Work Header


Work Text:

Growing up, the hero of time felt lonely and out of place.

Through his first and second adventures, Time had never known anyone like him. He was older than he looked, and he had seen too much to not be bitter with the world. As he trudged away from a kingdom that may or may not have even existed, the moon safely hung high in the sky and faceless, he fell into a third adventure.

He didn’t know whether or not to feel guilty that he was grateful he wasn’t the hero this time around.

Instead, the hero was an older teenager, a soldier who was trained to fight in this war, something Time wished he had been when he began. He was called Young Link, and later, the hero of this era dubbed him Mask for his use of his Terminian… souvenirs. The army was concerned over letting a child fight, but he soon proved himself, and they stopped worrying over him.

He liked the people they met along the way, and he was there to support the hero he had begun to see as a big brother when his pride became his downfall and the war turned. Mask saw this man as family. They were in this together, the only ones like them--heroes chosen by the goddesses. When a sailor hopped in through the portals, claiming to be the Hero of Winds, he called Link “Warriors” and Mask “Babey Time”. When questioned about why he knew things before the rest of them, he’d only say spoilers and wink, and, well, Mask was no stranger to time loops.

So that made it two other people who were like him. They were heroes, pawns of fate, of the goddesses… but somehow, it made Mask feel better. He wasn’t completely alone in this. There were others like him, and that made it less lonely, even when he was sent back to his own time period.

Then, when he grew up and fell in love, he told Malon about his trials as a hero and how he felt so alone despite her presence. She frowned in confusion.

“You mean ya never heard of the Hero of Men?” she asked.

Time stared at her for a long time.

“What?” he asked.

“The Hero of Men,” Malon reiterated. “Or the Hero of the Skies?”

He continued staring at her, and she sighed, dragging him inside the house. She instructed him to sit on the floor before the fireplace and disappeared into another room, and when she returned, she held two books in her hands.

“I can’t believe you’ve never heard of the Hero of Men or the Hero of the Skies,” she said, a fond smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Ya wanna know more folks like yerself? This is the best I can do fer ya.”

Then, she began to read. Bits and pieces of the Hero of the Skies’s adventures felt unrealistic to Time, personally, but considering what he himself had been through, he could give the stories some credit. They were written when Hyrule was founded, after all, and there was too much time for those stories to become romanticized. The love triangle with his friend and the first queen, the reincarnation of Hylia, was odd but cliche, and while defeating a literal god was quite the feat, even for a hero, something about it rubbed Time the wrong way. The Hero of the Skies had a story of righteousness, of morals and foundations and everything that made a hero ideal, and there was no such thing as an ideal hero. Besides, those stories might have been made up to create a role model for children. Malon didn’t seem to put much stock into them, either.

The Hero of Men, though? Oh, that was a whole different story. He began his first adventure as a child, interacting with the helpful little fey who lived with the very hylians who couldn’t see them, and immediately, Time felt a connection. Another child hero, perhaps even younger than Time had been when he first left the forest, all to save his friend. The boy went on to forge a sword with the four elements, said to multiply his strength by four, even if it shattered his soul. He fought to save Hyrule not once, not twice, but three times, and in the end, he defeated the evil of his time. For good. He didn’t seal it away. He killed it. He succeeded.

And Time began to look up to this mysterious hero who had come centuries before himself.

Time liked the stories about the Hero of Men. He struggled, he had his own pains, but he came out of it alive and was said to have made a happy life for himself afterward. Every time he asked Malon to take out that book again, he felt like a child, filled with naivety and pure hope and joy, and he found he really didn’t mind feeling that way, especially with Malon. The Hero of Men’s stories served as a reminder that maybe Time could make his own happy ending, even after everything the gods had put him through, even with the memories that sat in his bags and whispered to him during the quietest nights.

He could make a home, so, with Malon’s help, he did. The ranch became Home, and so did Malon.

And he was happy.

Then, a swirling portal that reeked of dark magic sprung up, and Time answered the call of the hero, if only because he knew no one else would. He packed his things, kissed Malon goodbye, and stepped through the portal.

When he entered the portal, letting it throw him across time and space, he did not know that he would meet eight boys, eight heroes, each with their own story to tell, and the whole world felt a little less lonely.

“We can’t all be called Link,” the man who Time once knew as Warriors said. He would know to bring that up, wouldn’t he? “We’ll need nicknames.”

It was silent. No one volunteered, each hero, each boy trapped in their own internal debates over whether or not to risk revealing their secrets.

“If we don’t want to tell each other our titles, we could always go by what we are,” the shortest of them proposed.

Clad in a tunic of four colors and golden embroidery of strangely familiar symbols, he was so painfully short and very likely the youngest after Wind (who lacked that scar that ran down his cheek, and Time knew with a pang in his heart that this wouldn’t be his last adventure).

“Huh?” asked the one whose left side was wrapped in scars, a strange slab on his belt emblazoned with the symbol of the sheikah. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, if we don’t want to be called by our titles, like the Hero of whatever, we can be called by what we do in life,” the shortest clarified. “For example, I grew up smithing with my grandfather, so you can call me the Smithy.”

“Then I’ll be the Veteran,” said the pantsless one in red, his icy blue eyes peering at each of them suspiciously from under the lock of pink in his hair. “Six adventures has to count for something, right?”

Six?! Dear goddesses, has that boy ever known anything but adventuring? If Time had thought the gods were cruel before, he knew they were now.

“I’m a captain in the army, so that’s who I’ll be,” Warriors said, “the Captain.”

“Ooh, a knight, how fancy,” the Veteran jeered, and oh boy this was going to be fun to deal with, wasn’t it?

“Hey now,” the boy with the pelt on his shoulders and a horribly familiar nose and jawline interrupted, putting his hands up placatingly. There was a comforting twang to his voice. “We just met, so let’s not get into a fight. Y’all can call me the Rancher.”

“Sure thing, country boy,” the Captain retorted, and these boys would never quit with the taunts would they?

“Oh! I’ll be the Sailor!” Wind volunteered eagerly.

“I, uh, I’m a knight, too, but I came from the sky, so I think I should be called Sky,” the one in the white cape with the soft eyes and hair said. Oh, so this was the Hero of the Skies. That damned blade sat on his back, and Time reminded himself to hold his tongue. Like the Rancher said, they just met and didn’t need to fight.

“Sounds good to me,” the scarred one said. “I used to be called the Hylian Champion, but I also really like cooking, so Champion or Cook would work.”

“We can call him the Old Man!” Wind chimes, pointing at Time, who was taken aback at being called out so abruptly.

“I’m not that old,” he said.

“You’re pretty old,” the Veteran snorted, eliciting a round of snickers from the others. “Compared to us, at least. You got anything better?”

Broken, married, horse caretaker, farmer, forgotten

“It’s fine,” he sighed. “Call me what you want.” He looked to the last boy, the one clad in simple browns and greens, the only one who hadn’t spoken yet. “What about you? What do we call you?”

“I-I’m just a simple traveler,” he said, voice hesitant and quiet. His eyes flickered down to his boots. “Rather, I’m a wanderer. I hardly know where I’m going most of the time, anyway.”

“Traveler, it is,” Time decided.

Thus, they were all named. Time wondered if the Hero of Men was in this gaggle of children and young adults, and since he was unofficially elected leader, he sincerely hoped he did a good job, not only for the boys but also just in case the Hero of Men really was one of them, too. He really didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of the boy he looked up to. As for their nicknames, Time didn’t pay much mind to them until Sky offered the Smithy the Master Sword, as he was the only one thus far, apart from Time himself, to not pick up the sacred blade, even if only to pass it to Sky, its original wielder and dear caretaker.

“Oh no, no, no,” the Smithy said, shaking his head. “I’m too small to wield that sword.” His eyes flickered over to Time, who didn’t try to hide his disdain for the sword. “It might try to, uh, ‘change’ me, isn’t that right?”

What? Time hadn’t told any of them about the sleep that the sword had put him under, nor about the pain that came with the time loops and everything he’d done being forgotten. How could the Smithy have known…?

“Not likely,” Time said, not allowing any of his confusion to show though, “but it’s possible.”

“Too small?” Sky asked, confusion flickering in his eyes before he set the sword upright next to the Smithy, who only stood a few inches taller.

Peals of laughter burst through the camp as the Champion scrambled to take a picture with his slate and the Sailor raced to put his hand over the Smithy’s head to get a better estimate of the exact height difference. Sky and the others seemed to have completely brushed past the comments about changing the wielder, instead preoccupied by their smallest member’s height and lack thereof. The Smithy himself was giggling along with their shenanigans, and Time couldn’t hold back the laughter that bubbled up from his own chest. It was good to see the boys so carefree and happy.

But late into the night, the thought nagged at him—how did the Smithy know that powerful swords could change their wielders? The Smithy was young, but then again, youth didn’t mean much in this group.

Then, a puzzle piece clicked into place.

The Smithy had called his sword the Four Sword and claimed it was magical, forged by his own hand. He said its true powers would be revealed only if they must… maybe the sword changed him?

Another puzzle piece clicked.

The colors of the Smithy’s tunic, or rather, the embroidery—Time knew three of those symbols because he had seen them before. They were a little different, but they were still reminiscent, at the very least, of the spiritual stones. Maybe they were elements… elements

Elements, forged, magical sword, a sword that changed its wielder, the smithy’s caution over it—

He’s the Hero of Men.

The realization sent waves of cold fire down his nerves and through his veins. He has been traveling with the Hero of Men, and it was the Smithy. Of course. And to think he had laughed at the height jokes of the very hero he looked up to—or rather, down at, unless the smithy was standing on a table or something.

Time stared into the darkness. He was on watch, so it was allowed, but this was one of his “what the fuck what the fuck” stares, which he wasn’t really intent on showing anyone. He couldn’t be blamed, really. He was having a crisis. He knew the Hero of Men himself, the one who actually succeeded in his quests. He made his own blade, he won by himself, and he was here and being wise beyond his years and supporting others and being youthful and boyish, and oh goddesses this was awesome--

“Old man?”

Speak of the hero, and he shall appear. Time turned around to see none other than the subject of his thoughts propped up on his elbows and blinking at him groggily. His headband was absent, leaving his hair to hang in his face, messy from sleep.

“Are you alright?” Time asked instead. Whenever someone woke up, it was usually due to nightmares, and after the stories he had heard about the Hero of Men, he was sure the smallest hero had plenty.

“M’ fine,” the Smithy said, his voice slow and dripping with sleep. Still, he crawled over to the log Time sat on and threw his arm over the log. “Just couldn’t sleep. Too loud right now.”

It was quiet. Perhaps he was referring to the shattering of his soul. Time couldn’t imagine what that would be like.

“Do you want to talk?” Time asked, his hands itching to lay a blanket over him. Four was still so… so young and small. Why had the goddesses decided that this was the boy who would be their hero?

“Mm, not about sleep,” he mumbled. “Anything else.”


The Smithy eyed him suspiciously, something shifting in his eyes in the dim moonlight, but he nodded and said, “Anything.”

“Then, if you don’t mind, what was your adventure like?” Time asked.

“Which one?” Four snorted, a lopsided smile stretching across his face and making him look even younger. “I’ve had three.”

“Three?” Time asked, raising his eyebrows. “That’s a lot for your age.”

And it was because, as far as he knew, the Hero of Men never dabbled in time travel. Four was sixteen, and he had already been on his three adventures. And now he was on a fourth, and he sat right in front of a man who looked up to him, who saw him in a light akin to idolization but not quite. He called this man a father figure, and he had no idea the impact that had on Time.

“It is what it is,” the Smithy shrugged. “I mean, look at the Sailor. He’s got two under his belt, and he’s even younger than me.” He shook his head, throwing his hair back out of his eyes. “So? Which one?”

“Let’s start at the beginning,” Time suggested, because he did so want to know about the picori, the race he hadn’t gotten the chance to see before he was forced to grow up.

“Are you sure?” the Smithy asked, a frown on concern pinching his brow. “I know how much you hate us going into the whole hero business at young ages.”

“I can’t change your past,” Time said, “and I’d like to hear your story. From you.”

The Smithy closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again, a steady hazel, he spoke.

“...Ok,” he said. “Ok. I suppose it really began when my Zelda dragged me out to the Picori Festival and the winner of the swordsmanship tournament turned her to stone…”

As the Smithy continued to talk, weaving together a tale of minish, of travel, of magic, of a talking hat who he came to see as a grandfather, Time saw the gleam of sleeplessness disappear from his eyes, and as the night wore on and the smithy began talking about the wind tribe and their temple that was part of their city in the clouds up above, his eyelids began to droop. He yawned through earning the element of wind and his mission to sneak back into the sanctuary to add the wind element to the reforged picori blade, so Time patted his shoulder gently.

“Go to sleep, Smithy,” Time said gently. “You can tell me the rest some other time.”


“You’re tired,” Time interrupted, because he’d be damned if the Hero of Men didn’t sleep tonight on his watch. “Get some rest.”

The Smithy mumbled and rolled his eyes, but he crawled back to his bedroll and snuggled himself into it.

“Night, Old Man,” he said, a tone of fondness in his voice.

“Goodnight, Smithy,” Time responded, hoping that the note of reverence in his voice was just in his head.

He did really want to know how the final fight went. Four was a surprisingly good storyteller, and while the stories Time had previously heard were different, abridged, exaggerated, what their smallest member accomplished at such a young age (and he could’ve given Time a run for his money on that measure) was nothing less than impressive. He brushed off his swordwork as being a smith’s grandson and having worked with swords his whole life, but creating and fighting were still two very different things. Crawling through dungeons and exploring a world that was hidden and yet in plain view had to be terrifying for a boy so young, and yet, the Smithy was a well-adjusted individual who could be thoughtful and mature and still take the time to be the young boy he was.

He really was something else.

Time’s eye surveyed the camp as the heroes slept under the light of the half moon. Wind was sprawled over Warriors and Sky, the former’s scarf splayed out over the both of them and the latter curled up and holding onto the sailor’s arm like a lifeline. Hyrule and Legend slept back-to-back, the traveller holding onto his sheathed sword while the veteran hogged their shared blankets, cocooning himself in cotton. Light snores drifted from Wild, who used Twilight, shifted into wolf form, as a pillow. Four, on the other hand…

Each hero had different sleeping habits. This meant that, usually, some nightmares were significantly harder to spot than others. Some of the boys had more nightmares than others, and, as far as Time was aware, their smallest member was one of the less nightmare-prone members of their group.

That was not the case tonight.

Four was curled up in his bedroll, fingers gripping onto the edges tightly enough to turn his knuckles white. His eyes were shut tight, face twisted into a pained frown, and his mouth opened and closed rapidly, mumbling to himself, though his voice was too quiet to hear from where Time sat.

Considering his three adventures… poor thing.

He wasn’t going to just stand by while one of his boys was having a night terror, especially not one that he looked up to. Time quietly stepped over and crouched by Four’s side, putting a hand on his shoulder and softly shaking him awake.

The Smithy’s eyes flew open, his limbs flailing and almost smacking Time in the face. His eyes swirled with color as he sucked in air, breathing heavily, in and out, in and out, and eventually, his gaze focused on Time.

“Old Man,” he breathed, his eyes maybe a little too shiny as they began to unfocus again.

His hands grabbed onto Time’s, which hadn’t moved from his shoulder. His grip was tight and loose all at once, fingers uncoordinated and clammy. Four usually moved with such grace, but here he was with clumsy movements, like a newborn foal.

Whatever he had seen in his dreams, it had to be bad to affect him like this. More than bad.

“Old Man,” he gasped again.

“I’m here,” Time said, voice low but firm. “I’m here, you’re here. The other heroes are sleeping, we’re in Legend’s time period, it’s second watch, the moon is at half phase.”

He set his other hand on Four’s other shoulder. One of Four’s hands moved to grab onto Time’s other hand, forcing him to cross his arms over his chest. His eyes focused and unfocused on Time on an unsteady rhythm, swirling with colors. Blue red green purple green blue purple red blue green purple blue green red--

And as his breathing slowed, the panicked look on his face subsided, and his eyes settled back into their normal hazel, finally focusing on Time for longer than five seconds.

He exhaled shakily, letting his eyes fall closed again.

“Thank you.”

His voice was raspy and weak, and the words fell from his lips slowly like molasses, as if he was struggling to pronounce the words he had just found.

“No need to thank me,” Time answered, tamping down the childish joy that welled up in his heart and danced through his chest at the Hero of Men thanking him. “Are you ok?”

“We--I’m… I’ll be fine,” he said. He opened his eyes again, looking up at Time and adjusting his grip on Time’s hands.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

The smithy didn’t answer for a long time. His eyes trailed up toward the starry sky above.

Then, he said, “I dreamt a bad memory. Someone--a… a dear friend of mine. He died to help me take down Vaati and Ganon. Without his sacrifice, we might not have won, but… W--I still wish… I wish it hadn’t turned out that way.”

“I understand,” Time said, because he did. Termina taught him that much. Zelda, Sheik, the friend to him she never became, taught him that much. The War of Eras taught him that much. What was necessary sometimes hurt, but what happened couldn’t be undone--not without the power of the goddesses, the triforce, and/or time travel, at least, and even then, it might not work.

He waited until Four’s grip on his hands slackened, then drew back and watched the smallest hero sit up, bringing his knees up to his chest and resting his head in his arms. Hunched over and quiet and still hurting from the nightmare, he looked so… small. He was always small--his height was something the smithy would never be ashamed of--but he had always been so strong before, like a sturdy pillar or a rock standing against a rushing river. He was sure of himself, always ready to offer sage advice or unfailing support--he really did fit his title of Hero of Men--but now? Now, he was just a boy who had seen too much, who had been hurt too much, who shouldn’t have had to do any of what he’s done.

And Time was reminded of himself, a boy lost in a world too big and too familiar, a world that didn’t remember what he had done for it, a world in which he chased after the last bit of his old life that he would never find again.

All he knew was that it felt better when he was distracted from his past. He trusted the Smithy to have his own coping mechanisms, but help never hurt.

“You never did finish your story from the other night,” Time said. Four lifted his head and looked at him with a small frown of confusion. Good, it was already working. “You told me about the Palace of Winds, but what came next?”

A small smile tugged at the Smithy’s mouth.

“Really?” he snorted. “I just told you I had a nightmare of a friend dying, and you ask me about my first adventure?”

“You don’t have to tell me,” Time said, though the child within him screamed in protest. He did so want to hear how the final battle against the great wind mage went from the hero himself. “But, in my experience, being distracted makes it hurt less.”

Four rested his cheek on his knee, eyes flickering over Time’s face. Then, he sighed.

“Ok,” he said. “Just let me get my thoughts together… We left off on the wind element, right?”

Time nodded, settling in for the story, and he once again felt like he was a child sitting by the fireplace with Malon, both of them eagerly waiting for Talon to sit down and read them fairy tales.

“Right, so I started making my way back to the palace, but the guards wouldn’t let me into the castle, just like last time, so I had to sneak back into the sanctuary…”

And as he spoke of swords and windows, of statues and light, of Dark Hyrule Castle and the tolling bells, the monsters he struggled to defeat in time, the Wind Mage Vaati and his transformations, Time found himself absorbed in the story. The smallest hero was visibly relaxing, his words coming out smoother and his sentences longer as he talked.

By the time he got to the part where his Zelda used the magic cap to return the land to how it used to be and his companion Ezlo, now freed from his curse, left to return to the land of the picori, Four’s eyelids began to droop, and his words grew slurred.

“Before he left, Ezlo gave me a normal hat,” Four yawned. “I liked the weight of the hat then because it meant I wasn’t alone during my adventure, and since it was a memento, I kept it. I turned it into my hood, actually.” He reached behind himself and tugged the end of the hood over his shoulder until the sharp hunk of metal on the end rested in his hand. “See? I made this weight because it looks like that old bird hat geezer.”

He giggled, sleep drunk, and Time couldn’t hide the smile that made its home on his face. He had put Four on a pedestal long before he knew him, but Four’s stories only confirmed what Time had suspected, had hoped.

Warriors fought the war with confidence, the picture of a perfect hero until his downfall by his own pride. He struggled, he feared, he hurt over it. Wind, lover of adventure he was, never told stories of his first or second adventures, instead summing things up if he had to and leaving out the rest, leaving gaping holes in his stories. Time himself had struggled with his own adventures, and sometimes, he still hurt for his mistakes. On low days, he would find himself longing for the world that did remember him, the world where he befriended the sages, the world where he had once had Navi. Memories of the masks would drift behind his eyes, the song of healing echoing through his mind, and he could feel the nigh unimaginable heat and pressure of the moon pressing down on the earth.

The Hero of Men, as glorious as he was in Time’s eyes, was just like them. He was a boy who was pulled into a cycle of destiny and fate far too young. He was forced to grow up (or shrink down, in his case), fight giant monsters when he could barely hold a sword, and still had nightmares of his own mistakes, of his own trauma (or, as Wild liked to call it, Spicy Nostalgia).

They were equals, Time mused as Four bid him goodnight with a yawn and tucked himself back into his bedroll. Four looked up to him like the rest of the boys did, as a leader and a father figure. Their smallest hero had feared and cried and screamed and fought just like every last one of the heroes, and, like them, he was human.

Time smiled.

(Being equals wouldn’t stop him from looking up to the Hero of Men, though.)

“Who’re you writing to, Smithy?”

The Captain’s teasing croon rang through camp. Others were having their own conversations, but Time noticed some ears twitch at the question. Four, on his part, startled badly enough to jump in place, arms flying to cover the paper in his lap and his cheeks burning red.

“That’s none of your business,” he said, voice surprisingly steady. Kudos.

“Oh?” the Captain pushed, smirk tugging at his lips. He leaned over Four’s shoulder, and the Smithy leaned over to further cover the paper, glaring up at Warriors with a gleam of blue.

“Captain, I may be small, but I will suplex you,” Four warned.

A few seconds later, Time got the privilege of watching the Hero of Men yeet his big brother figure headfirst into the ground over a half-written letter and his own privacy. Time laughed freely as Warriors picked himself up off the ground and Four took his letter back.

“He did warn you, Captain,” Time chuckled.

“Who knew the little guy was so strong?” the Veteran snorted, watching Four return to his spot against a tree trunk to continue writing.

“He’s a blacksmith,” Wind said, a little gleam in his smile that told Time he knew more than he was letting on. Did Wind also have stories of the Hero of Men? Twilight and Legend didn’t, but maybe it somehow survived in Wind’s time. Hmm…

“He didn’t even break a sweat!” Wild giggled.

“Think he could give you a run for your money, Rancher?” Warriors asked, smiling in amusement despite his attempts to clean his face of dirt.

Twilight only snorted and rolled his eyes good-naturedly, but it did make Time wonder. The legends claimed that the Four Sword multiplied the strength of its wielder, so was that Four’s natural strength, or was he using the magic of the sword? If it was the former, Time would be awestruck and utterly terrified at the sheer strength their smallest member could wield.

Oh goddesses, what if he used the four sword and power bracelets at the same time?

Dark Link was in over his head, taking on the heroes of courage all at once, especially with the Hero of Men on their side.

On the other side of camp, Four continued writing his letter, his brow furrowed and his teeth gnawing on his lip in thought. Time did have to wonder who Four was writing to. Who had wormed their way into the Hero of Men’s heart? Probably someone truly special, knowing him.

The small, fond smile that came upon the smithy’s face told him that, yes, this someone was very special, indeed. Time wondered if he’d have the privilege of meeting them.

As Wind leapt to his feet, declaring that Four and Twilight should have a strength contest, Time’s thoughts returned to strength and the Four Sword. Actually, was Twilight stronger than Four? Even watching the boys pull Four away from his letter to arm wrestle Twilight, Time couldn’t tell if it was Four’s natural strength or if he used the sword.

He wasn’t expecting his unasked question to be answered only a little while later.

Sometimes, when they stepped through portals, they wouldn’t land in the same place. They were never alone or far from each other, but, of course, they had to land in the Lost Woods. Time found himself with Four, separated from the rest of the heroes, and now that none of the other boys were here, Time lacked the pressure to stay calm and collected and had to consciously bite back his questions and thoughts of boyish excitement.

“This isn’t mine,” Time sighed, his ears straining for the melody that wasn’t there.

“I don’t even have a Lost Woods,” Four muttered, frowning out into the mist. “Closest thing is the Minish Woods, but I’ve never gotten lost there.”

“Then, maybe… Do you know any stories from the others?” Time asked, eyes scanning the trees and rolling mists around them. “I know the rancher was led through his Lost Woods by a skull kid who commanded puppets with song.”

His ears rang with silence.

He frowned and turned around only to see blank space where the smithy had stood. His eyes roamed the area, searching for any scrap of the smallest hero, but all he could see were the greys of the trees and the whites and pale blues of the mist and the emerald grass that laid soft under his feet.

“Smithy?” he called out. Silence. A little more panicked, he tried again, “Smithy! Link!”

“Do be a little quieter, won’t you?”

That voice was Four’s, but it so painfully wasn’t. Where Four murmured in contemplation or spoke clearly enough to pierce through a storm, this was a drawl. It reeked of that tone Time had learned long ago to never trust, and it was so, so wrong.

He drew the Biggoron Sword and turned on his heel in one smooth motion. The tip of the blade rested mere centimeters from the forehead of a boy with raven hair, blood red eyes, and a face that was far too familiar for Time’s comfort. The boy--the shadow --blinked at the blade. Then, a thin smile slowly split its face, revealing teeth that were just a little too sharp.

“Wow, I just came back, and I’m already going to die,” it said, that sly drawl still annoyingly present. “That’s a new record.”

“What did you do with him?” Time growled. This was the shadow who tricked the Smithy into pulling the Four Sword again and releasing the evil. This was the shadow he killed, so how was it here?

“Who?” the shadow answered, delicately raising an eyebrow with all the nonchalant grace Four possessed but using it in all the wrong ways. “You’re going to have to be more specific. Half the world goes by he, you know--”

“You know I mean the Smithy.”

“Oh wow,” the shadow cackled, arms wrapping around its middle as he began to float, hovering above the damp grass. “Don’t tell me you don’t even know his name! Has he gotten more secretive in the years we’ve been apart?”

“You know who I’m talking about,” Time snapped, his right eyelid tugging at skin scarred tight. “So what. Did you do. With him?

The shadow eyed Time for a few seconds, its lighthearted expression falling into blankness, but it felt like an eternity before it planted its feet back on the ground.

“Nothing,” the shadow said. “Nothing new, anyway. I’m looking for him, now that I’m alive again.” A humorless smile tugged at the corners of its mouth in a way that looked so wrong on Four’s face. “And you just lost him, hm?”

Before Time could dignify that with a response, the shadow spun on its heel and skipped and hopped a few steps away from Time and into the mist, putting distance between itself and Time’s sword.

“I guess we’ll have to search together, then,” the shadow sighed melodramatically. It turned back to Time and offered a sharp grin, a predatory gleam in its bloody eyes. “You can call me Shadow. Who’re you?”

“I’m Link, Hero of Time,” Time said with no small amount of vindication. The shadow raised its eyebrows, though it didn’t look entirely surprised. “The others call me the Old Man.”

“Well,” the shadow said, “that explains a lot. Dink said something about ‘destroying the heroes’ or whatever before I had enough of his monologuing and left--”

“Dink?” Time interrupted. He didn’t know what he expected from Four’s shadow, but it wasn’t… this, a sassy child.

“Dark Link,” the shadow said. “You know, Dink? Yeah, anyway, he summoned me from the dead or whatever to work against Link, but I’m guessing he didn’t get the memo.”

“What memo?” Time asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Oh, you know…” the shadow trailed off, flapping one hand in the air. “Link’s braincell and I became friends, I shattered the dark mirror to take out Vaati for him so he could deal with Ganon, me finally doing something for myself, helping Link and all that, the good kush?”

“The good--you worked for evil! How good can it be?” was Time’s automatic response, because his last two brain cells were fizzling. “What do you mean, his brain cell was your friend?”

“...He didn’t tell you?”

From anyone else, Time would have heard that as dismay, as hurt, as something maybe even akin to betrayal, but this was the shadow, and the thin, sharp smile on its face said otherwise. There was only amusement twinkling in those bloody eyes.

“Oh, how fun!” it snickered. “I can’t wait to find him and see how he plans on explaining this to you heroes of light or whatever.”

“Ok, fine, let’s say I trust you--”

“Bad decision, but go off I guess.”

Time elected to ignore that comment and continued, “Where do we start looking for the Smithy?”

The shadow didn’t answer, instead staring past Time, its grin slowly falling into a wide-eyed stare. A distant roar sounded behind him. Time turned around and felt disappointment wash over him. If he were anyone else, he would have felt the electric sting of panic and fear race across his nerves, but alas, he had been traveling with eight other heroes for the past couple of months.

This was because the forest was on fire. Through the mists shone the warm glow of arson, and high above the treetops, smoke rose not in a column but in a billowing cloud, light grey rolling and folding over itself. Now that he saw it, he could feel the heat from the quickly spreading fire.

“I’m gonna hide in your shadow now, if you don’t mind,” the shadow said, and in the next second, it was gone.

Time sheathed his sword and brought his other hand up to rub at the bridge of his nose.

At least now he knew where one or more of the boys were.

Just as he was debating taking out the goron tunic to go investigate, from out of the brush darted the Smithy, the Champion, and the Veteran.

“Found them!” the Smithy called out.

“Cook, when we get out of this,” Legend spat, “I am going to curse your entire bloodline.”

Wild only laughed, clearly with no regrets even though there was stress in his voice. Four momentarily paused, then zoomed ahead of the others as white wings materialized on the outsides of his boots in wisps of white and fluttered frantically. Then, much to Time’s shock, the Smithy ran directly toward Time, skidded to a stop, and picked him up, holding him over his head, armor and all.

And Time’s brain short-circuited.

Maybe… maybe this was a fever dream. Maybe Four didn’t disappear only to come running back with the Champion and the Veteran in tow with a fire monster on their heels, and maybe the Hero of Men didn’t just pick up Time, the tallest and most armored member of their group, like he weighed nothing more than a glass of milk.

Ok, that had to be the four sword’s power. There was no way Four was really that strong naturally. He didn’t believe it.

Of course, it didn’t matter whether or not he believed it, so he decided that this might has well happen. From his vantage point, he looked over to where the Champion and Veteran were running, their longer legs catching up to Four now that he wasn’t using his pegasus boots.

“So, what‘s going on this time?” Time asked calmly. Yes, he was calm. This was calm. Everything was fine. This was just dandy.

“The Rancher and the Captain decided it was a good idea to have a ball and chain contest on a goddess-forsaken dragon, and then the Traveler and the Champion set fire to the whole damn forest!” Legend spat with no small amount of vitriol.

“Hey, at least it can’t fly anymore! Not with those wings, anyway,” Wild chimed. “Besides, we only started the fire! The dragon made it worse!”

“So naturally, we scattered,” Four piped up from underneath Time’s perch.

Time could tell from the pounding steps behind them that the dragon was catching up. He decided not to focus on that and instead turned his head to look forward, and—oh, lovely. A chasm blocked their path. The dragon might not be able to cross with torn wings (and he would be questioning Twilight and Warriors when they all met back up), but the boys wouldn’t be able to make it over without help, either. Maybe Time could make it across with his hookshot?

“Smithy, you’ve got a roc’s cape, right?” the Vet asked.

“Uh, yeah?” Four squeaked.

“I’ve got a few pegasus seeds,” Legend said as they approached the chasm. “I trust the Champion to make it across on his own since mobility is kind of his thing, monkey that he is.”

“I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or an insult.”

“Yes,” was Legend’s helpful reply. “Use a pegasus seed to get across. It’ll increase your jump distance.”

They soon skidded to a stop in front of the chasm. Four accepted a green, winged seed from Legend while Wild crouched on the ground, eyes closed.

“I can hookshot—" Time began.

“No you can’t,” Four interrupted, popping the seed into his mouth and pulling a cloak of sky blue and cloud white from his pouch. A roar behind them told Time that maybe the smithy was right. “I’ll throw you.”

Wait, what?

Four clipped the cloak in place around his neck as green-blue flames flared around Wild, and a pillar of wind billowed upward, sending the Champion into the sky. Legend, during this, had backed up, chewing on the seed while a determined scowl etched itself onto his face.

“What do you mean, you’re going to throw me?” Time questioned, fighting the urge to gape at Four’s suggestion.

Legend shot off like an arrow, the feathers on his boots flapping and his heels kicking up dust as he went. Wild, up above, pulled out his paraglider and began his flight across the chasm that reached deep, deep into the earth, leaving nothing but darkness down below. Legend kicked off from the edge of the cliff, launching himself high into the air as white and blue feathers materialized into a cape and snapped out to catch the air like wings. Four muttered something about capes and magic.

“I mean,” the Smithy said firmly “I’m going to throw you.”

“I can hookshot across,” Time argued.

“Is it long enough?” Four retorted, blue swirling in his eyes and forcing Time to think about the distances. “Is it? Because I doubt even Sky or the Rancher could get across with their double clawshots. If I throw you, then you can hookshot to the other side.”

“I--Ok. Fine. Are you sure you can get me far enough?”

“Yes,” he nodded. “Mostly. I’ve done this before, don’t worry!”

That only made him worry more, but Time inhaled, steeling himself as Four picked him up again. Four was one of his boys, but he was also the Hero of Men and didn’t even break a sweat carrying Time, armor and all, while running through a burning forest. If anyone could throw him, it would be Four. Twilight, too, probably, now that he thought about it.

The thundering footsteps were getting louder.

Time dug through his bag for his hookshot as Four jogged over to the edge of the chasm, the oldest hero held above his head, and on the other side, Time could see Wild landing, Legend not far behind.

Then, he was flying through the air. The arc upward soon ended, and he plummeted. He had already aimed for the other side and didn’t need to twist around midair to hit his target. Air whistled past his ears as the chain click-click-clicked out toward the other side of the chasm. The hook embedded itself in a tree trunk with a thunk, and the tension of the chain snapped taut, yanking Time back upwards.

The momentum carried him past the tree as the hook retracted, forcing him to stumble across the grass as he found his center of balance once again. He turned just in time to see Four land on the cliff edge, feathers swirling around his shoulders in wisps of wind magic.

“Your pegasus seeds are awesome,” Four said, a grin splitting his face as he looked to the Veteran.

“Yeah, I know,” the Veteran shrugged, not a hint of humility in his voice. A smirk tugged at his mouth. “I’ve only got so many, though, so none of you are getting any more, especially not the Cook.”

“Forget the seeds! I can steal those later--I can’t believe you just yote the Old Man!” Wild cackled.

“I have been through weirder,” Time said, telling himself more than he was telling the boys. He did just get yote by the Hero of Men. The child within screamed wordlessly, giddy with excitement.

On the other side of the chasm, the dragon roared, prowling back and forth across the far cliffside and eyeing them all with a venomous glare. There were holes in its wings, clearly torn but not bad enough for profuse bleeding. It was about the same size as King Dodongo, possibly larger, and ruby scales glinted in the light of the fire behind it. Acidic green eyes narrowed at them, and it huffed a plume of fire and smoke from its nostrils before turning to walk back to where it had come from. Its tail thrashed to the side as it did so, knocking a few trees over in its wake.

Naturally, Time turned so he could see all three boys at once.

“So?” he prompted, giving them his best Glare of Disappointment. “How do you plan on justifying this to me?”

There was a long silence, none of them making eye contact. In the end, it was the Champion who spoke first, sporting a sheepish green.

“Very carefully?”

Bickering broke out between the boys, and Time just sighed. This was going to be a long walk back to the others.

Still, it was really cool to have been thrown by Four like a pot.

As Time gently shook Four awake the night of the dragon incident, he realized that he was making a habit of having late night conversations with him that required far too much emotion for the ungodly hours of night. Still, as the edges of Four’s shadow flickered, Time’s morals decided that the Smithy deserved to know about the shadow.

“Smithy,” he whispered. Hazel eyes blinked open groggily at him, briefly swirling with color, but Time blinked, and they were hazel again.

“Huh?” Four asked, voice light and airy with sleep. “What’s wrong?”

“I should have told you earlier, but there wasn’t a good time,” Time said. “This is the best I can do.”

“What are you talking about?” Four asked, his voice growing more grounded as his brow creased into a frown. He was more alert now. Good.

Time reached down and tapped the Smithy’s shadow. Then, wisps of darkness rose up from the ground, twisting and conglomerating into a vague shape that solidified into the shadow--Four but dark, with black hair and bloody eyes and a soft smile.

Four gasped, eyes widening. Once more, color swirled in his eyes, but this time, it was more of a storm, a tornado of color, and then violet burst forth, covering about half his irises as his eyes began to water.

“Hey, Link,” the shadow greeted.

“Shadow!” Four choked.

He lunged forward, fingers digging into dark cloth and pulling his shadow down into a tight hug. Shadow gave a quiet yelp, but as Four’s shoulders began to shake, the shadow brought its hands up to hold him back. It seemed there really was more to the stories, then. The historians missed something very, very big in the Hero of Men’s adventures.

Four jerked back from the hug then, holding Shadow by the shoulders at arm's length.

“How are you alive?” Four hissed. “The mirror--we thought--you never showed up after--you--”

Shadow covered Four’s mouth with his hand to stop his stuttering, then jerked it back to his own chest with a disgusted yelp.

“You licked me!”

“You’re alive!

Wild stirred with a groan, and from under him, Wolfie lifted his head, eyeing the newcomer. Seeing Time and Four accepting Shadow in their midst, however, the Rancher chose to simply watch.

Time stood up and made his way to the other end of camp to keep an eye on the woods around them. Four and Shadow deserved some privacy. He could hear them whispering, but they were quiet enough to avoid waking anyone up. He, along with most of the other heroes, had assumed that Four had an aversion to dark magic due to his uncomfortable reactions whenever it was brought up, but it seemed that he reacted that way for a completely different reason, and that reason was currently sitting on the ground in their camp and whispering and giggling with Four like a pair of teenage girls.

As first watch came to an end, Time stood up and walked back over to the smithy, his steps almost silent.

“Hey,” he whispered, interrupting their conversation--something about fire. “First watch is over. I’ll need to wake up the captain soon.”

And they both knew how the Captain felt about darks. Even if Shadow wasn’t Dark Link, he was dark magic, and it was obvious in the way his clothes and hair didn’t reflect the moonlight, in the way his bloody red eyes glowed, in the way his teeth were just a bit too sharp and the way he carried himself just a little too different from Four, just enough to make it all feel wrong.

“Fine,” Shadow sighed melodramatically. Four giggled and pushed his shoulder, and he grinned in response. “I’ll pop back up tomorrow night so your friends at least know I’m here.”

“It really is good to have you back, Shadow,” Four said, laying back down in his bedroll.

“It’s good to be back,” Shadow answered. He flashed Four a sharp grin before dissolving into dark wisps, sinking down into Four’s shadow.

Time smiled fondly, then realized that Shadow had already joined the collective of “the boys” in his mind. Oh well. It was bound to happen. He knew that much from the moment Four pulled Shadow into a hug.

He went to stand up only for Four to catch his wrist.

“Hey, Old Man?”

“Yes?” Time answered, lowering himself back to the ground.

“Thank you, for waking me up,” he said. His eyes flickered away, and his hands fidgeted. Then, after a moment, he looked back to Time, a strange sort of questioning desperation in his eyes. “Do you… Do you know what the Four Sword can do?”

Time hummed, then sighed. Of course Four would figure out that Time knew the stories.

“In my time,” he said, “the stories about you claim that your blade multiplied your strength.”

Four blinked, then snorted, his face twisting with his attempt to withhold his laughter.

“I mean, it kind of does,” he giggled, “but not like that.”

“The stories also say it shattered your soul.”

Four’s laughter faded.

“In a way, it did,” the smallest hero said. “My mind will never be whole again. I am whole, but I’m… it’s… the pieces don’t quite fit together, not perfectly, at least.”

Then, he gave a small smile, his eyes flickering toward the moon up above.

”But that does mean I’m never alone,” he said. “See, the Four Sword split me. During my second and third adventures, I didn’t exist, only my parts. They’re parts of me, but they’re people, too. Green, Blue, Red, and Vio.”

“Vio?” Time blurted out despite the shock of the rest of what Four was telling him.

“He didn’t want to be called Violet because that’s a girl’s name.”

A laugh burst its way out of Time’s mouth, despite his best efforts. In the background somewhere, Wild stirred in his sleep, and Legend and Hyrule shifted, their snores quieting just a bit.

“So, yeah,” Four said, the whisper of a laugh in his voice. “I’m strong because I’m never alone, and I have people to trust.”

“You’ve got your own support group, all up here,” Time said fondly, tapping the Smithy on the forehead. Four giggled, once again looking like the child he was. “Now, get some sleep. I’ve run over into second watch by almost three minutes now.”

Four rolled his eyes but tucked himself back into his bedroll. The next morning, the Smithy had bags under his eyes and a lull in his gait, but he was happy. The boys looked to him questioningly, concerned for his well-being, and Wild even handed over a couple of his honey candies, but in the end, they backed off. Four was happy, and they trusted him to know his own limits because, despite his age and his size, he was the most level-headed out of all of them.

Four heads were better than one, after all.

Then, as they settled down for camp that evening and the sun began to set, Four stood up, drawing attention to himself, and he smiled.

“Everyone,” he said, “there’s someone I want you all to meet.”

Home was the smell of fresh apples and the clean spring breeze rolling through Hyrule Field. Home was the warm sunlight shining down on his face and the soft nuzzle of affectionate horses. Home was hard work and open arms, siren songs and red hair and love that shone brighter than the fires of Death Mountain.

After months on the road, leaves painted the colors of fire fell from their branches and dulled to brown and grey and crumbled away into compost into dirt. Air grew cold, carrying an iciness that chilled them to their bones on the worst of days, and depending on where they were, they trudged through snow that rose past their ankles, threatening to fall into their boots or half-freezing their smaller members (and the Veteran, for his refusal to wear pants). The sun shone warmer and brighter and longer, melting away the snow and banishing the icy cold bite from the air. Green sprang back up from the ground under their perpetually moving feet, flowers blooming under trees and across fields, and finally, finally, Time was home.

He got to introduce the boys to Malon, who took to them instantly. Twilight was awestruck by her, confirming Time’s suspicions that the boy knew they were related. As Four politely offered a shallow bow as greeting, Time bit back a snicker. Malon would love to know that they had the Hero of Men staying under their roof.

“You know,” Time said as he let himself relax into the cotton sheets of the bed he shared with Malon, “our descendant isn’t the only one I wanted to tell you about.”

“You’ve been goin' on about two secrets in yer letters, dear,” Malon said, a soft smile on her lips. She settled down on the mattress, pressing herself into his side, and they fit together like puzzle pieces, warm and comfortable.

“Remember those stories you told me about the Hero of Men?” Time asked, a grin spreading across his face.

Malon propped herself up on her elbow, eyes widening, and Time’s grin got bigger. The child inside him giggled with barely contained excitement.

“Which one?” she gasped, her emerald eyes twinkling in the candlelight. “Which one is the Hero of Men?”

Time chuckled, his inner child pitching his laugh a little higher than normal.

“The Captain?” she questioned, her voice pitching into an excited whisper. “Or the Veteran? The--”

“The Smithy,” Time said, and he bit back the laugh that bubbled up in his chest at the look on her face as the puzzle pieces clicked together. He wondered if he looked like that when he figured it out.

“He’s so young!” Malon whispered, her brow pinching in concern. “And small! He’s certainly strong, having worked on horse shoes all day, but--”

“He’s strong in more ways than physical,” Time said with a small smile. Four was never alone, after all. Four was four, four tracks of thought to bounce off of, four hearts to balance each other, four sets of open arms and ready ears should he need them, and, of course, he always had his shadowy friend.

(Time suspected that Shadow had hidden in Four’s shadow for the trip to avoid not only the bright spring sunshine but also farmwork. He’d let it slide this time.)

“He’s small, but he’s strong, Mal,” Time hummed. “He’s so very strong and so… balanced. He’s been shattered, but he put himself back together, and he grew from it.”

“Yer all strong,” Malon said, a soft smile resting on her lips. “Yer heroes, and yer all alive and happy--I saw you boys out there all day. You’re all hurt, but you still find the will to live.” Her smile widened in fondness. “I think… I think he fits right in.”

Time smiled back.

“I think so, too.”