The brand new medal affixed to his best purple jacket felt heavy and foreign and Shad couldn’t resist reaching up and adjusting it yet again. Tilting it slightly just to his liking, he took his seat at the raised table in the makeshift banquet hall. A glance at the name card to his left had him at once flushed and overwhelmed. He was to be seated right next to Link, and Princess Zelda herself only one seat past the hero? He was grateful for the honor but didn’t really feel that his part in the Resistance deserved this level of recognition. Copious amounts of reading and mumbling ancient words at statues in basements wasn’t anywhere near their same league of heroic exploits! At least the company would be good, as it always was around the kind, charming, capable, and, ahem, very attractive swordsman. His face still flushed, Shad reached up again to fiddle with his medal.
“Not used to that yet, are you honey?” Telma winked as she walked past him to the end of the table where her name card was placed, sporting her own shiny new medal. “My they’ve done a mighty fast job transforming this warehouse into something proper for a party. It looks beautiful.”
“I can hardly have grown used to something that’s been on my person for a mere half hour, dear Telma. And yes, the place looks splendid.” Shad looked around the massive room, admiring the lavish decorations, numerous blazing chandeliers, and long tables set with gleaming platters and drinkware to accomodate all of Hyrule’s royalty, nobility, and notable citizens. “It is really quite impressive how swiftly the laborers of the castle have transformed this utilitarian space, not to mention their efforts in rebuilding the keep.”
“I suppose they had good motivation, what with the release of Princess Zelda, the victory of our hero, and the restoration of peace to the realm,” reasoned Auru as he claimed his seat. “It’s certainly been inspiring for the people after all the fear and tragedy.”
“That it has, Auru.” Rusl took his assigned seat in between Telma and Auru. “I can’t quite believe that we’re actually here, being honored and toasted like this. The villagers in Ordon threw a feast for Link, the children, and I upon our return, of course, but it was nothing like this. This’ll be my first royal, well, anything. I hope I can do Uli proud. Wish she could be here to see it but I know it’s too much for her with the baby. I’m just glad she’s safe at home with Colin, and relieved Ilia is there to lend her a hand, sweet girl.” Telma squeezed his hand briefly and smiled warmly at his mention of Ilia.
Ashei dropped gracelessly into her chair next to Shad with a grunt, tugging at her unfamiliar long skirt as she tried to arrange it in the least constricting way. “Wish I had an excuse that good to avoid this nonsense,” she muttered under her breath.
Shad choked down a laugh, knowing how much she hated trading in her armor for a dress. It was a mark of her loyalty that she’d acceded to Princess Zelda’s request. He shook his head in wonder as he arranged his napkin properly on his lap. It had been a surreal experience to stand upon the dais erected in the main square of Castle Town half an hour ago, wedged in between his fellow members of the Resistance, and lauded for his accomplishments in vanquishing evil and restoring peace to Hyrule. He was secretly thrilled he hadn’t had to give a speech like poor Link had. He could tell the hero had been nervous, rubbing the back of his neck and adjusting his forearm brace as he rushed through words that were clearly written for him by some member of the royal staff. The people had cheered him all the same though; they loved their hero. Actually, Link still seemed ill at ease as he walked into the hall with the princess to grand applause and took the seat next to Shad with downcast eyes. Princess Zelda briefly took her seat on the other side of Link, then stood again and spoke to the various gathered diners.
“We thank you all for coming this evening to show gratitude to Hyrule’s hero, Link, and his fellow associates in the Resistance, for their honorable and selfless service to our realm.” She paused until the applause died down again. “Please, enjoy the meal and festivities and let us rejoice that we have the freedom once again to celebrate together in this way. Let the banquet commence!” At that, the princess clapped her hands and uniformed waiters began entering from side doors, bearing large platters laden with savory foods and pitchers filled with wine and ale. Musicians in the corner of the room began playing softly and the room filled with the low hum of many conversations as everyone made themselves comfortable.
Everyone except the majority of the people being celebrated, that was. Shad felt eyes on him and tried to smile without making direct eye contact with any of the whispering nobles. He noticed Ashei shifting uncomfortably in her seat and leaned over to her. “Who would ever have fathomed that our baseborn little association would be comingling with the illustrious inhabitants of Hyrule’s highest tier of society?” he said under his breath towards her. “I feel quite at odds here and I believe I can infer that you might also be laboring over what one would call ‘imposter syndrome’, wouldn't you say?”
Ashei grimaced at the elegant lords and ladies chittering around the room and turned towards him. “Not in so many words, I wouldn’t. But yeah, this isn’t my usual scene, obviously. At least we get some good grub and drink instead of standing in front of half of Hyrule getting handed shiny trinkets while everyone gawks.” At that, she drained her wine glass and held it up high, smirking with satisfaction as a waiter rushed over to refill it. “Celebrity has its upsides, yeah?”
Shad chuckled and turned his attention towards the plate a waiter had just set in front of him. Delicacies from all regions of Hyrule were on the platter and he couldn’t wait to try some of them. He heard Link’s chainmail clink and his leather creak as the hero shifted in the chair next to him. The scholar glanced up at him with a smile, expecting as warm a smile back as he’d always received from the friendly blonde, only to be met with silence as Link stared down at his plate, not touching his food. On his other side, the princess also noticed him not eating and leaned towards him.
“Eat, Link. A hero has to keep up his strength, after all. And appearances.” Her encouraging words and polite smile didn't quite match her forceful tone. Link nodded, picked up his fork, and brought a bite to his mouth, eyes still on his plate.
Shad frowned. The hero had been quiet during the ceremony too, other than his pre-planned speech, and although he and the Resistance had gathered beforehand and rejoiced over meeting up again, two weeks after their victory, he’d been rather subdued then as well. The scholar had been elated to see him, having missed talking to someone who took his research seriously and who seemed genuinely interested in being his friend, even during his busy business of saving the world. Probably not used to all the hubbub either, poor thing, especially after that rural upbringing of his. His fellow Ordonian, Rusl, seemed quite able to enjoy the celebratory atmosphere though, as he tucked into his roast meat with gusto and cheered Auru and Telma with his mug of ale. Shad took delicate bites of his spiced pumpkin and continued to contemplate Link’s solemn countenance from the corner of his eye.
Link chewed the tasteless food and forced it down his throat, not paying any attention to what he was eating. He knew Zelda was right, he needed to eat, and he needed to be up here at the high table, representing the triumph of good over evil to inspire the people. He would have enjoyed it even, although it was outside his comfort zone, if all of the people who’d sacrificed so much to save their realm were present. He felt Shad’s gentle gaze on him from his right and twitched in his seat uncomfortably. To his left, Zelda rose from her seat, done with her first course, and stepped away from the table to speak with Prince Ralis and the Zora delegation. All of the various races and provinces were represented here tonight, except the one that had both caused the problem and saved them from it - the Twili.
Of course Midna couldn’t be here - she’d broken the mirror and forever shattered the connection between their worlds. Link’s initial shock at her sudden and unexpected action had changed into a fierce physical pain deep in his chest whenever he thought of her and how he’d never see her again. Ever. Never hear her snarky thoughts on some silly custom or snooty citizen of Hyrule, never receive her helpful advice on some tricky situation, never feel her constant presence in his shadow, never be in his wild and free wolf form again with her help and the shadow crystal. Never see her stunningly beautiful true form again either, with her exotic good looks, warm scarlet gaze, and flowing, vivid orange locks. Link squeezed his eyes shut tightly as his memories overwhelmed him and his grief hit him full on like a Goron in the sumo ring. Gone. She was gone, and he was alone. He took a deep shuddering inhale and gripped the edge of the table with his hands. The party continued around him, everyone caught up in the swirl of gaiety and conversation.
Goddesses but he missed her. What if she’d been here, seated next to him, leaning over to whisper something snarky about all these overstuffed aristocrats, her warm breath tickling his ear, her lean and curvy body pressed up against him, as comforting as when she used to snuggle up against his wolf form in her own imp one, but with the added flame of desire that had been between them at the end? Link’s thoughts went into semi-aroused overdrive and then tore into him viciously as he again registered the reality of her absence. And the worst part was that he was not just the only one who missed her, but one of the only people that even knew of her existence. It’s not like there was a ceremony to honor her and all that she’d done to save both their worlds - no one in the kingdom even knew about her or the Twilight realm, due to Zelda’s decision to keep most of the ordeal a secret. She’d saved Hyrule and her own world with him every step of the way, she was gone forever, and he couldn’t even talk about her, remember her, to anyone. How could you properly mourn someone who didn’t officially exist? He grunted and gripped the table so hard in his pain that the wood creaked beneath his hands, threatening to crack.
“I say, old boy, are you quite alright? I’m not certain what ails you, but I daresay that table doesn’t deserve the full force of your strength in retaliation.” Link looked up into Shad’s concerned indigo eyes and dropped his hands from the table.
“No,” he managed to articulate as waves of grief and longing washed over him, “I’m not alright.”
The scholar blinked rapidly behind his spectacles at the terse reply and leaned closer to him. “I don’t mean to cause you further concern, nor should I ever endeavour to tell you what to do, but your behavior isn’t seemly for a celebration in your honor and it’s beginning to attract more than my sympathetic attention.”
Link glanced up and saw that Prince Ralis was looking at him worriedly and had leaned over to ask the princess something. The hero blew out a deep breath and took another bland bite of food. “I’m fine. I have to be here. I’ll make it through.” Zelda turned to look at him with a quickly hidden scowl and turned back to Ralis with a tinkling laugh. Link caught a comment about “more at home fighting than feasting,” and saw Ralis’ attention diverted back to the princess. Link reached for his wine goblet with a shaking hand and gulped half the liquid down in one drink. I'm not at home anywhere now. He closed his eyes again and covered his face with his hands, trying and failing to pull himself together.
He felt Shad’s hand on his shoulder and his warm breath on his ear as the young man leaned over to whisper to him. “You’re absolutely and positively not fine at all, and I think you ought to go have a lie down. There’s no shame in not feeling up to all this carousing.”
Link dropped his hands down from his face and looked up at Shad incredulously. The scholar was gently smiling down at him, a look of care and concern displayed on his elegant features. He's so genuinely nice, but why does he care if I'm enjoying a party or not? “I wish it were that simple, but it’s not. I’m the face of heroism and courage for this kingdom now. I can’t just leave a party thrown in my honor because I’m sad or grumpy. Zelda won’t have it and no one else will understand either,” he replied glumly.
Shad’s gentle eyes studied him thoughtfully as he took in what the hero had just said. “And what if you could abandon the festivities because you’re acting heroically, hmm? What if your courageous actions led you to leave the premises on behalf of another?”
Link blinked in confusion. “What?” Shad winked, and then abruptly stood up from his chair, grabbing dramatically at his throat and gasping, then fell to the floor convulsing. Shocked as he was at the scholar’s actions, Link’s reflexes still worked as quickly as ever. He was out of his chair and at Shad’s side in an instant, even before Ashei had noticed Shad was down. He frantically reached for Shad’s shoulders to attempt to help him hold still and shouted up at the room. “Send for a healer, quick!” The redhead opened his eyes and winked at him again, then quickly closed them. OH, thought Link. Scooping the taller man up easily in his arms, he headed for the door. Zelda rushed over as a flustered crowd began to gather, abandoning her regal poise for the moment.
“By Nayru, Link, what’s happening?” she asked, panicked.
“He just dropped out of his chair and started twitching. I’m not sure exactly what’s wrong with him, but I’ll carry him to my rooms to help him there. A party’s no place for something like this,” Link replied. Zelda nodded her head and swiftly beckoned a servant over to relay instructions, then turned to reassure the rest of the guests as Link carried a limp Shad out of the banquet hall. The rest of the Resistance cast worried looks their way but stayed by the princess to help keep order, trusting in Link’s competence to assist their fellow member.
The guards outside the doors startled when Link suddenly pushed through them carrying the fallen form of another party guest. “Sir, do you need assistance?” the taller one asked as he stepped towards him.
“No, I’ve got this, thanks. My friend is sick and needs rest. I’m taking him to my room for that. Please don’t let anyone bother us.” The guards saluted him and stepped back into their assigned spots, their eyes following him down the hall.
Link followed the corridors back to the part of the castle that was still habitable, past the construction areas around the main keep. Shad lay limply in his arms the whole time, occasionally moaning and rolling his head when they’d pass a worried looking guard or servant, but no one else stopped them and Link made it to his appointed suite of rooms swiftly. Kicking the carved wooden door shut behind him, he shifted his arms to let Shad stand again, and stared at the scholar as he fidgeted with his hair and clothing.
Tugging his waistcoat straight, Shad tried not to show how much he had enjoyed the feeling of the hero’s strong arms supporting him, or how improper he thought those feelings were at such a time. He paused while adjusting his bowtie and met the swordsman’s direct gaze. “What? Cease your staring, I’m perfectly hale and hearty. Didn’t know I had a touch of the thespian in me, did you?”
“I… I can’t believe you just did that, made such a commotion for my sake. Just to get me out of a party I didn’t want to be at. I was too concerned about how it’d look if I left and you sacrificed your own image and reputation for me. Why?” Link shook his head in wonder.
Shad flushed. “Ah, well, it, er, it seemed like the right thing to do for you. For truth’s sake the idea just took hold of me and I acted. My sincerest apologies if it has upset you further, I don’t normally act without much forethought like that. And I don’t give a whit about my reputation or lack thereof. Most of those people turned their noses up at me on the daily before this ceremony told them that they should treat me as one of their own.” The scholar paused and removed his glasses, wiping them clean on his shirt. “In addition,” he said as he put them back on the bridge of his nose, “it was abundantly clear that you were on the edge of some sort of personal crisis and required my assistance. We are comrades, and even perhaps friends, are we not? In my research, that is something that friends do.” He looked up at the hero. “I’d gladly do it again for you, old boy.”
Link took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he took in the scholar’s soft words. “Thank you. Seriously, thank you so much. I - I don’t have fancy words like you, I can’t begin to thank you enough for getting me out of there. But yes, I’m happy to be your friend, and I’m grateful to you for being such a good one to me tonight.” The hero walked over to the bench at the foot of his enormous poster bed, kicked off his boots, and stripped off his forearm brace, leather fingerless gloves, and belt pouches, dropping them on the bench. Next off came his hat and then his green overtunic and chainmail. Those he hung on a clothing rack by the bed. Clad in his off-white undershirt and tan breeches, he gestured to the generous divan set before the massive stone fireplace, lit with a roaring fire already warming the room. “Make yourself comfortable, please.” The hero moved over to one side of the ornate sofa and flopped down onto it, his left hand massaging his temples as his eyes closed.
Shad quietly padded across the floor to the sofa and stood by the far end. “Link… I wanted to assist you out of the banquet for your own sake, not mine. I don’t want to impose on your hospitality a moment longer than necessary. Thank you for your offer, but really, I can tell you need some time alone to -”
“Stay,” Link commanded. He opened his eyes and sat up. “Please. You’re not a hall full of fancy folk I don’t know, Shad, you’re a friend and your company is welcome.”
“Alright then. I’ll stay if my presence brings you a measure of peace.” The scholar gingerly sat down on the edge of the sofa. Link smiled at him and Shad felt his heart beat a little faster. I'm just pleased he's finally smiling again... my quickened heartbeat has nothing to do with how his smile lights up his whole handsome face. Shad smiled back and watched in delight as Link’s grin grew even bigger, reaching his clear blue eyes.
“How ‘bout a drink?” Link hopped up from the divan and headed to a sideboard on the wall by the door as Shad nodded in reply. “The maids leave fresh water and wine in my room every day.” He picked up a decanter and turned back to Shad, making a face. “I sound like one of those court snobs, don’t I? ‘My maid service.’ I swear these rooms Zelda made me stay in are turning me soft. I would’ve gladly set up camp outside the city walls like I’m used to, but she said it would make her look bad if the people saw that Hyrule’s Hero had to sleep on the ground outside town.”
Shad chuckled softly at the idea of scandalized nobles gaping in horror at their beloved hero sleeping on the ground - as if the Ordonian had achieved what he had by lazing around in rooms as ornate as this one instead of questing all across the land for months on end. “Well, it was grand of Her Highness to assign you a suite of rooms in the castle while you’re here, and I do comprehend her motives. She has multiple perspectives to consider in her official duties, of course. And really, the fire already laid and lit is quite pleasant, is it not?” Link grunted in agreement as he walked back over and handed Shad a goblet of wine. “My thanks, old boy, although I am not usually a consumer of wine or spirits.” He sipped delicately at the dark red liquid. “Ahh, it does warm one a bit though, doesn’t it?”
Link didn’t reply, and Shad glanced up to see him draining his goblet and heading back to the sideboard to refill his cup. The redhead frowned, not wanting to appear a prude but also concerned about the amount his young friend was consuming. “I’d venture to guess wine isn’t your usual beverage of choice either?” He tried to keep his tone light.
The hero took another long swig and turned back towards Shad, reclining against the sideboard with one knee bent and his foot resting flat on the finely carved drawers. “No. In fact, I usually drink milk or water. Or potions, I suppose, but I try not to get into spots where I need to drink those too much. Of course, it seems like my life is ending up where those kinds of things find me instead of me finding them.” He shrugged, looking down at his cup, then kicked off the sideboard and crossed the room to the sizable window on the other side of the hearth. Shad watched as one hand gripped the brocade curtain and the other brought the goblet to his lips again, the late afternoon sun’s rays shining through his dark gold hair.
“I see.” Shad replied softly, setting his cup down on a side table by the sofa and turning towards the hero. He was about to explore that remark with some gentle probing when a sharp rap sounded at the door. Link turned in a flash, alert despite the amount he’d had to drink, and crossed to the door.
“Yes?” he queried through the thick wood.
“Sir? Master Link? It’s Vanna, the healer. Her Highness sent me to check on Master Shad.” Link paled and shot a look of mild panic at Shad. He’d forgotten he’d called for a healer when the scholar had faked their way out of the room.
Shad could tell by Link’s panicked look that he didn’t want any strangers in the room right now, especially not one who could blow their flimsy cover story and potentially get them in trouble with the princess. “I’ll handle this” he mouthed at Link, who nodded gratefully and backed away from the door. The scholar rose and opened the door a crack to see a small older woman dressed in a healer’s apron at the door. The smell of pungent herbal medicines came off of her and she looked relieved when she saw her patient standing there.
“You’re Master Shad?” she asked since it was quite obvious he wasn’t Link, who nearly everyone knew by sight by now. Shad’s nod answered her in the affirmative and she held up her bag marked with the healer’s emblem. “I’m here to examine you, sir, at the princess’s command.”
“My deepest offers of gratitude for coming, Madam Vanna, to you and Her Royal Highness. Fortunately for me, our hero was able to safely dislodge the item that was obstructing my trachea and I have sufficiently recovered, as you are able to observe for yourself. He has offered me the use of his divan to rest and recover upon and I feel my condition will continue to improve with rest and his careful eyes upon me. At this time I do not require a full medical examination as there is no longer a predicament and I should not wish to keep you from the urgent medical needs of our fellow citizens. Please do report back to the princess that I am making my way back to good health, give her my utmost thanks, and be assured that should my condition decline in any way, Link will assist me as best as he is able to and call for your services post haste.”
The little healer blinked several times and rocked back slightly on her heels at his onslaught of polished words. She seemed vaguely uncertain but his tone and confidence won her over. “Yes, sir. I’ll let Her Highness know you’re in better health and good spirits again. I’ll leave you to rest, but here, please take this just in case you feel poorly later.” She rummaged through her bag and handed over a small bottle of red potion. “I just mixed it up myself, so it’s fresh and best used within a day or two. I’m glad you’ve recovered. G’night sir.”
Shad smiled at her and firmly shut the door as she began to walk down the hall. He turned back into the room, satisfied, and saw Link staring at him wide-eyed from across the room. The redhead flushed self-consciously as the hero’s intense gaze didn’t leave him. He made his way back over to the sofa and set the bottle the healer gave him down next to his cup. “Well now, that should buy you a few more moments of much-needed respite - I say, why are you gazing upon me with such incredulity? I feel like a specimen under glass.”
“Y-you’re so good at that.” Link rubbed the back of his neck. “I never know what to say to anyone at court so they’ll actually listen to me, and you just.. you just sent her away, right away, without her arguing or trying to talk over you at all. I don’t even know what a trachea is but your smooth talking sure won her over quickly! I could never have done that. Thank you again.”
“Ah.” Shad smiled wryly. “Yes, well, a substantial vocabulary from years of reading and studying combined with intimate knowledge of how to command palace staff, thanks to my father’s long tenure as butler here, has certainly provided me with useful loquacious skills. I’m glad they could assist you so thoroughly. And trachea merely means throat. Essentially I told her that I was choking on a piece of food and you dislodged it.” The scholar settled himself back onto the sofa and took another small sip from his goblet. “Is that what had you so upset earlier? Unease at dealing with a different level of society than you’re used to? I daresay it’s been a bit of a culture shock but I’m sure you’ll catch on soon enough. You’ve successfully dealt with quite a number of different cultures and societies all on your own throughout Hyrule’s troubles, have you not?”
Link’s face immediately fell as Shad’s well-intended words struck him. All on my own? Hardly. I was never alone through any of it. His grief flamed back to life within him as he thought of how much easier and less lonely it would be to navigate the complex court politics with Midna by his side. He turned and made his way back to the window, barely registering the scholar hesitantly calling his name. The hero leaned his forehead against the cool glass, his head swimming from the wine, and cursed inwardly as he saw that the day was just slipping into night as the late summer sun began to sink below the horizon. Darkness gathered across the sky and in the corners of the room, the shadows growing longer as deep purples and oranges lit up the clouds. Twilight. His least favorite time of day, now.
He closed his eyes tightly as the memory of their last sunset together washed over him, the day after their victory. She’d been so beautiful, sitting on the edge of the ruined castle wall next to him, the soft oranges in the sky complementing her fiery locks. She’d taken his hand, her pale blue-grey skin so smooth in contrast to his tanned, calloused hands, and leaned towards him, her scarlet eyes smoldering. “Aren’t you going to kiss me goodbye, Link?” she’d teased him playfully. He had. He’d leaned in and met her soft lips with his own, heart leaping in joy at finally knowing without a doubt that she returned his affections. Their kiss had deepened, with mouths open and tongues exploring, hands roaming around waists, up backs, and through hair. She’d pulled his hair hard, tilting his head back, and explored his jawline and neck with her mouth. He’d moaned, aroused, and she’d laughed. “My wild boy, I can’t tell you how long I’ve wanted to do this with you,” she’d whispered in his ear before she nipped along its length. After that they’d gone back to her room, where they continued to slowly explore each other’s bodies in between bouts of sleep, limbs entangled and hearts beating as one. He'd been nervous at first about a potential pregnancy until she'd explained that Twili bodies didn't work like Hylian ones did, and that she was completely in control of her fertility and would have to take specific measures before mating to become pregnant. After that he'd fully given in, and the pleasures she’d shown him with hands, mouth, and body, and taught him to give to her in return, were more than he’d ever dreamed of. And then, upon waking in the morning, he’d told her he loved her and couldn’t wait for her to return and visit once she’d stabilized her realm. She’d said nothing, only smiled and kissed him deeply, and then they’d set off with Zelda for the Mirror Chamber.
He knew now why she’d been quiet. There would be no visits. She was never coming back. Her kiss truly had been a goodbye, not the see-you-later that she’d told him at the end. How could she? How could she let him love her so thoroughly and then leave him like that? He felt like his heart had been carved out of him with a rusty Bokoblin sword and his throat felt full and tight as he choked back a sob.
He opened his eyes to see that the sun had fully set and night had begun. His senses came back to him, head throbbing, and he realized that Shad was calling his name, his voice rising in concern at Link’s continued silence. He turned away from the window to look blankly at the scholar, who was standing close by and wringing his hands.
“Link? I say, what’s the matter? Link? I’m so sorry if I said something to upset you. I didn’t mean to imply that I- that I knew and understood all your troubles, or that they’d be easily solved, or - heavens, I don’t even know what I’m saying, I just want to make sure you’re alright-”
“Shad.” The word croaked out of his throat, past his held-back sobs, and sounded strange to his ears. “I’m - I’m sorry, I think it’s the wine. Sorry. Lost in my thoughts.” He still was. He couldn’t get Midna’s face out of his mind. He was semi-aroused from his memories of their time together, which contrasted sharply with the despair he felt thinking of her.
The scholar’s face relaxed in relief as Link finally answered him. “I absolutely understand, and no apologies needed. It’s why I only partake in small amounts of spirits when they’re offered. I suspect you’ve not indulged in such a way before. Come, be seated, I’ll fetch you some water and you’ll feel better once you’re properly hydrated.” Shad went to the sideboard and lit the lantern there, then poured a cup of water and returned to Link.
The hero nodded and stumbled his way over to the sofa, eyes glazed. He took the cup of water the redhead pressed into his hands before sitting down next to the hero. Link’s eyes couldn’t seem to focus correctly and the flames of the fire danced before them. Flames the color of her hair and eyes. Why did everything have to remind him of her? Even the scholar’s kindness made him think of all the ways she’d helped him throughout their quest together. The swordsman glanced up at him. Shad’s brows were knit together in concern and the firelight glinted off of his dark red hair. Link reached up to tug at the curly lock on his forehead that always seemed to escape the scholar’s carefully combed style. “Red. Good color,” he hiccuped.
Slightly shocked at the unexpected touch and trying not to show it, Shad helped Link bring the cup of water back up to his lips for another long swallow. Though he thrilled at the hero’s touch and notice of him, he knew he wasn’t in his right state of mind, both from the sadness that seemed to cling to him and the drink, and Shad was in no mood to acknowledge or encourage it. “Link, my friend, I’m here to help you. You don’t have to tell me what’s wrong-”
“Good, because I can’t. Not allowed to.” the hero spat out venomously. His despair quickly turned to fury as he struggled against the restrictions Zelda had placed upon him. Shad was so caring, so understanding. He wished more than anything he could open up to him and spill his heart out here and now. “Horrible. Bad awful things if I do. Never tell, never, never…” his words trailed off as his fury swiftly burned out and overwhelming grief claimed him again. Never - oh how he hated that word and it’s finality. A tear finally swelled up from his eye and slowly made its way down his cheek. It paused there for a moment and then fell, landing right on the index finger of his left hand. Link looked down at it and brought his hand up before his face. The light from the fire glowed through the tear and he flicked it towards the fire. Just like Midna flung her single tear, shattering our future. Except I don't have her magic and my tears will change NOTHING. It didn’t matter. The tears wouldn’t stop coming now, and deep sobs began to wrack his entire body as he finally gave in to his grief.
A stab of pain went through Shad’s heart as his friend doubled over in pain, his weeping intensifying. It hurt so much to see the courageous hero, who’d carried the burden of an entire land for so long, in such pronounced misery. He still had no idea what was the matter, but was disturbed at the fury and resentment in Link’s words as he’d said he wasn’t allowed to tell. Wasn’t allowed to tell what? And who wasn’t allowing it? The princess? Her advisors? Link’s own self? The scholar tucked those questions into the back of his mind to explore later, bringing his presence back to this moment, where his friend needed him.
“Shhh shhh shhh. It’s okay Link. Shhh. It’s okay. Cry if you need to.” The redhead reached up with one hand to awkwardly pat the hero’s back as the sobs shuddered through him. Link suddenly turned and fell towards Shad, his head buried under the scholar’s shoulder, hands clutching at his jacket, and continued weeping into his chest. Shad froze in shock, his arm still in the air where it had been patting Link’s back. There was no self-consciousness at all in the swordsman’s actions. In fact he barely seemed aware of what he was doing, instinctively turning to the closest source of comfort offered to him. Flushing with the intimacy of the contact and the vulnerability, Shad cautiously lowered his arm and put it around the hero, pulling him close. Link drew his legs up beneath him, curling even more into Shad as his crying continued unabated. The scholar stroked his back and made gentle shushing noises as the fire slowly died down and Link’s sobs eventually softened into shuddering gasps and then quiet breathing.
“Link?” There was no answer other than the hero’s soft exhalations. Wondering at his own boldness, Shad reached out with his free hand and gently swept back a lock of sandy blonde hair that blocked his view of Link’s face. The swordsman’s eyes were closed and his chest rose and fell with rhythmic deep breaths. He was asleep.
And he was beautiful. Even with his eyelids red and puffy from crying, he was so beautiful that Shad couldn’t look away. With no one around to watch or judge him, and Link himself fast asleep, Shad finally gave into his long-fought urge to just gaze at the hero as much as he wanted. The light from the small lantern and the fire was dim, but his handsome features were still highlighted by the glow from the coals. His high cheekbones, his pointed chin, the dark lashes sweeping his cheeks, his cute little nose, those fierce and expressive eyebrows of his, his full lips; so severe and serious at times, so friendly and kind when turned up in a smile… all of his features enchanted the scholar.
I am infatuated with him, he finally admitted to himself. He’d tried to keep these feelings tamed, tried to shove them down and think of him only as an ally and possibly a friend, but he now knew he was smitten beyond belief. Yes, Link was gorgeous, but everyone who saw him knew that. Everyone also saw and admired the courageous hero and his legendary feats, but who had seen Link like this? Who had seen him tender, afraid, despairing, and vulnerable? Shad’s heart swelled as he considered the trust Link had shown in him and an overwhelming desire to make this sad, sweet boy feel better rose up from within. Without thinking he reached down and stroked the hair by the side of the hero’s face again, tucking it behind his pointed Hylian ear. His hand lingered, and then slowly stroked the blonde’s ear from base to tip and back again. Link shifted in his sleep, his head sliding down a few inches from Shad’s reclined torso to his lap, and murmured a soft “mmm.”
Hot shame suddenly heated Shad’s cheeks and he snatched his hand back. He relished the hero’s trust in him and then he abused it like this, ogling him and stroking him like he was a hot piece of flesh and nothing more while the swordsman lay on him, unconscious? Despicable! He clamped down on his ardent feelings and determined to treat his sleeping friend with the respect that he deserved. No matter what he thought or how he felt, a romantic connection was not something he was going to pursue with Link. He wouldn’t dream of ruining the good working relationship they had, or their fledgling friendship. Besides all that, although same-sex relationships were generally accepted in Hyrule, they weren’t common. For all he knew, Link liked girls and wouldn’t appreciate Shad’s advances. To distract himself from the temptation curled up on his lap, he began to mentally categorize ancient sky runes, first alphabetically, then based on the locations of where he’d found the owl statues with corresponding characters, and then finally cross-referenced them with their various translations in the three other languages he knew.
Quite some time passed. He wasn’t sure exactly how long he’d been at his mental exercises, but the fire was nearly out now and his legs and lower back were stiff and cramped from sitting in the same position for so long. He arched his back in his seated position, trying to relieve some of the pressure while not jostling Link, but the hero shifted anyway. Shad froze as Link rolled from his side onto his back, his blonde head resting on the scholar’s thigh, opened his eyes, and looked directly into Shad’s.
Link blinked several times to clear his vision. He was so warm and comfortable and didn’t want to wake up yet. Where was he? This wasn’t his bed. He shook his head a little, feeling groggy and disoriented. As his focus came back he realized he was on his back, staring up into large, gentle, beautiful, dark blue eyes. Shad’s eyes. Shad? Why was Shad above him? The realization that he was laying on the scholar’s lap suddenly hit him and a wave of embarrassment washed over him, turning his face crimson. Oh Goddesses! He’d completely lost it in front of Shad and apparently fallen asleep on him! He sat straight up and instantly regretted it as blood rushed to his head and a throbbing headache pounded between his temples, a painful reminder of how much he’d had to drink earlier. He covered his face with his hands and groaned.
“Link, it’s okay. You’re probably feeling fairly ill, from the wine, and well… your uh, your mournful episode. Here, drink this and take your time getting up.” Shad stood, stretching out all his cramped muscles, and handed the hero the red potion that the healer had left. Link kept one hand over his face and reached out his other to take the bottle from the scholar. He brought it to his lips and took several small sips. Shad used the time to light several more lanterns around the room, brightening it considerably. Turning back to the sofa, he saw Link standing, stretching his arms over his head, working out the kinks. His rebellious mind admired the swordsman’s lean and muscular build before he admonished himself and headed back over to him.
“Feeling any better, old boy? The after-effects of spirits can be wicked things. I’m fortunate to only have had a couple of incidents before I learned my lesson well. I do believe some consider it a rite of passage!” Shad chuckled, trying to dispel the lingering awkwardness between them.
Link didn’t laugh, and wouldn’t look at him. “A little better. Thank you for the potion. Shad, I - I’m so, so, so sorry. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I never meant to take advantage of your kindness like this. I can’t believe I cried on you and fell asleep on you, trapping you in this room with me like that. I’m so embarrassed. You probably regret ever helping me escape from that banquet and I don’t blame you! Who would want to spend their evening like this, when you could have been at a royal celebration? I can’t apologize enough.” The hero self-consciously hugged his upper arms, visibly shrinking in on himself.
Shad’s heart twinged. Did the hero really think himself so unworthy of care and tenderness from his friends? “Oh, no, no no!” The scholar waved his hands in front of himself for emphasis, shaking his head. “Please believe me when I say that I have been far more comfortable and happy here helping you than I ever would have been at that party. You were not the only one uncomfortable with all of the staring and gossiping, and I am happy to have had the chance to assist you when you needed it so dreadfully. It is no crime to be sad, Link, and it is quite alright to accept the solace that friends offer you. I’ve developed quite the fondness for you -” The scholar stopped, his cheeks flaming as he realized his words had gotten away from him.
Link finally turned and looked at him, the shame gone from his face. “You have?”
Shad stammered as he tried to clarify. “Y-yes, of c-course! You, you’re um, you are quite a good friend to have, as well as a staunch ally and member of the Resistance, and naturally I have grown fond of you as we’ve worked together. Yes, indeed, as I’m fond of Ashei, Auru, Telma, and Rusl. All good friends. Good, good.” Oh, Hylia, why had his words failed him now? “And ah, it can make one feel useful and help to bond a friendship when one assists a friend in such a way, through a troubled time.”
“Ah.” Link’s lips turned up in a tiny smile. “Well I’m very fond of you too, Shad. And you have my thanks, wagonloads of them, for your kindness and friendship this evening. You’re a really good person, you know that?”
Blushing and smiling, Shad dropped his gaze and was about to reply when a loud knock sounded against Link’s door. The two looked at each other - the healer again? - and Link headed over to see who it was.
“Mistress Vanna?” he called. “Shad’s still okay, but thank you for checking again.”
“It’s not Mistress Vanna.” came the regal feminine voice. “Link, please open the door.” The young men shared a shocked glance before Link composed himself and opened the door for Princess Zelda. She glided into the room, her skirts trailing behind her, and turned to ask her lady’s maid to wait in the hall. Her keen eyes glanced over the room and landed on Shad, who bowed low, before she turned back to Link still holding the door open. “Shut the door, Link.” she reminded him gently. He did so, and gave her a small bow.
“Your Highness, how may I serve you?” he asked as he straightened from his bow.
“Oh, stop!” she laughed at him “Are we going to revert to formalities now? ‘Oh, Hero Chosen by the Goddesses, Defender of Hyrule, Champion of the Light Spirits’... etcetera etcetera. We could go back and forth all night with the titles. In private audience you know I prefer you to call me Zelda. Especially after everything we’ve been through together,” she added softly. Link shrugged, looking sheepish, and nodded his head.
The princess turned her attention to the scholar, clasping her gloved hands in front of her, a look of genuine concern upon her fair face. “Shad, how are you? Mistress Vanna reported that your illness was caused by choking, and that Link was able to help clear your airways? I’m glad to see you standing here so recovered.”
“Yes, Your Highness.” He noted that she did not correct him or urge him to use her name as she had with Link. That was fine. He wouldn’t dream of being so familiar with royalty. “A piece of food became lodged in my throat and Link managed to dislodge it after carrying me from the hall.” He felt a small twinge of guilt at lying directly to the princess’s face. If it had been for anyone other than Link… “I’ve been resting and Link has been pleasant company.” A derisive snort escaped from Link before he could stop himself and Zelda raised one perfectly arched eyebrow.
“Is that so? I’m glad to hear that our hero has taken such good care of you. I was grieved that you had to miss so much of the celebration in your honor, and I know your friends in the Resistance were very worried. I was able to give them the report from the healer as soon as she returned to me and their relief was palpable. You have some good friends in them.”
“I do, Your Highness.” Shad dipped his head, acknowledging her words. “I am very fortunate in my friends indeed. Thank you so much for reassuring them of my well being and for your concern for me. I am deeply flattered.”
“Naturally,” Zelda nodded. “Hyrule must look after its heroes, as they looked after us in our time of need.”
The scholar blushed. “Ah, thank you, Your Highness. It is good of you to call me that. I admit that I feel uncomfortable with the title. I do not feel that my actions personally did much to free Hyrule of its troubles, as all I did was assist Link with some research necessary for him to complete one of his quests.”
The princess smiled at him gently. “Nevertheless, you did more than most, and I have named you one.” She turned away from him towards Link, clearly ending that line of conversation. “Link, I’ve come for more than an inquiry about health concerns. You left so early, I hardly got to speak with you during the ceremony or banquet.”
“Yeah, sorry. Just instinct, ya know, trying to save people and all that.” The hero laughed awkwardly and rubbed the back of his neck. “D’you want some water? Or… wine.” He made a face when he said it and Zelda laughed.
“Oh ho, did you overindulge tonight? No wonder you look a little rough around the edges.” Link scowled and Shad nearly fainted. Scowling at the princess while she chuckled at him! Clearly they had a level of camaraderie that went far beyond anything the scholar had witnessed between them at formal occasions. “No, thank you, I am not in need of any refreshments,” she continued. Walking over to him, she reached for both his hands and peered into his face. “Link, I’ve come to formally ask you to remain in Castle Town for the next few weeks. You’ll continue to have the hospitality of the castle, of course. My coronation as queen will take place in a fortnight. I want your help in planning it and I’ll also want you there, as part of the ceremony.”
“Ugh, Zelda! Another stuffy ceremony?” Link pulled his hands from hers and turned away, crossing his arms over his chest. “Why do you need me here the whole time? Why must I be a part of it?” The hero’s behavior was shocking to Shad, who was beginning to feel very out of place.
“You know why.” The princess’s voice lost some of its friendly tone and reverted to formality. “As Hyrule’s Chosen Hero the people need to see you to believe in you. Believing in you is believing in Hyrule, and we all need that more than anything right now.”
“Well then put up a stupid statue of me and have everyone gush over it! I’m a person, not a symbol!” Shad gasped at his audacity as Link stormed away to the other side of the room, and turned to glare at her. “You know I’m not good at any of this. I don’t know how to talk to nobility and royalty, clearly, I don’t know anything about royal ceremonies, or coronations, or banquets! How can I possibly help you plan?”
The princess’s voice was glacial. “This is not a request, Hero. We require your presence in Castle Town, at coronation planning meetings, and at the coronation itself, and that is final. The first meeting is three days hence and you will be there.” Link huffed and refused to look at her. Shad didn’t dare stay a second longer as the tension between the two continued to build.
“Ahem, um, please excuse me, Your Highness, Link. It’s rather late and I should be home and in bed. A thousand apologies for interrupting.” The hero and the princess turned to him, startled. It seemed they’d both forgotten that he was in the room in the midst of their heated conversation. A nod from the princess had him bowing and scurrying for the door. “Goodnight Link. Thank you again, and I hope to see you soon.” Link managed a weak smile his way before Shad rushed out the door.
Zelda stormed over to the swordsman as soon as the redhead left the room. “What in the world is going on with you?” she fumed, grabbing his upper arm and giving him a little shake. “I know we don’t stand on formality with each other, but your tone is incredibly disrespectful, if not for your monarch, then for your friend. I thought we had a good understanding of each other, after all that we’ve been through together. But lately you’ve grown more and more sullen, withdrawn, and defiant.”
Running his hand through his sandy blonde hair and sighing, Link’s expression appeared contrite. “You’re right and I’m sorry. I apologize for yelling at you, especially with Shad here. But Zelda, c’mon, you have to know what’s wrong. It’s the same thing it’s been since she broke the mirror.” He paused and looked up at her with sad, pleading eyes. “Can we please talk about Midna?”
The princess’s face clouded over immediately and her soft blue eyes became stony as she dropped her hand from his arm. “No. Absolutely not. And you know why we can’t.”
“I have to talk to someone about her, Zelda! Please! I can’t just pretend she never existed! You know she did, you know all about the Twilight and you’re the only other person that does! You’re the only one I can talk to. How can I keep this inside? It’s driving me mad!” Link gripped her sleeve in desperation.
“Enough!” she hissed, tearing out of his grasp as she stormed across the room, closing the door that had not fully shut upon Shad’s leaving. “I cannot believe I have to remind you of the repercussions of anyone hearing you say that name or that word! We. Do. Not. Speak. Of. It. Period. Do you want to bring trouble back to her realm? To ours? She broke that mirror for good reason and I will uphold her decision on my end. The fewer people that know about the other realm, the fewer that can seek to access its power and use it against us. I will not have another episode like that during my reign! I will not have my people killed and terrorized due to your careless tongue! Need I also remind you that your silence brings with it great prosperity for your people in Ordon? It would sadden me greatly to have to revoke that offer due to your inability to obey a direct command.”
The princess was terrifying in her wrath, her blue eyes blazing as she ferociously glared him down, fists clenched at her sides. Link took a step back, hands up in a placating gesture. He would never do anything to harm Midna, Hyrule, or the people of Ordon and he knew he’d pushed her too far. Sucking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly, the Hero forced his facial features and body to relax, one muscle group at a time. It was a habit that had come in handy before opening the heavy doors that led to the monstrosities guarding treasures in the temples he'd made his way through. “Yes, Your Highness. Zelda. I will obey your orders. I will stay for your coronation. And I will keep our realms safe, I swear it.”
“See that you do. And get some sleep, you look awful.” With that, she swept out the door, leaving Link alone, truly alone, for the first time that night. He stripped off his clothes, put out the lanterns, and fell into bed, frustrated, grieved, overwhelmed, and exhausted. As his body relaxed and his thoughts began to drift from the events of the day to the nonsense of dreams, his ears lightly tingled and he imagined the comforting sensation of being gently petted as he fell asleep.