((Note: This chapter is very dialogue heavy, as is to be expected when I have to stay consistent with third-person perspective but it's a different character telling a story. When I was younger I struggled to understand the format of narration within narration, so here's a quick crash course if you're new to it:

"When I start a paragraph like this, it starts out fairly normal," X says, nodding seriously at Y. "And then I continue onwards for an inordinately long period of time, generally spanning several more sentences than I'm willing to write for an author's note at the beginning.

"But you might notice I never ended that prior paragraph with an end quotation mark. That's fine—it's the proper way to do it, in fact. It shows that there is no new speaker, and that it's someone continuing to speak. I can do this as many times as I like if the same person is talking for long enough, but for now, I'll close this narration and go about with the note."

Anyways, I hope that makes it a little easier to follow Link's narration. And, as always, try to take everything with a grain of salt!))

As they continued on towards Kakariko, the autumn chill was setting in in earnest. Or perhaps, Sheik thought, mind only half-aware from the cold, it was because they had to detour through the outskirts Zora's Domain.

Zora's Domain hadn't been friendly to outsiders in ages, but now that they were crossing these borders once more, the foreignness was palpable. Every sign was in Zoranese, not standard Hylian—not even the old versions. And yet, despite it only being navigable by the Zora, it was barren of Zora and Hylian alike, save for Link and Sheik themselves. Had it been the dead of winter, Sheik could have understood—but it was only late autumn.

Still, it was certainly cold enough to be winter. They'd been able to see their breath for miles before entering Zora's domain, and now that they were closer to it, Sheik was grateful for Link's presence behind her to keep her warm. It was cold enough that her hands were stiff on the reigns, fingers barely retaining warmth through the wound-up 'gloves' on her hands. Epona didn't seem any happier navigating the freezing cold terrain, but at least she was getting more exercise than the mere shivering of her passengers.

It was only when Sheik saw a snow-storm coming that she realized something was truly wrong. The pass was already frozen over, which suggested magic over nature. It was suspicious, to say the least, but between the cold and the wind, Sheik couldn't find the energy to analyze it like she wanted to.

It wasn't as if they could solve it from here, either.

Every city affected by magic had its source somewhere near the center. And if even the outskirts of Zora's domain were this cold, Sheik couldn't imagine the gear necessary to travel to the center of Zora's domain.

Not for the first time, she wished she had been able to pick up fire the way she'd learned ice.

Even besides her inability to save Zora's Domain, though, Sheik knew that they couldn't focus on it right now—not with everything else going on. Though she wished they could be everywhere at once, they could only solve one crisis at a time. And right now, they were heading for Kakariko.

Kakariko, her home—gone in one fell swoop, without a single known survivor to tell what had happened to it.

When they arrived, would Sheik even know where the city had rested? Would the foundations be in their places, shadows of the homes that had once rested over them? Or would they be smoothed over? Would the well be there? Or the sacred spring? Most of all, she wondered: would the graveyard still be there, or would it be gone with every home and citizen who'd lived there?

Guilt pooled in her stomach for not coming earlier. Sure, it was important that they'd saved the women at Marr, and gone on to Ise, but it still stung, knowing that she hadn't been here in time to do anything. She might not have been close to anyone but Impa, but it was still her birthplace. Perhaps not her physical birthplace, no, but it was where Sheik was born. It was where she had learned to be herself in every way that mattered.

And it was gone.

It was a tragedy only made worse from the conditions of her last visit. The last time Sheik had been in Kakariko, she'd been a thief. What was worse, for all the love she'd had of the town's proud Sheikah heritage, she'd abused her connections to it. She had come wearing the bold Sheikah armor of decades past, and used it to escape detection while doing wrong. She'd returned to her home as a criminal and a thief, scraping by in the worst of ways. For the first time, she felt regret piling up inside of her, and she knew she couldn't blame the cold dread in her stomach on the winter air around her.

Perhaps the only thing worse than her last encounter with the city, though, was the future she might still have. The wrongs she might still commit against her Sheikah heritage.

Because deep down, Sheik still wasn't sure she wouldn't return to that life once this was all over.

She might have promised Link that she wanted him to still be in her life back at Ise, but… while that was still true, she couldn't be sure the promise would hold. Life happened, whether Link understood that or not. She would do what she needed to survive. She would always do what she needed to survive, no matter how anyone else felt about it.

A surge of defensiveness rose within her at the mere thought of Link's disapproval.

He had been a criminal himself, she knew. And while his story was profoundly different, and he'd somehow managed to find a new life for himself, his circumstances weren't hers. He didn't have to hide his identity every waking moment. He didn't have to isolate himself for a decade for fear of someone finding out his secrets.

If he knew the truth, he wouldn't dare judge her.

Still, Sheik bit her lip, indecisive behind her scarf.

She had once held Link as a standard for what was right. She'd heralded him as a second conscience, given the repression of the conscience she'd had, once. And he had lived up to that in every way that had mattered—until he'd been honest with her and told her about his Triforce. And yet, despite having told her the truth and done the right thing, she knew she'd never be able to hold Link to the standard of goodness she once had.

And after drifting lost and alone for so many years, and finally finding someone that had seemed so profoundly good? Sheik couldn't help but feel like she'd lost something vital. As if Link had lost the qualities that had made him such an unshakeable hero.

Even though he'd changed nothing about himself, his actions were in a different light.

And yes, she'd forgiven him—but she knew he wasn't perfect, now.

And it made the uncertainty of the future seem that much more pronounced.

If Link wasn't perfect—was capable of hiding such a dark and ugly secret—then what chance did Sheik have of staying a hero after all this was finished?

She'd spent years as a thief and a criminal, using subterfuge and magic to stay afloat. If even Link was capable of lying to her about something so important, how did Sheik stand a chance of doing the right thing? It would be so much easier, even now, to go back to thieving—to take advantage of the chaos in Hyrule, to save the girls on her own terms, with as much bloodshed as she was willing, and to steal anything she wanted along the way.

Sheik couldn't do that with Link here. She could—and would—restrain herself, and do the right thing no matter how difficult it was. But, if he wasn't here? If he left after this was all over?

She doubted Link could want her if she became a thief again.

Worse, though, was that she wouldn't even blame him for turning his back on her.

If she were in his shoes, Sheik would probably cut off contact with herself, too.

The silence, the wind, and the cold allowed her to lose her train of thought. With the environment as blank as it was, it was easy to get caught up in every what-if and self-loathing thought she could imagine. It wasn't until she finally heard Link's voice—after what felt like hours—that Sheik felt her mind returning to herself.

"Do you think we'll get a chance to talk with the Zoras again?"

Sheik blinked, feeling as though her eyes had gone blurry. After a moment, she turned to look at her partner, surprise obvious on her face. "…Zoras?" she managed, having a hard time remembering the implications.

Link only nodded. "It's usually pretty warm here—this weather can't be natural."

"Ah." Sheik looked back across the landscape, only half surprised to find that the weather had turned from the cold to almost blizzard-like conditions. "Zora's Domain has a long history of being frozen during times of Crisis," she said, thinking back to the Hero of Twilight and the lost history of the Hero of Time. But as much as she wanted to intervene, her prior convictions still stood. "If it's anything like the other cities, we'll have to go through Zora's Domain for ages before we find the center," she said. "We can't afford to spend that much time here when we're on the way to Kakariko."

Though Link didn't look happy, he didn't protest. "I know," he said, shaking his head. "I just don't want to forget about this place. Or about the Gorons."

Sheik furrowed her brows. "What about the Gorons?"

"If Kakariko is gone, what happened to them?" he asked. "That city was their one major link to Hylians, and now it's gone."

"It was also the last cultural tie for my people," Sheik said, frowning a little deeper beneath her mask. "I'm sure the Gorons will be fine. They're made of rock."

"That hasn't stopped them from facing crises in the past," Link said, shaking his head. "With the Hero of Twilight—"

Sheik grit her teeth. "I know," she cut in. "And I know it was even more serious in the era of the Hero of Time—but I can't focus on anything but Kakariko right now, Link. They need me, wherever they are."

Link was quiet for a moment, but she felt a heavy sigh from behind her, his chest pressing even closer than before for a moment, his warm breath on her neck. "I know," he finally said. "But, Sheik… All the Gorons live on Death Mountain, with Kakariko at the base of it. And nearly every Zora in Hyrule lives in Zora's Domain. Most of the Sheikah live at the Castle, or scattered around Hyrule."

It was a fair point, and somewhere in her, Sheik knew that. But she couldn't force back the frustration she felt. "I know," she finally said, letting out a sigh. "But it was still my home. And the last time I was there…"

Unable to say anything more on the subject, she pressed her lips into a thin line and just stared straight ahead. The last thing she needed was to steer Epona into a ditch somewhere just because she couldn't stay focused.

Though it was clear Sheik didn't want to say more on the matter, though, Link was less inclined to listen. He pressed a kiss against her shoulder, and Sheik swallowed back a rebuke.

"You don't need to defend yourself," he said, and Sheik could barely hear the soft tone over the wind. "I… I know it's hard, going back to the place you grew up if you left on… bad terms. But there are people at risk, Sheik. You know that."

It felt as though Link was referring to something important, with the first bit—but her defenses raised before she could ask. "You promised we would go to Kakariko next," Sheik said stubbornly. "And that is what we are going to do. Hylian men, women, and children were living there, too. I'm not going to abandon them, either, no matter what comes of my people."

Link only sighed. Sheik supposed it was even clearer now that her mind was made up—and though guilt still settled in the pool of her stomach, she was grateful that his questioning had ended.

Hours passed before they had reached warmer temperatures again.

They'd switched positions a few times on the outskirts of Zora's Domain, alternating the spaces they warmed against each other. But despite the occasional movement and the snippets of conversation, the day drug on in a cold, damp haze.

It wasn't until they'd been back on Hyrule Field for an hour that Sheik could feel the sun's warmth once more.

Even then, it took Link's voice to rouse her from the half dead state she was in.

"We should switch again," he said, voice soft in her ear. It took a moment for Sheik to realize that she was the one leading. "Can you stop?"

Sheik complied instead of answering him.

As she was boarding behind him, however, it still took a while for her mind to return to her. And once it was free of the numbness, it quickly found other distractions to occupy her, rather than anything related to the mission.

The sunny skies were distracting in their own way, but with Link's ashen hair in front of her, it was difficult to focus on much else.

Especially when his left hand was gripping the reins.

The left hand that held the Triforce of Courage—whose proximity to Sheik, apparently, could manipulate her actions. And not just her actions, either—but her head, and her heart. Even if Sheik had made her peace with Link, it was difficult not to see his hand and wonder, deep within her, if she should have forgiven him as easily as she had.

But she also knew that not forgiving him wasn't an option.

There were too many people depending on them—on both of them, as a team—for her to stay angry.

And even aside from her duty, Sheik knew in her heart that she couldn't withhold forgiveness forever. Whether his Triforce had influenced Sheik to care about Link or not, that feeling was still there. She could ignore it as much as she wanted—the same way she ignored memories of being Zelda, and of her father—but that didn't mean those feelings weren't there.

Without thinking, Sheik rested closer, leaning her cheek against Link's shoulder.

Link froze, but didn't move to push her away. He didn't reciprocate, either, but Sheik knew that had more to do with him trying to ride than him being intentionally stingy.

Not that she blamed him, if he was.

Sheik had been a beast to him over the last few days.

She had reason for it, of course—and a damn good reason, at that. But it was impossible to hold it against him when she was holding so many secrets of her own.

How could Sheik, in good conscience, think that he was manipulative and a liar when he'd been more honest with her than she ever deserved?

Sure, he'd never been forthright with his past, but at least what little he'd told her had been the truth—and he'd never condemned her for eavesdropping, despite his wishes for her to know nothing about his past.

Not that Sheik could judge his past, either.

She had been involved in some awful things when she was younger, too. She'd been a thief, and a cheat, and a liar. For years, she'd used her Sheikah ensemble to get away with stealing nobles' jewelry. How could she ever hate Link for his involvement with Lorule and Hilda? Especially when Sheik only had the faintest idea of what Lorule even was?

Regret struck her, suddenly.

She hadn't given him the same benefit of the doubt that he had given her, time and time again.

He had asked her about her home, and she had told him. He'd asked her about Zelda, and Impa, and growing up in Kakariko. And yes, those questions had seemed probing at the time—but Link's curiosity had seemed genuine.

He truly wanted to get to know her.

Yet what of his own history had he willingly shared?

Sheik almost wished that she didn't know what she did. That so much of his history had been spoiled through eavesdropped conversations and panicked whispers she shouldn't have heard. Perhaps if she'd heard les, he'd be more willing to share it, someday. As it was, Sheik was half afraid that she'd learn the story on her own someday, and Link would never be the one to tell her.

The other half of her was worried of what Link would say if he did tell her.

The secrets she already knew were heavy. It made her stomach churn to wonder what else Link might be hiding behind that sweet face and gentle personality.

And yet, she still wanted to know his history; wanted to know where he had come from, what his story was. She could never tell him her own, and it was a fact she was starting to sorely regret. But, wouldn't it be enough if he could tell her his?

Sheik had lied to him, so many times. Had put him in danger, had treated him like a liability and a waste. And yet, despite how long he'd kept his secrets, he'd told her eventually. Sheik didn't figure it out—not entirely, anyways. Link allowed her to suspect, and ask, and then made the conscious decision to tell her the truth instead of a lie that would throw her off his trail.

Yet, Sheik?

Sheik did everything in her power to keep her secrets. Even when Link suspected, even when he asked about her history, about Zelda, she consciously chose to lie to him.

It hit her, suddenly, that Link had never outright lied.

He'd withheld truths, and allowed her to believe things that weren't true. But he had never outright lied to her.

Guilt sat heavy in her stomach.

Though it would be easy—so easy—to continue pretending that things were fine, Sheik knew she owed him an apology. More than that, she owed him the chance to hear him out. Not just about his Triforce, but everything that had led up to it. Link deserved the benefit of the doubt, and to be heard.

So Sheik tried to find the words to ask—to finally ask—about what he'd been through. Though she'd never been good at being a friend, she'd always been fond of stories besides, and…

Link deserved this chance.

And Sheik, for the first time in her life, wanted to know everything she could about this boy. To really listen to him. To know his entire story, and commit it to memory, without judgment of who he'd been.

The words, however, were slow in coming. It took a while to bring herself to even draw in the breath that would lead to those words—and she resolved to hold it until she had the courage to say what she needed to say.

Her lips had nearly purpled by the time she was ready to speak.

"Link…" she finally managed. Half aware that it had come out as a gasp, she forced herself to take a few slow, calm breaths before trying again. In the interest of not scaring him off by sounding too serious, she gently placed a hand on his shoulder. "…About earlier. Will you…?"

Link didn't turn to look at her. But he did sound curious. "Will I… what, Sheik?"

Sheik swore internally. "Will…"

Silence fell between them. She thanked Nayru for Link's patience, but it seemed that the longer she stalled, the more curious Link was getting. Not to mention nervous, if the tension building in his spine was any indication. Sheik huffed a sigh before she finally forced herself to continue.

"I meant… Would you…" she started again, frowning a little as she searched for the right words. After realizing there was only so much she could soften this question, she decided to just come out with it. "…Are you ever going to tell me more about where you came from?"

Despite Sheik's intentions, she wasn't all that surprised when Link suddenly froze where he sat.

Sheik decided she couldn't really blame him.

Not when he'd been so closed off about his past. No matter how much Sheik wanted the chance to hear him out, and no matter how much she knew it'd be good for him to talk about this, she cursed herself for not realizing earlier that the topic might have been sudden, and a bit… difficult for him. Considering she'd only ever heard about his past when he was eavesdropping, there was really no doubt that Link was caught off guard by her asking so boldly.

Link's voice was quiet when he finally spoke up. Quiet, and more guarded than Sheik wanted. "When I said I wish you'd 'try,' last night," he said, "…I didn't… I didn't mean like this."

Though Sheik knew good and well that she deserved the tone for prying, and for how tense they'd been for the past few days, she couldn't help but feel her heckles rise. Part of Sheik wanted to say something cutting, remind him of the way he'd betrayed her trust only a few days ago.

But she couldn't.

They had made their peace on that as much as they could, and… in truth, she didn't want to hold it against him.

Maybe it was her Triforce making her curious, or the way she had been raised as both a Princess and a Sheikah, with intelligence and wisdom and curiosity fostered through both. Whatever the case, she wanted to know—

And, perhaps, was not the most delicate about the process through which she tried to learn. But for Link, she would try to do the right thing.

"I know," she finally said, quietly, the words barely audible over the wind and the steady trot of Epona's hooves. "I just… really realized how little I know about you, Link," she said. "And I know it's not fair, when I've told you so little about my history. But when you ask, I try to give you an answer, however vague it might be. But you?" she said, frowning a bit. "You just dodge my questions."

And she knew it wasn't fair. She knew that she gave him outright lies, and that was why she was forthcoming with her answers. But, to him, surely she must have seemed more honest?

Despite how it should have seemed, however, Link's voice was sharp when he spoke.

"Has it crossed your mind that I might have a good reason for it?"

But, despite the sharpness, Link sounded wary more than anything. Wary, and guarded—and Sheik knew that she would have to work hard to earn any tone other than that.

Still, Sheik pressed her lips into a thin line, unsure what to say to either fix this or make him feel comfortable with speaking freely. "…I'm not going to hold a knife to your neck and force you to talk about it," she finally said, deciding her words carefully—with more caution than she'd been using around Link lately. "But if… you would ever like to talk about it, I wouldn't mind listening."

Link was silent for a long time. If anything, her question made him more tense, not less. "It's not fair of you to phrase it like that, Sheik," he said. "I doubt you really want to hear it for my sake."

Those words stung more than Sheik was willing to admit.

But, she deserved the words, and the biting tone that came with it.

"…And if I was being honest?"

"Then you have a funny way of showing it," he said. "You've never asked before—not… like that, at least. It always has to be a fight with you." He sounded frustrated, as if it hurt even to admit it. Sheik felt that guilt from earlier surging up again, but she forced it down."—And suddenly you want me to talk about it because you think it'd be good for me?"

"If I was trying to manipulate you, I would have gotten a yes by now," Sheik said, defenses raising. "And I would have brought up our… disagreement, earlier."

"So bringing it up now to prove your innocence is better?" He held the reins stiffly, nothing like the calm he usually handled Epona with. He took a few slow breaths, obviously trying to calm himself before he said something out of turn. But finally he shook his head, forcibly relaxing his shoulders. "Sorry. I just… why would you ask me now of all times? After everything that just happened?"

It took her a moment to decipher what he meant. But she could hear it now, the question underneath. 'Do you still trust me that little? Is this supposed to be a way to earn your trust back? Is it worth it to you, asking something this invasive?'

And Sheik bit the inside of her cheek, having a difficult time keeping her thoughts steady. "I'm not asking to be callous," she said. "Or to… force you to make up for keeping secrets."

Link's voice was still wary, unconvinced, when he asked, "Then why?"

"I know nothing about you that you've told me yourself." Sheik bit her lip, mulling her options over in her mind. "And… we're supposed to be partners, aren't we?"

"You seem to know most of it already. I know you heard most of it when you were eavesdropping outside Telma's door, Sheik." He leaned forward, head drooping a little. "I'm not… I don't know if it would be a good idea, for you to hear all of it so soon after…"

"Link," Sheik interrupted, refusing to let him feel guilty for a fight they'd resolved. "I was angry about your Triforce, because it has the potential to continue to cloud my judgment, and you had willingly chosen not to tell me." She paused, trying to soften her tone. "And now I know the truth. I'm not still angry about it." Knowing that she still hadn't been fully honest with his question of 'why now,' Sheik paused, and allowed the words to finally come free. "I just want to give you the chance to… explain. Not just your Triforce. But… everything. I just—want you to feel like you can tell me, without my judgment."

Link was quiet for a long time, still feeling tense and restless in front of her, and Sheik knew she'd overstepped her bounds if he was already shutting down.

But to her surprise, when he spoke up, he didn't refuse.

"We'll see," he finally said, and Sheik felt the tension leave his body. "I'm not saying yes, but… I'm not saying no."

It wasn't an outright rejection, but… it wasn't much better than one, either, if it gave him the chance to back out. Still, Sheik couldn't find it in her to be disappointed. If anything, she was just glad that he was considering it, even for a moment. "And when will you have an answer for me, if not now?"

Link half-tensed again—Sheik could feel it in his shoulders, just under her hand—but it was short lived. This time, he let it drop faster, and his entire body seemed to sag from its release. "Tonight," he said. "I need some time to prepare, and… figure out how to say it in a way that you'll understand."

Sheik gently moved the hand on his shoulder down his arm, until it rested just over his hand on the reins. "I won't hold you to it, if you decide you can't," she said. "But, Link?"

When he didn't reply, Sheik leaned closer and wrapped her free arm around his middle.

"I think you'll find that I understand plenty."

When night fell, Sheik was eager despite herself. Though she knew he may still back out, she was hoping against hope that he wouldn't. And as they set up camp and finished off the meager remnants of their dinner, she prepared herself for whatever answer he might give.

"…So," Sheik started, voice cautiously optimistic. "Have you prepared?"

Link didn't immediately meet her eyes. Sheik found that she knew it wasn't shame that propelled him to look at the ground, but distraction—uncertainty. She wasn't sure if she preferred it or not. "Not enough," he said, managing a terse smile. "But I'm not sure if I'll ever be more ready than this."

Sheik nodded, sipping from the melted snow-water they'd collected earlier. "If it's worth anything, I didn't hate you even when you told me the truth about… your power," she said. "I doubt I'll hate you for anything you might tell me tonight—since it has little to do with me."

A laugh—startled, and sweet, and clear—bubbled out of her partner. "It's not that I'm worried in you hating me," he said. "You hated me for the first few weeks we knew each other. I wouldn't like it, but I think I'd be able to go back to it if you had a good enough reason." He shook his head, sitting cross-legged against his sleeping roll. "I'm more worried that you'll be disappointed. That you'll stop seeing me as an equal."

Sheik arched a brow. "I have already heard the basics. An explanation of those things can only cast you in a more favorable light."

Though it didn't seem that Link believed her quite yet, he finally raised his eyes to meet hers. Sheik purposefully softened her expression, and it seemed to give Link the final push he needed to begin.

"Alright," he said, taking a deep breath. "Alright. I'll tell you." He closed his breath, and in a tone as uncertain as his expression, finally began to tell his story.

"It started with my parents, and Ilia's family, in a small village not far from Ecchar.

"We were poor. Everyone was, back in Antem. Even if we were only a few miles from Ordon, and Ordon was known for making the Hero of Twilight, we… didn't share Ordon's luck." Link bit the inside of his cheek. "Ilia and I grew up together. It wasn't bad back when we were kids. We didn't know any different—we liked mud, and the sticks we pretended were swords, and playing in the springs, nevermind that they were pretty much swamp water, even if everyone claimed that they'd once been a holy spring.

"But when I was… six, I think, an illness came to the village. It wiped out almost everyone. I think—Ilia and I were one of the only survivors. Both of our families died—parents, siblings, everyone."

Sheik hated that her mind's first instinct was to ask if it was, perhaps, the springs that had spared them. Hated that her first question was to increase her knowledge, rather than show empathy. But though she could be insensitive at the best of times, she wisely held her tongue as Link shook off the memory of loss so great.

"We were sent to an orphanage in Ecchar. I'm sure you can imagine the quality," he said, forcing a bitter smile onto his face. "We stayed there for several years—until I was old enough to look after myself. It could only hold so many kids, so they couldn't waste resources on the older kids. And because Ilia had come with me, even though she was still young enough to stay, they… told me to take her and leave." He let out a deep breath, shaking his head as he tried to think back to that time. "I think I was twelve, when we left. I think she still resents me for… some of what I did, trying to keep her safe. Maybe even for not fighting to keep her at the orphanage longer, where it was safe. Even before all of this, with blonde, blue-eyed girls going missing… It wasn't the safest city. And she was so small—even smaller than I was. I couldn't let anything happen to her. So I looked for any work I could find."

Seeing Sheik's furrowed brows, he quickly clarified, "She did too, of course. She found some work on and off as a maid, but it never paid well. I knew I had to step up. But I didn't have any better luck than she did. Selling newspapers, cooking, cleaning—I tried everything, but it still didn't make ends meet. Ecchar was made to keep people poor, but we didn't have the means to go anywhere else. We couldn't just—it would have been impossible, just packing up and leaving to another city. Or so it seemed, anyways. Looking back, maybe if we had, none of this would have happened." He seemed to realize, even as he said it, that what-ifs would do him no good. So he braced himself and continued on. "I had to find something that would pay well. That could keep a roof over both our heads and food in the cupboards—no matter what that job was.

"At first, I…" He trailed off, suddenly hesitant. "It's not like I tried to find Hilda. Or Ravio. Or any of them," Link said, voice getting a little faster, attempting to defend himself against Sheik's imaginary argument. "I started thieving on my own terms. Just little things, here and there—things we needed. I think I managed it for almost nine months. I didn't get caught until just shy of my thirteenth birthday, and most people can get away with their first time getting caught, but… I got caught by the wrong person. A man who sold a lot of really expensive food. I figured if I was going to steal I might as well steal from someone who was already well-off. But, he…"

Link bit his lip. "He caught me. Wanted to throw me in jail, and I couldn't even defend myself, because in Ecchar, either you had parents or friends, or someone well-established in the city to bail you out. If you didn't have those, you were on your own. And I only had Ilia, and no one wanted to listen to a twelve year old girl," he said. "But, I… I was lucky. Ravio was walking past, saw the whole thing. No one even had a clue that he was working with Lorule—no one even knew what Lorule even was, back then. It only had a few members, and I'm not even sure it was called Lorule in those days. But he… I think he felt sorry for me. So, being someone who was pretty wealthy, he… he spoke up in my defense. Paid for what I'd stolen, and the extra, so I could keep it. And on the way home he offered me a job."

Link slipped into silence, head lowering. The regret was obvious in his features; though Sheik couldn't understand how he could regret meeting a man who had saved his life and offered him a job—no matter what had come later. "He sounds like he was a good man," Sheik said softly, seeing Link's posture. If she had it her way, she would have moved closer to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulder, but Sheik wasn't entirely sure if that would be appropriate. So she settled for watching him from afar, and giving what little encouragement she knew how to give.

Link nodded, but didn't raise his head. "He was," he said. "I was so, so lucky. I thought this was finally when things would start getting better. And I was right. For a little while, at least." He trailed off, crossing his arms over his knees. "You have to understand. Before Lorule turned into its… final form, and what it is today… It was good. It stole, yes, but only from the rich, and Hilda and Ravio only took a small portion. They gave back to the poor, to orphanages, to everyone who'd slipped through the cracks. To everyone like Ilia and me. It seemed like they were doing something good—something that all Three would approve of. I… Believed in it," Link admitted. "I was proud to be a part of it, when Ravio first explained what it was—what I'd be doing for them."

Sheik heard him starting to veer off course—starting to ramble in Lorule's defense—and asked, "What did they have you do?"

Link shook his head. "At first, I was one of the people who came into businesses and houses and figured out where other people could break in. Just small missions, because Ravio didn't want to risk my safety. Nothing too dangerous, nothing that I could get hurt doing. I guess I was a pretty cute kid once they made me look less like a street rat, so no one really suspected me." Link shook his head. "I should've known they wouldn't let that last. Once I started getting older, people trusted me a little less, and I was… promoted to an actual thief."

As a thief herself, Sheik couldn't help her frown, hidden by her mask. Perhaps her heckles raised slightly at the thought of Link speaking ill of the career that had kept Sheik on her feet for so many years, but… she couldn't blame him for resenting Hilda. Not really. Not after what he'd been through.

Link continued, not having noticed the change in Sheik's expression. "Ravio wasn't a huge fan of the idea, but Hilda was determined. And I…" He hesitated only a moment. "More than anything in the world, I wanted to impress Hilda. I was fourteen and even if I still looked ten, I felt like I was… old enough. I… wanted her to be mine.

"I didn't care that Hilda was the most manipulative person I'd ever met. I just thought she was smart, and suave—and when she told me she believed I could do it, I listened. I thought I really had a chance with her. I didn't care that she was dating Ravio, or that Ravio was the only person who really cared about my safety—I didn't even care that Ilia was starting to get suspicious of where I was getting our food. I just wanted to make Hilda see me for who I was becoming."

Regret showed on his features, and Sheik was starting to truly understand what had gone wrong when Link had been working for her. She remembered young children who'd been taken advantage of, city to city—who had loved without shame, and had that love used against them.

It felt as though something heavy and sour had settled into her stomach. Yes, he was just another person, but… not to Sheik. She couldn't help her anger at the mere thought of someone manipulating Link like that.

"I… Just wanted her to love me, I guess," he finally said, shaking his head. "I was fourteen and an idiot, yeah—but I should have been old enough to know better. I probably was old enough to know better. I just… didn't want to be better. For once in my life I thought there was something I could do—really do—to prove that I was strong enough."

Link trailed off for a long while—long enough for Sheik to wonder if he was done talking for the night. Worried that he'd overdone it, or that he was having an adverse physical reaction to such an emotional retelling, Sheik finally stood.

Ignoring the way Link's eyes followed her, she sat down next to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

She was quiet for a while, not wanting to rush her partner. But she couldn't bear to see the shame on his face. And that, more than anything else, is what finally loosened her tongue. "I was a thief as soon as I was old enough to stop attracting pity," she said. "If you thought I would look down on you for taking the work you needed to survive and support Ilia with, you are sorely mistaken."

It said nothing of the complicated relationship Link had had with Hilda. But nevertheless, it seemed that just telling him that he had nothing to be ashamed of was plenty.

So, to her surprise, it worked. Link leaned his head against Sheik's shoulder, letting out a long sigh. Still, despite his more relaxed posture, he was quiet for a while before he finally managed a soft, "Thank you."

"You are my partner," Sheik said, shrugging the shoulder that Link wasn't leaned against. "And I wouldn't hold it against you even if you weren't."

"Is that the Sheikah in you speaking, or… the part of you that was a thief, yourself?"

"Neither." Sheik was surprised how calmly she could say it, and how much she meant it. "Occasionally, I can say things that are just… mine. Not Sheikah or anything else."

She swore she felt Link's heart skip a beat, but she didn't say anything about it, and he didn't, either. Instead, he reached for one of her hands, gently pulling it to his lips to press a familiar kiss against her knuckles.

Sheik was surprised at how much she'd missed the gesture. But for the first time in what felt like ever, she wouldn't let it go unreciprocated. She tilted her head to the side, pressing a soft, sweet kiss against the top of her partner's head.

"Are you ready to continue?" she asked, voice low. "If you want to tell me later, I would understand, but…"

"No, I can finish tonight. If I don't say it all tonight, I'm not sure I ever will," Link admitted. His eyes strayed to the fire in front of them, and almost seemed to be looking through it as he tried to find his place in the story once more. "She was the first person I ever loved like that, you know. Not my first crush, because I'd had plenty of those. But… she was the first person I was so… intent on impressing. The first person I really fell for." Link swallowed a lump in his throat. "She took advantage of that.

"In a matter of months, I was doing more and more dangerous jobs. Lorule had expanded, and instead of just stealing and redistributing money to the poor, we were hurting people for money. Not good people, of course—she hadn't lost her conscience that much. But criminals who'd gotten away with a crime? For the right price, we could still give them some punishment. It was fine, at first—I almost liked it, at first. It made me angry when the guilty got away with terrible crimes. And… Even though I wasn't the first… Lorulean to beat up someone for a profit, the first one I was assigned to? He'd hurt a little girl. All I could think of was what if that had been Ilia—and it was—it was easy. I didn't even have to think about it. I just had to remember that this person had hurt a child and no one had put him in jail for it. It felt better than anything, giving him the punishment that the courts should have given him.

"But Ravio?" Link asked, shaking his head. "Ravio knew things were going bad. He'd been there from the start. He knew Hilda better than anyone. So he tried to tell me to stop accepting those jobs. Tried to get me to stop training. He said anything he thought I'd listen to—but it didn't work, because Hilda… she knew I could do it." He closed his eyes for a moment, letting out a slow breath through his nose. "She gave me a sword, but not a shield, just to show me how capable she thought I was. Just to get me to stop listening to Ravio. She… flirted with me. Kissed me, even." Link hesitated. "I'm not sure how much Ravio knew about that. They were engaged, right before everything went wrong."

Sheik frowned despite herself. "And you… still did what she wanted?"

"I was barely fifteen when I—when I finally had to leave. I wasn't anywhere near old enough to know what she was doing was wrong. It took a lot for me to realize the truth." Before Sheik could even think to ask, Link took a deep breath and said, "She asked me to kill someone."

At fifteen?

Sheik's mind went back to how hesitant Link had been to fight—to kill—in the first few weeks they'd known each other. How ill he'd seemed at the bloodshed at the warehouse in Marr.

"…Did you?" Sheik asked, trying not to sound as guilty as she felt.

Link shook his head. "No. At… a pretty heavy cost, though." He was quiet for a while, staring into the fire and forced his breaths to be steady and even. "I'm still not totally sure what happened that night. But the day before, he—Ravio tried to talk me out of it. I wasn't ready, and it was obvious—not because I was a bad swordsman, but because—out of everyone there, Ravio used to tell me that I was the only one who still had a soul. That night, he told me I'd lose it, if I… if I followed Hilda's orders.

"And you know?" Link closed his eyes. "…I'm pretty sure he was right."

Link seemed a few moments from a bad flashback, and Sheik pulled him a little closer. "Take your time," she said. "I have nowhere else to be tonight."

It felt like an eternity before he could continue again—and Sheik knew the moon had moved a great deal before Link broke the silence once more. But Sheik knew there were many things worse than her partner's steady breathing and the chill of the winter night.

"The man she wanted me to kill… He was a criminal," Link said. "He… He was with a group of friends that night. They'd been robbing the poor for years—bankers, I think. Hilda didn't tell me much about them. Didn't want to make them seem human, I think. And I thought—before I actually got there, that night, I actually thought I was ready. I thought I could do this, for her. That it would make her love me.

"But when I got there, with my sword, and daggers, and the dark cloak I was wearing—I couldn't do it. Every other agent of Hilda's moved into place, distracted the guy's friends. But when it was actually time to do it, I—I couldn't do it. I couldn't kill him.

"Half an hour passed before the other agents realized I wasn't ever going to go through with it. I guess one of them left to go get Hilda. But the others… They betrayed me." Link bit the inside of his cheek. "They told the guy that I'd been sent there to kill him. Took away my sword and daggers, pretended like they were innocent and just exposing a criminal. The banker and his friends—they didn't care that I was barely fifteen, or what I said to defend myself. They wanted to make me pay for what I'd been planning to do. It was them against me, and I—I thought about what Ravio said, about losing my soul. And I was glad. I was glad to die, if it meant I wouldn't become like them. If it meant I'd never lie and take away a kid's only weapons and leave him for dead."

Sheik felt a lump rising in her throat, but she knew it was nothing to the tightness in Link's voice. So she stayed quiet, allowing him to continue, but not without another soft kiss to the top of his head.

"Hilda came. Broke up the fight. They'd got me bad, even without using weapons of their own—four on one kind of does that, especially when it's four grown men against a kid." He forced a laugh. "I thought, when Hilda got there, that I was saved. But she took my sword, held it over me like she was going to kill me." He gulped. "The rest, I don't remember too well.

"The next part, I think, you heard from Ravio. I blacked out, he got there in time to stop her from killing me. Left me a message saying she'd exiled me, said I was never allowed in Ecchar again." Link bit the inside of his cheek, hesitating. "…I think I still have the note somewhere. I… look over it, sometimes. When I don't know what to do." He shook his head, then continued, "After all that was over, Ravio took me to Solen and dropped me off at Telma's door with some money to fix me up."

"And here you are," Sheik said, fighting to keep her voice at its usual, almost businesslike quality, despite how conflicted she felt. It was hard to believe that her partner had gone through such a thing, but there was too much honesty in his voice. She tried to will down her wish that it wasn't the truth, but to no avail. It took another few moments, but when she was sure she wouldn't betray the weakness she felt in her heart, she finally managed a soft, "And… You stayed in Solen all that time?"

"Not… exactly." Link shook his head, no longer looking at her. Sheik could almost feel the tremors in his shoulder just waiting to start if she pushed him. "Just—I need another minute."

Sheik nodded, allowing him some time to calm himself. As the moon continued its path in the sky though, it became clear that the more time passed, the less likely Link was to continue at all. With a sigh, Sheik lightly squeezed her partner's shoulder, attempting to encourage him. If nothing else, it seemed to remind him where he was, and Link managed a grimace of a smile, the best he could manage at the moment.

Despite Sheik's encouragement, Link was quiet for a while. But when he spoke again, the guilt was palpable his voice. "I didn't go back to Ecchar even when Ilia was in danger," he said. "She wrote to me, telling me how bad Ecchar was getting. But I couldn't go back there." He looked across to the other side of the camp, eyes seeing but not looking. "I—I can't tell you how glad I was that you were the one to get her instead. I didn't want to lose her, but… I—" He broke off, shaking his head again. "But then we ended up going to Ecchar anyways, and I almost lost you in those tunnels."

His voice was more brittle than she'd ever heard it before, and he broke off abruptly, voice still shaky when he finally continued. "That was why I took so long to get to you, Sheik. I—I couldn't take it. The last time I'd been in those tunnels, I was getting ready to murder someone. I was under Hilda's thumb. A pawn. And then you wanted me to go back there." He squeezed his eyes shut. "You weren't just ready to kill, you asked me to kill."


"I'm not saying it's a bad thing," Link managed. "You didn't know. And you actually have a reason for it. There are hundreds of people counting on us—thousands, even, with all the cities we've saved. But I didn't know you then. I thought you were shaping up to be just like her. And I can't tell you how much that scared me."

"But you went in anyways," Sheik said. Though she'd never been the best at reassurances, there was something… inspiring, knowing just how much her partner had gone up against, and that he was still willing to go in after her. "It's no wonder that Farore wanted you, Link. You went into the place that had nearly gotten you killed, to save all those—"

"It did get me killed."

Sheik closed her mouth. Against her better judgment, she turned, looking intently at her partner. "…Can you repeat that?"

"I died, Sheik," Link said. "Telma told me, after all was said and done… She said I died on her bed, Sheik." When his partner stayed silent, Link shook his head, trying to explain. "I didn't have a pulse. But there was a glow on my hand and strange symbols going up my arms and chest and face, and the next thing she knows, I'm sitting up and breathing."

"You… were dead," Sheik said. "You died."

"Yeah." Link managed only a flicker of a wry smile. "But only temporarily."

Sheik swore in Sheikah, low and quiet. "Did you know you had the Triforce of Courage before that?"

Link shook his head. "I think—I talked about it with Telma for a long time, because she's the only other one who knows the full story—and I'm still not sure we got it totally right. But I think… I think Farore brought me back because I didn't want to kill that man. Because I was doing her job, as a protector of life. And because of that, she wouldn't let me die."

"Is that … what you meant, when you said you couldn't die?" Sheik asked carefully. "Just that Farore would bring you back?"

"Every other time, I've been saved long before that point," Link promised her, voice calm as if he was trying to reassure her about his temporary death. As if he wasn't the one most affected. "But that was where it started. Where everything else started."

Sheik took a deep breath, trying to process it. "So Ravio brought you to Solen. And you died, and came back with the Triforce of Courage, right in front of Telma," she said slowly, trying to make sure she didn't miss anything. "What next?"

"I still needed work," Link said, voice a little stronger now, and Sheik hoped he was feeling better now that he didn't have to relive memories of Ecchar—though she was getting the feeling that his story was far from over. "And I was fine working for Telma for a while. But I always had to wear gloves to hide my mark, and I… I was starting to realize that it had some other powers. Powers I didn't expect."

The guilt in his voice alone made it clear what he was referring to. Sheik couldn't look at him, still conflicted over what he had told her.

But for the first time, she wondered if it might have had an equally negative effect on her partner.

"Once I realized that it manipulated circumstances, and manipulated people…" Link trailed off, biting the inside of his cheek until the right words came to his tongue. "There are a lot of friends I have in Solen—Friends that I… I'll never know if they care about me because of my own worth, or because my Triforce changed their mind about me. Even Telma. I…" He closed his eyes, shaking his head. "I love her more than anything, and I don't even know if she actually likes me, or wanted to keep me around because my Triforce decided she was my best chance of staying alive.

"So I left. I needed some time away, and I figured some distance might tell me whether or not she still wanted me around. Maybe a little further away, it wouldn't have such an effect. So I went to Castle Town and wrote her, saying I'd still visit, and if she needed someone to work for her again, that I'd be more than happy to come back eventually." He bit his lip. "She wrote me back saying she'd always keep an extra room for me. So I—I hope that's genuine. And that it wasn't… just my Triforce. I don't know if it has a reach that far, and I might never know, but… I'm allowed to hope, right?

"Um. A-Anyways," he continued, seeming to change the topic before he could say anything else self-deprecating, "While I was in Castle Town, I figured I should meet with some Sheikahs, or the Royal Family—someone who could tell me a little more about my Triforce. I met Paz there, your—Impa's sister. She made it so that my Triforce mark would be invisible unless I was using it, which… was helpful, even if I'd long since gotten used to wearing gloves by that point.

"She also introduced me to the King." Link paused a moment, hesitating on his next words. "They… Paz made a prophecy in front of him. Said I'd be useful in finding his daughter."

Though old paranoia flared up, Sheik found that she wasn't nearly as worried about that statement as she ought to be. "How so?"

Link shrugged. "Paz could see the future, I think. Said something about how I was destined to find her, and that I… That my fate was tied to hers. Like I didn't already know that—every book in the library that had anything to say about Triforces told me that the Triforce of Courage and the Triforce of Wisdom are linked. That they've been linked for thousands of years."

"I see." Sheik bit the inside of her cheek. "And you are… looking forward to finding the new bearer of the Triforce of Wisdom?"

"Hard not to be with how much everyone talked about the Triforce bond—and Zelda, for that matter."

Sheik furrowed her brow.

"They all thought she'd been an amazing kid," he said, the tiniest of smiles working onto his face. "I think, when I finally do meet her, that I'll have enough embarrassing kid stories to last me for years. If she's anything like she was when she was young, anyways. Which… considering how long she's been alone, I doubt."

"Even just going to live with Impa, she changed greatly from who she had been at the Castle," Sheik said, avoiding eye-contact. "I doubt she would be anything like the girl from the Castle if you met her now."

"Yeah," Link said quietly. But there was nothing sad in his tone—not even the tiniest hint of disappointment. Instead, he smiled, just a bit. "She probably wouldn't be." Seeming to remember that he had been in the middle of telling Sheik a story, he shook his head and tried to pick up where he left off. "I worked for the castle as a guard for a few months," he continued. "Getting trained by the best. I learned how to use a sword again—and learned a bit about really using a shield, though it's still hard to remember to use both. Then the King sent me back out to find his daughter, mostly because of my Triforce and the connection Paz mentioned. I spend most of my time looking in Solen, because every time I left, I felt like I was being drawn back there. And I figured I shouldn't ignore that feeling.

"I guess that feeling was right, though. Because I met you in Solen." Though Sheik knew Link could feel how tense she got, Link barely hesitated. "And then you came with me, and we've been looking for Zelda ever since—and doing a lot of good for all of Hyrule. I still can't really picture myself as the new Hero of Hyrule, but… if I'm going to be doing this with anyone?" he asked, looking up at her with the faintest hint of a smile. "I'm… glad it's with you."

Sheik blamed the warmth in her cheeks on the fire. "I'm grateful to have had the opportunity," she said, bowing her head so she wouldn't have to look at him. "I don't think I could have done it without you."

Link was quiet a moment, before finally shaking his head. "No," he said. "I bet you would have found a way, with or without me."

"I would never have known about the tunnels under Ecchar if not for you," Sheik reminded him. "Those girls would have been shipped off to wherever they were headed for, and I would have been powerless to stop it. And if I'd been too discouraged to continue on, then—"

"Knowing you? You would've found Hilda, somehow—taken her on the second you found her. Or maybe you would've just focused on finding the compound and razed it once you found it," Link said, a bemused smile on his face. "Don't sell yourself short on my account. You've managed just fine on your own for how many years?"

Sheik frowned, biting the inside of her lower lip as she thought it over. "It's different," she said, all too serious compared to the contentment her partner had slipped into. "Just looking after yourself takes less work. You've always looked out for Ilia—I've never… had that system. Either I had someone looking after me, or I was on my own. There was never accountability before this."

"Yeah, and where are you now?" Link said, voice infuriatingly optimistic. "You've freed dozens of people, Sheik. Broken spells on entire cities, with and without me."

"More with than without," she said. "And back at Tal…"

"And you think those girls wouldn't have carried you, for what you did for them?" He raised a brow, and Sheik resisted the urge to walk away and find something less stubborn. "Although," he finally said, tone changing to something almost teasing. "You might have frozen to death a few times without me."

Sheik rolled her eyes. "Reducing yourself to a body heater is hardly a fair comparison."

"If you're not going to acknowledge what you've done, then I'm going to." Link looked up at her, amusement settling into something softer. Sheik looked away before she could acknowledge it as love, but all too soon, a hand was cupping her cheek. "Even if I have to make a few unfair comparisons."

Though she could feel Link attempting to shift closer, Sheik didn't move towards him. Instead, she rested her hand over the top of his, fingers resting in-between the gaps between her partner's. "You might not be the only reason I succeeded," Sheik finally said, ignoring the knowing grin she as sure was spreading over Link's face. "But…"

Link leaned a fraction of an inch closer. "But?"

"If I've become anything of a hero, it's your doing."

"Sheik…" Link leaned further away. Though Sheik knew she'd said the wrong thing—or rather, something Link hadn't been expecting—it was the truth, and she didn't regret it, even if it caused him to pull back. "I'm not—"

"You are the standard I held myself to," she said, voice softening, easing away from the rough edge it so often carried. "That was why I was angry when you told me about your Triforce." Link's hand twitched against her cheek, fingers curling as if to pull away, and Sheik let him. But when his hand moved away from her face, she kept it in her own, shifting their hands to rest on Link's knee, her hand still over the top of his. "And that's why I was so surprised to hear anything of your history. I thought that you'd gone against that standard—that you'd never been a hero, and that I'd misjudged you. But, Link?"

He didn't look at her, and Sheik decided that was acceptable, for now.

"After hearing everything? I think… I think I was right before." Her face turned to a knowing smile, shaking her head with the slightest bemusement. "If there's any… 'standard of heroism' I'm going to hold myself to, I'm glad it's yours."

Sheik didn't have to look at Link's face to know that she'd surprised him. But when she leaned closer to press her lips against his cheek, she couldn't help grinning at how warm his skin was.

"Goodnight, Link," she said, not leaving him a moment to question her behavior before she stood and started walking back to her sleeping mat. "And… Thank you," she added, as she laid down on it. "I'm glad you told me."

Link's voice was soft and strange when he answered her. "Yeah, well," he started. "…What are partners for?"

As Sheik got comfortable and prepared to sleep, though, she hesitated. Though she hadn't heard Link move from the place he was seated, and she was sure he had plenty on his mind, she couldn't help but think about what he'd said.

"You were right about one thing, you know," Sheik said, voice purposefully serious as she looked at Link's silhouette against the fire. When her partner just furrowed his brows, Sheik kept her deadpan expression. "You make a good heater."

It took Link a moment, but Sheik relished the moment her words sunk in. It may have been dark, but there was no missing the way Link's eyes lit up at her words—or the newfound determination in his smile (subtle as it was). He crossed the distance between them without hesitation, sitting down on the edge of the sleeping mat.

Despite how much Sheik wanted to just pull him back into bed before he could change his mind, she let him take his time. For once, she was content to just watch, propping herself up on her elbow as Link made himself comfortable.

Though she wasn't sure precisely what she was feeling, she felt warmth spread through her chest as he finally pulled his feet free from his boots and tucked them inside the blanket. From there, he tucked himself alongside her, his shorter, stockier build easily molding against hers. Though Sheik knew she couldn't pull him close the way she used to, she was just glad to have him as near as he was.

"And you're sure you want this?" Link said, the slightest tinge of hesitation in his voice.

Sheik draped an arm loosely over his side. "I wouldn't have asked, if I wasn't," she said. "Sleep, Link. I'll be here in the morning."

Though Sheik had been in bed first, it was Link that fell asleep first. His breath was soft—deep, even, and steady—and Sheik realized too late just how much she'd missed it.

Her body itched to press tighter against him. But she resisted, no matter how cold it was—and no matter how much she craved to hold his chest as it rose and fell.

For the first time, Sheik felt her heart speed at the notion.

And that, she decided, was enough for now.

It might not have been the most romantic first night back together, but Sheik was grateful for it all the same. No matter the awkwardness, no matter the distance between them, Sheik was glad to be here.

Link might have been worried that telling Sheik his history would change how she saw him, but Sheik couldn't have been happier. Now, more than ever before, she knew that staying was the right choice. So she respected the space between them for now, but there was a warmth spreading through her chest at the notion of it disappearing in time.

She fell asleep shortly after Link, wholly unaware of the hand that had drifted up to rest on his hip.

The morning that followed was a dreary one. The wind was cold, and clouds hung over the sky, heavy with rain.

Despite that, Sheik found herself warmer than she had been in days. Through the night—inevitably—she and her partner had drifted close to each other once more. Link was, as usual, still sleeping peacefully, and Sheik was hesitant to wake him.

Instead, she found herself tuning into the sound of his heartbeat, and the way the rising sun peeked occasionally peeked through the clouds to give Hyrule Field a pink tinge.

It wasn't until the sun was high in the sky that she allowed herself to wake Link, lightly jostling his shoulder until he let out a sleepy groan.

"There are only a few hours of travel left until we reach Kakariko," she said softly, willing the anxiety away. "We need to leave now if we want any time to investigate it while it's light out."

Link turned towards her and cracked open an eye. He seemed surprised to find that it was already past dawn. With furrowed brows, he sat up and adjusted his tunic and undershirt so his neck and chest weren't exposed to the chilly morning air. "It's already late. Did you just wake up?" he asked, sounding almost hopeful.

Sheik felt her cheeks warm, just a little. "A bit ago," she said. At the way Link's brows raised, she quickly added, "The sunrise was distracting."

Though he didn't look like he believed her at all, Link merely smiled. "I see." He stood up and toed on his boots first thing, then offered a hand to Sheik.

Sheik ignored it in favor of slipping on her own shoes and outerwear. With a quick cleaning spell on herself (and Link, despite the other's squawk of surprise), Sheik got to work on packing up camp.

She went slower than usual, however, and found herself hesitating as they reached the end of re-packing. It wasn't until she'd been standing behind Epona for nearly two minutes that she heard Link approach behind her.

"Everything okay?" he asked, and she could hear the frown in his voice.

Sheik shook her head. "We'll be in Kakariko by the end of the day." She rested her palm against Epona's flank, as if to ground herself. "I don't know how much hope I have of finding anything. But I can't stand the thought if it being a pointless trip, either."

Link rested a hand on her shoulder. "It won't be," he said. And he said it with conviction enough that Sheik believed it, almost on instinct. "No matter what, we'll find something to work with."

"Or we'll find nothing," Sheik said. "Ravio told us that everything was gone."

"And sometimes it's the nothing that tells us things," Link said. "We'll find something to lead us to answers, Sheik, I guarantee it."

Sheik closed her eyes. "I can't hold you to your word," she said, shaking her head. "Not when you know just as little about it as I do."

"Less," Link said, a half-hearted attempt at humor. "You were the one that lived there, not me."

Not exactly reassured, Sheik let out a long sigh. "I just… Wish we had more to go off of. That there was more of a chance of saving Kakariko."

"Sheik." Link gave her shoulder a quick squeeze, and Sheik felt warm lips against the back of her head. Though she froze up, she didn't pull away, and Link took the incentive to wrap his other arm around her waist. "It's going to be fine. We're going to figure this out. No matter what."

"And you're sure?"

"Well. I can't promise results, exactly." He laughed a little, sounding almost embarrassed. "But I know that I'll be here with you no matter what we do."

Sheik finally let her shoulders drop from the tense position they'd been in. Though she couldn't be quite sure what she was doing, she let out a deep breath and made her decision. She carefully moved Link's hands off of her. Before he could second-guess himself, though, she turned to face him.

"Last night wasn't a fluke," she said, looking down to meet his eyes. "I'll be here with you, too."

With that, she cupped his cheek and pressed a kiss just above his brow.

While Link was still dazed at the display of affection, Sheik hopped onto Epona. Though she knew she couldn't possibly ignore the problems they'd be facing in a matter of hours, there was no one she'd rather face them with than her partner.

When the pair arrived at Kakariko the next day, Sheik wished she could say she'd been prepared. But the sight of it—or, rather, the sight of the bare dirt where Kakariko should have been—was enough to unsettle even Sheik.

She was off Epona before they even stopped.

"Sheik!" Link called, but Sheik paid him no mind. Sheik ran towards the dirt—towards the foundation of the last place she had truly been able to call home. When she approached, it was obvious that there was no mirage. It wasn't a trick, or a cruel illusion of a master spellsman. The city was truly gone, and all its inhabitants with it.

Her feet seemed heavy as she walked through the city, no matter how fast she tried to run. Everywhere she looked, there were phantom images of the city she had once known—but none of the homes and none of the people were truly there.

If she looked to her left, she could swear she saw the baker and his wife, and the smell of fresh bread, and the joyful shouts of their children. But when she looked, there was nothing. It was the same for the shop that sold flowers—and the entrance to the graveyard—and the small farm that had sold cuccoos and their eggs for generations upon generations.

There was nothing left.

There weren't even imprints of the city that had once been. No shadows, no darker or lighter values of the dirt to differentiate home from pavement. There wasn't even magical energy to show what had been removed and what hadn't.

It was totally, completely barren.

Though she had a heart to explore the rest of the city, she didn't have the stomach for it. Not when she finally came to the place that she had spent the happiest days of her childhood.

Sheik's feet, acting on muscle memory she didn't realize she still had, retraced the once-familiar path from the meadows to Impa's house.

And, when it only led her to a barren, insignificant tract of land, Sheik sank to her knees.

It took several minutes more, but now that she'd finally stopped moving, Link finally caught up to her.


"It's gone," she said, voice hollow. "Kakariko. The graves. The Sheikah temple. Impa's home. The… the garden out back. All of it. Gone."

Link rested his hand on her shoulder. Almost unconsciously, Sheik moved her hand to rest atop his, seeking out any comfort that he offered. "It'll be alright," he said, voice soft. "I promise. We'll find a way to bring it back."

They sat in silence for what must have been an hour. Sheik couldn't find it in her to move, but she was grateful Link stayed with her. There were no clues to be found, though, no matter how long they stayed in the city. No inhabitants, no buildings, no indication that magic had even touched this place, if not for the sign at the outskirts of the city.

Kakariko was truly gone.

And there was nothing they could do about it. Not right now. Not with no leads, and no known enemy.

A lump rose in Sheik's throat from the sheer hopelessness—helplessness—of it all. For the first time in years, she felt the urge to cry, and it nearly overpowered her. But, as always, she repressed it. Expression hardening, she—already on her knees—pressed both hands to the ground and closed her eyes.

Ignoring the confused expression on Link's face, she leaned close to the ground and performed an old Sheikah prayer over it. Though she may not have been born a Sheikah, she was raised one, and she had the magic of the Sheikah flowing through her veins. She could, hopefully, perform the rites as well as any other Sheikah who had lived here.

It was a prayer of mourning, and of loss—and of the hope of reconnecting, someday, in a better world, or a better future.

Though it was prayer often spoken at funerals, Sheik felt it appropriate. Especially since she had no way of knowing if any of its inhabitants were still alive.

Once she'd finished saying the Sheikah prayer, she stood. Though she was tentative about changing anything about this place, she knew that she needed something to work with. So she carefully got out a jar from her side-pocket and scooped it full of dirt.

Though it had been a long time since she'd been in this place, she knew that this had once been her room. And, if the foundation was gone without a trace, then the ground beneath her feet must have been touched by magic and replenished somehow.

If she could get it to the right person—a Sheikah strong in tracing other magic, perhaps—then maybe they could figure out what, exactly, had happened to her home.

"We can't stay here," she finally said, corking the jar and putting it back in her side pocket. "There's no point to it."

Link gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "And where would you go from here?" he asked quietly. "Back to Solen?"

Sheik closed her eyes and considered her options.

Though she had lived with Impa, there were only a handful of other Sheikahs she had known while she stayed in Kakariko—and no way of knowing if they had been in Kakariko when it was taken. There were a few that she had seen—at a glance—while she had traveled in her youth, but none had seemed strong in magic. If anything, most had likely been half-bloods. Ones that could, perhaps, use some Sheikah magic because they had one Sheikah parent and therefore half of the Sheikah magic (and blood) running through their veins—but were not as powerful as full-bloods.

There was a question in her, somewhere, wondering at the nature of half-bloods. But there was no time to probe deeper than the very surface of that question. Besides—a half-blood couldn't help her with a problem of this caliber.

No. If she was going to solve this mystery, she needed a full blooded Sheikah. And someone with access to other information—lots of information.

And there was only one place in all of Hyrule that had enough libraries and ancient texts to give her an answer. –And, remembering Link's story, and about how he'd come to Castle Town… There was only one person who could, presumably, relate those answers to solving Kakariko's disappearance.

With a fire burning just behind her eyes, she looked up to Link.

"We're going to Hyrule Castle Town," Sheik finally said. It took some effort, but she ignored the churning in her stomach even as she said the words. "We're going to meet Paz."

Link looked surprised, but he didn't protest. "And you're sure you want to?" he asked softly. "I'd understand if you wanted to stay back."

Sheik shook her head. "Someone stole my home and didn't leave so much as a trace," she said, and suddenly she wasn't entirely sure she was speaking just of Kakariko. But it wouldn't do to dwell on her old life; not when there was a job to get done. So she raised her head higher, squaring her shoulders as she headed back to Epona. "There will be a reckoning, and I will not let someone else take that from me. If I have to go to Castle Town and face every evil living there, I'm going to do it."

In solidarity for the home that had just been destroyed, Sheik used her magic to change her face. Not much, of course—she didn't want to clue in Link to just how easy it was to disguise her appearance at all times. But she allowed the old, red, Sheikah eye-markings to surround her eyes, and the ancient tear-drop to appear under her left one.

Link looked a bit surprised, but Sheik said nothing of it. Instead, she gave one final look to Kakariko, and then turned towards Epona, never once looking back.

She would fix this, no matter the cost. If it took every secret she had, every bit of magic in her blood, she would bring Kakariko back.

And no one was going to stand in her way.

((Sorry for disappearing again! I did promise on my blog to have this chapter up by the end of the year, and so it is! Hopefully this upcoming semester I'll have more time to write, but I won't make any promises that I can't keep. I'm still not abandoning this story—I promise. It just takes time to make every chapter. I hope everyone likes Link's full backstory, and that it wasn't a let-down. Anyhow, after this, we can finally move away from just character development chapters and move towards plot. There's going to be a lot of that coming up in the next several chapters, so don't be afraid to ask questions in reviews if you need help figuring something out. (Though I'll try to make everything as clear-cut as possible.)

Thank you so much for sticking with me all this time. It's been an honor writing this much, and I plan on staying in this for the long-haul. I'm also doing a lot better mentally and emotionally, and I thank all of you for your support through all this. I couldn't have asked for better readers.

As always, please review if you liked this chapter, or even if you didn't. I always look forward to hearing your thoughts! 3))