Chapter Twenty-Two

Link is ten, and Saria is dead.

He's in her tree house, crying. His best friend is gone, and he's all alone - except for Ilia, and she's still little. Right now, Ilia is getting a hug from her dad, and for once, Link wishes he had a dad to give him a hug, too.

He chants stupid, stupid, stupid over and over, although he doesn't know if he means himself for not being able to help, or Saria for trying to get to her sacred forest meadow without a grown up, or the driver of the car that hit her.

He has photos of her. And in a few years, he'll be older and won't look like the photos any more, and she'll still look the same. A child forever.

He misses her.

Link is ten, and the man at the funeral home says softly that she looks like she's sleeping.

She's wearing a dress that he's never seen before, white with a blue sash, and he wants to yell and protest and say that it should be green. There are too many flowers - she needs plants, green fronds and leaves, ferns spilling out of their containers. This is not a forest. This is not her place.

And she doesn't look like she's sleeping, she looks like a statue. Her hair is brushed pin straight and her face looks like wax, and he stares at her for a moment in her little white box then turns and runs, runs and hides and buries himself under a table and draws his legs up to his chest.

She's not sleeping.

Link is ten, and the hospital is loud and hurts his head.

Everywhere there is buzzing, mechanical sounds, people shouting. It smells like soap and something that makes his nose prickle and makes him want to sneeze, but he can't because he'll ruin Miss Uli's shirt.

He asks, when can I see Saria? When will she be better? And Uli doesn't answer.

The doctor with the serious face comes out and looks at Link, and he asks Miss Uli to talk without him.

And then they come back, and Miss Uli picks him up like one of the little ones, and she says, Saria is gone.

Link is ten, and he's on his knees in the street, and there's gravel digging into his skin, and he's reaching for Saria's hand, and the man in the car is apologising and the woman in the car is running to the nearest house.

She's very still.

Link is ten, and Saria runs out into the street, her eyes bright as she makes for her forest meadow.

And the car comes out of nowhere.

The car came out of nowhere, and Link felt his world end.

"Sheik!" Barely even aware of his own scream, barely even aware of the other cars, he sprinted to his side, dropping to his knees and ignoring the way gravel dug into his skin. His heart pounding so fast it was a roar in his ears, he reached for Sheik's hand, frantically searching for a pulse.

There - weak, thready, but still there. Link fumbled for his phone, dropped it, scrabbled for it again with blurred vision, and was stopped by a hand on his - Zelda's, her own phone already in her hand.

"I've got it," she choked, and Link nodded distractedly as he turned back to Sheik.

His heart was beating, and there was a slow, laboured rise and fall of his chest. But there was blood in his hair, and one of his legs was twisted at an angle that just didn't look right - Link recalled Groose's shattered femur and the months of rehabilitation it had taken him, and he felt his mouth run dry.

It was bad. Even if he survived, it could be bad. And there was so much blood in his hair, and he was unconscious - what had happened to him? Had he cracked his head open? Link found himself almost too afraid to look.

The traffic had stopped, now. Someone else, not the one who had hit him, had stopped his car and ensured that he would be safe, and Link gave him a watery smile as he glanced up from Sheik's body. "Where's the driver?" he asked numbly, and the other could only shrug helplessly.

A hit and run. A hit and run, and the end result was Sheik, covered in blood, pale and unconscious at his feet.

For a moment, Link couldn't breathe.

"Link?" Zelda whispered, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. "The ambulance is coming. It'll be okay. They'll take him to hospital."

"Kid? The ambulance is coming. It'll be okay. They'll patch her up."

Saria had been taken away in the ambulance. And he had never seen her again.

His last meal rose in his throat, and Link clamped it down by sheer force. He couldn't leave Sheik's side. He would be strong for him, and he wouldn't leave him, and this time, this time, it would be different.

Wouldn't it?

Link reached out and wrapped his hand around Sheik's. And there he stayed until the ambulance arrived, following instructions numbly, given leave to ride with him to the hospital. He barely heard Zelda's quiet voice, saying she'd meet them there, and he found himself shunted to the front passenger seat.

He twisted around, gazing blankly at the paramedics surround Sheik's prone body, then slumped back in the seat, focusing on trying to remember how to breathe again.

But how could he, with Sheik lying back there, pale and still?

They were separated at the waiting room, and Link gazed after where Sheik had been wheeled away on his bed for a long, long time. He remembered another hospital, another special person wheeled away, a shock of green and red against white, and, slowly, he sank to the ground where he stood.

"Would you like a seat, sir?" a nurse murmured, setting a hand on his shoulder. Numbly, Link let her help him stand, leading him to a row of seats. Immediately, he drew his legs up to his chest, ignoring the way his boots left dirty marks on the edge of the chair.

She tsked sympathetically, patting his shoulder and leaving him on his own. Soon after, Zelda arrived, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and resting her head to his shoulder.

She asked nothing of him, and he volunteered no answers, his mind feeling blank and white and empty.

What if he died? What if, like Saria, he lost someone else? When Zelda had asked Sheik about marriage, he had murmured his assent without even thinking about it - if Sheik lost his life just as he realised he wanted to spend his with him, it would be too much to bear.

Zelda brushed her thumb beneath his eye, and Link blinked slowly when he realised that her skin had come away damp.

"He'll be okay," she whispered, reaching for his hand and squeezing it tightly. But her hand was shaking, too - she also held her doubts.

"Heard that before," he muttered, and his voice cracked as he stared at his knees. "And she died."

Zelda remained silent, letting him continue in his own time.

Bitterly, he choked out a laugh. "It's like history repeating itself. It was the same thing. She was excited about where she was going, she ran out into the road, she got hit, she got taken to hospital. And then the doctor came out and he said that Saria, my big sister, my best friend, was dead. She had -" His voice cracked, hard. "Head injuries and internal injuries, a-and he had blood in his hair and you can't see internal injuries a-and..."

This time, he reached up to wipe at his eyes himself, voice strangled by the lump in his throat, the weight that had settled in his chest. He struggled to keep breathing.

"I can't lose him," he whispered, and Zelda turned fully, wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face against the crook of his neck.

"He'll be okay," she repeated again, "He will, he'll recover - Sheik is strong, he's bigger than she was - Link, he'll be okay, won't he?"

Was she trying to reassure him or herself? Either way, he couldn't bring himself to care, trying to stifle his tears. He had to be strong for Zelda, too - he couldn't let himself break down sobbing in a hospital waiting room.

No matter how much he wanted to.

By the time darkness fell, they still had received no word. Impa had arrived by now, having jumped in the car the instant she had got the phone call, and was having a few stern words with the receptionist - she wanted answers on her nephew, and she wanted them now.

"It must be scary for her too," Zelda murmured, and Link nodded slowly. Sheik's parents had died nine years ago in a car accident as well, and even if it wasn't quite the same as being hit as a pedestrian, the thought that she could lose her sister and then her nephew in almost the same way would hurt.

And for him, losing a sister then a boyfriend, a best friend, a lover, almost a soul mate... well, he had an idea what she felt like.

But Impa's agitating had, at least, done something. The doctors didn't seem willing to give information to a couple of unrelated kids, but Impa was Sheik's legal guardian, and aunts were a higher priority than boyfriends, it seemed. When the doctor approached, she beckoned the two of them over quickly, and Link almost ran over.

"- keep him in for observation, since we do want to keep an eye on that concussion. But, otherwise, he shouldn't be in for too long."

"What happened?" Link asked almost breathlessly.

The doctor glanced at his tear-streaked, blotchy face, and, upon getting a nod of confirmation from Impa, explained. "Well, your friend will be sore but shouldn't be too badly off. The main injury is a concussion - since it lead to a loss of consciousness, we want to keep him in for observation, but it's not immediately life-threatening."

Link almost sagged where he stood, a wave of relief so powerful that his knees almost buckled crashing over him.

"- from that, he has bruised ribs with one cracked, a broken collar bone, and a fractured ankle, which has since been set. And there's some nasty-looking contusions and abrasions, but those should heal up nicely."

Zelda hesitated, then, cautiously, spoke up. "He - Impa, he didn't get to tell you, he only just got the email when it -" She paused, shaking her head. "He managed to get an audition to play the harp with Kakariko Symphony Orchestra, and - this means the world to him. When would he be able to play?"

The doctor paused, then shook his head. "I'm afraid I don't know much about harps. He should have fairly normal movement within four to six weeks, but every patient has different tolerances during the healing process. I certainly wouldn't recommend vigorous movements."

Well, it wasn't completely horrible news, Link decided with a little sigh, but Sheik would have to check with his music teacher as soon as he could. "Okay. When can we see him?"

The doctor chuckled a little. "You can go check on him now, if you'd like. Visitors hours are technically over, but..."

He took his leave to see if Sheik was ready to receive visitors, and Link let his breath out, eyes closing as the tension drained out of his body. Sheik was okay. He could see him soon. He had healing ahead, but he would heal.

As one of the nurses lead them to Sheik's room, Link felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.