Disclaimer: The Legend of Zelda, its characters and locations are all property of Nintendo, I'm merely borrowing them. (Though Ayla, Kaiza, Anaruteir, Terra, Mugen, Vorpheus, Dr. Kaura, Guilden, Dehl, Tao and Hatra are mine. Myde and Thea belongs to Random-Kitty-Yuffie)
Warning: This story contains yaoi, shounen-ai, slash, whatever you call two guys falling in love.
The chair creaked as Sheik settled himself into it. It was an expensive, leather armchair, and he had a strong feeling that it had once belonged to the castle and the royal family. Now, however, it was placed in the largest inn in the city, the one that Nuviro had used for his headquarters. Zelda had appropriated it as her new, temporary home until the engineers could figure out what to do with the various structural and geographical weaknesses Castle Town had suffered because of Ganondorf's remodelling and the battle, which had undermined almost the entire area.
Next to him, Link settled into his own chair, sighing in relief. He had been on his feet all day, greeting and speaking to the refugees that had been coming in from the Lost Woods. Commander Riner had been true to his word—the Legion was gone, and nothing had been left behind. It had taken them a week, but the civilians were finally all settled in—either in the tent city in front of the city walls or in the various, cleared and secured buildings in the southern part of the city.
The fireplace in front of them was positively roaring, burning to keep the autumn chill out, casting flickering shadows across the floors and walls in the chamber. Footsteps approached from behind, and then a warm cup was placed in Sheik's healthy hand. Link was also given one. Sheik sipped at the tea, revelling in its warmth.
"Is it good?" Zelda asked, finally sitting down in her own chair across from them, a steaming cup of tea clutched in her hands. "I'm afraid I'm not of much use in the kitchen, but I've gotten compliments on my tea, at least."
"It's great," Link said, taking a sip. "I'm not a big fan of tea, but yours is actually drinkable."
"I'll take that as a compliment, then," Zelda said, smiling. "What do you think, Sheik?"
"It's delicious," Sheik answered, taking another sip. "Very fruity, yet quite…tea-like. Really puts the warmth back in you."
"Tea-like?" Zelda asked.
"That's the only way I can describe it."
"What, is your vocabulary broken or something?" Link said.
"I'm surprised yours even includes the word 'vocabulary', Hero," Sheik replied, grinning at him.
The three shared a laugh.
Three weeks had passed since the battle, and life in Hyrule was just barely starting to return to normal. The areas closest to the city were still dead and covered in dust and ash, but the southernmost territories were starting to turn green again. A lot of rebuilding had to be done, but at least the population did not have to worry about mercenaries hunting them down anymore.
"So how are you two doing?" Zelda asked, sipping at her tea. The princess was so busy with organising everything these days that she had very little time to herself—much less for others. Sheik and Link were also busy, helping the army removing the rubble and collapsed masonry in the city streets so they could become habitable, but the going was slow even with the help of the strong Gorons.
The funny thing was that even though Sheik and Link's rooms were on both sides of Zelda's, they never really saw her unless she was coming in to sleep or going to attend another meeting. Tonight was the first time in days they had actually been able to exchange more than a few words, and that was only because Zelda had been more or less forced to take a night off by her advisors. So she had invited her two best friends for tea in order to not go stir-crazy.
"Oh, we're very busy," Sheik said. "Clearing out the streets turned out to be far more difficult than we thought. We've had several collapses of sinkholes close to where Vorpheus was seen last, and clearing them out is a pain."
"My pain, you mean," Link said. "I'm the one who has to do all the lifting while you tell me where to put the rocks."
"I received very strict orders from Kaura not to do anything strenuous with my hand," Sheik said, lifting his injured hand. Kaura had removed the mitten of bandages, though she kept the innermost layer on so that he wouldn't accidentally re-break a finger if he moved them. He was still not allowed to do anything with it, though.
"Yeah, and you still insist on helping out with the backbreaking work," Link said sourly. "You should be resting, you know."
"I know, but I can't. I feel useless enough already, I don't need to add to it," Sheik said, taking another sip. "The idea of sitting around here while there is work to be done…it feels so wrong."
"I don't think so," Zelda said. "If anyone's earned the right to rest and recuperate, it's you. Both of you, in fact. I'm actually very close to ordering you to take a vacation, but I know you'd just disobey it." She sighed and placed her cup on a small table next to her chair and stood up. She was actually wearing a dress tonight, which made Sheik and Link—who were wearing just simple shirts and trousers—look like slobs in comparison. Her hair had been braided, which made her look very regal. She still refused to wear the circlet, however.
"What's with the finery?" Link asked, ignoring the not-so-subtle suggestion from the princess. "I thought you hated dresses and stuff like that."
"I'm not overly fond of them, no," Zelda admitted, standing in front of the window and staring at the dark city outside. Torches were lit all over, but very little could penetrate the darkness that fell over Hyrule in the fall season. "But I've an honoured guest to see later tonight, and putting these things on take far too much time for my liking."
"So, Aveil is coming over?" Link asked, giving Sheik a wicked look which made the Sheikah shake his head in dismay. Here came the endless teasing.
Zelda stopped breathing for a few seconds before resuming. When she turned around, her face was red with a very intense blush. "How did you know that?" she asked.
Link continued to grin and looked pointedly at the dress—an elaborate thing with plenty of laces and other things that looked far too complicated to actually be an article of clothing. "I've never seen you wear something like that unless Aveil is nearby," he said, "and you're wearing makeup too. I'd say you're pining for someone, and we know it's not a man, so—"
Sheik cut the Hero off by kicking him not-so-gently in the shin. "What he means, I think, is that you only dress up like this on special occasions, and the victory celebration is tomorrow, not tonight."
"Exactly," Link said.
"Are you mocking me?" Zelda asked, her blush not receding one bit. If anything, it seemed to grow worse. "Because I have quite a bit of ammunition against you two. I've no idea how long you two kept at it last night, but for pity's sake, please have Sheik bite down on something so I can actually close my eyes without envisioning my little brother being violated in the very worst way."
Now it was the two boys' turn to blush.
An embarrassing and uncomfortable silence fell upon the small room. Link tried to occupy himself with rooting around in fireplace even though the flames were practically leaping out of it. Sheik decided that this was as good a time as any to do what he had been planning for the past few weeks but never had the opportunity to do. He reached over to the side of his chair where he had left the cloth-covered, rectangular package Vorpheus had left him and picked it up. Zelda watched with interest as he unwrapped it, revealing a leather-bound journal.
"What is that?" the princess asked.
"Vorpheus' journal," Sheik said, opening it and turning several pages. "Every spell he knew, every secret he possessed—the power to blow up a mountain, the ability to poison an entire lake, all of it contained within these pages."
"Where did you get it?"
"He left it to me. There was a small note that simply said, 'You know what to do'."
"And what's that?" Link asked, turning away from the fireplace.
"What do you think?" Sheik said, looking at the fireplace. "He wanted me to burn it."
"Isn't that kind of a waste, though?" the Hero said. "I mean, the guy was an ass, but he was useful. He saved your life—he saved a lot of lives, actually, now that I think about it. With all that power at our disposal…"
"The power he wielded was gained through evil actions," Zelda said, taking the journal from Sheik and looking at the writing on the pages. "How many people do you he made suffer in order to perfect these spells?"
"Too many to even imagine, I think," Sheik said, noting with worry the interest Zelda was showing. She was a Sage, and her magical power—while nowhere near that of Vorpheus'—could probably make up for her lack of experience it took to learn those spells. He gently pried the book from her hands and closed it, approaching the fireplace. "These are spells made from the pain of others—blood magic. Is that really what we want to possess?"
"No," Zelda said, shaking her head, embarrassed at her sudden engrossment. "I certainly don't."
"Then it's best to rid ourselves of it once and for all," Sheik said, tossing the journal into the fireplace. The flames devoured it immediately, the brittle pages disappearing within seconds as they burned to cinders. They watched the journal burn for a while.
"Are you sure that's what Vorpheus wanted you to do?" Link asked suddenly. "What if he just wanted you to hold on to it until he comes back?"
"I certainly hope so," Sheik said, not doubting for one second that the warlock was dead and gone from the world. "Or he is going to be quite…cross with me."
They returned to their seats and talked for a while—mostly about the restoration of Hyrule and how to best proceed. At some point or another, an engineer had suggested abandoning the city altogether and found another capital somewhere else, claiming that trying to repair all that had been destroyed during the battle would be much a much harder and arduous task than simply building an entirely new city.
"That's ridiculous," Link said. "How long has Castle Town been around, anyway?"
"It has always existed in some form or another for the past millennium or so," Zelda said, shaking her head at the idea of moving the city. "It's had different names, certainly, and the castle it was named after wasn't built until…oh, three hundred years ago I think."
"But it has always been here," Sheik said. "And there's a certain tradition that cannot be broken."
"Tradition, yes," Zelda said, suddenly looking highly uncomfortable. "Speaking of which, there is one tradition I should have done away with a long time ago."
"What's that?" Link asked.
"The tradition of…well, more like enslavement, really, of the Sheikah," Zelda said, looking ashamed. "I have no idea why my father did not do this once it became known that the Sheikah numbers were dwindling and that they would not be around for much longer." She walked up to Sheik's chair and kneeled in front of it, to his horror. He tried to stand up, but Link held him down, keeping him from rising.
"Sheik," Zelda said, drawing his attention back to her. "I have no idea how I can repay you and your people for your impeccable service to the royal family of Hyrule. I have no idea how I can justify keeping you and Impa oath bound for the past seven years—but I am ending it now."
Sheik tried to stop her from making this mistake, but Link seemed to have caught on to her plan and put his hand in front of Sheik's mouth, preventing him from voicing his protest.
"Sheik, you have showed impeccable skill, dedication and loyalty to the throne of Hyrule your entire life. Your people have shown the same for the many years they have protected my family. You kept your oath—and not a single time have you faltered. I—and the entirety of Hyrule—consider your oath fulfilled. I, Princess Zelda of Hyrule, matriarch of the Royal Family, hereby release you and your people from your service. You are free to do what you wish, as you wish, whenever you wish. I can only hope this makes up for the years of suffering you have been forced to endure."
She rose from her kneeling position, motioning for Link to let Sheik go. "I am so sorry I did not do this earlier, Sheik," she said, pulling him to his feet and into a hug. "You're my little brother, and it was wrong of me to keep you tied to my side this entire time."
Sheik tried to say something, but his mouth refused to cooperate, tongue flopping around uselessly and jaws opening and closing with no sound moving between them. "I…"
"Just say 'thank you', Sheik," Link murmured from behind him. "She's not going to change her mind about this."
"But…the oath…" Sheik tried, but didn't get any farther. "Fulfilment isn't…"
"Sheik, shut up and enjoy the moment," Zelda said.
It took about fifteen minutes of constant assurance and threats of bodily harm to calm Sheik down, and even then he couldn't really believe what had just happened. He had been trained his entire youth to be keep the oath until the day he died—and now it was...gone.
"Don't be silly, Sheik," Zelda said, patting him on the shoulder. "You still have a purpose: enjoy life. And pester Link with raised eyebrows and few words."
"Raised eyebrows?" Sheik asked, still not feeling very confident about this.
"You do raise them a lot," Link said. "And you don't talk much…or you didn't do it in the beginning, I guess."
"But…who is going to be your bodyguard?" Sheik asked. "Who's going to protect you?"
"Sheik, I have an entire army to protect me," Zelda said in a deadpan. "While they may not be as individually capable as you, they are more than enough to take out any assailant. Besides, I like to think I'm no slouch with a sword either."
"But…what if you need someone assassinated—"
"I don't think I will need anyone with those qualifications for a long time, Sheik. And in case I do…well, there are many skilled assassins in the world."
"But…why? Why are you releasing me from my oath? Why now?" He was getting agitated again, his heart beating faster than what was strictly necessary.
"Because…I don't know, Sheik," she answered, pacing back and forth in front of his chair. "Maybe I wanted to do something nice, maybe I wanted to show you how much I appreciate everything you have done for me…but I can't say that either, can I? This was long overdue…but I'm not sure how I can show you my appreciation… Why are you so upset about this?"
Silence reigned once again. Sheik and Zelda stared at each other, both unsure of how to proceed. Link looked between them, sighing loudly.
"This is painful, you know that?" the Hero said. "Listen, Sheik," he said, making the Sheikah look at him, "Zelda wants you to be happy, but she thought that still being bound to protect her would ruin your chances of that, so she released you, right?"
"Right," Zelda said.
"Right, and Sheik is upset because…well, I can only guess that he feels that you're sending him away or saying that he's not good enough," Link continued.
"But that's not true at all—"Zelda began.
"No, it's not," Sheik said. "I…I'm grateful, Zelda, I really am, but…by doing this, you have…effectively robbed my life of any purpose. I am a Sheikah—my meaning, my purpose, the very reason for which I am alive is to be of service to the Royal Family. What am I supposed to do now? Where am I supposed to go?"
"You…you're not supposed to go anywhere," Zelda said, looking surprised. "Where did you get the idea that you had to go somewhere?"
"Well, I can't bloody well hang around the throne as a commoner, can I?" Sheik asked. "Kakariko has been destroyed, the tomb of my ancestors has been breached and vandalised…I have no other home…I…!"
"Sheik, I'm not sending you away," Zelda said, once again pulling him into a tight embrace that seemed to drain him of any strength whatsoever. "I'm never sending you away. I…I want you and Link to stay with me forever—you're my friends and I don't know what I'd do without you! Please—oh."
Sheik couldn't keep the gasp as the first of his tears escaped his eye and rolled down his cheek.
"Oh, Sheik, please don't cry," Zelda said gently. "I didn't mean for you to be miserable…I thought it would make you happy." She hugged him tighter, like she had done many times over the years—but this time it was different. They were no longer master and servant. They were friends, brother and sister—and only that.
"Are you alright?" Link asked as they trudged through the streets of Castle Town. The Hero was shivering in the cold, but Sheik felt surprisingly warm.
"I'm fine," he answered. "I…feel a bit embarrassed about breaking down back there, but…I guess I'm fine. With everything."
"Good," Link said.
Zelda had done her best to comfort Sheik, but it was ultimately Link who had to bring on the big guns and kiss him into submission, at which point Sheik had realised how silly he was being. Of course Zelda wouldn't send him away. Sure, he might not be her personal bodyguard and hit man anymore, but he was a fool to believe that the end of his oath would be the end of him. Five minutes later, Aveil had arrived—alone. They knew enough to excuse themselves at that moment and had decided to go for a walk instead of cruelly listening in on the princesses.
Zelda's inn was located quite a bit into the northern part of the city, in one of the few areas that were not collapsing in on themselves. Guards were posted everywhere, though they had learned to recognise the Hero of Time and Sheikah by now and let them through the checkpoints.
"Where are we going?" Link asked as they neared the first of the residential quarters that housed several garrisons of soldiers.
"I don't know," Sheik replied. "I was just following you."
"And I was following…crap."
They turned a corner and walked down a well-lit street. They were making surprisingly good time on the walk, having almost reached the other side of the city already. The remaining stub of the gatehouse poked out from among the other buildings, reminding Sheik that he was quite close to the place where he had embarrassedly blinded himself during the infiltration of the city. And then Tinn had saved his life. He stopped, wondering if the boy and the other slaves were okay. Had they survived the assault on the city? The slave quarters were hardly even touched during the battle…
"Why did you stop?" Link asked.
"I just…remembered something." He looked around. They weren't very close to the slave quarters, and it was quite late. Perhaps now was not such a good time… "But it's not important," he said, making a mental note to find Tinn in the morning and thank him properly.
"You sure?" Link asked.
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Good, then we can go to bed, right? I'm freezing."
"Are you quite certain that you wish to risk that?" Sheik asked. "Zelda and Aveil have a lot to make up for."
Link snaked an arm around Sheik's waist and pulled him closer. "As do we, I believe."
The sun was high in the sky by the time Sheik had finally had enough of Link's antics and unceremoniously pulled the blanket off the Hero and opened the blinds to his window, eliciting a loud groan from him.
"It's still early," he whined, blindly groping for the blanket—which Sheik was keeping well out of reach—and screwing his eyes shut to protect himself from the evil sun outside.
"No, it's not, Hero," Sheik said, rolling his eyes. "It's noon, and I have already had the time to visit Kaura twice. Time to get your lazy self out of bed."
"I have a better idea," Link said, barely opening one eye to find out where his blanket was. "How about I stay in bed…and you join me?" he said in a pitiful attempt at a sultry voice that was marred by sleep and fatigue. "We can have a lot of fun here, you know…"
Sheik thought about it for a few seconds. "How about…no?"
"Oh, come on, Sheik, I'm the Hero of Time!" Link whined loudly. "Surely I've earned the right to sleep for an entire day?"
"Probably, but that day is not today," Sheik said as he tossed Link's bundled-up clothing at him. "We don't have any work today, but we've still a lot of people to meet and greet. Plus, we've a celebration to prepare for."
"Oh…is that today?"
"Yes, it's today."
Surrendering, Link ceased curling up on himself and slowly began to get dressed. Sheik turned around and looked out the window, knowing that Link could get surprisingly modest when it came to his own nudity. Sheik's, on the other hand…
"Stupid celebration," Link muttered. "Why do we have to go, anyway?"
"Because it's being held in yours and Zelda's honour," Sheik explained, watching a group of off-duty Hylian and Gerudo soldiers walking past the fence to the inn, laughing amongst themselves. Sheik had never expected to see that. "And it's very rude of the guest of honour to not appear at his own party."
"I don't want a party…"
"Stop complaining and get dressed before I call Kaura on you. She promised she'd help me if you proved difficult to wake up," Sheik said. He counted to three internally and turned around, smirking when he saw that Link was fully dressed—surely he had broken some sort of record.
"Alright," Link said, eyes wide with fear and darting around as if he expected the physician to pop out from behind a piece of furniture. "Who're we seeing first?"
"That's a surprise," Sheik said.
The camp in front of the walls had grown quite a bit since the civilians from the Lost Woods had joined up with the rest of the Remnant. They had adjusted to the way of life quickly enough, even if this arrangement was only temporary until a building became cleared for habitation and people could move into the city again.
Sheik was subtly trying to lead Link towards the stables, where he had been earlier that morning. The Hero was too busy with shaking hands and receiving hugs from the people to notice. They passed by the hospital, where a covered cart was being loaded up with supplies. The smell of horses (and their leavings) began to fill the air as they walked up a small hill to where the cavalry mounts were fenced in, and yet the Hero did not notice.
"No, don't thank me, thank the princess," Link said, growing tired of having his shoulder slapped or back punched. "I didn't do anything; she was the one who started it." He sighed and jogged to catch up with Sheik. "Is it far? I'm not sure how many more people expressing their gratitude I can take…"
"We're here," Sheik said as they reached the hill's crest.
There were too many horses to count. The cavalry had seen little use in the battle since the outcome had been decided in the streets rather than on the field, and their riders had fought on foot instead of risking their mounts in tight alleys and dead ends. The "fence" was really just a series of poles placed around a wide area with nothing to bind them together, though the horses were so used to being fenced in that they rarely crossed the limit anyway.
"What're we doing here?" Link asked as they walked towards a small group of tents that stood closest to the hill on the border of the field.
"You haven't guessed yet?" Sheik asked. A man was sitting outside one of the tents, smoking a pipe. He noticed them approaching and stood up, waving. "Who do you think we left behind in the valley that I'd want you to meet?"
"I don't know," Link said. "I can only think of…wait, they're here?"
The Hero took off like a rocket, sprinting towards the stable master, nearly running the man down before demanding to know where Epona was. The stable master laughed and pointed in the direction of a particularly large throng of equines. Link gave him a quick thank-you and ran towards the horses, ignoring the man's warnings about being careful.
"Stable Master," Sheik said and nodded as he came up to the man. "I must apologise for the Hero's rambunctiousness."
"Bah, no need to," the man said, shaking Sheik's hand. "I know what it's like to miss a dear friend."
"There were no problems in getting them here, I assume? They are here, right?"
"Of course they're here, lad," the stable master said. "My boys and girls came in with them and the other stragglers just as you left earlier today. The little one got away and had to be chased down, but they're here."
A horse whinnied and Link could be heard laughing wildly, though his form was obscured by the same throng he had entered. For a second, Sheik wondered if Link had been kicked in the head was so confused that he laughed about it, but then he remembered how prone to silliness he was when around Epona and sighed.
"I suppose I should go over there before he does something stupid," Sheik said, nodding to the older man. "Thank you for the help, Stable Master."
"'Twas a pleasure, lad. Just promise to take care of the little one."
The small herd was dispersing as Sheik approached, revealing Epona and Maladict standing close to each other, watching Link crouching in front of a small foal that was looking rather uncertain, legs moving unsteadily. Sheik noted with wonder how much it looked like its mother—with just a trace of its father. It had Epona's colours, though they were a just a few shades darker, though nowhere near as dark as Maladict.
Link noticed Sheik approaching and began to laugh again. The foal drew back at the loud sound, looking at its parents, who snorted with a sort of resignation, as if telling it to just bear with the silly boy with the long ears.
"Have you ever seen such an adorable little thing?" the Hero asked, reaching out to pet the foal carefully on the neck, which it carefully allowed him to do.
Sheik smiled, noticing the childish streak in Link returning, if only for a little while. "Not really," he admitted.
"Do you think it's a boy or a girl?" Link said.
"The stable master told me it's a girl," Sheik said, crouching down next to Link, smiling at the foal, which looked back with the same intelligent eyes of its parents. She was analysing them. "And she's quite fast."
"You're telling me," Link said. "I saw her galloping around in a circle among the horses…I swear, she's faster than Epona."
"We have to give her a name," Sheik said, smiling broader as the foal finally allowed itself to be petted without looking ready to bolt at any second.
"Got any ideas?"
"Well, I do remember an old name that means swift, but I don't remember which language it comes from."
"Let's hear the name, then."
"Shun," Sheik said.
"Shun, huh?" Link said, staring into the foal's eyes. "Would you like that name? What do you think?" he asked the proud parents.
Neither Maladict nor Epona gave any sign of hating the name.
"Shun it is, then," Link said, smiling as she whinnied and took off running, nearly knocking them both down.
"I think she likes it," Sheik said, noting that the foal was indeed quite fast—much faster than he had expected her to be, even at being a few weeks old.
The two turned to Epona and Maladict, who stepped forward and regarded their respective riders with looks that could only be described as hopelessness. Maladict bent his head forward, looking closely at Sheik and his bandaged form before bumping his head to the Sheikah's. And then he snorted him in the face, covering it with a slight sheen of snot.
"Gah!" Sheik exclaimed, wiping at the horrible fluid. "I know you disapprove of my injuries, but that is no reason to sneeze in my face."
Link laughed. But then Epona stepped on his booted foot again. She didn't rest her whole weight on it, but definitely enough to get the Hero to shut up and howl.
"Ow, ow, getoffgetoffgetoff!" he shouted, waving his arms like a madman. After the mare decided she had taught the Hero a lesson, she let go and tossed her head, probably laughing at him. "Was that because I called you fat once?" Link asked. "I already apologised for that."
"That'll be a valuable lesson to you, Link," Sheik said, glowering at Maladict, who seemed to be grinning back at him. "Females of any species can hold grudges for a long time."
"You can't blame me," Link said, patting the mare's neck in what he hoped was an adequate peace offering. He wished he had some carrots or something like that. "She…got pregnant very fast, right?"
"Surprisingly so," Sheik said, agreeing. "But you have to remember that Epona is a very—gah! Fine, Maladict too—are very special horses." He wiped another load of horse snot from his face, glaring fully at the stallion now. "I wouldn't be surprised if there's a fair bit of magic being passed down between them, which enhances both the pregnancy and foal. A normal horse pregnancy is usually around eleven months, but this one…how long did it last? No more than a month at the most."
"That's fast," Link said. "I'd ask you why you know so much about horse pregnancies, but that's just…a question I don't want to ask. Ever."
"Fast like Shun," Sheik said, ignoring the last part of Link's sentence. He watched the foal as she galloped along the length of the "fence", completing the circuit much faster than she should have been able to. "That is one fast filly."
"And we're her uncles," Link said, smiling.
Sheik decided not to comment.
By the time they were heading back into the city, the cart outside the hospital was almost fully loaded. Hatra was leaning against it, breathing heavily and sweating profusely. He had finally deemed it a good idea to remove his robes, revealing a surprisingly slim body beneath. He noticed Sheik and Link approaching and smiled and waved them over.
"I was wondering where you two had gotten off to," he said. "Kaura's been trying to track you down, and she's getting kind of…" He looked around and lowered his voice. "Crazy," he whispered.
"I heard that, brat," Kaura said, appearing from within the cart itself, giving the ex-Inquisitor a start that seemed to shut him down for a few seconds. She grinned at her own doing and turned her attention to the pair. "As for you two…why haven't you got the decency to hang around your palace all day so I can actually find you?"
"What palace?" Link asked. "In case you didn't notice, what remained of the fortress fell into the crater on the other side of town."
"Palace, inn, tavern, whatever. Different names, beds all around." She climbed out of the cart and landed on the ground next to Hatra, who finally rejoined the land of the living. "You need to get yourself something to drink, boy," she told him. "You're sweating like a waterfall."
"If you could just make up your mind about what supplies to take with you, doctor, maybe I wouldn't be exhausting myself," Hatra said, shaking his head in dismay. "I have lost count of how many times I've loaded and reloaded this cart."
"It'll be many more if you don't stop complaining," she said, slapping him upside his head.
"Are you going somewhere?" Sheik asked.
"Hell yeah I'm going somewhere," Kaura said, smiling.
"Home, of course."
"What?" Link asked, jaw dropping.
"You heard me, Hero," Kaura said, patting the cart she was leaning against. "The war is over, the situation's stabilised, the veil's gone…there's no reason for me to hang around here. I've got a house back in Termina I haven't seen in more than a few years now. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure if I have a house anymore…maybe they sold it…hm, that'll be interesting to find out."
"But why?" Link said. "Don't you have a lot of patients to take care of? Hell, Sheik's not finished healing!" He illustrated this by grabbing Sheik's bandaged hand and holding it up for all to see. The Sheikah howled in pain and pulled away, giving Link his deadliest of glares.
"Nice one, Hero," Kaura said, looking at Sheik with a disinterested look on her face. "I think you've just bought yourself a timeout on the couch for at least a month. Oi, you alright?" she asked.
"Just fine," Sheik said, blinking away the tears of pain. "They're healing nicely," he said.
"I reckon another week or so and you can take off the bandages," Kaura said, doing a quick examination of Sheik's hand. "Keep chugging that potion and you'll be right as rain. You'll even be able to play that infernal lyre of yours."
"But why are you leaving?" Link insisted. "Don't you like it here? And what about Zelda? I thought she was your apprentice."
"I just feel like it's time to move on, Hero," Kaura said, climbing back onto the cart. "Hey, brat, catch!" she shouted as she hurled a small crate out of the covers. Hatra yelped and was barely able to catch it. "Why the hell would I need an entire crate of socks, you stupid boy? Put 'em back where you found 'em!"
"Fine, fine," Hatra said, hefting the crate on his shoulder, giving Sheik and Link a resigned look. "Not like she asked me to load it up either…it was on the list, damn it!"
"It ain't now," Kaura said. She remained quiet until Hatra had wandered off with the crate before she peeked out from the covers again. "To be honest, I love this place—despite it being a warzone. The people here truly care for one another and I can't imagine that anyone would turn this place down. But the fact of the matter is that this is not my home, it never was and never will be. And as for Zelda…well, she's a princess and has a country to rebuild. I don't think she'll have any time for learning anatomy and stuff like that."
"Does she even know?" Sheik asked, feeling surprisingly sad about the fact that Kaura was leaving. She was terrifying, brash and mean, but she was…Kaura. She had become a fact of life for him. And now… But who was he to stand in her way if she wanted to leave? No one, and she'd kill him if he tried anyway. "Or are you leaving quietly in the night?"
"Night?" Kaura asked, looking up at the sun. "Still a bit early for calling it night, isn't it? But yeah, she knows. Where do you think I got this cart from? She said she understood and agreed wholeheartedly with my assessment of her spare time. And before you ask, she found out right after I sent Tao to get you, but you were already gone."
"Wait, you sent Tao?" Link asked. "How could he possibly relay those questions and answers?" He yelped when something hard was shoved into his lower back. Spinning around, he found Tao grinning at him, holding a small piece of chalkboard along with some chalk.
"The kid can actually write, as I discovered the other week," Kaura said, waving to Tao. "He had quite a long conversation with the princess, in fact. Even gave him some chocolate—and no, I don't have any more, you ate it all," she added, glaring at the boy.
"Won't you get lonely, though?" Link asked after ruffling the Tao's hair, glancing longingly at his cap while doing so, probably regretting ever giving it to Tao in the first place. "Termina's not far, but it's at least a couple of week's journey alone…"
"Who said I was going alone?" Kaura asked. "I'm taking an apprentice, you know. Two, actually."
"Who?" Sheik asked.
"Three guesses," Kaura said as Hatra emerged from the hospital tent, carrying an even bigger crate.
"They didn't have any smaller crates of rubbing alcohol," he said, holding it up for Kaura to lift onto the cart. The physician went to grab it, but then she seemed to remember something, stopping mid-grab, much to Hatra's chagrin.
"Come to think of it, I guess it's a bit wrong of me to rob the Remnant of valuable medical supplies," she said, withdrawing her arms. "You know what; take that back to the supply tent. And all of this, too," she said, pointing at the crates she was climbing on. "I don't need it back home."
"What?" Hatra asked, looking ready to collapse.
"You heard me, now chop-chop," she said, climbing down from the cart again. Once again she waited for him to disappear inside the tent before giving Sheik and Link a devilish grin. "If he's going to be my apprentice, he's going to work for it," she said. "Plus, he's got a lot to make up for, and I figure getting a bit of manual labour out of it isn't too bad a trade, right?"
"Poor guy," Link said.
"Meh, he's not some fragile flower that'll wither at a simple touch," Kaura said. "Besides, he could do with getting some real work experience under his fingernails."
"And splinters," Sheik said.
"Who is the other apprentice?" Sheik asked, looking at Tao, who had suddenly begun to frown, looking dejected. "You're taking Tao too?"
"I'm taking him with me if he wants to, but he's not the other apprentice. He's still a bit young for that."
"What do you mean 'if he wants to'?"
"He hasn't decided yet," Kaura said, glaring at the boy. "And time is running out, tick-tock, tick-tock, so you'd better make a decision before three o'clock. But yeah, he's not sure if he wants to stay here with you two or going to Termina with me, Hatra and Malon."
"So Malon's the second apprentice?"
"Bingo. She's off saying goodbye to her father right now. And we're not even halfway through packing." Kaura huffed and pushed her spectacles further up on her nose. She looked at Link. "Speaking of packing…I could do with another pair of strong arms. You in a voluntary mood, Hero?"
"Uh, not really…but I don't have much of a choice, do I?" Link asked, giving Sheik a desperate look.
"Nope. Now take this crate into the supply area at the back of the tent, will you?" Kaura said, throwing a crate in Link's general direction. The Hero grumbled, but did as he was told, knowing better than to contradict her. "And no using those magic gauntlets of yours, you hear?" she shouted after him. "As for you two," she said, turning to Sheik and Tao, who both suddenly felt a pit of dread forming in their stomachs. "Take a walk."
"Pardon?" Sheik asked. Tao made a question mark on his board and held it up for Kaura to see.
"You heard me, take a hike," she said. "Tao's too weak to be of any use in lifting things—no offense—and you're too injured to be of any use—offense meant."
"I still have one good hand, you know," Sheik said.
"Yeah, but it's your left one. You're right handed, not ambidextrous, which means it's your most useless hand, which means you're not as strong in it, which means that you, in turn, are useless to me. So you're going to take Tao for a walk through the city and make him come to a decision before I clobber him over the head and kidnap him."
"Yes, ma'am," Sheik said, thoroughly defeated.
"And don't call me ma'am. Old women are ma'ams, I'm just 'doctor'. Got it?"
"Good. Now off you go, and don't come back until you've got an answer for me."
"Still not talking, I see," Sheik said after walking in silence for a few minutes. Tao looked up at him and nodded. "I would have thought you'd revealed it by now, but I guess you're still not too fond of the whole being able to communicate with the outside world business."
Tao tapped his board.
"That does not count."
Tao made hand gestures.
"That will serve you well…if you plan on becoming a mime," Sheik said, chuckling.
Tao sighed loudly and pulled Sheik into an alley, where he leaned against a wall and crossed his arms, glowering at the Sheikah. "Why is it so important to you that I talk?" he asked. His voice was still strangely tired-sounding, and far more mature than his physical appearance would suggest.
Sheik took half a second to getting accustomed to hearing Tao's voice again and then mirrored the boy's pose against the opposite wall. Passersby gave them strange looks, but the two ignored them. "I just don't think it is a good idea to continue giving Kaura the impression that you are mute. It's also unfair to Hatra and Malon that they are being kept in the dark—"
"Hatra knows," Tao said, looking slightly ashamed. "He found out when we were playing cards before you woke up." He adjusted his tunic, still looking eerily like an eleven-year-old Link. "But I guess you're right…Kaura should know…if I'm going with her."
"Which brings me to my next question," Sheik said. "Why are you even contemplating staying here? Hyrule is not going to go back to normal in an instant, you know. It'll take years before the infrastructure can be rebuilt, and life will be hard in the meantime. I would gladly jump at the chance to go to Termina."
The last part was said with clenched teeth as even the name Termina brought up images of a certain someone he knew lived there. It was not a person he was overly fond of.
"I want to go there," Tao said, throwing up his arms in a huff. "I want to! Kaura's told me so much about it, and I really want to see that huge city with the mechanical clock…but I also want to stay here with you. You saved my life, and I owe you both, and…I like you too much to leave…" He gave Sheik a look of despair and sat on the ground, staring at him. "But I want to go with Kaura too…I want to go with Hatra…"
Sheik sighed. "Hyrule isn't going anywhere, Tao. Your chance of going to Termina, however, is leaving at…what was it, three o'clock? Imagine how much of the world you will be able to see if you just step over the border. Imagine how different your life will be if you go there. Link and I are going to be busy helping to rebuild the kingdom, and I'm not sure—and I'm sorry to say this—how much time either of us will be able to spend with you."
Tao nodded, but said nothing.
"I'm not saying that I don't want you to stay, Tao," Sheik said. "Link and I…we love you like a little brother, but I just want you to have the best life you could possibly get. And the only way to get that is if you go with Kaura, otherwise you will be stuck in this miserable, war-torn land forever."
Tao remained silent, staring at the cobbles under his feet. Sheik wondered if he should hug the boy or something similar, but thought that it would just seem awkward. He looked up, not really sure where they were—they had just taken random streets here and there—and hoping to spot a landmark.
There was the remains of the gatehouse once again, its parts scattered all over the city. Again Sheik was reminded that he was awfully close to the slave quarters—and he had forgotten to go there earlier that morning. Smiling, he reached out a hand for Tao and pulled the boy to his feet.
"Listen, you don't have to make the decision just yet," he said. "But think about it. In the meantime, there is someone I want you to meet. And you will speak to him like a civilised person."
"Fine," Tao said sourly, clearly not enjoying being put on the spot. "But just for the record: you speak awfully big about being civilised even though what you and Link do at night isn't—"
Link groaned as he and Hatra lifted a big crate from the cart and carried it inside the tent. Kaura herself was leaning against the cart, smoking a cigarette and keeping a close eye on the two, narrowing her eyes at every moan that came from either of them.
"I don't get it," Link said as they emerged from tent again, looking at Kaura. "Why aren't you sticking around for the celebration? It's going to be one hell of a party according to the soldiers."
"That's the exact reason for why we are leaving before it starts," Kaura said, flicking ash from the end of the cigarette. "Parties like these never work out for the best. You are just in for a night of mistakes, misunderstandings and embarrassment."
Link had no idea what made him say what he said next. "Says you, who seemed to have a very eventful night with Vorpheus back in the desert—"
"One more word out of that big mouth, Hero, and I'll sew it shut," Kaura said, an unmistakeable blush creeping up on her face. "And my romantic liaisons are none of your business."
"Wasn't very romantic if I remember it right—ow!"
"Oh, sorry, did I burn you with the cigarette?"
"Yes!" Link said, rubbing the burned, black spot on the sleeve of his shirt.
"Should've looked where you were going, then," Kaura said, stomping out the cigarette on the ground, not stopping until she was absolutely sure that the dead, dry grass underfoot would not catch on fire. "Anyway," she said, finally grabbing a crate of her own and carrying it inside, "this wasn't some sort of tyrannical decision on my part. It was the result of a unanimous vote, as a matter of fact."
"Unanimous?" Link asked, blinking.
"We all voted the same thing," Hatra said, sensing the Hero's confusion at the unfamiliar word. "We all wanted to leave before the celebration."
"But why?" Link asked.
"We all have our reasons," Kaura said from within the tent, her voice muffled by the contents of the storage area. "None of which we are forced to share, but if you really want to know mine, it's because I'm afraid of growing any more attached to this place than I already am. And if you tell anyone I said that, I'll kill you."
"I…see…" Link said, having yet to see any of her threats actually carried out, but knowing that he would be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life if he defied her. "What about you?" he asked Hatra.
"I'd…rather not say," the Hylian replied, looking uncomfortable.
"Can't be any worse than Kaura's reason," Link said, patting Hatra on the shoulder (and dodging a haphazardly thrown boot that flew out of the tent).
"If you only knew, Hero of Time," Hatra said, noticing that they were out of boxes to move. "The truth of the matter is…well…there are certain people I've wronged who I am trying to avoid. Many of them, and I'd rather not stick around long enough for them to recognise me."
Link watched the other Hylian carefully, narrowing his eyes. "You do realise how…incriminating that sounds, right?"
"Oh, it's nothing like that," Kaura said, throwing a pair of cloth sacks onto the cart, which seemed to be the entirety of her luggage. Then she added three bedrolls, putting one aside, probably for when Tao came back with a decision. "I do believe there was a stolen heart involved, eh?"
"You…could say that," Hatra said.
"Oh, okay, say no more," Link said, tapping the side of his nose to show that he was in the know. "I understand what you mean."
"I doubt it," Kaura said, coughing. "Anyway, as for Malon, I believe she just has an innate desire to explore the world before it's too late, and starting in Termina isn't too bad of an idea."
Link wondered about what Talon had to say about this and voiced this concern.
"I think he was the one who put her up to the idea, actually," Kaura replied. "I guess he wants his daughter to spread her wings and work up some life experience before possibly returning." She looked closely at Link and made a humming sound. "How about you, Hero? Don't you feel a certain…desire to see what the rest of this big world of ours has to offer? Hyrule is just a small part of it, after all."
Link slowly nodded, the thoughts he sometimes had at nights these days resurfacing. "I…have been thinking about it, actually. Just taking Epona and riding somewhere…but…I don't know."
"What's stopping you?" Hatra asked. "I mean, you're the Hero of Time. You pretty much have free reigns to do whatever you want right now, surely?"
"That's the thing," Link said. "I don't think anyone would even try to stop me. But I couldn't leave…him behind."
"Oh, no, not this again," Kaura said, rolling her eyes. "I'm pretty sure nothing would stop your little, suicidal boyfriend from going with you either. Zelda would grant him some time off; methinks, after everything you two did for her."
"But then there's Shun, too…I don't know enough about horses…"
Kaura blinked. "Who the hell is Shun?"
"Epona and Maladict's foal," Link said, feeling slightly foolish.
"Wait, your horse has been pregnant?"
"But that's now how…pregnancies aren't…I…"
The physician fell silent, staring at the Hero with silent horror and wonder. Hatra leaned over, looking terrified.
"I think you broke her," he whispered.
Sheik sighed, nodding his thanks to the man as he walked off. That had been the twentieth person he'd asked for the whereabouts of the many slaves in the city, and the twentieth negative answer he had gotten. They had been wandering up and down the ex-slave quarters for half an hour now, looking for any sign of Tinn, Kira and the others. The house he had escorted the children to so many nights ago was filled with completely unknown people who had no idea where the original inhabitants had gotten off to.
The end of the war and emergence of the civilians had resulted in a sudden influx of residents in these quarters, and a lot of chaos had naturally followed. Few knew each other, and no one had any idea where anyone lived. It was annoying.
Had they been anywhere else, Sheik was sure that Tao would have been smiling smugly and enjoying the Sheikah's misery and annoyance, but right now…well, Sheik had trouble remembering if he had ever seen him more terrified. His eyes were darting around wildly, looking nervously at the new, unfamiliar people, hand clinging desperately to Sheik's.
Okay, Sheik, this was a bad idea, he thought, regretting bringing Tao. What had he been hoping for, anyway? That someone with an encyclopaedic knowledge of everyone being housed in the district would suddenly pop up with names and addresses? He made Tao stop and simply looked around for a bit. By chance, his gaze happened upon a man sitting behind a desk, a large number of papers spread out in front of him. A line of people carrying what seemed to be luggage was standing in front of the table. The man seemed to be taking names and—Sheik couldn't believe it. Why didn't I see him before? he thought.
A quick consultation with the man behind the desk—and a quicker argument with the first man in the line about cutting—Sheik was finally able to find the series of buildings that the ex-slaves had been housed in. These were of a slightly higher standard than where they had lived before—probably as a reward for many years of humiliation and abuse—and a large team of medics and doctors were currently giving them thorough examinations for diseases and other ailments and injuries.
There were less people in this particular street, only a few guards standing here and there to ensure peace. They recognised Sheik as they passed by and either gave him scowls or friendly nods, both of which he returned. He was not going to suck up to people who wouldn't even give him a chance to prove their prejudices wrong. Tao glared at them too for good measure.
They stopped outside the door to a building that had clearly belonged to someone wealthy at some point or another, judging by the sheer size of the building itself, not to mention the front door, which was also decorated with elegant carvings of horses. Sheik took another look at the number on the side of the brick wall just to be sure before he knocked.
He felt Tao's hand snaking around his again, and looked down at the boy, smiling. "You don't have to worry," he said, "they're quite friendly."
The face that appeared in the doorway, however, was not. The man was basically a mountain, his frame filling the doorway entirely even with the door fully open. His armour told Sheik that he was there on official business, but he still couldn't stop his hand from groping for his weapons—which, naturally, were back at the inn.
"What do you want?" the man asked, his face—jowls, creases and folds and all—appearing more and more threatening by the second. "This house is off-limits to anyone but residents and officials."
"I am just here to visit some friends," Sheik said, knowing that the trick to convincing anyone was to appear confident and certain.
"Sorry, can't let you in," the guard said, frown growing bigger. "If you're not a doctor or someone from command, you're not getting in."
"But I just—"
"No can do. Goodbye." The guard began to close the door.
"Do you even know who this is?" Tao suddenly said, stepping forward with the most fearsome scowl Sheik had ever seen on his face.
The guard looked bemused for a second, frozen by the forcefulness in Tao's voice. "No," he said. "Who is he?"
"He's Sheik of the Sheikah, Princess Zelda's bodyguard and personal friend. If he wants to come inside, you'd better let him inside," the boy said, holding the guard's gaze steadily.
"Yeah, and I'm a Zora," the guard said, breaking away from the little boy who was terrifying him and closing the door another few inches.
"Look at his eyes!" Tao shouted before he could close the door fully. "They'll prove it!"
The guard hesitated, opening the door again. Narrowing his eyes, he stepped closer and leaned forwards, staring intently into Sheik's eyes. There was a sharp intake of breath, and then a look of utmost horror spread on the guard's face. He immediately stepped aside, bowing deeply.
"I apologise, master Sheikah," he said, almost falling over due to the weight of his armour. "I…I did not realise…I did not recognise you without your uniform, and your face…"
Sheik hesitated. He had forgotten to wear his face cloth today. Who was this guard and why did he react to him in such a way? Sure, he had gotten several handshakes from soldiers who knew what he had been doing over the years and some grateful compliments, but never…fear. Cowering fear at that. "I…that's okay," he said finally, noticing that Tao was looking just as surprised as him. "I really am here just to visit some friends of mine. Tinn and Kira, do you know them?"
"Aye, the kids," the guard said, looking almost afraid to straighten up. "They told me what you did for them."
Ah, there we are, Sheik thought, remembering a similar man saying very nearly the same thing when he brought Tinn and the others to safety. He nodded. "I only did what was right."
"Too few are willing to do that these days," the guard said, motioning for them to enter the house. "Refreshing to see youngsters with morals these days." He closed the door after them.
The entrance hall was massive. Two large staircases on either wall converged into a large balcony on the second floor, which again split off in at least five different directions. Directly in front of them was a pair of large, stained glass doors, behind which many shadows and lights were flickering and voices could be heard shouting. Two hallways on either side of these glass doors led off into the rest of the cavernous house.
"You showed up at a very busy time," the guard explained, looking at the shadows moving behind the doors. "There are so many people living in this building that lunch is taken in shifts."
"How many people, exactly?" Sheik asked, noticing that Tao was once again looking quite nervous. He really wanted to know what was wrong…
"Fifty, give or take a few, and that's not counting the guards," the guard said. "Even with so many people living in one building, they're all quite comfortable. Private rooms and all."
"What is this house anyway?"
"It used to belong to the wealthiest merchant in the city before the war," the guard explained. "It was used as headquarters for the Legion command, and we've spent the last couple of weeks clearing out the trash they left behind."
Sheik nodded again, looking around. "Where are…eh…"
"The kids are upstairs in the west wing," the guard said. "Third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh on the right respectively."
"Right, thank you," Sheik said, bowing to the man. "And I appreciate that you did not recoil in horror or disgust."
"If anyone does that in here, just let me know and I'll teach 'em to insult one of Hyrule's best," the guard said, saluting.
"I sure will," Sheik said, smiling. He liked this one.
They followed the guard's directions and headed upstairs; counting the huge number of doors that covered the walls. Counting his way along one, Sheik raised his hand to knock on what he hoped was the right door. Would they even recognise him without red and runny eyes?
"Are you ready?" he asked Tao, who looked uncertain. "They're nice people, I promise." After Tao nodded slowly, he knocked. He felt Tao tugging at his shirt and looked down. "Hm?"
"Are you sure?" Tao asked, voice almost trembling.
"Of course I'm sure, why wouldn't—"
The door opened at that point, and Sheik was assaulted. He felt multiple arms encircling him, squeezing at his healing wounds and ribs. He smiled, however, when he recognised the voices.
Myde concentrated, watching the pieces on the board with the eyes of a hawk. He bit his lip as he carefully picked up one of his pieces—it was red as blood—and moved it around the grid pattern. Taking a deep breath, he let it go, satisfied that he had made the right decision. He leaned back, watching his opponent with a smug smile on his face, daring them to beat his move. His opponent looked at the board—and grinned. Myde gulped, looking down as well, noticing his error too late. He groaned as nearly all his pieces were bounced around and picked up.
"Too slow, big brother," Thea said, tossing his pieces aside.
"Wow, Myde, you suck at this game," Ayla said, leaning over his shoulder. "And you're supposed to be a general? Can't be much of a tactical position…"
"I am a general," Myde said, scowling. "The youngest Zora to ever be promoted to one, in fact, and there is nothing wrong with my tactical mind."
"Yet you lose horribly against your little sister in a simple game of draughts," Ayla said, clicking her tongue. "One has to wonder about how you climbed the ranks of the Zora military."
"I bet he kissed a lot of butt," Thea said, giggling.
Myde sighed, trying to ignore the two harpies as he made his last move, hoping to the Goddesses that this was the last time Thea demanded that he'd play her. Thea easily finished him off, smiling triumphantly. He sighed, wondering why he couldn't wrap his head around the decidedly easy game.
"What's that, like the tenth time you lose?" Ayla said, laughing.
"Try sixteenth," Thea said. "We've been at this all day, but he spends so much time thinking about what to do that a game can stretch on for hours."
"Well, that's his problem, isn't it?" Ayla said, depositing herself into Myde's lap and wrapping an arm around his neck. "He thinks too much, worries about useless details, doesn't know when to look at the big picture…"
"Is there a point to all this?" Myde asked, staring into Ayla's eyes. Her lips were looking quite soft today, he noted after casting a quick glance over her face as well. "Or are you just trying to insult me as subtly as possible—which, I might add, is not very subtle at all."
"We're just saying that you need to relax and start having fun," Thea said, rearranging the pieces on the board. She giggled at the sight of a Gerudo draping herself across her brother. "Isn't that right, Ayla?"
"That's right," the Gerudo said. "You're too uptight. You're just like Sheik in some ways, actually."
"Except that I don't get myself killed, get resurrected and then rush right off to get captured by the enemy and almost get killed again," Myde said sourly.
"Hey, don't be mean to Sheiky," Ayla said. "Just because he's more unlucky than most others doesn't mean he's not doing his best. Besides, he thoroughly kicked my ass when we fought."
"Do I want to know that story?" Myde asked.
"Probably, but I'm not really in the mood to tell you at the moment," she replied. "But Goddesses know that that boy needs to loosen up a bit. And maybe take a course in how not to get lured into traps."
"So what are you in the mood for?" Myde asked.
"What'd you think?" Ayla said, kissing him.
"Aw, you two are adorable together," Thea said after they parted, leaning forward. "Come on, let's see some tongue, and then—"
"I'm not putting on a peep show for my little sister," Myde said, glaring at her.
"You're no fun."
"Yeah, you're boring," Ayla agreed.
"What did I do to deserve this?" Myde asked no one in particular.
"You don't sit back and smell the roses enough, I thought we had already established that," Ayla said.
"And you don't tackle the cold very well," Thea piped in, laughing insanely at the look on Myde's face.
"Okay, that's it," the general said, gently placing Ayla to the side and standing up from the chair he was sitting on. "I don't have to listen to this." He strode out of the room, careful not to knock his casted arm into the doorway, and headed for the roof.
The building they had been more or less occupying was one of the more ramshackle ones in the city, but that didn't bother them very much. They had more than enough room, easy roof access and a great view of the cityscape and that was all they needed. He emerged into the sunlight and closed the door behind him, drawing in a deep breath of fresh air.
"Ah, silence," he said to himself as he walked over to the railing that ran along the roof's edge, leaning against it. He could see most of the lower part of the city from here, could see all the work that went on. He felt guilty for not being able to join in, but of how much use could he be when he could not even move his arm without crying out in pain?
Some Zoras down in the street recognised him and shouted their greetings, which he answered with a wave and a nod. He heard the door behind him open and close and light footsteps approaching.
"Hey," Ayla said, sounding quite subdued. She leaned against the railing next to him, watching the city for a little while. "I didn't mean to upset you—neither of us did."
"You didn't upset me," Myde said, looking at her. "It's more…well, I upset myself. The constant barrage of noise from you two only enhanced it."
"Glad to know I'm not a disturbance, then," Ayla said, mock-glaring at him. "So how did you manage to upset yourself this time? Are you worried about junior? 'Cause I have to say that it's above aver—"
"No, it's not that," Myde said, wondering if any kind of conversation with the Gerudo could ever not end up on the subject of a carnal nature. "It's just…don't you wonder where we're going with it?"
"With what?" Ayla asked.
"This," Myde said, pointing at them both. "We're together here and now, but what is going to happen when the Remnant disbands? When we all go back to our respective homes?"
"Good question," Ayla said, humming. "I'm not sure. I was thinking maybe you could leave the army and come live with me. Both of you," she added.
"As flattered as I am by that thought," Myde said, sighing, "it would not work. The heat would kill me. I could barely stand it when we briefly camped in the valley, remember?"
"Hm, I guess you're right," Ayla said. "And we'd be camping in the desert for a long since we've one hell of an infestation to deal with in our fortress…"
"Maybe…maybe you could come to the domain?" Myde tried. "I mean, it's a shorter journey, and…"
"I'm not so sure about that," Ayla said, and it was her turn to sigh. "I enjoy water as much as the next Gerudo, but I think an entire kingdom made of it…well, it would be a bit too much, I think. I'd probably accidentally drown myself or something."
They continued watching the city for a while.
"So we're hopelessly doomed, then?" Myde asked, looking at her with a hint of worry in his voice. "We're too different biologically anyway, so…"
"You know, why does everything have to end just because we're not sure how to proceed?" Ayla asked, turning to face him fully. She wasn't wearing any makeup today, Myde noticed. She looked even more beautiful without it, in his opinion. "What we're doing right now is great, isn't it?"
"So why can't we let it continue for as long as it lasts, and then we can decide what to do when we reach that impasse? Why worry so much?"
"I…guess I didn't look at it that way," he said, smiling a little. What she was saying did make sense, and he didn't want to whatever they had to end…
"No, you didn't," Ayla said, reaching out and stroking his head fin, which more or less turned him into butter in her hands. "And that's because you think too much, about too many things. Stop trying to predict the future and enjoy the now, eh? What do you say?"
"I suppose I could give it a try," he said, wrapping his healthy arm around her middle. "You should go into diplomacy, with your silver tongue, I mean."
"Heh," the Gerudo laughed. Then she looked around, noticing that very few buildings around them were of the same height. "Do you think anyone can see us?" she asked, fiddling with the hem of her shirt.
"Hm?" Myde asked, not picking up on her ploy. "What do you mean?"
"Let me show you…"
Sheik finally managed to extract himself from the tight embrace, breathing heavily. He looked up and saw Tinn and Kira's smiling faces, both of them looking ready to pounce him again. "Hey, you two," he said. "How are you?"
"How are we?" Tinn asked, looking surprised. "How are you? You look terrible! What happened to your hand? What happened after you left? What—"
"Okay, okay, I'll answer your questions," Sheik said. "But one at a time, okay?"
"Fine," Kira said, brushing her golden hair out of her eyes, eyes practically sparkling with excitement. "But we want long answers." She glanced to the side and finally noticed Tao, who was looking a bit forlorn. She smiled and crouched down to his level. "Hi, I'm Kira, who are you?"
Tao smiled nervously back, but did not answer. Sheik gave him a pointed look. Tao glared back.
"Is something wrong?" Kira asked, looking concerned.
"He is not comfortable around strangers," Sheik said, putting a hand on Tao's shoulder and pushing him slightly forward. "And he does not enjoy speaking. His name is—"
"Tao," the boy said, shrugging off Sheik's hand. "My name is Tao." His voice was shaky and uncertain, though it had a bit of a defiant tone to it as well.
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Tao," Kira said, shaking his hand.
"My name is Tinn," Tinn said and shook Tao's hand as well. "I'm glad to see we're not the only ones who like Sheik around here."
"Oh, but now we are being rude, Tinn, leaving them standing out here," Kira said, pulling Sheik and Tao inside the room. "Come in, come in, have a seat."
Sheik looked around. The room was quite small, but comfortable for one person. A wardrobe took up most of a wall, while a large bed stood in a corner of the room, in which clearly more than one person had slept. Kira noticed him looking at it and smiled embarrassedly.
"We don't really like to sleep alone, so Tinn and I share a bed," she said.
"I understand," Sheik said, nodding. "I can't help but notice that the others aren't here…"
"Oh, they're downstairs eating lunch, I think," Tinn said. "We're so many in the house that we can't all fit in the dining room at the same time, heh."
"And they're…okay?" Sheik asked, not really wanting to say anything that could bring back bad memories.
"They're perfectly fine," Kira said. "We were safe during the battle since very few Legion soldiers ever came here. We were well protected anyway. Mr. Silas has a mean punch and took care of the ones who came too close."
"Mr. Silas?" Sheik asked. "The man I escorted you to?"
"But enough about us," Tinn said. "Tell us what happened after you left! We heard a bunch of explosions and stuff but we didn't hear anything about you."
"It's long story," Sheik said.
"We've got time," Kira said, pointing at the bed. "Sit down and tell us, please."
"I wanna hear it too," Tao said, almost inaudible.
Nodding, Sheik sat on the bed. Tinn, Kira and Tao sat down on the floor in front of him with looks of intense interest on their faces. This made Sheik feel a bit strange, as if he was much older than he really was and had long and wise stories to tell, though he tried to shrug it off. "I suppose I should start with what happened after I left you in the capable hands of Mr. Silas…"
By the time Sheik was done with the story, the three were riveted to his every word.
"…and here we are right now," he finished. "I came here because I wanted to make sure that you were all okay. And because I wanted you to meet Tao."
"I'm glad we did," Tinn said, drawing Tao closer. The three had immediately formed a connection, probably because of the horrible things that had been done to them all, even though Sheik hadn't said anything about it. They just knew.
"I'm sorry you got captured," Kira said, looking at Sheik's hand sadly. "I knew bad things happened to captured spies and agents, but to think they'd stoop to that level…"
"What are you apologising for?" Sheik said. "It's not like you had anything to do with it. This was a long time after I dropped you off with Mr. Silas, and it was really own fault for not seeing such an obvious trap before it was too late. I'm just glad my companions got away, or they would probably have been dead right now."
"Yeah, but still…"
"No buts and no stills," Sheik said, glancing over at Tao and Tinn, who had stopped paying attention and were playing some sort of game that involved making certain hand gestures and responding to them—not unlike the rock-paper-scissors game that Zelda had taught him many years ago. He was terrible at it. "Those two have hit it off, I think," he said to Kira.
"Tinn's like that with everyone he meets, especially kids," Kira said. "He just…becomes their friend instantly."
"And Tao's not really that receptive of strangers," Sheik said. "I'm amazed he's already playing with him."
"Where did you find him?" Kira asked, lowering her voice even though the two boys seemed far too engrossed in their game to even notice her. "I mean, you said you found him in Kakariko, but…you didn't really elaborate."
"Well, the Hero and I were returning from the mountains to the east when we were forced to take a detour," Sheik said, remembering the chilling scream from Tao that had drawn them inside the Shadow Temple again. "We found Tao with a group of legion deserters. He was their prisoner, and we freed him and brought him back to the Remnant." He purposefully left out what exactly the deserters had captured him for, but he knew that Kira had read between the lines anyway, her eyes being the dead giveaway.
"Oh…" she said.
"Yes. But I made sure the bastards paid for it."
"Good." Kira looked uncomfortable for a second and then stood up, pulling Sheik after her. Tinn and Tao looked up in confusion, but the look the girl gave them was enough to make them continue with their game. "Can I talk to you in private for a few seconds?" she asked Sheik, even though she was already pulling him out of the room.
"Certainly," Sheik said, wondering if he had done something wrong.
Well out in the hall, Kira closed the door; made sure no one else was nearby and leaned against the wall.
"I wanted to thank you for what you did for us back there," she said.
"You've already done that," Sheik said, smiling at her. "Besides, I only did what was right, which anyone—"
"But you're not anyone," Kira said. "You're the warrior who took it upon himself to make sure that a bunch of slaves made it to safety even though it wasn't even part of his job. It's…you're…amazing." She looked up at him, blushing.
Oh no, Sheik thought. Not this!
"Kira, I don't—mph!"
The girl interrupted him with a kiss, surprising Sheik greatly. He didn't want this; it wasn't fair to her, to Link! Kira drew back when he didn't respond, looking disappointed.
"Is something wrong?" she asked. "Did I do something wrong?"
"I…you…" Sheik said, stuttering.
Kira looked saddened for a few seconds, but then covered it up with a small smile, nodding. "I understand. We don't even know each other that well…I just wanted…to show my appreciation. I don't even understand what I was hoping for…"
Why must everything be so complicated? Sheik wondered as he awkwardly squeezed Kira's shoulder in a comforting gesture that seemed more like a nervous tick than anything else. "Listen, Kira, you're a nice girl, but…there's…something…"
"Someone else, right?" Kira asked, smile widening just a little bit. "I understand that. It's the Hero of Time isn't it?"
"…how did you know that?" Sheik asked. "Why is it that everyone knows it before I tell them?"
Kira laughed. "Well, you blush a little whenever you say his name, plus I've been hearing rumours. I think it's adorable that two boys can find love like that."
Sheik sighed and knocked the back of his head against the wall. "Seems nothing can be kept secret anymore," he said.
"Well, maybe you shouldn't," Kira said. "Maybe everyone would be glad to hear that their Hero has found someone to love."
"I'm not too certain about that," Sheik said. "People in Hyrule aren't too fond of that sort of thing…"
"Then why care about their opinions? If they disapprove, then they're too stupid to realise how great you are, and that makes them irrelevant. Cheering for you both is the least they can do for you since you've worked your asses off trying to save them." She shook her head, probably damning everyone who'd disagree in her head. "Anyway, I'm sorry I did that," she continued, referring to the kiss. "I should have realised."
"That's alright," Sheik said. "I'm sure this kind of thing happens all the time."
"Probably," Kira said.
They went back inside the room, where they found Tinn and Tao still engrossed in their game, though they were sitting considerably closer now. This was the fastest Sheik had ever seen Tao get accustomed to someone, and, judging by the way he was smiling, he had probably made a mistake in taking him here. Now he would never get to Tao to go with Kaura… He looked out the window and noticed that they were dangerously close to their deadline.
"It seems we are running out of time, Tao," he said, drawing the boy's attention.
"Already?" Tao asked, disappointed.
"Are you going somewhere?" Tinn asked.
"Some friends of ours are leaving for Termina in about…half an hour, give or take," Sheik explained, "and I'm trying to convince Tao to go with them."
"And I don't want to go," Tao said defiantly. "I like it here. I like spending time with you and Link and Tinn and…" He looked ready to cry at the end of the sentence, looking as miserable as the day they had found him in the Shadow Temple.
Sheik tried to say something, but found that the only thing he could come up with was the same things he had said to Tao not long before, and he hadn't been very successful back then.
"Why don't you wanna go?" Tinn asked. "I'd jump at the chance to go to Termina." Without giving Tao the chance to reply, Tinn stood up and looked out the window, watching the destroyed spires and towers that littered the city. "It's gonna take a long time for everything to go back to normal…if they ever will. Why wouldn't you want to get away from it all?"
"Because I don't want to leave my friends…" Tao said, though he sounded unsure.
"I'm sure Sheik just wants what is best for you, Tao," Kira said. "And it's not like you can't come back later, right?"
"I…guess not…" Tao conceded, looking at his feet.
"And I'll be right here too," Tinn said. "You know, in case you want to play or something when you're back."
"Really?" Tao asked, causing Sheik to briefly wonder why he cared more about Tinn being there than Link and himself. But then again, Tao wasn't very easy to figure out in the best of times.
"..okay…" Tao said slowly and turned to look at Sheik. "I guess…I'm leaving, then."
"You make it sound like a death sentence," Sheik said, pulling Tao's cap off and ruffling his hair. "It won't be so bad. I mean, you know how to push Kaura's buttons, you can endlessly torture Hatra and Malon…well, you'll like her. She's nice and sensible. And, as Kira said, we'll all be waiting for you here."
"Do you promise?"
"Of course I do."
Sheik took another look out the window, noting with alarm that their deadline was approaching fast. "Speaking of which, I think it's time to leave, or Kaura is going to have my head placed on a pike." He smiled at Tinn and Kira. "Tinn, Kira, it was a relief to know that you are alright."
"Sheik, can I ask you something?" Kira said. "In private?"
"Again?" Sheik asked.
"It's not about that," she said hurriedly, blushing.
"Okay, I think that's our cue to leave," Tinn said, ushering Tao out of the room, giving Kira a wicked grin before closing the door.
"What is it now?" Sheik said, his tone sounding more irritated than intended, though Kira didn't seem to notice.
"I was just wondering…" Kira said, pausing. "This person who's leaving for Termina…do you…do you think they'd take Tinn too?"
"Tinn?" Sheik asked. "Why do you want to send him away?"
"My parents are still alive," Kira said, frowning. "As are the others'. But Tinn's…I got the message a few days ago, but I haven't told him yet. I'm not sure how he'll react…"
"And you want him to just leave without knowing?"
"Not without knowing…but I think he'd handle it better if…he went somewhere else that's not a war-torn wasteland." Kira looked at him. "I'm sorry, I know I'm imposing, but—"
"You're not imposing, Kira," Sheik said, shaking his head. "I understand your reasoning, and I may even agree…but the question is if Kaura will. She is already taking on two apprentices plus that she is taking care of Tao on the side. One more person to look out for—"
"But Tinn can take care of himself," Kira said, interrupting him. "He doesn't eat much, he's hardly a bother at all! He can even work for this…Kaura person if he has to. Please…I'm begging you, just ask."
Sheik wanted to say no. He was already treading on thin ice with Kaura (not that he wasn't doing that constantly, but this time seemed more poignant). But how could he say no? Besides, it was just a simple yes or no answer, right? Hesitantly, he nodded. "I…suppose I could have a word with her. But if she agrees, then Tinn needs to be ready to go immediately. They're leaving before sunset. But I don't want to get your hopes up—Kaura's very…hostile."
"But you're her friend, right? Surely she'll listen?"
"Kira, she's hostile to everyone," Sheik repeated. "But she'll listen, yes, though she will probably hurt me."
"And you'll definitely ask?"
"Yes, I will definitely ask."
"Great!" she said, hugging him tightly. "Go outside and wait a couple of minutes. I'll just gather some of Tinn's things."
"Shouldn't we tell him?"
"Better not get his hopes up, right?"
Kira had rather elegantly explained that they were going to see Tao off and that she had packed the younger boy some things for the trip, which Tinn accepted at face value, to Sheik's amazement.
The walk back to the camp was filled with idle chatter from the three, though Sheik kept silent, wondering how the hell he was going to word this request to Kaura without angering the physician. Did she even have the resources to feed four kids? He was sweating with nervousness.
By the time they reached the hospital tent, outside of which Kaura, Link, Malon and Hatra were sitting and chatting, his heart was racing. A pair of strong-looking horses had been rigged to the cart, and they were looking anxious to get going. Kaura noticed them first, her eyes narrowing upon noticing Kira and Tinn. She stood up and marched over, looking at Tao.
"Your decision?" she asked.
Tao looked at Sheik, who shook his head in exasperation. When was this going to end? "He's going," he answered for Tao.
"Good, then maybe we can finally get goi—"
"I need to talk to you."
"Not in front of everyone else."
Kaura adjusted her spectacles and nodded at the tent. They went to the storage area, which was the innermost chamber of the tent. "I have a request," Sheik said before Kaura had a chance to speak and seize control of the conversation.
"And that is?" she asked.
"…it's more of a question, really," Sheik said, knowing he had lost control already.
"What is the question, then?" Kaura said.
"Do you…do you have room for one more?"
"One more what?"
"One more person."
Kaura stared at him. "And who is this person?"
"The boy outside," Sheik said. "He was a slave in the city, and his parents are dead, and—"
Kaura groaned. "Another one? Kid, are you actively gathering every orphan in the entire kingdom and unloading them on me? I am operating on very limited resources here."
Sheik stared at her, noting but not mentioning the fact that Kaura had not said no. "There's nothing for him here," he said. "And he won't just sit around, either. He'll work for you, and I have it on good authority he does not eat much."
"Of course he'll work," Kaura said, glaring at him. "I'm not taking on any freeloaders here. Tao's going to work too, you know."
"So you'll take him?" Sheik asked.
Kaura rolled her eyes, sighing as if he had just asked her to bear the weight of the entire world on her shoulders for the rest of her life. "I guess so. I may not be the nicest person in the world, but I'm not going to a child suffer needlessly. What about the girl?"
"She wants to stay," Sheik said, unable to stop himself from smiling. "This was her idea, by the way."
"Yeah, I kind of figured that out," she replied. "You're too skittish around me to possibly have come up with a plan like this. Anyway, yes, I'll take him, but he'd better pack fast."
"Kira has his clothes in the bag."
"…you were really counting on me to say yes, weren't you?"
"We were, yes."
"I'm just too predictable, that's my problem," Kaura said, mumbling to herself as she exited the tent. Then she began to shout: "Alright, you, you, you and you, get aboard the damn cart before I regret ever coming here! Yes, that means you too, Dark-Haired-Boy-I've-Yet-To-Say-Hello-To! Hello, my name is Kaura. Tinn? Okay, Tinn, get on the damn cart!"
Sheik emerged from the tent to a scene of chaos in which Tinn was looking rather confused and distraught while being hoisted onto the cart by Kira, who was surprisingly strong for her small frame.
"But I don't understand—"Tinn tried.
"You will," Kira said, "I promise. It's for the best, Tinn!"
"Just trust me!"
Link came up on Sheik's side, looking rather disturbed. "What's going on, and who's that kid?" he asked.
"Kaura's taking Tinn to Termina," Sheik said. "And Tinn's someone I met in the city. He practically saved my life."
"Okay," Link said, leaving it at that, probably not wanting to know more. "And the girl?"
"She's going too?"
"No, she's just seeing Tinn off. This was her idea."
Kaura, Tinn and Kira were arguing with each other at this point, drawing the attention of a lot of people around them. Hatra and Malon sidled up to them, wincing every time Kaura's voice rose an octave or two.
"I suppose you're the one we have to thank for this commotion," Hatra said, holding out his hand to Sheik. The Sheikah shook it. "I wanted to thank you, for everything," he said, sounding very awkward. "If I hadn't met you when I did…"
"You're welcome, Hatra," Sheik said. "Just…don't accidentally kill anyone while learning, yes?"
"Heh, I'll do my best," Hatra laughed. Then he shook Link's hand. "And I'm honoured to have met you, Hero."
Sheik ignored the conversation to his left, noticing that Malon was giving him a smile. "Thank you," she said. "Without you, who knows what Ingo would have done?"
"It was my pleasure," Sheik said.
Hatra was climbing onto the cart when Tinn finally seemed to give up on resisting and allowed himself to be placed on it, scowling.
"Right, let's have another bedroll, then," Kaura said, throwing it into the back of the cart.
Right then Sheik felt a tug at his hand. He looked down at Tao, who was definitely crying now, tears flowing down his face. It was a tragic sight that almost made Sheik cry too. Wordlessly, he picked the boy up with one hand. Tao immediately wrapped his arms tightly around Sheik, hugging him.
"I'll miss you," the boy whispered.
"I'll miss you too. Stay safe, and listen to Kaura," he answered.
The boy went from hugging Sheik to hugging Link in one, seamless movement, probably exchanging the same words with the Hero. Then Link lifted Tao up on the cart, where he made himself comfortable next to a sad-looking Tinn, who was gripping Kira's hand tightly.
"Don't do anything stupid, Tinn," Kira said, looking close to crying herself as he handed him the sack of clothes.
"I won't," he answered.
"Right, is that everyone?" Kaura asked, counting the number of people on the cart. "One, two, three, four…alright! Are you guys ready? Said your goodbyes? Good."
She turned to Link and Sheik, giving them a serious look. "I'd say how much I am going to miss you and how much I appreciate having met you and blah blah blah, but we all know that I would be lying. You two are responsible for more grey hairs on my head than this entire damn war. In fact, I ought to beat you both with a stick."
"We get the point," Link said. "And we'll miss you too."
"I don't do this mushy stuff, you know, so you're not getting a hug from me," she said.
"Of course not," Sheik said, grinning. "That would be out of character for you."
"Exactly, and if it's one thing I am, it's consistent," Kaura said. "Oh, what the hell…"
The hug came out of nowhere, the woman moving faster than anything Sheik had ever seen. It was short, but firm. By the time Sheik recovered from the shock, the physician was already in the driver's seat of the cart, holding the reigns of the horses.
"Right," she said, coughing. "If you're ever in Termina, don't you dare come knocking, you hear?"
"We promise," Link said, looking equally shocked.
"Good," Kaura replied. "Now, is everyone aboard? Everyone ready? Then we're off. Take a good look at the city, boys and girl, this is the last time you'll se it in such a state."
Hatra, Malon, Tao and Tinn (who yelled a thank-you to Sheik) waved at them as the cart rolled away, leaving Sheik, Link and Kira to stare and wave back until the shapes were too far away to make out.
"And that's it, then?" Link asked. "They're gone. Kaura, Hatra, Malon, Tao…and Tinn."
"That's it," Sheik said.
"I'm gonna miss them."
"As will we all, I think." Sheik turned to Kira, who was openly crying now. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm alright," Kira said, wiping the tears away. "You…you just never realise how much you love someone before they're gone, you know? I'm sure he'll have a great time…even if Kaura scared the life out of me."
"She's tough, but fair," Sheik said. "Did you tell Tinn about…you know…?"
"No, but I wrote him a letter which I put in the sack," she answered. "He'll understand…I know he will." She smiled at him. "Thank you for everything. Saving us in the city that night…that's one thing, but this…this is more than I could even imagine. Thank you."
Lots of hugs today, Sheik thought as he was once again embraced by Kira. And cheek kisses.
"Right, I'll get out of your hair, now," Kira said, composing herself. She curtsied to Link. "I am glad to have met you, Hero of Time. You're a lucky man." With a last glance at Sheik, she walked off, disappearing among the throngs of people that had suddenly realised that there was a celebration to be held in just a few hours and that they were nowhere near ready for it.
"What a strange girl," Link said, staring after her.
Sheik smiled and began to walk, heading back to the city. "Come, we've a party to prepare for."
Everyone was celebrating that night. Torches burned all over the city and camp, people were dancing in the streets to lively music, and it was impossible not to feel a certain elation with the knowledge that peace had finally come back to Hyrule in the back of one's head.
Although said elation was heavily dampened when Sheik saw the clothes that had been laid out on his bed by someone unknown, though he knew perfectly well who had ordered it. He glared at the outfit. Link was standing behind him, grinning.
"I thought I had burned these clothes," Sheik said distastefully, holding up the minimal piece of cloth that served as shorts and wrinkling his nose. "Twice now I have been forced to wear them, and twice I have voiced my utter distaste for them." He shivered slightly, having stripped down half-naked before he had spotted the "clothes".
"I happen to think you look good in them," Link said, standing directly behind Sheik and placing his hands on the younger teen's bare hips. "Plus, they hold a special meaning to me since that's what you were wearing the first time we—"
"Yes, yes, I'm quite aware of that," Sheik replied, blushing and hoping that Link had remembered the lock the door. "But I still don't want to wear them. Not tonight, anyway," he added when Link's face fell. "Maybe some other time…when we're alone."
"Do you even have any other clothes?" Link asked as Sheik pulled out of his grasp and began to go through the desk drawers, looking for something, anything that would be more dignified than the concubine outfit he had gotten from Aveil.
"I certainly hope so, or else I won't be attending the party downstairs."
Zelda and the high command were celebrating at the inn, which had a living room the size of a small ballroom. While it was supposed to be a private party, it didn't stop the street outside from being filled up with cheering crowds, so Zelda had decided to open it to the public—resulting in a lot of noise and a lot of people Sheik did not wish to seen in the concubine outfit by.
"Want me to see if I can find anything?" Link asked, sounding disappointed.
"Would you?" Sheik said.
"Sure," the Hero said, sighing heavily and heading for the door. He opened it, coming face to face with Zelda, who had her hand raised to knock. "Oh, hi, princess," he said, smiling.
Sheik immediately picked up the pathetic excuse for a shirt and held it up front of his bare upper body, blushing. Decency was one thing he liked to maintain. "Z-Zelda?" he asked. "What are you doing here?"
"Well, I had some thoughts about what you were going to wear tonight," Zelda said, pushing Link aside and striding into the room. "And I remembered that outfit you were wearing that night in the desert and…well, Sheik, it's not really appropriate attire for a night such as this, is it?"
"I agree wholeheartedly," Sheik said, noticing that the princess was carrying something in her hands. It looked like cloth, but shimmered slightly in the lamplight.
"Which I think is too bad since I happen to find you adorable in that outfit," Zelda said, sniffing. "I kind of wish I could wear the clothes Aveil picked out for me that night too, but I'm afraid this evening calls for something far more…formal." She glanced down at her dress, which was even more elaborate than the one she had worn the night before. "I hate these things," she added, glaring at the golden circle on her head. "Anyway, I was rooting through my luggage the other day and I happened to come across the remains of one of the plans we laid a year ago. Remember that one? The one where I took on your identity?"
"Oh, right, that one," Sheik said, remembering the short-lived scheme they had initiated with the help of Impa. It had not been very successful due to some rather pressing physical and anatomical issues. They had even made her wear a—he paused, looking closer at the shimmering cloth. "Is that…?" he asked.
"That's right," Zelda said, unfurling the exoskeleton on the bed. "I thought we had thrown it away, but we kept it, apparently. And it should fit you perfectly, though it might be a bit loose across the chest."
Sheik touched the exoskeleton gently, remembering the feel of the unique fabric and how strong it was. It was the exact same one he had worn before it was ruined, though they had attempted to customise this one for Zelda—and failed miserably.
"I also took the liberty of having this made for you," Zelda added, holding out another piece of fabric she had hidden behind her back. "Can't have my brother not being recognised, can I?"
Sheik took the tabard and let his fingers roam across the crimson eye that was painted across the chest. It could even be pulled up and cover his face…
"You're not getting a turban, though," Zelda said, grinning playfully. "That hair of yours is too gorgeous to cover up," she said and ruffled it. "And…wait, are you crying?"
"No," Sheik said, turning away and wiping at his eyes. "I just got something in my eyes. Will you let me change, please?"
"Of course," Zelda said, pulling Link with her out of the room. "Now, Link," she said as she closed the door, "how do you feel about epaulettes?"
Link's answer was muffled by the door as it closed, but Sheik was pretty sure it was one of outrage. He grinned to himself as he slipped out of his trousers and slid into the exoskeleton, savouring the feeling of it. He pulled on the tabard and adjusted the collar so that it covered the lower half of his face, feeling comforted by the protection it offered. The brown boots didn't exactly match the blue fabric, but he didn't particularly care either.
He opened the door and found Link halfway through putting on a maroon-coloured shirt with golden swirls covered the sleeves over his regular shirt, not looking particularly amused. He caught sight of Sheik and stopped, whistling quietly.
"I'd forgotten how revealing that thing was," he said, eyes travelling up and down Sheik's body.
"Alright, alright, no ogling my little brother," Zelda said, coming out of her room. "And why are you changing out here? Go to your room, Link."
"I won't have half-naked boys running around in my home," she said and tossed him a pair of trousers of an unidentifiable, dark colour.
Link caught them and skulked inside the room on the opposite side of Zelda's, grumbling about the unfairness of not being allowed to expose his body to the world.
"No epaulettes?" Sheik asked as Zelda studied him closely.
"He did not like the idea of them," Zelda said, adjusting Sheik's tabard. "Said it made the clothes think they're better than they are. It didn't really make sense to me, but he is the one we owe our lives and freedom to, so I didn't argue. But he is wearing that shirt, however. How is the chest? Too loose?"
"The chest is fine," Sheik said, allowing himself to be manhandled like this. "Perhaps a bit loose, but not enough to be distracting."
"That's good," the princess said, stepping back and looking him over once again. She reached out and pulled down his collar down. "Please don't hide your face, Sheik," she said softly. "You're too beautiful to cover yourself up like this…"
Sheik nodded, though he wanted nothing more than to pull it back up.
"Now, if only Link can hurry up and get dressed we can join the party. I don't want to miss Aveil's arrival, after all."
"Are you ever going to make it official?" Sheik asked. "Your relationship, I mean."
"Why ever would you ask that, Sheik?" Zelda asked, looking out the window at the celebrators in the streets. The windows were tinted in such a way that people could look out, but people could not look in. They were celebrating rambunctiously, singing and dancing. "You know it would cause a political scandal. As the sole remaining member of my line, I will be required to produce an heir, and I can't do that with Aveil…" She looked saddened for a moment, but then a wry smile crossed her features. "Heh, knowing Hyrule's history, the people are probably expecting me to marry Link…"
She must have seen the brief look of horror that crossed Sheik's features, for she assumed one of her own. "Oh, no, don't get the wrong idea," she said hurriedly. "I wouldn't dream of marrying Link and stealing him from you. I wouldn't be able to…he's just a friend to me…"
Sheik cleared his throat. "Well, that's good to know…"
Link's door opened and the Hero stepped out, dressed in the outfit Zelda had picked out for him. He looked decidedly uncomfortable, but the clothes suited him, the shirt reminding Sheik of the fire tunic's the Gorons had made Link. The shirt fit close to his body, showing off his strong frame, and the trousers were shimmering slightly, similar to Sheik's exoskeleton.
"Are you seriously expecting me to wear this?" Link asked, fiddling with his earring, as if he couldn't decide whether to keep it in or not.
"Yes, I am," Zelda said. "You've walked around in ugly clothes for long enough. It's time to show Hyrule that you can clean up just like everyone else. Now come on, boys," she said and linked her arms with both Link and Sheik's. "It's time to enjoy ourselves."
It was insane. The inn was filled with far too many people, and the noise level was almost unbearable, especially when Link was nearby since everyone shouted for his attention and an opportunity to have a drink with him. Surprisingly, Link did not drink any wine this evening, only sipping at a cup of juice he had procured somewhere. Zelda had been whisked off by various military officers, many of whom were probably already looking for an opportunity to further their political careers. Sheik, on the other hand, preferred to skirt around the edges of the crowds, nodding to and greeting those who acknowledged him.
He noticed Link giving him a pleading look from across the room, but he only smiled back and turned away. If Link was not strong enough to politely tear himself away from dull conversations than that was his own loss.
The volume of the conversation din suddenly rose as another large group of people entered the living/ballroom. If it hadn't been for the dark skin and red hair, Sheik would never have recognised the Gerudos in their Hylian-made dresses. They still kept the exotic jewellery and makeup, but the dresses…
Aveil was probably the one who drew the most attention of the desert people, however. Her dress was a pure white one, which clung tightly to her body, looking similar to a wedding dress, but with dark red lacing and other details that made her look stunning.
Zelda was at her side in an instant, nearly assaulting the princess of the desert with conversation and hugs, which made Sheik grin. He was surprised that no one had made the connection yet. He then spotted a pair of familiar faces a few paces away. Moving through the crowd, he gently tapped Ayla's shoulder, gasping when she turned around.
She too was wearing a dress—a bright pink one. Oh, it fit her perfectly and made her look quite womanly and pretty—but it just wasn't Ayla.
"Ayla," Sheik said, "you look…nice…"
"I hate this thing!" Ayla exclaimed, mirroring Zelda's sentiment. "It makes me feel like such a…a…"
"I happen to think it suits her, but she nearly punched me in the face when I told her so," Myde said, grinning next to her. He was wearing some sort of navy-blue dress uniform, though it made him look slightly puffy, like a blowfish. His broken arm was kept stiffly pointed downwards, the cast making it impossible to bend it.
"Shut up, Trouty," Ayla said, though her smile lessened the impact. "So?" she asked, looking around. "Where's your prince charming this evening?"
"Oh, he's around here somewhere," Sheik said, trying to spot Link in the crowd, though he seemed to have been moved around since last time. "Everyone wants to be able to say that they've shook hands with the legendary Hero."
"Despite the fact that he's been walking around the camp and city for the past week or so," Ayla said.
"Yes, well, unless it's a formal occasion, very few people are interested in meeting…well, new people," Sheik said.
"How about you?" Myde asked. "Are you getting any accolades?"
"Not really," Sheik said, shrugging. "Not that I particularly want them either. How about you?"
"Not a word," Ayla said sourly. "But we've gotten some weird looks from people when we've held hands."
"Better than nothing, right?" Myde said.
"I guess," the Gerudo said. "You'd think we'd get some recognition for our services to the cause, at the very least. That artillery tower wasn't going to take itself down, you know."
Sheik shook his head, finally locating Link in the sea of faces, quite close to Zelda and Aveil, who seemed to be inseparable at the moment. He nodded to the Hero, who glared back at him for abandoning him to these people.
"Where's your sister?" Sheik asked, noticing that the energetic Thea was nowhere to be seen.
"Thea?" Myde asked. "Not entirely sure, to be honest. She said she didn't want to be stuck with a bunch of hoity-toity bores and went out to celebrate in the streets. She'll probably end up here later anyway, if only to laugh at my uniform."
"Well, let's just hope she's enjoying herself, then," Sheik said.
"Oh, she undoubtedly is."
"Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, please quiet down!" the loud, brash voice of General Kato suddenly yelled. When the noise level did not lower at all, his face grew red and he took a deep breath. "Shut up and pay attention! Her Royal Highness the Princess Zelda of Hyrule is about to speak!"
The inn (and most of the streets outside) quieted down until it was possible to actually hear one's own thoughts. Zelda stepped forward, the crowds parting to give her space. She was smiling softly, Aveil hovering just behind her.
"Ladies and gentlemen, friends and allies, fellow Hyrulians," she said, her voice firm and confident. "For many years, we have all been exiles in our own lands. We have been hunted and killed by a man of unspeakable evil. We have all lost so much and so many loved ones have perished at the hands of the enemy.
"For so long, I had my doubts that we would ever see the day when peace once again reigned in Hyrule. I had almost lost hope when someone I thought I had lost seven years ago reappeared, stepping into his role as our saviour. Link, the Hero of Time, was once again among us."
A low cheer went through the crowd, and Link was suddenly pushed into the circle that had formed around Zelda. The princess smiled at him and curtsied. Link awkwardly bowed.
"Our Hero, ladies and gentlemen," Zelda said. "And what a Hero he is. Only he could have conquered all of the temples scattered throughout our lands. Only he could have utilised the legendary weapons left behind by the Goddesses. Only he could have bested the Evil King Ganondorf in combat and vanquished him forever.
"We would have lasted a long time, but we would not have won without him. But we must not forget that he was not alone in his quest. No, our Hero has had many good helpers, many whom lost their lives along the way, and they too must be honoured. General Myde, Master Swordswoman Ayla, please step forward."
Sheik smiled at the suddenly very flustered couple as they were pushed forward by the crowd, ending up next to Link and looking quite embarrassed.
"Hyrule thanks you for your service," Zelda said, curtsying again. Myde bowed deeply, and Ayla almost did the same before she remembered that she too was, technically, a lady and curtsied. "Your exemplary efforts in infiltrating the enemy lines and sabotaging vital equipment as well as in taking down the artillery tower that almost threatened to stop our advance have earned you a place in our history, and you will always be welcome as my guests."
"Thank you, Your Highness," Myde said.
"Your honour us," Ayla said.
"I am only giving credit where credit is due," Zelda said, smiling. She then looked through the crowd, seemingly scanning for someone.
Sheik gulped, knowing exactly who she was looking for and tried to get away, tried to blend in with the crowds. However, it was too late.
"There is one more person to whom we owe a great deal," Zelda said slowly, staring directly at Sheik. "Someone who has gone far beyond the call of duty, who has served Hyrule faithfully since the day he was born. He has gone mostly unnoticed by you all, though everyone knows who he is. Without this person, I would not have been alive to speak to you tonight. Without this person, the Remnant would most likely have been found and slaughtered long ago. Without this person, the Hero of Time might not have succeeded in his quest."
Oh, Goddesses, Sheik thought, noticing that more and more heads were turning to look at him. Why must she pile it on so?
"He is my protector," Zelda continued. "And my friend. And it is high time that he is recognised for everything he has done. Sheik, please stop trying to hide and come forward."
The celebrators chuckled slightly as Sheik was suddenly pushed forward and quickly found himself being stared at by everyone in the room. He had begun to sweat, his heart definitely running wild.
Zelda stood in front of him, smiling brightly. "Sheik of the Sheikah, I, and the rest of Hyrule, owe you our eternal gratitude. Words cannot describe how happy I am to have you as a friend. I know that the Sheikah tribe cannot be resurrected, but I would like to do something to cement their place as invaluable allies of the Royal Family."
Allies, Sheik thought, not servants.
"From this day on," Zelda said, her voice loud and firm, "the Sheikah tribe is to be considered a noble house of Hyrule."
A gasp went through the crowd, and Sheik had stopped breathing completely. Zelda was making him a noble? What was she thinking? He tried to say something, but his words died halfway out of his mouth.
"I do not have a title prepared for you, Sheik," Zelda said, sounding regretful. "But it will be made, and you shall have every right such a title carries."
"Princess, I—"Sheik began.
"No, Sheik, I will not reconsider this," Zelda said. "For too long have you and your people's efforts been overlooked. But no more." She placed her hands on his shoulder, and leaned forward, placing gentle kiss on his forehead. "With this kiss, it is made official. With this kiss, you are now ascended. Congratulations, Sheik."
For a few seconds, the inn was completely silent. The princess had just made a Sheikah, someone who was once considered a lowly servant, a noble—completely unheard of. Some looked outraged, some looked neutral. The ones who were smiling, however, of whom there was a surprising majority, slowly began to clap. It increased in volume until everyone was cheering and clapping, celebrating the creation of a new house.
Sheik was still staring blankly at the smiling Zelda when Link tore across the circle and pulled him into a tight embrace, screaming his congratulations into his ear, almost jumping around with joy. Then he did something that shocked the entire room back into silence. He dipped Sheik backwards and kissed him full on the lips. At first, Sheik struggled against the Hero, but then realised that people probably wouldn't get much more outraged than they already were at his ennobling, and responded, kissing Link back until they were almost out of air.
Standing Sheik back up, Link kept an arm around his side and stared back at the gathered celebrants. The Gerudos were cheering and smiling, Zelda and Aveil looked pleasantly surprised and Myde and Ayla were trying to stop themselves from laughing.
"What?" Link asked. "Two guys can't fall in love now? Let it be known that I, Link, Hero of Time and your godsdamned saviour, love Sheik of the Sheikah—or is that Lord Sheik now?—and that I have no regrets! And if any of you have got a problem with that, you can go to hell!"
Sheik stared at Link, eyes wide, mouth opening and closing.
"We knew it all along!" someone at the back shouted, and a wave of laughter rolled over the crowed as they began to clap and cheer again. They…weren't screaming at them, they weren't cursing Link… Warmth blossomed in his chest and raced to fill all his extremities. Tears began to form and run down his cheek. It was like the world suddenly sped up and slowed down at the same time. He felt himself being hugged by Ayla and Zelda, saw only smiling faces in the crowd.
And then Link kissed him again—and he kissed back, not caring who saw them.
"Some night, huh?" Link asked, filling Sheik's cup with water.
They were sitting on the roof of the inn, having climbed out of the second floor windows and up with two cups and a flask of—of all things—water, wanting some time to themselves. They had remained downstairs for a few hours, once again being passed around between the crowds—both of them. Sheik had never been congratulated and apologised to so much as he had been that night, and while he knew that most of those apologies and congratulations were politically motivated, it felt…good.
"You're telling me," Sheik said, taking a sip. The water was cold as ice, just the way he liked it. "I still can't wrap my head around it all."
"Me neither," Link said. "I mean: you, a lord? I bet you don't know the first thing about hobnobbing with the nobs."
"Don't remind me," Sheik said.
No one could see them up here, the roof of the inn having a wavy design that created a small nest in the middle of four hill-like domes at each corner.
"So, here we are, then," Link said after a few minutes of silence. "The war is over, peace reigns over the land…and our adventure is over."
"Mhm," Sheik said.
"Nothing to do now but sit back and enjoy life and watch as Hyrule slowly gets back on its feet."
"…how utterly boring," Link said.
"Couldn't agree more."
Link sighed, lying down on the roof, probably staining the hell out of his clothes. "I can't help but feel jealous of Tao and the others. They're out there, travelling to Termina right now. It may not be much, but at least they're doing something, and seeing new places."
Sheik looked at him. "Are you saying that you wish to leave Hyrule, Link?" he asked.
"Not leave leave," Link said, sitting back up and drinking straight out of the flask. "I…I just want to travel for a while, you know? I'm not made for sitting still, Sheik."
Sheik refilled his cup and stared up at the stars in the sky. "I…cannot say that the thought has not struck me as well," he said slowly. "Come to think of it, I believe I was actually going to ask you about it after the party."
"What, about wanting to travel?" Link asked, very interested.
"Well, yes," Sheik replied. "But with everything Zelda just did…"
"Yeah, she really sabotaged us, didn't she?"
"I would say so, yes."
Link stood up and paced around for a bit. "You know," he said slyly, "there are a lot of people down there." He pointed at the roof under his feet, probably meaning the celebrants. "They're all busy sucking up to Zelda and milking for alliances with the Zora, Gorons and Gerudo…"
"Where are you going with this?" Sheik asked.
"I'm just saying that people probably wouldn't notice two guests slipping into the night on their way towards the stables…"
"So you wish to run away?" Sheik asked.
"Kinda, yeah," Link said. "Only for a little while—a couple of months. I just…I want to see the world, Sheik. There's so much I haven't done, so much I have heard about…don't you have that feeling?"
"Well, it is a big world," Sheik said. "And I'd hate to be tied down by a title I never wanted in the first place—though I appreciate what she did, I really do."
"So…wanna do it?" Link asked.
"Zelda is going to be angry."
The answer came a bit too quick for Sheik's liking, and he looked at Link sharply. "She put you up to this, didn't she?" he asked.
"Kinda, yeah," Link said, grinning. "But it was my idea originally. I just mentioned that I wished I could travel, and she basically ordered me to do so and bring you with me. Our rewards for faithful service, she said."
"I thought my reward was the title," Sheik said.
"She said that was just a bonus."
Sheik chuckled. "Sounds like her."
"So come on," Link said, pulling Sheik to his feet. "Let's go!"
"Now? Just like that?"
"Of course! I've already packed our stuff, we just need to pick it up, head outside and take the alleys down to the camp."
"You've really thought this whole thing through, haven't you?"
"Hey, I'm allowed to lay plans, aren't I?"
It was surprisingly easy to sneak out of the party. Link had changed back into his tunic, foregoing the chainmail this time, and they were slowly making their way through the partying crowds. No one seemed to recognise them.
Sheik had to admit that Link had really given this a lot of thought. Their packs were filled with supplies for several weeks on the road as well as enough rupees to last them Goddesses knew how long. All they needed was to figure out where to go, which Link had said that they would do while going there. The last part hadn't made much sense to Sheik, but he liked the rest of the plan.
Before he knew it, they were sneaking through the camp, heading past the hospital where they had said goodbye to Kaura and the others just hours before. Sheik hoped Kira was okay, that she did not regret sending Tinn away. And then they were looking at the many horses spread out in the pen.
Epona and Maladict were already saddled up, and Sheik could see even more supplies in their saddlebags—two oil lamps burned brightly on specialised racks, which would light their way in the darkness.
Shun stood between her parents, pawing at the ground. The stable master was waving at them.
"You got him in on it?" Sheik asked as they walked up to him.
"Yup," Link replied, grinning.
"Running away in the night, eh?" the stable master asked, chuckling. "Can't say I'm surprised. Anyway, there are enough supplies in the bags to last you and the horses a long while, and they're all rested."
"What about Shun?" Link asked, looking at the foal. "Won't this upset her or something?"
"That little filly loves to run," the stable master said. "If anything, she will love this. And don't worry; she is more than capable of keeping up with her parents. I told you, didn't I? There's magic in those horses. Now, off you go before Her Highness has a change of heart, eh? Good luck to the both of you."
With that, he strode off and disappeared in the direction of the party.
"Surprised?" Link asked as he walked over to the horses, patting first Epona, then Maladict and then Shun, who seemed to have her father's predisposition to headbutt people.
"A bit, yes," Sheik said, also patting the horses. "But then again, I should know how unpredictable you can be at times."
"Heh," Link said.
"I suppose we should get going before anyone notices we are gone," Sheik said, preparing to climb onto Maladict's saddle.
"I guess," Link said.
Shun was surprisingly calm as they slowly walked towards the edge of the camp, circling them in a gait that was slightly faster than a trot. The little foal didn't seem too interested in leaving her parents' side just yet.
For a while, it seemed that no one was going to notice that they were leaving, but when a familiar shape in a dress suddenly stepped out from behind a large tree at the very limits of the camp, they realised that they were caught.
"You really thought I was going to let you leave just like that?" Zelda said, her expression serious. "Sheik, you have a house to establish and a title to receive. Link, you are a symbol to the people, and are our very beacon of hope."
"But, but, I—"Link began. "You put me up to this!"
Zelda held her serious expression in the lamplight for a few seconds more before she smiled. "I did put you up to it, and I'm telling you to get the hell out of here before it's too late." She walked up between Epona and Maladict, taking Sheik and Link's hands. "I can only hope that you will remember to come back and visit me every now and then."
"Of course we will," Link said. "This is only a small trip, after all."
"I would never dream of not returning," Sheik said.
"Good to know, good to know," Zelda said, smiling. Then she stepped away from the horses again, looking like she had just remembered something. "There is…one more friend I think you should bring along," she said.
"Who?" Link asked. Sheik already knew.
Zelda whistled loudly. The sound made a slight echo, and nothing happened. But then Kaiza swooped down, crying loudly and settling neatly on Zelda's shoulder. "I think you should bring Kaiza," the princess said. "You'll need a good scout, and you can use her to send letters to me—which you will if you know what's good for you."
"Are you sure?" Sheik said.
"I'm sure," Zelda replied, holding out her arm so that Kaiza could climb onto Sheik's. "She's always been yours, Sheik. You were the only one who could put up with her antics. I'm sure she'll be happy."
"Thank you, Zelda," Sheik said, wincing slightly as he felt Kaiza's talons digging into his arm and shoulders as she headed for her preferred perch. "You have no idea what…how much this means to me."
"Right, right," she said, waving off his thanks. "I am only repaying you for the many sacrifices you have made over the years, Sheik. Now, I should probably return to the party before people realise that I am gone. I don't want to see either of you for at least half a year, understand? And don't worry; I'll give your best to your friends. Farewell, and have a pleasant trip."
Without another word, she began to head back towards the camp and the city, leaving Link and Sheik to wonder how she had been able to sneak out of the city before them.
"Right," Link said, staring after her. "We'd best get going, then."
"Yes, we should," Sheik said, also trying to stare after Zelda, but Kaiza had conveniently placed perched herself so that she was in the way.
As they began to trot over the plains, Sheik felt a stupid grin forming on his face. This was what life should be. Fun, exciting, unfamiliar. He looked over at Link and realised that the Hero had the same grin as he.
Suddenly, Shun whinnied and took off like an arrow, racing ahead of them. Link and Sheik shared a look before spurring Epona and Maladict on, chasing the foal towards the border.
"Hey, Link!" Sheik shouted.
"Where are we going?!"
"Wherever we want!"
Holy crap! It's done! One year and two days after starting this gigamungous story, it is finally finished! Whoo!
I would like to take a moment to thank everyone who has read and enjoyed the story and for bearing with me through all the plot twists, cliffhangers and sheer procrastination—I could not have done it without you. I would also like to extend an even bigger round of thanks to those of you who have also taken the time to review the story—if only to inform me that Sheik is really Zelda in disguise and that the entire premise is shit, which amused me to no end. Your kind words and comments have helped me through the process of writing it and some tough times, and I have even gotten to know several of you much better than I expected to, even made several friends.
So yeah, there we are. Thank you all. From the bottom of my heart.
And don't be surprised if a sequel shows up sometime ;)
PS: I am sorry to announce that due to the fatigue I am feeling right now I will not be replying to your reviews in the chapter itself, though I promise to so through PMs.
Oh, what the hell, for one last time:
Thanks for the reviews, everyone. Please leave one if you liked the story!