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Heartbreak's Remedy

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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.

Chapter Text

The brilliant sunshine streaming through the window gently warmed his face and Link slowly began to wake up, his dreams clinging to him like cobwebs. He rolled over on the luxurious bed to face away from the onslaught of sunlight beaming into the room. Pulling the blankets over his head and snuggling into the pillow, he tried to return to the pleasant dreamstate he’d been in before the light forced him to consciousness. Try as he might though, he couldn’t quite get back there and was left with only a few brief impressions of the lovely dream he’d had. He knew it was something about Midna, as all his dreams were lately, and thinking of her brought the familiar ache of pain and longing to his chest.

He remembered flashes of her vivid orange hair, her electric touch upon his most sensitive parts, and her sultry gaze looking into his eyes. He reached a hand down to lightly grip himself as his body responded to his erotic thoughts. Mmmm… there was something more, something about waking up next to her. Midna licking her lips… nibbling on his own… stroking his sensitive ears as her big indigo eyes peered into his… wait. Indigo? No, no, Midna had scarlet eyes. Shad’s face suddenly flashed into his mind’s eye the way he’d seen him last night upon waking in his lap. An image of the scholar’s fine features arranged above him in a caring expression, his dark blue eyes shining down into his own, left the hero flushed and filled with conflicting emotions. He brought his hand back up his body and hugged his pillow tightly as he tried to work through his feelings. Heartache, loneliness, arousal, frustration, and gratitude swirled through him in a confusing mix as he attempted to separate his memories of last night from his dreams. A gentle knock on the door brought him sharply back to the present and he sat up in bed, shaking the lingering dreams away.

“Good morning, Master Link.” said the polite male voice from the other side of the door. “I’ve brought your breakfast tray. I’ll have the maids come along to clean your room in an hour or so, if that pleases you. Shall I come in or leave the tray outside your door, sir?”

“Leave it, please,” Link called out, stretching as he stood up from the bed. “Thank you, Sergi. Later is fine for the maids, I guess.” The manservant Zelda had assigned to him was kind and intelligent and had quickly adapted to Link’s preference to not have servants constantly hovering over him. Their initial interactions had been frustratingly humorous as Sergi had attempted to dress Link, as he did with the usual noble guests of the castle, and the swordsman had dodged out of his way, snatching his clothes and putting them on himself, shocked at the idea of a grown person needing assistance getting dressed. The hero was uncomfortable with the idea of servants at all, but the princess had insisted it was their job to help him and that they’d all be very put out if they didn’t get a chance to personally assist Hyrule’s Hero. He grudgingly allowed them to bring him breakfast and clean his room, but drew the line at the dressing and bathing services, finding them ridiculously unnecessary and overly personal.

Pulling out a fresh pair of trousers and a simple blue tunic from the wardrobe that Zelda had generously provided for him, Link quickly dressed and then opened the door to retrieve his breakfast tray. He breathed a sigh of relief to see that no one was in the hall trying to bow to him. The swordsman set the tray on the little round table by the window and plopped into the accompanying chair. He noticed the envelope next to his plate with his name written on it in swirling letters but ignored it in favor of tending to his growling stomach. Lifting the domed lid off of his plate he inhaled deeply as the scent of baked eggs with herbs and freshly made bread wafted up to him. The food was definitely a perk of staying at the castle. Probably the only perk, actually. Sure the fluffy bed was comfortable and the surroundings were nice, but he cared little for ornate decorations, preferring his simple treehouse on the outskirts of Ordon Village. The hero sighed, missing the familiar surroundings of his life before the turmoil, and tucked into the food.

After polishing off the last delicious bite, Link could ignore the envelope no longer. He ripped open the seal and pulled out a thick card, quickly scanning to the bottom to see that yes, it had come from Zelda herself. Her note reminded him of his required attendance at the coronation planning meeting in three days and invited him to lunch with her and the heads of four noble families that she was sure he’d “be delighted to know.” He grimaced and stuffed the card back into the envelope. He’d be at her meetings to avoid any further conflict with the princess, but there was no way he was going to voluntarily eat with a bunch of blue-bloods who only wanted to be able to say they’d dined with the hero. He knew he’d disappoint them anyway. They would be expecting a chivalrous knightly figure and they’d get a peasant goat herder instead. No one actually wanted to meet Link. They wanted to meet Hyrule’s Hero.

Link sat at the table feeling disgruntled, chin in hand, gazing out the window. Suddenly his eyes focused and he realized what he was looking at. Surrounding his window was a decorative iron grate, firmly attached to the outside wall. He stood and pushed the glass up to lean out and inspect it more closely. Yes, it would definitely hold his weight. Zelda wouldn’t approve, but he was so bored in the castle and couldn’t resist the chance to use his skills. He needed to get out anyway, he was tired of both simpering suckups and snobs looking down their noses at him. The truth was that he’d kept away from his friends for too long, isolating himself in his grief. Shad’s caring actions last night had reminded him of how much he needed good friends in his life. He nodded firmly as he decided. He’d simply avoid any of the bowing or gossiping in the castle corridors and head straight to Telma’s bar.

The swordsman went to the bench at the foot of his bed, tugged on his fingerless gloves, strapped on his belt pouches, and pulled on his boots. Returning to the window, he reached deep into one of the magical pouches that were part of his Hero’s clothes and withdrew his double clawshots. Fitting his hands into them, he sat on the windowsill and aimed with his left hand at the bottom of the metal grate, pressing the release mechanism inside. The end of the claw shot out the short distance and firmly gripped onto the grating, its attached chain trailing out behind, still attached to the device on the hero’s hand. Link grinned, a huge, genuine, toothy grin, and leaped out of the window, his next target already in sight.

“Thank you, Telma! This will be just the ticket.” Shad smiled up at the proprietress as she set the bowl of stew down in front of him. It was good to be back in the familiar surroundings of Telma’s bar after all the strangeness of the previous night. A vision of Link laying in his lap while he stroked his hair and ear flashed into his mind, followed by the sense of shame he’d felt in pawing at his unconscious friend. Well okay yes, some of the strangeness had been quite pleasant but it was overall rather uncomfortable, especially at the end when Link and Princess Zelda had been arguing. He was still glad he’d helped him despite the awkward moments though, and would make the same choice again if he had to.

“Sure thing, honey,” Telma replied, a hand on her hip and a grin on her kind face. “Got to make sure you’re taking care of your health after all, what with that incident last night. I’m so glad Link was there to help you and that you’re feeling well enough today to come in and see us. You sure had us worried.”

“Er, yes, r-right. Yes, I was very fortunate indeed to have Link by my side to assist me.” Shad felt guilty lying to his friends, but he didn’t want to spill Link’s secrets for him. If the hero hadn’t felt comfortable sharing his woes with everyone then it was not for him to tell them. Not that he himself actually knew his secrets, but it still seemed like a private matter.

“Make sure you chew your food this time, yeah?” Ashei stabbed a bite of meat with her knife and brought it up to her mouth. “You’re too smart to die in such a dumb way.”

Shad turned to her at their shared table in the back of the bar and rolled his eyes. “Thank you for your advice, dear Ashei, and for your confidence in me. At least I know you care.”

“I care that you and Link got to skip out on your duties at the banquet while I had to sit up there in a dress without either of you suffering through it with me.”

“Oh you did fine, honey, you held your own.” Telma patted her on the arm. “And speaking of our hero, look who just walked in!” Shad turned his head to the door as Link entered, dressed in a new blue tunic that matched his eyes. How did he still look so fresh and handsome after that rough night of his? Must be part of being blessed by the Goddesses, he thought wryly. The swordsman paused and looked around the room, spotted them, and headed over.

“Link, honey! It is so good to see you in here, finally.” Telma drew him into a big hug. “We’ve missed you and been envious that the folks up at the castle get to see so much of you. And thank you so much for looking out for our boy Shad. I know we’re all so grateful you were there to help him.”

“Thank you Telma! It’s good to see you too. And of course, I’d do the same for any of you.” Link felt a pang of guilt about deceiving Telma and the rest of the Resistance but didn't want to raise any suspicions that would lead to more questions he couldn't answer. He squeezed the friendly woman in return, then stepped back and addressed them all. “I know it hasn’t been great that the only time we’ve seen each other is when we’re at court functions. I’ve had it up to here though with everyone up there fussing over me and I’ve finally got some free time before they need me back for official stuff in a few days. Plus Shad here reminded me last night how important my true friends are, and I know I’ve been neglecting you all.” Link turned to look directly at the scholar. “Hi, Shad.” he said shyly, a light blush appearing on his cheeks. The hero still felt awkward after imposing on the scholar with his emotional outburst last night.

“Hello, old boy.” Shad replied softly, an answering pinkness spreading on his own face. Telma and Ashei shared a questioning look, both speculating at the boys’ exchange. A moment of silence passed as the two young men made hesitant eye contact.

“Well, then, have a seat, honey. What can I bring you?” Telma broke through the awkwardness and pulled out the empty chair next to Ashei for him.

“Oh, just some milk, please. They fed me up at the castle already. Thank you, Telma.”

“Sure thing. I’ll be right back with it.” Telma bustled off to the bar to fulfill his order.

“Hi to you too,” Ashei said, scowling. “Nice to see you too, Link, oh, I’m fine, thanks for asking, and how are you?” The warrior punched him lightly on the shoulder.

Link flushed. “Sorry, Ashei! I didn’t mean to ignore you. I- I just wanted to make sure to say hi to Shad, um, to check in on him. My manners are a little off today I guess.” He laughed nervously, rubbing the back of his neck, and Shad awkwardly joined in with a chuckle.

The raven-haired warrior shook her head. “You guys are weird. I guess I’ll forgive you, yeah? You’ve been quite the stranger lately though. It’s not fun being in the same town so much if you never stop by and spend time here anymore.”

“Yeah… Zelda has kept me busy. I’ve been wanting to get away, but there’s been so many official things she keeps inviting me to, so many people to meet, ceremonies to plan, questions to answer about what happened… ugh. I’m tired of it. I’d much rather be here with you all anyway. Thanks, Telma,” he added as she dropped off his glass of milk. The proprietress winked and sauntered back to her bar, her white cat Louise meowing at her ankles the whole way. “Anyway, enough about the boring stuff I’ve been doing at the castle. What have you been up to?”

“Well, other than being embarrassingly paraded around Castle Town in a dress while everyone stared, I’ve been making plans to head back up to Snowpeak. I didn’t get to explore as far as I wanted earlier and it seems I’ll have the chance now that things have settled down in Hyrule.” Ashei’s big brown eyes were lit up with excitement at the thought of returning to the mysterious mountain.

Link grinned. “Hey, that’s great! It’s such an interesting place. Did you know the yeti up there actually live in a ruined mansion? They’re gentle and smart creatures. I was able to help them out on my quest there and they were grateful and really kind. Watch out if they want you to race on sleds down to their house though, Yeta, the wife, cheats when she takes a shortcut!”

“Ha, I’ll keep that in mind.” Ashei replied. “A mansion, huh? I wonder what else is hidden up on the mountain?”

“There was one ice cave I went through that was pretty intriguing, and maybe there’s more? Definitely a possibility. I found a few treasures up there that were worth the trouble.” Link sipped his milk, happy to be finally sitting and talking with his friends about subjects that mattered to him, as opposed to rushing all over the place trying to save the world, or being cooped up in the castle retelling the same official version of events for the hundredth time.

“Well, if I’m going up there within the week I’ve gotta see about making preparations and need to talk to Telma first. See you two later.” Shad and Link said their farewells as she took her empty plate up and started chatting with Telma, occasionally glancing back at their table. There was an awkward pause as the two young men realized they were now alone together in the back of the bar. Shad reached up to fuss with his bow tie and decided to break the silence.

“Link, I-”

“Shad, about-”

They both laughed as they talked over each other. “You first, please.” the redhead insisted.

“Okay then.” Link smiled at the scholar, who returned the look with a shy smile of his own. “Shad, about last night. Again, I can’t thank you enough for your help, for your comfort, and for your friendship. I really owe you one, seriously. I still feel like a dummy for crying all over you like that, not to mention drinking too much and passing out. I’m honored you still want to be my friend after I behaved that way. And I’m sorry that the argument Zelda and I had made you so uncomfortable.”

“Yes, well, I think any argument with royalty would have me feeling uncomfortable,” Shad replied. “Think nothing of it though, old boy, My senses are keen enough to observe that you have quite a different relationship with the princess than a common citizen of Hyrule, and I can’t fault you for your frustrations. It seems like quite a lot to ask of you, all this public display of being a hero and such.” The blonde sighed, running his hands through his hair, and nodded in agreement. “As far as your harsh words towards yourself in regards to your need for comfort, please, be gentle with yourself. You are absolutely someone who is worth being a good friend to, and I’m glad that I could be the one to assist you. In fact, I’m honored that you showed such trust in me. It is a rare thing indeed for me, as most of the residents of Castle Town are fairly reserved in their natures, yours truly included, I’m afraid.”

“Really?” Link looked at him curiously. “It’s pretty normal in Ordon to express emotions and share openly with friends and family. Maybe that’s part of what I’m missing when I talk to people here - I’m coming at them thinking they’re like me, like we have the same customs and mannerisms, and yet we’re entirely different. They come across as kind of snobby to me. Not that you’ve ever seemed snobby!” he hastened to add. “I just mean, keeping feelings inside and saying one thing when you mean another. It’s confusing to talk to people here.”

Shad swallowed down a lump of guilt at how he’d resolved to repress his true feelings for him. “Ah, yes, well, I suppose some of us must have our reasons for being more guarded. I can certainly surmise how that would be confusing. I’m sure I’d feel quite out of place if our situations were reversed and I was in Ordon Village, trying to navigate an entirely new social scene. I’d be ill-equipped for the openness of Ordonians, it seems!”

“Nah, I think you’d fit in great.” The hero gave him his charming little half smile. “Who wouldn’t like you, Shad? You’re so smart and kind, the people there would love you.”

The scholar’s heart swelled at the swordsman’s compliments. “Well thank you, old boy. That’s lovely to hear you say. I’ll admit I haven’t been overly popular amongst my colleagues at the university. They don’t take my research on the Sky Beings very seriously, I’m afraid. I do hope one day to prove them wrong though! You’ve already provided such wonderful assistance in bringing me the Ancient Sky Book and finding some of the missing characters from it, which I’m forever grateful for. I’m positive I’ll figure out their mysteries someday.”

Link paused with his drink halfway to his lips and then set it back down on the table with a heavy clunk, his blue eyes wide. “Oh by Farore, Shad! I’m so sorry, first I was so busy running from one catastrophe to another, not even sure if I or Hyrule would survive, or I would have told you right away, and now I’ve been so busy up at the castle with Zelda, and, and caught up in my own troubles, and then last night I clearly wasn’t in my right mind, plus the drink, oh my Goddesses, please accept my apology!” The hero reached out and gripped Shad’s hands in desperation. The sudden contact created a little tingle that ran up the scholar ‘s arms and made his pulse jump in his throat.

“Whoa, whoa there, old boy, do slow down. I accept any apology you have to give, naturally, but I’m afraid I have no idea what it is you are trying to apologize for.” The redhead squeezed Link’s hands and then reluctantly released them. “Told me what?”

Calming himself with a deep breath, Link sat up straight in his chair and focused his gaze directly onto the scholar. “Shad. Your and your father’s research is all correct. It’s true. There are Sky Beings. I know because I’m friends with some and I’ve been to the City in the Sky.”

Shad gaped at him in shock. “You what!? You know Sky Beings? Personally? And you have BEEN to the City in the Sky??” At Link’s nod Shad leaped out of his chair, nearly knocking it over. “But that’s simply astounding, old boy! Absolutely amazing! By Hylia, you must be the only person in Hyrule to have experienced this! Please, please tell me everything! I beg of you to share your experiences with me!” All composure gone, the scholar’s voice had grown steadily louder with excitement and the other patrons of the bar were all looking their way to see what the fuss was.

“Of course, I can tell you everything I know!” The hero’s voice also rose as he caught the scholar’s excitement. “Oh, I wish I’d remembered earlier or had been able to tell you right away! I was so focused on saving Hyrule and always meant to tell you as soon as I could. Now it’s been a whole two weeks since our victory, I’m sorry I’ve kept this to myself for so long.”

“No, no, think nothing of it. I’m elated you’re telling me now and quite understand why previous circumstances led you to forget about it for awhile. I don’t expect others to hold my research foremost in their minds as I do.” He beamed at Link, who smiled brightly back, caught up in the scholar’s enthusiasm. “Oh! I say, would you mind terribly if we went back to my lodgings so that I might retrieve my father’s notebook to record your observations in? That is, if, if you h-have the time to talk about it now. I don’t want to monopolize your day with my own scholarly obsessions.”

“Of course! I’d love to! My whole day is clear. Zelda invited me to lunch but I chose not to go. Please, feel free to monopolize my time so that she doesn’t find a way to!” Link laughed and stood from the table, dropping a couple of green rupees onto it for the milk, and joined Shad as they made their way to the door.

Telma and Ashei eyed them as they walked past the bar. “Where are you two boys off to?” the proprietress drawled.

“Ah, Link has agreed to honor my humble dwelling with his presence while I retrieve my father’s manuscripts on the Oocca.” Shad fiddled with the buttons on his jacket as a shy smile spread across his face.

Link chimed in, “I’ve been meaning to tell Shad all about my experiences ever since he helped me with that part of my quest but I forgot with all the fighting and fuss afterwards.”

“I didn’t know you were into all that research and sky stuff, Link.” Ashei glanced over at Telma, one eyebrow raised.

“Oh, I’m not,” Link replied. “But Shad cares so much about it, it’s the least I can do to thank him for helping me.” He beamed at the scholar and Shad blushed.

Telma raised an eyebrow back at Ashei. “Well have fun, boys. Hope to see you two later.”

Shad and Link waved as they headed out the door, while Telma and Ashei bent their heads together over the bar, speaking in hushed tones.

___

 

Shad babbled on excitedly about the research he’d inherited from his father and the discoveries he’d made so far as he and Link wove through the city streets towards his lodgings. The hero didn’t catch half of the foreign terms he used or really comprehend the amount of detail the scholar was sharing, but he didn’t care. He was thrilled to see the redhead so happy, his dark blue eyes shining fiercely as he talked about his passion. Link’s heart was light as he followed his friend through the town, stopping only to pet the several small cats that came meowing out at him from the entrance to Jovani’s house.

Shad paused in his speech, enamored at the sight of the formidable hero bending down to roll a ball of yarn for an orange tabby and to scoop a black and white kitten into his arms, cuddling it up to his neck. Adorable. As if he couldn’t get any more attractive. Of course he’s an animal lover too. Link finally looked up, noticing the scholar’s flow of words had stopped and apologized for dawdling, setting the cat back down with a little pat on its head.

“Think nothing of it, old boy. It’s quite a pleasure to see you feeling chipper today.” The ‘as opposed to last night’ was left unsaid, but they were both thinking it. “I’m right around the corner here,” the scholar continued. “Ah, here we are.” Shad stopped in front of a door under a small awning next to a bookseller’s shop. “My place is just up the stairs.” He unlocked the door and led the way up the narrow staircase, opening the door at the top and ushering Link through.

Link stepped through the door into a modest and meticulously tidy apartment. The main room contained a small sofa and low table in front of a fireplace, a little dining table and chairs in a kitchen area, and multiple bookshelves lining the walls. A door to another room lay across from the entry, the bedroom and washroom, he supposed. The blonde walked over to the bookshelf closest to him and ran his hand over the carefully categorized volumes. He didn’t recognize most of the titles but one or two popped out at him. “So many,” he breathed.

“Yes, well, I did forewarn you that my only formidable skill is at reading, did I not?” Shad chuckled nervously as he followed him inside and twisted the bracelet on his right wrist. “I do apologize for the humble appearance of my lodgings, I can only imagine it’s quite a change after the opulent suite you’ve been assigned at the castle.”

Link barked out a laugh and turned to him. “Are you kidding? This place itself is a palace compared to the modest homes I’m used to in Ordon Village! Please don’t think I’ve turned into some sort of stuck up aristocrat just because Zelda keeps me cooped up there. Your place is comfortable and suits you well.” Shad felt his cheeks heating at yet another casual compliment from Link’s lips. “Besides,” the swordsman continued, “I live in a tree.”

“Um, pardon me old boy, I thought I heard you say that you lived in a tree.” Shad laughed at himself.

Link settled himself comfortably onto Shad’s sofa and smiled up at him. “You heard me perfectly. My house is a treehouse. It’s built into a giant old tree on the edge of Ordon Village. I have to use a ladder to get up into it.”

Shad blinked rapidly as he seated himself gingerly on the sofa beside the hero. “Well! Isn’t that unique? I don’t believe I have ever seen something quite like that, nor read much about treehouse lodgings in Hyrule either. That is most certainly something I’d like to see for myself!”

Link sat up and leaned towards him. “I’d love to show you someday,” he replied, that small smile of his still lighting up his face. Shad’s eyes locked onto his and the scholar was lost for words for a moment at the overwhelming thoughts of traveling with Link, making future plans with him, and seeing each other’s homes.

Link held Shad’s eye contact and felt a little shock of pleasure at the thought of the charming redhead in his home. He’d never had a male friend his own age over, as there were none in the village, and he wondered what Shad would think of his simple dwelling, so different from this city apartment. He really does have beautiful eyes, he idly thought, noticing how the scholar’s spectacles enlarged them. He flushed then, remembering his semi-conscious thoughts from that morning, and how he’d still been aroused from his dreams of Midna and touching himself when he’d last thought of those big indigo eyes.

Suddenly realizing he was staring, Shad also flushed self-consciously and cleared his throat. “Ahem, ah, r-right, well, here, let me prepare some tea and then we can get started on our actual purpose for coming here. You’ve been so gracious to accomodate my interest in this subject but truly, I don’t want to consume your entire day.” He bustled off to the kitchen and started the water boiling for his tea while he got out the supplies.

“Again, trust me, I really don’t mind. It’s much more pleasant to spend time with a friend who I can be myself around than performing as Hyrule’s Hero at meetings and other functions.” Link sighed, running a hand through the sandy blonde locks that fell on his forehead. Shad was dismayed to see him look downcast again after the blonde had been so cheerful. The scholar walked to the bookshelf closest to his bedroom door and picked up his late father’s precious notebook, ceremonial dagger tucked into the page that marked the last of his observations.

“It does sound like rather a burden.” Shad picked up his cup of freshly brewed tea from the kitchen and returned to the sofa, setting it down on the small table in front of him. “Would you like some tea?”

Link shook his head. “No, thank you, I’m fine for now. Anyway! So, sky stuff! I don’t even know where to begin. What do you want to hear about?”

“Oh, absolutely everything, old boy. I must say I am most intrigued that you mentioned that you actually have a friendship with some of the Oocca?” The scholar opened his notebook to the page marked by the dagger and poised pen to page, ready to write.

“Yes! Ooccoo and her son, Ooccoo Jr. I first met them hiding in a clay pot in this giant old temple in Faron woods…” Link described his meetings with Ooccoo and her son throughout his travels as Shad furiously scribbled his words down, occasionally interjecting with a clarifying question. He had the hero pause and redescribe several times the way that Ooccoo Jr. warped him out of the various places he’d encountered them in, wanting to know how it felt, what he saw, and the precise wording of the Sky Beings. Link happily indulged him, at one point standing and demonstrating the spinning motion that had always occurred with the strange mode of transportation. That maneuver had both of them laughing merrily as Shad stood up too and clumsily tried the rapid twirl at Link’s enthusiastic encouragement. Shad sat back down again, laughing and dizzy as he sketched drawings in the margins of the pages as Link spoke, trying to capture every little detail the hero recounted.

“Ahh, absolutely fascinating! I had determined from my father’s notes and my own research that they might possess a magical mode of transportation, but to have it confirmed!” The scholar’s face was absolutely glowing and Link felt happiness swell his heart at his friend’s reaction. It felt so good to be happy, if even for just a moment and only because of someone else’s contagious joy. He’d missed being happy, he realized. How long had it been since he’d felt at ease, content with simply passing the time talking to a friend? Too long he thought grimly.

“So they followed you into the Temple of Time.” Shad paused, making a note to ask more about that remarkable part of Link’s journey later. He couldn’t believe all the relics, treasures, ancient temples, and mysteries that the hero had run into on his quest and didn’t want to get ahead of himself with his desire to look into the history of each and every one. “And then they hopped into the Sky Cannon with you as well? Remarkable that they were able to deduce that your actions would lead to them returning home. They must have been making their own observations of you the entire time and plotting out their own course of action.” Shaking his head in wonder, the scholar perused his notes and a slight frown appeared between his brows. “Hold on, old boy, I do have one pertinent question we’ve not touched upon yet. How in blazes did you get the Sky Cannon out of the Sanctuary basement and over to Lake Hylia? I can’t fathom that even your considerable strength was enough to lift that mighty device.”

At this entirely reasonable question Link froze, mouth slightly open in shock. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought this far ahead when he’d so excitedly told Shad about the Oocca and the City in the Sky. He’d been far too caught up in the scholar’s enthusiasm to think about what a pivotal role Midna had played in this particular part of his journey and it killed him that he couldn’t answer his friend’s question. There was just no way he could tell him without bringing Zelda’s wrath down upon him and potentially opening up a whole lot of trouble that could affect both his and Midna’s world. His heart plummeted like it was encased in iron boots as he remembered how she’d been so amused when Shad exited the chamber on his own after she’d mentioned to Link that he should leave so they could get on with it.

Goddesses, he missed her sense of humor though, her way of poking fun at the little things he took for granted in the world of Light, even how she teased him. It was what made her her, and one of the things he loved about her. She’d even teased him during their one night together, both with her body and with her words, delighting in the reactions she’d pulled from him. The now-familiar pall of grief flowed over him, drowning out the happiness he’d felt just a few short moments ago.

Shad watched in alarm as the cheer rapidly drained from his vivacious friend and left him grey and melancholy once more. What on earth could have caused his mood to turn so quickly? Was it something he’d said? Link had been so joyous and lively while recounting his adventures, caught up in Shad’s own enthusiasm. He hoped he hadn’t pushed him too hard. Link had just been lamenting about having to constantly be on show as the Hero, and here Shad was forcing him to tell his tales over and over in excruciating detail. What an imbecile he could be, so focused on his own passions that he completely overlooked the discomfort of his friend!

“Link?” he probed softly. “Should we take a break? I really did not mean to hound you with my inquiries for quite so long and apologize greatly if I’ve treated you with the same lack of respect as those fawning over you and pestering you with their questions at court.” He nudged his glasses up his nose self-consciously.

Snapping his head up to meet the scholar’s gaze, Link closed his mouth and shook his head firmly. “No. It’s fine. You didn’t do anything wrong. It was my idea to share all this with you.”

Shad breathed out a sigh of relief and decided to pick up where they’d left off. “If you’re quite positive it’s not a nuisance then, old boy. I do believe we were at the point where I’d enquired how you’d moved the Sky Cannon?”

Link’s countenance grew grimmer and he leaned away slightly, crossing his arms over his chest. “I can’t tell you.”

“Oh. Um. W-whyever not?” The scholar reached up to nervously play with his long bowtie.

“Can’t tell you that either.” Link’s terse replies left the scholar feeling very ill at ease as he replayed their conversation and tried to figure out where it had gone wrong.

“I-I’m sorry, Link. I didn’t m-mean to upset you, I merely enquired as to what I thought was a reasonable question, how one could move something so heavy like that-”

“I told you I can’t tell you!” Link’s shout cut off the scholar’s words, leaving him shocked. The hero was breathing heavily, and his blue eyes flashed, looking fierce and primal. “I can’t tell you, and I can’t tell you why I can’t tell you, and, and, I hate both of those things!”

A heavy silence fell between them as Shad reeled from his harsh words and angry tone. Chastising himself for pushing the young hero too far, he closed his notebook and set it on the table. He had no idea what to do or say to fix the situation, as all his attempts to soothe or apologize so far had led to further outbursts from the swordsman. He was hurt and almost felt betrayed that Link had yelled at him when he’d tried to express his sympathy.

As his breathing and rapid heart rate slowed, Link glanced up at Shad and saw the wounded look upon the redhead’s face. The rejection and pain was evident in his eyes and his body language as he shrunk in on himself and tried to distance himself on the sofa from the beast that Link had become.

Link took three deep breaths, blowing out the last one slowly. “Shad. Shad I’m so sorry.” The scholar did not look up at him. Link reached out his hand and placed it on the redhead’s upper arm, scooting closer to him on the sofa. “I should never have yelled at you like that. I-I’m so on edge lately, after all the fighting and now trying to figure out all this court and political stuff that I’ve never been taught. It’s no excuse for my rudeness and harsh words though. It’s not your fault in any way. My temper got the better of me and it has nothing to do with you. I am unable to give out full details about some of the matters that led to Hyrule’s troubles. Officially unable. There are just some things that are... state secrets. I don’t want to keep things from you, but I have no choice. You did absolutely nothing wrong. You don’t deserve to be treated that way, ever, and I hope you’ll forgive me.”

The gentle but firm squeeze on his arm combined with the soft tone and apologetic words of the hero finally moved Shad to look up into his eyes. The fierce light was gone from them and they once again shone the pretty clear blue he’d always known. Shad considered his earnest words and found the reasoning behind his outburst to be fairly sound, although he hoped he’d find better ways of coping with the stress of court than yelling at his friends. The scholar realized that the young hero had been through quite a lot of trouble on his way to saving the world and none of that could have been easy on him.

“Of course I forgive you, old boy. Such behavior seems quite out of character for you. If you can’t tell me then you can’t, and I will not probe further.”

Link sighed with relief and leaned forward to envelop Shad in a tight hug. Flabbergasted at the sudden and intimate physical contact, the scholar flailed his arms slightly as the hero pressed himself firmly up against Shad’s body. “Thank you, Shad. You’re too good of a person, do y’know that?” Link released him, the redhead’s mouth opening and closing like a Hylian bass before he found his words.

“I’m not sure I’m better than any other, but thank you. I’m quite happy to gloss over this little disturbance now that it’s behind us and move on. Although I am concerned for your state of well-being. You have mentioned several times now how vexing it is for you to be at court so much. I realize that Princess Zelda requires your presence for a myriad of reasons, but isn’t there anything your friends can do to help you? I daresay that Auru or Ashei might be able to help you navigate some of the politics, as he served as the princess’s tutor for many years, and Ashei is the daughter of a knight after all, despite her sometimes unpolished ways.”

A heavy sigh escaped from Link as he considered Shad’s advice. “I’ll think on it. I think my main issue right now is just being there all the time. It’s been wonderful to escape today, at Telma’s and here with you, but I know I’ll eventually have to go back. I’m grateful to Zelda for giving me my rooms there of course but it’s just so… not me. To be honest I’m extremely uncomfortable with the fancy surroundings, not to mention all the bowing and scraping so many people do every time I leave my rooms for anything. It’s morning and night! I can’t escape it. Plus staying there means Zelda has ready access to me at any time. She’s probably upset that I didn’t have lunch with her, but just because I sleep there doesn’t mean I have to be at her beck and call constantly, does it?”

“Oh, Link. That doesn’t sound pleasant at all, despite the luxurious surroundings you find yourself in. It sounds like a gilded cage.”

“That’s exactly it! I feel trapped. It’s not like I really want to sleep on the ground in Hyrule field, but it’d be better than this. There’s nowhere else to go though. All the inns in town are completely filled from everyone flooding in, either as hired help to rebuild the castle, or to gawk at me when Zelda brings me out for show-and-tell.” The hero pouted and Shad’s heart melted.

The scholar twirled the bracelets on his wrists as he considered Link’s dilemma. Slowly, a solution began to dawn on him, but he blushed at the thought of it. But why not? He was Link’s friend, a now-respected member of the Resistance, and he had the space. His sofa wouldn’t be anywhere near as comfortable as that enormous feather bed, but he figured that was the least of Link’s concerns. Sure, and this notion has nothing at all to do with how appealing the idea is of the handsome hero living here with you, does it? He blushed at the thought and then gulped it down.

“Link? Why don’t you stay here?” The blonde lifted his head to look him in the eye, a hopeful expression on his face. “I have plenty of room,” Shad continued, “and I think Princess Zelda might actually approve. I am a member of the Resistance that she herself just honored yesterday, after all, and I’m right here in Castle Town. It would still fit in with her, er, orders that you remain here until her coronation. I know it’s not anywhere near luxurious here, and I just have the sofa for you to sleep on, but you are more than welcome to share space with me for the next couple of weeks.”

The hero’s face lit up. “Shad that’s genius! And so incredibly generous of you! I’d be delighted to stay with you! And I promise I won’t make a nuisance of myself. I can tell you like things tidy - my home is the same way, actually, where everything has a place.” Shad scoffed lightly and waved away that concern. “Seriously, I can’t thank you enough for all the ways you’ve shown yourself to be a true friend in the last couple of days. I’ve got to get back to the castle and pack and tell Zelda. I can be back by dinnertime, if you don’t mind me eating here tonight?”

“No, that works out brilliantly. I’ll expect you around 6 or so then? I was just planning on a simple dish of roasted cucco and vegetables, if that suffices?” Link eagerly nodded. “Fabulous. Well then, I will see you soon, old boy. Good luck with the princess.” Shad winked, and escorted the hero to the door, closing it behind him.

As soon as it was closed he leaned back against it, blowing the stray curl up off his forehead. I cannot believe I just did that he fairly squealed inside. He shivered all over at the thought of Link staying with him, living with him, for two whole weeks. LINK. The Link. Hyrule’s Hero. The dream boy of the entire nation. He allowed himself thirty whole seconds of daydreaming and then sharply cut himself off. He would not allow his desires to make Link feel uncomfortable or question his motives for inviting him to stay with him, not even for one moment. And besides, the poor boy clearly had some serious issues to work through, what with his extreme mood swings from last night and today. He resolved not to give him one whit of extra trouble and thought back on Links’s words that he had state secrets to keep. They were obviously eating him up from within, and Shad wondered how much they were connected to the great sorrow Link was holding inside. The scholar shook his melancholy thoughts away and began to focus on the work of readying the place for Link’s stay.

___

 

Link fairly skipped his way through the city streets and across the main town square, his heart lighter than it had been in a long time. Finally, FINALLY he was going to be able to escape the cage of celebrity that had been crafted around him, at least sometimes. As he passed through the castle gates from the square and nodded at the guards on duty, his heart felt heavy again as he came to the place where Midna had donned the fused shadows and broken through the Twilight barrier. He remembered how her small impish body had bounced brokenly off of the stone walls before she’d taken full control of the power and pierced her way in, shattering the barrier. He’d picked her up, cradling her against him, smiling down at her as he realized she was intact and conscious, so proud of her and in awe of her power. Then they’d gone in together, to face down the dark evil that had taken over both their worlds.

Link’s throat felt tight with repressed sobs as he recalled how devastated he’d felt when he’d seen Ganondorf appear on Hyrule field with just her helmet in his hand after their solo battle. He’d thought he’d lost her, thought his companion had died saving him and Zelda, and had been filled with a righteous rage to avenge her. The rest of the battle, with Zelda on horseback behind him, and later on foot as he faced off against their enemy one-on-one, he’d fought thinking he’d never see her again. And then, of course, she’d been revived by the light spirits and returned to her stunning true form. How she’d teased him when he’d stopped and stared at her, awestruck by her as he’d never been before! He’d been filled to bursting with joy at the second chance he had with her, only to lose her again, permanently, two days later. A tear trickled down his cheek and he wiped it furiously away. Damn her for playing with his heart like that! He loved her and he hated her, and he hated that he felt both ways at once.

Climbing a set of stairs and making his way across a parapet on the way to his rooms, Link suddenly came to and recognized where he was. This was where the Resistance had shown up and rescued him from an ambush during the taking back of the castle. A weak smile found its way across his face as he recalled how his friends had supported him and then fought their way back out of the castle, clearing out enemies as they went. Even Shad had been there, with his book and his dagger. Link chuckled, wondering what on earth he’d been thinking - was he going to use that ornamental knife to stab bulblins? Or had he been there to record history as it happened, trusting in the capable members of the Resistance to keep him safe? He knew that with all that Ashei pretended to sneer at so much that the scholar found interesting, she’d die to protect him, and he knew the same was true of Auru and Rusl.

Link was glad they’d protected the passionate and dedicated young man that day. Otherwise how could he have discovered what a great friend Shad was, and how could they have had the ridiculously fun time they did that afternoon, twirling around his sofa and collapsing into laughter? Link grinned, recalling how cute Shad had looked with his hair in disarray, his glasses slipping down his nose, his long bow tie swirling around with him. After a few moments of reminiscing Link paused, realizing that he’d actually laughed for the first time in weeks, and that he felt genuinely happy and at ease around the kind-hearted scholar, except for the times their conversation specifically and unknowingly touched on Midna. Huh. Maybe I won’t actually live under a cloud of gloom forever? He shrugged off his sarcastic musings, and opened the door to his room, intent on packing, leaving Zelda a note, and getting out of there and back to Shad’s as quickly as he could.

Chapter Text

Shad hurried through the busy city streets on his way back to Telma’s bar, barely noticing the people he swerved around as his thoughts raced. From the continuation of his father’s research to the wildly exciting idea of Link staying with him (that he was desperately trying NOT to be wildly excited about), his normally orderly thoughts were swirling about like milk poured into tea. He was so distracted that it came as a complete shock to bump straight into someone at the bar after walking through Telma’s door. He suddenly found himself gripped by his shirt and lifted onto his toes, faced with an alarmingly angry scowl from a fierce raven-haired warrior woman before both of them realized who the other was.

Ashei lowered him down but kept her scowl. “You know if anyone other than you ran into my rear like that he’d be gutted in the alley by now, yeah?”

Shad straightened his clothing and winced. “My utmost apologies, Ashei. I would never accost you in such a fashion and was completely lost in thought. I assure you, it was not intentional in any way.”

“I know it wasn’t, or you wouldn’t be speaking still at this point.” Her scowl relaxed into a teasing smile. “Head in the clouds, huh? Figured an afternoon spent with Link would do that to ya.”

His cheeks instantly flaming red, Shad sputtered as he tried to deny it. “W-what? N-no, haha, what? Don’t be preposterous! It’s just the excitement of finally fulfilling my father’s research, and of expanding my own! I mean y-yes of course it’s been thrilling speaking with Link, but anyone who had so much to share about the Oocca would invoke the same response in me.”

The glance that Telma and Ashei shared let Shad know that they didn’t believe him, not one bit.

“Uh huh. Shad, honey, I know you’ve been sweet on that boy since the first time you were formally introduced. I know, I know, I heard from you all that you weren’t exactly polite on your very first meeting, but the second you knew I’d vouched for him and got to know him a little you were smitten. We all saw it.”

Redder than a tomato now, Shad wasn’t even coherent in his denials. Little gasps and “Well I never!”s came out of him as he sputtered and twisted the bracelet on his right wrist repeatedly. Ashei threw her head back and laughed, earning her own scowl from the scholar.

“Oh I don’t blame you, honey,” the proprietress continued. “Handsome and charismatic don’t even begin to describe our Link. It’s no wonder he has fangirls swooning over him from here to Zora’s domain. I just had three of them in not an hour ago, giggling and wondering if he was going to end up married to the princess, and if not, which one of them would catch him. Talking all about his pretty face and his strong body, and what they’d like to do with both.” Telma waggled her eyebrows at him suggestively.

“Telma! This is entirely inappropriate! I am not at all shallow like that! He is not merely a handsome face and a courageous hero! Those silly girls don’t even know him! I like him for far more than just his looks! His kindness, his open and trusting nature, his intelligence, his loyalty, his passion and dedication-” Shad stopped and clapped his hands over his mouth, eyes wide, as he realized he’d just openly confessed to his private passions about the swordsman.

Telma winked at him as she laughed lovingly while Ashei folded her arms over her chest and smirked at him with an I-knew-it look written all over her face.

Frowning deeply, Shad sat on a barstool with an indignant huff, twirling the long ends of his bowtie around his finger. “You should be ashamed of yourselves, two decorated members of the Resistance engaged in this matchmaking girlish foolishness! I say, have some decency and stop it at once!”

“Oh sweetheart, we’re not trying to be cruel. We think it’s lovely that you two are sweet on each other. We’re rooting for you!” Telma grabbed Ashei’s empty cup and turned to fill it at the tap as the warrior took the seat next to him.

“I have to admit, I do like the idea of you two together, even though it’s a blast to see you get so riled up trying to deny it.” Ashei’s brown eyes fixed on him as she took a sip from her newly filled mug of ale. “Need a drink to calm those nerves?”

“I most certainly do not,” Shad huffed. “No matter what my personal inclinations may be, it is not at all appropriate for me to be mooning over Link when he trusts me as a fellow member of the Resistance and a friend. I won’t have anyone thinking I asked him to stay with me for the next two weeks because of some nefarious ulterior motives.”

“Wait, what now?” asked Ashei. “He’s staying with you for two weeks? I thought he had a sweet free setup at the castle!”

“Yes, well, apparently it’s a very oppressive environment for him and he’s struggling from the culture shock. I offered him my place as a refuge, as the princess has made it very clear that she requires his presence at court to help boost the spirits of the population as Hyrule recovers.”

“Oh poor thing,” Telma sympathized. “I hadn’t thought of how hard this must be for him, being thrust into the spotlight like that, and right after going through all the hardships he has, all the battles he’s had to fight to win us this victory.”

“Precisely, dear Telma. So please refrain from all of these untoward innuendos. If I do have feelings for him they will stay deep inside where they belong. I’ll not be adding to his burdens with my inconvenient affections towards him at a time like this, especially since they are most likely completely unwanted. I’m sure he’s like most other Hylian men and solely prefers the romantic company of women.”

Leaning on the bar, Telma raised an eyebrow at his words. “Well, I wouldn’t be too sure about that one. I once mentioned to Rusl how Ilia and Link must be sweet on each other since they’re so close, and he told me a tale about his wife catching Link and a visiting cousin of Ilia’s - a boy - kissing behind their house when they were about 13 years old. Rusl says he’d always thought Link and Ilia would get together some day up until that point. And then the lad confused him again when he apparently came around a year later, asking all sorts of questions about girls and intimacy! Who knows, maybe he was just experimenting, or maybe he likes both? It’s not unheard of. All I know is, he lights up whenever you’re around and it’s obvious to the rest of us that he’s taken an interest in you.”

His blush now tamed to a light shade of pink across his cheeks, Shad considered Telma’s words in wonder. Could Link really like both men and women? It was shocking to hear it spoken about so openly, since he’d never yet met a person with the same inclinations as him. Not that attraction happened very often for him in the first place. It was exceedingly rare that someone grabbed his attention in that fashion, but when they had in the past, it just hadn’t seemed to matter whether they were male or female. There had been a boy who lived next door when he was about 14, a bookish boy like him who’d given him his first kiss. And then a year or so back he’d gone on a few dates with a brunette girl in class who always raised her hand first and gave the most intelligent answers. He didn’t really speak about these feelings to others because they didn’t seem to fit with anyone else. Neither the boy nor the girl had liked more than one gender and when he’d asked about it they’d just given him strange looks.

“Well, yes, perhaps he has given me a fair bit of attention recently. But honestly I think it’s just because he’s been feeling lonely and because he’s such a kind-hearted person. His experiences and my research just have a natural overlap, that’s all. That personal history of his you related is certainly curious though. I admit, I share similar proclivities but haven’t ever met anyone else who does, and certainly wouldn’t guess it of him by looking.”

Ashei gave him a funny look. “You shouldn’t judge people based on looks like that, yeah? Loads of people make assumptions about me and my interests since I’m nowhere near what they think a woman should look or act like. They can all go stuff themselves face-first into Death Mountain.”

“That’s true, honey,” Telma agreed. “You never can tell until you ask.”

“I take your point, my friends, and I do thank you for sharing your perspectives. You’re absolutely right that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Be that as it may, I am still disinclined to pursue anything romantic with him. I won’t have him thinking I invited him to stay with me for impure reasons and I don’t wish to add to his personal burdens.”

Telma shook her head. “Love is anything but a burden when it’s right, Shad. And feelings like that aren’t something you can deny and just wish away. No one can help falling in love when the feeling strikes and there’s nothing wrong or shameful about it. In fact, those are beautiful emotions and experiences that the goddesses themselves gave us as a gift to be shared with each other, not locked away. You’ve got to be open to love to find it, honey.”

“As always, I appreciate your advice and will consider your words, my dear Telma, but as of this moment, his first night staying with me, I am not about to change anything about our friendship. That being said, I did come by for a purpose other than being grilled about my nonexistent love life by you two. Telma, do you have any spare blankets and a pillow I can borrow to help make his stay more comfortable?”

Telma affirmed that she did and ran upstairs to her living space above the bar to fetch them. Supplies in hand, Shad said his goodbyes to the two smirking matchmakers and set off for home. Home, which he was about to share with Link. He could try all he wanted to keep his feelings down, but he couldn’t quite manage to keep the grin off his face.

___

 

A polite knock sounded on his door before Link even had time to start writing his note to Zelda, and he opened it to find Sergi there.

“Good afternoon, Master Link.” Sergi performed his routine half-bow. “Your presence has been requested forthwith in Her Royal Highness’s private office.”

Link sighed, running his hand through his sandy blonde hair. “I just got in, Sergi, and I have some things to take care of first. Can you please tell her I’ll be there in a little while?”

The manservant gave him an apologetic look. “I am sorry, Master Link, but I have been instructed to escort you there myself, directly upon your arrival to the castle. If you’ll please come with me.” At that Sergi stepped back and gestured with his arm, making room for Link in the hallway beside him.

Uh oh. Is she really mad at me for missing that lunch? She said it was an invitation, not an order! Link nodded and stepped into the hallway, following along behind the manservant until they arrived at a door in a corridor off the newly-reconstructed throne room. Sergi opened the door for Link, announced him to the princess, and then gave Link a sympathetic look as he stepped back out and closed the door behind the hero.

Zelda was seated in a tall plush chair behind a grand desk, looking every inch the imposing monarch that she was. Her expression was one of calm control as she beckoned him further into the room. There were no other chairs in the room so he remained standing before her desk, his hands clasped before him.

“Good afternoon, Link.” Her voice was cool. “Having a pleasant day?”

“Uhh… yes, parts of it.” He paused and waited for her to say more. When she didn’t, only continued to regard him with her cool blue eyes and that seemingly-placid expression, he reached up to rub the back of his neck and spoke again. “Um, how about you?”

Her eyes narrowed as emotion finally showed on her beautiful face. “My day has not been pleasant, unfortunately. My day has consisted of me trying to placate some very important and extremely disappointed luncheon guests, while simultaneously putting half of the castle staff into a panic trying to discover where my missing guest was. My day has had me feeling embarrassed and out of control in front of my own influential subjects. My day, Link, has left me feeling frustrated, unappreciated, disappointed, and outright angry. With you.”

Link gulped as Zelda’s anger with him became evident. Triforce of Courage or no, this was not the kind of challenge he was prepared to face. He looked down and tapped his toes in his boots, shifting from foot to foot. “Zelda, I-”

She held up her hand to halt his words. “Don’t. I’m sure you have a lovely list of excuses as to why you weren’t at the lunch, but I don’t want to hear them. In all honesty, I don’t care that you didn’t come to lunch. However, I care very much that you didn’t even reply to my invitation, leaving me with no knowledge if you were coming or not and making me look foolish and ignorant in front of my noble subjects. In addition, you apparently left your rooms quite mysteriously, as not a single person except the guards at the gates to the square saw you today. Do you know how distressed Sergi was when he couldn’t answer my direct question as to your whereabouts? He wanted to resign on the spot, out of shame!”

“Oh, it’s not his fault, please let him keep his job!” Link implored. He felt so guilty for getting the loyal servant in trouble. He hadn’t thought at all of what his actions would mean for Sergi or any of the other servants at the castle. He hadn’t really thought much about any of it, other than wanting to get out of the castle, use his neglected tools to do so, and avoid the lunch.

“Of course he still has his job. I denied him his resignation. I won’t have a good man leave my service due to your careless actions.”

Link flushed in shame. “I’m so sorry, Zelda. I didn’t mean to cause so much trouble for you, Sergi, or anyone else at the castle. I- I didn’t realize that what I do affects everyone else so much.”

Zelda sighed and finally let down her regal facade, bringing a hand up to her forehead to rub her temples as she slumped back in her chair. “Do you have any idea of how incredibly grateful I am to you?” Link shrugged, confused at the abrupt change in subject. “I can never repay you for what you did for me personally and for what you did for all of Hyrule. But I still need you. Hyrule still needs you, and I loathe having to ask for more from you. And yet I have to. For the good of my people I have to ask you to stand beside me, to lend me your strength and your support as Hyrule’s Hero, to show that we are united and stronger together, and that we will keep any evil far from our realm.”

She paused and looked up at her hero. Link made himself steadily return her gaze. “I surrendered, Link. I stayed locked up in this castle and watched everything turn to shadow and ruin while you saved all of us.” Her eyes took on a haunted look as she spoke of those not-so-distant dark times.“There are people out there, powerful people, who remember that. Who think ill of me for it. Who don’t think I’m the right leader for Hyrule because of it. And who worship you for being our savior. I know that I made the right choice to protect my people with my surrender and my… sacrifice later.”

Link’s heart thumped painfully in his chest at this small acknowledgement of what the princess had done to save Midna’s life.

“I know that I can lead us back to peace and prosperity,” Zelda continued. “But I need you to be able to do this. I need you by my side, unfailing in your loyalty to the crown. Otherwise, why did you bother to save Hyrule at all, if only to disrespect me, to betray me, to act like a wild boy and watch it all fall apart? Do I have your loyalty and your respect, Link? Because lately it doesn’t feel like I do.”

Intense feelings of guilt and shame washed over Link as the princess spoke. At her final words he walked around her desk to kneel before her, head bowed. The phrase “wild boy” echoed in his mind, bringing back all his painful memories of Midna’s teasing as she called him the same during their quest and their long night together. He took a moment to center himself and find the right words to reassure his worried friend and rightful ruler.

“Zelda. Your Royal Highness. You have my unfailing loyalty and will my whole life long.” Link paused as his words settled heavily around them both. “I never set out to be a hero and save Hyrule, to be honest. I’m just a ranch hand from the country who only ever wanted to save my friends. Finding out from the Light Spirits that I was meant for so much more, being given these skills and abilities, these fierce allies and impressive weapons - they’ve changed me. But I still only ever wanted to help the people I came across, and that included you and eventually everyone in Hyrule. I am so sorry my actions have brought so much trouble to you. I never meant to cast doubt on you or to disrespect you. I would never betray you or Hyrule.”

At his earnest words, Zelda lifted her hand and used her fingertips to raise his chin. He met her eyes directly, blue staring into blue. “Thank you, Link. Your words of fealty mean a great deal to me . However, your actions weigh far more heavily than your words do, and I find myself worrying about you lately.”

Link visibly struggled with his thoughts before he spoke. “Zelda, I’m not doing well here. I’m so used to a simple life - to living alone, to dealing with people without all this power and privilege. It’s hard for me to see in advance how a simple action like skipping out on lunch could result in people losing faith in you. I understand now how my choices hurt you, and I’m so sorry.”

He took a deep breath and forged ahead. “And… and you know why else I’m struggling. I won’t speak of it, but it’s there all the same. I had constant advice and companionship for months and now I’m left to figure it all out on my own. I- I can’t stand living here, in the castle, surrounded by people and customs I don’t understand. I always feel so dumb and out of place. You had to have noticed how awkward I was when you were receiving petitions in the throne room the other day. Standing in the wrong place while servants constantly moved me about, interrupting you when that loudmouth merchant began questioning your decisions.” He grimaced. “Everyone was whispering and then Lord Galdo stopped me in the hall afterwards and half his words flew right over my head, but I could tell he was making fun of me. I just didn’t know what to say back, because he was probably right. I’m not meant for this life, Zelda. I can’t stay here anymore.”

“Link.” Her voice was soft and soothing. “I didn’t realize you felt so out of place. I certainly haven’t been judging you for not knowing royal etiquette and it grieves me to hear that some members of the nobility have been so unkind. I assure you, they do not all think of you that way. You have quite the fanbase amongst many of them. However, offering you rooms here is the least I can do for you, and it’s what people expect of me. I owe you so much. If I can’t even offer you hospitality, how can I begin to show you my thanks?”

“By letting me make my own choices!” he pleaded, eyes glistening. “By listening to me when I say that I cannot live here comfortably. Of course I’m grateful to you for giving me a place to stay, and yes, I understand why you need me close until your coronation, but please, please, give me some breathing room!”

Zelda tilted her head as she considered his heartfelt plea. “Where would you go, Link? I need you in Castle Town. I need you here to attend my coronation, to be part of the planning, and yes, to occasionally come to events to show your support for me.”

A small smile finally lit up Link’s face. “Actually, that’s what I came back to the castle to let you know, er, ask you about. Shad has generously offered to let me stay with him here in Castle Town through your coronation.”

Zelda’s eyebrows rose. “Shad, hmm? Is that where you were today?” She watched with interest as Link blushed and nodded his head. His face looked so sweet and hopeful as she considered his request.

“Alright. I give you my permission to vacate your rooms here at the castle and stay with Shad while your presence is required in Castle Town.”

“Really!? Oh, Zelda, thank you!” Link stood from his kneeling position and beamed at her. “And if it’s okay with you, can I keep Epona in the royal stables here still? They take such good care of her and I know the stablehands love having her there.”

She smiled gently in amusement. “Yes, of course, I’m happy to host Epona. She’s almost as popular as you around here.” Zelda tapped her fingers several times on the desk. “You know, I actually think Shad may be a calming influence on you. He seems stable and responsible, despite his academic eccentricities, he has proven himself to be very loyal to Hyrule, and his father served impeccably for years here as a castle butler. In addition, if it will help improve your mental state so that no more of these miscommunications and sullen mood swings happen, then I am happy to grant you this request. In fact, I think you should consider bringing him with you to the coronation planning meeting two days hence. His refined manners and intimate knowledge of the court and the nobility may be of assistance to you.”

“Ahh, see, that’s why you have the Triforce of Wisdom! Yes, Zelda, I will ask him. Thank you so much. I’ll go to my rooms and pack now, if that’s okay with you. I’d like to leave within the hour.” Zelda nodded. Link headed towards the door and stopped when she called his name again. He turned to see her caring demeanor had taken on a steely element once more.

“For clarity’s sake, I expect a prompt reply to any invitation or letter I send to you from now on, even if it’s to decline or just a confirmation that you’ve read it and understand my words. I expect at least the same courtesy you’d give to a friend back home in Ordon.” He nodded. “And do be sure not to miss the meeting. I would hate to have to rescind my offer and have you returned to the castle should you not be present. I am placing a great deal of trust in you. Don’t let it be misplaced.” She held his gaze for several more moments before turning her attention to the papers spread out on the desk before her. Link blew out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding and left for his rooms to pack.

—-

With the Hylian shield and Master Sword strapped to his back again, Link walked out of the castle as a resident for the final time. He was relieved to be leaving but had still felt touched when Sergi and the other staff who’d served him had been waiting outside his room to thank him and tell him goodbye personally. Link had felt guilty about the trouble he’d put the manservant through earlier in the day, but Sergi had waved away his apologies. He let the hero know what an honor it had been to serve him and told Link to please ask for him personally when he returned to the castle for events. Link had reassured him that he would.

He’d also had an unexpected encounter with Captain Harbin, the head of the royal guard, on the way out of the castle. The captain had invited him to come train with the rest of the guardsmen tomorrow. It seemed he thought Link could inspire the men and show them some of his sword fighting techniques. Making sure “inspire” didn’t mean more speeches, Link eagerly accepted. He needed the exercise and a chance to practice his skills, even if he had little reason to use them now.

Walking around town with his well-known sword and shield on display always garnered him plenty of attention, even when he wasn’t in the hero’s clothes, and Link gave little smiles and waves at the people who greeted him. He preferred it when people would actually say hello and talk to him, as compared to the many who just spotted him and then pointed him out to a friend, whispering excitedly behind their hands. He’d always enjoyed meeting new people and speaking with them, and found it hard to adjust to the difference in the way the people in Castle Town treated him as compared to just a few short weeks ago. He’d been in and out of this town so many times as he searched for ways to defeat Zant and he’d never been gawked at before. Link knew that it wasn’t ill-intentioned and that people were thrilled to get a glimpse of their hero, but it was just hard to see himself the way that they all apparently did.

Link’s stomach growled as he passed a busy little bakery. The delicious aromas wafting out made him decide on impulse to bring something back to Shad’s place as a thank you for giving him a place to stay. The customers inside were delighted that the hero had stopped in to make a purchase and insisted he go straight to the front of the line, despite Link’s protests that he could wait like everyone else. He picked out a small iced cake that he thought Shad would like, based on the desserts he’d seen him order at Telma’s every now and then. He also chose a tin of the same type of tea that he’d noticed was running low when the scholar had made his fresh pot earlier that day.

Link felt warm inside as he thought about presenting the small gifts to Shad and wondered how the scholar would react. Would that delicate blush appear on his high cheekbones again? Would he call him “old boy” in that uniquely charming way of his? Link suddenly became aware of his own thoughts and frowned inwardly. Here he was, daydreaming about tea and cake, and yet Midna was still gone, his heart was still broken, and the demands of court were still a challenge, despite being able to stay elsewhere. He felt twinges of guilt for his small moments of joy over the past two days, and his constant storm of emotions confused him.

When the baker refused his payment, telling him his money was no good there and that he wouldn’t dream of charging the hero, Link dropped a handful of red rupees on the counter and declared that he’d be paying for the orders of all the other customers in the store. They all cheered and Link blushed as they fussed over him, finally escaping from the grateful crowd. He hadn’t done it to be a hero again! He just didn’t think it was fair that people kept giving him free stuff when he was more than able to pay for it, and yet other people who had very little money were expected to pay up for everything.

Finally arriving at Shad’s place, he sprinted swiftly up the stairs to knock on the scholar’s main front door. A few moments later the door was opened by Shad, who had abandoned some of his more formal clothing in favor of a simple collared shirt covered by a chef’s apron. A delicious steamy aroma filled the room.

“Ah, hello old boy. You’re just in time, dinner is almost ready. Come in, come in, set your bag here by the sofa for now. I will assist you with finding a satisfactory place to put your belongings later.”

Link smiled his hello and stepped inside, setting down his bag and swinging the Master Sword and his shield off his strong shoulders.

Shad eyed the legendary artifacts and gave a nervous little chuckle. “I daresay it feels a bit odd having such famous and formidable equipment inside my own humble home. But I suppose one could say the same about you yourself, couldn’t they?”

Link rolled his eyes with good humor at the scholar’s lighthearted jest. “I suppose so, but I’m glad I don’t have to be the famous hero here with you. Making my way through town with those strapped to my back was tricky. Lots more people recognize me when I have them on. I prefer going unnoticed and I don’t really need them in town with me anymore. There’s no danger here now, thank the goddesses.”

“Yes, well, thank you. And the goddesses of course, but it is because of you that we are now safeguarded. Naturally the people want to celebrate that. I am sorry it’s an inconvenience though.”

“Oh, I don’t mean it like that. I’m not mad at people for it or irritated by them really. It just... feels weird. I guess it will take some getting used to.” Link shrugged. “Anyway, it smells delicious in here. I didn’t know you were a famous chef.” Link winked and nudged him with his elbow.

“Ha! Hardly. I do my best since there’s no one else here to feed me, after all.” Shad looked down at the package Link still held in his hands. “Would you like to put that with your other belongings, or..?”

“Oh! No, here, this is for you. I picked it up on my way over from the castle.” Link pushed the package into Shad’s hands, who eyed it in surprise. “It’s just a little thank you for letting me stay here. I hope you like it.”

“Oh, I most certainly will, old boy. There was no need to buy me anything though.” Shad unwrapped the little bakery package and a smile spread across his face as he saw the small sweet cake inside. Next in the package was a tin of his favorite tea and his smile changed into a look of mild surprise. “Why, Link! This was so extraordinarily thoughtful of you! I-it can’t be coincidence - were you aware that I particularly like these specific items?”

“Of course I’m aware. I picked them out on purpose.” Link beamed and rocked back and forth on his heels. “You always order a slice of cake like that one at Telma’s. And that’s the same type of tea you made earlier. I saw you were running low.”

Shad’s heart swelled as he realized that Link had been paying special attention to his preferences and habits, and that he had gone out of his way to buy something pleasing for him. “Why, I don’t quite know what to say.” Uncharacteristically for him, Shad reached out and squeezed Link’s arm in thanks. “I had no idea you were paying attention to me in this fashion. Thank you ever so much. I’m touched, and this will be just the treat for us to share after dinner.”

Link’s smile grew wider at the unexpected touch from the normally reserved scholar. “You’re welcome. And of course I pay attention! I mean at this point it’s one of my most important survival skills. I would’ve failed in my journey long ago if I didn’t have that habit.”

“Ah. Yes, I see. Here, come and sit at the table, I’ll serve us up the food.” Shad turned and walked back into the kitchen, bustling around the oven as he put the finishing touches on his dish. He mentally chastised himself for reading too much into the simple gift and its implications. Of course his notice of details is nothing personal. It’s just part of who he is. He decided to just change the subject. “So, you were able to make your escape. Did everything turn out well with the princess?”

Link settled into a chair with a heavy sigh. “Kind of? She was actually pretty mad that I skipped lunch. Pulled me into her private office to talk about it.”

“Oh my! So it was an expectation disguised as an optional invitation?”

“Not exactly. She was upset that I didn’t reply so she didn’t know if I was coming or not. And then… I kind of snuck out of my rooms instead of going through the castle, so I wouldn’t run into anyone. To her it seemed like I’d just disappeared. I guess it made trouble for her with the nobles. She questioned my loyalty, actually.”

Shad turned, spatula still in hand, aghast at Link’s words. “She pulled you in for a private audience and questioned your loyalty? Link! How are you even here right now? And I can’t believe you didn’t even leave a note. I’d be irritated too.”

“I know, I know! I felt awful. She made it very clear how rude I’d been and how my actions affected a lot more people than just me. I apologized and swore fealty to her. Once I’d done that she was more open to hearing my concerns about not fitting in at the castle. Basically she’s letting me stay with you because she thinks you’ll be a good influence on me.” The hero grinned up at the scholar.

“Me, a good influence on you? Well I’m deeply flattered by her good faith in me but I can’t fathom where she got that idea.”

“Zelda said it was because of your father’s service and that you’re smart and responsible… something like that. Anyway, she also told me to bring you to the coronation planning meeting in two days. Said you can probably help me out with understanding all the royal etiquette stuff.”

Shad’s eyes grew wider. “I’m to accompany you to Her Royal Highness’s coronation planning meeting? Oh Nayru, what did I ever do to deserve such an honor and responsibility?”

Link chuckled at the scholar’s obvious nervousness. “I think you’re going to have to get used to a few changes in your life too, what with being a medal-bearing member of the Resistance and all. Apparently that holds some weight at court. And honestly, I think she just told me to bring you to make sure I show up! So I hope you don’t mind being my watcher.” Link laughed.

“I don’t suppose I have any other option, do I? And we will be at that meeting.” Shad brandished the spatula threateningly at the hero. “If I’m responsible for you being there then we will most certainly be in attendance!”

Link held both hands up in mock defense. “Oh I wouldn’t dream of defying you and the princess both, Din forbid it!” Shad nodded smartly and turned back to the oven.

Link idly traced the patterns in the wooden tabletop with his fingers. “How was the rest of your day?” the hero asked.

“It was fairly pleasant and productive.” Shad began to describe his afternoon in detail - how he’d pored over his research notes and visited Telma’s bar for supplies.

Link half listened to the scholar’s chatter as he ruminated over his own troubled thoughts and feelings. He still felt perturbed by the conversation he’d had with Zelda. He’d never thought she’d question his loyalty like that, after what he’d done for Hyrule, but he could see how he hadn’t really been supporting her very well. The politics here were so tricky. Every move he made seemed to have dozens of unintended consequences. Midna would have known all this. She’d never have let me make so many foolish mistakes. Or if she had, she’d laugh at me while she scolded me, and it wouldn’t have felt quite as bad. Beautiful, teasing, clever Midna. His mind followed the familiar painful paths through his memories as the dull ache of missing her returned to his chest.

“- and then I accidentally bumped into Ashei and oh was that ever a mistake! She and Telma certainly found that amusing!”

The mention of Telma and Ashei snapped Link’s attention back to the present. “Oh, Ashei was still at the bar then? Did you all have a nice conversation together?” Link watched in bemusement as Shad’s face turned instantly red and the scholar fumbled the plates full of food he was bringing to the table. Before they could hit the floor, Link had leapt out of his chair and nimbly caught them both with ease, setting them down on the table.

Shad couldn’t help admiring the way that Link’s strong and agile body had moved so swiftly, catching both plates gracefully without spilling so much as a drop of their meal onto the floor. Heavens but he’s pleasant to watch in action. Realizing he was ogling him, he blushed and cleared his throat, then took his seat across from the hero.

“Thank you, Link. You’ve saved our dinner! I apologize for my clumsiness. I must be a little out of my routine, having someone over, and it threw me off balance.”

“Oh.” Link’s face became solemn as he looked down at his plate. “I’m imposing on you, so it’s no wonder you feel off. I’m sorry for making you feel uncomfortable in your own home.”

“Oh, no no no! I didn’t mean it that way at all, old boy. You are more than welcome here! I would not have issued an invitation if I did not really want to. I’m just usually so solitary and used to cooking only for myself.” Shad ended on a wistful note and he began to take delicate bites of the roast cucco.

Link tilted his head as he considered Shad’s lonely-sounding words. The scholar had indeed seemed like a rather solitary person to him, and Link had always assumed that was by choice, but his tone had him wondering if that assumption was correct. “Just for yourself, huh? No, uh, past romantic partners to cook for and share space with?” He started on his own meal as the scholar shook his head.

“No, I’m afraid not. Not one person has ever stuck around long enough for anything like that.” The scholar paused, a slightly mournful look on his face, and then glanced up at Link. “Ah, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’m going to use the gentleman’s facilities.” Shad stood and made his way to his bedroom door, closing it behind him.

Not one person? Link wondered at Shad’s gender neutral phrasing. Someone else might have said “no woman” or “no girlfriend,” but the scholar had chosen oddly specific words. Does he maybe like… men? Before he could dig into that thought further, Shad returned.

“I do beg your pardon for the interruption.” He sat and placed his napkin back on his lap.

“Not a problem. Have to answer when nature calls, right?” Link watched in amusement as a light blush colored Shad’s cheeks. He was such a city boy! And adorably easy to rile, it seemed.

“Yes, well. Ahem. Such conversation is not really suited to mealtime, is it?”

“I guess not,” Link conceded. A comfortable lull settled between them while they both dug into the savory meal. After a few moments Link decided to break the silence. “So, how long have you been studying the Oocca?”

“Oh my, let’s see. Well really studying them as an academic, only five years now, but I’ve been interested in my father’s research since I was about six years old. When he passed away four years ago I began to pursue my studies with increased fervor. There’s scant information available in the university library, a bit more in the royal one, but that takes special permission to access and even then, the areas one can utilize are limited. It does help that I work in the university archives, of course, as I have access to many old documents and the time to peruse them. I’ve done a fair bit of my research by visiting old sites and studying runes, drawings, and glyphs that are carved on various statues and structures around Hyrule. Well, not really around, just the Lake Hylia area and in Kakariko. I’m not quite as well-traveled as you of course.”

“Wow. That’s great that you’ve known what you wanted to do from such a young age. I never really felt like I chose what I was going to do with my life, it just kind of chose me. My parents died when I was 11 and I was sort of raised by the village after that. They needed a ranch hand, I had Epona, I was young and strong.” Link shrugged. “It just seemed natural to learn that line of work. There’s not really a school down there - well, there wasn’t, Zelda’s promised to have one built there now - but my parents taught me to read and do sums and I was able to order books through our local store. I never even thought of anything like university. And now I’m not even really a ranch hand anymore. I’m.. I’m not sure what I am, exactly, other than a ‘hero'. And what kind of work is that, exactly, after the evil has all been defeated?”

“That is an excellent question.” Shad’s deep blue eyes were pensive as he took in the hero’s words. “You have your whole life ahead of you, Link, and you’ve already achieved so much. It’s readily apparent that an idle life of celebrity isn’t one that suits you. I do hope that you can find your purpose or calling. You are most certainly well-placed as far as connections go to find another line of work. And I am sorry to hear about your parents. I lost my mother at a very young age and it was particularly painful to later lose my father at fifteen.”

Link smiled weakly up at him. “I guess that makes us fellow orphans.” The hero chewed a bite of food and swallowed, thinking about how nice it was to speak at length to someone who wasn’t serving him, worshipping him, commanding him, or underestimating him. It was so easy and pleasant to talk to Shad, despite their touching on difficult subjects. “So you’re nineteen then?” he asked, to keep the conversation flowing.

“Yes, that’s correct. How old are you?” Shad was mildly impressed that Link had been paying enough heed to his words to deduce his age so swiftly. Not a lot of people paid such close attention to him.

“Seventeen. No, wait, eighteen. My birthday was last week, I kind of keep forgetting.” Link shrugged sheepishly.

Shad stared at him, eyes wide and mouth open. “Your birthday was last week? How is it even possible that I do not know that? Shouldn’t there have been some sort of grand celebration at the castle? I know I couldn’t have missed something like that!”

Link leaned back in his chair and reached up to ruffle the hair at the nape of his neck. “Yeah, well, that’s exactly why I didn’t tell anyone. I don’t need my birthday to become some sort of national holiday, and I didn’t want to attend yet another royal feast where I was the center of attention. And I know it would have been crazy, my birthday coming right on the heels of Ganondorf’s defeat. People have enough to celebrate without knowing every detail about my personal life. I got a few cards from my friends in Ordon. That was enough.”

“Well I daresay we would have liked the chance to celebrate you! The members of the Resistance, that is. I quite understand not wanting a big hubbub though. You were especially busy up at the castle last week, so it probably would have been difficult finding time for a birthday celebration at Telma’s. But here!” Shad carried his and Link’s empty plates to the sink. “Let’s have that cake you brought. It can be a belated birthday cake for you.”

“If you say so. But it’s your cake!”

“I do say so, old boy. And since it is my cake, I want to share it with you in honor of your birthday.” Shad cut the petite cake into two pieces and plated each of them, then sat back down after placing them both on the table. “Have at it, birthday boy.”

Link took a big bite and closed his eyes, moaning in delight. “Mmmm. Delicious. You have good taste in cake.”

“I’d say you do, since you bought it.” Shad joined him in taking a bite of the scrumptious treat.

“Yeah, but I only bought it because I know you like it,” Link said playfully, smiling his little half-smile and winking at the scholar. Shad’s heart fluttered and a light blush stole over his cheeks. Did Link have any idea how attractive he was when he did that?

“Well, it brings me great pleasure indeed to know that you enjoy what I like.” Was that too brazen? Were they… flirting?

“Good. I’m looking forward to learning even more of what you like.” Link was surprised to find that he really meant it. He was enjoying getting to know the scholar, and he’d really loved picking out a gift for him today. It amused him to see the blush deepen on Shad’s high cheekbones at his words. Did he know how cute it was when he blushed like that? As the redhead took his next bite, a bit of the cake’s icing ended up on the right-side corner of his mouth. “Oh, Shad, you have a little icing on your mouth,” Link told him.

Mortified, Shad quickly brought his napkin to his lips and delicately dabbed at the left side of his mouth. “How embarrassing! Did I get it all?”

“Not quite. Here.” Link reached over with his fingers to wipe the icing off of Shad’s face just as the scholar stuck his tongue out just a bit to lick his lips, inadvertently licking Link’s finger. They both froze instantly at the contact, eyes locked. A bolt of heat shot from Shad’s lips down to his groin as he felt and tasted Link’s finger on the tip of his tongue.

Link stared at Shad, eyes wide in surprise at the fiery reaction in his body to the unexpectedly erotic touch. A shiver ran down his spine as he slowly dragged his finger down Shad’s lower lip. Shad did not withdraw his tongue as Link’s finger grazed past it, tugging his lip down slightly. Sparks shot between their eyes as the tension in the room grew.

Finally realizing how inappropriate he was being, Link snatched his hand back and jumped out of his chair, collecting their empty plates and rushing them to the sink. His back to the scholar, he turned on the tap and began washing the dishes.

“Sorry about that!” he said in an overloud and forced jovial tone. “Those Ordon manners, told you they get me in trouble in Castle Town! Heh, you’re certainly not one of the children back home whose mouths I would help wipe clean! Guess I overstepped a bit!”

What in Hyrule had that been?? Yes, the initial contact had been unintentional, but the way he’d held the redhead’s gaze as he’d dragged Shad’s full lower lip down with his finger, smearing the icing further onto his lips… Link shivered again. He was awkwardly aroused and confused by it, and he scrubbed the dishes furiously, not looking up at the scholar. Link didn’t want to make Shad feel like he was trying to take advantage of him and his friendliness in such a way. He was so grateful to him for giving him a place to stay, and he didn’t want him to think he expected anything more as part of the deal.

Shad sat motionless in his chair, his mouth still open as it was when Link’s fingers left it. He brought his hand up to his mouth in a daze, feeling where Link had touched him. His skin there felt hot and tingly, hypersensitive to his touch. At Link’s blustering words, he dropped his hand and brought his napkin up to fully wipe his mouth, finally turning to look up at the hero. Link was engrossed in washing the dishes and had his back to him. Good Goddesses, what was that all about? He’d licked him. He’d licked LINK! Oh, how embarrassing! He could tell Link was mortified as he tried to apologize for his actions and Shad felt guilty that his lick was causing the hero such distress. And yet… Link’s finger had lingered, even tugging a bit at his lower lip, as if he wanted to touch him, wanted to explore Shad’s mouth. Plus there was that wild look in the hero’s eyes... No. Shad firmly pushed those thoughts away. It was an accident, that was all. He was trying to be helpful and it was Shad’s own fault for using his tongue like a child instead of his napkin. He didn’t want to make Link think he was trying to seduce him and that he’d offered to let the hero stay here for that reason.

“No, no, it was my fault. If I hadn’t been so neglectful in my dining habits and just wiped my whole mouth with my napkin you wouldn’t have felt the need to assist me in such a way. I don’t blame you at all for being used to more familiarity with your childhood friends and neighbors. Think nothing of it, and thank you for your help with the dishes. Um, I’ll just go get the extra bedding and set up the sofa for you while you’re doing that.”

Link nodded from the sink and Shad strode into his bedroom to fetch the extra blankets and pillow that Telma had lent him. Returning to the sofa, he arranged everything nicely and then looked up as Link wandered over, the dishes done.

“Well then!” Shad’s voice held a note of false brightness in it. “It’s been a long day and I’ve got work to do at the university archives tomorrow, so I should be getting off to sleep. Thank you for the tea and cake. Goodnight!”

“G’night, Shad.” Link replied as Shad swiftly turned and went back into the bedroom, closing the door quietly behind him.

Shad leaned up against the bedroom door and tried to breathe. It didn’t get any easier as he heard the tell-tale signs from the living area of Link removing his gear and undressing. Groaning lightly, he stripped off his clothing and climbed into bed, placing his spectacles on the table nearby. He closed his eyes tightly and tried not to think of Link unclothed in his house. Or of his fingers on his lips.

It didn’t work. Shad’s thoughts went racing out of control and he found himself yearning for Link’s touch again. He didn’t want just a finger on his lip. He’d wanted to swirl his tongue all over that finger, sucking it into his mouth while Link’s sultry gaze held his own. He wanted Link’s fingers invading and exploring his mouth, making Shad suck them, forcing his lips open for a kiss and for anything else Link wanted to use his mouth for. He clenched his pillow tightly in both fists and groaned into it. So much for an early night’s sleep.

Out in the living room, Link also lay awake with his thoughts. He was shocked by how his body had reacted to the feel of Shad’s tongue and lips under his finger. He’d felt like he’d been hit by lightning and he’d grown half hard in an instant. He hadn’t even known he could feel that way again, after all the pain he’d been through since Midna loved him and left him. He supposed he wasn’t that surprised that it was Shad who’d sparked that reaction in him though. He had thought the dashing and elegant scholar was handsome from the very first moment he’d laid eyes on him, although he hadn’t been in a romantic state of mind while he was off trying to save the world. But did Shad like men that way? And was that even something he wanted to pursue? His heart still felt torn in two from losing Midna and he didn’t want to make the scholar uncomfortable, especially after he’d invited him into his home out of the goodness of his heart. Link yawned and resolved to remain respectful and appropriate around him from then on, although he couldn't help wondering if the scholar's lips would be as delightful to kiss as they were to touch.

Link grew drowsy and his thoughts began to swirl into dreams. He was in Faron Spring and Midna was there, smirking at him playfully over her shoulder as she stood knee deep in the water. She turned away from him, her long Twili cloak covering her completely. He reached out a hand to pull it off of her but when he removed the cloak it wasn’t her. Shad turned and looked at him, his indigo eyes full of sensual energy. His dark red hair was wet and he was shirtless. Link looked around and realized they were in the pool at the entrance to the City in the Sky. He laughed aloud in his dream at the joy of finally having brought Shad here, then reached out for his hand as his slumber fully took over him and everything faded to black.

Chapter Text

She looked even more beautiful in the fading sunlight of the Mirror Chamber than she’d looked this morning when she’d woken next to him back at the castle. The setting desert sun glinted off of her fiery hair and her eyes glowed as she pressed herself up against him for a long, passionate kiss. Link stood on the step above her so they’d be at an even height and held her by her trim waist.

“I’m so glad you can come back and visit soon,” he murmured against her lips, happy he got this final, private goodbye with her. “Or I can come see you.”

Midna pulled back and smiled her coy smile at him. “Oh, Link,” was all she said as she returned to their kiss, one hand on his lower back while her other reached up to grip the hair on the back of his head and hold him in place. She pulled her face away slightly and laughed as he strained to reach her lips, despite the tugging on his hair. “I love it when you try so hard to kiss me, despite the pain I give you for it.” She tugged sharply, making him yelp a bit, even as she ground her hips into his and lightly rubbed her open lips over his own. “You’ve always been such a good boy for me,” she whispered huskily against his mouth.

He moaned at her teasing words and licked her lips, his eyes begging for another kiss. She relented and kissed him again deeply, letting go of his hair. He melted into her kiss, his arousal pressing firmly into her before she stopped him again. This time she pulled away further, holding him at arm’s length, her fingertips digging into his shoulders.

“You’ve been such a good boy for all of Hyrule too, haven’t you? This whole horrible world of light has you to thank for saving it, doesn’t it? So obedient, so ready to help, so eager to do whatever you’re told. Yes, you’ve been very useful to me, and to your weak people.” She chuckled as he furrowed his brow in confusion. He hadn’t heard her refer to the world of light in words like that since early in their journey together, before he’d temporarily abandoned their quest to bring her to Zelda, and she had saved Midna’s life with her own. What was she talking about?

“Midna, I-”

She brought an elegant finger up to place against his lips. “Shhh. Hush, pup. Now don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that you turned out to be so useful in helping me save what truly matters - the Twilight World. Mmm, and taking every ounce of pleasure from your beautiful body last night was the cherry on top.” She winked and bopped him on the tip of his nose. “But of course, now that I’m returning as the Twilight Queen I won’t need a little sword-swinging tagalong scampering after me, will I?” She smirked at him, her scarlet eyes flashing with mirth.

His heart thudded painfully in his chest at her cruel and confusing words and he opened his mouth to ask her what she was talking about when she swiftly leaned in again and gave him a fierce kiss, biting his lower lip hard enough to draw blood as she pulled her head away. She turned and ran up the stairs made by the mirror to the Twilight portal, pausing at the top. Link blinked up at her in shock and disbelief, his lip smarting.

“Well… I guess this is farewell, huh? Light and shadow can’t mix, as we all know. But... never forget that there’s a superior world out there. It won’t be bound to yours anymore though. As long as that mirror’s around we could meet again, and I can’t have a pathetic little pup following me to my world.”

Link tried to reach out a hand and run up the stairs after her and was shocked when he realized he couldn’t move his arms or legs. Looking down he saw thick bands of Twili magic wrapping around his limbs. He glared up at her now, furious at her words and the restraints she’d placed on him.

“Midna, what are you doing? I love you! This isn’t you! Stop this game! I know you like to tease but this is going too far!” He struggled against his restraints, tears forming in his eyes.

“Oh, but it is me. You’ve just been foolish and blind enough to believe that I cared about anything other than getting my throne back. Now hold still. This is going to hurt.” She lifted a hand to her lips and wiped off the drops of blood she’d drawn from Link’s lips when she bit him.

“Wh-what’s going to hurt? What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to break the mirror, pup, and ensure that trouble from this miserable world and its tedious cycles of good versus evil will never again infest my own.” Link stared at her, horrified. “And I’m going to do a small favor for Zelda, merely as payback for saving my life. I do have my honor, after all, and I pay my debts. I’m going to shatter you too, into a hundred pieces, so that some day in the future the next heroic little Link to come along and save your world will have to search for you in a hundred different temples, putting you back together piece-by-piece, so that you can be a weapon for your precious Hyrule, used again, and again, and again. Just like the Hero’s Shade was brought back for your use. You’ll never stop being used as a tool for your world.”

With that, Midna brought her hand up and flicked the drops of blood at him and the mirror, then began to fade away as the portal took her back to the Twilight realm. Link watched the mirror next to him shatter into splinters and screamed as the droplet hit his chest…

Link bolted upright, his heart pounding as a silent scream formed on his lips. Breathing hard, he reached a shaking hand up to push his hair off of his sweaty brow. A dream. It was just a dream. I’m safe in Shad’s apartment, on his sofa. He hugged his knees to his chest and dropped his head down on top of them, tears forming in his eyes as he tried to shake off the horrible nightmare. Deep, shuddering breaths came out of him as he attempted to slow his breathing and rapid heart rate.

He couldn’t stop the tears from coming though, even as his racing pulse slowed down. The dream had seemed so real. The feel of her, her taste, even some of the words she’d said had been so close to what she’d actually said the day she left. And her other words in the nightmare, the cruel and callous ones… they’d been similar to some of the things she’d said when he’d first met her. She hadn’t cared about the world of light then and she’d made it abundantly clear that she was just using him to get back to her world. But she’d changed. She had! There was no way he could have fallen in love with her if she hadn’t. He knew her heart… didn’t he? Although, he’d thought she’d loved him and she’d left anyway, without even telling him that she was going to break the mirror and forever shut them off from each other. Was he wrong to ever trust her? But… but she hadn’t broken the mirror with blood, or with just Twili magic. She’d broken it with her tear. That had to mean something!

Link threw off his blankets and stood, shaking his head as he tried to free himself from his spiraling thoughts. Even more horrifying than Midna’s seductive betrayal in his dream was the idea of him being reduced to a tool for the next hero in the cycle to use, of never being free from the burden of responsibility he felt for Hyrule. He thought of the decaying form of the Hero’s Shade that had taught him his hidden skills and shivered. The terrifying part was that he couldn’t even be sure that something similar wouldn’t happen to him. He’d saved Hyrule and Zelda still needed more from him. Who was to say that he wouldn’t be resurrected and forced to help the next hero save Hyrule all over again? Would he ever be free to just be himself again, rather than Hyrule’s Hero? Was that all he was now?

Link walked to Shad’s kitchen sink and turned on the tap, splashing water on his face. Pale bands of pink and gold were just starting to appear in the lightening sky as he looked through the window above the sink. He had to get out of his head and stop this train of thought before it drove him mad. He needed to be out of doors, out of this confining city, and away from all of its people. Epona. I’ll take Epona out. She needs the exercise anyway.

He walked to his pack near the sofa and dressed in the hero’s clothes, complete with sword and shield, even as he tried to rid himself of his fears associated with being trapped in this role and these clothes forever. Going outside the walls of the city meant he’d need to be prepared for whatever he’d encounter in the wild, and this gear was the best thing to face that. Link folded his bedding and tidied his things before heading to the door.

His hand was on the doorknob when he paused and thought of Shad waking and wondering where he was. Just last night the scholar had mentioned how irritated he’d be if Link had done to him what he’d done to Zelda yesterday and snuck out without leaving a note. Link found a piece of paper and a pen on Shad’s neatly organized bookshelves and quickly scribbled out a note explaining where he’d be. He placed it on the dining table, grabbed a couple of apples, and headed out the door, his heart heavy.

___

Waking earlier than he’d like, especially with how late he’d ended up falling asleep, Shad stretched in bed and reached for his spectacles. He blinked at the ceiling a few times as his vision cleared, then immediately blushed as he remembered why he’d had such a hard time falling asleep. The thought that Link was out there in his living room right now had his heart beating rapidly and he tried to rein in his anxiety. Would Link be thinking about the incident with the icing? Would he think ill of Shad for it? He hoped they could just put it behind them and carry on with their friendship. He had to admit though, that despite his anxious thoughts, he was excited to spend more time with the hero today.

Rising from bed, Shad carefully chose his outfit for the day, making sure he was loud enough when shutting drawers to alert the other man that he was awake and would be emerging soon, for privacy and courtesy’s sake. He paused with his hand on his bedroom door. Breathe, Shad, he told himself, just breathe. He opened the door and strode through it, adjusting his collar as he prepared to greet Link with a hearty good morning. He stopped after a few steps when he realized that the apartment was empty. Link’s bedding was folded on the edge of the sofa and his belongings were neatly packed up and placed alongside it. Link’s sword and shield were notably absent. Glancing around the room, he saw a folded piece of paper on the dining table with his name scrawled on it and walked over to read it.

Shad,

Sorry to miss you. I’ve gone out to give Epona some exercise outside of the city. Captain Harbin of the Royal Guard asked me to come train with them later this morning. Should be home around lunchtime. Taking some of your apples for breakfast. I’ll pick up some more food to repay you. See you later.

Link

The knot of anxiety in Shad’s stomach released as he realized he wouldn’t be having any awkward conversations this morning after all. He was a bit disappointed he’d missed Link, despite his nervousness, but was looking forward to seeing him again at lunchtime. Link’s straightforward note, with no mention of the icing or inappropriate touching, led him to believe that the hero had probably not given it a second thought after all. He turned his mind towards preparing himself for his morning of work at the University archives and began making his breakfast.

___

Epona’s hooves thudded on the grass of North Hyrule Field, each strike booming through Link’s fit frame. He pulled her reins in close and leaned with her as she made the tight turn around the boulder and then began to race her way back to the far one at his urging. The air whipped his hair past his face as Epona’s strong body surged forward underneath him. Reining her around a boulder again, Link aimed this time for a tree across the field.

“Hyah!” he yelled, pressing his heels into her flanks as she heaved forward at top speed.

Goddesses, he’d missed this. They’d both been cooped up in the city for far too long. He hadn’t felt this free, with the wind in his face and his senses alert, since he was a wolf - since the day he’d defeated Ganondorf. That was the last time Midna had transformed him into his lupine form, riding on his back as an imp and helping him defeat an enemy much larger and stronger than he was. He hadn’t thought of it then as being the last time and hadn’t ever really wondered before if he’d miss it, but now that he knew he’d never again be in that wild form he found the desire for his primal state overtaking him. His body longed to race, to eat up the ground beneath him with his own swift four-legged stride. He forcibly pushed his thoughts away as he turned Epona sharply around the tree and leaned forward over her neck, focusing only on racing again towards the boulders at the north end of the field.

After they rounded the final boulder he gave the powerful mare her head. He’d been racing her across the field for quite some time now, and he didn’t want to work her too hard. She continued her gallop for a few beats more, then began to slow, eventually walking back towards the bridge. Dismounting on the far side of the bridge, closest to the path to Castle Town, he loosened the girth on Epona’s saddle, and then led his heavily breathing horse down to the water for a drink before pulling her back.

“Slowly there, Epona. Can’t have you gulping down the whole river now. Ilia would kill me.” He leaned into her broad flank and rubbed a hand affectionately along her neck and shoulder. The mare turned her big head towards him and bumped him on the hip with her muzzle, huffing at his belt pouches.

He reached into his pouch and pulled out one of the apples he’d brought, holding it up flat on his hand for her. Her breath whuffed out against his palm as her soft lips reached for the fruit. He pulled out his own apple and joined her for breakfast, letting her have the core when he was done. Running his hand carefully down each of her legs, he checked her hooves for stones and debris, then left her to graze as she wanted. The routine actions of caring for his horse were satisfying to him in a way that all of the talking and posturing in Castle Town could never be, but he still couldn’t shake off his troubled mood.

Looking around the empty terrain, Link thought about how strange it was to have the whole field to roam with no one to fight. Oh, you still had to be careful - in some parts of Hyrule there would always be wild and dangerous creatures about - but this bridge in particular was peaceful, no more Lizalfos or Bulblins guarding either end. He didn’t want to say that he missed the fighting and killing, but he felt so restless and aimless now, after so many months of being driven to the next goal, and then the next, one after another.

He’d felt similarly when he’d gone back to Ordon with Rusl, the day after Midna left. It had been wonderful to see the children arrive back home and be joyously welcomed by the villagers, but no one had let him lift a finger to help out, claiming he’d already done so much. While it had been good to see everyone and catch up, he’d felt out of place. His was not the simple life of an Ordon goat herder any longer - he knew it, they knew it, and everything just felt slightly off. The summons back to Castle Town from Zelda for the beginning of the celebrations in his honor just a couple of days later had seemed like a welcome escape at the time. If only he’d known then how long they would drag out and how much would be expected from him.

Link wandered over to lean on the bridge, staring at the high towers of the castle in the distance. His enemies nowadays weren’t something he could defeat with a special tool or a sword fighting skill. They were inside his own head or speaking riddles around him at court, and he didn’t feel like he had the skill or the knowledge to conquer either.

He thought of the coronation planning meeting tomorrow and he frowned, sighing heavily. He was glad that Shad would be going with him but wasn’t even sure why Zelda had invited either of them in the first place. What did he know about celebrations of that nature? Or official ceremonies? Couldn’t she just tell him where to stand and what to say if she wanted him as her Courage Puppet? He knew that being at the ceremony itself was important to her, as she’d been very clear about his public support being necessary for her to maintain a firm hold over the realm, but he had no idea what good he’d be at a planning meeting.

He couldn’t help wishing that Midna could come with him. His heart thumped painfully as he thought of his Twilight Princess. She’d have had all the knowledge and experience that he didn’t and would have had so much to contribute in her own right, in addition to advising him and making him choke back laughs with her snide but apt comments. His chest felt tight as he realized she was probably having or had already had her own coronation back in the Twilight realm. That was a ceremony he’d have loved to be at, if only because it meant he’d be with her. He wished he could have stood up there with her, supporting her as the rightful ruler in front of her people, so proud of her intelligence, power, and beauty. Oh he’d probably feel out of place there too, maybe more so, since the people and customs weren’t his own at all, but at least he’d have her.

She didn’t want him there though. If she had, she’d never have broken the mirror. No need for a pathetic tagalong pup, he thought bitterly, and then No. She never said that. My dream was a lie, a sick and twisted version of what was truly between us.

Was it though? Hadn’t she used him to get what she wanted and then left him with no warning? She’d got her throne back, she’d used him for her pleasure, so what more did she need from him? Link curled his hands into fists at his sides, tension building in his body.

Now the only one who needed him was Zelda, with her constant demands on his time and attention, and her refusal to even talk about anything having to do with Midna. It was her decision to keep the whole thing a secret and tell everyone that it was just Ganondorf, their ancient enemy, who had caused all the problems. Zant, the shadowy darkness, the monsters - all just Ganondorf and his minions operating from within Hyrule, according to her official version of the story and the one she made him stick to. He knew it was smart to do so on some level, that it protected both Hyrule and the Twilight realm, but he hated how she’d convinced him to go along with it. She had known he’d refuse any sort of monetary bribe and that he cared nothing for the awards and accolades she heaped on him. No, in her wisdom she’d known exactly how to buy his loyalty - by promising to enrich Ordon with better roads, exclusive trade agreements, and a school for the children. He could and did turn down money for himself but he couldn’t refuse to help the villagers who were family to him, not even when it was tearing him apart to lie to everyone, hold his pain inside, and keep her secrets for her.

Hot anger flared up inside him and he kicked at the edge of the stone bridge, then turned away and stormed onto the field. His body felt tense and ready to burst and his left hand twitched with a need for action. Link reached up behind his back and pulled the Master Sword out of its scabbard, his brows drawn into a ferocious scowl. He stalked over to a tree stump nearby and swung his sword over his head, bringing it fiercely down to slice into the stump as a guttural cry tore itself from his throat. Wood chips went flying as he pulled the sword out and leapt into a spin attack, bringing the sword slashing down as he circled back around. Yanking his sword free again, Link flipped backwards and then charged at the stump, hacking at the wood and crying out in his rage.

Link attacked savagely, the Master Sword biting into the wood over and over. Sweat dripped down his brow, stinging his eyes, and his muscles began to ache, and yet still he kept up his slashing and hacking, taking out all of his pent up anger and frustration on the hunk of old wood. The sun slowly climbed higher in the sky, nearing its zenith, as Link’s rage continued to channel itself into his blade.

When his sword found nothing more to bite into, Link finally stopped, his chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath. He blinked and then stared at what remained of the tree stump. Splinters and chips of wood littered the ground around him, the only remnants of the stump he’d obliterated. He had nothing left to fight.

The fierce anger that had been driving him rapidly drained out and Link’s fingers opened, the Master Sword falling out of his hand and hitting the ground with a dull thud. Following close on the heels of his fury was an overwhelming blow of anguish and misery, and Link dropped to his knees, covering his face with his hands. A tortured cry of despair escaped him as waves of grief and hopelessness washed over him, his chest aching fiercely. He missed her more than anything, and he didn’t even know if she missed him too. She’d left him here all alone, here where he felt both totally useless and completely overwhelmed, where he didn’t fit in at court or in his old life back in Ordon. He belonged nowhere and with no one and he felt doomed to be alone while he was used as a symbol of heroism for Hyrule forever. The only person he could talk to about it refused to listen or even let him speak, and he didn’t know what to do with all of his agonizing heartbreak and misery. Another wail found its way out of him and his trickle of tears turned into a steady flow.

Link fell onto his side, curling his legs up and hugging his arms around himself as he sobbed, his tears soaking into the grass of the field.

___

Worry etched itself across Shad’s brow as he hurried to the city’s western gate. When Link hadn’t arrived back at his apartment for lunch he’d initially brushed it off. The younger man could of course do as he wished without notifying Shad of his every move, and after all, it’s not like he’d actually made specific plans to have lunch with him.

When mid-afternoon had arrived without the hero showing up, Shad had decided to stop by the training yard at the castle to see if he was still there. Shad had told himself that it was just because he needed to know what to buy at the market in case Link would be dining with him again. To his total surprise, a disgruntled Captain Harbin had told him that Link had never shown that morning, despite their prearranged plans. Worrying over that piece of information, Shad had wondered if Princess Zelda had pulled him in for another audience or some task instead, but running into the Lord Chancellor on the way out of the castle confirmed that that was not the case and that he’d not been seen at the castle at all that day.

A little nagging feeling that something wasn’t right had begun to gnaw in the pit of Shad’s stomach, and he’d stopped by Telma’s bar to see if the hero had popped in there for the day. Telma had winked at him when Shad came in looking for Link, but told him that she hadn’t seen Link since he’d left there with Shad yesterday. Shad hadn’t wanted to share his anxieties and alarm anyone else, so he’d thanked her and played it off as part of his infatuation with the hero. He couldn’t ignore that instinct that something was off though, especially after their conversation last night about how Link knew he’d been rude by blowing off the princess and had resolved not to do it again.

Link was generally known for being loyal and dependable. He was also a man of action and Shad knew he’d been looking forward to training with the Royal Guard. This wasn’t like him. And if it wasn’t intentional, then Shad feared he’d gotten into some sort of trouble when he’d taken Epona out that morning. He knew it was a silly worry - Link was the realm’s champion, after all! He’d taken care of himself and everyone else he ran into for months on end. If anyone could survive outside the city alone it was Link… but still, it was just so out of character for him to vanish and break commitments like that, Shad couldn’t help his concern.

Stewing over his troubled thoughts, Shad was mildly surprised to look up and find that he’d arrived at the western gate. He hailed the nearest guard to get his attention.

“Hello there! I apologize for interrupting you at your post. My name is Shad, and I’m part of the Resi-”

“We know who you are, Master Shad,” came the courteous reply from the armored guard. “We were both on duty at the award ceremony the other day.”

“Oh. Oh my. Well then. Um, thank you. Err…” Momentarily thrown off guard by being recognized, Shad adjusted his spectacles and then got straight to the point. “I’m here to ask if you’ve seen Master Link today? He let me know he was riding out on his horse for some exercise early this morning but he was expected back before now.”

The other, taller guard piped up, “No, we haven’t seen him, but we’ve only been at our post since noon.”

Shad’s heart sank at the seemingly dead end to his search, but before he could thank the guard anyway, the first guard spoke again.

“Yeah, that’s right, but when we changed posts the other fellas did mention to me that he’d gone through this morning. He’s not someone you’re likely to forget passing by, see, and he’s always real friendly. My buddy Roald told me he’d even stopped to chat with him about Epona and how he was taking her out to North Hyrule Field.”

“I see. Forgive me for the possible over-clarification, but that does mean that he left through this gate this morning but you haven’t see him return, correct?” The guards both nodded. “And how likely is it that he’d have left North Hyrule Field and returned by a different gate?” Shad followed up.

The first guard rubbed his chin as he considered Shad’s question. “Not at all likely really. He’d have to circle all the way up and around, coming back across the Bridge of Eldin and that part of Hyrule field to come in at the eastern gate, or head down really far south across the Great Bridge of Hylia and come up through Hyrule Field down thataway, and in through the southern gate. Can’t see why anyone would do that, for just a day’s ride.”

“Everything ok?” asked the taller guard. “What are you tracking him down for anyway?”

“Oh, yes, everything’s fine,” Shad replied nervously. “Just, ah, some Resistance business. Thank you both for your time and assistance.” The guards nodded and turned back to their posts as Shad swiftly began walking back home.

His mind began to churn with worries as he considered what the guards had told him. Why hadn’t Link come back? A feeling of dread spread through him as he thought of the potential troubles that may have befallen the hero. Did something happen to Epona? Was Link injured? Shad twisted the bracelets on his wrists anxiously as images of the hero battered and bleeding flooded his mind.

Bursting through the door of his apartment, Shad made a decision. He didn’t care if it was brash or foolish, he was going out to look for Link. What if some trouble had befallen him or his horse that he couldn’t handle? What if he was hurt and alone while everyone in Castle Town went about their business, thinking the hero could handle anything on his own? Shad quickly threw a few medical supplies he had on hand into a bag and then paused, wondering if there was anything else he should bring. He glanced at the note Link had left and realized the hero had probably not eaten anything since that morning. Link had only mentioned taking a couple of apples and he’d apparently expected to be back by lunchtime. Shad grabbed half a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese, and several more apples and added them to his rucksack.

Everything packed, Shad headed back out. The guards looked mildly surprised to see him again so soon, especially with a pack on his back.

“Going out yourself, Master Shad?” the shorter guard asked.

“Yes,” Shad replied. “I’m hoping to run into Link out there. We should both be back before nightfall.”

“As you will. Make sure you stay on the path. We may not have bulblins and other terrors all over the place anymore, Link and the Goddesses be thanked, but there’s still dangers aplenty out there.”

Shad nodded and headed out of the gate, following the path to North Hyrule Field. He passed through the verdant meadow just outside the castle gates and then entered a rocky corridor. It took him over an hour to reach the northernmost field on foot and he was sweating under his rucksack by the time he arrived.

Scanning across the vast field, Shad's eyes landed on Epona grazing down by the river almost at once. His heart leapt as he realized that Link must be somewhere nearby, and then immediately sank when he didn't see the hero anywhere near his still-saddled mount. Worry consumed him and he ran down the path to the mare, who whinnied at him as he approached. Shad reached up a shaking hand to pet her.

"Hello there girl. Where's your master at, hmm?" The horse looked well enough to his untrained eyes but that did little to alleviate his fears. If Epona was okay then that most likely meant that it was Link who was not.

His gaze sweeping frantically over the field, Shad almost missed the green-clad hero curled up on the ground by a pile of wood chips past the bridge, his sword beside him. Was he... asleep? But who would choose such an uncomfortable resting spot? And would Link really have spent the whole day out here just napping? Dread growing inside him, Shad approached Link's motionless form.

"Link?" he called out hesitantly, a short distance away. To his relief, Link moved, curling further in on himself and letting out a groan. "Link, are you alright?" Shad rushed over and knelt by the hero's side.

"Go away," Link muttered as he brought his arm up to cover his face.

Shad recoiled, stung by his friend's curt words of dismissal. He started to rise but a fierce stubbornness seized him. He had not come all this way to be deterred by two sullen words. Lowering himself back onto the ground, the scholar reached for Link's arm and gently pulled it away from his face. His appearance was shocking. His eyes were bloodshot and puffy like they had been two nights ago, his face was streaked with the tracks of dried tears, and his hair was disheveled and messy, with bits of grass and wood dust stuck to the sweaty strands. The expression of despair on his face alarmed the scholar, and Link wouldn't meet his eyes. A quick glance over the rest of his body revealed no obvious wounds.

"Go away? After coming all this way to find you? I think not, old boy. You are clearly not well and I refuse to leave unless it is to bring you back to Castle Town with me. We need to return to the city before twilight."

Upon hearing that painful and dreaded word Link moaned and scrunched his eyes closed, fresh tears welling up and streaking down his face.

Shad's chest ached as he took in the sight of a despairing Link once again. After the good day they'd had together yesterday he'd been hopeful that the sadness he'd witnessed on the night of the banquet was a one-off occasion, and that removing Link from the castle would improve his mood. There was clearly something else bothering the miserable hero besides his issues with the court. After so many rebuffs when he'd tried to probe into the nature of the problem though, Shad was not about to ask what was wrong this time. He searched for something helpful to say while not causing Link any further distress.

"Oh, Link." He reached out a hand and placed it gently on his friend's arm. "You do not need to try and hide your grief from me, nor be embarrassed that I am witness to it. I have helped you through this previously and I am thankful that I am here to help you again."

Link reached his hand up to wipe at his eyes and sniffled. "I-I'm such a burden to you, Shad, and to everyone. I'm sorry you have to keep dealing with me like this. I wish... I wish I wasn't so sad that I- that I can't even function. But I can't seem to help it, and I don't want my problems bothering anyone." His voice was hoarse and quiet.

Shad's heart was breaking at his distressed friend's disparaging words. He couldn't help but feel compassion and empathy for him, alone all day out here in this field, seemingly overwrought with grief and thinking that he wasn't even worthy of help.

"It does not bother me to be your friend and provide you with assistance, Link," he replied softly. "Friendship to me is not merely about laughter and jubilant activities - it's about being there for each other when one is dealing with difficulties. I am deeply saddened that your sorrows are affecting you so greatly that you find yourself unable to bear them, and I will do whatever I can to alleviate some of your burdens, whether you like it or not."

Shad slipped his rucksack off his back and reached into it, pulling out the bread and cheese. "Here, let us begin with basic sustenance, shall we? I would wager that you have not had anything to eat today beyond the apples you took with you this morning, correct?"

Link finally turned towards Shad, eyeing the proffered food hungrily. He tried weakly to sit up and Shad assisted him, then handed the hero the bread. Link rapidly devoured it, reaching out his hand for the cheese when he was done. Shad brought out the apples next and then sat next to him in silence as the hero consumed every bite of food Shad had brought with him. When Link was done he reached up to wipe his mouth and then finally, sheepishly looked up into the scholar's eyes. Shad was smiling gently down at him, his deep blue eyes warm with care and concern.

"I daresay that's a bit better now, isn't it, old boy? It's a wonder what a proper meal can do for one's mental state." At Link's reluctant nod, Shad continued, "I will not ask you why you are so distraught, as I know that you have expressed previously that you cannot tell me. I will honor your wishes in that regard. However I do hope that you will take better care of yourself in the future, if not for your own sake, then perhaps for the sake of those who care for you and would loathe to see you hurt or ill. I am not alone amongst those who would grieve to see you come to harm."

Gazing into Shad's eyes, Link was touched by the scholar's gentle words of compassion and mild admonishment. Maybe... maybe he wasn't as alone as he'd thought. He thought about all of the people who would truly miss him if he were gone, and he had to admit that it was not a short list. No, none of them were as close with him as Midna had been, but he realized he'd never deepen those connections if he kept pushing people away. Link's mind touched on each of his friends in turn: Ilia, Rusl, the children of Ordon, Telma, Ashei, Auru, the rest of the villagers, oh, even Zelda, and especially Shad himself. He felt a tiny flame spark to life inside of him, a warm and lovely little light that began to grow as he thought of his various relationships in this world, the world of Light. He wasn't sure yet if it was enough to overcome the darkness within, but he was glad it was there all the same. He was glad Shad was there too, and not just to share his food.

The fog of grief over Link's mind finally cleared and he made the connection that Shad was here. Here, in North Hyrule Field. Which meant he'd walked all the way from Castle Town alone, just to find him. Overawed and humbled at the lengths to which the scholar had gone to for his sake, Link reached out and squeezed Shad's hand briefly, a hint of a smile on his face.

"Thank you, Shad. For everything. I can't believe you came all this way here to look for me and bring me food, by yourself! It's dangerous to go alone."

Shad scoffed and waved off Link's concerns. "No trouble at all, old boy. You've already taken care of the monsters for us all, haven't you? It was a walk in the park. A very long walk in the park, but still. Anyway, it's quite obvious to me that you need someone to look after you!"

I really do. And that someone used to be Midna. Link sighed, his face growing downcast again.

Noticing Link's expression slip back into melancholy, Shad put his finger under the hero's chin and tilted his head up, forcing him to meet his eyes. "Link. I can tell that you are not alright, and I want you to know that it is okay to not be okay right now. You do not have to force yourself to be merry for my sake, or anyone else's. You are permitted to have a full range of emotions, even when they seem negative and inconvenient." Shad lowered his hand and Link continued to hold his gaze as he absorbed the scholar's words.

"Although it is not my academic specialty, I have read about how trauma can affect one's mind, and Farore knows that you have witnessed and experienced many traumatic events." Link gave a small shrug and Shad continued. "You must take as long as you need to heal, and I for one will never shame you for your feelings or rush you to feel better before you're ready. However. Please, please do not go out on your own again without letting me or someone else you trust know where you are going when you are hurting so deeply. I and a great many others truly do care for you, Link, and it hurts us when you are hurting. I- we want to help you, truly, even if it is just being there for you."

Sucking in a deep breath of air, Link closed his eyes briefly. He had felt so alone in his head and hadn't realized that he was hurting people that he cared about. He opened his eyes and looked at the redhead again. "Okay. I promise I won't run away like this again. If I need space because I feel bad I'll ask for it. I won't hide it from you. And... do you know of any good books about trauma? Something that can maybe help me? Because you're right, there's just a lot going on in my mind and I need something, even if I don't know yet what that is."

Shad smiled at Link's promise and his request for help. "Of course I can find something for you, old boy. I'll look in the university library tomorrow morning. I'm so glad you asked."

A genuine smile finally showed on Link's face. "Thank you, Shad. You really are a wonderful friend. Oh, and um... do you maybe have some more food?"

A laugh escaped the scholar as he stood and held out his hand to help Link up. "No, you ate everything I brought, but we can procure more nourishment from a vendor within the city walls on the way to my place. Do you think you're ready to depart now?"

Link nodded and grabbed Shad's rucksack for him, then turned to pick up his sword. He grimaced as he wiped the dust off of the ancient blade. "Pretty sure the Goddesses didn't give me this sword for chopping wood," he said sheepishly. "Guess it's a good thing it's magic and no harm was done to the blade though."

Shad raised his eyebrows. "Is that where all these wood chips came from then? Well, I told you I won't ask questions and I won't, but I can't deny that I'm curious. Ah well. Do you have everything?" At Link's nod they both headed over to Epona. Shad watched with affection as Link whispered to his horse while he gently stroked her, then tightened her girth and checked her over.

"We should probably walk back. I rode her pretty hard today and I think carrying two riders back to town might be too much for her right now."

"Not a problem. I came out on foot and expected to return that way. Shall we?" Shad gestured with his hand towards the path back to Castle Town, then fell in beside Link as he led his horse after them.

The two young men walked back together in a companionable silence for most of the way. Link started to feel slightly better as the walk began to warm up his aching muscles, cramped from his furious workout followed by his prone position on the ground for what had to have been hours. He enjoyed the simple pleasures of the late afternoon sunlight beaming down on his face and the rhythmic sound of Epona's hooves clopping on the ground behind them. As his mood began to lift and his thoughts drifted away from his woes, he marveled at the fact that Shad had come so far, alone, just to look for him and make sure he was okay. He really was one of the kindest and bravest people he’d ever met. The scholar’s courage wasn’t something that other people noticed all that often, but even beyond obvious examples like his solo journey today, Link found it brave and admirable that Shad pursued his studies with such fervor, despite little support from his fellow academics. Link glanced over at the redhead, taking in his handsome profile, his strong jawline, and that adorable errant curl on his forehead. Shad looked up and caught his gaze, smiling warmly at him. Link gave him a half-smile in return and then quickly looked at the road ahead, embarrassed to have been caught staring.

Shad felt relieved to see his friend's expression gradually change from one of sorrow to one of quiet contemplation. He knew that Link's emotional distress was nothing to take lightly, but he was so grateful that he was here walking back to town with him and that he hadn't been gravely injured after all. He glanced down at Link's swinging hand, so close to his as they walked side by side, and had to fight the urge to take it in his own. He longed to comfort the hero with more than just words but tried his best to repress his yearnings. This wasn't about him, it was about what Link needed, and he would never overstep the bounds of their friendship and impose his physical desires upon his friend.

Trying to distract himself from his inappropriate thoughts, Shad glanced around as they entered the meadow beside the town's walls, spotting some lemon balm growing in a clump of grass off of the path. He decided to pick some since it was so close by and his stock of dried herbs was getting fairly low. He enjoyed the taste it gave to his savory mushroom stew and started planning a list of what he'd need to buy at the market to prepare the dish for tomorrow night's meal.

Lost in his own thoughts, Link was slow to notice the scholar's absence from his side. When he finally registered that he was walking alone, Link glanced up just in time to see Shad walking over to an alarmingly familiar patch of grass. Dread filled him as the oblivious scholar reached down to pick some sort of leafy plant, not even noticing the tell-tale base of the Deku Baba right next to him.

"Shad!" The scream tore from Link's lungs, shattering the peaceful quiet of the meadow. He dropped Epona's reins, ripped the Master Sword from its sheath, and pulled his shield off his back as he bolted across the field. Shad paused and looked up at Link in alarm, then turned to see what he was charging towards. A look of horror dawned on his face and he froze as a vicious plant-beast reared up above him from its bed of leaves with a sickening sound, razor sharp teeth glinting in the sunlight and a massive blue tongue drooling out of its mouth.

The hideous thing lunged at him right as Link's powerful body plowed into his, knocking him several feet away. Shad propped himself up on his elbows, adjusting his spectacles, and watched in shock as Link expertly blocked the creature's attack with his shield. His heart stopped in his chest as the huge plant drew back and then struck out at Link again. Link was ready though, and he yelled as he brought his sword up and hacked viciously at the hungry plant. Two quick strikes and he'd severed the vine that attached its heavy head to its base. Shad gasped in horror as the creature's head popped up into the air, still hungry for an attack, but a quick jab and slice from Link felled the beast. The whole thing was over in a matter of seconds.

Link reached down and picked up a round brownish object, then jogged over to Shad. Link gave him his hand and helped the awestruck scholar to his feet. Shad's eyes were large and round and his mouth hung open, gaping at the hero.

"Are you okay Shad?" Link asked anxiously, wiping his blade clean and resheathing it.

For a few moments Shad couldn't speak. Of course he'd heard of Link's legendary feats but he'd never truly seen him in action before. Link had been at his side before he even knew that he was in danger and the swordsman had dispatched the terrifying thing with such ease, as if he were swatting a fly! He wasn't even winded and didn't seem at all concerned that he'd just fought off the scariest creature Shad had ever encountered in his life. He'd been at the occupied castle with the rest of the Resistance when they'd assisted Link, of course, but he'd stayed in the back of the group and had never truly been in danger. In all honesty, Link had almost completely wiped out the castle of monsters single-handedly, and there hadn't been much left for the others to fight. His heart thumped wildly in his chest as he realized that this plant creature was most likely the least of the horrifying monsters that Link had conquered on his quest. He gazed at the hero with a newfound respect, awestruck in his hero worship.

"Shad?" Link asked again, reaching out a hand to grip the scholar's shoulder, shaking him lightly.

"I-I'm okay. A little winded from the fall but unharmed. That was m-magnificent, old boy! You are... you're absolutely amazing. I can't believe how quickly you felled that loathsome thing."

Link shrugged. "It's just a Deku Baba. I've killed hundreds of them. You have to get the seed pod too, or they'll just keep regenerating." He held up the brown pod he'd carried over. "I used to split them open right away and take the seeds for my slingshot, but any seed that gets left behind on the ground will just grow into a new one. Now I take the whole pod with me and either burn it or open it somewhere where a stray seed can't take hold and grow."

Shad nodded dumbly at Link's words, still in awe of the hero who had saved his life so effortlessly. Link led the way back to the path and the patiently waiting Epona and Shad followed after him. Link reached up to grab Epona's reins and turned back to the scholar.

Link's expression grew stern as his eyebrows drew down fiercely. "Shad. What were you thinking? You should never wander off the path. It makes my heart sick to think of what would have happened to you if I hadn't been here. Those things are deadly! I can't even picture it..." Link shook his head, trying to clear out the mental image of the Deku Baba harming the scholar. "I promised to take better care of myself, but you have to as well! Please promise me you won't do something so dangerous again. You're very lucky to have made it all the way out to North Hyrule Field without encountering any trouble. Yes, I've cleared out a lot of the monsters that used to plague our land, but there are still dangers in the wilds, you hear me?"

His face turning scarlet at the hero's scolding, Shad ducked his head and meekly explained his plan of picking fresh herbs for a meal, promising that he'd be more careful in the future. He felt ashamed that Link had had to save him from his own folly, but then considered how they'd both looked out for each other today, in completely different ways, and felt more at peace.

"I suppose we both do foolish things sometimes, do we not? Good thing we're here for each other." Shad smiled bashfully up at the hero.

Link smirked. "Yes, I suppose so. Now let's get back to town - on the PATH. I'm famished and can't wait for one of those savory meat pies in town."

"That would certainly hit the spot, old boy. And might I also suggest ah, possibly some cleaning up for you when we're back at my place?" Shad fidgeted with his bracelets nervously.

"Oh, are you calling me dirty?" Link laughed out loud as Shad's cheeks flamed red and the scholar began to stammer out apologies. "Relax, Shad! I know I need a shower and that you meant no offense. Now, let me get Epona settled in at the Royal Stables and then we can head to Vira's pasty cart. She makes the best ones in town!" He started on the path towards Castle Town, leading his horse.

Shad fell into step beside him as they safely made their way towards the drawbridge leading into the city, amicably quibbling over which of the vendor stalls had the best food in town, both their hearts considerably lighter.

Chapter Text

A loud cry echoed through the room, jolting Shad out of his slumber. He was instantly alert as he reached for his spectacles and sat up in bed. Another yell came from the main room, startling him again. Shad got out of bed, his heart pounding, and crept to his bedroom door.

“Link?” he asked through the door. There was no answer. Shad opened the door and peeked his head out. “Link?” Creeping towards the couch, Shad saw that Link’s blankets were in a heap on the floor but that the hero seemed to be asleep.

As he came closer, the moonlight streaming through his windows illuminated for him that Link did not wear a full set of pajamas to bed like Shad himself did. Link was shirtless, clad only in his tight leggings. Turning scarlet from his cheeks to the tips of his ears, he couldn’t help staring open-mouthed at Link’s compact muscular frame, criss-crossed with various scars. His well-toned arms and shoulders, his fit chest and torso, and his strong thighs, outlined by the leggings, were all fully on display. His clothing, or lack thereof, left little to the scholar’s imagination and Shad’s disobedient mind went racing away with his fantasies before he could stop himself. What would it feel like to touch all of that scarred yet supple skin? He shivered. What would that powerful body feel like atop him, Link’s muscular arms pinning him down as he took the kisses he wanted from Shad’s lips? What would those thighs-

A grimace flashed across the blonde’s face and a low moan sounded from him, interrupting Shad’s lecherous thoughts and bringing him back to his senses.

“Shad, you debauchee, stop it!” he muttered to himself, closing his eyes against the tempting sight. “He’s my houseguest, he’s my friend, he’s having a bad dream, he trusts me. He’s my houseguest, he’s my friend, he’s having a bad dream, he trusts me.” He quietly chanted the mantra to himself as he gingerly picked the blanket up off the floor and placed it over Link, kneeling next to him to tuck it all the way up to the blonde’s chin.

Link’s face looked calmer as he snuggled into the blanket. Shad was struck again by his friend’s appearance as he slept. He didn’t mean to be so shallow, and he usually wasn’t, but Link was so sweet and beautiful when he was sleeping peacefully like this. He reached up a hand and placed it delicately against Link’s cheek, wishing his friend better dreams.

Link turned before he could move away, rubbing his face into Shad’s soft palm, and murmuring, “Midna… my Midna… so beautiful… stay with me, please stay.”

Shad froze, and then gently removed his hand as he realized he was now overhearing something deeply personal and private. He retreated to his room and quietly shut the door, leaving Link to his dreams. Questions crowded his mind as he crawled back into bed, placing his spectacles onto his nightstand. Who was Midna? Someone beautiful apparently, and the name sounded like a woman’s name. Why did Link ask her to stay? Was she gone? He’d called her ‘my Midna.’ Was… was Link in love with her?

He sighed heavily and hugged his pillow tightly as doubts plagued him. It would seem Telma was wrong about Link’s personal inclinations, despite whatever childhood tales she’d heard from Rusl. His heart sank as he realized that despite the intimate and trusting friendship he and Link were developing, if Link was in love with some woman then he most likely only saw Shad as a platonic friend and roommate. He didn’t know why he was so disappointed really, as the hero had never specifically said anything to him to indicate otherwise, and Shad had tried not to get his hopes up. Still, there they were anyway, those crushed hopes, feeling raw and painful as they sat heavily on his chest. Shad rolled over, burying his face in his pillow, eventually falling asleep with his foolish dreams dashed.

___

 

“I can’t believe there’s nothing useful in any of these books.” Shad closed the cover on a weighty tome with a frustrated sigh. “I thought we’d locate the answer in ‘Hyrule Historia,’ but it’s really more of a broad overview of events, as opposed to a detailed record. Doesn’t it seem like there should be information written down somewhere about the position of the common-born Hero in regards to royalty and nobility?

Link grunted in distracted agreement from Shad’s sofa where he was sprawled, nose-deep in his own book. He turned the page, engrossed, as Shad looked up at him in exasperation, a hand on his hip.

“Link, are you even listening to me?”

Link finally glanced up at the scholar and noticed the irritation evident on his face. “Oh, sorry Shad, I wasn’t trying to ignore you! This book you brought me this morning is just really fascinating. I’ve never really thought much about how the mind works and how our emotions can affect us before. Listen, it says here: ‘Some individuals affected by trauma may experience emotions such as rage, shame, confusion, loneliness, agitation, hopelessness, fear, apathy, melancholy, or nervousness. It is very common to find a trauma survivor going through several of these moods, frequently within the same day or even hour.’ By Hylia, if that doesn’t describe my day yesterday and the last couple of weeks perfectly! It’s so strange and interesting reading something written by someone who knows exactly what I’m going through, even though we’ve never met.”

Shad’s frustrated expression softened as he listened to Link’s enthusiastic words. “I’m sure it is, and it’s alright, old boy. Sorry to have snapped at you. I’m relieved that you are finding the text I procured for you to be so beneficial.”

Link smiled up at him but then went right back to reading. The scholar found it particularly adorable that Link was so captivated by the book. He’d opened it right away, settling onto the sofa and eagerly starting in on it when Shad had handed it to him earlier. Shad knew that Link could read of course, but he had mistakenly assumed that Link wasn’t much of a bookworm. He felt a bit guilty about his snobbish belief that a country boy with such obvious physical aptitude and interests couldn't also be an avid reader.

If Shad had known that Link would dive right in he actually would have waited to give him the book though, as their most pressing concern was the coronation planning meeting that was mere hours away. After the painful revelations of last night, Shad needed something to focus his attention on. Pouring himself whole-heartedly into the work of helping Link navigate all of the complex etiquette and court intrigue he’d need to know was just the thing for him.

“Link,” Shad continued, reshelving the volumes he’d selected, “we do need to be preparing you for the meeting this afternoon, and I could use your assistance. I loathe having to interrupt you when you’re coming across such relevant information, but would you mind putting the book away for now so that we might come up with solutions for you together?” The scholar returned to his seat at the table.

“Oh! Of course.” Link hopped up from the couch, setting the book down to read later. “I didn’t mean to get so wrapped up in that. You’re right, I need to focus on what’s coming.” He grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck as he made his way over to Shad and took the seat across from him. “So, what are you working on exactly?”

“I am trying to solve the etiquette conundrum of what exactly your position is in the hierarchy of the court. If I was able to determine that I would know precisely how you should address Her Highness as well as the rest of the nobility.”

“Oh. Ummm okay. I mean, I know she wants me to call her Zelda in private and her titles and stuff in front of other people.” Link shrugged. “Isn’t that enough?”

“Hardly, old boy. I suspect that part of the reason you’ve been running into trouble with some of the nobility is because they expect you to act a certain way around them and they’re offended or confused when you don’t. In addition, if you’re not showing what they perceive as the proper respect to the princess in front of them then they’ll take that as a sign of disloyalty from you.”

“So I just figure out who to bow to then? Doesn’t sound so hard.”

“Well, in a way, but it’s not quite that simple. The books I’ve referenced do note that the Hero is usually common-born, which would typically mean you’re, well, at the bottom of the social ladder. However the treatment you’ve received from Her Highness thus far, such as the honors and accolades she’s awarded you, the banquets held in your name, and being included in this meeting means that you’re rather near the top, on the level of the aristocracy. You are quite the anomaly!”

“Great. Confirmation that I don’t fit in. Just what I needed.” Link sighed.

“Oh, Link.” Shad’s face was full of sympathy. “Yes, your position at court is unique, but do not forget that you fit in perfectly well with your friends, and we don’t expect anything like this from you. We just like you being you, however you are.”

A small smile lit up Link’s eyes as he reached out to briefly squeeze the scholar’s shoulder. “Thanks, Shad. I like you being you too.”

Shad looked down, smiling nervously as he reached up to twist the buttons on his jacket. It was exceedingly difficult to keep his romantic hopes squashed when Link said things like that, but the memory of last night’s overheard dream kept him grounded in reality.

“Y-yes, well, as far as the matter of your social position, I think at this point we have to assume that you are indeed unique and that there is no precedent, as much as I dislike the situation being so vague. I believe it is up to the princess herself to set your place in society, so for now we’ll just go along with how she’s already been treating you. Can you tell me more about some of your experiences with her and how she has acted around you?”

“Well… she did have me up on the dais with her in the throne room when she was accepting petitions from the townsfolk. I stood in the wrong place like five times but eventually got moved somewhere acceptable.” Link rolled his eyes at the memory. “And she always sits me next to her at every meal we’ve shared together. She doesn’t call me sir or lord or anything, but she usually says ‘Master Link’ in smaller company and she’s used ‘Chosen Hero’ at bigger occasions, and believe me, you can hear those capital letters when she says it. Oh, also, I don’t know if this counts, but she’s actually bowed to me before, when she asked for my aid before we fought Ganondorf on horseback together. I mean no one else was around though, unless you count the Light Spirits, heh.”

Shad’s eyes went wide at Link’s casual mention of the ruler of all Hyrule bowing to him while the Light Spirits looked on. Sometimes he was able to forget for awhile that his friend was a great legendary hero, or at least not think about what that actually meant, and then he’d just pop off with something jaw-dropping like that.

“I swear Link, some of the experiences you relate test the bounds of belief,” he replied, shaking his head. “Anyway, I do believe from these examples that we can surmise that you are more highly placed than any of the nobles or court officials in the kingdom. Royalty bows to no one, not even other royalty, other than a slight incline of the head to acknowledge each other. I would say that you do not need to bow to anyone except the princess herself. A courteous nod and use of a title and name when greeting anyone else at court should suffice. It’s how the nobility greet each other, for the most part. If you don’t know someone’s title just use ‘sir’ or “madam” until you are formally introduced.”

“I can do that,” Link said with a firm nod. “I wasn’t sure what to do at first so I tried bowing to some people, but then that felt weird, so I tried to just greet them like I would anyone back at home. That didn’t go over well either.”

“No, I can imagine it did not. Now, as for the princess herself, I do think that a greater show of deference to her in public will demonstrate the respect and loyalty she’s seeking from you. Why don’t you show me how you’ve been bowing to her.”

Link stood and placed a hand on his abdomen and slightly leaned forward from the waist, his eyes on Shad. “Just like that.”

“Oh no that won’t do at all. You need something more elaborate. Here, try this.” Rising from his chair, the scholar extended one leg forward at a slight angle, then put an arm straight across his back at the waist and brought the other up to place his palm on his heart, elegantly bowing low from the waist, his head gracefully dipping down and then back up again as he moved, his eyes lowered from start to finish.

Link attempted to follow his example and Shad moved around the hero, eyeing him from different angles as he bowed.

“Good, but keep your eyes downcast from the moment you begin until you fully rise. And, well… here.” Shad reached out to adjust Link’s arm behind his back and move his leg forward a couple of inches, trying to keep his blushing under control at the contact. “Try again?”

Link performed the bow again and Shad nodded, satisfied, as he took his seat. “Wonderful. That elegant bow will impress others at court, and combined with a genteel head nod for everyone else, will cement your position as right below Her Highness. I doubt anyone will challenge you with that combination of respect for the princess and quiet confidence with all others.”

Link turned towards the scholar and made the courtly obeisance again, his voice booming in an overly dramatic tone. “I am eternally grateful to you, my dear Lord Shad of the Resistance. I shall henceforth heed your advice upon these matters and hail you as the King of Etiquette forevermore!” He rose from the bow, grinning cheekily at the redhead, who ducked his head as the hero caught his eye.

“You’re ridiculous! And thank you for giving a perfect example of what not to do.” Shad paused, adjusting his spectacles as a light blush stole across his cheeks. “I, ah, I don’t sound like that when I speak, do I?”

Laughing, Link shook his head. “No! You just sound smart, Shad. And yeah, kind of proper, but you’re not a stuck up blowhard, so no, you definitely don’t sound like that. But, maybe I just like making you blush,” he added with a wink.

Shad’s blush deepened, turning the tips of his ears crimson. “W-what? Haha, v-very funny old boy, w-whyever would you want to do that?”

Because you’re so cute when you do? Link shrugged. “Because it’s so easy? I don’t know, I don’t mean to be cruel or tease too much. It’s just kinda fun to rile you up a little sometimes. Let me know if it’s too much, I don’t want to torment you.”

Too late. “Ah, haha, um, r-right then. I daresay that with our different backgrounds I am certainly easier to antagonize than those more accustomed to banter or rough talk. Ahem.” Shad gathered the papers scattered on the table and spent some time straightening them. “Well, now that we’ve got your greetings covered, what else do you require assistance with?”

Link sat back down, rubbing his chin in thought. “I think the trickiest thing for me is just not knowing what to say. Sometimes at court people are just blathering on about people or customs I don’t know so I just kind of tune out, but then they seem to expect a reply and I come up blank. They probably think I’m stupid because I don’t speak much around them.”

“Well, I can confirm without a doubt that you are not unintelligent. And you certainly aren’t quiet around me! Hmm.” Shad leaned back in his chair, absentmindedly twirling the ends of his bowtie as he considered Link’s dilemma. “For the meeting today, what if I were to sit next to you and prompt you with appropriate responses? Say for example that the princess and one of her advisors are discussing some specifics and want your input. I’ll be paying close attention and writing down notes about anything I think you should know, along with things to say in response, and then you can read them from my paper.”

“Huh. Won’t that be awkward though? I don’t want it to sound like the speeches I’ve had to give where someone else wrote all those formal words for me.”

“I can write it in your voice well enough, I daresay. And you won’t be in front of a huge crowd. It might help to practice before we go though, because you are correct, it will look and sound awkward to just read straight off of a piece of paper. I’m positive that you can conquer this and make it look flawlessly easy, like most everything you attempt.”

Now it was Link’s turn to blush. “I don’t know about that, but thanks Shad. Okay, let’s give it a try.”

Shad withdrew a fresh sheet of paper from the stack before him and jotted something down. He slid it over to Link and looked up at him expectantly.

Link peered at the paper and read straight from it in a flat voice. “Princess, I agree with you that we should leave matters of security in Captain Harbin’s capable hands.”

“Not bad. Try it again, and this time, take a little more time to read the whole sentence before you speak. If you can’t memorize it right away that’s fine, but try to glance up at the person you’re speaking to at least once. And add some inflection in your voice - try to sound like yourself, but yourself with an opinion a princess should listen to.”

Link nodded. “Okay, I’ll try.” He closed his eyes momentarily, then opened them and glanced back at the paper. He paused, and then looked directly into Shad’s eyes. “Princess. I agree with you, we should leave the matter of security in Captain Harbin’s capable hands.”

“Ahh, better! The eye contact was fabulous and I like that you changed the sentence structure slightly to match your natural cadence. Here, one more, but this time I’m going to add in notes for you that I want you to read to yourself, and then the words I think you should say aloud. I’ll annotate them like this to indicate which is which.” Shad once again slid the paper over to Link, now filled with more text, part of it marked with a small star.

Again Link glanced down at the paper, but this time he brought his hand up and stroked his chin as if in thought while he read Shad’s notes about previous coronations, royal protocol, and traditions involving Zora royalty. He took a breath and then glanced up at Shad, his eyes warm.

“Lord Chancellor, I understand your concerns about wanting to respect protocol.” Link glanced back down at the page and then right back up. “However, the Zora royal family has close ties with Hyrule and have always attended our coronations.” Link paused briefly again, looking down at the words, then continued. “I think it best that we invite Prince Ralis to show unity between our realms, despite him not being crowned king yet.”

“Oh, Link, you’re a natural! You’re going to do very well at this meeting indeed.” Shad beamed at him and clapped his hands together.

“We.” Link corrected him. “We are going to do very well, together.” He blew out a deep breath, running his hand through his long bangs. “Thank you so much for helping me with this, Shad. You’re a lifesaver. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Oh, think nothing of it, old boy.” Shad scoffed and waved away Link’s praise.

No, really.” Link reached out and grabbed Shad’s hand, his calluses rough against the scholar’s smooth palm. Shad tried not to react as electric tingles shot through his hand where their skin touched.

“And thank you too for reminding me to send an apology note this morning to Captain Harbin about my disappearance yesterday. I’m so glad you thought of it and of the idea to just tell him I was unwell and couldn’t make it. It seems like I have so much to be grateful to you for these last few days. My simple thanks won’t ever be enough,” Link finished softly. He gave a squeeze to the blushing redhead’s hand before he let go and then stood from the table and stretched, noticeably not teasing Shad about his pink cheeks this time.

“You are very welcome,” Shad replied sincerely. “You’re really worth it, Link. You’ve done so much for everyone, selflessly and without even questioning the cost. I think it’s high time you were treated in the same fashion, and I’m happy that my modest skills, my humble home, and my friendship can all be of such service to you. Now, let’s get ready, because I will not allow us to be late for this meeting!”

Link shot a grateful smile his way, then began to rifle through his pack, pulling out the Hero’s tunic. “I suppose I’ll wear this to the meeting. It’s pretty much expected anytime I do anything officially hero-related up at the castle.”

Shad stood from the table as well, gathering up his papers and pen. “I think that’s a good choice. The harder decision is what in Hyrule will I wear?” He glanced down at his fairly plain white collared shirt, black bowtie, and tan breeches. “Probably a waistcoat and jacket in addition to this, for a more formal look, but which ones?”

Link chuckled as he continued to pull out the accessories and belts for his clothing. “Shad, you always look amazing, so I’m sure any of them would work. You’re the best dressed person I’ve ever seen. I doubt you could look bad if you tried.”

Feeling his face heat up with yet another blush, Shad strode to his bedroom to change, calling over his shoulder as he went, “Yes, well, not all of us were blessed by the goddesses to be as naturally good-looking as you, old boy, so I suppose my fashion sense was given to me to make up for that!” With that he quickly shut the door, feeling bolder than ever at the compliment he’d given the handsome hero. Not that it mattered if he complimented Link, or if Link poured flattery onto him, he reminded himself, since he now knew with a certainty that it was just the blonde’s friendly personality. Shaking off his thoughts, he headed to his wardrobe to decide on his outfit.

Link smirked and rolled his eyes at Shad’s parting remarks about his looks even as he glowed inside at the redhead’s compliment. He’s blind even with his glasses on though if he doesn’t realize how handsome he is! He began to change into the Hero’s clothes, readying himself for the meeting ahead. He finally felt prepared for it, all thanks to his scholar.

___

 

After finishing off the elaborate swirl on the goat’s horn with a light stroke of his pen, Link began to draw the rest of the animal. His sheet of paper was filled with doodles of weapons and saddles decorated with stylized goats, hawks, and horses. To his left, Shad’s elegant fingers were moving swiftly over his own paper, studiously taking notes as the lords around them squabbled yet again over some minute detail of the coronation ceremony. Link had no idea which part of the plans had the nobles so argumentative now, but he wasn’t concerned. He was confident that Shad would let him know if there was anything that required his attention.

A little half-smile crept onto Link’s face as he began to draw the hooves of the beast on the shield he was designing. He’d have been so lost without Shad! He felt warm and almost giddy with gratitude at the thought of all of the scholar’s help. Despite Link’s boredom with the details that didn’t concern him, the meeting was going so well. From the moment they’d walked in and he’d surprised Zelda with his elegant new bow and his cordial greetings to the other attendees, he’d felt sure of himself and like part of a team. It was a feeling that was strangely both familiar and foreign to him, to have someone at his side helping him navigate through obstacles. Midna had of course been with him constantly throughout their journey, so he was very used to a companion, but he hadn’t experienced that particular kind of confidence and surety at Zelda’s court until now, with Shad. The few times that Link felt a gentle nudge from Shad’s knee against his own under the table had alerted him to pay attention to whomever had decided to mention him in the conversation again. Thus far not much had been required of him other than briefly reading over Shad’s notes and then looking up at the speaker that was indicated and nodding.

He had spoken a few words in agreement when Captain Harbin, who bore him no ill will thanks to Shad’s dictated note, had suggested that Link should escort the princess into the throne room, dressed in the Hero’s garb with sword and shield, joining her on the dais for the ceremony. Lord Galdo had protested, claiming that a commoner wearing weapons in the presence of her soon-to-be-Majesty was both improper and dangerous. Shad had surprised Link when he spoke up in his defense, pulling out a large book and flipping through it to cite several previous examples of coronations where the ruling monarch had a personal armed guard accompanying him or her, as well as legends that told how the Hero was always seen as the princess’s personal champion. Link had had to hold back a chuckle then - he hadn’t even realized the scholar had brought books with him! Shad continued his well-reasoned argument by stating that since Link had saved all of Hyrule when no one else was able to he was clearly not a threat, and should be seen as the ultimate in protection for Her Highness. Link had felt so proud of the scholar as Shad’s eloquent, controlled, and educated words contrasted with the pompous courtier’s blustering red-faced indignation. After the Lord Chancellor, the High Priest, and then Zelda herself had taken the side of Captain Harbin and Shad, the surly aristocrat had grudgingly acquiesced.

Still, Link had barely spoken in the meeting. People seemed content to decide things about what he was to do in the ceremony without his actual input, and his look of serious concentration and nods in affirmation seemed to be enough to satisfy them. He still didn’t know exactly why Zelda had wanted him here. He put down his pen and flexed his cramped fingers, pausing as a familiar name hit his ears.

“... Ordona province into Hyrule proper, as a second, smaller ceremony included in my coronation. This is the last item on our agenda, gentlemen, so let us proceed.”

Link looked up at the princess as she spoke, noticing her pale face and the dark circles under her eyes. He felt some sympathy for her, as she had patiently presided over the arguing factions of the hours-long conference with grace. Zelda was looking at him expectantly and he felt another nudge against his knee. He glanced at Shad, who tilted his head down towards his notes. Link peered at the scholar’s paper. The words “Ordona province to be officially integrated into kingdom of Hyrule - smaller ceremony included in coronation!” was underlined twice. Link snapped his head back up to meet Zelda’s tired eyes as Lord Galdo once again began to speak out against anything having to do with the hero and his backwoods province.

Zelda maintained her composure, barely, as she closed her eyes and reached up a hand to rub her temples. The Lord Chancellor and Lord Dareh, the Royal Treasurer, began laying out their own arguments in favor of Ordon joining the kingdom and the noise level in the room rose as the nobles quarreled.

Out of the corner of his eye Link noticed Shad rapidly scribbling on his notepad and Link felt the bump of the scholar’s knee against his own again. Link read through Shad’s carefully-constructed words, bringing his hand up to rub at his chin. He waited until there was a small pause in the discourse and then pushed out of his seat and stood, the unexpected scraping sound of his chair against the floor bringing a hush to the room. Lord Galdo turned to look at him, frowning, and then opened his mouth to speak again, but Link cut him off before the opinionated aristocrat could utter a single word, his confident voice ringing loud and clear around the room.

“Your Highness, Ordon thanks you for the generous investments you have already made in our community, and we are honored by your wise decision to include us as part of your ceremony and your realm.” He brought his hand to his heart and inclined his head to her, sneaking another glance at Shad’s page. Several pairs of eyes looked his way, shocked to finally hear him speak more than a few words in the meeting.

Link placed both his hands on the table and leaned forward, his eyebrows drawn down sharply over his fierce blue eyes, his gaze wandering over the gathered participants as he spoke until they landed on Lord Galdo. “It grieves me to realize that there are those present who would deny you the chance to expand your rule and bring prosperity to all of your people, as well as show you disrespect by doubting your carefully considered plans.” Link took a deep breath and continued, his focus back on Zelda. “I hope your loyal subjects realize that anyone bearing the Triforce of Wisdom would not make decisions concerning her kingdom lightly. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it heresy to doubt the Goddesses’ choice in who they hand out pieces of the Triforce to, but it’s not something you’d find me doing, Courage or no.”

Shad blinked in surprise as Link went slightly off script, but inwardly applauded the hero’s rebuke of the stuffy old toad as well as his not-so-subtle reminder that both he and Zelda literally had the Goddesses on their sides. He noted the High Priest nodding sagely at Link’s words as the hero straightened and forged ahead with the rest of Shad’s prepared phrasing.

“I can’t speak for Mayor Bo, Your Highness, and regret that he isn’t here to help you plan, but I am happy to offer my assistance to you in any way you need to make this happen. How may I be of service to you?” He finished with another small bow and then took his seat.

A broad smile broke out over Zelda’s face for the first time that afternoon and Lord Galdo’s mouth flapped open and closed like a landed fish. The other lords in attendance looked satisfied with the hero’s affirming and respectful words, and Captain Harbin gave Link a firm nod of approval. Out of the corner of his eye, Link noticed Shad grinning down at the table, unable to hide his delight at the hero’s performance and the immediate reactions to it.

“Thank you, Chosen Hero, for your gracious words of support and offer of assistance.” Zelda inclined her head towards him, the light in the room glinting off of her golden crown. “I do have a task for you. I would like you to travel to Ordon and accompany Mayor Bo and his daughter Ilia back to Castle Town for the ceremony. I have in fact already written to him and we have conversed in great detail as to the specifics of this annexation and ceremony.” She smiled at him as Link dipped his head in acknowledgement.

Zelda’s smile faded as she pinned Lord Galdo with her cool gaze and addressed the man seated next to him. “Lord Chancellor, you have copies of those letters and details of our plans for anyone here who questions my decisions, yes?” He nodded and held up several pieces of paper, and Zelda continued, looking around the table. “Thank you. I want to emphasize that the decision to fully incorporate Ordon into Hyrule is final and not up for negotiation. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the details of the ceremony surrounding that, not to argue against the decision itself.” Her firm tone left no room for argument and Lord Galdo nodded hastily, his face red.

“Of course Your Highness! I know that I personally would never dream of defying your wishes in this or any regard.” A disbelieving snort escaped from Link before he could stop himself and the haughty lord sent a glare his way. “I only hoped to spare you from any trouble and expense that bringing such a poor and out of the way province into the kingdom would incur.”

Lord Dareh cleared his throat. “Actually, Her Highness and I have already spent some time going over the financial details of this plan and are both in agreement that bringing Ordon into Hyrule, with its rich agricultural amenities and increased opportunities for trade and taxes, will only benefit the Crown and the realm. Adding this small ceremony to the coronation to make it official will not increase the cost of the event in any significant way.”

Lord Galdo opened his mouth to speak again when Zelda cut him off. “As always, thank you for your concerns, Lord Galdo, but as I’ve said, this matter is decided. Now,” she turned her attention back to Link as the defeated lord closed his mouth in a grim line, “Link, I would like you to leave for Ordon tomorrow and return with the mayor and his daughter two days after that. They will be expecting you.” Link nodded and the princess continued, “Oh, and Master Shad, you are to accompany our hero. You will be provided with a horse from the royal stables for the trip.”

Shad looked up from his writing, his eyes wide and round behind his spectacles. “Ah, excuse me, Your Highness? M-me? You would like me to accompany Link to escort the Ordonians?”

“Yes, as I said. I would like you to gather information and provide me with a written report on Ordonian customs and culture while you are there so that we may use some of them in the ceremony. I was very pleased with the previous report you completed for me about the work of the Resistance in helping to fight our oppressors and secure the castle before the final battle.”

Link stared at Shad, eyebrows raised in surprise at hearing that the scholar had already successfully completed an assignment for Zelda. A dusting of pink spread across Shad’s cheekbones at the princess’s praise and Link’s scrutiny.

“Thank you, Your Highness. I am grateful for your faith in my work. I would be honored, of course, to accompany Link on this task for you, and to prepare a report on Ordonian customs, but I-I am afraid I have work scheduled at the university for the rest of the week.” Shad reached his long fingers up to nervously twist a button on his jacket, hoping the princess wouldn’t think him defiant or troublesome.

Zelda smiled gently at him. “Not to worry, Master Shad. I’ve already had all the details arranged with the university. You have been given the time off and they’re actually rather pleased at the prospect of one of their own doing work for the crown. You won’t have any trouble there. Lord Chancellor, please give Master Shad the instructions we have prepared for him and Master Link.”

Shad inclined his head to her, feeling relief, and took the paper that was handed to him, looking it over immediately. The princess turned her attention to the treasurer. “Now, Lord Dareh, will you please share with us the financial details for this part of the ceremony?”

The treasurer began speaking but this time neither Shad nor Link were paying attention. I’m actually going to Ordon with Link. I’m really going to see that treehouse of his and meet his people. Shad’s mind drifted away from the paper he’d been handed and he set it down. His daydreams of spending so much more time in close proximity with the hero overtook him until he tried desperately to rein them in. This is a royal assignment. It’s not going to be any different than the time we’ve spent together so far anyway. Remember that dream. Remember “Midna.” Remember that he loves someone else. Remember that you're just friends.

Link’s mind was also wandering as Lord Dareh droned on about finances. Home again. Will this time be different than the last? Will I still feel like an outsider? He glanced at Shad, who had stopped reading or writing, his hand frozen over the notepad, a blank expression on his face as he stared down at the paper. He prodded the scholar with his elbow and gave him a comforting smile when his indigo eyes met his own. Shad blinked and then smiled back, grateful for Link’s silent reassurance. He turned his attention back to the conversation and resumed his note taking, sliding the sheet with details of their upcoming trip over towards the blonde.

At least I won’t be alone this time. Link watched in admiration as the redhead’s elegant script began to fill the page, his graceful, long-fingered hands deftly handling the pen. His eyes traveled from the scholar’s hands up to his slim shoulders clad in the robin’s-egg jacket Shad had selected from his wardrobe. Link had been right - Shad looked amazing. The light blue color of the jacket both set off his dark red hair and brought out the blue in his eyes. Shad’s lips parted slightly as he wrote, drawing Link’s gaze up to his mouth. The tip of the redhead’s tongue poked out and rubbed back and forth against his top two front teeth as he concentrated. Link suppressed a shiver as the memory of touching those lips and tongue the other night suddenly flooded him with heat.

Link tore his gaze away from the tempting sight of Shad’s luscious mouth. Now was not the time or place to be having lascivious thoughts about his friend. Attempting to shake off his inconvenient and inappropriate desires, Link gave a little sigh and picked up the paper Shad had slid over to him. Reading through it, he flipped to a new page in his notepad and began a list of all the supplies they’d need to bring for the trip to Ordon.

___

 

As soon as they were outside the conference room after the meeting ended Shad turned towards Link with a huge grin on his face, unable to contain his enthusiasm any longer.

“That was brilliant, old boy! Did you see Lord Galdo’s face when you mentioned heresy? And the High Priest’s nod in agreement with you? Oh it was wonderful! I was completely surprised when you went off on your own there but I’d say it more than worked out in your favor!” Despite his excitement, Shad spoke softly, as several of the attendees were only a little down the hall from them and Zelda and the High Priest were still inside the room behind them. The pompous lord in question had fled as soon as the meeting was over though, stating he had other matters that required his immediate attention.

Link laughed quietly as he recalled the moment. “Yeah, I dunno, it just came over me and I felt like I needed to say a little something extra to him.”

“Well I for one think you should speak up more often! Have faith in yourself! You are very capable of saying what needs to be said, not just doing what needs to be done.”

“I just felt so much more confident this time, Shad, especially after you brought that heavy old book out of nowhere and defended me. After you’d stood up to him, how could I not? Everything felt so different. Thanks for being on my team.” Link winked at him and Shad blushed, dropping his gaze.

“Of course, old boy. We’re on each other’s team, are we not? Part of being in the Resistance and all that, right?” The scholar reached up to twist a button on his jacket and snuck a glance at the blonde, whose bright eyes met his own. Shad’s breath caught in his throat as Link locked eyes with him and moved in a step closer to the redhead.

“Well, yes. But you - you’re something else, Shad. Above and beyond.” Link opened his mouth to say more when his attention was caught by Zelda and the High Priest finally leaving the conference room. Shad’s heart fluttered in his chest at Link’s words. Where was Link going with that line of thought?

Zelda noticed the two young men a little further down the hall and said her goodbyes to the High Priest, who bowed to her and then walked off in the opposite direction.

“Link, Shad.” The hero and the scholar turned to her as she walked towards them, her lady’s maid in attendance. “You have my thanks for your attendance and contributions to the meeting today. Despite some... rough moments, I believe it was highly productive. I am grateful to both of you for your input.” Zelda’s smile was genuine and it lit up her soft blue eyes.

“You are more than welcome, Your Highness. I am grateful to you for the opportunities you have given to both Link and I, and I look forward to our trip and the chance to serve you again.”

“And I look forward to what I’m sure will be a well-researched and well-written report from you, Shad.” The princess turned her attention towards the hero. “Link, might I have a private word with you in the conference room for a moment?”

Link nodded. “Of course. Shad, feel free to head on back if you don’t want to wait.”

“Oh, I don’t mind waiting. I would appreciate your help in packing for the trip and I won’t make much headway without you.”

“If it please you, sirs, Your Highness, I’m happy to wait with Master Shad in the hall.” Zelda’s petite brunette lady’s maid spoke up, bobbing a curtsy. “I know Master Shad from the days when his father worked here and it would be good to catch up.” She and Shad smiled at each other as Zelda inclined her head.

“Thank you, Ada. I would appreciate you keeping our scholar company while Link and I converse.” Zelda began to walk back to the conference room and Link fell into step beside her, following her into the room and shutting the door firmly behind them.

Zelda made her way to the sideboard on the far side of the room and poured them each a glass of water. Now that they were alone, some of her regal demeanor dropped and Zelda openly breathed a sigh of relief.

“What a meeting! You know I’m honestly surprised it went as well as it did. Lord Galdo has always been contrary, ever since I was a young girl and my father was the one in the meetings instead of me. I think Galdo still sees me that way sometimes, as a little girl play-acting at command.” She grimaced, sipping her water.

Link took the other glass from her outstretched hand with a thanks. “Why is he even on the council then? Why not just kick him off if he’s so much trouble?”

“If only it were that easy. His family is very old, very wealthy, and very influential. There have been Galdos on the royal council for at least a hundred years. I’d have to have a real reason to get rid of him and ‘you annoy me’ certainly isn’t a good enough one.”

She laughed, and Link joined her with a chuckle of his own. He felt himself becoming more at ease as her intimate and friendly persona shone through. “Yeah, well, you handled him well enough I think.”

You handled him well, I’d say. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, actually. Your performance in this meeting was leagues above what I’ve seen from you so far. Despite your doodling - yes, I noticed - you were attentive when you needed to be and your words in support of me, plus your well-phrased rebuke of Galdo, were frankly astounding. And that’s not even mentioning the courtly bow you suddenly pulled out of thin air, or your newfound confidence in greeting all the lords in attendance! It’s like a completely different man was here today, compared to the sullen, quiet boy who’s been at my court for weeks. What changed?” Zelda leaned against the sideboard and gazed at him quizzically.

“That’d be Shad’s influence, probably.” Link reached up to rub the back of his neck self-consciously. “He taught me that new bow just this morning and helped me figure out the right things to say in the meeting. I dunno, knowing he has my back just has me feeling more confident, I guess.” He shrugged, leaning up against the conference table across from Zelda.

“Well, the difference in you is quite remarkable.” Zelda smiled at him and reached over to squeeze his shoulder. “I’m really quite pleased with how you’ve shown up for me today and now I’m even more certain that my decision for him to accompany you to Ordon is the correct one. I think it will do you some good to get out of the city for awhile. Hopefully seeing your friends at home will lift your spirits some too.”

Link’s eyes clouded over a little as his worry about his homecoming gnawed at him. “Yeah, hopefully. I am glad Shad is coming with me. He- he’s helped me through some really rough times over the last few days, Zelda. I-I haven’t been well.”

“I know. Captain Harbin reported that you were too ill to join them for training yesterday. I’m sorry to hear it but happy to see you recovered enough to join us today.”

“No, that’s not it.” Link sighed, pushing off from the table and wandering over to the large picture window on the other side of the room. He gazed down at the castle gardens and then turned back to the princess. “I wasn’t sick, Zelda. Not physically sick. Yesterday was awful. I had a horrible dream about-”

He paused, gauging her mood, which seemed to be rather cheerful and full of gratitude towards him. He continued, his words rushing out of him like water bursting from a dam. “About the mirror chamber, and it breaking, except she broke ME, and she was so cruel and it was terrifying, and she said I’d never stop being used as a hero for Hyrule and I just felt so used and abandoned and oh goddesses, I miss her so much.” He covered his face with his hands, still speaking through them, missing Zelda’s expression changing from one of concern to one of shock and then anger. “I thought I’d been doing a little better but that nightmare just brought it all back, how much I miss her, how I don’t feel like I fit in anywhere, how used I feel-”

“Stop.” Zelda’s command rang through the room and Link dropped his hands in surprise. Zelda’s posture was ramrod-straight and the friendly persona she’d slipped into was gone, replaced by The Princess in all her might. Her fists were clenched at her sides and her blue eyes shone with fire. “Again? Again, Link? How many times must I tell you that I don’t want to talk about this?! I’ve just made plans to fully integrate your province into Hyrule, with all the benefits and enrichment that will bring to them, and you’re going back on your word to stay silent about this? How dare you!”

Link walked towards her, his hands outstretched placatingly. “Zelda, we’re alone. The door is closed and no one can hear us! Can’t we ever have a conversation about this? About what happened? About her? I’ve been reading a trauma book Shad brought me and it says that being able to talk through it with others who shared your experience is really important in the healing process! You can’t ask me to remain silent even with you!”

The princess backed away from him, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at him. “Yes I can and I am! I’m sorry that you are dealing with some hurt feelings but it’s not my problem that you chose to get so… involved with her right before she left! Maybe if you’d been able to control yourself after seeing her true form you wouldn’t be feeling this way right now!”

Link stopped his advance toward her and stared at her in shock. “That-that’s really hurtful, Zelda. I didn’t know she was leaving. I thought we were starting something new, not ending something. I-I’m not like that, I don’t just go around sleeping with women - I loved her! I loved her with my whole heart and wanted to share that with her before she left. I thought she was coming back, you know we both did! I never meant for it to be just one night and that’s really cruel of you to say that I just couldn’t control my urges because she’s pretty!”

“Stop! Stop! I said I don’t want to talk about this!” Zelda’s voice grew shrill and she threw her hands over her face, turning away from him.

“Well I need to!” Link shouted back. “You can’t possibly know what it’s like to have gone through all this! I went through so much of it for YOU, to free YOU and benefit YOU! You can’t know what it’s like to have someone be your literal shadow, to be a part of you for so long, and then just suddenly be gone!”

Zelda whipped back around to face him, her eyes blazing. “Oh, can't I?” she hissed. “Did you forget that I’ve gone through horrible things too? Ganondorf made me his PUPPET! He used my body to fight for him, his evil resided INSIDE of me! My life force was part of her, and I gave up everything to save Hyrule! Don’t you dare try and tell me that I don’t know what it’s like to suffer!”

She stalked towards him, her voice rising. “I will never let something like that happen again and I will not allow anything or anyone to threaten the peace we have now, not even you, Hero, coming here trying to tell me your sob stories! Deal with it! Deal with it like I have, in silence and with full control!” Zelda’s chest heaved with anger and her fingernails left little half-moon imprints in her palms as she squeezed her fists, her knuckles white.

In the hallway, Shad had been enjoying catching up with Ada. She’d started her service as a lady’s maid to the princess when Shad was eleven and she was fifteen, and she’d always been kind to the young scholar when he’d accompanied his father at the castle. He hadn’t seen her for several years now, ever since his father’s passing, but she was just as friendly as he remembered. She’d even recalled that he and his father had been researching some obscure part of Hylian history and was kind enough to ask him about it. Shad was able to restrain himself from completely talking her ear off about the Oocca and managed to remember to ask her how she was doing.

“Oh, I’m okay.” Ada shrugged. “A bit tired but not unwell.”

Shad’s eyes searched her face, noticing the dark circles under her eyes that matched the ones the princess was sporting. “Oh? Late nights for you and Her Highness?”

“Well, yes, in a manner of speaking. The poor princess, she has so many pressures on her. It’s a lot to ask of any young woman, especially one who wasn’t ruling all that long before the attack. I fear she’s barely recovered from all of that horror and yet she’s pushing ahead as though none of it ever happened. She’s too selfless, if you ask me. She never speaks of it unless it’s to make plans to avoid it happening again.”

Shad nodded his head in sympathy and the little maid continued. “And yet I know it’s troubling her, what with all her nightmares, see. Every night she’s having them, poor dear, and it does keep me and her other attendants awake most of the night, with how she cries out and talks in her sleep. Last night was one of the worst, crying out all sorts of names, Ganondorf and Zant, but also one I hadn’t heard before. She kept calling out for someone named Midna.”

Shad froze in shock at the familiar name, and Ada continued on without noticing his reaction. “I have the name fair stuck in my head today from how many times she yelled it in her sleep! Her other lady’s maids and I have decided to ask for a sleeping draught for her from the healer, to help her find some peace at night.”

Shad’s mind reeled as he considered the implications of the princess also dreaming of someone named Midna, and disturbing dreams at that. It can’t be a coincidence. He was about to ask the maid some careful questions when they both heard the low murmur of angry voices coming from beyond the door, followed by a shout. Looking up at each other in surprise, they both took several steps back from the door.

“Ah.” Shad shifted uncomfortably, his hand coming up to fiddle with his bowtie. “I daresay we should probably retreat a bit further down the hall, don’t you think? I don’t want to eavesdrop or intrude on um, the, er, conversation between Link and Her Highness.”

Ada shot him a worried look. “I haven’t ever heard her yell before like that. At least, not when she’s awake. You don’t think we should check on them?”

Shad shook his head firmly. “No, absolutely not. I’m not getting in the middle of, er, whatever disagreement is happening between two Goddess-chosen figures. Let’s stand over here and continue our conversation out of earshot.”

Ada agreed and joined him on the other side of the hall. They tried to resume their friendly conversation but after several failed attempts they both just stared worriedly at the door to the conference room.

Link took a step back as the full force of Zelda’s fearsome rage swept over him. His anger swiftly drained out of him and a sense of pity for her filled his heart. She thought she was in control? It was clear to him now that Zelda was just as affected by the recent trauma as he was, if not more so. He cursed himself for missing the signs and causing her further fear and aggravation.

His voice dropped low and soothing and his blue eyes held care and concern for her in them. “Zelda, I’m so sorry. It’s okay to be afraid, you know. It’s only natural after what we’ve both been through.”

Her eyes flashed. “I’m not afraid! I’m protective, I’m strong, and I’m in control! I will make sure that nothing like that ever happens again, whatever it takes!”

She’s in denial, just like my book says can happen. “Have you talked to anyone about what happened, Zelda? The High Priest, or your advisors, or lady’s maids, or anyone? I don’t mean about the parts you wish to keep secret, I mean about any of it? Any of the bad things that happened to you?”

She shook her head fiercely, crossing her arms protectively over her chest. “No. I don’t need to. I need to put it behind me and maintain control over my kingdom. I need to focus on the future and becoming queen.”

A heavy sigh escaped from Link and he kicked the toes of his boots against the floor, looking down at them. “You know, the book I mentioned is really helping me, and I think you should read it too. It’s about how trauma can affect our minds and actions, and about how to heal from it. I don’t think that tightening your control, refusing to talk about it, and denying that events happened the way they did is the path to peace for you or the realm, Zelda.”

The princess’s gaze changed from one of hot fury to disbelief. “Are you really trying to tell me what to do? I don’t need a silly book to tell me how best to rule myself or Hyrule! And how dare you question my wisdom and my decisions, especially after calling out Lord Galdo for that very thing not even an hour ago!” Zelda stormed over to the door. “Heresy, I believe you mentioned? Watch yourself, Hero, ‘Courage or no’.”

Link flinched as she echoed his words back at him. “Now get out. Go get ready for your mission and don’t even think about failing me.” She pulled the door open and turned her gaze away from him.

His heart breaking for her, Link quietly walked out the door, trying to meet her eyes as he passed by her. She refused to look at him, holding her chin up in the air. He made his way over to Shad and Ada, noticing their worried expressions.

“Let’s go, Shad,” he said glumly. They turned to leave when Zelda’s sharp voice broke through the quiet corridor.

“Shad. A word.”

Shad shot a terrified look at Link, swallowed, and turned towards the princess. “Yes, Your Highness.” He walked over to her as Link crossed his arms and leaned against the far wall, waiting. Ada glanced between the two parties and took several steps back, distancing herself from the hero as she stared at the ground while she also quietly waited.

Shad’s heart hammered in his chest as the stone-faced princess led him into the conference room and shut the door behind them.

“Ah, how may I be of assistance, Your Highness?” he asked as he twirled the bracelet on his left wrist.

Zelda took a deep breath and stared him dead in the eye. “It is obvious to me that you have indeed been a good influence on Link, as I thought you would be.”

Shad blinked at the unexpected compliment. “Thank you, Your Highness.”

“However,” the princess continued, not acknowledging that he’d spoken. “Link mentioned to me that he is still struggling and that you have been helping him with not just etiquette, but intimate matters concerning his feelings and well being. Is this so?”

“Er, yes, Your Highness. Link has shown great trust in me by allowing me to assist him when he has been feeling low. I am grateful for our friendship.”

“And has our hero mentioned to you the source of his troubles, Shad? Has he talked to you in detail about his quest, or told you what has him so upset?” Zelda leaned towards him, her eyes poring over his face as if she was searching for something.

Shad’s hands shook as he adjusted his spectacles. “N-no, Your Highness. Other than lamenting the fact that he feels he does not fit in well at court, he has been very close-mouthed about anything else that might be troubling him. I can sense that he is dealing with something that grieves him, but he asked me not to question him about it and I have held true to that promise. I understand that, ah, some matters might be private or ah, fit only for certain people to discuss with him, and I respect that boundary.”

Zelda’s posture relaxed slightly, her stiff frame easing as relief showed on her face. “Thank you for your honesty and your trustworthiness.” She crossed the room and fetched a glass of water, taking a sip as Shad stood uncomfortably by the door, not sure if he was dismissed or not.

Finishing the glass of water, the princess returned, a look of unease upon her fair face. “I do fear for him and his mental state, Shad. He’s been through a lot and while I can see that your friendship is helping him, I am afraid he might crack under the pressure and do something foolish.” She paused and turned away from him, wringing her hands.

Dismay shot through Shad at the princess’s words. “Your Highness, whatever I can do to assist you or Link, I am your man. I… I care for him very much and would hate to see him come to harm.”

Zelda turned slowly back towards him, an eyebrow raised at his words. Her gaze traveled over him and he flushed under her scrutiny. “Yes, I can see that you do. That’s good, Shad. He needs people close to him who care. I do need something from you. Promise me that you’ll come to me if Link shares any disturbing information with you. I’m afraid that his mind will snap. He was in here rambling about parts of the tragedy that befell Hyrule but some of what he said made no sense, talking about names and places I’d never heard of. Reach out to me immediately and let me know if you hear him say anything… unusual. Anything other than what we know actually happened.”

Shad bowed, his heart full of distress for his friend. “Absolutely, Your Highness. I swear it.” He rose from his bow and continued his pledge. “I’ll do anything to help him, and I’ll let you know right away if I hear anything from him that could cause concern. Thank you for looking out for him. He’s fortunate to have you as a ruler, and dare I say it, a friend, that you should be so concerned for his welfare.”

Zelda nodded her head and gestured toward the door, indicating that the conversation was over. Shad turned to go, but before he reached the door, the princess called out to him.

“Shad. One more thing.” She walked over until she stood directly before him, her caring look replaced by one Shad couldn’t read. “Make sure he comes back from Ordon. This is your personal responsibility - he will be at my coronation. The consequences should he not return… well. I won’t worry you with them now, as I’m sure you won’t fail in your tasks.” She smiled, the normally pleasant expression doing nothing to melt the ice in her gaze, and Shad shivered.

“O-of course, Your Highness.” She nodded her head at him, releasing him, and he bowed again and then opened the door to the hall. Link and Ada both looked up, Link avoiding looking at the princess, his anxious gaze only on Shad. Ada scurried across the hall to the princess, waving goodbye to Shad as she went.

“Let’s get out of here.” Link grabbed Shad’s sleeve and began marching them out of the castle, a stormy expression on his face. Shad hurried to keep up with him as Link dropped his hold. His eyes focusing on the back of that familiar green cap, Shad’s mind swirled with new worries for his friend. Was Link really so badly off that he’d been raving nonsense at the princess? Shad hadn’t seen any sign of lunacy or instability of that nature in the hero, but of course, Link’s moods and actions lately hadn’t exactly been… well, normal. Vowing to keep a close eye on his friend during their trip, Shad scurried after him as they left the castle.

Chapter Text

They headed to the castle stables at dawn, after packing up and going to bed early the previous night. Neither Shad nor Link had talked much after the meeting, though the events weighed heavily on both their minds.

Shad had been a little surprised that Link hadn’t asked him what Princess Zelda had wanted to see him about, but when Link didn’t talk about his conversation with her Shad hadn’t volunteered the information either. He was okay with the silence since he had no idea what he’d tell him if he’d asked. Link had seemed so withdrawn and melancholy for the rest of the day. He could tell the hero had a lot on his mind and didn’t want to pry, but Shad had been disappointed their day had ended that way when they’d both been feeling so great after the success of the meeting itself.

Link had kept conversation to a minimum, helping Shad select clothing and items he’d need for the trip, and then settling in on the couch with his trauma recovery book until bedtime. Shad had sat at the table with a volume on the history of the provinces of Hyrule, but he hadn’t really been reading. His mind had raced as he’d considered what the princess had told him. He found it incredibly hard to believe that Link had been raving at her about nonsensical things, but of course if she’d said it happened then it must have. He still struggled to believe it, though. He’d been with Link through some of his lowest moments over the last week, and despite the extreme grief he’d witnessed, he’d never seen him be less than fully sane and coherent. He was still perturbed about all of the shouting, too. He could understand some of the angry yells if Link had been in there ranting, but why would Princess Zelda have been shouting back? Why wouldn’t she have called for assistance if there’d been trouble? He’d eventually packed up his unanswerable questions and thoughts along with his books and notepads and headed to bed, resolved to keep an eye on his friend and help him out in any way that he could.

Shad yawned into his hand as they reached the stableyard. It may have been an early bedtime, but he hadn’t slept well with so many concerns on his mind and he was rarely up before the sun. He trusted Link to set their schedule for the trip though, as he was the expert in traveling to Ordon. He thought Link would head straight to Epona’s stall but instead the blonde started browsing down the line of other stalls. Shad was surprised that their horses weren’t already saddled and waiting for them.

“Link, I realize that you desire an early start to the day, but why have we arrived before they even have the horses ready?” he inquired.

Link was carefully looking over each horse in its stall as he moved down the line. “You haven’t ridden much, have you Shad?”

Shad blinked at the unexpected question in answer to his own query. “Er, no, I have not had the opportunity to ride very often. Um, why?” He reached up to fiddle with his bowtie and then remembered he wasn’t wearing one, since Link had helped him select simpler traveling clothes for their trip. He adjusted his spectacles, feeling unsure of himself.

Link paused his browsing and turned towards the scholar. “We have a long ride ahead of us, Shad. I don’t want to ride too hard, and we’ll stop for a break when we need to eat, but it’ll be almost a full day of riding before we get to Ordon. For someone not used to it, that can cause some serious soreness. You’re going to have some muscle aches anyway, but finding you a good mount and the saddle that best fits your frame will do a lot to alleviate some pain for you. I didn’t want to leave that task up to the stablemaster. I want to do it for you myself.” Link turned back to the horses and leaned over a stall, reaching a hand out to a tall black horse.

“Oh.” Shad shifted nervously. “Are you sure it’s not too much trouble? I apologize for the inconvenience. I am not sure that Her Highness considered my inexperience when she assigned me to this task.”

Link pulled his hand back from the horse that was nuzzling his palm and looked at Shad, noticing his unease, then walked over to him. Shad kept his gaze on the ground, his cheeks flushed with shame at being such a burden to the capable hero.

“Hey. Shad. Your health and comfort are not an inconvenience to me. I don’t want you limping in pain tonight and it’s easy enough for me to help you avoid that.” Link reached a finger up to lift Shad’s chin. “You’ve gone out of your way to take care of me when I needed it - let me have a chance to take care of you too, okay?”

The hero’s fierce blue eyes gazed into Shad’s own with such earnestness that Shad couldn’t help blushing further. He knew Link was right though. He wasn’t doing anything more for Shad than he’d already done for Link. He nodded his head and Link’s answering smile lightened his heart.

“Th-thank you, Link. I appreciate your consideration and will defer to your expertise in these matters.”

“Good. Now come over here and meet Enbarr, because he’s the best mount for you.” Link took him by the hand and led him over. “What do you think?”

Shad’s voice wouldn’t work. Link hadn’t dropped his hand and the blonde was lightly rubbing his thumb over Shad’s knuckles. Shad stared down at their joined hands, his mouth open but no words coming out.

Link glanced down to see what Shad was staring at and let go of his hand suddenly, turning quickly and placing both hands on the stall door. “He’s a beauty, yeah? But more importantly, he’s the right size for your frame and his disposition is gentle but not lazy. I’ve watched him with the stableboys before, and he gets along well with Epona.”

Reluctantly turning his gaze to the animal in question, Shad forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand instead of the tingles in his hand and his confusion about Link’s affectionate touch. The rather large steed was solid black and seemed good enough to Shad, not that he knew anything about horses. He reached a hand out timidly and the animal stretched its head out towards him, huffing out a breath against his palm. “Hello there. So we are to be companions, are we? I hope you don’t mind an inexperienced rider on your back. I will try to go easy on you if you do the same for me, deal?”

The horse turned his head so that Shad’s hand slid along his jaw and down his neck. Link grinned at Shad as the scholar stroked the gelding’s glossy coat. “He likes you. You’ll do great. Now come with me and we’ll get you a saddle.”

Shad followed Link into the tack room, next to the stable, and stood patiently while Link looked through the saddles hanging from hooks on the wall. He slung a well-worn one onto a waist-high rack and beckoned Shad over to mount and place his feet in the stirrups, asking him to stand and to turn and shift his weight as though he were riding. After several attempts, Link chose a serviceable and comfortable fitting seat, and knelt to adjust the stirrups to suit Shad’s legs. Link carried out the tack he’d selected for Shad, and then walked over to a wall where Epona’s things were hung and waiting for him.

“Just sit tight Shad, this won’t take long.” He grabbed the mare’s tack off the wall and walked back into the stable.

Shad shuffled, feeling a little useless, and walked over to one of the other saddles in the room. He attempted to lift it up out of curiosity and grunted at the weight of the heavy leather item, dropping it back down. Link picked these things up like they were feather pillows! Turning his mind away from more thoughts of Link’s strong body, he sat on an overturned bucket and pulled a book out of his pack, determined to read more on the history of Hyrule's provinces before they set out on their journey.

Link whistled softly to himself as he greeted Epona and readied her and Enbarr for the trip. He didn’t really know why he was in such a good mood. After the conflict with Zelda yesterday he’d been feeling horrible - sad, perturbed, and at a loss as to what to do for her. His usual sadness and longing for Midna had felt intensified too, especially since he could tell that her leaving was affecting Zelda as well, despite her denials. He’d read through his book desperately last night, searching for something that he thought might be useful. He’d gained a lot of insight but still wasn’t sure how he’d get her to listen to any of it. If she wasn’t ready to heal, the book said, then nothing Link or anyone else did could force her to that point.

But he’d woken up this morning with a lighter heart, looking forward to traveling with Shad, and to seeing Ilia, Rusl, and everyone else in Ordon, despite the awkwardness of his last visit. He’d focused his mind on what he needed to do for the trip and found it strange but quite pleasant to have to consider Shad’s needs. He was glad he was able to pay back the scholar for his kindness towards him with his knowledge of riding and traveling.

His cheeks reddened as he thought of how Shad had stared at their joined hands when he’d absentmindedly been rubbing his fingers. He hadn’t meant to hold the redhead’s hand so long and make him uncomfortable, but he clearly had. It had just felt so nice and natural that he hadn’t really even noticed it until he’d seen Shad’s shocked stare. Of course Shad was much too polite to say anything about it to him, just like he’d been polite about the whole thing with the icing. Just because he’s polite and kind doesn’t give me the license to go pawing at him, he chided himself.

Once both horses were saddled and ready he led them out of the stable and into the yard, then went back to the tack room for Shad. Entering the room, he spied Shad sitting on a bucket up against the wall, his legs crossed. He was completely absorbed in the book in his hand, and the tip of his tongue was between his teeth again as he read. Link stopped just inside the door and admired the sight of the scholar so in his element in a setting that was anything but. He looked very different in the embroidered navy tunic, dark brown leggings, and high riding boots that Link had helped him pick out for the ride, but he pulled off the look well, despite it not being his usual style.

The scholar brought his hand up to turn the page. Link secretly loved that Shad had brought so many books with him - of course he had! But his pack was even heavier than Link’s because of it, which made Link chuckle.

Hearing the familiar chuckle from the door, Shad looked up and put away his book when he saw Link looking at him. He heaved his pack onto his shoulder and headed towards the hero. “Everything prepared?” he asked.

“Just about. We still need to get your pack loaded. And if it’s okay with you, I’d like to show you how to mount and dismount and have you ride around the yard for just a bit before we head out. I’m sure you’ll be just fine in the saddle, but how you sit on the horse can really affect the way you feel later.”

“S-sure. Yes, that makes sense. Sorry again old boy, I did not foresee you having to give me basic riding lessons to make this trip happen.” Shad replied sheepishly.

“Again, I want to be doing this. I like helping you, Shad. We’ll just get this out of the way now and then be on the road. It’s a little over halfway, but I know of a good place to rest, once we make it through Hyrule Field and head into Faron Woods.”

“I am already looking forward to that rest, old boy,” Shad replied wryly. “I suppose I should get on that horse and do my best to earn it.”

___

 

Filtered sunlight struck the deepest part of the spring, illuminating its crystal depths as silvery fish flashed in and out of the shadows, catching Shad’s eye. His ears twitched slightly at the sound of the waterfalls hushing the forest in a way that felt intentional and meaningful. Enormous, ancient trees blocked most of the sky with their massive canopies, and verdant life burst forth from nearly every surface, blanketing the area in green. Fairies flitted above the surface of the water, bringing their own small lights and tinkling sounds to the shaded glade. A deep inhale brought him a marvelous scent - that of nature, of greenery, of life and all of its wonders, coexisting in harmony.

Shad dropped his reins and stepped forward, entranced by the spring.

“I told you it’d be a good place to rest.” Shad could hear the grin in Link’s voice without looking over his shoulder at him to see it.

“A severe understatement, I’m afraid. Fortunately, it works out wonderfully in your favor.” The scholar inhaled deeply again, slowly turning back towards his companion, indigo eyes sparkling more than the dancing tree-filtered sunlight on the sacred waters that surrounded him. “It’s beautiful, Link. Beyond amazing. And you say this is where you were first granted the Hero’s garb and told of your destiny by the Light Spirit Faron?”

Link dismounted, swinging himself down from Epona’s side gracefully and leaving her to drink from the spring while he joined Shad at the edge of the water.

“This is it.” Link’s mild tone didn’t quite match the look of reverence in his eyes as the hero cast his gaze around the lush emerald spring. He glanced at Shad, his clear blue eyes serene and serious. “I’ll never forget it.”

Shad couldn’t help but feel humbled and in awe of this sacred place, and of Link. As his gaze took in his green-clad friend (whose clothes he noted perfectly matched the green shades of Farore’s namesake spring and province), he simultaneously felt incredibly proud of Link and also ridiculously grateful to even know him, let alone be his friend. It was hard not to see him as god-like in this setting, knowing what had happened here.

Link’s lips curled up into his little half-smile as Shad stared at him, breaking the redhead out of his worshipful trance. Different images of the hero overlapped in his mind - Link sleeping peacefully on his lap after sobbing his heart out; laughing and spinning around in Shad’s living room with him; his mussed hair and tear-stained face in North Hyrule Field; his playful winking whenever he teased Shad; his fierce expression whether fighting a Deku Baba in a meadow or a pompous lord across a conference table; and the heated, wild look in his eyes when he’d inadvertently touched Shad’s lips and tongue. Despite the supernatural things Link had experienced, he was still his friend, and a flawed mortal like all the rest of them.

“You okay, Shad? You’re staring at me like a Light Spirit is about to burst out of my forehead or something.” Link laughed at him, reaching up and rubbing the back of his neck under his green cap.

Shad shook his head to clear his thoughts. “Sorry, old boy. Just caught up in the spirit of the place. I admit that sometimes it’s difficult to square up the image of you that I have as my friend with the image of you as the Goddess-chosen savior of all Hyrule.”

Link shrugged a shoulder. “They’re both me. But I get it. If you think it’s hard to believe, imagine living it!”

Shad chuckled. “Yes, I don’t doubt that it was a shock and an adjustment for you! That you’ve handled it all with such grace just goes to show that they chose wisely.”

“I don’t know about that whole ‘with grace’ part. Not so sure that collapsing into a crying mess on you or in Hyrule Field counts as handling it well.” Link grimaced.

“Oh, come now.” Shad cocked his head and put a hand on his hip. “Do I need to tell you yet again that you are allowed to experience sadness and go through difficult times? You have been through a lot, old boy. Everyone struggles sometimes.”

A sigh escaped Link’s lungs. “I know, I know. You sound just like the book.” He shot Shad a mischievous look from under his long lashes. “I mean, even more than usual.” Link winked and laughed as Shad colored and then reached down to splash water at the hero in retaliation for his jest.

“Hey! Don’t start a war you can’t win, Red!” Laughing, Link waded into the spring and kicked a huge spray of water up at Shad, who dodged out of the way.

“Oh, unfair! You have magical clothes that don’t get soaked when you’re in the water and I’m stuck here on the grass! I claim victory on account of a divine intervention disqualification for you.” Shad stuck his nose up in the air and crossed his arms over his chest.

“You can come in the water too, you know. Nothing’s stopping you except all those clothes you have on.” Link’s eyes flashed with amusement as he grinned at the scholar.

Shad’s cheeks and ears turned scarlet as he divined the meaning of Link’s suggestive comment. The scholar whirled and stomped away to his horse to retrieve his midday provisions from his saddlebags while Link threw back his head with laughter.

Link splashed his way out of the shallow pool, still chuckling, and got his own lunch from Epona’s packs. He turned around to find Shad spreading a small blanket on the grass by a patch of white flowers nearby. The scholar sat primly on one side, his chin up and eyes cast down as he unwrapped the cheese, bread, and fruit he’d brought. Without looking at Link, he patted the spot next to him on the blanket.

A warm smile spread across Link’s face at the invitation and he sauntered over, plopping down next to Shad and unwrapping his own food.

“Not how they go swimming in Castle Town, huh?” Link ignored the touch of pink that colored Shad’s cheeks again at the question, figuring he’d teased the scholar enough at that point.

Shad cleared his throat. “Most certainly not. We have bathing costumes we wear, for propriety. Why? Do Ordonians disrobe entirely to go swimming?” Shad finally looked at him and Link caught a hint of nervousness in the redhead’s eyes.

“No, we don’t,” he reassured the scholar. “Children usually just strip down to their smallclothes. Grown ups wear an old set of clothes usually, mostly just shifts for the women and breeches for the men. It’s still not covering much, but it does the job.”

Link shrugged, then stared into the depths of the spring as he took a bite. Swallowing, he allowed his bent knee to fall over and bump briefly against Shad’s. “You really should consider at least rolling up your leggings a bit and wading into the spring barefoot though. It has natural healing properties, and I know you’ve got to be feeling stiff from this morning’s ride.”

“I was planning on it after lunch, actually, but I do thank you for the suggestion. I have some experience with Eldin Spring and have waded into it for rejuvenation at Renado’s suggestion, after the trek to Kakariko.”

“Oh, that’s right. Of course he’d know about that and share it with you.” Link smiled as he recalled the hospitable shaman.

“Yes, he’s quite an interesting and helpful fellow. Rather good at looking after people as well as very knowledgeable about a number of esoteric subjects.” Shad unscrewed the lid on his water flask and took a long drink before he continued. “You know, you might consider going to see him, to get assistance with some of the issues you have been struggling with. He is a skilled healer and he has experience with restoring the mind after traumatic events.”

“Yeah?” Link furrowed his brow in thought. “Huh. That’s not a bad idea.”

“He did assist your friend Ilia in regaining her memories after being kidnapped by the Bulblins, right? I’m not entirely sure what his methods are, but they did seem to prove effective against that sort of trauma.” Shad brought his gaze up to Link’s face. He watched in curiosity as Link’s expression slid from hopefulness into something inscrutable and closed.

“Ah, right.” Well that’s never going to happen. Can’t have a shaman go digging around in my brain, uncovering memories of things he isn’t supposed to know. Link shrugged one shoulder. “Maybe someday. I feel like I’m doing a little bit better than I was a few days ago. Your support has helped a lot, and the book has been helping me understand myself more. It’s given me some practical tips on how to feel better too. Basic stuff like making sure I take care of myself - food, exercise, pleasure, enough sleep.”

“I’m very pleased to hear that, old boy.” Shad smiled down at him and the two continued to eat their lunch in a companionable silence, enjoying the peaceful surroundings.

Shad considered Link’s comments as he ate. He was glad that the hero was beginning to focus on himself and his needs a little more, but didn’t know how much quality sleep he’d actually been getting with those restless nightmares he had. His mind drifted back to the other night and the intimate mumblings he’d overheard during Link’s dreaming.

Midna.

It was so odd that Princess Zelda was having disturbing dreams about the same person, and yet he’d never heard of anyone by that name that had been involved with Hyrule’s troubles. There was no one that he knew of at court or around Castle Town named that either. Why were they both dreaming of her? Who was she? He didn’t really want to give away that he’d inadvertently spied on something so private, but he couldn’t shake his curiosity. Besides, Ada had told him too, his knowledge wasn’t just from Link’s sleep-talking. He swallowed the last bite of his food, wiped his mouth delicately, and turned to Link, deciding it wasn’t that big of a deal that he’d overheard a dream and that he should just ask Link directly.

“Link, who’s Midna?”

Link froze with a piece of cheese halfway to his mouth, his eyes wide. His heart pounded wildly in his chest and his shaking hand dropped the piece of cheese. A shudder ran through his whole body as his thoughts raced. How did Shad know that name? What would Zelda do to the scholar if she knew that he knew? He was flooded with fear for his friend and grabbed both of Shad’s shoulders as his intense, terrified gaze bore into the scholar’s surprised eyes.

“Where did you hear that name?!” He shook Shad’s shoulders slightly with his intensity. “How do you know it? That’s not - you’re not supposed to - Shad!”

Shad reeled with shock as his friend’s previously calm and playful attitude rapidly shifted into something resembling a frightened and cornered beast of prey. “F-f-f-from you,” he managed to spit out. “Y-you said it the other night. In a d-dream. I d-didn’t mean to overhear, but you had been yelling in your sleep, and I thought something was wrong, and...” he trailed off.

Link dropped his hands from Shad’s shoulders, horrified. He’d tried his hardest to keep this secret for Zelda, he’d agonized over it, and his sleeping self betrayed him?

Shad’s concern grew at the look on Link’s face and he tried to explain further. “A-and yesterday, while you were speaking with the princess… h-her maid, Ada, she told me that Her Highness has not been sleeping well either and that she had been crying out that name in her sleep as well. I-it just seemed like, like a strange coincidence, and I don’t know anyone by that name, so I was wondering how you both knew her, and… and why you would both be dreaming of her. Link are you alright?”

Link dropped his head and covered his face with his hands, groaning into them. Zelda was talking in her sleep about Midna too? So much so that her maids were gossiping about it? Oh no. This was bad. He needed to tell her that she was talking in her sleep, that there was a leak of information neither of them had considered, but how could he tell her without implicating Shad? If Zelda knew that Shad knew, she’d blame Link. She’d never believe that he hadn’t told the scholar everything after the way Link had been begging her to talk to him about it, after he’d told her how hard it was for him to keep this secret. She’d take away her protections and the trade agreements from Ordon, she’d stop building the school for the children… but what would she do to Shad? He shivered when he thought of her ferocity at his mere mention of Midna in private with her. She’d probably consider it treason. Would she have Shad kicked out of the university? Locked up? Executed? He scrunched his eyes shut, tears squeezing out at the thought of Shad coming to harm because of his own dumb unconscious self’s loose lips.

Swallowing hard, Link looked back up at Shad. Concern was written all over the gentle scholar’s elegant features and he’d brought a comforting hand up to rest lightly on Link’s arm. Link squared his resolve. Zelda’s problem with her maids was her own. He would never let anything bad happen to Shad. Ever.

“Shad, promise me you will never mention that name, ever again.” Shad opened his mouth to ask another question and Link cut him off. “I can’t explain why and I can’t answer your questions. But you need to know that it’s extremely dangerous that you know that name and great harm could come to you if anyone other than me ever hears you say it. Don’t tell the Resistance, don’t say it around me, don’t say it in private, don’t write it down anywhere, and especially do not ever, ever say it to Zelda. I can’t stress enough how important this is or how dire the consequences could be.”

Shad withdrew his hand and twisted the hem of his tunic anxiously. “I-I’m sorry, Link, I did not realize it would disturb you so or that this information was forbidden.”

“Promise me, Shad!” Link’s voice rose in desperation and both his hands reached out to grip one of the scholar’s, squeezing tightly. “You have to swear! Forget that name and never say it again! I, I… I’ll take you to the City in the Sky if you swear. Promise me you won’t say it again and I’ll take you there in return!”

Shad blinked rapidly as Link’s initial alarm swiftly turned into desperate pleading. “You don’t have to buy my silence, Link. I’d give you my word without any bribery or payment. Of course I won’t say anything. I promise, I swear it, I’ll give you whatever oath you need.” He placed his free hand on his heart. “Here in the light of Faron’s sacred spring, I swear I will keep this secret for you.”

Breathing a huge sigh of relief, Link dropped his hand and pulled Shad into a tight hug, much to the scholar’s surprise. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” the hero muttered. Shad reached his arms up and squeezed him lightly in return, patting him on the back with one hand as he felt a tear drip onto the nape of his neck.

Link released him from the hug and leaned back, wiping his eyes, a somber look on his face. “I’ll ask Zelda for leave from court to take you to the City in the Sky as soon as we’re back.”

An excited fluttering started up in Shad’s stomach, despite his reservations about Link’s behavior. “Link, I told you, I will not say a word. You do not have to do this.”

“I want to. I’ve been wanting to take you there anyway, Shad. Don’t you want to go?” The little half-smile finally crept back onto Link’s face. “It’s your dream.”

Shad sighed heavily. “Of course I want to go, old boy. I just want to make sure you aren’t offering out of any sense of obligation.” He glanced down and played with one of the bracelets on his wrist. “Also, I… I don’t want to bore you with my research and obsessions,” he said quietly.

“You could never bore me,” Link replied seriously, gazing into Shad’s eyes when the redhead looked back up at him. “I’m taking you there and that’s final. Now c’mon, let’s pack up and then you should wade into the spring before we leave.” With that, Link hopped up, grabbing his lunch items and walking towards Epona to stow them away.

Shad packed up his belongings and then pulled off his boots and socks, rolling his leggings up above his knees. While Link checked the horses to make sure they were once again travel ready, Shad waded into the healing waters of the spring. His stiff and sore muscles began to feel better, bit by bit, as the waters did their work on him. Unfortunately, he felt that they did little to soothe the troubles of his heart. He was so perturbed by Link’s explosive reaction to finding out Shad knew that name. His behavior had been highly erratic, and Shad felt a tugging at his mind, a reminder of the promise he had made to Princess Zelda to let her know about any strange behavior the hero displayed or any disturbing information he was told. He knew rationally that this incident absolutely qualified as both and was something he should tell her about. He had sworn to.

His heart tugged him in a different direction. Link had been truly terrified, and that was not something that Shad thought the hero ever felt. Shad’s chest felt tight as he thought of the fear and desperation in Link’s eyes as he’d begged him not to say her name ever again. Link had seemed to be very afraid of anyone knowing that Shad knew the name and of the consequences that could befall him. Link had specifically told him not to tell Princess Zelda. He had sworn not to.

Shad stared up into the canopy of the ancient trees that surrounded the spring, his heart aching, praying for answers.

Farore, grant me the courage to seek out the best path that will truly help your hero. Din, grant me the strength to do what is right. Nayru, grant me the wisdom to see the truth.

As he prayed, he felt a quiet sense of calm descend upon him. His mind played a series of memories for him with crystal clarity - Link’s drunken resentment at not being able to tell him what was wrong on the night of the banquet and telling Shad that horrible things would happen if he told; Link’s irritability when he couldn’t tell Shad how the Sky Cannon was moved and his warning that there were certain parts of Hyrule’s troubles that he wasn’t able to share; Link’s deep and silent sadness that never came out in words, just tears; finding out that the hero and the princess were both having disturbing dreams about this mystery person; the argument between Link and the princess in the conference room, and the harsh and shrill yelling that was definitely feminine; the princess calling him in to intensely question him about Link disclosing his troubles to Shad and making him promise to tell her about any odd behavior of Link’s.

His memories began to click into place like puzzle pieces. Princess Zelda’s behavior seemed strange in retrospect. He’d never seen anything other than calm and control from her and she had seemed... afraid. Her intensity and her questioning seemed a lot like Link’s just now, in fact. It dawned on him suddenly that the princess had most likely been trying to find out how much Shad knew and if Link had spilled his secrets to him. Was… was it possible that Princess Zelda’s request of him to keep an eye on Link and report back to her was not entirely altruistic? Had he been asked to spy on his friend?

He shivered and knew that his suspicions had the ring of truth to them. He hadn’t been able to believe that Link’s mind was cracking and that he had been shouting nonsense at the princess because it wasn’t true. But that meant that Princess Zelda, the leader of all Hyrule, had lied to him. Why? What could make her do that? Why would she think Link would betray her and spill her secrets? What could be so troubling that she threatened the hero with horrible consequences should he tell? And what had they actually been arguing about? Was this Midna the missing puzzle piece?

“Ready to go when you are.” Link called out, startling Shad out of his thoughts. He looked over his shoulder at the hero standing on the grass next to Epona, one hand holding her reins and the other reaching up to stroke affectionately at her muzzle. The dappled light fell on his hair, striping his blonde locks with light and shadow. Link looked up and met Shad’s eyes, his warm blue eyes solemn. Shad’s heart swelled as he gazed at the man he cared deeply for and thought of how much pressure Link must be under, keeping the princess’s secrets despite the obvious pain it was causing him. He swore to the Golden Goddesses right then and there that he would do whatever he could to protect Link, and if that meant breaking his promise to the princess to keep the one he’d made to the hero, then so be it.

“I’m ready,” he replied. “The healing waters have left me much refreshed.” Shad waded out, putting his socks and boots back on, and mounted Enbarr. They followed Link and Epona out of the glade and back onto the path to Ordon.

___

 

The trees and landscape around them began to change after they’d crossed over the rickety suspension bridge high above the gorge that separated Ordon and Faron provinces. Link had relaxed a little more the closer they got to home, enjoying the familiar piney scent of the tall evergreens as it gradually replaced the mossy, damp smell of the Faron region. They’d passed through green corridors, surrounded by rocky walls with evergreen trees stretching high into the sky atop them, the sight of lofty mountains peeking up above them in the distance. Shad had asked about Ordon Spring as they’d passed the gates and Link had told him he’d make sure to show it to the scholar later. They’d pressed on without stopping again, in order to make it to the village before dinner time.

That was the entirety of the conversation they’d had on this leg of the trip. Link’s mind swirled with so many thoughts that he could barely keep track of them, let alone participate in any sort of conversation. He was so worried for Shad and hated that he’d put him in the dangerous and awkward position of being burdened with this secret. Link wished with all his heart that he could tell the curious and kind scholar the truth, the whole truth. He yearned to let Shad know who he really was, broken heart, lupine past, and all.

Link glanced at the scholar. Shad looked lost in his thoughts as well. Sighing, Link wondered if they were about him. Probably. He probably thinks I’m crazy. He felt bad that he’d reacted so violently to finding out that Shad knew Midna’s name. Shad had spent a long time in the spring and Link hoped it had done him some good.

Along with his worries for Shad came the familiar pang of heartache for the woman whose name had created such controversy. If Midna had just stayed… if their worlds had been allowed to mix and they’d formed an alliance, a way to understand and help each other, what would it be like right now? What if it had been Midna he was traveling to Ordon with, excited to introduce her to his friends and chosen family? His heart ached fiercely as he imagined her spending the night with him in his treehouse. What if she’d chosen him the way he’d chosen her?

Link scowled at his what if’s. What good was it wishing everything was different? She hadn’t chosen him, clearly. A deep weight settled on him, a sadness so pervasive that it seemed to be drowning his soul. He didn’t want to believe that his nightmare was the truth of things between them after all that they’d shared, but he couldn’t help but fear that it was. He did feel used and tossed away. He felt like a silly lovesick boy, telling her he loved her after just one night together. Zelda’s harsh words yesterday haunted him. He hadn’t been able to control himself once he saw her true form, had he? If he’d hadn’t dove in so blindly he wouldn’t be hurting so badly now.

Despite all of his disturbing thoughts, that little flame of hope that had been kindled in North Hyrule Field with Shad still burned brightly within him. Link snuck another glance at the handsome scholar. Link’s wishes that things had been different with Midna didn’t dampen the strange mix of excitement and calm that he felt about bringing Shad to Ordon. He was eager to see the scholar take in his home and meet his friends, and Link knew they’d be delighted to meet Shad. He felt more at ease going home this time too, despite his excitement. Somehow Link just felt surer and more confident when he was with Shad. Shad didn’t expect any more from him than what he was willing to give - it was refreshing.

Epona whinnied suddenly, the sound echoing off the little canyon they were in, drawing both young men out of their musings. As they came around the curve of a narrow rocky passageway, the trail in front of them suddenly widened out into a lightly forested clearing.

“Here we are,” Link called out, reining Epona to a halt. “This is my place.”

Shad glanced around the clearing, eyes wide and mouth slightly open. In the clearing was one of the largest and oddest trees he’d ever seen. There was a ladder scaling the lower trunk that led to a small platform that overlooked the clearing. A carved wooden door was set right into the tree trunk there, with a shingled roof above it. A small green and blue pennant flag hung above the door, decorated with what looked like one of the golden triangles of the Triforce but with a tree design, flapping gently in the light breeze. It was both charming and awe-inspiring. Link had told him he lived in a tree, but Shad had not been able to fully grasp what that meant without seeing it. Link lived in a tree. As in, inside of one! Not merely in a dwelling built up in the branches, like the play treehouses he’d read about as a child.

“This is simply extraordinary, old boy. I admit I did not picture something this grand in my mind when you said you lived in a tree.”

Link chuckled and adjusted his cap. “Grand? Oh it’s not grand. I mean yes, the tree itself is huge, but my home is pretty simple compared to the ones in Castle Town. C’mon, let’s leave the horses here and we’ll get our things inside before we head into the village.”

They dismounted and Link helped Shad with his heavy pack, setting it on the ground next to him. Shad shuffled awkwardly while Link worked at unsaddling both horses and tending to them briefly after the long trip.

“I’d lend you my assistance, old boy, but I suppose it’d just take twice as long were I to get my hands tangled up in all that gear.”

Link smiled up at him. “Don’t worry about it. Most of this work is second nature to me, I’ve been doing it for so long. Besides, I enjoy taking care of horses and working with my hands.”

“If you’re sure,” Shad replied. “I apologize that my skills are insufficient in this area.”

“It’s okay that this isn’t your skill or interest, Shad. We clearly have different strengths, and yours have already been a huge help to me. I like that about u- uh, um, me. And you.” Blushing slightly, Link ducked around the other side of Enbarr to finish removing his saddle.

Shad blinked and removed his spectacles to wipe them on the hem of his tunic, clearing the dust from them. ”I like that about uh?” Was Link going to say, “about us?” Are we an “us?” There were times Shad could swear they were almost flirting, and then something would happen to break that mood and Link would retreat into himself and seem so distant, like he had on the rest of their ride here. Shad had convinced himself that Link was in love with… that person from his dream, but then he’d catch the hero looking at him a certain way, or saying something so sweet and flattering, and he’d doubt himself all over again.

Then there was the way Link had held his hand in the stable this morning. Shad had loved the contact but had been surprised by it, and then Link had dropped his hand so swiftly and gone straight back to business. Was it just an Ordonian trait, to be so physically affectionate with friends? Shad thought it might be, but wasn’t sure. He supposed that meeting the other villagers would give him the answer to that question. He still didn’t feel right about pressing any romantic advances on his friend though, even if there possibly could be something more than friendship growing between them. If anything, after the tense events over the last two days, he was even more certain that Link needed time to heal, and that Shad needed to control himself.

Link gave a final pat to the horses and came back around, picking up his bag and shouldering Shad’s heavy pack too. “All done. Let’s head inside. I’ll take this up for you.”

A small and sheepish thanks made its way out of Shad as he climbed up the ladder behind Link. The hero was at the top with the packs set down and a hand held out to help the scholar up before Shad had even made it halfway. He gratefully took the hero’s hand as he neared the top and tried not to feel let down when their hands fell apart as Link once again shouldered the heavy packs. Link opened his front door, letting Shad enter before him.

Shad blinked as his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light inside. The breeze that had been playing with the flag above their heads rushed into the room past him, ruffling the pages of a book laid out on a little table across the room. Shad took his time looking around the room, noting the high ceiling with its skylight far above him, the multi-level platforms and ladders, the roots winding their way through the walls, and Link’s neat, orderly, and modest belongings and furnishings.

Link followed him through the door and set both packs down out of the way. He reached up a hand to smooth the hair at the nape of his neck and looked anxiously at Shad. When Shad didn’t say anything, just continued to look around at everything, Link shifted from foot to foot, tapping his toes against the floor.

“Anyway, yeah, this is it. Told you it’s nothing like your place or my rooms at the castle.”

Shad turned towards him, hearing the note of anxiety in Link’s voice. “It’s wonderful, old boy. I apologize for staring and not saying anything. I couldn’t picture it properly when you talked about it before, but now seeing it in person… it suits you perfectly. It’s a wonder in its own right, just like you.”

Pink colored Link’s cheeks and he smiled at Shad’s compliment. Shad smiled gently at him in return and their eyes locked. Something warm bubbled up inside Link and his heart skipped a beat as he gazed into the deep blue eyes of the scholar, here in his own home with him. It just felt so right having him here, despite their differences. It felt safe, warm, and more like home than ever. He wished that the incident at Faron Spring hadn’t happened, that he hadn’t burdened Shad with his troubles, and that he truly could keep him safe. Link broke their gaze and looked away, his brow furrowed.

Suddenly, Link’s door rocked slightly as what sounded like several small stones struck it from the outside. Link crossed swiftly to the door and flung it open as Shad sucked in a deep breath, regaining his composure from yet another of those moments between them that felt like more than friendship. As much as Shad enjoyed his friendships with Ashei, Telma, and all the rest, he’d never locked eyes with them for more than five seconds while his heart hammered wildly in his chest, and he didn’t think Link had either. He’d felt the distance between them again though when Link had looked away frowning, once again lost in thought.

“Oi! Stop throwing rocks at my door!” Link yelled good naturedly from his doorway. “Is that any way to welcome an honored member of the Resistance, here at Princess Zelda’s request?”

A chorus of excited, high-pitched voices babbled up from below and Shad made his way to the door next to Link. A pack of children gathered below at the base of the ladder, looking up at him and Link and all chattering at once. Shad laughed at their enthusiasm and waved a hand in greeting, then followed Link down the ladder. The children swarmed him and Link at once.

“I told Talo not to throw rocks but he wouldn’t listen, as usual,” said the bright-eyed blonde haired boy. Shad remembered them from his time in Kakariko and thought his name might be Colin.

The dark-haired Talo scowled fiercely at Colin, his small solemn brother beside him. “Yeah well it worked, didn’t it, Colin?” He turned his attention back to Link. “Hi Link! Any new sword fighting skills you can teach me?”

Link chuckled and ruffled Talo’s hair but couldn’t answer him before a small freckled girl chimed in, reaching out a hand to touch the embroidery at the hem of Shad’s shirt. “Oooh, I love your tunic. Did you do this yourself? I’m learning to embroider but I’m not as good as this yet.”

Link laughed as he pulled the girl into a side hug. “Beth, if you like this traveling tunic I picked out for Shad, you are going to LOVE the clothes he brought with him that he normally wears. You’ve never met such a well-dressed person in your life!”

Beth’s eyes went wide and she slipped her small hand into Shad’s, who startled a little at the unexpected touch but then smiled down at the friendly and trusting girl. “Oh, I can’t wait to see them! I get so bored of Ordonian fashions! I can’t wait until I’m grown. I’m moving right to Castle Town and opening up my own shop! I have my own designs and everything. Would you like to see them, Mister Shad?”

“I’d love to, Miss Beth.” She beamed up at him at his answer. Shad looked around at the other eager children. “It’s wonderful to see you all again, although I don’t believe we had formal introductions while I was in Kakariko with you. How nice it is to see you all safely at home, and what an exuberant welcome you’ve all given us!”

Shad’s greeting captured the attention of all the children, who switched their focus from Link to the newcomer. They all began talking over each other again as they greeted him and began asking questions. Link and Shad shared an amused look, laughing together at the children’s exuberance.

A sweet but stern feminine voice cut through the cacophony. “Every single one of your parents is looking for you, I’ll have you know, so quit pestering the heroes and get back home for dinner! You’ll have all day tomorrow to ask questions and make Link perform tricks for you!”

Ilia walked into the clearing, hands on her hips as she raised her eyebrows at the children. A chorus of protests arose from the youths but she shooed them all home without too much trouble.

Once the children had left, Link rushed towards Ilia, picking the slender girl up in his embrace and spinning her around. She laughed and hit him on the shoulder.

“Put me down, you brute. All that time in court and no manners yet, I see.” She winked at him playfully as he lowered her to the ground.

“Ha, you’re not that far off from the truth actually. If it weren’t for Shad here I’m afraid I’d still be chewing on straw, talking about goat herding, and scandalizing the nobility with my country boy ways.” Link grinned cheekily at his childhood friend.

Ilia rolled her eyes at Link’s exaggerations and turned her pretty blonde head towards Shad, smiling warmly at him. “Shad, it’s so good to see you again.”

Shad reached out for Ilia’s hand in greeting but she pulled him into a big hug, kissing him on the cheek in greeting. Shad flushed slightly at the intimate physical hello, but recovered quickly. So that would be a yes then, for Ordonians being more physically affectionate.

“Hello Ilia! It is quite pleasant to see you as well, thriving here in Ordon Village. I trust things are well with you?”

“They are, thanks for asking. I’m kept plenty busy helping Uli with the baby, the sweet darling, or studying at home with my father. I’m glad to hear you’re helping keep this troublemaker in line at court!” She pushed at Link’s shoulder again, making him stumble backwards.

“Hey! I’ve been doing my best to be the opposite of trouble!” Link protested, rubbing at his shoulder.

Shad chuckled at their friendly banter. “He has, actually. Link is a fast learner and is doing extremely well at court lately.”

“All thanks to you, Shad.” Link winked at the scholar, nudging him with his elbow.

Shad felt his cheeks grow warm. “Yes well, you are the one who has put in the hard work, old boy. I merely shared a few things I’ve learned with you.”

“Ha!” Link slapped his thigh. “‘A few things.’ You’re too modest. Ilia, he read through about five huge old dusty books to prepare me for ONE meeting, and then busted another one out at the meeting to put a snooty noble in his place for me. He was amazing!” Link smiled up at Shad, admiration shining in his eyes.

Shad held his gaze. “Oh, it wasn’t all that much. You know I’m happy to help you,” he said softly.

“I do know, and I can’t thank you enough,” Link replied quietly, shuffling a half step closer to the redhead.

Ilia looked back and forth at the two young men, caught up in each other’s eyes as they heaped praise and gratitude on one another. She quirked a brow at their exchange, and then cleared her throat. Shad and Link startled slightly and then both shot sheepish looks at her. Her eyebrow raised higher and she sent a quizzical look at Link. He blushed, which made a small smile curl up one side of Ilia’s mouth.

“Riiiight. Well, that’s lovely. I’m glad you’re helping him, Shad. Link, I’m glad you’re doing better. I know your last trip here right after all the troubles was kind of rough for you.” She reached out and gave Link’s arm a sympathetic squeeze. “Hopefully we’ll have plenty of time to really chat during this visit. Anyway, dinner is almost ready and Father sent me to invite you both to eat with us. I saw the children rushing off and when they didn’t come back I figured you had arrived. Ready to head on over?”

Smoothing his hands down over his dusty travel tunic, Shad shook his head slightly. “I’d love a chance to change and freshen up before dinner, actually, if that is acceptable to you both?”

“Sure,” said Ilia as Link shrugged. Shad noticed with amusement and some envy that Link’s goddess-blessed Hero’s garb still seemed as fresh as when he’d donned it that morning.

“Well then, I won’t be but a minute.” Shad excused himself and climbed the ladder to change.

Ilia watched Shad close the door and then turned towards Link. “Well you two are adorable. How long has that been going on?”

Link looked at her quizzically. “Adorable? What? How long has what been going on?”

Ilia crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow again. “Really, Link? You and Shad.”

Link blushed and ducked his head. “Uh, what about us? We’ve been rooming together for several days now. We’ve become pretty good friends actually.”

“Uh huh. Yeah, I can tell. Just friends, huh?”

“Yes, why?” Link reached up to rub the nape of his neck.

“Link, if I have to spell it out for you, then never mind. It’s pretty obvious, but okay, sure, just friends it is.”

“Uh, right. Good.” Link adjusted his arm brace and shifted from foot to foot. Luckily Shad chose that moment to reappear, looking dapper as ever in a fresh set of breeches, shirt, waistcoat, and jacket, complete with his favorite argyle socks and long bowtie. His wavy auburn hair was combed back in his careful style, except for that stray curl on his forehead. Link’s eyes lit up as he took in the sight of the dapper redhead, all fresh and ready for dinner.

“Let’s go, boys, dinner won’t wait forever.” Ilia led the way out of the clearing and into Ordon proper, with Link and Shad following behind.

___

 

Holding open the door for Shad, Link laughed at his comment as they both entered the treehouse.

“I know, Shad, Ilia really doesn’t look a thing like the mayor, does she? Luckily for her, she took after her mother in her looks.”

“Fortunate indeed, old boy. She’s a doll. And although she’s bright and a natural leader like her father, she’s not quite built for the sumo ring like he is.” Shad’s eyes danced with mirth at the thought of the slight young woman partaking in the mayor’s pastime. “I have approximately two pages of notes on sumo alone from Mayor Bo’s monologue about its merits. Tell me, is it really such a large part of Ordonian customs? When I asked him about local traditions I did not expect that.

Link barked out a short laugh as he lit several small lamps around the darkening room. “No, that’s just Bo’s hobby that he learned from the Gorons. I don’t think you’ll need to write that up for Zelda, and I’m pretty sure she won’t want a sumo match as part of her ceremony.”

Sitting in a chair at the small table, Shad chuckled as he flipped through his notebook. “No, I should think not. At least I was able to glean a fair amount of usable information from him and Ilia during dinner. There is quite a bit more depth than I would have expected when it comes to your seasonal celebrations and customs. Your traditional dress, for one. It’s such a unique style, like nothing seen in Castle Town. Elaborate and simple at the same time”

Bringing a small lamp to the table, Link glanced at Shad’s notes. “Were you surprised that the country folk have some culture? I’ve got the perfect title for your report. ‘Ordon - it’s not just goats and pumpkins!’”

“Oh stop,” Shad laughed, tilting back in his chair to look up at the hero leaning against the table next to him. “That’s not what I meant and you know it. I apologize if I come across as pretentious sometimes when speaking about Ordon. It’s the scholar in me, comparing and contrasting different civilizations as a matter of study and analysis. I don’t really think more highly of any one of them than the others, you know.”

Link winked at him. “Except for the Oocca.”

“Ah, don’t you get me started this late! Yes, you know my weakness, don’t you? I admit to finding their society and origins most intriguing, but I suppose a large part of that is the mystery of it all. Finding out more about them is like solving a riddle. It’s like that feeling one gets when one has tried and tried and suddenly sees the way around an obstacle and the path onward becomes clear, only for it to become blocked again by the next challenge to solve.”

“Mmm.” Link nodded. “I know that feeling well. I’ve come across things like that in the temples I’ve been in all over Hyrule.”

“Really? Fascinating. You know, one of these days I really do want to hear more about your travels and triumphs, if you’re up for it. I daresay it would make a compelling tale.” Shad yawned, bringing up his hand to cover his mouth. “Perhaps later though. I find myself more interested in sleep than Sky Beings or heroic tales at the moment.”

Link caught Shad’s yawn and pushed himself off the table, stretching his arms over his head. “The bed is up in the loft. I’ll grab some extra blankets and make up a pallet on the floor for myself.” He headed towards the opening in the floor in the back of his house and began to descend the ladder there.

“Oh, Link.” Shad shut his notebook and stood. “No, no, that’s not necessary. I don’t need to take your bed! I’ll sleep on the floor down here.”

A heap of blankets and pillows flew up from the cellar and landed on the floor by the ladder. Link climbed up after them and scooped them up, carrying them to the rug in front of the hearth. “Don’t be silly,” he said as he began spreading out the blankets. “You’re my guest. You should be comfortable.”

Picking up a corner of the blanket, Shad helped straighten the covers. “Yes, but you’re my guest back in Castle Town and I’ve made you sleep on the sofa instead of giving you my bed! You must think I have dreadful manners. I’ll be fine right here.”

Link tossed a feather pillow at Shad, who barely caught it. “You’re the last person I’d accuse of having bad manners, Shad. Besides, I’m used to sleeping on the ground, you’re not, and you’re probably sore from riding all day. You should take the bed.”

“Link, I will be perfectly comfortable,” Shad protested as he fluffed the pillow. “I’m sleeping down here and you can have your bed.”

“Shad, no. Absolutely not. I’m not sleeping in the bed up there while you’re down here on my floor. I’d feel so selfish.” Link’s brows drew down and he set his lips in a firm line.

“I must insist, old boy. I won’t deprive my host of his own bed.” Shad tossed the pillow down as Link spread the final blanket on the thick pallet they’d made up.

“Oh, this is silly!” Link exclaimed. He turned and darted up the first ladder on his way to the loft. Shad turned away, satisfied that Link had succumbed to reason. He jumped as a pile of bedding fell from the loft suddenly, landing with a loud “whumpf!” behind him.

“What in Hyrule?” he started to say, but stopped when Link swiftly scampered back down both ladders, jumping the last few feet to land beside him.

The hero flashed a toothy grin at him, pushing his hand back through his thick sandy locks. “I told you I’m not sleeping all the way up there while I make my guest sleep on the floor. If you won’t take the bed, then I guess we’re both on the floor.”

Shad opened his mouth to protest, and then closed it again as he grew thoughtful. “Well, I suppose that is an egalitarian solution.” He bent down and helped Link arrange the second set of bedding in a comfy configuration by his own pallet.

Link straightened, looking satisfied. “There! All set.” He smiled at Shad and then pulled his green tunic over his head, followed by his chainmail, leaving him clad in his undershirt and leggings.

As Link hung up his clothing and armor on a rack nearby, Shad went to his pack and pulled out his pair of navy-striped pajamas. Retrieving the items, he turned back around just in time to see Link grip both sides of his undershirt and begin to pull it over his head. Shad’s eyes grew round and large and his heartbeat quickened as the hem of the shirt rose, revealing more and more of Link’s muscular torso. His gaze traveled over Link’s flesh, finally coming to focus on the v-shaped, well-defined lower abdominal muscles that pointed like an arrow at the natural bulge below the hero’s waist. Shad gulped and whirled back around, a hand held over his eyes.

“Link! I say, don’t you own a set of pajamas?”

Link paused with his shirt mostly off and let it fall back down into place. “What? Oh, Shad!” Link couldn’t help but laugh a little at Shad’s overly modest reaction. “I’m sorry, I don’t. I didn’t mean to scandalize you, city boy. I usually just sleep in my smallclothes in the summer but I’ve been keeping my leggings on at your place. I guess we do have more privacy there, don’t we?”

“Indeed. Are you decent yet?” Shad asked, still turned away with his eyes covered. Visions of Link in smallclothes danced in his head and he shooed them away reluctantly.

“Yes, Shad, I’m clothed. I’ll try not to shock you with my rustic immorality any more.” Shad dropped his hand and turned back around to see the twinkle in Link’s eye as he chuckled at him. His cheeks felt hot and he knew that the tips of his ears were probably pink too. If only Link knew what was really causing him such discomfort! He couldn’t help but wish that Link was taking off even more, even as he knew he couldn’t act on such thoughts.

Reaching up to tug on the long end of his bowtie, Shad cleared his throat. The tie came loose in his hand and he pulled it free of his collar, folding it carefully with precise movements. “Thank you. That does bring to mind the question of where I should change, however.”

“I’ll step outside.” Link was opening the door and out on the balcony before Shad could protest.

“Well I didn’t mean to evict him from his own home,” he mumbled to himself as he took off each layer of clothing, folding it carefully and placing it into his pack. He pulled on his pajamas and went to the door, peeking his head out. Link was staring off into the dark forest at the edge of the platform.

“I am appropriately attired and invite you to come back into your own home now. I apologize for the fuss.”

Following him back inside, Link ran his hand through his tousled locks and smiled at the scholar. “Not a fuss. Whatever makes you comfortable is fine with me.”

After they’d both brushed their teeth over Link’s little wash basin, the hero began to put out the lamps around the room. Shad put his personal items away and selected a slim volume from his pack to read.

“Oh, leave that last lantern, would you please?” Shad asked him as Link leaned around him to put it out. “I like to read before bed to help my mind wind down and prepare for sleep.”

Smiling up at him in response, Link left the lantern and crawled under the pile of blankets furthest from the lamp. A crescent moon peeked through the skylight high above them, casting its own pale glow over the room.

Climbing into his own makeshift bed, Shad fluffed up his pillows and relaxed back onto them, opening his book. He began reading as Link turned over, away from the light, and then shifted onto his back. Shad turned the page and Link rolled over again, and then adjusted his pillow and turned onto his stomach. After a few more pages, Shad began to feel guilty about Link’s continued restlessness.

“Is the light bothering you, old boy? I can put it out if you can’t get to sleep.”

Link rolled over onto his side to face him, propping his head up on his bent arm. “It’s not that. The light doesn’t bother me. It’s just… I have trouble falling asleep lately. Sometimes I have… nightmares.” His voice dropped low and Link looked down self-consciously. “It’s hard to relax into sleep when I know they might be waiting there for me.”

His heart swelling with pity, Shad closed his book, his finger marking his place. “Oh, Link.” he said softly. “I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do to help.”

His head still lowered, Link peeked up at him from underneath his dark lashes. In a quiet, shy voice that was most unlike him, he asked, “Do you think maybe you could read to me?”

A warm glow filled Shad from the inside but he raised a brow at his friend. “Read to you? Would that really help you to fall asleep? It won’t keep you up?”

Link relaxed into his pillow, his eyes focused on Shad’s handsome face. “Please, Shad. You have a very soothing voice. I think it will help my mind relax, if I have something to focus on other than dreading my dreams.”

Shad smiled gently at him and opened his book back up. “As you wish.” He turned his attention to the page and adjusted his spectacles. “Where was I? Ah, here we are.” Clearing his throat, Shad began to read from the text.

“‘Hylia had planned well, intent on foiling the Demon King’s wicked plans for her people and the TriForce. She secretly sought out all of the survivors of Demise’s malevolent forces and gathered them together on a special outcrop of earth that she had selected. Before the Demon King could overwhelm them with his forces and claim his terrible victory, she gathered her might and tore the piece of earth from the very bedrock, sending it and the survivors on it skyward. Summoning yet more of her formidable powers, she formed an immense cloud barrier that covered the heavens, separating the sky and the surface …’”

Snuggling down into his pillow, Link’s lips curled up into a satisfied little smile. Shad’s voice was so rich, deep, and melodic. He loved hearing him speak, and hearing him read was even better. He’d wanted to hear more of Shad reading ever since he’d heard him recite some of the sacred text from the Ancient Sky Book, more than a month ago. If only he’d known earlier that all he had to do was ask.

Link let himself drink in the sight of the scholar as he read to him. Shad’s profile was outlined by the light from the lantern, highlighting his refined features. The wayward curl on his forehead glowed like a flame as the light shone through it. Link had a fuzzy memory of his drunken self tugging on that curl and telling Shad his hair was a good color. It was, too. He wished he could reach up and tug that lock again. Link sighed and his eyes began to slowly blink closed as Shad’s mesmerizing voice lulled him into a peaceful slumber.

Shad continued to read for a few more pages and then paused to steal a glance at the hero. Link lay still next to him, his eyes closed, his lips curled into a slight smile, his breathing deep and rhythmic. Shad wanted more than anything to reach out and tuck a stray blonde lock behind Link’s pointed ear but resisted the urge this time. He set his book down and put out the lamp, burrowing into his own blankets.

“Sweet dreams, sweet Link,” he whispered into the darkness as he closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

The muffled neigh of a horse and a now-familiar laugh gently nudged Shad from his slumber. Brilliant sunlight streamed in through the skylight above him and he pulled the covers up over his face, reluctant to greet the day just yet. Another faint whinny came from outside and Shad could hear the low rumblings of Link’s voice as he talked to the animal. Warm tingles spread over him from head to toe and he smiled to himself under the covers, recalling how the hero had insisted on sleeping next to him and how adorable he’d looked as he fell asleep while Shad read to him last night.

As Shad sat up in bed and reached for his spectacles, the warm tingles were abruptly replaced by streaks of fiery pain.

“Ohh!” he moaned, grimacing and reaching down to rub his sore thighs. Link had warned him about the aches and pains he’d feel, but after he’d gone to bed without feeling too poorly, he’d assumed he was over the worst of it. Apparently that was not so, and he’d stiffened considerably overnight.

Footsteps on the balcony alerted him to Link’s impending presence before the carved wooden door swung open. The hero entered his treehouse, the breeze rushing in past him to flutter the pages of the open book on the table again. Upon seeing Shad awake and grimacing in pain, Link rushed over and knelt at the scholar’s side.

“Shad! You’re awake! Are you alright?” he inquired, placing a hand on Shad’s back in support.

“Ah, good morning, old boy. Just a bit sore from riding, I’m afraid. You did try and warn me.” Shad slowly flexed and unflexed his legs, rubbing at them and wincing as his tight muscles ached in protest.

Link looked at him ruefully. “If only warnings could actually relieve some of the pain for you. But I do have a few things to help with that. Here.” Link stood and made his way over to the shelves next to his hearth. He reached up and grabbed a small blue and white earthenware bottle. “I keep a stock of red potion on hand. Drink some of this and some of the stiffness in your muscles will lessen.” Link poured out a small quantity into a matching cup and recorked the bottle, then handed the cup to Shad.

“My thanks to you,” replied Shad as he slowly sipped at the thick liquid. Link smiled at him in response and then turned to his hearth to kindle a fire. Shad slowly felt an easing of the tension in his body and he leaned back against his pillows as he watched Link build up the flickering flames, adding logs one at a time. Now that he was slightly more alert, Shad noticed that Link had eschewed his Hero’s clothes in favor of the traditional Ordonian garb. He took in the sight of the attractive blonde while Link was focused on his fire making, admiring the complex layered clothing and the way the one-sleeved style showed off the rippling muscles of Link’s arm and shoulder as he worked. Once Link had the fire roaring, he filled a kettle with water from a pitcher next to the washbasin and then set it on a hook over the fire to boil.

“What are you making?” asked Shad, finishing the last of the potion.

“Tea, of course.” Link went back to his shelves and picked up a small wooden box, rifling through it and pulling out a singular teabag. He dropped it into a heavy mug and set it on the counter.

“I didn’t know you kept tea on hand.” Shad stretched his arms over his head, testing out his now slightly less sore body.

Link smiled at him. “I don’t. I picked some up from Sera’s Sundries, the shop in town, earlier this morning.”

“Oh. Have my drinking habits instilled themselves in you so much?” Shad teased.

“Nope. I’ve got my morning drink right here.” Link grinned as he held up a cup of milk. “The tea is for you. I know it’s just simple bagged tea, not the loose-leaf kind you prefer. If I’d planned ahead better I’d have packed some from your stash at home, but I guess my mind was focused more on travel supplies than on comforts. No matter though, since Sera at least had this in her shop.”

Shad felt his cheeks warm slightly at the hero’s casual mention of going out of his way to procure the scholar’s favorite beverage for him. “That’s incredibly thoughtful of you, Link. Thank you.”

Link merely shrugged his shoulders and smiled at him in response before he turned to take the whistling kettle off the fire. He poured boiling water into Shad’s mug and walked over to him with the steaming liquid.

“Careful with it.” Their fingers brushed as Link handed the mug over, sending more of those warm tingles through Shad.

Shad nodded and wrapped his long fingers around the mug, warming them as he blew on the tea to cool it down. He watched in curiosity as Link walked over to a cabinet across the room and pulled out a small, flat, round tin. The hero made his way back over to Shad and plopped down beside him on his own pile of bedding, holding out the tin.

“Here. This will help with your muscles too.” Link glanced down at Shad’s legs, still covered by his blankets. “It’s a salve, for ah, someone to rub into your thighs.”

Shad took the item from Link’s outstretched hand, looking up at him with wide eyes. Someone? Does he mean… him?

Catching his look, Link blushed. “Oh, er, I mean, you can rub it in yourself, of course, it's just also commonly used for a massage treatment…” He cleared his throat and looked down at the ground.

“Thank you again.” Shad reached up to twist a button on his pajama top. “Did you buy this from the shop this morning too?”

“Yes, before I came back to tend to the horses.”

“How early were you up anyway?” Shad wondered. He opened the tin and a pungent herbal aroma wafted out.

“I’m up with the sun every day, Shad. We can’t all be citified layabouts, sleeping in ‘til noon.” He winked and laughed as Shad colored.

“It’s not actually noon, is it?” The scholar looked abashed.

“No, no it’s not. It’s 8 o’ clock. Worried you’d miss out on the vibrant village social life if you slept half the day away?”

“Well, yes, actually. I am here to collect information on your customs after all, and I’ve only really had the chance to speak with Mayor Bo and Ilia. I’d love to meet the rest of the villagers and learn more.” Shad pushed his glasses up and sipped carefully at his still-hot tea.

“You’ll have plenty of time for that.” Link ran his fingers back through his long bangs. “We’ve been invited to a small sending-off feast for Mayor Bo and Ilia this evening.”

Shad smiled over his mug at the hero, the steam slightly fogging up his glasses. “Why that’s lovely! I am so looking forward to making everyone’s acquaintance. Are there other items on the schedule for the day?”

“Not too many. Honestly, feel free to knock on any door in town to say hello and gather information. I’m sure everyone is curious to meet you. However, I think it’d be a good idea for you to visit Ordon Spring first and soak there for awhile. You should be feeling just fine after that. I’ll take you there, but then I’m going to head up to the ranch to do some work with Fado, for old time’s sake.”

“That sounds most agreeable.” Shad looked down at the tin of salve in his hand and then at his pile of neatly folded clothes on his pack nearby. Looking back up at Link, he blushed slightly. “Now, um, if you don’t mind, I should probably use this salve and then get prepared for the day…” he trailed off.

Link stared at him blankly before realizing that the scholar was hinting that he needed privacy. “Oh! Of course. I’ll just uh, pop outside and check on Epona and Enbarr again.” The hero jumped up nimbly from his makeshift bed and crossed to the door, turning back to Shad before he left. “Call for me when you’re ready.” He smiled and stepped outside.

Shad took his time rubbing the pungent salve into his sore muscles. He waited for the oil to absorb into his skin and then got dressed, shaking his head and chuckling again at Link’s total lack of a mirror as he tied his bowtie without the help of one. How was it possible that the best looking person he knew was also the least vain? Shad didn’t think that Link had an ounce of conceit in his whole body. Taking the last sip of his tea, he rinsed his mug out in the washbasin and stepped outside.

The clearing was beautiful in the strong morning light, the sun shining down through the finely needled branches of the pine trees. A light breeze blew, ruffling the tall grasses at the edges of the glade and sending butterflies swirling through the air. Link’s shining blonde hair gleamed in the light as he affectionately stroked and talked to Epona. Hearing Shad come outside, he turned to look up at him, the light hitting his face and illuminating his beautiful blue eyes.

“Ready for the spring?” he asked.

Shad climbed down the ladder. “Indeed. Link, your home is beautiful.” You are beautiful.

Beaming up at him, Link gave a final pat to Epona. “Thank you, Shad. I have to admit, I find it more pleasant with company in it.” Your company. “Shall we?” He gestured down the path and fell into step beside Shad as they walked side-by-side to Ordon Spring.

 

___

 

Humming to himself as he climbed his ladder, Link paused at the top to look around the clearing. He took a deep breath of the fresh, pine-scented air and realized the carefree little feeling within him was one of contentment. This trip to Ordon felt remarkably different from his last one and he took a moment to reflect on why. He felt like people were treating him more like the “old him,” but were the villagers’ behaviors actually different… or was he? Last time they’d seemed to be slightly in awe of him and had wanted to praise him for his efforts, but he’d been so resistant to that and had isolated himself to deal with his fresh heartache. His heart still hurt sometimes and he still had his troubles, but he found himself craving connection instead of trying to push it away. Everyone seemed generally happy to see him, not Hyrule’s Hero.

His time at the ranch with Fado had been uplifting too. He loved working and feeling like he was good at something. Link was beginning to realize that a lot of his time at court had been so trying because that element was missing for him. He wasn’t good at posing and posturing, or wordplay and intrigue, and he had no real work to do.

He sighed and closed his eyes, enjoying the feeling of the bright late-summer sun shining down onto his face, turning the insides of his closed eyelids red. The breeze played with his hair and blew softly across his skin, carrying with it the warm scent of sun-ripened grain in the fields nearby. Opening his eyes and taking a deep, satisfying breath, he turned and opened his door.

As he stepped inside he noticed that Shad was hard at work at the table across the room. The strange wind currents in his little grove caused the air to rush in past him through the open door, ruffling Shad’s hair and blowing several of his pages all over the table and down onto the floor.

“Oh, I say!” exclaimed the scholar as he pushed back from the table in surprise. He looked up and noticed Link at the door. “Hello, Link! The breeze outside seems determined to disrupt the contents on this table, does it not?”

“Sorry, Shad! I didn’t mean to mess up your papers. Are you working on the Ordon report?” Link kicked off his sandals by the door and crossed over to peer at Shad’s work, helping him gather up the scattered papers on the tabletop.

“I am indeed. Believe it or not, I didn’t even have to knock on any doors after my refreshing soak this morning. The minute I walked into Ordon proper it seemed like absolutely everyone had some essential task to complete out of doors. I couldn’t stroll more than ten steps in any direction without someone new greeting me and asking me questions about Castle Town and my part in the Resistance! Aren’t you all a curious lot?” Shad chuckled. “I felt quite welcomed, and I have gathered enough information on Ordonian customs to start writing my report for Her Highness.”

Link beamed at the scholar. “That’s wonderful! I’m glad everyone’s been so welcoming.” He nudged Shad with his elbow. “I knew everyone would like you.”

Adjusting his glasses, Shad blushed slightly. “Yes, well, thank you for your faith in me, old boy. I hope you had a pleasant time at the ranch?”

“I did. In fact, I came to the realization that I’ve really been missing physical work and feeling useful.” Link let out a sigh and pushed his hands back through his hair as he leaned up against the table. “I need to figure out something else to do beyond attending meetings and court functions. I’m not sure staying here and being a goat-herder is it though, not that it’s an option when I’m required to be in Castle Town for a while longer anyway. But I think it’s pretty obvious now that being a courtier isn’t for me. Maybe I’ll talk to Zelda and Captain Harbin about doing some training with the Royal Guard and possibly getting a position with them?”

“An excellent self-observation and plan.” Shad brought his pen up to his lips and tapped it against them as he thought. Link couldn’t quite stop his mind from wandering down the path of desire that noticing Shad’s lips led him to and he shifted his position awkwardly. Yanking his gaze up to the scholar’s dark blue eyes, he forced himself to pay attention to what he was saying.

“Your natural talents do seem to lie in the physical realm, although I believe that employment that makes use of your keen intelligence and aptitude for problem solving would benefit you as well. I wholeheartedly agree that you require something different than the work you have been doing for the princess so far.”

“Right? And thank you. Anyway, sorry to interrupt your writing. I think I’m gonna head out to do some fishing before the feast tonight. I want to contribute something to it. You can come with if you’d like.”

“Fishing, hmm? I’ve never been, actually. Thank you for the offer, but I really should finish as much of this report as I can before we arrive back in Castle Town. I would like to have it prepared for the princess as soon as possible.” Shad stood and stretched. “Ah, drat it all. It seems as though several of these pages ended up on the floor.” Kneeling, he reached under the table for the missing sheets, some of which had blown up against the wall.

“Oh of course, no problem. I’ll just grab my things and get out of your hair.” Link headed across the room to grab the fishing pole he’d hung on pegs next to the door.

On his hands and knees, Shad crawled under the table, collecting the missing sheets. As he reached for one that had gotten stuck between a barrel and the wall, his hand felt a slightly thicker object that was halfway behind his paper. Tugging hard, Shad freed it from its hiding place and discovered it to be a sealed envelope. He backed out from under the table with his papers and the envelope clutched to him. Standing, he set the pages down and adjusted his spectacles, turning the envelope over in his hand. Link’s name was written on the surface in an unfamiliar style of calligraphy, almost geometric in design.

Shad turned to the blonde across the room. “Link? There’s something here for you. A sealed envelope with your name on it.” Shad held out the object.

His eyebrows raised, Link strode across the room to take it from the scholar’s hand. “Huh. I’ve never seen this before.”

“It was on the ground beneath the table, over by the barrel. I wonder if perhaps it blew off your table at some point the way my papers did?” Shad shuffled his pages straight and sat back down, sorting them into their proper order.

Link flipped the envelope over and peered at the unfamiliar handwriting. “Maybe? But how did a letter make its way in here without me knowing? Who would send a letter directly to my home instead of using the Postman to deliver it?”

“I suspect if you read it you’ll find your answers,” mused Shad, already concentrating on his work.

Link shrugged and tore open the envelope, pulling out the letter inside. He didn’t recognize the strange, almost angular script. He read the first line.

My dearest Link,

Who in Hyrule would send him a letter addressing him like that? Link flipped the letter over and quickly scanned the page until his eyes alighted on the name signed at the bottom.

Midna.

His heart stopped in his chest as he read her name over and over. NO. It can’t be! He flipped the letter back over and began to read as his heart kick-started again into a rapid, fluttering pace.

My dearest Link,

How do I start this? Let me get the important parts out of the way first:

I love you too.
I’m so sorry.

Tears instantly sprang to Link’s eyes at her words and he squeezed them shut, the tears spilling over and tracing trails down his cheeks. She loved him too? She loved him! He felt elation bubbling over within him and his heart soared at her expression of love for him.

But then… why did she leave him? She was sorry? It wasn’t enough. His heart sank, throbbing painfully in his chest, feeling ripped out anew, and he didn’t know if this new information made him feel better or worse. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes to continue reading.

There. Now I’ve told you both the things I couldn’t say out loud to you. I’m sure you have many questions, and I regret that I can’t answer them in person for you. My only solace is that you’ll be back in Ordon tomorrow and this letter will be waiting for you there, so at least you won’t have to suffer in ignorance for long. I know my leaving will cause you great pain, and for that I am so, so sorry. You may be wondering how and even when I wrote this and delivered it to your home. To that I can only say - I can warp anywhere, and girls don’t take quite so long as you might think in the bathroom.

Sorry, there’s my frivolity again, and I’m trying to be serious. Link, my love, my sweet pup, I know what the main questions on your mind must be - why did I break the mirror? And why didn’t I warn you beforehand? There are no simple answers to these questions, I’m afraid. Part of the answer lies in fear, part of it lies in duty, and a lot of it lies in love.

I greatly fear what could happen if our worlds were allowed to freely mix. The transfer of beings between the world of Light and the world of Twilight unfortunately led to horrible consequences for both our realms, and I can not risk anything like that ever happening again, to your world or mine. I know I began our journey together only caring for my own realm, but you, Zelda, and all of the people I watched you help changed my heart. I care for your world of Light as if it were my own, and I’d do anything to prevent harm from befalling you and your people again, even if it breaks my heart to do so. Which it does, absolutely.

As for love and duty, well, you’ve taught me a lot about both of those. Link, darling, sweet boy, I adore you, do you know that? This night together with you has been an absolute dream and something I will cherish for the rest of my days. You are so good. Yes of course, with my body still thrumming with the pleasures we’ve shared I mean good in that way, but I also mean it in all the ways that a person can be good. You’re the best of Hyrule, Link, and I hope they appreciate you the way you deserve.

I’ve admired you more and more as we’ve spent so much time together, and I was never happier than when I saw how you looked at me once you saw me as my true self. The love and desire I saw in your eyes then was thrilling, even as I teased you for it. I’d longed for you to look at me like that, cursed as I was in my imp form, knowing you’d never be attracted to me that way, despite your obvious care and growing affection for me. Last night at sunset, when your love was radiating from your beautiful blue eyes as we sat together on the wall, I couldn’t help myself. I had to know if you wanted to kiss me, and everything in me came to life when you did. I’ve never known a love like yours before.

So why did I leave you without warning, you’re probably wondering? First, I’m a coward. Link, I wish I had your courage. You can’t possibly know the extent of the gift that your goddesses have blessed you with. It’s not just fighting monsters - you’re courageous in everything you attempt. You’re courageous in words, in deeds, and in love. You have such an open and honest heart, and I deeply admire the way you were able to tell me, so easily and heartfelt, that you loved me earlier this morning. I wanted to say it back - the words caught in my throat. I greatly fear that if I say those same words to you or if I tell you of what I intend that I will never be able to follow through with my plan, and I must.

Please believe that I love you so incredibly deeply, and that is part of why I have to break the pathway between our realms. Do you know what a temptation you are, my golden boy? What a temptation it would be to leave the mirror intact, to be able to travel back to see you at any moment I so desired? I would. I would cross back over to be with you, again, and again, and again, each time more loathe to leave you, until my own realm was left without a present and competent leader. If I gave into my feelings for you Link, if I spoke the words that I loved you in return, I could never separate from you. I’d have been locked in your heart and in your bed forever, and I’d have left my own shattered world bereft of the care and guidance it so desperately needs.

I can’t do that to my people. Even more than you do, my people need me. My world has been torn apart by Zant’s actions and Ganondorf’s treachery and they need a strong ruler to guide them back to prosperity. I am that ruler, and though I despise the sacrifices I must make, I will make them. I learned it from you and Zelda, after all. You have shown me time and time again, through your selfless, wise, and courageous choices, that it is not what we ourselves desire that matters most, but how we can help those around us. You changed my selfish, revenge-filled heart. Through your actions, you demonstrated how much you value people and the lengths you’re willing to go through to see them safe.

I can do no less, Link. Though it tears my heart in two, I must hold myself up to your example. I must shatter the mirror and break our connection. I can’t put myself first here. I need to be present for my people. I need to heal my world. And I will never be able to do that if an easy pathway back to your side is open at all times, especially when it’s a pathway that can also allow evil to infect both our lands. Nor can I sacrifice you to my selfish desires, taking you from your blessed world of Light to be with me where you’d eventually wither and fade in the Twilight.

I love you Link, and that’s why I have to leave you.

Please forgive me.

Forever yours,
Midna

Link’s hand shook as he finished Midna’s letter and tears streamed silently down his cheeks. He brought a hand up to his heart, clenching his eyes tightly shut as a wave of grief flooded through him. Why? Why did fate have to be so cruel? Why hadn’t he found this letter as soon as he returned to Ordon with Rusl after Midna left? All his heartache, his questioning if she really had loved him in return, his self-doubt - all of that could have been avoided if this stupid letter had stayed put on his table instead of blowing off and hiding itself! Not that he still wouldn’t have been heartbroken, he was, but at least he’d have known her reasons. At least he’d have had her goodbye.

At least he’d have had her “I love you too.”

But he did have all of that now, didn’t he? It didn’t have to be too late for it to affect him. He took another deep breath and opened his eyes to re-read the letter.

“I say, that must be quite the lengthy missive. Who’s it from then?” Shad looked up from his report to see Link standing there with his right hand clamped over his heart, silent tears cascading from his eyes as his other shaking hand clutched his letter. “Link! What in Hyrule is the matter? Are you alright?” Shad leapt out of his chair and rushed to the hero’s side.

Link shut his eyes again, squeezing out more tears and then turned his full gaze upon the redhead. “No, Shad, I’m not okay right now.” His voice came out in barely above a whisper. “But I think... maybe I will be, sooner than later.”

Shad couldn’t think of an adequate response. He merely stared at his sorrowful friend, his hand halfway extended to him in comfort. Worry seized him as he once again watched one of Link’s rapid mood shifts, but he held off voicing his concerns as the scholar in him observed what was happening. Link took in a shuddering breath and wiped at his eyes, then stuffed the letter back into the envelope. Despite his crying, Link seemed stable. He wasn’t sobbing. He wasn’t collapsing into his tears. There was no irritability or anger in him. Shad cocked his head and raised an eyebrow.

“Will you then? Is there anything I can do to assist you?”

Link managed a weak half-smile at his friend, tucking the envelope into his waistband. “Actually, Shad, I think I just need some time alone. I’m going to head to Ordon Spring for awhile. I promise I’ll come back, okay? I’ll only be there for a few hours. I just need some time to think.”

Shad took a step back, concern still evident in his gentle gaze. “Certainly, old boy,” he said softly. “Take all the time you need.”

Fresh tears welled up from Link’s eyes and he stepped forward, enveloping the scholar in a tight embrace. “Thank you, Shad,” he whispered into the redhead’s ears. “I’ll be back.” He stepped away, holding Shad by his shoulders, smiled briefly, and then walked out the door.

Shad blinked after him, confused by the brief interaction. What on earth was in that letter that could make Link react like that? Sitting back down at the table, Shad stared at his notes, unable to make any sense of them as his mind worked feverishly on the puzzle of Link’s sorrow.

___

 

The fairy flitted up to him again, drifting in lazy circles around his head, its shining light catching his eye. Link looked up at it and offered it a small, sad smile.

“Many thanks, my friend, but this isn’t a hurt you can heal.” He watched as the glowing orb fluttered its wings and floated away, back to its sisters above the small waterfall that crossed the width of the spring. Sighing heavily, he leaned back against the mossy stone wall behind him and idly kicked his feet in the water. He watched the fairies dance in endless loops around the massive patterned stones circling the spring for a while, then glanced down at the letter in his hands for what seemed like the hundredth time, re-reading Midna’s last words to him. He’d been here for over an hour already, judging by how the sun had slowly moved across the sky, shifting the shadows around him.

He’d shed a lot of tears during that time. Unexpectedly hearing from Midna again after he’d thought he’d heard and seen the last of her made him feel like his partially healed wounds had been torn open. His pain felt raw and vibrant, like hot crimson blood spilling from a fresh cut. Vivid memories of their quest and their one night of passion flooded him, and his heartbreak felt as strong as it did the day she’d left.

That wasn’t all he felt though. Her confession that she loved him, and that she’d broken the mirror and kept her decision from him out of a strong sense of duty and love felt like a balm to his soul. There was a soothing sensation of closure, like the end of a chapter in a book. His pain had been so overwhelming before that he’d thought it had been the end of the book itself. Now he saw that there was another chapter beyond this one, and who knew how many else after that. Her letter felt like an end that led to a new beginning for him.

One thing he knew with certainty was that he’d never again have the horrible dream of her telling him that she’d just been using him and shattering him as she had the mirror. He knew without a doubt now that she’d loved him, and she’d loved him as fiercely as he’d loved her. No, now his heartache was more about the futility of falling for someone who he now saw clearly that he couldn’t be with.

As Link had waded in the spring and rested on its banks, he’d come to the difficult realization that Midna was right. He knew that he would have welcomed her back in his arms, his bed, and his heart over and over, as many times as she wanted to visit, blind to any sense of duty or guilt that spending so much time with him wasn’t good for her or her world. If she had told him that morning that she was going to break the mirror he would have tried to persuade her not to, to find any reason he could to convince her to keep the link between their worlds open. He didn’t love facing that harsh truth about himself. He remembered how he’d felt that morning though, so madly in love with her that he would have slain any foe and conquered any challenge set before him so that he could be with her. Midna’s reasoning was sound, though heartbreaking, and he couldn’t fault her for it. Of course he forgave her.

A gentle knocking sound pulled him out of his musings and he looked up at the wooden gate at the entrance to the spring. Ilia stood there, leaning against the post, a sweet smile and questioning look on her face.

“Link? Do you mind if I join you? We don’t have to talk if you don’t want to, but I thought that maybe some company from an old friend might be welcome.”

Link took some time to answer. He prodded at his own heart and mind and found no objections to her company there. In fact, he found that he really did want to talk to her, although he knew he’d still have to censor the information he let out. He slid the letter back into its envelope and tucked it away in his clothing.

“Please come in, Ilia,” he replied, shifting over so that there was room for her next to him. Ilia walked towards him, kicking off her sandals and wading into the pool as she made her way over to sit on the bank.

“Hey,” she said softly, sitting close and bumping his shoulder with her own.

“Hey,” he replied, bumping her in return and then leaning over and laying his head on her shoulder. She brought her free hand up and ran it through his hair, stroking it back off his forehead. He leaned in to her affectionate gesture and sighed heavily. “How did you know I was here?”

“Shad told me.”

Link’s heart skipped a beat at the sound of the scholar’s name.

“He’s so worried about you, Link,” she continued. “He came to find me and said that he respected that you’d asked him for some time alone and didn’t want to chase after you, but that he was concerned after you started crying unexpectedly. He wanted to make sure you were alright. I told him I’d come check on you, see if maybe you could handle being pestered by me.”

Link heard the smile in her voice at that and smiled back. “I’d have died of torture long ago if I couldn’t handle being pestered by you.”

Ilia responded to that by sharply tugging a strand of his hair. “Hey!” Link chuckled and lifted his head off her shoulder, rubbing at his scalp. “Exactly what I mean. I come out here for peace and quiet when I’m upset and my best friend comes and pulls my hair.” He gave her a half-hearted smirk.

She gazed at him soberly in return, ignoring his attempt at playfulness. “I have a listening ear if you need to talk, old friend.”

Link sighed, running his hand back through his sandy blonde hair. “I do need to, Ilia. It’s just… so complicated. There are things I can’t talk about - that I’m not supposed to talk about. Zelda… I’m just not allowed to share every detail.”

Ilia reached out a comforting hand and placed it on Link’s arm, her big green eyes warm with concern. “It’s okay, Link. I’m not going to pry. Whatever you want to talk about is fine. I just want to make sure you’re alright. I could tell when you came back to Ordon last time that you weren’t well and I’ve been really worried about you. You know more than most that I’ve been through my own share of hard times, Link. If anyone can come close to understanding how you’re feeling, it’s probably me. I can imagine that the monsters and challenges you’ve had to face have taken their toll on you.”

“Yeah, I mean part of it is that. It was hard, it was dangerous, it was terrifying sometimes, but it needed to be done and I was the one chosen to do it. I did do it.” Link paused, glancing down at the rippling waters at their feet. “But… Ilia… there’s more. I met someone on my travels. I met someone really special, and we fell for each other, hard. And she’s… she’s gone now. After our victory… she’s not with us anymore.”

Tears instantly gathering in the corners of her eyes, Ilia brought her hand up to her mouth. “Oh, Link. How absolutely awful. I had no idea you’d met someone like that, and then to lose her during the fighting, especially when you emerged victorious... I’m so sorry.”

Link stared off into the distance, continuing without acknowledging her words or correcting them. “Then today, I unexpectedly found a letter from her. Actually, Shad found it, on the floor under my table. She put it - she had it sent to my house, and apparently it fell and I was supposed to get it almost 3 weeks ago, right after she... after I lost her. It was intense, to hear from her again when I know she’s gone. I… I’d never heard her say that she loved me, before I lost her, although I’d said it to her. I was starting to doubt that she ever did, and it’s been tearing me up inside.” Link pulled out the envelope, turning it over and over in his hands. “She wrote that she loved me deeply, and apologized for never saying it in person.”

He glanced up at Ilia, who was gazing at him with sorrow evident on her pretty features as she clung to his every word. “I’m so glad I have her letter now, but because of some of the security measures around Hyrule’s troubles, I can’t say any more about it than that. One of the worst parts is that I haven’t been able to talk about losing her to anyone. At all. I’ve missed her so much and I’ve felt so lost and alone in my grief.”

“Oh my Goddesses, Link, am I the first person you’ve told?” At his nod, Ilia choked back a sob. “Oh, Link, you poor thing. Losing your love without knowing if she loved you back and then not even being able to talk to anyone about it at all? Oh, sweetheart. C’mere’.”

She pulled Link into a hug and he slowly brought his arms up to hug her back. He could feel her tears splash on the back of his neck and his eyes welled up with fresh ones of his own. He let himself cry in her arms, not the drunken sobbing he’d done on Shad, nor the outpouring of misery in Hyrule field. He felt her crying with him, and he released his pain as their tears dripped together into the healing spring.

Pulling back after a while, he wiped at his eyes and gave her a little half-smile. She sniffled and rubbed at her own, smiling ruefully back at him.

“Thank you for that, Ilia.” She reached over and squeezed his hand in reply. “I’ve needed that. I’ve needed to talk to you, and I’m sorry I’ve kept away from Ordon. I was really hurting when I came back the first time, and it felt like everyone was treating me so differently.”

“We were, a little. It’s true that a lot of us were in awe of you. I mean, don’t get a big head or anything, but you’ve done some amazing things, you know. It’s not every day that one gets to hang out with a Goddess-blessed hero, after all.” She nudged him playfully with her elbow, grinning at him.

He rolled his eyes good naturedly and she continued. “But I also think we could sense you were hurting and didn’t want to burden you any more. You carried the weight of all of Hyrule’s troubles on your back for months. No one wanted to give you more to deal with.”

“I mean, I get that, but if I hadn’t wanted to do all of it I wouldn’t have done it, you know? It’s who I am, Ilia. I like helping people. I don’t want to be treated like a child or an invalid just because I’m really good at what I do. Part of why I’ve been feeling off is because I haven’t had enough to do lately. Everyone keeps celebrating me and trying to give me this life of leisure like I’ve earned it.” Link stood suddenly, wading several feet away into the spring, kicking at the small pebbles under his feet. He ran his fingers through his thick blonde locks and turned to look back at her. “I don’t want that. I want good honest work and to feel like I’m useful again.”

Ilia stood up from the bank and leaned against a nearby tree. “Yeah? So what’s stopping you?”

“I don’t know. Zelda? Court life? My own messed up mind? Zelda’s thrown all sorts of celebrations for me and wants me at her side as some sort of heroic figure for people to focus on, to give them hope. I understand why but I can’t just be a figurehead.” He shook his head, sighing. “I’ve felt really isolated and out of sorts at court over these past few weeks. It wasn’t until Shad rescued me from a banquet almost a week ago and invited me to stay with him that I started to feel somewhat like myself again.”

“He rescued you from a banquet?” Ilia raised her eyebrows. “Okay, this I need to hear.”

Link launched into the story of Shad faking his choking to get him out of the party and how gentle he’d been with Link when he’d drunkenly fallen asleep on him, and then continued on with most of what had transpired between them since. His eyes grew bright and his tone warmed as he talked about the scholar’s kindness in inviting him into his home and his long walk alone out to Hyrule Field to check on him. He reached up and twirled a lock of hair around his finger as he recalled the etiquette lessons Shad had given him and how he’d spoken up for him in the coronation planning meeting. A smile drifted over his face as he recounted funny moments between them and how the scholar reacted to all of his teasing.

Ilia listened carefully to Link, observing his little smiles and light blushes, as he animatedly told her all about his past week and everything he’d been through with Shad. A small smile crept up on her lips as he continued to sing Shad’s praises.

“Link, I know I said I wouldn’t spell it out for you, but I think I’m gonna have to anyway.” She pushed off the tree and waded over to him, grabbing both of his hands and looking him square in the eyes. He raised his brows questioningly, waiting for her to elaborate. “Shad is in love with you, Link. And I’m pretty darn sure that you feel the same way about him.”

His eyes widening, Link’s cheeks turned flaming red and he tugged his hands out of hers. “Ilia! Heh, what? No, no, I already told you we’re just friends. What would make you say something like that?”

“Are you kidding? With the way you transformed from a heartbroken, depressed boy into a swooning, lovesick poet when you were talking about him just now? Link, c’mon! It’s obvious.” Ilia crossed her arms over her chest and raised an eyebrow at him, daring him to deny it.

Link looked down at the water, rubbing the back of his neck. “I mean, okay yeah, I’m definitely really grateful to him for everything he’s done for me, and he is basically the kindest and smartest person I’ve ever met, but, but… But Ilia, that’s why we’re just friends! He’s just nice, okay? He’s kind, loyal, helpful, and he’s a great friend, that’s why he’s been helping me.”

Ilia snorted in disbelief, shaking her head. “Link, I love you, but you are more thick-headed than the goats sometimes! What Shad has done for you is so far above and beyond the bounds of friendship. Hello! You just told me that he walked for hours alone out to North Hyrule field looking for you because he was worried about you! He brought you food and wouldn’t leave until you left with him. He spent a whole day preparing you for one meeting. He spoke up against a Lord for you, in front of the princess and other nobility! He invited you into his home, and he chased me down today because he was so concerned for you. Plus, I strongly suspect that there have been moments between you two that you haven’t even told me about.” Link blushed more deeply at that and ducked his head. “HA! He loves you, you big idiot! And you love him!”

Link covered his face with his hands, groaning into them. “I do! Ilia, I do. So, so, so much. He’s so amazing. He treats me so well, he’s kind and fun, he’s brilliant and thoughtful, and I am ridiculously attracted to him too.” He lifted his head up, looking into her sparkling green eyes. “I’ve tried denying it, I haven’t wanted to take advantage of his friendship, politeness, or generosity. And I didn’t know if he even liked men that way, let alone me. Plus I- I mean I still am genuinely heartbroken about M- about losing… her. I don’t know if I’m ready for love again, or a relationship.”

Ilia’s gaze finally softened and she dropped her crossed arms, reaching out for Link’s hand and squeezing it firmly in hers. “Oh, Link. I know. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to push you. That’s perfectly understandable. It’s just hard for me to see the both of you so obviously into each other, to see both your faces light up when you’re together, and not want to push you towards that happiness. But I understand if you’re not ready after losing someone you loved just a few weeks ago.”

With a heavy sigh, Link squeezed her hand in return. “I don’t know that I’m not ready either though. I just don’t know yet. It’s true that my heart feels so much lighter when I’m with him. I feel like I’ve come back to life ever since I moved into his place and have been spending so much time with him. I don’t want to not be with him. The thought of not seeing him everyday, of not having his constant companionship, that seems intolerable right now. But…” Link shut his eyes and thought of the danger he’d placed Shad in just from the simple overhearing of his dreams. “But I’m afraid if I love him then he’ll come to harm somehow and I’ll lose him too.” He opened his eyes and glanced up at his friend.

Ilia nodded her head slowly. “I think it’s understandable why you’d have that fear, Link, even if I don’t think it’s likely to happen. It’s okay that you don’t know yet. You don’t have to make any decisions right now, do you? It’s not like anything is changing. You’re still going back to Castle Town and staying at his place for at least another week, right?” Link nodded and Ilia continued. “Well, then just let yourself continue to heal. Enjoy your friendship for what it is and let whatever is between you build naturally. There’s no need to force anything right now. I do think you should tell him how you feel about him eventually though, as well as tell him more about what you’ve been going through, about the loss of your girl. He’s worried for you, Link, and confused. Don’t leave him in the dark. Don’t miss out on another chance for love because of fear. I know your courageous heart can do this.”

Link felt a tingling on his left hand at Ilia’s words and he gently tugged it out of hers, peering at the back of his hand. His TriForce of Courage was glowing faintly and Ilia’s eyes widened when she saw it. Link thought about Ilia’s words about courage and recalled Midna’s similar words to him in her letter. You’re courageous in words, in deeds, and in love. You have such an open and honest heart, and I deeply admire the way you were able to tell me, so easily and heartfelt, that you loved me. He closed his eyes and brought his hand to his heart, feeling his spirit swell with the Goddesses’ gift to him.

Ilia blinked in disbelief as Link stood there with his eyes closed in the spring, his glowing hand marked with the TriForce held to his chest. The fairies by the waterfall stopped their aimless floating and all flew over, swirling around him, their lights combining to bathe him in a golden glow. The sounds of the forest around them became hushed and still, until all Ilia could hear was the rushing of the waterfall and the tinkling of the fairies. The hair rose on her forearms and the back of her neck and she made the sign of the Golden Goddesses over her heart, bowing her head in reverence.

Link slowly opened his eyes and the fairies began to dissipate, resuming their fluttering by the rocks. Ilia glanced up at him with her eyes wide open in awe and he smiled at her reassuringly. The glowing mark on his hand faded and he reached out to grab her hand once more.

“Okay, Ilia. I will. I’ll tell him when I’m ready.”

 

___

 

The night air was crisp, a harbinger of the autumn that was fast approaching, and Shad tugged his jacket tighter around him as he walked with Link back to the hero’s house. Starlight lit their path over the small bridge and through the town, past the little pumpkin patch filled with the ripening gourds. They were both quiet after they’d said their goodbyes to the jubilant villagers at the end of the feast and Shad wasn’t sure how to break the silence that lay thickly between them.

Link had seemed calm and introspective when he’d finally returned from the spring earlier, and although Shad was pleased to see the hero in a better mood, he still didn’t know what exactly it was that had unexpectedly set him off. Link had merely smiled gently at Shad upon his return and thanked him for his concern and understanding, but hadn’t explained anything or initiated any other form of conversation all afternoon or evening. Shad had let his nerves get the better of him and had babbled on and on at the hero about his report and his thoughts on what customs Princess Zelda might include in her ceremony, with Link nodding his head and smiling vaguely every now and then, until it was time to head over to the village feast at Mayor Bo’s house.

Link had still seemed fairly at ease at dinner, although unnaturally quiet, even surrounded by so many festive folks. Shad surmised that whatever that letter contained, it had left the hero with a lot to think about, and he was trying to respect Link’s need for some mental space to process it all. The quiet unnerved him though.

“I missed the stars.” Link’s voice burst the bubble of quiet darkness.

“Pardon?” Shad looked up from the dimly lit trail where he’d been watching his footing to glance back at Link, who had stopped in the open area of the village right before the path to his house. The hero had his head tilted back and was staring up at the sky.

“The stars. The torches and lamps everywhere in Castle Town blot out the view of the night sky with their brightness. It used to bother me when I’d come to the city at night. I suppose I got used to it over the last few weeks though, because I forgot how much I missed them until now.” He paused, sighing heavily. “I guess… I guess I haven’t looked up in awhile. Haven’t had much reason to.”

Shad craned his neck and peered at the heavens, pin-pricked with millions of sparkling little lights. He rolled Link’s words around in his head for a bit as he gazed at the magnificent celestial display. He thought about how often he’d seen the young hero looking downcast over the past week or so, both figuratively and literally, and knew Link was talking about more than just stars.

“They are an astoundingly beautiful sight, and it is a pity indeed to have their presence blotted out.” Shad turned and met Link’s eyes, which were dancing in the starlight. “I’m glad you have the opportunity to observe them now.” He hesitated, twirling his bowtie. “Have you good cause to look up again, Link?”

“I do.” Link’s face was solemn but not somber. “I have understanding, I have resolution, and I believe I have a path to peace after all.”

“Th-that’s wonderful to hear, old boy,” replied Shad as he felt a weight lift off his heart.

“And I have amazing friends who look after me and support me, whom I’m incredibly grateful for.” Link looked down at his boots for a moment and then back up at Shad. “Thank you for sending Ilia after me. There was so much I needed to get off my chest.”

Shad swallowed down the small feeling of envy that popped up upon hearing that Link was able to talk freely about his problems with Ilia. “Of course, old boy. I was worried for you, but didn’t want to intrude. I’m relieved that you don’t find me talking with Ilia about you a breach of trust.”

Link gestured with his head back towards the path and started walking. Shad fell in beside him as they started down the corridor.

“No, I’m glad you told her. I should have reached out to her when I first came back to Ordon after the conflict, but I wasn’t ready yet.”

Entering into his clearing, Link spoke again before the scholar could think of an adequate reply. “Shad, I want to say thank you, and I’m sorry. I’ve been a burden to you and it’s not fair to ask you to bear it alone.” He stopped and turned towards Shad.

“Link, there is absolutely no apology needed-“ Shad started to protest.

Link held up both hands, palms facing the scholar, and shook his head. “Just hear me out.”

Shad nodded and Link continued. “I’ve said it since the night of the banquet - I’m not good enough with words to ever be able to thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the past week. You’ve proven yourself to be one of the best friends anyone could ever ask for. I am so grateful that the Goddesses sent such a caring and considerate person into my life and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without your friendship.”

Turning scarlet at Link’s praise, Shad was overcome with bashfulness. Fortunately, the clearing was dark and Link didn’t seem to expect a reply.

“So that’s my thank you. But I also do owe you an apology.” Link looked down and tapped the toes of his boots on the ground, one at a time. “I’m sorry I’ve kept you in the dark, Shad. I’m sorry that you’ve born the burden of dealing with my grief all by yourself, and that you’ve done so without even knowing what’s wrong with me.”

“It’s not an issue, old boy,” Shad replied softly. “I didn’t want to upset you further by digging into something you couldn’t talk about.”

“It means a lot to me though. I think you deserve to know more about why I’ve been so troubled. I just… I don’t want to keep you in the dark anymore.”

Shad glanced up at Link, his eyes wide with surprise, as a cool wind whipped through the little glade, ruffling his hair. The boughs of the pine trees above swayed in the breeze, rustling their needles together, and in the distance, from the far off hills, a wolf howled.

Link shivered. “Come inside. I’d like to share with you.”

Shad followed Link up the ladder, out of the darkness of night, and into the warm and brightly lit treehouse. Coals were glowing in the hearth and Link quickly tossed some logs on and roused the flames back up into a cheery little fire.

Twisting the buttons on his jacket, Shad stood awkwardly in the middle of Link’s house while the hero tended the fire. Link finished his chore and gestured for the scholar to sit at the table as he took his own seat across from him. Shad began to twirl his bracelets, his brow furrowed with concern as he glanced around the room and then back at Link. The light from the fire danced on the warm wooden walls of Link’s cozy home and flickered across the hero’s face, highlighting his features with light and shadow.

Link opened his mouth to speak and Shad held up a hand, pausing him.

“Link, before you begin, I must first say that you do not have to tell me any of this. I don’t want you to feel like you owe me any sort of explanation, or that I’ll only help you if you spill all your secrets to me. I don’t need any form of payment to be your friend, not even emotional payment or information. Are you absolutely positive that you want to proceed?”

Link smiled gently at Shad. “Yes, Shad, I’m sure. I think it’s high time you knew more of what’s actually been going on with me. I don’t want to tell you this as some sort of payment - you’re my friend and I want you to know about my life. I want you to know me, all of me… or, as much as I can tell you right now.” Link sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. “Unfortunately, I do still have to keep a bunch of information secure and can’t tell you as much as I’d like, but I need to share this with you. I want to share this with you.”

Leaning back in his chair, Shad nodded his head. “Alright then, Link. I’m listening.”

Link pushed his hand back through his long bangs. “It’s hard to know where to start. You’re probably wondering what was in that letter you found that caused such a strong reaction in me. And you’ve probably wondered why I’ve been having such a hard time in general - nightmares, the night of the banquet, crying spells, all that. I know that I’ve told you about feeling uncomfortable and useless at court, and you’ve been wonderful with helping me there, but there is more than that going on with me, a lot more, and it does have to do with the letter.”

Taking a deep breath, Link glanced up at the light from several stars peeping in through the skylight, seemingly gathering his courage. Slowly, and with several pauses to regain his composure, Link told Shad everything he’d explained to Ilia earlier that day about the love he’d lost. He didn’t say anything about his feelings for Shad himself as he didn’t feel ready yet; the pain from receiving Midna’s letter was still too fresh. Link also emphasized that this was still a private matter and something that could not be talked about with others, which of course Shad readily agreed to.

Shad’s mind reeled as Link revealed the secret source of his grief to him. He was crushed with sorrow for Link and couldn’t believe that his friend had been struggling alone with such an enormous burden. No wonder Link had broken down crying so many times - his girlfriend had passed away! It was horrific and heartbreaking.

Tears began to pool in Shad’s eyes as Link continued his tale of woe, and when the hero let him know that the letter today had been from his lost love Shad gasped aloud. His heart thumped in his chest as Link explained that the letter, while painful to read, was actually providing him with a sense of closure, since he’d never actually known if she’d loved him back until now.

When Link followed up by explaining that he hadn’t been able to talk about it with anyone due to the level of secrecy that was demanded of him, Shad couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t stand that Link had felt so utterly alone with his pain, that he’d been grieving someone he loved, that he hadn’t even known if she loved him in return, and then to top it all off, that he hadn’t been able to talk about this to anyone, for weeks on end. Standing abruptly from his chair, he took a step to Link’s side of the table and grasped the hero’s calloused hand, pulling him up into a tight embrace. His arms wrapped firmly around his friend and Shad let his own tears fall as Link relaxed and cried into his chest.

They stayed like that for several moments, wrapped in each other’s arms and pouring out their grief together. Shad’s heart ached fiercely for his friend, but a part of him still managed to notice and delight in the feeling of Link’s strong, warm body pressed close up against him, bundled in his arms. The hero’s head fit right below his chin and Shad tilted his head down slightly until Link’s sandy, tousled locks tickled his nose. He breathed in the fresh, outdoorsy scent of him and whispered prayers and wishes for healing into his hair, his lips tickled by the strands.

While they were hugging, Shad examined his feelings and noticed that underneath his sorrow and sympathy were several more emotions: gratitude that Link trusted him with this information about himself, a strange hollow sort of satisfaction that his instincts had been right about Link being in love with someone else, and a sinking feeling of despair about that very same fact.

Link never said the woman’s name, but Shad knew who it had to be. He’d said it in his sleep, after all - ”My Midna. So beautiful. Please stay.” He recognized that Link’s secrecy was still part of something bigger than just this new piece of information he’d revealed. With how the hero had made him swear never to mention her name yesterday, and with how Princess Zelda knew her name too, Shad’s mind was racing with new questions. Why would the princess be dreaming about Link’s lost love? Had it been a horribly tragic end that haunted the princess too? Why was it a secret at all? And why did he still have no idea who this person actually was? He was glad that Link had finally shared the reason for his melancholy, but was slightly frustrated when it only led to more unanswerable questions that he’d promised not to pry into.

Link sniffled and finally lifted his head from Shad’s chest, wiping his eyes and taking a step back. He blinked and then frowned slightly at where his tears had soaked in and dampened Shad’s jacket. “I’ve messed up your nice clothes, Shad. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, who cares about clothes anyway?” Shad’s voice was low and soft as he waved off Link’s concern. “Thank you, Link, for sharing this with me. I’m so sorry, about all of it, and I’m especially sorry that you’ve been suffering in silence for so long.”

Reaching up to rub his red eyes, Link nodded. “Thank you for listening, and for the hug. I didn’t expect that from you, but I guess us affectionate Ordonians are rubbing off on you, huh?”

Shad smiled sheepishly at him and shrugged. “How could I just sit there across from you, so distant, while you spilled out your woes to me? I may be more reserved than you and your friends, but I still have a heart, old boy.”

“I know you do,” the hero replied seriously. “A big one.”

The scholar blushed. “Thank you. I am curious though, why did you choose now to tell me all this? Was the letter just the tipping point, or…?”

“I just couldn’t keep this a secret from you anymore. We-we’ve grown so close, and I trust you so much. You’ve done so much for me, and I needed you to know the truth. Obviously it still has to be information only shared between us - well, and Ilia knows, but she won’t say anything either - just like the… other thing I asked you to remain quiet about yesterday.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone your secrets. I will keep my promise to you.” Shad watched as the hero nodded at that, then yawned and stretched his arms over his head, rubbing at his eyes again. “How are you feeling after all this, old boy? Has it been beneficial for you to share this today?”

“Yeah, I think so. I feel different than how I have over the past few weeks. I feel… hopeful. It feels wonderful to know that she loved me in return, even though it’s still so painful to hear from her like this, after everything. But it feels like closure, sort of. It feels like I can focus on the future instead of agonizing over the past. And my friends are part of that future.” Link sent a weak smile up at Shad. “You and Ilia mean a lot to me, and I feel really lucky to be blessed with such good friends.”

“Well, I feel truly grateful that you count me amongst that number, especially since your friendship with Ilia goes all the way back to childhood.” Shad watched as Link yawned again. “It’s been a long day for you, old boy, and we do have an early start back to Castle Town tomorrow. I believe it’s bedtime, for both of us.”

Link nodded and rubbed his tired eyes once more.

“Perhaps… perhaps I could fetch you a cool compress for your eyes too?” Shad suggested.

As Link nodded again and wandered over to the other side of the room to ready himself for bed, Shad made his way to the washbasin and dipped a small cloth in the cool water, wringing out the excess. His mind was still full of everything Link had told him and he couldn’t believe how right his suspicions had been about this Midna ever since he’d first heard her name. “So he does like women,” he said under his breath.

“What’s that?” Link’s voice came from directly behind him.

Shad jumped and turned around quickly to see Link standing before him with a quizzical look upon his face. “Oh! Link! I-I didn’t know you were right there. Just, ah, talking to myself.” Shad rapidly tried and failed to think of some sort of cover. He accepted defeat and admitted the truth. “Um, I said, so, ah… so you do like women.”

Link gave him an odd look. “I do…” Shad’s heart plummeted at the confirmation of Link’s preferences, although he’d really already known that from hearing about his tragic relationship.

“Right. Well-” Shad started to reply, his eyes downcast.

“I like men too.” Link blurted out, cutting him off.

Shad glanced back up, his eyes wide with surprise. Link’s big blue eyes gazed into his own. “You- you like… both?” Shad asked, reaching up with one hand to fiddle with his bowtie.

Link cleared his throat and rubbed the nape of his neck, looking down at the floor. Glancing back up at Shad, he nodded. “Yeah. I just… it’s never seemed to matter much to me, what gender someone is. I’ve liked boys and girls.” The hero gave a one-shouldered shrug. “If I’m attracted to someone I just am. I like them for who they are, not what's in their pants.” His eyes were earnest and he seemed to be searching Shad’s face for something. Judgement? Acceptance?

Breathing out a sigh of relief, Shad felt the tension that had built up leave his body. “Well, I certainly never thought I’d hear someone else reflect my own thoughts on the matter back at me so perfectly. I ah, share your particular preferences, actually, and I have never met anyone else who does.”

Link raised his eyebrows. “Really? You’re serious? You like men and women too… that way?”

“Yes. In fact, previous partners of both genders found me very queer when I would ask them about it or bring up the topic, so I ceased discussing it with others. It is quite a relief to realize that I am not the only person in the world who views attraction in this particular manner.”

Link chuckled. “It’s a big weird world, Shad, weirder than you’d think. There’s all sorts of folks in it.”

Shad smiled at him, glad to have this delicate, awkward conversation out of the way and beyond pleased to find that Link was a kindred spirit in this, even if it didn’t mean anything beyond that. “Indeed. Here, this is ready for you.” He held up the damp cloth. “Lie down and I’ll arrange it.”

Climbing into his bed, Link lay on his back and closed his eyes. Shad leaned over and gently placed the cool cloth on his face.

“Does that feel alright?”

Link hummed in approval, nodding his head slightly. Shad returned to his pack, pulling out his pajamas and the book he’d started reading last night.

“Ah, would it be acceptable to you if I took this opportunity to change into my pajamas?”

Link chuckled. “Of course, Shad. Promise I won’t peek.”

Shad blushed and was glad Link couldn’t see his flaming cheeks. He swiftly changed into his nightclothes, feeling strangely aroused at being almost completely nude in Link’s presence, even though the blonde couldn’t see him and was decently covered himself. Shoving his inappropriate thoughts aside, he slid under his covers, propping up his pillow behind him and grabbing his book.

Link tugged a corner of the cloth down from his eyes and peered up at him. “Reading before bed again?”

“Naturally,” Shad replied. He opened his book and flipped to where he’d left off and then glanced at Link. The blonde had such a sweet and hopeful look on his handsome face, and Shad’s lips curled up into a warm smile. Turning his attention back to his book, he adjusted his spectacles and began to read aloud.

Link removed the cloth from his eyes and set it aside, then rolled over to face the redhead. He snuggled down into his pillow, a satisfied little smile on his face, and closed his eyes, gradually drifting off as Shad read him into a dreamless sleep again.

Chapter Text

The journey back to Castle Town went smoothly and the travelers arrived at the castle stables before sunset. The Lord Chancellor met them there to show Mayor Bo and Ilia to their rooms, apologizing that the princess herself was not there to greet them. He explained that she’d like to welcome them to the castle over lunch the next day. The invitation was extended to Shad and Link too, and Shad let the Lord Chancellor know that his report would be ready for Her Highness by then.

An overawed Bo and Ilia were led away, and Link and Shad made their way through the bustling city streets to Shad’s place. They grabbed some food from a vendor on the southern road since neither felt like cooking after their long day. After they got home and ate, Shad drew himself a hot bath to recover from the day’s ride while Link dug around in their packs until he found the healing salve he’d brought with him from Ordon. Handing it over, he said goodnight and bedded down on Shad’s sofa.

Lying there awake in the familiar darkness of Shad’s cozy living room, Link’s ears picked up all the noises of the night, hearing the creaks and groans of the old building, the tap turning off in the bathroom, and the barking of a dog outside. He sighed and tugged his blanket up under his chin, turning onto his side and closing his eyes.

The dog stopped its incessant barking but a pair of cats began yowling somewhere nearby. Link’s eyes popped open and he sat up, fluffing his pillow and then turning over to his other side. Sleep continued to elude him as the minutes ticked by, and he sat up in frustration, hugging his knees to his chest. Why didn’t the sofa seem comfortable anymore? He’d had no complaints before the trip to Ordon. It’s not like he had some luxurious feather bed at home and the sofa just didn’t compare. He’d been on the floor, with Shad...

His thoughts snagged on Shad’s name as realization dawned over him. Sitting up straighter, he crossed his legs and turned to look behind him at Shad’s bedroom door, where a slim beam of light was shining through underneath. That was it, of course. The bed itself didn’t matter. It was because he was alone.

Link shivered. The darkness in the room seemed to slither from the corners towards him, and his mind flashed back over all of his battles, replaying the close calls and more horrifying of the monsters in detail. He tried to bolster himself by thinking of how Midna had been with him through almost all of them, but felt only a hollow ache at her absence.

A particularly loud cat screech broke through the night, and Link jumped slightly, whipping his head around towards the window on the far wall. His heartbeat sped up and he pulled the blanket up over his shoulders. Even as his ears strained to pick up any more noise and his body tensed itself in readiness for a fight, Link began to take deep breaths to calm himself down. He knew there was no threat here, logically, but his instincts and overactive imagination apparently did not.

As he was listening intently, he heard the glug of the bath water beginning to swirl down the drain, followed by a quiet rush of water from the bathroom sink. Link closed his eyes and focused on those sounds as he continued to breathe. Finally, he heard the bathroom door open. Opening his eyes, Link looked behind him again at Shad’s door, expecting the light to go out. It didn’t.

Of course, he’s probably reading before bed. A strong wistfulness struck him, and his heart thumped in his chest. A wave of loneliness crashed over him and mingled with the beginnings of the nightmare that had been trying to form in his mind. His chest aching, Link stared at Shad’s door, wanting more than anything to go in and ask him to read to him again.

Shad relaxed in his bath, letting the hot water soothe his sore muscles. He’d scooped out a tiny bit of the salve and let it dissolve into the steaming bath, inhaling the aroma as the pungent herbs and oils combined with the hot water to work on his aching body.

Resting his head against the back of the tub, Shad closed his eyes and let his thoughts drift. He was nervous about the lunch with the princess tomorrow, although he knew that his report was complete and should be satisfactory. Would she question him privately about Link again? He knew without a doubt that he wouldn’t betray Link, but would he be able to lie to her? Convincingly? His family had served the royal family faithfully for years and had benefited from that service - would Shad be the first one to break that long line of fealty to the crown?

He sighed, sinking deeper into the water. Shad imagined his anxious thoughts like the bubbles in his bath, floating up to the heavens, and he popped them one by one, letting his mind settle and focusing on the present moment. He took in several deep breaths and with each exhale, blew out his worries and let his body relax further.

After a fair amount of time passed, Shad pulled the drain plug and stepped out. He dried off, dressed in his pajamas and brushed his teeth, then turned off the bathroom light and made his way to his bed.

Crawling into bed, Shad fluffed his pillows behind him and reached for his book. He turned to the page he’d marked and began to read.

Or at least, he tried to read. He found himself going over the same paragraph again and again, the words swimming on the page as his mind wandered. Why wasn’t this working? He was always able to calm his mind down by reading before bed. He’d even taken books to Ordon and read there, with Link...

Ah. Yes, that’s the difference. Shad reached up to adjust his spectacles and sighed. Could he really have gotten used to Link’s presence at night so quickly? He closed his eyes and imagined the young hero’s peaceful face gazing up at him from the pillow again as he read. His heart twisted painfully in his chest and he bit his lip. What was he going to do, go out to his living room where Link was probably already fast asleep and ask him if he’d like another bedtime story? Shad rolled his eyes at himself and rearranged his pillows.

Thoughts of Link on his couch in the living room brought a guilty flush to Shad’s cheeks. The hero had made such a fuss over it not being right for him to be in his bed in his own home while Shad slept on the floor, and here Shad had just fallen right back into the same sleeping arrangements they’d had before the Ordon trip. How rude of him to make his guest sleep out there on the couch while he enjoyed the comfort of the only bed!

Taking a look at his bed, Shad conceded that it was actually large enough for two, but turned scarlet at the thought of inviting Link into his bed. He could never! Polite host or no, inviting someone into your bed had a very clear meaning, and while he desperately wanted that between them, he couldn’t just throw that onto his friend a day after finding out about the girlfriend that Link had lost and the grief he still felt over her.

He tossed off his covers and stood, pacing from the bed to the window as he considered how to fix the situation so that he didn’t come across as a pushy pervert or a rude host. Mid-way through his third trip back to the window, the solution struck him - they could just bunk down on the floor the way they’d done at Link’s house! There was obviously enough room, as measured by his pacing, and while inviting Link into his bedroom to sleep still seemed slightly scandalous (and thrilling), they’d already shared similar sleeping arrangements and really, they were just friends, weren’t they? He poked at the idea, trying to find holes in his logic, and could find none.

Glancing at the door, he summoned up his courage and strode over to it. Before he opened it he took a deep breath, hoping that the hero was already asleep while simultaneously praying that he wasn’t.

He reached for the handle and flung the door open, only to find a shocked Link standing right before him, with his left hand raised to knock on the door.

“Oh!” exclaimed Shad, taking a half-step back in surprise.

Link looked equally surprised and dropped his hand, his cheeks turning pink in the faint light from Shad’s lamp.

“Um, hi.” Link reached up to rub the back of his neck and shifted from one foot to the other. “I-I’m sorry to disturb you…”

“That’s quite alright, old boy. I, uh, was actually just coming out to… um… to see if you were sleeping well.” Shad cringed inwardly at his awkward response and reached a hand up to twist at a button on his pajama top.

“Oh. Well, I’m not, actually. That’s uh, that’s why I was going to knock on your door. I knew you were still awake because your lantern’s on, and… um… I just… I’m having trouble sleeping for some reason.”

“I’m afraid that’s entirely my fault.” Shad grimaced. “I’ve been lying here wide awake thinking of how impossibly rude you must think me, taking the comfort of the only bed in my lodgings while I make you sleep out on the sofa, and after you were so adamant about not doing that to me at your place! I’m dreadfully sorry, Link. It didn’t even cross my mind upon our arrival at home, but I simply can not fall asleep with this guilt.”

Link blinked up at the scholar. “Oh, that’s okay, Shad. I’m not upset about that or anything. Your sofa is comfortable enough, it’s just… okay this is going to sound silly, but I think I got used to not sleeping alone while we were at my place.” Link flushed, the blush extending up to his ears, and he looked down at his feet. “I haven’t had a single nightmare the past two nights, and, and… I was wondering if maybe you could read to me again?” His last words came out in a rush and Link glanced up at Shad, hope shining in his soft blue eyes.

Shad’s heart melted at Link’s admission of need as he gazed into those beautiful eyes. “Of course I can,” he replied softly.

Link’s answering grin at his words gave Shad enough courage to carry through with why he’d originally opened his door.

“I have to confess, I was coming out for more than merely to make sure you were receiving adequate rest. I would like to propose a change in our sleeping arrangements, to return to the egalitarian deal that we had in your treehouse.”

Link cocked his head quizzically, and Shad continued. “I have plenty of room in my bedroom. Why don’t you join me in here?”

Link’s eyes instantly went to Shad’s bed behind him and Shad’s cheeks grew hot as he realized he’d implied with his words exactly what he’d been trying to avoid.

“On the floor!” He blurted out. “On the floor, as we were at your place. I can pull my bedding down and if you’ll fetch yours from the sofa, I daresay we can each make a comfortable pallet here on my bedroom floor.” He chuckled nervously. “It will be just like it was in Ordon - fair and equal. What do you say?”

Meeting Shad’s eyes again, Link nodded, a small smile on his face, and then silently returned to the sofa where he began gathering his bedding. Breathing a sigh of relief, Shad went to his bed and did the same, arranging his blankets and pillows neatly on the floor next to his bed. Link set up his own makeshift bed and crawled into his blankets, turning on his side to face Shad.

Grabbing his book, Shad slid under his own covers. He turned to look at the hero and felt his heart swell as he realized that the present moment exactly matched what he’d been imagining just a short time ago. He adjusted his spectacles and began reading.

Link gazed at the scholar as he read, feeling at ease, the dread of his nightmares fading away as Shad’s rich, deep voice flowed over him. Goddesses, he wished he could always feel this way. Safe, warm, deliriously happy at being so close to Shad, peaceful and content.

Link knew that this feeling couldn’t last forever though, and a little seed of worry about meeting up with Zelda tomorrow worked its way into his consciousness. He frowned slightly, wondering if she’d still be angry with him and how she was dealing with the troubles she denied having.

Glancing over at Link, Shad noticed that the hero was not drifting off to sleep as quickly as he had the previous two nights. Noting the furrow in Link’s brow, Shad wondered what was troubling him.

“Tonight’s story not to your liking, old boy?” he asked in a slightly teasing tone.

Link raised his eyes to Shad’s and his brow uncreased. “Oh, no, the story is fine. I like your reading. It’s just… I’m nervous about the lunch with Zelda tomorrow, especially with how things ended between us after the planning meeting a few days ago.”

Closing the book, Shad set it aside. “I can certainly understand that nervousness, as I share it. The situation was… um… intense.”

“You’re nervous too? But why, Shad? She didn’t seem angry with you. And I’m sure your report is perfect and she’ll be thrilled with it. What do you have to be anxious about?”

Sighing heavily, Shad looked up at the ceiling and briefly closed his eyes as he thought over the answer to Link’s innocent question. He brought his gaze back to the hero’s inquisitive eyes.

“Link… I… I daresay you aren’t the only one who has been keeping secrets to protect others. I should have been truthful with you from the start, but you didn’t ask about my conversation with the princess and then we were so busy with the Ordon trip and all of the other information that came up during our travels... However, I believe it’s high time for me to be honest with you, especially in light of your show of trust in me and your revelations yesterday.”

Pushing himself up on one elbow, Link cocked an eyebrow. “What is it, Shad?”

“My conversation after your own with Princess Zelda was… uncomfortable,” the scholar started, sitting up straighter and playing with the cuffs of his pajamas. “She thanked me for assisting you during your troubled times, but then questioned me about what you had told me about why you were so upset. I let her know that you hadn’t told me anything, that you had actually stated that you needed to keep things private and that I’d respected that.”

Link nodded. “And you have. So what’s the problem?”

Shad bit his lip, looking down. “She… she also claimed that you’d been shouting complete nonsense at her and that she was afraid your mind was going to snap. And she asked me, essentially, to spy on you. To report back to her if you had any more troubling behavior or if you mentioned any n-names or information about the conflict that seemed made up or out of place.”

At Link’s sharp inhalation, Shad glanced over at him, guilt written on his delicate features. Link’s eyes were wide, but he remained silent, his mouth closed in a grim line.

“I did not realize at the time that she was asking me to spy on you, Link, I swear it. I thought her motives were altruistic, that she was concerned for your welfare and had your best interests at heart. I thought I was helping you. I was happy that you had someone else looking out for you and promised her that I would let her know if I saw or heard anything of the sort.” Shad dropped his face into his hands, the confession overwhelming him.

Link sat up in bed, turning to face Shad and hugging his knees to his chest. “And will you? Tell her, I mean. About… about any of the things we’ve talked about?”

“NO!” Shad’s emphatic response was startling. Link didn’t think he’d ever heard the scholar raise his voice to that extent before.

“No, Link,” he continued more calmly. “I made a promise to you too, and I swore it in Faron Spring and to the goddesses. It was there, after our conversation about… that name… that I realized that the princess had been probing me for information about whether you’d divulged her secrets and that her motives had not been pure. I had difficulty believing her when she said you’d been nonsensically raving at her, and I realized I’d been having a challenging time because it simply wasn’t true. It suddenly all became obvious to me.” Taking a deep breath, he grabbed Link’s hand, giving it a squeeze. “I’d never betray you, Link. Please know that.”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Link squeezed Shad’s hand in return and then dropped it to push his bangs off his forehead. “Thank you, Shad. I appreciate your loyalty and faith in me. I definitely wasn’t saying crazy things in there and I’m not insane.”

“I am well aware of that. I never really thought it of you. But that is why I’m nervous, you see, because essentially I have promised both of you opposing things. Choosing to honor my promise to you unfortunately means lying to her. I’m afraid she’ll question me again tomorrow, and well, she’s a bit...”

Link smirked. “Scary?”

“I was going to say intimidating, but yes, I suppose she’s that too, at times. She’s a very powerful person.”

Link was quiet as he mulled over Shad’s worries, his eyebrows drawing down into a frown. “Shad, I’m so sorry. I never meant to make this much trouble for you, or involve you in my problems like this. I’ve put you in danger and I’m… I’m so mad at myself for that.” He looked down at his knees and hugged himself tighter.

“Link…” Shad’s voice was gentle. He reached out a hand and placed it on the hero’s tense forearm. “You didn’t ‘put’ me in anything. After all, do not forget that I was the one who initiated the subterfuge of my illness that got us out of the banquet. I suppose this isn’t my first time lying to the princess. The stakes just seem a bit higher now, but I can handle it…” Shad paused, looking down and then glancing up at Link through his lashes. “... as long as you’re with me.”

Meeting his gaze, Link nodded. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Shad.”

Their eyes locked. Shad became acutely aware of his hand still resting on Link’s arm. His fingers twitched slightly and he felt the smooth muscles of Link’s arm respond under his palm.

“Neither would I, old boy.” He smiled at the hero and reluctantly removed his hand, breaking their gaze and placing his hands in his lap. “I think we will both do well enough. As you say, my report is prepared and hopefully the princess will find it satisfactory-”

“She will,” Link interjected firmly.

“Thank you. We have completed her request in regards to escorting Mayor Bo and Ilia here, so she will most likely be pleased with our actions and have no issues with either of us.”

“Here’s to hoping,” Link chuckled wryly. He ran his hands through his sandy locks again and sighed. “I am concerned for her, though. She’s not talking about what she went through with anyone, and I think it’s eating her up inside. She denies she’s having any problems with it but I know she has to be struggling too. She… she says she just wants to stay in control and focus on becoming queen but I know now from reading that book you gave me that she needs to deal with her trauma before she can move on. I really just want the best for her, Shad. I didn’t rescue her from Ganondorf so that she could be endlessly tortured in her own mind by memories of what he did to her.”

“We share that goal, you know. I want what is best for her and for Hyrule too. It’s why I joined the Resistance in the first place. I do hope that we can find a way to assist her.”

Link gave Shad one of his little half-smiles. “Me too.” Snuggling back under his covers, Link looked back up at the redhead. “Thanks for talking with me about all this.”

“Anytime,” Shad replied as he picked his book back up. “Shall I continue reading?”

“Yes, please.” Link flashed him a small smile and rolled back onto his side to watch Shad’s lips as the scholar once again began to read. Link’s mind became peaceful and his eyelids grew heavy.

Shad read until he heard Link’s breathing change and then set his book down, gazing at the handsome hero. He was already so used to this - to Link sleeping beside him, to reading the hero to sleep, and to his presence in so much of his life. It was a stark contrast to the fairly lonely existence he’d lived before this. Oh, yes, he had his close friends in the Resistance, but living alone and being considered an eccentric at the University hadn’t exactly filled his days with a lot of social encounters.

He thought of how grief-stricken Link had been these last few weeks since he’d lost his love, and knew without a doubt that if Link was ever out of his life for any reason that he’d feel the same. Link had warned him of the dangers of speaking about these secrets, and Shad feared that his caution meant that the consequences of slipping up with the princess were even more dire for the hero. He took in a deep, shuddering breath, clenching his eyes tightly shut. It was slightly terrifying how quickly he’d grown attached to Link, and how much he needed him in his life, cheerful teasing and turbulent moods alike.

Please, Goddesses, don’t let me lose him, he prayed fervently. He took that prayer and turned it into an iron resolve to shield Link from the princess, whatever it took. He knew he would be able to face her tomorrow, and that he would protect his hero.

Taking off his spectacles and putting out the lamp, Shad pulled his covers up to his chin and turned on his side to face Link, slipping into sleep as his prayers turned into dreams.

___

 

Upon arriving at the castle at noon, Shad and Link were met by Sergi in the entry hall. He enquired if Master Shad had brought his report with him. Shad affirmed that he had, and Sergi whisked him off to deliver it to the princess in her office at once. He dropped Link off to wait for Shad and the others in a small dining room on the way. The whole thing happened so quickly and with such precision that the two young men could only exchange a few glances. Both of their worried looks and reassuring smiles to each other flitted over their faces before Shad walked swiftly away with Sergi, his head high and shoulders back as he braced himself for any confrontation.

He’ll be okay. He’s smarter than anyone I know, and I’m sure he can handle this. And Zelda’s not a monster… she was just mad at me, not him.

Link glanced around as he took several measured breaths to calm his nerves. This room overlooked part of the castle gardens that were slowly being restored. The double doors that led out to a balcony were wide open, allowing the fresh air in. The day had dawned fair and clear, the sun-warmed land clinging to the last of the consistently good weather before the wheel of the year truly turned to autumn. Roses scented the room, the large ruffled blooms sending their heady perfume in through the doors from their vines on the balcony.

Servants began streaming in past him to set the round table in the center of the room. Every one of them tried to bow, curtsy, or bob their heads at him as they saw him or passed by, but they were so laden with tableware and platters that Link could see his presence was a burden to them. He smiled at each person who greeted him, but knew that it would be useless to ask them not to bow or curtsy constantly. It was expected, it was what they were taught, and they genuinely liked and appreciated him enough to want to do it, too. They would all consider it a show of disrespect to him to not acknowledge him in some formal manner.

After giving one last nod and smile in return, Link slipped out of the open doors and made his way to the edge of the balcony. He would let them do their work in peace. Gripping the stone railing, he leaned over and peered at the courtyard below. The ornamental gardens were low on the priority list of things to fix or improve in the castle and in Hyrule, but workers had already cleared the open areas of old bulblin barricades and debris, and were repairing the stone walls. Some plants, like the roses, had come back and begun blooming again on their own after the devastation was over.

Link couldn’t help but smile as he reached out to stroke the silky pale-pink petals of a flower, and then let his fingers drift down to trace the edges of a vicious-looking thorn. He found these hardy and beautiful plants an inspiring sight. They had endured the troubles too, with long periods of no sunlight, with no one to tend them and water them, some of them trampled or cut down, their roots impacted as troops moved over them and new structures were erected on top of them. And yet here were the roses anyway, reaching skyward, sharing their beauty and fragrance with all those around them, thriving again. Yes, they had thorns, to stop the hasty or malicious creatures who would attempt to do them harm. However, they still sent out that alluring fragrance and blossomed full and luscious, inviting every sort of pollinator with their vibrant colors. They didn’t grow thicker thorns and curl up, becoming hardened, ugly things to ward off any future threats. They balanced openness, beauty, connection, growth, and defense perfectly.

Rubbing the pad of his thumb lightly back and forth over a particularly large thorn, Link mused on these thoughts until he heard the chatter of familiar voices float to him from the dining room. Walking inside, Link spied Ilia and Mayor Bo being led to their chairs at the now finely set table. Ilia’s eyes were round as saucers as she took in the beautifully laid table settings, the delicately embroidered lace tablecloth, and the mounds of fresh-cut roses on display in crystal vases.

Link stepped up to her with a grin as he reached out for a hug. Beaming, Ilia squeezed him tightly and then let go, her own smile lighting up her face.

“Link, this is amazing!” she half-whispered, half-squealed. “I can’t believe I’m here, in a castle, about to have lunch with a princess. THE princess. Look at this room. Would you just look at it? It’s gorgeous! Oh and our bedrooms! Oh, Link, I-I didn’t even know such luxuries existed. Indoor bathrooms with heated water?! Beds bigger than some people’s main rooms in Ordon!” She shook her head in disbelief, her delight at her surroundings evident on her face.

Link chuckled and ruffled the hair on the back of his neck. “Yup, it’s pretty fancy around here. Glad you’re enjoying it.”

She looked around the room a few times and then back at Link. “Where’s Shad? I didn’t think I’d find you here without him!”

Her comment unnerved him a little. “Oh, he’s here. He’s giving his report to the princess, but he’ll be back to join us for lunch.” He turned to greet Ilia’s father. “Hello, Mayor Bo.”

“Oh, son, just keep calling me Bo! This place may be all about their own formal manners, but surely us Ordonians can just be ourselves together.” He smiled at the hero as they gripped each other’s forearms firmly for a brief shake, Link nodding his head at the older man’s words.

Taking their places at their assigned seats, the three continued to catch up until Link’s sensitive ears heard a gentle throat clearing at the door to the hall. He turned and watched Shad as he gracefully entered the room, his head still held high and his smile bright as he greeted Mayor Bo and Ilia and took his seat between them. Link paid attention as Shad reached for a glass of water with a slightly trembling hand, the scholar’s smile a little too big to be genuine. His indigo eyes flashed up to Link’s and they held each other’s gaze for a few seconds until Shad gave a short, quick nod, his fake smile dropping from his face and a small almost-smile curling up one edge of his lips instead. His eyes didn’t lose their worried look with this reassurance, though, and Link fought to control his own face so that his expression wouldn’t slip into a frown of concern.

Link cleared his throat and sat up a little straighter. “Welcome back, Shad. She like your report?”

“She certainly did, old boy, thank you for asking. The princess was most pleased with it and will be reviewing it further, she says. She wants to continue to consult me with any questions she has about fitting the cultural customs of Ordon into the ceremony.”

“Good job, lad! Way to represent Ordon for us!” barked the mayor as he clapped Shad on the back. Shad rocked forward from the force of the blow, his breath bursting out of him.

“Father! Take it easy on him!” Ilia shot a chastising look at Bo, who seemed abashed. She turned her attention to Shad.

“I’m so happy to hear that she liked it, Shad.” Ilia beamed up at the scholar, placing a hand on his forearm for a quick squeeze. “I know you worked so hard on it, and I’m happy that someone so intelligent and caring is helping with our part of the ceremony. Thank you.”

His cheeks turning red at her praise, Shad ducked his head slightly and slowly twirled the long end of his bowtie.

“Why thank you, Ilia, for your effusive praise. It’s not so much though, just a lot of scribbling thoughts down, far too many words most likely.”

“Words that can change things,” Link stated. “Words are powerful, Shad. Don’t discredit yourself. I told you she’d love your work.” He winked at the scholar, causing Shad to swallow visibly as he tried to control his blushing and not let it spread to the tips of his long ears.

Link shifted in his seat at the sight of the scholar’s reaction to his wink. It was strange sometimes, how his view of some of Shad’s actions had changed after Ilia pointed out that many of them showed that he liked Link. Before, he had read Shad’s blushing at his teasing, winking, and affectionate physical touch as the scholar’s restrained manners and more refined upbringing. Now, he could see that it was the blush of someone trying desperately to control themselves, to not give away the intense feelings that were his direct reaction to Link.

It was very alluring to behold, and Link’s more primal brain shot down the path of arousal, wondering what it would be like to play with that effect, to have Shad flushed and writhing underneath him, trying in vain to control himself as Link teased him in oh so many fun ways. What was Shad like when he stopped trying to control himself - when he let it all out?

Ilia laughed next to him at something Shad had said, and Link wrenched his mind back to the present moment. He was half-hard after that vivid daydream, and grateful that his long tunic flowed over the tight fabric of his leggings under the table. He shifted in his chair and tried to focus on the conversation, not allowing his eyes to rest on Shad’s lips as he spoke. It was no use watching his hands either, as those elegant fingers played idly with the stem of his glass. Link huffed and turned his head away, earning him a strange look from the scholar.

A footman at the door straightened and announced, “Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Zelda of Hyrule.”

Everyone at the table stood up, and the servers waiting around the edges of the room bowed. Zelda entered the room, looking mildly fatigued but still lovely in a lilac day dress, her long auburn hair swept up into an intricate braid that pooled over one shoulder, a small tiara perched upon her brow.

Ilia sank into a low curtsy while both Bo and Shad performed deep bows. Link caught Zelda’s gaze for a brief moment and then bowed to her.

Crown Princess, huh? Good for her. Remind any critics of who’s about to be their Queen.

“Thank you, please be at ease.” Zelda turned to Bo first, reaching out her gloved hands to clasp one of his. “Mayor Bo, it is an honor and a pleasure to finally meet you. Welcome to Hyrule Castle.”

Bo seemed a little lost for words at being confronted by the confident, regal, and stunning young woman in front of him. He finally gathered himself and raised one of her hands, bowing over it and kissing the air above her knuckles.

“The pleasure is mine, Your Highness,” he replied. “Thank you so much for inviting us and for including us in your ceremony and plans for Ordon.” He turned to Ilia as she came around the table to stand by her father’s side. “This is my daughter, Ilia.”

Ilia bobbed another small curtsy and Zelda smiled at her, reaching out for her hands as well. “It is wonderful to meet you, Lady Ilia, and your presence is very welcome here. Your father and Link have told me so much about you, and I’m pleased to have such a competent young woman at my court.” She acknowledged Link with a little nod of her head in his direction, and he did the same in return.

Ilia smiled back, blushing. “Oh, thank you, Your Highness, it’s wonderful to meet you too! But I’m not a lady. I’m just regular old Ilia.”

Zelda raised an eyebrow at the country girl’s contradiction. “Perhaps at home. However, here you are the only daughter and heir of the ruler of the neighboring province, which is about to be annexed into the realm. By Hylian standards, that makes your father a person of some prominence, which in turn allows you the use of the courtesy title of ‘Lady.’”

Link shot a look over at Shad to confirm this bit of new etiquette knowledge and Shad met his eyes, giving a small shrug of his shoulders. Link figured if Zelda said it, it must be so.

Lady Ilia! Ha!

Ilia seemed slightly dumbstruck, and she just blinked up at Zelda, overwhelmed. Zelda smiled gently down at her and turned to the rest of the table, indicating all of them with a nod.

“Come, let us be seated.” She moved to take her seat between Bo and Link as the rest of the small party sat back down, waiters moving in to serve their first course.

On his right, Zelda turned to Bo to answer a question about the ceremony, and Link leaned towards Ilia on his other side, raising his eyebrows at her. “I didn’t realize I’d be dining with a princess and a ‘Lady.’ Gracious, I’d better not use my Ordon manners today, eh, my lady?” He daintily placed his napkin on his lap.

Shad quietly chuckled from the other side of the table as Ilia flushed red and barely restrained herself from elbowing Link in the side.

“Luckily for you, Shad here is teaching you some better ones, thank goodness,” she retorted, narrowing her eyes at him playfully. “But it’s not like you were ever big on manners in Ordon, anyway!”

Rolling his eyes, Link smiled at her. “Well, since I have to be the Hero of Courage or Chosen Hero or any of that capital letters stuff, you may as well suffer in exquisite luxury too, My Lady Ilia of Ordon.” He popped an olive into his mouth and winked at her.

She paused as a server set her own plate of appetizing delicacies in front of her. Thanking him, she looked up at Link with a smirk. “I think I can handle it, Oh Chosen One. Exquisite luxury, huh? I didn’t know you knew such big words.”

He sat up straighter in his chair. “I’ve been... reading a lot of books.”

“I’m sure you have,” Ilia said, one eyebrow raised and her smirk growing bigger as she flashed her eyes at Shad and then back at Link.

Flushing, Link looked quickly at Shad to see if he’d caught Ilia’s suggestive tone. Fortunately, the redhead had become engrossed in conversation with Zelda and Bo about Ordonian customs, eagerly chiming in to exclaim over their traditional clothing, and didn’t seem to have heard her. Suddenly Shad turned towards Ilia.

“Take our dear Ilia’s attire, for example! The unique neckline and swirling embroidery are quite enchanting, and deeply symbolic of the region, which you realize when you really start to study it. I also adore how the streamlined shapes of the clothing are deceptively simple, especially when contrasted with their elaborate adornments of a sort you don’t see in Castle Town.”

The lock of hair that Shad had carefully combed back before lunch had worked its way out of confinement, curling down onto his forehead as he emphatically gestured at Ilia’s outfit. Link couldn’t look away from him. He loved when Shad spoke up about things he was passionate about. The way he looked at something that Link totally took for granted, like his clothes from home, and saw in them a connection to the land and the society around him was astounding. He made boring things sound interesting, and Link wished he could hear him talk like this all day.

“Thank you, Shad.” Ilia smiled at him as she ran her hand over some of the embroidery on her tunic. “You’re right, the swirling patterns in my embroidery are inspired by the sacred stones at Ordon Spring.”

“Is that your own embroidery work, Lady Ilia?” Zelda’s voice rang with admiration.

“Yes, Your Highness.” Ilia glanced down at her lap humbly. “I made the whole outfit, and most of my clothing. We don’t have much in the way of shops back at home.”

“I’m impressed - it’s wonderful work. You’re quite skilled. I could certainly use skills like that amongst the ladies of my chamber. And please, you don’t need to say ‘Your Highness’ every time you address me. A simple title used as a name is the standard in most smaller gatherings between royalty, the gentry, and friends. You may simply call me ‘Princess’ after introductions.”

“Oh! Of course, Princess. I-I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” Ilia stammered out, her cheeks turning pink.

“It’s no trouble, Lady Ilia.” Zelda replied, her blue eyes warm.

“Princess, if you please, since we’re talking about titles, would you mind calling me simply Ilia, at least in small gatherings like you said? It seems more friendly to me.”

Zelda cocked her head at the pretty young girl from Ordon. “Friendly? I suppose it is. Alright, Ilia, I shall.”

Ilia grinned at the princess and a small answering smile grew on Zelda’s lips.

“Ilia, I was just talking with your father and the Princess about incorporating some of the fashions of Ordon into the ceremony.” Shad indicated her tunic again. “I think it’d represent your region well to wear traditionally-inspired clothing.”

“Oh, well, I like that idea, but I don’t really have anything from home that’s fancy enough to wear to the ceremony. I thought I’d be able to buy something here in Castle Town.”

Shad nodded his head eagerly at her. “Absolutely, and I can take you to some of the best shops and tailors in town. I daresay there’s enough time before the ceremony for you to do some embroidery work on a ready-to-wear-piece, isn’t there?”

“Oh, Shad, I’d love that!” Ilia clutched her hands together in front of her, her green eyes lit with excitement.

Link watched happily as Shad and Ilia chatted about fashion and the best shops in the city. He loved that his friends were getting along so well. Bo looked a little lost, with all the talk at the table being about clothing and accessories, but Link was content to stay quiet and listen and enjoy his friends. Eventually even Zelda chimed in, complimenting Shad on his style and asking him which boutiques he frequented. This attention, of course, caused Shad to blush furiously, but he answered her and started asking the Princess questions about her own attire and style, drawing her further into the conversation. Some of Zelda’s regal and reserved demeanor began to slip away as she spoke of color and design quite eagerly. As Shad and Ilia took up most of the conversation again, Link noticed Zelda sit back, one finger tapping on her chin as she furrowed her brow in thought.

“Shad, I would hate to dismiss your generous idea of taking Ilia shopping for her gown, but I’d like to propose my own offer.” Zelda turned to look directly at Ilia. “I’d like to have my personal dressmaker make you a gown for the ceremony, Ilia. She can customize something with the designs and styles of Ordon, and make it appropriate for the event. I’d love to spend more time with you and assist with this part of the preparations personally.”

Ilia looked up at the Princess, her green eyes wide. “R-really? Oh my goodness, thank you so much, Princess!”

“Yes, really. Actually, why don’t you join me for tea later this afternoon? We can have the dressmaker over afterwards and get started on measurements and designs, since there are only a handful of days until the ceremony.” She turned her attention to Bo as Ilia nodded, awestruck. “Mayor Bo, I’d like to extend a similar offer to you. I can send my tailor to your rooms to assist you with clothes for the ceremony as well.”

At Bo’s acceptance and thanks, Zelda beckoned a footman over to carry out her instructions.

Link reached over and squeezed Ilia’s hand. She looked up at him and blinked several times, both smiling as he shared in her joy at her good fortunes.

The servers moved in to remove their plates and replace them with the next course. Bo and Zelda struck up a conversation about the intricacies of leadership, with Zelda wanting to know more details about how the Mayor ran things in Ordon village. Shad leaned in, interjecting to ask questions about certain details.

“Well, it’s really Ilia here who handles the planning for all of our seasonal celebrations,” Bo explained, gesturing at his daughter across the table. “She’s been learning the leadership and history of Ordon from me since she was knee-high, and doing an amazing job of it.”

“How fascinating.” Zelda took a small sip from her goblet and then continued. “It’s good to hear that you are so involved, Ilia.”

“She’s a good student too,” Link added in praise of his friend. “As a lad, I could hardly ever get her to actually sneak away from her studies to come out and play with me.”

Ilia shot him a wry look. “You sure did try your hardest though! Remember the time you left a dead fish on Father’s desk and then told him that it meant that the river was drying up and he needed to cancel my lessons for the day to go investigate?”

Laughter burst out of Zelda and she brought a hand up to cover her mouth, her cheeks flushed. “Oh, I do apologize for my outburst, but I believe I can picture him doing just that!”

Ilia leaned across the table towards Zelda. “Oh, Princess, that’s not even half of it! The stories I could tell…”

“I’m extremely interested in hearing some of these stories too!” Shad piped up eagerly.

“Hey!” Link exclaimed. “I thought this was a nice, civil lunch, not a ‘roast Link’ session!”

Zelda eyed him with amusement, a single royal eyebrow arched. “Fine. In exchange for your heroic services to the realm you are excused from one lunchtime conversation of all your youthful misdeeds.” She smiled conspiratorially and loudly whispered to Ilia across the table. “We’ll continue this at tea.”

Eyes flashing with amusement, Ilia nodded as Link glowered.

Noticing his discomfort, Shad spoke up on his behalf. “I daresay, Link, you’ve got to have some flaws, after all, or you wouldn’t even be human! You can’t be Goddess-blessed in so many ways AND a paragon of perfect behavior.”

Zelda nodded. “Precisely.” Turning back to Ilia, she asked her a question about what sorts of things she’d learned from her father in her childhood.

Link grunted in reluctant agreement and met Shad’s eyes as the conversation moved on around them. The scholar’s eyes twinkled with amusement and warmth as he held Link’s gaze, sending him reassurance. Link smiled at him, and Shad’s smile answered his own.

As Shad’s attention was once again captured by the main conversation, Link wondered if the scholar was noticing Zelda’s high spirits as much as he was. It was a stark contrast to the last time he’d seen her, and Link hoped that she’d forgiven him for his outburst and was feeling better. But… then why did Shad have that worried look in his eyes when he’d entered the room? Regardless of his reassuring nod and Zelda’s returned good mood now, Link still felt uncertain.

Ilia grabbed his sleeve as he tried to bring a bite to his mouth.

“Link, don’t you remember the goats?”

Blinking in confusion, Link cocked his head and spoke slowly to her. “Ilia... I remember lots of goats. You’re gonna have to be more specific than that.”

A guffaw burst out of Shad at that, as Ilia giggled and Bo chortled. Even Zelda let an amused smile alight on her lips.

“I suspect you may have missed the first part of the conversation, old boy.” Shad winked at him.

“Daydreaming, much?” Ilia raised an eyebrow.

Link attempted to swallow down his blush. Yes, actually, he’d been gazing into Shad’s eyes and thinking about him.

“Oh, do have pity on him, Ilia,” Shad urged. “Our hero needs to be caught up to speed.”

Ilia smiled at Shad and turned back towards Link. “The goats at the spring, Link.”

“Oh! Yes, of course I remember those. Uh, why are we talking about that here, of all places?” Link reached up to rub the back of his neck.

“Because I asked Ilia to tell me the tale.” Zelda’s voice was soft but commanded the attention of everyone at the table. “We were both recounting stories from our childhoods. I mentioned how my father used to withhold knowledge of certain subjects from me, things related to rule, until he deemed it appropriate for my age, which, without fail, was usually far older than I thought I should have learned it at. Ilia remarked that it reminded her of the goat incident involving you from her childhood that her father neglected to warn her about beforehand, as he didn’t think she was old enough yet. My curiosity got the better of me.” She raised an eyebrow, a hint of amusement showing in her eyes and at her lips. “So? Do tell. What’s your part in this tale of caution?”

“Ahh, you see, I disregarded a very important rule and tradition, out of laziness, and there were consequences.” Link let the suspense build, looking around the table, and leaned forward dramatically. “I left a gate open.”

“And… this led to some goats getting out?” Zelda did not sound impressed.

Link sat back in his chair, crossing his arms. “Oh, no, that was Fado who let the goats out, actually. I left the gate to Ordon Spring open.”

A perfectly arched eyebrow was his only response from the princess.

“The gate that all the children in the village are raised knowing to keep shut and locked at night,” Ilia added.

“That’s right,” affirmed Link. “We were what, 7, 8, possibly?” At Ilia’s nod, Link continued. “I’d finally got Ilia away from her studying for the day and we spent the afternoon wading and playing in Ordon Spring. She headed back a little bit before me, at dusk, and I hurried to catch up with her. When we were walking back, Ilia asked me if I’d shut and locked the gate to the spring. I hadn’t, and didn’t want to go all the way back to do it. I asked her what real harm could possibly happen from just one night? We shrugged it off and both headed home.”

“Except I didn’t go straight home,” Ilia jumped in. “I had to go get Fado, one of the goat herders from the ranch, because he had bees in his house - I still remember how loud the buzzing was when I walked past his open windows. He ran back from the ranch as fast as he could to find a colony of bees trying to make a new hive inside his home! It wasn’t a problem he could solve right then so I took him home with me to Father, who let him stay the night.”

“And that’s all that happened that night, that we knew of anyway,” Bo added. “It turned out that Fado hadn’t secured the gate at the ranch in his haste to deal with the bees. The goats must’ve slipped out that night and headed straight for the spring.”

“You see, our spring has… um… well, magical properties. Which we all know by now, of course, but they go beyond healing and attracting fairies. They, uh… truthfully they seem to help the goats with their…” Link rubbed the back of his neck again, realizing that this part of the story was maybe not meant for delicate ears like those of the princess.

“With breeding,” Ilia stated bluntly. Shad and Zelda’s heads whipped to her as she took up the tale. “The waters seem to excite them, to the point of frenzy, and help with fertility and conception.”

“Oh, I see. Do they really?” The small sounds escaped Zelda’s lips and her eyes grew slightly wider. She gave a tiny nod at Ilia to continue.

“So the goats were at the spring all night, bathing, eating and trampling plants, and mating. We found out the next morning when Rusl went to the spring to unlock and open the gates. He said it was an absolute mess in there!” Ilia shook her head. “All the villagers were called in to help herd the goats back to the ranch and clean up the spring, and both Link and Fado had to do the majority of the work, for being careless and letting it happen.”

“Yeah, but it didn’t turn out so bad,” Link spoke up in his defense. “We did have a booming goat population come springtime. More kids than had ever been born at once! Although some of the goats did slip away into the woods. They stay on the Faron side now, but they’ve gone feral.”

Bo chuckled, shaking his head. “And if only I’d told you the why behind the rule, Ilia, you may have been able to insist that Link go back to lock the gate.” The burly mayor turned his attention to Zelda. “You see, Princess, fifty or so years ago something similar happened. Except the spring didn’t have a gate back then. The wild goats from Faron overpopulated and started swarming Ordon and taking over our spring. We caught some of them, taming them and adding them to our herds. Then we built a gate to keep the rest out. That part of the tale was forgotten by most folks and just the ‘lock the gate at night’ rule stayed constant. I hadn’t told Ilia because at 7 years old, it just didn’t seem, well, proper to be telling her that the reason why we always locked that gate to the spring was so goats wouldn’t be fornicating all over it.” Bo’s face suddenly froze and turned red as he realized that it might not be necessarily proper to be telling this story to a princess, either.

Everyone at the table seemed to be coming to that realization as Zelda absorbed Bo’s words quietly. Shad’s cheeks were flushed and Link knew the topic probably had him feeling very uncomfortable. Ilia’s eyes had grown big and round and a little crease had formed between her brow.

Zelda looked demurely down at her lap, a small smile on her face. “Well. That’s quite a tale.” She lifted her head and paused, arching an eyebrow. “I suppose they ought to change the common phrase to ‘at it like goats,’ instead of rabbits, shouldn’t they?”

Link barely managed to keep his jaw from dropping at Zelda’s comment, but Bo let out a roar of laughter, slapping the table, and both Shad and Ilia giggled. Zelda smiled at everyone at the table, her eyes locking with Link’s until he grinned and let out a chuckle too. He’d never seen her like this before. She was actually funny!

Shad was still laughing and he reached up to remove his spectacles, wiping his eyes. “Ahh, a good tale indeed.” He paused and shook his head, smiling up at Bo, and then replaced his spectacles on the bridge of his nose. “It really brings to mind the old adage that ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” doesn’t it? My history professor would have loved to use it as an example for his class.”

“What did you say?”

Link and Shad both turned to the princess at her serious tone, but her eyes were intent on Shad.

“Oh, m-my professor from Ancient Hylian Cultural studies. It was something he’d often say, ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ It means that-“

“I know what it means.” Zelda spoke quickly over Shad, cutting him off. The room was silent as she looked quizzically at Shad, and then down towards her lap, her brow furrowed in thought.

Link glanced at Shad, who looked confused and a little forlorn. Looking desperately at Ilia, Link widened his eyes, tilting his head towards the silent princess and giving a minute shrug of his shoulders.

Ilia’s big eyes took in the panicked looks of her friends and she blinked several times. Sitting up straight in her chair, she turned to Shad.

“So, Shad, you must have taken so many courses at the University. Tell me, what else have you studied there?”

Link released a breath he didn’t know he was holding as Shad sent Ilia a grateful smile and then launched into a diatribe about the various subjects he’d focused his learning on. Tense muscles loosened throughout the room and soon Bo was chiming in with a question of his own, which Shad answered eagerly.

On Link’s right, Zelda still sat quietly, staring down at her plate. Link reached for his fork and lightly brushed her arm with his elbow. She shot her eyes up to his, gazing keenly at him for several seconds until whatever fog was clouding her seemed to fade away. She sat up, reached for her goblet, and turned to Ilia as she spoke, following the conversation again.

Link stayed quiet but engaged as the rest of the table conversed during the meal. He couldn’t stop questions about the princess’s behavior from forming in his mind. What was that little episode about just now? Zelda had seemed okay until just now. In fact, she had seemed better than just “ok.” She’d funny, teasing, relaxed, and comfortably friendly. Link brought a bite of grilled Hylian bass to his mouth and chewed slowly, considering. He’d never really thought to describe her as ‘friendly’ before. Wise, strong, commanding, fierce, Goddess-blessed, among other things - yes. But friendly? Casting his gaze up at the ceiling, Link tried to think of why she was acting so peculiarly now.

Ilia’s little tinkle of a laugh caught his attention as she leaned forward, her hand to her chest and her face awash with delight as she responded to a comment Zelda had made. Shad was chuckling at Zelda’s comment too, and the princess had a strange little expression on her face, just a hair shy of a proud smile.

As he watched his friends continue to converse with Zelda, it finally dawned on him why he’d never seen this side of her before - he’d never seen her in a setting with friends. There were always servants, advisors, and courtiers, commands, compromises, and proclamations, but never friends and fun, easy conversation like this. Link thought hard about all of the people he’d seen Zelda surrounded by over the past several weeks, and couldn’t think of a single person he’d describe as friendly with the princess. Did Zelda have any friends? The only people he’d ever known her to be comfortable around were himself and… Midna. His heart throbbed painfully and a little wave of familiar grief assailed him.

Before he could follow this train of thought any further, a loud booming sound echoed down the corridor. Next to him, both Zelda and Ilia visibly startled, their shoulders twitching and arms jumping on the table.

Link was out of his seat and at the door to the hall before anyone could react further than that. He stepped out to look into the hall and then came back into the room and spoke in a low voice to the footman. The footman turned and waved another servant over. After some whispered instructions, the first servant disappeared swiftly down the hall as Link took up a defensive stance at the entrance to their room.

Glancing back over at the table, Link saw Ilia and Zelda both look up and catch each other’s gaze. Ilia was breathing slowly and calmly, her hands in her lap, fingers rubbing rhythmically on her napkin. Zelda reminded Link of the shy meadow rabbits back in Ordon, frozen stiff, muscles tense, her eyes wide as she listened for danger. Ilia held her gaze and a whisper of a smile drifted across her face. Zelda seemed to melt at that smile, and slowly straightened her posture, taking a deep breath, followed by slow, regular ones.

The servant returned from down the hall and confirmed for the footman and Link that yes, it had just been a door slamming, an unfortunate incident where the drafts in a room with open windows blew a door shut across the hall. Relaxing his posture, Link nodded and thanked him.

Link returned to the table with his open hands held out before him, a gentle smile on his face.

“Just some wind blowing a door closed. What a racket that can make, huh?”

“Thank you.” Zelda was looking directly at Ilia when she spoke barely above a whisper. She quickly turned her head to Link and cleared her throat lightly, pasting a smile on her face. “Thank you, Link, for your prompt response and reassurance.”

Link inclined his head to her and retook his seat. The conversation slowly started up again as Shad commented on the dessert they’d just been served, leading into a discussion on food and agriculture in the different provinces.

Savoring the dense, rich chocolate cake in his mouth, Link carefully observed the princess. She looked beautiful as always and in control again, but he noted the dark circles under her eyes and how much thinner her already slim figure looked than the last time he’d seen her, just a couple of days ago. She needed more of this - more laughter, more being at ease, more stimulating conversation with people she connected with.

As the servers cleared the last dish, the gathered diners stood up, pushing in their chairs and continuing their conversations. Link placed the tip of his fingers on Zelda’s elbow and slightly turned her away from the others.

“Princess, I want to ask you for a favor.”

Zelda raised one of her sculpted brows at him. “Please continue.”

“I know the coronation is in just a few days, and that I just got back into town, but I’d really like some leave to take Shad to the City in the Sky. I’d just need one day to do it, just up and back. It’s his life’s dream, his father’s research, and I want to pay him back for giving me a place to stay in town. We could go tomorrow, be back tomorrow night.” Link watched as Zelda pursed her lips, considering. He lowered his voice, leaning in a little closer. “I swear that all the information he receives about the place and that part of my quest will be…” Link paused, glancing around the room. “... official,” he finished.

Zelda glanced at Shad and then back at Link. “I will grant you this leave.” Before Link could express his thanks, she continued. “With some conditions and favors from you.”

Link crossed his arms over his chest. “What sort of conditions?”

“Excepting tomorrow, you will attend every event between now and my coronation that I invite you to, as our Hero. I need your support right now more than ever, Link. My detractors are not quiet.”

Link growled at that. “This is why it’s so frustrating at court, Princess, because I can’t take out your enemies for you the way I best know how.”

“Calm yourself. I need Link the Hero, not Link the savage beast. You take them out, as you put it, by showing up, by working with me - being seen supporting me. Try it the way that I best know how.”

Link nodded his head, uncrossing his arms. “Okay. I agree.”

“There’s more.” Zelda glanced down and then raised her fierce blue eyes to his. “I want to knight you at the ceremony as well. I want you to receive this honor from me - to do it for Hyrule’s people, who believe in you and who desperately want it for you.”

Link sighed heavily, closing his eyes briefly and then rolling them up towards the ceiling. He dropped his gaze back down to hers. “I guess there’s just no escaping some of this, is there?”

Zelda twisted her lips into an apologetic smile. “I’m afraid not. I’m sorry to have to ask more of you, Link. But I also… “ She dropped her gaze and murmured, “well, no, I won’t hold you to this, I won’t make it part of the conditions for your trip…”

“Zelda, what is it?” Link softly enquired.

She snapped her head back up at his use of her name in front of the others but no one around them was close enough to hear. She took a deep breath and then spoke.

“This is a request, not a command. I-I don’t just want your knighthood to be ceremonial, Link. I want you to be a Knight of Hyrule. I suppose… I suppose I’m asking you to stay here in Castle Town. To defend and protect me. Officially. I know that may be asking too much. You may want to leave as quickly as you can. I understand if you desire to run away from this place and it’s nightmares. To forget all of it. And here I am asking you to take up more of those burdens… but… I feel… I just feel safer when you are here.” For the first time since he’d met her, Zelda blushed, her high cheekbones and tips of her long ears turning light pink.

“Zelda.” His voice was low and reassuring. “I don’t want to run away from here or forget it. Or forget any of you. Yes, there are some nightmares here, sometimes. But those travel with me, and haven’t been as frequent of late. So… “ Link shrugged. “Yes to both of your conditions for our travel to the City in the Sky. As far as staying officially as a Knight, or with the Guard... I’ll think about it. It’s not a no!” he exclaimed, before she could interject. “It’s just a… I’ll think about it. Captain Harbin invited me to train with his men last week and I didn’t get the chance to. I’d like to start drilling with the Guard regularly, if that’s okay. I need the exercise and practice. How about I start with that, and then let you know my decision before the ceremony?”

Zelda nodded her head. “Yes, that will suffice for now. I’m happy to arrange that with Captain Harbin, and for you to share your skills with the Guard. I will also have my secretary make you up a schedule of events here at the castle for the next few days. Your leave to take Shad to the heavens is granted. I’m quite pleased with the results of both of your latest assignments for me. I might even ask Shad to write up a little something about the Oocca for the Royal Archives.”

“Thank you, Princess. Shad can do one better than that. He’s writing a book about the City in the Sky and the Oocca. I’ll make sure you get a copy.” Winking at her, Link grinned.

“No, that won’t do.” Zelda shook her head and Link’s smile slipped. “I would like three copies,” she continued, as his heart went leaping up into his throat in excitement, “and I want the first editions delivered directly to me. I’d like one for the Archives, one for the castle library, and one for my personal chambers. Shad’s work is meticulously researched, well-organized, easy to read, and very illuminating.” Zelda looked over at Shad again, a warm smile on her face as she watched him excitedly describe something to Bo and Ilia. “You picked a good one, Link,” she said softly. “Bring him with you to the events. He’s invited too.”

Link’s face turned hot at her words and he reached a hand up to ruffle the hair on his neck. “Um, uh, well we’re not… that is… he’s not my...” He looked up at the Princess who was smiling gently down at him, no mockery or expectations on her face. “... th-thank you. Thank you for uh, for being such a supporter of his work! He’ll be thrilled to know that you want copies of his book.”

“You’re welcome, Link. I really am eager to read what he has learned about the mysteries of Hyrule’s past.”

Bo came up then to ask Zelda a question about the events he and Ilia would be attending over the next several days and Link bowed his head, slipping to the other side of the room where Shad and Ilia were chatting.

“Well I’m not sure what our plans are tonight, but yes, I want to come!” Ilia exclaimed. “And I really want to introduce Father to Telma, too. I know he’s so grateful that there were kind people to look after me when I needed it most.”

“Absolutely, my dear, I know that Telma will be delighted to see you! I believe Ashei and Auru are due back from their assignments soon, so hopefully you’ll have the opportunity to meet the whole crew.” Shad glanced up at Link as he joined them.

Link grinned at the redhead. “We’re all clear to leave tomorrow. We are going to the City in the Sky, my friend.”

Shad sucked in a squeaky breath of air, his eyes wide. “Are you serious? She said yes? Wait, TOMORROW?!”

Ilia shot Link a quizzical look. “You’re going where tomorrow?”

“To the City in the Sky. One of the places I came across during my travels. It’s the home of the Oocca, who you don’t know about yet because hardly anyone does, but that’s going to change thanks to Shad here,” Link stated, pointing his finger at Shad’s chest. “He’s made proving their existence and explaining their mysteries his life’s work, based on his own father’s research and dream.”

Link dropped his hand and grinned at the scholar. “Zelda has already asked for three copies of your book, by the way, as soon as it’s written and printed. She sure talked you up! Apparently she’s a big fan. That must’ve been some report you prepared for her!” He winked playfully at the scholar.

Shad brought a hand to his chest as his eyes brimmed with tears of joy. “I… I… I have no words,” he stammered, blushing at the praise.

“Oh wow! Congrats, Shad! Well, in that case, you two definitely need to come out to Telma’s Bar tonight. We’ll celebrate!” Ilia beamed at both of them. “I’d love to know more about the place you’re going tomorrow!”

Link watched with amusement as Shad rapidly recovered from his speechlessness and started babbling excitedly at Ilia about his favorite subject. Across the way, he noticed Zelda’s attention had drifted away from the mayor and she was staring at his little group of friends. She had a strange, wistful sort of expression on her face. Was it… loneliness? Zelda met his eyes and her regal mask quickly slipped back over her face as she turned her gaze back to Bo.

Eventually all the plans were made and the goodbyes were said. The three parties went their own ways: Zelda back to her chambers, Ilia and Bo to their rooms, and Shad and Link back to town.

As soon as they’d cleared the castle gates, Link took Shad by the elbow and steered him to a little alcove beneath the grand, arched pillars by the gates. He tossed a couple of rupees into the hat of the nearby musicians and then stepped a few paces away from them, knowing he and Shad wouldn’t be overheard there.

Link dropped Shad’s arm and looked up at him intently. “So, how’d it go? Are you alright? Did… did she ask about me?”

Shad twirled the bracelets on his wrists as he glanced around, making sure they were truly alone. “She truly was amenable and appreciative, as I elaborated upon with Mayor Bo and Ilia. I am well, Link, thank you.” Shad hesitated before answering his last question. “She did ask about you.”

Sucking in a quick breath, Link rocked back and forth on his heels slightly. “Yeah?”

“Yes. She was cordial and professional when she greeted me. After we’d discussed my report and she’d expressed her satisfaction with my work, she enquired as to how the trip went. I gave her general information, but then she directly asked me how you were, and if there was anything she specifically needed to know about to help you.” Shad’s eyes shot up to Link’s, and Link tried to send him calm reassurance through his gaze despite his own racing pulse.

“I told her you were doing well, that your spirits seemed higher since the trip,” Shad continued. “I let her know that reconnecting with the villagers and with Ilia, combined with the support of your other friends, seemed to have a positive effect on you, and that having a job to do - real, meaningful work - appeared to bolster your mood considerably. She said she would take all of that into consideration. And then…” Shad paused and looked away, at the fountain across the square.

“Yes?” Link asked eagerly.

“She asked me if I was sure there was nothing else. I said I was positive, there was nothing more to tell. And then she stared at me. Silently. For forty-five seconds. I counted.” Shad turned and looked at Link as the hero recoiled in horror. “I held her gaze the whole time, doing my utmost to school my expression into one of genuine calm and mildly curious courtesy. It was…”

“Terrifying?” Link interjected.

“I was going to say intense, but yes, that too. That’s the second time you’ve done that,” observed the scholar. “You most certainly have a way with accurate and direct descriptions, old boy.”

Link’s lips quirked up into their little half-smile. “I do my best. So what happened after her staring contest?”

Shad sighed, rolling his shoulders to release some of the tension that the memory had brought to his muscles. “She smiled at me, thanked me, and showed me to the door. After that I was led directly into the dining room, and you know the rest.”

“That’s it? She said nothing else, didn’t explain that long stare at all?” Shad shook his head and Link let out a short, nervous bark of laughter. “Well no wonder you looked worried despite that big smile you had on coming in.” Glancing up at his friend, Link furrowed his brow. “Are you still worried? Do you think she believed you?”

“I most certainly hope so. I don’t know that I would have been allowed out of that room if she did not believe me. I really did focus quite hard on staying calm and not letting my face or body betray any signs of dishonesty.”

Link cocked a brow in curiosity. “How do you know how to do something like that?”

The top of Shad’s cheekbones grew faintly pink. “Oh, well, it’s nothing, I just picked up a book this morning on the body and the psychology of deception and read a little. You see, since lying is an inherently stressful activity, our bodies can betray us, showing our physical responses to that stress - our hearts speed up their beating, our voices can become higher pitched, we may fidget or shift our eyes around. I merely kept my story and words simple, focused on breathing and staying calm to keep my voice level, and remained conscious of the rest of my body and what it might be trying to give away subconsciously.”

Link stared at him in response, his eyebrows raised. As Shad waited for him to say something, Link just laughed and then ran his fingers back through his hair, shaking his head.

“You read a book on lying and taught yourself how to do it well enough to fool royalty. In one morning. Of course you did. Because you’re amazing.” Link grinned as Shad’s blush deepened and he ducked his head. He reached out a hand to squeeze Shad’s upper arm. “Thank you, Shad. Let’s just hope that everything keeps going smoothly.”

“You are most welcome, my friend, and yes, my hopes align with yours there.” Shad shifted, adjusting his spectacles. “So, what is on your schedule for the rest of the day? I do need to check in at the University and catch up on a bit of work, as well as let them know I’ll be on another royal assignment tomorrow…” he trailed off, shaking his head. “Another royal assignment. I can’t even believe I’m saying those words and actually going to the City in the Sky with you tomorrow, let alone that Princess Zelda herself requested multiple advance copies of a book I haven’t even fully written yet!” His eyes glazed over and he grabbed Link’s hands, placing them on his shoulders. “Shake me, Link, I must be dreaming.”

Laughing, Link gave Shad’s shoulders a squeeze, then ran his hands down Shad’s arms to his hands, squeezing those too before quickly letting go. Link noted the way that Shad suppressed a shiver as Link’s hands had traveled down his arms and he felt a pang of guilt. Now that he knew how Shad felt about him, or at least how Ilia thought Shad felt about him, he noticed every reaction that seemed to back up her words at the spring - all of the scholar’s blushes, his shivers, his averted eyes, his careful politeness to cover up his interest. Link loved seeing how Shad reacted to him, but… but here, now, in the shadow of the castle, the shadow of his and Midna’s triumphs and heartbreaks… something still just felt a little off inside him. And after the lunch with Zelda and all the memories that spending time with her always brought up, he wasn’t entirely sure if he was ready to dive back into love so soon. And so he felt guilty, for not keeping his hands to himself. He never wanted to lead Shad on in such a manner. The last thing he wanted to do was disrespect him or toy with his feelings.

He took a careful half-step back and shook his sandy-blonde head. “It’s no dream. You deserve all of this, Shad. I’m just thrilled that so many good things are happening for you! You’re brilliant, and it’s high time you were recognized for that.” Link smiled gently at the scholar as he blushed again. “I have a few things to get this afternoon for our trip,” Link continued. “We’ll need to connect later though. When you’re done at the university, of course. There is a great deal I need to tell you about exploring around the City. It can be really dangerous, and I will be taking your safety seriously.”

Link’s gaze was resolute and Shad nodded. “It’s a plan then. Shall we meet back at my place for dinner, and then make our way to Telma’s afterwards? We can discuss preparations before all the festivities.”

“Sounds good. I’ll catch up with you later then.” Link flashed another grin at Shad, who returned it with his own close-lipped smile.

“See you soon.” Shad waved and turned to leave as Link jogged towards Malo Mart.

Browsing the goods on display, Link began to absent-mindedly whistle the store’s catchy tune as he avoided running into any of the jubilant, dancing customers. His thoughts were churning in his head and he was glad he had a little bit of time to think them over while he ran his errands. First and foremost in his mind was the sheer excitement of taking Shad to the Sky, and all the practical preparations he had to make to keep him safe.

Behind that was some trepidation about the next few days being full of events at court, and then his impending knighthood and Zelda’s request that he work for her as a soldier. He didn’t hate the idea, but he didn’t know that he wanted to join the Guard either. But what else was he going to do? Float by on the goodwill of the people as their Hero until he was old, fat, and lazy? He wrinkled his nose at that idea.

Thoughts of Zelda’s request brought to mind her behavior at the luncheon - how she had cut Shad off and dropped out of the conversation momentarily. Her obvious traumatic response to the noise in the hallway, but also her joyful engagement with his friends as they’d all talked and laughed together. He thought back to how she’d insisted she had everything under control and refused to talk about what happened with him or anyone else. He knew it wasn’t good for her to keep it all inside and deny that she was struggling. He had done that for weeks, and it hadn’t turned out well.

A smile drifted over Link’s face as he perused the potions available in the shop. He wasn’t in that dark, lonely place anymore though. He was getting better, and a lot of that was thanks to Shad. He recalled how many times the scholar had gone out of his way to care for him and how he had even gone to Ilia to get him support. He wouldn’t be where he was now without his friends, that was sure.

All of a sudden it clicked for Link - Zelda needed the support of her friends to be able to heal. Of course she wasn’t opening up to anyone, of course she didn’t trust anyone enough to be vulnerable with them - she had no friends, therefore she had no real support. A sorrow struck his heart as he thought of how alone she must feel.

Link selected two red potions and two blue potions, scoring the bottles with them as part of a sale, and paid at the counter. Packing away his purchases, he moved on to his next errand.

As he headed towards the leatherworker’s shop, he mulled the idea of friendship with Zelda around in his head. He hadn’t really ever thought of her that way, to be honest. He thought of her as fiercely independent, sorrowful and regal, someone to protect but also obey. Could there be a genuine friendship between them? Was that even something she wanted?

He recalled how well she’d gotten along with both Ilia and Shad at lunch. Maybe it didn’t have to be just him. Maybe Zelda needed several friends. She already seemed part way there, at least in extending the invitation to Ilia for tea and dressmaking services. And she did seem fond of Shad, not just for his work, but also judging from how well they’d conversed during lunch. They were both highly intelligent. Maybe she wouldn’t have to be alone.

A sense of pity flooded Link as he pictured Zelda as she was months ago, up in her high tower alone, cloaked in black and watching the Twilight fall over her kingdom with sorrowful eyes. He’d freed her from that tower and from her enemies, but was she still trapped there, in her heart and in her mind?

Looks like I might still have a princess to rescue after all.

With a regretful sigh, Link entered the leatherworks, putting aside his thoughts of befriending the future queen for now and focusing his mind on the task at hand.

Chapter Text

It was taking longer than Shad had expected for them to get to Telma’s bar, but he really wasn’t all that perturbed by their potentially late arrival. Watching Link as he joyfully tossed a bone for the fluffy white dog that lived on his street was too precious a moment to cut short. He watched as his friend deftly scooped up the bone from the pavement and tossed it again, far down the lane. The little pup yelped out a short excited bark and scampered after it, his claws scrabbling on the cobblestones.

Link laughed and ran his fingers through his hair, glancing over his shoulder at Shad. He saw the dapper scholar leaning against the doorframe, hands in his pockets and his legs crossed at the ankles. Link’s lips curved into an appreciative little smile as he drank in the sight of him. Shad’s answering smile lit up his face, his midnight blue eyes sparkling in the fading evening light.

Shad breathed in contentedly. He loved being able to pause and observe Link in these small cheerful moments that came over him. There weren’t enough of them for the young man who’d already done so much for Hyrule, he thought. Sighing, he pushed himself off the wall and sauntered over to him. As he walked over, he admired Link’s outfit for the evening. Gone was the Hero’s green tunic and cap of earlier. In its place, Link wore a sky-blue tunic a few shades lighter than his earrings, dark cinnamon leggings, and his sturdy leather boots. His belt was at his waist, but he’d left his sword and shield at Shad’s. His short, sandy hair was loose about his face and it made him look young and carefree. The short-sleeved tunic fit him just snugly enough to display the outlines of his well-toned chest and shoulders when he moved. The color made his cerulean eyes pop.

Shad ran his hand down over his own clothes self-consciously. Try as he might to put together flattering outfits, he knew that he’d never have anything close to Link’s amazing physique to fill them out. Shad brushed his fingers against his lilac waistcoat and tugged at the lapels of his jacket. He’d gone with the eggplant, but should it have been the hunter green jacket instead?

Shad was lost in his thoughts when Link was suddenly there in front of him. Without words or permission, he reached up to straighten the redhead’s shirt collar. Shad blinked and brought his hands down to twirl his bracelets, flushed and unnerved by Link’s unexpected proximity. The heat from Link’s capable hands so near the sensitive skin of Shad’s throat made goosebumps rise up all over his forearms and the back of his neck. He swallowed hard, trying to hold still and tamp down his body’s reaction to Link being so close to him. It was not easy. Link was taking his time, and - Oh Hylia! - he smelled so delicious, like a treat that Shad wanted to savor for hours.

“You look great, you know,” Link said casually as he moved his hands down to adjust Shad’s bowtie slightly, tugging the loops to make them even.

Shad felt his cheeks turn hot. “Wh-whatever do you mean, old boy?”

Link’s lips curved into their customary half-smile at his words. He took a step back after he’d finished and Shad took a calming breath. He was torn between longing for more of Link’s heat and scent and reluctant relief that the brawny hero was no longer so close.

“I could tell you’d drifted away there. You were tugging on your clothes like you felt nervous about them,” Link replied. “I just thought you should know that you look great tonight. Your…” he waved a hand towards Shad’s clothing. “... ensemble, I think you’d call it? It really suits you.”

Shad knew his blush was spreading to the tips of his ears. He looked away, too overwhelmed to meet Link’s keen eyes. Link could read him that well? The thought left Shad feeling sensitive and vulnerable. He was touched that Link had noticed though. It was so sweet and thoughtful of Link to reassure him, even helping him adjust his clothes.

“Th-thank you. That’s very kind of you to say.” He brought a hand up to twist the long ends of his bow tie around his finger. “I was fretting a bit, it’s true. I appreciate your confidence in me and your support.”

Always.” Link’s voice was soft but serious. He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s just the truth.” He reached down to rub the ears of the spritely little pup as it bounced at his feet, carrying the bone it had fetched. “Sorry for the delay. I can never resist playing with this little fella.” The dog dropped the bone at Link’s feet and barked up at him.

Shad smiled down at the petite pup. “There’s nothing to apologize for. But we really shouldn’t leave our friends waiting for too long. Shall we?”

Link gave the snowy pup a goodbye rub on the head and then headed towards Telma’s Bar, falling into place beside Shad.

Their usual haunt was lively and crowded, with a trio of musicians playing in the front corner. Telma was busy serving at the bar, and Shad scanned over the crowd until he saw that all the familiar faces were already at the back table. He grabbed Link’s arm and pointed towards their friends. He led him through the crowd to the Resistance’s corner. Fortunately, the other patrons of the bar respected that this was their reserved area and didn’t intrude, especially with Telma herself helping to enforce that respect.

“Shad! Link!” Ilia jumped out of her seat and rushed towards them, her beaming face coming at them like a daisy basking in the sunshine. She reached Shad first and he dropped Link’s arm suddenly. Ilia wrapped him in a hug, then moved to Link and squeezed him affectionately too.

Across the table, Ashei raised an eyebrow at Shad over Ilia’s head when she hugged him, a slight smirk on her face. Shad caught her look and lifted one shoulder in reply. Ordonian boisterous friendliness did take some getting used to, but it wasn’t so bad once you’d experienced the onslaught once or twice. It was rather pleasant, actually.

After Ilia’s exuberant greeting, Link and Shad said hello to the others. They settled into the open seats next to each other at the round table, with Auru and Ashei on Link’s left, and Ilia and Bo on Shad’s right.

Telma came bustling up to the table and set down a large, full tray. “Hello boys! So good to see you both again. Bo here tells me you’ve been doing well with your work for the princess!” She smiled at the two young men as she began to pass around the food and drinks.

“Ah, so you’ve already all been introduced,” Link remarked wistfully. “I’m sorry we were late for that.”

“No matter.” Telma waved a hand at him in dismissal. “We know how to say ‘hello’ and ‘how do you do’ just fine without you two.” She finished serving and stood up straight, one hand on her round hip. “But back to what I was saying, honey! Ilia and Bo tell me that you two have some big plans tomorrow and that Princess Zelda herself is interested in Shad’s work? Tell us more,” she urged.

“Link is taking me to the City in the Sky!” Shad blurted out, his eyes shining with excitement. “It’s the home of the Oocca, you see. The Sky Beings themselves! Ah, to finally see them myself, to possibly speak with them…! The opportunities for discovery are simply tremendous. It almost boggles the mind.” Shad leaned back in his chair, his eyes a little dazed.

“It’s been Shad’s dream for years. You all know how he’s been continuing his father’s research,” Link added. “Princess Zelda herself has already pre-ordered three copies of his upcoming book on the Oocca, just from hearing about our trip tomorrow. And she wants to continue to consult Shad about putting the Ordonian cultural stuff in the ceremony and celebrations. And and - he’s invited to all of the royal events leading up to Princess Zelda’s coronation with me.”

A chorus of congratulations rose from the table, and Shad blushed furiously under the onslaught of attention.

“These boys need a drink!” shouted Bo, raising his mug of ale into the air. “What’ll it be, boys? I’ll get this round!”

“Oh, er, I’m not sure, I don’t really drink all that much…” Shad trailed off, looking at Link.

Link met his gaze and shrugged his shoulders. “Anything but wine works for me,” he replied.

Telma winked at them. “I’ll bring you boys something good,” she promised.

Ashei leaned back in her chair and cupped her hands around her mouth. “Make it strong!” she shouted across the crowd to Telma, who nodded her head in reply, laughing.

She turned towards Link as Shad became engrossed in conversation with Ilia, and Bo and Auru resumed their own discussion. “Seems like you’re doing better since the last time I saw you.”

“Thanks. I am.” Link peered closely at her. She looked slightly leaner than she had a week ago. Her cheekbones were pronounced, as if the icy winds of Snowpeak had whittled her down. “How were the mountains?”

“Challenging,” she replied immediately, a slight scowl forming between her brows. “Interesting. Weird.” She shot her dark gaze at him.

Link cocked his head in curiosity. “Weird? Weird how?”

Ashei leaned in, placing her gauntleted hand on the table. “I made it to that mansion you told me about, yeah?” At Link’s nod, she continued. “You were right. The Yeti were kind. Good soup,” she added. “The weird thing was…” she hesitated, dropping her gaze to watch as she swirled the contents of her drink.

“What is it, Ashei?” Link asked, his concern growing at her hesitation.

Ashei brought her earth-hued eyes up to his. “Clearly you noticed that it was once a fortress as well as a noble’s home, yeah? All the weapons, armor, and cannons.” Link nodded in reply. “And that it’s long been abandoned? Technically the yetis are squatters, yeah?” Link nodded his head again. “Did you pay much attention to the crests all over the place?”

Link looked up, scanning his memory. “I recall that they were there, but no, I didn’t pay much attention to them,” he admitted, shrugging his shoulders. “I noticed they weren’t Hylian, that’s about it.”

“It’s my family crest, Link. My father’s.”

Link’s eyes widened in astonishment. This was not the weirdness that he’d anticipated. He’d thought maybe some strange new creatures had moved in.

“Yeah,” Ashei continued, reading his expression. “Weird, right? My father sure never mentioned anything to me about how our ancestors were some sort of Lord Snow of Hoarfrost Hill, or whatever ridiculous name that place probably has.”

“Wow, Ashei. That’s a big deal. I wonder if it was your family’s, long ago? I wonder why they left? I mean, why doesn’t your family either know or talk about it now?”

“All those questions and more, Link.” Ashei pointed at her head. “Right here.” She took a swig from her mug.

Telma came back with their drinks then, setting two glasses filled with an opaque golden liquid down in front of the latecomers. “Here you are, boys. Try this and tell me what you think.”

Link picked up his cup and took a sip. It tasted like some sort of sweet fruit juice, but not of a variety he’d had before. There was something else underlying the taste as well, slightly bitter but it complimented the sweetness. He decided he liked it.

“Thanks Telma, this is good!”

Shad nodded his agreement with Link’s words as he sipped at his beverage.

Raising her own glass, Telma cried out “Time for a toast! To Shad and his dreams coming true!”

“To Shad!” cried Bo, Ilia, Link, Auru, and Ashei. Everyone took a swig.

“And to Link!” she cried again, her glass still held high. “For making that dream come true!”

“To Link!” A few of the bar patrons around them heard their cheer over the music and also turned to raise a glass to the Hero. Link felt his face heat at the extra attention his toast had received and smiled briefly at his fans before looking down. It still felt so odd to have strangers interested in him all the time.

Telma grabbed their empty cups, heading back to the bar to refill them.

Turning to Shad, Link held his cup up and raised his eyebrows. Shad smiled and brought up his own glass to lightly clink against Link’s.

“To dreams.” Link’s voice was low and quiet. He brought his eyes hesitantly up to meet Shad’s deep indigo gaze.

“That come true,” was Shad’s soft reply before they each took a sip, their eyes locked. Shad looked so cute tonight, his eyes bright with excitement about their trip tomorrow. Link felt the beginnings of a blush spread across his cheeks and saw its twin on Shad’s handsome face.

A thunderous laugh from Bo across the table slightly startled them both, and the moment was gone as their attention was once again captured by the conversations of those around them.

Link turned back to Ashei as Shad chimed in on the conversation with Ilia about her Ordonian ceremonial gown design.

“So…” Link mentally checked himself back into their conversation. “Snowpeak. Wow. Are you gonna go back up, or look into it more?” Link took another few sips of his drink. It really was tasty. He briefly wondered what was in it.

“I don’t know. What’s the point? What would it change? So my family used to command some battle station in the frozen peaks? So? What does that do for me now?” Ashei shrugged her shoulders. She swirled the contents of her mug and then drained the remnants, setting her cup down with a clunk.

“I don’t know, but I’d sure be curious if I were you.”

Ashei gave him another shrug of her shoulders, narrowing her eyes a little.

Taking the hint to drop it, Link turned slightly away and downed the contents of his own glass. The silence settled into something comfortable between them. Ashei rested her arms on the table and turned to look at him.

“So how about you?” Her tone was lighter, almost teasing. “Sounds like more fancy parties coming your way. You think you’ll just keep living that high life, or are you going to actually do something worthwhile again someday?”

“Ouch, Ashei,” Link chuckled. Her direct manner and cutting tongue were sharp, but he knew she meant well. “I’m definitely not going to be a professional courtier past Zelda’s coronation, I can tell you that.”

Link paused as Telma stopped by to drop off the refills and clear their empty cups

“Looks like a few of you are ready for more.” The friendly proprietress angled her head towards them. “What’ll it be? More of the same?”

“Keep ‘em coming, Telma.” Ashei nodded at her empty glass as well as Link and Shad’s. “I’ll buy this round.”

“Oh, no thank you. I’m fine, actually,” Shad spoke up.

“Shad, c’mon!” Ashei exclaimed. “Let yourself celebrate for once, yeah?” She gave him an exasperated look. “We’re celebrating you.”

“I’m gonna have another one too.” Link shrugged his shoulders.

Shad bit his lip and then threw his hands up. “Oh, all right! I’ll have another.” Telma nodded and left to refill their drinks.

Link clapped him lightly on the back, a grin splitting his cheeks. “That’s the spirit, Shad!”

Shad smiled back, his cheeks taking on a rosy hue. The now familiar sight of Shad blushing in reaction to his touch or attention made Link’s thoughts race down the road to depravity like they had earlier at lunch.

I wonder if that blush spreads over his whole body when he’s aroused? I wonder what he’d look like, flushed like that from head to toe and spread out beneath me. What expression would be on his handsome face when he’s sated and spent from all of the pleasure I’ve given him?

Link caught his errant thoughts and turned hot with shame. What was he doing, thinking about Shad like that right now, with all their friends gathered around them? They were celebrating his intellect and achievements, not his sexual appeal or performance! He sent a firm mental not now down to his groin and shifted in his seat, searching for a position that was more comfortable for his pulsing cock as it began to strain against the tight fabric of his leggings.

He cleared his throat and turned to Ashei, trying to refocus his mind on their conversation to distract himself from his inconvenient lusty thoughts. “Um, thanks for buying the round!”

Ashei leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “Oh, you’re welcome. It’s money well spent.” She flashed her eyes at Shad as he turned to answer a question from Bo. As she brought her gaze back to Link, a strange little smile made her face unreadable to him. “Anyway,” she continued. “You still haven’t said what you will be doing, if it’s not to be a little lordling in the making.”

“Right.” Link dropped his gaze to the table, shaking his head a little. “I’m still not entirely sure what I want to do.” He brought his eyes back to hers. “Zelda wants to knight me at her ceremony. I said yes.” Ashei raised an eyebrow, the only indicator of her surprise at his statement. “I know, I finally gave in,” he replied to her subtle expression. “It’s what the people want from their Hero, I guess.” He sighed heavily, running his hand through his hair. “Sometimes I feel so trapped in this role.”

“I can understand that feeling,” Ashei empathized. “I feel trapped sometimes too. Not a lot of people take a female soldier very seriously, yeah? I’m pretty limited in the jobs I’m offered.”

“Well that’s rotten. Those fools are missing out.” Link frowned. “I was thinking of maybe joining the Royal Guard. I like Captain Harbin well enough and I’m going to start training with them regularly after we get back from the Sky. I don’t know though, it just… it doesn’t feel like the right fit for some reason. Is that something you’d consider doing though? It might be better if you were there too.”

Ashei snorted in derision. “Why, so we could march in pretty parades together and yawn by doorways all day? I wouldn’t join them even if they’d have me, which they won’t, because they don’t let women into their ranks.” She rolled her eyes so hard Link wondered if it hurt. “Besides the fact that the work itself is mind-numbingly dull, I don’t want to be lumped in with those sorry excuses for soldiers who failed our royal family and ran from true danger when the people needed them.” Ashei’s scowl was fierce and Link leaned back, taking her words seriously.

Telma came up then and dropped off their drinks. Link’s knuckles brushed against the back of Shad’s smooth hand as they reached for their cups. The tiny touch was shocking in its intensity and made Link feel like sparks were shooting between their hands. He glanced at Shad’s face and found the redhead looking back at him, his eyes intense. Link felt his face turn hot as tingles traveled up and down his spine. There was a heat in Shad’s gaze that Link hadn’t fully seen before. He was powerless to stop his fantasies from running wild again.

Shad’s eyes are so warm and intense. Would they be just as intense if I had a fistful of his fiery hair in my grip, forcing him to look at me while I slide inside him? I wonder what cute little gasps and moans he’d make in my ear while I fuck him?

Link felt his cheeks grow considerably warmer as he became aware of the train of his thoughts again and he saw a matching blush on Shad’s high cheekbones. He turned his head away, unable to hold their eye contact any longer. He took a sip of his drink and tried to act natural.

What is happening to me? What am I thinking? I shouldn’t be letting my mind go there if I’m not ready to tell him how I feel… if I’m not ready for more… but could I be? Because I can’t deny that I want him.

Link snuck a tiny glance back over at Shad, who was also taking a long sip from his drink and not meeting Link’s eyes. Link shifted awkwardly in his chair, crossing his legs as his throbbing cock threatened to tear through his leggings. I need to control myself! He took a deep breath as he tried his utmost to think of something that had nothing to do with Shad, sex, or sex with Shad.

Ilia tapped Shad’s arm to get his attention and then asked him another question as he slowly turned back towards her. Link reluctantly pulled his gaze away from Shad and back to Ashei. She was taking a long sip, her perceptive eyes focused on him over the rim of her glass.

He blinked at her a few times, feeling slightly fuzzy-headed until he remembered what they’d been talking about before… good grief, before he’d barely touched Shad’s hands. What had gotten into him? He took another breath, actively forcing his mind away from the gutter, and continued their conversation. “I hear you about the Guard, trust me.” He looked down at the golden liquid in his own cup. “That’s why it doesn’t feel right for me either.” He glanced up at her. “But what else is there?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about private security, maybe a caravan guard.” Ashei shrugged her armored shoulders. “It’s still not very meaningful work, but at least it’s active. Pays decent enough too.”

Link nodded his head slowly, nursing his drink as he took in her words. She was right about the Guard, unfortunately. Link did have hopes that they would at least be more disciplined and better trained now than they had been before the crisis. Captain Harbin had been moved up in rank by Zelda after the defeat of Ganondorf, and he was a skilled soldier and efficient leader, in Link’s opinion. Still, Ashei wasn’t wrong about most of their actual duties. The times when his skill set would actually be needed would be few and far between. That was a good thing, he knew, but being a parade soldier in a time of relative peace wasn’t what he necessarily wanted.

He could tell it wasn’t right for Ashei either, even if she hadn’t made her opinions on joining the Guard crystal clear. She was a skilled fighter, trading a man’s brute strength for speed, agility, and a keen mind. He knew she also had strong survival skills, and was capable of looking after herself in some of Hyrule’s harshest climates. Plus, she was loyal to Hyrule and eager to help others. It might not seem like it from her attitude sometimes, but she wouldn’t have joined the Resistance in the first place if she hadn’t thought that she could be of service to the realm. He knew she’d do a decent job as a caravan guard, but also knew it wouldn’t fully make use of her abilities. Link wondered what the right fit was for both of them.

Shad laughed out loud next to him and clutched Link’s arm, immediately capturing his attention. “Did you hear that, Link? Ilia has already been speaking with the princess about your ensemble for the coronation. Apparently it’s all planned out.” His navy eyes sparkled with mirth.

“What?” Link frowned slightly. “No need for that. I’ll just wear the Hero’s clothes.”

Ilia and Shad shared a look, rolling their eyes slightly as they smiled.

“Link, honey, no.” Ilia shook her head at him. “Princess Zelda wants you in something a little finer for this occasion.”

Link’s frown deepened. “That seems kinda unnecessary to me.”

Ashei barked out a short laugh. “Just give up now, Link. Let the princess and her ladies dress you up like their doll and get it over with.” Link scowled at her and she smirked in reply.

“You may as well not fight it, old boy.” Shad gave him a sympathetic look. “I’m afraid that clothes rather do make the man, especially at occasions this grand. The princess will be wanting everything to go perfectly, and your appearance is an important piece.”

“Shad speaks the truth,” Auru chimed in. “You’ll be representing all of Hyrule and Princess Zelda will need you to look the part.”

“It’s not so bad, Link,” Bo spoke up gruffly. “If I can handle a little tailoring, so can you.”

“Okay, okay, fine. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. Yeah, I’ll wear whatever Zelda wants me in. I don’t care.” Link shrugged his shoulders and took a big sip of his fruity libation.

Ashei raised an eyebrow. “Yeah? I hear she ordered you extra ruffles.” Ashei cackled and Ilia burst into giggles as Link almost spit out his drink.

“Ohh-kay, I think I’m done with this conversation for now.” Link tossed back the rest of his drink and pushed up out of his seat. He was at least grateful that all their teasing had done a number on his arousal, so he didn’t have to worry about that being noticed. “I’m gonna head up to the bar and get another one. Anyone else? It’s my turn to buy a round.”

“I’ll come with ya.” Bo stood and grabbed a couple of empty glasses to take up. Auru pushed back his chair as well and joined them.

“I’ll have one.” Ashei handed over her empty glass. “Shad?”

“This one is still half full, thank you. I’ll sit this round out.”

The men wove their way towards the bar through the crowded room. Ashei scooted her chair closer to Shad as soon as she judged they were out of earshot. She leaned in close and looked him right in the eyes.

“So? You guys boyfriends yet?”

“Ashei!” Shad exclaimed, shooting a nervous look at Link’s departing back. Link had incredibly acute hearing and Shad was worried he’d heard her despite the distance. Ilia giggled on the other side of him and Shad flushed to the tips of his ears as he realized Link’s oldest friend was privy to Ashei’s impertinent question.

“They’re not yet,” the perky blonde piped up. She leaned in, whispering loudly towards Ashei, “But I’m betting it will happen before the coronation!” She winked at Shad, whose cheeks turned a darker shade of crimson.

Ashei barked out a laugh as Shad covered his face with his hands, groaning into them.

“I like her.” Ashei smirked at the flustered scholar.

He removed one hand from his face and glared at his smirking friend. “I like her too.” He dropped his other hand and raised his head, scowling at both of them. ”I like both of you much better, however, when you are not playing the roles of interfering matchmakers!” Shad raised his chin. “Link and I are… we’re exploring our friendship as it naturally grows. It will continue to grow perfectly adequately, if not flourish, without outside meddling or involvement. Thank you very much!”

“Fine, I’ll back off. But he is so into you, Shad. I saw it the second you two walked in together, and I can feel the heat from here.” Ashei raised one sculpted obsidian eyebrow, daring him to contradict her.

Shad glanced at Ilia, who merely shrugged her shoulders, nodding her head at Ashei’s assessment. Even Ilia thought so? Shad sipped his drink and considered what Ilia and Ashei were telling him. Were those looks and small touches between them possibly affecting Link the same way they were him? He’d had to discreetly shift and adjust his breeches already this evening, after his filthy mind had played vivid fantasies for him of Link’s strong body overpowering his and using him for both their pleasure. Before he could formulate a reply, he saw Link’s golden head weaving its way through the crowd towards them.

“All right, I hear you both, now please control yourselves,” he admonished them, shoving his lewd thoughts back down where they belonged. Ilia and Ashei exchanged glances and Ilia hid her giggles behind a cough as Link made his way back over to them.

Link took his seat, finding it a tighter fit since Ashei’s chair was much closer to his than before he’d gone up to the bar. They must have crowded closer together for conversation when they were the only ones at the table. He slid into the small space, his right side brushing up against Shad as he squeezed in. “Sorry,” murmured Link. “It’s a tight fit.” He set Ashei’s drink down in front of her and took a large sip of his own.

Shad watched as Link’s full, supple lips met the rim of his cup. “No matter, my friend,” Shad replied, quickly shifting his eyes away before he could get caught staring. Their seats were definitely closer than they had been before Link went up to the bar. He scooted his own chair over a little closer to Ilia to make room. Bringing his drink up to his own lips, Shad sipped steadily while he played with the ends of his bowtie. On either side of them, Ilia and Ashei shared a private little smile.

“Did you lose my father on the way back?” enquired Ilia, leaning in to speak with Link.

“Oh, Auru saw a friend up at the bar who he wanted to introduce him to.” Link leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table and holding his drink between both hands, continuing to take small sips of it. He tapped his toes in time with the music and quietly hummed along with the familiar tune the musicians were playing. His ears perked up suddenly when he heard Shad say his name, drawing his attention away from the main room.

“Yes, we did talk a little bit more about Link, after we discussed our ideas for the coronation outfits,” Ilia replied. “We didn’t tease him as hard as we were at lunch or anything though.” Ilia giggled.

“Well that’s a relief!” Link piped up.

“Ahh, so no stories were told of his past transgressions after all then?” Shad enquired.

“I didn’t say that.” Ilia looked like she was trying to suppress a laugh. “I definitely supplied her with some choice tales. But hey, I didn’t say anything that isn’t true.” She shrugged her shoulders and smiled sweetly.

Link started to speak up in his defense again when he felt Shad’s hand press gently but firmly onto his forearm. It looked like an affectionate gesture but strangely felt like he meant “pause” or “stop.” He glanced down at Shad’s hand and then held his tongue as the scholar turned to question Ilia again.

“Did the princess ask for details, or for any other information about our Hero?” Shad asked casually. Link could sense a subtle strain in his voice, but his tone fooled Ilia. He glanced at Ashei. She was sitting back, quietly observing the interchange.

“A little. She’s very quiet, you know.” Ilia tilted her fair head, considering. “Well, actually no, not quiet exactly. More reserved, I guess you’d say. She asked about him - about you a little.” She nodded her head to indicate Link now that he was active in the conversation.

“Oh?” Link tried for the same casual tone Shad had used. Shad took his hand off Link’s arm and reached for his drink. “I can’t be that interesting to talk about so much,” Link continued. “What’d she ask about?”

“She was really sweet actually. She asked after your health and well-being, and how your visit to Ordon was.” Ilia smiled warmly at Link. “She really wanted to know how you’ve been holding up. I told her that you were doing well, better than your last visit to Ordon. She seemed relieved. I think it’s lovely how concerned she is for you.”

Link forced his lips to turn up into something like a smile as Ilia spoke, and kept his smile on as he turned his head to look at Shad. The redhead angled his head slightly towards Link. He didn’t look directly at him, but caught Link’s look in his peripheral vision.

“Yes, it is so good of Her Highness to keep Link in mind despite all the responsibilities she is committed to and substantial burdens she is already under.” Shad kept his voice calm and even. “She asked me about his welfare too actually, just before our lunch earlier today. Then of course, she had the chance to speak with him in person there as well. She must be very distressed, to ask about his health multiple times on the same day, especially with so much else to concern her.” Shad took a long sip of his drink, his eyes lowered.

“Royalty.” Ashei shook her head in disbelief. “You’d think that running a kingdom would give her enough to do and worry about, instead of wasting her time checking up on our little Link. He’s a survivor, like all of us.” Her cinnamon gaze scanned him up and down, and Link found himself sitting up straighter under her scrutiny. “You look well enough to me.” She glanced back at Ilia. “Doesn’t she know he’s a big boy now?”

Ilia’s brows furrowed slightly. “Oh, Ashei, of course she does. She’s just being kind.” Ashei shrugged her shoulders, not wanting an argument over it. Ilia flashed her a little smile. “You’re both right, though,” Ilia continued. “She does have a lot of worries weighing her down - not that she spoke about them much. Like I said, the princess was fairly reserved, but her lady’s maid Ada wasn’t.”

“Oh, Ada! Yes, she’s quite sweet.” Shad smiled as he recalled the petite brunette maid.

Ilia nodded. “Princess Zelda had to leave the room for a bit when some official interrupted and asked for her urgently. She felt bad about leaving me alone at tea, and had Ada stay to keep me company.” Ilia tilted her head and let a big smile sweep over her face. “She is just the sweetest thing, asked me all sorts of questions about life in Ordon and how amazing and wonderful it must have been growing up with you, Link.” She laughed at him, grinning cheekily, and he rolled his eyes in reply.

“Anyway,” Ilia continued, “we got to talking and she opened up to me about her worries for the princess. Ada said nightmares keep the princess up every night, but she won’t talk to anyone about it.” Ilia shook her head sadly. “She apparently doesn’t try to rest during the day to make up for her lack of sleep at night, either, and she barely stops working to eat. She just keeps pushing through. Ada says she’s just so busy working on rebuilding Hyrule and becoming Queen, doing everything right, but members of the council and court keep putting more and more on her plate.” She glanced around the table at them all, her voice soft when she continued. “Ada said she was glad I was there at tea today. She said she hadn’t heard the princess laugh like she had today in a long time. I feel… I feel kinda bad for her, and I never thought I’d think something like that about a princess.” Ilia looked down, her face solemn. Link took in a slow breath as the mood settled over him as well.

Ashei had a skeptical frown on her face. “This maid sure has some loose lips. That’s a lot of information she’s just handing over to some stranger. Does the princess know she goes around telling everyone her personal business like that?”

“Well Ilia isn’t exactly some stranger, Ashei,” Link reasoned. “Zelda invited Ilia to tea specially, after sharing lunch with her today too. I’m sure she only does that with people she likes or trusts at least a little. And Ada obviously saw how Zelda was bonding with Ilia from spending time with her. Her maid just sounds worried about her and a little desperate for help, and frankly, I don’t blame her.” Link looked around at them, his brows drawn down in concern. He needed to open up to his friends and finally ask for their help. “I’m worried about her too.”

Chapter Text

“I’m worried about her too.” Link’s voice was tense and his brows were drawn down in concern.

Shad nodded his head slowly, thinking of the multiple times that Princess Zelda had acted unstable around him. “I find myself in agreement with you. She has been showing obvious signs of strain from the enormous pressure she’s under. I’m sure her position is quite stressful, especially after all the trauma she’s been through.”

“It is, plus I’m not sure how much actual support she has.” Link stated.

“What are you talking about? She’s surrounded by servants!” Ashei exclaimed, a look of disbelief on her face. “She’s got all sorts of advisors and other blue-bloods at her court. Seems supported enough to me, yeah?”

Link shook his head. “Not that kind of support. Not just advisors and servants. I mean like real support. Like what I have with you all. People to relax with, to laugh with, and who will have a listening ear or an open shoulder to cry on when she needs to unload. You know… a friend.” Ashei shot him a skeptical look, but Link pressed on. “I don’t think Zelda has any support at all like that. She has no real friends, not that I’ve ever seen anyway, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time around her at court over the past several weeks. I think she’s lonely, and I think she’s scared, and I think she’s dealing with a lot of the same trauma that I am, but all on her own. She needs friends.”

“Okay fine. The princess needs some besties. So what are we supposed to do about it? Go hunt some down for her?” Ashei asked skeptically.

Link turned towards her. “No, Ashei. We should be her friends.”

Shad and Ilia both looked thoughtful at Link’s suggestion but Ashei scoffed. “What? You want us to befriend the princess? Yeah, no, I’m not gonna go get dolled up and embroider handkerchiefs or whatever at teatime… no offense, Ilia.”

Ilia shrugged in response. “No offense taken. Different people like different things.”

“No one’s going to make you do anything, Ashei. But I don’t think you should underestimate and judge Zelda just because she’s a princess. I’ve fought alongside her. She’s incredibly skilled with a bow and I’ve seen her use a sword too. I think you’d find she’s a lot tougher than you think, and you may even have some things in common.” Ashei grunted in reply, her expression guarded.

“I think you’re onto something here, old boy,” Shad tapped his chin. “Ilia, she has already made several overtures of friendship to you, through her invitations and generosity. And you did just say that Ada reported that her level of enjoyment while spending time with you was rather exceptional for the princess.”

“And same with you, Shad.” Shad looked up at Link quizzically as he spoke. “You already have the beginnings of a connection too,” Link continued. “Both of you do. I’ve never seen Zelda as relaxed and playful as she was at lunch while she was talking with you. Shad, she is so interested in your research, and she’s already invited you to all her royal events. I think she genuinely likes you.”

“That may be true,” Shad inclined his head, “hard as it is to believe.”

“It’s not at all hard for me to believe that you’re entirely likeable.” Link winked at Shad and quirked his lips up into a smile when the expected blush bloomed on Shad’s cheekbones in response. He did his best to keep his thoughts on their conversation and not on Shad’s pink cheeks, or any other part of him again. He needed to get this idea out. “But you see?” he continued, turning to look at the others. “We’re already halfway there. We just have to keep reaching out to her and trying to connect.”

“Why does it have to be us?” Ashei sounded unconvinced.

“Well, I guess it doesn’t have to be you guys. But it does have to be me.” Link shook his head slightly. “I don’t know if it just comes along with this whole Hero business or not, but I feel a connection with Zelda. It’s not something I can explain exactly. It sort of feels like a really strong desire to protect her, but it’s more than that too. This is not something I can ignore, and I think it’s what is best for her, for us, and for Hyrule. She can’t keep going like this, under all this stress and struggling alone with what’s going on inside her head. We’re close enough to her to make a difference, we’re trustworthy, and I know we all have her and Hyrule’s best interests at heart.”

“Well, I for one will not leave you to handle this on your own.” Shad’s voice was resolute. “I’ve been having some of the same worries about the princess, and I genuinely did enjoy our time together at lunch. She’s obviously highly intelligent and a great conversationalist, once she lets her guard down a little. I’m game to continue working with her and trying to see if I can befriend her as well.”

“Me too.” Ilia’s expression was serious. “I know I’m only here for about a week, and I’ve never thought of myself as being friends with a princess, but I’ll see what I can do. She invited me back for tea tomorrow afternoon, and then the first dress fitting is the day after that. I’ll have lots of chances to see her, and hopefully she’ll come to trust me more and open up. I really do like what I know of her so far. I’m happy to try sharing about some of my experiences with her, if you think it’ll help.”

“Count me out for now.” Ashei took a big swig of her drink. “I can see why you think it’s important, but I don’t know where I’d fit into any of this. She may have some skill with sword or bow, as you say, but what am I supposed to do to bond with her, challenge her to combat?”

“Yeah, that obviously wouldn’t go over well.” Link shrugged his shoulders. “It’s all right, Ashei. I know you’ve got your own stuff going on right now anyway.” Ashei nodded at Link’s words and he turned his attention back to Shad and Ilia. “Okay, so we’re in this together, right? Project Befriend Zelda?” He stuck out his hand and Ilia shook it firmly.

Reaching for his hand, Shad tilted his head to one side, thinking. “Agreed, although in my own head I’ll have to think of it as ‘Project Befriend Princess Zelda’ of course.” Link laughed and shook his hand.

“All right there, friendship team.” Ashei’s tone was dry. “Way to go. Now I think you all need another drink to commemorate this momentous occasion, yeah?” She stood and grabbed her glass.

Link looked at Shad. “Should we?”

“Oh, sure, why not?” Shad drained the last of his tasty drink and handed his empty cup to Ashei, his smile wide and his eyes bright.

“Would you please grab me another honeyed apple cider?” Ilia added. Ashei nodded and grabbed her and Link’s cups and then wove her way to the bar.

Ilia, Shad, and Link continued discussing ways to connect with Princess Zelda over the next few days until Ashei returned with their drinks, deftly balancing two in each hand.

“Here you are, and you’re welcome,” she said, setting them down carefully. She squeezed in next to Link, adjusting her chair as she sat. Link scooted over to give her more room, but there wasn’t far to go before he ran right into Shad, who couldn’t shift over because of Ilia’s chair pushed up against his. Ashei swiftly slid her chair into the space Link had made free, making herself comfortable. He instinctively tried to shift a little further away out of courtesy, to give her room. His leg bumped up against something solid and Link realized that the warmth he felt all along the length of his thigh was from Shad’s own leg. He could either press his leg up against Shad, or up against Ashei. He chose the safest and most appealing option.

He tried his hardest not to glance down to where their legs were touching. He felt every inch of Shad’s thigh pressing up against his, making the skin there feel warm and tingly. The heat had him longing for more contact. He swallowed hard as his needy cock responded to their closeness, pulsing and stiffening again.

Link reached out with a barely trembling hand and grabbed his glass. “To, uh, to…” he trailed off, feeling a little numb and stupid.

Shad sat up straight and lifted his glass. “To our platonic princess pursuit.” Ilia and Ashei raised their glasses too and they all drank to their plans, summed up so succinctly by Shad.

“So,” Ashei began, bringing her glass down to the table. “Shad. This is your one chance you know. I’m surprised you’re not taking full advantage of it.”

“Pardon?” Shad brought his startled eyes up to her. Under the table he was suddenly very aware of the feel of Link’s solid thigh muscles stiffening against his own as Link flexed his leg. He swallowed and tried to tear his focus away from his sudden visions of Link’s naked muscular thighs pumping against him. He felt his cock pulse at the thought and took in a deep breath. “My one chance at what?”

She gave him a look of incredulity. “Really? What are we celebrating tonight, genius?” Rolling her eyes at him, she continued. “This is your one and only chance to talk all our ears off about your obsession. I’m not giving up another evening to listen to you ramble on about your weird sky people thing. So, what’re you looking forward to the most tomorrow? What nerdy thing has got you squirming in those argyle socks of yours?”

Since that would currently be his improper thoughts about Link pinning him down, all fierce and in control, Shad flushed and looked up at the ceiling briefly. He raced his mind through his catalog of thoughts, knowing Ashei was waiting for one of his customary wordy, intellectual answers. Unfortunately, his current brain-state was not anywhere near that vicinity. All of a sudden a line from his father’s research leapt out at him, almost as if he were reading it off the page, and he grabbed at it as his salvation.

“‘What is not known, however, is if the City in the Sky is held aloft by technological means or magical ones. There is some evidence for each theory, as the Oocca were said to be very technologically advanced, and I am now almost entirely positive that they may have had magical abilities as well.’” Shad spoke the words as they appeared in his head and brought his gaze back to Ashei, taking a deep breath. “Those are my father’s words, written in his journal. I would love to find out that answer and be able to change it for all of Hyrule from theory to fact. Especially since our dear Link here confirmed for me that they do have a magical method of transportation.”

A light dawned in Shad’s eyes as he continued, his voice growing more excited. “I- I am beyond thrilled to explore the city and observe absolutely everything. I want to take in the Ooccan technology, their design, their planning. I cannot wait to actually meet them and witness for myself their personalities, habits, and mannerisms. Oh, to be able to converse with them directly! I want to learn everything I can!” He laughed softly at himself, shaking his head. “I want every question answered, truly. I know that I cannot however, and that the trip will likely yield more mysteries than it does truths. Hopefully I can walk away with at least one answered question though.”

Link was beaming up at him, his fingers ruffling through his sandy hair. “You’re going to walk away with so much, Shad. I can’t wait to see you discover it all.” He brought his drink up to his lips and sipped deeply, smiling over the edge of the cup at Shad.

Shad’s blushing was simply out of control this evening. In fact, he felt rather flushed in general, and was sure his cheeks had been warm and rosy for quite a while. The feeling seemed to be growing in him, this pleasant sense of cosiness. He felt like he was glowing from the inside out when he thought about Link’s words. The hero had said “I can’t wait to see you discover it all”, not “I can’t wait to see all you discover.” The slight difference in meaning felt like a thick tome’s worth of words that told him how Link felt about him. Link wanted to see Shad’s happiness about his discoveries more than the amazing discoveries themselves. That was what Link most wanted from this trip, just to please Shad. The realization was staggering.

A small smile made its way onto his face and he felt like he was radiating with heat and energy. He took a hefty swallow of his own flavorful beverage and lifted his heel slightly, pressing his thigh just a bit more into Link’s under the table. He immediately felt pressure back and couldn’t bring himself to meet Link’s eyes. He smiled down into his drink as he took another swallow to cover up his nervousness. Was Link as aware as he was of the way they were touching? Was his mind also racing with dirty thoughts from these limited caresses? Was his cock stiff and aching in his trousers too?

Link reached for his own cup and brought it to his mouth as his leg began to slowly move up and down under the table, rubbing against Shad’s thigh rhythmically. Shad looked up at Link and the blonde’s steel blue gaze shot into his own. Shivers ran up and down Shad’s spine at the sensual energy in Link’s eyes.

“That’s exactly the kind of stuff I wanted to hear,” Ashei’s words broke through his wayward thoughts, and he remembered that he was answering her question, not Link’s at all. “I’m glad to see you happy Shad, truly.” Ashei lifted her drink and he luckily had enough active brain cells still to automatically bring his up to clink against hers. They both took another long swallow and Link joined them, beaming. Shad tried desperately to think of something other than Link’s thigh, or Link’s body, or just Link, right next to him, always so cute and so, so hot, rubbing up against him. Oh Goddesses, his touch had to be intentional, it had to. Link had to know what he was doing to him. Shad shook his head a little, feeling dazed.

“Oh, I’m just so excited for you boys!” Ilia squealed, near-bouncing in her seat, drawing his attention away from his raging erection and the young man next to him who made it that way. “I can’t wait to hear everything about it after your trip! Can you come by and tell us tomorrow night?”

“Ha!” Link burst out with a short laugh. His reaction to Ilia’s words made him stop moving his leg and Shad felt a twinge of disappointment. He kept his own thigh right where it was, not sure if he should initiate any more touching.

“I doubt it, Ilia,” Link continued. “It’s a physically demanding trip. Plus we’re gonna have to leave early and stay late to make the most of the day. I’m pretty sure we’ll be worn out by the end of it all and will need to rest first. But we’ll make plans to see you later, okay?” Ilia nodded her head and Link sat up straight, looking like a fog had lifted from him. “Actually, we should probably head back soon, so we get enough sleep before the trip.”

Shad, Ilia, and Ashei protested their leaving, but Link was adamant. “I know, I know, I’m no fun,” he said, shaking his head and raising his hands up in mock-defense. “But we really will have an early day tomorrow, and I don’t think either of us meant to stay out this late…” he glanced down at his mostly-empty cup. “Or drink this much. Let’s finish up and head out?” he asked Shad.

“Sound reasoning, m’boy,” said Shad as he tipped his glass up, consuming the contents. He shifted in his chair as he drank, forcing his mind away from thinking about his still uncomfortably hard cock. He ran through all of the safety information about the City in the Sky Link had given him earlier that evening at dinner and a different shiver ran down his spine. There, his fear of plummeting out of the sky to his death should do the trick on his disobedient cock for now.

Link finished off his drink as well, setting his empty cup back onto the wooden table with a thud. When Shad felt like his groin had less control over him, he pushed his chair back and stood up from the table. His head felt like it was going to suddenly float away from his body, and he immediately leaned forward and put both hands out to steady himself on the table.

“Oh my!” he cried out softly. Ilia stood, giggling, and steadied his arm, as Link and Ashei chuckled at his abruptly clumsy movements. Link’s chuckle turned into his own little cry of surprise as he too wobbled when he rose.

Laughing at the both of them, Link turned to Shad, clutching at his other arm for balance. “Uh oh. What did Telma put in those drinks? We should have known they were too delicious to be anything other than wicked.” His eyes were bright with amusement. “What’d you have, two? And I had… three?”

Ashei smirked, crossing her arms over her chest as she watched Shad and Link giggling at their own tipsy selves. “That was his third, and your fourth, Link.”

“Oh shit.” Link widened his eyes and clapped his hands over his mouth at his rough language. “Oops!” He laughed behind his hands. “Don’t tell your father you heard that from me, Ilia!”

Ilia was laughing at him openly now. “He took me to a bar in Castle Town, Link. I don’t think he expected everyone to act like they were at their prayers.” Link’s goofy grin and shrug were his only reply.

Shad raised an eyebrow at Link. “I do believe I’m mildly inebriated, m’boy, and I’d have to say the same for you. Perhaps it's for the best we’re heading now. Home. Homing now.” He shook his head slightly, trying to get his words in the order they should be. “Heading. home. now,” he enunciated very clearly. Link giggled as Shad stumbled over his words.

Shad turned to indicate Ilia and Ashei. “We’ll say goodnight now, ladies, and then give our goodbyes to those at the bar.” He bowed and Ilia burst into giggles again, curtsying low to him and saying her farewell.

Ashei scowled at his word choice. “And a very good evening to you as well, gentlemen,” she mocked. She looked Shad up and down and her brows drew down in concern. “Be careful up there, yeah? Remember to use your head for more than just book stuff.” She cast her intense gaze towards Link. “You better take good care of him.”

Always,” Link promised her, his hand held dramatically over his heart. “Now let’s head out!”

Shad and Link made their way to the bar through the now slightly thinner crowd and said their boisterous goodnights to Telma, Auru, and Bo. Telma insisted on giving them both big hugs before they left, and also extracted promises from Link to take good care of Shad.

They finally made their way out of the hot, crowded bar, and were completely surprised to step outside into the cool drizzle that was falling, especially after the clear skies earlier in the day. It felt refreshing on Shad’s burning skin and he stood for a moment in the downstairs courtyard, just letting the mistiness drift over him. He tilted his head back and tried closing his eyes to breathe it in, but it felt like the word was spinning out of control. He snapped his eyes back open and reached a flailing arm out for balance as it felt like he might fall over standing still. Link was there instantly, bracing him.

“Whoa, Shad. It’s okay, I have you.” His words were low and gentle, the way you’d speak to a panicked animal. Shad felt instantly steady, but could also feel the heat from Link’s hand soaking through his rapidly dampening sleeve, and it made his head swim in a different way. Link let go of his arm when he could see that Shad was stable. “Are you all right now?”

Shad nodded his head, uncharacteristically tongue-tied. Maybe it was the stiff drinks, maybe it was the heaps of talking he’d already done, maybe it was shyness because of all the sensual looks he and Link had been giving each other all night and now they were alone. He vaguely wished he were still dizzy, so Link would have a reason to continue holding on to him. He cleared his throat and found his voice. “Yes, thank you Link.”

Smiling at him, Link began to head up the stairs to the street, Shad following closely behind him. It must have been raining for a while. The steps were slick and Shad made sure to hold onto the handrail as he ascended them.

They plodded along towards home together in a companionable silence, listening to the rain make music with every single thing it struck. All of the damp bricks and cobblestones around them dimly reflected the glare from the lit torches on the city walls. The pattern of light changed with every raindrop that fell and every step they took, and the whole world seemed to be made out of a swirl of sparkling, blurry light dancing with the darkness around them.

The raindrops were sliding down the inside of Shad’s spectacles now and he could barely see. He stopped in the middle of the empty street, sliding them off the bridge of his nose and attempting to wipe them on a dry part of his shirt. Shad slipped his spectacles back on and blinked. The rain immediately started sliding down his lenses again and he sighed in frustration.

Link noticed the redhead wasn’t walking next to him anymore and turned back towards Shad. “You okay?”

“Oh, it’s just these silly spectacles of mine. I can hardly see anything with the rain dripping down them.”

Suddenly Link was next to him, slipping his warm, calloused hand into Shad’s own. Shad froze, trying to make out the hero’s face through his blurry glasses. Even though the night was chilly he felt like he was burning up, the blaze erupting from the point where their skin touched.

“Don’t worry, Shad. I’ll guide us home. Just walk with me.” Link smiled, or at least Shad thought he did, and he turned and began walking again towards Shad’s house. Shad’s hand was snug and secure in Link’s, and he had no choice but to follow along or be tugged, and so along he went.

He felt so silly, being led about like a child, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to voice a protest. It felt so good to be walking down the street holding Link’s hand. Every heart-pounding interaction between them that night played through his mind and his pulse began to race again. Not ten minutes ago Link had been rubbing his thigh on Shad’s own and gazing intently into his eyes. Had that meant anything? Had Link been aware of the effect his actions were having on Shad? How even the smallest looks and touches had Shad so aroused that he’d been fantasizing about just crawling under the table and sliding Link’s dick past his lips and down his throat then and there? It was almost embarrassing how easily he was turned on by the hero. He felt himself getting worked up again now, just from his fantasies and holding Link’s hand. His fingers twitched against the hero’s palm, almost involuntarily.

Link was slightly in front of him as they walked, leading him, and Shad caught sight of Link looking over his shoulder at him. Shad smiled up at him, not able to read his expression through the rain, silently letting him know he was doing okay. Link grinned back, turning his head fully to let his eyes travel over Shad, while continuing to walk forward. Shad blushed under his steady gaze.

Suddenly, the world went spinning again, this time in actuality. Link’s left leg flew out from underneath him, as a small, pale object flipped to the other side of the street from under his foot. The fall knocked him into Shad, bringing the redhead down with him. With his quick reflexes, Link threw himself around Shad like a shield and hugged him close to his body as he turned in mid-fall. Link’s side took the majority of the impact as they hit the ground. He rolled swiftly onto his back, keeping Shad safe from the pavement.

Shad cried out as they struck the ground. He blinked several times as he realized they were horizontal, but stable and no longer falling. He didn’t feel any pain from the impact, and in fact, Shad realized he wasn’t even on the hard street at all. He was on… Link!

Link blinked up at Shad, still clutching the scholar tightly to his chest. Shad was disheveled, his glasses knocked askew and his hair tousled, but he seemed okay. Link was suddenly incredibly aware of every inch of Shad’s body pressed up against his own. Shad’s shocked indigo eyes met his, mere inches away, and a jolt of lightning coursed through Link as his body reacted to the feel of Shad finally in his grasp and pressed up against him. His hands felt as if they were acting almost on their own as they slid down Shad’s back and grasped the scholar’s hips. Shad’s clothes were damp from the rain and slippery against his skin. His shirt slid up where Link’s fingers gripped, and Link felt hot, wet, bare flesh under his hands. He dug his fingertips into him firmly and pressed Shad’s hips down onto him, feeling his hardness there, as Link’s own cock throbbed in response to the redhead atop him. Link looked up at Shad’s handsome face, the rain pouring in rivulets down his hair and dripping onto Link’s cheeks. He could open his mouth and drink him in, quench his thirst right now if he wanted. Shad’s mouth was slightly open and he looked a little dazed. Their eyes locked and Link knew that Shad had no problem seeing him this close up through his smeared lenses. Shad’s eyes flitted from Link’s lips back up to his eyes and he sucked in a breath. Link wanted Shad to close the distance between them and kiss him more than anything, but he held back and waited to see if the redhead would make a move. Some part of Link realized they were both drunk, and there was no way he was going to take the lead when he wasn’t fully in control of himself. He would never force anything on Shad that he wasn’t ready for if they were sober.

Shad blinked in shock as he realized that Link’s strong body was pressed intimately along almost all of his, lying underneath him on the street. He saved me… and now he’s…he’s… Shad’s rational thoughts were cut off as he looked into Link’s dark sapphire eyes. Shad felt a subtle shift on his skin and Link’s fingers were suddenly sliding under the bottom of his shirt and firmly gripping his bare hip bones. Shad could feel a solid, hard length where their hips were pressed together and he blushed furiously, realizing that Link’s hard cock was pressing into him and that Link could probably feel his just as much. He looked from Link’s lips to his eyes and back, and leaned in just a little closer, breathing in Link’s hot, wet breath and parting his lips.

A sharp barking sound broke through the still of the night, jolting Shad to his senses. He looked to his left and saw the little white dog from earlier, pawing at something across the street, by his neighbor’s door. Looking back at Link, Shad suddenly flushed crimson with embarrassment. What was he doing?? Lying on his friend in the middle of a public street, about to lock lips where absolutely anyone could come along and find them? He had to stop this lunacy. This wasn’t him! Shad laughed nervously and began to push himself off of Link. He reached a hand down to his friend, who took it and hopped up without any trouble at all.

Shad turned partially away, terrified that Link would be able to read every single humiliating emotion on his face. “I’m so sorry, Link. I-I haven’t been this t-tipsy in quite awhile, I’m afraid. Y-you… uh… you certainly do make a better landing spot than the bare pavement, I’ll give you that, so thanks!” Shad’s sad attempt at a hearty jest and accompanying chuckle fell flat and cold on the slick streets.

Link was quiet for a bit and Shad winced, thinking he’d completely blown it. “It’s okay, Shad,” came the blonde’s soft reply a few moments later, “I know you didn’t mean anything. Besides, it’s me that fell on you and should be apologizing, not the other way around. I just know how to take a fall safely so that neither of us would get hurt. I didn’t mean to, um, pull you down on top…” He swallowed hard. “On top of me.” Link glanced down at the little dog who had brought his bone right to his feet. “Is this all your fault, you little scamp? Was it your bone I tripped on?”

Link was lighthearted on the outside but inside felt crushed. He wished Shad had kissed him, but didn’t know what he’d have done if he had. Oh, he knew he’d have kissed him back all right, and after the buildup of their teasing at the bar, he’d probably have wanted to do a lot more than that, especially in his intoxicated state. But he didn’t know how Shad would handle moving that fast, or if the scholar would deeply regret it once sober. Probably. It was probably all just booze and hormones. Why would Shad even want him anyway, really want Link for his own after he’d been so moody and troublesome for weeks? Why would he want to be Link’s drunken conquest when he knew that Link was still getting over someone else? This was the second time he’d been drunk around Shad, and the first had ended with him sobbing all over the scholar and falling asleep on him! Shad had probably made a good choice not to kiss him. I’m too damaged, and he probably doesn’t want to get involved with a mess like me anyway. He threw the bone one last time for the pup, well off the road so no one else would trip.

Shad watched Link resume his playfulness with the small canine and felt his heart wrenching inside his chest. He wanted to cover his face with his hands and run home, but he couldn’t without alerting Link that something was seriously off with him. He tried to play it off as an accident and pretend like that moment between them hadn’t happened, but it so clearly had. Every moment of that encounter was still flashing through his veins like liquid fire. Shad felt like a fool. He’d lost his nerve at the last moment and ruined everything. He was mentally kicking himself, wishing that he could be better for Link - more courageous, more adventurous, more everything he was not but should be.

Link turned to look at him after he threw the bone and Shad was grateful that his face and glasses were streaked with rain, so Link couldn’t see the tears that were welling up at his own idiocy.

“Let’s go home,” Link said, reaching out his hand for Shad to take again. Shad glanced at the offer and then turned away, swiftly walking towards his house which was only right around the corner. He was too embarrassed to accept Link’s offer of help again.

“I’m okay now, thank you,” Shad called over his shoulder, his throat too tight to say anything more than that.

Link felt rejected by Shad’s refusal to take his hand and walked slowly after him, his heart heavy. Everything suddenly felt so different between them. Should he have made more of a move after all? Shad’s reaction was so confusing. He’d felt Shad’s erection pressing up against him. He knew he wasn’t imagining the connection between them. But no, Link knew he’d made the right choice in not being more aggressive while they were both drunk. If Shad hadn’t kissed him, then he didn’t want to or wasn’t ready. Link wasn’t going to press that, especially not with them both intoxicated. He already felt bad enough for sliding Shad’s shirt up his sides, grabbing onto his bare skin, and pulling the redhead down onto his groin like that. He flushed with shame as he realized that he’d basically been drunkenly groping Shad in the middle of the street, practically assaulting him with the way he’d ground their hips together. Link felt like he’d been punched in the gut at the thought that he’d so disrespected this man that he loved and always wanted to protect. He couldn’t imagine the distress the scholar must now be feeling due to Link’s drunken aggressions.

He followed Shad inside once they’d reached his apartment. He used the bathroom first at Shad’s insistence, changing into dry clothes and brushing his teeth. When it was Shad’s turn, Link quickly slid under the covers and turned to face the wall. He closed his eyes tightly and stayed silent as Shad came out of the bathroom, slipping into the makeshift pallet next to him. He stayed perfectly still as he pretended to already be asleep, his heart weighed down with guilt and regret.

Shad looked sadly at the closed book from last night sitting on the table as he turned off the light. He sighed heavily as he rolled over to face away from Link, curling in on himself. What had he done? Why did he wait so long to get off of Link? He’d made his intentions so obvious, and Link still hadn’t kissed him. Had he ruined everything between them? Had this been his one chance and he’d missed it? He clutched his pillow to him tightly, his heart teetering on the edge of uncertainty.

“Goodnight Link,” he whispered into the darkness.

The sound of the rain hitting the rooftops outside was his only reply.

Chapter Text

Drifting along the fuzzy border between slumber and wakefulness, Link felt himself supported by something warm and comfortable. As he slowly rose closer to the surface of consciousness, he leaned further into that warmth. He gradually became aware that the source of heat he was pressing himself up against was solid, textured, real

He blinked his eyes open a few times as the remnants of his dreams slipped away like soap bubbles down a drain. The room was shadowy and dim. Link took a deep breath, inhaling the rich, homey, familiar scent that was surrounding him. The feeling of cosiness from his dream hadn’t faded and he didn’t want to let go of it just yet. He rubbed his cheek on the surface underneath him, a smile on his face.

When the warmth he was on moved slightly under his cheek, Link froze, all his senses instantly on high alert. He tilted his chin up and his pulse immediately started racing when he realized that he was lying on Shad . His head was resting on Shad’s chest and his left arm was wrapped across the still-sleeping scholar’s abdomen. Shad’s arm was draped across Link’s shoulders, hugging him into his body. Link could feel their legs intertwined together as well. Their bodies were pressed closely from head to toe.

Link’s very first reaction was an intense, overwhelming burst of sheer joy at being cuddled up so close with his scholar. His heart felt like it was glowing, illuminating him from within. He snuggled in closer, enjoying their shared intimacy. 

Hot on the heels of that initial feeling were confusion and curiosity. Why are we snuggled up like this? Did we … did something finally happen between us last night? We both had so much to drink, and there was all that flirting.

The alcohol-soaked events of the previous evening came crashing down onto him, changing everything about the tender moment. A hot flush of shame rushed through him, and he winced at the memories of his drunken aggressions.

Oh Hylia! I can’t believe I got so drunk that I grabbed Shad like that, grinding on him. In the middle of a public street, no less! What am I going to do? I clearly can’t keep my hands off of him, even when I’m asleep! If Shad doesn’t make a move or say yes, then it’s not consensual, no matter how many signs I think he’s sending. I have to control myself. 

Link carefully extricated himself from underneath Shad’s arm, making sure not to jostle the sleeping redhead. Shad let out a soft sigh, rolling over on his side once Link had scooted back onto his own pallet. Link sat up and watched him intently until he was sure Shad was still asleep. 

Questions swirled through his mind. How had they ended up cuddling so closely? Was it because of the storm that had blown in, dropping the temperatures? He shivered. It was rather chilly in the room. Link drew the blankets up over his sleeping companion to make up for his missing warmth. 

He glanced at the window. An inky blue sky, just a few shades paler than the blackness of the room, peeked through the gaps of the curtain. It would be morning soon, and Link knew he had a lot to do to prepare for their journey to the City in the Sky today. 

Hugging his knees to his chest, he dropped his head down onto his crossed arms, remorse washing over him. By Nayru…  why did I have to go and screw everything up right before I take Shad to the Sky?! I wanted this day to be perfect for him!

Link didn’t have the foggiest clue how to handle the mess he’d made of their friendship. Had Shad been waiting for him to make a move? Should he have kissed him? Or was he already at fault for grabbing him like that? Should he have done more, or done less? He didn’t even know which choice was the wrong one, but he did know that Shad deserved way better than to be drunkenly groped in the street. 

There was no way he could spare the mental energy needed to figure out all these emotional conundrums right now. He had to focus his mind instead on the task at hand - getting Shad safely to and from the City in the Sky. The job would require all of his concentration. He decided that for now he’d have to simply avoid a confrontation about it. He’d pretend like their moment in the rain hadn’t happened, blaming his faulty memory on all the drinks. He hated the thought of blatantly lying to Shad, but he felt too ashamed to broach the subject of what he’d done wrong.

A headache began to throb behind his eyes and he reached a hand up to rub his temples. He let his gaze wander back over to the sleeping scholar, his form barely visible in the dim light. The least he could do was let Shad sleep for another hour or so, before he truly needed to be awake to start their long day.

Link got ready quietly, then gathered his belongings.  He jotted down a quick note letting Shad know he was out picking up supplies, just in case the scholar woke before he got back, and then headed out the door. 

 

♡❧♡

 

It was the headache that started before he’d fully awakened that was the worst part of his hangover, Shad thought. His throbbing temples had been hard at work creating little bursts of spiky pain behind his eyes before they’d even opened. His mouth was parched and his body felt fatigued and sluggish, but the pounding inside his own head barely let him acknowledge his other physical complaints. 

Shad groaned as he sat up in bed, reaching up to rub at his temples. He felt an odd sense of disappointment at waking up alone. He’d been having the loveliest dream and had been loathe to leave it. He’d been lying with Link in a sun-warmed field in Ordon, watching the clouds change shape. Link had been curled up on his chest and Shad had wrapped his arms around him, hugging him close and basking in the golden glow of their love as the sun blessed them with its warmth. 

But he was all alone now, and the room was cold, despite the extra blankets pulled up over him. Shad knew logically that Link was an early riser but secretly feared that after Shad’s foolishness last night maybe the hero had just left

Hearing familiar noises from the kitchen flooded him with relief. It was soon followed by a rush of anxiety. Did Link remember what had happened last night? Was he agonizing over it, too? How would this affect their friendship? He cringed as he remembered how embarrassing it’d been when he’d finally crawled off of Link, mumbling out an apology for his clumsy, boorish behavior.  

He didn’t know which he regretted more though - lying on Link in the street for far too long, or not following through with a kiss. He knew there was a connection beyond friendship between the two of them, despite their not discussing it. Their flirting had only escalated as the evening wore on. If he closed his eyes he could still feel Link’s thigh pressed firmly up against his, Link’s fingertips gripping the bare flesh of his hips. Why would Link have touched him like that but not kissed him? Was he waiting for Shad to make that move? Had Shad messed everything up and missed his chance with the hero, if he’d even had one? 

Shad dropped his head into both hands, and groaned softly. He was going to the City in the Sky with Link today! He didn’t want to start off this momentous day on such a low note. His head pounded as each new worry pulsed through him. Would Link even want to take Shad up still, after his ridiculous behavior last night? 

Shad grabbed at any narrow strand of hope he could think of to avoid that awful thought. Perhaps… perhaps Link wouldn’t remember? He’d had one more drink than Shad after all, and Shad’s hangover was enough to tell him that four drinks would have knocked him out. Maybe Link wouldn’t remember the incident in the street. Or perhaps Shad could just claim no memory of the event, due to his own drinks? Yes, that was exactly what he’d do. 

As soon as Shad had made his decision, he heard a soft knock at the bedroom door, startling him. It opened a crack and Link’s voice came through. 

“Shad? Are you awake?”

Shad sat up straighter in bed and pulled the covers up around him. He exhaled his held breath slowly, trying to control his pounding heartbeat. “Indeed, old boy. I just woke up.”

Link came into the dimly lit room with two steaming mugs in his hand, looking hale and hearty. He didn’t seem to be suffering from the same afflictions as Shad was, or at least not to the same degree. Shad thought it was entirely unfair that despite the extra drink he’d had, Link’s goddess-blessed constitution was apparently hardy enough to ward off the worst effects of a hangover. 

Link set the mugs down and pulled back the curtains, letting the morning sunlight stream into the room. Shad winced and flung his arm over his eyes, the pain in his head growing exponentially with the increase of light. 

Looking back at him, Link hurried over to the table where he’d set the mugs.

“Here.” He brought one of the cups to Shad, bending down to hand it to him.

Shad took the mug and peered into it. It smelled distinctly herbal and not at all like his regular brew. “What’s this, then? Some sort of tisane?”

“It’s white willow bark tea.” Link smiled gently down at him as he straightened and grabbed his own mug, leaning against the table. Shad squirmed slightly under his scrutiny. Link took small sips of the steaming liquid before he continued. “I got it at the apothecary. I’ve got an awful headache from those drinks last night, and I figured you probably do too. It’s not as potent as something like red potion, so it’s meant more for milder aches and pains. Anyway, I didn’t want us to start our day out on a bad note. It was easy enough to pick up while I was getting the last of our other supplies.” 

Shad slowly sipped the bitter tea as Link explained. The acerbic taste gave him hope that the medicine would actually do its job. Shad murmured his thanks, feeling bashful that Link was once again going out of his way to care for him. He always did it so well, and with such minimal fuss.

He inhaled deeply over the mug, the heat seeming to clear away some of the mist from his mind even as it fogged up his glasses. As he sipped he became increasingly aware that he had only spoken a handful of words to Link, which was highly abnormal for him, especially on a morning that was supposed to be so momentous. The quiet continued to grow until it felt thick and obvious to Shad, like a physical presence in the room. He cleared his throat, desperately searching his mind for some sort of small talk to break the silence. 

“Those drinks sure were strong, huh?” Link interrupted his nervous thoughts. Shad glanced at him and Link shrugged his shoulders. “My brain’s so fuzzy from last night.” He let out a hoarse laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t even remember how we got home.” The hero raised his eyes to Shad, a vague questioning look on his face. 

Shad was surprised to hear Link bring up their scandalous walk right away. Relief washed over  him as the hero’s words made their way fully into his tired mind. “Really?” Shad looked down at his lap. ”Ah, I don’t remember either, actually. Well, I remember it was raining and we obviously made it home, but the details are rather blurry.” He shrugged his shoulders and briefly smiled up at Link, then dropped his gaze down to his tea. Shad swirled the dregs in the bottom of the mug before he took a big sip. He was too hungover to recall all of his newly-learned skills on how to lie successfully. He hoped he’d done a good enough job of convincing Link. 

“I guess we know to be wary of Telma’s fruity drinks from now on, huh?” Link chuckled, shaking his head. “Oh well! Fresh start this morning, right? Despite the headaches, which we’re conquering.” Link pushed off of the table, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet. “We’re going to the Sky, Shad!” Link smiled, his face lit up with enthusiasm, and Shad found it contagious. “I’ve got everything prepared and I’m ready when you are.”

A tiny bubble of excitement rose inside Shad, despite his misgivings. He was grateful to Link for putting it there. “I am very much looking forward to it. I’ll get ready then, shall I, and we can be on our way?” Link nodded and went to the front room to check on their packs while Shad busied himself with getting dressed. Shad was relieved that they’d got the conversation about last night’s events over with, even though he’d been completely lying, and things still felt a little off between them. At least Link didn’t remember. Or was playing along with pretending as though he didn’t. 

Shad supposed that was good enough for now. He had so much more to focus his mind on than his friendship with Link being awkward and unstable, today of all days. He began mentally preparing himself for their journey as he dressed. 

When they’d eaten and grabbed the last of their belongings, Link and Shad set out through the southern gate. They made their way to the western end of the field, and then carefully descended the uneven, curving set of steps that were carved into the side of Lake Hylia’s cliff-like shores. Link had been surprised to find out about this locals-only path from the town to the lake, but was grateful that they didn’t have to go the long way. 

The stairs curved their way down around the edges of the steep banks until they let out just past the wooden platform where the boats from Upper Zora’s River docked. Shad followed Link across a series of low islands in the lake, wading through the shallow waters that separated them. The quiet between the two of them seemed natural enough as they made their way across the scenic terrain. They couldn’t have asked for better weather, especially after last night’s storm. The azure sky was dotted here and there with patches of fluffy white clouds floating lazily along. Sunlight sparkling off the deep cobalt waters of Lake Hylia was almost blinding in its intensity. Fortunately, the willow bark tea had taken care of his headache, and the warm rays of the sun were a delight, not the torture they had been upon waking. 

They waded the last few feet to the platform near the spirit’s spring. Link glanced over his shoulder at Shad and then beckoned him with a nod towards the stony entrance. Shad followed him inside, reflecting on when he’d been here once before, for a religious holiday festival at Lake Hylia years ago. There had been many pilgrims at the spring that day, and a young Shad had been wide-eyed and silent, overawed by the hallowed atmosphere of the divine space and the devout people all around him. 

They were the only visitors here now, entering respectfully on quiet feet. Link walked right to the edge of the promontory that jutted out over the water and stood still, his eyes closed. Shad wandered slightly away down the path to the grasses by the water’s edge to give Link some privacy and to take a moment to ask for Lanayru’s blessing on their journey. He let his gaze wander as he took in the eerie beauty of the damp cavern. Just breathing the air in here felt like a sacred act. This was the third spring he’d been to with Link, and while he wouldn’t say that the hero was especially religious, each experience so far had had a touch of the divine about it. Shad could scarcely fathom what it must be like to have a personal level of connection with the deities like Link had. It always gave him a sense of awe and gratitude when he got to witness the hero in vulnerable, spiritual moments like this. 

Link could hear Shad’s soft footfalls as he walked down the path. He was momentarily grateful for the scholar’s courtesy in allowing him this small moment of silence. He was grateful for a lot more than that about the scholar, actually, and that’s partly why he’d wanted to stop here before their journey. Taking a moment to honor the light spirit, he asked Lanayru for the wisdom to be able to keep Shad from danger. He did this alone in his thoughts, like any other petitioner would. The rumors that he communed in person with the light spirits every time he went to a spring were far-fetched but persistent.

Taking a deep breath, Link opened his eyes and looked around the sacred space. He couldn’t help but recall when he’d been in this same spot watching helplessly in his wolf form as Midna was mortally wounded by Zant’s horrible misuse of the light spirit. His heart wrenched in his chest as he remembered her pale limp form and how terrified he’d been that he’d lose her. 

Link sighed, letting his gaze drift into the middle distance. All that struggle and he’d still ended up losing her. He missed her still. He wondered what she was doing at this exact moment. Was she sitting on her throne like Zelda was, tall and elegant, dispensing her own wisdom and justice to her people? Was she dining with courtiers, making little jests that had them all laughing? Was she reconnecting with her friends, relaxed and at peace in the dusky glow of twilight?

Link paused his thoughts and a small smile dawned on his face as he observed their pattern. With some wonder, he realized that he was thinking of Midna, missing her even, and yet all of his musings about her were positive . He wasn’t pining away, wishing that he were at her court or dining with her. Link wished for a wonderful life for Midna, even though it would be forever separate from his. His heart still hurt when he thought of her, but he was finally accepting their fates. He couldn’t be with her, but he also didn’t want to be anywhere but where he was right now, about to fulfill Shad’s lifelong dream. 

He glanced at the scholar, standing down by the tall grasses that grew on the banks of the spring. Shad’s eyes were closed and his lips were moving just a little as he whispered his prayers. Link’s heartbeat sped up just from looking at his refined and handsome features. He wanted those lips whispering prayers at his ears as he held the redhead close. 

He chuckled softly as he realized he might get his wish today, but for entirely different reasons than he was hoping for. Any prayers from Shad as they were launched from the huge cannon would most likely be desperate pleas for his life. Hearing his soft laughter, Shad looked up at him. Link nodded his head toward the entrance and Shad joined him there. 

They made their way over the wooden bridges and pathways until they reached the part of the shore where the Sky Cannon was. Shad’s eyes grew as big and round as kargarok eggs as he took in the fully assembled mechanism that loomed above them. He looked from the cannon to Link and back, shaking his head in wonder at all the hero had achieved. Pulling his notebook from his back pocket, he started sketching the device. 

Link smiled, enjoying the scholar’s already-intense focus while he began to take out the supplies they’d need for the first part of their trip. Shad made his last few notes and closed his notebook, reaching behind him to put it away.

“Best hand that over now. I’ll put it in my pouch so it won’t get ruined by the water when we splash down.” 

“Ah, right.” Shad walked over and gave Link his cherished notebook. “Thank you. I’m so relieved that we’re able to bring it. When you first told me about the aquatic landing I was deeply perturbed.” He paused, looking at the pile of leather straps on the ground, as well as a cap-like leather and metal object in Link’s hand. “What are these contraptions?”

“This is the gear I picked up for you this morning,” Link answered. He held up the cap. It was finely made of chestnut brown leather and molded to fit snugly against one’s skull. There were two long leather straps hanging from each side, with buckles at their ends. Perched above a short brim were raised oblong metal frames, secured on their own leather strap and fitted with glass lenses.

“It’s a helmet, for you,” Link explained, as Shad inspected it. “There are metal plates sewn into the leather, and you can pull the goggles on top down over your own glasses, to protect them.”

Shad took it from him, noticing the extra padding in the interior. He was very impressed with the level of skill and care that was evident in its craftsmanship. 

“Thank you, Link, this is extraordinary!” He tried it on, snugging it down around his long ears and buckling the straps to secure the helmet underneath them and his chin. He reached up and tugged the goggles down, carefully arranging them over his spectacles. He blinked and looked around. His peripheral vision was reduced, but he could still see fairly well. “I didn’t even know that protective gear like this was available in town.”

Link shook his head as he began to gather up the leather straps. “Oh, well typically it’s not. I went by the blacksmith and the leatherworks yesterday afternoon, and asked them each if they’d work together to craft something like this for me. I gave them the rupees and my design and they said they’d have it ready by this morning. I picked these things up when I got the willow bark tea.”

“You had this specially made overnight? For me?” Shad raised his goggles. He was once again stunned by Link’s casual attitude towards his extravagant care of him. That had to have cost a fortune. Although, Link was Hyrule’s Hero. They’d probably jumped at the chance to make something for him. But still, that he’d spent time on the design and used his influence solely for Shad’s benefit - it warmed his heart and meant more than he could say. No one had singled Shad out and treated him as though he was so special since his father had died.

“Of course I did!” Link replied. “Didn’t you hear Telma and Ashei last night? They’ll skin me alive if I let anything happen to you! I’d rather face Ganondorf again than those two teaming up against me.” Link shuddered dramatically and then winked at Shad. He was pleased to see the scholar’s usual faint blush appear.

Reaching up to twirl his bow tie, Shad raised an eyebrow in response. “A wise course of action, then. I’ll do my utmost to be careful with my personage today. I wouldn’t want to land you in hot water with those two.”

“You have my thanks.” Link gave him a half-bow in jest and then finished untangling the straps. 

Shad eyed them with curiosity. “And what’s all that, then? A leash for me, so I won’t wander away?” he joked.

“Ha. You’re closer than you think.” Link held up the item, made of the same leather as Shad’s helmet. It was composed of a series of straps connected by grommets, with clips and buckles on the ends. “I had this made too. This is a harness you can wear over your clothes. It’s adjustable, meaning I can connect you directly to me for things like the cannon launch, and I can add accessories to it to work with some of my other tools.” 

Shad stared at him, his brain tripping over the phrase, “connect you directly to me.”

“A h-harness? Like something made for an animal? Is that really necessary, old boy?”

Link nodded solemnly. “Shad, we talked about all of the dangers we might run into yesterday. This is the only way I can be assured that you’re protected. I don’t want us to get separated when we shoot out of the cannon. I’ll be holding onto you, but I would never forgive myself if my arms failed, and I can’t promise they won’t with those kinds of forces.” He shook the harness once. “This will keep you close and it will keep you safe.” 

Shad tried to will away the blush that he could feel spreading on his face at the thought of being bound to the hero and held tightly in his arms. He couldn’t believe this was all really happening, just moments away now, and his heart began to pound with excitement. 

Shad nodded his head once he’d found words that had nothing to do with those feelings. “All right, I cede to your expertise in these matters.” He reached up to adjust his bowtie and cleared his throat. “Ah, what do I owe you for all this equipment?”

Link gave him a funny look. “Nothing but your trust, Shad. My task, my priority, is to take you to the City in the Sky and get you back safely. These are the items that I need to be able to do my job well, so they’re what I brought. You don’t owe me anything for them.” 

He relaxed his face into an easy smile and shrugged, a playful glint in his eyes. “Anyway, I’m just grateful you’re making my job easier, since you’re willing to be trussed up tighter than a cart-pulling goat for me.” Link winked and then threw his head back with laughter as a hot blush of indignation instantly appeared on Shad’s high cheekbones.

“Oh, a goat , is it? How appropriate for you, Oh Chosen Herder .” Shad bantered in return. He crossed his arms over his chest and raised his chin into the air. “You’re incorrigible with your teasing sometimes, do you know that?”

Link grinned. “Only because you make it so easy for me.” He reached up to rub at the back of his neck, and a hint of concern entered his playful tone. “You don’t mind too much that you’re my favorite target, do you?”

I’m his favorite target? Shad dropped his crossed arms and twirled his bracelets. He looked down at the ground, knowing his cheeks were still tinted pink. “No, actually, I don’t mind at all.” There was silence for a few seconds and Shad glanced up at Link to find the other man smiling warmly at him. Shad sucked in a breath and shifted his eyes to the cannon before he could get carried away with staring at the handsome hero again. 

What is he thinking about when he looks at me in that manner? And what does he mean exactly by his “favorite target?” Drat, I don’t have time to think about any of this right now! We are going to the City in the Sky! I must stay focused! Shad cleared his throat and redirected his gaze to the harness. “So, how exactly does one put this contraption on?”

“Here, I’ll help you. Take off your belt pouches. They’ll get in the way of the harness, but I can store them in mine.” Shad handed them over and Link tucked them away. “Arms out to the side. I’ll slip it on and then help you adjust it, okay?” Shad nodded and held as still as he could as Link went to work, sliding the leather straps up his arms and over his shoulders. Every minor touch of Link’s fingers felt like little bolts of lightning to him, but he swallowed hard, trying to push down his awareness of the sensations. 

Link buckled the harness across Shad’s chest and then brought the straps around to his back, tugging on them to adjust their tension. He attached two longer straps that dangled down from Shad’s back and then criss-crossed them around to his front, buckling them to another thick strap that encircled the scholar’s hips. Link attempted to be mindful of his touch and not let his hands linger on Shad’s body for too long. 

Their teasing banter was reassuring to him that his friendship with Shad wasn’t damaged by their drunken actions. He didn’t think that he was imagining the feeling of connection and warmth between them just now, but he wasn’t willing to push it too far yet. He couldn’t help wondering if Shad really did remember last night and was just pretending not to, like he himself was. Link was hyper-aware of the feeling of Shad’s warm body underneath his fingers every time he made contact with the redhead, even through his layers of clothing. He took measured breaths, trying to remain professional and not let his desires control his actions again. He could not let his thoughts drift into fantasies. 

Mmm, like Shad in nothing but this harness. In his bed with me, while I grab him by these straps. I’d pull him hard up against me to kiss that hot, smart mouth of his, and then… Dammit! He caught the train of his thoughts with a start. Stay focused Link! He shoved the disobedient fantasy away and blew out a short breath.

Link took a step back and looked at his work, inspecting the harness and buckles for any flaws or errors. When he was satisfied, he nodded at Shad. The scholar looked so different, standing there in his new leather cap, the harness snug against his frame. He looked dashing and adventurous, and Link felt his heartbeat quicken again at the sight of him. He felt excited about the prospect of having Shad strapped right up against him, but didn’t want to overstep any physical boundaries. 

“Um, you look good. Very good.” Link had to force himself to stop ogling Shad. He turned away slightly and cleared his throat, trying to move past his own awkwardness. “Good to go. Are you ready?”

Taking a deep breath, Shad nodded. “Yes, I believe so, if you are.” He followed Link over to the rear of the cannon. Link took out another leather strap and wrapped it around his own torso, clipping it to his belt and scabbard harness. 

“Okay. Here’s what’s going to happen,” Link explained. “I’m going to clip your harness to the strap on my chest here, so I can be secured to you but still use my tools. Next I’m going to use the device I showed you yesterday, the clawshot, to take us up into the cannon. After that, it does it’s own thing and we’ll be flying through the sky.” Link looked steadily into Shad’s eyes, spotting the excitement and apprehension there. 

“I may scream.” His face stayed solemn as Shad chuckled. “I mean it. Don’t let it alarm you. It’s a physical response to the adrenaline, and it doesn’t mean anything is wrong.” Shad nodded, his eyes wide. “Don’t forget we’ll be landing in a pool of water at the end. When you first start to feel our momentum shift downward, suck in a deep breath and hold it. It’ll feel like your stomach is rising up inside you. Got all that?”

“Yes, I think so. Clip on, clawshots, launch, hold my breath, splash down.” Shad tugged his goggles down and rechecked the straps on his helmet, trying to keep his breathing steady. He wanted to jump up and down with excitement and also run all the way back to the spring to hide. He couldn’t believe he was actually doing this. 

“Then let’s go.”

Shad turned around and held still as Link came up behind him. His heart was racing, and whether it was more from the anticipation of Link’s touch or the trip, he couldn’t say. He felt some tugging on the leather straps around his body that almost caused him to stumble, but Link’s hand was there against his back, bracing him. To his surprise, he found that the sensation of his body being moved and controlled by Link was highly pleasurable. Shad was glad Link couldn’t see his face, because he was blushing furiously again at the hero’s touch. He heard a click and then Link was right up against him. He suppressed the shiver that coursed through him at the hero’s presence. It felt so good, but also slightly awkward, since it instantly brought to mind the memory of so much of their bodies touching last night. He forced his mind to focus on the instructions Link had given him.

Link’s right arm came up from behind him and hugged the scholar close to his chest. Shad was positive that Link could feel his pounding heart. At the same time, Shad saw Link’s left hand rise, the clawshot in his grip. Link aimed at a red target in the cannon and the claw rocketed out, trailing its chain behind it. As soon as the claw hit the target, they were yanked off their feet and hauled through the air into the dark space inside the cannon. The impact left Shad breathless.

“Here we go.” Link’s whisper was right in his ear, giving him goosebumps. Shad murmured prayers to the Goddesses as the cannon lifted itself up and shifted around with massive, jolting steps, preparing to shoot them into the sky. His heart felt like it was going to beat itself right out of his chest. Shad lifted his trembling hands and gripped the hero’s arm around him tightly. Link responded by hugging Shad even closer as he brought his other arm across his chest. He had one quick second to relish in the feeling of being in Link’s arms when he felt an intense rumbling. The vibrations swiftly increased and then Shad lost track of all conscious thought as they exploded from the dark interior of the cannon out into the vast brightness of the sky.

Chapter Text

Shad squeezed his eyes shut behind his goggles and held on to Link as tightly as he could, grateful for the harness that kept him securely attached to the hero. He felt Link’s arms gripping him fiercely as they rocketed through the sky. Wind whipped past him at a ferocious speed, roaring in his ears and tearing at his clothing. His heart and stomach both dropped like lead weights until Shad became aware of the odd feeling of them beginning to rise up into his throat. The impact of the wind shifted slightly, and Shad felt Link squeeze his arm. He sucked in a lungful of air and then they were suddenly immersed in water.

They splashed down, their combined weight sending them to the bottom of the pool. Shad was still curled into a tight ball, but Link extended his legs and pushed off the bottom, then swam them over to the side of the pool. Shad slowly opened his eyes, his pulse racing wildly as they moved through the water. Brilliantly blue skies and cream-colored, elaborate stone ruins were his first view of the City. It was beautiful .

 A feeling of euphoria and exhilaration raced through his veins. They’d survived! They’d made it into the sky and the terrifying launch was over! He was really here, with Link. 

He felt Link pressed up against his back as the hero began to unbuckle them. The heat from his fingers burned right through the fabric of Shad’s wet shirt and the scholar tried to keep his thoughts in line. Link quickly separated them and helped Shad to sit up on the side of the pool, hauling himself up next to him. He waited patiently while the scholar caught his breath. Shad noted with a hint of amused irritation that the hero wasn’t breathing heavily at all and that his clothes were already nearly dry. 

He started chuckling and Link cocked a brow at him, not expecting this to be Shad’s first reaction to arriving here. “You didn’t scream,” Shad explained. 

“Oh.” Link looked mildly surprised. “Huh. You’re right. It just feels different with another person, I guess.” He smiled at Shad. 

Shad grinned back, basking in the thrill of connection between them after that shared experience. He carefully raised the goggles and adjusted his spectacles and then looked around. 

Link watched with a swelling sense of joyful pride as Shad’s features shifted from a look of relief to one of pure excitement. The scholar swiveled his head left and right, trying to take in as much as he could. This was exactly the look he’d wanted to see on Shad’s face. If this moment was all Link personally got out of this trip, he’d be content. Although, he had to admit that holding him so tightly right before and during their flight was close competition. It just felt so natural to have Shad in his arms like that, to hold him close and protect him. Like how he’d woken up this morning. And how close they’d been last night.

Link’s thoughts drifted, but he brought them right back to the present when Shad suddenly jumped up from the side of the landing pool. The scholar’s face was lit with enthusiasm and he started to walk away, babbling about some detail, his attention completely taken by a tall arch that led to the rest of the city. Link cursed inwardly for letting his focus slip away from his primary task of keeping Shad safe for even one second. 

“Shad, wait-“ Link began to say as he jumped up, but he was cut off when a howling gale blew past. It was strong enough to push him back across the smooth stone several feet. He gasped as he saw Shad struggling against the wind as he was pushed away from the pool and along the wall to an open edge. Quickly pulling out his clawshot, he aimed at Shad’s chest and pressed the button. The device snatched Shad back up against Link as he braced himself against the wall at his back. Their combined weight was enough to hold them steady against the wind’s persistent shove. The gale ended as quickly as it started. 

Link took a step back and detached the clawshot from Shad’s harness, trying not to let the trembling in his hands show. Shad had terrified him, taking off on his own like that. Link glanced up at the redhead. The scholar’s wayward lock of hair had slipped from his helmet and curled onto his forehead. He was breathing heavily, his eyes wide with shock. 

 “Are you okay?” Link wanted to pat Shad over for injuries, but kept his hands to himself as he waited for the scholar to answer. 

“I-I think I’m all right.” Shad was breathless as he brought his hand up to his heart. Link gripped his shoulder firmly and Shad turned to look at the hero. Link’s steel blue eyes blazed into his. 

“I know you’re excited Shad, and I don’t blame you, but you cannot just go wandering off without me, especially outside.” Shad nodded, blushing at Link’s admonishing tone. “It’s dangerous here. That straight path there to the rest of the city has multiple ways to die, and you can’t even see them until they’ve already got you.” He dropped his hand from Shad’s shoulder and sent him a pleading look. “Let me lead when it comes to your safety and getting through this place, okay?” 

Shad looked thoroughly chastised. “Y-yes, of course Link. My apologies for rushing off in that manner. I-I’m afraid that I let my enthusiasm entirely overwhelm my rational thought. Thank you for your quick actions in saving me.”

Link curved his lips up into his little half-smile. That’s what I’m here for.”

His response seemed to help soothe the burn of Shad’s embarrassment over his hasty actions. Link reached up and tucked a dripping lock of hair behind Shad’s ear. Shad froze as Link’s fingers barely grazed the skin of his cheekbone and tip of his ear. Link wanted to caress the scholar’s cheek and tell him he was far too precious to be so careless with himself, but fear of rejection still held him back. He remembered with crystal clarity how Shad had not wanted to hold his hand again after their incident in the street. 

“You’re still soaking wet.” Link shook water off the tips of his fingers and then reached into his pouch. “Let’s take care of the basics, first.” He pulled out the dry clothes they’d packed for Shad, handing them over. “Why don’t I walk you over to the other side of the return cannon, and then you can change there? I’ll just wait on this side.”

Nodding, Shad took his clothes and changed behind the cannon while Link faced the other way, standing guard. When he was done, Link gave him back his notebook and items from his pouches, and helped him reattach the harness.

Shad swore the blonde added a few extra tugs as he tightened the straps this time. Sweet Fiery Din, why was this so arousing to him? He loved this feeling of Link in control of him, physically tugging on the harness to move Shad’s body where the hero wanted. Shad had to bite the inside of his cheek to tamp down on the feeling of desire it triggered in him. Shad felt ridiculous for being turned on by something like this - Link was actually being very careful to touch him as minimally as he could. Shad avoided meeting Link’s eyes when they were this close, not knowing if he’d find interest to match his own there, or rejection. 

Link attached a longer piece of leather between them and glanced up at Shad. “So… I suppose this is the most ‘leash-like’ part of this whole getup.” He turned and looked at the path to the shop. “We’re just going to time the wind and run across these walkways when it’s not blowing, but I don’t want to take any chances of you blowing off the edge. From what I remember from last time, there’s probably a Deku Baba or two lurking in these grasses. Stay behind me and I’ll take care of ‘em. Got it?”

“Yes, I understand.” Shad followed Link’s gaze to the decorative purple building down the walkway. “Where to first?”

“The shop. You’ll meet some Oocca there. Let’s run!” 

Before Shad could react to that news, he was running swiftly with Link around the edge of the pool and to the beginning of the path to the shop. They waited there, sheltered by the wall, as the gale blew fiercely past them. When it died down, Link pointed and they dashed forward again. Shad realized the “leash” actually gave Link a lead on him about the length of two strides. He was grateful for that lead when he heard the same sickening, slurping sound he’d last heard in Hyrule Field as a Deku Baba lurched out of the grasses towards Link. Faster than he could blink, Link had unsheathed the Master Sword and swung it at the plant-creature with a loud cry, slicing its vine. A quick slash and jab with his sword finished off the foul thing. Link spared a second to glance back at Shad, making sure he was okay, before sprinting with him to the doors of the shop building. 

Shad had barely even registered his fear by the time the creature had been dispatched. He was left with a sense of admiration and awe for the hero’s skill with a blade. He’d seen him kill one of these just once before, but he’d been knocked flat on his back then. Link was amazing to watch in action. He was so swift, so efficient, so protective, so strong… Shad’s mind wandered off into thoughts of Link’s strong body as the hero unclipped them in the shelter of the large doorway. He was so close to him with that powerful, muscular frame of his. Shad lifted his chin as Link adjusted his harness once more, attempting to get his thoughts back on the right track. He hadn’t really thought about how close they’d need to be to survive this place when they’d discussed their plans yesterday, or how many times Link would have to touch him to get the job done. Oh, the hero was being very professional, not letting his hands roam or linger a second longer than necessary, but Shad still felt uncomfortably aroused by his presence. He wondered if Link was aware of the feeling too.

Suddenly, the door opened entirely on its own. Shad gasped, as neither he nor Link had touched it or any sort of device to open it. He peered into the room and saw that it was as brightly colored outside as in, with pink walls and decorative scrollwork everywhere. On a high counter were two smaller models of the cannon he and Link had used to get here, sparking his curiosity. He stepped in behind Link, taking in absolutely everything and cataloguing it in his mind. On the counter in front of them were Oocca - real-life Oocca! He tried not to openly gawk at them as they stared right back at him with curiosity. 

Link was relieved to have gotten Shad to this point safely so far. His eyes scanned the room and he found that nothing seemed to have changed. There were still no enemies or challenges to worry about in here. He glanced at the scholar, wanting to see his reaction. Shad’s eyes were huge and he took hesitant steps towards the Oocca across the room. 

Grinning widely, Link stepped up to the counter. He was happy to see that Ooccoo and Ooccoo Jr. were there too. He beckoned Shad over, who seemed a little shy at first, or perhaps he was just in shock. They were quite strange looking creatures after all, and it could be surprising to see one in the flesh, versus the stylized paintings on cave walls that Shad was used to. 

Link made introductions and was pleasantly surprised when the scholar answered one of the shopkeeper's questions in what Link assumed was Sky language. The shopkeeper and Ooccoo became wildly excited and began flapping their wings as they jumped up and down. It all sounded like high pitched garbling to Link when the three of them talked, but he was impressed with how Shad took the initiative to speak with the residents in their own tongue. They all spoke at a rapid rate in the language, completely leaving Link out of the conversation. 

Link didn’t mind one bit. He watched with admiration as Shad continued to converse with the Oocca. He smiled when the shopkeeper and Ooccoo laughed at something Shad said. They were completely absorbed in conversation with each other and Link was content to stand back and watch Shad do his thing so adorably, wonderfully well. 

Suddenly the shopkeeper ducked under the counter and produced a medium sized package wrapped in plain brown paper. The creature held it out to Shad, who hesitantly accepted it. He seemed to be asking the Oocca a question and didn’t unwrap it. 

Link stepped up to them. “What’s that?” he asked. 

“I-it’s a gift, apparently. Oocci here was just saying how thrilled she is to be able to converse in her native tongue again with a Hylian who speaks it.” 

“Yes, thank you for bringing your linguistically-talented friend here!” Oocci spoke up in Hylian. “I forgot I had this stored away for Hylians until your friend spoke to me in my own language. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and want to give this to him to show my gratitude! It’ll come in handy up here.”

“Wow, Shad, that’s amazing. And how very generous,” he added, acknowledging Oocci. Link was impressed that Shad’s skills and knowledge had already helped him do so well with the locals. “Open it already!” Link urged. 

Shad tore off the paper to reveal a folded square of white fabric with blue edgings and patterns. The shopkeeper announced something in Sky Language and Shad interpreted for Link. “Oocci says it’s called a sailcloth . She says that Hylians used to use them for safe landings from great heights, when… when our ancestors lived in the clouds as well.” He paused, shaking his head. “Absolutely fascinating. The Oocca seem to have their own versions of those ancient legends.” Shad held up the item and inspected it. “Apparently one holds it above their head and it opens to catch the air, letting one drift down at a safer rate.”

“That’s a very useful item, Shad! It’s such a relief knowing that you'll have something that will help keep you safe.” Link beamed with pride, happy to see Shad benefiting due to his brilliance.

Shad spoke in Ooccan with the three members of the species while Link looked on, then turned back to the hero. “These kind citizens of the Sky have agreed to let me interview them and feature their words in any writings I publish!” He reached up to twist the buttons on his jacket. “I-it might be awhile. Is that all right?”

“Yup.” Link looked over his shoulder at the door and then back at Shad. “I’ll go and clear our path while you’re doing that.” He headed toward the door at Shad’s nod and waited for it to rise. Shad watched him as he drew the Master Sword and armed himself with his shield before the door shut. He looked so fierce, even in that one small glimpse, that Shad almost felt pity for the beasts who would dare to attack him. 

Shad lost track of time as he spoke with the residents of the City. They were excited to share their culture with someone from a race they hadn’t had close relations with for a long time. He gained invaluable information - everything from details of their magical abilities to snippets of a lullaby that Ooccoo crooned to her son. Shad briefly worried if he should have brought another notebook as he began to write down some of their stories. As thrilled as he was to speak with the residents however, he was very eager to explore more of their city. Eventually, he closed his notebook and thanked the friendly Oocca for their time and the sailcloth, and turned towards the door. He eyed it carefully as it smoothly slid up when he approached, looking for hidden mechanisms that would indicate how it opened. 

Outside, Link was leaning against the door frame, looking up at the sky and whistling a sweet little tune. He pushed himself off the wall when Shad approached. 

“Get everything you need? Ready to move on?”

“I did and I am.” Shad looked around at the sweeping vista of the City spread out before them as they stood in the shelter of the entrance. “Oh, Link! This place is absolutely as intriguing as I thought it would be, but I admit that I did not expect it to be so enchantingly lovely. More fool me, really, with all those elaborate murals and symbols all over Hyrule.” He chuckled at himself and then glanced at Link. “Would you mind terribly if we paused here for a moment so I might sketch this view of the City?”

“Of course I don’t mind. Take your time, Shad.” Link resumed leaning against the wall as Shad took out his supplies and began sketching. As the scholar drew he spoke excitedly about his observations and the further questions that arose from them. Link considered Shad’s perspectives and agreed with them completely, though he didn’t say as much. He enjoyed listening to the scholar think out loud so enthusiastically and didn’t want to interrupt the flow of his thoughts. 

Some of the things Shad mentioned Link already knew about, from his travels across the city last time. Link saw them in an entirely new light when Shad spoke about them, though. An egg-shaped building’s design wasn’t merely something too difficult to scale, as it had been when he’d searched for ways around the city. When Shad spoke, it became more than an obstacle. It became an important element of the city. It was egg-shaped because they were an avian species, and that had a deep connection with different aspects of their society. It was obvious to him when Shad pointed it out, and yet it wasn’t even something he’d paid attention to the last time he was here. He’d thought his own skills of observation were better than average, but the way that Shad’s agile mind made leaps and connections was astounding to him. Link had to admit it was also impressive how well the scholar was able to convey his theories and opinions. Shad was an excellent teacher, and Link loved listening to him. 

Finishing his sketch, Shad tucked his things away once more. “I am ready to continue. Thank you for indulging me once again. I, ah, I apologize for talking your ear off the entire time.” He brought a hand up to tug self-consciously at the hem of his jacket. 

Link stepped towards him, getting out the clip for their harnesses. “Stop apologizing for just being you, Shad.” The scholar’s deep indigo eyes flashed nervously up to him. Link held his gaze, trying to project his belief in him to give Shad some confidence. “You’re so in your element up here, and I’m happy to be your guide. That includes waiting for you and listening to the interesting things you have to say. I enjoy it.” Link brought his hand up and gripped Shad’s harness to attach the clip, still holding his gaze.

Shad sucked in a breath. Link was very close, and the hero’s easy, heartfelt compliment made a rush of pleasant warmth flood throughout his body. Blushing lightly, he dropped his eyes. “Well, I appreciate it.” 

The scholar held still for him as Link clipped their connecting strap on. A stray thought rolled through Link’s mind and stuck like a burr tangled in a furry underbelly. With Shad so adorably flushed like this, his eyes downcast and his body held intentionally still, Link’s senses suddenly recognized the essence of prey

The connection to his past lupine self flared up like a lava spout inside Death Mountain. An image flashed through his mind of him pressing the shy redhead up against the wall behind him, leaning in close to breathe in and savor his scent. He’d bring his lips, tongue, and teeth down on Shad’s neck, tasting and biting him, even as his hands roamed over the redhead’s body, claiming what was his. 

Link abruptly took a step back, turning away as he struggled to get himself back under control without Shad noticing that he had grown hard in an instant. His reaction had taken hold of him so quickly and from such a simple encounter. He put a hand to his brow and moved his head slowly from side to side, scanning the walkways as if he was scouting out their path. 

He took the brief opportunity to examine his thoughts. He could not deny his attraction to Shad any longer, and it was getting harder and harder to be this physically close to him. How could he continue to strap Shad to him all day long when his body responded to him like this? Where was his discipline? His willpower? His strength? Why couldn’t he keep himself under control? 

Because I don’t want to , he admitted to himself. And he didn’t think Shad wanted him to either. He knew there was only one way to truly find out. He feared that way had the potential to be one of the most damaging feats that Link had attempted so far - talking to Shad about his feelings for him. His complex, head-over-heels in love with, burning up with lust for, and still grieving but healing and moving on feelings. As concerned as he was about possibly ruining their friendship with those admissions, he also knew that he couldn’t keep holding himself in check so tightly. Focusing on the large central dome in the distance, Link weighed the best and worst case scenarios of his options in his mind.

“Is everything all right? Anything specific I should watch out for on the way?” Shad’s questions brought him abruptly back to the present moment. 

Link turned his head, glancing at Shad behind him, still attached by the thick leather strap that dangled between them. Link blinked, realizing he’d been seemingly scanning the horizon while he was lost in his thoughts for several minutes. What am I doing?! I can’t let myself get distracted right now. I need to keep my focus on getting Shad safely through these next several areas.

“Everything looks good.” Link nodded his head firmly, as if he’d actually been looking for danger. He’d already cleared these pathways of all obstacles. “There’s the wind when we’re out here in the open of course. Then there are a fair number of hurdles in the first room we’ll go through after that. You can’t walk straight across to the other door, and there are definitely dangers, but I’ll get us through. Let’s go.”

Link led them across the walkways, sprinting forward when the air was still and huddling with Shad near the walls when the gale blew past. They made it inside the main complex and Link unclipped them, taking care not to let his hands linger and make things any more awkward. 

He watched as Shad took in the tall room, with its deadly gaps in the floor that were open to the sky below. The scholar’s eyes grew wide when he saw yet more Oocca here, most walking vertically on the walls on the other side of the room. 

“Why, there are even more cannons here!” Shad exclaimed as his gaze traveled upwards, noting the multiple giant cannons mounted in the walls high above them. “This would appear to be a storage space for the machinery.” Shad looked at the other door across the room and then took a few hesitant steps to the edge of the floor in front of them, peering down at the open gaps in the floor below. “How do we get across?” he asked Link. “The blue blocks are the ones that fall when weight is placed on them, correct?”

“That’s right. Easiest way is gonna be by clawshot,” Link explained. He pointed at the two large vine-covered columns. “Two ways to go: We can strap up again and go from one to the other together, or I can go across solo and pull you over after.” 

Shad instantly knew which option sounded most appealing to him, as his heart leapt at the thought of traveling across the room while Link held him close. He had no intention of being so embarrassingly obvious again though, leaping on every little opportunity to be literally attached to Link. He considered the other option. That would be similar to how Link had saved him from being blown over the edge when they’d landed. The feeling of being snatched by the claw and hauled swiftly across an expanse had not at all been pleasant, and Shad could imagine that it would be even worse over a longer distance. 

“There’s really no other way? I know you’re my guide and you say you don’t mind, but I’ll feel like such a burden if you have to manually haul me across the entire city.”

“You’re not a burden, Shad, it’s my job! My one job here.” The scholar still looked skeptical, so Link sighed, running his hands back through his sandy locks. “Okay… look. There is one other way. I had to use it before I found the second clawshot here…” Link trailed off. 

“Well, do tell!” 

Link glanced at the floor, afraid of the scholar’s reaction. “Uh, you see, you can sorta glide across to the other side if you grab onto one of the Ooc-”

“Stop right there! Please, Link, for the love of Hylia, please do not tell me that you snatched up one of these highly-intelligent, cultured beings and used them like one of the cuccos in Falbi’s flight-by-fowl!” Shad looked like he was on the edge of outrage.

“Errrr… well… I did what I had to d-” Link began.

Shad whirled away from him and strode over to the wall. “No, I said do not tell me, Link.” The hero wisely shut his mouth. 

The scholar took several calming breaths, relaxing his tense shoulders before he spoke again. “I am forever grateful, as we all are, that you saved Hyrule, and I do realize that some of your methods may have been unorthodox out of necessity, but I cannot entertain the possibility that travel-by-Oocca is any sort of real option for me. Surely you must see that.”

“Um, yes. You’re coming through loud and clear. Sooo, clawshots it is then.” Link readied his clawshots as he waited for Shad to turn around or answer him, but the scholar stayed facing the wall. “Shad? You’re… you’re not actually mad about it, are you?”

“What?” Shad glanced over his shoulder at Link. “Oh, no, of course not, Link. Come here and take a look at this.” Shad beckoned Link over urgently. 

Link’s curiosity was piqued. “What is it?” he asked as he came to stand next to the scholar.

Shad reached up and wiped some moss away from what looked to Link like a series of decorative patterns inscribed on the metal wall. More of the design became visible and next to him, Shad inhaled sharply.

“There’s Sky Writing here!” the scholar exclaimed. 

Link squinted at the characters. He supposed they did look similar to the ones in the Ancient Sky Book. Shad reached into one of his pouches and withdrew a small wood-handled spade with a thin tapered blade, which he used to carefully scrape away the moss from the rest of the writing. When the entire panel of hieroglyphics had been revealed, Shad stepped back and silently mouthed the words there. 

“Ah, yes, of course, the bird belongs in its nest. Very logical.” he murmured. Shad reached forward and slid a moveable vaguely bird-shaped piece of the writing over, and then down into a rounded-bowl shaped figure. There was a definitive click from the panel as the dull metal piece locked into place. 

Link felt a rumbling under his feet and looked around for the source. He was surprised to see a sturdy metal walkway extending from the floor beneath them. It continued to expand until it crossed all the way to the other side of the room.

Beaming, Shad stepped onto the walkway, then turned and waited for Link. “Isn’t this marvelous? The Oocca did make this room possible for Hylians to traverse after all! I say Link, this room wasn’t at all as hard to navigate as you made out.” The scholar sounded extremely pleased with himself. “Didn’t you notice that panel when you were here last?”

Link stared at Shad on the walkway and then back at the panel that the scholar had read and activated so easily, feeling a little dumbfounded. He reached up to ruffle the hair on the back of his neck. “Uh, no… I didn’t even know that was writing. I just thought it was part of the room decorations.” He grinned sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders. 

Shad shook his head. “Oh, of course. My apologies. I do forget sometimes that only my eyes would so easily and immediately recognize the written language of the Oocca.” 

Link joined him on the walkway. “That’s pretty impressive, Shad, I gotta say. Look at you finding your own way!” 

“You should have brought me with you the first time, eh old boy? Would have been a fair bit easier for you. Less troublesome for the citizens here too, I daresay,” he added wryly, giving the hero a sidelong glance. 

Link shook his head, chuckling at how Shad had so easily navigated this room with his arcane knowledge. “You’re absolutely right, I should have. Good thing I brought you this time! Looks like I’m the one who needs the escort to get around this place, not you, my brilliant friend.” He grinned and nudged Shad lightly with his elbow. 

The scholar turned pink at his praise. “Yes, well, that’s obviously not true, since you’ve already saved me from plummeting over the edge, as well as defeated every monster in our path so far.” He peered down at the helmasaurs ambling their way across the lower level of the room as they walked above them on the platform. “Curious creatures.”

They finished crossing the long walkway, Link listening closely to Shad as he continued to observe the environment around them. As they entered into the next room, Link kept his eyes on Shad’s face, keen to see the scholar’s reaction to the grand central room. He was rewarded when Shad stopped talking abruptly, his eyes lit up with wonder as he took in the cavernous, domed space, held aloft by high pillars.

“What a stunning room,” he breathed. His gaze traveled to the side opposite them, where a huge fan was set into the wall. “How fascinating. That is the largest fan or propeller we’ve seen so far, and yet it’s set into the wall vertically, instead of being placed horizontally to keep the city afloat.” 

“Oh, yeah, that one spins these big panels outside. I can show you that, as well as what’s through these other two doors.” Link pointed to either side of the room. “Where would you like to go first?”

Shad glanced around the space, airy and bright with all the natural light from the multiple large windows. “Actually, would you mind if we took a break here? I haven’t had a moment to record my observations or all the details from the conversation with Ooccoo and Oocci yet, and this place seems fairly trouble-free.” 

Link nodded. “That's a great idea. This room is safe enough, as long as you stick to the grey parts of the floor only.” Link reached into his belt pouch and pulled out some of the food he’d packed that morning. “Let’s have a bite to eat while we’re at it.” 

He handed Shad a pear and some water and they both made their way to the bottom of the stairs, sitting down next to each other to eat. When Shad had finished the sweet, juicy fruit, he delicately wiped his lips with the napkin Link gave him and then brought out his notebook. Link climbed to the top of the stairs to give him some space and time to write. Stretching his arms over his head, he decided to check on his gear. After he’d made sure everything was still in good working order, he sat down on the top step and propped his chin up on his hand, his elbow resting on his knee. 

Link gazed down at the scholar as he scribbled his thoughts down furiously. He was intent on his writing, pausing only once to remove his helmet and run his hands back through his thick auburn hair, loosening the bits that were stuck to his head. Link hadn’t seen him like this before, with his normally carefully-combed hair all tousled. He was so incredibly attractive, ardent and disheveled as he was. Shad moved to put the cap back on when Link spoke up. 

“Leave it off. You look really cu-“ Link stopped, flushing. “Um, comfortable, you look really comfortable like that. You don’t need to put it on until we get moving again.” 

Shad smiled up at him as he set the helmet to the side, resuming his work. As he wrote he began to speak, voicing his observations out loud as he had when he’d been sketching. 

“It’s beyond intriguing that the proportions of this place seem to be built for Hylians even though the Oocca are said to be the primary residents. Why would they build a city that doesn’t fit them? I wonder if perhaps their bodies have changed physical form so dramatically over the years? Or perhaps this city was designed for others and they never intended for it to be their primary living space?” He pursed his lips as he considered, then sighed. “Ah, every piece of information only further adds to the mystery!” Shad continued to convey his thoughts excitedly as he wrote, and Link watched him with admiration. 

Oh, this handsome, brilliant, captivating man. This is part of what I’ve been wanting to see - Shad when he lets loose a little. When he’s full of passion and fire. He’s irresistible and adorable all at once.

Link couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this joyous and content. Just sitting and observing the scholar as he fervently discussed his life’s work was thrilling to him. Link thought about Shad’s statement that he should have brought him along last time and wondered what that would have been like. 

Midna had been with him that time, of course. Link had been afraid that his memories of his time here with her would overshadow this trip, painting it with shades of melancholy, but the opposite was true. Coming back up here with Shad was like seeing it through entirely new eyes. Everything was brilliantly colored and brighter, somehow. Link was happier than he’d ever been, and as he sat and listened to Shad, he realized that he wouldn’t trade this moment for a thousand wishes on the Triforce. He was exactly where he wanted to be.

Shad tapped his pen against his full lower lip as he mused, drawing Link’s eyes back to his face. He turned to the hero and continued thinking out loud, pointing out little details around the room that backed up his theories. His eyes were bright and his face was lit up with enthusiasm as he waved his arms to emphasize his points. He was so charmingly enthusiastic in his speech, and Link felt like his heart had suddenly grown wings. It was lifting him up, floating him to the ceiling far overhead and up beyond it to the endless sky. The feeling of elation within him suddenly bubbled over the top and he started giggling. The sensation quickly grew and his giggles cascaded into peals of laughter as the joy poured out of him in waves. 

Shad glanced up at him, a crease between his furrowed brows as he watched the hero give in to his glee. “I say, old boy, are you… are you laughing at me?”

Link shook his head, still chuckling weakly as he clutched his stomach. “No! No, Shad. Never.” He had to pause as he tried to speak in between his laughter. “I’m just so… so happy!” He giggled again, his eyes lighting up as he tried to explain. “I love this. I love the passion you have for this place. I love that your dream is coming true! I love hearing the excitement in your voice when you talk about what you’ve discovered. I love that you’re having such an amazing time here and that you’re doing so well, better than I did on my own! I-I love the way your voice gets higher when you talk about the Oocca, and how your eyes get so big and bright.” Link knew he was rambling but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. Everything was just suddenly spilling out of him.

“I love how you play with your pen and tap it against your lips, and run your fingers through your hair, and adjust your spectacles, and twirl your bowtie, and blush.” Link lifted his eyes to the sky and brought his hand to his heart. “Oh Hylia, do I love how you blush,” he breathed, “and, and a million other cute little things you do that you don’t even know you’re doing. I love how your brilliant mind pieces things together and I love how kind and supportive you are. I love just listening to the sound of your voice. I love being here with you. I-”

Link paused for a second and glanced down at the ground, realizing where his impassioned and impromptu speech had taken him. His heart was overflowing as he looked back up at his crimson-cheeked scholar. 

“I love… I love you , Shad.”

Chapter Text

Juice from the ripe pear dribbled down Shad’s chin as he bit into it, and he accepted the napkin Link handed him with a touch of embarrassment.

“My thanks,” he murmured as he wiped away the drops of sweet nectar.

Link just smiled at him in reply before taking a big bite out of his own pear. He closed his eyes as he savored the fresh fruit, seemingly uncaring about the juices that got all over his lips. Shad noticed that, while he did of course use his napkin afterwards, the hero didn’t seem to let the threat of a little messiness interrupt his enjoyment of the treat in any way. Shad admired that quality. 

Forcing himself to look away from Link’s succulent mouth, Shad let his gaze roam around the vast space they were in. He was glad they’d decided to take a break here. The room was in ruins, as was the entire complex, but it still had a haunting beauty, with its ivy-covered broken pillars and high ceiling. He was looking forward to organizing his thoughts and writing down his discoveries so far. He was still glowing inside from Link’s high praise of him for how he’d accessed the previous room’s hidden walkway.

Link had been so encouraging and supportive of him on this entire trip, and Shad had to admit that the hero’s acclaim felt wonderful. So much praise had started coming his way in the last few weeks, and the large majority of it either came from Link or was due to his influence. He was surprised at how quickly he’d come to crave Link’s good opinion of him. Praise and recognition of his talents were not a regular part of his life.  It was usually quite the opposite, if he was being honest. At best, those he knew tolerated or gently teased him for his obsessive interests and bookishness. Link seemed to look at him and see, well he wasn’t sure what, exactly. A good friend? An intelligent associate? Shad only knew that with the way Link sometimes looked at him, he felt valued and worthy beyond measure. It was an incomparable feeling.

It was a feeling, however, that was complicated by his lust for the handsome hero. Shad almost wished that he could make those feelings go away. It’d be so much simpler to be Link’s friend if he didn’t get goosebumps every time the hero touched him. At the same time, Shad relished every single one of those moments and wouldn’t want to trade what he felt for Link for anything in the world. He couldn’t help but be attracted to this man, who quite literally slayed monsters for him, and who consistently took care of him with such nonchalant tenderness. He let his eyes steal a glance at Link again, watching as he took another bite of the juicy pear. 

Brave, caring, fierce, kind, smart… and so, so sexy.  Shad’s eyes lingered on Link’s glistening lips before he let his gaze travel over the rest of the hero’s striking features. His appearance wasn’t what Shad loved most about him, not even close really, but he couldn’t deny that Link’s looks were enticing, with his perfectly sculpted face, his tousled sandy hair, his strong, agile body, and those piercing, stormy blue eyes. Sometimes when he compared their physical appearances and standings in society he felt foolish for ever thinking that there could be anything other than friendship between them. He was a tall, gangly, bespectacled scholar, and Link? Link was The Hero Chosen by the Gods , as well as one of the most important people at Princess Zelda’s court. 

And yet, he could sense that there was something more, something that lay between them that felt like connection and attraction. Shad had felt it from Link, both emotionally and now physically. The memory of last night and Link’s erection pressing up against him had him blushing again. Shad was finding it increasingly difficult to keep his feelings and actions within the bounds of friendship, but he tried not to let himself hope for more. He was resolved to let the hero heal in his own time, and who knew what the future held after that?

He finished his piece of fruit, taking a big drink of water before standing and stretching. As he stretched he tried to refocus his mind on his work. It wasn’t too difficult of a task, as details from his conversation with the Oocca leapt out at him, begging to be recorded. His hands started itching for his pen and notebook, and he took both out, ready to write. 

Link gathered up their things, storing them away in his pouches before heading to the top of the stairs to stretch. Shad sat down on the bottom step and immediately started writing down his thoughts. He briefly noticed Link checking over his gear before his attention was consumed by his research. 

Shad worked feverishly until he became aware of a drop of sweat streaking its way down his temple. He reached up to remove the cap that he’d had on since they’d left Lake Hylia. It was a relief to have it off and he absent-mindedly ran his fingers back through his hair, loosening the sweaty locks stuck to his scalp. He shook his head slightly, enjoying the feeling of the fresh air on his skin, and then sighed as he reached for the helmet to strap it back on. 

“Leave it off. You look really cu-“ 

Shad looked up at Link as he spoke. The hero blinked a few times, a touch of redness spreading across his cheeks. “Um, comfortable, you look really comfortable like that. You don’t need to put it on until we get moving again.” 

Merely smiling at him in reply, Shad set the helmet aside and brought his gaze back to his notes. Link had stopped himself from saying something. What had he been about to say instead of ‘comfortable?’ From the corner of his eye he noticed that Link was sitting on the top step, just watching him. He fidgeted a little under the hero’s scrutiny, and began to speak out loud about his observations out of nervousness, and as an attempt to bring his focus back to his work and away from Link’s perceptive gaze.

“Ah, every piece of information only further adds to the mystery!” He sighed, and continued to write his thoughts down as he spoke. “You can tell from the high arches, the tall doorways, and even from the items that they carry in the shop that Hylians have at the very least been visitors here, if not residents. The entire structure of this place is curiously large for such a diminutive species.” 

Shad enthusiastically explained the connections he drew between information Oocci and Ooccoo had told him and what he was able to glean from both the design and decay of the city around them. It was thrilling to see everything in person and he wished his father could see him now, filling in the blanks in his journal and meeting Sky Beings in person. He was beyond grateful to Link for bringing him here, and for more than that too. For Link’s unwavering belief in him and his support every step of the way. His eyes caught on a correlation in his writings and he felt his excitement rising.

“Ah, amazing! Yes of course, the small half-spheres above the self-opening doors must be sensors that are aware of one’s presence, signaling the mechanism inside to open them at one’s approach. What a marvelous piece of technology, and it’s of course absolutely logical that the Oocca would craft a city for themselves that doesn’t require the use of hands!”

He suddenly heard the out-of-place sound of Link giggling. Glancing up at the hero, Shad watched in bemusement as Link’s chuckles swiftly turned into hearty laughter. Link’s eyes were squeezed shut and his shoulder shook up and down with his mirth. 

Shad raised an eyebrow in surprise at the hero’s strange behavior. It stung a little bit, he had to admit. He knew that he had a tendency to ramble when he was excited about his findings, and he’d certainly been snickered at before, but Link had never once teased him about his eccentricities, and it’s not something he’d ever expected from his friend. 

He frowned slightly as Link continued to chortle at the top of the stairs. “I say, old boy, are you… are you laughing at me?” he asked hesitantly.

Shad watched as Link shook his head, his guffaws subsiding into softer chuckles as he caught his breath enough to answer. “No! No, Shad. Never.” 

Relief swept through him at Link’s swift reassurance, but his confusion remained.  

“I’m just so… so happy!” Link continued. “I love this. I love the passion you have for this place. I love that your dream is coming true…”

Shad blinked in bewilderment as Link continued to explain why his elation had come out of him as laughter. Link’s face was animated as he described what he loved about Shad’s own enthusiasm. Shad knew his cheeks were turning pink at the hero’s ardent words. 

As Link’s complimentary spiel continued Shad realized that he’d moved on from talking about his research and onto very detailed, and very personal things that the hero loved about him. Yes, he’d been using the word love , over and over. Shad could hardly believe his ears. He was aware of nothing except Link’s eyes locked onto his and Link’s lips speaking words he’d longed to hear. 

When Link emphatically mentioned how much he adored Shad’s blushing, the scholar felt himself flooding with heat. He dropped his eyes, unable to hold Link’s intense gaze any longer. Shad knew the tips of his ears were crimson as Link sang his praises. His heart was pounding wildly in his chest, like a hummingbird vibrating its wings against the cage of his ribs. Could this really be happening? Link paused briefly and then his next words took the scholar completely by surprise. 

“I love… I love you , Shad.” Finally speaking this truth to the scholar was such a relief to Link. It made him feel weightless, as if he were floating on the breeze blowing in through the open windows. The only uncertainty that brought him back to earth was Shad’s surprised face and his silence. Link looked at him hopefully, praying to all the Goddesses that he wasn’t wrong about the way that Shad felt.

For a few moments Shad could only stare at him in shock. It felt like time had slowed down to a crawl. There was a roaring in his ears and Shad slowly realized it was the sound of his own racing pulse. 

He swallowed hard. “Y-you mean as a f-friend… r-right?” he stammered softly. He had to clarify. He just had to, after so much intimacy between them that was always explained away by their close friendship. 

Link shook his head, his eyebrows raised and an amused little close-lipped smile on his face. “Definitely not just as a friend, Shad. As so much more .” He chuckled lightly. “Tremendously more.”

Link’s voice was sultry and low and it sent shivers up Shad’s spine. His heart was soaring and he almost thought he might cry . How was it that all his dreams were suddenly coming true?

I…I love you too! ” breathed Shad, the words slipping hastily out of his mouth in response before he could place his usual carefully constructed filters on them. 

Link let out another short laugh, a sound of sheer joy that echoed around the room. “You do?” He looked so adorably hopeful. 

Shad nodded, very aware of the fact that his face was still red. He looked down at his hands in his lap and twisted his bracelets. “Yes. I h-have for awhile now. I… I didn’t know if you f-felt the same way. And of course, I hoped, but I-I didn’t know how to tell you.“ Shad trailed off, still feeling unsure of himself despite the confession from them both. He sucked in a deep breath and kept his eyes downcast, not knowing what the next steps were. 

“Look at me, Shad.” Link’s voice was calm but firm. 

Glancing up, Shad met and held Link’s enamored gaze. The blonde stood up and started slowly walking down the steps towards him with the grace and cunning of a predator. 

“Come here, Shad.” Link’s tone was once again soft, almost silky, but the note of steel behind it made Shad aware that it was not a request. He obediently rose and began to ascend the stairs. 

They walked towards each other until Link was one step above Shad, eye to eye with him. They were once again so close that Shad could feel the heat from the hero’s body and smell his woodsy scent. It was an intoxicating mix. 

Link reached out to gently clasp both of Shad’s hands in his own, lacing their fingers together. His hands were warm where his gloves didn’t cover them. The small contact between them made goosebumps rise on Shad’s arms. Link smiled when he noticed Shad’s physical reaction and he leaned in closer.

“Will you say it again, please? I’ve wanted to hear it from your lips for so long. Once just isn’t enough.” His voice was rich, warm and sweet, like honey-butter melting on fresh-baked biscuits. 

Shad knew exactly what Link wanted from him. He sucked in a breath and looked straight into his big blue eyes. “I love you, Link .”

Link’s face lit up with a sunny smile, and he squeezed both of Shad’s hands. “And I love you.” Shad was thrilled at hearing him speak those world-changing words again.  The blonde dropped his gaze from Shad’s eyes to his mouth, biting his lower lip. When he brought his gaze back up his eyes were smoldering.

“Can I kiss you?” Link’s request was a soft breath against Shad’s skin. Shad nodded dumbly, swept up in the moment. Part of him still hadn’t accepted that this was really happening, and time seemed to be speeding by faster than he could think. As Link closed the distance between them, Shad’s rational mind suddenly caught up with his body. Alarm bells began blaring in his head. 

“Wait,” he murmured, tugging his hand free to gently rest it on Link’s broad chest, the hero’s lips mere inches from his own. Link complied instantly, pulling his head back with a look of concern but keeping hold of Shad’s other hand. The hero silently searched his eyes as he waited for Shad to speak. Shad took a deep breath before he continued. 

“Link,” he began hesitantly, his heart fluttering in his chest. “I-I want this with you, I do. You have no idea how much. But this is all happening so quickly, and… well… p-part of the reason that I haven’t pursued my attraction to you is because I wanted to give you the space and time you needed to heal f-from…” 

He paused, darting his eyes up to Link’s, not knowing what he’d find there. Link held his gaze steadily as his thumb continued stroking the back of Shad’s hand. The affectionate touch bolstered him to ask for what he had to know before he could proceed any further. 

“To heal from losing her ,” Shad continued softly. “Is that… are you… ?” Shad struggled with how to phrase the difficult question. He cleared his throat and pushed forward without the perfect words. “What about… her?” he asked plainly.

Link smiled warmly at him and squeezed his hand again. “Shad… she’s not here, and you are.” 

That wasn’t enough to satisfy him. “So… so you’re just suddenly over her? You’re ready to move on, just like that?” Shad shook his head, his brow furrowed. “Link, I don’t want to doubt you. Trust me, I want more than anything to believe you, but I… I held you while we cried together about your loss of her three days ago. It’s hard for me to accept that you’re ready for… for a relationship with me.” Oh dear Nayru, what was he doing, arguing against his own interests like this?! 

Squeezing Link’s hands in return, Shad shot him an abashed look. “Please forgive me for my blunt questions and my rudeness. I want to kiss you, Link. I want to be with you, more than I can say. But I have to know how you feel about this first. I have to know if you’re truly ready to move on.” 

A small, sad smile drifted across Link’s face like the clouds at sunset, casting a tint of melancholy upon his fine features. “I do still care deeply for her. I’m not going to lie to you, Shad. She was an important part of my life. I miss her, and her memory will always have a place in my heart. Our relationship ended abruptly and I’m trying to find closure.” Shad nodded his head slowly, grateful for Link’s honesty. 

The blonde paused, his eyes briefly rising to the ceiling as he searched for the words he needed to continue. “I’m finding some of that closure with you. You’re the one who’s saved me from the edge, Shad. You’ve been there for me through some of my lowest times, and I do feel ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. With you, hopefully.” Shad’s hummingbird heart immediately started its rapid fluttering again. 

Link paused again, a brilliant smile lighting up his face as he gazed at the scholar. “You’re one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. There is no one like you in this world, Shad, and I can’t imagine my life without you.” Shad’s heart felt like a harp, Link’s words delicately plucking at its strings and making it sing. 

Sighing, Link dropped his gaze to the ground and a rough note entered his voice. “I know I come as damaged goods. And I’m still grieving and sorting myself out, but… but I’d be lost without you. I know that it’s asking a lot of you,” Link continued, “and I haven’t wanted to burden you with my feelings because of this. You’re wonderful, with so much potential and a great future ahead of you, and I… I just think you deserve so much better than looking after a broken mess like me.” Link kept his eyes lowered, looking for all the world like a puppy expecting a kick. It tore at Shad’s heart that Link thought of himself this way. 

The hero raised his eyes to Shad’s, a sad yet hopeful look in them. “But I can't help but ask you. Will you have me anyway, Shad?”

“Yes,” Shad replied instantly, squeezing the hero’s hand to emphasize his words. “Yes, of course. You’re not broken, Link, and you’re not a mess. You’re an incredible person who is going through difficult times, and it’s my privilege to know you and help you through them. You’re magnificent - strong, resilient, courageous, caring… “ Shad smiled as he watched hope begin to dawn in Link’s eyes. “I could list your exceptional qualities until the end of next week. You have a great future ahead of you as well, you know, even if you can’t clearly see your path right now. How much better will it be if we achieve our goals and thrive together ? Whatever good qualities you see in me, Link, are partly there because of you. You draw them out and nurture them. I wouldn’t be where I am now without you in my life, and I don’t think I could stand it if you weren’t.” 

Finally! There were his polished words again, arguing for him this time like they were supposed to. Link’s eyes were shimmering with unshed tears, and Shad continued. “My point is that yes, I most definitely do want you, exactly as you are.” 

Link brought Shad’s hand to his mouth and kissed his knuckles softly. “I should have known to expect a speech praising my character from you instead of a simple yes or no.” The blonde chuckled. “Maybe you should start writing my speeches. You’re as persuasive as you are flattering.”

Shad’s high cheekbones turned pink again. He looked down at his hand resting on Link’s chest and traced part of the embroidery there with his pointer finger. “That’s certainly within the realm of possibilities. Anyway, I simply wanted to assure myself that you felt ready.” He felt Link’s heartbeat quicken under his hand and he brought his eyes up to the blonde’s. 

“Oh, I’m ready,” Link crooned. A playful glint appeared in his eyes and Shad blushed again at his tone. “Are you?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow. His husky voice sounded like a caress and Shad shivered with anticipation at the meaning behind Link’s simple question. 

Nodding his head, Shad’s breath caught in his throat as Link’s free hand rose to the back of his neck. His fingers wove through the soft hair there, making tingles shoot down Shad’s spine. Link angled his head and closed the distance between them. His full lips grazed against Shad’s, feather light. The kiss was almost more shared breathing than a full-contact pressing of their lips, and yet the impact of it on both of them was earth-shattering. Shad felt like his veins were full of liquid fire, taking the heat from that tiny kiss and spreading it throughout his body.

Link pulled back slightly and opened his eyes, meeting Shad’s. Their gazes locked, sky blue and indigo, and it felt like every single erotically charged moment they’d shared so far suddenly rushed into the space between them, stoking their held-back desire like a bellows on a fire. Heat flared instantly inside of Shad, a flame that felt like it would consume him if he didn’t quench his thirst with Link’s lips. The hero’s eyes burned into his and Shad saw his same need reflected there. 

Letting out a sound that was somewhere between a moan and a growl, Link brought his mouth back to Shad’s, hungry for more of him. 

Link could hardly believe this was really happening. Shad was right here, in his arms and on his lips. He wanted his touch, he was kissing him back and -  oh, Hylia! - he felt and tasted like heaven. Link couldn’t get enough of him and he parted his lips, sucking Shad’s lower lip in between his own. His right hand went to the redhead’s back, pressing him closer up against his chest. Shad’s arms wrapped around him in return as he leaned into their kiss and Link loved the feeling. Shad inhaled sharply when Link nibbled at his lower lip, and Link sealed Shad’s lips with his own, sliding his tongue against the redhead’s. 

When Shad moaned into Link’s mouth the hero shivered and his careful control began to slip away. His fingers snaked up through Shad’s hair at the base of his neck, gently gripping a handful of his thick auburn locks. He angled the scholar’s head back so that he could better devour his kisses. The action earned him a little gasp and Link smiled against Shad’s lips, eager to pull more reactions out of him. 

Link was already growing hard. His cock was pulsing as their kiss deepened. He barely restrained himself from grinding on the redhead, conscious as he still was of his actions the previous evening, until Shad pressed forward, pulling Link’s groin to his. Link could feel Shad’s own growing arousal hard up against him and he moaned, moving his head to nip and suck at Shad’s sharply defined jawline and down the side of his neck. 

“You are so delicious,” he murmured against the redhead’s flushed skin as he savored the taste and feel of him. “I’ve been thinking about this ever since that night with the icing when you licked my finger.”

“You, you have?” Shad’s words came out of him in little gasps as Link sucked on a sweet spot below his ear. “Oh, L-Link!” 

Link growled against his skin as Shad cried out his name. “Yes. I wanted to know if your lips were as soft to kiss as they were to touch.” He pulled back and looked Shad in the eye, a seductive smirk on his face. “I’m not disappointed. They’re better.”

Shad couldn’t seem to stand even a single second of being in Link’s arms without the hero’s lips on his own. He sought out Link’s hot mouth again, tasting the sweetness from the pear juice on his tongue. “I went to bed that night wanting you,” the redhead shyly admitted between kisses. “I have every night since.”

His confession made Link moan against his lips, rock hard at the idea of his shy, sweet scholar going to bed desperate for him. “That drives me crazy, Shad,” he whispered. Link wanted to touch him, to take him, right here and now, and it felt like his fantasies were leaping to life. He gripped the redhead and intentionally rolled his hips to rub their clothed erections directly against each other. “You seem to have a knack for driving me absolutely crazy.”

Shad let out a breathy moan and moved his hand down to lift the hero’s tunic and belt. He slid his hand up against Link’s taut abdomen. Trailing his hand down the hero’s muscular torso and over his pants, he made Link gasp in anticipation. He then slowly slid his palm along the length of Link’s aching cock, gripping him firmly through his leggings when he reached the head. 

Letting out a long, low moan, Link couldn’t help but to thrust his hips forward against the scholar’s hand, eager for more friction. Shad continued to stroke him over his pants and Link dropped his head to Shad’s shoulder, breathless. 

“Shad… Shad.” He whispered the redhead’s name like a prayer and a desperate plea all at once. His head felt heavy, and his thoughts were clouded with lust. Shad’s hand felt incredible on him and the scholar’s forwardness was even better than his fantasies. 

“Oh, Goddesses, Link, I’ve desired you for so long.” Shad’s low voice was right in his ear, making Link shiver as the scholar’s hands continued their work. “I can’t believe I finally get to touch you like this.” 

Shad’s words struck Link's mind like a gong and he froze. His memory played him a scene of when he’d spoken a nearly identical phrase to Midna on their one long night together. The sudden realization of how quickly he and Shad were moving, and how it mirrored his rushed erotic actions after he’d confessed his feelings to Midna, cleared the fog from his head in a flash. He craved all sorts of sex with Shad, but not like this, not frenzied and hectic. He wanted the chance to savor intimacy with Shad, not bolt headlong into it like a mindless beast. 

Shad had brought his hand back to the waistband of Link’s leggings and was beginning to tug them down to slide his hand inside when Link spoke up. 

Shad.

Thinking it was another heated response, Shad sucked at his neck and continued his ministrations. 

Shad, stop. ” Link’s words were barely above a whisper, but Shad halted at once, removing his roving hand from Link and bringing his eyes to meet the hero’s. 

Link’s brows were drawn down slightly and he was breathing heavily. “We have to stop. This is…” he paused and shook his head. “It’s too fast. Too much. I… I just can’t.” 

A little wave of surprised rejection washed over Shad and he let go of Link entirely, taking a step down and away from the hero. 

“Y-yes of course. I understand.” Hot shame turned his cheeks scarlet as he took in their situation. My word, had he really been about to whip out that thick cock he’d been feeling through Link’s pants right then and there? He was mortified that he’d lost control of himself and showed Link how base and immoral he truly was. Their very first kiss was mere moments ago, and he’d let it turn him into a cheap tart, trying to jack off the hero on a staircase of all places! What was it about this man that made him lose his senses like this? Shad hadn’t even asked if he could touch him in that manner. What must Link think of him now, rushing him into something like that? He turned away and walked to the bottom of the stairs, his hands over his face. 

“I’m so sorry for pushing you too far.” he spoke through his hands. He heard nothing back and slumped his shoulders, feeling alone in his agony. Link’s hand firmly gripped his shoulder, surprising him, and he turned around to face the blonde, dropping his hands.

“Hey. You have nothing to apologize for.” Link’s tone was earnest and reassuring. “We both got a little carried away, and you certainly didn’t do anything I haven’t been fantasizing about with you.” Shad felt slightly relieved by the hero’s affirmations and he lifted his eyes to look at him.

Link blew out a breath and ran his hand back through his hair. “Look. I didn’t stop you because I don’t want to do this with you. Trust me when I say that I want you very much, and that I want to do this and more with you… eventually. But I…” he paused and sighed again. “I rushed into the physical stuff with my last relationship, and I think it really complicated things. I just… I just don’t want to make any mistakes this time.” He looked up at Shad, his expressive brows drawn down in worry but a little smile curving up the side of his lips. “I want to do this right with you, Shad. You’re worth it. And I think, for me, that means that I need to take it just a little slower, if… if that’s something you’re okay with.”

“Oh, Link, of course I’m okay with it. I’m more than okay with it.” Shad reached for Link’s hand, wrapping it in his and giving it a firm squeeze. “We’ll proceed at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. I didn’t mean to rush you like that, and I… I don’t want you thinking that I am only interested in a physical relationship with you. I mean, obviously I-I find you very desirable,” he paused, his cheeks heating again as Link winked at him for that statement. “B-but I just want to be with you, Link. I just want to keep doing all the activities that we already seem to do so well together. Just, actually together now. Spending time with you… just being close to you.” Shad caught Link’s gaze and held it. “That is what matters to me. That is what I want most.”

The intensity and love shining forth from Shad’s deep blue eyes made Link melt inside. He had seen this passion in Shad in regards to his research and having the full force of it turned onto him felt incredible. He wanted to treat this man like the rare and precious treasure that he was, always. 

Link brought his free hand to Shad’s chest and spread his fingers over his heart. He could feel the steady beat of it under his palm as he took a half-step closer to the redhead. 

“Shad, that’s exactly what I want with you too. Yeah, I’m attracted to you, but I want to continue to enjoy you in every way, not just the sexy ones. Besides,” Link leaned in close, closing his eyes as he inhaled the scholar’s warm scent, “I want to go slowly for our pleasure, too.” He brought his gaze back to Shad’s, his eyes smoldering with a primal heat. “I want to take the time to savor you as we explore each other’s bodies.”

Shad’s face grew warm and he knew that Link could feel his heartbeat speed up underneath his hand. “I do too,” he breathed, enraptured by the raw desire he saw in Link’s eyes. The idea of this fiery, wild, passion between them being slowly doled out to him, in succulent little morsels of pleasure, with each taste it’s own feast and tempting treat - it was more than he’d ever dared to dream of with Link. 

He blinked rapidly and lowered his eyes to break the spell Link held over him before he could get swept away again. Shad was determined not to override Link’s boundaries and he still felt some shame that he’d leapt into intimate physical touch before discussing it with Link. “H-however, I am a bit embarrassed that I forced it and let things escalate so quickly-“

Link brought his hand up to Shad’s lips, shushing him. “Don’t. Don’t blame yourself, okay? There’s no fault here. I’m not mad or upset and I don’t blame you in any way. I was just as into what we were doing, and it could easily have been me stroking you.” He ran his finger slowly across Shad’s lips, watching hungrily as they parted just a bit. “Mmm. Someday.” He moved his hand to the back of Shad’s neck, angling his head down to meet his lips. Link kissed him slowly and deeply, and Shad felt his embarrassment melt away into desire again. 

Breaking the kiss before it could go further, Link took a step back. “Let’s keep it to kissing and intimate touching above the waist for now, okay?”

Shad inclined his head. “Sounds like a dream to me. It’s more than I hoped I’d ever have with you, anyway.” 

Link chuckled. “Same here.” He squeezed Shad’s hand and drew him in for a hug. 

Shad wrapped his arms around the blonde, whose head tucked perfectly under Shad’s chin, cherishing the feeling of holding Link so closely in his arms. 

“I love you.” Link’s words came out as a breathy sigh against his chest, and Shad’s heart leapt. 

“I love you too, Link,” he breathed, placing a kiss on the dark blonde locks that fell on the hero’s forehead. 

Link kept his arms around Shad’s waist and angled his head up at him, grinning. “I’m never going to get tired of hearing you say that. Well, it’s not like I ever get tired of hearing you talk anyway.”

Shad chuckled, gazing down at his love. “Are you sure about that? I do have a reputation for being rather long-winded.” 

“I’m absolutely positive. I could listen to you talk for hours and never get bored.” Link nuzzled his head into Shad’s chest and then released him with a reluctant sigh.

“Well, I guess that was a decent break, huh?” He rolled his shoulders, glancing at the doors on either side of them. “Should we move on?”

Shad blinked as his awareness grew from the moment between them to the greater room around them. Oh yes. He was still in the Sky . They had plenty of daylight here before they had to return home, and so much more to explore.

Shad shook his head at Link’s ability to make him forget about being in this amazing place for even a moment and chuckled at his own susceptibility to the hero’s charm. “Yes, I daresay that was a sufficiently long and, ah, refreshing break,” Shad replied. “I admit that I almost forgot where we were. You are quite the distraction, do you know that?” He reached up to adjust the clothing that Link’s hands had completely and utterly put into disarray. 

“Ha!” Link’s laughter echoed around the room. “You’ve been distracting me all day! Do you know how hard it is to keep you safe when all I can think about is kissing you?” 

Shad blushed. “Well, you’ve done an admirable job so far. Keep it up, Hero.” 

“That’s the plan.” Link winked at him and then grabbed his gear while Shad packed up his supplies as well. 

Shad was just reaching up to buckle his helmet under his chin when Link sauntered back down the steps to join him by the broken pillar. The hero’s capable hands came up and took over the job. He finished buckling it for Shad, tugging it down snug around his long ears. Link let his hands linger, unable to resist giving his sensitive ears a soft stroke upwards. Link’s eyes flashed up to Shad’s to read the redhead’s response to his touch. 

He wasn’t disappointed when Shad shivered and blinked, those big indigo eyes looking deeply into his. Link brought his hands down and tugged the end of the helmet’s strap, bringing Shad’s lips to his for a quick kiss. 

Link leaned back from their kiss. “There. All set?” 

“Indeed.” Shad beamed down at him. This change between them was still so new that he was giddy and flushed from each and every display of affection. He tried to focus. “Which room first?” Shad finished closing up his belt pouch and glanced to either side. 

“Actually, I’m thinking you could use some practice before we go further.” Link took out his clawshots and started scanning the room.

“P-practice? Practice what exactly?” Shad eyed the clawshots warily. Was he supposed to use those? It was bad enough being hauled around safely in Link’s arms by the devices. He didn’t even want to think about attempting the maneuver himself. 

Link nodded his head towards Shad’s belt. “Using your sailcloth. It’s safe enough here, if we’re careful. You should try it out now. You don’t want your first time with something new like that to be when it’s an emergency. C’mon, I’ll take you up.” Link tilted his head towards the top of the pillars supporting the ceiling.

Shad glanced up at the ceiling far overhead and gulped at the idea of falling on his own from that height, ancient floating sky cloth or not. “D-don’t you want to try it out yourself, f-first? M-make sure it works?”

Link wrinkled his nose. “Nah. It’ll be fine. I can always snatch ya back to me right away if I have to.” The hero winked and sidled up next to him, wrapping his hand around Shad’s waist before he could object again. “Pull your goggles down.” Shad obeyed and Link hugged him closer to his body.

“W-wait! Shouldn’t you strap our harnesses together first?” Shad panicked, clinging to the leather straps on Link’s chest. 

“Nope. It’d be too complicated to undo them when we’re up there.” Link pointed to the top of the ivy at the pillar across from them, up near the ceiling.

“N-now?” Shad began to ask, but his question turned into a yelp of surprise as Link held on to him tightly and aimed, sending the claw shooting towards the pillar.

Chapter Text

Shad cried out in fear and surprise as he was yanked into the air by the clawshot. Link’s strong arm was firmly around his waist, gripping him close, and Shad held on to the hero as tightly as he could. They reached the top of the pillar in seconds and Link was able to hang on to the vines for balance while still keeping his secure hold on Shad.

“Can you get out the sailcloth?” Link’s calm question was in sharp contrast to the rapid beating of Shad’s heart. He peered down from their height at the floor far below and scrunched his eyes shut. 

A soft yet firm hand grasped his jaw and gently turned his head. Shad opened his panicked eyes to look into Link’s steady gaze. “Hey,” the hero said softly. “You’ve got this, Shad! I believe in you! I wouldn’t have brought you up here if I didn’t think you could do this.” Shad nodded slowly as he willed himself to believe Link’s words. “Just open your pouch with one hand and take out the cloth.”

Shad unwrapped one arm from around Link, still clinging tightly with the other. He was relieved when he didn’t suddenly plummet to the tile floor below. He reached into his pouch and withdrew the blue and white fabric, shaking it open. 

“There you go.” Link’s tone was gentle and encouraging. “Now bring one corner of it to your other hand - you don’t even have to let go with that one yet.” Shad followed his instructions, his hands shaking. 

“Okay. Now grip it firmly on either end and let go of me.” Shad didn’t move a muscle, only looked at Link with wide, fearful eyes. “Go on, Shad. I’m not going to let go of you and you’re not going to fall.” 

Shad cautiously moved his arm away from Link and gripped the edge of the sailcloth tightly. Link’s grip remained firm and Shad stayed where he was, just as the hero had said.

“You’re doing great,” Link said in his soothing tone. “What you’re going to do is this: when you’re ready, tell me to let go and I will. You’ll jump away from me at the same time, and quickly bring both hands holding the sailcloth straight up over your head.” Shad listened intently, focusing on Link’s words as he tried to absorb the instructions. 

“The sailcloth will snap open, fill with air, and let you float gently to the ground. Just drift right straight down to the grey floor. Bend your knees a little as you land. If you get into any sort of trouble - it doesn’t open, you fall too fast, or you fall into a dangerous spot, I’m here to keep you safe, okay?” Link shook his hand with the other clawshot still equipped. 

A question popped into Shad’s head as he was nodding in reply. “H-how do you know how to use it? Have you used one before? I’d never even heard of such a thing until we came here!” 

Shad’s question caught Link off guard and he tilted his head to the side as he thought, his brows drawn down in puzzlement. “I… I’m not sure, exactly. It just makes sense to me to use it that way. It just… it just feels instinctual.” Bringing his gaze back to Shad, he shrugged a shoulder. “I haven’t used one before, no. But that… that’s just how it works.”

Shad nodded. Link’s answer was enough for him. His track record of success made him more than trustworthy in Shad’s eyes. Closing his eyes, he pictured himself opening the sailcloth correctly and landing safely. When opened his eyes Link was smiling encouragingly at him, and it gave him the confidence he needed. If Link thought he could do this then he’d just have to prove the hero right. He readjusted the cloth in his hands, gripping each side tightly.

“Alright. I’m ready.”

“Okay, don’t forget to push off with your feet against the pillar here too. You’ll feel more in control and less like you’re just suddenly falling when I let go.” When Shad nodded his understanding and had his feet in place, Link gave him one last tight squeeze. “I’m letting go now .” 

Shad bent his knees and pushed hard off the pillar when he felt Link’s arm leave his waist. He shot a few feet up into the air and flung his hands over his head immediately, his heart leaping into his throat as he began his rapid descent. The white fabric swiftly billowed out above him, filling with air and slowing his fall. 

Shad looked around as he drifted down slowly. This was actually quite pleasant, despite the heart-stopping launch. The ground was coming closer to him and he bent his knees, bracing for impact. His feet hit the ground and he took several stumbling steps before standing up straight. He waved overhead at Link, who was whooping for him from the top of the pillar. 

Link climbed down the ivy and dropped to the floor. He ran to Shad and drew him into a tight hug. 

“Shad, that was amazing! You did it perfectly! I’m so proud of you!” He pulled back and leaned up to kiss the scholar on the cheek. Link’s enthusiastic praise had Shad glowing. He knew his cheeks were pink as he twirled his bracelets. 

“Oh, I daresay it wasn’t actually perfectly done, not with that rough landing. But thank you. It was really a rather lovely experience, once I was floating instead of falling. Plus, as you said, it is beneficial to know it works in the case that its use is required.” 

Link’s blue eyes were twinkling with excitement. “Wanna do it again?” He held out his hand and Shad smirked, lifting an eyebrow.

“Oh, why not?” Shad grasped the hero’s hand and laughed as Link hauled them both back up to the ceiling. 

They practiced with the sailcloth for a while, with Link taking a turn eventually as well. Shad jumped over and over, until he was able to tilt the sailcloth to land where he wanted to with precision. When they were both satisfied with Shad’s mastery of the tool, Link reattached the strap they used for the winds outside. They headed towards the far door, Link warning Shad of the obstacles that lay ahead. 

Outside, Shad huddled in the shelter of the door frame while Link expertly used his bow to take out every kargarok flying above the bridge they were to cross. Shad admired how precise and patient he was. Link aimed and tracked each beast’s flight while the strong gusts of wind blew, and then loosed his arrow the moment the gales stopped, downing each foe in one shot. When he was done he turned back and smiled at Shad, who raised an eyebrow at him.

“You’re quite impressive, you know.” Shad couldn’t get enough of Link’s heroics. He didn’t want to come across like the lovesick girls in Castle Town, but really, Link was legendary for a reason. Shad hardly ever got the chance to see him in action and express how he felt about it, and he didn’t want to hold back with Link now. 

Link walked over to him, shrugging his shoulders. “I’m glad I can impress you, at least. C’mon, I want to show you something before we cross the bridge.” 

Link reached for his hand and Shad held on tightly as they dashed around the corner instead of crossing the bridge. It felt so much more comfortable to stay close to Link this way in the dangerous, gusty outside areas than to run behind him led by a leash. 

They arrived at a dead end with a large set of gears visible through parts of the floor. Shad exclaimed over the machinery and took out his notebook to start sketching when Link put a hand on his arm, stopping him. Reaching into one of his pouches, Link pulled out a large gear-like object and hopped onto it, riding it to the depression in the floor that it fit into perfectly. Shad watched in amazement as Link’s actions on the spinner, as he called it, made the gears in the floor turn and the bridge retract and then extend again. Asking question after question about the device and the mechanics of the place, Shad was astounded when Link revealed the location where he’d found the spinner.

“Really, the Gerudo Desert, you say? In the Arbiter’s Grounds? Astonishing!!” Shad was furiously scribbling down his thoughts as he spoke aloud. “How in Hyrule did a piece of ancient technology built for the Ooccan capital city make its way into the desert?” He paused and pushed up his spectacles, glancing back at the rooms they’d already come through. “I wonder if those spare cannons we saw were previously used for transportation to other regions, not just Lake Hylia like the return cannon by the pool. It does make some sense. If they have the technology, then why would they limit themselves to one entrance point to the surface below? But then, why aren’t the others in use anymore?”

Knowing the scholar’s questions were rhetorical, Link quietly packed away the spinner as Shad spoke. He loved hearing the theories spinning out of the scholar’s mind faster than he’d been making those giant gears turn. 

When Shad was done, Link walked over and grabbed the chest straps of his harness, bringing his lips down for a sweet, lingering kiss. He let go of the scholar, grinning broadly. 

“Whatever was that for?” Shad asked, flustered from how Link hadn’t hesitated to use the harness to manhandle him a little. 

“Not that I need a reason to kiss you, but… because you’re brilliant and adorable.” Link winked at him. “And because I can’t get enough of you.” 

Laughing as Shad ducked his head and blushed, Link grabbed his hand. The hero led them across the bridge and into the next building, unclipping their harness in the lee of the door. He made sure Shad stayed behind him as he quickly took care of the helmasaurs in their path. Turning back to the scholar when he was done, he saw Shad pulling out his journal and pen once more. 

“I say, here are yet more propellers set into the wall, rather than holding the city aloft. I think there may be more of these inside the city than beneath or above it. I wonder what the possible purpose is of these large gusts of air blowing across the room?”

Link didn’t at all mind waiting while Shad worked, but he was beginning to realize that the scholar would have questions and observations to make in every single room they traveled through. Link had been able to go through this place in a matter of hours, but he hadn’t been studying it as he went, except to look for anything that could help him on his quest. Realizing that he’d have to prioritize their path through the city to make sure Shad saw the most of it in the time they had left, Link started planning their route.

Reaching into his pouch, Link pulled out the portfolio he’d made for his collection of maps, flipping to the one for the City in the Sky. He traced his finger over where they’d already been and debated on which places to take Shad, murmuring options to himself. 

His murmuring attracted Shad’s attention. “I say, what’s that you have there? I thought bringing books along was my custom.” 

Link chuckled. “I think I’ve only ever brought one actual book along on my adventures and it was for you.” Link closed the cover and showed Shad the simple hand-bound leather portfolio he’d made. “These are all the maps of the dungeons and temples I’ve been to.” 

Well, almost all of them. All of them except the one know one is supposed to know even exists.  

“I found them one at a time, in each place I went,” he continued. “It got harder to dig through them all to find the right one when I needed it, since I have so many, so I made them into this booklet.” 

“There’s a map of this place?” Taking the booklet, Shad turned it over in his hands and admired Link’s amateur bookbinding. The hero had done a careful job, and Shad mentally added the skill to the long list of things that Link was good at.

“Yup. I have one for every place like this I’ve fought my way through. I found this one just over there.” Link pointed to the door on the far side of the room. “It was the only thing in the room. For some weird reason they’re always in these big treasure chests, like they’re valuable or something.” Link shrugged. “I mean, they’re useful of course, but who would put a map in a treasure chest?” He laughed. “Maps are supposed to lead to treasure, not the other way around.” 

Flipping through the pages, Shad’s expression of curiosity changed to one of awe. Inside the leather covering were indeed carefully detailed maps of each location Link had been to. There were multiple pages per map, with levels, rooms, and doorways all clearly designated. His eyes widened as he flipped past one labeled “Temple of Time” and he gasped. Shad realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was holding priceless artifacts and his hands trembled slightly. 

“M-my word, Link, these are unbelievable! Do you realize what you have here? Th-these are valuable beyond measure . They should be in a museum!”

“Valuable, really?” Link reached up and adjusted his cap. “Huh. They’re just paper.” He shrugged his shoulders lackadaisically.

Shad closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath, fighting the urge to lecture the hero on how the contents of the University archives, all of Hylian knowledge, and his entire life’s work were just paper. He knew Link meant well, and that it wasn’t his fault that he hadn’t had a formal education like Shad had received. 

Shad opened his eyes and tried to speak calmly to get his point across. “This is priceless historical information, Link. There are no known copies of any of these maps in the Archives. Some of these places are mere myth . These are incredibly rare, precious, and extremely valuable items.” 

Shad handed Link back the portfolio reluctantly. Link took it with an impressed look upon his face, and then carefully put it away. Watching as Link tucked the item into his pouch, Shad couldn’t bear the thought of the maps being stuffed out of sight when they should be on display under glass in the University's carefully tended Archives. This kind of discovery and the knowledge it contained should be freely available for all the people of the realm. 

“L-Link? W-would you possibly consider donating the maps to the Archives?” He felt forward and impolite asking the hero to just hand over the treasures he’d worked hard to find, but he had to try. “I-I could personally make you copies of them that would be just as useful. It would be an honor to preserve this knowledge for future generations. I-I could have it completed for you in a matter of days.”

Link scrunched up his nose and rubbed the back of his neck. “Really, those old things? Why would anyone even want to study maps of places they can’t go to?”

Please, Link!” Shad’s voice was desperate, and the scholar brought his hands up and pressed them together. Link looked surprised at his urgent tone but Shad pressed on. There was no way he could let those priceless bits of history remain tucked away. He just had to find a way to share this discovery with the world. “Please donate them and let me make you copies.” His eyebrows came down over his big indigo eyes in a pleading expression. “ Please , I’m begging you!”

Link’s initial look of surprise rapidly changed into something hungry and predatory as Shad begged. A sly, sultry look took over Link’s expression, a little smile curving up one side of his lips. Link took a slow step towards Shad, his every movement controlled and measured.

“Oh you’re begging me, are you?” Link’s voice was low and seductive. His eyes traveled up and down Shad’s body as he continued walking towards him. “I think I like you begging me.”

Heat flared inside of Shad at Link’s suggestive words and he knew his cheeks were turning red. They both knew he hadn’t meant it that way, but Link had completely changed the meaning of his impassioned plea in an instant. The thought of begging Link for pleasure had Shad almost trembling with need, and now the hero had spoken some of his secret longings out loud

Something about Link’s tone and movements had Shad feeling very much like he was being hunted, and he awkwardly shuffled backwards as the hero advanced. He stopped when he felt his back press up against a metal wall and he reached down with his hands to brace himself against it. Link placed his muscled forearm flat on the wall beside Shad’s head, crowding him with his body. Link may have been shorter than him, but his strength and presence had Shad trapped and they both knew it. Shad’s heart was racing and he breathed in Link’s woodsy scent, feeling lightheaded.

“I think I like it a lot .” Link bit his lower lip, looking at Shad’s own mouth. “You’re so adorably desperate when you beg.” Link brought his steel-blue eyes to Shad’s, pinning the scholar with his lust-filled gaze. “It makes me wonder what else you’d like to beg me for.”

Shad’s knees felt weak and he slumped down a little against the wall at his back. He felt so exposed, like Link was able to read all of his most private thoughts. His words fled him. “I-I d-don’t know,” he managed to stammer out, his face growing hot as he dropped his gaze to the floor.

Link chuckled softly. “You don’t know? I don’t believe that one bit. You know so many things, after all.” 

Shad shivered at the raw sensuality in Link’s voice. His mind felt strangely blank, emptied of his vast stores of knowledge and replaced with only an overwhelming desire for Link to have his way with him. Shad opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. 

Watching with wide eyes, Shad froze as Link brought his hand up to the strand of hair that was curling on his forehead. The blonde smiled seductively as he tugged the red curl and Shad’s breath hitched in his throat. Link ran his finger down the tip of Shad’s nose to his lips, tugging his lower lip down. He gripped Shad’s jaw lightly, tilting the scholar’s head up and forcing him to meet his eyes. Running his thumb back and forth over the redhead’s parted lips, Link searched his eyes as he waited for the scholar to answer him. 

Trembling under his touch, Shad felt every hair on his arms and the back of his neck rise. Shad’s heart was pounding wildly and his cock was already hard. He could feel it straining against his trousers just from these few light touches and Link’s hypnotizing words. He wanted to suck Link’s thumb into his mouth, the way he’d wanted to when Link had wiped the icing on his lips, but he found himself unable to make a move. He felt entranced by Link’s eyes and couldn’t look away from them. 

The blonde dropped his hand from Shad’s jaw and gripped the straps crossing Shad’s chest. He pulled the scholar’s face down to his and leaned in even closer, his lips just a breath away from Shad’s own. “Tell me what you want from me, Shad.” His voice was silky sweet and Shad knew he had to give Link an answer.

Shad sucked in a deep breath. “I-I w-want you to kiss me.” The satisfied smile that bloomed on Link’s face at his words made him think of a cat playing with a mouse and he swallowed hard. 

“There we go. You do know something you want after all.” Link purred. The approving look in Link’s eyes made a wave of bliss flow through Shad at knowing the hero was pleased with him. 

“I think I want something too.” Link’s gaze roved from Shad’s lips to his eyes. “I think I want you to beg me to kiss you. Can you please do that for me, Shad? Sweet talk me into finally taking what I want from you.” 

Shad let out a low whine at Link’s torturous playfulness. He wanted the hero to close the space between them and press their lips together more than anything. It was mortifying letting Link see how truly depraved he was, to show him how far Shad was willing to go just to please him and receive pleasure from him. But he also couldn’t believe how wildly turned on he was despite - or because of - that sense of shame. 

Link was looking at him with those big beautiful blue eyes of his, somehow managing to look like both a pleading puppy and a hungry wolf simultaneously. Shad longed to please him and was thrilled that the hero had taken control like this. Feeling incredibly vulnerable, he blinked a few times and then took a calming breath, forcing himself to have courage.

“Please. Please kiss me, Link.” Shad’s voice was breathy, barely audible and he swallowed hard.

Link’s cheeks were split by a big, sexy grin. “Well how could I say no to such a sweet request?” 

Shad closed his eyes as Link leaned in and was shocked when he only received a tiny peck on the lips. He opened his eyes and looked at Link, whimpering. 

“More,” he whined quietly, feeling like he’d die if he didn’t get more of Link’s hot mouth on him. 

“What’s that, handsome? I couldn’t hear you.” Link’s eyes were dark and Shad held perfectly still as the hero brought his hands up and began unbuckling his helmet. Not willing to move away from Shad to set it down, he stuffed it into his pouch with one hand. With the other, Link ran his fingers up the side of Shad’s neck and stroked his long ear to the tip and back before raking his fingernails across Shad’s scalp. Closing his eyes and moaning, Shad shuddered under his touch. 

Oh Hylia! This man will be the death of me. Has anyone ever died from experiencing erotic shame? Or perhaps over-blushing? Shad opened his eyes, squirming under the intensity of the blonde’s gaze. “I-I need more Link. Please . I want… I want your lips, your tongue, on mine.” He felt his cheeks heating further as he was forced to admit his desires. “I-I need you… please take control and kiss me like I know you want to .” 

Link’s eyes lit up with delight and he brought his lips back to the scholar’s. “How could I not give you what you want when you’re so good for me, Shad?” he murmured against them. He moved his hand to the back of Shad’s neck and captured his lips in a burning kiss. 

Melting inside at Link’s praise, Shad moaned into the other man’s mouth as their tongues finally slid against each other’s. Bringing his arms up around the hero, Shad tugged him close until their chests pressed together. Link took kiss after passionate kiss from his lips, leaving him breathless until all Shad could do was whisper, “ Link .” 

Link growled against his lips, nipping them, and then went to work again on the scholar’s neck, sucking and biting the sensitive flesh there. Shad was thankful he wore high collars, knowing he’d have visible marks there tomorrow, but he didn’t really care. He adored knowing that Link was marking him as his own. 

Bringing his lips back to Shad’s, Link kissed the scholar like he was dying of thirst and Shad’s kisses were an oasis. Every whimper and moan that escaped Shad’s lips drove Link wild, stoking the fire inside of him. Link loved how Shad had responded so eagerly to him taking control. He knew he’d have the image of the scholar blushing and trembling, pressed up against the wall as he admitted his desires, in his fantasies for a long, long time. 

Link brought a hand to Shad’s back and ran his fingers up the redhead’s spine, pressing him closer. He slid the hand on Shad’s neck up into his thick hair, grabbing a fistful of it. Link didn’t pull hard, he just held the scholar firmly in place so that he could kiss him however he wanted. Shad shivered deliciously in his arms and gasped Link’s name against his lips. 

“Shad, my sweet Shad,” Link whispered. He pulled back from their kiss, releasing his hair, and rested his forehead against the scholar’s. “Do you have any idea what you do to me?” Link’s cock was throbbing and he couldn’t get the thought of Shad begging him for so much more than a simple kiss out of his mind. He brought a hand up to Shad’s mouth and slipped the very tip of his finger between Shad’s parted lips. 

Not hesitating at all this time, Shad sucked Link’s finger into his mouth, closing his eyes and moaning as he swirled his tongue around the digit. He loved the salty taste of Link in his mouth and he opened his eyes to see Link’s pupils blown wide with lust.

“Oh Goddesses, Shad. Your mouth is so fucking hot!” He pushed down on Shad’s tongue with his finger and the scholar obediently opened his mouth. Link removed his hand to grip his jaw and joined their lips together again. Link instinctively pressed his lower half up against Shad as they kissed, feeling the other man’s erection hard against him. 

As much as he was elated and even more turned on to feel the scholar’s arousal, it was a clear signal to Link that he couldn’t let things go further than this right now, not if he wanted any chance at all of taking physical intimacy more slowly. 

This isn’t really ‘going slow.’ If I’m going to be the one in control then I need to act like it, and control myself . Link allowed himself one last long, deep kiss, pressed up flush against the scholar, before he pulled back slightly and released his grip on Shad. 

“We… we should probably stop here for now,” Link panted. “I… I don’t think I’ll be able to control myself if we go any further.”

Shad took in a shuddering breath and closed his eyes as he nodded his head. He knew he had to let Link lead here, too. It was hard to stop, but he acknowledged that they’d been right up against the line of pushing things physically again. He opened his eyes and met Link’s gaze. 

Bringing his hands to Shad’s shoulders, Link leaned in for several more little kisses before he slid his hands down the redhead’s arms to hold both his hands. He brought their foreheads together again and closed his eyes, sighing and just enjoying being close to his scholar. 

“I believe I could spend an entire day kissing you,” Shad admitted as blood eventually began returning to his brain, granting him eloquent speech again. “And, ah, I also believe I’ve adequately expressed just how much I want that. But,” he sighed, lifting his head away from Link’s, “you’re right. I suppose we shouldn’t let things go too far. It really is neither the time nor the place.” 

Taking a step back, Link kept hold of Shad’s hands and gave them a squeeze. “Thank you. I… I’m sorry if I was too aggressive. It just kind of… came over me.” He flashed his eyes up to Shad’s. “You bring it out in me.” 

“You don’t have to apologize. You bring it out in me too, and… I liked it,” Shad replied softly, still bashful despite Link’s praise and all they’d done so far. He couldn’t help but wonder just what other risqué things Link might say and do during more heated moments. What would he make Shad beg for when it was the right time and place? How wonderful would it be to hear Link tell him how good he was when Shad had more than just the hero’s finger in his mouth? Shad visibly shivered. “I-I really wouldn’t mind if you did that again… “ He blushed and looked quickly at Link before darting his gaze away. “... and again.”

“Mmm, I could tell you liked it. I want to do it again, and again too.” Link couldn’t resist lifting onto his toes for another quick kiss. “We should probably talk through that kind of stuff more though, before we do anything like that again. I don’t ever want you to feel truly uncomfortable or like you can’t say no to me.” 

“I trust you, Link.” Shad’s deep eyes held so much warmth and love in them that Link’s heart sang. “We can definitely talk more about this kind of play some other time.” Another blush stole over Shad’s cheeks and he dropped his eyes before looking back up at the blonde. “I-I’ve never done anything like that before, but…” He sucked in a breath. “But I’ve thought about it quite a lot.”

“Then it’s a date,” Link replied. “And so have I.” 

Shad sighed contentedly as Link squeezed his hands again before letting go. Reaching into his pouch, he handed the scholar back his helmet. Link stretched his arms over his head and Shad pushed himself away from the wall. He was still turned on and thought that walking around might be rather difficult for awhile. He adjusted his trousers as best he could and then glanced around the room. His eyes snagged on the door where Link said he had found the City’s map, and a little worry nagged at him. Link still hadn’t said whether or not he’d donate the maps in exchange for copies of them. 

“L-Link?”

The uncertain tone in Shad’s voice made Link give him his full attention. “What is it, Shad?”

“Y-you… you are going to give the originals to the Archives, aren’t you? I-I don’t really have to beg you for those too, d-do I?” Shad twisted the buttons on his jacket as he spoke. 

“Oh, Shad, of course you don’t really have to beg me for that!” Link ran his hands through his sandy bangs. “That kind of thing… what we just did is for play only, that we both agree to. I’d never order you around about something important like that. I trust your judgement as the expert on the subject much more than I trust my own. Of course the Archives can have the originals. You can take them with you to work tomorrow.”

Elated, Shad rushed over and hugged him. “Oh, thank you, Link! You have no idea how much this means to me! Oh, I can’t wait to bring these in! Those, plus my notes and sketches from today, should convince even the harshest skeptics that this place is real, that mine and my father’s research has all been for something other than blindly chasing a dream.”

Link laughed at his enthusiasm and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re welcome, Shad. I’m happy to help you this way.” He smiled up at him and took him by the hand again. “Let’s get moving. I’ve got our route mapped out and we still have a lot to see. And get that sailcloth of yours ready - we’re going to need it.”

Nodding, Shad checked to make sure his sailcloth was accessible and followed after the hero as he led the way across the room to a side door. 

They spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the various parts of the city, alternating using Shad’s sailcloth to catch wind gusts from the giant fans, and Link’s clawshots to get them to otherwise inaccessible locations. 

Link was happy to take his time strapping Shad to him whenever they had to get around by clawshot. He took every opportunity that he could to steal kisses from the blushing scholar while he was adjusting their harnesses. Not that Shad was complaining. Link said that getting a kiss from Shad before and after doing something tricky or dangerous made him better able to focus when he needed to. Shad didn’t believe him at all, since Link had done perfectly well protecting him before all the kissing started, but he didn’t actually care to argue the point. 

It was heavenly being in the hero’s embrace so much, especially now that Shad didn’t have anything to hide from Link anymore. The awkwardness between them was gone, and it had been filled with this tender affection and sense of curiosity about the other. Oh, Link’s open admiration of him still made him blush, of course, as did his amorous attentions. Shad had no idea how not to blush, honestly, with some of the things Link said and did. The hero responded to it with even more affection, though, and Shad didn’t want it to stop. 

What he did want to stop, however, was this horrible clawshot-assisted journey they were currently on. They were clinging to the side of a rotating panel above a completely open drop to the land that was so far below them that they couldn’t even see it. Sailcloth or no, Shad was terrified and clung as tightly as he could to Link’s muscular frame, his eyes squeezed shut the entire time. It wasn’t even the zipping quickly from target to target that had him so panicky. They’d been doing that all day, and Shad was fairly used to the harsh pull and tug on his body and the abrupt lurching from the floor to the heights. He wouldn’t go so far as to say that he enjoyed the experience, like Link seemed to, but he’d become familiar with it. 

No, the worst part now by far was the waiting. After they’d shot over to each new panel they had to sometimes wait for an entire revolution of the huge propellers before they could move to the next target. Clinging to Link as he held on to a metal grating on the side of a propeller that slowly rotated its way above the seemingly endless fall below him had Shad’s stomach churning with fear. 

Finally, after what seemed like ages of torment, Link zipped them over to the last target, where he then helped Shad down to the solid ground and unclipped them. The scholar wanted to drop to his knees and kiss the pale stone beneath his feet but managed to keep a shred of dignity by merely readjusting his mussed clothing with trembling hands. His muscles ached from clinging so tightly to Link and using the sailcloth and he couldn’t imagine how the hero’s arms felt. The strength and stamina he’d shown today was absolutely phenomenal and Shad was finally starting to truly realize the lengths Link had gone to in order to secure the realm. 

“You okay, Shad?” Link had of course been aware of Shad’s fear, though the redhead had not said a word. The way he’d clung so tightly to him, with his eyes closed and not even a peep out of him had endeared him to Link. He was very aware of how vulnerable Shad was in that moment, and how trusting in him, and his heart throbbed in his chest as a feeling of loving care swelled up inside him. 

Shad took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, still playing with his long bow tie. “I am now, and you have  my deepest thanks for getting us across safely. But, oh, how I wish that there was another way back across that void.” He looked up at the tall building before them. “Since this is our last stop, I suppose it’s worth it though.”

“There’s some pretty interesting stuff to see in there, plus you’ll get the view from the top of the whole city. I thought you might like to sketch that.” Link reached up to rub the back of his neck. “And you’ll get to see where I fought the dragon.” 

“I still cannot believe that you fought a dragon here. Well, no, actually, I can believe it, because you’re you . Here you stand before me, clearly the victor.” Shad looked back at the huge propellers. “What I cannot imagine is making that same journey we just did with the knowledge that a bloody dragon could fly up and grill me on the side of one of those metal grates at any moment.” He shivered and looked back at the hero. “Thank the Goddesses they chose you and not someone like me for the job.”

“Someone like you?” Link couldn’t ignore the self-deprecating note in Shad’s words. 

Shad hugged his arms self-consciously, bringing his gaze to the ground. “You know. Someone ordinary, with no physical skills to speak of. Just a heaping dose of fear.”

Link shook his head. “You are far from ordinary, Shad. I think the words you’re looking for are, oh, I don’t know… someone brilliant, compassionate, loyal, and brave?” 

“Ha, brave. That’s a good one, considering you’ll probably have bruises from how tightly I gripped you traveling across… that .” Shad indicated the spinning panels behind them, shaking his head. “I’m not even anywhere close to bravery.”

“Shad, are you kidding me? How can you not see it? You are brave. You’re one of the bravest people I know!” When Shad scoffed at that and started to naysay the hero’s words again Link cut him off.

“No, I mean it. Here you are, arguing with me about that very fact while standing in a city floating hundreds of leagues above Hyrule that no one even thinks exists !” The hero’s eyebrows were drawn down into an intimidating scowl as he stood up for and to the scholar. He couldn’t stand to hear anyone speak badly about his love, even Shad himself. 

“Don’t try and tell me you’re not brave, dream chaser , because I’m not buying it.” Link brought his hand up and started counting off his proof on his fingers. “You stood up for Hyrule by joining the Resistance. You helped me on my quest by traveling all over Hyrule during the crisis to locate owl statues. You stormed the castle with the others. You spoke up for me in front of a room full of nobles. You didn’t give up on me even when I gave up on myself, and you’ve never given up on your dream no matter how many people called you crazy for it. And now here you are.” Link flung his arms out wide, indicating the ruins of the city around them. “ Someone like you is exactly the sort of person that the Goddesses would choose. Since we ended up crossing paths and helping each other in the efforts to save Hyrule, I would say they did choose you, and they chose damn well.” 

Link finished his rant and stood there, breathing heavily as Shad blinked up at him, tears in his eyes. He opened his mouth to reply and no words came out, so he simply brought his hand up to wipe at the tears trickling down his cheeks. Despite Link’s declaration of love and all the affection and ardor they’d shared so far today, he was still completely taken aback by how much the hero apparently loved him. Not just found him attractive, or pleasant company. Link loved him, even the parts Shad didn’t like about himself. Link saw in him someone worthy of his love, and when the hero spoke to him that way, Shad felt like he actually was that wonderful person Link described. Or, at the very least he was inspired to try his hardest to live up to that ideal.

Seeing his tears fall, Link walked over to him and gathered Shad gently in his arms, shushing him as he would a timid animal. “Hey, hey… it’s alright.” He held the redhead close and rubbed his back. Shad leaned into him, accepting the comfort of Link’s strong arms. “Why the tears, love?”

Hearing that affectionate moniker from Link’s lips made more tears of joy well up, and Shad blinked his eyes hard to shed them. Sniffling, he raised his head from Link’s shoulder. 

“Because you believe in me more than I do.” His voice was heavy with emotion and his big indigo eyes were glistening. “Because no one has believed in me like that since… “ He paused and wiped at his eyes again, sucking in a breath. “Since my father died. A-and I guess I’ve been afraid I wasn’t worthy of you, b-but you… you chose me anyway. And you see me completely differently than I do. You… you see someone amazing.” He paused and gazed into Link’s warm cerulean eyes. “You make me feel like I could really be that person. It’s exhilarating and overwhelming, a little.”

Link reached up to squeeze his shoulders. “You are that person, Shad. I’ll tell you every day if I have to until you believe it.” He winked at the scholar. “You’re going to get sick of me singing your praises. I wonder if I could make a proclamation about how amazing you are at the Coronation Ball?” He brought his hand to his chin as if he was really considering the idea.

His cheeks hot, Shad slapped lightly at his chest. “Oh hush. You would never! I know how much you despise making speeches.”

Smiling up at him, Link arched up onto his tiptoes to give Shad a kiss on his cheek. “I do hate them, and I’d do it anyway if it’d help you believe in yourself more.” 

Shad sighed. “I’ll work on it, I promise. No public declarations needed. Just… just keep loving me, and I’ll stop contradicting you when you say good things about me.”

Link stepped back and held out his hand. “It’s a deal.” They shook on it, Shad feeling mildly silly, and then Link grabbed his hand, leading him to the door. “Let’s get inside, it’s gonna be kind of a tedious journey up to the top.”

Shad could see why as they entered the tall columnar space. The ceiling was far above them and there were enormous rotating propellers in here like there had been outside. These ones were arranged vertically however, and Shad could see that to get to the top they’d have to use the clawshot to climb each one, higher and higher. It wouldn’t be so bad when they were close to the ground, but the higher they got the more it would be like that horrible voyage outside. 

“Well, if that’s the only way up, then so be it,” Shad said reluctantly. “I do wonder what all these spinning panels are for exactly. A water wheel has a similar motion and it provides power to the millstone. What are these providing power to?” Shad glanced around the space, looking for anything that would give him a clue as to their purpose. 

There wasn’t any machinery down here on the ground floor of this tall room, but there was an interesting circular design in the middle of the floor. Shad strolled over to it, whipping out his notebook to make a sketch. Link followed just to be close to him, giving Shad the time he needed to record his observations. 

Finishing the last line of his sketch, Shad put his notebook away. He turned to Link and opened his mouth to tell him he was ready to go when something by the door caught his eye. He swiftly strode over to it and realized it was another panel of Sky writing, similar to the one in the first room they’d gone through. This panel of instructions had a little puzzle on it too, and Shad mouthed the words as he read them.

Turning to Link excitedly, he beckoned the hero over. Link joined him by the wall.

“What’s this? More Sky writing?” Link asked, preparing his clawshots.

“Yes, and from what I can tell, the words here are once again instructions specific to this room.” Shad leaned close to the wall and reached up to rearrange three of the characters on the panel. As soon as they’d locked into place, a faint buzzing sound came from behind them. They both turned to see that the circular design in the center of the floor had raised slightly and was now outlined in runes that glowed with a soft teal color. 

“Marvelous,” whispered Shad in awe as he made his way over to the platform that was levitating a little above the rest of the floor. Link came up next to him and Shad glanced at him for his reaction. The hero was staring at the floor panel with a strange expression on his face. There was shock there, but something else too, something Shad couldn’t quite make out.

Link was reeling as he took in the floating platform. The way it moved, the sound it made, the glowing runes - it was uncanny how strongly it resembled the moving platforms in the Twilight Realm. 

“I haven’t seen something like this since the Palace o-” Link cut himself off, blinking, and then glanced at Shad. The scholar was watching him closely behind his round spectacles and Link realized he’d spoken his thoughts aloud and almost said too much. He set his jaw and turned away, determined not to speak another word about it. How, how could that same technology be here, in this ancient City in the Sky? Neither he nor Midna had noticed any other indications of a Twili presence here in any way, other than the mirror fragment the dragon had taken. 

Confused by Link’s reaction, Shad tried to make sense of the hero’s words. The Palace of…  what? What ‘Palace’ can he mean? There’s only one castle in Hyrule, and I’ve never heard of it referred to as a palace before, even historically. Did…  did Link somehow travel to an entirely different country on his quest? Why haven’t I ever heard that part of the tale?

Shad kept his eyes on Link as he ruminated. He noticed the tension in the hero’s shoulders as they rose closer to his ears, his fists clenching and unclenching. Link’s behavior was decidedly odd. Although Shad still didn’t feel comfortable prying, he also felt closer to Link than ever. He couldn’t just ignore that Link was in distress right now, whether he verbalized it or not. 

Walking up behind Link, Shad reached out and put a hand on his shoulder, giving him a little squeeze. Link turned to look at him, a haunted look in his eyes. Shad lowered his brows in concern and slid his hand down Link’s arm to lace their fingers together.

“Link? It’s obvious something is bothering you. I wish you’d let me know what it is, so that I can help you… or if not that, at least be a listening ear for you to vent to.” Shad squeezed his hand and sent him a look that he hoped conveyed his love for the hero.

Sighing heavily, Link shook his head. “I can’t, Shad.” He was torn inside, wanting more than anything to tell Shad about this connection. Not only would the information heavily impact the scholar’s research, but it would also be one less secret that he still had to keep from his love. 

Shad carefully considered the hero’s sparse words before speaking again. “I see. I’m guessing then that somehow this has something to do with more of the confidential information around Hyrule’s troubles?” 

Link just stared at him, a forlorn look in his eyes, neither confirming nor denying Shad’s assumption. A bleakness began to send out little grey tendrils around his heart, sucking some of the joy out of this glorious day they’d spent together. He almost felt stupid for believing everything between them would be completely fine now that they’d confessed their feelings to each other. No, he didn’t have to hide that from Shad anymore, and it was a huge relief and blessing. But there was still this - this heavy, horrible secret that lay, not only between him and Shad, but him and the entire realm. It was almost more than he could bear. He still couldn’t talk to Shad about so many things that weren’t just in the past but that affected him daily. 

Spending the day up here with Shad was amazing, but Link realized it was almost like a vacation. They’d escaped from their problems up here in the clouds, but everything was waiting for them on the surface below. All the secrets, the intrigue, the careful maneuvering around the court, and Zelda’s unpredictable behavior were still there. Link’s responsibilities settled back onto him, heavier than his iron boots. He dropped his eyes, unable to face lying to Shad. 

Shad sighed as well and tried his best to put on a brave face for the hero. It was clear to him that whatever was bothering Link had to do with the confidential information the princess had tasked him with keeping secret. For a moment Shad was furious with the princess for burdening Link so. He knew that wasn’t really fair though. Any secrets Link was keeping for her were ones the troubled young ruler had to bear on her shoulders as well. 

Keeping hold of Link’s hand, Shad brought his other one up to rest it against the hero’s cheek. Link tilted his head, closing his eyes and leaning into Shad’s soft palm. 

“I know you can’t tell me, Link, and I won’t ask you to betray any oaths you’ve taken. But please know that I am here for you, and that you don’t have to bear these burdens alone anymore. If we’re… if we’re to be together now, then it means that your problems are mine as well, and I am more than willing to help you in whatever way you require.” Shad paused, stroking his thumb gently on Link’s cheekbone as he cradled his sad, beautiful face in his hand. “What do you need right now?”

Managing to find a small smile for the gentle redhead, Link considered his offer. He wanted the comfort and security of Shad’s arms. “A hug, to start.”

“Gladly.” Shad wrapped the hero in his arms, loving how Link fit perfectly up against him. The hero snuggled close, tucking his blonde head under Shad’s chin. Link sighed in his arms, holding him tightly and letting the feeling of support and safety in his love’s arms wash over him. 

When Link finally stepped back from the hug, he looked mildly improved. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” Shad asked gently.

“I just need you with me, Shad,” was the hero’s soft reply. He squeezed their hands and began to walk towards the waiting platform. Shad followed along and they stepped onto the glowing surface together. Shad gasped as they began to rise slowly into the air, and it didn’t take him long to once again begin babbling excitedly about the fascinating technology. 

Link listened to his theories and watched with enjoyment as Shad became animated again, unable to resist pointing out and commenting on all the features of the room as they passed them. Shad’s passion and enthusiasm were once again contagious and Link found his spirits rising. He pushed all the worries and concerns he had back into tomorrow where they belonged. He was here, now, with this brilliant, beautiful man who loved him. He didn’t have time to waste on what he couldn’t yet change, and he was determined to enjoy the rest of this ‘vacation’ of theirs together. 

As they stepped off the platform together at the top, Link chuckled.

“What is it? Am I rambling on too much again?”

“Not at all, Shad. I’m just amazed at how you once again easily navigated a room that took me so much effort to get through.”

“Oh, yes, well… “ Shad blushed at the hero’s praise. “It’s nothing really. It’d be easy enough for anyone who could read the instructions. I find your feat more impressive, actually. Coming up with creative solutions to make your way through the city proves your high level of intelligence, you know.”

“If you say so.” Link shrugged. “I’m okay with you being the smart one and me being the heroic one though.” Link pulled him towards the door. “C’mon, we’re almost to where I fought the dragon!”

“Heroic indeed!” Shad laughed and let himself be tugged out the door to the infamous dragon slaying arena.

 

♡❧♡

 

It had been a long, exciting, eventful, and arduous day, thought Shad as he climbed into his bathtub. At least their landing back in Lake Hylia had been gentler than their ascent, thanks to the sailcloth. The hot, fragrant water of his bath soothed his tired muscles and he sighed as he sank into it up to his neck. Link had already showered and Shad had prepared a simple meal for them while the hero was washing up. Now it was Shad’s turn, and it was much needed. 

When he was done with his bath, he dried and dressed himself and opened the door to his bedroom. Link was there, in his spot on the pallet on the floor, laying back with his hands behind his head. He watched Shad quietly as he came into the room. Shad’s eyes shot to his bed, and then back to the pile of blankets on the floor. He hoped he wasn’t about to be too forward or push any boundaries with Link, but he much preferred his actual bed to the makeshift one. 

“W-would you… what do you think about… look, it just seems silly for us to sleep side by side on the floor still when I have a perfectly comfortable bed we can… share.” Shad’s cheeks heated at his words and he glanced down at the floor. “I don’t mean, ah, that we have to do anything differently than we have been, or g-go any farther, but… um… “ Shad trailed off, reaching up to fiddle with the sleeve of his pajamas. 

Grinning at him from the floor, Link hopped up and came over to him, tilting the scholar’s chin up to meet his eyes. “I’d love to join you in your bed, Shad. To sleep.” The hero gave him a chaste kiss on the lips. “And to cuddle with you, if you’d like.” 

Bringing his eyes to the hero’s, a pleased little smile spread across Shad’s face. “Yes, I’d like that very much indeed.” 

The two fixed the bed up with the blankets and pillows and then crawled in next to each other. The act seemed incredibly intimate and Shad lay still, not sure what move to make. Link turned over and rolled towards him. He curled up on Shad’s chest, and Shad lifted his arm, hugging the hero close to him. Nuzzling his head into Link’s soft hair, Shad inhaled his scent, his heart full. 

He’d come back from the City in the Sky with many new questions to consider, but he’d also come back with one solid answer, and it mattered more to him than any discovery he’d made up there - Link loved him. He hugged the hero close, beyond grateful for this day and for this man, and succumbed to the well-earned rest that awaited them both. 

Chapter Text

It was funny, Link thought later, that he’d woken up almost exactly the same way today as the day before. And yet everything that followed was entirely different. There was the same sort of dreamy, warm, cosiness to start, but it wasn’t followed by a crushing hangover. The way he gradually drifted closer to the surface of consciousness, snuggling into that warmth was no different, except that his head didn’t start throbbing with pain. Realizing that the source of heat was Shad, and that he was wrapped tightly around him, sparked that same sense of intense joy that he’d woken up with yesterday. The difference, of course, was that it wasn’t followed by a crushing wave of guilt and remorse. This morning when Link found himself lying on his side, Shad’s warm back pressed up against his chest and his arms wrapped around the scholar, the joy stayed. It stayed and it grew because everything was different between them now.

Link nuzzled his face into the back of Shad’s neck, breathing in his natural scent. Auburn hair tickled his nostrils and Link’s lips found their way to the soft skin that peeked out above the collar of Shad’s pajamas. He placed a delicate kiss there. Shad’s breathing was even and steady beneath the hand Link had on his chest, letting him know his darling scholar was still asleep. 

Cuddling his beloved closer, Link could hardly believe his good fortune. He’d desperately longed for this kind of open intimacy with Shad, but he’d also feared speaking those desires out loud for what felt like ages. In reality, everything between them had happened fairly quickly and events seemed to be moving so fast. It hadn’t even been a full day since they’d confessed their feelings to each other. The banquet where Shad had rescued him and where this spark between them had flared up was just a little over a week and a half ago.

Despite this short length of time, something about being with Shad just felt right, in a hundred different wonderful ways. Being with Shad felt like intoxicating attraction and the flames of desire. It felt like home, too, and compassion, caring, and generosity. It felt like he could achieve anything, just because Shad believed he could. It didn’t matter that he was just a lucky and probably more than half-crazy farm boy from the south. This urbane, brilliant, beautiful gem of a man believed in him with his whole heart. How could Link argue with that kind of intelligence? With Shad’s careful research and attention to detail? Knowing that Shad was by his side and that the scholar was supporting him made Link feel like he could take on anything. 

In the middle of all that delightful rightness an unwelcome but familiar dark tendril tried to coil itself into his mind. It planted its roots deep and dark thoughts sprouted. Could he really have found love again so soon? Link’s heart lurched in his chest as he couldn’t help wondering if it would last this time. Or would he lose this lover as well? He’d had a day and a night with Midna too, but that’s all he'd had with her. Could anything this blissful even be trusted? Wouldn’t it just lead to pain eventually?

Link tightened his arm across Shad’s chest protectively as the troubling thoughts tried to worm themselves into his consciousness and rob him of his joy. He couldn’t keep himself from nuzzling Shad’s neck again and stroking his hand across the scholar’s chest for comfort. He used his body to banish his fears, eager to embrace his current reality rather than his worries. As Link continued to snuggle him, Shad shifted under his arm. The redhead murmured in his sleep as he began to wake. Blinking his eyes sleepily, Shad rubbed his cheek back and forth on his pillow.

Grinning against Shad’s neck, Link whispered, “Good morning, love,” before placing another soft kiss there. When he felt goosebumps on Shad’s skin rise under his lips, Link became very aware of his own body’s response to waking up holding Shad so closely. The pulsing in his groin grabbed his attention, but Link didn’t pursue it for now. He wanted to enjoy this sweet moment of tenderness with his scholar exactly as it was for a little while longer. The dark tendrils of his doubts began to drift away like smoke, unable to remain solid in Shad’s presence.

“Morning, are you certain?” Shad yawned before he continued. “I daresay it looks as black as night to me.” He closed his eyes and snuggled back up against Link. As Link’s arms squeezed him tighter, Shad took a moment to relish in the feeling of elation that waking up this way brought upon him. As soon as his conscious mind had recognized that Link was curled around him, holding him close and kissing his neck, his heart began pounding in his chest. The goosebumps that Link’s touch raised had him seeking closer contact with the hero. He could hardly believe this was happening and that the magnificent day they’d shared together yesterday was real. 

“It must be night still,” Shad continued, “because clearly I’m under the illusion that I’m waking up in your arms. That doesn’t sound at all like my life or how I typically wake up. Therefore, it must be a dream.” 

Link scooted away briefly to light the lantern on the bedside table. He loved holding Shad but he needed to see him, too. The match flared in the dark before the light in the room grew steady as Link adjusted the lantern. Turning back to Shad, he saw the redhead looking up at him, the chiseled lines of his face highlighted by the dramatic lighting.

Rolling back up against Shad, Link wrapped his arm around him again and propped himself up on his other elbow. Shad looked up over his shoulder at him and Link’s gaze captured his. Shad found himself unable to say another word, lost in Link’s sapphire eyes, dark as the stormy sea in the low light from the lantern. Link was gorgeous, and there was nothing Shad would have denied him in that moment, had he asked it of him. 

Shad. ” His name was spoken in a low, husky tone as Link’s eyes searched his. The hero’s lips slowly curved into a delighted smile as he swept his gaze over Shad’s face. “It’s no dream. This is how we get to wake up now . ” He brought his lips down to Shad’s and the redhead hummed in pleasure as they kissed good morning. 

Pulling back, Link kept a smile on his face as he reached up to twirl the lock of hair on Shad’s forehead around his finger. Without his spectacles to hide behind, big eyes blinking in the faint light, Shad looked more adorable than ever. His proper striped pajamas, buttoned all the way up, and the way his tousled auburn locks fell on his forehead captivated Link. He sighed happily. “By Farore, you are just the cutest in the morning, all sleepy and disheveled like this.” 

Shad blinked. “I-I’m cute?” It wasn’t an adjective that had been applied to him very often. 

Link nodded. “Shad, you are many wonderful things. Cute is definitely one of them.” Shad’s cheeks turned pink at his praise and Link laughed softly. “See! Who could resist that?” 

Proving that he was not immune to Shad’s charms, Link attacked him with little kisses. His ardent mouth roved over Shad’s cheek, ear, and neck, leaving goosebumps in his wake. Shad giggled involuntarily and then shivered as Link’s lips trailed lightly over a particularly sensitive spot. He gasped when Link’s teeth grazed his skin there again. Flushing harder, he realized he probably had a sizable hickey there. Link brought his lips up to Shad’s jawline and back to his mouth. He lingered there and Shad eagerly responded to his kiss. He could most definitely get used to waking up this way.

Link didn’t want to stop kissing Shad, or to get out of bed at all, but his morning commitments called to him. Pulling back slightly with a sigh, he brought his hand up to run his fingers through his hair. There was a little bit of time before he really had to be up, but now he knew from experience how he and Shad responded to each other. He knew they could still get themselves really worked up even in that short amount of time. He knew what his choice was, but he had to give Shad one too.

“Shad, I have to get up soon.” The reluctance was evident in Link’s voice. “Training with the guard starts an hour after sunrise, and I have to take Epona out before that.” 

“Ah, so I was correct,” Shad said, a note of disappointment in his voice. “It isn’t morning after all. It’s before the sun is fully up, when everyone sane is still sound asleep.” 

Link chuckled at Shad’s mock petulance. “I’m sorry, are you complaining that I woke you up like this?”

“Not at all. I’m complaining that you can’t stay in bed with me, where I would lure you back into sleep and instruct you in my cute ways.” 

Link’s lips curved up in an amused grin. “That is an incredibly tempting offer, cutie. But alas, it is my second chance for a first day. I can’t disappoint Captain Harbin again. Or Zelda.“ Link bent down to place a soft kiss on Shad’s lips. 

“However,” he added, “I do have about five or so more minutes before I really need to get out of bed.” Link’s voice dropped lower and there was a sultry look in his eyes. “I know what I’d like to do with you for those five minutes, but I want to give you the choice. I can stop right now, and get up and get ready. Or… I can keep kissing you,” Link brought his lips down to brush against Shad’s, “and touching you.” He ran his hand from Shad’s chest up to trail his fingers against another sensitive spot on his neck. “But with the knowledge that it will all just be a tease, with no satisfaction for either of us.” 

Was he serious? Shad almost wanted to laugh at the question. Would he like less of Link, or more of him? “That’s not a choice at all.” Shad arched his back, pressing his lower half closer against Link. “I will always want more of you.” Twisting his upper body, he brought a hand up to twine through the short sandy blonde hairs at the nape of Link’s neck, pulling the hero down for a long kiss. 

The desire Link had been holding tightly in check flared up within him as Shad expressed what he wanted with his body. The redhead was letting out little moans as Link loosened some of his tightly held control and kissed him hungrily. Before they could go any further though, Link pulled back. He didn’t want either of them having any remorse again about going too far or pushing the other’s boundaries. 

“Shad… I just want to check in on a few things first. It’s important to me to make sure I’m only doing things that you like.” Link was direct and Shad blinked up at him. “Is there anywhere on your body that’s off limits for my hands or mouth?”

Shad looked down, imagining Link’s mouth and hands on every inch of him. His cheeks were hot as he was once again made to admit the depths of his desire for Link. “No.” His voice was hushed. 

Link grinned. “Good to know.” He lowered himself down for a quick kiss. “I’m finding I really like taking control with you,” he continued. “I love telling you what to do and holding you down.” His eyes roved over the scholar. Shad felt pinned down from the force of Link’s gaze alone. “Rougher stuff too, like biting and pulling your hair.” Link brought his hand up to Shad’s hair, raking his fingers through it as Shad gasped. “How do you feel about all that?” he whispered. “Do you want me to keep doing it?” 

Shad exhaled slowly. Answering these questions in his own bed and in Link’s arms felt deeply intimate to him, and he wanted to give Link the honest truth. “How do I feel about it? I love it,” he whispered. “I love all the dominant things you do. The biting at my neck and telling me how much you like the feel and taste of me. The compliments about how you find me adorable, or how hot and touchable I am. I love knowing you find me attractive and become hard because of it. I enjoy knowing how much you desire me, as it only drives my own desire for you even higher. I find myself eager to do as you say, to please you and know you’re pleased with me. And I crave the feeling of your body overpowering my own.” Link’s smile grew larger the more Shad admitted his passions, giving him the courage to continue with his open communication. “So… yes. Please, by all means, keep doing all of that. Or anything else your creative, erotic mind thinks up.” He breathed out as Link raised an eyebrow at him when he finished. Shad swallowed a bit in nervousness before adding, “I… I want it all.” 

“And I want to give it to you. Thank you for your honesty.” Link rewarded him for it with another kiss. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it as much as I am. If there’s ever anything I’m doing that you don’t like, or if you want to stop at any time, just tell me, alright?” He looked earnestly into Shad’s eyes. “I want you to be able to trust me, as I trust you that you’ll speak up and refuse if you ever don’t like something.” Moving his hand from Shad’s hair to his sensitive neck, Link stroked his fingernails lightly across one of the tender marks there. He smiled as Shad inhaled sharply at the sensation. “I only derive pleasure from your pleasure. I adore seeing how you react to me. So I want nothing less than you loving every little touch I give you.”

“Oh, I do,” breathed Shad. “I trust you absolutely, Link. I promise I will advocate for myself if I need to.” 

Link seemed satisfied with his answer. His hand slid back down from Shad’s neck and clutched his button-up pajama top in his fist. “One last question, I promise. May I take this off of you?” 

Shad nodded eagerly and raised his head, seeking out his lips again. Link pushed him down onto the bed, breaking their kiss. “Say it, Shad,” he ordered.

“Yes,” Shad whispered, looking up at him with kiss-swollen lips. “Please undress me, Link.”

A smile lit up his eyes and Link fairly purred with pleasure at Shad’s response. Sliding his right hand up into Shad’s hair, Link gently gripped it, tilting the scholar’s head back and exposing his throat. His other hand let go of Shad’s top and began nimbly unbuttoning his buttons while Link nipped and kissed his way from Shad’s lips to his collarbones. 

“I love you,” he murmured against Shad’s heated skin. He made sure to avoid the overly tender spots where he’d showered the scholar with affection yesterday. 

Shad’s breath hitched in his throat as Link bit the juncture between his neck and shoulders. “I love you, you animal. Are you going to devour me whole?” 

Link paused to glance up at him with a wild look in his eyes. His voice was rough as he growled, “Yes.” He continued unbuttoning Shad’s top until it was completely undone. Shoving the fabric as far down his shoulders as it could go, he exposed Shad’s bare torso. Link brought a possessive hand down across the smooth, taut skin of Shad’s stomach and slid it slowly up his body. “Because you’re delicious, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine.” He grazed his calloused palm over Shad’s nipple and the scholar shivered. Link let go of his hair and sought out his mouth again, swirling their tongues together. He lightly pinched Shad’s nipple and rolled it back and forth between his thumb and finger. 

Shad moaned and his erect cock twitched as the pleasurable sensation shot straight through him. Link tugged Shad’s lower lip with his teeth as he pulled away, trailing kisses down his body. Bringing his mouth down to Shad’s other nipple, Link swirled his tongue around the outside of his areola. He continued to pinch and roll Shad’s right nipple and then licked the other with the flat of his tongue before taking it into his mouth and suckling hard. 

“Link!” Shad gasped his name in a desperate plea, without knowing what it was he was begging for. Oh, he knew what his body wanted of course, but he also knew he couldn’t have that right now. Plus, he’d agreed to this exquisite sort of torture. He couldn’t stop himself from rotating his hips and grinding his ass against the solid length that he felt pressing up behind him.

Moaning as Shad rubbed himself up against his aching cock, Link moved his hand from Shad’s chest to his hip bone. There was no way he’d make it to training if they started grinding on each other right now. He gripped Shad firmly there, holding him still. Link scooted his hips back a short distance from the scholar, his upper half still in close contact with him. Shad continued to squirm under Link’s strong hand. 

“Hold still,” Link growled into the scholar’s ear before licking the outer shell. Shad whimpered but obeyed, trembling with need. “Oh Shad, just look at you. You’re so eager and still so good for me.” He nibbled up the curve of Shad’s pointed ear.

Link began slowly moving his hand back up Shad’s body. He lifted himself up on his elbow to savor the sight of his tanned, rough hand against Shad’s pale, smooth skin. Link loved the way he looked. His perfect ivory skin was flawless and unscarred, like a sculpture. Leaning over, he kissed his way from Shad’s shoulder to his mouth again. His hand traveled firmly over the scholar’s chest and then up his neck. Link slid his hand up to grip Shad lightly just under his jaw, tilting his head all the way back. The rapid beating of Shad’s heart was evident in the hammering pulse under his fingertips. 

Link pinned him down with his gaze, lost in those midnight eyes. Shad visibly shivered under him and Link smiled, a coy, sly smile. He leaned in close again, still holding Shad by his throat. “ S-l-o-w-l-y,” he drawled, and then took another kiss from Shad’s decadent lips. 

Shad felt himself flush with shame from having to be told once again to not push the boundaries Link had set, but he was still so incredibly aroused at how Link had control of him and the situation. “S-sorry,” he whispered, his cheeks hot. “I-I didn’t mean to… again. I’m sorry. I… I have trouble controlling myself, I shouldn’t…” He trailed off, shifting his eyes away from Link’s.

Link pulled back a little at Shad’s abashed words. He moved his hand from Shad’s neck up to cradle his cheek and placed soft kisses all around the scholar’s mouth. Once Shad would meet his eyes again, Link spoke softly. “Hey. Don’t be ashamed of how passionate you are, Shad. I love that you want me so much that you have trouble holding back. Goddesses, who wouldn’t love that? This passion in you that lies beneath the surface is one of the things about you that I adore the most. You don’t ever have to apologize for it. I love bringing it out in you, and it’s hard for me to hold back as well.” Link slid his hand all the way back down Shad’s neck and over his torso, resting it right above the top of Shad’s pajama bottoms. “I don’t mind that I have to slow us both down. Isn’t that part of why I’m the one in the lead?” He lifted his hand and traced his fingers lightly over the trail of soft auburn hair leading from Shad’s belly button to below his waistband. Shuddering, Shad moaned his name again. 

“For now though,” Link continued, “we have to stop here.” He sighed. “I’m afraid our time is up.” Link stilled his hand and enjoyed another taste of Shad’s mouth before he pulled away.

Groaning, Shad rolled onto his back. “It’s been five minutes already?” His cock was throbbing and straining against his pajama pants, desperate for Link’s touch, and he felt like he was on fire with need. He covered his eyes with his hands and then peered through them at Link. “I signed up for this, didn’t I?”

Smirking, Link ran his fingers through his hair. “Well, yeah.” He leaned over to peck him on the lips again. “Do you regret it?”

“No. Yes. No.” Shad moved his hands away from his face and smiled up at the blonde. “I suppose I may have underestimated just how far you could go towards seducing me in a mere five minutes.” He blew out a frustrated breath as Link pushed himself up into a seated position. “I’m entirely certain I can recover, you’ve just made it rather… hard for me.”

Link laughed and tugged the curl on Shad’s forehead again. “Well if you’re making bad jokes already, then I’m sure you’ll be fine. Besides,” he added with a wink, his voice dropping seductively lower, “there’s always later, Shad. I don’t intend for things between us to end here.” He let his gaze travel down to the tented blankets at Shad’s groin and licked his lips.

“Oh, you absolute tease. You’ve turned wicked, haven’t you?” Shad pushed himself up to a seated position and reached for his spectacles. “I can see it now. The fame and glory have all gone to your head and now the Hero is roaming the countryside, stealing the innocence from anyone he fancies.” He crossed his arms and raised his chin in mock offense. 

Link chuckled at Shad’s sarcastic accusation. “The only person I fancy is you.” He paused, then asked hesitantly, “Is that truly what you think I’m doing?” Link shifted his caring but penetrating gaze to Shad’s eyes. Shad shook his head, but Link pressed on with his questions. They hadn’t really talked about their level of sexual experience yet. Link had no idea if he truly meant that he was ‘innocent’ as he put it. “Are you… am I stealing your innocence, Shad?”

Blushing furiously, Shad dropped his arms and his gaze to the blankets. He reached up to twist the buttons of his open pajama top and then looked up at Link. “No, not exactly.” Shad furrowed his brow. Bringing his eyes back up to Link’s, he admitted with a half smile, “You’re not stealing it if I’m giving it to you.” At Link’s encouraging smile, he continued, “I’m… I don’t have much practical experience with matters of a sexual nature, no. However, I am greatly enjoying everything you're showing me. And I want to experience all that you wish to share with me.” He reached a hand out to touch Link’s cheek. “My apologies. I misspoke. I didn’t mean it that way. I know you have no malicious intent.”

Scooting in closer, Link grabbed Shad’s anxious hand, bringing it to his lips to kiss the back of his knuckles. “ Oh, Shad . I appreciate your gift more than I can say.” Link’s voice was low and gentle. “I want to show you so much more, and talk to you more about all this later, but I really do have to go right now.” When Shad nodded, he leaned forward and kissed him softly on the lips. Link let himself enjoy that sweet kiss, grateful that Shad trusted him enough to admit his lack of experience. He could tell it was difficult for him to do so. Forcing himself to pull away before he could sink back down into the bed with him, Link continued, “You’ll be at the university today?”

“Yes. I need to get a sufficient amount of work done in the Archives this morning. Later this afternoon I’ll be asking the Council of Deans if I can use some of the university’s resources to compile my research and begin my book. I hope that they’ll be amenable to my proposal.”

“I hope so too. It’s a big day for both of us then. I have to stay at the castle for a fitting after training, but I plan to come back here before the dinner there tonight. At least we’ll be able to spend some time together then.”

“The dinner there?” Shad raised his eyebrows in query. 

“Yeah, tonight, at the castle… I… I did tell you about that, didn’t I?” Link looked guilty as he realized he’d forgotten to give Shad a copy of the schedule of events Zelda’s secretary had made for them. 

Shad huffed in exasperation. “You most certainly did not, old boy. So we’re having dinner with the princess tonight, are we?”

“Uh huh.” Link got up from the bed and rifled around in one of his pouches until he found a folded up copy of the schedule. “Here, this details all the events we’re invited to before the coronation.” 

Shad took it from his outstretched hand, glancing over the paper with a raised eyebrow. “Oh, we’re dining with the court. Well this would have been nice to know about before now.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Link gave him a sheepish grin. “Sorry? I forgot about it in the haste of getting everything ready for yesterday’s trip.”

Shad sighed and set the schedule on his nightstand. “No matter. You’ve had a lot on your mind. Perhaps we should let me handle any scheduling that involves the both of us from now on though, hm?”

“A brilliant idea from my brilliant boyfriend.” Link leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Shad’s cheeks turned pink from Link’s affectionate praise and Link chuckled. He sat on the edge of the bed and placed his hands on Shad’s upper arms, pulling the scholar closer. Their lips met again in another spine-tingling kiss, and Shad could feel his arousal quickly begin to stir to life again. 

Leaning back slightly, Link’s eyes caught Shad’s. “You should stay in bed and rest for another hour or so.” He gave him another long look up and down, his sensual gaze taking in Shad’s tousled hair and bared chest. His eyes lingered on Shad’s half-hard cock under the covers. “If you want… I love the idea of you taking care of yourself. Here, in our-“ He stopped and cleared his throat, not wanting to presume. “In the bed, after I leave." He smiled knowingly. "That you would find your release to naughty thoughts of me is a major turn on. Knowing you’re doing that makes me feel like I can go out and do my very best in the world, so that I'm worthy to come home to a treasure like you."

Shad’s cheeks were crimson. “I-I will,” he stammered, barely able to meet Link’s eyes. The hero’s praise was truly overwhelming, as was his erotic suggestion. He didn’t think he’d ever been thought of as someone’s treasure before.

Link’s lips curved up into a satisfied smile and he stole another long kiss from the scholar’s lips. “Good,” he purred before pulling back. He stood up from the bed and swiftly pulled his chainmail and green tunic down over his head and shoulders, then grabbed his cap. Shad watched him enter the bathroom and then leaned back against the pillows, his eyes closed. Link was driving him absolutely crazy with desire, but he relished every second of their drawn out sensual encounters. 

Running his hands down his neck and over his torso, Shad couldn’t stop thinking about Link’s mouth on him. It was astounding how absolutely into him Link seemed to be. Could he actually be that attractive to the handsome hero? Link had called him beautiful. He supposed he wasn’t bad looking after all, as he had nice clean-cut features, but he didn’t consider himself to be anywhere near the same league as the dashing, sexy blonde. 

He recalled the brief views he’d had of Link’s unclothed muscular torso, so different from his own slim frame. He loved how Link held him down and touched him, but he wanted the chance to get his hands all over Link’s body too. Link had said he wanted to talk more later, so maybe he could let him know how much he wanted that then.  

Hearing the bathroom door opening, Shad sat up straight and opened his eyes. Link sauntered back over to him, then leaned down and captured his lips again in a scorching kiss. His hands came up to caress the sides of Shad’s face. 

“I wish I could stay here with you more than anything,” he sighed, running his hands through Shad’s hair. “But I can’t. Goodbye, my love. I’ll see you later.” Link dropped another quick kiss on Shad’s lips as the scholar whispered goodbye, and then he was out the door. 

Shad brought his fingers up to lightly graze against his mouth as he heard the front door close. His lips were still tingling from Link’s love bites and kisses. By Din , did that man set his entire body aflame! He’d never had someone spend so much time kissing and exploring every inch of his skin. And that’s nothing to say of what Link had done to his nipples with mouth and fingers! Despite Shad’s surreptitious reading on the subject whenever he could find such material, he hadn’t even known that men could find such play enjoyable. 

The way that Link was initiating him into erotic pleasures, a little at a time, had him reeling. It was intensely arousing, and they hadn’t even removed the rest of their clothes yet. Their bodies may not have been fully intimate, but Shad thought that their minds had certainly begun to cover that territory rather well. Desire surged through him as he thought about touching himself as Link suggested. His face felt hot as a thought manifested itself within his mind. Would Link ask him about it later? Would he check to make sure Shad had kept his word? 

Shad ran his hands over his chest, slowly following the path that Link’s hands had taken. Lightly scraping his nails across his skin, he felt his nipples harden into taut peaks of heightened sensation. His cock twitched at the feeling as well. Would he be able to answer Link if he did ask? He was touching himself right now and enjoying it. Could he admit that to Link’s face? Would Link praise him for it? Or ask him for more details? Would he be able to share those details? Not without stammering and blushing up to the tips of his ears, that was certain. But he knew now that Link didn’t mind his bashfulness at all. In fact, it seemed that Link loved how Shad admitted his passions, despite how embarrassing or difficult it may be for him to do. And so far, his shameful internal struggle was always absolutely worth it when he revealed his heart’s desires to the hero. Link’s abundant praise and affection only encouraged him to open up more. 

His heart beat fervently in his chest even as he moved his hand lower, tracing his fingers down his abdomen. He couldn’t help but be head over heels in love with Link. Shad felt so incredibly fortunate to be loved in return by this compassionate, charming, courageous, and incredibly desirable man. Shad found the way that Link moaned intensely sensual and suggestive, whether it was from kissing him or just observing Shad’s reactions to his touch. Knowing that he was the cause of Link’s arousal and vocalizations felt both lewd and empowering. How hard would Link get if Shad had the bravery to whisper the truth about his fantasies and what he was doing right now? 

Shad slid his hand down over his pajama pants and palmed his erection through the thin fabric. His cock jerked at his touch, eager for some relief after the teasing build up earlier. Would Link rub him like this? He was certain that Link’s touch would feel a hundred times better. Would Link bite his neck as he cajoled every dirty little secret from Shad’s lips? 

Shad shivered with anticipation as he brought his hands to the waistband of his pants, pushing them down just enough to free his cock. He wanted to stroke himself to completion, longing for release, but knew that’s not what Link would want him to do. Not if Link was here watching him. And if Shad did get the courage to whisper this naughty tale into his ear later, he knew that Link would appreciate it if he didn’t rush. If he drew out his pleasure, the way Link would. Shad forced himself to take it slow. Link would most likely continue to take his time touching him. The blonde would slide his hands up to caress his inner thighs, just below his groin. Shad moved his hands to his thighs and rubbed the skin there in little circles, moving higher and higher. Link would let the tension build again as he murmured such sinful things into his ear. All the while, he’d be moving that torturous hand up to firmly grip Shad’s eager shaft. 

At that thought, a loud moan escaped Shad’s lips. He gripped his throbbing cock and started stroking himself. He began to move his hand up and down with a steady motion, paying special attention to the sensitive spot on the underside of the head. As he brought his hand up the shaft, his thumb curved over the tip while his fingers provided blissful friction on his frenulum. Link would stroke him just like this, firm but slow, while whispering provocative things against his skin. The hero was powerful enough to wrestle Gorons, but Shad knew he’d hold back that magnificent force and grip him just the way he liked.

“Is this how you like to be touched, darling?” Link would ask. He’d pin Shad down by his neck with one hand as he had not ten minutes ago, while his other hand continued stroking him. Shad delighted in the feeling of Link’s strong hand on his throat. It didn’t hurt, and he was able to breathe perfectly well, but something about the act made Shad feel so deliciously vulnerable. It almost had him feeling like he was his lover’s prey. Link had enough strength to keep him in place, but Shad knew he’d never hurt him. When Link had him pinned down like that, with just a hint of pressure on his throat, he felt completely at the hero’s mercy and under his control. Just the thought of it sent shivers down his spine. He could just imagine Link peering into his eyes as he smiled seductively. He’d watch with a gleam in his eye as Shad writhed helplessly under his hands. “Did you stroke your cock just like this while you thought of me this morning? Were you good and did as I asked?”

Closing his eyes at the image of it all, Shad moaned and nodded, feeling the hand on his erection speed up. He squirmed under the intensity of that assertive gaze. “Yes, Link. Just like this. Of course I pleasured myself thinking of you. It’s always you.” Shad breathed out on a gasp, “How could I not?” 

“Good boy. You know just what I want to hear, don’t you?” he’d breathe in Shad’s ear before nibbling the outer shell. “You look so hot all flushed like this, and you feel so good in my hand. But I think I could make you feel even better.” Shad would watch as Link moved to his bedside table, where he kept a small bottle of lubricant. Swiftly mirroring the action, Shad squirted a little out onto his palm. He brought his hand down to his stiff cock and moaned at the slick sensation. He could almost feel his hips rolling up with every stroke of Link’s hand. Biting his lower lip, he leaned back and fully immersed himself in his fantasies.

“There, that’s better, isn’t it?” Link murmured against his skin. “I can tell you love it by the way you’re shamelessly humping into my hand.” Shad whimpered and Link kissed him on the mouth to quiet him. “I know you’re eager to cum for me, my love, but let me play with you just a little longer. You’re so gorgeously desperate like this. I want to savor you.” Red-faced at his own obvious eagerness, Shad dropped his eyes as he whispered his acquiescence. 

Link purred his approval. “You’re so obedient.” Following up the compliment with another scorching kiss, Link pulled back and licked his lips. “And delicious .” Link moved his hand up over the tip of Shad’s cock, smearing a generous drop of pre-cum onto his thumb. Shad watched with wide eyes as Link brought his hand to his mouth, licking the droplet off.

The hero closed his eyes, allowing the flavor to wash over his tongue before moaning, “Oh fuck, Shad.” His eyes opened as he fixed Shad with a wolfish look. “You taste even better than I thought. Would you like a taste?” Shad nodded shyly, and Link passionately kissed him, invading his mouth. Their tongues swirled together and Shad tasted the salty tang of himself as well as Link. When Link pulled back Shad was practically breathless. “See? I bet if I used my mouth on you I’d get to taste you even more.”

Link kissed and bit his way down Shad’s naked body while his hand continued pleasuring him. Finally the blonde positioned himself between his thighs, spreading them apart. “I’m going to suck you off, Shad and watch you come undone. Can you do that for me?” Link trailed his tongue up the inside of Shad’s thigh to his testicles while still working him with his fist. “I want you to lose control and give yourself to me” he said hotly against his skin. “Let me taste you. If you cum for me, I’ll reward you.” 

“What… what would my reward be?” he panted, trembling at the thought of anything more pleasurable than this.

Link smirked. “Besides coming in my mouth and watching as I swallow it all down?” 

Shad was speechless as the intoxicating vision filled his head. Another bead of precum welled up, capturing Link’s gaze. He licked his lips again and leaned forward. Slowly, almost reverently, Link took the tip of Shad’s cock into his mouth, swirling his skilled tongue around the head.

Shad brought his unoccupied hand up to his mouth, stifling his loud moan. He could barely withstand coming right then from the feeling of Link’s warm, sucking, and pleasurably wet mouth on him. They hadn’t talked about doing anything like this, but he couldn’t help craving it. Especially after Link had licked his lips so salaciously while eyeing his cock earlier. 

Link pulled his mouth off the head of his cock with a loud pop. “If you’re a good boy and give me every drop of your cum, then your reward will be me fucking you. Would you like that, sweetheart?” He was still working him with his tight fist, adding a little twist at the top where his mouth had made Shad’s cock extra slick. “When I’m done sucking you off I’ll enjoy fucking your tight little ass.” He cocked his head, an eyebrow raised in speculation. “I’m curious as to how many times I can make you cum tonight. Do you wanna make a hypothesized guess, Shad?” he teased.

Shad was close, so close. “Oh Goddesses!” he cried out loud. “Yes, Link, please . Let me fuck your mouth and cum down your throat. Then take me and use my body any way you want.” 

Link smiled, a devilish grin, and licked up Shad’s hard length. “Oh, I’ll use you in all sorts of ways, gorgeous,” he said, right before sliding his lips back down Shad’s cock. He took him all in, until his nose was pressed into Shad’s pubic hair. 

Seeing Link like this was a euphoric sight. His eyes were half-lidded in pleasure as his full lips stretched tight over his cock. Shad was unable to keep his hands to himself and ran his fingers through Link’s tousled blonde hair until it was a complete mess. Link didn’t mind. In fact, he looked up at Shad and then moaned around him. Shivers and waves of pleasure cascaded throughout Shad and made him groan loudly. Link continued to hold Shad captive with his gaze as his head began to bob up and down Shad’s length. His strong hands dug into the muscle of Shad’s thighs as he firmly gripped them for support. 

Shad threw his head back. “L-Link! I, I need…” Shad trailed off, lost in the obscene vision within his mind. Shad tugged at the soft strands of Link’s hair in his hands as he came close to losing control. Link moaned at the sensation and redoubled his efforts. After a moment though, Link pulled away quickly to reach for the bottle of lube again. He squirted some onto his fingertip and then swirled his finger around the sensitive skin of Shad’s anus before he returned to sucking his cock. 

Shad gasped as he imagined Link probing him, slowly inserting one finger, preparing him for that thick cock of his. He couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to have Link inside of him. What would it be like to feel himself stretch and expand around the blonde’s hard length? Could he even handle the size of him? Link had felt so big under his palm, and each time his erection was pressed up against his body.

“Cum for me, Shad,” Link pulled off his cock to command. “Cum for me, so I can finally make you mine.” The blonde returned his hot mouth to Shad’s cock and worked him with his mouth and finger. 

At that thought, Shad crashed over the edge and he cried Link’s name as he came. Ecstasy rippled through him and his milky release spurted out into his hand and onto his lower belly. He lay there for a few moments, catching his breath and letting his racing heartbeat return to normal. 

That was by far the most intense orgasm he’d had in a long while, possibly ever. Was it the thought of Link forcing him to admit what he’d done that made it so vivid? The idea of the powerful hero taking him into his mouth in that way, overpowering him with pleasure? Or the thought of Link’s promise to fuck him if he’d cum for him first? Shad shivered thinking of that last one and blushed as he realized it appealed to him the most.

He hadn’t been lying when he’d described himself as ‘innocent’ earlier, but he hadn’t been telling the whole truth either. He was glad that Link wanted to talk more later, as he had questions and knew Link would too. He knew he’d have to expound upon their conversation and tell Link that he was a virgin. He realized that his fantasies were probably a little off, as he had no real way of knowing what a blow job felt like, or anal sex. It was clear to him now that Link had more sexual experience than he did, but the hero hadn’t shared details of his previous exploits either. Shad wondered exactly how experienced Link was. They’d already determined they both liked who they liked, regardless of gender, but it did seem like the mechanics of sexual activity would be slightly different with disparate partners. Had Link had sex with his girlfriend? Had he ever been with a man before?

Shad actually had more experience with women than he did with men. He had no experience with men beyond kissing before Link. The farthest he had ever gone had been with that girl from his class that he’d dated briefly, Tena. He frowned slightly at the thought of her. They’d seen each other for about a month before she’d asked to come over to his place one night. They’d made out and then Shad had fingered her to a climax at her insistence. She hadn’t returned the favor, and of course Shad didn’t push her to. He’d never want a sexual partner to do anything they weren’t comfortable with. When she said she was busy the next time he asked her out though, and again the time after that, and after that, Shad had taken the hint. He was hurt, obviously, and felt like he’d been used just for her pleasure and then tossed aside. It was even more embarrassing to think that maybe he’d been so awful at it that she was just done with him. Either way, he never knew because she never told him. She’d moved away with her family shortly after that, and Shad had just stopped seeking out romantic partners. He tended to his own needs, as he had in every other way since his father had passed away, and focused on his studies and research. 

Well, those were certainly sour thoughts to land upon. He sat up and reached for a tissue to clean himself up. Pushing thoughts of Tena out of his mind, Shad brought his daydreams back to Link. He didn’t actually think their talk about all this later would end in such a delicious and satisfying way, as Link seemed determined to draw out their erotic encounters, to ‘savor him’ as he’d said. It worked out well for him to take things slowly anyway, though his body was screaming for more whenever they kissed. He wasn’t even entirely sure that Link wanted to, well, to fuck him. He hadn’t explicitly said so after all, and he’d said a lot of dirty stuff since yesterday. He could only assume the hero did want that, but from his research on the subject, Shad knew that anal sex with one person being the top and one person being the bottom was only one of a myriad of different sexual acts that two people could explore together. It was entirely possible that Link would want to be penetrated. 

Shad felt his cheeks heat. He was slightly ashamed when his spent cock pulsed a little at that thought too. “Down boy,” he murmured to it absentmindedly as he got out of bed and walked into his bathroom. If Link wanted that, could Shad do that for him? 

Shad laughed at himself as he turned on the shower. Like there was anything he’d deny the hero at this point. He was willing to try most anything with Link, especially since he just wouldn’t know what he really liked until he’d tried it. He did know that he loved the way the hero had been taking control so far, and the feeling of being physically overpowered by him was something he craved. But he had to admit, the thought of sliding inside Link and thrusting into his tight heat was incredibly appealing in its own way. He blushed at the thought. He didn’t even have enough experience to really fantasize about what it would be like. He just knew that he wanted as much of Link as he could get.

Shad took off his pajamas and tossed them into his laundry basket. Turning towards the mirror he gasped out loud as he saw his reflection. His neck and collarbones were covered in hickeys, and he turned scarlet from his chest to the tips of his ears as he took in all the marks. There were even some fresher red ones on his chest now. Link had truly marked him as his own, and Shad’s knees felt weak at the thought. Turning his head, he noticed one on his jawline, up by his ear. Oh Hylia, how would he ever hide some of these? How could he go into the university and to court like this?

He left the shower water running, steaming up the bathroom, and dashed to his wardrobe. He tore through his numerous scarves, bowties, and ascots, trying to find something to cover the marks. He settled on the poofiest ascot he could find and tied it around his neck to check the coverage. Popping back into the bathroom, he wiped the mirror free of steam and groaned as he realized three marks were still showing, including the one on his jawline. There was no help for it. He’d just have to do his best to cover most of them and tell everyone that the City in the Sky had been more dangerous than he’d thought. It wasn’t a lie, and it would give off the impression that he’d received the ‘bruises’ from his adventures. Instead of the truth of Link’s hot mouth sucking little possessive love marks all over him. 

He shrugged his shoulders and untied the ascot before getting into the shower. The hot water cascaded over him, making his skin break out in goosebumps. He grabbed the soap and lathered up a washcloth, running it over his body. He delicately washed his marked areas, thinking of how Link would want him to be gentle with himself. Link’s treasure. He shivered at the thought. 

Link was always so in control, even when he was rougher with Shad. He said that he loved seeing Shad lose control, but what would Link look like when he gave into his own passions? Shad thought about how Link reacted to him and wondered if he could play with that. Could Shad tease Link too? Now that he knew how much the hero desired him, could he use that to pique Link’s arousal and bring him pleasure? Shad felt himself fully stiffen again and he moaned as his soapy, slippery hand passed over the still sensitive head of his cock. 

What if he didn’t wait until Link asked him if he’d masturbated to tell him? What if he teased the hero at dinner tonight about how he’d thought of him today? Could he be so bold? He could sit next to him and reach a hand under the table to place it high on the hero’s muscular thigh. Leaning over, he’d whisper in Link’s ear scandalous details of how he’d touched himself thinking of Link ordering him to cum. He’d pull back and blush as he watched the flames of desire light in Link’s eyes. They wouldn’t be able to do anything obvious with so many others around. The look Link would give him would let Shad know that the other man loved it and would pay him back for his teasing the second they were alone.

The thought made Shad so rock hard that he couldn’t help but lean up against the shower wall and begin stroking himself in earnest again. My word, he’d never pleasured himself in such quick succession before. He’d never woken up with Link in such a way before either though. 

He’d leave the banquet hall and wander down a quiet hallway until Link left as well and caught up with him. Link would drag him into a nearby empty room and take all his sexual frustration out on Shad. Maybe Shad would finally get to touch him like he wanted to, running his hands and mouth over the hero’s body. He’d wait for Link to tell him “yes” and then he’d finally be able to pull off the hero’s clothes and get his hands on Link’s throbbing cock. Shad would drop to his knees and take Link’s thick length into his mouth. He’d never done such a thing, but he couldn’t help but crave the sensation of Link’s cock filling his mouth, sliding over his tongue. Link would order him to touch himself but not to cum while he licked and sucked as best he could. Shad imagined himself kneeling on the ground before Link, stroking his own hard cock while he moved his mouth up and down Link’s shaft. He couldn’t wait to see what Link looked like while he was receiving pleasure, pleasure that Shad was giving him.

Shad brought himself to the edge of orgasm and then let go of his cock before his release took hold of him. Would Link ever tease him like this, delaying his orgasm? Would Link pay him back for being a flirt at dinner? Shad began slowly stroking himself again, the pleasure coiling within him. He’d make Shad into a whimpering, shameless, slutty mess before he came down Shad’s throat, his grip tight on his hair. Would the hero taste as good as Shad thought he would? Would he be able to swallow every last drop? Those thoughts alone were almost enough to push Shad over the edge again. 

Link would pull him to his feet and kiss him. “I don’t want one drop of your cum to end up in a tissue this time,” he’d threaten. “You’re mine now, and it belongs to me. I want you to make a mess here in my hand and then lick us both clean.” Link would push Shad up against the wall and begin touching him again, kissing and biting at his lips and neck as Shad’s knees trembled from the pleasure. “Cum for me, pet. Give me all of you,” he’d command. 

With a few last strokes, Shad braced a hand against the wall and cried out as he came again, every nerve ending in his body aflame with his euphoric release. Overcome with pleasure, Shad weakly slid down the shower wall, the strength in his legs gone. After several moments in that position, Shad realized that the water had gone cold. Groaning, he quickly washed his hair and face in the chilly water and then turned off the tap. He couldn’t believe he’d let his fantasies of Link drive him to masturbate twice like this. He chuckled at himself and squeezed the excess water out of his hair before reaching for his towel. At this rate, he’d need to upgrade his hot water heater. 

As Shad dressed himself for the day, he carefully arranged his ascot to hide the majority of his marks. He traced a delicate finger over the one on his jawline. He secretly loved them, and wished that he could show them off to the world to let everyone know that Link had claimed him as his own. He hoped the love bites and hickeys meant that to Link, too. Maybe he should ask him what he thought about them when he saw him again later that evening. Shad blushed as he followed that line of thought. Now he’d have to tell Link that he’d pleasured himself thinking of the hero not just once, but twice. Part of him was mortified at his lewd behavior, but a larger part of him couldn’t wait to tell Link about his fantasies. As he continued to get ready for the big day ahead of him, he could only hope that they lined up with what Link wanted as well.

Chapter Text

“Try these on with the first dress and then come show me once you’re presentable.” Shad handed Ilia the wide emerald sash and a thinner length of golden braided cord he’d picked out.

Ilia looked up at him with her eyebrows raised as she took the items. “The extra waist sash I brought from home? Really?”

“Trust me,” Shad replied as he shooed her back into her bedroom to change. “Do hurry! I’m eager to know if this will be the right look on you for tonight!” Shad turned and picked up his teacup as Ilia disappeared into the bedroom. Sipping at his tea, he wandered to the windows of the sitting room in Bo and Ilia’s guest suite as he waited for her to change. He was glad he’d run into her in the halls of the castle after his last-minute meeting with Princess Zelda earlier. He did regret however that he wasn’t able to be at home to meet with Link privately before the dinner at court. He’d had the staff send a note to Link telling him to meet them in Ilia’s rooms before dinner, and had received Link’s reply in the affirmative.

Shad’s heart beat a little faster as he thought of how different it would feel being together in front of the whole court now that they were a couple. They hadn’t talked at all yet about how public their relationship would be. The whole thing was just too new for them to have gone over details like that. Shad thought that a bit of caution in public would be wise for now. Gossip and rumors traveled faster amongst the aristocracy than a Goron rolling downhill.

“Okay, what do you think?” Ilia’s hesitant voice interrupted his thoughts. Turning back to her, he saw her slowly stepping in front of the mirror to take herself in. Ilia smoothed her hands over her silk-clad hips, turning this way and that as she admired her reflection. The turquoise gown had a simple design. It flowed from narrow straps on Ilia’s slim shoulders down to a low V-shaped neckline. Before they’d added the delicately embroidered waist cincher, the gown had fallen from the bust to the floor in one long, supple line. Shad had thought the color was gorgeous on her, but didn’t like that the loose style did absolutely nothing for her figure. After having Ilia try on several more dresses that he’d ended up rejecting, Shad came back to the first gown. Perhaps it just needed some accessories and flair to make it work for her?

“Oh, Ilia.” He sighed happily, thrilled with the vision that was now before him. Shad set his tea down and then walked around her in a slow circle, his eyes keen. He observed how the emerald green sash pulled the dress in tight at her waist before the silk gown continued, flaring out over her hips. It perfectly defined her slim curves. The braided cord cinched over that added a bit of elegance to the whole look. The color scheme really was the main attraction though. Emerald, gold, and turquoise, with her large green eyes, creamy skin, and short, sunflower colored hair were perfection together. The rich colors would normally have brought to mind peacocks, but with Ilia’s coloring she looked more like a rare wildflower in a sun-drenched summer meadow.

“My hypothesis was correct.” Shad nodded his head, a confident smile on his face. “The addition of the Ordonian waist wrap and tie give this gown the shape it needs to suit you. The silhouette mimics that of the corseted styles popular here in Castle Town, but with the flair from your own regional style added in, well… ” Shad trailed off, bringing his hand to his chest as he smiled and shook his head. Ilia’s beaming grin at his praise answered him. “You’re positively stunning, my dear. You’re one of a kind. The court won’t know what to do with themselves with someone so stylish, smart, and sweet.”

Ilia’s cheeks bloomed rosy pink at his praise. She swatted at him playfully even as she smiled. “You silver-tongued flatterer. It’s no wonder you managed to capture Link’s heart.”

It was Shad’s turn to blush and turn away in slight embarrassment. “Yes, well, perhaps my loquaciousness had something to do with it, and perhaps not.” He reached up to readjust his ascot.

“I don’t even know what that word means, but it clearly worked, judging by how hard you’re trying to hide those hickeys.” Ilia smirked at him, crossing her arms as he grew red.

For a moment, Shad felt as if he’d burst from embarrassment. Inhaling deeply, he could feel the tips of his ears burning with his blush, and his first thoughts were to deny it. He could easily continue to play word games with Ilia and bypass the honesty and vulnerability that true friendship required. But he wanted a real friendship with her. Blowing the breath out, Shad pushed past the initial instincts of privacy and shame that polite society had imposed upon him. Looking up at her with a wry smile he asked, “Are they really that obvious?”

“Well, they’re obvious to me.” She giggled. “But that’s because you just told me that you and Link are together now. I don’t think anyone who doesn’t know about you two will leap to that conclusion.” Ilia shrugged her shoulders, still admiring her reflection in the large gilded mirror on the wall.

Shad turned to look at his own image, tugging his ascot higher to hide some of the marks. “I did try to explain that the City in the Sky was more dangerous than I thought, letting people believe that the bruises came from that. Hopefully that excuse will hold up under the scrutiny of the court.”

“I should think that it would. It’s just dinner, isn’t it? Won’t everyone be focused on the food and drink?” Ilia’s big emerald eyes met his own and he found himself almost envious of her naïveté.

“That’s right, you haven’t had dinner with the whole court yet. I’m afraid it’s rather more of a spectacle than that. So many of these nobles and dignitaries are so shallow and bored that they use the occasion to observe each other with eagle eyes and wicked lips. They gossip and start drama for their own entertainment, not caring at all what havoc they wreak. You may look like the belle of the ball, but you’re heading into a battlefield and you’d best not forget it.”

Her eyes widening, Ilia slowly nodded her head. “Thank you for the warning. I bet new people to the court get the most scrutiny, don’t they?”

“Indeed they do, Lady Ilia. However, you are fortunate enough to have The Chosen Hero himself by your side tonight. As well as yours truly, of course, although my influence pales in comparison to Link’s.” He didn’t mean to speak poorly of himself, but it was just the simple truth that Link held more favor at court.

Ilia turned away from the mirror and drew Shad into a hug. “Your influence gives me confidence in myself. Don’t underestimate yourself.” Pulling back from the hug, she looked up at him with a warm smile. “I’m really glad I ran into you, so that you could help me find something to wear tonight.” She paused and then winked at him. “And I’m glad that I got to be the first person to know that you and Link are a couple now!” She giggled when he turned pink again. “It’s adorable that you blush every time that’s mentioned, by the way.”

“Yes, well, he’s mentioned he finds that aspect of me rather pleasing as well. Perhaps even more so than my loquaciousness, or ‘habit of talking a lot’ as one might say.” Shad couldn’t wait to see Link again, even though they’d only been separated from each other for a number of hours. He’d found it unexpectedly difficult to be apart from him today. They’d spent almost every waking hour together for several days now, and the last twenty-four hours had been especially intimate. It was jarring to return from the Sky to a normal life of time spent apart at jobs and shared with friends and other responsibilities. He was glad at least that they’d be able to sit together at dinner, although he knew they wouldn’t have much privacy to enjoy each other’s company fully. Link’s presence would be a welcome comfort in the awkward environment of the court.

“My ears are burning. There’s got to be more interesting subjects to talk about than me.” Shad felt his heart skip a beat at the sound of the familiar voice. He turned his head to see Link entering the sitting room. The hero was already dressed for dinner, clad in his signature green, but this new tunic was of a rich fabric. Farore’s mark was embroidered in a repeating pattern in gold thread all along the hem of the tunic. His new pants and boots were of equally high quality, as was his fine lawn undershirt. He wore no chainmail and no cap. His sandy hair was tousled in that adorably disheveled way of his. He looked dashingly handsome as well as classically noble. It was almost impossible to believe from looking at him that he had been a goat herder by trade less than a year ago.

Still tugging at his collar and ascot, Shad’s lips curved up into a smile as Ilia dashed across the room to greet Link with a cheerful hug. “Don’t be silly, Link! Seriously, you go visit an ancient city in the sky of all places and you think that you won’t be included in the topic of conversation?” She clucked her tongue at him, then stepped back and looked him over. “Nice new duds.”

Link shot her a wry look. “Yeah, thanks. Zelda had me in fittings all afternoon, and apparently this one had to be ready to go for tonight. I’m not sure why exactly, since I’ve been wearing the Hero’s Clothes to all her events, but I guess she wants me looking a little more courtly. You don’t look that surprised to see it though. Did you and the princess spend all of teatime picking out my new outfits together?”

Ilia smirked and turned away, heading back to the mirror to look through several different hair accessories on a little table there. “Maybe. You’re welcome for the addition of that embroidery by the way. It was my idea.”

Link chuckled at her as he walked over to Shad, who hadn’t moved from his spot yet. “Hi there,” Link greeted him. His eyes were twinkling with amusement. He stopped right before the scholar, wanting to kiss him hello, but not knowing how affectionate he should be in front of other people.

“Hello, old boy,” replied Shad softly, feeling the same urge and need for restraint.

Ilia looked up from the mirror where she was trying on different hair combs. “Oh don’t feel like you have to hold yourselves back on my account, you two. Shad already told me that you’re together.” She paused, and then gathered up the hair accessories. “You know what, the lighting by the mirror in the bedroom is actually a lot better than in here. If you’ll excuse me gentlemen, I think I’ll try these on in there.” Ilia winked at them and then headed into the bedroom, shutting the door behind her.

Feeling his cheeks heat at Ilia’s overt ruse to give them privacy, Shad turned back towards Link. The blonde reached out with one hand and laced their fingers together, then tilted his head up to kiss Shad hello properly. His lips were soft and delectable and Shad felt lightheaded from the simple kiss.

“I’m glad you told her,” Link said in a hushed tone. “Have you told anyone else about us?”

Shad shook his head. “No, I haven’t even had the time. I’m not sure it’s anyone’s business at the university, and it didn’t seem appropriate to discuss with Princess Zelda when she was questioning me about our trip. I’m not sure those are the kinds of details she wanted to hear.” He was momentarily distracted by the sensation of Link running his thumb over the back of his knuckles. “Ah, I am glad that you got my note though, and weren’t waiting at home for me.”

“It was no problem. My fitting ran really long. I thought I’d just be measured for one outfit. Instead I had to stand there for hours, getting turned this way and that and poked with pins. It worked out just fine that you got called to the castle too. Although, I did want more of a chance to spend some time with you before this dinner.” Link squeezed his hand as he grinned.

“I would have greatly preferred that as well.” Shad reached up to twiddle with his ascot again before remembering that he’d perfectly arranged it for a very good reason.

“Trying to hide something there, Shad?” Link raised an eyebrow at him.

“Yes, unfortunately I have to cover up some of these love bites you’ve given me. As much as I love seeing the physical evidence of your amorous attention, they really aren’t the best fashion accessories for a meal at court.”

Link chuckled softly and reached up to adjust Shad’s ascot for him. “No, I suppose not. Now you just need to remember to not play with this or you’ll tug it out of place.”

“Easier said than done,” murmured Shad. Link’s hands grazed against his skin as he re-tied the ascot. The sensation raised goosebumps on the back of Shad’s neck, making him shiver slightly. Link raised his eyes to Shad’s and held him with his gaze, letting him know that he’d noticed the redhead’s reaction to his touch. Finishing his adjustments, Link slid one hand up the back of Shad’s neck and into his hair. He brought the scholar down for a long, lingering kiss.

Link’s hands were so gentle, and it was almost exactly what Shad wanted from him. But not quite. He craved Link’s firmer touches again, even though he enjoyed everything else about this slow, languid kiss. He knew, of course, that they couldn’t have a full-fledged makeout session right now for several very important reasons. But Link’s lips on his felt so divine that he wanted nothing more than to lose himself in them. Shad felt a rush of elation sweep through him and some of his worries about the evening melted away. Everything was better in Link’s arms.

Pulling back from their kiss, Link smiled up at him and squeezed his hand again. A light rapping sounded from Ilia’s door and she came through a moment later. She had a feathered hair comb in her hair sweeping up one side of her blonde bob.

“Well, what do you think about this one?” She gestured to her hair. Shad was grateful for her nonchalant behavior, as well as her convenient timing.

“Cuter than a cucco.” Link grinned at her and she rolled her eyes at him even as she smiled.

“You look lovely of course, Ilia,” Shad replied more politely.

She thanked him and then they all turned to greet Mayor Bo as he entered from his own connected bedroom. Ilia finished her preparations and the four of them left for the dining hall together. Mayor Bo and Ilia strode out of the room before them, with Ilia clutching at her father’s elbow as her escort.

Shad was very conscious of how close Link was and how they weren’t touching in the public corridor. He twisted his bracelets before deciding to speak up about some of his concerns. “I must admit that I’m fairly nervous about this event tonight. It’s always a stretch going outside of one’s normal social circle. And the stakes seem so high with this particular one.”

“I feel the same way. But I’ll be right here beside you. So no need to worry.” Link shot him a smile. “Gotta be honest, I haven’t enjoyed a single one of these meals with the court. Although, I didn’t know anyone else there except Zelda, before. At least we’ll be together, right?” Shad nodded, some of his fears assuaged. “I really wish we could have had some time alone at your place this afternoon though,” Link continued. “Maybe I’m selfish, but I don’t want to share our time together with the whole court. I just want you.”

Link glanced at him, and Shad felt himself tremble at the heat in those sapphire eyes. Thinking over the pleasurable actions he’d taken that morning at Link’s suggestion, and how he wanted to try his own hand at teasing him, Shad decided to be bold. “I wish we could have had some alone time at home before this too. Especially because I was planning on telling you how I spent the rest of my morning.” Shad shot him a sly look.

“Oh, your work at the university? How’d that go-” Link cut himself off as Shad shook his head, a mirthful smile upon his lips. The scholar glanced at him, one eyebrow raised as he waited for Link to get it. “OHHHH, that part of your morning.” Link paused, waiting for Shad to continue. “Well? Did you… did you do it? Are you still gonna tell me about it?”

“Perhaps. It doesn’t seem like a very appropriate topic for this exact moment though, does it?” Shad nodded his head towards their companions and the doors to the dining hall that they were approaching. He kept his voice low and leaned in closer. “I couldn’t possibly tell you if I touched myself while fantasizing about you earlier when we’re surrounded by so many people.”

“Shad,” Link growled in response. He couldn’t believe that Shad was being so coy like this. “What are you doing to me? Who taught you to be such a tease?” Even though it was out of the ordinary for the seemingly proper scholar, Link loved that he was acting this way.

Shad angled his head towards him, one eyebrow cocked. “Oh my, is someone going to have to be patient and wait to get what he wants? I can only wonder what that’s like.” Amusement danced in his indigo eyes.

They were almost to the door. Shad turned to Link before they entered and placed a hand on his arm. “Maybe I’ll be able to update you throughout the evening,” he murmured, “if we are lucky enough to get a few small moments of quiet between us, to speak privately.” He raised his eyes to meet the other man’s and swallowed hard at the fierce look of desire in Link’s gaze. This was exactly the kind of response he’d wanted. It was exhilarating but also nerve wracking challenging the hero like this. He pressed on as best he could. “W-would you like that, Link?”

Link’s voice was husky when he spoke. “Yes.”

“Then it’s a plan,” Shad breathed.

“I’ll hold you to it.” Link met his gaze for a few more seconds, and then his face broke into a wide smile. “I missed you so much today. I know that sounds silly, since we were only apart for a few hours.”

Shad smiled back at him, his cheeks warm from Link’s affectionate words. “It doesn’t sound silly at all to me. I missed you too, greatly, and I’m thrilled that we get to spend some time together now.” He raised a hand to indicate the doorway in front of them. “Shall we?”

Link nodded and they stepped together into the grand room. The dining hall was laid out with one table at a raised dais on the far side of the room and several long tables spread throughout the room below it. Link noted that Princess Zelda’s ornate high-backed chair was still vacant, although the rest of the tables were rather crowded. Richly detailed tapestries lined the walls, several fireplaces roared with heat, and a trio of minstrels played softly in one corner of the room. The low murmur of voices from the assembled nobles paused briefly as their small group entered and Shad felt curious eyes upon him. He heard whispers of “The Hero,” “Resistance, I think,” and “Who is she?” and swallowed hard, fighting his blush.

The servant at the door knew them by sight and began to lead them to one of the lower tables lining the hall, close to the dais where Princess Zelda would sit when she arrived. From the corner of his eye, Link saw Sergi approaching and turned to greet him.

“Master Link.” Sergi bowed briefly before he continued. “I pardon the intrusion sir, but I was told to find you right away. You are invited to come sit with Her Highness at her table for tonight’s meal.”

Link furrowed his brow, knowing by now that there was no way he could say no to Zelda’s request publicly. It was an invitation by polite formality only. “I thought I was sitting at the Ordon table.”

“Yes, you were initially. I apologize for the change in plans sir, but the Princess would be most pleased with your company.”

Link glanced up at the high table where a few select others were already seated. He noted that the chair to the right of Zelda’s was open. His chair, he supposed. Sighing as he realized he would be spending another royal event as a spectacle, instead of just a participant, he nodded his head. “Well, how could I refuse such an offer?” He forced himself to smile at Sergi and turned to say goodbye to Shad, who looked distraught. “I suppose our plan will have to wait for later?”

Shad nodded his head, deeply disturbed at how Link was suddenly being taken away, but unable to adequately express it. Oh, he’d have Ilia and Bo for company still, at least, but he had so been looking forward to sharing details of his solo adventures with Link, a little at a time, like he’d fantasized about.

Link turned away and started walking towards the high table with Sergi. Before he was more than a few steps away, Shad felt something come over him. Before he could stop himself he blurted out, “Link!”

The blonde turned to look at him, as did several other people seated nearby, and Shad’s cheeks turned crimson. He forced himself to ignore the others and kept his eyes on Link. “The answer is yes. I most certainly did.” He let a smile slip onto his face as Link’s eyes grew wide and a flush rose on his face too. “I just thought you should know.” With that, Shad turned away and continued to his seat next to Ilia, pleased with his little act of boldness.

Link forced himself to follow Sergi to the far side of the room, trying and failing to keep the stark images of Shad pleasuring himself and moaning his name out of his head. By the Goddesses, what had gotten into that man? Link had no idea where this bold, teasing, playful side of Shad had come from, but he was extremely intrigued. As much as he enjoyed taking the lead with Shad, he was equally as eager to explore any and all sorts of play and intimacy that naturally arose between them.

Sergi pulled out his chair for him and Link took his seat, thanking him. Zelda’s chair to his left was still empty and he felt a twinge of resentment that she’d snatched him away from his friends to sit with her when she wasn’t even here. On his right was the elderly Lord Chancellor and his wife, who both greeted him cordially and then returned to their own conversation. Link sighed and began to slowly sip at the soup placed in front of him. His eyes roved over the assembled nobles and he noticed many eyes on him in return. He tried to avoid looking directly at anyone, but every time his gaze accidentally snagged on someone else’s, they’d turn their heads and begin whispering to the person next to them.

He glanced at the Ordon table. Mayor Bo and Ilia were being introduced to everyone at the table, and the others there seemed to be intrigued by their presence. Link had sat through enough dull court meals by now to realize that novelty was their favorite distraction. Ilia would be popular at court until they grew bored of her and found someone new to fuss over.

Shad was sitting quietly, nodding his head at comments his companions made, but not doing much talking himself. He looked so good tonight, wearing the light shade of blue again that contrasted so well with his wavy auburn hair and made his deep violet eyes pop. Link watched as Shad brought a hand up to tug at his fluffy ascot. The scholar stopped himself before he touched it though, making Link smirk, and lowered his hands to his lap. Link could picture him nervously twisting his bracelets underneath the table. Shad lifted his head and caught Link’s gaze and held it for a few moments. He looked sad, but he put a smile on and sent a little head nod Link’s way, as if for encouragement.

Link exhaled slowly. He wasn’t really alone tonight, despite being separated from his friends and made to sit at the high table. He took comfort in the fact that Shad was here with him. Even better, Shad was who he’d be going home with at the end of the night. That was definitely something to look forward to. He sat up straighter in his chair and smiled back at his scholar.

He was about to take another sip of his soup when a herald near him loudly announced, “Her Royal Highness, the Crown Princess Zelda.” Pushing back his chair, he stood with the rest of the assembled diners and bowed as Zelda entered the room.

Dressed in her signature shade of purple, Zelda approached her chair and waited as a servant held it out for her. Rising from his bow, Link turned to her as she extended a hand to him. He blinked at her for one brief moment before taking her hand and bowing low over it, using the more elaborate bow that Shad had taught him. He was keenly aware of the eyes of the court upon them during this little performance of theirs. He made sure Zelda was seated comfortably and then took his seat next to her. The rest of the court sat as well, and the noise level in the room steadily rose again as people resumed their conversations.

“Good evening, Hero.” Zelda’s voice was hushed but formal.

Link glanced at her. Her cornflower blue eyes were upon him and she looked lovely, despite the dark circles under her eyes that always seemed to be there now. “Good evening, Princess,” he replied cordially. He tried desperately to think of some witty comment to follow up on his sparse greeting. Failing at that, he turned his attention back to his food. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Zelda give him several more seconds of her attention before sighing softly and turning towards her own plate.

Link squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. Think, dummy! You’re supposed to befriend her. You can’t do that silently! Speak up! “Princess, um…” he began.

She turned towards him, an eyebrow raised. “Yes?”

Link racked his brain for something to say. Part of the trouble was that he never knew exactly which Zelda he was going to get. It was always the cool and formal monarch at first in public, but who was behind the mask this time? He’d enjoyed her company at the luncheon where he last saw her. However, he couldn’t ignore the fact that she’d creepily interrogated Shad about him right before that encounter. Would she be the grateful, generous, rescued princess? Or the furiously fierce descendant of a deity? A scared and vulnerable little field mouse? Or a commanding and demanding Queen who one dared not cross?

Zelda was still staring at him and he knew she was about to lose her patience with his continued silence. He had to say something. He glanced quickly towards Shad down at the Ordon table. He was talking animatedly now, gesturing to Ilia’s pretty new dress. Shad was very complimentary. He could try something like that.

“Um, I really like your…” Link quickly scanned his eyes up and down her form. What did you compliment a princess on that wouldn’t be too personal? Her eyebrow raised higher as the seconds ticked by. His gaze snagged on her jeweled circlet. “Your tiara.” She blinked several times and he felt his guts clenching inside him. Goddesses, he was awful at small talk, especially when every single one of his words and actions were observed and commented upon by everyone watching him. He felt like he needed to add a little something to get more of a response from her. “Uh… it‘s nice. Looks real good on you.”

She held his gaze for several seconds more, unmoving except for her wide, blinking eyes. Link was shocked when her face suddenly contorted into a mirthful expression and laughter burst out of her. Every eye in the room turned to the laughing princess and the hero who was making her act out in such an unexpectedly expressive way.

Link’s skin crawled from the eyes of so many upon him. He knew his face was red as he leaned towards her and asked in a low tone, “I’m sorry, was that not an appropriate thing to say?”

Zelda shook her head, bringing her napkin to her mouth to cover her remaining giggles. Placing it back into her lap, she brought her eyes to his. “Your words were perfectly acceptable. It’s the way you said them that has me so amused. Link, you sound like you’re being tortured! You reminded me so much of my youngest cousin being made to attend upon my oldest aunt at tea. Jasper was all of four years old, and forced to bring our 87 year old great-aunt her sweet cakes to learn how to behave in polite company. Most reluctantly, I’ll add. It was excruciating watching him try to give her compliments when it was quite apparent that he’d rather be absolutely anywhere else. You were the spitting image of him just now. Really, you’re without a doubt the worst courtier I’ve ever met.” She smiled at him and then took a sip from her wine goblet.

Link dropped his eyes and turned back to his plate, feeling thoroughly rejected. By Farore, why had he even tried? She always seemed so complicated and difficult, and now she was just outright making fun of him and comparing him to an unruly child? He was trying to be nice!

Feeling Zelda’s hand briefly touch his sleeve, he looked back up at her. “I didn’t say that was a bad thing, Link,” she said soothingly as she placed her hands back in her lap. “And trust me, I do realize that the small boy, elderly aunt comparison does not paint me in a flattering light here.” She smiled as she tried for levity and sighed when his face remained impassive. “Link, I know very well by now that you don’t feel confident in these kinds of settings. I apologize for laughing. It was a genuine reaction, and not intended to be mean spirited. Thank you for your attempts to make conversation and compliment me. I want you to know that I am very grateful that you are here with me despite your discomfort. Your visible support is highly needed and of the utmost importance to me.” He inclined his head to acknowledge her thanks and apology, a little mollified. “A piece of advice, however? Stop forcing yourself to be whatever your idea of a perfect courtier is. Just be yourself. You fail when you try to be someone other than who you are.”

A hot flash of anger rushed through him at her words. She’d wanted him to be different from the very moment that they’d arrived back in Castle Town after Midna left! He could never be too sad, or too unpolished, or too private. Had he even asked her for advice? Link couldn’t let her platitudes pass unremarked upon, but he kept his voice even and courteous. “Just be myself? With all due respect, Princess, I feel like the opposite is true. It seems like the times that I’ve followed my instincts here at court are the times when I’ve struggled the most and disappointed you.”

Instead of being offended as Link feared she might be, Zelda merely wrinkled her brow slightly as she thought. “I suppose you may be partially right. There are a great many rules to learn around here, both written and unspoken, and you don’t know them all yet. Or… you choose not to follow them. Perhaps as a way of blowing off steam when trying to play a role that doesn’t suit you becomes too overwhelming?” He swallowed as her perceptive eyes roved over him. Link felt exposed as she analyzed his actions and spoke what he knew were hard truths.

“But what I mean by my advice is not so much about rule breaking, as it is about not forcing yourself to change your personality to conform,” she continued. “You are unique. You are Goddess-chosen and the savior of Hyrule. And you are also a goat herder from a backwater province, sitting next to your future Queen. These are facts, and it is pointless to attempt to change, hide, or ignore them.” She paused to take a drink while he sat with her words, absorbing them. Leaning towards him again, she continued. “You’re the only hero they’ve got, Link. They’re just going to have to accept you as you are. Most of them are already enamored with you. Focus less on trying to be just like them,” her eyes swept the tables below them, “and more on letting them see why the Goddesses chose you.”

Link took a long sip from his cup as Zelda finished her little speech. Who knew he’d get a talkative, wise, advice-filled princess tonight? Where did this desire to comfort him and build up his confidence come from? Taking a breath, Link thought before he spoke about how he’d reply to his friends if they were having a conversation like this. “Thank you for your advice and your faith in me, Princess. It has been difficult for me, it’s true. It’s hard not to feel like an outsider here.” He glanced down at the Ordon table, where Ilia was swept up in conversation with several interested nobles seated around her. Shad and Bo were in some sort of intense discussion and not a single one of them seemed to share Link’s awkward, out of place feelings.

Zelda’s keen eyes took him in, watching as he observed his friends. “You will always be an outsider, Link. You’re special. You stand out and you always will. Your struggle against accepting that is what is causing so much of your suffering, at court and in general. Yes, you’re different. So, be different. You are not where you are now because you followed along with everyone else and didn’t take chances. You have a position of power here at court, do you not see that? You set the standards for your own behavior, as long as they are respectful and faithful to my rule.” She nodded her head towards the rest of her court. “They can be the ones to attempt emulating their courageous and confident hero.”

Link grunted his acknowledgement of her advice. She’d given him a lot to think about and he couldn’t find the right words to speak in reply just yet. Their conversation paused as servants moved in to remove their soup bowls and bring them the next course. Link took a bite of his salad greens as he mulled over Zelda’s words. He knew she was right. As much as he sometimes wished he could just go back to his old life and blend in with everyone else, that wasn’t his reality now. He didn’t really fit in here or in Ordon very well anymore.

Looking at his friends again, he was at least glad that he’d found his own group of fellow misfits. Ilia was a country girl at court, Mayor Bo was a local leader thrust into royal politics, and Shad was a scholar with a head full of dreams in a practical world. But even they weren’t able to fully understand his position or what he was going through. Was there anyone who could?

He glanced at Zelda. She was marked by the Triforce as well and had gone through so many traumatic things. But she had been raised from birth to deal with being a public figure. She had all those years of training that he didn’t. A sudden thought dawned in his mind. It seemed foreign to him at first, but he poked at it a bit more. Maybe he could just ask her how she dealt with all of the public parts of her life?

“Princess?”

She looked up at him. “Yes, Link?”

“Err… “ He reached up to scratch at the back of his neck. “Well first of all, thank you for your advice. I-I’m not really sure what it would look like if I was more me and less uh, whatever they are.” He gestured at the lower tables. “But I’ll give it some thought and do my best. I was actually wondering though, if maybe you have any tips on how to deal with being in the public eye so much? How can you stand everyone staring at you all the time and people picking apart everything you say and do?”

Zelda set her fork down and gave him her full attention. “Link, this is the first time you’ve asked me for personal advice that I can actually help you with.”

“Uh, really? It is?”

“Yes. It is. Why did it take you so long to seek out wisdom from me? I may not be able to help you with some of your other concerns, but this is my area of expertise. I’m glad you’ve finally asked me for help.”

Link felt sheepish and looked down at his plate. “Oh, um, well… I don’t know. I was too caught up in my own troubles, I suppose.” He glanced back up at her.

“I understand.” She took another bite of her salad and chewed thoughtfully before she spoke again. “It’s different for me, I suppose. I was prepared from birth to assume this role someday, and I grew up knowing that I was Hylia’s descendant and marked by the Triforce of Wisdom. I can understand what a shock it may have been to you to discover so many new things about yourself and your place in this world within the last year.” Link nodded and she continued. “This is not information I can fully impart to you over one meal, although I can give you a tip or two now, I suppose. Would you be willing to meet with me later to discuss this more thoroughly?”

“Yes,” Link replied. “I’m already here at the castle so much this week. I can come by your office after training tomorrow?”

“I’ll have my secretary check my schedule and let you know.” Zelda glanced out at her court full of chattering, gossiping nobles. “My first tip to you is one about how to deal with intimidation when you’re in the public eye. Sometimes when I’m nervous and think people are judging me… I just picture them all in their smallclothes.”

Link blinked, sure he hadn’t heard her correctly. “I’m sorry, Princess, I’m afraid I must have misheard you.”

Laughter danced in Zelda’s light blue eyes. “You did not. I did indeed say to picture them in their undergarments.” She laughed softly as he gave her a hard stare. She had to be having him on. “Try it!” she urged. “It makes everyone seem so silly that it’s impossible to be intimidated by them anymore.”

Link felt ridiculous, but he let his gaze travel over the assembled diners. It was hard to get the images in his head at first, and he didn’t want to imagine the ladies in anything too scandalous. As his eyes caught sight of Lord Galdo at another table though, he imagined the pompous, overbearing man in white boxers with little red hearts printed all over them, held up by lacy suspenders that strained over his barrel shaped torso. He brought his hand up to his mouth to cover the laugh that he was unable to hold back as the image formed in his mind.

Grinning, Zelda leaned towards him. “I can see that it must have worked.” She followed Link’s line of sight and spoke in a hushed tone. “Ahh, a good target. I admit that I’ve imagined him prancing around in his undergarments before too, usually when he’s busy trying to talk over me in council meetings!”

Link turned towards her, still trying to control his laughter. “I can tell you one thing, Princess, hearts and lace are definitely not a good look for him.”

Zelda laughed out loud again and he joined in, not trying to hold it back anymore. She lifted her goblet. “To your rising confidence, Hero,” she toasted.

Link clinked his glass against hers. “And better underwear choices for all.” He chuckled along with her as Zelda broke down in giggles again. He was aware that they were drawing attention from the entire room, but he found he didn’t care this time. So he made the princess laugh and act slightly less regally. So what? That’s what happened when he dropped the pretense and just acted as his own self. Zelda was right. He shouldn’t be trying so hard to hide himself or change who he was to fit in.

♡❧♡

A burst of laughter interrupted the conversations in the dining hall, and Shad lifted his head to seek out the source of the sound. Princess Zelda had a genuine smile on her face and was laughing at something Link was saying. Link was running his fingers back through his sandy blonde hair and chuckling in return. He looked unbelievably handsome. Shad found his pulse racing faster just from looking at his love. He still could barely believe that this resplendent man wanted to be his.

Shad was happy to see that Link was actually managing to enjoy himself tonight. Despite the rapid change in plans and the disappointment in not being able to spend some time together after being apart all day, Link seemed to have overcome his nervousness about being on display in front of the entire court. He also seemed to be doing an admirable job of befriending the princess, if their peals of laughter were anything to go by. Shad wondered what it was that they were laughing about. He felt a stab of envy that the princess had commandeered all of the hero’s charm for the evening.

Swallowing a bite of his salad, he admonished himself for the feeling. Link didn’t belong to him, and he had a job to do. He couldn’t refuse a public invitation from the princess without it being seen as an insult and causing more trouble than it was worth. Shad would much prefer that Link was in good spirits rather than sunk in the misery he’d exhibited before he’d left the castle and come to stay with him.

“Well they’re certainly having a good time, aren’t they?” Ilia’s question echoed his thoughts and he glanced at the petite blonde. She’d been having a good time too, as many people were interested in meeting the girl who’d grown up with Link, as well as the daughter of the leader of the soon-to-be newest province.

“Indeed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the princess laugh like that before.”

“I have, but only a couple of times. She’s laughed at things I’ve said during tea with her. Maybe us Ordonians are just naturally amusing. What do you think, Father?” Ilia turned to Bo, who was using his napkin to wipe his mustache free of salad dressing.

“Eh? Oh, yes, I suppose so. Got to find the joy in life through laughter, right?”

“Ah yes, the Ordonian influence. I feel like this is a natural phenomenon that I should begin researching and recording. I’ve found myself captivated by it as well.” Shad placed his elbow on the table and rested his chin on his hand, gazing up at Link. He looked every inch the glorious Hero tonight.

Ilia giggled and leaned close to whisper in his ear. “You have hearts in your eyes right now.”

Blushing, Shad sat up straight and returned his attention to his meal and the company around him. He’d been seated with Ilia and Mayor Bo, of course, but the rest of their table was made up of dignitaries and members of the aristocracy. Shad recognized several of them from the coronation planning meeting and from his father’s days as butler here. Lord Darbus, the royal treasurer, and his wife were there, along with their two teenage daughters. Captain Harbin and his young wife were seated further down the table as well. Shad recognized Zelda’s wisdom in the original seating plan. She’d surrounded Link with allies and set them up on the opposite side of the hall from Lord Galdo and his ilk.

Lord Darbus’s seventeen year old daughter, Lady Mina, was seated to his right. Shad had greeted her cordially and attempted to make pleasant conversation, but she wasn’t very interested in any of the topics he’d tried to engage her with. She and Ilia seemed to get along well enough though, as did her younger sister next to her, Lady Alys. The two sisters kept leaning forward and speaking across him to talk to Ilia.

Shad kept his eye rolls to himself as Lady Mina once again shifted forward to address Ilia, completely ignoring him. He’d been chiming in when the conversation was about Ilia’s gown or anything to do with Link, but clearly neither girl was interested in anything else about him, nor him about them. He was unfortunately not seated close enough to any of the adults at the table to engage in meaningful conversation with them. He supposed that, being just this side of twenty himself, seating him at the younger side of the table had seemed to make sense. It’s not like Shad had ever been a huge hit with others in his age group though, having an academic’s heart and preferring the study and discussion of ancient mysteries to idle small talk.

The chatter paused for a moment as servants set down the next course. Shad enjoyed the silence that the meal brought and focused on enjoying the delicately seasoned Hylian Bass in front of him. More laughter from the high table had him smiling to himself again. He couldn’t wait to be back at home with Link tonight and hear about his evening with the princess. Plus, he was sure that Link would want more details about what Shad had been up to this morning, especially since he’d let that teaser slip out before they were parted. He loved knowing that he and Link would now both have that in the back of their minds throughout the entire meal. He glanced up at the hero again, drinking in the sight of him. Shad let himself drift away into his fantasies for a while until a squeal on his right pulled him from his thoughts.

“Oh, they’re so perfect together!” Lady Mina exclaimed, clutching her hands together to her chest.

Lady Alys sighed, gazing up at the high table with a dreamy look in her big dark eyes. “I know. I love seeing them together like this. They make such a wonderful couple. Wouldn’t it be so romantic if they announced their engagement at the coronation ball?”

Shad glanced up at the high table where Lady Alys’s gaze was focused. Who in Hyrule were they talking about? His eyes roved over the various occupants of the table. Next to Link was the Lord Chancellor and his wife, then the High Priest with his wife and two adult sons. Next to the princess were the other members of the royal family - an elderly aunt, and a few middle-aged second cousins. The only pairings he could see might be between one of Princess Zelda’s cousins and one of the High Priest’s sons, but they were sitting at opposite ends of the table. He didn’t keep up on court gossip about who was secretly seeing whom, but he supposed that a romance involving royalty would be something to comment upon.

“She’s so beautiful,” breathed Lady Mina. “Just look at how she lights up whenever she looks at his face.”

“Well with a face like that, who can blame her? He’s gorgeous. I think I’d just absolutely die if he ever looked at me that way with those big blue eyes of his,” Lady Alys replied to her sister.

“And the way that dark gold hair of his slightly obscures those eyes in such a dashing way! Doesn’t it make you just want to reach out and brush it back for him?” Lady Mina fake swooned into her sister and both girls giggled.

Shad felt like he was frozen to his seat. Both of the high priest’s sons were brown haired and brown eyed. He swallowed down the hard lump in his throat. There was only one man at the high table who fit that description.

“P-pardon me for the interruption,” he began hesitantly, setting down his fork. He knew he shouldn’t ask to make sure, as it would only hurt to confirm it. But he felt compelled to. “Who precisely are you talking about?”

Both girls turned their attention to him. Lady Mina had a look of disbelief on her face and Lady Alys’s lips were almost curved into a sneer.

“Are you serious?” Lady Mina asked, her tone incredulous. “Princess Zelda and her Hero, of course.

“How can you not know?” chimed in her sister. “It’s so obvious! Just look at them! You can tell they’re in love by how much they enjoy each other’s company.” She sighed again, returning her gaze to Link and the princess. Shad followed her line of sight. Link was gesturing as he spoke and the princess was intent on what he was saying. They did appear to be very engaged in their conversation with each other, and hadn’t really talked to the others around them at all during the entire meal so far.

Lady Mina nodded her head. “The Hero and The Princess. Their love is written in the stars!”

“But just in case it’s not, I’m claiming first in line to kiss those divine lips of his!” Lady Alys put her hand over her mouth to cover her burst of giggles.

“I don’t think so, Alys! You’ll have to get behind me. I’m the eldest. I should be the first to feel those strong arms around me.”

Irritation flooded through Shad as the girls both mooned and squabbled over his boyfriend. How preposterous! Trying to concoct a love connection between Link and the princess when there clearly wasn’t one there! He wanted to deny everything they were saying right then and there and declare that it wasn’t true because he was with Link, but he held his tongue. Announcing their brand new relationship to a pair of giggling, gossiping girls in the middle of a meal at court was not a wise decision.

“I don’t know that it is obvious, as you say, my lady.” Shad raised an eyebrow at her and continued in a tone of mild admonishment. “Link and Her Highness have a working relationship, not a romantic one. And as one of his close friends, I think I would know if he had interests in her like that.” Shad sought to shut down the rumor mill with his rebuttal, but it didn’t work.

Lady Alys stubbornly shook her head. “Well clearly the Hero wouldn’t be able to tell his friends about it. It’s a secret romance!”

Nodding her head in agreement, Lady Mina chimed in, “Yes, poor dears, it has to be a secret for them for now. He’s common-born, and she’s royalty.” She sighed, shaking her head. “They could never be together normally, despite their desperate longing for each other, due to his station. But now that he’s proven himself as the Hero Chosen by the Gods, he’s worthy of her. And when she becomes Queen she can make her own laws and marry who she chooses. Their love will conquer all!”

Shad barely kept himself from rolling his eyes at such contrived schoolgirlish fantasies of grandeur. His words came out sharper than he’d intended. “Yes, well, you’ve created quite an elaborate story in your own minds, but I don’t believe a single word of such nonsense.” He couldn’t help the disapproving tone that crept into his voice. “In addition, I don’t think that either Princess Zelda or Link would appreciate being gossiped about in such a manner. It’s ridiculous and most unbecoming.”

“Hmph! Well, what would you know about such matters anyway?” Lady Mina’s indignation was apparent in her flushed cheeks and flashing eyes. It was clear that his words had offended her, and yet all Shad could think about was how well he did know about such things. He even knew what the feel of Link’s arms around someone actually felt like. And what those lips of his tasted like. And what his voice sounded like, whispering eroticisms into his ear. With every memory he recalled he felt more sure of himself in this argument, until she spoke again.

Lady Mina looked him up and down and a cruel smile curved the corners of her lips up. “I wouldn’t think that the offspring of butlers would have the slightest clue about the intricacies of love and courtship amongst their betters. The Hero may be as common born as you yourself are but you’re nowhere near his league. Perhaps you should stick to your dusty old books and leave love and other things you’d know nothing about to those who will actually have it someday.”

Shad’s whole body flushed with heat at her caustic and condescending words. He would have responded severely, and probably unwisely, had Lady Mina not stuck up her nose and quite dramatically turned her back to him. She ignored him completely as she continued her whispering and giggling with her vapid sister.

He stared at her back, seething, before turning back to his own plate and stabbing a bite of fish with his fork. It wasn’t the first time he’d been snubbed, and it wouldn’t be the last, but it still stung. That rude, idiotic girl! Neither she nor her simpering sister knew anything about him or his life! He’d experienced more of love with Link in their short time together so far than her cruel and ignorant heart would know in a lifetime!

Shad felt a gentle hand on his left arm and looked up to see Ilia’s warm eyes on him, a concerned smile on her face. She leaned in close and whispered, “Ignore those silly girls, Shad. They may have breeding and money, but their manners are atrocious. There’s nothing in those empty heads of theirs but fashion, boys, and other people’s business, either.”

He took a calming breath and sent her a grateful smile. “Thank you, my dear. I’m afraid I did let their words get under my skin a bit. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this sort of snobbery though, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.” He paused, shaking his head. “Link and the princess! A couple! Can you even imagine?” He kept his voice low. “I can’t believe people are envisioning a relationship between them in their heads like this. They’ve made up an entire story around it! Preposterous!”

Ilia chuckled as she observed the high table. “It’s ridiculous alright. I can see why some people like the idea of it though.” She shrugged a silk-clad shoulder. “I suppose it does seem like some lovely, fated thing. Two beautiful young people, entrusted with pieces of the Triforce, and thrust together into positions of power and importance through the will of the Goddesses. It’s quite a fanciful story. The perfect sort for wagging tongues with nothing better in their own lives to focus on.”

At Shad’s derisive snort she glanced back at him. “Well I’m not saying I buy into it! I’m just saying, I can see where people get the idea and why it’s appealing. It’s like something from a legend.” She cocked her head, smirking. “Of course, they don’t know Link at all, or the princess really either. If they knew them, they’d know that there’s not a chance in the world that anything romantic would ever happen between those two. I’ve talked briefly about boys- well, men, with her. Link is too young, too blonde, and too short for the princess. She prefers them tall and dark, and no younger than herself.”

Seeing that Shad was still looking a little upset she added, “And obviously Link prefers you to all others.” She squeezed his arm and smiled at him. “Who would want a princess when they could have a cute, smart, funny, kind, and amazingly stylish boyfriend instead?” She giggled when he blushed lightly at her praise.

“Well, now look who’s the silver-tongued one!” He teased her. “I daresay you’re picking up the flattery of the court rather well, aren’t you?”

“Learning from the best.” Her smile was bright and her eyes crinkled up a little at the corners.

He smiled back at her and then sighed heavily. He reached up to fiddle with his ascot before remembering again why he shouldn’t touch it. “Thank you for the reminder, my dear. You’re right about people seeing what they want to see. I suppose I’ll just have to get used to these sorts of wild speculations about Link if I’m going to be with him.”

“I’m still getting used to it too. It’s weird to hear people talk about him like this when, to me, he’s just the goofy boy from Ordon I grew up with.”

Shad smiled in response as their next course was laid down in front of them. A natural lull in the conversation came as they sampled the savory spiced meat pie. Shad kept darting his eyes up towards Link. What ridiculous rumors, really. He watched as Link’s face lit up and he chuckled at something the princess said. Link was so at his ease tonight, able to relax and enjoy himself and the princess’s company.

That hot little spike of jealousy flashed through him again, stronger this time, fueled by the outrageous gossip he’d heard. Shad wanted that charming, laughing, handsome man down here sitting right next to him, like they’d planned. He wanted to be the one making Link laugh. He wanted the golden glow of Link’s attention focused on him like he’d thought it would be that evening. He wanted to see Link’s eyes turn dark with desire when he whispered little details of his fantasies from the morning into the hero’s ears.

Princess Zelda’s laughter filled the room again and Shad suddenly became very conscious of the furrow between his brows. He quickly smoothed out his complexion, taking another calming breath. It wouldn’t do to be seen frowning at the princess, not at all.

What was he thinking, anyway? He didn’t own Link. He was allowed to have other friends. He wasn’t a possession, after all. And he was genuinely glad that Link and the princess were getting along and that Link was having visible success at his goal of befriending her. Shad reminded himself of the very important reasons why they were seeking to befriend the princess.

He took another deep breath, consciously relaxing the muscles in his jaw and neck that had tensed up. He hadn’t even known he was the jealous type, but he supposed he’d never had a real reason to feel the emotion before. Not that he had a real reason now. Of course he didn’t. Link wasn’t interested in Princess Zelda like that. He was just concerned for her.

Bringing his gaze back to the high table, he observed the princess this time. She was quite beautiful, he had to admit, as well as poised, elegant, and regal. Her beauty was not a soft inviting type, however. It was cold and almost otherworldly. Well, it usually was. Tonight she was smiling and laughing with Link, and it brought warmth to her lovely face. Taking in the two of them together, Link had to admit that the ill-mannered sisters were right in one aspect at least. Link and Princess Zelda were both conventionally attractive and they did look good together. Link, dressed in his new gold-embroidered tunic, looked absolutely regal next to her. He did look worthy of a princess, and Shad knew that he was.

His gaze took in the rest of the occupants of the high table. Both the Lord Chancellor’s and the High Priest’s wives held themselves with the dignity and elegance that befitted their stations. Shad knew that both women came from esteemed backgrounds, with impeccable pedigrees. He glanced at the other end of the table, at the royal aunts and cousins. There was only one commoner at the table, and it was Link. Being The Hero Chosen By The Gods made him able to sit up there, capturing the attention of a princess and the entire court.

Shad tried to imagine the future of his relationship with Link. If they were fortunate enough to spend years together, would he be seen and known as Link’s partner the way that the spouses at the high table were? Would he sit next to him at court dinners and other royal occasions? A part of his heart almost burst with longing and pride at that thought, but another part held back, worrying over it. What would people think about their hero choosing a commoner, and a male one at that for his partner? He knew at least two people who would be extremely upset, not that he cared for the opinion of the vapid girls next to him. But how many other people thought that way? How many people would be disappointed that Link had chosen him, a lowly scholar and servant’s son, and would make that disappointment known?

His gaze came back to the princess and he fiddled with a button on his jacket. A hero did deserve a princess, or at least someone worthy of him. Shad shifted in his seat, feeling very much like that he was not that sort of person at all. The cruel whispers he’d heard all his life came back to him then, taking advantage of his fragile emotional state to attack him with their venom. Servant’s son. Commoner. Peasant. Outcast. Bookworm. Nerd. Foolish. Weird. Crazy. Freak.

Something that had been very high and lofty within him for the past day suddenly fell, crashing into the pit of his stomach. This was the reality of dating Link, he realized, at least in Castle Town and at court. Link was a much-loved celebrity here, and an important member of Princess Zelda’s court. Being involved with him meant accepting that part of their relationship would be extremely public. Shad wanted Link more than anything, but could he really handle that? He didn’t know if he could take all the disapproving stares and cruel gossip about how wrong he was for Link. What if Link listened to it? What if… He blinked back tears at the thought as it formed. What if Link comes to his senses and realizes that I’m not really worthy of him at all?

Shad’s troubled thoughts were interrupted suddenly by a spectacular crash at the other end of the room. He looked up at the high table. The princess had leapt out of her chair, and was now fiercely berating a servant who cowered over a tray full of broken dishware right behind Link. Shad watched with curiosity as Link stood, his hands palm-out towards the princess in a placating gesture. He kneeled down and began to help clean up the mess as Princess Zelda took her seat again.

Shad returned his eyes to his plate, taking another bite. There Link was again, being his helpful, kind, and considerate self. He knew that most of his fears were unfounded, and that he and Link needed to actually talk about these aspects of their relationship. Still, he couldn’t help but feel a little forlorn and anxious. He just missed Link. They’d had at most a total of twenty minutes of time together all day. He couldn’t wait until this farce of a meal was over so that they could go back to his place and have some privacy.

A servant cleared his plate and set down his dessert. Shad’s thoughts were disturbed again when Princess Zelda pushed her chair back and stood. She nodded at the court and then turned to Link. He stood up, as did the other assembled diners, and made his elaborate bow to her again. As soon as he rose from his bow she turned swiftly on her heel and strode out of the hall, beckoning for Ada to follow her.

Shad kept his eyes on Link as he sat back down, watching as the hero returned to his seat and picked at his dessert. Shad didn’t think it was very nice of the princess to make him sit by her if she wasn’t even going to stay for the entire meal. Did he have to stay there? Or now that she had departed could he come and join them for the last course?

Shad watched as Link brought his left arm up, palm-out, and stared at it for a moment. His head darted up to look at the doorway the princess had left through. He clenched his fist and dropped his arm back down. Glancing back at the Ordon table, he met Shad’s eyes. Link’s mouth was set in a straight line and his brows were drawn down. He shrugged his shoulders slightly and then sent a small nod and a smile Shad’s way. Once Shad smiled back at him, he rose and strode swiftly out of the hall, using the same door to exit that Princess Zelda had taken.

What in Nayru’s name? Where was he going? Shad heard whispers next to him and tried to tune them out to no avail. Apparently he wasn’t the only one who’d noticed the abrupt departures.

“Oh, Alys, look, he’s going after her, just like I said he would!”

“I didn’t say he wouldn’t, Mina! Of course he had to wait a few minutes. They can’t be seen leaving together yet since they’re not married. Oh, I bet they’re meeting up for a romantic moonlit stroll in the gardens!”

Shad heard their comments and his own imagination supplied him with lurid images of that exact scenario, even though logically he knew better. Was his own mind betraying him now and trying to hurt him even more?! He felt sick to his stomach and put down his fork, his appetite completely lost. His throat choked up a bit, and whether it was due to anger or sadness he couldn’t quite tell. Either way, it meant he held back any retort he wanted to give. Good grief, he couldn’t wait for this interminable meal to be over. Nothing could be worse than being forced to sit apart from Link and having to listen to these two spoiled aristobrats concoct wild speculations about him!

♡❧♡

Shad was wrong. Sitting at home alone and waiting up late into the night for Link to come back from the castle was far worse than what he’d endured during the meal, when he’d still thought that Link would be returning. He hadn’t come back. He’d just left, and Shad hadn’t heard a word from him since.

He checked the clock again, yawning. It was after midnight now and he’d been waiting for close to three hours, trying and failing to work on his notes from their expedition the day before. He strained his ears to hear anything that might be Link walking up the street or climbing the stairs outside. There were no sounds. It was a quiet night, the streets still in the darkness of the new moon at this late hour.

Sighing in defeat, Shad put his notes away and then went into his bathroom to get ready for bed. It had been terribly awkward when the meal was over and he was left waiting for Link to come back and join him. He’d lingered as long as he could, chatting with Mayor Bo and Ilia as he waited. Eventually they’d said their goodnights and retired to their rooms, and Link still hadn’t reappeared. Shad had flagged down Sergi and asked him if he knew of his whereabouts. Sergi had apologetically let him know that he did not and then excused himself to attend to his other duties. Shad couldn’t just roam around the castle looking for Link, or stay in the rapidly emptying dining hall waiting for him all evening, so he’d eventually just gone home alone.

Shad settled into bed, placing his spectacles on his nightstand. He rubbed his face. This day had started out so wonderfully, with their intimate cuddling and kissing in bed. Shad had felt so close to Link, and now, after just one day back in the real world, he felt more distant from him than ever. What could be keeping him? Why wouldn’t he have told Shad he needed to stay at the castle, or sent a note, or, or something?

The stupid tale that Lady Alys and Lady Mina had been gossiping about popped into his head and tried to snare him in its grip. He’s with Princess Zelda. He’s with someone who is worthy of him. That’s why he didn’t come home to you.

Turning over, Shad fiercely hugged his pillow as he tried to force the lying voice from his head. He found himself staring at Link’s empty spot in his bed and he turned over again, facing the window instead. He tried drowning out the cruel whispers with the only prayer he could think of right now, repeating it in his head over and over until he finally fell into a restless sleep.

Please… just come home soon, Link, Shad pleaded in his own mind. Just come back and… I’ll know that everything is okay again.