I'm More Important
Over the next few weeks Link took every opportunity to leave the ground.
When he (finally) woke up, he would dress as fast as he could, wolf down a quick breakfast, and dash out the door. From there, he would stop, close his eyes, and tell Aepon he was up. Immediately the Crimson Loftwing would take flight from wherever he had been sleeping and race to Link as fast as he could. Then Link would throw himself off the nearest wooden platform he could find and they would go flying.
Once Link overcame the last lingering dregs of fear, he grew to love flying like nothing else. It was freedom, pure and simple. It was the most fun he'd ever had in his life. It became more natural to him than breathing. He recognized the gusts and gales that blew through the day like old friends and danced with them in the highest reaches of the sky. He perfected rolls, climbs, and even dives through the crags of Skyloft, the close proximity of the land whipping past flattening his hair.
With every passing day Link grew closer and closer to Aepon. He came to know what every tilt of his head and every placement of his feathers meant about his intent and mood. He learned about his Loftwing's likes and dislikes, his love for mashing paper in his bill and his hatred for getting wet. He learned that trying to hide sunflower seeds was a terrible idea and that trying to hide pink clothing was a good one. He learned how to care for and check on his bird's health and well-being, searching for symptoms of illnesses and injury. He had even fashioned a simple collar for Aepon; a supple ring of leather with a buckle to tighten and loosen as his Loftwing grew. Aepon wore it all the time once he grasped what its purpose was; at first he kept trying to scratch it off.
Their minds grew closer every day as well. At first Link had only been able to sense Aepon if he really concentrated, and if Aepon was thinking of something rather loudly. Now, though, he could feel his bird much more easily. He found that if he let himself drift off, he could open his eyes and be looking through Aepon's, high above the clouds. It was as disorienting as it was exhilarating. And sometimes Aepon's thoughts bled out into Link's mind and influenced his mood. Ever since he'd met Aepon, Link suddenly kept feeling the urge to snack on pumpkin seeds and keep his hair as neat as possible. There was no end to the teasing Zelda gave him over this. "Aepon's making sure you keep well groomed!" she would say, laughing.
And Aepon learned about Link. He soon knew that a bouncing, loud, smiling Link was a happy Link and a day full of laughter and head scratches and treats for Aepon would ensue. He also knew that when the boy was feeling downcast or depressed a good idea would be to snatch him up for a rambunctious ride in the clouds, followed by lying together in the shade of a tree, listening to the wind hissing in the leaves and his boy's voice as he told Aepon his troubles.
Aepon learned that the one called Zelda brought Link great joy and many more laughs. He found that Link grew mad and sad if Aepon didn't let Zelda ride on his back. Aepon couldn't help it. He only wanted Link with him. Eventually, though, the bouncy, cheery girl wormed her way into Aepon's affection, and he accepted her and welcomed her presence.
Aepon learned that the big, meaty, never-alone one called Groose brought Link great anger and frustration and sadness that Aepon didn't like at all. Groose and his lackeys would corner Link and push him around and yell and laugh in his face. The first few times Aepon had caught this, he hadn't understood. He had immediately rushed the boys and driven them away with much screeching and beating of his mighty wings. Link had calmed the bird and told him firmly through their minds that Aepon must never harm other humans. However, when Link wasn't around, Groose was fair game; Aepon took every opportunity to make sure Groose knew that if even a hair on Link's head was misplaced, the Crimson Loftwing would maul the bully's face off.
Through sad days and joyful ones, through violent winds and listless skies, through rough-and-tumble games and quiet companionship, Link and Aepon grew closer and closer. Slowly but surely, they were becoming true partners.
Slowly but surely, they were becoming best friends.
One thing Aepon did not understand, however, was the concept of school. Every newly bonded ten-year-old was given a month off of school or work to better bond with his or her bird. Link had wasted one week being too afraid to fly and spent the last three weeks flying and playing with Aepon as much as possible. Now his time was up, and he couldn't continue his morning routine of immediate flight anymore. He was dreading the boredom and frustration of sitting in a classroom when he could be among the clouds high above. Most of all, he was dreading what Aepon would think.
The day before class started, Link went outside to Aepon. The Crimson Loftwing fluttered down from the roof and rasped, rubbing his beak against Link's arm. Link pushed him away and held the bird's head steady, staring into Aepon's eyes. He concentrated with all his might on telling Aepon that tomorrow and most of the days after would be flightless days, at least for the morning. He tried to make the Loftwing understand that Link had to go somewhere important where Aepon wasn't allowed.
Aepon pulled his head out of Link's hands and rasped again, irritated. Link could feel his displeasure with what he'd told the bird. He sighed and smiled. "Sorry, buddy," he mumbled. "I can't help it. If I had my way, I'd fly with you every day, but . . . I have to learn, you know?"
Aepon's feathers were slicked down to his body, which Link knew meant stress and unhappiness. "I know," he said, scratching the top of Aepon's head. "It's annoying, right? I can't help it. I hope you understand."
Then he stretched and smiled. "But that's tomorrow. Today, let's go flying, okay?"
Aepon immediately perked up and spread his wings, eyes bright.
The next morning, Link forced himself out of bed bright and early and trudged out the door at a snail's pace. His eyes were puffy and dull and he dragged his feet in the dirt. He did not want to go to school. He wanted to go back through the door, shut all the blinds, and crawl between his sheets and go to sleep again.
He glanced up behind him. The roof was empty. Aepon must've been sleeping somewhere else. Link wanted to see him, he always did, but he knew it was for the best. Aepon would probably have followed him and pestered Link all the way to school about staying home with him. He made sure to keep his thoughts away from the thundercloud in his head so as not to alert Aepon he was leaving, wherever the bird was.
As he slowly made his way to the Academy with his backpack full of paper and pencils, he couldn't help looking up in the sky for a pair of red wings, even when he could tell through his mind that Aepon was asleep and dreaming about chasing a cloud. He smiled. He was tempted to let go of himself and just watch his bird dream, but he was worried Aepon would sense his presence and wake up. It was the sweetest thing to watch Aepon sleep. He always twitched and tilted his head and made little calls to phantoms no one else could see.
Someone suddenly bumped into Link's shoulder, shaking him from his thoughts and nearly tipping him over. He straightened back up, about to snap at the somebody, but he rolled his eyes when he saw it was Zelda.
"Hi, Link!" she said cheerily, a huge smile on her face. "Ready for school?"
He gave her a deadpan stare. "No. I just want to go back to bed."
Zelda bumped her shoulder against his. "Well, of course you want to go back to sleep! Is that all you ever do?"
Class was as unbearable as Link suspected it would be. Try as he might, he just couldn't concentrate on the simple math problems Instructor Horwell had put on the chalkboard for the class to try and refresh their memories after the month-long break. The problems were easy enough, but Link's frustration at being stuck in the classroom clouded his mind and made concentrating impossible. There were ten and he'd only gotten three done, and he was quite sure one of them was wrong.
And of course Link and Zelda had been the last ones in their class to arrive, meaning all of the seats were taken except for the two in the front, and of course Link had taken the seat closest to the door. It was pure torture to see the open door whenever Link looked up, beckoning to him, mocking him, knowing he couldn't escape this classroom even if he wanted to.
He rested his hand on his cheek and glanced at the other students. Zelda was sitting beside him on question seven, a slight smile on her face as she tackled the easy problems and most likely got all of them right. Fledge was on her other side, chewing the eraser of his pencil nervously as he struggled to remember how to do the math. Groose, Cawlin, and Strich were in the back, goofing off and pelting spitballs at those unfortunate enough to sit in front of them. The students in the in-between rows were working diligently at varying speeds, from those who had barely started to those who were already done. Instructor Horwell was walking in among the students, politely pointing out mistakes and patiently answering questions. He always had been Link's favorite teacher, for he was mellow and kind-hearted, and much more approachable than the intimidating Instructor Owlan.
Link was in mid-yawn when he felt the thundercloud in his head begin to stir. Aepon had been awake for a while now, but all of a sudden his mind was alight with . . . mischief. Link knew that feeling. Whenever the bird was feeling particularly clever, his emotions took on a sickly yellow color and darted about all over the place, spilling into Link's consciousness. Link suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to be sneaky. Behind his eyes, he saw the Academy from the outside at a high angle. Aepon, what are you planning?
He was quickly distracted right then by Fledge, who timidly asked Link if he could help him with problem number five. Zelda and Fledge switched places so that the shy boy could sit next to Link and they could puzzle it out together. They were nearing the end of number seven when they heard slamming doors and yelling outside the classroom.
Everyone stopped what he or she was doing and looked toward the open door. No one could see anything, but everyone could hear someone running down the hall, calling "Loose Loftwing! Loose Loftwing!"
"Loose Loftwing?" Instructor Horwell said, straightening. "Loftwings aren't allowed in the Academy. Where-"
He was interrupted by Aepon barreling through the door.
The Crimson Loftwing had his wings raised and his legs spread, and his eyes were bright. His amber eye swept the room and landed on Link, sitting in the seat closest to the door. Before anyone could move or think, he strode up to his partner, snapped his beak shut on the back of Link's shirt, and dragged him out of his seat and across the floor.
Aepon had dragged Link out the door and down the hall a ways before Link could break free. But Aepon just clamped his jaws shut around Link's whole shoulder instead and dragged him toward the wooden double doors of the Academy, which were ajar. Link didn't move, afraid of stabbing himself on the sharp hooked end of the bird's beak, and yelled, "Aepon! Bad! Let go!" He tried to grab the Crimson Loftwing's head and shove him away, but Aepon just tightened his grip and shook his head a little, dragging Link in a zigzag across the floor.
Then Aepon released him and crouched over him, hissing savagely at the people who were trying to intervene, including the two Instructors. He swayed back and forth, wings held out to his sides, beak open, and then tried to lunge at Instructor Horwell.
Link leapt up and wrapped his arms around the bird's neck, dragging him back and holding his beak shut. "Aepon, stop! Whoa, boy, calm down," he tried to say soothingly, but Aepon continued hissing and giving the crowd death glares. Link glanced back at them and smiled sheepishly. "Ah . . . sorry, everyone. I'll be right back." Then he shoved Aepon out the door and closed it.
He leaned his back against the door and huffed out a breath, eyes closed. He could still hear his pulse pounding in his ears. When he opened his eyes, he saw Aepon dancing around happily, walking slow and low to the ground, wings spread in a heart shape on his back and bobbing his head with every deliberate step he took. The thundercloud in Link's head held nothing but glee and victory and TRIUMPH!
Link groaned and lead the bird to the nearest wooden platform. Aepon rasped in delight and bounced ahead of him, crouching and tilting his head when he got there, eyes bright. If Link could translate his face from a bird's to a human's, Aepon would have had the silliest and stupidest grin on his face. It made Link laugh.
Aepon shuffled at the edge, looking expectantly at Link, then deliberately to the sky below. He rasped again. Link scratched his neck with a sigh. "Aepon, we're not going flying."
Aepon tilted his head. He didn't understand.
Link took Aepon's head in both hands and stared into his eye. "We can't go flying right now. I have to go back to class. You're not allowed in the Academy. You're not allowed to barge in and drag me out, no matter how much you want to. You have to wait until class is over." He accompanied each sentence with a matching thought and sent it at the thunderhead in his mind.
Aepon screeched in distaste. He shook his head free and tried to shove the boy toward the edge, but Link ducked under his neck and took a few steps back to the Academy. "Seriously, Aepon," he said sternly. He put his hands on his hips; Zelda did that whenever she meant business and it made her look terrifying. Hopefully it made Link look like the boss too. "I have to go back to class and you have to wait for me. All the other birds wait for their people. Just be patient, okay?"
Aepon crooned sadly and nuzzled Link, looking extremely put out. His head was low to the ground and he refused to meet his boy's eyes. The sight almost shattered Link's resolve.
"Hey, buddy," he said softly, lifting Aepon's head into a hug. "It's okay. I'll be out in a few hours. It's not that long. Then we can go flying all day if you want. Okay?"
This perked Aepon up considerably. He fluffed his feathers out again and beat his wings, stirring up leaves and dirt. Link covered his eyes, laughing. "Now go on. Go fly around or something."
Aepon crouched and took off, circling over Link's head. The turbulence from his wings ruffled his partner's hair. Link grinned up at him. "See you later, Aepon- wait, where are you going?"
Aepon had just landed on the roof of the Academy. He folded his wings, shook out his tail, and blinked down at his boy, as if to ask, "What?"
The thundercloud in Link's head settled down into a blue color as calm as the sky. Aepon intended to wait there until Link came out. "You don't have to wait there, you know!" he called up to his bird. Aepon didn't respond. He only tucked his head against his neck and closed his eyes, about ready to take a nap.
"Suit yourself!" Link said, chuckling. The stubborn bird would probably do that every day now, just because he could. At least he wouldn't go barging into the Academy anymore.
I'm going to be teased forever for this, Link thought with a sigh. I can hear Groose now . . . "You were thrashing around like a hooked fish!"