Reference Picture of Penguin Lifecycle
Mark was an Adele penguin in his second year. He was currently going through something of a spat with best friend and secret-partner Eduardo.
"Why do you keep cuddling up to him if you hate him so much?" Chris asked one day, when they'd gone for a swim together in the cool waters of the Antarctic Circle.
Mark wasn't one to talk about his feelings, didn't really have any, in fact. But if he had, he would have kept them close to his downy, white chest. He'd come to Chris because this was about Eduardo, could never have gone to Dustin with this, because Dustin had once been attacked by a five-hundred pound seal and hadn't been the same since.
He dove down deep into the dark waters. It was the only place he could really feel himself. He didn't have Eduardo for that, anymore.
He considered how he could answer Chris' question. Being both from the same flock of birds who spent the majority of their time in sub-zero degree temperatures, Mark didn't have the excuse of hypothermia to explain why he and Eduardo could so often be found standing close in the ice fields, with a mere half inch between them.
So when they broke the surface once more, Mark opted for honesty. He said somewhat apathetically, "I don't hate him. In fact, I think I'm in love with him."
Chris just gave him a sympathetic look and paddled with him back to shore.
They couldn't make each other give up the egg, and Blizzard help them if they were going to take this to the kangaroo court. That was all the way in Australia, after all, and even if it was cold enough there, it was only a few weeks till hatching, and a thousand miles was a long way to swim for two tiny, cuddly penguins.
Legal action could only end in tears, anyway, Mark's mother told him one day. She had gathered from Mark's silence on the subject that he was upset. How did mothers do that?
Yeah, Mark often thought after one more argument with Eduardo, they'd probably end up being forced to abandon the thing to another penguin who hadn't found a mate for the season. It would have been easier if one of them had been a girl, but as it was, they were two father penguins with it written into their genetics that they would guard the egg until it hatched, warming it between their feet with the feathers of their bellies to guard it from extreme temperatures.
"We created this together," Eduardo said. "No fucking way I'm leaving you-- I mean, leaving our child with you. No matter how much you're trying to make me."
"Me? Trying to make you?" Mark said. "Whose idea was it to have this egg together in the first place?"
And on and on. Neighboring fathers, standing alone or in groups with their eggs, shook their heads sadly at the tragic break-up they saw occurring right before their eyes.
"You're biting my neck," Eduardo said.
"Am not." Mark shifted minimally, orange feet crunching in the powdery snow.
Eduardo huffed a long, tense minute later. "You're still putting your beak in my neck."
Day in and day out. Today Mark couldn't stand by any longer without saying something.
"Eduardo," he snapped in cutting tones. "We are standing together in the middle of an ice field, plenty of other space, but we both know why we're here. My barrel-like body is pressing close against yours to shield you-know-what from the cold. We're facing each other," and here he paused for breath, consequently taking in a whiff of the salty sea air and the damp-feather scent that was specific to Eduardo. "So yes, it stands to reason that every once and awhile I'll end up putting my beak in your neck. How about going about this problem less passively, more constructively. Namely: what do you want me to do about it?"
Eduardo huddled in closer, obviously hurt, and Mark waited for a second of taut silence before shutting his eyes. He leaned against Eduardo, pretending things were still fresh and happy as they'd been when they'd met on the long march to the rookery only a few months ago. Eduardo had been this gorgeous dark thing who'd just come into Mark's life, saying "I need you" and "We need to win the sardine eating contest, my status in my father's eyes depends on it."
Yes, April had been a beautiful period when everything was frosty sunlight and it was snow angels all the time, back when they hadn't had the weight of success and obligation on their wings like they did now.
Mark thought of this, huddling close as Eduardo whispered, as if to himself, "I don't even know any more."
"Incubation period is almost over," Eduardo said one day in late July.
Mark attempted to look as dismissive as any penguin could look with a rigid beak, a permanently blank stare, and not a lot of eyebrow. He nodded. "August is when she'll hatch, you think I don't know that?"
"Then I won't have to look at your stupid face any more," Eduardo muttered.
"You don't mean that!" Mark said. He instantly covered his beak with a wing, surprised at his own outburst.
Eduardo took a moment to gather his emotions, also surprised. "Why not?"
And Mark didn't really know. It was a lot of things. He couldn't stand the idea of Eduardo not being around, for one...and that was his only reason, really. If he'd had a hand, he would have had to count five reasons, but as it was, this one, overwhelming concern took up his entire wing. It was the most important, and really only, focal point in his life, Eduardo and what they'd built together. All other things just fell to the snow drifts.
Mark thought for a while, before saying, a coy tilt to his head. "Because my face looks just like yours."
He then swallowed a fish with some glow of satisfaction, because Eduardo was shaking against him in attempts not to laugh.
"You did this...saved me...because...?"
"For our child," Mark said. "Logically she'll need the both of us if she's going to grow up normal."
"Normal," Eduardo laughed. "I don't even know what that means. And besides, now you're saying our child as if...."
Here he trailed off, and Mark ducked his head. "Yes, our child. Sheesh, can't we stop arguing for even one second. It's not like I could give up like that."
They stood in the dusky calm of July in Antarctica, the squabbling sound of gossip around them and faint movement from their unhatched egg between their feet.
"What made you think of that, anyway?" Eduardo asked. "That she needs both of us."
"It was just before I went off to buy you back from that tribe of emperor penguins," Mark said, making sure that his voice was emotionless, didn't want to show how much it got to him, the idea that Eduardo had so nearly been taken as a slave to the other breed on the ice floe just south of them. "I think Chris was playing the other side, to make me see sense. He said that, to hell with our messed up relationship, anyway."
"Chris said that?"
"Yeah," Mark said. "He implied that maybe it was good we weren't together. That I was the penguin you were most drawn to because our relationship somewhat continues the emotionally abusive relationship you had with your father."
"Fucking Chris," Eduardo sighed. "He's just looking out for me. And what did Dustin say?"
"Oh, you know," Mark waved a wing expansively. "Dustin said he thought he saw creatures manning a metal craft that was as big as an iceberg last night."
"Of course. Crazy kid."
Eduardo toed the ground shyly.
"Anyway," Mark mused, looking out at the dark waters that stretched on forever, to the ends of the earth maybe. "I can't believe they only asked 300 sardines for your ransom."
"Well, duh," Mark said. "You're worth much more than that. Idiots."
Eduardo knocked foreheads with him lovingly, even though Mark didn't know why the sudden burst of emotion. He smiled at him anyway, for the first time uncertain down to his tiny tail, now that the future was looking bright. How would they make it?
Eduardo did it again, nudging Mark's forehead with his, with the egg between them. After all, touching foreheads was the penguin version of a french kiss.
Two penguins were standing on an iceberg. One penguin looked at the other and said, "It looks like you're wearing a tuxedo?"
The shorter penguin with curly hair quirked his beak and said, after a beat, "How do you know I'm not?"