Author's note: A sequel turned sideways! This came about partially due to a review I got, commenting on the twist that happens approximately two thirds of the way through the story that comes before this, The Stuff of Legends. Thinking on it, they had a point - and I still really enjoyed this universe. So, consider this an AU sequel of an AU - one where the twist in The Stuff of Legends never takes place, outlined in the prologue. I do recommend reading that one first, but if not, I've tried to have it stand alone as best as possible.
It had been the Summer Court, that year.
Link's life had become a series of defining events, and the year he turned seventeen, the Summer Court had been the moment that he would most remember. He would remember him and Sheik and Zelda, a sword in his hands, a crown on her head, Sheik's red eyes gazing at him from under long blonde bangs.
He would remember gold medals in the Exhibition and being awakened by glasses of cold water, awkward photographs in front of the press, the sweltering heat of the lights shining on them even in the summer heat.
And he would remember the three of them (and Midna too; in those days, Midna had always been there) stealing away afterwards, a content heap of limbs in the shaded part of what little forest Castle City still had, hands sticky with ice cream and Sheik's head resting gently against his shoulder.
Peace and fun, relaxation and joy, a moment in time where they had shone brilliantly.
And then, after that, had been the long summer, the last long summer before school started again. They had, in fact, gone camping at the lake, and he had taught Zelda and Sheik how to fish and held races to the island. They had climbed Death Mountain and stayed in mountain chalets, Hyrule stretched out beneath them like a painting. They had celebrated.
He and Sheik had not been parted. The penultimate year of school had only strengthened them, and when they finally returned, golden-haired and bronze-skinned after a summer in the sun, it had been to a school where they officially ruled the roost.
Now, there was no time to be distracted, Zelda had told them both seriously. Their final year marked the start of hard work - with university ahead, the choices they made had to be the ones that would carry them forward with further education.
Not focusing was not acceptable. Zelda had her heart set on university and Sheik seemed bound to enter further studies of music, and Link was not going to be left behind.
And so he sat down and learnt, frowning over languages and biology and literature until his plans began to crystallise in his mind. He would, he decided, focus on his passions, and while fencing and archery didn't tend to be a valid university subject, perhaps equestrian would be a way forward.
He would be a vet, he decided firmly, and care for animals like Epona. Malon had stumbled upon this idea too, and so he had found himself with a friend to study with, a helpful reminder on what to do next in biology.
Sheik, at least, had it easy - the study of music required skill and aptitude, not book smarts. And while he certainly was a capable student (far more than Link himself, he thought ruefully, peering across at his literature homework), skill and aptitude was one thing he had had in spades.
And Zelda? Well, Zelda could do seemingly anything she put her mind to - almost single-handedly running the Historical Society, campaigning for updated text books in virtually every class taught in the school, up to and including the subjects she had never even taken, and managing to remain cool and calm and unflustered in the process.
At least, until the false 'pandemic' in Twila became known to the public, and all hell promptly broke loose.
They had learnt, more than a year ago, that their neighbour had been invaded. The Prime Minister's daughter had become a refugee, and although she had found a temporary home of sorts with Zelda and Link and Sheik (but especially Zelda, Link had noted), she still felt the loss of her home acutely. With the invasion and coup now known to the public, Midna was due to say her farewells and depart home to take reigns of the shattered country.
Midna had said goodbye to all of them on a chilly day shortly before solstice, and Link pretended not to notice the tears in Zelda's eyes as they watched her walk through the security gate at the airport with her red head held high.
And then they had returned home, and life had continued on.
They had turned eighteen in the span of a few months - Sheik first, then Zelda (forgoing the usual ball, thankfully, at her request), and then the baby of the group, Link (hardly a baby, he protested, he was only two months younger than Sheik). The plan then had been to move out together, find an apartment near the school - no longer would Zelda and Sheik live at home, and Link would be free of the boarding house.
It had not worked out that way, and yet Link had no complains about it yet, warm and curled up around Sheik in his bed. And at any rate, they would be living on their own soon enough for university...
With impending university also came impending assignments and exams. Link had stopped archery first, and his fencing had dropped from six to four practises a week, then just two. Rides on Epona were few and far between. Twelfth grade students at Castle City High School were not encouraged to focus on their extracurricular activities short of exceptional circumstances, tournaments and meets - instead, every energy would go towards the stress of their final year exams.
Link had stopped going for long walks, and Sheik had began using parkour not just for convenience, but so he could hurry home to bury himself in homework quicker. Zelda had started muttering things under her breath, and once, Link was positive he had heard her speaking in fluent calculus.
The assignments, however, were handed in eventually. And, after a few agonising weeks, the exam period began. Link stormed through them eagerly, had emerged from the final one (biology, the most important of them all), and had promptly thrown his text book into the first bin he had come across.
It had felt particularly cathartic, really.
And then summer, as it was wont to do, arrived again. They had gone to the Summer Festival and eaten ice cream in the sun, and Link had claimed another fencing gold (Sheik, clutching his gymnastics silver, had told him the gold suited him better and had given him his best smile). Link, who had emptied his dorm room out with the last exam, had returned briefly to Kokiri to pack up the rest of his worldly belongings - as an adult, it was time to say goodbye to the children's home that had sheltered him for the past sixteen years.
He had been assured that he was always family there. Hugging Ilia goodbye and clutching a faded picture of a little boy and a young girl with green hair, he had turned his back and returned to the city, and to his friends.
And then they had departed again - one last summer before the start of university, their futures uncertain but for one thing.
They had each other.