Link's eye fluttered, white and red peeking between the lashes, and he tried to turn his head toward the flashes of color. His neck creaked and popped with the movement, pain shooting up and down at his spine, and he went completely still.
Well, that wasn't a very good idea.
Inhaling deeply, he forced his eye open and tried to look around the room without actually moving his head.
I think… this is my bedroom.
Squinting, he tried to get a clearer look at the form hovering nearby. It looked like Ghirahim, but it was hard to imagine the demon lord getting so worked up over a slave. Pacing the floor, chewing his nails, nervously tucking his bangs behind his ear… for Demise, maybe, but not for Link.
Still, who else could be that white.
Ghirahim had apparently not known Link was conscious, and upon realizing that, he rushed over to the bed. "Link, are you alright?" Chocolate eyes were overwhelmed with worry, and Ghirahim seemed anxious to hear an answer from the hero on the bed.
Link opened his mouth and tried to form more words, but it wound up being too difficult, and he let out a sigh instead.
Still unsettled, Ghirahim reached out and gently brushed Link's bangs back out of his face. "I suppose it's a good sign you're awake. You had me worried, Skychild." He gave a ghost of a smile and sat down on the edge of the bed, running the same hand through Link's hair a second time. "I shouldn't have slapped you while you were riding. I should know better."
Link frowned slightly, trying to look at Ghirahim's hand and failing. I hurt all over, and Ghirahim is being nice… this if awfully familiar. But he wasn't being punished or broken. He had been riding Farasi, and then he had been talking to Ghirahim, and then…
Ghirahim blinked, as if surprised by the words, but he didn't question them. He simply nodded his head and continued to trail his fingers through Link's hair.
"How are you feeling?"
Link took a deep breath with the intent to force out some words, but his ribs protested the attempt, and he spent a minute or so winded by the pain. "Mm… uh, n-not too great…" It was more of a whisper than anything, but he had managed a reply, and that was something.
Ghirahim gave another faint, almost pained smile. "I should think not." He looked like he wanted to attempt a laugh, but no such noise was made. "I sent your boys down to the kitchen to work for now. They'll be back later with something to eat, and then they are going to stay by your side until I say you're well enough to be out and about on your own."
Link tried to nod, regretting it immediately but still managing to relay understanding.
"You are to stay in this room for at least a week, and your boys have strict orders to report to me if you don't. If I catch you walking around the castle at any time over the next seven days, I assure you, there will be severe punishment."
Link snorted and grimaced at the pain it caused, catching his breath before speaking. "Oh, good… for a moment there… you seemed worried."
Ghirahim glared, but it was pitifully halfhearted.
Link managed a smile he hoped it was more convincing than it felt.
"Did you… hurt… Farasi?"
Ghirahim arched a brow and stared at Link for a moment before rolling his eyes. "No. Not because I didn't want to, but because I knew you would be upset."
Link smiled again, a little bigger and a little longer, but exhaustion still won out in the end. His lips went slack, his eyelid fell, and his lungs pushed out a long stream of unwanted air.
"Do you know what your problem is, Skychild?"
Link hummed and inclined his head toward the voice.
"You care too much. You care about slaves, and animals, and peace, and harmony, and complete strangers. This world… it is riddled with evil and pain and despair. Don't you understand that if you continue to cling to these… these ideals, you're going to die from stress someday?"
Link cracked his eye open and sought Ghirahim's face. He was surprised by the amount of confusion and pity he found, but it only brought the remnants of a smile back to his features.
"Do you know… what your problem is… Master?"
"I beg your pardon?" Ghirahim was more than a little offended.
It only made Link smile more. "You don't… care enough. You don't care about slaves and animals and strangers… I know why, too. I think… no one has ever cared about you… and you're bitter… and you're afraid of fighting… because darkness is all you've ever known." Link hissed slightly, his hand twitching in an attempt to grasp his aching chest. "I… choose to be the light in the darkness… that's all…"
Link took a deep breath and tried to motion to the bed next to him.
"What?" Ghirahim snapped, arms folded over his chest, eyes narrowed and blazing with stubborn pride. "What do you want?"
Link tapped the bed again. "Lay with me?"
Ghirahim scoffed. "How infantile."
Link didn't say anything, but he tapped the bed again, unable to keep his eye open any longer. He waited a few seconds, tapped again, and smiled when he felt the bed sink next to him.
"This is just because you aren't feeling well, understand? I don't intend to make a habit of coddling you."
Link reached out blindly and found Ghirahim's waist, scooting closer and resting his head on the demon's exposed stomach. He let out a heavy sigh, cheek flush against the cool surface, and cautiously maneuvered his arm around Ghirahim's stomach.
"Master… I don't know… what's going on… why you've been acting strange… but I do know… that you're lonely, and—"
Link yelped at the sudden pain on the top of his head, Ghirahim's knuckles rapping against his skull.
"Don't assume you suddenly have the right to speak to me of such things. I told you, this is a special occasion. This is not going to become a habit."
Link idly reached up and rubbed the sore spot, huffing quietly, but then he put his arm back around Ghirahim.
"I made a promise… and I meant it. I'm not… going to forget that… so you can save face." Link poked him. "I'm not… that easy to… get rid of."
"That promise was invalid. It was late, and I was tired, and I wasn't thinking straight."
Link couldn't see Ghirahim's face, but he could imagine a slight tinge of color appearing on the demon's cheeks as he spoke. Still, the fact that Ghirahim hadn't pulled away was proof that Link was on the right track.
"You've been forgotten before… haven't you?" Link traced idle patterns on Ghirahim's stomach as he waited for a reply, watching the muscles tense as the demon's discomfort with the topic of conversation grew. "Someone very important… they forgot all about you… and you never got over it… and because of that, you're all… alone… and it's killing you."
His ribs were burning, protesting his continued refusal to be quiet, and his lungs struggled to pull in enough air to support the stream of words. His body had exerted whatever energy it had left, and as far as his physical self was concerned, the conversation was over.
"You need to rest, Link." Ghirahim moved out from beside him, gentle hands pulling a blanket up to his neck. "Go on, now. Be a good slave, and do as your master says."
Link let out a cross between a groan and a hum, trying to indicate his intent to obey.
"Dinner will be up later, and I will check on your regularly. Goodnight, Skychild."
Link made another noise—or at least, he thought he did. It might have been a sound he thought of but didn't actually create. Either way, Ghirahim left the room, and Link was alone with a body-wide ache and his thoughts.
I don't understand. Why wouldn't he just find someone new and move on? What is the point of being completely alone? How is that any better than experiencing occasional loss? Link felt fatigue pushing on the outer edges of his mind, awareness quickly slipping away. I guess it doesn't matter. He's alone, and I don't know why, but I want to help him. I shouldn't… not after… everything… but what else can I do? I'm stuck here… I might as well…
His thoughts derailed, and he tumbled down into unconsciousness with a final thought.
I promised, and I meant it.
Ghirahim entered the kitchen and lingered in the doorway, watching the slaves scurry about; mixing this, stirring that, baking one thing, and cooking another. He found it odd how… individualistic they were. Before Link came along and started treating them as people, Ghirahim had never taken the time to look at them beyond the quality of their work, but once he started paying attention, he found himself fascinated.
Raika and Jinka were inseparable, forever glued at the hip and often speaking in unison. They finished each other's sentences, and sometimes they traded jobs in the middle of a task and went on as if no such change had occurred.
They followed Deyonce everywhere.
Then again, most of the slaves did. Deyonce seemed to be a leader of sorts, though he bore no rank to place him above anyone else in the room. They simple respected him, perhaps even feared him a little bit, and they certainly relied on him.
Ghirahim groaned and ran his hands through his hair, slipping into the room and sitting down at the closest table. He dropped his forehead to the wooden surface with a thud and let out a sigh.
I am losing my mind.
"Master, are you alright?"
Ghirahim's head snapped up, and he found himself staring into mismatched eyes. "I, ah, yes. I'm fabulous."
Deyonce smiled at him, a mischievous glint going into his eyes. "Master, you didn't say that with your usual finesse. Are you positively certain something isn't bothering you?"
Ghirahim glared, leaning forward and spitting through his teeth. "I'm fine, slave, now get back to your duties, and stop questioning me."
Deyonce bent from his waist, and Ghirahim sensed his words had not done a single ounce of harm. "Yes, Master. I'm terribly sorry for troubling you."
Ghirahim glared at him as he walked away, but he eventually let his gaze wander back to the center of the kitchen. He watched the commotion through a thick haze, his mind wandering back to his conversation with Link.
"You've been forgotten before, haven't you?"
Ghirahim buried his hands in his hair and pulled slightly, drawing minimal comfort from the prickles of pain that traveled over his scalp. You little rat. You would be the one to figure me out. In less than a year, at that. It was disgusting. It made him want to take the skychild by the throat and strangle him slowly.
And yet, it didn't.
"Master, I hate to bother you again, but Demise is summoning you."
Ghirahim nodded, vaguely aware that he was supposed to be mad at Deyonce, and then he snapped his fingers over his head. Steam and wood stoves and clanging pots all melted away into marble floors and chilling silence.
"You called, Master?"
"You've been wasting your time again, Ghirahim."
Ghirahim flinched slightly, stepping toward the large throne with a humble bow. "I am very sorry, Master. I have no excuse."
Demise growled low in his throat, as he often did when he was frustrated. "Is it your new toy? Do we need to get rid of him?"
"No." Ghirahim replied a little too quickly, head snapping up and sending his bangs flying. "No, my slave is not the problem. I was negligent, and that is my fault entirely. It won't happen again, Master, I promise."
Demise rested his chin on his palm, one eyebrow slowly traveling upward. "Is that so?"
"Yes." Ghirahim replied solidly, without hesitation, and then he sought to change the subject. "I noticed smoke signals while I was out today. Do you think it's the Sheikah?"
Demise scoffed, eyes narrowing slightly, almost as if he were deep in thought. "Of course. We killed their precious goddess, and now they want revenge. They aren't content to wait for her to reincarnate, so we have to deal with them now rather than later."
Ghirahim bit his lip, chewing on the flesh for a moment before cautiously breeching a problem in his master's plan. "I understand the urgency, but… the hordes have not yet recovered, and you haven't been able to call the dead due to the upset in the balance. Perhaps we should hold them off rather than eliminate—"
Ghirahim hit the ground hard, his cheek burning, blood trickling down his jawline. Holding a hand to his spinning head, he pulled himself to his knees and pressed his forehead to the floor.
"I'm sorry, Master. Your plan is best. We should eliminate them as soon as possible."
Demise grunted. "By the end of this week."
Ghirahim choked, eyes widening in horror. The end of this week? How?
"Are you doubtful, Ghirahim?"
Swallowing hard, Ghirahim slowly raised his head and made his expression as pleading as he possibly could. "Master… two weeks. Please, just two weeks for the hoards to train and recover a bit more. Just… that's all I ask."
Demise frowned, stroking his chin as he thought about it for a moment. "I'll give you a week and a half. I guarantee the Sheikah aren't waiting around for us to be ready. We have to act fast."
Ghirahim nodded his head. "Yes, Master. I'll tell them."
"No failures this time, Ghirahim."
Ghirahim snapped his fingers, returning to the no longer bustling kitchen.
I have one and a half weeks… no failures… there's an army over the ridge… Link is injured… hoards are down… slaves… and… too much. This is just too much. I can't do this.
He lowered his head to the table and let out a slow, defeated sigh.
His sigh was, of course, followed by an inhale of equal size, and with it came the tantalizing smell of stew. Stew, one of his favorite things to eat despite its simplicity. It reminded him of winters long gone, when Demise would cook and clean up around the castle. There was always a big pot of stew over the fire, filling the living area with its glorious aroma, and he would sit on Demise's lap while it cooked, having any number of books read to him…
"Is supper ready, yet, Master? I'm sooo hungry!"
Demise chuckled, nodding his head and filling a bowl with the stew before placing it on the table. "Let it cool before you eat it, and when you're done, we'll sit by the fire, and I'll read you a story."
"Yay!" Ghirahim clapped his hands and bounced on his chair, putting his nose the edge of the table and watching the steam rise as he anxiously awaited that perfect temperature.
Demise laughed again and wiped his hands on a towel before sitting down across from Ghirahim. Ghirahim waved at him, received a wave in return, and then he was completely focused on his meal again.
There was a knock at the door, and Demise got up to answer it. He moved a little quicker than he normally would, and that was enough to draw Ghirahim's attention from his soup to the door.
"Master, who are those people?"
Demise ignored his question and spoke with the soldier standing just outside, several soldiers and a group of very odd-looking people stretched out behind him.
Demon soldiers were recognizable enough, but the other people looked entirely out of place. They had strangely colored hair—brown and black and gold—and their clothing was baggy and frumpy and covered in patches. There was only one person among them who looked even remotely acceptable.
"Master!" Ghirahim bolted past Demise and grabbed a young boy from the crowd, dragging him back to the house. "Master, Master, Master!"
Behind him, a woman began screaming, probably out of her mind. Thankfully, she was restrained by the guards before she could do anything crazy, so Ghirahim had nothing to be afraid of.
"I want this boy!" Ghirahim shouted, coming to a stop at the door to the castle. "His eyes are really cool. He doesn't belong with those people, he belongs with me!"
Demise blinked. "You want him?"
"Yes!" Ghirahim nodded vigorously. "He'll be my slave, so I can be a master like you, Master! Please? Please, oh, pretty please with glitter on top?"
Demise chewed on his lip for a moment, and then he shrugged his shoulders with a laugh. "Sure, why not? It's about time you had some slaves of your own, I suppose."
"Yay!" Ghirahim giggled, still hearing the screaming lady in the background, and he pulled the boy into the kitchen without another second of hesitation.
Ghirahim pulled a chair away from the table and turned around to tell his new slave to get on it. He stopped, however, when he saw tears rolling down the boy's cheeks, his eyes wide and horrified.
"What's the matter?" Ghirahim cocked his head to the side. "Are you cold?"
His slave just stared at him, still crying, not moving a muscle.
"Do you need food?"
More staring, more blinking, more not doing things.
Ghirahim rolled his eyes and pulled the boy away from the chair. "I forgot. You're just a human, so you don't know much. You can sit with me, and I'll show you how to eat."
Ghirahim hopped up onto his chair and pulled the boy up after him, taking his spoon and dipping it into his dinner. "You get your food on a spoon, and then you eat it, like this!" He shoved the stew into his mouth to demonstrate, and then he handed the silverware to his new friend. "There. Now, you try."
The boy looked at him for a moment or two, and then he took the spoon and got himself some stew, still sniffling but seeming to understand what he was supposed to do.
"There you go, slavey. You just needed a little en… en… encagement, that's all."
Ghirahim took the spoon back and got himself a bite before handing it back over. He waited until the boy got another mouthful, and then he took the spoon back, and that was how they finished the bowl.
"We're gonna have so much fun together, slavey. And since there's no way out, we're gonna be together forever!"
The boy looked up at him. "Forever?"
Ghirahim nodded. "Forever!"
The boy smiled.
Ghirahim felt fingers trailing through his hair, and he didn't have to look to know who it was. "Thank you, Deyonce." He swallowed, eyes burning and staying glued to the tabletop. "I'm s… sorry for yelling at you."
Deyonce chuckled, clothes rustling as he sat down next to his master and placed a bowl on the table. "You shouldn't apologize to a slave. It isn't very proper."
Ghirahim rubbed his eyes and turned his head to look at the boy—no, he thought, not at a boy, a man—eyes still stinging. "Deyonce… do you remember… the night we met?"
Deyond laughed, as if that were the silliest question in the universe. "Of course. I don't forget important events like that so easily, Master." He pushed the bowl a little closer and held out a spoon. "First, you get the food on the utensil, and then you stick it in your mouth. Shall I demonstrate?"
Ghirahim snorted softly and took the spoon, but he didn't eat. He simply looked at it for a moment, turning it over in his hand before setting it aside and laying down along the length of the bench. He put his head in Deyonce's lap and let out what had to be the tenth heavy sigh of the night.
Ghirahim screwed his eyes shut, shoulders quivering as the sobs he had been holding back for so long began to seep out. He felt Deyonce's hands working their way down his back, trying to sooth the aching muscles, and all he could think was that he was out of time.
I can't fix this. I can't make anything better. Everyone is going to die, and there is nothing I can do, and I don't want to be alone again. I can't be alone again, I just can't. I can't lose everyone.
"It's alright, Master. Just go to sleep."
Ghirahim grabbed a fistful of Deyonce's pants and tried to calm his racing heart.
Link… Link, the only variable in the story that seemed determined to repeat itself and leave Ghirahim shattered in its wake. Link, please… save me.