Written by TriangleDelta
The ball wasn't what Desdemona had expected. Though, for that matter, she wasn't sure what she'd expected. Ballroom dancing was such a foreign thing to the perch that she couldn't put it into context. If it wasn't the rhythmic thrashing and swaying to the beat at a concert, it just seemed… strange.
She knew enough about surface culture to have seen a few movies where dances took place, though. Those all seemed to happen in grand ballrooms, probably in a castle or a palace somewhere, or some massive beautiful event space. This was… well.
Noah's ballroom group had rented out the Polish Legion. It was a nice enough space, even if it had a bit of a lingering smell of cigarette smoke. The group had put in the effort to set out tables around the perimeter of the room. They'd even made their own centrepieces for all of the tables - simple things that were made up of a box, a few flowers, and some ribbon.
The middle of the legion had a full, proper dancefloor. It was definitely worn, no doubt from years and years of having tables set out on it or people walking across it in inappropriate footwear. The wood still gleamed in the lights, though.
It was surreal walking into that space, her arm wrapped around Noah's. He'd insisted on it. He'd used the self-admonishing, joking tone to ask her to do it. She had long since learned that it was what he did when he was asking something that was particularly important to him.
There was this thing about how he looked and moved like this. The moment he'd stepped out of his room in his rented tux, Desdemona could do nothing but stare. She was so used to seeing him wearing faded and worn clothing - functional stuff that had travelled with him across Canada and the States for months. It all had fray marks and holes that told stories of long days on trails, or nights spent sleeping in the back of a car. Like this, though… This tux fit him properly. It turned his lean, casual musculature into slim, flowing lines. It was smart and dark, the material fresh and properly pressed.
He'd also spent some time tending to and styling his feathers. The unruly mop on top of his head was slicked back, and he'd used some sort of product to get it to remain close to his head. He'd also brushed down the crest of green feathers on his chest. He had left his bright blue shirt unbuttoned around the collar, and down a few buttons - just enough to show that flash of green on his chest.
It wasn't until he looked over at her and blinked that she realized she was still staring at him. And then, just as suddenly, she realized that he was staring back.
It wasn't like she'd done much. She'd put on the dress that she'd bought with Tia. Desdemona still felt badly for the attendant at the store that had helped the two of them. The attendant had somehow managed to not look nervous while talking with the towering perch and opossum. Neither of the basketball players had known what they were doing, and it had probably shown. It was the attendant who had helped narrow down what they needed, and then brought out options for dresses. If it weren't for her, they probably would have walked out with something that belonged at a costume party more than a ball.
It was Tia, though, who had helped Desi keep her nerve when the attendant had approached her to do measurements. The yellow perch had felt ready to bolt and run, but Tia's assurance and joking had kept her steady. Of course, it had also been Tia who had accidentally torn the slim, sleeveless blue dress that Desdemona was now wearing. That had effectively made the decision for them - the attendant had assured them that she could have it mended, and alterations made so that it would accommodate Desi's muscles. Somehow, that little rip, and the embarrassment from both her and Tia, had stripped much of the mystique from the dress.
So Desi had put it on for tonight, along with a pair of matching high heels. She'd even put a bit of product on her scales to make the green a bit more uniform. That was it. Still, it had taken Noah a few moments to speak. When it came out, he just whispered, "Damn, angel."
She tried to remember the sound of his voice when he'd said that as they made their way over to one of the tables. She was holding her coat, and couldn't wait to put it back on. She was sure that her broad shoulders were more than a little noticeable. Her eyes wandered over the rest of the women there. Their bodies weren't as uniform as she'd expected, and there were more older people there than she'd expected. She and Noah weren't the youngest couple there, but they weren't far off.
Desi was thankful when they finally took their seats. She was easily the tallest person in the legion that night. She noticed a few eyes drifting over to her and Noah, but she tried to tell herself that it was nothing to be worried about. Everybody was looking at everybody else there. It was half of the point - they were all in their nicest clothes, in their costumes for the night.
It didn't help that the rest of the women there looked so much more comfortable in their dresses and high heels than Desi felt. She tried to ignore it.
Noah introduced her to the others at their table, and they sat and waited for their meal. There was a lot of casual conversation, which Noah seemed perfectly comfortable with. Desi was grateful to learn that there were a few other couples there where only one of the pair was a member of the dancing group. Soon enough, she was talking and laughing with one of the men that was seated at the table with them. The two of them traded stories about trying to keep up while dancing with their respective partners, and the often hilarious results.
Soon enough the food came out. It wasn't anything special - meat and potatoes, and some greens that had been steamed a bit too long. The normal fare one might expect at a legion trying to host a formal event. Wine went around, and Desdemona was happy to sip at hers. She didn't want to get too tipsy if she was going to be dancing with Noah later, but damn if she didn't need a drink to get her there.
After dinner had been cleared away, the music started. Noah turned to shoot her a look, but Desdemona had noticed who was getting up. It wasn't the inexperienced partners who were getting up yet - it was just the club members. She grinned at him, and gave her head a shake.
"Go on and show off. You know you want to."
He gave her a sheepish look, then stepped out onto the dance floor.
It didn't take him long to pair up with a mouse who looked to be three times his age. She moved with practiced grace, though, and Desdemona couldn't help but stare at Noah. Even with his slightly slower-moving partner, his movements were precise and graceful. He led his partner from step to step, and the two of them seemed to know exactly how to move together.
Watching them, Desdemona couldn't help but feel an odd sense of envy in her guts.
"Sorry, um, Desi, is it?"
Desdemona pried her eyes away from the dance floor. The speaker was one of the men who was sharing her table. He was a middle-aged wolf - Desi had seeen his wife head out on to the floor with an otter earlier. The wolf was dressed in a brown suit that set off the pale grey of his fur.
She cleared her throat, then spoke. "Uh, yeah."
"Sorry, I didn't recognize you at first. Must be the dress and all. You wouldn't happen to be Desdemona Iverson, would you?"
She tried to not let all her breath out through her nose as she eyed the wolf. Deep breaths.
"Yeah, that's me."
"Wow, it's great to meet you!" He offered a hand. Desi took it and shook. Hopefully he was just a basketball fan excited to meet a player. "I was watching while you guys won last season - that was a great playoffs."
"It was pretty wild to be in. I think I'm still working off the headache from the night we won."
The wolf laughed at that. "Right, right. I've spoken with Noah once or twice before while picking Ruth up from dancing - he hasn't really mentioned you. I mean, beyond saying that he was staying with a fish."
"Well, I guess if it just didn't come up…" That was good at least. Noah was respecting her wishes for discretion, even if he didn't know her reasoning. She gulped. Not right now.
"But like, I mean… does he know who you are?"
Was there something in the way he said it? Or was she just reading that into it? Her mouth was open for a long moment before she got a reply out. "Noah doesn't follow basketball too closely."
"Right, I guess so." He didn't look satisfied at that answer. Was he flabbergasted that somebody could not know all that much about the Tides, his hometown team?
Or angry that maybe Noah didn't know about her.
Stop it. Stop thinking like that. Not everybody's like that.
There were a long few moments of uncomfortable silence. Desi tried to think of something, anything to say. As the seconds dragged on, though, she couldn't pick anything. Whatever she said might be read as an attempt to deflect, and if that actually was what he meant, then he wouldn't let her deflect, he would just—
The wolf's partner was back. Both he and Desi glanced up at the sound of her voice.
"Care to join me for the next one?"
Desi blinked. She hadn't even noticed that the music had stopped. But the wolf - Gregory, she supposed - was getting up, and heading off with his partner. A few of the other non-dancers had gotten up to join in the dancing as well, though there were still a few sitting at various tables.
Desi glanced to the dancefloor, and picked out Noah. He was looking to her, his eyebrows raised. She waited for the music to start, and then picked out the beat. She forced a smile onto her face, shook her head at him, and held up three fingers. She'd only practiced the waltz. It was a good excuse to let her sit this one out. Blame it on the dance, not on her need to get her heartbeat back under control.
It had started two months earlier. After Noah had learned about the Bangor Ballroom Organization, it was like he'd turned into another person. He had long since stopped wincing every time he lifted his wings too high. He probably could have continued on with his cross-country trip in search of adventure, but neither he or Desdemona had ever mentioned it.
Still, he'd had this almost absent-minded, nervous energy about him in the evenings. It wasn't so bad whenever he'd had a day off, and had the opportunity to get out to do a hike in the woods surrounding Bangor. Hell, once or twice Desdemona had even gone with him, on the rare days that she had a day free of games or travel or practice.
But most evenings, when both of them were in Desdemona's condo, he seemed restless. It bothered Desdemona, but she wasn't sure what she could do for him.
Then, one evening she'd come home from practice, sore and tired and satisfied as she often was. She'd heard the music before she'd even opened the door. When she stepped inside, she found that he'd pushed much of the furniture back against the walls, and had some sort of fast classical song playing on the speakers. He was turning in wide, fast circles, his feet making confident, long strides across the carpet. His eyes were closed, and his wings raised as though holding an invisible partner. In his t-shirt, it was easy to see the bright flush of orange feathers along the underside of his wings. They fluttered strikingly against his uniform green-grey plumage, almost like fire in the dim lights of her apartment.
Desdemona had just stared at him, taken too much by surprise to react at first. She'd identified the classical music on his mp3 player shortly after they'd met. He'd sheepishly explained that along with his various outdoor activities, he'd done a lot of ballroom dancing in New Zealand. It had been a frequent topic for joking and gentle teasing between them ever since.
She'd never actually had the chance to watch him do it, though. His movements were different from the normal, almost dorky tenderness he normally displayed. They were confident, graceful, flowing.
At some point, his eyes cracked open while he was moving, and he saw her. He'd let out a startled squawk, and then she'd yelped, and then he was scrambling to turn off the music while she finally closed the door. It had come out in an embarrassed, laughing rush after that. He'd found a ballroom dancing group in Bangor. He was going to sign up.
She'd responded mostly in a daze. She was probably a bit too worn out from practice to keep up with what he was saying. She was happy for him, though.
When she'd gone to bed that night, she hadn't been able to get the image of him dancing and swaying out of her head. That, and the thought that he was definitely not leaving now. He was staying, at least for a while.
Noah found himself another partner, and then he was moving. Desi was alone at her table now, so she just sat and watched him. She tried not to look at Gregory and his partner, in case he happened to be looking back. She had the overwhelming feeling that everybody was dodging glances at her, but no. That wouldn't make sense. Nobody would be watching anything but the dancing. Nobody was paying attention.
But what if they were? What if everybody in the legion was shooting glances her way, trying to place where they knew her from? Or already knowing, and trying to figure out if Noah knew yet?
Desdemona kept watching Noah dance, not really focusing on him. She knew that everything she was thinking was ridiculous. She knew that. She couldn't stop thinking it, though. She couldn't stop going over what Gregory had said, and how he'd said it, to try to figure out if there was some sort of hidden meaning. Or was she just reading too much into it? Or not reading enough into it? Or… fuck, it was making her dizzy.
She blinked, and glanced up. Noah was standing right in front of her, and she realized that the music had stopped. He was half-grinning at her.
"You look sorta out of it. Don't tell me you got a second glass?"
She stared at him for a second, and then cleared her throat. "Please. I'm sober and pure."
"Right, right. I've seen what a lightweight you are with wine."
"It was one time!"
He shot her a wicked grin, and then hesitated. When he spoke, he was inclining his head some. "So, uh… next song's supposed to be a waltz. Y'know, if you want to, uh, take a turn?"
She kept staring, processing that. No. Fuck no, she didn't want to get up on the dancefloor. She wanted to find a dark corner to stand in so nobody would see her. She didn't belong here, she didn't belong here.
But he was doing that thing. Where he was trying to act like it wasn't important, even though it was important.
She took in a deep breath.
"Yeah, let's go."
Well at least her voice sounded confident.
Noah's face lit up, and he held out a hand. She took it, and rose to her feet. She could tell that he was giddy as they wandered out onto the floor. Desdemona had to remind herself to keep taking steps.
She turned to face Noah. He glanced at her, and his grin faltered a bit when he saw her face. She panicked, and immediately started trying to figure out what was wrong, what she had let show.
He stepped in closer to her, and then both of his wings slid around her, meeting at the small of her back. He was suddenly… just so fucking close, around all those people. Even if he only came up to her neck, she felt surrounded by him, by his feathers and his warmth and his stupid tux.
Noah's beak brushed against the scales on her shoulder. His voice was soft. "Come on, Desi. Just relax."
"Sorry," she muttered back. She wanted to say something about how this just wasn't what she was used to, that this wasn't her place, but all that came out was another, "Sorry."
He shushed her. Then, his left hand slid away from her back, and found her right hand. He raised it up, and took a half step back so she could look at his face again. He was looking her up and down, and then he grinned.
"I know it's not your style. You look really fucking good tonight, though."
The first notes of the music started up. Desdemona forced herself to take a deep breath. She could do this.
Noah met her gaze, and then whispered just loud enough for her to hear, "Aaaaand, one two three, one…"
They were moving. Noah's hands on her hand and on her back guided her, and he kept up that careful, measured counting, never breaking eye contact with her. She kept looking down at him, and moving to step with him, the way she'd spent the last month practicing. They started very careful, taking their steps in a plain, wide circle. At first the movements were rigid, with Desi only focusing on the counting and the numbers.
She tried to remember everything she had practiced. Ever since she'd realized a month before that she'd forgotten to submit her application for the All-Star Week dunk contest, she'd been practicing with Lance almost every night. It had killed her to ask him. After she'd first come home to find Noah practicing, she'd asked Lance to give her a crash course. While it had gone well enough, the two of them had snapped at each other more than once during that first night. Ultimately, once she had the basics down, they'd stopped, and hadn't really discussed it afterwards.
Still, the new deadline to be good enough to dance in public had, well… it had forced the situation. The two had spent many of the nights since practicing, with the rabbit giving her advice on how to move, how to relax, how to let her partner lead. On sweaty nights after particularly rough away games, they would often wind up either snapping at each other or just winding up laughing with exhaustion in each other's hotel rooms. She was sure one of them was going to kill the other the night that they introduced the high heels.
It was a strange experience for her. So much of her public persona, especially on the court, was about being brash and confident. She was the rough and tumble power forward, the bruiser who drew fouls and squared off against players a foot taller than her. Everything about the graceful, controlled steps of learning to waltz was foreign to her. She was never really sure how she felt, having Lance see her like that. But, well… he did it. He taught her. He praised her tiny bits of improvement, and he did everything he could to correct her stiffness.
It seemed to be paying off now, at least a bit. As the song drew on, though, she felt herself starting to fall into the rhythm. Noah's counting voice grew softer, though his eyes never left hers. He was being so gentle, so calm. Even with the high heels, she didn't feel like she needed to keep rigid track of where she was going or what she was doing. She could just follow his lead.
He added the slightest bit of a bounce to his steps - a rise and fall with the movements and the music. It took Desdemona a few bars to catch on, but soon she was matching the movements. The grin on Noah's beak was growing wider, and Desdemona swallowed. She realized he wasn't counting anymore. She realized that she wasn't counting in her head, either. She found that same smile beginning to force its way onto her face. Her heart was beating faster, her breath getting shallow.
She took the next step too early. Realizing this, she tried to adjust her gait, but she came down wrong on the high heel. She stumbled half a step, and Noah's hand slid from her hand down to her arm. He steadied her enough for her to right herself. Her cheeks were hot, and she ducked her head down.
"Don't," he whispered, almost a joking admonishment. "In case you weren't watching, every other person here who isn't part of the club has stumbled at least a few times."
She forced herself to swallow, and she gave a small nod. His grip softened on her arm, and then slid back down to her hand. Desi managed to get out, "I guess I haven't been paying attention. Was a bit distracted by, y'know."
"The doofus who sleeps in your spare bedroom?"
"Yeah, we'll call him that."
He met her gaze again, and then began counting in a gentle whisper. They started again, steps tentative again.
"Thanks for catching me."
"No problem. Call us even for that time you saved my life?"
She snorted. "Doofus."
They continued. Desdemona kept her eyes on Noah the entire time, and he never looked away. Every time they got into that comfortable groove, he couldn't seem to stop his beak from grinning, and every time Desdemona was soon matching.
She didn't know if it was her reading into it, but she didn't seem to remember him smiling quite so much while she was watching him from the sidelines.
She stumbled a few more times before the song ended. On one occasion, she even managed to laugh about it. Each time, he helped her start again.
When the song ended, the two of them kept swaying for a short while. It was Noah who broke their posture. He stepped closer to her, and then slid his hands around her to pull her in against him. The feathers along his cheek brushed against her collar bone. Desdemona was so surprised that it took her a moment to relax. Then, she slipped her own arms around him.
"I know that this isn't, like…" He trailed off. Then he tried again. "Thank you for agreeing to this."
She rested her chin on top of his head, and replied. "Uh… well. It was important for you. And I'm having a good time."
"Good." She could feel him tensing a bit against her. She was about to ask what was wrong, but then he spoke, his voice a bit tight. "Uh. I get that public displays of affection and stuff aren't your thing, and that's fair. But like, uh…" She felt him swallow. "I dunno. How would you feel about me kissing you right now?"
She was pulling back, and opening her mouth to say, "Fuck yes," when she finally cast her eyes around the space. The two of them weren't the only ones still out on the floor, but they were some of the few. Most of the dancers were pausing to get water between songs.
Because of that, there were eyes on them. Over Noah's head, she could see dozens of eyes looking over at them. The looks froze Desi in place. There were many expressions - a few knowing smirks, a few rolling eyes, a few sweet and encouraging looks. But all of them were watching. All of them would see.
There were phones out, too. Probably for recording the dances. Maybe to snap pictures for the club.
Pictures that could wind up anywhere, be sold to anybody.
Desi stared back at those faces for what felt like an eternity, but she knew it was only for a couple breaths. Then, she let out a sigh, and looked down at him again. Her chest felt tight.
It hadn't taken too long for Desdemona to wind up dancing with Noah. It wasn't like he was practicing every night that she came home after that, but it wasn't uncommon. She learned to just go into the condo and either grab the leftovers from whatever he'd made for dinner, or start making something for the two of them. He would keep up his practice, seeming to be completely unaware of her.
Every time, though, she found herself just stopping to watch him after a while. It was the transformation that he went through every time he started dancing that drew her in.
It was on one such occasion that he'd noticed her watching, and then laughed and told her to come over. She'd been about ready to tell him no, that she was too sore and tired, that she really wouldn't know what she was doing. But then, well… she thought of those flowing orange feathers, of his confidence, of how his wings were always holding that invisible, phantom partner.
So she'd walked over. And then he'd lifted her hand and placed it on his shoulder. His hands had moved, one to be against the small of her back, and one taking her free hand. The music was still playing, but he ignored it as he looked up into her eyes, a grin on his beak.
And then he'd started counting, slowly, to three, over and over. With each number, he took a step, and carefully pulled or pushed her, guiding her feet to move with his. More than once, the two of them wound up bumping against each other, and they both started laughing.
They didn't go any further than that on that evening. At one point, she had said she was tired, and he'd just let her lean against him while they kept taking the slow, measured steps. With how careful Desi was about him getting too close, they didn't get touch that often, but damn. His feathers had felt good against her scales.
Noah didn't react at first. He was still holding onto her, and he didn't pull away. She felt more than heard him let out a long breath. Then, he gave a small nod. "Okay."
They pulled away from each other, and started walking towards their table. A number of people had returned to sit down by that point, including Gregory and his partner. Desi and Noah took their seats, and Noah joined in on some of the conversation. His voice was a bit tight. Most people wouldn't notice, but Desi had been living with him for months now. She kept deadly silent throughout all the conversation. She was aware of all the eyes on her again.
A short while later, Noah got up to use the washroom. Desi let out a breath as he left. He was trying to act like it wasn't bugging him, but it definitely was. She wasn't sure what she was going to tell him, but she was sure she owed him something.
It was as she was sitting there with her head lowered that she heard her name. It was just a scrap of conversation that she picked up, barely audible among the rest of the conversation. Her eyes flicked up, and she tried to place it.
Her breath caught in her throat when she saw Gregory, standing over by the bar with a couple of other people. He was speaking animatedly, nodding. Desi was still staring at him when he looked over at her, making a small gesture in her direction. When he caught her gaze, he gave a small nod to her, and raised his glass in her direction.
Desi's eyes moved to look over the few people the wolf was talking to. They all looked surprised, and one or two dodged glances over at her.
It wasn't something that was totally foreign to her. Every now and again she would walk into a store or a club, and then that rippling realization would spread through the crowd. Word would move from one person to another, until the entire crowd had that soft buzz of excitement.
This was different, though. Normally she was in a leather jacket, normally she could get by with a quick grin and a wave, normally she could just walk away right afterwards.
Normally she hadn't just been holding Noah in front of all of them.
She was very, very conscious of her own breathing. The dress felt tight against her ribs. The whispers sounded sharp and prying.
She stood up, and walked towards the door, balancing speed with her ability to stay upright in the heels. She left her phone and her handbag on the table, and her coat on the chair, but she didn't care. She just needed to be outside.
She pushed out into the cold air, and then she stopped. She let herself bend a bit at the waist, and then she sucked in deep breaths. There were a few people standing out in the parking lot smoking. She gave them a small nod, then turned and walked around the corner of the building, where nobody would see her.
This was stupid. This had been so fucking stupid. All of it. Why the hell had she agreed to this? Why had she done fucking any of it? She wanted to keep Noah out of the spotlight as much as possible, and now she'd attended an event that would almost guarantee that photos would leak out… somewhere. It didn't matter where.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
She didn't turn as Noah's footsteps drew up behind her. He stopped, and there was a moment of quiet. Then, his voice, hesitant.
"Alright, come on. What's wrong?"
They were going to know. People were going to know and as soon as people knew the questions would start and then the questions would go to him and then—
"Desi, please. You can talk to me."
This wasn't supposed to fucking matter. It wasn't. But it fucking did because the world was a load of shit.
"Come on, you're shivering out here. We can go home if you want, just please tell me what's going on."
She turned and faced him. He looked concerned. Any of that hurt he'd been trying to hide earlier was gone. He was just there, and he cared about her.
God fucking dammit.
"Noah, I'm trans."
Everything was very, very quiet between the two of them. He was just looking at her, his face showing confusion. She could see him trying to catch up, trying to process what she'd just said. Around them, the soft wind blew, and she could hear a few cars passing a street or two over.
Then he blinked, and just said, "What?"
"I'm… fuck, Noah, trans, transgender, I'm-" She made a frustrated gesture at him.
He kept staring at her. She could feel a cold vice closing on her chest. At last, he stammered out, "Is this a joke?"
"What- no, this- Noah I'm telling you that…" She trailed off. The words kept slipping away from her.
His face still looked confused. Hell, if anything he looked lost. Finally he just stammered, "Desi, I don't— Like, I don't know what— Are you trying to say—"
She didn't know when she stopped listening. She just couldn't take it, the look of incomprehension on his face. Again, she didn't know if she was reading into it, but she could have sworn there was a hint of anger, too.
She turned around, and started walking away. She kept her head low against the light wind. She waited for him to follow her, or for him to start yelling after her, or for him to… she didn't know what.
Whatever it was, he didn't do it.
She kept walking, picking up her pace the further she went. The cold was already starting to seep into her scales. She clenched her eyes shut. No. Fuck. Fuck this. This wasn't how it was supposed to fucking go.
Where the hell was she even going? It wasn't like she could go home - Noah lived there too. She didn't want to be around him. She didn't want to be around anybody. The entire world was cold and sharp and loud, and she just wanted to fucking… dull it for a while.
She opened her eyes again, and bit down hard on her lip to keep the words in. She kept walking. If she wasn't in the stupid fucking heels, she would have been running.
Desdemona didn't know why she agreed to it. It had been a spur of the moment thing. It was after a particularly hard home game. She'd come back limping, her leg having cramped up on her way home from the game. When she'd staggered into the condo, Noah had turned off his music immediately, and set about making her dinner while she lay on the couch with a heating pad resting against her calf. She appreciated it - she knew that he'd had to work that day, and that shifts at the grocery store were draining for him. But he hadn't hesitated - he'd seen her struggling, and he'd gotten right to work.
He sat on the floor, and she kept lying on the couch to eat dinner at the coffee table. It was a slow, quiet meal - both were exhausted in their own ways.
He'd brought it up tentatively - just mentioning that his ballroom group was organizing their bi-annual ball. It was an excuse for all of them to dress up all fancy and show off, to fully let loose and indulge in their hobby. He was doing that thing he did when he was talking about something important to him - making half jokes about it, and dodging glances at her so he could see how she was reacting. Her eyes were half-closed, but she couldn't miss those looks. They were the same looks he gave her on those few occasions he'd asked whether she was ready to take things further, and tell people about the two of them, or possibly get a bit more physical. They were the same looks he gave her when he asked if she wanted to sleep with him - nothing more, just sleep in the same bed.
She'd always told him no on those occasions.
As he looked at her while talking about the ball, though… all she could think about was the food he'd just made her, and how happy he always looked to see her when she got back from away games, and how fucking… easy all of it felt with him.
So she'd asked, cracking her eyes open a bit further, if they allowed rhinestoned leather jackets at the ball. He'd let out a small breath of relief, and said no, probably not. And she'd said that she would have to go shopping.
That was the only concern she'd let herself focus on at the time. Besides, the ball was the same weekend as All-Star Weekend, and she planned to be competing in the dunk contest. She would have a good excuse to say no. She could push it all off a bit longer.
She woke up, and she was using her gills. She could pick up the gentle thrumming of a water exchange system, a mechanical and regular echoing that contrasted with the gentle thumping of her heart. The water was all around her, gently holding her suspended. She could feel the dress, clinging tightly to her body in an uncomfortable wrap.
She let herself hang there for a short while longer, and then finally took a deep breath in through her gills. She gave a hard kick, and the dress made the movement stilted and awkward. She kept kicking and pulling herself along through the water, moving towards the edge. It wasn't until she could place her hand up on the ledge of the pool that she let her head break the surface. She held her head and shoulders up above the water for a long moment, her eyes clenched shut, before she tensed her gills and sucked in a deep breath through her mouth.
The muffling effect of the water fell away, and she could hear her own ragged breath, the sharp dripping of droplets off of her and back into the pool. It took another few moments before she pulled herself fully up and out of the water. She lay on the cool tiles surrounding the pool, taking deep breaths.
It was All-Star Weekend. It wasn't like anybody was at the Tides' training facility, and she had the combo to the training section's door. All of the Tides did - it wasn't unheard of for one of them to show up in the middle of the night when they couldn't sleep.
Tonight, though, it hadn't been about training. It had been about getting into the water. The muffled sound and near-weightlessness… She didn't know if it helped. It definitely made things easy, though.
She stood, and started walking over towards the door. Her steps were all accompanied by liberal dripping, as well as the slap of the dress's wet material against her scales. She made her way out the door, and into the short hallways that led her into the women's locker room. It took her a while to strip out of the soaked dress, and she just tossed it onto the bench when she was done. She got changed into the backup clothes that she always kept there, just in case - some sweatpants, a tanktop, and a thick Tides hoodie. She didn't have any extra shoes, so she had to slip on the ridiculous high heels she'd worn there.
Before she left the athletic centre, she took a moment to finally check the time. Four in the morning. Great. So no buses, and the odds of finding a cab in Bangor were slim to none. She probably could have gone to one of the phones and called… who? She couldn't think of anybody that she wanted seeing her like this.
Instead, she walked out into the cool air. There was still a bit of wind, but it wasn't terrible. It was nothing like making the old midnight runs from the depths of Lake Superior up to the locker rooms in the middle of February in Black Bay. Of course, on those occasions, she'd always had Braydon's warm car to run into—
Her steps and her thoughts stopped dead at that, and she clenched her eyes shut. Okay. Maybe that wasn't the safest subject to be thinking about at the moment. She didn't need reminding about the last good thing she'd fucked up for herself.
She plodded on through the night, shivering occasionally when chilly gusts of wind caught her. It wasn't that long of a trip to her place - the proximity was one of the things that had drawn her to the condo. Still, it felt a lot longer than ten minutes as she made her way back home, trying not to stumble in the ridiculous high heels.
The ride up the elevator of her building seemed to take forever. When she reached her floor, she plodded up to her door. It wasn't until she reached it that she realized that there was still a light on, drifting out through the crack between the door and the jam. She tried the nob. It wasn't locked.
Her eyes narrowed, and she took a deep breath. This was going to suck. She knew this was going to suck. Things sucked sometimes. She had to be okay with that.
She pushed the door open, and stepped into her condo. It was only the lights in the living room that were on. All the rest of the apartment looked dark.
Noah was lying on the couch. He was back in his normal street clothes. Desdemona noticed that the door to his room was open, and that his formal clothes were strewn haphazardly across the floor. The kea was curled on the couch, his chest rising and falling rhythmically with sleep.
Desi stood there for a few more moments, just inside the door, staring at him. Fuck. Fuck. She wanted to just keep looking at him like that.
She let out the breath she'd been holding, and then closed the door behind her. The thump made Noah twitch, and he made a small noise. Desdemona couldn't move as he shifted on the couch, and then his eyes flickered open. They were bloodshot, and looked confused.
Then his eyes flicked over to the source of the noise, and they settled on her. He blinked once.
All at once he was scrabbling to his feet, eyes wide, and he was stumbling towards her. "Fucking hell, Desi!" She wasn't sure if she should try to push him away or step back.
Then his arms were around her, and he was pulling her close, and he was shaking. Not shaking her - he was actually shaking as he held her, and his voice was hoarse right next to her ear.
"You can't do that, you can't fucking do that, we don't have to go out to the stupid fucking dances anymore, just please don't fucking…" He was babbling, and Desi suddenly realized that she hadn't moved since she'd closed the door. Her arms went around him, and she had to remind herself not to squeeze too hard.
He was sobbing. She realized she'd never seen him cry before. She held him tighter.
"Please just don't leave like that. I'm sorry, I am, just please don't go."
It took a long time for him to calm down after that. At some point, Desi realized that she was crying too, but she just… stayed quiet. She was too surprised, too tired. She didn't know what to do, so she held him.
After a long while he stopped babbling. He shook less as he buried his head against her. Once the two of them had been standing in silence for a bit, she finally spoke. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner."
"I don't care." His voice was sharp. She tensed, and then she felt him sigh. "I'm sorry. When you told me, I… I don't know. I wasn't expecting it. I wasn't ready. So… I dunno. I reacted badly."
She sighed, and buried her face in the crook of his neck for a moment, letting herself rub into his dirty grey-green plumage. Her voice was thin in her own ears when she spoke again. "So… what does that mean." She felt him going to respond, but she cut him off. "No, you need to understand. This is important. This matters. This isn't something you can ignore. If, like…" She wanted to throw up. "If we keep doing this, and it goes public, then people are going to know. Some people are going to start talking about you, the same way they've talked about me. It fucking sucks, man. Once they've started, they won't stop. That's something you can't put back. I need to know what this means to you."
He was quiet for a very long time after that, his hand dragging up and down her back. It was her turn to tremble now. At length, he muttered, "I don't know, Desdemona. I want it to not matter. Like, if I'm being totally honest? I want to pretend that I don't know and I never found out, and go back to how things were. But like… fuck. When you ran away tonight, I kept thinking about what would happen if I never saw you again."
"So you're not angry?"
"Uh… I was. Like, yeah, for a couple minutes I was pissed off that you hadn't told me. But after that, I was just scared. More scared than I've been in my fucking life. So yeah, you're right. It matters. It just doesn't matter as much as this."
Desdemona nodded, brushing her cheek against his feathers. Then, she muttered, "So… long term, do you… Uh. Do you want to try to figure this out?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I want to figure it out." He brushed his beak along her shoulder. His voice was flat when he spoke again. "As for short term, it's late as fuck, and I've been running around or freaking out all night, and I'm exhausted."
"Fuck, when did you get home?"
"Uh…" He glanced at the clock on the stove. "Like half an hour ago?"
"I dunno. It's definitely the shittiest all-nighter I've ever pulled, but not the longest."
That made her laugh, which almost got her crying again. She gave him another harder squeeze. She wasn't sure if she was pushing things too much when she muttered, "Sleep with me tonight?"
He was quiet for a long moment. When he spoke, his voice was exhausted, but certain. "I think I'd like that." She let out a breath. He squeezed her tighter. "But uh… only if you don't mind me being way too clingy for a while."
"I think I'll live."
They started for her room. Both were moving slowly - they were tired and sore from the day and night. As Noah leaned his head against her shoulder, he groaned suddenly.
"I should text Wesley."
"Yeah. I kinda went, uh, full panic mode after I got back and couldn't find you. I might've called, uh… most of your teammates. And Wesley."
This time, it was her turn to groan. She kneaded at her forehead, then muttered, "Do you have my phone?"
"Cool. I'll send out a tweet, or a text, or… I dunno, something. Just so long as they don't send out the state police or something looking for me."
They collapsed into her bed. They were both in their clothes, and the lights were still on in the living room, but neither of them cared. Desdemona had just enough energy to turn her phone on, and flick through to send out a message telling people she was okay. She didn't bother putting the phone on the bedside table - she just dropped it on the sheets, and leaned back against Noah. His arms were around her, and he was curled against her back. People were going to be pissed at her. Everything about this relationship was going to get stupidly complicated.
She didn't fucking care about that. His arms were around her, and he was already sleeping. It wasn't the same as dancing, but… fuck. It felt good having him against her. She was already drifting off.