Author's note: My first multi-chapter non-NaNo fic! (Seriously, this thing's hit like 72k and took five months to write.) The idea came about after... well, full disclosure, after the first time I went through Lanayru Desert in the beginning of December and absolutely sucked at it. That prompted the idea of what would actually happen if someone is, er, repeatedly being electrocuted, and that prompted the whole story off.

And now there's a novel-length Link/Groose fic XD (For pairing-related stuff - it does have hints of Link/Zelda and ends with Zelda/Link/Groose.) Enjoy!

Warnings: Mildly graphic description of injuries.

Chapter One

Link let out an agonised cry as his body hit the sandy ground.

Every nerve ending burnt as he forced himself up, staggering against the rock face as the Ampilus came around for another strike. It took everything he had to scramble atop the rocky island, collapsing back amidst the dry grass and staring at the sky.

He was fairly certain his vision was out of focus - the clouds swam in and out of view like waves of grass ripping in the breeze.

Eventually, he would have to move - he could still hear the sharp buzz and crackle and thump as the Ampilus threw itself against the island he was now collapsed on, and from far away, he could hear rustles and snaps - the sounds of more on the way. He had to get to the generator, activate the last power node, get in to the mines, find Zelda...

But his muscles quivered and twitched beneath his skin, in his chest, his heart raced and skipped, and he could not unfurl his fingers from around the hilt of the sword. He could not draw breath. He hurt.

With his still-shielded left arm, he reached for his bomb bag, half shoving the explosive off the cliff face. The Ampilus died with a 'wark!' and Link practically tumbled off the island, putting on one last burst of speed to get to the next safe point - the series of walls that held the generator and the bird statue.

And then he crawled to the edge and expelled every last content of his stomach.

Falling back against the timeshifted grass, he stared up at the sky again, eyes glazed. When Fi emerged from the sword, he knew only by sound - he saw very little right now.

"A report, Master," she told him helpfully, "You have sustained multiple injuries. I suggest returning to a safe point to rest and recover."

He made a wordless negative sound, groping for a bottle - he knew there were a few drops of potion in there, enough to at least get him to his feet.

Barely enough, though. He could barely get the cork back in, his hands shaking so badly, pain lancing up his sword arm. "Gotta save Zelda," he muttered almost feverishly, reaching for the sword again and swaying in sudden vertigo. "She's right - right there, I've gotta..."

There was no hint of emotion in the sword spirit's voice, but Link could almost imagine that she looked concerned. "Your chances of survival if you continue in this state are less than five per cent, Master," she informed him, "It is not recommended that you continue at this time."

"But she's right there!" Link sounded anguished, throwing an arm in the direction of the crest rising in to the air in the distance. "And - I let her down last time, I let those - those monsters get to her, I can't let her down again -"

Fi paused. "The spirit maiden Zelda is protected, Master," she told him calmly, "And her desire to see you dead is less than zero per cent."

Link didn't answer immediately, still gazing at where he knew the Temple of Time stood. "Just for a little while," he croaked suddenly, reaching back to sheath his sword and hissing in pain at the movement. The hilt, he noted when he pulled his hand away, was stained with blood, the gauntlet he wore charred.

Closing his fingers around the sail cloth was one of the harder things he had ever done, gritting his teeth as he wound it around his hand for security. Bringing it to his face, he inhaled deeply, eyes shut - then let the winds take him away.

And the desert disappeared beneath his feet.

By the time the Crimson Loftwing hit the ground before the front doors of the Knight Academy, evening was fast approaching.

Instructor Owlan, gazing up at the skies as the first stars appeared, started as a huge dark shape emerged - the Loftwing, bearing Link's barely conscious body, wings fluttering in alarm at flying so close to nightfall. Almost as an afterthought, Link slid from its back and landed in a crumpled heap on the grass.

Owlan exclaimed, rushing to the boy's side. One hand was locked around a corner of the sailcloth, the formerly pristine cloth stained rusty red, his fingers streaked with blood. Bruises littered his cheeks and forehead, another smear of blood around his nose, and his hair near one ear was matted with the stuff. "Pipit," he said urgently as the older boy emerged, stopping short in horror, "You must go find Luv immediately. Tell her to bring as much potion as she can."

"Right!" the young man said shakily, "You can count on me!"

He was gone before Owlan ever had the chance to thank him.

Exhaling, the instructor gazed down at Link, who had since lapsed in to full unconsciousness. Carefully, almost delicately, he lifted him in to his arms, even the slightest movement eliciting a moan of pain, and the man winced.

What had happened to him? Expression troubled, he quickly transported him to his room, nudging open the door and setting Link on his bed. As he worked to unstrap the sword and shield, unbuckling belts and carefully sliding off gauntlets, he could not help but feel that something had gone very wrong.

This was a boy's room - models on the shelves, a half-completed statue on his desk, a few items of clothing still slung over the chair. His homework laid untouched, unfinished, on his desk.

How could a boy like Link sustain such serious injuries?

Stripped down to his underclothes, the full extent of Link's injuries now laid visible. His right arm - that was the worst of it, his palm blistering and red and burnt. Extending up his forearm, a curious pattern was imprinted on his flesh - forked branches, like lightning, staining the pale skin.

And yet that was not the only injuries the boy possessed. Over his arms and legs, where his mail had not protected him, deep slices and lacerations littered his skin, only half healed. One leg bore a nasty burn scar from boot top to mid thigh, and dark bruises imprinting the pattern of the mail in his skin covered his back. Running a hand gently over them, Owlan felt broken ribs.

He had seen Link but two days ago. How long had he hidden these injuries for?

Gently, he folded a clean towel hanging in the closet, resting his injured hand on it. Even the slightest touch caused a soft sob of pain, Link's forehead creasing even in the depths of unconsciousness. Owlan sat back, closed his eyes, and murmured a prayer to the Goddess, the only sound in the room Link's laboured breathing.

But they were not alone for long - Pipit had finally returned, leading an anxious-looking Luv behind him, and, marching behind, Headmaster Gaepora. He stopped short at the foot of the bed, gazing at Link in a combination of shock and - it could not be guilt, could it? Owlan frowned, stepping back to let Luv go to work.

"I stabled his Loftwing, Sir," Pipit said softly, "He was in a bit of distress..." And he stopped there, biting down on his lip.

The Crimson Loftwing was not the only being in distress, it seemed. Link breathed like he had just ran a mile.

"There we go," Luv murmured, helping to support Link's head as she poured more potion down his throat, two empty bottles already sitting on the floor beside the bed. Was that the slight sheen of infusion in it? Whatever it was, it seemed to be working - Link gasped, his body growing rigid before his wounds began to knit, new, healthy skin spreading over the burns, the bruises fading to yellow.

Luv exhaled. "He should be out of the woods now," she murmured, turning to Headmaster Gaepora. "But he'll need rest."

"I will ensure that he gets it," the man said solemnly, bowing deeply. "I thank you for your assistance, Luv."

Gathering her things, she smiled weakly, left another bottle of potion for Link to take later, and took her leave. With one last anguished look back at the bed, Pipit followed, ready to escort her back home.

Letting out a soft sigh, Owlan stood too, dusting his robes off. "Please update me on his condition as soon as possible, Headmaster," he said quietly. When Gaepora nodded, he steeled himself, and started back to his room.

He did not notice the door opposite Link's, slightly ajar, a pair of yellow eyes peering out in stunned disbelief.

When Link awakened later that evening, it was to pain, potion, a bowl of soup, and a lecture from an almost frantically calm Gaepora, so worried about his daughter that it was almost tangible through the relaxed mask he attempted to present.

And then he drifted, eyes closed but sleep elusive, distracted by the spasms and pain in his hand even after the burns and fractures had been healed. He had not seen the injuries he had gained in the desert for himself - it had taken a quiet plea to Gaepora to learn exactly how beaten up he had been.

And, oh Goddess, but his bones ached.

Night had already well and truly fallen by now, judging from the dim silver light stealing in from around the window, and not even his Loftwing would fly in the dark. He would have no choice but to wait until morning - a long, agonising wait.

What was happening to Zelda, down on the surface, simply because he had been too weak to continue? Why had he not pushed past the pain? He had already defied the odds before - couldn't he have done it again?

Impulsively, he grabbed for the hilt of the sword - and then let out a strangled yelp as pain shot up his arm the instant his palm connected with the hilt. Was that his own blood that had been left on it? He gazed at it dazedly, drawing his arm back in, even the touch of the sheets agonising.

He couldn't even pick up a sword right now. How could he help Zelda if he couldn't even fight?

Suddenly determined, he pushed himself up, swinging his bare legs out from the covers. He had to do this. He had to steel himself, ignore the pain, fight on regardless of how much it hurt - Zelda was depending on him, and he would not let her down again.

His hand closed around the hilt again, and again, pain shot up his arm. Gritting his teeth, he lifted his other hand to force his uncooperative fingers around it, hand shaking, vision blurring as his eyes watered.

He had managed to take hold of his sword. That, at least, was a start.

Letting it go with a clang, he let out a shaky sigh, sitting back. Where were his clothes? The tunic was ripped in places, but otherwise fine - but the undershirt and pants would probably have to be replaced, and the boot that had at least saved him from losing a foot to lava was looking rather ragged. Reaching for his things, he began to dress one-handed, right hand held out whenever possible.

And then he reached for a cloth, silently scrubbing blood and fragments of burnt skin from the hilt of the sword.

There - good as new. Link closed his eyes and reached for the hilt again, letting out a hiss as pain tore up his arm again. Even the light leather glove and gauntlet felt like unbearable pressure, like his hand was being ground in a vice - he tore them off, dragged the sleeve up, and glared at the appendage like it had personally wronged him.

"So you can't fight, huh?"

Link started, grabbing the sword again out of sheer instinct, eyes wide and alarmed as he spun to the door. And then one knee buckled, and he nearly collapsed on to the bed again, sword wavering as he fought to remain upright.

Groose nearly filled the door frame, discomfort written all over his face. He was dressed to travel, Link noted distractedly, boots on, a pouch on his hip, a pack shrugged over his back. "Heard you got hurt," he said casually, uncertainty overwritten with cockiness by what seemed like sheer willpower.

"Did you decide to come and laugh?" Link uttered softly, letting himself flop back on the bed. He was in pain, he couldn't fight, and now his bully had come to torment him - this day was not going well so far.

"Actually..." Groose scratched the back of his head, grinning. "If you're all busted up, you can't find Zelda, can you? So if you tell me what y'know, I'll go find her myself."

Link shook his head, glancing at the sword. "I don't think you can."

Groose glowered at him. "Hey, just 'cause you and Zelda are all buddy-buddy doesn't mean that I don't care 'bout her too!" he snapped, "We both wanna find her, so why won't you let me? Bet I can do better than a pipsqueak like you!"

And that was a good point, insults aside. Why couldn't Groose find her? Never mind that he would barely last a minute down on the Surface - he had no doubt, at least, that Groose cared about Zelda deeply. "Because you weren't chosen," he finally said, voice wretched. "I got chosen for this task. I've got to see it through."

"You can't even hold a sword!" the redhead pointed out, taking a few steps in to Link's room and grabbing his wrist to haul him to his feet. Link let out an involuntary yell of agony, and Groose let go as if he had been burnt. "Look, where ever she is, I bet ol' Groose can deal with it!" he blustered, "How hard can it be if you can do it?"

"She's on the Surface," Link said flatly, and Groose stopped stock still. "I've chased her through a forest and a volcano and a desert. She's in a temple in the desert and I have to open these mines to get to them and I've spent the past day nearly suffocating in sinksand and being electrocuted constantly and it's not like fighting off a few Keese and Remlit!"

"But..." Groose sounded weak, shaken. "But there's nothin' beneath the clouds."

Link laughed shakily. "There's a world that makes Skyloft look tiny beneath the clouds. It's full of monsters and there's a demon who wants to hurt her. I've got to save her, Groose. I was chosen from this task, and I'll fulfill it or die trying."

Groose was silent for a moment. Then he asked suddenly, "Okay. What can I do to help?"

Link gave him an uncertain stare. "To - help?" he asked cautiously, "What do you -" He bit down on his lip as another spasm ran up his arm, pushing the words on as if they took physical effort. "What do you mean?"

"Well, guess you got, uh, 'chosen', huh?" Groose said quietly, aiming for 'flippant' and hitting closer to 'uncertain'. "So I guess there's no stoppin' you going. But that doesn't mean you can't have help, right? I can hit things for ya." He grinned cockily, although Link could tell that his heart wasn't quite in it. "Maybe Zelda will be so grateful she'll fall in to my waiting arms!" Miming a swoon, he chuckled weakly, then immediately straightened up. "So. What've I gotta do?"

And Link simply continued to stare at him. Groose's motives were as clear as glass - he had wanted Zelda for as long as Link could remember, to be a hero. But it was also true that he cared about her - and he needed help.

"Fine," he finally said, voice soft. "You'll need equipment. Get a sword from the sparring hall, wooden shield from the bazaar. Get a bomb bag there, too. See if you can find a slingshot, and bring as much potion as you can. And get a sailcloth."

Of course, the unspoken addition to that was, 'But not mine'.

For a moment, Groose's eyes strayed to the Goddess Sword, then nodded. "Right. I'll be back just after the bazaar opens."

Link nodded stiffly. "Don't be too late. I'm not going to wait up for you," he warned, watching warily as Groose virtually saluted.

"I'll be there!" he promised, and headed out, letting the door swing shut with an audible bang.

And Link laid himself back amongst the sheets, aching hand resting on his stomach, wondering if he had just made a very big mistake.