Aepon Gets A Bath
It was one of those times again.
Everyone knew that Loftwings were all different, all varying. Their likes, dislikes, faults, flaws, peeves, obsessions, and objects of affection changed from bird to bird, as different as feather color. One could love something as much as another loathed it. One could be friendly and another could be antisocial, save for its partner. One could be completely docile and another could be fiery and stubborn. One could be possessive of its partner and another could hardly care less if its partner almost hit the cloud layer.
One could have a taste for pumpkin while another could prefer the rare bit of Octorok meat. Some preferred specific colors to others. One might love to spend time with its partner and another might just want to be alone on certain days. One could dislike contact with its head or neck and another could allow any contact with any part of its body.
Baths were no different. All birds needed them at least once every few months to clear out excess debris they might have picked up while flying or stuck feathers that preening just couldn't reach, no matter how hard the bird tried. The Skyloft Academy bathroom was rented out to any bird owner who needed to give their bird a bath, as it was the only water guaranteed to have warm enough temperatures for the Loftwings. It was the only time birds were allowed in the school.
And like everything, the opinion on the inevitable bath-taking process varied from bird to bird. Most Loftwings tolerated baths. It would sit or stand still as its partner poured water over its head and ran his or her fingers through its feathers to clean them. Then it would climb out and shake itself all over and allow its partner to dry it, as it was generally a bad idea for a wet Loftwing to go outside, where it might become extremely cold.
A good few Loftwings absolutely loved baths, and when they knew it was time for one they would all but drag their partner to the Academy. For some strange reason, these birds just loved wallowing in warm water. They would flap and splash their wings around, making a terrible mess, dipping their beaks in and out and making sure their entire body was soaked. The human barely had to do anything but try to stem the increasingly large and deep puddle the enthusiastic Loftwing was making on the clean bathroom floor.
Of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there were Loftwings that absolutely hated baths. They hated the feeling of water clogging their skin and drenching their feathers, making them sticky and heavy and unresponsive. They hated the freezing cold when they had to step out of the bath. They hated the water in general. They would fight the whole way to the bathroom, kicking and screaming and trying to fly away, as their partners would try to drag them inside. Then they would hunch over miserably, animosity and loathing boiling in every last recess of their minds as they were cleaned.
Unfortunately for Link, Aepon was one of the latter.
In fact, he was one of the worst.
At the merest sliver of a thought of a mention of a bath, he was off, usually all day while he waited for Link to bribe him back down with pumpkin seeds, crumpled up pieces of paper, and a lot of head scratches. On the rare and lucky occasion Link actually managed to trick Aepon and pin his wings so he couldn't fly away, the Crimson Loftwing fought as hard as he could to get away from the dreaded water. And if Link actually managed to get him into the bathroom and into the water, Aepon did not give up; he splashed and shrieked and became a fiery red missile, slamming into the walls of the room and trying to find a way out. It was a nightmare to try to handle.
Link had tried numerous times to get Aepon to understand that he needed these baths, and that if Link had his way, he would never give his Loftwing one. Aepon stubbornly thought that Link was punishing him for something, or just being cruel. When he suspected he was getting a bath soon, he would act extra angelic to try and avert any feelings Link may have of the terrible, horrible, torturous process that was a trip to the bathtub.
Link usually enlisted Zelda's help in capturing Aepon for the grueling experience. She could distract him with his favorite things as Link snuck up on him. She could pin Aepon's wings with a rope like lightning and the Crimson Loftwing would never see it coming, as he had no connection to her, mental or emotional, save for the blatant affection Link had for her that had rubbed itself into Aepon. She could combine her rather surprisingly ample strength with Link's to drag the struggling bird into the bathroom. And they could take turns holding Aepon down as the other drenched him with warm water. Despite all the stress and the unavoidable mess and the risk of being brained by a very large and very angry hydrophobic bird, they always found ways to laugh at the ridiculous pointlessness of what they were doing, and how hard it was despite how easy it could have been. Link began to wonder just how he had ever managed without Zelda. She was a lifesaver.
Zelda certainly wasn't saving him now, though. She had come down with a bad case of sky flu, and had been bedridden in the Academy hospital for days now. Link stayed with her constantly, bringing her favorite books and games and joking and laughing with her and trying to ignore how frail she looked when her body shook with coughs. He stayed at her bedside all day and only left when he felt that Aepon was thinking of barging into another building to drag him out. The Crimson Loftwing knew that Zelda was sick and acknowledged that this was a bad thing, but he didn't understand why Link stayed with her all the time. Link didn't understand himself. He knew he was running a high risk of getting himself sick, too, but for some reason he didn't care. It felt like the most natural thing in the world to stay with Zelda all day and develop strange pangs in his chest when he had to leave. Maybe he was becoming sick. He couldn't imagine such feelings around his chest were natural.
So now Link stood alone, a thin rope in one hand and a slipping resolve in the other, in the middle of the plaza, looking around fruitlessly for someone to help him lasso the Crimson Loftwing.
He sighed. Maybe he should just wait until Zelda was better. Aepon could wait that long, couldn't he? Were it not for the fact that the flying debris could cause extreme discomfort and pain if left unchecked, were it not for the fact that a bird with an uncleaned scratch on its skin could become infected due to its high exposure to all kinds of diseases in new and foreign places, were it not for the fact that Aepon's feathers were beginning to become dull and thin and shaggy, Link would definitely have waited and saved himself the trouble and risk of decapitation. But he couldn't.
He concentrated far away from the thundercloud in his head. He couldn't risk Aepon figuring out that Link intended to give him a bath, not unless he wanted Aepon to fly to the other side of the world. Unfortunately, this also left him unaware of where his bird was at all. Was he on the ground or in the air? Was he near Skyloft or somewhere completely different? With no way of knowing Link wandered through the town, passing curious people who took one look at his lost expression and the rope in his hand and took off, passing the Bazaar and the plaza, passing countless houses.
A flash of crimson around the corner of a house with purple walls. Link groaned and covered his eyes. Not again.
Link jogged up the hill, trying to hide the rope he carried to any eyes that might be watching, to the roof of the purple-walled house. Through experience, yelling, and angry people chasing him down for their ruined crops, he knew there was a small pumpkin patch on top of this house, and it was frequently visited by a certain pumpkin-loving red Loftwing.
Sure enough, Aepon was atop this house, tearing apart a pumpkin with his talons and beak and crunching down the seeds and flesh of the fruit blissfully. He was facing away from Link and it didn't look like he had noticed his partner, which was good, because if he had then he would've seen the rope. Link immediately hid the rope behind his back and said loudly, "Hey! You're not allowed up here!"
Aepon glanced up at him, still gorging himself on the pumpkin, but didn't seem too concerned.
Link walked over and shoved his bird, muttering, "You dumb bird, do you know how many times you got me in trouble for stealing pumpkins? Get off!" He finished his rant with a mighty shove; Aepon dug his talons into the ground and leaned against Link, a low rasp sliding out of his full beak in irritation.
Link's frustration, combined with the stress of knowing he would have to drag this giant, clawed, hook-beaked bird across town while he was struggling with all his might, was too much for his frail mental concentration to handle. He could feel himself thinking of all the dread that came with having to give this bird a bath, and unfortunately for him, Aepon felt it too.
Abruptly Aepon straightened up, frozen, staring at Link unblinkingly, gooey pumpkin guts still hanging wetly out of his beak. Then he whirled around and spread his wings, and before Link could take out his rope and restrain him, he was off, flying up and away as fast as his red wings could take him.
"Come back!" Link yelled fruitlessly, waving his arms. It was too late; Aepon was now a tiny red shape in the distance as big as his hand. Link watched as the Crimson Loftwing stopped flying and began to drift in lazy circles far away from Skyloft. The thundercloud simply radiated a feeling of, How dare you interrupt my pumpkin snatching with my least favorite thing.
Link groaned, rubbing his eyes. Maybe he should just give up for today. He could go eat something, have lunch . . . he could go visit Zelda! The thought made him automatically smile. He would tell her all about his attempt to catch his bird without her, and she would laugh at him but he wouldn't mind, and maybe he should bring her some lunch too, try to think of funny things today that would make her smile. . . .
Link wasn't aware that he was standing there like a lump, smiling dreamily, but he was brought sharply back to his senses when something shoved him hard in the shoulder from behind. It shoved him again and he turned. Behind him was a gray-and-gold female Loftwing, nuzzling him with her beak and sticking her head into his face. She had a tuft of gray feathers shaped like a forked tongue on the back of her head, and her collar was a simple rope, like the one Link carried.
"Hey, Ebirda," Link said, smiling, obliging the Loftwing and scratching the back of her skull. She tilted her head and closed her eyes in bliss. Ebirda was notorious for running up to strangers and shoving herself into their personal spaces to get a headscratch. She usually lurked around the plaza, going up to random citizens and putting her head on their shoulders or the tops of their heads. If someone was sitting on a bench she would even get onto the bench herself and shamelessly lie across his or her lap, begging for pets and attention. She flew very rarely, and only in an emergency. She was undoubtedly the cuddliest Loftwing on Skyloft, and brought her partner, a Skyloft Knight named Ospren, great embarrassment.
"If only Aepon was as nice as you," Link said, rubbing the back of Ebirda's thin neck. It was common knowledge that Ebirda was one of the Loftwings who loved baths and would drag Ospren across Skyloft to the Academy. It was pretty much the only time she ever abandoned her attention-seeking scratch-pleading vigil around town. One just had to say the word "bath" and she was off.
A crazy plan began to bubble in Link's head. He wondered idly for a minute if it would work, and if it was worth it, but then he shook his head and straightened up. He was a Skyloft Knight (in training), wasn't he? Weren't Knights supposed to be honorable, clever, and resourceful? Was that not what this was? Shouldn't a Knight be able to take on any opponent? How could he face Groose, or the sky pirates, or warring sky civilizations (if that ever happened; the sky was primarily peaceful) if he couldn't take on his own Loftwing?
"Hey, Ebirda?" Link started cautiously. The golden gray Loftwing didn't move, except to open her eye halfway to look at Link lazily. Link sent a mental message to Aepon; no specific thought, just a signal to pay attention. He felt Aepon's curiosity piqued against his will. "Want a bath?"
At the word Ebirda whipped her head out of Link's hands and stood stock-still, an exact mirror of what Aepon had done in reaction to the same word but, Link knew, with the opposite mindset. It didn't matter that Link wasn't Ospren; if someone said the word, basically the only human word she knew, she wasn't asking any questions.
She whirled around, about to run like a Remlit straight to the Academy, but before she could lift a foot Link sent a silent prayer to the Goddess and jumped on her back.
There were few things as terrifyingly thrilling as this. Ebirda, confused but still wanting a bath more than anything, ran like the wind down the hill and between houses as Link clung to her neck, trying desperately not to fall off. The grayish gold feathers Link was lying on were alien to Link, used to as he was to crimson, and Ebirda's back was somewhat wider than Aepon's since she didn't fly or exercise nearly as much. Link saw confused faces staring through windows, between houses, and working on gardens or painting walls, all staring at this hollering kid bouncing on the back of Skyloft's resident cuddlebird that was running like her tailfeathers were on fire.
As Ebirda broke out of the houses and began to cross the bridge, Link clinging to her the whole way, a bloodcurdling screech rent the air. Link heard madly beating wings pounding above him and looked up. The Crimson Loftwing, furious, was chasing them from the air, so enraged was he that this different Loftwing dared to steal his partner.
Into the plaza Ebirda ran, her nails scrabbling on the cobblestones and Aepon screeching at her heels and trying to gore her from above with his talons. It was a busy day in the plaza, unfortunately for the frantic Link. People dove out of the way as Ebirda and Aepon tore through their midst. Link was pretty sure Ebirda had bowled a few people over. Angry and confused yells met Link's ears.
They broke through the crowds in the plaza and passed the Bazaar, Aepon getting closer all the way and Ebirda becoming more and more aware that she was being chased. People abandoned their places in line to goggle at the sight as they shot past.
Up the steps they ran, past bewildered students and Knights alike. Link even thought he saw Ospren out of the corner of his eye, staring, with no idea what was going on. Then Link's heart sank; they were at the bottom floor of the Academy, and the bathroom was on the second floor. Before he had time to be truly despairing, however, Ebirda spread her wings, jumped, and fluttered to the bridge leading to the top floor, landing right in front of the doors.
Link slid off her back, his legs turned to jelly with the thrill of being chased by a bird on the verge of murder, and shoved her out of the way as Aepon came screaming out of the sky. He landed near Link and crouched in front of him, hissing savagely, spreading his wings out to defend his partner.
Quick as lightning, Link pinned the Crimson Loftwing's wings to his sides with his arms, kicked the doors open, and dragged his bird inside. The last thing he saw before the doors closed was Ebirda, tilting her head at him sadly, looking like she was wondering why he wasn't giving her a bath after all. Link vowed that after this was over he would hunt down Ospren and ask him what Ebirda's favorite food was.
The Academy was still and quiet compared to the chaos outside. Aepon didn't seem to realize where he was yet, which was most likely the only reason Link was still alive. The Crimson Loftwing kept his eye on the door, hissing lowly, ready to defend Link should anything try to steal him again, be it bird or beast or human being. Link dragged him across the hallway, opened the bathroom door, and dragged them both in. He released Aepon and shut the door firmly and locked it.
Only now did Aepon realize what was happening. He screamed loud enough to rattle the window in its frame and threw himself at the door, beating his wings and filling the bathroom with his red feathers. Link turned on the faucets and ran the water, making it warm-hot and praying for everything from his good health to his physical welfare should he come out of this alive.
When the bath was full of lightly-steaming water (which took much too long for a desperate human boy who was continuously in danger of being brained) and Link had let it cool a little (which took even longer), and he had taken his boots and socks off and rolled the legs of his pants up (which he always did), he turned and faced Aepon. The Crimson Loftwing was crouched in the far corner near the door, his breast heaving as he breathed hard, his feathers slicked down with indignation, fury, and dread, making him look very skinny and bony. He hissed as Link approached with arms outstretched. "Hey, buddy," Link said as gently as he could, noting right now at this particular moment that Aepon was so much bigger than him, "want to take a nice and relaxing swim?" He sent feelings of goodwill and contentment and comfort and warmth as strongly as he could, without tripping from lack of concentration, into the thundercloud, which was roiling with stress.
Aepon remained frozen until Link's fingers were almost touching his neck. Then he shrieked and threw himself to the side, away from this cruel, cruel boy that would inflict upon him the horror of water. Link's patience ran thin, and he lunged after his bird, trying to grab his collar, his beak, anything. Despite his immense size and the tiny area of the bathroom not taken up by the tub, the Crimson Loftwing managed to stay out of Link's reach for a creditable amount of time, frustrating his partner but ignoring it in favor of being terrified of the bath, which swelled above all other priority in his mind.
Link finally managed to trap his bird between himself and the tub, spreading his arms wide to block any escape route. Aepon bobbed and weaved his head, trying to look for somewhere to slip through, but Link moved in front of every attempt. He began to move slowly forward, driving his bird back, riding on the hope that even in the Crimson Loftwing's fear-induced franticness, he would never actually push or hurt Link, intentionally or no. Aepon took tiny steps back, and uttered a tiny panicked rasp when he had to put one of his huge clawed toes into the water.
Suddenly he flared his wings open and shrieked in Link's face, showing off his vivid plumage. The bright red feathers on his wing arms and the flashing white, purple, and gold on the ends of his flight feathers filled the space, creating a dizzying mosaic of living color. Link jumped, a little startled, but held his ground after identifying what Aepon was doing. He was deploying his final defense, the last attempt to escape his fate: he was trying to assert his dominance and intimidate Link out of the way through noise and color.
Aepon screamed for an unnaturally long time, like the last resentful wail of a dying animal in denial. When he finally clacked his hooked beak shut just inches from Link's nose he had to gasp for breath. Link's ears rang from the sheer volume and closeness of the noise, and he wondered how many people could hear, and if they thought he was torturing his bird or something. But he didn't turn or slip in his concentration to check. He stared down the pale yellow-brown bill of his bird without a waver or a doubt. He was not one to be pushed around anymore. He was tired, he was thirsty and hungry, his ears hurt, his legs and arms hurt from shoving and chasing and riding birds around all day, and he did not feel like being trifled with.
All was unnaturally quiet for about ten seconds as bird and boy stared each other down.
Then Link placed both hands on his Loftwing's shoulders and shoved him backwards, hard, into the bathtub.
Aepon stumbled back with an indignant squawk, losing his balance and falling partway under the water. He tried to jump back up, shaking as though he could shoo the droplets away, but Link stepped into the water carefully with his bare feet and legs and held him down, trying not to get the rest of himself wet. Aepon whipped his neck to the side, thrashed his tail once, and finally finally allowed Link to shove his body into the water.
Link held his head as he guided Aepon into a crude crouching position that had his chest semi-submerged and his tail, wings, and legs completely under the water. The entire time Link's head was overflowing with thoughts not his own, thoughts that rebounded throughout his head that basically consisted of a combination of misery, loathing, disgust, and accusation. They were incredibly distracting, and doubled his own frustration. "Sorry, buddy," he said, patting Aepon's miserable head and standing back up. "You brought it on yourself."
He made sure Aepon was staying put and stood, looking himself over to make sure his clothes were all dry, and turned to step out of the tub, eyeing the bucket on the floor he always used to wash his bird's head. He was halfway out when the resentfully smoldering thundercloud suddenly sparked with sickly yellow mischief, the same shade as when Aepon had burst into the Academy five years ago, the same shade as when the Crimson Loftwing intentionally knocked something over for Link to clean up, the same shade as when he felt so very proud of himself for some reason.
Link had barely a second to register the sudden change in Aepon's mind when he felt a ferocious tug on the back of his shirt as something yanked him backwards. He teetered on his feet, pinwheeling his arms wildly, his heart in his throat, before he fell on his back into the water.
There was a moment of swishing, muted silence, brought on by the bathwater that flooded Link's pointed ears. He choked out a bubble of air and thrashed upwards, wondering bewilderedly why the bath suddenly seemed so deep. His head broke the surface and he lay there for one stunned second, sputtering, taking in the sensation of having his clothes completely drenched, and then whirled around.
Aepon was crouched in the back of the tub, bobbing his head and swishing his tail. His already-drenched wings were half-spread in a heart shape, and he was practically wiggling with glee.
"Aepon!" Link yelled, blinking in disbelief. "I'm going to drown you!"
Link didn't actually end up drowning Aepon, though he jokingly "tried." Link was dripping wet from head to toe, even more wet than his bird (who he was supposed to be bathing in the first place). Aepon wound up thinking himself so clever for giving Link his own little bath that he didn't sound a single complaint as Link scrubbed him. Link didn't bother being gentle, either; the waves of pride and glee radiating from his bird chased away all notions of kindness he would've had earlier.
Once Link had succeeded in completely cleaning Aepon's feathers, skin, scales, and nails, he sat up, ran a hand through his sodden hair dejectedly, and stood, stretching his sore back. Aepon perked up, long since bored with what was going on, and stood up as well, shaking out his tail and spraying the wall with water. His outer bright red feathers were matted together in disheveled clumps, and his darker downy feathers were visible, covering him like a maroon skin. Even the dense tuft of feathers on the back of his head was flattened and stuck to his skull, and his white cheek-tufts were thin and flimsy. Without the normal puffiness of his coat of red, he was extremely skinny and bony and angular. The first time Link had given him a bath and seen him like this, he had been horrified and thought that he'd been neglecting his poor, thin bird, and had showered him with all kinds of food until someone had told him it was normal for birds to be that skinny.
Aepon ran the hooked tip of his beak through the wrist of his left wing and apparently found that he could barely move his feathers back into their proper positions. He rasped irritably, beating his wings but gaining absolutely nothing from it, no turbulence and no pressure. The smell of wet feathers swirled about the room.
Link turned at the sound of the door opening and saw Pipit's curious face. "Hey, Link," he said, looking around the puddled room. "Giving old Aepon a bath? That must've gone as well as usual."
Link was about to reply when with an excited squawk Aepon hopped out of the tub and dashed for the door, leaving a trail of airborne water droplets in his wake. Pipit dove out of the way with an alarmed yell as the wet bird launched himself through the door and sprinted to the exit.
Link heard more shouts, and ran out the door after his runaway Loftwing, his boots making a wet squelching sound with every step and his matted hair almost blocking his vision. He saw Aepon slam into the double doors and bust them open. The Crimson Loftwing shrieked with freedom and sprinted out, raising his wings to the wind and ignoring Link's cries of, "Wait wait wait, I still have to dry you!"
The normally warm air of Skyloft blasted Link like a frigid gale of wind when he stepped outside, and he shivered involuntarily. Aepon had just passed through the gates on the far side of the second-floor bridge and was trotting on his merry way down the wide wooden stairs that faced the Bazaar, drawing confused stares as to why a skinny, drenched Crimson Loftwing was running around. Link knew that Aepon knew that he could barely fly right now, but he wasn't going to stand another minute of partner-induced bath-brought-on torture, and was going to dry off by himself.
Link groaned and rubbed his face with both hands. He knew, he just knew, that everyone would be talking about his little stunt with Ebirda for agonizing days.
The next day Link woke up shivering and sweating, with a ferocious cough.
He was sicker than a Remlit, and sneezing just as much as one. His esophagus felt like it was tearing itself apart every time he coughed or spoke, and he constantly had to clear his throat. A crackling noise sounded from his lungs whenever he breathed, and his brain felt like it was trying to pop right out of his skull to die a flaming death.
He was immediately admitted to the Academy hospital. All it took was a glance from the doctor to diagnose sky flu, brought on by overexertion, stress, exposure to a sick patient . . . and being outside soaking wet.
As miserable as Link felt, he cheered up considerably when he saw who his hospital roommate was.