You may have noticed that I keep paraphrasing Sheik and other characters. Screw good form, the Japanese-to-English translations just don't do this game justice sometimes.

In retrospect I also picked a wonky title for this fic because it doesn't mean what I actually intend it to mean. All it was supposed to mean was that Link has a serious deficit of male role models in his life, and a serious overdose of scary females.

Chapter Four: A Real Friendship

"Poor kid," I said sympathetically, circling Link's head once before landing on his hat. "That must have been terrible."

"Mm-hmm," was the only reply, as usual. We'd left little Link of the Gorons behind in Goron City, talking frantically to the shop owner (probably about his namesake). How awful that must have been, to watch every one of his friends and family members disappear, ostensibly eaten by a dragon. In a way it reminded me of that young girl at Lon-Lon Ranch…except that the little Goron was somewhat less formidable.

It was good, then, that Link had it in his power to aid the Gorons and help the boy get back his father again. As he probed at the statue, trying to find a handhold to pull it away from the wall, I mused that there may be no reward in this for Link himself. Sure, Hyrule would be saved, and everyone would be able to go back to living a normal life. But what was a "normal" life, for a boy who'd had seven years—a very crucial seven years, at that—stolen from his life? Skipping straight from boyhood into manhood had been rough on Link. He'd never tell anyone that, but I could sense it, especially when we saw other children. The longing on his face to be a boy again, to be one of the Kokiri (even one without a fairy) was obvious, and intense.

"Hah!" he said triumphantly, as the statue finally scraped back from the wall, and a blistering heat rolled out from the opening behind it. Immediately beads of sweat stood back from his forehead. Clearly, this was the route into Death Mountain.

"Guess that's what the little Goron gave you a tunic for, huh?" I said, and he nodded with a sigh, pulling the tunic from his satchel and slipping it over his Kokiri-colored garb. In we went.

Craters steamed; lava boiled; the cracked rocks eked black smoke. It was a miniature version of hell, though clearly someone had been here before. A bridge had been built from one boulder to the next, part of it collapsed. The cavern in the wall, on the other side of the bridge, was obvious to the naked eye, square and clearly ancient. "That must be the Fire Temple! How do we get to it?" How would he get to it, I meant. Not that I would go across without him, but…

It was a no-brainer. The Hookshot appeared, and practically before I could catch up, Link was across the gap in the bridge, jogging towards the cavern. I hadn't even noticed the wooden spar hanging above the bridge. It was rare occasions like this that I was glad he was the brains of the organization.

Link suddenly stopped dead, and I plowed straight into the back of his head. Dazed, it took me a moment to rise and peek around him. It was the Sheikah again, perched easily on the rickety bridge, seemingly no less aware of the flaming hot lava bubbling and spewing around us than he had been of the shrubbery and rocks gracing the entrance to the Forest Temple. Where did he come from?

"Hero," he said, expressionless, arms folded.

Link's mouth opened once, closed, then opened again. "Sheik," he said, a little weakly, stepping forward. I could see it burning in his eyes again, the same as last time: he was desperate to know more about the other, to ask the Sheikah questions, and to finally get a straight answer.

There was something more, too; I watched him in the instant between his speaking and Sheik addressing him once more. Link involuntarily straightened, hand going to his belt to finger his Kokiri knife, the other hand resting on his waist; his posture improved, his brows lifted (to look far less brooding but a little cool), and he drew in a breath, chest expanding. That was it!!

This was why Link sometimes tossed in the night and briefly muttered the other young man's name; why his eyes lit at the sight of him. It wasn't a mere wish to have a friend, but rather a boyish, ungallant, and thoroughly primal urge to impress someone else! To compete, to compare skills and work together towards a goal, perhaps showing off a bit too much on the way.

For my part, I felt as if Link were entirely excused from having such thoughts, especially since he himself probably didn't even know it. After all, who could compete with the Hero of Time? Link had always been different, ever since coming to live with the Kokiri—but even afterwards, he'd surely felt alienated. This unassuming young man, lithe, watchful, and clearly highly skilled (part ninja, was a better way to put it) naturally represented for Link the first person whom he could see on his own level.

In addition to that… he was also another boy. Link had always been forced to associate with sometimes unnervingly forward females since a young age, and I personally had never seen him pal around with another male, whether his own age or older. Hylian men, in my experience, were not usually the most intelligent of beings, nor the bravest, nor the most ambitious, and Link had felt no need to befriend any of them. Darunia had been the first and last male Link was able to look up to.

The thoughts had all-too-quickly flitted through my mind when Sheik spoke. "This is something that grows over time: a true friendship, a feeling in the heart that becomes stronger over time. You have felt it, haven't you?"

Link sucked in another breath, never taking his eyes from Sheik's face. The red eyes looked impassively back for another moment—then suddenly warmed, as the Sheikah stepped forward. "The passion of friendship," he said, very softly, "often blossoms into a righteous power… and through that, you will know which way to go."

Magic words, to the boy on whose shoulder I sat. Or rather, I should say, the man: for at the very moment, Link's brows had drawn together, his shoulders had straightened, and he looked, for all the world, like a man whose greatest wish had been satisfied.

"This song, the Bolero of Fire, is dedicated to the power of that friendship," said the Sheikah, and Link nodded, obviously trying to appear quite cool… but just as obviously affected. As the two of them pulled out their respective musical instruments, I flitted away for a moment, to watch. Link's eyes were fixed on Sheik: not even so much his hands, fingers delicately plucking the strings of his harp, as his face. Eyes closed and expression half hidden but already inscrutable, the young man swayed to their song, either blissfully unaware or relatively satisfied with the unintentional spell he was casting over the Hero of Time.

As the last strains of the song died away within the cavern, and as they both stowed their instruments, Link stepped forward, closer to the other young man than he ever had before. Something told me he was about to try and speak: yet he wouldn't have the chance.

I was right. Sheik tilted his head, ever so slightly: the mild disapproval this movement projected was evidently magnified to our mutual companion, who paused and stood rock-still. But when the Sheikah spoke, there was no hint of anything but warmth. "Link… we'll meet again."

Link's jaw dropped, his eyes opening wide, and I could see him on the verge of shouting something as the other young man drew back. No Deku Nut this time, though: when Link ran forward, a burst from the lava below us suddenly sent a wall of fire shooting upwards. When it subsided, the Sheikah was, of course, gone.

This time it took much less for Link to get himself under control. He'd been denied Sheik's further explanation and company four times now, after all, and one could only assume he was getting used to it. Jaw firming, he just sighed and started walking towards the entrance to the temple, not even bothering to look back. One of Link's greater skills was in concentrating so fiercely on a task that he forgot to think about why he was even doing it.

Then again, maybe he was thinking about something: there were three more temples to cleanse after this… three more opportunities, maybe more…