Story:Like A Bird Out of Water
Like A Bird Out of Water
Written by TriangleDelta
It was a deep breath in through her gills, and then Desdemona snapped all her muscles tight, pulling herself forward. Cool, flowing water rushed around, over, and past her, grabbing at her body and trying to yank her back. Her muscles screamed with exertion, and she forced her hand forward through the water.
Her fingers closed on a rough, hard surface, and she squeezed around it. Her grip was loose, but she began kicking and lashing with her legs and tail. She lowered her head as she dragged herself through the rushing water. Even with her gills, it was difficult to catch a full breath through the intense flow.
Her other hand came forward, and grabbed onto another rock jutting up from the riverbed. She bit back a curse as her fingertips slipped on the smooth, worn surface. She tried to flail that hand out for another grip, but her initial reaching surge was used up. The flowing water caught her arm, and then she was being yanked backward by her shoulder. The perch gripped tightly to her remaining handhold, but it wasn't enough. She swore as the force of the water on her body yanked her backwards, and her fingers slipped then closed on empty water.
The perch fell back, and for a moment the water pushed and threw her along. She clenched her eyes shut as she felt the current flip her over, yanking her head back around until it was pointing downstream. She opened her eyes back up, and then gave a hard lash of her tail, beginning to move through the powerful current at speed. She swept down along the river, using small motions of her webbed fingers and her tail to adjust her movements. Doing so, she flowed around the larger rocks sticking up from the riverbed.
It didn't take long for her to pass through the river's narrow rapids, and drift out into a wider and deeper pond where the water was calm. She stopped kicking once she reached it, and just hung there in the cool water, taking in deep breaths through her gills.
"How far did you get?"
She glanced up at the sound of Remmy's voice. The trout was floating in the water a bit further down the pond from her. He was wearing just a simple pair of tight swim trunks, and had a pack on his back. Another similar pack hung in the water just next to him. Desdemona sighed, then kicked forward and grabbed that pack.
"I don't know. Like three quarters of the way, I think?"
"Fucking rad. You'll probably make it before the end of the summer at this rate."
She rolled her eyes, and the two of them started swimming down along the river. They passed through a few more sets of calmer rapids along the way - routes they had taken to get up this far earlier in the day. The water gradually grew cooler as they swam closer to Penobscot Bay, and Desdemona had to brace herself as the added buoyancy of salt in the water hit her. They kept speaking as they swam.
"Yeah, and maybe once I'm done that I'll work on growing a set of wings."
"Oh come on, you've improved so much since the start of the summer."
"Well yeah, but I don't have until the end of summer. I've got to head back in, like a week? There's no fucking way I'm going back to my training camps without at least a week or two of warmup."
"Still, that's plenty of time for you to make it the rest of the way up the river. Besides, the progress you've made this summer is fucking nuts."
"Yeah, yeah." She rolled her eyes, and the two of them kept swimming along through the rivers. The light filtering in through the water above was taking on an orangish tinge, wavering over the two fish. They kept trading occasional words, but mostly they focused on their movements, letting the current carry them along at a swift pace.
As they approached the bay itself, they began running into other river climbers who had been out for the day along the same branch of rivers that they'd been using. There was some chatter here and there, but for the most part everybody was quiet. Climbing the rivers and having water rushing past her ears always left Desdemona feeling a bit numb at the end of the day, and she assumed the others were in the same boat.
She was only half-listening to a conversation that Remmy was having with a salmon on his other side.
"So like, what, he asked you to show him how to grab the rocks?"
"Yeah, man. I assume he's a rock climber on the surface or something, because he had a grip like a fucking vice. But like, you should've seen him trying to do even the starter rivers - all those feathers were like fucking sails."
"Wild. Did he manage to do it?"
"Yeah, yeah. Had to keep poking his head up out of the water, but he pulled it off."
"Well that's metal as hell. So what, did he go back to the surface or something?"
"Nah, he said he wanted to try something harder before the end of the day, so I sent him off to Denny's Dive."
"Wait." Desdemona finally spoke up. Remmy and the salmon looked over at her, and she just stared at them. "Did you… did you send a fucking bird to try to do Denny's Dive?"
"Yeah." The salmon kept meeting her gaze. Neither she nor Remmy seemed to get Desdemona's astonished look. "What? He wanted a challenge. If anything goes wrong, he can just let go and drift back down the river…" She trailed off as Desdemona's expression shifted from disbelief to horror. "What?"
"Dude, he's a bird." Desdemona waited for the two of them to clue in. After a few very long, awkward moments, she bit back a curse, and then snapped out, "Denny's Dive is a crazy deep track. Birds can't breathe underwater."
Again, there were a couple moments of stunned silence. Then, Remmy muttered, "Oh."
"Come on." Desi turned, and then kicked off. A few moments later, she could hear the other two following behind her as she took off back down along the rivers, fighting the current this time.
She kept to the wider, deeper areas where the current was less aggressive. All the while, her legs and her tail were powering her along, pulling her through the current. She'd gotten so used to being around surfacers over the past few years that she'd forgotten some of the… subtleties of being around people that lived exclusively beneath the water. In addition, Penobscot Bay didn't have as much integration between the surface and aquatic communities, so she'd found the gap in understanding much wider than she was used to.
Soon enough, they were pulling up towards the mouth of Denny's Dive. Desdemona glanced down the path, but she couldn't see anything. She eyed the current, and then cursed.
"Fuck. Alright, you two go up the river and see if you can find him."
"What about you?"
"I'm going topside to see if there's a frigging body floating on the surface."
She kicked up towards the surface, not waiting for their response. She broke free from the water, and then tugged herself onto the shore. The sun was still burning orange on the horizon, so things hadn't started cooling off yet. Desdemona closed her eyes, and consciously tensed her gills. A moment later, she was breathing easily through her mouth, and she started walking along the shore in her bare feet. She kept her gaze trained on the surface of the river. Here and there, the water actually broke into white foam around particularly high jutting rocks. For the most part, though, the surface was just a dark, fast moving mass.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck…" Desdemona whispered under her breath, picking up her pace as she walked along the shore. She genuinely wasn't sure what she was going to do if they found the bird… well, dead. That was so far outside of her wheelhouse that she wouldn't know where to start.
There was a small splash, followed by a much larger one. Desdemona looked back in the direction it had come from, and blinked as she saw Remmy's head poking up above the water. Behind him, there was a mass of wet green feathers. Remmy began swimming over towards her, and the mass of feathers followed him - Desi assumed that the salmon was pushing it.
She cursed, and then ran over towards the shore. When the feathers got close enough, she reached out and grabbed it. Her fingers closed around damp feathers, and found warm skin underneath. She leaned back, pulling it up onto the earth. Remmy was pushing from the other side, and between the two of them and the salmon under the water's surface, they soon had the bird up on the shore.
Desdemona laid him out on his back, and then just stared at him for a few seconds. The bird had dirty green plumage, and with his arms splayed out on either side of him, she could see some orange under the wings. His eyes were closed, and Desdemona suddenly realized that she was shaking too much to tell if he was actually breathing or not.
She glanced back over her shoulder at Remmy, who still had his head poking out of the water. "What… do I do?"
Remmy's voice was thin, and his words occasionally cut out into gasps as he struggled with his gills. "I dunno. I can barely breathe up here. Can't you do that… chest shoving thing?"
"Sure. Dryfeet do it on TV all the time. Can't be that hard."
Desdemona groaned, and gave herself a moment to knead at her temples. She had to remind herself that Remmy had never spent time around walkers. He didn't get how it could be difficult to stop somebody from drowning.
She knelt down next to the bird, and eyed him for a long moment. She hadn't taken first aid in years. Even when she'd first done it, she'd had trouble with it. She reached her hands down, and lined them up over his chest. She forced herself to take a deep breath, and then gave a hard shove down.
There was a crack, and then the bird's eyes shot wide open. He let out a deafening screech of, "HOLYSHITWHATHTEFUCK," and Desdemona fell back with a similarly loud yelp.
She landed on her tail, and just stared ahead at the bird. He was still lying back, his eyes clenched shut as one of his hands groped at his chest where she'd pushed on him. "Fuck that hurts…" he muttered. With his voice quieter, she could just pick up the slight lilt of his accent - was that Australian? At length, he managed to turn his head over to look at her, and he blinked. "Oh. Fuck. It hurts."
"…yeah?" Desi replied, not quite sure what else to say.
"That means I'm not dead?"
He collapsed back down after that, and his eyes drifted shut. Desdemona kept staring, and then reached out with a tentative foot. She prodded his side, and he let out a grunt.
From behind her, a thin voice spoke from the river. "You did it!"
The rest of the evening went by in a blur. Desdemona got Remmy and the salmon to call the hospital. She stayed with the bird in case anything happened. She wasn't sure what she was going to do if he did start choking again, but hey, at least she was there.
Fortunately, they weren't too far from a road. When the ambulance showed up, Desdemona walked with the paramedics as they carried the bird through the undergrowth by stretcher. After they'd loaded him in, one of the paramedics glanced over at her.
"We've got room for one passenger to go with him. Are you friends or family?"
She was about to snort and say that she'd just met the guy, but then realized that it was almost eight o'clock, and she was still miles away from the home she was renting in Penobscot Bay. Even with the current carrying her, it would probably take her an hour or two to get home. So instead, she shrugged, and said, "Yeah."
She hopped into the back of the ambulance, and they took off. She sat back as they drove, and the exhaustion of the day started catching up to her. She was only half-awake for the drive back to Bangor, and it wasn't until they arrived at the hospital that she realized she was still barefoot and in her swimming clothes.
Desdemona hopped out, and followed the stretcher into the hospital. She repeated everything that she'd told the paramedics to the doctor, and he started to work on the bird. She was just about to leave, when a receptionist wandered over to her.
"Ma'am, there is the small matter of payment."
Desdemona just stared at the housecat for a moment, and then asked, "Payment?"
"Well yes. We couldn't find any identification on the patient, and so we can't tell if he has insurance, so we really do need some guarantee of payment."
Desi kept staring at her for another few seconds before her tired brain caught up to her. Then she reached up to knead at her forehead, and muttered, "Right. Fucking America." When she pulled her hand away, the cat was still standing there, looking up at her expectantly. "Fuck. I'll cover it. Pretty sure I broke one of his ribs, anyways. I just need to head to my apartment and get my clothes and info and stuff."
She let out a small, 'hmm,' noise, and inclined her head. "We'll need some sort of collateral before we can begin treatment on him. And then there's the charge for the ambulance…"
Desdemona snorted, and then gestured down at her swimming clothes. "Look, I appreciate that, but… I mean, if I had any pockets with cash or cards in them, you would see them."
"Unfortunately, that's not enough for us to go off of. If need be, he can wait in the emergency room until you get back with some proof of your ability to cover the cost."
"I… He was drowning, like, two hours ago. What about…" She searched back to her first aid training. "That… that thing where somebody starts drowning again a few hours after getting out of the water?"
"Secondary drowning?" the cat offered.
"Yeah! What if that starts happening?"
"Well I'm sorry, ma'am, but there's nothing we can do if we don't have insurance information or some proof that you can cover his bill."
Desdemona kept staring at the receptionist for a few moments. Then, at last, she sighed, and muttered. "You don't follow basketball, do you?"
The cat blinked. "No? I know that we won the FBA last year, and we had those two really good players… Lance and Lenny?"
"Leon. Right. I'm going to give you my employer's number. Would you mind giving him a call? He can vouch for me."
The receptionist gave her an odd look, but nodded. Once she had left, Desdemona sighed, and reached up to knead at her forehead again. She would have to find a way to pay Wesley back for the headache. Maybe her mom still knew some people in Scotland who could send over a nicer bottle of scotch. Either that, or she would have to look into suppliers for flamethrower fuel.
A few minutes later, the receptionist returned, shaken and walking at a quick pace. As she approached, she cleared her throat. "Ms Iverson, Mr Romero would like to speak with you."
Desdemona bobbed her head, and then followed the cat wordlessly over to the reception area. A few of the other employees dodged looks over at the two of them, and Desi didn't miss the way the cat ducked her head at those looks.
When she picked up the phone, she took a deep breath, and then said, "Hey Wes. How was the summer?"
"Desi?" The weasel's voice had that sharpness that she'd only heard a few times during her past year with the team. "Do people in health care just not follow basketball anymore? How many six and a half foot fish do we have in this city, for the love of…" He trailed off, then muttered. "Oh well. I'll be there in probably fifteen minutes."
"No, don't worry."
"Desi, one of my players is in the hospital. I need to be there at least to get out ahead of any potential tabloids."
Desdemona blinked. "…well fuck."
"Sorry. Look, I'm alright. I'm fine. I found a dude who was drowning, and I gave him CPR. Sorta."
"Well I mean… like I sorta broken one of his ribs? And I haven't recerted my first aid in about 3 years?"
There was quiet for a few moments. Then, "…does 'about' 3 years mean over, or under?"
Desdemona heard the telltale pause of a weasel biting back a curse or two. When he spoke again, his voice was calm. "I'll be right over. Do you need anything?"
The yellow perch hesitated, then said, "A ride back to my place? I'm still in my swim clothes, and I haven't grabbed my shoes or any food or anything yet."
"I'll send a car." There was another pause, and then the weasel let out a small laugh. "It's good to have you back in Bangor, Desdemona. Really. Go get some sleep."
"I'll come back over to the hospital after I've gotten dressed and found my wallet."
"Of course you will. I'll talk to you later."
It took Desdemona a few minutes to figure out where she was when she woke up the next morning. It started with the initial shock of opening her eyes, and realizing that she wasn't getting any air from the water. She spent a few seconds in a blind panic before she realized that she wasn't underwater.
After that, she cursed, and focused on closing her gills. She got a few good breaths in, and then sat up in her bed, muttering to herself. The first few mornings after swapping from the water to the land were always rough. When she finally looked down at herself, she was surprised to see that she was still wearing her clothes from the night before.
The fish got up, had a shower, and changed out of the clothes she'd fallen asleep in. She was stunned to see that she'd left the door to her condo unlocked. The property manager had let her in with very little trouble the night before, but apparently she'd just passed out right after. At least she'd managed to stumble to her own room. She would've felt even more stupid if she'd fallen asleep in the extra bedroom that she used as her guest and practice room.
She rolled her eyes, double-checked that she had her keys, and then headed out. She hopped onto a bus to the hospital, and then got out her tablet. She'd left her phone at her place in Penobscot Bay, so she would probably have to email Remmy or one of her neighbours to ship her things over to Bangor. Really, it wasn't that big a deal - she'd been planning on moving back over to Bangor by the end of the week anyways. She needed to get back to drills on land, and their lead trainer, Bob, had promised to set some routines up for her.
Still, the somewhat abrupt move back to Bangor had been a bit of a shock. Certainly it wasn't what she'd been hoping for.
When she got to the hospital, she suddenly realized that she had no idea what room her mystery parrot was in, and she'd never gotten his name. The car had shown up moments after she'd hung up with Wesley - the weasel must have been ordering the car while she was speaking with him. She kneaded her forehead for a moment, then headed over to reception.
While she was waiting in line, a familiar voice spoke. "Ms Iverson?"
She blinked, then turned and found the cat from the night before standing next to her. The cat had shadows under her eyes, and was carrying a purse. Desdemona noticed she also wasn't wearing her nametag.
Before Desdemona could speak, the cat cleared her throat. "I just wanted to apologize for last night, and was also hoping you could pass my thanks along to Mr Romero."
Desi blinked, and cleared her throat. "Uh… yeah, right, no worries."
"He really is a lovely man. Regardless, I'm just getting off shift, but if there's anything you need while you're visiting and I'm about, feel free to ask for me."
"Of course." She thought for a moment, then blurted out, "Actually, uh, think you could give me a quick hand right now? Promise it won't take to long."
"Firstly, uh… I'm assuming Wes payed for everything?"
"Absolutely! He took care of all of the costs."
"Of course he did." Desi sighed. Okay, now she really did need to find some scotch for him. "Second question, where would I find my, uh, friend?"
"I think we had him over in 2B for observation. You can ask the staff there for his specific room number."
"Thanks. Uh… have a good sleep, I guess?"
The cat gave her a wry grin. "Of course. Good luck with him, by the way. Birds with broken ribs are never any fun."
The cat headed off for the door, and once she was gone Desi groaned. When somebody at a hospital said that something wasn't going to be fun, it generally meant a lot of misery. She turned and walked towards the stairs.
Soon enough she had reached ward 2B. She was dreading having to go up to one of the nurses there and ask about the, "y'know, green parrot guy with a broken rib?", but as soon as she walked in, a squirrel in scrubs glanced over at her and let out a laugh.
"Hah, so it wasn't the pain meds!"
Desdemona blinked as the squirrel wandered over. "Excuse me?"
"Noah was saying something about an, 'angel-fish amazon' that showed up and saved him. We assumed he was just loopy from the morphine." To Desdemona's blank look, the squirrel just laughed, and then pointed over towards a door. "He's in there."
Desdemona nodded, then headed over to the door. She hesitated for a moment or two, considering that interaction. Then, at length, she sighed and gave a knock.
"Come on in!"
She pushed the door open.
He was up and standing. It looked like Wesley had sprung for him to get a private room, which was probably a good thing. The green bird had no shirt on, and for a moment Desdemona thought about stepping back out to give him privacy until she remembered that she'd recovered him in just his swimsuit. That was all he wore now. He had a map spread out on a table - a Bangor tourist map, by the look of it.
He turned to face her fully, and Desdemona was surprised by the bright orange flash of feathers along his underarms. They contrasted sharply with the drab, pale green of the rest of his plumage. He had a long, curved beak, and pale brown eyes that lit up as he saw her.
"Aw, shit, it's you!" He sounded excited. He took a step towards her, and began raising his arms. Partway up, though, he stopped and winced, then lowered his arms. "Well fuck. That's going to smart for a while I guess."
Desdemona just kept staring at him for a moment. Then, "Oh, right, your rib. Uh… sorry?"
He blinked, and cocked a feathery eyebrow at her. "For what? Saving my life?"
"I broke your rib."
"Yeah, and stopped me from drowning." He let out a sharp laugh, but cut it off to wince again. He gave a rueful shake of his head. "It's good. Looking at you, though, I get how you managed to, uh, push a bit too hard. Fuck you're ripped."
Desdemona blinked. In her haste to leave that morning, she'd forgotten to grab something to cover up her shoulders or arms. She normally had something to conceal her broad muscles. She cleared her throat, and changed the subject. "So the nurse said your name was… Noah?"
"Yeah! Noah Jernoah."
She blinked. "Noah Jernoah?"
"Yeah," he kept grinning at her. It was like he was just radiating energy - even when he winced from the pain in his chest, he never stopped smiling. "My parents thought it sounded good. And you're…"
Desi tried to not look too surprised. Two people in two days in Bangor who didn't recognize her. That was new - ever since the Tides had won the FBA finals, it seemed like everybody suddenly knew who she was. Instead, she held out a hand. "Desdemona Iverson."
He took her hand, moving his arm slowly and carefully to avoid any pain. His hands were rough, even for a bird. He gave her a look. "Desdemona?"
"My dad's a Shakespeare freak." Easier than explaining, This is what happens when you let a thirteen year-old boy rename themself with no warning.
"Cool." He hesitated for a moment, and that grin finally faltered. "You, uh… Look, they told me that my bill got covered, and like, just wanted to let you know that I got traveller's insurance, so I can cover, uh, most of it, but the rest might, uh…"
Desi held up a hand. "Don't worry. Like, seriously. My boss got the bill. If you can get your insurance to reimburse us for part of it, I'm sure he'll be fine. If he's not, I can cover it."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Seriously - it's not an issue."
"Cool…" He trailed off after that. Desdemona could tell that there was something else he needed to say, so she raised an eyeridge. He shrugged, then muttered, "I mean, uh… only problem with that is, well…" He gestured down at himself - most specifically his swimsuit. "This is, uh, all I got on me right now, unless we can go back out and find where I left my car. My insurance info's in there." He paused for a moment, then inclined his head. "…and my clothes. And my passport. And uh… most of my stuff."
Desi just stared at him for a second or two, slowly catching on. She considered, then glanced down at her tablet. "Uh… okay. I can't drive. Think you're good to?"
"Cool. We're going to get a ride out to your car, then you're going to help me move my shit back to Bangor."
It took them longer than Desi expected to find Noah's car. The Swyft driver she'd called was patient enough as Noah flipped through his tourist map, pointing to various locations where the roads got close to the rivers. They had to wander down countless small country roads that led to rivers that Noah thought he might have started from.
By the time they actually drove down a road and came across his car, it was already two o'clock. The car itself was an old beater - Desi's limited knowledge of cars let her identify the hood ornament as a Nissan, but otherwise she had no idea what it was. At some point it had probably been a bright blue, but the colour had faded down to more of a grey. She guessed that it was probably older than she was.
Desdemona payed and thanked their driver while Noah hopped into the back of the car to get changed. He emerged wearing a tanktop and a red unbuttoned shirt, both of which were about as faded from sunlight as the car.
Soon enough, the two of them were driving down the roads along Penobscot Bay, headed to the dock where Desi had instructed Remmy to bring her stuff. Noah had just finished jamming some sort of cassette with an AV cable attached to it into the stereo, and plugging it into what looked like an old MP3 player. Desdemona was scrolling through the music on the player, flipping mostly through a bunch of band names she didn't know.
"So like…" She muttered, raising an eyeridge at one of them. "…are these all Australian bands, or?"
"Aw hell no. I'm not Australian. I'm a Kiwi."
Desi glanced over at him. "Oh? Huh, never seen a kiwi before. I always thought they were more brown."
"No, not-" And then he started laughing. Desdemona just gave him a confused look, until he finally calmed down. "Not kiwi like the bird, Kiwi like from New Zealand. I'm a kea."
Desdemona kept eying him. "So a kea, but not a kiwi, but still a Kiwi."
"Yeah, just about."
"Clear as mud."
The two of them drove on in silence for a bit. Finally, Desi picked a band at random and played them. A gritty guitar line came out through the car's stereo - she couldn't tell if the fuzziness was from the car's ancient audio setup, or the recording quality of the song. It definitely sounded like something that she and her friends would have written and recorded. Thinking of that brought a small pang of guilt to her chest. She hadn't heard from Simon since shortly after her win. The two of them had tried texting back and forth, and she'd visited him when she visited Black Bay again, but since then it had mostly been radio silence. A few of the forums she was on were passing around rumours that Dredless was working on something new, but that was all that she had to go off of.
Wanting to distract herself from that line of though, Desdemona cleared her throat. Noah looked over at her. "So, like, if you don't mind me asking… what the hell were you doing yesterday?"
He blinked. "What?"
"Uh… the bit where I dragged you out of a river half-drowned?"
"Oh. Well I dunno. I'd heard that American fish did that crazy river climbing thing, and I figured I'd try it."
Desdemona stared at him for a few seconds while he kept driving. She cleared her throat once, then muttered, "Okay, two things. First of all, it's fish that do it, and there's a reason. Y'know, the whole breathing underwater thing?" He snorted and rolled his eyes. To that, Desdemona just continued. "Second of all, it's not just Americans that do it. A lot of people say that us Canadians invented it."
He looked over at her. "Oh shit, you're a Canuck!?"
"Eyes on the road, dude!" He snapped his gaze back forward, and Desi rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I'm from Canada. A lovely little lakeside shithole somewhere north of Freeze Your Nuts Off, Ontario."
"Well no wonder why we get along!" He was laughing. "Canadians and New Zealanders always get along."
"Yeah! Well I mean, mostly. I spent, like, six months in BC and Quebec over winter!"
Desdemona was about to respond, then stopped and considered his words. She twisted around in her seat, and looked into the back seat. There was a duffel bag with a bunch of clothes, along with a rolled up sleeping bag. She was pretty sure that she'd seen a packed up tent in the trunk when he'd opened it earlier.
"How long have you been on the road, man?"
"Closing in on a year?"
Desdemona couldn't hold back a stare. "A fucking year? Dude, like… how?"
He shrugged. "I dunno. I've picked up odd jobs here and there to keep me going. I was a chairlift operator at Whistler over winter, and then I got a job washing dishes in Montreal. I thought about staying in New York for a while, but even if I got a job the hostels and the food were way too expensive. Did a section of the Appalachian trail for a bit, and that was pretty cheap. I've sorta just been bouncing around North America, trying all the outdoor sports you guys have."
Desdemona kept staring at him, her mouth slightly agape. Her eyes wandered over him again, and this time she noticed the lean, wiry muscle beneath his visible plumage. His clothes, too. They weren't… well, they weren't dirty, that was for sure. But there was definitely something worn and rumpled about them.
Noah broke the silence. "So like… were you doing the river climbing, then?"
"Yeah." She shook her head to clear it. "Yeah. Just started over the summer for some stress relief and training."
"Oh yeah? What do you do for a living?"
She kept her eyes trained on him as she gave her response, "I'm a pro basketball player." She was watching for that telltale moment - the one when people put the pieces together. Most people she'd ran into since July, even the aquatics in Penobscot Bay, had heard of the fish on the championship winning Bangor Tides. Even when they needed to be prompted into it, they always had that moment where they blinked, and they looked her up and down, realizing she must be that fish.
Instead of that, though, Noah just had a look of outright surprise. "Oh, legit? I mean, like, that explains why you're so tall and fucking ripped." He laughed at that, shaking his head. "So like, what? Am I sitting in the car with some crazy multi-millionaire sports superstar?"
Desdemona snorted. "Please. I'm a rookie, and I don't see myself making 8 digits anytime soon."
Noah nodded knowingly at that. "Ah, so talented, life-saving, gorgeous, and humble? Damn, Desdemona, you're the complete package, you know that?"
She snorted. "Yeah. You'll have to forgive me if I'm taking the judgement of a bird that tried to swim up a river with a grain of salt."
Noah laughed outright. Desdemona was glad for the distraction. It helped her push away the slight burning his comment had caused in her cheeks.
The two of them lapsed into silence after that. They drove to the dock, and found Remmy waiting for them. He'd brought Desi's things - there wasn't too much. It was a pair of duffel bags, one watertight, and the other one not. They tossed them into the back, and Desdemona handed him the key to the place she'd been renting in the bay. She bade him goodbye, and then clambered back into the car. She and Noah took off driving again.
By the time they reached her condo back in Bangor, it was almost seven o'clock. Noah went to help her with her bags, but she stopped him after he winced in pain. The two of them headed up the elevator to her place, and she let him in.
It was while she was getting her phone out of the watertight bag that she noticed Noah rubbing his side and grimacing. She considered everything he'd said up until then, and then said, "So… what's the plan now?"
He blinked, and immediately pulled his hand away and shoved it into his pocket. "Well I mean, it's pretty late. I'll go find a hostel to check into."
"No, I mean…" She paused, then gestured at him up and down. "You. Dude, your rib's broken. You're going to be out of commission for, like, six weeks? Eight? It's not like you can go climbing or mountain climbing or do any major hiking like that."
The grin on his beak faltered for a moment. He cleared his throat, then shrugged. "It'll be fine. Seriously, Desi. I probably needed to have a bit of a break period anyways. I can get a job for a few weeks doing general labour…" He stopped when she raised an eyeridge at him. Then he blinked. "…oh. Yeah, right. Well whatever. I'll get a job at a gas station or something. Build up my cash for a bit, you know? It's not a problem."
Desdemona kept staring at him for a moment. He was doing his best to look casual about it, but she could tell that he wasn't happy with the situation.
"I feel bad. Like, really, part of it's my fault."
"No, seriously Desi. This isn't on you. You saved my fucking life."
"No, but I mean, like…" She trailed off. Her cheeks were starting to burn. Fuck it. "I've got, like, a whole extra bedroom in my condo." He blinked. She sped onwards. "And, y'know, I'm not using it. When my parents came to visit they slept in there, but I'm not expecting to see them for a while, and it seems dumb for you to pay for a hostel or hotel or some shit when you could just, y'know… the room's right there."
He kept staring at her, his beak hanging open. Once she'd finished, he shook his head a bit. "You're serious? Like, you'd be fine with me, like… crashing here? For that long?"
She tried to keep her eyes focused on his face. She tried to ignore the memory of his words earlier, or when that nurse had told her that he'd called her an angel.
She tried not to think about the fact that he knew absolutely nothing about her.
"Yeah. Y'know, if you wanted to."
His face was unreadable for a few moments. Then, at last, he inclined his head and said, "That would be, uh… frig. That would be awesome. I'll go grab my bag—"
"Nope." She raised a finger to cut him off. "I saw you flinching trying to pick up my stuff. I'll go grab your bags. You wanna start making dinner."
"Oh hell yes. I'm starving. What have you got?"
"Whatever's survived in my fridge and cupboards since I left, like, a month and a half ago."
The grin on his beak widened. "Rad. Let's make a fucking feast."
She left him rummaging through the cupboards in the kitchen. She overheard him letting out a squawking gag as he came across something or other. It wasn't until the doors of the elevator closed that she let herself slump back against the wall and clench her eyes shut.
"What the fuck are you doing, Desdemona?" she muttered to herself. Okay, he'd made one comment. It didn't mean anything. And where did she think this was going to lead? In two months, he would be healed up, and then he would go off to do… who knew what? Probably kite boarding in Spokane or something dumb like that.
But at the same time… things were about to start again. The same song and dance, the headlong charge into training camps, and then it would be games and games and games for as long as she could see into the future. People chanting, people staring, people knowing who she was. Her whole life story. It would be nice to have somebody to come home to who didn't have any of that.
"This is dumb as fuck," she muttered to herself. The elevator dinged, and Desi set her gaze as the doors began sliding open. "But I'm fucking doing it anyways."