The harsh karkling laughter sent William scurrying behind a snow dune. Flopping on his bottom with a karumph, he shivered, then frowned as his already too puffy feathers stuck out in odd and curly angles.
He wasn't like all the other penguins. Sure, Angel's top feathers stuck up at an odd angle, but that was deliberate. How many mornings had he watched Angel diving into the coldest ice waters only to leap out and flip his top feathers straight up, waiting until they dried into perfectly flared spikes.
William poked his flipper through his own wild, tangled mop hanging down across his brow. Waking up early this morning, he'd tried the icing trick, hoping to tame his wild feathers and woo Buffy with his new featherdo. But it had all gone horribly wrong. He hadn't created perfectly flared spike-feathers, but more a iced Medusa madcap bazaar. And then came the kaarking sniggers. Everyone might have slept through his primping, but they were all witness to the embarrassing results.
He karked back a sniffle, then threw his flippers over his eyes. He musn't cry.
"Kaark?" Buffy said, peering around the edge of the snow dune.
William hunched tighter into a ball, turning away so Buffy wouldn't see the tears fast freezing on his cheeks.
Buffy cocked her head to the side, inching closer in a slow waddle. Her beak gently nuzzled underneath his flipper to stroke his cheek. William choked back a sob and turned away.
He felt her warm breath on the back of his neck as she released a sigh. Then he froze as her beak grasped at one frozen curly feather and pulled, brushing back the feather and tucking it down. She continued on, her warm beak and hot tongue twisting and tucking, the pointed tip massaging his scalp.
He dropped his flippers to his side and closed his eyes, lulled into enjoying the rhythmic motion. The sound of the waves breaking against the glacier's edge played in the distance.
"Kark!" Buffy chirped, giving his head one final pat.
William opened his eyes to find Buffy smiling, her cheeks dimpling. Tentatively, he poked at his feathers, expecting to find his mop teased into a frenzy. Instead, he found his feathers slicked back, their wildness tamed.
He looked at Buffy, surprised and hopeful. She butted his cheek, then waddled in a circle waving her flippers and softly kakarking. William smiled and karked with laughter.
Standing a few paces off, Buffy wiggled her hips, kicked her feet and dove onto her belly, racing at William and tackling him into the snow mound.
William surfaced with a beakful of snow. Buffy slowly poked her head up out of the snow, stopping when her eyes were free. She spied him, her eyes twinkling mischief. Then a great wave of snow flew at William, thrown by Buffy's flipper hidden underneath all the white. He sputtered, "Ka ka ka!" and dove for Buffy, hoping to catch her and splash snow into her beak.
And so they played, and the morning passed, and William's feather mop returned, but he didn't mind it so much. One can't be fussed about one's featherdo when such games are afoot.