Written by IllaRouge and TriangleDelta
"You know, it's weird. I didn't see you do anything that would've caused this." Bob tapped his long claws against his chin as he glanced down at his clipboard. The sloth thought for a moment before looking back up at Desdemona. "When did you start feeling it?"
"Partway through the second quarter?" the perch responded. It wasn't entirely a lie. She tried flexing her arm in its sling, and her shoulder throbbed with pain again. She winced. "It wasn't until close to the end there that it really started bothering me."
"Well, I'm not surprised that you were feeling it. You should have told me earlier in the game."
"Sorry," Desdemona responded. The sloth's eyes flicked up to her from his keyboard, and she bit back a curse. Okay, she was feeling stupid. She didn't need to make it obvious to him.
"Well, come on, stand up. I want to make sure you didn't strain anything else while compensating for the shoulder."
"Do we have to? I kind of just want to get home and go to bed."
She sighed and then slid off of the examination table. She didn't want to do this. She didn't want to fucking do this. Desdemona always dreaded sessions in the trainer's checkup office, but this, after an exhausting game, when she was already sore and frustrated and she knew what was coming, was so much worse.
"Just show me some stretches, and you can head home."
She sighed. She did a few basic leg stretches, and Bob took notes on his clipboard. He nodded and her, and she grudgingly twisted her torso to the right and then to the left.
"Can you get full extension on that?"
She was quiet for a moment. Then she did the twists again. She tried hard to control her face, but she felt the flinch cross her features as she finished twisting all the way to the left and pain lanced up her side.
Bob blinked, then put his clipboard down. He stepped over to her and felt along her left side, along her torso. His fingers pushed gently, but the pressure was still enough to send another twinge of pain through her tender side that made her grunt.
He eyed her for a moment, then said, "Could you lift your jersey there for me?"
"It's not a big deal, I wouldn't worry about it."
She sighed, then reached down and lifted the jersey. The two of them stood in silence as he stared at the dark, swollen splotches that were showing beneath her yellow-green scales in a tight knot in her side.
She could hear the ticking of the clock in his office in the quiet. Holding the awkward position, slightly twisted so her good arm could lift her jersey up, Desi grew uncomfortable. She let it go and crossed her arm over her chest.
After what felt like forever, Bob spoke. "Why do I get the impression that there are more of those?"
Desdemona didn't have anything to say, so she shrugged. She regretted it as pain lanced out from her shoulder again.
"What the hell happened?"
The perch let out a long breath. "Nothing."
November 7th, 4 days earlier.
QNS @ BGR
It was the fourth quarter. The crowd roared throughout Shawshank Stadium as the players raced down the court. Normally the energy of the crowd, and the points the Tides were trailing by, would have made Desi feel alive. They would have awakened that manic energy and reckless abandon that fueled her best plays. Normally in these scenarios, she wasn't sore, frustrated, and furious.
Normally in these situations, she hadn't spent an entire game putting herself between her teammates and a koi with sharp elbows and a good eye for when refs weren't watching. Imelda Mora, the Queens Pride's rookie power forward, had managed to get under the fish's skin in a way that few other opponents could. Desdemona's breathing was ragged, and it was taking all of her self-control to not take a swing at the other fish on the court. Instead, she had to settle for using her bulk and muscle to push back against the other fish, keeping the koi from getting at any of her teammates.
The Tides were able to claw a victory back during that final, never-ending quarter. When the final buzzer sounded, Desdemona thought she was going to collapse. She cast one quick look over at Imelda as the Pride made their way off the court, and she couldn't miss the sour look that the koi was shooting back her way.
She took her time getting changed back into her street clothes after the game. A few of her teammates invited her to join them for a drink, but she turned them down. Between the time the game had ended, the time change, and when Noah's shifts were in New Zealand, this was going to be the only night that Desdemona would be able to talk with her boyfriend for the next week. He might not be able to massage any of her new bruises, but at least she could vent all of her frustration about the game to him.
Desdemona waited until she knew most people would have left - the fans and the paparazzi. It made it easier to walk home if she didn't accidentally run into anybody wanting to talk. Her mood was foul, anyways. She kept her hands jammed into the pockets of her leather jacket as she headed out the stadium's back doors. She was already on the edge of the rear parking lot, right next to the dumpsters, when she smelled the cigarette smoke. She cast a glance over in the smell's direction, and then her steps faltered.
Imelda sat outside near the dumpsters. She had been trying to kick her habits, but games like this brought out her pack of cigarettes. She pulled it from the bottom of her bag. She cradled it between her clawed fingers as she lit it with the lighter crammed into the pack. Her teammates were likely already gone. She had a habit of disappearing after losses. Had to be fucking Bangor, didn't it?
Desdemona kept staring over at the other fish, replaying the events of the game that night in her head. There was a long moment of quiet before she muttered, "You've got to be kidding me."
Imelda flinched at the sound of someone's voice. She looked toward it, and her mood soured even more. "The fuck you looking at." She pulled another drag and stared the other fish down.
Desdemona stood her ground, glaring over at the koi. She kept her hands in the pockets of her jacket, partly to hide her squeezing them into fists. "Just walking home. What, you miss the bus or something?"
Imelda breathed smoke out her nostrils. She pushed off of the dumpster, her piercings jingling a little. "Got places to be. What about you? Not invited to the bar with players that actually earned their rings?"
The perch didn't respond to that jab. Instead, she gave a slow, exaggerated shrug, using the motion to flex her shoulders some. "Places to be, huh?" She cast her gaze around at the dumpsters. "Sure looks like it."
Desdemona stared the other fish down for a few more seconds, considering. She should just walk away. She'd been to enough shows that had gone south to know that this wasn't headed anywhere good. She should walk away. "Well look, while I'd love to chat, I've got a call with another time zone I need to catch."
Imelda knew what that look meant. Desi just needed some massaging to get it out of her. She took one last drag, pinched the butt between her fingers, and flicked it, still hot, at the fellow fish. Desdemona flinched as the cherry red butt bounced off of her shirt. "Not like they'd do any worse if your deadweight got left behind." She stood up, shouldering her bag. She walked toward Desi and shoulder checked her as she passed.
When the koi went to walk by her, Desdemona intended to let her just go by. She really didn't care about the words - they weren't getting to her. As Imelda's shoulder pressed against her, though, she couldn't help it. She moved over, putting herself more directly in Imelda's path, and tensed herself to stop the other fish. She glared over at the koi, standing so close to her now that she could feel the heat of her scales.
"They don't keep me around for the numbers I put up, you know. They keep me around so I can keep assholes like you off of their backs." Desdemona suddenly realized how heavily she was breathing as she glared at the fish. "Got it?"
Yeah, this was what Imelda was looking for. She chuckled, her sharp teeth bared in her laughter. "Little old me? Haven't gotten a technical foul yet, have I?" She stepped closer, their chests nearly touching. "If you keep running into me, doesn't sound like something I need to watch out for. Haven't felt so much as a tickle, puta,” her words punctuated heavily.
Desdemona stood there, glaring back at Imelda with her eyes narrowed. Her mind was racing, flashing back to countless scrapes outside of bars in Black Bay and Ottawa. This was stupid. She wasn't a dumb kid or a student anymore. Why did she want to take that swing?
She took a few more deep breaths, and then spat out, "Watch yourself." She turned, her movements rigid, and started to walk away. "I've got better things to do."
"Better things to do?" Imelda scoffed. "Probably isn't your ugly ass boyfriend, is it?"
Desdemona stopped. She stood there for a long moment, still only a step or two away from Imelda. Then she turned, her hand came out of her pocket, and she swung. Hard.
This one was easy. Imelda dodged by leaning back. She caught herself on her back foot, and she had caught Desi making the first swing. Now all bets were off. The perch didn't know what she was getting herself into. Imelda hadn't even dropped her bag yet. "That's how you defend your man? No wonder he left."
Desdemona's muscles were already tired and sore after the game, and they heated up with discomfort as her fist went wide. There was a twinge of discomfort in her shoulder, but she ignored it. She didn't even answer the other fish's taunting. This time she just ran right at her, leading with her other shoulder.
Imelda was caught off guard. The perch caught her in the stomach and pushed her back against the dumpster. Without much of a plan in her first hit, she brought her knee up straight at Desi's torso.
The knee connected with Desdemona's stomach. It took until the air left her lungs for the perch to recognize something. The last time she'd been in a fight, in a proper, actual fight, was almost four years ago. She staggered back a step, staying slightly balled up and trying to regain her lost breath.
But Imelda was immediately upon her. She dashed forward and went straight for Desi's mouth, a quick jab rocketing out from her right arm.
Desi raised her arm, not blocking the blow, but definitely lessening the impact. She forced a deep breath down, and then straightened up, taking another wild swing.
This one caught Imelda on the side of her head, but it was only Desi's forearm. She used her own momentum to catch the perch by the waist. She hoisted Desi up and back and plowed her into the pavement.
Desdemona couldn't bite back a startled gasp as her back hit the ground. She lay there for a moment, gasping for breath and clenching her eyes shut. When she heard Imelda moving above her, she let out a frustrated yell, then drew her foot back before driving it up at the other fish's leg.
The force wrenched the koi's leg in an odd angle, but she didn't register the sting. Imelda straddled Desi so that her legs were pinned, and she delivered two blows to the fish, one to the side, and one to the chest, both with her left arm.
The hits landed squarely. Desi balled up as much as she could with the other fish on top of her and struggled under her weight. Fuck, she had to get up, or she had to find the leverage to get a swing in, or... fucking something. Anything other than laying there and taking the beating.
She froze in place, hot pain still blossoming from where the koi had hit her, as she heard a sound. Footsteps on pavement. She tensed, and her eyes flicked up to Imelda's face. There was somebody coming.
Imelda tensed at the sound as well. She jumped up and scrambled to get her bag. As fast as she could, she tried to appear normal. She wasn't about to help the perch up.
Desdemona took a deep, relieved breath as Imelda got off of her. She gave herself a moment or two to lie there and catch her breath. The approaching footsteps forced her to move, though. She rolled over, the movements slow and pained, and then dragged herself up to her feet. The adrenaline in her veins didn't do much to dull the throbbing pain.
She had just gotten up to her feet when the footsteps reached them. It was a couple, walking by and talking softly to each other. They did stop and look at the two fish in surprise as they passed. Desi forced a grin onto her face and gave them a nod.
After they had left, she put her hands on her knees, and bent slightly. "Fuck."
Imelda picked up her foot and pushed Desi over. The koi wasn't above fighting dirty in the slightest. Desdemona grunted as she hit the ground again, startled. She had thought they were done.
The koi stomped her foot down onto the perch's sternum and bent down. Desdemona tried to maintain her glare up at the koi, but she was hurting, and she was tired, and she just wanted to go home.
"Patética." Imelda dug her heel in. "Bitches who can't even make me bleed aren't worth my time." She pushed off and started walking away from the dumpsters. "Remember, puta. You don't deserve that ring."
When Imelda walked away, the perch just lay there for a while, panting for breath. Standing up the second time was slower, and it hurt more. Her shoulder was throbbing, but she ignored it for now.
If she just ignored the pain, she could keep anybody from doing too close of a physical. She tried to lift her arm and winced at the discomfort. Okay. Push through the pain, but take it easy.
She was hunched over as she started her walk back to her apartment. She hadn't bothered to check her phone yet to see if she was going to be late for her call.
Bob kept eying the fish, his eyes narrowed. Desdemona met his gaze, not saying a word.
At last, he sighed and shook his head. "Fine. You're not talking." He reached up and kneaded at his forehead. "You know I have to tell Wes about this, right? And he's going to ask questions."
Desdemona just nodded. She was used to uncomfortable talks with the Tides' general manager.
"Okay." The sloth looked back up at her. "Wes is good. I respect him, and I trust him to make the right call with whatever this is. But I've been with this team longer than anybody, so here's my take." Desdemona blinked at this. Normally the sloth just got stressed out, but ultimately gave in on this stuff. She didn't try to interrupt as he continued. "Desi, you're starting now. You getting a couple scrapes and bruises from playing some rough street ball with Raoul or showing up to training camp with a black eye when you were on the bench was one thing. But hiding something like this, especially with how much this team's relying on you now? That's different. You know it's different."
It was quiet between the two of them. It stretched on long enough for Desdemona to notice the clock's ticking again. At length, Bob sighed and shook his head. "Go get changed. I'll give you a ride home."
"Your arm's in a sling, and you're worth nine-and-a-half million dollars this year. You're not walking home. I'll meet you out back."
With that, the sloth walked out of the office, muttering. Desdemona was left alone. She sighed, then collapsed back into a chair. She sat there for what felt like a long time, biting back curses under her breath.
When she finally got back to her locker to change into her street clothes, she was able to check her phone. She knew Noah wouldn't be on - he was still at work, and she knew she would be asleep before he got home. She did a quick check of other games in the league and blinked as she looked at the list of injuries.
Imelda was out with a thigh inflammation injury. Desi thought back to their fight and tried to decide if it was something she'd done. All she could think of was a haze of pain and embarrassment and trying not to let it show in her call with Noah that night. The fish let out a long sigh, then finished getting changed.