arrived at the Pyramid Cabaret an hour earlier, accompanied now by Sandra and Zach, a few of Desi's other friends who were also visiting the city for All-Star Week.

Now though, standing in the middle of a crowd at a packed bar, with blaring music roaring out over their heads, she felt more comfortable. She was rocking her head and throwing her tall, powerful body fully into the movements and the music. Occasionally things would shift into a full-on mosh pit, and she was in it with the rest of them, being shoved along and thrown about in the press of bodies.

In her more lucid moments, she cast glances up at the stage, and at Simon standing out front of his band. His fingers were a blur on his guitar, and his voice was a harsh wail, belting out line after aggressive line. Every now and again his eyes happened on Desi while she was looking up at him, and he would just shoot her a grin.

He'd never looked better, Desi reflected. He'd never looked more alive or more like he belonged.

The crowd was impressive, too. It wasn't a stadium or anything, but the club had clearly sold out, and was packed all the way to the back. By her guess, it looked like about half of the attendees were aquatic, too. She couldn't remember if she'd ever seen that many aquatics in one place on land at once.

The rest of the crowd, various furs, were more of a mixed bag. Some of them clearly knew Simon's band, and were singing along to some of the lyrics. The majority, though… well, they'd obviously taken Desdemona's bait to come out. She'd publicly invited any all-stars that wanted to attend, and even gone so far as to promise to let people watch her try to skate out on Red River afterwards. The few towering heads poking out over the top of the crowd denoted other players that had taken her invitation, and some of the more hesitant and uncomfortable walkers towards the back were probably here for the chance to see those players.

For most of the night, though, she was moving, sweating, and yelling along whenever she caught a strain of lyrics that she knew. She'd left her winter clothes at the coat check, and eventually she'd even left her leather jacket hanging on a chair towards the back of the club. She was there in the heart of the crowd from the first note right through until the final song of the encore. She knew her voice was raw, and that she'd be speaking with that gravelly, low tone she hated for the next three days, but it was worth it.

She retreated back to the bar afterwards, and then headed back to her table with a drink. Sandra and Zach were both there, the jackal and the feline wearing considerably fewer layers than she'd since them in since arriving in Winnipeg. Desi flopped down into the seat that had her jacket hanging from the back, and then grinned over at the jackal and the feline. "Fuck, I needed that. What'd you think?"

Sandra, for her part, was rubbing one of her tall ears a bit. The astronaut was used to fairly loud sounds, given her profession, but she and her friend were attracting pretty serious attention. She wasn't exactly Hollywood actress famous, but she was still fairly known, and the fact that she was standing there next to a weird cat and they both had expensive Canada Goose jackets hanging from their seats wasn't helping them blend in any better. "Hey, they're not bad! The sound level reminds me of the lunar rocket I rode back in—"

"Um… that second song…" Zach, who was sticking out even more than Sandra by being a weird looking feline with big ears, was glancing around at the crowd uneasily. "That one about ships or something. Uh... did he actually mean that bit about drowning sailors or whatever it was...?"

Desi opened her mouth to reply, then paused and went over the lyrics in her head again. "Uh... yeah. I mean, I think it's a reference to this stuff that went down near Black Bay a few decades back? Like, there was this massive strike that shut down trading routes for a while, and there were some extremist groups that sorta, uh… took it further than that. Not, like, attacking ships or anything, but a few riots…" She trailed off after that, noticing the looks that the other two were giving her. She cleared her throat. "Look, history's messy, right?"

Zach's ears splayed out and he shuddered at her words. Clearly, he was recalling a few bad historical events. He reached for a glass of beer to drown them down. "You can say that again."

"What the spotty kitty-cat means is that yeah, history is pretty gnarly." Sandra stopped and looked around again. Another perch and a catfish were giving her funny looks. "Uh, Desi? Aren't Canadian people supposed to be polite and... uh... are you sure we are in the right—" She trailed off at the confused look Desi was giving her, and sighed. "Okay, am I gonna end up on the news trying to explain a brawl between a bunch of fish and a gal who walked in space? 'Cause I'm gonna need some harder shit than Labatt Blue to handle that."

Desi outright snorted. "Please. Just don't say anything bad about The Guess Who, and you'll be..." She trailed off as she turned to scan the crowd. For the first time, she was getting a good look at it. During the concert itself, she'd been too deep into the music to notice, but now she was picking up on the clear division. It wasn't anything overly obvious - just the odd looks here and there, and the obvious split between aquatics and non-aquatics. As she was staring, she noticed a few of the other fish shooting looks her way, probably questioning what she was doing with a jackal and a feline.

At length, she sighed, and looked back to the other two at the table. "It's the Pyramid Cabaret. This place isn't exactly bar brawl central." Even still, she gnawed on her lip for a moment before speaking. "Look, we can all head out after I get a chance to talk to Simon, alright?"

Sandra nodded and rubbed an arm. "Hey, so long as I don't have to tell my boss why I have a black eye, I'm happy. Besides, you've been telling us about this dude all night and he's got some good tunes. If he doesn't mind karaoke with a jackal who mostly knows rock and country..." She flashed the wicked grin she's so good at.

Zach, meanwhile, was awkwardly not making eye contact with a tattooed fish giving him annoyed looks. He glanced up from his phone. "What's the name of the band again? 'Dredless' or something? With an 'A' in it or…?"

Desi perked up at the question. Her mind had been beginning to wander, and she was starting to dwell on some of the lyrics she hadn't paid attention to before, but the distraction pulled her up out of it. "Nope, no 'A'! It's named after this ship called The Dredless. Kind of a local Black Bay Edmund Fitzgerald thing? Back in the 30s there was this shipping vessel that crashed in the bay after, uh... Well, after it took a route through a restricted off straight where there was an underwater residential area." The perch cleared her throat, and took a long sip of her drink before continuing. "Uh... I mean, for us it was sort of a ghost story thing growing up, but I think the wreck's where a lot of the protests in the 70s and 80s got organized. And the riots, uh..." Her voice, already raw, had been getting lower throughout the story. Her fingers were drumming along her glass as she thought about the giant wreck.

"Hey, you're Desdemona?"

Desi glanced up, and recognized the pumpkinseed fish that had been playing bass up on the stage next to Simon. Her hands were in her pockets, and there was a bored look on her face now that she was off of the stage. Desi tried to think back to what Simon had told her in his text earlier.

"Yeah, you're… Tiff? What's up?"

"Simon wanted to talk to you. You coming?"

"Yeah, yeah sure." She got up, and glanced back at Sandra and Zach. "Uh, I'll be out in a bit, and then we can head down to the Forks."

"Take your time," the jackal said, then muttered something about sub-zero temperatures.

Desi was already up and following the pumpkinseed fish through the club. Tiff nodded occasionally to the other aquatics that they passed along the way, but she regarded the walkers with stony silence. Eventually, they stepped through a door by the stage, guarded by one of the club's bouncers, and passed into a short hallway.

"Pretty good turnout, huh?" Desi finally asked, hoping to break the silence.

"Uh huh," the other fish grunted, and didn't really offer anything else.

After another moment of silent walking, Desi tried again. "So, uh, you guys in town for a couple days, or do you need to head out for the next city on the tour?"

"No, sadly we'll have to get going before you can pull another publicity stunt."

That set Desi back on her heels. She was about to snap back a reply when the pumpkinseed fish stopped and knocked on a door. A moment later, the door opened, and then Simon leaned his head out. He looked exhausted, and sweat was matting his shirt to his chest. As his eyes fell on Desi, though, his face lit up.

"Desi!"

"Hey!" she said, trying to sound enthusiastic. She went to shoot a look over at Tiff, but the pumpkinseed fish was already off and walking away. Desi considered shouting something at her back, but then Simon grabbed her wrist and pulled her into the green room.

"Fuck it's good to see you." He collapsed into a couch, and then looked up at Desi. There was a long moment of silence, and then he cleared his throat. He looked nervous, which was not something that Desi was used to seeing on his face. "So, like… what did you think?"

Desi blinked. She was still thrown off by Tiff's parting words, but she managed to gather herself enough to reply. "Uh… fuck, you guys were amazing."

He let out a long breath, and his face broke out into a wide smile. "Oh, fuck, thank god."

"Wait, what? Why do you care?"

"Because I started my first band with you!" He was laughing and shaking his head. "Like, I would've understood if you hadn't liked Dredless, but I still would've felt like shit about it."

"Dude." Desi was laughing this time. "Look, what you guys are doing is way better than anything we ever did together. I mean, fucking obviously. You guys were fucking sold out tonight."

"Yeah, well, I think it's fair to say that you helped with that." The other yellow perch raised an eyeridge at her, grinning.

She hesitated for a long moment before her answer, but… well, she'd never been good at lying to Simon. "Yeah. I guess the rest of your band wasn't too happy about that?"

His face flickered, and some tension returned to his reclined form. "Uh. I'm guessing Tiff said something?"

"Yeah. Something about publicity stunts?"

He was quiet for a few seconds, looking up at her. She was suddenly aware of the sound of muffled conversation drifting into the green room from out in the club. Now that she was out of the crowded space, her sweat was making her scales feel cold again. She resisted the urge to shiver as she met Simon's gaze, though.

Finally he sighed, and then glanced away. "Okay, yeah, uh. I guess they aren't really… fans of yours."

"Why?"

"I mean, you've listened to our lyrics, right?"

"Yeah, it's pretty, uh…" She thought back to Sandra and Zach's words. "It's strong stuff."

"Yeah, well… I dunno, I've been doing a lot of reading over the past few years. Lots of reading, lots of talking to people."

"'People?'"

He inclined his head, and then didn't talk for a while. It was Desi that broke the silence.

"You're shit at hiding when you want to say something." She tried to say it like she was chiding him, but it came out sharper than she intended. She cleared her throat before speaking again. "Go on. Just spit it out."

Simon took a very long breath. Then, he looked back up at her and met her gaze. "What the hell happened, Desi?"

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"You- fuck, look at you. You're on tv, you've been in magazines and shit, you've had all of these interviews, you're making shit tonnes of money."

"What, are you about to accuse me of selling out or something?"

"No. Like, I get it, you're a basketball player, that's all part and parcel of it. But you've got a fucking platform, and you're just… you're just fucking smiling for the cameras and talking about how great it is."

"Well what the hell else am I supposed to do?"

Simon let out an annoyed sigh, and then muttered. "Fuck. I always told myself that you that hadn't gone soft at UEO." As soon as the words were out, the look on his face said that he regretted it, and wanted to pull them back in. He opened his mouth to speak, but Desi didn't give him the chance.

"Gone soft?" Desi wasn't sure if she wanted to laugh or to yell. "Simon, I worked my ass off for those two years, alright? Like, yeah, I got lucky as fuck, but don't pretend I went and just coasted through all easy."

"That's not what I meant, Desi."

"Fuck, you're the one that told me I had to go!"

"I did! I fucking did, yeah? But when I told you to go and chase this, I didn't mean… I didn't fucking mean this!"

"Well what'd you mean?"

Simon let out a long, frustrated sigh, and then muttered, "Fuck it, Desi. How much fucking time have you spent in the water in the past, like… what? Two and a half years?"

"Plenty of time."

"Bullshit. And those fucking canals or whatever shit they made in Ottawa don't count."

"And how don't they count? It's water."

"They're fucking glorified fish tanks that the walkers built for fucking UN photoshoots and so they could pat themselves on the fucking back about collaborating with the fishies."

"That's not fair."

"No? You have any idea how tiny those things are?"

"I've fucking seen them, Simon. Unlike you, despite the number of times I asked you to visit. What the hell would you know?

"I know enough. Are they a space for us to live? Are they an actual place for us in the capital? Or are they just wide enough to be cute little market areas for the tourists to look at over the railings?"

"So what? When did we last set up any spaces for walkers to come and visit our cities? The canals and the rivers are at least a sign that they care, or at least that they're fucking trying to make things work."

"Are they? Hell, look at the Red River, Desi! Maybe if the walkers hadn't polluted it to shit we might have been able to play this show underwater instead of at some bar up on the land."

"That - Jesus Christ, Simon, most of that pollution happened in the fucking 50s."

"So? You think they wouldn't have polluted us out of Black Bay if we hadn't started rioting in the 80s?"

"People fucking died in those riots, Simon."

"Well maybe they didn't have it that wrong."

That statement drew Desi up short. She eyed him for a few very long breaths, waiting for him to flicker or falter. Then, at length, she muttered.

"So… Dredless."

"Yeah, Dredless." He kept meeting her gaze, eyes narrowed on her and hands in his pockets.

Everything was quiet between them after that. Desi became gradually aware again of the sound of the club outside, muffled by the walls of the green room. She thought back to the crowd in there - half aquatics, and half walkers. Hell, most of the walkers were probably there because of her stupid tweet earlier, or because of the chance to see her or some of the other All-Star participants.

She took a deep breath. "I think I should probably go. My friends are waiting for me."

At last, Simon's face cracked a bit, and his posture slumped. He gave his head a shake. "I'm sorry. I really didn't want things to go like this."

"Me neither."

"I'm glad you're here. I really am. And I'm glad that there were so many walkers here tonight, because they need to hear everything we're saying, too. And like… fuck, I miss you, Desi."

She let out a long sigh. Then, she crossed the distance between them, a few short steps, to lean down and give him a light punch in the shoulder. "Well then fucking send me a text every once in a while."

He grinned. "You know I'm shit at keeping in contact. But yeah, yeah, I promise to try. You going to go do that… fucking skating thing?"

"Yeah." She snorted. "It's fucking terrifying. If you want a laugh, you should come and watch. There'll be plenty of screaming. Fish belong in water, not on it."

"See now you're starting to sound like me." His tone was joking, but the words still left both of them quiet and overly aware of the silence afterwards. At length, he cleared his throat, and said, "Nah, uh… The rest of the band and I were going to go out for drinks. Want to join us afterwards?"

"Uh… I've got plans with some friends after skating. Karaoke or something. I'd invite you guys, but, uh… I'm guessing your bandmates wouldn't be down."

"Right." He hesitated, and then said, "Uh… Desi?"

"Yeah."

"I get it, alright? I'm saying some scary fucking shit right now. If I'm honest, the shit that comes out of my mouth scares me sometimes." He paused, and then inclined his head. "And like, I get it. Basketball's important to you and you have a fucking gift and I am so fucking happy for you that all this is happening. But just… promise me you'll spend some time in the water? Like, not in a fucking pool, not on a fucking vacation to some pretentious city with canals. Just… go and visit some towns in the water? Stay connected."

She let out a breath. "I promise I'll try? Like… dude, I need you to understand. The land's where I first felt like… I dunno, like myself? Like, when I'm on the court, I fucking care. I don't feel that anywhere else. The water's still this weird space for me. Like, it's where I'm from, and coming from Black Bay is a big part of who I am, but…" She trailed off, then made a frustrated gesture. "You know what I mean?"

"Yeah, yeah, I get it."

"But like… yeah, I'll prioritize visiting Penobscot Bay during the off-season. Okay?"

"Do you mean that?"

Desi couldn't hold back a grin at that. "Weren't you the one who always said I was shit at lying?"

Simon blinked, but then he grinned right back up at her. "Alright. So I'll try to text, you'll try to hop into a bay."

"Sounds fair."

The two of them spoke for a bit after that, but it was just awkward attempts at small talk. Eventually, Desdemona left and headed out into the bar. She nodded to a few of her friends and the other players as she got all of the extra layers of clothing on. They headed out as a group into the cold, most of the walkers leaving with her. Sandra and Zach had put their huge winter coats back on, and Desi picked out Akiak and Kaspar in the group as well. She laughed and joked with the others, trying to not think too hard about the conversation she'd just had.

When they reached the Forks, some of the other locals that had brought skates started getting changed into theirs on the benches that lined the frozen river. Desi took an open seat on a bench, and then cursed as she pulled her feet free from her warm boots and out into the frigid night air. She shivered as Akiak came over and helped her get the skates on, lacing them up and pulling them so tight that she thought he would pull her foot off.

Then, at last, she staggered up to her feet. She took a few deep breaths, each one of them puffing out into vapour in front of her face on the way out. Then she started forward, one foot slipping clumsily forward after the other. She couldn't hold the stupid grin back as she noticed how many eyes there were on her, or the several phones that were trained on her.

She started forward, the blade of her skate scraping over the ice. She slid her other foot forward next, her hands held out wide as she felt the gentle bumps in the ice's surface. She managed to get forward a few metres, focusing hard on the instructions that Akiak and Kaspar had given her earlier in the day.

On her next step forward, she suddenly felt her skate catch on something - an edge or a crack in the ice, she didn't know. All she knew was that her arms started pinwheeling, her weight was swinging out wildly to the side, and a startled shriek was ripping from her lips as she started falling.

The next second, a hand was wrapped around her wrist, and another hand had grabbed her elbow. It was just enough support for her to get her balance, and she panted for breath as her spike of adrenaline dissipated. As she started standing back up, she couldn't hold back some breathless laughter, the deep breaths of cold air almost making her cough. She glanced up finally to look at her saviour, and found Kaspar glancing down at her, the lynx steady on his feet as he helped to hold her up.

A moment later, Akiak had pulled up on her other side, and grabbed her arm. "Alright, come on, my anime prince and I will help you along."

She really couldn't stop laughing after that. The lynx and the husky helped hold her up, and they chatted over her head while they skated slowly along with the perch between them. Desi was pretty sure that she was just weighing them down at this point, but she wasn't about to ask them to stop helping her.

Every now and again, she let her eyes wander down to the frozen surface of Red River, and her skates clumsily scraping along it. She was sure that there would be videos all over the net of her near fall by the next morning, but… well. There were worse things.


Featured Characters

Desdemona Iverson
Akiak Pratt
Kaspar Kuusik

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