Story:Black, Green, and Yellow
Black, Green, and Yellow
Written by TriangleDelta
The elbow clocked Desdemona in the face, and stars exploded across her vision. She staggered back a step or two, well-honed instincts keeping her on her feet. Then her back pressed against a warm wall of bodies, and somebody was yelling in her ear above the music.
"Hey, you good fish girl?"
She opened her mouth and responded, but whatever she said must not have convinced her concerned bystander. Hell, she couldn't even remember what she'd said. All she knew was that suddenly there was an arm around her shoulders, and she was being led out of the mosh pit.
The noise and feeling of dozens of bodies thrashing around her fell away, and she staggered into the relative openness and the sticky heat of the rest of the club. Her saviour was still leading her along, but a few steps later she felt feathers brushing over her shoulders.
"Oh, fuck, got a good one there."
Desi responded. She wasn't sure what she said again, but she did notice Noah trade a look with the other person who was helping her.
"Alrighty, that's enough moshing for you tonight. Come on."
He led her over to the bar, and sat her down on a stool. It wasn't until she sat down that she realized just how dizzy she still was from that hit. She closed her eyes, and pressed her fingers to her temples with a groan. As the white stars began to dim behind her eyelids, she began feeling a throbbing, hot pain bubbling up around her eye.
"Fuck, and here I was worried about everybody else with you out there."
Desi let out a small, quavering groan, but this time she was aware that she hadn't made words. She assumed that was progress.
"I mean don't get me wrong, I'm sure everybody who's out in that moshpit's taken a hit or two before, but y'know… giant muscly pro athlete is a bit of a different vibe, y'know?"
The yellow perch let out another noise. It was closer to words this time, but not close enough for even her to recognize what she'd tried to say. She kept her eyes shut.
A cold, full glass was pushed into her hand. She took a deep gulp of it, and grimaced. Water. She'd hoped that Noah had taken pity on her and gotten her a beer.
"Hmm? What's that, amazon?"
"That's starting to sound better."
"I wanna dance."
She heard him snort next to her. His hand came down to pat on her shoulder. "You're the toughest person I know, Desi. And no."
"If I'm not allowed to practice my ballroom shit because of my ribs, then you sure as hell aren't allowed to mosh after getting clocked in the eye."
"But it's my last chance to party until frigging…" She trailed off, and clenched her forehead as she tried to remember. That only made her eye hurt more. "…like January? I think that's the next time I've got more than, like, two days off in a row?"
"Yeah, well, at least you made your last night for a while a good one."
"Aw shut up."
"Come on, let me look at you."
She sighed, then turned towards him, her eyes still shut. She felt his fingers slide from her shoulder, over down under her chin. It was a touch that was gentle but firm. Desi was suddenly very aware of her own breathing.
"Go on, open up. Let's see how hard they got you."
She forced her eyes open. Her left one opened easily, but the right one hurt as she opened it, and she could feel the lid not wanting to rise all the way. Noah's face swam into view - the kea's big hooked beak tilted down, his dirty green plumage a bit fluffed up from the humidity in the club. She met his gaze for a few seconds, and just sat there in the roar of punk rock bellowing from aging speakers and the anonymizing clamour of a hundred voices.
"Yeah, angel," he finally muttered. "I think that one's going to leave a mark for a while."
"Oh." She tried to sound like she cared. To a certain extent, she did - the throbbing of the scales around her eye was distracting, and the heat kept seeping back into the rest of her head in small, painful punctuations. She ignored that, though, and forced herself to keep that right, watering eye open. "That's kinda shit."
"Yeah, well. Preaching to the squawking choir." Noah nodded down at his chest.
The two fell quiet for another second or two. She couldn't tell if he was looking her in the eye, or just checking out her swelling eye at this point. He did have all of that wilderness first aid training - maybe he was just trying to do an assessment or something. Still, it would be nice to think that he was just a bit taken with looking at her.
It took a moment for Desdemona to process the voice that had just spoken, especially among the continuing raucous music blaring out of the speakers. Then she blinked, and pulled her face out of Noah's hands. The bird looked just as surprised as she felt. Desdemona turned on her barstool, and froze as she came face to face with a tall, lithe raccoon with blue headfur.
"Oh. Fuck." And then she shook her head, and said, "Ash! Uh… hey!"
The raccoon was staring at her, and Desi was suddenly very aware of how close she was sitting to Noah. She was about to speak, to try to draw Ash's attention away from the two of them, but then the raccoon finally spoke.
"Damn, I thought that was you. Uh… they got you pretty good there, didn't they?"
Desdemona blinked. It was the twinge of pain that the movement drew from her eye that finally clued her into what Ash was staring at. She cleared her throat, and spoke. "Yeah, uh, well. Occupational hazard."
"I mean, I've seen people take hits in the mosh pit before, but that was, uh… something."
She let out a breath she hadn't realized that she was holding, and then shrugged. "I mean, I stayed on my feet, so can't have been that bad."
"Right." He fell quiet after that, and Desi wasn't sure what to say. She and the raccoon hadn't known each other for too long - he'd only been drafted by the Tides a couple weeks earlier. She kept her gaze down, trying not to think too hard about the situation, until Ash spoke again.
"So, uh… going to introduce me to your friend?"
Desdemona blinked. She didn't react for a very long moment. Long enough for Noah to lean around her, and hold out a wing. "Hey! Name's Noah."
"Nice!" Noah sized the tall raccoon up, and then raised an eyebrow. "So, um… one of Desi's teammates?"
"Yeah!" The raccoon laughed, and then gestured down at himself. "What gave it away? Oh, hey, uh, I just moved into my new place, and was thinking of holding a housewarming party this weekend. You guys should come!"
"That'd be awesome."
"Hey Noah?" Desi cleared her throat as her voice cracked. Noah and Ash glanced over at her. She hurried on. "We should, uh, get going. Face injury and all."
"Right!" The bird hopped up. Desdemona finished her glass of water, and stood up with him.
"Do you guys need a ride?" Ash asked, going to stand up.
"We're good!" Desi said, rushing to get it out before Noah could speak. "Our- my condo's not too far. And a walk will probably do me good."
"You sure?" Noah asked, shooting her a look.
"Yeah. Yeah totally." The pain in her eye was really starting to settle into place.
"Okay, uh… I'll see you at the party though, right? My sister really wants to meet the team!"
"Uh…" Her brain raced for something to say that wasn't a 'no', but that also wouldn't lock her into going. At last, she settled on, "Uh, yeah, we'll see!" She turned and started walking hurriedly towards the exit, calling over her shoulder, "See you at the facility tomorrow, Ash!"
She was already out of the doors by the time Noah caught up to her. She paused as she stepped into the parking lot, and she blinked a few times as the late summer nighttime sounds of Bangor suddenly grew sharper all around her. There was a faint ringing in her ears, and she could hear the muffled music drifting through the club's walls behind her.
Noah was wheezing as he drew up to her, and the kea paused to hold a hand to his chest. "Hey, not so fast."
"Oh, shit. Uh, sorry. Are you good to walk?"
"Yeah, so long as we take it slow. Just uh… no speedwalking, yeah?"
The two wandered along through the cooling air. It was still quite warm out, but the breeze coming off of Penobscot Bay was wicking away their sweat from the club. It truly wasn't a long walk from the club over to Desi's place - less than ten minutes. The two of them walked along mostly in silence, keeping their thoughts to themselves.
The condo building was visible up ahead when Noah finally spoke. "So… do you want to go to that party?"
Desdemona managed to keep her expression flat as she glanced over at him. "You mean Ash's housewarming?"
"Yeah. I mean, it'd be cool to meet some of your friends. Or coworkers. Or whatever they are."
"God, I have no fucking idea." She rolled her eyes, then flinched and raised a hand to her forehead. "Son of a… uh. I dunno. I think 'teammates' really is the best word."
"Right, right." The two of them started up the stairs to her floor. "But still, I'd really like to, y'know, meet them. I mean, if that's alright with you."
"No- I mean, like, it's not a problem or anything. It's just, uh…" She trailed off, and then groaned. "Fuck. Sorry, my eye's really starting to kill me now."
Noah snorted. "Dork. We totally should've taken that ride."
"Aw shut up."
He laughed, and then unlocked the door for her. She went over to the freezer, and dug out an ice pack. She normally used them treat strained muscles during the season, but now she just draped it over her eye and forehead. She walked over to her couch, being careful to balance the pack on her face until she collapsed into a sitting position.
She lay back for a few minutes, letting the coolness sink into her sensitive scales. She could hear Noah moving around the condo, but she mostly ignored him for the time being.
There was a small, electric thump, and she knew that he'd plugged his phone into her speakers. Soon enough, music started drifting through the space - not loud, just enough to make out.
She snorted. "American Idiot? Really?"
"Hey, you dragged me to a punk show. Not my fault if I started craving emo."
Desi grinned as she heard him walking over. She kept her eyes closed as he sat on the couch next to her. She felt the cushions dimple under his weight as he slumped. He always slumped.
"So," she asked, "is this album in your playlist of ballroom songs, or…"
He laughed hard at that. "Can you imagine? Me stepping out with a partner, and fucking Jesus of Suburbia comes on?"
She smiled lazily. Now that she was sitting down, her exhaustion was catching up to her. "I'd watch it."
"Glad to hear it, angel."
She wasn't sure when her hand slid over and brushed against his after that. Shortly after, his fingers slid up her wrist. Then her arm was over his shoulder, and then his fingers were cupping her face again, and his beak was sliding along her cheek, and she was running her fingers through his dirty green feathers…
The ice pack slid off of Desi's face. The sudden movement shocked her out of the moment, and she suddenly realized what she was doing. She let out a small, startled yelp, and then pulled away from him, sliding back along the couch.
He looked up at her, startled. All his visible feathers were puffed up, and she could see he was panting.
"I'm sorry!" The words came out of his beak quickly. "Sorry, I, uh- I'm sorry, I should have asked, and, um-"
"It's okay." She was out of breath when she said it. She cleared her throat once, then put more force into the words. "Really, it's okay."
"Did I, uh… did I misread the situation, or—?"
"No. No! You didn't. I mean, I wanted it t- I mean, I do want it too. It's just, I, uh." She forced herself to take a few more deep breaths, then looked down. "I think it's just a bit too fast." It was a lie. It was a fucking lie.
"Oh." She heard him take a few breaths, then he spoke again. "Okay. But, uh… you think… something you would want at some point?"
"Yes." She said it more quickly than she would have liked. "Yes. Definitely."
"Good." He sounded relieved. "Like, no pressure, but uh… good."
She nodded, still not looking up at him. Then, she grabbed the ice pack from where it had fallen on the floor. "Alright, uh, I need to be up early, so I'm heading to bed. G'night."
She walked over to her room before he could say anything. She closed the door, and then just leaned her back against it for a long time, taking deep breaths.
Oh. He wanted her. He actually did want her. That was good. Well, bad. But very, very, very good.
She leaned against the door until she heard him get up on the other side, and go to turn off the music. Then she sighed, and headed to her bathroom to get ready for bed.
By the time Desi got to the Tides' training centre the next morning, her eye had swollen up into a nice, healthy bruise that stung any time her face moved. Despite the constant, nagging pain, though, she couldn't keep the small grin from her face.
Beyond the pain of her black eye, the rest of her body was a collection of aches, and her ears were ringing. She normally would have worn plugs for a show like that, but she'd made an exception, knowing that she was going into her active season period - no partying, barely any drinking. Definitely no shows like that for a while.
She made her way through the hallways, her Tides duffel slung over her shoulder. Every now and again, she passed by a staff member, and they inevitably stared at her, their eyes locked on the bruise around her right eye. She didn't care all that much - she'd long since gotten used to people staring at her, and she had an odd sense of pride about that black eye.
Her phone beeped in her pocket, and she fished it out. There was a text from Noah, simply saying, Hey, we good after last night?
She went to respond, until she heard the telltale sound of a low, drawling voice echoing down the hallway towards her. She grinned, and pushed her phone back into her pocket, instead following the voice. It took her right into the office of the team's head trainer, Bob. The sloth was tapping on a tablet, his long claws tilted upwards so that he could actually get at the screen. Sitting on the sloth's examination table was a towering wolf with pale brown fur. His was the voice that was echoing down the hallway, and he continued drawling on while Bob occasionally tested his reactions or got him to move parts of his body.
"Bob, Raoul. How was the summer?"
The wolf paused as she spoke, and snorted. "How was the summer? Listen, fishsticks, you would not fuckin' believe the shit I got up to in-" His voice cut out as he looked up at her, and Raoul blinked once. "Oh for Chrissakes, kid, couldn't even wait 'til playoffs this year before asking somebody to beat the shit out of you?"
"Well thanks, Raoul, you're looking beautiful as always, too," she snorted. Bob finally glanced up from his tablet and looked over at her, and then his claws clacked against the tablet as he nearly dropped it.
"For the love of- Iverson, we haven't even played a game yet!"
"And I've got a good week or two to heal up before we play our first one." She rolled her eyes, then flinched as that caused her right eye to twinge.
"So how'd the other guy look afterwards?" Raoul asked, grinning.
Bob groaned. "Don't answer that, please don't answer-"
"No idea. Last I saw him he was still frigging dancing and getting shoved around."
"Hell yeah. Mosh pit."
"Oh for the love of…" Bob gave a small stamp of his foot. Desi looked down at him, and he raised an eyebrow expectantly. She sighed, then crouched down slightly so he could get a closer look. She kept speaking at Raoul over his shoulder.
"What, did you think I got into a street fight or something?"
"I mean, last year you asked me to kick your ass for real, not for play play."
"Yeah, but you weren't around. You think I'd trust just anybody with that?"
Bob clenched his eyes shut for a moment. "Not hearing any of this, I am not hearing any of this…"
"I dunno. Figured maybe you asked Mr Fluffdog."
"You mean Kalsang? Why, 'cause he's a…"
"That is your teammate you're talking about!" Bob let out a frustrated growl, as Raoul shot Desi a look over the sloth's shoulder and the fish tried to hold in her laughter. Bob kept looking at her eye, then let out a groan. "Did you even ice this thing?"
"Of course!" Desi almost managed to sound offended at the suggestion that she hadn't. She hesitated, though, and then added, "After we got home, of course."
"Desi." The sloth's voice was almost cracking.
Behind him, Raoul snorted. "Alright, well this has been fun. Am I good to go, Bob?"
"Yeah, yeah, go." The sloth waved the big wolf off. Desdemona remained where she was as Raoul walked by her, and then she was left alone in the office with the trainer glaring at her.
At last, she sighed. "Look, it's not that big a deal! What's the risk, that somebody happens to hit me again? I can count the number of times I've been hit in the face playing basketball on one… two hands." To Bob's incredulous look, she shrugged. "I don't see why you're freaking out so much."
Bob kept glaring at her for a few seconds longer. Then, he sighed, and muttered, "You realize that after lunch they're doing all the promo shots, right?"
Desi kept staring at him, not responding. Then, she blinked, and as her eye throbbed with the movement, she muttered, "Well fuck."
It was a long afternoon. When the team doing the photos came in, there was the same rush that Desi remembered from a few occasions the year before. The team was efficient and professional - they had ran through the team one at time, with one player having their photos taken while another sat in with the makeup team to prepare. It was almost a familiar process for Desi by this pint - the team always started with the players that would take the least time, and then move up. Last year, the makeup team had spent a good half an hour with Tia, making sure that her hair would look perfect for the shots.
Previously, Desi had always finished up quite early on in this process. She didn't have any hair to deal with, and normally they would just add a bit of a base layer over her scales so that they wouldn't glare too much in the flash. This time, though, as soon as their makeup artist took a look at her eye, the squirrel flinched, and said, "Yeah, uh… move her to last."
Desdemona's phone had just vibrated, reminding her of the previous text from Noah, when they finally called her over from physicals to get her makeup done. Desi cursed, but figured the text could wait.
She was already annoyed with the number of stares that her swollen eye was drawing. What followed was a frustrating half hour of the squirrel walking around her, eying her from all angles under bright lights, and dragging brushes and cleaning wipes over Desi's sensitive scales over and over again.
In the makeup artist's defence, she was probably being as delicate as she could. She only tried something new after she'd thought about it for a while, and she kept checking in with Desi while she was applying and removing the products to make sure she wasn't being too rough. Still, the repeated prodding and brushing of the painful scales soon wore down her patience. Even the well-meaning checks from the squirrel soon started grating on her.
Eventually the photographer wandered over as well, and she and the squirrel conferred back and forth for a few minutes. After the two of them had tried three more combinations of products and lighting to try to conceal the bruise around Desi's eye, the fish finally stood up.
"Oh for the love of… can't you just take a picture of the left side of my face?"
The squirrel glanced over at the photographer, then inclined her head. "I mean, yes… but we're doing a bunch of shots. We can't exactly have you looking to the right in every single picture."
"Then show my eye in some of them! Who cares? I'm a fucking pro athlete. Our fans know that we get hurt sometimes."
"Well yes, that's true, but—"
She fell silent as the photographer laid a hand on her arm. "Unfortunately, she's right. We're not going to be able to cover up that much bruising and swelling."
The squirrel was quiet for a moment or two, still looking at Desi's eye. Then, at length, she sighed, and muttered, "Well, I suppose she is a bit of a bruiser on the court."
Desdemona let out a long breath. "Yeah. Better if folks don't forget that."
The photo session after that wasn't too long. Desi turned her face to shelter her eye for her headshot, and then made a point of showing her muscles and acting aggressive for all the rest of the pictures. By the time they were done, she was even starting to feel a bit better about the whole situation. She went to get some water, and glanced at her phone. She blinked at the last message, her eye giving a throb in response.
She was just starting to type her response when a member of the facility's staff jogged over to her. "Hey, Iverson. The boss wants you in his office."
Desi blinked. "Can it wait a minute?"
The staff member cleared his throat. "He didn't say, but uh… wouldn't recommend it."
Desi sighed, then nodded.
When Desi reached the door, it was already open, so she just stepped inside. "Hey boss," she said, trying to sound casual. Wesley, the weasel general manager of the Tides, was seated behind his desk. There were a number of printed out schedules laid out in front of him, most of them with sections highlighted or crossed out. Bob was also in the office, sitting at one of the chairs in front of the desk. At a gesture from Wesley, Desi took the other chair.
"Alright, we're all busy, so let's cut to it." Wesley leaned forward, then nodded towards Desi's black eye. "So… mosh pit?"
"And did somebody in that mosh pit have a baseball bat or something, because, uh… wow."
Desi snorted at that. "It's not that bad."
Wes shot Bob a look, and the sloth inclined his head. "It's pretty bad."
Desi groaned, and leaned back in her chair. "It's the day after. This is the worst it's going to look. Probably."
She didn't miss Wes shooting Bob another look out of the corner of her eye, and Bob shaking his head. No. Her eye would get worse before it got better.
"So the business questions." Wes steepled his fingers. "Can my bench forward practice and play? Desi."
The perch shrugged. "You've both seen me play through worse. It's just a black eye."
"I mean… yes, she can practice and play. We're keeping her out of any scrums for now, though. Another hit like that could actually do damage."
"Good. That's settled. Now Desi. Please make my job easier. Did you… I don't know, tweet a picture after you took the hit? Even post something about partying too hard or getting roughed up at a concert?"
Desi blinked, then winced at that. "Uh… I tweeted that I was going to a show before Noah and I headed out?"
"Did you at least see who hit you?"
"Uh… they had fur?"
Wes chewed that over, sighed, and said, "Well that narrows it down to most of the population of Maine. Were there other people who saw this happen? Because otherwise, I’m going to be answering awkward questions about why my player who broke a guy’s rib before ending up with him at the hospital is suddenly showing up to a presser with a black eye…"
Desdemona was sitting up now. "Wait, what? No, it's not… that's not what this is. Look, lots of people saw me take that hit. Lots. Hell, Ash was there!"
The weasel inclined his head. "Well that's something, at least. We'll get out ahead of the story before FMZ can sink their claws into it. The two of you might get some uncomfortable questions from the press, but that's the best we can hope for."
"The two of us?" Desi asked. She shot a look at Wes, then to Bob, then back to Wes, before she stammered out, "There's… like there's no way that we can just keep Noah out of this? Completely?"
Wesley hesitated before responding. "...Desi, you broke the guy’s rib, you're living with him, and now you show up with a shiner the size of Meteor Crater. How do you think that looks? We'll do what we can, but we might already be past the point of keeping Noah out of it. This is going to draw attention."
Desi blinked once, then sat back in her chair. She let her breath out in a long, slow exhale.
Next to her, Bob cleared his throat. "Well, I've got physical results to chart, and nutrition plans to tweak. Wesley."
"Bob." The weasel nodded. Desi ignored them - she could feel her phone vibrating in her pocket with another text.
Bob and Desi both got up. As the sloth headed out the door, though, Wes's voice stopped the perch.
She tensed. She could feel her phone in her pocket, seemingly heavier than normal. Her body tensed, and then she glanced over her shoulder. Wes nodded at the door, and so she closed it.
Everything was quiet for a few moments while the weasel eyed her. At length, he drummed his fingers on his desk, and then spoke.
"Please be honest with me. Why is this such a big deal?"
Desi sucked in a deep breath or two. When she spoke, she was carefully choosing her words. "I just don't want the personal parts of my life to start getting overshadowed by all… this." She gestured vaguely around. "Noah's good. I like him. He's one of the first people I've met since I got drafted that didn't already think that he knew me, because of some bullshit interview I gave or some random fucking rumours. Since we won last year…" She shrugged. "Even underwater now, almost everybody already fucking 'knows' me as Tides number 2, Iverson. I want him to know me and be my… I dunno, be my fucking friend, outside of all of this."
It wasn't a lie. It just wasn't all of the truth.
Wesley kept meeting her gaze, his fingers steepled. Finally, he sighed, and spoke. "Look, Desi. I get it. But my honest advice for you and your feathery roomie at this point?" He shrugged. "You're probably not going to keep him out of the spotlight, at least a bit. If you keep trying to hide him from it, that will make the reporters want to dig in more. If you just let it happen, though, and you control how information gets out… It might go smoother."
Desi didn't answer for a bit after that. At length, she just groaned, and said, "Uh… thanks, boss. I'm tired though. Going to go get changed then head home."
Wesley nodded, and so she made her way out of the office. As soon as she was out, her steps became stiff and plodding. She walked until she reached the women's changeroom, and then finally dug her phone out of her pocket. She stared down at Noah's most recent message.
Hey, are we alright?
She stared at the string of unanswered texts. Then, holding the phone in both hands, her thumbs tapped across the screen.
The more the media pays attention to you, the more likely it is you'll learn about me. And the more that you learn about me, the more likely you figure out that I'm trans. And if you learn that I'm trans, you might… I dunno. Turn out to be an asshole.
I don't think I can handle the guy who calls me an angel being an asshole.
She stared down at that text for a short while, not moving. Then she sighed, and swept her finger over the screen to delete the message. Instead she typed,
So you want to do Ash's party? Good chance to meet the team.
She sent that message, then put down her phone. She couldn't shelter him from the media forever. For while this lasted, though… she could at least try to enjoy it.