A/N: Hello! It's been ages, but I'm back with the sequel to my first Link/Paya fic, Unintentional Consequences of Memory Recovery. Please enjoy, and I'd love to hear what you think of it!

Life slipped easily into its old, quiet rhythms for the inhabitants of Kakariko Village after Champion Link, rejuvenated by Paya's care after being trampled by a Lynel, left to continue his heroic quest across the Malice-blighted landscape of Hyrule. After a solid week of giving friendly yet bland replies to her fellow villagers' pointed and enthusiastic questions, Paya was relieved when they finally lost interest in the subject of her nascent love life and returned to less personal and more fruitful topics of conversation. The Shiekah went back to tending their vegetable fields, nurturing carrots and pumpkins instead of rumors, and even Lasli stopped pressing her to recount the tale of her brief dalliance with Master Link.

Paya tried not to mind the passage of time as days turned into weeks with no word or sign from the wandering hero. He hadn't exactly promised that he would come back, and he certainly didn't give her a timeline in which it would happen, but in her heart of hearts, a sullen voice cruelly whispered: You're the least of his priorities, if he remembers you at all. You can't compare to the monumental tasks given to him to complete, so stop thinking he's going to show up and whisk you away for a seaside picnic on the back of a dragon!

A week passed, and another, and another. Link's scent had long since faded from the sheets on Paya's bed, and she reluctantly changed them out for fresh linens, anonymous with the fragrance of the village's only kind of laundry soap. She told no one about the three blond hairs she had unraveled from the tines of her comb and tucked away in a compartment of her makeup case.

It wasn't as though she was confined to her room, spending her lonely days pining for the gallant knight and wasting away to a neglected wisp. Her regular routine contained plenty of activities to keep her busy, from completing household chores and tasks around the village, to praying, studying, and training. Now that the defeat of Ganon was imminent, Impa had increased the amount of time she spent teaching her granddaughter in the ways of the Hylian monarchy. Some days Paya felt that the only things keeping her grandmother tied to the physical realm were the promise of the Champion and his eventual victory over the Calamity, and above all else, seeing Princess Zelda safe and in the flesh, and quite possibly crowned by her own hand.

Paya wrote less often in her diary. Reading over her previous entries, she was shocked by the naïveté and the denial that shone through her simple words. How could she not have known what love felt like? Had she been lying to herself, or was she unwilling to write down the truth of her feelings, just in case someone might read through it? She left the diary on her writing desk with the vague idea that if she kept it visible she might be tempted to write in it more often, but as the days passed, her worries, concerns, and wants all retreated as a dull ache in the back of her mind, not important enough to record for posterity.

The dragon winds began to blow regularly for the first time in years. Nanna and her grandmother agreed that it was an auspicious sign, but the only thing it signaled to Paya was that she was going to start having those dreams again. Nights later, when her overstimulated brain was interrupted from fantasizing about her usual subject matter with prophetic visions of her ancestors speaking to her about the heirloom's purpose, she leapt from her bed to light her lamp, hurrying over to the bookshelf where she kept the family histories and praying whispered thanks to all the deities she knew for the precious crumb of insight.

She stayed up late into the night, long past the changing of the guard, and finally collapsed at her desk a few hours before dawn, surrounded by scraps of decaying parchment and tottering piles of decorative tapestries. Her research had confirmed her intuition. Master Link was the hero chosen by the heirloom, he would receive the blessing of antiquity locked away in a hidden shrine, and Paya would be the one to deliver the exciting news the next time he visited the village.

The very next morning, crying on the floor in front of the empty pedestal where the heirloom used to sit, Paya, with assistance from her grandmother, told Link everything she knew about the ancient artifact, and what had tragically happened to it.

She wiped her eyes with the cloth she was going to use to dust the orb and glanced behind her. No trace of the heirloom remained save for the dent left behind on its supporting pillow. She dissolved into tears again, unable even to thank Master Link for agreeing to stay by her side for the day. The burglary had left her so violated, she wondered if it was possible to feel safe anywhere, even in her own house. The thief might still be lurking nearby, checking to see if the Champion had been alerted to the heirloom's absence. She shuddered, imagining cruel, evil eyes watching from a hidden corner of the village, and looked up from the sodden wad of fabric clutched in her hands to see a pair of clear blue eyes gazing back at her with such a kind and attentive look that she gasped in wonder. Of course she'd be safe. Hylia's own knight had vowed to protect her.

It was easier, then, for Paya to rise from her spot with a personal escort close at hand to provide some much-needed security. She took a steadying, head-clearing breath, then thought about what she ought to do with the rest of the day. It might make her feel better to try to consider this a day like any other, and soothe herself in quotidian duties. Today was laundry day, and that was not a task to be pushed aside for another time.

The young hero proved to be an excellent helper, able and willing to carry more than his share of dirty laundry. Up in her room, Paya had a moment of silent panic as she gathered up her clothes. She'd never be able to wash her family's delicates in front of her crush! To spare herself the embarrassment, she directed Link to strip the mattresses of their sheets, and while he was busy, she stuffed her unmentionables in a pillowcase and shoved the bundle in the back of her closet. Laundry day had been expanded into laundry days, but it was a small price to pay to keep the color of her undergarments a secret.

Back on the ground floor, Link stepped ahead of Paya to enter the back room of the house first, making a quick sweep of the premises to ensure it was free from intruders. He nodded the all-clear, then posted himself in the center of the room and faced the doorway.

Paya couldn't help but focus on the stoic knight as she walked toward the large pot of water in the corner of the room. He was so composed, standing there at ease amongst the piles of bedding on the floor with his thumbs tucked into his belt. She wished she had even one-tenth of his confidence. The time he had spent traveling since their last meeting had strengthened him. His compact, exquisitely muscled body invited her eye's attention almost against her will, and not only did it distract her as she tried to start the fire under the water kettle, it was really embarrassing. It was rude to stare, and it was inappropriate to reduce the Champion to a piece of eye candy, yet she couldn't stop herself from glancing over and remembering how she had tended to his wounds all those weeks ago, with his leg on her lap, undressed in her bed.

"The sound of the waterfall is really soothing." Link's voice was not much louder than the background splash of water on rock he had just mentioned, but Paya's ears, unconsciously primed for the smallest sound the hero made, picked out his words as easily as if he were shouting in a silent room. It still startled her, and she fumbled with the piece of flint in her hand.

"I agree! At least, I used to." Fire lit, she brushed soot off her fingers as she stood and turned toward Link. "Now I think that the waterfall gave cover to the thief. I didn't hear the door open or close last night." Link gave a thoughtful nod in recognition. There were ways to mask the sound of one's own body with elixirs and specialized clothing, but the heavy wooden doors of Impa's house always announced a visitor with a welcoming creak.

With a sad sigh, Paya asked if Master Link could tell her a story or two about his latest exploits while she got to work. "Your voice," she blushed as she spoke, "I-I-I mean, a human voice is more comforting than the waterfall." She turned back to the pot under the pretence of checking to see if the water was hot enough. Her nerves were getting the best of her again. If she kept talking, while she was still able to, she'd likely blurt out several more ways she'd like her protector to comfort her. She tried to swallow past the persistent lump in her throat and told herself she'd rather throw herself into the churning pool at the base of the waterfall than confess her feelings to him. Again.

After Master Link had recovered from his leg injury, they had parted with a kiss, the ghost of which she could still conjure up if she concentrated on it hard enough. Now, with her wall of emotional distance reinforced by her profound disappointment over the loss of the heirloom, they were starting all over again as polite acquaintances bound by duty to help one another.

"Would you like to hear about Zora's Domain?" Link asked as Paya opened a cupboard and began to search through it. "That's where I was before I came back here."

Still choked with emotion, Paya nodded silently, hoping he could see that she had answered. By the prickle of goosebumps that suddenly ran down her back, she knew that he was looking at her, and she began to grate a bar of soap into the steaming water.

Link's voice was scratchy from disuse, but to the jittery young woman listening intently to every word he said, it sounded warm and friendly, a beacon of hope in a world brimming with danger. Spiced by the ineffable delight of his unusual accent, the Champion's tale was fascinating to listen to. Paya relaxed as his story distracted her from her fears, and she worked steadily, imagining herself adventuring alongside the hero.

A chance meeting with a Zora swimming around the Lanayru Wetlands had led the intrepid knight in a quest given to him by the crown prince of the Zora himself. Traveling along a mountain road made treacherous by the never-ending shower of rain created by the Malice-possessed Divine Beast, Link's multi-day journey to the royal palace had been additionally fraught with danger by encountering outposts of Lizalfos and swarms of electric Keese. Paya wouldn't have believed that he had made the journey there and back safely if she didn't have the evidence standing before her own eyes. Truly, he must have possessed the blessing of the gods to have survived the gauntlet he had passed through. And that was only the beginning of his story! To endure all that, to be besieged on all sides by bloodthirsty foes for days on end before his arrival at the palace to meet with the prince and the king, it must have taken phenomenal courage and strength of character. Paya's admiration for the hero grew as she listened and scrubbed the sheets in the washtub.

Link paused in the recitation of his adventure and Paya glanced over at him. He was stretching, rolling his shoulders and shifting his balance from one foot to the other. She used the moment of silence to ask a question, speaking up before she got distracted by his simple, charming movements.

"I've never met a Zora before. What are they like?"

"You haven't?" Link dropped his arms and ran his thumb along the handle of his Sheikah slate, as if to make sure it was properly holstered.

Paya shook her head. "I haven't met a lot of people. The Sheikah who founded this village wanted it to be isolated from the rest of the kingdom, and it has remained so for centuries." She picked up a wide wooden paddle and stirred the soaking laundry. It was easier to speak with Master Link when she had something else to focus on, when she didn't have to meet his piercing stare and think about whether or not she was blinking too often. "The only people I see who aren't from around here are adventurers and traders, both of which have been a rare sight recently. Four times a year, a Goron merchant comes into town, selling gems and spices, and rarely a Gerudo will pass through. But never the Zora. A delegation of Rito visited once, when I was a little girl. They made quite an impression when they flew into the valley, swooping around the mountain peaks and flashing their feathers." She leaned on the paddle, trying to remember how many years it had been since a diplomat had made it to her grandmother's house in person. "It's been so long since I've heard anyone talk about wanting to gather the scattered settlements into a unified country again. Everyone is secluded and separated, feeling like it's too dangerous to care about anything beyond the borders of their own town. Now you're here, returning hope to us all!"

Link made a sound low in his throat, halfway between a cough and a laugh. "I hope you all can wait a while. I have a long way to go before the kingdom's put back together again."

"Oh, of course!" Paya replied. "I didn't mean to rush you, and I know it's all my fault that you're here spinning your wheels instead of liberating more Divine Beasts." Guilt stabbed at her insides, and she tightened her hands around the paddle's smoothly worn handle, staring at the swirl of suds and water in the pot as she gave the sheets a vicious jab.

"Paya." Master Link's gentle rebuke tugged at her heartstrings, and she froze. "Don't apologize. This is all a part of what I was meant to do. Helping people, in any way I can." His boots thumped on the floor as he took a few steps closer to her corner of the room. "I have a lot of experience with guard duty, even if I don't remember all of it. Honestly, it's a nice break from slaughtering monsters day after day!"

Paya hadn't forgotten that the resurrected knight had been the captain of Princess Zelda's personal guard, but she thought he might have been eager to take on other tasks while the princess was otherwise indisposed. She turned toward him, smiling. "Grandmother has told me many stories about the arguments she had to settle between you and Princess Zelda because, apparently, you were too good at your job. The princess used to get quite irritated—" Link flinched, a small movement he was unable to completely suppress. "What's wrong?" She'd said the wrong thing this time. Was it an insult besmirching the princess' honor, or a secret she was not supposed to know? She held her breath and waited for Link's answer.

The hero's face was hard to read as he said, "Even you know more about my past than I do. Impa's told you stories, but what do I have?" He gestured at the Sheikah Slate hanging on his hip. "A handful of pictures tied to scraps of memories."

Far from saying the wrong thing, Paya had broken loose a barrier in Master Link's mind, and the words tumbled from his lips, low but insistent. "These memories that I've recovered, they aren't even wholly mine. It's like I'm an observer in my own past, seeing what happened from Princess Zelda's point of view, and it's neither pleasant nor flattering." He breathed deeply and continued, "She didn't like me, in fact, I'm pretty sure she hated me, and she probably had good reasons for that. So I've decided to leave the past alone for the moment and focus on the good I can do right now. Like staying with you today." His eyebrows straightened as he searched her face, then his brow furrowed as he thought of something else to say. "I can't change the past, I can't change the old me, and I can't dwell on it, either."

Paya was shocked. Certainly, her grandmother would have said something if the relationship between the princess and the hero was as acrimonious as he insinuated. How could she bolster his confidence? "I'm sure you weren't as bad as your memories make you out to be!" she exclaimed. "You couldn't have been, if you were a Champion and the Princess' knight attendant! Maybe if you recover all the memories in the Slate, you'll have more context to work with?"

Link rocked back on his heels and stuck his thumbs back in his waistband before he answered. "That's the thing. There's only twelve pictures. How much context can those give? Until I save Zelda from Ganon and talk to her, I really can't be sure about anything, and like your grandmother keeps telling me, I have a very important task to finish, so I should probably concentrate on that instead of how annoying I was a century ago." His gaze drifted to the floor and he muttered, "I failed her once already."

The next question in Paya's mind died silently on her lips. Probing further along this line of conversation would only serve to distress Master Link, and she didn't want him to shut down when they had been getting along so well. She hadn't meant to move the conversation to such a serious place, and she thought the best course of action would be to return to her usual state of silence. Finishing the laundry needed to be her priority, so she found an empty bucket to fill with clean water from the stream outside.

Anticipating her destination, Link preceded Paya out the back door and then trailed her like a shadow as she strode back and forth from the stream to the laundry area. It took ten passes to fill the rinse bucket, and he took each footstep with calm yet heightened attention to their surroundings. Paya felt well defended by the devotion he showed to his task, and she wondered how long it had taken Princess Zelda to turn from appreciative to exasperated by her loyal protector.

She bent over the washtub, ready to wring out the sheets, when Link caught her attention by clearing his throat. "I think I have a picture of a Zora." Paya froze, hands outstretched, and watched Link remove the Slate from his belt. "I have different pictures than last time— would you like to see them?" Relief flowed through her at the sound of his voice —he wasn't angry!— and she nodded her head eagerly. As they stood side by side, Master Link tapped the Slate's screen impatiently, navigating through the menus until he found the picture he wanted to show, then selected it and tilted the Slate in Paya's direction.

A portrait of a beaming red-and-white skinned man filled the screen. His sharp teeth and ornate jewelry sparkled in the sun, and his amber eyes shone with friendliness. Red fins framed the sides of his face, and his arm, curled in a gesture of support, filled the bottom of the picture. The effect was incredibly charming, even viewed through the small area of the screen, and out of reflex Paya smiled back at the image.

"This is Prince Sidon, my new best friend," said Link with a hint of disbelief in his voice. "He reminds me of you a bit. He talks about the same things you do, how important I am, saving the world, that kind of thing," he explained. "Really supportive guy, that Prince."

Paya's eyes flicked from the screen to the hero. "Master Link!" she exclaimed. The swordsman's ears had reddened and the same shade was creeping across his cheeks. "Why are you blushing?" She'd never thought him capable of looking so bashful, and her curiosity blazed anew.

"I may have been, er, dazzled by his enthusiasm," Link said as he rubbed the back of his head with his free hand. "Zora hospitality runs hot and cold. They don't entertain many Hylian guests there, and when they decide they like you, or after you've proven your worth by performing several feats of bravery and endurance, they get very, um, hands-on."

Paya imagined the inhabitants of the Domain throwing a parade in Master Link's honor, hoisting him above the crowds as a symbol of heroic success. Surely he deserved every accolade given to him by a grateful populace; there was no shame in accepting thanks for a job well done. Or perhaps each Zora had congratulated him individually with a handshake. If those hands were tipped with clawed fingernails, then that might lead to rougher treatment than he had been expecting. That didn't explain why he was so embarrassed by it, though.

"What do you mean?" she asked, taking a chance on digging deeper.

"Well, I had to ride around the reservoir on the prince's back to get close enough to subdue the Beast, which I wasn't expecting. We were being chased by these giant spiky ice balls while he was carrying me, and one of them caught us from behind and knocked me clean off his back. I must have lost consciousness, because the next thing I remember, the prince was tucking us both into the biggest waterbed I'd ever seen. As I fell back to sleep, I heard him say that Mipha and I had often used the bed to recover our energy after a long day of training… It was a misunderstanding!" he said hurriedly, catching Paya's inquisitive look. "He was really young, practically still a hatchling when he used to follow his sister and I around the Domain." A pained expression flickered across his face. "Once we sorted out the sleeping arrangements, I was able to free Ruta from the Blight the next morning."

Paya had the distinct impression there was another, more personal story he wasn't telling her, but as she had already learned her lesson about prying into his business, she simply replied with a smile and a few carefully chosen words about how grateful the Zora must have been for his help. "Grandmother said she could sense it when the Beast was freed from Ganon's grasp," she added, recalling the smile that had lit up her grandmother's face and the week of peaceful sleep she had gotten after the announcement.

Then she thought about the times throughout her life when Grandmother had bestowed snippets of the Champions' pasts upon her, usually in the interest of imparting a moral lesson. The Champions, together with the princess, had been a close-knit group, role models for the whole of Hyrule and for one young Sheikah girl in particular. Paya loved hearing about the Hero and the Zora princess' life-long friendship, not to mention Chief Urbosa's motherly regard and care for Princess Zelda, or the Hylian and the Rito Champions' good-natured rivalry, but she never imagined any of their relationships moving beyond respectful camaraderie, not from the way her grandmother described things. Now it seemed that she and Master Link had both been surprised over finding out that reality was more complicated than legend.

"I'd love to see more of your pictures after I hang up the wash to dry," Paya said, gesturing unnecessarily at the bucket at her feet. "Zora's Domain is rumored to rival Hyrule Castle in its beauty and elegance, but I'm sure that words can't compare to the actual thing."

Link gave her a small smile. She watched the corners of his eyes crinkle and looked away before he could accuse her of staring, then knelt and plunged her hands into the wash tub. By her side, Link did the same, and with his extra help, she finished the laundry with plenty of time to spare for viewing the adventurer's latest pictures.