Undertow

BY : pronker
Category: +M through R > Penguins of Madagascar
Dragon prints: 1371
Disclaimer: I make no profit from this fanfiction set in Dreamworks' Penguins of Madagascar franchise. I do not own its characters, basic premise or settings.

It was rare to have a clear night perfect for stargazing in the Big Apple, but Black Friday's crisp ether filled the bill.  Arcturus incandesced redly overhead to remind Marlene why it was her favorite constellation because red and pink were the colors of St. Valentine.  From her perch on the zoo boundary brick wall, she made her customary sweep around the points of the heavenly compass.  Just because it was tradition, she followed the handle of the Plough to arc to Arcturus and spike to Spica even though she could have found them blindfolded.  She sniffed the city smells and dreamed of romance past and future.  The present was another matter.

It took half an hour for her to glide back to Earth.  "Oh, Marlene, you ninny.  Romance won't bloom with you out here stargazing alone, you've got to move it move it, girlfriend.  Somewhere around is the love that will last."  She snickered.  "At least as long as you want it to."  She trained her sights within the zoo.  There was Julien, shaking his booty towards her all unawares.  For goodness' sake, Maurice was animated tonight as he improvised a hang ten sign with Mort after every fifth high kicking step.  Robot-dancing Mort continued being the poster child for zoo adorability, bless his little heart.  Private had been graceful in the end when giving up his own spot on the coveted zoo brochure cover to the mouse lemur.  Hmmm, speaking of Private, were the penguins outdoors tonight?  The telescope swiveled silently in their direction.

As she watched, two penguins gained the roof of their secret lair that mimicked an Antarctic ice floe in mundane textured concrete.  She cranked the focus to discern Private and Skipper at camouflage night maneuvers or stealth undercover games or something like that, she wasn't sure.  Wow, they sure did work out all the time, look how ripped they were!  Marlene waited for the rest of the team to join them.  No, it seemed to be just Skipper and little Private.  Now what were they doing?  Some Greco-Roman wrestling?  She focused closer.

This couldn't be what it looked like.  Whoa, Private kissed Skipper until his commander seized the young penguin's shoulders to break the clinch.  Skipper gathered up Private like a bride and threw him high into the air.  Marlene caught the faint sound of a happy squeal and then Private landed on Skipper to receive a positively smothering hug.  Following kisses with lots of tongue, the two dropped to the concrete to grope each other helplessly ... uh, now what ... oh good golly ... good grief ... was this Routine Thirty-Two: Confuse And Distract?  That was the only routine number she could remember.  Boy howdy, was this a confusing distraction!  Marlene fanned herself.

She should look away.  She couldn't. 

Private tumbled Skipper over and over until Skipper was on top and then Private's back arched as Skipper worked his way downward.  Private's flippers spread out to their limit and drummed a tattoo.  Skipper did something delightful that made Private roll back and forth until a command that she couldn't hear rendered him stock still.  Skipper crawled his way upward to cover nearly all of Private from her view.  He moved decisively in and Private's head snapped back. 

At last Marlene wrenched her eyes from the lovemaking pair.  She leaned on the telescope, which shot straight up to point to Sirius, the Dog Star, believed by ancient Greeks to inflame desires.  She squirmed, gave herself a moment to collect her thoughts and departed for her habitat, towing the telescope by one tripod leg.  After a minute, she straightened and put the rig over her shoulder as usual.  "Skipper, you owe me an explanation." 

She was still thinking eleven nights later about how to get --- intel, was that what the penguins called it? --- as she strummed her guitar.  The notes tripped over themselves to get out of her head and into the air to convey her feelings as honestly as they always did.  She needed to play something she knew backwards and forwards to ground herself, so she picked Malagueña.  She strummed faster at the E chords as she remembered Skipper's finely honed talents with this, the musical instrument she adored --- instrument she adored --- instrument she adored --- what in the world was that knocking?

"Marlene, it's Skipper.  Can I come in?"

Up from the drainage grate echoed knocks where none had ever come before.  The crazy time when the penguins had believed her to be a rare arctic mink named Arlene did not count.  "Skipper?"

"The one and only, if you don't count Gilligan's Skipper or the pretty little butterfly known as a skipper."

She had needed a good laugh.  She stood the guitar against the wall.  "You have never observed boundaries as well as this.  I'm impressed.  Your trophy win must have done you worlds of good."  He didn't need her help lifting the grate but she hefted her share anyway.  "Hey you."

"Hey."  He settled the grate back down and they hugged.  She indicated the guitar. 

"Play for me?"

He looked surprised.  "O-Okay.  What'll it be?"

"I'm open to anything except Dixieland."

"Btttttppp, not much guitar in Dixieland.  All right, sister, extemp it is."  He pointed to the floor.  "Plotz."

To give herself time to think, Marlene picked up the vase of flowers and sniffed them before starting to pour out the water from the vase into a water glass.  She saw Skipper about to point it out and caught the error with a titter that sounded unsure to her own ears.  She poured herself a drink from the carafe sitting next to the vase as she'd meant to do in the first place.  In her confusion about the reason for his visit after what she had seen, she didn't really know what to expect from him tonight.  She had thought their friendship to be rock solid and immutable.  Surprises were ... okay, but not one of this importance.  After stealing a glance at him, he looked as if butter wouldn't melt in his beak.  Well, okey dokey.  Except for sixteen wriggling pollywogs in her belly, she was fine, just fine, thank you.

Skipper playfully pulled out an imaginary chair for her as they improvised a scene dining in an exclusive restaurant.  He picked up her guitar to be a Gypsy strolling musician as she plotzed and then mimed cutting her entrée into three neat pieces.  She batted her eyelashes at him and sipped from her water as she made up her mind.  "Gypsy, I want gypsy and not mariachi.  Roma tonight, sir."

"As you wish."  Marlene gave a start as she wondered where she had heard that phrase before.  Skipper bent to light an imaginary candle at her table and then he wafted around her with a warrior's grace as she heard stylings nothing like she had ever heard before.  Riffs interspersed between apoyando and tirando sections.  She found herself swaying and clapping her paws at the flamenco golpe and was taken off guard when enough rasguado to tire even Segovia's fingers issued effortlessly in Skipper's musicale.  At the rousing climax, she melted into a helpless, quivering pile of guacamole.  Were these Spanish Roma, Roma Roma, and Hungarian Roma melodies with Buenos Aires Roma airs blended in?  She might never know nor care.  The pollywogs disappeared into the sludge at the bottom of her psyche.

She must have looked spacey because Skipper stood the guitar against the wall and waved a flipper in front of her eyes.  "Don't faint before we get to the good part, Marlene.  Nobody I ever, um, visited did that unless I got super creative."  He smiled and she came back to herself although her paws still trembled.

"G-Good part?  I don't know if I can stand it, Skipper."  She picked up her glass of water only to spill it on her front.  "Look what you did!  You got me wet."

He brushed off the water before she shot him a look and then he passed her the doily from under the vase.  She mopped and got presentable.  Confidence straightened her backbone from its sensuous slump.  "Well.  That was a lovely concert, Señor Penguin."  She replaced the doily and twiddled with the vase to have something to do.  "I'm glad you came."  Gads, it was going to be one of those evenings of double entendres that would redden her skin beneath her fur.  "I mean, visited."  Suspicion sharpened her tone.  "You can come anytime" --- again, Marlene, really? --- "and it's great you did, don't get me wrong.  There's something I need to pick a boner --- bone!  I totally meant bone! ---  with you about, though."  Oh ho, there was the blush but she forged ahead anyway.  "I looked into your habitat eleven nights back about nine-ish with my telescope --- "

"A bone --- Huh?  You did?"  Whatever aplomb had graced him during his performance fled and she had the distinct impression that his skin reddened, too, though she'd need to ruffle his feathers to see the blush.  She pictured herself doing this in a different context and flushed crimson.  Back to the matter at hand. 

"I did.  I didn't mean to but it was a primo night for stargazing, and well --- "

Now there was anger of the sort that he had shown her when she had tried to match up Shelly with Rico.  It was muted with disappointment and perplexity.  "So you saw Private and me together together and realized that we are beyond the crush stage.  I'm disappointed in you and perplexed why you kept on watching.  We're not that photogenic, well, Private is because he's the cute one --- "

"Look, Skipper, before this gets out of hand that neither of us has, a hand I mean, I want to say that I'm shocked."  All these days later, it was coming out --- again, Marlene, watch your self talk before you go incoherent --- that she was shocked at herself that she hadn't recognized shock for what it was.  It took Skipper, her friend, standing right in front of her to help her identify the protective feeling for Private that bloomed in her bosom.  The greater shock was that it had been roused to such a degree.  Her bosom heaved as her voice rose.  "I'm shocked that you coerced --- "

"Coerced?  That's court martial behavior, Marlene!  Watch what you say!  Private and I are completely legal and consenting adults.  For your information, he came on to me and I -- I --- I  spent weeks thinking about what would be right for both our squad and for its individual members and I'll have you know --- "  She had forgotten what it was like to see him splutter and pump his flippers as if he could fly.  She giggled. 

Bad move.

"Not funny, woman.  I came over here to ask if you wanted to catch our all night Shirtless Ninja Action Theater marathon with us.  I'll be leaving now." 

Marlene had a temper, too.  "Hmmm, let me pencil that movie date into my Blackberry!  I  just can't wait to see bloody mayhem!"

Skipper curled one flipper into a fist of frustration.  "If I've replaced your cute and naive with my sarcasm, it doesn't suit you."  He was halfway to the grate before she grabbed him from behind. 

"Aw, stay.  I'll apologize."  He hauled her three steps before stopping.  She felt the brawn beneath the feathers shake with anger and then he calmed down.  He spun in her grip and they were muzzle to beak.  They broke apart.  "I'm truly sorry, Skipper.  If you want to talk, I'll listen, and if you don't want to talk, that's okay, too.  But I hope you want to and I won't need to wonder if my friend is off kilter.  I'm speaking of Private here.  You, my main bird, are something beyond friend."  She looked deeply into him.  "I'm not sure if it has a name."

"Friend will do for now."  Skipper took another pace back.  "Well, Marlene, what you saw is what we got.  He likes me likes me."  He softened into vulnerability.  "And I feel the same."

Marlene stepped on the moment because what popped out contained all her perceptions of what Skipper was and did and those perceptions spun in their graves.

"Private.  And you?"

IOIOIOIOIO

"Me and Private, yeah.  Only it doesn't sound right, the way you say it."  He placed his flippers on his hips.  This was not going to end without ruffling fur and feathers.  So be it.  If he wanted to, he could describe to her the look on her face as she ground her crotch against Ringtail's and nearly inhaled his soft, fluffy neck fur the first time they all discovered she would devolve to a wild animal state outside zoo walls.  He would take the high road, he would.  He had helped her to overcome her feral spells and now she could pay him back a bit, not that he was bookkeeping or anything like that.

Marlene adopted Skipper's pose without realizing it.  "I'm sorry, what about it doesn't sound right?  I saw what I saw through a high power lens, Skipper."

Skipper got hot under the collar despite his resolve.  "Damn, Marlene, I don't have many secrets left from you, do I?  Mind if I sit down?" 

Before she could say yes, Skipper plopped himself on her bed and swung his feet.  He refused to endanger his friendship with her.  This new Private development was permanent and he wanted her in his life as before, too.  He appraised her critically.  "I'll need to tell somebody besides the team first, I guess.  You're my friend and can keep a secret better than Ringtail, that's for sure."  He snorted.  "If he's my friend, I hate to think how small the pool of my friends is outside of Atlantis and our HQ Command."  Someone with his voice said, "Look this is new to me as well as to the whole team and we need sitch recon time and in civvy talk that means --- "

"I can guess.  So, yeah, uh, you've never told me about your HQ Command or Atlantis --- "

"Need to know, sister, and let's just say your security clearance ... isn't."

Marlene rolled her eyes as she sat beside him on her bed, not quite touching.  "Pfft.  As if I need a security clearance to see any more of your deep dark secrets.  No no, that's all right, Skipper.  I don't expect to find out everything."  She could give him this, but he wasn't wiggling out of explaining as much as she could handle what he could handle telling her.  "Let's get back to what I saw."  She examined the pansies in their vase, still slightly miffed.  "And don't flatter yourself, I've had better, er I mean, I could tell that you were good at what you were doing and Private had no room to complain oh somebody please stop me --- "

Skipper ceased swinging his feet.  He studied the rug that comforted her tootsies when she first got out of bed.  The rug contained colorful swirls of rags with bits sticking up here and there, bright paisley as appealing to some as Marlene's swish of white fur on a shapely chestnut leg.  Oh, for simplicity, sweet lost simplicity; he'd give a truckload of smoked salmon if nobody had seen them, even if it were the mammal he trusted most.  He considered her nice, open face, her appealing eyes that wavered between amber and hazel and savored their time-tested friendship.  It would be all right to confide in her.  He twisted to face her straight on.  "Private and I are an item.  It started little by little like I told you before, so don't ask me exactly when I knew I loved him."  He owed her a detail.  "I think it was on Åland right before we left.  We swam together and it just, um, came up.  The feels, I mean."

The eyes that had whispered of attraction from the first time he had met her flared to unbelieving pools.  "Wow, Skipper, that didn't take any time at all.  I thought I'd have to drag the bigger L word out of you."  He had moments to see belief settle in the pools like spent autumn leaves drifting to their bottoms to bide their wintry time until they could nurture new life in the spring.  He had moments to wonder about his recent bent towards poetry as she processed what she'd just heard.  "He's ... young," she ventured.

That had been exactly what he had thought in the beginning.  She and he flew on the same wavelength, if penguins and otters could fly.  "He's adult enough."

She cleared her throat.  "I mean, he's bound to need teaching or training or, or, or, something that you commandos do.  From what I could tell, he seemed into it but not well coordinated.  I looked away when it was obvious that you and he weren't practicing wrestling moves oops I mean night maneuvers okay forget I said that.  He was cherry, right?"

"As I said, Marlene, need to know."  By her words, she had stopped peeking before he and Private switched the batting order.  That was fine with him.  He needed time to think about what to say, who to say it to, and whether it needed saying at all.  Damn, he wished she had not seen him because this added a layer of deceit to their friendship.  Well, that was what adulthood was all about: the need to zip the beak shut about some things and not tell any one bird --- or mammal --- everything.

"Aw, okay, keep it to yourself, then.  I'm no busybody like Pinkie.  I care for him and for you."  She lay back on her bed as the visit's complexities washed over her.  She intended to sleep on them.  "I'm tired.  It's late and I don't stay up nights on missions like your team does."  She curled into a companionable scimitar shape and patted the space beside her.  "C'mon, dish."

He hesitated and then reclined.  There was only one pillow so they shared it.  "I gave him my pebble."  Had her eyes always been this mix of honey and amber?  He discarded hazel from the blend because he saw no flecks of green.

"Y-You did what?"

"It's a penguin thing.  It's like if I gave you a friendship bracelet, only um, more so.  It's for life." 

"Oh, my.  Oh.  My.  That's huge!  Congratulations, Skipper!"

"Why, thank you, Marlene."  Now that he had started talking, the dam burst.  "It was so braaping easy it blew me away.  I just up and went and did it.  I never wanted to give my pebble to anyone before, not even Kitka.  It was natural as swimming to give it to Private.  When he gave me his, too, I - I - I ---"  He needed a moment.  "Er, this is important to me, Marlene.  Don't tell anyone."

"Well, all right, Skipper.  I won't.  Do I get to give you anything?"

"Huh?"

"Like a lair warming gift, uh, I'm in the dark here about penguin pebble customs --- "

He rubbed the pads on her paw and she nearly purred.  "You could take him under your wing, er arm, oh you know what I mean.  He's never been in anything long term because Cupid was a summer, uh, winter fling.  He thought Shawna was cute but that was about the limit of the attraction because, ew, anyone who deploys needles regularly couldn't be appealing for long."  Shit, more explanations.  He was running low on inspiration.  "What I mean is, he might need a confidante better than Prince Sharesalot to talk with about how to get along with me in our um, relationship.  You're a girl, tipsy facto, and that's your bag."  There.  He'd set up a sitch for his love to be closer to his friend.  It couldn't possibly backfire.

She blinked sleepily.  "Mmhm, yeah, sure, under my wing, that's fine.  Not to burst Private's bubble, Skipper, but Shawna is human."

"So?"

"I'm not even going to go there --- "

"Doris is a dolphin, Cupid is one of Santa's reindeer, Kitka is a falcon.  Your point?" 

"Um, never mind.  I'm not thinking clearly at this hour.  Night night."  She yawned and patted his chest apologetically.  "Talk to you tomorrow."  Her eyes opened wide.  "What's that bump on your chest?  I never felt it there before." 

"We ran into a bad sitch on Åland and I got hurt.  It's healed up.  What are you doing?"

Marlene riffled his feathers and found what she sought.  "Poor baby!  That looks awful!  First the toe, now the chest."  She smoothed the whiteness back over the pinkness.  "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"It's a long story.  I had treatment to make the scar better but it seems it didn't work as well as Kowalski thought it would.  Maybe another time I'll tell you the whole megillah, Marlene."  He grew thoughtful.  "You know, my getting within spitting distance of the Endless Iceberg might have pushed me and Private closer --- " 

This time, instead of inane questions about whatever the Endless Iceberg was, Marlene held her tongue to allow him to continue.  He didn't.  She yawned again.  "Skipper, really, congratulations."  She kissed the air in his direction and closed her eyes.  "Don't let the drain cover bang you on the way out.  Aw, hush puppies, I so did not mean that the way it sounds --- "

Skipper stood up.  "Hmph.  Mammals."  He knew that she knew he didn't intend it as a slur for her.

"You know it, pal.  We're both warmblooded but you, my friend, are the one in the hot relationship."  She forced her eyes open and regarded him sweetly.  "I'm glad you told me how things really went down, er, went.  I wouldn't want to think of Private being chan for anyone."

Skipper covered her with her blanket.  "Whatever the hell that means."

Her eyes drifted shut once more.  "Mmmm, I can tell you never heard of fanfiction."

"Heard of it?  Yes.  Indulged in it?  No."

"Your losssssss ---- z-z--z-z-z--zsnortgobble z-z-z-z--z-z-z--z ngahj ngahj nnnn--- "

He turned off her light.

The march homewards became a stroll as he paraded in the moonlight.  He ran his flipper over the bricks of the different habitats and thought of who he had told what to and why and then how and why and if he should tell Private.  By Reilly's aces, Marlene was one zoo friend to trust.  He didn't want to deal with others until he felt more secure in the changes that flipped his life from one axis to another. 

Roy, for example.  Roy was not a gossip, but Burt was, and Roy and Burt occupied habitats close together.  Hmmm, the Reptile House could stay low on his radar because the chameleons, although they were perceptive little creatures, spoke only in code among themselves and to Maurice.  Barry would keep his croaker shut or Skipper would shut it for him. 

Skipper slapped his forehead.  Maurice, and by extension, Ringtail!  Loyalty to the King of the Lemurs always came first for Maurice, no matter that Maurice truly enjoyed his time as a quasi penguin commando.  It would take manipulation to keep Maurice's tongue from babbling to Ringtail and Skipper wasn't sure he wanted to go that route.  He did not do subtle well.

No, no, no, Skipper, Skipper thought, keep the blood pressure under control unless you're in battle.  He breathed in through the left nostril five times and out the right five times as he plugged each in turn in a calming technique Rockgut had taught back when he still seemed sane.  Julien perceived privacy as nobody else did, to put things charitably, and if he found out about Private and himself he'd want to party it up for days. There would be horns and dancing and castanets and confetti and more dancing and boomboxes and dancing partnered with Julien ---

"Skipper," said Kowalski's head from the hatch, "is Marlene coming?"

He'd brought himself back home without noticing.  "Not this time."

Kowalski was jovial.  "Too much action for the Action Girl?"

"Heh.  Yeah.  Well, maybe."  He'd had a half-formed plan he called Operation: Facetime that Marlene would stay for the night, observe Private and him cuddling and then draw her own conclusions without asking questions.  Tonight's visit with her would have to take that plan's place.  He brightened when he saw Private plopped beside Rico to share his popcorn.  At Private's poke, Rico produced another bag that Private shook at Skipper with many winks.  Skipper didn't know he was smiling until he spooned against Private's warm back to watch men with sculpted chests and astounding martial arts skills bounce around the screen.  He reached around to Private's front for some popcorn.

Kowalski brought his team drinks and the marathon began.

IOIOIOIOIO
 



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