They spend some time eating, filling the silence between them with the sound of other people’s mornings around them. Bastion keeps trying to feed the bird in between his own bites. It keeps turning its beak away like a petulant toddler.
“Maybe he doesn’t eat meat,” Saila finally suggests, and peels away a fragment of riverweed from her wrap to offer out leerily. She doesn’t want to be bitten again.
“It’s not spicy, is it?” Bastion asks, looking for all the world like an anxious first-time mother, complete with the half-furled outstretched hand and the slightly pinched mouth.
“Birds don’t care if it’s spicy. They are the masters of spice,” Saila says, and as if to support her in this assertion, the bird reaches out with an admittedly adorable flex of its normally squat sunshine-yellow black-barred neck and snags a piece. “Mind the sash, you. You don’t want to get the captain of the guard covered in sauce.”
“Well,” Bastion says, spreading his hands, “the uniform is actually spelled to keep off the dirt.”
“Explains why you look so tidy despite your eating manners,” Saila replies. “You wouldn’t catch me eating fatfish steak in silk. Must be why you were made the captain, on account of your daring and such.”
“Yeah,” Bastion agrees, the corner of his mouth twitching up very subtly for a moment before he tips his face down to look at the bird still cozied in his clothing. His beak is working industriously on the riverweed, making it look like a reverse ticket machine. “You like that?”
“EXCESS STOCK kekekkekeke BUY DOWN NOW kekekekekke,” the bird yells, which earns them a scolding shriek from a surprised sea bird as it takes off behind them in fright. Their yellow orb bird opens its mouth to reply. Saila shoves some more greens into his face before he can begin the bird equivalent of a streetside shouting match.
“He’s a rude thing,” Saila snorts.
“We should give him a name,” Bastion suggests, stretching and clenching his foot claws. It gives him an air of eagerness that belies the expression on his face. “Names are civilizing, or so I’ve been told.”
“If anybody needs it he does,” Saila mutters, peeling out more riverweed from her wrap to offer out. “Look at the pampered thing, sitting in like it’s breakfast in bed.”
“He had a hard morning,” Bastion counters. “He was in a ball barely bigger than him for who knows how long, and he, like us, almost got eaten. He deserves a little break. You’d be sitting in after the morning you’ve had if you could too, don’t try to lie to me. How about Tarvis?”
“The warrior-poet constellation?” Saila replies scornfully. “That’s no fun. People will think you’re calling a little noble in for his dancing lesson.”
“Do birds come when called?” Bastion asks in surprise.
“What’s the point of a name otherwise?” Saila asks back.
“How about Hellestein,” Bastion tries.
“I’m asleep before the name is finished.”
“Yes, let’s just set him up on the back of a giant whale-shaped submarine and set him loose to punish evildoers, shall we?”
“Then,” Bastion challenges, his mouth set into a line flat enough to inspire envy in any expert mason, “what would you call him?”
“Captain Chomp Chomp,” Saila promptly replies.
The bird, who has up until this point remained silent, suddenly bursts from Bastion’s sash in an awkward flutter of wings to strut showily between them, lifting his feet up high like he’s marching in a military formation, his tail feathers splayed out artfully.
“Oh, he likes it,” Saila laughs, and forgets the pain in her finger long enough to reach out and gingerly touch the top of his head. Captain Chomp Chomp hunkers down just a little, but when he finds her touch to be light, he tips his face up and gives her finger a very tentative little nibble in return.
“He doesn’t!” Bastion looks offended by the very notion.
“I think we should call him ChoCho for short,” Saila suggests, rubbing her fingertip on top of his head. He’s soft and fluffy, but touching him feels like touching a statue: totally immovable. He hardly budges as she rubs his round head, aside from to arch up into her finger. Interesting. “You’re an actual captain, so it might get awkward otherwise.”
“ChoCho?!” Bastion exclaims, horror clear on his face.
“RARE GOODS RARE GOODS RARE GOODS,” exclaims ChoCho, puffing out his chest, and he flutters up into the air as if he’s about to take wing. Though he lands with a plop between them on the dock, he still looks quite pleased with his efforts.
“He likes it,” Saila insists, and Bastion frowns so mightily his face looks like it’s about to crack in half.
“So is he.”
They look at ChoCho.
ChoCho looks back.
“NO DISCOUNTS NO RETURNS!”
“Kings, he does like it,” Bastion groans, putting his face to his hands. Saila laughs so hard at him that Bastion can’t stay grumpy for long: he gives a philosophically resigned shrug and devours the rest of his sandwich with miraculous rapacity, the tickle of a smile in the corner of his eyes.