The Sleeping Prince
The Castle was abuzz with the disgusting news: a Witch had entered the grounds.
"Fools," the Imp at the cloaked figure's shoulder sneered at the huddled maids, hushing as the two of them passed. The mockery turned to hate fast as a snap as the Imp glared at the suspicious servants, her orange hair glowing flecks of quartz, smouldering above her stone helm. "I ought to rip a few gashes through their skirts..."
The Witch chuckled at the Imp's vehemence, tanned hand waving it off. "We're here for business, Midna, I think we can manage without the destruction."
"Revenge goes well with business, you know." The Imp, Midna, pouted as she rolled her yellow and red eye. "I mean, look at all the conquerors in history. Got to slay monarchs and take over their country. Vengeful business works."
The Witch all out laughed, spooking the men that led her to the King. "We'll get right to it once we get home then, as soon we have what we want."
"Aw come on, it'll take forever to get back and ransack that Castle. Why can't we do it here?"
"Are you sure it's wise to speak of treason surrounded by soldiers?" Sheik chastised, and Midna stuck out her tongue, astonishingly pink against her white-grey-black body.
"It's not as if they can do anything, we're their only hope." She cackled nastily in their direction, swooping around the witch before lovingly draping her smooth arms round the hooded neck. "Can't I hurt one? Please? I so love hearing grown men scream."
An exasperated sigh. "Midna."
A mirroring sigh, except mocking. "Sheik, you're no fun."
Sheik gave another withering sigh before they entered the Throne Room. The King greeted them stiffly, eyeing the Imp warily before commanding the Witch to lower the midnight-hued hood. Midna snarled and opened her fanged mouth to insult him, but Sheik stopped her by fluidly complying. Blond hair escaped the dark blue velvet like a fountain, fringe automatically drifting over the right eye. The King thought that she was a handsome girl, barely twenty, tall and delicately tanned and smiling. If it weren't for her red eye, the curse of her witchcraft, she would've had no trouble finding herself a husband.
The Imp wasn't a wonderful sight either. She was infantile in size, but it was clear her ego was larger than any grown man's. The delicate orca-coloured body floated by the witch's shoulder, and her left eye was covered by the stone helm that oozed bronze and lime power, the iris like red wine, the whites of her eyes yellow as a disease, the smile a fanged slash across a misty face.
The King eyed the witch once more, indicating her cloak with a lazy flick of the finger. "Velvet and silver trimmings, no? A bit excessive for one such as yourself, isn't it?"
A gracious smile, a soft bob for a bow. "My best to wear for the King. And the Prince."
Midna crossed her arms impatiently and huffed. "We meeting him or what?"
Having been filled in on the situation of the Prince, the Princess, and the Kingdom in general, they were led to the Prince's bedchambers by the monarch himself, and the two visitors entered to greet the heir to the throne.
The Prince was asleep, as he had been for the last three years.
The Imp swooped by his head and poked his cheek a few times, and cackled. "I'm surprised he hadn't died."
The King reddened with his anger as Sheik examined the mark branded across the blond man's cheek, the one Midna was poking. It looked like an intricate wheel, or a stylised flower with many petals, only sharp, like designs often seen on wrought iron gates. It was a type of sigil often associated with killing curses, but thankfully this one had the drops of life surrounding it, so it limited the Prince to sleeping till his death.
In other words, he could be saved.
"So," Sheik murmured softly, brushing the Prince's fringe away from his eyes, growing unchecked in his sleep, "Why ask us to come, when you have wizards of your own?"
"Their magic is of nature, not damning runes." The King spat, wishing to slap the hand away from his son's forehead. "They've scried for the culprit but have found nothing; they know of the nature of the spell but cannot undo it."
Midna cackled again, swooping into the old man's face. "Is it true that Princesses have been coming to undo the spell? With a kiss?"
Sheik snorted. The King sighed. "We had no other choice."
The imp shrieked in laughter, looping a loop in the air. "Seriously? Seriously? You believed in the old wives' tale? Your wizards are such... such..."
"Midna, stop insulting the King, he might kill us." Sheik murmured, staring intently at the prince. He really was a handsome young man, with a neat bone structure, hair like sunshine.
Loathingly the King forced himself to say, "As the Princesses before you, you may have his hand in marriage once he wakes-"
"Hold it right there, old timer," Midna interrupted, planting her fists against her curved hips, "Neither of us are taking his hand for marriage. Once we wake your prince, we want your golden insects."
The King spluttered. "What? But-"
"I'm not interested in being Royalty," Sheik murmured, sitting on the floor, leaning against the side of the bed. "And Midna'll turn this place into a warzone."
"My partner's right. So, golden insects. Do we have a deal?"
The King reluctantly agreed before asking how they were going to break the curse.
"The Curse will have a manifestation in his dreams." Midna told him haughtily, Sheik already nodding off. "Sheik and I will be going in, see what's what, and break the curse from there. So ta-tah, Lord King, we'll be taking a nap, now."
The imp settled next to its companion and fell immediately asleep. The King gritted his teeth before taking a deep breath, talking to himself as he turned to leave. "If those wenches wake without my son, they won't be so smug..."
Sheik dropped into a field and the air was knocked out of him as he landed on his front. He groaned as he straightened up, blinking his left eye blearily. The sky was ridiculously blue, like it was summer, or spring, and the clouds in the sky were calm, thick, and promised no rain. Paradise. He looked down, and frowned. Small hands. Reaching up, touching his head, he found his hair was short. And he wasn't wearing that stupid cloak, just blue shorts and a darker blue shirt, with a silver jerkin on top of that. His feet had sandals, the only familiar aspect of his outfit.
He was... younger?
He groaned and slapped his face. He wondered what kind of mistake he'd made this time to have screwed up so spectacularly...
He snapped his head up, searching for Midna.
In the distance there was a tree on top of a hill, with branches that spread wide across the air, waving in the breeze, and there were shades of people there, moving around a lot.
Having no choice, Sheik headed for the tree. It was a fair distance, but he made it, huffing from his jog. Children in masks were playing tag. Only one child's face was bare, and he had hair like sunshine, a neat face that almost advertised his upbringing. His eyes were like the sky, and they froze in surprise when they met with Sheik's red eye.
The boy whistled, sounding impressed. "I've never had visitors before."
Sheik, somewhat taken aback by that mild response, watched the masked children disappear one by one, until he was alone with the boy. He wore a green tunic, and white undershirt and leggings littered with mud-and-grass-stains. The red-eyed youth (child, he reminded himself) stepped forward, asking, "Are you... are you possibly Prince Link?"
The child made an expression of comical distaste. "I'm just Link here. Who're you?"
"Sheik, huh," Link smiled. "How'd you get here?"
"I'm... I'm a witch. Or, well, a witchling. I'm studying the arts." Confusion was clear on his face as he looked at the prince, who was supposed to be twenty, but had the body of a ten year old. He looked at himself again, and estimated he looked about... twelve, thirteen, maybe when he was supposed to be twenty two. He still couldn't open his right eye, though. "Why are we tiny?"
"We're not tiny," Link protested petulantly, "We're kids. How old are you in real life?"
Sheik frowned. Real life. He stared at the Prince in disbelief. "You know this is a dream?"
"Duh. Why else would this tree have multicoloured veins? You like it? I made it up. Well, Zelda did, but I made it real with the dream. Cool, huh."
Sheik shook his head with something akin to exasperation. "Why aren't you panicking?"
"It's a dream," Link rolled his eyes, crossing his arms. "You only panic in nightmares."
The red-eyed boy looked at the Prince flatly. "You're cursed."
He nodded. "I knew that."
"You've been pretty much dead to the world for three years."
"I knew that too."
"No cause for panic, then?"
"Nope." Link's grin oozed delight at his predicament. He sat down in the grass and leaned against the ancient tree, interlocking his fingers behind his head. "So did dad put up a reward or something? Others have tried breaking the curse, you know."
"Yeah." It was Sheik's turn to roll his eyes, "With a stupid kiss. Like they work."
"So..." the young prince wagged his eyebrows, the action more mischievous than seductive, "Do you plan on marrying me?"
Sheik cocked a single eyebrow up, making the Prince scowl in envy. "I'm a boy, contrary to popular belief."
Now Link was plainly baffled. "...You just said you're a witch."
Sheik sighed at the typical misunderstanding and began his correctional lecture. "A Witch is a job, or title, like Wizard or Sorcerer. Wizards are more inclined towards nature, predicting the future through astronomy, helping crops grow, fairly peaceful stuff. Sorcerers, again, are more inclined to nature, but bend it to their limited will, so they control storms, can summon fire, things like that. Witches, on the other hand," as he explained Sheik had accepted Link's silent gesture to sit next to him. He ended up right next to the prince, leaning his back against the tree as well, "We use symbols. Sigils, markings, writings that go against nature. Forcing a tree to die, collecting power in jewels, making things explode, fun stuff."
Link grinned. "Like cursing Princes to sleep to death?"
"Something like that, yes," Sheik shrugged nonchalantly, "Now, as for your curse... do you have a clue on who did this to you?"
The blue-eyed boy smiled mock-enigmatically. "Maybe I do, maybe I don't."
Sheik caught the Prince's gaze sharply at the ho-hum tone. "...What?"
"I already know how to break the curse." The prince was weaving some of the long grass together, threading autumn leaves of purple and yellow-green and brown into the green rope, "You find and beat the curse-bringer, I wake up, you get your reward. Good luck."
Sheik incredulously watched the Prince make a crown of grass and leaves before opening his mouth to say, "You're just giving me that? Nothing else? No clue?"
"Well I like it here, don't I?" he laughed, placing the crown on top of Sheik's head, "Here's my bribe, so you'll let me stay. It suits you."
Then the prince dashed away, leaving Sheik balking. Oh gods, the red-eyed boy thought as the realisation sunk in.
The Prince was a nut.
He couldn't blame him, Sheik supposed...
The place was nice. The dream world was calm, the breeze always soft, the grass smelt sweet, and the sunshine was kind. He could've dozed under the tree he'd been left under, so comforting was the atmosphere. But Midna needed those golden insects!
Sheik surged up and crossed his legs and thought. By his attitude the Prince knew full well who had cursed him, but why was he willing to do nothing about it? Did he enjoy being on the path of death? Or was he protecting the curser? Where was he anyway? And where was-
"Sheik! Sheik you stupid little-! Sheik!"
The young man stood and raced towards her. "Midna!"
The figure he dived into wasn't an Imp. She was tall, lithe, and drop-dead gorgeous, wearing a cloak and cloth that hardly served her modesty, leaving nothing to the imagination. Her hair was a wild orange, streaming in licks down her back and round her face, her eyes red, just like his, though her limbs were misty green, and runes slithered and glittered across her orca-like flesh.
She hugged the boy tightly to herself before retracting and yelling at him. "Why are you tiny?"
Sheik winced. "It's not my fault! It's the curse, I swear!"
Her face contorted but then hugged him again, suffocating the boy against herself. "Don't do that! I was so worried!"
"I'm sorry," Sheik muttered into her voluptuous chest, struggling to breathe, "I dropped out of the sky and I thought I'd stay put. Where were you? And why aren't you disguised?"
"Screw the disguise, I had to be in full power to look for you and... you dropped out of the sky too?" she quickly looked him over for injuries but finding none sighed. "I ended up in the royal courts. Had some maids screaming at me for being indecently dressed. Got out, looked round, here we are. This world's just as big as the real one, so finding the culprit's going to be a toughie."
"On that note," Sheik informed her, "I found the guy who knows the culprit. But he's a total weirdo."
"...Who's a weirdo?"
Sheik spun round and the prince was right there, looking petulant, trying to cock one eyebrow and failing. The red-eyed boy couldn't help but smirk. "Oh, hi, prince."
Link gripped Sheik by the cheeks and pulled sideways. "Who's a weirdo?"
"Hey, you're another one," Link noticed Midna and saw how her hair was rising with her anger, the smirk that promised danger and the glare that ensured death. The prince smiled and let Sheik go. "Hello, what's your name?"
"Uh..." rubbing his smarting face Sheik introduced her. "This is Midna, my teacher. She saved me when I was fourteen and I've been her assistant since."
"If this kid's been messing with you, Sheik," the woman growled with a threatening smile, "I'll kill him."
Link laughed. "Man, you must be an awesome teacher. Anyway, Sheik, I want you to meet my sister."
"No," Sheik told him, twisting his arm from Link's grip, "I'm helping Midna break the curse."
The prince broke into a smile. "Aw come on, let's go! Stop worrying and have fun, that's what she always says!"
"Wah!" Link dragged the boy away, leaving Midna nonplussed and annoyed at being ignored. No man or boy ever ignored her, for her hair, for her markings, for her body. Unless...
Ah. That would explain a few things.
It seemed the large tree on the hill was situated behind the castle, because Link led him to the stone walls surrounding it, and a young girl struggled through the stiff doors embedded in the rock. It was obvious who she was: Princess Zelda, in real life, was older than Link was. Here, they were the same age.
"Zelda! This is Sheik, Sheik, this is Zelda. What do you want to play today, Zel?"
Her hair was like her brother's only darker, and longer. Her eyes were paler, and so was her skin. Everything about her said that she didn't get out often, but her smile was almost brighter than Link's and that was saying something. "Let's play pretend! And I want to be the Hero."
"Wah?" Link griped in dismay, "But one of us has to be Princess. Shouldn't you be the dad?"
Sheik blinked. "...What?"
"Damsel in distress." Link explained, "'Da' and 'D'. Dad."
"But a damsel's so boring," Zelda huffed, pouting, "All I do is sit and occasionally cry for help."
"I'll be damsel," Sheik volunteered, and it was settled.
He watched the two wave sticks at each other, pretending to be warriors fighting an epic swordfight. After a while they began to choreograph it so Sheik would get a show of their fighting prowess, which Sheik didn't mind at. He was just trying to figure out the curse and its possible purposes as he occasionally said, "Help, oh save me, help."
Link had been cursed just before his coronation, on his seventeenth birthday, no less. His sister, two years older than him, was technically supposed to take over after their father, but she'd been indisposed since childhood, a weak offspring. Hence, Link had been appointed heir. But as soon as Link had gone under, Zelda's health had been thriving. She'd been arrested, briefly, on suspicion of treason, but there was nothing on her, no mark to sustain the spell, or to suck his life to use as her own. She was looking after the country in her brother's steed, now, and was exceptionally good at her job, thanks to all the books she's read in bed.
Had Zelda been the one who'd cursed Link? It would explain the reason why he would keep quiet about it, to protect his sister, but Zelda didn't seem the type to do such a thing...
They performed their fight and Link being the villain, died a gory death and Zelda kissed Sheik on the cheek, making him flush deep red. The prince laughed at his expression and hugged both Sheik and Zelda.
"You should stay, Sheik! There's no sadness here, live with me in this dream, forever, please?"
Zelda winced and looked guilty. "Link..."
"No girls allowed, Zellie," he grinned, pushing her away and hugging Sheik close, making the red-eyed boy blush deeper, "Just us guys. Go on, go home. I'll see you tomorrow."
She nodded reluctantly before fading away. Literally, one moment she was solid, then mist, and then gone. Sheik struggled free, clearing his throat and making sure his right eye was still hidden. "What was that about?"
"Oh she just feels guilty because I'm cursed and she's not," Link dismissively replied, "I don't care, this is way too much fun to let go. Come on, there's a rainbow fish in the ponds, I'll show it to you."
Sheik was pulled again, and he found himself following with a smile on his face.
Dreams were strange things, and it reminded him of a time where he had no-one to please, no one after his head. He'd lived the way he'd wanted, and it had been good. At least, when he'd had time to himself. He didn't know how Link laughed in the real world, but here, he laughed freely, innocently.
Sheik watched him, and felt both senses of foreboding and elation. "Link..."
"Hm?" he replied, gazing at the sky, twiddling a tufty dandelion in his hand.
"The sky doesn't grow dark here, does it."
"Of course not," Link grinned. "You don't have to sleep in dreams. I get to do whatever I want forever."
Sheik sighed, wearily tearing at the grass. "Dreams are dangerous, Link. People who dream too long wake up old, their life used up on fruitless hopes. If we don't break this curse soon... you'll never wake up."
Link idly blew the dandelion seeds away, and they drifted on the eternal breeze like fairies. "I wouldn't mind that. I'll be the mermaid that turned to foam."
Sheik was unsettled by this confession and felt worse when Link continued, "I don't want to wake up. Gods, you have no idea how perfect the timing was for this curse."
"...Why is that?"
"It was right before the crowning ceremony, though I'm sure you heard from the King. Thing is, a lot of people were against me being king. The advisor, my teacher, hell, even Zelda. Even though she's sick... she's always kept me safe. I don't have the attention span to be king," he chuckled, his stomach rolling with his mirth.
Sheik wondered whether Link was being honest or a self-depreciating cynic before pointing out, "Your father's waiting for you, you know."
"For his heir to take the throne from a weak candidate, yeah," Link scoffed, for the first time showing a harshness that'd been hidden in the fun and contentment, "All he cares about is his kingdom, his success. He thinks, strong man like me, I'll do fine. But we have problems, problems that can be solved only by brain, and I don't have what it takes. Zelda does. And he doesn't get it."
He threw his arm over his eyes, and sighed. "It's depressing, really. And I can avoid that here. I like it here. I never... never want to wake up."
The Prince, Sheik thought, looked immeasurably lonely in that instant.
The boy turned and spotted Midna in the distance. Link stood, excusing himself because Zelda would be coming soon, and Sheik, reluctantly, answered his teacher's summons.
She planted her hands on her attractive hips, cocking them to the side. "We're not the only ones here."
Sheik blinked at that. "We're not?"
Midna shook her ethereal head before tossing her luxurious hair over her shoulder. "No. The castle yonder has residents, and I've been asking around."
"Oh you know. Useful things. Tell you what, though, they always get uneasy when I mention the Queen. Come on, we're going through her chambers, and quickly. We don't have much time."
"I've probed around with my magic, and this spell is beginning to disintegrate. A few more days and we're going to have to run, Prince or no. When the curse falls apart, so does Link's mind. If we're in it, so does ours."
She turned around to walk away, but Sheik grabbed the back of her cloak and yanked, making her stop. "What do you mean a few more days? How long have we been here?"
"A couple of days."
That came as a shock. Sheik shuddered to think that they hadn't eaten through all that time, hadn't washed, hadn't moved. Link's body hadn't rotted or died thanks to the king's wizards, but they wouldn't be helping Midna and him, no way in hell. Midna would be fine; she had enough magic runes crawling over her body to keep her in top shape, but him?
He could die here.
"Sheik." He snapped his gaze and Midna was crouching in front of him, gently rearranging his fringe so it covered his right eye better, "I'm not going to let anything happen to you, understand me?"
The boy nodded, swallowed, followed her to the castle. They saw Link and Zelda reading a book, and Zelda caught sight of them. Sheik told Midna that he'd meet her at the castle before joining the two, Link closing the leather-bound book and smiling at him, making his chest clench.
"Hey Sheik, we were just talking about what we want to be when we grow up. What about you?"
"...What about me?"
Link rolled his eyes as Zelda giggled. "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Sheik frowned. "We're already grown up, Link. Or did you forget?"
"That's not the point, though, think big." The cursed prince chastised cheekily, "You're young again, you've got a world that'll do whatever you want. I, on one hand, want to travel the world."
"I... I wanted to grow into a bird when I still couldn't move around." Zelda admitted shyly, making Link grin. "I want to know what it's like to fly."
"We'll make that happen when you come back next time, Zel. Come on, Sheik; tell us what you want, what you want to be. We won't laugh."
Sheik scratched his cheek, trying to think back to his childhood. It wasn't a pleasant one, with lots of beatings and that deep-seated fear haunting him all the time. But if he'd had the time, what would he have dreamed for...?
"When I grew up, I wanted to be accepted for who I was. But I have that wish, now."
Zelda scented a half-truth. "But isn't being a witch hard for you...?"
Sheik shrugged, smiling. "And Midna accepts that. She likes me for who I am."
"Hey," Link protested, grabbing Sheik's wrist and yanking him down, making him yelp and fall to the ground, sprawled across the Prince's lap, "We accept you for who you are too, you know."
Link frowned, since Sheik had hastily clamped his hand over his hidden eye to keep it hidden. Sheik swallowed his fear down, trying to calm the hammer of his heart. The Prince was gazing down at him with concern, and when he reached for his head Sheik was sure their friendship was doomed. But he didn't feel the grip that would take his hand from his face. Just soft fingers through his hair, pulling out a flower petal that'd drifted down in the breeze.
Link's gaze was hopeful as he smiled tenderly at Sheik. "Stay with me. We can travel the world together, here, and I can know you for who you are. I'd like that, you know. Very much."
"U-uum..." Sheik looked for Zelda with his spare eye but she'd disappeared. Great. Just when he needed a third party to stop him from blushing... "You shouldn't say that. I'm still a witch, people hate me."
"Just being a witch doesn't stop you from being with me, does it?"
Sheik's expression contorted in pain, because unlike the ignorant villagers that'd hated him for what he was, unlike the King who'd scorned him for his ways, Link's eyes were void of hatred, and they glistened like jewels. The thought of them curling in disgust hurt like a burn.
Sheik rolled off of him and covered his eye before turning on the Prince, determinedly. "I'm going to break this curse for you. I swear I will."
Link laughed a little hollowly before returning to his book. "I thought I told you I don't want that..."
The red-eyed boy was staring at the cover Link's book, because dyed on the leather was a circular symbol, one that looked like a wrought iron flower, or a wheel, just like...
Then he noticed the crack across the grass. Alarmed, Sheik spun round, staring at the tree, and a large gash was crawling up its ancient trunk. He looked at the sky; the clouds were splitting like old rags.
The dream was falling apart, just like Midna had said.
Sheik grabbed the prince by the shoulders and spoke with utmost urgency. "Link, where's the Queen."
"Huh? Why are you suddenly-?"
"I need to know!"
Sheik burst into her rooms, but there was no queen, just Midna who had smoke tendrils escaping her fingertips. He rushed to her side, grabbing her arm, not knowing what else to do. "Midna! The dream!"
"I know." She spun round and shoved her hand against his face, and his gasp of shock was all she needed. The mark of sleep hit him hard on the tongue, and slithered down his throat. His knees buckled and the Prince caught him, shouting his name.
Link glared at Midna, juggling Sheik and his book in his arms. "What did you do?"
"Put him to sleep so he wouldn't argue." Midna told him dispassionately, pointing at the book. "That symbol. It's the mark of the curse. Give it to me."
Link's lips curled in a challenging smirk as he gently put Sheik down, holding his book up. "This? You think destroying this will break the curse?"
"Your mother gave it to you, didn't she."
"It's just a book."
"She gave you the book, and through it she cursed you, no?"
"No. She died a week before the coronation."
Midna blinked sadly, gently lowering her beckoning hand. "You did it, didn't you. You cursed yourself."
The walls cracked and shivered, erupting and falling around them. Link smiled, sadly. "The curse was... surprisingly simple."
"Coward," Midna sneered as she crossed her arms, the windows shattering in sparks around her, the curtains fading and hurling dust as they disintegrated, "Escaping from reality into your dreams, and for what? So you could run away from your duties? So you could be forever happy, doing what you want?"
"Actually," he admitted sheepishly, "It was so I won't be sad anymore."
The ground fell from under their feet, and they fell down into the hidden night sky.
Link opened his eyes, a painful grip holding him up by the hair. He gave a strangled cry as Midna shook him by the head, forcing him to open his eyes.
He found himself in a world that wasn't his dream, but he was still a child, and he was looking at a boy chopping wood with an axe too big for him, and when he turned around, Link saw that it was Sheik.
Only his face wasn't hidden, and his eyes were brown. He looked about fourteen, and he wiped his sweat from his forehead, looking exhausted. His bare torso was bruised in different places, as if he'd been in a fight.
Link winced from the grip in his hair, standing on his tiptoes to ease it. "What are we watching...?"
"Sheik's past." Midna growled, releasing the boy, "Before he came under my care."
Somebody called Sheik's name, and he turned round looking happy, mouthing a name that Link couldn't catch. An older boy approached him, throwing him a towel. Sheik took it gratefully, wincing as he moved. The other boy produced some cream that visibly soothed Sheik's bruises, and Link's eyes widened as the boys kissed.
He watched, mouth open as the scene changed, Sheik and the boy were caught walking together holding hands, Sheik smiling ecstatically as he planted a soft kiss against the other's cheek. Sheik was apprehended, the older boy was thrust into loving arms. The scene changed to a dark place with chains and manacles, Sheik was screaming, crying, his head forced back by rough hands, a red-hot brand angled above his right eye.
The scene changed again and Sheik was lying face up on the muddy ground, abandoned in the rain, the right side of his face a complete mess. A cloaked figure crouched next to him, and he was offered a knife. Sheik shook his head. A hand from the cloak traced a symbol over his eye, and though his burns healed the scars were still there. His eye had been melted closed, and the hot iron had carved a dark mark there, to identify the boy as a criminal against the natural laws.
"He was an orphan boy, looking after the grounds of the estate he'd been left abandoned on. Obviously they didn't care for the idea of him seducing their son. The golden insects are for his scars, though he doesn't know that yet. He thinks I want them to level a few of my enemies."
Panic was rising in his chest, because he saw that Sheik wasn't with them, even though he'd been holding the red-eyed boy tightly to his chest. "Where is he now?"
"It's your dream, boy," Midna snarled, "I've been holding it together as best I can, but we're still running out of time. Find him; it shouldn't be hard for you."
Link took a deep breath, and jumped off whatever platform they were standing on. He drifted down in the dark, praying with Sheik's name, and he landed on another platform, where Sheik was lying unconscious, still looking like a ten year old boy, his eye burned shut.
The Prince rushed to him, holding him up, shaking his shoulder. "Sheik? Sheik?"
But he wouldn't wake up, and the dream just kept crumbling.
"...We'll move your coronation back a few days."
Link stared at the king, disbelief written all over his face. "What?"
"Your mother just passed away. It would be indecent. But we cannot postpone it too long; the people are looking for some good news. We cannot deny them that."
"Good news?" Link replied with disbelief, "You threw her out of the palace just because she wanted Zelda to be heir. And I agreed with her! Now that she's dead, what, all you can say is let's move the coronation? What about her funeral? What about... aren't... aren't you even remotely sad about it?"
"There are things that a King should not be moved by, to preserve the lands. This is one of them."
"She was our mother! She was your wife!"
"And we have these days to mourn her privately. Now be prepared. Your time is coming."
Link stormed out of the room, wiping tears roughly away from his eyes. He was still seventeen, he was still young, damn it, he couldn't handle this, not now, not ever.
He entered another room, collapsing into a chair beside the ornate bed. "Zelda..."
The young woman, pale to the point of looking blue, like her eyes, held his hand. "It's alright. Mother's proud of you, I know so."
He shuddered and gave a rasping laugh. "Please don't talk as if you can hear her."
There was real fear in his eyes. "Because it's like you're going to follow her."
And the way she smiled chilled Link to the bone.
Sheik found himself looking at Link, who looked at him with painful relief.
"I think I just saw why you cursed yourself."
The Prince winced and averted his gaze. "You two have to wake up. You have to, or else you'll be trapped here forever, you don't want that, do you?"
Sheik forced himself up to sit, and eyed the younger boy pitifully. "You slept to escape, and you used that escape to strengthen your sister, carving your own life-force to keep her healthy. No wonder the king's men couldn't find the connection between her and you. It was in your blood, it was written there on the symbol, wasn't it."
"You have to leave."
"You think this'll make her happy?"
"It doesn't matter!" Link spat with a child's defiance, "She couldn't play she was a kid, but she always looked after me. She deserves to be Queen but father's writing her off! This way I can give her the childhood she could've had, I can look after her, she has a place to go when she's tired. I can keep her healthy. I can do everything my family couldn't do for her."
"You think this'll make her happy?" Sheik repeated, and Link glared right back.
"As long as she doesn't know that I was the one that did it, yes."
Sheik sighed, stood, and tugged the Prince's arm. "We're going home."
"Oh yes you. It's your curse. Break it. Now."
"You can't tell me what to do just because you're older!" Link yelled, standing up, "Nothing good will happen if I wake up. I'd rather disappear with my dream!"
Sheik stood, sadly, and sighed. "...Then it looks like I'm going down with you."
Link stood rigid, shock obvious on his face. "What? But you have to wake up! You have to!"
"I can't break free. I'm still a novice. So before I die, Prince Link, I have a question." Sheik cocked his head to the side and smiled. "You were begging me to wake up just before, right? How desperately do you think your sister would be begging you to do the same, if she knew how close you were to death?"
Sheik opened his eye and looked around before croaking. "Why am I not surprised?"
He had been thrown in a cell and left to rot. His muscles creaked from neglect, moving groggily as he tried to sit up. His throat was parched, and his teeth felt like they'd drop from his gums. They'd taken his cloak, and... Sheik touched his head, and groaned. They'd cut his hair. Damn it, it'd taken him ages to get it to that length to hide his eye, tricking other men to think he was a woman, making it easier for them to believe he was a witch, things like that. And they'd done a nasty job about it, too. They'd even hacked off his fringe.
He was surprised they hadn't downright killed him.
He coughed in the foul air, his arms shaking as he supported himself on his fours. His stomach felt empty, and by the gods he was tired. He collapsed on his back, staring at the cobwebbed ceiling. He needed real sleep. And if he'd woken up, he could assume Link had done so as well. And Midna. He hoped Midna would bust him out of this mess.
Licking his dry lips to wet them, Sheik closed his eyes.
Next thing he knew he was being held, his upper body supported against a warm chest, his eyes adjusting to the sight of a face intimately close to his.
Then he was being kissed, which he didn't mind.
A breath shuddered against his neck, and he groaned. There was a soft laugh of elation, and Sheik was being lifted in a bridal lift, which was both humiliating and dizzying. "What the...?"
"You think waking someone with a kiss is stupid, but it worked."
Groggily Sheik recognised the voice. "Link?"
"Good morning, Princess."
"Don't call me that." He winced when Link jogged up the dungeon stairs, and when they were in sunlight he was finally put down on his feet. Sheik's knees buckled but held himself up well enough. Then the realisation hit. "Did you just...?"
"Oh, this?" Link kissed him again, freezing the witchling into a statue. The Prince held the red-eyed man close, burying his face against his neck. "I didn't like the idea of marrying a woman I didn't know just to be king, among other things."
"Come on." And just like in the dream Link held Sheik by the hand and dragged him away. "Midna's causing havoc, looking for the insects. I've got the horses sorted."
Sheik desperately cleared his throat, finally forcing out the words, "What about Zeld...?"
"My curse gave her enough health to keep her living to a ripe old age. The curse left its mark, though, so I won't be able to rule. Yippee. Unfortunately father's blaming you for that."
They stumbled into the stables and Link helped Sheik up onto a ridiculously large mare, throwing himself up behind him. Sheik was already exhausted from the run, and he doubted he could ride out of the city at a speed Link and Midna would want. He was still hopelessly confused.
"You don't have a mark left on you."
"It's a figurative one," Link chuckled, urging the horse on, "I think I love you, Sheik."
They camped in the fields, a fire sizzling under a rabbit and a duck. Sheik was picking at his teeth, still feeling unclean, and his ruined hair was still dripping from his bath in the river.
"It annoys me," Sheik grumbled, leaning against Epona, "That I'm the one left completely numbed from that curse. Midna, I can understand. You however, it's beyond unfair."
Link chuckled, passing Sheik the duck as he munched on the rabbit. He groaned appreciatively, making Sheik uncomfortable. "Gods, I haven't eaten in three years."
"You haven't moved in three years," Sheik snapped, curling his arms, tensing and flexing his muscles one by one to get them to do what he wanted. He ignored how Link was unashamedly staring at him. "And yet you can hop around like a hyped and crazed cucco."
"I guess those wizards did a pretty good job." Link was looking at his hands now, examining them over and over. "Gods, I'm twenty."
"Hmph," Sheik bit into the duck and was thoroughly annoyed that he couldn't chew as hard as he wanted. Damn it. "Midna, what are we going to do with this wayward Prince?"
"Probably use him as a cover when we sneak into castle as raise them to the ground."
"...So we're keeping this nut?"
"I'm not a nut, and I'm not a pet, either."
"Then start acting like an adult; it's not as endearing when you don't look like a child."
"Alright..." Link stopped Sheik from eating and kissed him, slowly, pulling a shuddering sigh out of the red-eyed man as he returned it.
Midna rolled her eyes and turned herself into a cat to escape the ridiculously sappy and romantic bundle the two men were becoming.
Sheik's breath trembled. "That doesn't count as being an adult."
Link smiled. "Does it count on making your wish come true?"
Sheik was confused for a moment, but eventually remembered the conversation they'd had about what they wanted when they grew up. He chuckled, and conceded, "It's a step."
They kissed again, the fire crackling merrily by their side.