OMG it's DONE! This is so ridiculous, it's AMAZING. I can't believe I've surpassed 200 reviews! WHOA, man, (well, men) WHOA.
Thank you so much for your support, all of you. If the review numbers go above 250 with this chapter, I'll laugh so hard I'll cry. It would make my year.
It has been a short time that this story has been up, but I'm honoured to have gotten such a following. Thank you so very much, all of you. This is the last chapter, here it is, tada, and much else. I made it RIDICULOUSLY romantic at the end. I hope you like.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can't say it enough.
The Magician's apprentice, Cooro, wasn't quite sure about going up the Tower.
It was only under four months since the man had been appointed Maskmaker of the castle, but he had gained a vast and somewhat unnerving reputation since the day he'd started. Of all the places available for his lodging, he'd chosen the Tower, the coldest, most inconvenient part of the Castle. When he'd moved in all he'd had was a ridiculously large pack, but from it things that shouldn't have fit emerged, one by one, tables, chairs and tents, weapons and paraphernalia and even some living creatures that he efficiently and coldly exterminated.
He also had a fairy with him. And a large dog he'd named after a monster.
His addition as a Royal Staff member had been completely out of the blue, and the folk hadn't been pleased. They'd set him a challenge. Masks were to be made for all of the gentry for the Masquerade Ball within three weeks; the man had accepted the challenge by simply asking for what each of the gentry wanted.
And he had performed beyond everyone's imagination. Masks of all colours, decorated by stones and feathers and scales and claws, gold wire, silver plating, jewels of all shades and shapes. Just for that he'd earned many names behind his back; Dream-maker, Trick-shaper.
Some of the women went so far as to name him Heartbreaker.
Cooro's master called him Fraudster. The old man was sure the maskmaker was in possession of magic far greater than his, and Cooro was to find out by any means necessary. But if the wizard had expected his apprentice to challenge the maskmaker to a duel, the old fart was going to be disappointed.
Because Cooro knew. He'd seen that face before, mounted on the Princess's wall, fully alive.
He knocked. There was an excited bark inside and a scrabbling of large paws against the wooden portal. Cooro gripped the wall in case the dog decided to lunge at him.
"Down, Wolfos, down," the maskmaker growled behind the door before opening it. Wild blond hair raggedly framed a young but sharp face, and genuine surprise lit the blue eyes before they fell once more into wry, half-hearted amusement. The maskmaker was always found with this expression, a mask of flesh that he never removed.
It was like the world was a joke and he didn't find it funny; just sad.
The black slashes round his left eye and over his cheekbones still made Cooro nervous. Tattoos were worn by savages, wild peoples with dark ways. And the people who'd had the misfortune of catching the man smiling talked of a grin full of smug teeth, delighted by blood.
And the dog really looked like a Wolfos, though a little dopey round the eyes.
"What part of down do you not get?" the man asked the dog as it cantered about, calming when the maskmaker shoved his hand on its head to keep it still, "You should get in before this mutt pushes you down the stairs."
Cooro hastily shuffled in. His jaw dropped at the sight of the workshop.
Masks. And equipment. Potted paints and dusts and strange objects, the walls were covered in rows of shelves, and all of them were brimming with impossible things. There was one empty space in the wall, where the forge that sat broodingly under it, and the table that lounged right by. His gaze flickered to the window, where there was a tiny fountain that the fairy was happily flying over. Another staircase curled out of sight. Cooro assumed that that was where the maskmaker slept.
"You're the magician's apprentice, right?"
Cooro jumped and stammered an affirmative. The older man was sitting on his work chair, languidly eyeing the boy. "My name's Link."
"I'm Navi," the blue light said, before returning to play with the water.
"Pleasure," Cooro replied to be polite, before returning his gaze to Link. He was digging in his ear with a fingernail and examining the result before flicking it away. "Sir, um..."
"Your teacher wants to know how I make my masks, right?" he asked, making the apprentice blush, "Yeah, thought so. He's welcome to look around if he wants, but he won't find anything he'll find useful, or unnoticeable enough to take. Good example, that forge there," Link said, tilting his head towards it, "I shaped it out of some weapons that were designed to summon fire. Useful if you're into burning stuff, but taking it out of here will be impossible."
"Link, stop being rude," Navi admonished as she sent spray glittering over her delicate wings.
Link shrugged. "In my defence, he still hasn't introduced himself."
"My name is Cooro, Master Link."
Again, genuine surprise before reverting to that almost-lifeless expression. "Nobody's called me Master, before. At least, nobody alive."
Cooro didn't know quite what to say to that so didn't open his mouth. But curiosity got the better of him. "What do you mean 'alive', sir?"
Another shrug. "I know a King who dabbled in necromancy. I think he's still refurbishing his castle before he goes for his eternal rest with his zombie subjects."
"Stop scaring him."
"I'm not scared!"
"See?" Link grinned at the fairy, "He's not scared."
"I'm curious," Cooro corrected before he was cut off again, "About you, sir. Yes, Thurmond sent me to see how you make your masks, but I came not because of that but because I'm curious about your decisions. Why this Tower, for one? Why choose this lonely place when you could have a share of the smithies on the ground?"
"Because I don't like crowds. They worry me. I don't like people coming to me unannounced, and I like quiet when I work. Also, going up and down the stairs tires this bugger out like nothing else. Though hunting down keese seems to be a close second." He nudged the dog with his boot, teasingly, which led to the creature chewing on his footwear. Link sighed and woefully watched his right shoe die. "Anything else you want to know before I kick you out? I'm making something right now, and I want it finished."
"How does the lifespan of a fairy work?"
"Oh Goddesses above," Link threw his hands into the air and pointed at the door. "That'll take days for me to explain. Ask someone who knows more about it."
The disappointment was clear in the apprentice's tone. "Who?"
"Hello," Navi greeted as a reminder before zooming to the door, "Come on, I'm a fairy. I can tell you all you want to know."
"Shove her in a bottle and I'll curse you, Cooro," Link warned as the young man left.
The Maskmaker looked down and seeing the sad expression on Wolfos's face, he gave the canine another nudge with his boot. "Go on, get a hike. Make sure that kid doesn't do anything to Navi, and while you're at it go beg at the kitchens."
There were a specific number of words Wolfos responded well to. Hike and Kitchens were one of the more effective. He shot down the stairs faster than an arrow, barking up a storm.
Link smiled fondly as the door closed on its own, the power of the canine's passing influencing it just so. Wolfos had been a good companion thus far, proving himself sufficient at hunting and patient when it came to Link's grumpy moods. It seemed that as long as the animal was fed, he'd follow the Hylian to the depths of hell.
He rolled his eyes at the fanciful thinking. "Yeah, right."
Link checked the ten-minute hourglass before facing his desk where his nearly-finished mask waited for him and his final touches. It was simple in shape, just covering the top half of the face, but the whole plane was made of white gold and round the eyeholes there were slips of emeralds and rubies. There was a single line cut into the metal that curved upwards from the right bottom corner, branching out to connect with a corner of each eyehole.
After examining it just once more for any imperfections, Link checked the timer and swore. He stumbled out of his chair and grabbed a bottle full of crushed jade before kneeling in front of the forge, taking the mask with him. He got a clamp, opened-grabbed-closed it, and gently placed the metal beaker he'd been heating in the forge onto the floor (also his secondary workbench). He mixed the gloop inside, and was glad that it hadn't burnt but had melted as he'd hoped. Then, with steady hands, he gently poured the green liquid into the groove of the mask, creating a river of molten glass.
Quickly he sprinkled the greenstone fragments on top, shook off the excess, and slid the mask into the forge once more. He waited a few seconds, took it out, looked at it, and returned it to the forge once more, heating licking at his cheek, drying his eyes.
He waited a few more seconds before taking the mask out again. Holding it in a soft-grip clamp Link put it on the desk to cool. If everything went right, the glass would be a gleaming river, the dark jade pieces flecking its side like thorns.
He stared at the mask wistfully, knowing that it would be a while before it would be worn.
He was asleep against his desk when Navi jumped on his head. "Link, Link, Link, Link, Linky-slinky-blinky-inky-pinky Link, Link, Link. Wakey-wakey! Up you get!"
He burrowed his face into his arms, wincing when he felt his back twinge in pain. "Ow..."
"That's what happens when you sleep on your desk," was the amused reply, "You alright?"
He held back a burp as he pressed his hands against his face. "Mmm..."
"You're done!" Navi floated round Link's latest work and cooed. "It's beautiful. What's this one's name? You've been working on this since you got here. Come on, tell me, tell me!"
Link rubbed his eyes as the mask stared back at him, and smiled wryly. "It doesn't have one."
Navi paused and looked at her little brother. "...What?"
"It doesn't have a name," he repeated, standing, "At least, not yet."
"There's no point giving a name to a mask that nobody's worn yet." He rubbed his shoulders and stretched his neck, wincing as he said, "Why did you wake me?"
"There's a letter for you."
He made an expression that could only be described as ecstatic despair, sighing as he went upstairs. "Let's see how I've improved, eh?"
This wasn't where he slept, though it showed that he ate here often. He put away the dirty plates that littered his writing desk into the dumb waiter that led to the kitchens, and sent the box down. On one wall were his weapons and equipment, like the Fairy Sword, the Gilded Blade, the Kokiri Knife (he just couldn't call it a sword anymore, it was too small) and other such paraphernalia he'd collected over the years. On the other side were the dangerous weapons he was systematically taking apart and using for his own purposes. Most of them were blunt or missing hilts and chains and such, which made him quite proud.
On the far side was his wardrobe and the mostly empty bookshelf. He picked out a light nondescript wooden box and changed his boots to a pair that Wolfos hadn't destroyed as of yet, and headed back downstairs.
He ruffled through the box as he wound down the tower, which at first had seemed claustrophobically eternal in both going up and down. Link had remedied that by dotting masks on the walls, their general creepiness escalating as it got closer to his workshop.
The box held letters that he'd received over the months of working in the castle. The first had been sent by Anju and Kafei, for congratulating him on earning the job and his efforts on mastering his letters. The second had been sent by them too, commenting on how Sheik's old cheer had returned over since he (Link) had visited, though her breakup with Jim had been a surprise.
The rest were mostly from Sheik herself, the reason for his wistful moods.
He sighed as he rifled through the different papers with their different inks, the different stamps, and the names of places he vaguely remembered from his own travels. She was going about in the world, alone, and he never knew where she was, never knew how safe she was till the next letter arrived and the last one had been a few weeks ago.
Damn it, Sheik, he couldn't help but think, if you get yourself lost and once I find you again, I'm leashing you to a place so safe walking the bloody dog would be an adventure.
Because that was exactly what she'd wanted; an adventure.
Link stumbled when there weren't any steps left, which Navi berated him for (goddesses, Link, you're going to sprain an ankle like that someday) and walked hurriedly to Zelda's study, since the servants usually left it there for him, not wanting to come up his tower.
He listened at the door, ensuring he wasn't interrupting one of her important meetings before walking in, looking for his own name among a pile of envelopes.
It was a lot bigger than usual, which made him wonder dismally how long it would take him to read it. But the space was filled mostly by a flyer, folded over and over to fit in the envelope, and the message in her neat, round script said simply,
Puzzled, Link unfolded the flyer. Even if he hadn't been able to read, he recognised the shape of the misspelt word: THE TRAVELLING MASKERADE.
"So that was where the banner went," Link muttered, "She nicked it."
Navi peered over his shoulder and asked, "Does it say when she's coming?"
"Um..." he turned the paper over. It was blank. "It doesn't look... gods damn it, Navi, why would she need to?"
"Huh? Hey wait!"
Link was already walking out of the office and striding down the corridors, and Wolfos nearly tripped him over and barked happily and followed his master for a walk. "Link, where are you going?"
"To the markets."
The fairy caught up to the Hylian and flew alongside his ear, confusion clear in her voice, "But what makes you think she's there already?"
"She has the Sight, she probably Saw when the letter would get here," Link hurried down the stairs and landed in the bright sun of the noon, wincing before walking once more, Wolfos already leaping ahead of him. "Either way, it doesn't hurt to take a look."
Then he stopped, cursed, and whistled for Wolfos to come back. The dog surprisingly obeyed, which was a relief for the Hylian.
Navi groaned. "What now?"
"That mask is going to earn its name."
He wore his sword, and a crisp green shirt. He had the Kokiri knife strapped to the small of his back, and he covered it up with a long coat, considering that the people now didn't enjoy the sight of weapons. At least, not in these peaceful times.
Navi chuckled at his expense. "She might not be here and you dressed up for her."
"Shut up, Navi," he muttered, looking round the market area, avoiding the food-stalls and heading for the show-grounds. "She's here. She has to be."
"But didn't she say that she can't See you or herself?"
"But I bet she can See the letter trading hands, heading into Hyrule. She may have come early, she might not be here. Either way, it's a good excuse to walk Wolfos. Right boy?"
The dog barked happily, and strained against the lead Link had attached him to. The Hylian's pace didn't budge, though his knuckles were white from the effort of keeping him in place.
"Right, where is that banner..."
Wolfos was beginning to bark like mad, and Link gave an annoyed groan before squatting down and rubbing the animal's fur. "What is up with you? I thought I trained you to behave in a crowd, Wolfos, come on, behave."
Wolfos barked in his face, licked it, and while Link yelped in disgust the dog bounded away.
"Damn!" Link wiped his face, spat on the road and chased after his infernal dog. "Navi stick to him in case I lose him in the crowd!"
"I don't think I need to," She supplied helpfully as they raced round a corner and into a small crowd.
Link balked. "Shit."
The dog was jumping and barking and howling round an armoured horse, which in turn was surrounded by a small crowd. The steed's armour had masks covering it like scales of a fish (And he recognised some of those masks), its back draped with many cloths all of different shades and materials, and Wolfos was barking at the many faces and colours and smells like his dreams had come true.
But the horse didn't panic and rear up like he'd expected to. Instead there was a surprised shout that was painstakingly fake and a figure leapt onto the horse, posing dramatically, a grin pasted all over his face.
No, her face, though she'd made it impossible to tell. The banner that she was performing under read: THE TRAVELLING MASKERADE.
"What is this strange creature?" Sheik asked her audience, who looked a little shaken at the sight of the large barking dog, "Where did it suddenly appear from? I tell you, my audience, it seems this wolfos is trying to tell kill me! But never fear!"
She leapt from the back of her horse and jumped and lunged around Wolfos, making heroic sounds of battle, and the audience began to cheer. Wolfos, having no clue what was going on just happily barked and pranced around, cheekily nipping at her arms, barking and howling as she 'fought' him.
Link's chest clenched painfully at the sight of her.
It wasn't the outfit, which consisted of ankle-boots, loose grey trousers and a grey long-sleeved shirt; that get-up probably let her perform more freely, considering how androgynous she looked in it. It wasn't the fact that she was leaner, tougher since they'd last met, if her delicate wrists and the hollows of her cheeks attested to anything.
It was the white blindfold that covered her red eyes that hit him with such sadness.
"How... how does she see in that?" Navi asked quizzically, even as Link blended into the crowd to watch her.
"It's probably a really thin cloth. It'll be in blurs, but she can still see."
She was rubbing the dog down so ferociously (and lovingly) that Wolfos hit the floor and rolled belly-up, begging for more. Sheik shot up with a victorious shout, declaring she'd defeated the Hound of Hell, and the crowd whooped and laughed and cheered.
Sheik bowed, cocking her blindfolded head, her hair tied back in a ponytail. "Now, my friends, my audience, you all must be wondering: why has this wolfos come to kill me? I have answers, I assure you, but that would be a very long story indeed, and I truly must leave you for the day..."
There was booing and cries for more. Link pulled a rupee out of his pocket and tossed it at her feet. She looked his way, and her lips broke into a wide smile. She picked up his rupee and gasped exaggeratedly at it. "My, it rains stars! Perhaps a few more shall grant that wish for a story...?"
Her wheedling worked. There were rupees of many colours chiming on the cobblestones, and she scooped them up and put them in a pouch at her hip whilst giving Wolfos one last rubdown, before leading him to the horse so he would lie down out of the way (Link envied the control she had over the stupid mutt), grinning all the way.
"Prayers indeed are answered, it seems." She remarked cheekily as she stood, "Well then, one last story before I pack up shop and escape this beast's master."
"Who is the beast's master?" a child crowed from the front, as if used to this game.
"Aah, my friend, this beast follows the orders of a ferocious man, a terrible king of evil!"
There was an appreciative 'ooh...'
"This King, by the name of Aghanim," she spun, and she was holding a mask to her face with angry slashes for eyebrows and a terrifying hooked nose, "Has terrorised many a country, breaking cities with his army of monsters, burning forests to chase away fairies, oh the many lives he ruined! The many livelihoods he stole! And all..." she spun again, draping a pink veil over head, "For just one Princess."
"What?" A kid whined, "Why not treasure?"
"You have a good point there! Shall we ask the King? King Aghanim, why are you kidnapping the Princess when you can have treasure? Why, lord king... do you love her?" Sheik took a step to the side, looked at where she had been standing before, and wore the King's Mask, changing her voice to suit it. "Love? Love? I don't love the Princess, who told you that? I... I, uh... I want her power! She has magic that will help me take over the world!"
Sheik took off the mask and stood where she was before, facing where the 'King' was. "But King, you have so much power already, why do you want more?"
She resumed the role of King Aghanim and stomped her foot angrily. "It'll make taking over the world faster! And she's beautiful! And smart! No one should have her but me! Me, I say! No one can talk to her, no one can look at her but me! Because I'm the strongest! The King of the World!"
She continued the story just like that, being lots of people at once with the aid of masks and veils, and she told of how the princess had been captured, locked away in a tower (the tower being the horse's back) and how she, the Grey Messenger, was running away from Aghanim to warn the Hero, to tell him that the Princess needed to be rescued.
Sheik paused in her storytelling as the child who'd interrupted earned a few glares from his friends. "Yes?"
Sheepishly, he continued, "Do we get a swordfight? Between the King and the Hero?"
Link cocked an eyebrow at such a tall order. She could pretend to be two people fighting at once, but... would it be exciting? In his opinion, and probably in the adult's point of view too, waving a stick at thin air would be just... stupid.
Sheik licked her lips and pursed them in thought. "A swordfight, eh?"
"How many people want a swordfight, raise your hands."
There were a few. Sheik's grin became sharp. "Volunteers?"
A dubious pause followed. There was nudging amongst the boys, daring each other to go. The younger adults were shaking their heads, refusing to be humiliated. Sheik turned back, unhooked a mask from her horse's side and threw it.
Link instinctively caught it before figuring out the trap.
Sheik whooped, beckoning him over. "We have a volunteer for a Hero, my friends!"
They cheered, and Link had no choice but to join her in the clearing. He grumbled under his breath as Navi laughed. There was a nervous lilt to their clapping when they saw the tattoo slashed across his face. Sheik took the mask off him, humming exaggeratedly, sounding impressed.
"It seems you don't need a Hero's mask, my dear sir; you're already finely marked across your eye. Tell me Hero," and her voice lowered, she wore Aghanim's mask, and she threw him a wooden sword that he caught easily by the hilt. "What do your markings mean?"
Link shrugged, weighing the wooden weapon in his hand. "Strength, skill. Gratitude."
"Gratitude?" Aghanim scoffed, "Not stupidity or insanity? You're both if you intend to win against me, boy!"
Link grinned. "Who're you calling boy, pansy?"
There was appreciative laughter from the crowd as 'King Aghanim' faltered. "Heroes aren't supposed to answer back to taunts!"
"Who says so, King Aghanim?" Link taunted, jabbing forward, looking for an opening. Sheik deflected it nicely, however, and excitement began to simmer in his chest. Finally, he was able to fight her.
"I say so, and my word is law!"
She lunged forward swiping her knife diagonally down, going straight for his hand. He flicked his wrist and clashed his weapon against hers to deflect the attack and she used the impact to bounce back and up and down, her wooden sword whistling towards his forehead. He ducked back, dropped, caught himself against the ground and kicked up, aiming for her hand in turn but she blocked with her leg and retreated, not able to do much else than that.
There was an appreciative ooh...
"Not bad, Hero."
"You're not so bad yourself, Aghanim or whatever," Link shrugged, grinning happily, "At least, for a guy who cowers behind minions and all."
"You think I don't like to get my hands dirty, do you?" Sheik growled low, prowling round him, "Let me show you how wrong you are."
It was exhilarating. Their weapons clacked against each other insanely fast, the two of them ducking and weaving around their opponents, smiling, snarling, testing. It was like they'd practiced the fight a thousand times, her hacks and stabs short and abrupt, coming in feints and bursting torrents, forcing him to parry or roll away while his attacks were in his power and range, his swipes long and sweeping, forcing her to duck or jump away and in, their bodies sometimes brushing intimately close.
It was flirting at its best; reminiscent of old times, promising for new times. If it weren't for the mask and blindfold that covered her whole face, he would've grabbed and kissed her right then and there.
Link stabbed forward. Sheik artfully shifted her weight and the wooden blade barely grazed her side. She grabbed it and cried out, buckling over in pain; Link blinked. He'd forgotten that they'd been fighting for an audience.
"You have defeated me, Hero!" Sheik choked out as Aghanim, adding some coughs to the melodramatic display, "But you shan't beat my beast! Go, Wolfos!"
Wolfos did come bounding out of wherever he'd been sitting, but instead of leaping on Link he bowled straight into Sheik's back. She gave a squeal as she was forced into the ground, and the whole audience burst out laughing, and Link couldn't help but chuckle himself.
"I suppose your beast thinks you should stay down, my King."
"Oh," Sheik grumbled, "Shut up."
Link knew his role; he crouched in front of Sheik and poked her head to the amusement of the audience and asked, "Come on, where's the Princess?"
"In the Tower."
"How do I get there?"
"It's behind there." Sheik pointed at the horse. Link stood up and, not liking the idea of walking behind the horse at all, took the long way and circled round the horse's head. That gave her enough time to get Wolfos off her, roll under the horse, and pop up as the Princess, veil over her head and Aghanim's mask gone.
She smiled at him. "Hello, Hero."
Link smiled sadly back. "Hello."
Sheik led Anny into her stall and rubbed her warm neck lovingly as she cooed, "Good girl. Wonderful girl. You deserve a medal for this."
Link was leaning against the stable entrance, looking distinctly displeased. "And I deserve a medal for my self-restraint."
Sheik chuckled, turning to him, "Self-restraint against-?"
Link paused long enough for her to shut her mouth before kissing her, hungrily holding her body against his, feeling her arms wrap round his neck as she deepened the kiss, tongue brushing tongue, a gentle nip of teeth against lips, a sigh smothered by another kiss, and another and another.
When he pulled back she buried her face into his neck, taking a deep breath. "I missed you."
"Then you shouldn't have wandered off." Link muttered, holding her tighter.
"Mmm. I got caught up in adventures."
"If I see any scars that shouldn't be there I'm going to be really unhappy, Sheik."
She pulled back, pouting, "I said I was fine in my letters, didn't I?"
"Well excuse me for not believing you." He whispered against her mouth, gently pressing his lips to her skin before moving to her neck, her cheek, then to her lips again. "Seriously. How are you?"
"Tired. But deliriously happy," she shrugged, grinning.
Link frowned. "Well I'm not."
Her expression plummeted. "What?"
"Your blindfold. Why the hell do you wear a blindfold when you perform?"
She blinked. "Oh. Oh. Ooooh... oh yeah. Um... about that."
Link scowled. "How badly."
Sheik had the look of a girl who was about to deny everything, but sighed and peevishly conceded, "Some places were worse than others. But most places were okay, you know, when I was fortune-telling. I guess they could rationalise it as eyes that can see the future. But when I performed, well... I got paid better with it."
His sigh was guttural. "This is why you should've come straight here."
"Hey, I knew what I was up against." She muttered grouchily, "I knew my eyes would be... unusual, in a lot of places, but I still wanted to travel. I wanted to catch up."
"Catch up to what?"
"To you. To who I was. To... everything."
Link sighed through his nose before shaking his head. He held her hand as he pulled her away from her horse, calling one of the stable-boys to look after the mare. "How long have you been here?"
Sheik blushed. "A... a few days?"
Link gave her the look as they stepped into the sunlight, where Wolfos and Navi were waiting for them. "And you didn't come to visit me once."
"I wanted the letter to get to you first!"
He rolled his eyes as Wolfos barked and walked around them happily. "You and your dramatic entrances..."
"I resent that. I've only done it once."
"Not true. You were the same back then. Sneaking up behind me, leaping off the lip of a volcano, stepping out of a sandstorm, the list goes on and on."
"Stin-I mean, Zelda did most of that."
"I bet they were your idea."
She tried to look sullen but a proud smirk twitched her lips. "Maybe."
"I knew it."
She chuckled, drawing a smile out of him. "So, Link, how have you been?"
"Good. Training Wolfos, learning to read, making masks..."
"Thanks for sending them, by the way."
"You're welcome. Though I will never know how those birds found you."
She laughed. Then she yelped as she tripped, grumbling as Link's hand, still holding hers, prevented her from falling. "Why are we in such a hurry?"
"You've got to get ready."
"The Ball. In... five hours."
He looked back and was satisfied to see just how pale she'd become. "Wh-what? Ball? As in the ones where people wear nice things and dance and... stuff?"
"Yep. You're my partner."
"But I've got nothing to wear! And... oh gods. Oh gods. I just Saw Princess Zelda."
Link grinned. "About time that you two were properly introduced."
"I can't!" She dug her heels into the ground and stopped moving. Link just as easily dragged her behind him. "Link, I can't! I don't have a dress!"
Navi watched the two of them, and then her brother's expression and sighed. Link was enjoying her squirm way too much. "Borrow Zelda's."
"Borrow Zelda's bath."
"I look hideous!"
"There're people called maids who help with make-up. I'm sure Zelda can work with a few less. Not that you need it."
"What about my eyes?"
Link stopped. He turned around, and Sheik had her head bowed, and her hands shook in his. "Not everyone thinks I look... pretty, Link, not like you."
He opened his mouth to protest, but stopped. He sighed, and nodded. "I know."
"They remind people of blood first, not, not whatever you think they look like."
He bit his lip, and took the figurative plunge. "Sorry to disappoint, but I'll be honest with you. The first thing I thought when I saw your eyes was 'blood', too."
She flinched. Link hastily stepped closer and gently touched her shoulders. "Sheik, look at me. Look at me, please."
She did so, and tears were in her eyes. He gave a wan smile. "I was glad. You have no idea how glad I was when I saw you. You and your eyes. Well, eye, anyway. You still had that annoying fringe then."
Sheik sniffed, and looked at Navi. The fairy gave a flutter. "He's not lying. Seriously."
The girl looked back at the Hylian and doubtfully. "Why were you glad?"
He looked around, avoiding the question for now. "We should look for a place to sit."
"Here's fine." Sheik snapped, "Now tell me."
Link hesitated, knowing that what he'd say might drive her away; but he had to let her know, had to tell her just how and why he'd fallen for her. "Before I slept for seven years. I met a soldier in the back-alley. He died with his eyes open, and... the blank look on his face terrified me. He wasn't bleeding anymore; even if I'd had a fairy, he couldn't have been saved. That terrified me like nothing else. Except... when you said you were going to die. It's just... when you're ten, and you're fighting giant skeletal arachnids and stuff, you get used to the sight of blood. And be glad for it. At least, for me. Monster blood on my hands tended to mean I was winning. When I was bleeding I knew I was alive, though the clock was ticking. The first time I cut a redead open it turned to dust; I couldn't come out of hiding for a whole day because I was so scared. The idea that something that looks human could be a monster, a tough monster to beat simply because it didn't bleed... was a wake-up call. In a way."
"You're going on a tangent, Link." Navi reminded, worrying how Sheik seemed a little queasy. "And you're not proving your point very well."
"Right, thanks, sorry," Link muttered, taking a deep breath. "Blood meant life, for me. When I bled, I knew I was alive, that I hadn't turned into a monster, that I wasn't dead, or I saw you, the first thing in seven years, you put away my fears about redeads, and that soldier with the empty gaze." He cradled her head in his hands and kissed her eyelids. "Bright, shining red eyes. Eyes full of life. It was one of the best things I saw in my life."
She frowned, a tear dripping down her cheek. "You creep."
He sighed as he wiped it away. "Would it help if I said my favourite colour after green was red?"
"What do you think of me now?"
"I'm thinking of Oni, actually."
His heart plummeted. "I'm not that bad, am I?"
"No, it's just something he said, once. Sunsets, rubies, roses splattered by blood." She smiled at him, shaking her head incredulously. "How could he not be captivated?"
Link blushed. Sheik kissed him before squeezing him in a hug.
"Thank you," she whispered, "For making me feel so special."
He coughed awkwardly before patting her back. "So... um... now that we have that sorted..."
"I suppose I have to get ready for the ball?"
"Yeah. I think you should meet Zelda. For old time's sake, and she's missed you."
"The sister I never had."
"You could put it that way." They began to walk again, hand in hand, and Link cleared his throat awkwardly once more. "I made a mask for you."
"Oh? Do I get to look at it?"
Link smiled, sheepishly. "It'll go well with the dress."
His outfit consisted of the new Maskmaker's uniform. It was a green tunic, black leather boots, craftsman's gauntlets, blue undershirt and a bone broach on his breast, artfully crafted to look like branches of ivy surrounding an off-white jewel, and from far off it looked like an upside down triangle.
It was basically a giant in-joke shared between him and Zelda, in the shape of formal dress.
He knocked on Sheik's door, holding her mask. "Am I allowed in now?"
"You may come in, Mister Link."
Link wondered whether he should get himself a surname as he let himself in.
Her dress was a black that bordered on green and blue, like the night sky in Termina. The effect was doubled by the gossamer that covered the skirt, like the folds of an aurora. Her bodice was covered by the green-tinged pearls; the neckline was shallow, but off-shoulder, displaying her lovely neck and shoulders shamelessly. Her hands were gloved in white, and it reached all the way to her elbows. And her hair. Oh, her hair. She'd let it grow, and it was curled and braided up like a fountain, and none of it was obscuring her face or eyes. Sheik blushed at how he looked at her.
"So, uh... what do you think?"
Her blush deepened. "Really? But, isn't black, reserved for people in mourning? I've never seen a ball-gown in black."
"It's unusual, I'll give it that," Link conceded, "But hey, you're a Seer. Seers wear black. And it's not that dark, just think it... midnight blue."
Link stood in front of her and grinned. "Close your eyes."
She smiled. "Is it the mask?"
"Close your eyes."
"It's the mask, isn't it."
"You have to close your eyes or you'll never know."
She closed her eyes. Link placed the mask on her face and she made a small sound. "It's cold."
"Shh." He held her shoulders and led her to the mirror, winking at the maids still there. "I have to warn you, this mask would look better on something more silver, but hey."
"Can I open my eyes now?"
She looked at herself and gasped. Her eyes roved over the smooth contours of the mask, the gentle sheen of white gold, the green studded line that branched to her eyes, the rubies and the emeralds that made her eyes look like...
"Link, I think I'm going to cry. I... this is beautiful."
He nodded in agreement before kissing her exposed shoulder. "A mask only you can wear. It's called The Rose."
Her pupil worked as the centre; her iris as the primary petals. The rubies round the left eyehole was plentiful, blooming starkly bright against the silver plane, while the other, represented as a bud, was lined with less rubies and more emeralds. No other eye colour would have such an effect.
"You like it, I hope."
Sheik nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat. "I love it. And I love you."
"Don't think I'm through yet. I'm thinking of making something else to go with it. If... if you want." He gently, pleadingly, looked at the maids. They smiled and left on expertly silent feet.
Sheik obliviously looked at Link. "Like what?"
"Oh, you know, jewellery. The Castle jeweller's getting old, so I thought I might apprentice under him."
"Like, a necklace?"
"I was... I was thinking about a ring. If you'd oblige me."
Sheik looked at him with round, shocked eyes. Link stammered. "You don't have to think about it now. Actually, don't think about it at all. It doesn't have to mean anything. It's just...this is way too soon, isn't it."
"A little, yes."
Sheik smiled. "I honestly don't mind."
"Let me think on it." She took off the mask and placed it on the table. "I have to admit, this mask would look amazing with a white dress."
Hope lit a small glow in Link's eyes. "You think...?"
"Come on. We'll be late for the ball."
Sheik held his hand and led him to the door. But before opening it they shared one last kiss, and she murmured against his ear, "If it's going to have a stone in it, whatever kind, I want it to be blue."
"Anything. Anything for you."
She blushed at the intensity of his tone, and looked down. "Thank you."
"No," Link held her tightly as he held back laughter. "Thank you. For existing. My Rose."
Before we get into review replies, I just want to put down the lyrics of the song that inspired this story, and especially this chapter. Guess what? It's called The Rose
Some say love, it is a river Some say love it is a hunger It's the heart afraid of breaking
That drowns the tender reed
Some say love, it is a razer
That leaves your soul to bleed.
An endless aching need
I say love it is a flower
It's only seed
That never learns to dance.
It's the dream afraid of waking
That never takes the chance.
Some say love it is a hunger
It's the heart afraid of breaking
It's the one who won't be taken When the night has been too lonely
Who cannot seem to give.
And the soul afraid of dying
That never learns to live.
And the road has been too long.
And you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong.
When the night has been too lonely
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed that with the sun's love
In the spring
We sang it at choir when I was at school, and I fell in love with the song as soon as we were given the sheetmusic. Listen to it on Grooveshark; I hope you'll be inspired as I was.
Then again, I could be totally overrating it. XD
Kaze wolf: And here is more fluffiness! I hope the end was worth the wait.
darkwolflink1: Yay! Good to know! XD Thanks for your reviews, man/girl. You guys are awesome.
goldenrhino: The credits are rolling, now. With that song in the background. Oh, and I supposed Kiss from a Rose (on the grey) by whoever. Thanks for your reviews!
Dark Lord Link: No, no, thank YOU for reviewing over and over again. Wow, I'm saying a lot of thank yous, even in the chapter, lol. It's okay though, they're all well-deserved.
Human Riot: Ahaha, you think all the sad stuff was worth that chapter, then I don't know what this chapter is! XD Anyway, I think this chapter answered all your questions. Thank you so much for reviewing all the way. You guys've been a massive support.
Ugolino: I hope you liked this chapter too, then. Thanks for the review!
Me: This is the final chapter. I hope you enjoyed the fic!
K-shee: Ahaha, I hope this chapter was worth squeeing for, though there is a lack of jealous girls. Thank you for your constant reviews, really. Every one of them made my day.
hyliandragon: So many reviews at once! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm sorry I won't be replying to all your comments, because this is the last chapter review and all. But thank you, again, for so many reviews and kind words.
DragonXander: Here's the fighting scene, short as it is! XD Thank you for your reviews, and I hope you enjoy my other fics just as much as you enjoyed this one. And the comment you made about Wolfos growing up gave me an idea. If I ever write it up I'll post it and see if you like it.
Sparty the Bold: Sparty. Oh, Sparty. Your reviews, among others, were one of the funnest to reply to. I got to argue, I got to make silly excuses, it was just amazing fun. Thank you for your thought-provoking reviews, and I hope this whole story was worth the time and effort you put reading and reviewing into.
Lady Kurina: Ahaha, you're absolutely right, of course. Thank you for your reviews, Lady Kurina' I'm glad you got to enjoy reading this just as much as I enjoyed writing it.
deikitty: Yay, new reviewer at the end of the story! Thank you for saying so, even if it is a cheesy pick-up line. I'm glad you liked it. Thank you.
Missing Triforce: Wow, Wow, so many thanks, when I should be the one thanking you. lol. Thank you for your support, for reviewing all the chapters that came out, and for loving my fic so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Erendan: Here it is! I hope you like it. And thank you, so much, for the many reviews you've given to this fic.
RaeyaKimani: Oh, Raeya. When I saw the burst of long reviews you gave me, I nearly died of happiness. Thank you so much for your support and reviews. The energy you and other reviewers have given are stupendously infectious. Thank you, so very much. And, oops, on the to buy list. Nobody else noticed that. XP LOL.
Robert Dewarren: Thank you! I hope you liked the epilogue, and thank you for reviewing.
That's it, guys. The curtains closed. I'll be replying to people with accounts, through the normal replying system, so those who reply anonymously, you're going to have to mis out. I'm sorry. But hey, you got replies for a whole story, and that doesn't happen often, right? So let me off this one time, yeah? Ahahahaha. XD
So, so very much.
And Goodbye, For now.