He was exhausted in every sense of the word, and this brief respite was more a blessing than the Princess-no, Queen, he reminded himself-knew. He carefully set his belongings down, lyre handled with the concern a mother might give her child, and dropped heavily onto a fallen block of grey stone.
He barely made a sound with the movement, another reminder of where he was. This room, one of thousands lost in the ever-changing halls of the Shadow Temple, was still a crypt, and still holy, even if it had been turned into a refuge for the living. Poe souls spun lazily in the air around him before settling again, sleep overtaking them. While the room he sat in was entirely closed off, the groan of stone and metal moving echoed faintly from below-the Temple had decided to change itself again.
Sheik began tugging at the bandages on his fingers, closing his eyes wearily as he let the muscles in his back unknot. At this very moment, the Queen was waiting for the Hero in the Temple of Time, to join forces and tear through the black shroud clinging to Hyrule. By nightfall, order would be restored and the dead would once again find peace. And he could rest, properly.
He let himself slide to the ground with that thought, heart throbbing uncomfortably at the thought as he stretched his long legs out in front of him and rested his head against the stone. Half-healed wounds throbbed with the movement, but it was the kind of pain that preludes a heavy, restful sleep-the sort that he needed, if this was to be his last. Crimson eyes drifted shut, sleep eagerly enveloping him.
He had just fallen into a sort of half-awake trance, each sound and each absence of such sound thrumming in his ears and his mind drifting pleasantly, when the absences vanished. The noise was soft, the barest release of a breath, almost unnoticeable. He was on his feet before he had realized he had heard anything.
The air felt sharp and cold against his skin, uncomfortably so. There was an intruder.
"Link?" His voice did not carry and was even less audible than the noise had been. He silently drew a dagger from the sheath pressed tightly against the small of his back, attempting to summon his magic to his fingertips as he did so. Only a small, fizzling trickle responded to call, not enough to even soothe a Poe soul, to his disgust. It made it all the more apparent how badly he needed to rest.
There had not been an answer to his query, but Sheik had not expected one. His eyes probed the shadows surrounding him, seeking the intruder.
He caught a flash of golden light and moved-but far too late. Something slammed into him, knocking him off his feet as it violently wrenched his arms behind his back, dislocating his shoulder in the process of binding his wrists together. Before he hit the ground his surroundings changed, opulent gold and ruby mixed with black stone assaulting his vision. The floor smashed into his back and he skidded across unyielding stone, his head slamming agonizingly into it as he stopped.
Blood pooled in his mouth as pain burst from his tongue. He spat it out as he scrambled to get his feet under him, gaze darting around his surroundings.
Time seemed to freeze.
Princess-Queen-Zelda was there, trapped in a floating crystal, screaming and pounding against the pale red barrier frantically. An organ dominated the room, the only piece of furniture that appeared well used and cared for amidst trinkets that Sheik vaguely recognized from Hyrule Castle, before it had been demolished. And the King of Evil himself, armored and armed, slowly approaching him.
A soft laugh escaped him, more one of acceptance than it should have been. He'd expected this, just not like this.
His arms were locked against one another behind him, screaming for release. Ganondorf's magic kept them frozen in place, and Sheik didn't even bother trying to use his own pitiful remnants of power to combat the Dark King.
"I've always respected your people, Sheikah. I hope you know this isn't personal, exactly." Ganondorf said, offering an almost rueful smile.
Sheik's gaze went to his Queen. She was puddle at the bottom of her prism, a wave of skirts and hair and tears. He could see no mark on her.
"I don't have any respect for the kid, but it's better to be safe than sorry. She said you're the closest thing he's got to a friend. When people get angry, they start making mistakes." Ganondorf shrugged. He might have been an intimidating man, but his manner, so rough and careless, would have thrown Sheik off if he hadn't been so familiar with the look in his eyes. He had time to remember the training he had worked so hard to forget-
And a hand seized his throat, lifting him off of the ground and slamming him into a wall in one smooth, powerful motion. His vision blurred briefly, and he fought for his breath, kicking out and catching Ganondorf's knee. He braced it there for a moment, but Ganondorf smiled a savage sort of smile and tightened his grip. Any tighter, and the bones in Sheik's throat would splinter.
"Sorry, kid. Like I said, nothing personal."
And Sheik remembered.
Link threw his bag to the floor of the Temple of Time, letting out a string of violent curses as he jerked his hands up, grabbing his head. He kicked the bag, sending it flying across the cavernous room, and threw his hat after it angrily.
His rage pulsed in his chest, hot and sulfurous and wild, flailing desperately for something to blame. There was a soft footstep behind him, and it suddenly had an anchor.
He flew at the Sheikah without a thought, blind hatred fueling his every movement.
Link would never remember the next few moments-they were a blur of hitting and being hit, flashes of blonde hair and red eyes that, Farore damning it all, understood. And even with this understanding, Sheik still fought back.
And then Link was on the ground, Sheik's weight on his chest. The other boy didn't hold him down, just sat there regarding him silently while Link's chest heaved with sobs that wouldn't come out.
"You knew. You knew, and you didn't say anything?!" Link hissed, the accusation sounding so sharp.
"Do you know anything of the Sheikah?" Sheik's voice was cool, quiet.
"Do notask me to explain. Just know that I couldn't-and still can't-tell you anything of the Sages or the Temples that you will purify beyond what you absolutely must know." With that, Sheik rolled off of him and silently walked over to Link's bag. Link scrambled to his feet.
"You think that 'I can't' cuts it?! You knew-you knew-and you didn't tell me?!" Sheik, finally, showed emotion. Surprise, as Link slammed him into one of the Temple's pillars.
"Do you know what she was to me? The only person in the entire Farore-damned forest who everdid anything-anything-for me! The forest took care of its own-and I wasn't one of them. She was the only one who would even talkto me! And you didn't even warn me-"
"Because I couldn't-because I can't!" Part of him was furiously, wondrously glad that Sheik was just as angry as he was. Another part was terrified, to see the boy he'd only known for barely a week and who had never so much as raised his voice so enraged.
"You think this is by choice? You think I sat and waited for seven years while Hyrule wasted away, while the few people I loved died the most violent deaths possible, because I wanted to? You think I watched Ganondorf destroy everything I hold dear and didn't fight back because I wanted to? You think that I didn't tell you she's essentially deadbecause I wantedto?!" Sheik pushed Link off of him as he shouted, sending the Hylian staggering back a few steps.
The words struck Link more than Sheik's volatile tone. He stumbled back another few steps, face draining of color.
Something broke within him.
He dropped to the stone beneath him, shoulders shaking as air refused to come to his lungs. Sheik cursed above him and then dropped beside him, hesitantly touching his back.
"You're hyperventilating. You'll be alright. Just focus on breathing." Link could barely hear Sheik, much less focus on what he was saying. Sheik didn't seem to care either way-he just sat there, quietly telling Link to breathe in and out, repeating the words over and over again.
Link felt an urge to smack him at first, but as time passed and he still couldn't get a full breath of air and terror built up in his chest, he clung to those words desperately.
The room had grown dark by the time Link drew his first full breath. Real tears came then, and he didn't stop crying-he just started sobbing for real that time, letting all of his emotions out. He couldn't tell the difference-the only indication was that Sheik stopped talking.
And when that was done, there were still angry words building up within him. He looked up at Sheik, curses on his tongue, ready to let them out-
-and he saw Sheik silently crying, ruby eyes rimmed in red, not moving or making a sound that could give it away.
And Link realized that, while this journey might break him, it had already broken others.
"Find the Sheikah!"
Link tumbled out of the alcove he had been napping in, the Master Sword half-drawn and lunging for an invisible enemy by the time he realized Navi had been calling his name.
His hands shook as he sheathed the blade and ran a hand through his hair.
She's said he didn't exist. That he never had existed. And then she'd told him to find him.
Had she lied? Had he been a lie the entire time? Sheik had sworn to never lie to him-Zelda had sworn never to lie to him? Which one?
He was crying, he realized.
"Link, we're almost there-please, come on." Navi was begging with him.
"She said-she said he-why would-I'm going to kill her." Navi's wings stilled at his tone-going from terror to absolute iron in the span it would take another to breathe.
"You're supposed to save her from Ganondorf." It was a testament to how well she knew him that she took him seriously. She kept her voice controlled and even, like she had thousands of other times throughout their journey.
"If she was fucking with my head this entire time, Navi, I am going to kill her. And if she lied-if she dared to tell me he never existed-I am going to kill her."
The things Sheik had said-the things he'd implied-how could he not exist? Was that a lie? No-Sheik couldn't lie well. Zelda couldn't-No!
"You don't know the whole story. Ask her first, at least. Have her explain. Now, let's go. We're almost to the top." Navi had learned to deal with him in the year they had spent traveling Hyrule, and she was the only person other than Sheik that could get him to listen to reason when he was on the warpath. He'd never been so grateful for that before that moment-he felt the terrible need to let someone else be in charge, to find someone other to be a hero. Navi directing him was the closest thing he would get to that at this point-and he clung to it desperately.
He looked up the stairs, stretching so far up above them. Somewhere up there was Ganondorf, waiting for him. And somewhere up there were the answers he needed.
"Alright." He whispered, forcing himself to relax as much as he could. Navi did as well, and she bounced ahead, illuminating the way ahead with her blue light.
"You're fighting a Wolfos. Where do you strike first, to keep the battle short?"
"Neck. Stomach, if I can get it on its hind legs." Link said slowly, attention focused on the debris beneath his feet as he hurried after Sheik. Navi was asleep-the fairy had told him that she only slept when Link was with him, and this was the first time they had met in a week. It warmed him, to know that she trusted him so much.
"I leave the dead things to you." It was said with the litany of a child who had repeated it thousands of times, but Link's tone was far from flippant. It was hard for Sheik to remember Link was still a child, until moments like these, when his voice was serious and heavy with knowledge and his words were careless.
"And if I'm not there?" Sheik pressed, barely succeeding in keeping the faint thread of worry out of his voice as he moved backwards across the ruined rooftops of Castle Town, pace slowing. Link stopped and looked up at him, arms held out horizontally from his body to aide him in keeping his balance.
"Are you leaving too?" Despite his dead tone, a spark of terror lit within Link's eyes. He had just cleared the Fire Temple and released the Sage of Fire, and while it hadn't taken as great a toll on him as Saria had, it was still prevalent. The quest he'd been thrust into was breaking him.
"No." Sheik said, voice firm as he took a step towards Link.
"I am not leaving, and I promise you I will never leave, if I have any say in the matter. But I can't be here all of the time. You need to know how to take care of yourself when I'm not around." He inwardly winced as he spoke, realizing just how much like a goodbye that sounded. But, he supposed, he couldn't offer anything better. He had no say over when he left or what his future would be when this journey came to an end-though he had an inkling. But he would do what he could to ensure he kept that promise.
"…Why don't you go into the Temples with me?" The question caught Sheik off-guard.
"Are you forbidden to?" Link pressed, arms falling to his sides as he approached.
"Then why do you wait outside? Why not go in with me?" Terror struck Sheik, as he realized where Link was going with the line of questions. He shook his head violently, inching backwards.
"No!"Sheik didn't shout the word, but it came out far more forceful than he'd intended. Link fell silent, staring at him, and Sheik wrapped his arms around himself, refusing to make eye contact.
"It's your place to enter the Temples, your place to free the Sages. I am a guide, a teacher, and nothing more. I am not strictly forbidden from helping you, and it is not that I don't want to, but I can't." Sheik hated himself at that moment, realizing then just how important it was to Link that he not be left alone.
"You say that a lot." The coldness in those words was astounding, but it wasn't as if he didn't deserve them.
"I amsorry, Link."
"Then why don't you tell me?" The Hero's vehemence shocked him, and he looked up at the boy.
"What is so important, so terrible that you can't tell me about it? Do you not trust me? Why?" Link's voice cracked. Sheik realized then how important their friendship was to him. Link had only known him for a month-and, Sheik realized, he was the only stable person in the Hero's life. Everyone else was leaving, dying, becoming something other.
It felt strange, to realize that he had a friend. Sheik sat down, dangling his legs off of the roof as he hunched over.
"I trust you. I would tell you if I could, Link." The words were barely above a whisper.
The Hero settled beside him hesitantly, and a thick silence ate up the air between them.
"It's something terrible, isn't it? Darunia's son had your expression when I asked him about his family. Somebody hurt you. Maybe they will still? I shouldn't keep getting angry that you won't tell me, and I'm sorry for shouting. But I'm not sorry for getting mad that I can't help you when you're scared." Link said it hesitantly, cautious of breaking the quiet. Sheik's eyes widened and he froze, staring out over the crumbling remains of Hyrule's capital.
"Don't ever repeat that." Sheik's voice trembled. Link bristled, and Sheik looked up at him.
"Neversay that you care about me. I don't care if I'm dying and you're hysterical, neversay that again."
"There are a thousand reasons, none of which I think you'd care about. But the biggest? I'll die. If you ever tell anyone that you care at all about the fate of your Sheikah guide, if they ever guessat it, I cease to exist. I can't tell you things because they'll do worse than kill me if I do-they'd kill me if they knew I was saying this much. So never ask me why again, because I won't respond."
Done speaking, Sheik stood up, forcing his tense arms to drop to his sides.
"…I'll kill them, one day." He looked down at the Hero, startled.
"One day. When Ganondorf's dead. Before they hurt you again."
"Then you'll fail." Sheik said softly, curling his fingers into a fist as agony tore through his chest. Link looked up sharply and got to his feet, jaw clenching.
"They're hurting me now."
Link stopped in front of what he hoped was the final door on the staircase, scowling at Navi while she rubbed at a bloodstain on his cheek. The corpse of a lizalfo was slowly sliding down the stairs behind him, leaking green blood across his boots.
In the months he'd spent being the Hero of Time, he'd grown accustom to focusing solely on a fight and leaving his emotions for later contemplation. It was the only thing that kept him sane.
It wasn't working.
"Just kill Ganondorf. Get through this with Zelda later, okay?" Navi's voice was anxious.
"…Did you ever think you'd be encouraging me to kill someone?" Link asked softly, one hand resting on the door handle. Navi fell still for a moment, and moved closer to him.
"No. But I never really thought, at first, of you as a person. Does that make sense? We never considered that you were still a child."
"Except for Sheik."
There was a silence.
"I won't blame you if you kill her. But Hyrule will suffer if you do." Navi finally said, and with that, she fluttered over to the door and dropped her slight weight onto the handle. It was her sign that the conversation was over, and she'd said her part.
Link's left hand tightened around the Master Sword's hilt, and he pushed the door open.
The doorway opened up into a large stone room, red and black cloth carpeting the floors and hanging from the walls. A marble staircase led up to the main part of the room, and Link's gaze darted up. He could see a large piano-like instrument dominating most of the room, a fireplace and a scattering of expensive furniture pieces. Flames resembling the Poe lights that were so plentiful in the Kakariko graveyard clung in clusters to the walls, offering only a dim light to see by. Floating beside the fireplace was Zelda, trapped in a pale red crystal. Her head was buried in her arms, body shaking as if in terror. Blood splattered the floor beneath Link's feet, some of it fresher than the rest, and the first seed of dread took root in his stomach.
He would never forget the sound, the thwack of iron meeting flesh, as a body rolled out of the darkness and thumped painfully onto each and every one of the hard marble steps, tumbling to a stop before him.
His heart stopped. There was so much blood-he was there!-limbs twisted at impossible angles-the bastard!-Link dropped to his knees, frantically rolling him onto his back-he was really there-it was him-
Everything froze, preserved in perfect silence and stillness for that one, eternal second. Lifeless, bloody eyes stared blankly up at him, no trace of anything in them. Flat, empty, dead.
And he felt Sheik's chest rise slightly beneath his hand, amidst torn cloth and bruises and cuts oozing blood.
The mind-numbing panic that had swallowed him melted-Link could help with injuries, broken bodies could be fixed-
Why did he look so…gone?
The ringing of metal against stone met his ears, and Link looked up from Sheik's body. Ganondorf smiled a contrite sort of smile at him-at them.
Navi's words were stone, echoing across the room like the final drop of an executioner's blade.
"Do you read a lot?"
Sheik looked up from his perch on the bridge's railings, arms hanging at his sides as he walked across the rope. The bridge was already swaying because of Link's weight-Link was asking to distract himself from what would happen if Sheik fell. He had the utmost confidence in Sheik's abilities, but that didn't mean he didn't worry-and it certainly didn't mean he trusted the bridge, a flimsy driftwood thing ancient beyond measure.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because you're always telling stories." Sheik laughed at his matter-of-fact tone.
"No. The dead tell stories, if you listen closely enough. I spend a lot of time around them, so I just stay quiet and listen to them talk." Link blinked thoughtfully at Sheik as the other boy jumped off of the railing, landing on the earth of the island they'd been trying to reach for the past hour.
Sheik was usually reserved and quiet-moments like these, after a Temple had been cleared or they were alone, talking, Link had begun noticing that Sheik's behavior changed, becoming more relaxed, freer.
Lake Hylia, finally filled with water, glistened around them in the moonlight.
"So if I ask you a question about a story you'll know it?"
"Did any of the other Heroes have companions? People who helped them or were with them on their quests?"
Sheik paused, absently tugging his cowl off.
Sheik took a deep breath as he wandered over to the edge of the island, Link hurrying after him.
"A teacher seeking to make amends for the crimes that nearly lead to the destruction of the Master Sword itself. A monster seeking revenge and retribution upon the man that threatened all of Hyrule. A fairy seeking to free her brother.Once, a Queen led the Hero, though she sought the safety of her people through his death."
"Have there ever been any Sheikah?" He asked it tentatively.
"Only one." Sheik's already pale face grew drawn.
"Yes." Sheik relaxed when Link didn't press beyond that, and dropped onto a fallen branch nearby, stretching his arms over his head. Link settled on the grass, resting his back on the log beside Sheik.
"Did he die? The Hero who was helped by the Queen?"
"It isn't the happiest of stories, Link." Sheik was silent for a moment afterwards, and just as Link was about to ask again, he continued speaking.
"No. He and the Princess of his world escaped with their lives, leaving the Queen and her people facing destruction without aide. They tried to help, but they only prolonged an already painful death, sentencing them to an end I wouldn't wish on anyone." Link's eyes widened in horror, but he fell silent and, together, they stared out over Lake Hylia.
"…Sheik, can I ask you a question about the Sages?"
"Will I know any of them well from here on out? I mean like Saria and Darunia and Ruto, not just that I'd recognize them."
"Just don't say anything about it from here on out if you think I won't." Link couldn't keep the pleading out of his voice. Sheik squeezed his eyes shut, dropping his head into his hands.
Navi stirred at the bag on his side and illuminated the night air with her blue glow, which faded as she fell back asleep.
Sheik remained silent, and it was the most comforting thing Link had ever heard.
For an instant he felt nothing but absolute hatred, the sort he had never felt before. With Sheik's body-not a corpse, but little better-lying in front of him, one of the warrior's cheeks lying on the bloodstained stone beneath them as his sightless eyes gazed past Link's head, he knew with a sudden certainty that he was not a good person.
Good people didn't hate like this. Good people didn't want to kill others with every fiber in their being.
His rage calmed, and a deep stillness settled over him. Link stood up, eyes not leaving Sheik's.
"How did he get here?" His voice was barely audible. Ganondorf tilted his head in surprise, apparently not having expected him to ask that question.
Zelda screamed, drowning out Ganondorf's voice. The Gerudo King turned, vague amusement on his face-
-and Link struck.
No, Link was not a good person. He could have killed Ganondorf then, and instead he jammed the Master Sword into a chink in his heavy armor, slicing to the bone of his arm.
He was going to see him suffer.
The Gerudo King stumbled back and reached for his own blade. Link backed off, letting him draw a massive ebony sword. Navi swirled around his head, wings beating frantically.
"Navi, leave." She froze.
"You don't want to see this."
"I'm not going to-"
"Get Sheik out of here!" Link hissed the words out as he jerked the Master Sword up, blocking a powerful blow from Ganondorf. Navi seemed to understand what he wasn't saying aloud, and with a soft cry she bolted away. He knew full well she wasn't strong enough to pull Sheik's body free of here, even though he didn't weigh much at all, but at the very least she could protect him.
Link disengaged Ganondorf and rolled out of the way of his sword, the motion smooth as he got to his feet and stabbed the inside of Ganondorf's knee. The Master Sword slid through the metal like it was butter and protruded out the other side, bits of splintered bone skittering across the ground. Ganondorf bellowed and spun around even as he crashed to the ground, tearing the blade free of Link's grip. Link scrambled away, calculating where Ganondorf would strike next even as he drew a small ruby out of his pocket.
Link knew Ganondorf was a stronger warrior than him, and far more skilled. Sheik had done his best to train him, but a year only measured so far against a lifetime, even with the Goddesses' strength at his back. If he drew this battle out it would spiral out of his control and Ganondorf would win-and he could think of only one item in his arsenal that would give him the result he wanted.
Once, Sheik had told him burning to death was painful. Hopefully Ganondorf would prove him right.
"A stone, Hero?" Ganondorf grunted, grinning savagely as he clamped a hand over his gushing leg, tearing the Master Sword free. White light sparked along its length at Ganondorf's touch, and the smell of burning flesh rose from his smoking hand. Ganondorf's eyes widened in pain, but he didn't release it.
Link didn't reply. He slammed the stone into the ground between he and Ganondorf, like the Deku nuts Sheik was so fond of.
And Din's fury exploded forth, a raging inferno that consumed Ganondorf.
"Stay here. Keep it contained. Send the Hero after me."
"It will follow me. Keep the Hero alive."
Her voice was cold, eyes colder. Sheik knew it was a command, and he fell silent, bowing his head. For the first time, a sort of anger sparked within his stomach. She didn't see it-her back was already to him-and for that he was glad. He'd have been slain if she had sensed it.
They meant for him to die here, and with his last breath tell the Hero Ganondorf was his murderer. The spirit within the well hated Sheikah-and didn't that make them similar? Sheik hated his people too.
But, no. Those were secrets, things he would never say, and shouldn't think. It would be catastrophic if Link ever discovered the truth, and it was his duty to keep the Hero on the path destiny had foretold.
Thunder crashed above his head, lightning flicking across the sky. Tongues of the light had already hit one of the homes at the edge of Kakariko, and flames were licking at rooftops. Sheik was uncomfortable with being in the midst of a town so chaotic, especially since the inhabitants refused to flee-they had withstood Ganondorf's hoards. A fire wasn't going to take what the Bearer of Power couldn't.
He hesitantly placed both of his palms on the stone rim of the well, looking into it silently. He could feel the pressure building up below, the spirit screaming for release.
He moved thoughtlessly. He slipped a slim blade out from its hiding place and pressed his fingertip to the sharp edge, splitting skin and spilling blood. Before the first droplets had even fallen the blade was again secreted, no sign of his deed left for anyone to see.
Maybe death wouldn't be so bad.
Ruby droplets spun down, falling into the shadowy depths of the well.
He turned, seeing Link approach. His heart shattered, then, and he felt his chest burst with a fierce sort of pain.
The word, soft and barely audible, hung in the air between them, stopping Link in his tracks. Behind him, the well exploded.
Something grabbed him, grip crushing him beneath centuries of hatred. He felt bones crack, and breath refused to come to his lungs-
-and the spirit tossed him aside, recognizing the blood staining his hand as that which had freed it, zeroing in on the nearest living thing.
Sheik slammed into the wall of a nearby house, his head cracking against the stone. The world blurred, and dimly Sheik was aware that he was sobbing in Sheikah, begging the spirit not to kill Link. His vision cleared, though his head still throbbed painfully, and Sheik's heart froze. Link was standing beside him, Master Sword glistening with silver droplets of rain. There was a particular kind of coldness to Link's gaze as he stared at the air between them and the well, one that Sheik had no time to contemplate. A mass of darkness, pure shadow, was crashing down towards them.
Sheik lifted a hand slick with his own blood, throwing every ounce of magic he had into combating the spirit.
It was like crashing into the wall again, knocking everything from him in a single blast, but he felt he spirit writhe in confusion, and, rather than slay Link, it knocked him aside-fleeing towards the Shadow Temple, and to Lady Impa.
Terror sent his heart fluttering in his chest as he scrambled over to Link's prone body, seeking a pulse, a breath, any sign that he was still alive.
A gauntleted hand grasped his wrist tightly as soon as he brushed the Hero's throat with his fingertips, brilliant blue eyes locking on his.
Faintly, he realized he was crying.
"You…" Link's voice was hoarse, knowing the full weight of what Sheik had tried to do. Yet there was no hatred, no rage. Link just enveloped him in a hug, sending spasms of agony throughout Sheik's body as he crushed already broken ribs.
Sheik said nothing, only returned the embrace.
"There was a person with you, just before I got here. Sheik, did they-were they-would you tell me if they hurt you?"
He squeezed his eyes shut, as if by doing so he could ignore Link's words and what he was about to say.
"No." Link tightened his grip briefly, not saying a word. And then he released Sheik, letting out a soft breath as he did so.
"Where am I going next?" Link asked softly, standing and offering Sheik a hand. Sheik shook his head, swaying slightly at the dizziness the movement caused.
"Yes." He whispered, shoulders shaking as a sudden cough took hold of him. Blood splattered his already bleeding hand and soaked the ground. Fear bloomed in Link's eyes. Sheik's eyes lost focus on him-and he found himself staring at a motionless figure standing atop a burning roof, invisible to most in the thick clouds of billowing smoke.
"If you don't leave, I willdie. No-don't turn around." Sheik was too tired to add any force to the words, his eyes drifting shut as Link froze, halfway between the motion of turning and reaching for him.
"I'll be fine. Go."
"Anywhere. Help the townsfolk. Just leave me."
"You're…No. I'm not going to abandon you! You're hurt!"
"If you don't leave, Link-"
"Then let me help you! I'm not going to let anyone hurt you!"
"Do you trust me?"
The question caught Link off guard.
"Then trust that I will be entirely fine, if you leave." As he spoke he got to his feet, swallowing his pain down and keeping his limbs still even as they threatened to collapse beneath him.
Link's eyes met his, agony clear in them.
"You owe me an explanation." Link finally rasped. A spear of terror so sharp it physically hurt took Sheik in the heart, but he nodded.
"Play along. Get out your ocarina." Sheik's fingers shook as he drew out his lyre.
"You just said-"
"We've been talking too long. If I don't teach you the song now it will look suspicious."
Link's lips thinned and his eyes narrowed, but he produced the blue instrument silently.
"This is the melody that will draw you into the infinite darkness that absorbs even time…Listen to this, the Nocturne of Shadow…" Sheik whispered, strumming the sorrowful notes on the lyre. Link listened, eyes hard and cold, and quickly played the notes back, each one sharp and angry.
And, after Sheik was satisfied, Link strode off, leaving him alone.
A year ago he would have been ashamed of how frightened that made him.
He collapsed against a wall as soon as Link was out of sight, squeezing his eyes shut as he stopped hiding the pain. He let himself lean there for a moment, then hobbled his way out of Kakariko.
He left a trail of blood behind, the only physical mark he had ever been there.
The fire died down, and Link saw what remained of Ganondorf.
He was alive, a skinless, still burning glob of flesh, fist fused around the Master Sword's hilt even as it continued to spark and spit white light. Armor had slithered into weeping cracks splintering his body, melted metal glowing brilliantly beside scorched flesh. A blackened slit opened on what Link assumed was Ganondorf's head, and the white of teeth flashed at him.
As Link watched, burned skin flaked off, and a tongue appeared.
"Do you call me a monster, Hero?"
Link's gaze was ice as he lifted up Ganondorf's sword, ignoring how heavy it was as he set the blade a hairsbreadth away from Ganondorf's throat. Golden light spun off of the Gerudo King's flesh in arcs, slipping beneath his broken body and sending ashes spiraling through the air as healthy skin surfaced.
"Sheik once said he thought you were doing this for your people. I can't call a man who tries to save those he cares about a monster for going this far. I'd do it-I'll tear Hyrule apart to make sure none hurts those I care for. But you hurt those I care about. And that makes you a monster.
"This is for Sheik."
His breathing was erratic, and he couldn't keep his hands still. He'd done his best to hide his wounds, but the bruise blossoming across his temple was an impressive shade of purple, and he knew it was in vain that he prayed Link wouldn't see it. He had bound the bleeding cuts and someone he couldn't remember had set his broken ribs after he had passed out, but he needed to heal-he needed rest.
He was perched on a grave beside the Shadow Temple's entrance, head bowed as he waited for the Hero to emerge. A soft blue light bathed the edges of his vision and he looked up. Navi floated there, wings flickering tremulously.
"You haveto tell him."
"You know what will happen." Sheik whispered, tightening his arms around himself as he drew his knees closer to his chest.
"You bound yourself to him. You can tell him the truth."
"That was different."
"How?!" She demanded, light blazing briefly in her anger.
"Selfishness. I did it because I didn't want to die. I thought he couldn't be any worse than them."
"And he isn't!"
"He is." Navi's wings stilled, and she nearly fell out of the air in her shock.
"I don't have to pretend with him. And I care. I don't do eitherwith them. And one day I'll slip. I don't want to die, Navi. Not if it means leaving him. I'm not going to live past this, and you know it. She's going to kill me. So why would I burden him with it, when I won't be around long enough to warrant the price of being honest?" Sheik realized he was crying and he scrubbed at his face, wincing as he touched the bruises hidden beneath his cowl.
"Sheik…" Her voice broke.
"Navi?" Link's voice echoed up out of the mouth of the Shadow Temple, his footsteps becoming audible a moment later. Sheik composed himself as best he could, and Navi fluttered away. Moments later Link emerged, blinking and mumbling a curse Sheik was fairly certain he'd picked up in Kakariko's bar. He went still when he saw Sheik. He drew in a deep breath, trying to figure out what to say-and Link darted forward before he could say anything, grabbing his wrist and pushing his hair off of his forehead, revealing the bruise in all its glory.
"You said you'd be fine if I left." Link's rage was barely contained.
"I told you I'd die if you didn't." Sheik corrected quietly, leaning back. Link didn't let go of his arm, but he let his hair fall back over the bruise.
"What the fuck is going on?!" Link demanded, rage radiating from him so sharply Sheik physically flinched.
"Link!" Navi cried, sounding horrified by his language.
"No. I want to know. Now."
"…Did you defeat the evil?"
"Farore damn it, Sheik, enough with this! Tell me what is going on or-" Link broke off, releasing him as he raked his hands through his hair.
"Or what, Link?" The sarcasm in Sheik's voice was unexpected, but he couldn't hold it back.
"I'll leave Hyrule."
"I'm not here to save Zelda or the country or anybody out here, Sheik. I started this to get back at the man who hurt Saria, and I've stayed because when this is over, you'll be safe. And apparently that's not even true, because it isn't Ganondorf whose hurting you, is it? You keep showing up with all these injuries-and don't shake your head, I'm not blind-and after you went on about how if I didn't leave you'd get killed? Tell me what's going on or I'm leaving." He sounded so broken, then, tired and lost and hopeless, that it broke Sheik's heart.
"You'd be safer if you left. I'd prefer it if you left." Sheik finally whispered, focusing his gaze on the stone behind Link.
"The Sheikah are bound to the service of Hyrule and its Royal Family. We protect the living from the dead and maintain the Shadow Temple and the creatures it holds in its walls. I believe, and have always believed, in that." It came out in a sharp rush, and Sheik let out a slow breath as he drew his words carefully from the depths of his mind, those he hadn't touched in over a decade.
"I always wanted to be a caretaker of the Shadow Temple. Hylians want to be soldiers or heroes or adventurers when they grow up. I wanted to keep the monsters too dangerous to let roam free calm. Unfortunately Nayru saw fit to bless me with abilities superior to most Sheikah, especially those at my age. My blood relations set me in close contact with the Royal Family, and it was determined because of my unique qualities that I would serve Princess Zelda. And that is all I will say on the matter. If it was discovered that I said even that much, Link, death would be a blessing. I can't tell you anything else."
"Who's going to find out, Sheik?" Link snapped, although his voice was subdued. Revealing as much as he had, though most of it was already known to Link, and seemed to appease the Hero, still left him almost light-headed with fear.
"I don't refuse just because I'm scared of what will happen to me-I just know that it scares you. I'll be killed and another will take my place as your guide, and I will do whateverit takes to make sure that they aren't charged with your care." The forcefulness in his voice made Link's eyes widen in surprise.
"So, trust that I will never lie to you and that I will never betray you. Trust that I hold your best interests at heart. You don't have to believe me when I say I'll be fine, but trust me enough to listen, because every moment you don't is another that puts your safety in peril." Sheik stood up, closing his eyes and wincing softly as he jostled a thousand wounds that needed to heal. He heard the soft pop of a cork and his eyes flew open, lips forming the word 'no'-
-purple energy crackled out from him, sending him stumbling back as it slew the fairy.
"Nayru damn you, Link! Why would you-"
"What was that?!" He yelped, staring at the spot the fairy had just been in. Navi let out a sort of strangled screech. Sheik cursed softly and took a step away from Link, the movement serving only to further panic the Hero.
"Go to the desert. Be careful of the Gerudo, Hero. They are loyal to Ganondorf to the end, and will not hesitate to deliver you to him."
And Sheik dropped a Deku nut, the flash blinding Link long enough for him to disappear into the dark of the Shadow Temple. Terror burned in his veins.
Princess Zelda was waiting.
A tremor shook the floor beneath his feet, nearly sending him toppling to the ground.
"You think you can stop me, kid? With a dying Sheikah, a fairy, and a traitor of a Princess? I am the king of the Gerudo, the master of the Triforce of Courage, and the man who single-handedly defeated all of Hyrule!" Ganondorf's voice grew guttural, deepening and becoming almost entirely incomprehensible.
The Master Sword was still blazing, keeping the flesh near it from healing-and it was that that allowed Link to see that Ganondorf's body wasn't repairing. It was changing. His body shuddered, limbs elongating and fur bursting out of his scabbed-over flesh. The Gerudo King eyed him with a strange sort of expression in his eyes as they reformed.
Link drove Ganondorf's sword through a swelling arm, severing the limb-the limb holding the Master Sword. Ganondorf lashed out clumsily, but the sheer power behind the blow was unavoidable. It hit Link squarely in the abdomen, sending him crashing to the ground and Ganondorf's blade flying.
He crashed into the ground just beside Sheik, a stair digging painfully into his back. His left hand flew out, seeking any sort of weapon-and he remembered the thousands of daggers Sheik always seemed to carry on him.
"You've made some big mistakes, Ganondorf." He rasped, tugging an ornately carved silver blade free of its hiding place on Sheik's wrist-what was holding Sheik's wrists together? He couldn't see any sort of rope.
He got to his feet, let out a slow breath, and turned to face the monstrosity blazing with golden light.
"And what would that be, Hero?" He sneered, not taking Link seriously.
"Shouldn't have told me Sheik was dying."
And he lunged, tackling the mass of power and muscle, crying out to Din, the Goddess of Vengeance, to keep his strike true.
The mark on the back of his hand blazed with holy light, sending sparks across Sheik's blade. The Master Sword reacted in kind, becoming an inferno of white light consuming Ganondorf's severed arm.
He hit Ganondorf on the chest, upraised dagger slicing easily through skin and muscle as Link tore open the Gerudo King's throat.
Link's momentum sent Ganondorf toppling backwards, sending another violent tremor throughout the building, but Link didn't pause. He dove off of his adversary's body and snatched up the Master Sword, Sheik's blade still wedged in Ganondorf's throat.
A single, great yellow eye snapped open when Link positioned himself above Ganondorf, pupil dilating as it tried to adjust to the Master Sword's brilliance.
Most Heroes probably gave a speech, an explanation, a word of farewell. Link had already said his piece, and he'd no intention of letting Ganondorf escape.
It was amazing, how easily that one blow slew the greatest threat Hyrule had ever known.
And even more amazing how completely his calm shattered the moment it was done. He scrambled to Sheik, Master Sword hastily being shoved into its scabbard, dripping blood across the floor.
"…Link…" Navi's voice sounded so small, so pitiful.
"…I'm sorry, Link, for everything, though you don't know what that is, yet. Just…know that I can't go back. So this is my way of making amends."
His heart froze, breathe escaping him, at Navi's words. He lifted his head to look up at her, the sparkling blue orb that had guided him to Sheik, to the Master Sword, to Zelda, to the Great Deku Tree. She folded her wings in and dropped-
-and the worst part was that he didn't tell her to stop-
-and a spray of aquamarine droplets landed on Sheik's battered body, blazing far more brilliantly than even the Triforce before fading-
-He'd never told her how much she meant to him-
He watched mutely, praying, hoping, shoving his grief into a tiny little corner to mourn over later. Sheik's limbs twitched, caught in a series of spasms as bones snapped back into place and flesh knit itself back up. Blood still stained the ground around him, and it still marred his skin, but physically, Sheik was healed.
But the void in his eyes didn't change.
"Sheik…" Link hesitantly, frantically, checked his pulse, made certain he was breathing.
"Link!" Zelda's voice shocked him, and he realized he'd forgotten she was there. He looked up at her, as she stumbled her way around Ganondorf's corpse to his side.
"We've got to leave. The keep is made of Ganondorf's magic-it's falling apart." As she spoke another tremor seized the building, this one far more violent than the previous ones had been. Zelda fell into him, and he helped her right herself before carefully lifting up Sheik.
"Link, he's dead." Zelda's voice was tearful, plaintive.
"He's still breathing!" He snapped, cradling his friend to his chest carefully.
"Look at his eyes-he isn't there! He'll slow you down-" She pleaded with him, but her words shocked him more than her tone. He went cold.
"You're asking me to leave the man Navi just died for, the man I just murdered for, lying up here, injured, to be crushed to death?" The ice in his voice was unmistakable. She flinched, but fell silent. He readjusted his grip on Sheik's body, glancing down at the dead eyes staring sightlessly past him, and he almost-almost-broke down. He took a deep breath, steeling himself.
"Lead the way out, Zelda."
Ganondorf's tower collapsed behind them, a rush of billowing smoke and dust and crashing stone dropping into the crater it had floated above. The Sage's bridge winked out of existence behind him as Link stepped off of it.
Zelda stared at it and let out a sort of fluttery laugh, hands flying to her mouth. Link carefully set Sheik down, anxious gaze flickering over his friend's face.
There was no flash of recognition, no flash of life. Link had a sinking feeling in his stomach, and it terrified him.
"You did it!" Zelda threw herself at him, and he just barely caught her and kept his balance. He opened his mouth to snap at her, tell her it was no victory-and in doing so, he finally remembered her words-her lies. He pushed her back, not trusting himself to not lash out at her.
"At the Temple of Time-why did you tell me he-why would you-?" Link cut himself off, squeezing his eyes shut and pressing the palms of his hands into them, struggling to draw out the exact words he wanted to ask.
Zelda went still beside him, ice radiating from her far too quickly to comprehend.
"He was brought here to act as your guide, because I couldn't risk doing it myself. He told you what I couldn't and showed you what I couldn't. He acted exactly as I would have. And after you killed Ganondorf his purpose was complete. It would have been an easier transition for you to know Sheik was just a mask, than to say goodbye to that mask." Her voice was controlled, cool, and it chilled him to the bone.
He panicked for a moment, then, realizing she was telling him everything Sheik had ever done-or said-to him had been a lie-
"They'd kill me if they knew I was saying this much."
It was a struggle to regain his composure. He knew Sheik wouldn't have lied like that to him-and he was so terrified…It hadn't been an act.
Which meant Sheik had broken protocol. He'd lied to Zelda.
Which meant what?
"Link…" He looked up at Zelda.
"Let me see the ocarina."
She drew herself up to her full height-almost as tall as him, actually.
"I stole seven years of your life from you, Link. Seven years you can't get back. The least I can do is give them back to you." She reached out a hand towards him and he stared at her, uncomprehending. Her tone was too gentle, too regretful and sorrowful for such evil words.
It hit him as she asked for the ocarina again, not the full magnitude of what she was asking, but what would happen.
He would be separated from Sheik.
The Master Sword leapt into the air between them, pressing lightly against her outstretched palm.
"I'm not going back."
"Link-!" She gaped at him.
The finality in his tone silenced her.
Link crashed to the ground of the Desert Colossus, glaring at Sheik as the red-eyed boy settled down beside him.
"This is the last one, right?"
"Yes." Link let his glare fall away, releasing a breath of relief.
"I'm going to leave. After all of this. I'll go through the mountains, I think. I saw an old map-you know Death Mountain is part of a mountain range? There's Mount Crenel and the Tower of Hera, which is a huge hollowed-out rock formation, and the Snowpeak mountains. Behind them there's got to be something else, another country or at the very least a place I could live."
"All alone?" Sheik's voice was wistful.
"I'm sick of people leaving. If there's no one, then no one can leave."
"That sounds nice…." Sheik trailed off, glancing at the entrance of the Colossus.
"How long do you think it will take before I can go?"
"…A month." Sheik sounded so small. Link frowned at him, and dug around in his pocket for a small leather bag. He reached out, handing it to Sheik. He received a questioning glance, but his friend took it carefully and opened it.
"I thought you'd need them. You use yours so much, so…" Link shrugged. Sheik's eyes softened.
"Thank you, Link. There is a Fairy Fountain and a pool outside the Colossus, I would recommend going there before you head in." He stood as he spoke.
"Sheik, can I ask you a question?"
The Sheikah's shoulders tensed.
"Nabooru…I…She's going to be up there, isn't she? I'm going to have to fight her, aren't I?"
"…I don't know. Be careful, Link." He took a step towards the exit, then hesitated, tilting his head slightly in Link's direction.
"And if anyone threatens you, I don't care if they are a Sage, kill them."
"Zelda!" Link's roar echoed across the wooden halls of the temporary palace the people of Hyrule had constructed in Kakariko for her. Servants scurried out of the way, casting terrified looks his way as he stormed into the infirmary.
She was where he'd expected her to be, standing beside a pair of guards before Sheik's bed. She looked startled to see him, but recovered quickly and assumed a passive expression.
"What is it, Link?"
"You bitch!" The guards snapped their weapons out of their scabbards, terror lighting their eyes as he approached.
"You were tired. You haven't left the infirmary since we brought him-"
"Move the fuck away." He snarled, sword drawn.
It wasn't the Master Sword-he'd known the sword would reject him, with his erratic behavior after slaying Ganondorf, and had replaced it in the Temple of Time. The sword he held know was a two-handed blade, forged by Biggoron himself. Zelda gaped at him.
For the past three months, Zelda had persuaded him to stay at her 'palace' with Sheik in the infirmary. Link had agreed only because there were professional doctors there, people who could help far more than he had thought he could. But Sheik's condition had only changed a little bit-for a month he was incapable of doing the simplest things, such as eating. After a month, if Link was the one coaxing him to do so, he would do those things on his own-and that was the only progress that had been made. Link had feared that a change of surroundings would send Sheik into a relapse, so had held off leaving even after it became apparent Zelda's doctors could do nothing.
He'd never trusted Zelda, and had always worried something like this would happen-but he'd never thought she'd actually go through with it.
He had ordered everyone-Zelda and servants included-to leave him be. He was not leaving Sheik's side until he was better, and even then, only maybe. Zelda had tried repeatedly to give him a room, and though he had accepted at first, she'd begun moving that room farther away from the infirmary and he had returned to it permanently.
Until then, though, there had never been any large-scale conflicts.
She stumbled back when he advanced, and with a single glare the guards tugged her farther away.
"Come near him again, Zelda, and I will leave Hyrule with an empty throne." She blinked at him, lost for words, and he scooped Sheik up. It terrified him how light he was. Sheik had never weighed much, and he had lost a lot of that since Ganondorf's death.
"Link-where are you going?"
"I'm sick of your games." He snapped, and carried Sheik out of the infirmary-and out of the castle.
He noticed, after bundling Sheik in front of him on Epona's back, that as they passed Impa's house Sheik's eyes grew hollow, bleak, hopeless.
And the first piece dropped into place.
The Doors of Time crashed open when he approached them, the loud boom echoing throughout the empty building.
The Master Sword hummed with light in its pedestal-it ached against his palms as he wrapped his hands around the hilt and yanked, seeking the equilibrium between the Sacred Realm and Hyrule he'd grown used to.
It had taken a month after leaving Zelda's company to figure it out, from the bare handful of clues Sheik had afforded him. He'd puzzled over them for months, but it wasn't until the incident by the lake that they'd made sense-even if he only got a small touch of the picture.
In a vain hope to help wake Sheik, Link would every so often play one of the songs Sheik had taught him and travel to one of the Temples. They'd been on an island in the center of Lake Hylia, Link rambling on, hoping that one of the random words he was spouting would trigger a reaction.
Three of them had.
The Sacred Realm coalesced around him. Unlike the first time he had seen it, it now bore signs of wear-and-tear, the extent of the damage Ganondorf had inflicted upon it horrible. The air, tumbling like waterfalls from a place of origin to high for him to see, fell slowly, and emitted only a dim light. The sparkle of the thousands of star-like things that had so fascinated him was barely visible now.
The Sage's platform had also changed. A long, thin walkway extended from it and deep into the Sacred Realm, its end not visible from where he stood.
The Master Sword was not in his possession, but he hadn't expected it to be. He drew his sword, the massive two-handed blade that fit him better than the legendary Blade of Evil's Bane ever had, and strode down the walkway.
Distance was relative in the Sacred Realm. He walked for a few minutes, and he appeared in a large chamber-this one with walls and a ceiling-containing a single large table. Standing around the table were the Sages. Saria, Ruto, Darunia-all of them former friends of his, people he had spent months mourning. Nabooru, a woman who had suffered terribly at the hands of Ganondorf while Link could do nothing to stop them. And the object of his fury.
She turned to face him, eyes as cold as ever, arms folded over her chest. She seemed surprised to see his sword drawn, though she covered it quickly.
"You fucking did it to him, didn't you? You knew-you fucking knew!-and you-"
"What are you rambling about, Link?" She cut him off sharply.
"Navi said she was sorry about him. She said she knew. He's fucking terrified of you. And he kept saying he believed in you-you're fucking-why?!"
"It was necessary."
"You broke him!"
"It was necessary. Ganondorf would have destroyed Hyrule if it wasn't for-" She spoke so coldly, so slowly, compared to him. Her calm infuriated him.
"You tortured him!"
"His purpose was to do what Zelda could not. He was to be an extension of her will, nothing more."
"He's a person, you bastard!"
Blood splattered across the table before Link realized he'd attacked-not that it mattered. Impa gaped at him, looking down at the blade protruding out of her stomach.
"You're fucking lucky I don't have any time to waste." With that, Link jerked his blade up, tone just as cold as Impa's had been.
"…You…" She never finished what she was going to say. Link jerked his sword free and struck her head from her shoulders.
"Link-" His look silenced her.
"You knew, didn't you? All of you. And you didn't do anything to stop it." He shook his head angrily, cutting himself off. Saria took a step forward, crying silently, and he moved his blade between them.
"I trusted you. By Farore, he probably trusted you. And you-…I don't ever want to see any of you again. Next time I do I will kill you."
His heart stopped, agony bursting forth from the organ when he heard Lady Impa's words. To be honest, he didn't hear them so much as absorb the gist of what it was she was telling him. She wanted to sentence him a fate worse than death.
She wanted to bind him to Princess Zelda.
"Lady Impa…would it not be more practical to bind me to the Hero? The Princess is safe here, free of Ganondorf's clutches, and she is not permitted to leave. I am to guide the Hero, to tell him the Princess's wisdom as he becomes ready to hear it, and aide him as you and the Princess see fit. If I was bound to him, he would be able to sense my location more clearly, and I him-I could monitor him for the Princess without the risk of failure."
A chill ran down his spine as the words escaped his lips, but he couldn't take them back. They had been borne of desperation and he had nothing to lose by asking-though Lady Impa would never listen to him. Princess Zelda practically worshipped the Hero-he had spent seven years listening to her talk about him, of how virtuous he was. He knew he was going to be killed soon, with their mission almost at an end and tensions running higher than they ever had before. And the simple truth was that, above all, he didn't want to die. Not then. Not at Lady Impa's hands, and not at Princess Zelda's. And how terrible could the Hero be, to have inspired such awe in such a black heart?
It was the only thing he had ever done for himself.
Nayru had to have intervened then, for there was no other explanation.
It was not his appearance that made her lips thin as she regarded him coldly. He had appeared before her after being beaten before, and his current appearance-whether he was still bleeding freely from a number of wounds or not-was far from the worst. Mercy was not part of Lady Impa's vocabulary either-
-and yet she nodded, slowly, ruby eyes sharp as blades as she regarded him.
"…Interesting. Yes, that is true. Go, then. Bind yourself to him and return only once he has awoken and been sent to the first Sage. Do not let him fall into Ganondorf's hands." His heart stopped, shock rippling through his core. She reached out suddenly, grabbing his chin and tilting his head to the side sharply.
"Have you ever tried to break the wards?" The question surprised him, but her sharp, furious tone surprised him more.
"No, Lady Impa. Why would I-"
"Go see Zelda. Leave in the morning." Lady Impa's voice was just as cold as it had been before, but disinterest colored it enough now that he inwardly relaxed.
As soon as he bowed and she left, elation burst throughout his body. He felt nearly light-headed with relief-joy-he didn't know. He couldn't name it. He'd never felt the emotion before.
He found himself whispering a prayer to Nayru, and for the first time ever, didn't stop himself.
"Sheik, please." There was no response, and it broke his heart, though he hadn't expected anything different.
Seventh months of silence.
The Sages hadn't approached him since he'd slain Impa, and Zelda had stopped sending soldiers a month ago. The Kokiri avoided his home, and had mostly retreated to the center of the Lost Woods. He didn't mind the seclusion-he was glad of it, honestly. He didn't trust anyone else enough to let them close to Sheik, especially when those closest to him had been the ones to hurt Sheik.
He dropped his head into his hands, tears burning at the backs of his eyelids.
His head snapped up and his hand snapped to the hilt of his sword. He was half risen before he recognized the speaker.
His hostility mounted.
"I told you if I ever saw you again, I'd kill you." Saria flinched, but she held her ground. He didn't advance towards her.
It killed him. She was his first and had been his only friend for such a long time-until Sheik. And she'd known-she'd been responsible-for his suffering. It had been so hard to lose her-and even a partial restoration of her to his life, occasional visits to the Sacred Realm and whispering messages through the power of her song, hadn't helped.
His eyes drifted to a small nightstand, to the drawer that remained firmly shut.
"I want to explain."
"Explain what? Everything you did to him? Exactly how you tortured him? You told me Ganondorf was a monster for his crimes-and you committed the same ones." His exhaustion kept his venom to a minimum, but it was prevalent nonetheless.
"He told you once he was the last of the Sheikah, didn't he?"
"What does it matter to you?" Saria frowned at him-she'd never put up with his moods for long, and despite his full seriousness in making his threat, she acted as she always had.
"When a Sheikah is orphaned, they become default property of the Council, the oldest and wisest of the Sheikah. Children aren't coddled. And their family members influence what the Council will decide to do with them. He was the same age as Zelda when he was orphaned and he was Impa's nephew. He was trained to serve Zelda because of that."
"Doesn't excuse anything. You can teach kids things without torturing them, Saria. You should know." Eyes equal parts fury and agony, she bolted to her feet.
"It was his life or-"
"I don't care. I don't care why you did it. I don't care if all of Hyrule would have fallen if you hadn't have done it. I said it to Ganondorf and I'll say it to you-you hurt my friend, Saria. Someone I care about. If it came down to him or Hyrule I would let Hyrule burn."
"You are the Hero of Time! It's time you started acting like it!" She cried, small fists clenched at her sides. He laughed bitterly, walking over to the nightstand.
"You know the Master Sword rejects me, right? I'm not a Hero. And you're certainly no Sage, to condone that." As he spoke, he tugged open the drawer and tossed its contents at her.
A clay ocarina sailed through the air. She barely caught it. Her eyes went wide she realized what it was she held, and her head snapped up to look at him, hurt and tears glistening in her eyes.
"Get out, Saria. I don't ever want to see you again."
He hurried after Princess Zelda, anxiously looking around the Shadow Temple's shadowed passages. He didn't know the name of the boy she was playing with, but he was terrified they would stumble into something they shouldn't. He had already voiced his concerns-and Princess Zelda had already told him to keep silent. They were playing Hero, and he had no part in that game.
The eleven-year-old princess vanished from his view, and he pumped his legs harder. He turned the corner, and skidded to an abrupt halt.
The boy was dangling by the tips of his fingers over a chasm, the Shadow Temple groaning as it shifted its walls. Anger pulsed through the stone beneath his feet, and his eyes widened in terror as Princess Zelda screamed.
He reacted instantly.
He dove forward, pulling Princess Zelda away and then dropping to his knees, grabbing the boy's wrist and pulling as frantically as he could. The boy managed to kick his way up onto solid stone, and he dragged him to his feet and pushed him towards Princess Zelda.
"Run!" They listened to him, bolting down the hall while he took up the rear, helping Princess Zelda up when she fell and struggling to calm the Shadow Temple down.
Lady Impa materialized in front of him, snatching up the Princess and grabbing the boy's hand, vanishing in a swirl of shadows. He was grateful that they were gone-he could focus on escaping himself.
The Shadow Temple calmed down as soon as they were gone, Poes settling back to sleep as they sensed the intruder's leaving. He stumbled to a stop, resting one hand against the wall and pouring his magic into it, hoping it would calm the Shadow Temple.
The blow came from behind, sending him crashing to the ground.
"You need to remember. You are not a Hero. It is not your place, nor will it ever be your place."
He knew, when white flakes spilled from the grey sky and a chill wind swept through the Kokiri Forest, that the Kokiri had abandoned the Forest for the Lost Woods. It stung, that his presence had scared them away so badly, and he wondered about the state of the Great Deku Tree sprout, for its magic to abandon the Kokiri Forst.
But he never visited.
He tried to get Sheik to play his lyre. The Sheikah reacted, holding it gently and carefully in his lap, but he didn't play it. He regarded it silently with his ruby eyes while Link anxiously walked around his home.
A week later he decided he needed to expand his house. There had never been much room, and it was getting too cramped with the two of them-though Sheik never moved unless Link asked him to.
He built a room at the base of his tree house's trunk, a sort of tower that added on to the back of the original building. He moved himself and Sheik down there for the winter, as it had no windows and the home he had lived in as a child did-it never snowed in the Kokiri Forest, at least while the Great Deku Tree had protected it.
Sheik's dead eyes still stared through him.
And so came the anniversary of the day he'd slain Ganondorf. Silent, cold, and dead.
The memories flickered to a close, and he woke.
It wasn't a gradual thing. Waking never had been. He was just suddenly awake, and aware of the weight of another person beside him. Terror stopped his heart, briefly. He'd never done anything badly enough to punished this way-
-It was Link.
Sheik was already on his feet, scrambling for some sort of weapon. Even in absolute panic he barely made a sound-but his limbs were weaker than they should have been, and he stumbled, knocking over a wooden chair in the process, even as he struggled to calm his racing heart. It was Link.
Link bolted up, absolute terror naked on his face.
"What…?" Sheik's voice trailed off, the questions he wanted to ask not coming to his lips.
"You're…you're…Sheik!" He hit the ground when Link tackled him in a hug.
"You're really awake-you're not going to-"
"What are-where the fuck is Ganondorf?!" Sheik panicked, scrambling out from underneath his companion, eyes darting towards the shadows of the room. Link got up and held out his hands, palms up.
"Dead." Link slowly sat at the edge of the bed, and Sheik slid to the floor, trying to regain control of his breathing when Link motioned for him to do so.
"A year ago, Sheik. It's been a year."
"I got up there and you were just…staring. I thought you were dead, but you were still breathing. And he said Zelda had told him where to find you. So I killed him and I was going to kill her but Navi said you were dying, and then she died, to heal your wounds, and…" Link trailed off, shaking his head as he dropped his head into his hands.
It took all the self-control Sheik possessed to keep his panic at bay and process what Link was saying. Ganondorf was dead. Navi was dead. Princess Zelda-Queen Zelda-had let slip his location, probably hoping that Ganondorf would kill him, to make things easier for her. Link had saved him.
Why wasn't he dead yet?
"I think she tried to kill you, one night, so I brought you here. The Kokiri left. And I built this room because home is a lot smaller than I remembered it being." Link's voice was calmer, which helped Sheik.
"I know you never told me, but Navi said something to me before she died, and Zelda sort of implied it, but Impa was the one who-?"
Link blinked at him, surprised.
"I…dear Nayru, why am I-Link-you've…" He dropped his head into his hands.
"I don't understand why I'm not dead yet." It was little more than a whisper, and tears pricked at the back of Sheik's eyes as he spoke the words.
"I threatened everyone. I literally mean everyone. Are you alright? Are you gonna...if you go to sleep are you going to-"
"No. I just…I wish I would have had more training time. I could have controlled it."
"…What do you mean?" If Sheik hadn't been so befuddled, if he'd had the clarity he usually had, he wouldn't have responded. But he couldn't filter his words, and he couldn't find it within him to care that he was letting too much information out, and he didn't catch the sudden chill to Link's voice.
"I never had the full training Sheikah are supposed to have. There was never enough time. We're supposed to hold up under torture, but it's essential to control when we stop...I can't remember the name of it. Anyway, I never had enough time to learn how to do so. I could force myself to get into it-it isn't that hard. I lasted a week before snapping out of it, and then six months, and then the year was up and you returned so Lady Impa never continued."
"..And Impa did it?"
"Mostly." His eyes wandered the ceiling and the walls, noting how neat everything was. Link was always messy-why had he built this so meticulously? There was even a slot in the ceiling to hang a lantern off of, which was the only illumination save a door that was firmly shut.
"Who else?" Link's voice was a cold sort of calm, steady and focused.
" Princess…Queen Zelda never liked punishments unless she was angry. She usually had Lady Impa do it. But Lady Impa wanted to toughen her up." Sheik sighed, fingers tapping at his bare palm as he idly wished for his bandages-where had they gone? Did Link have them? Probably.
"Do you still have my lyre?"
"Yeah. Can you…can you tell me everything, Sheik? From the beginning?"
"I don't want to remember any more than I have to." Sheik laughed softly as he said it, bitterly, eyes traveling to Link.
"Are you alright?"
"Did Navi ever tell you? I was supposed to be bound to Queen Zelda. And I panicked. With the fate of Hyrule resting on my commitment to its Royal Family, all I could think of was that I hated her and if I was bound to her I would never be able to escape. And Nayru must have blessed me because I somehow convinced Lady Impa to bind me to you."
"What do you mean, bound?" Link's voice was soft, staring at him in confusion.
"Hylians have a tradition of sharing blood and becoming…what do you call it? Blood siblings? It doesn't work for Sheikah like that. Our magic, our soul, binds to the others. That's why you could find me so easily at the Temples."
"…And this is common?"
"It's mostly forbidden. But Lady Impa made an exception because of Ganondorf. Link?"
Link pushed himself off of the bed and moved over to his side, dropping down beside him. Sheik dropped his head onto Link's shoulder, closing his eyes.
"Did you kill Lady Impa?"
"Yeah. How'd you know?"
"You said it's been a year and that you sort of figured some of it out." Sheik mumbled the words, breathing in the scent of woods and leather and magic that belonged solely to Link as he let sleep tug at him, relaxing.
"…Wake me up in the morning."
Link woke to a sound he hadn't heard in over a year-Sheik's lyre, strumming half of the Song of Storms before trailing off and beginning anew. It didn't surprise him that Sheik had found it already-he hadn't hidden it, and he knew it was important to Sheik. He lay where he was, slumped on the floor, for a long moment, mulling over what Sheik had said the night before.
The lyre fell silent, and terror shot through Link's veins-had Sheik gone numb again? He scrambled to his feet and climbed up the ladder out of the room, popping into the circular room that had originally made up his home. Sheik was sitting at the table, staring silently at his lyre as it rested on the wood with a deep frown on his face.
"Are you alright?"
"…I should return." For a moment, Link was speechless.
"Where? To Zelda? To the Sages?" The sudden venom in Link's voice surprised Sheik. He looked up at him, eyes tired.
"I don't want to have to go back, but it's my duty."
"She'll kill you as soon as she sees you."
"Then why would you return?!"
"Because I swore to aide Hyrule and I still mean to do so. Just because its Queen is a monster doesn't mean I should rescind my vows and abandon the country. We're weak now. Other enemies will set their sights on Hyrule-Ganondorf was not the worst this world has to offer." Sheik's voice was impassioned, his eyes hard with determination and conviction as he looked up at Link, but he couldn't hide his trembling hands or the despair haunting the depths of his ruby eyes.
"Killing yourself won't help that."
"Serving the country entails serving the leader."
"That isn't all of it."
"No." Sheik said softly, eyes lowering back to his lyre as his shoulders relaxed.
"I'm tired, Link. I'm tired of this. I can't...I lost a year. Two years. Seven. I don't know anymore. I can't keep doing this-I can't keep….I can't continue. I couldn't handle losing you. I'm so, so tired, Link, of all of this." He trailed off, head dropping to his hands as his voice cracked-possibly the only time Link had ever heard that happen.
"So come with me. We'll leave Hyrule-find those enemies in their homes and take care of them there. We avoid Zelda, keep Hyrule safe, and you don't ever go back. Because, Sheik, I'm not letting you go back there. I'll kill Zelda if I have to, but I know Hyrule's important to you so I'd rather not." Link's conviction matched Sheik's, and he straightened his posture to emphasize how serious he was. Sheik's shoulders began to tremble-barely noticeable, but Link knew Sheik, even if he hadn't seen him, the real him, for a year. He dropped onto his knees in front of Sheik and pulled him into a hug-and Sheik broke down, sobbing.
Neither of them spoke, and hours passed, until Sheik was exhausted and slumped against him, both of them settled on the floor.
"I want to."
"You don't owe her anything. And we could still help Hyrule. Just without being seen. We'll use lots of Deku nuts. Sheik, I realize you probably don't think you deserve to live because Zelda in absolutely insane, but I'm not ever going to let anything happen to you ever again, and that I promise." He let out a shaky sort of laugh, pressing his face into Link's chest.
"I'll be declared an outlaw."
"You'll be free." Another long silence followed. Finally, releasing an unsteady breath, Sheik pushed himself up.
"Do you have my tabard?"
"It was with your lyre."
Sheik got to his feet and walked over to a cupboard as Link, too, stood. He tugged out the tabard and stared at it for a long moment, then hugged it to his chest tightly.
"I need a fire." Link didn't ask any questions. He nodded and went outside, where a fire pit was tucked away, and built it up. There was an over abundance of wood, now that saplings were sprouting everywhere and the old trees the Kokiri had used as homes were decaying, and it burned readily despite the dusting of snow on everything. Sheik came out once it was burning brightly, and stood beside him for a moment before tossing the tabard into the flames.
"I'm an outlaw now." Sheik said it forcefully, loudly, but his voice shook.
"You're free." Link countered. They lapsed into quiet, and Link hesitantly drew Sheik closer to him.
"…Was it a bad year?"
"Tell me about it."
"It's a long story."
"We can leave tomorrow."
"I missed you, Sheik." Link whispered, turning to face him. Sheik smiled a sorrowful smile, and Link saw there were real tears in his eyes.
It was all Sheik had never known, Link realized, this sort of life that horrified him so much. All he'd ever known was Impa and Zelda and pain and terror. And he didn't know what to do without it.
"You were dying when I got to the top of the tower. There was blood everywhere, and you were…I thought you were dead. You were just looking through me-through everything-and you weren't saying anything. I just…I've never been that angry before, that hateful." Link fell silent, watching the last threads depicting the Sheikah symbol, a black eye shedding a single crimson tear, burn to ash.
"…I murdered Impa. And I'm not sorry or remorseful by that. And I don't think that scares me. But Saria…she…she knew what was happening to you and she didn't do anything about it. And it scares me that I trusted her so much, so long. So can you promise me something?"
Sheik's eyes were grave when they met his, the seriousness of what Link was about to ask fully settled on him.
"Promise me you'll tell me everything, and I'll tell you everything. Important, I mean, I know there are things you don't want talk about, and I hope one day you'll tell me, but everything like that, everything big…please, Sheik?"
"I understand. I promise. As long as we leave tomorrow." Link nodded, and Sheik relaxed.
"Where should we go?"
"North. Over the Snowpeak mountains." Link looked at Sheik, surprised.
"Of course I do." He replied softly, gaze falling to the fire. Link was quiet for a moment, then a smile tugged its way across his lips.
"Can we stop at the Tower of Hera? Please?"
And Sheik laughed, the first true laugh Link had heard from him in ages.
It was wonderful.
Sheik shifted uncomfortably, eyeing the receding rooftops of Kakariko warily as moonlight bathed Death Mountain silver. He realized he should have checked to see if they were followed-but, he realized, it didn't matter. He'd die before he let anyone take him away from Link again, and he'd already abandoned his people. Only Hylians burned their dead, and the magic woven into his tabard would have disintegrated, telling the Elders it had been burned-they'd assume Link had taken care of his body.
Sapphire eyes met his, glittering mischievously, and Link grinned, teeth flashing brilliantly.
This was supposed to be like, five pages long. Yeah. It's a monster. And I love it.
CONGRATS. YOU FINISHED IT. I'm impressed.
So a couple of things about it, if you've made it this far. If you haven't already noticed, only Navi and Link ever call Sheik by his name. He refers to everyone except for Navi and Link with their titles. That be intentional.
A bit of the dialogue doesn't really explain much to the reader-it's between characters, answering an unasked question or interrupting one another. It's how real people talk, so…
So the companions Sheik talks about. They go in this order: Ezlo, Midna, Tatl, and then Hilda. Somewhat dramatized, but I really liked their basic motives. So minor spoilers there, I suppose.
This all started from writing A Route Obscure and Lonely. Then combined with mah new fic that I haven't posted yet. Because the very first scene in this was what I wanted to write-but I couldn't fit it into any of my stuff, so I figured I'd write a short story about it. Is it short? No. Is it a story that isn't a full-length novel? Yeah. So I partially succeeded. Whoo! Anyway, I hope you liked it~