Written by TriangleDelta and Harlow
Desdemona managed to keep the smile plastered onto her face as she walked out of the home team's entrance to the court at Shawshank Stadium. As soon as she was out of the flashing lights and cheers, though, the smile slipped away, instead leaving her glaring straight forward again. The perch's broad shoulders hunched, and she kept her head low as she made her way into the women's locker room.
She showered in silence, with the water on hot just long enough to slick away all of her sweat before swapping it back over to cold. She remained alert, just in case any of the other women on the Tides decided to come over and talk. Much to her relief, though, they all seemed to have picked up on Desdemona's souring mood over the past few weeks. Even Tia, normally a bubbly conversationalist, had been keeping her distance from the fish.
Soon enough, she was changed, and she slipped out of the locker room. Immediately, she was bombarded by more camera flashes, and suddenly there was a mic in her face.
Right, she reminded herself with a sigh. Never be the first one out.
"Ms Iverson!" A well-groomed and excessively coiffed collie was speaking, a wide smile looking like it was surgically attached across her muzzle. "The Tides are up 2-0 in the current series, coming off of a sweep against Albany in the first round. How are you and the rest of the team feeling?"
Desdemona just stared at the reporter for a moment, and tried to remember if this was the one that had asked Sluggy if she felt uncomfortable about having Desi in the women's locker room. The perch was already opening her mouth to say, "Look, I'm bored, and I'm too tired for this shit tonight," when she recalled that Wesley had thrown that particular reporter out of the stadium and ordered security to keep her out.
The perch forced herself to take a deep breath, then mumbled out, "Yeah, it's going well so far. The Voodoo are a great team, though, and we can't drop our guard."
"You and the rest of the Tides must be appreciating the smooth ride, though." Desdemona had to fight to hold in the twitch of her tail and the roll of her eyes. "If you keep this up, you'll all be well-rested for the next round."
A dozen responses that likely would have gotten Desi an invitation to a very uncomfortable meeting in Wesley's office flashed through her head. After what felt like too long, she cleared her throat, and said in a neutral voice, "Yes, we certainly will. Excuse me."
She turned and headed down the hallway, but not towards the exit. She would wait until Lance or Leon had left before trying to get through the hallway or out of the stadium. The reporters would be much more calm and relaxed after they got a shot at the two guards. Instead, she headed further into the stadium, towards the bit of the hallway just off from the court where the trainers and the medical facilities were. Nobody had been hurt during the game, so the odds of there being any press there were pretty slim.
As she approached, though, she picked up on voices. She hesitated as she picked out a low voice, speaking in a New York drawl.
"…so the asshole walks over to me, and he's got the nerve to say…"
The perch let out a breath. Of course, probably the only member of the Tides who could put her colourful language to shame. Raoul Kidane. She shrugged, and followed his voice into the office. Inside, Raoul was already dressed, his headfur mussed up after a quick post-game shower. Bob, the Tides' long suffering trainer, was walking around his small office, grabbing records and sliding them into his travel briefcase. Raoul stood in the centre of the office, turning so that he could keep speaking to the sloth as he worked. Bob occasionally let out an, "Oh yeah?" or a non-committal grunt while the wolf spoke.
Raoul shot a look over at Desdemona as she stepped into the office, and raised an eyebrow. "What's with you, rook?"
"Avoiding the press."
Raoul snorted, then returned to regaling Bob with his story. Desdemona remained in the doorway, not wanting to make herself into another obstacle for the sloth. She dug her phone out of her pocket, and pretended she was scrolling through it as she let her thoughts roam. She knew that she was being an asshole. She'd tried her best to hold it in, but by this point it was bubbling up. Hell, if the series continued like it was, she was going to completely lose it soon.
"…but he keeps yappin' at me, and I just say, 'Shit, guy, you…'"
Desdemona glanced over sharply at Raoul, and was about to snap at him to shut up. Then she blinked, and looked the scrappy, towering wolf up and down. He was leaning back against an examination bench, now, gesturing broadly while he kept miming out the conversation.
Quite suddenly, Desi realized she was speaking.
"Hey, I need you to kick my ass."
"And then I tell him he is a bastard and he needs to-"
Raoul stopped speaking and blinked. Bob, bent over a filing cabinet, glanced over his shoulder at her. Everything was quiet for a few seconds while the two of them stared at her. For her part, Desdemona set her gaze on the wolf and crossed her arms. "What?"
Raoul finally raised an eyebrow. He shot a glance over at Bob, then back to Desi. "So like are we talkin'… literally?"
"Also, before this conversation goes any further, could I remind you that you both have a flight to Biloxi tomorrow?" Bob's voice was very dry. "Where… you're going to be playing two pro basketball games in the next four days?"
Desdemona rolled her eyes, and kept her glare focused on Raoul. "What? I keep feeling like I'm going to punch a wall. I need somebody I can go one-on-one against who can kick my ass." She inclined her head. "Uh. Please."
Raoul blinked again. He finally afforded Bob a glance, just to give the sloth a cockeyed, questioning look.
Before the trainer could speak again, Desdemona stepped up closer to Raoul. "Come on. If I ask anybody else, they'll want me to talk about my feelings or something like that. You know they will."
The wolf folded his ears back. "Yeah some of them are sort of like that..." He finally turned to face her fully. "You know Wesley is gonna be all up in me if this goes sideways, yes?"
"Yeah, probably." She ignored the startled look Bob was giving both of them. "But like, I just want to play against somebody for a bit who can kick the shit out of me."
"So what's your plan?" The wolf was glancing down at a fist. Bob kept opening his mouth to speak, but the two players were interrupting him. "I can't be caught messin' up a rookie... not since last time…"
"Well I figure we can use one of the nets at the training facility, or use that street court over at..." She trailed off, thinking about his words. "Wait. What do you mean 'since last time'? What happened the last time you did one-on-one drills with a rook?"
Raoul blinked again. "Oh, drills…" He paused as Bob actually threw up his hands and wandered back to his work, muttering. "Of course drills! Yeah, was a, uh, total blowout there, yeah... so... you just wanted a game between two?"
"I- yes? Wait, what were you...?" She kept eying him, one of her eyeridges cocked. "I mean, yeah. I need somebody who I can throw all my fucking aggression at, and it's not like I can go swinging a fist at somebody while I'm under contract. Right?"
"Well you can but then you'd be OUT of contract soon after..." he snarked. "Deal. But it can't be in the facilities cuz then we gotta own an explanation. You pick the facilities outside and good ta go"
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, I'd prefer to not get dropped, so that'll have to do." She considered for a second, and then muttered, "Uh... public court it is, then. There's that one at Fairmount Park. Care to meet there later tonight?"
"You two just finished playing and you have a flight tomorrow morning!" Bob's voice was on the edge of hysterics.
"Yeah, so lots of time to sleep." Raoul nodded. "Sure. Not a frequented place, that'll do. Anythin' goes, your idea. I can do without more friendship sermons as much as you."
She nodded, and took a deep breath. "I don't mind a few scrapes and bruises. Anything goes."
It was already almost dark, and the late spring air was growing cold in the park. Raoul stood in the centre of the court, the tall wolf's hands shoved into the pouch of his hoodie. He glanced down to check in his phone, and sighed; already five minutes after what Desi proposed. He started to tap a paw impatiently, his expensive shoes thumping against the pavement.
Soon enough, there was the sound of shoes slapping against the paved park paths, and the perch came jogging up through the streetlamps' glow. "Sorry, was doing uh… mostly bullshit, honestly." She shrugged. Desi wasn't wearing the leather jacket that she normally had on outside of games and training - instead she was just had on a Tides hoodie and some plain shorts. She slung down the duffel bag that was looped around her torso, and tossed it onto the ground. "Ball's in the bag."
"Heh, still quicker than the Brooklyn metro..." Raoul scoffed. He was about to remark on her hoodie, but stopped as she pulled it off to reveal an old and worn Voyageurs tanktop underneath. The wolf rolled his eyes. "Really?" he snarked, digging the ball from the bag.
Desi tossed her hoodie on top of the bag, then walked over onto the court. "Very funny. I grew up in north western Ontario - of course I have Voyageurs stuff." She had already worked up a bit of a sweat from her jog, and she paused to stretch out her torso and arms. The aches and pains from the game earlier that night were firmly set in, but she knew that they'd dissipate after a few minutes of playing. She glanced over at the taller wolf. "You trying to tell me you never bought an Alphas jersey?"
"One stops wearin them when they're in the business and got their own..." He pulled a headband out of his pocket, then slid it on to keep his hair of out of his eyes. He tossed his hoodie over on top of his own bag, and then made his way over to the centre of the court.
The two of them took up their positions. It was a pretty basic court, meant more for kids to have pickup games than for pro basketball players to scrimmage. Desi's shoes scraped at the pavement some as she crouched down low. "So, like... I know I mentioned it, but like. Don't hold back?"
"Ya sure?" He replied to her question, dribbling the ball and towering over the perch.
"Course I a-"
He didn't let her finish. Suddenly he was shouldering his way through the rookie, sending her to the floor. All he heard from her was a bitten off, "Fuck!" as he blew by her. He got an easy layover that didn't even require a lot of jumping.
By the time the wolf looked back, though, the perch was already getting back to her feet. From that angle, it was easy to see the 'Wilds - 56' printed on the back of the perch's faded tank top. As she faced the wolf, there was a bit of a crooked grin on her face.
"You know, I fucking knew you were the right person for this."
"You asked for it, you're gettin' it. I don't get why you ain't whinin' after wantin' it, but good ya ain't backin' out."
When Raoul passed her the ball, she didn't hesitate. She came in hard, the bulky fish turning her back and trying to muscle past the taller fur. Raoul leaned in around her, and took a swipe at the ball.
The perch had to turn sharply, the wolf's greater arm reach forcing her to rely on her speed. As he was lunging on her left, she pressed her shoulder against his right, trying to slip by him and take an off-balance shot. She watched as the ball bounced off the backboard, hit the rim, then went wide. The perch let out a sharp, "Fucking hell," then stomped off to recover the ball.
Raoul caught the ball when she passed it over to him, then started dribbling. He let her come for him this time, and carefully stepped around her lunges. He backed up a couple steps under her advance, and then all at once he caught the ball and stretched up his long arm. He backed away easily as Desi tried to jump to get it back.
"Ya don't jump high 'nuff, rook" he said, grinning, still dodging and tiring the jumping perch.
She stumbled back after another failed jump, and then glared at him, her chest heaving, her nostrils flaring. "Now you're just being a dick." She hesitated for a moment... then recalled that there weren't exactly any refs present.
The fish lunged forward a couple steps, then sprung upwards, faster and higher than the wolf expected. Though her hand couldn't quite reach the ball, it did close around his wrist, and she pulled it down enough for her to take a swipe at the ball.
The wolf lost his footing as she grabbed his wrist, going to the ground as the rookie took the ball away. He glanced up as she made an easy basket.
"Shit..." he stepped up quick. "So we're playin' grabbin' now?"
"If you're going to play keepaway, I'm going to get grabby." She was still breathing heavily, and her eyes were sharp and aggressive as they focused on the wolf. She took up her position again, and started dribbling. "Besides, you make how many times more than I do? You should be able to handle it."
Okay. Now she was just baiting him.
Raoul pouted. "Look, I had it up to..." he held one paw up, making a random gesture. "Nah, to here... here..." he waited until Desi was focused on his paw, not sure what he meant. She was pretty sure she was finally triggering his short fuse, but… "Look, had it up to..."
Once she was close enough and focused on him, the wolf slapped the ball she held hard with his free paw, bewildering Desi. He immediately went for the free hoop, and made sure his shot rattled loudly in the chain net.
"...here with yer tauntin, rook." He smirked.
She shot him another glare, then snatched the ball up. "Alright, come on then." The perch started dribbling, then came forward. She made no attempt at tricking him or slipping around this time - she came right for him, until her shoulder was almost digging against his chest, and then she started moving. It was a furious series of cuts and feints, throwing more of her muscle into the movements than she probably needed to. Her breaths were ragged and audible, her shoes growling against the pavement with each aggressive movement.
Raoul quickly felt her rage, and changed his game from offensive to full defensive. He waited for her to tire or slip up so he could try snatching the ball, but each time he went for it she would just smack his hand away. The wolf had to hold in his growls, but he was soon reciprocating the rough play. It took much of his concentration to keep from going too far, but he was careful.
She kept up the needlessly aggressive attack. On more than one occasion, she probably had the chance to slip or blow by him, but she never took it. It seemed that she was more interested in the exchange itself than actually scoring. Soon enough, her chest was heaving, and sweat glistened on her scales under the park's lights. Her muscles were aching and screaming at her, still recovering from the game earlier that night.
At last, she rounded on her feet, facing Raoul. He was almost half a foot taller than her, and lord knew that his wingspan put hers to shame. Regardless, she dove back, whipping her arm up and around in an attempted fadeaway.
The ball hit the backboard, and bounced far from the net. Desdemona landed heavily in a sitting position, and then just remained there, panting for breath.
Raoul watched her, waiting to see if she would get back up. Things had gotten close to a brawl, there, and his hackles were still raised. As he watched the perch sit there panting, though, he forced himself to relax.
The two lapsed into silence for a short while. At last, Raoul spoke.
"You were mad, huh?"
Desi was still sitting on the pavement, her Voyageurs tank stuck to her with sweat. She grabbed her discarded duffel bag, then dragged it over as she panted for breath. She rooted around inside, until she pulled out a pair of water bottles. She took a moment to down a good few gulps, and then busied herself with glancing at a scrape on her elbow - a consequence of trying a bit too hard for a dive at the ball.
"Yeah." She was quiet after that, prodding at her elbow. "How obvious has it been?"
"Since you asked me to meet here. I know my grumps..." he wiped his face with his shirt, exposing his body, then sat down close to the perch, extending his notably long legs, the perch staring. "But let me guess, I'm not gonna get it, but you not gonna explain it."
She shot him a look, and for a moment, it seemed like she was trying to be angry and aggressive again. At length, though, she sighed, then tossed the unopened water bottle to him. She dumped the rest of her own bottle over her head, then laid back on the court.
"I dunno. I'm just... fuck, I'm bored, man." She shrugged. "Basketball's always been really fucking hard, y'know? But this year, like... yeah, I haven't been amazing, but it hasn't mattered? I play great, we win. I play like shit, we win. Winning feels too easy."
"It is what it is. Pretty sure like 90% of the rookies won't even see a second contract... some not even a second year..." he coughed. "It may seem routine, but in the bigger picture, you gainin' a lotta moolah for doing what you like and are good at and a big part of it is bein' committed. It is work."
He took the water bottle from her, and raised an eyebrow at it. He scoffed, then tossed it back towards her bag. "I asked ya to bring the ball for a reason." He grabbed his own bag, then dug around in it until he withdrew a paper bag with a bottle inside.
She sat up at that, then raised an eyebrow at the bottle. "Oh fuck yeah." She just scooted over on the pavement to him, not bothering to stand up.
"Rum, cuz beer makes us bloated like a blowfish," he sipped, trying to chill down from the almost-brawl that happened minutes ago. They passed the bottle back and forth a few times, never drinking too deeply from it.
Once they'd both had a couple sips, she spoke again, arms still crossed. "Like, I get it? I'm stupidly lucky that I am where I am, and I'm on an awesome team with teammates who care about me and... mostly aren't assholes." She gave him a tired, joking look. "I dunno. I need to feel like I'm fighting, otherwise, like... what am I doing here?" She trailed off. "That's super dumb, right?"
"I mean, you can't choose the team you at, not in some years, no..." he nodded. "...there are rooks that are good for benchwarmin', startin' rooks on hopeless teams, and just ONE that seems to be the golden boy or girl that has success and time. Guess which seems the best and you can't pick the last one cuz it just happens..." The tired wolf yanked his sneakers off, setting them aside, letting himself pant to relief tiredness.
"Nah, it's not even about starting or not starting, it's just..." She trailed off, and then took another sip of the rum. At length, she laid herself out on the pavement again. She was quiet for a bit, just staring up as the adrenaline and fire faded into aches and the buzz of alcohol.
"I was drafted at 22. 22. Bein' drafted at 22 means you are pretty much dead on arrival and for some reason I got the big rookie of the year prize and got thrusted towards this roll..." he nodded. "It's your first year, just take it easy."
Desdemona didn't react. Soon enough, between the cool night air, her own sweat, and the water she'd dumped on herself earlier, she was shivering. She finally forced herself to stand up, and went to grab her hoodie. As she tugged it over her head, she muttered, "Thanks, by the way. I figured you were the right person to come to."
"Right, right." He took another sip, then returned the cap to the rum. As he started standing up, he muttered, "So we aren't telling anybody where we got all these scrapes, right?"
She snorted. "Oh fuck no. See you at the airport tomorrow."
Desdemona set off, walking slowly with her soreness. The room she was renting wasn't too far from the park. She knew that she was going to be hurting the next morning, and she was sure that the flight to Biloxi was going to hurt. Not to mention, she was definitely going to get a few looks and questions from her teammates. For the first time in a few weeks, though, the roiling in her head was quiet. She took a deep breath of night air, and let a crooked grin come to her face.