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Love Thy Enemy

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Wind rustled through the grassy plain as Link crouched down, one slender finger dipping down and testing the dark stain that marred the ground his feet with the light touch of a graceful fingertip. He frowned slightly when his skin came back wet and red with spilt blood. Rubbing his forefinger and thumb together, the youth contemplating the tackiness of the vital fluid, trying to decide how old the blood trail was, but it was too fresh to tell anything exactly. Ganondorf could have passed this way ten minutes ago or two. All Link was sure of was that his quarry was close.

Standing, the blonde hylian clicked his tongue to Epona, signaling the horse to follow behind him as he started off again, sharp blue eyes studying the way forward for any signs of passage. Ganondorf couldn't have gone far in his condition. The teen could hardly believe the King of Thieves had escaped the battle after receiving such an injury. It had been so bad. So much blood.

A shudder ran up the youth's spine at the thought of that final grievous wound. That one horrific moment had been burned into Link's memory forever. He had killed before in the heat of battle, but it had never been so intimate before. It had never been like that. He remembered the sudden shock of, after such a long, hard fight, landing that one decisive blow; the sickening feel of his sword sinking into his opponents chest then the sudden give as the blade burst out Ganondorf's back... And the hot gush of blood splashing against his skin. Link had been so shocked he had almost let the sword hilt slip from his fingers as the man stumbled back with a deep, pained groan, the blade sliding out of the mortal wound. The young warrior remembered staring numbly as the gerudo dark hand clutched weakly at the wound, blood dripping from his lips. How the man had not collapsed then was a mystery to Link. Instead, there had been a sudden, blinding flash and by the time the stars faded from the hylian's eyes Ganondorf had disappeared from the field of battle, leaving only a dark trail of blood behind.

Link swallowed hard on the nausea that coiled in his belly at the remembrance of those final moments of battle. He had no idea how Ganondorf had managed to stay on his feet let alone run. The teen had left Princes Zelda and Midna to track the Dark Lord, knowing it would be dangerous to let such a man simply disappear to possibly recover and cause more havoc again. But he had never killed anyone in cold blood before and was not sure he would be able to do so now, even after all that the Gerudo King had done. Still that was a problem for later. First he had to find the man. Alive or dead, he had to know the Dark Lord's fate. Some small part of him just had to know, driving his search insistently onward, over the grassy plain.

Link's brow furrowed in confusion as he paused for a second to scan the landscape before him with a frown. The blood trail was thinning, but because his quarry had managed to slow the bleeding or because the man didn't have much blood left the youth was unsure. Where did the gerudo think he could run to in a desolate place like this anyway? Link wondered, surveying the desert grassland that seemed to stretch on for miles in all directions, the horizon marred only by the occasional tree or high, rocky plateau. There were no villages or towns nearby. No safe haven to use for rest and recovery. It simply didn't make sense. Even a magician as skilled as Ganondorf couldn't hope to heal a wound like that quickly and while on the move. Recovery like that would take time and the man would have to stop and hole up somewhere, but where? Where could he possibly go?

Questions unanswered, Link started off again, his mind a whirling pool of uncertainly and confusion. None of this made any sense at all. Why did Ganondorf even fight them in the first place. Link knew the man was trying to bring the pieces of the triforce together, but why? To what end? He just didn't have enough information to make sense of anything and that frustrated him to no end. And to add to that frustration the blood trail suddenly disappeared.

For one, brief instant Link froze, expecting to see a collapsed body somewhere close. An injured Ganondorf could possibly be even more dangerous than a healthy one, but there was nothing in sight. No sign of passage at all.

Links eyes narrowed and he scanned ahead suspiciously, pacing forward a few steps, but there was still no indication of a trail. Before this he had been following drips of blood and the trampled tall grasses, but it seemed Ganondorf had come to his senses and hidden his passage with magic. Or he was hiding somewhere close by, waiting in ambush. Either scenario would have been less than ideal for an ordinary warrior, but Link was far from ordinary. A small smirk twitched the corner of the youth lips up as he scanned the way ahead one final time. Sorcerers often relied too much upon their magics to get them out of trouble. They often forgot the little things magic couldn't do. In this case, magic might have been able to hide the signs of the gerudo's passage from sight, but had the weakened, disoriented man thought to hide his scent?

Taking a deep breath, Link sent the mental command that had been the Twilight Princess's parting gift to him; a magical command that would allow him to turn into his wolf-form at will without the use of the Shadow Crystal. The shift started immediately and Link gritted his teeth as he slid into the canine form, the feeling still unpleasant but bearable, especially when one took the benefits into account.

Link sighed out the breath he had been holding and shook himself, settling into the wolf's body before taking a deep whiff of air. Instantly, Ganondorf's scent trail came to him, marking the man's passage as plainly as a neon arrow pointing the way. The gerudo had not stopped to hide or try an ambush, but rather gone forward through the grass, still trying to escape. Link snuffed at the trail again, testing to see how long ago the man had passed this way. The scent was still strong. His quarry was close.

Padding forward through the grass, Link closed the gap quickly, Ganondorf's scent strengthening with every passing minute, but still the youth could not hear nor see any sign of the man close by. As a wolf, the hylian's nose also caught the telltale tang of magic in the air, making him want to sneeze, but it was a frail, weak thread, almost too feeble to even be called a spell. The Thief King had to be near death to have cast such a frail little thing, but then how was the man still moving? With such blood loss he should have collapsed ages ago. Despite the confusion that plagued Link at such impossibilities the boy felt a thread of tension easy from him as he realized there was no way the gerudo would be able to leave any magical traps in such a weakened state. Within that in mind, the hylian picked up his pace, bounded forward freely as he followed his nose.

The scent trail lead Link across the desert grassland, farther then he would have thought possible, then suddenly the tall grass parted and the wolf's momentum almost pitched him forward into a deep canyon. Link backpedaled frantically, his right front paw slipping off the sheer cliff, knocking a few pebbles loose to clatter off the edge before he managed to stop himself short and pull himself back from the rocky gorge.

Panting roughly, his tongue lolling out as adrenaline spiked his blood, the wolf peered curiously over the edge of the canyon into it's depths, but he couldn't make out anything. Dust swirled about in the wind that sliced through the rocky chasm, obscuring his view and stinging his eyes. He couldn't see the bottom of the yawning gap or even it's far side. And, to make matters worse, the scent trail had split. It went off to his left and it also went down, which didn't make sense. How could one man make two trails? Link huffed in irritation and set out to figure out this strange conundrum.

A few precious moment of searching brought Link to a hidden goat-path that switchback down into the depths of the canyon and Ganondorf's scent was all over it. It was so strong the youth had caught the scent from straight below him on the first switchback as well as from the entrance of the path, causing the illusion of two trails. The man had definitely gone down into that dusty canyon, but for what reason? It was just more desert as far as Link was concerned.

Snorting dust from his nose, the wolf started down the steep goat-tract, thanking the goddesses that Midna had gifted him with the power to transform into a wolf at will. He couldn't imagine trying to manage such a traitorous path on two legs, which was probably why Ganondorf's scent was so strong here. The man had literally drug his shoulder along to canyon wall to stay on the trail. How the Thief King hadn't just pitched over the edge in his weakened state was a mystery to the hylian.

The sudden sound of rocks grinding against one another behind Link made his ears flicked back in alarm and his head whipped towards the sound. Had Ganondorf somehow gotten behind him? But it was only Epona, the horse taking the goat-trail with surefooted ease. The youth smiled inwardly, thanking the stars for granting him such a magnificent steed, before turning his attention back to the task at hand.

Two switch-backs later, the dust thankfully cleared from the air and Link froze, his eyes widening in wonder as the bottom of the canyon came into view. A lush, forested landscape lay not 50 feet below him hidden within the canyon's depths. It was a hidden oasis in the middle of a dead, dry land. Link could just make out the river that made all this green possible shining through the thick leave of the trees. How had Ganondorf known this was here? Duh, he was a gerudo. Sand flowed through his blood. Of course a child of the desert such as he would be able to find an oasis in the midst of the grassy badlands. Perhaps he had known this was here all along. Perhaps he had hidden supplies... But what good would it do him if he was too weak to use them?

Stepping up his pace again, Link took the switch-backs in broad leaps now that he could see clearly ahead of himself. Ganondorf had to be nearing death's door by now and for some inexplicable reason, Link felt urged to fine the gerudo before he expired. The strange desire drove the youth into a run and he raced down the last few feet of the path and onto the soft grass of the canyon floor, following the scent trail with almost feverish need.

The visual trail appeared once more: the lush undergrowth obviously trampled by someone's stumbling, uneven gait and fat droplets of crimson blood contrasting with the emerald green vegitation. Link quickly called up the mental command that shifted his form back into that of a hylian. Stumbling back onto two feet, the youth quietly drew his sword, the naked blade flashing in the dull sunlight, clouded by the dust that swirled around the mouth of the canyon. The tracks spoke to teen, telling him his prey was weak, nearing collapse. It would not be long now. But then what? What would he do when he found Ganondorf? Would he kill him? Wait for him to expire? Sit by and comfort him as he died?... Heal him?

Link did not have time to contemplate his dilemma. An instant after the thoughts flashed through his mind the trees parted and he saw the end of the trail and the dark cavern that it led to.

The hylian froze, barely daring to breath as his eyes slowly scanned the cave mouth for any sign of life. There was no mistaking the trail. Ganondorf had to be in there, but nothing moved. Had the man finally collapsed?

Cautiously, Link crept forward, his eyes glued to the black depths of the cavern. Details started popping out of the darkness as he snuck closer until finally the shadowy lump of a body laying on the rocky floor came into view. The youth paused for a moment, trying to decide on a plan of action. Ganondorf could be dead. Or he could just be unconscious. Or he could be conscious and weak. Or he could be conscious and dangerous. That was a lot more 'could be's' then the teenage warrior liked. Straining his senses, the boy caught the sound of labored breaths at the very edge of his hearing. So Ganondorf was alive. That is almost a shame, Link thought ruefully; it would have been so much easier if the man had already been dead. But another part of hylian screamed not to let the man die and that confused him, but... but what would his life have been without the Dark Lord within it? Without this man would he have ever gone on his adventure? Would he have ever met Princess Zelda or Midna? Would he have ever even left his little home village?

Link frowned as contrasting emotions warred within him, but he shoved them away. Ganondorf was alive; he knew that much. Now there were only really two choices; wait for the man to die or try to help. Searching his feelings, Link found he couldn't just wait while another person suffered no matter who they were. Well he could, but he didn't want to be the kind of person that would. Carefully re-adjusting his grip on his sword just in case, he moved forward again, quietly closing on the entrance of the cavern and the wounded man inside.

Ten feet away from the mouth of the cave, the teen could make out the form of the Thief King, half sitting, half laying slumped back against the rocky wall of the cavern, his eyes closed and completely unresponsive to the boy's approach. If the man was awake then he didn't seem aware that his position had been found. Not that that was particularly a bad thing.

A few more steps brought Link in close enough that he could make out, half covered by the man's hand, the grievous wound, which was slowly draining gerudo's life away, staining his front and the dark pool of blood under the Thief King as a blacker stain against the darkness of the cave.

Closer still more details popped out of the darkness: Ganondorf had abandoned his armor and thick cloak, which had become too heavy from his weakened body carry, and now wore only the simple black leather jerkin and pants that had been hidden under his heavy chest plate and plated pants. Even his hands and feet where bare, his metal boots and gauntlets having presumably been discarded along with the rest; and the regal headdress Link had never seen him without had been shattered in the vicious battle and lost forever, leaving the man's long, crimson, sweat-stained locks to hang in ragged tangles around his face. In that moment Ganondorf looked like any other man, albeit one from the desert tribes, which was an oddity in itself since the tribes were made up almost solely of women.

Squinting into the dim maw of the cave, Link noticed too what looked like a section of cloth wadded up in the hand Ganondorf held pressed to his wound in an obvious attempt to stem his bleeding, but it did not seem very effective. To still be alive, the gerudo must have slowed the bleeding, but even if the blood stopped flowing from the man's chest, he still had a leaking hole in his back that was out of his reach.

Overall, the image of such a powerful man fallen so low was a grim sight to behold, but still Link was hesitant to approach any further. He knew Ganondorf's long sword had been left behind on the battlefield, but that didn't mean the magician wasn't still dangerous, perhaps even more so now then he would be normally. It would be foolish to underestimate the gerudo's skills now. If he could attack it would be ruthless and without mercy; he would no longer arrogantly play with Link as he had done for part of their batter before. The man had underestimated Link then, giving the boy the slightest advantage, but there was no way the Thief King would do that again. Acknowledging that, Link knew he had to figure out if the man was conscious or not before approaching any further and there was a very simple way to do that.

Carefully, Link placed his foot over a twig and pressed down, letting the dry wood crack under his heel.

The reaction from Ganondorf was instantaneous. The dark man's golden eyes flew wide as the sound snapped through the air and his head whipped towards Link, his right arm already in motion as his gaze landed on the blonde hylian and narrowed, his hand snapping forward, letting loose a silver blur that whistled through the air at the youth's throat.

Link's sword swept up just as fast and he deftly knocked the throwing blade aside, but Ganondorf wasn't done. A wave of dark power lashed out from the man's left hand, but Link already had his shield up... and the magic was so weak that instead of slamming into the boy and throwing him it did nothing more than kiss his shield like a light breeze and rustling gently through Link's hair before it was gone.

Thinking the feeble spell might have been a faint, Link waited for a heartbeat, half expecting a stronger spell to crash over him at any moment, before he dared to peak out from behind his shield to see what Ganondorf was up to now. But the big man had used up all his strength in his attack, the momentum of his throw and casting had overbalanced him, causing him to collapsed forward onto the ground. Lines of pain and fury etched Ganondorf's face as he panted, his fiery golden eyes glued to Link's own sapphire gaze radiating hatred. A growl of pure loathing rumbled up from deep within the gerudo's chest as his lips pulled back into a ugly snarled. Link knew of the wild beast that lay hidden within Ganondorf, seething just under the man's skin, waiting to be let free. The youth could see that creature looking at him now through the man's eyes and he frowned. He had no wish to awaken the magician's beastly form. He had seen the power and destruction that creature could wrought and had no wish to face it again if he had a choice, but he doubted the Dark Lord had the strength to shift right now. Still, it did not hurt to be weary.

"I knew you would find me."

The Thief King's tired rumble broke through Link's contemplation and the boy blinked, his attention refocusing on the physical world rather than his inner dialogue. But now what? He had found Ganondorf. He had the man broken and bloodied, all but helpless in front of him; now what was he supposed to do?

"What are you waiting for boy?" Ganondorf snarled tauntingly, breaking the silence that stretched between him and Link as the teen stared, trying to figure out what to do. "Finish me off already."

Link just continued to stare from where he stood frozen in a half crouch, his shield still up and his sword unsheathed not three yards from the wounded Dark Lord. He felt oddly blindsided by the situation, realizing he hadn't really expected to find the man alive, let alone conscious. And, confusingly, he found he didn't want Ganondorf to die. Not really. So many people had died already fighting this battle and that. It all seemed so pointless...

"Get on with it boy," the Thief King growled, panting roughly from where he lay on his side on the cave floor. "I don't have time to be waiting on you."

Pity flashed within the Link as he watched the gerudo weakly try to push himself back up into a sitting position as he said those words, only to collapse back to the ground, gasping for air as his body gave out. "Dammit," the man breathed through clenched teeth, his hands balling into fists at the pain inside him. Such senseless suffering.

In that moment, Link decided that, if he had any say in Ganondorf's fate then the man wouldn't be dying today. Not on his watch. To just let the gerudo slowly bleed out seemed like such an unworthy death for one who held so much power.

Face set in determination, the youth moved forward, sheathing his sword and crouching down a few feet from the man's side.

"I am not here to kill you," he said softly, but it was obvious Ganondorf did not believe him.

The gerudo snorted derisively. "That's a load of shit, boy and both you and I know it," he managed to say before, his breath caught in his throat and he gritted his teeth, his head dropping forward as he let out a hiss of pain.

"Are you okay?" Link said, realizing how stupid a question that was as soon as the words left his lips.

A bitter laugh choked it's way from the man's throat at the hylian's words. "Don't taunt me and just do it boy," Ganondorf grunted as the bad spell eased and he looked up, his dark face pale and streaked with sweat. "We both know there is nothing I can do to stop you," he panted, sides heaving for air as he studied Link with eyes glassy with fever. "Just do it," he whispered once more, those soft words sounding so terribly tired as he sighed, laying his cheek against the cool stone and closing his eyes.

Ganondorf had given up. Link stared numbly at the once powerful man now lying limply on the ground before him. It was impossible. How could a man of such tenacity and strength just give up like this? It had to be a trick, but he just lay there quietly with his eyes closed, waiting for death. The gerudo had really given up.

"You should be happy boy," the man sighed from where he lay, not even bothering to open his eyes. "You have done what many have not managed. You've killed me."

"You're not dead yet," Link said instantly back. Wherever there was life there was hope. Wherever-

Ganondorf gave a weak rueful chuckle, breaking into the teen's thoughts, and murmured; "It is only a matter of time." Then fell silent.

Link stared at the man, shocked by this sudden acceptance. This did not seem like Ganondorf at all. This wasn't... The youth's face hardened, his eyes narrowing defiantly in the face of eminent death. He wasn't going to let it end like this. Not today. Not if he could help it.

Tentatively, Link touched the Ganondorf's shoulder and felt the big man tense under his hands, his eyes shooting open to glower at the teen above him.

"What are you doing?" the fallen King of Thieves asks hoarsely, his golden eyes glaring accusingly at the hylian beside him.

"Let me see," Link said softly, putting a slight pressure on the man's shoulder, encouraging him to roll onto his back so the teen could get a better look at the wound. He could already see the smaller puncture in the gerudo's back, but it was the front that would hold the larger, more worrisome injury.

"It doesn't matter," Ganondorf huffed, but was too weak to fight the teen's slight push, his body rolling onto his back, baring the gruesome injury. Ganondorf winced at the pain the movement caused him, but then just relaxed back, his body gasping roughly at the air. "Finish me or stop bothering me boy and let me die in peace," he breathed, panting hard, so exhausted from pain and blood loss that he could barely keep his eyes open.

"Ganon you're not going to die," Link said, trying to be reassuring, but the man just snorted bitterly.

"What do you care?" the gerudo drawled, trying to sound bored, but only managing to sound tired. "You were the one who wounded me."

Link ignored those words, sensing that Ganondorf was just being confrontational, and felt the man's forehead with the back of his hand. The gerudo flinched at the gentle touch as if expecting a blow, but he didn't seem to have the strength to pull away.

"I am not going to hurt you Ganondorf," Link said gently at the man's reaction, but the soft words only seemed to feed the flame of the Dark Lord's anger, stirring it up into a blaze.

"What? Are you getting soft now boy?" the gerudo snarled, his yellow eyes flashing menacingly. "Don't have the balls to finish what you started?"

"Mmm," Link said noncommittally in answer, not letting the man goad him as he turned his hand over to test the man's temperature again with his palm. The magician's skin was hot and clammy with sweat, fever already rooted deeply within him. "You're burning up."

Ganondorf jerked his head away with a sneer. "So what," he snapped, his head dropping back to the floor in his exhaustion. "It doesn't t matter now," he sighed, closing his eyes, his head turned away from the boy crouched beside him.

Link ignored the man's words and stood, leaving the cave to retrieve his saddlebags and supplies from Epona's back. The youth took a moment to pat the horses neck affectionately and a few more precious seconds to unbridle and unsaddle her to make sure she was comfortable before leaving her again. He felt guilty for not brushing her down like he should have, but there wasn't time. Epona would have to fend for herself for a little while, but Link knew she could. There was plenty of grass and water around. She would be fine. Ganondorf, on the other hand, he was not so sure of. The man was very weak; had lost a lot of blood. From here on in it would be a matter of speed and luck that determined if the gerudo lived or died.

Quickly the hylian trotted back to the cave with his packs only to fine Ganondorf was laying on his back with his eyes still closed, breathing shallowly. For a second Link thought the man had pass out, but the gerudo's golden eyes flickered open as the boy shouldered his saddlebags off and they landed with a thump on the ground. The man frowned, but said nothing more as the teen knelt by the packs and began to rummage through them, furtively searching for something.

Soon enough Link found what he was looking for and scooted to Ganondorf's side, holding the vial out in front of his so the man could see it was nothing dangerous.

"Take this," Link said uncorking the vial and lifting it to the gerudo's lips, but the man's eyes just flickered from the boy's face to the reddish liquid in the glass and back, his scowl deepening.

"It's a health potion," Link said trying to reassure the King of Thieves, but the man just continued to glower at the youth.

"You're going to make this impossible for me, aren't you?" the hylian sighed, his arm lowering as he realized there was no way the stubborn man was going to willingly accept his help.

Suddenly the Dark Lord's frown turned into a wolfish grin. Link started, blinking in confusion at the sight of the man's sinister smile. Was the gerudo taking some kind of sadistic pleasure in being so difficult? What was the man thinking?! He was going to kill himself if he didn't allow Link to help him.

"Ganondorf take the damned potion," Link demanded, getting frustrated, but the man just laughed in his face.

"You are a piece of work, you know that?" the youth said, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Look who's talking," Ganondorf snarled, his lips curling into a defiant sneer. "Why are you doing this anyway?" he added suddenly, almost as if an afterthought. "What could you gain from helping someone as evil as me."

Link looked away, searching his thoughts as he turned to his saddlebags to gently place the precious health potion back into it's protective compartment before answering softly. "I do not believe anyone is completely evil. Even you."

"So naive," the gerudo chuckled darkly, but no matter how hard the man tried to hide it Link could now hear the pain and despair hidden behind his wicked laugh. Turning back to the man, Link let himself study the Thief King for a moment. The man couldn't want to die but... but his eyes were tired. So... jaded. Link wondered what those eyes had seen to make the person before him so bitter and filled with hate.

Ganondorf's face tightened as the youth watched, though in pain or something else Link could not be sure. "You think you are the only one haunted by prophecy?" the man said suddenly in a soft voice, almost more to himself then the boy crouched by his side before looking back up into the teen's face.

"You know there is one good thing about you finding me," the magician drawled, a feverish gleam shining bright in his amber eyes as that wolfish grin spread upon his lips once more.

"Oh?" Link said wearily, unsure of where this sudden amiability was come from and not trusting it for a second.

The gerudo grinned wider, then struck. "I won't die ALONE!" the man roared, lunging forward, a dagger that had been hidden on his person unsheathed and shining wickedly in the dim light as it swept up then plunged down towards Link's chest.

Despite the startling suddenness of the surprise attack, Link's well trained body instantly flew into action in the sight of danger. The hylian blocked the blade, grabbing the man's wrist in his right hand and, with terrifying ease, overpowering the Thief King who was easily twice if not three times his size, halting the blade in it's tracks with barely an effort.

Ganondorf grunted with a furious scowl and heaved himself up with the last of his strength, bearing down on the blade with his all of his weight.

Unprepared and in fact shocked that the man could even move, Link's grip faltered and the knife jerked down alarmingly towards his throat. The teen reacted to the threat without thinking, his left hand whipping out and slamming into his opponents weakness: his wound.

A fresh gush of hot liquid splashed onto Link's skin as his mind caught up with his body. Shit. Link glanced up in time it see the shock and pain on the gerudo's pale face as the knife clattered to the ground; then the man fell heavily to his side, curled up around the fresh agony of his wound, in too much pain to even make a sound.

Shit. Shit. Shit. Link's left hand and part of his forearm was covered in blood; blood that Ganondorf couldn't afford to lose. Damned fighting instincts, the teen mentally cursed then lurched to the man's side, unsure if there was anything left he could do to save the Thief King, but desperate to try.

"Ganondorf?"

The shuddering man's eyes fluttered weakly at the sound of his name before amazingly opening fully. His skin was gray with the loss of blood, but the fever still gleamed glassily in his eyes as he struggled to breath, the air panting from him in shallow bursts. If his condition had been bad before, it was definitely worse now. Link's experience told him the gerudo was going into shock and if he didn't do something fast the man would surely die. Hell even if he did do something fast the likelihood that Ganondorf would survive the night was very, very slim.

The Thief Kings bleary gaze focused on Link after a moment and he gave a breathless laugh before letting eyes fall closed again.

"Can't... blame me... for... trying..." Ganondorf gasped weakly then his body went limp in a dead faint as he passed out.

Link frowned, his eyebrows drawing together with worry and regret. I should have checked him for hidden weapons dammit! But there was nothing he could do about that now. He hadn't been trying to hurt the man, his hand had lashed out instinctually, but at least with Ganondorf unconscious now, he would be more cooperative then he had been awake. That in itself might just be the slight advantage Link needed to save the Dark Lord's life.

Whirling around, the hylian pulled his saddlebags close, rummaging through the stores for his first aid supplies. He needed to bandage the man's wound and try and get at least a few drops of health potion down the stubborn gerudo's throat and... But he could barely see into the dark confines of his packs.

Link's brow furrowed in confusion and he glanced toward the mouth of the cave, realizing suddenly that the sun was setting. He would need light soon. Momentarily changing his objective, Link felt around his bag and pulled his lantern out. Ganondorf could have used the warmth and light of a fire, but that would have to wait. Link didn't have time to collect the wood and save the man's life at the same time.

Quickly the hylian lit the lantern and set it aside before plunging back into his supplies to find what he needed. He would have to work fast if the King of Thieves was to have any chance of surviving the night...

TBC...

Chapter Text

Hours later Ganondorf was somehow still alive, but the situation was also still grim. Link had managed to stop the sorcerer's bleeding - applying bandages and a choice poultice in an attempt to stave off infection - and had stabilize the gerudo temporarily, but the fever burned hotter than ever within the Dark Lord, threatening to snuff out his life. The man panted roughly with the fire that raged within him, struggling for every breath as violent shudders racked his body. Link hadn't dared to move the man while he was in such a fragile and weakened state, but with some creative maneuvering, the hylian had managed to slip a blanket under the gerudo, separating his feverish body from the chilling floor of the rocky cave. Even now the sorcerer's clammy skin shown dully with an unhealthy grey cast, belying the sickness within, and his hair lay in disheveled tangles about his face with dark mahogany streaks of sweat marring the normally vibrant crimson mane. The one who was the King of Thieves - a fierce, powerful and, many thought, evil man - now looked so tired and warn, his body so crumpled by pain and suffering that it hurt just to look at him.

Link dabbed hopelessly at the Dark Lord's brow with a damp cloth, a worried frown marring his young features. It was amazing the man had lived as long as he had with such an infliction. It was obvious he still held the will to live within him, but the hylian had done all he could. Now all there was left to do was wait and Link hated it. He hated seeing the gerudo suffer like this knowing there was nothing he could do to help. He hated all the battles that had led to this; all the death. And he hated the fact that he had been the one to wound the man so grievously, but he hadn't had a choice. He knew the sorcerer would have killed him before without a second thought, but... But why had Ganondorf kidnapped Princess Zelda in the first place? Why had he tried to steal the triforce? What was the point? For power? For glory? It was all so stupid! Sitting with the dying gerudo now, Link could not see the evil so many proclaimed festered within the Thief King. He couldn't see the criminal that supposedly was Ganondorf. All he saw was a suffering man in pain and it hurt the tender youth deep inside. He had never seen the aftermath of his battles before. Never sat by a dying enemy's side. There was so much pain and for what?!

A soft moan broke through Link's thoughts and the teen blinked, startled, as Ganondorf shifted weakly in his unconsciousness before relaxing back again with a weak groan.

Link's jaw tightened, angry with himself for his lapse. He had just been sitting there, wasting time as he sat lost in thought, staring blankly at the suffering man. There was no time for such frivolity, the hylian chided himself harshly as his hands moved back to their initial task. Quickly, he dipped the piece of cloth he had held in clenched hands moments before into a bowl of cool water before wringing out the excess liquid and bringing it back to the gerudo's forehead. The young warrior dabbed gently at the man's hot skin, doing what he could to help the sorcerer fight the heat that burned within him, but a growing sense of despaired filled the teen's heart as he worked. Ganondorf had been unconscious for several hours and still the fever refused to let him go. If something didn't happen soon, the man would likely be dead by morning.

Link sighed mournfully, dipping the cloth into the water again, before bringing it back up to the man's forehead. A few drops of liquid splashed against the sorcerer's cheek as the youth lifted his hand to rest the cloth against the gerudo's dark skin. The Thief King stirred restlessly at the cool touch, mumbling something unintelligible before, to Link's astonishment, his golden eyes flickered open.

The hylian stiffened, barely daring to breath as the man's eyelids fluttered weakly, his fever-bright eyes staring blearily up at the ceiling. Several long seconds passed before the gerudo's gaze finally seemed to focus then, before Link could even think about doing anything, the Dark Lord tried to heave himself up. Pain immediately flared to life within the man at the movement, ripping a choked gasp from his lips as he collapsed back, clutching his chest with a violent shudder.

"Whoa! Easy," Link said, leaning close to the Thief King and resting what he hope was a reassuring hand on the gerudo's shoulder. "You're going to hurt yourself if you keep moving around like that."

Link felt the magician tense at the touch then his eyes jerked up to give boy a strange look, but it took several more moments until his panting breaths had calmed enough for him to speak. "Where...?" he said hoarsely, his voice thick with pain.

Link's face softened with pity at the sight of the sorcerer's obvious confusion. He could not seen nor scent any fresh blood, which was a blessing; the man had not reopened his wound, but his suffering was no less real. "Do you remember the battle?" the hylian said gently, picking up the damp cloth again to dab at the gerudo's hot forehead as the man gasped roughly beneath him, struggling for air through the pain.

"Battle?" The magician's face twisted in bewilderment, his fever-bright eyes uncomprehending.

The young warrior's own eyes widened in surprise, then he suddenly realized what was so strange about the way Ganondorf was looking at him. There was no scorn or hate or any of the other emotions the hylian was used to seeing in the Theif King's face. The man did not recognize him! Link's brow furrowed as he tried to figure out the implications of such a thing. He couldn't remember the man hitting his head or anything. Could he really have amnesia? Or was the fever making him delirious?

"What... b-battle?"

The gerudo's breathless question startled Link out of his thoughts and he blinked, his eyes refocusing on reality as he realized he had not answered the man's prior question. Quickly, he caught the sorcerer's shoulder as the distressed man tried weakly to sit up again and the sorcerer's eyes flashed towards the boy, his golden gaze puzzled and maybe even a little worried.

"Shh. It's alright," the youth said soothingly as he gently forced the Thief King to lay down again, knowing that the man's life could be in serious peril if he got too excited in his disoriented state. "It doesn't matter."

"But-" Ganondorf started to say, his eyes growing increasingly perplexed as he glanced around at his surroundings, but Link cut off his protest with a gentle touch on his flushed cheek.

"We're in a cave, okay? You were injured, but it's safe now," the boy said, trying to reassure as an alarm flashed over the man's face. "I'm going to help you."

"I don't..." Another strange emotion flickered over the gerudo's face, one Link had never seen before; it was such a foreign expression to see on those strong, dark features that it took a moment for the teen to recognize it for what it truly was: fear. Fear mingled with pain and confusion and half a dozen other emotions that flashed over the man's features, warring for dominance. Link tried not to stare as the fever and delirium let his glimpse a side of Ganondorf that the man would never have allowed him to see otherwise. But even in his astonishment, a small thread of suspicion wormed its way into the teen's thoughts as he studied the man's face. It could be a trick. A manipulation the man was using to make him let his guard down, but... but too what end? He had already stripped the sorcerer of all his weapons and for some reason the youth felt certain the man's words rang with truth. He was honestly confused, hurt and scared and he needed help. The hylian could not deny him that. And this situation also gave Link the opportunity to...

A light sparked in the young warrior's eyes as the thought came to him and he smiled almost despite himself. If he could- That would be perfect!

"Ah-" Despite having been lost in thought, Link automatically caught Ganondorf's shoulder as the restless man tried to sit up yet again. Gently, the youth pushed the gerudo back down as he focused his attention on the sorcerer once more. A small whimper that the man would never have normally let slip escaped his lips as his feverish eyes jerked back to gaze blearily up at the boy. The young hylian had to fight not to stare as those dark features tightened with fear yet again.

"Shh," the teen whispered, forcing himself to smile as he brushed a sweaty lock of the man's crimson hair back from his face. "You're okay. It will all be okay."

Link continued to speak soft nothings to the magician, trying to calm the man as he reached unobtrusively behind himself to his saddle bags with his right hand. A couple pf seconds of awkward rummaging later, his deft fingers found the vial he wanted and he pulled it out as he continued to talk gently to the man, trying to sooth the sorcerer's fears.

"Here," Link said finally, bringing the health potion into the light of the lantern and flicking the cork off it with a thumb before holding it out to the man. "You should drink this. It will help."

Ganondorf's nervous eyes flicked up to Link's face once more then darted back down to the potion before he finally reached out for the tiny vial with a trembling hand. Despite the elation of finally getting the man to consent to drink a health potion, Link also felt sorrow settle heavily inside him at the sight of the gerudo's weakness. Carefully, the hylian wrapped an arm around the large man's shoulders, helping him to sit up slightly before steadying his hands as he brought the potion to his lips. Relief flooded through Link as he watched the injured gerudo quickly drink the potion down in a couple of gulps before letting the youth take away the empty vial, which Link dropped back into his packs behind him as he gently laid the sorcerer back on the floor. A soft sigh escaped the man as he relaxed back, the lines of pain easing from his face as the the potion started to take effect.

"Is that any better?" Link asked softly, pulling the blanket that had slid down around the man's waist back up and tucking it around his shoulders.

"Don't know," the gerudo said, his eyes drooping from the strain and exhaustion. "Doesn't hurt anymore, but... I feel tired."

Link's heart leapt at the sound of the longer and rather coherent sentence, but he reigned in his exuberance and forced himself to speak calmly and quietly. "Then sleep," he said, resting a hand against the sorcerer's brow. "The potion will do the rest." And even as he said the words, Ganondorf's golden eyes flickered shut and he fell into a deep healing sleep.

Link sighed in relief, his shoulders drooping as tension eased from him and he sat back on his haunches to survey the man before him with a critical eye. He knew the elixir wasn't a cure-all, especially in such a serious case, but it would help. Even as he watched the sickly grey caste of the gerudo's skin faded as healthier color flowed back into the man's face, encouraged by the special properties of the potion.

Curious, the boy leaned forward to test the man's temperature with his hand again and the corner of his mouth instantly dipped down as he felt the heat still burning within the gerudo's body. Annoyingly, the fever was still present, but at least the man seemed to have fallen out of the danger zone.

Link's brow furrowed as he considered their current situation. The potion had clearly brought the Thief King back from death's door, but even it could only do so much. Ganondorf's wound had been serious. Very serious. And something inside Link told him they weren't out of the woods yet, but at least the gerudo seemed stable for the moment.

Suddenly, a shiver crawled up the young warrior's spine as a cool breath of wind snaked into the cavern, making the shadows cast by the little flame of his lantern dance wildly upon the stony walls. Link turned to look into the darkness that stretched out from the mouth of the cave, which was cast back only by the feeble light of his lantern. Even though summer still lay heavily upon the land, the waiting autumn was making its presence know through the chill of the night. Link frowned, considering his options. Morning was hours away and much could still happen this night. A fire would certainly help to bring light and fight back the cool night air, but did he dare leave Ganondorf for the time it would take to gather the needed wood?

The youth glanced worriedly back at the dark man who was sleeping soundly for the first time since Link had found him hidden away in the cave slowly bleeding to death. It had been so strange seeing the powerful sorcerer so... so vulnerable. The word was such a foreign adjective to use when describing the Dark Lord that it almost didn't compute, but it also did not make what had happened any less real. Just now it had almost seemed like a different person had been looking out at him through Ganondorf's golden eyes. A person without the Thief King's hate. A person who was scared and hurt and confused and one Link could not bring himself to hate no matter the man might have done in the past. The hylian knew he had to do all he could to save the gerudo's life and dilemmas like this always complicated things. If he left to gather wood, there was a remote chance that Ganondorf could relapse and die while he was gone, but things would be so much better for the both of them with the warmth and light of the fire. Did the pros outweigh the cons?

Link sighed, scratching his head in frustration as he lifted his eyes to consider the darkness again. Indecision warred within him, making him stand and move towards the mouth of the cave. Leaning a hand against the rocky wall of the entrance, the hylian took a deep breath and closed his eyes, listening to the world outside. The soft sigh of wind rustling through trees came to him along with the damp smell of earth and wood. The forest was not far. He would not have to be gone long. Behind him  the boy could also hear the rhythm of Ganondorf's breathing, strong and steady. The man was as stable as Link could ask for in such a situation. This would be his best chance to gather needed supplies. He had to take it.

With one last apologetic look back, the hylian stepped out of the cave and disappeared into the darkness beyond.

TBC....

Chapter Text

Link sat back against the cave wall with a sigh and idly tossed another log onto the fire with a flick of his wrist, making the blaze hiss and spit out a dazzle of sparks that swirled up into the air before disappearing out of sight. The boy lifted his chin to watch as the last spark winked out of existence then he sighed again and folded his legs up against his chest, resting his chin on his knees as he let his eyes fall closed. The Thief King had been kind enough not to expire during the hylian's mad dash to gather firewood, not that it had taken very long. His wolf's vision had thankfully made the task much easier for him then it might have been for a normal person. The boy had even managed to relax a bit after the first few times he had found himself rushing back to the cave in a panic to assure himself Ganondorf was still alive; he had even taken a spare moment to find Epona in the darkness, reassuring himself that she was still well, but then she had always been a horse that had been able to take care of herself.

Link smiled mentally at the thought, relief flowing through him again as he remembered seeing his wonderful steed bedded down in the soft grass near the cave. She had nickered gently to him in greeting as he had stepped from the trees and he had forced himself to take a few minutes and give the sweet silver bay a cursory brushing before his worry made him hurry back to the wounded man's side. Epona deserved more, of course, and he would give it to her when he had the time, but for now he was just happy she was safe.

Shifting slightly, Link settled into a more comfortable position against the rocky wall as the warmth of the fire flowed over him like a wave of sunshine. As stressful as the mad dash might have been, it had definitely been worth the end result. The fire was perfect, burning away the chill of the night and bringing light to the darkness around them. Now, with a nice pile of kindling and wood stacked in the back of the cave, everything was calm and quiet and ever so peaceful. Almost too peaceful.

The teen's eyes flicked open, his sapphire gaze drifting from the fire to the man sleeping soundly beside him and his face softened in a smile. Some might condemned him for his actions tonight, saying that whatever horrible things the Thief King did from now on would be his fault for saving the sorcerer's life, but right now he truly didn't care. The youth was content with what he had done, the feeling warming him more than any fire ever could. With all the fighting, he had almost forgot how it felt to save a life instead of take one. The boy hadn't realized how very tired he was with all of the violence he had somehow found himself in the middle of. He was just a simple village boy; a rancher, nothing more. His life was never suppose to be like this, but then he had been touched by the Goddess so maybe he had always been fated to take up the Master Sword and 'fight the good fight.' As a child he had always dreamed of such excitement, but now... Now he wasn't sure he wanted it anymore. The travel and the adventure, yes - he loved discovering exotic places and meeting new people - but the fighting, not so much. The legends all made battle sound so... so epic, but in the real world it was blood and shit and death. It wasn't pretty and it certainly wasn't heroic; not on ground level. How the poets could have thought something so gruesome could ever be gallant, Link would never know. They had certainly never felt the sickening crunch of bones shattering under their blade or smelled the thick nauseating scent of bloated bodies decaying on a battlefield. The more Link saw of battle, the more he couldn't help but wonder why? Why was this all happening? What was the purpose, the reason, the cause? And no matter who he asked he was greeted by the same stupidly simplistic answer: 'the enemy is evil so obviously they must be defeated.' It was a thoroughly unrewarding answer, but still he tried his best to be the hero everyone thought he should be. And yet at quiet times like this he couldn't keep himself from wondering...

The boy sighed heavily, his head sagging forward and he rubbed his tired, aching eyes with the heels of his hands as he banished the disquieting thoughts from his mind. He hadn't had a peaceful moment like this for so long. He was damned if he was going to spend it worrying about impossible conundrums he'd never have answers to anyway.

Turning his head, Link let his drowsy gaze fall upon the dancing flames once more. Now that he had a nice fire going and Ganondorf was sleeping as peacefully as could be expected, he had nothing to do. He had tried to keep busy by setting up camp, but that diversion had lasted about a minute. Rolling out a sleeping pad and arranging saddlebags just didn't take that much time. Next he had tried to fill his time by arranging the contents of his saddlebags. That lasted another minute. Then he seriously contemplate sharpening and cleaning his weapons, but ultimately shielding away from that thought not wanting to do anything that might make enough noise to wake the slumbering Dark Lord.

Nothing left to do the boy sat and watched, trying to keep himself alert, but it was a losing battle. It had been a long couple of days with exhausting fights, endless journeying, no time to sleep and now with added hours of caring for a wounded man the hylien was running on fumes. His eyelids drooped as the faintly spiced wood-ashy scent and warmth of the fire mingled with his own exhaustion, working together against him until, despite himself and the danger, the youth dozed off into a dreamless sleep.

/\/\/\/\/\

Link gasped, his head jerking up off his knees as he started suddenly awake. For a tense moment he sat panting and blinking at the world around him, his bleary eyes searching for danger, but nothing made itself apparent. Unable to sense even the slightest threat, the youth let out a long, tight breath through his teeth, forcing himself to relax and calm his wildly racing heart. He couldn't imagine what had woken him so abruptly. Maybe it had been a bad dream...

Momentarily satisfied with that answer, the teen stretched his arms above his head, yawning deeply before curling up again and resting his chin on his knees with a soft tired sigh. Maybe he could get a bit more sleep before morning. Just a few more hours... But some small unsettled part of his mind simply would not let him rest. He felt undeniably like he was forgetting something- Oh shit Ganondorf.

The exhausted teen groaned softly, dragging his head up from his knees to gaze sleepily around him, getting his bearings. His searching eyes revealed the fire still burned - although it had died down to glowing coals - and the man still slept. Thank the goddess, the Link thought, rubbing sleep from his eyes with the heel of a hand. Things could have gotten really messy if Ganondorf had woke and caught him in such a vulnerable, catatonic state. He couldn't believe he had just nodded off like that. It was completely irresponsible and yet...

The boy yawned again, his gaze drifting to the mouth of the cave. Night still lay heavily upon the land outside. The way he felt right now, he probably hadn't even slept an hour.

The youth groaned, tipping his head back to run a hand through his tousled golden locks. "Goddess help me," he murmured before forcing himself up onto his feet and stumbling over to tend the fire. He couldn't let himself let his guard down like that again, but damn he was so tired. He felt like he had been run over by a herd of antelope then sat on by a moose for good measure.

Uuuugh, what is wrong with me? he mentally moaned, but he knew already knew the answer. Endless fighting and travelling could screw up anyone and he had been in the process of doing one or the other for weeks. Now all the highs and lows and the stresses and strains had caught up with him giving him an adrenaline hangover that left his both emotionally and physically exhausted. And it suuuuuucked. He was so tired he could barely think and to top it all off his head ached and his eyes ached; hell everything ached! All he wanted to do was lay down and sleep for a month, but he couldn't, not in this company.

Sighing peevishly, the hylian plodded to the back of the cave to retrieve some fresh wood for the fire, cursing his luck with every step. You just couldn't just leave things be, could you? he grumbled silently to himself. No-o you had to play hero, and now look at the mess you are in. What the heck are you even going to do with the guy if he survives, huh? It's freaking Ganondorf! It's not like you can just give him a slap on the wrist then send him on his merry little way when he wakes up. If he wakes up...

Link found his gaze settling on the sleeping sorcerer and he felt shame flared hot within him as he crouched down by the fire to deposit his load of wood. What was he thinking? A life was a life no matter who it belonged to. Ganondorf's past deeds did not make his life any less valuable than anyone else’s.

Link squirmed inwardly, uncomfortable with the dismal track his thoughts had taken moments before. He knew it had been the stress and exhaustion talking, but it was still wrong of him to think such disgraceful thoughts.

The boys cheeks warmed with mortification as his shame deepened. He sighed, adding a log to the fire and poking morosely at the coals until a flicker of flame licked up the side of the dried wood, consuming the offering. He was in a mess of his own making and had no idea what to do about it, but that was problem for another time. Right now he just needed Ganondorf to survive the night; he'd deal with whatever came after later. He just needed to... to focus...

Link's head jerked up out of a doze and he cursed himself again for getting caught in the hypnotic glow of the fire. Shit, shit, shit; wake up! he silently demanded, slapping his cheeks lightly, trying to force himself into a more alert state. You can't afford to fall asleep on the job today, he chided himself harshly. Ganondorf might still die and there's no telling what he'll do if he catches you asleep.

Still grumbling at himself, the youth turned his attention to the man again. Instantly, his exhaustion fell away as his focused sharpened, his blue eyes critically studying the sorcerer's sleeping form. The man's skin color had returned to it's normal, healthy dark chestnut shade and his breathing was deep and regular with sleep, but his face was still flushed and dark circles lay under his eyes, belying the intense strain his body had endured.

Silently, the boy slid over to kneel next to the gerudo and he gently rested a hand on the man's forehead, testing his temperature before cursing inwardly. The damnable fever simply would not give. The heat burning within the man no longer seemed hot enough to be dangerous in itself, but it's continued presence still unsettled the teen. Link had heard a healer say once that a low fever could actually help rather than hurt, but even so it was a sign of an underlying cause and the boy didn't like it one bit. He knew it was entirely possible that the man's temperature was simply stress induced, but Link's overactive imagination immediately went to thoughts of infection or worse. It seemed impossible that such an infliction could have settled within the gerudo with the effects of a health potion working on him and yet... the hylian had to check.

Flicking out a hidden knife, the boy pulled back the blankets that covered the man's broad chest and, careful not to nick the Dark Lord's skin, cut through the bindings hiding the sorcerers wound. With any luck he would be able to change the bandages without waking the man, or so he hoped.

Setting the knife aside, the boy gently pealed back the dressing, biting his lip nervously as the bandage stuck in a corner, but with a slow constant pressure it finally pulled free, revealing the wound and the youth immediately breathed a sigh of relief. The injury was still a bit red and tender around the edges, but that seemed more to do with irritation and trauma rather than infection. Some bruising had also appeared since the last time Link had looked at the wound, but that was only to be expected; after all, the hilt of the Master Sword had slammed into the man's chest as the blade had impaled him, leaving it's mark on his skin. The wound was still gruesome of course, but it had at least scabbed over. The potion might not have fixed everything, but it had done it's job; it had saved the man's life. The teen couldn't ask for anything more.

Hope renewed, Link gently spread a fresh poultice on the sorcerer's wound before re-bandaged the man's chest as best he could without disturbing the gerudo's sleep. It wasn't perfect, but it would hold for now.

Turning away, the hylian settled his medical kit back into his saddlebags, relief calming his mind. Yes, he was tired and stressed, but he was doing good work here and-

"Tuk nanu kanna..."

Link started, his head whipping around as the sound of Ganondorf voice broke the silence of the night, but his eyes found the man asleep, only...

The gerudo shifted restlessly and murmured something else unintelligible in his sleep before settling again.

Link frowned and slid over to crouched by the man's side again, his sharp eyes studying the gerudo, uncertain of what to make of this new symptom. Was the sorcerer just dreaming or was the fever making him delirious again? The boy had been certain the potion would have taken care of such things but... But maybe Ganondorf had been initially worse off than he had thought. A health potion was geared to take care of the most serious problems first, but what if-

The man twitched again and mumbled something more, but Link could not catch the words. They seemed strange. He couldn't-

Suddenly the sorcerer cried out, his head jerking from side to side in distress, starting the youth from his thoughts. Worried the man might hurt himself, the teen clasped his shoulder gently, silently trying to comfort the gerudo's disturbed dreams.

Golden eyes flashed instantly open at the touch, glinting like drops of molten metal in the flickering light of the fire as the body beneath Link's hand tensed. The boy only had a second to gape in shock at the sight, then the next instant he was flat on his back, staring dumbly up at the sorcerer looming menacingly above him on all fours. For a moment the teen's mind couldn't comprehend what was happening, his disbelief and exhaustion slowing his reactions. A half dead man couldn't really be jumping him, could he? But then this wasn't just any man. This was Ganondorf. This was the Dark Lord, King of the desert tribes. But by the time the thought had solidified in the boy's mind it was already too late. The man had trapped the youth's arms between their bodies, pinning him helplessly to the floor.

TBC...

Chapter Text

Link flinched back as Ganondorf leaned into him, the teen's eyes squeezing shut as he instinctually braced for a blow, but the attack never came. Instead, through the darkness behind his eyes the boy felt the soft warmth of someone's breath upon his face then gentle lips found his own, trapping them in a kiss.

Link gasped, his eyes flying wide as his mind blanked in shock. Time seemed to slow for an instant, his perceptions narrowing until all that filled his world was the feeling of someone's hot lips on his, kissing him so tenderly for the first time. Then the hylian's brain rebooted and a fresh lance of shock flashed through him as he realized it wasn't just 'someone' kissing him. Ganondorf was kissing him! Oh shit; oh fuck!

"Mmmmf!" The youth kicked out automatically, but his legs found nothing but empty air. The man was kissing him. Kissing him! What the HELL?!

The hylian tried to lash out, but the gerudo was pressed too close for him to punch. With his arms trapped between his own body and the Dark Lord's, all the youth could do was grip at the man's shoulders and try to push away, but the boy had no leverage and the Thief King didn't even seem to notice his feeble efforts, the sorcerer's kiss doggedly following his lips even as he tried to struggle away.

Oh goddess, ooooooooh goddesss this was not good. Sharp, jagged breaths puffed from the hylians nostrils as he tried to fight the panic bubbling up within him. He needed to think, but he couldn't. All his focus was glued to the alien feel of warm, wet lips pressed into his. What was Ganondorf thinking? The man could have killed him ten times over by now. What was he waiting for? Was this some kind of twisted revenge? Was the man planning on humiliating him before killing him?

Link's eyes squeezed shut and he whimpered into the other man's mouth, desperately trying to squirm away as adrenaline pounded hot through his blood. This couldn't be happening. This wasn't real. It had to be some kind of trick. He could already feel phantoms of the man's hands wrapping around his throat to choke the life out of him. It certainly wouldn't be the first time someone larger had tried to strangle him to death. He had to get away. He had to-

The kiss broke off abruptly, leaving the quivering boy panting for breath. This was it. The man was going to kill him. He had made a stupid mistake; he had underestimated the wounded sorcerer and now he was going to die.

But Ganondorf simply turned his head and whispered into the hylian's ear.

Link froze, expecting a threat, but the soft words that came to him didn't make sense. They sounded gentle, almost tender and they were utter gibberish- no... There was a pattern, a purpose to the sounds. The teen's brow furrowed as he tried to comprehend. Whatever the man was saying sounded important, but he couldn't think past the panic roiling inside him.

Suppressing a shudder, the boy bit his lip and forced himself to control his frantic breaths, calming the panic writhing within him. Then he started as calm brought clarity. The words coming from the sorcerer were not some fever-induced gibberish, but rather the soft musical cadence of ancient tongue of the gerudean people.

Link's eyes widened in astonishment as the realization hit him, momentarily stalling his panic. Only a handful of outsiders had ever heard a word or two of the desert tribe's exotic language and most of that was through the casting of traditional gerudean spells. No one, no one outside of the tribes had heard the full flowing sentences of a fluent speaker in centuries. The boy hadn't even been sure anyone even still knew the language; well, anyone normal. From what little Link knew, the religious gerudean masters of ceremony were still fluent in the old tongue and now it was obviously their kings were too. But before the hylian had a chance to think any more on his revelation, Gananorf buried his face into his neck, kissing his throat before lifting his chin to nip gently at the boy's earlobe.

A soft cry escaped the teen's lips and he writhed under the foreign attention, his face flushing scarlet in mortification. What the hell was going on here? Ganondorf would never have knowingly spoken in such a way to him - to an outsider. And then there was all this kissing.

Link moaned softly as the man continued to kiss and lick and nip at his neck in incredibly embarrassing ways. The sorcerer couldn't really... The hylian's mind raced for an answer that made sense. Am I still asleep? Is this some kind of messed up dream? Goddess, the man was pressed so close; he couldn't breathe. He couldn't get away. The heat of the man's skin seemed to sink into him, making it hard to think. The boy's world seemed to be made up of the press of the man's body and feel of the gerudo's hungry mouth against his flesh. He kept expecting to wake up from this horrible nightmare in a panting cold sweat, but instead the kisses simply lingered on his skin, wet and hot and very real. The teen's blush deepened as he squirmed, uncomfortable with how the sorcerer's actions were making his own body react. A strange, warm tightness was growing within his belly threatening to-

Without warning the Thief King suddenly leaned back, freeing Link's trapped upper body. The quivering boy gulped at the air, his arms automatically crossing defensively over his chest as he gaped up at the man, trying to make his shocked brain function enough to figure out what the hell was going on. He half expected the dream to turn, the sorcerer to become cruel, but gerudo simply smiled down at him and said something else in that soft ancient tongue before lifting a hand to the boy's face. The hylian flinched instinctively as the man's hand gently cupped his face, a thumb stroking over his cheek as the Dark Lord spoke again.

Link's brow furrowed in confusion, bewildered by the gerudo's action, then he suddenly realized; he wasn't the one dreaming, Ganondorf was! The sorcerer's eyes were glazed, focused on something only he could see, his mind lost in a fevered fantasy or... maybe it was a memory?

The hylian blinked, levering himself up on his elbows to peer curiously up at the gerudo's face. Tentatively he lifted a hand and, after a moment of hesitation, gently brushed his fingertips over the man's cheek. Ganondorf sighed and leaned into the timid touch, his eyes falling closed in what could only be described as bliss.

Cocking his head to the side, Link considering the sorcerer who was all, but nuzzling his hand. "You're not seeing me are you?" The bemused words escaped Link's lips before he had a chance to stop them, but the man's only reaction was to smile, his glassy eyes opening to gaze tenderly down at the boy. Who are you seeing? was the only thought the hylian had time for before the sorcerer leaned forward again and, cradle the back of the boy's neck in a large hand, he captured the teen's lips in another kiss.

Immediately, Link started to jerk back, but then his froze, realizing he didn't dare do anything that might break the illusion that had enthralled Thief King's feverish mind. His hips were still trapped under the sorcerer's body and if the man truly woke and recognized him in his present position, he would be in serious trouble. Lucky for Link, his 'opponent' did not consider the current situation a fight, but how quickly could that change? The youth knew he had to play into the Dark Lord's fantasy until he at least managed to get an upper hand. Of course, now that the boy could actually think straight again, he realized he could easily slam a knee into the man's balls or bite the man's tongue through the kiss or simple shifted to his wolf and rip Ganondorf to shreds, but all that seemed a bit excessive. The Thief King wasn't actually hurting him so he couldn't reasonably justify attacking the sorcerer just to get away especially when the gerudo was already in such a weakened state. The sorcerer's actions did not even seem to be malicious in character. He wasn't trying to humiliated Link, rather his attentions seemed to reflect the honest affections he had for whoever he was seeing in his mind's eye instead of teen. With that in mind, the boy resolutely decided he wasn't going to start a fight if he didn't have to. He could deal with these... affections if it would bring a peaceable resolution and so far that seemed likely. He just needed to control himself a bit longer...

Clenching his fists, the teen closed his eyes and let the gerudo have his way with his mouth, trying desperately not to pull away. Luckily, it wasn't a rough or even a passionate kiss, but instead a rather tender one; not that Link had much experience in such things. Still it seemed more loving the lusty. The man hadn't even tried to grope him yet. Link's face flushed at the thought. Oh stars what if Ganondorf...? What if he really...?

The Dark Lord's lips suddenly pulled back from his mouth, leaving the boy panting for air, only to reappear kissing along his neck once more. A shuddering gasp escaped Link at the intimate touch and he felt an odd little trill race through him, stealing his breath away. Link's eyes snapped open, his cheeks blushing scarlet with embarrassment at the impure response of his body. What the fuck am I doing? he thought, mortified. I can't be enjoying this! Ganondorf could wake up - really wake up at any second and snap my neck! The hylian swallowed hard. He needed to take action now, before something really uncomfortable happened.

Heart pounding, the boy tentatively reached up, resting his hands on the big man's shoulders. He felt the sorcerer tense and pull back at the touch and the teen half expected to see the normal fury and hate suddenly cloud the man's face, but instead man smile down at him with such warmth Link felt his heart skip a beat. Then the boy noticed the tears glistening on the gerudo's cheeks and was shocked to realize Ganondorf was crying.

Mesmerized, the boy raised a hand and gently rested it against the man's damp cheek. The sorcerer seemed to shudder at the touch and he moaned softly, closed his eyes to release a fresh stream of tears that cascaded down his face, before covering the boy's hand with one of his own and turning his face to kiss the youth's palm.

Link felt his cheeks heat at the show of affection, but he knew it wasn't real. Ganondorf's actions were for someone else, not him. Sickening guilt settled within the hylian for playing into the man's fevered fantasy, but what else was he to do? Even though the man's touch was gentle, there was no denying the power that lay dormant within the sorcerer, even in his weakened state. With his magic and his strength he was as formidable an opponent without a weapon as he was with one and yet the boy couldn't help, but pity him in this moment; his emotions shifting from terrified panic to honest sympathy within a matter of minutes. Weather those tears were for joy or sorrow, the teen felt horrible for leading the man on like this. Then the boy felt something in his chest break as Ganondorf lowered his face to the youth's shoulder and started to cry.

Automatically, the teen's wrapped his hands around the man's heaving shoulders, holding the sorcerer close as broken words flowed out between the sobs. The boy couldn't understand the meaning, but one word kept coming up: kanna. Whether it was a name or a item or a spell, Link was unsure, but his heart cried out for him to speak, to comfort the man's pain, but he dared not for fear of breaking the illusion of the sorcerer's feverish mind. Instead, the boy just held the Thief King tight as if his embrace could somehow keep the wounded man from falling apart.

"Shhh," the hylian soothed, needing to say something, but not wanting to vocalize anything more that might destroy the fragile dream. He stroked his hand up the man's broad back, trying to comfort, before cradling the crying sorcerer's head to his shoulder. "Shhh."

After awhile Ganondorf's sobs quieted and he relaxed against the teen's body as the emotional outpour eased. Link held the man there for several seconds more before the sorcerer suddenly seemed to rouse and he leaned back out of the circle of the boy's arms.

Link felt his heart quiver with sympathy as he saw the shining tracks of tears staining the man's cheeks. The sorcerer smiled almost sorrowfully at the teen, his eyes half-hooded with exhaustion as he leaned down and gently kissed the boy's forehead. Then the Thief King shifted to cradle the boy's head between his hands before resting his forehead against the youth's with a tired sigh and whispering 'kanna' softly again.

Link found himself wishing once more he knew what that word meant. By the man's actions he felt sure that it must either be a name or a term of endearment, but which he was uncertain....

Time passed and Ganondorf seemed completely content to just lay there, holding the boy in his arms - in fact, the sorcerer seemed to be dosing off - but that simply would not do. Link knew at the very least he needed to get out from under the man so, taking a deep steadying breath, he pushed himself up, gently rolling their bodies until the gerudo was on his back with Link on top, his legs straddling the man's waist. Surprisingly, the maneuver worked better then the teen would have thought, although it was a bit of an embarrassing position, especially when the youth felt the man's hands settle on his hips, but he could bare it and the sorcerer didn't seem to mind the change. Still the boy couldn't help, but thank the goddesses that they both still were wearing pants, knowing things would definitely be more awkward if they weren't.

Closing his eyes for a moment, Link let out a long sigh his shoulders sagging in relief, feeling as if he could finally breath properly again. Ganondorf was big, there was no denying that, and having the man looming above him had been a terrifying prospect. Tense muscles finally relaxed after what seemed like hours, even thought the teen knew it had barely been minutes, only to tense again as he felt the gerudo's hands sliding over his thighs in a caress. Cheeks warming at the intimate touch, the teen looked up to find the Dark Lord smiling sleepily up at him. The man said something so softly even Link's ears could not catch the words before reaching up and smoothing a hand through the boy's soft blonde hair.

Link winced inwardly, his instincts still wanting him to pull away from the gerudo's touch, but he couldn't. Not yet. If he could just get the man to fall asleep without shattering his waking dream that would be perfect, but for that the boy needed to continue playing into the man's fantasy. Gathering his courage, the youth took a deep breath and leaned down, careful not to put too much pressure on the sorcerer's wound, until he was laying on the man's chest, his fingers buried in the gerudo's crimson mane. They hylian couldn't keep himself from tensing again as the sorcerer's great arms came up to circle around him, pulling him closer, but he forced himself to take another calming breath before leaning in and placing a small, timid kiss on the man's cheek.

"Go to sleep," he whispered, taking a chance and hoping Ganondorf wouldn't notice the language of the words as he rested his cheek against the man's shoulder and clumsily stroked a hand through the man's thick hair. "You need your rest."

Link felt the gerudo's chest rise and fell with a deep sigh, then the man's body relaxed, the arms wrapped around Link easing their grip.

The teen's heart skipped a beat as he glanced up to find the sorcerer's eyes closed and his face relaxed with sleep. The boy blinked, barely believing that had worked. Somehow, impossibly, the Dark Lord hadn't killed him. Link bowed his head with relief, a shuddering sigh escaping him before he started to pull away, trying to disentangle himself from the gerudo's body, but just as he managed to free himself an arm suddenly hooked around his waist, pulling him back.

Startled, the boy swallowed a cry, forcing himself to relax into Ganondorf's grip only to find himself moments later in the embarrassing position of being spooned by the big man. Jazzed up on a fresh dose of adrenaline, Link shivered, feeling the warmth of the sorcerer's breath on the back of his neck. He tried to squiggle free, but the attempt was in vain; the grip of the arm the man had slung over his waist instantly tightened pulling him closer.

Link silently cursed, struggling not to fight the sorcerer's grip as his heart raced frantically within him. Taking a deep shuddering breath, the boy forced himself to take a moment to calm himself again. There was no reason to panic. Ganondorf was just using him as a giant, living teddy-bear. Nothing to worry about there. Yah right, he thought pessimistically. If anything he was in a worse position than before.

Frowning, Link tentatively wrapped his hands around the big man's arm and tried to pull it away, but the gerudo just grunted, his grip tightening again as he shifted against the hylian's back before settling once more.

Well, shit. The teen let his head fall back to the ground with a frustrated sigh. Perfect, just perfect. He had been so close to freedom and now this. Arrrrrgh, why does this always have to happen to me?!

No stop, the boy chided himself harshly. Whining won't get you anywhere. Things are not so bad. There's an answer to every problem; you just need to step back for a moment and figure this out.

Taking a moment to steal himself, the boy cautiously raised his head to look back over his shoulder at the man curled up like a giant predatory feline behind him; undeniably dangerous but almost cute too. The good news was the sorcerer's eyes were closed and his face was relaxed with sleep. Link just had to wait until the gerudo's consciousness was far enough under for the man not to notice it when he pulled away. Great, waiting; just what I loooove doing, the teen thought sourly. Still, the boy cocked his head to the side, considering the man. Who would have thought Ganondorf was a cuddler?

Unable to do anything more, the hylian let his head fall back to the ground again and he started silently counting in him mind, giving himself something to do while he waited. When he got to one thousand, he tried to move away again, but had no luck. The gerudo's arm tightened around his waist yet again, pulling the teen's body flush with his own.

Damn it, stop prematurely trying to escape and wait for him to fall asleep already! Link scolded himself harshly then forced himself to lay still with an irritated huff, puffing a lock of hair out of his face. Despite his frustration, the boy had to admit, if he forgot about the danger, the position was actually kind of nice. He was used to curling up next to Epona for warmth on cold nights or sometimes just for the comfort of another living body against his, but he'd never done so with another person before. It was amazing how perfectly his body seemed to fit against the other man's, the warmth and comfort making him drowsy. He just needed to wait a few more minutes for the man to fall asleep and... he could...

Link started, catching himself in a yawn as the fading adrenaline left his body feeling heavy with exhaustion. Oh hell no; you are not falling asleep here, he thought vehemently, shaking his head to wake up. He was literally in the embrace of a man that not only hated him, but one that could also snap his back if the gerudo really wanted to. He should be scared shitless, but for some unfathomable reason he wasn't. Even though the boy knew it wasn't right, he couldn't help but admit he had never felt so safe then he did now in the circle of the big man's arms. Goddess I must be tired if my perceptions are that skewed, he thought dryly, but that didn't make the fact any less true.

Uncomfortable that train of thought, the teen turned his mind to other things. I just have to lay here for a few more minute. Just a few more... He sighed, his eyes drooping dangerously as he snuggled his shoulders back against the man's warmth - he was already stuck there so he might as well make the most of it while he could - and mentally started counting again.

One, two, three, four...

Time past as Link lay wrapped within the man's embrace silently counting in his head.

Forty-three, forty-four...

Another yawn suddenly snuck up on him and he sighed sleepily, his body relaxing completely into Ganondorf's warmth. Maybe he could close his eyes just for a minute... Just a little while. It would be alright. It wasn't like he could do anything at the moment anyway. He'd just close his eyes for a bit. Just.... a few... minutes...

Six... Sixty-six... Sixty... Sixty-seven... Six... Ssss....

Links consciousness drifted slowly away as his exhausted mind surrendered to sleep, his body wrapped within the arms of an enemy.

 

TBC...

Chapter Text

Link sighed contentedly, his consciousness floating slowly up from the dark depths of sleep as he lay on the very cusp of awareness, unwilling to truly wake. He could still feel exhaustion rooted deep within him from the stress of the last few days and knew he had not slept nearly as long as he needed to banish the malady.

Groaning softly, the hylian hugged his knees to his chest, wanting nothing more than to simply fall back asleep, but the tight pang that had settled in his gut refused to be ignored. He let out an irritated huff, feeling his mind ascend another step towards full consciousness. He needed to pee, but couldn't he enjoy this quiet, relaxing moment for a just a bit longer?

Grunting the boy lifted his arms above his head, lengthening his legs in a deep stretch before relaxing again to revel languidly in the warmth that seemed to enfold him like a cocoon. He knew he had to get up soon, but not right now. Right now he was just going to lie here and enjoy himself for as long as he could.

The hylian's lips quirked in a small smile as he rested in boneless comfort. He couldn't remember the last time he could have afforded to just laze around like this. Honestly he probably couldn't afford it right now, but it just felt sooooo good.

Link's smiled turned rueful and he rolled over, snuggling himself against the wall of warmth that was laying beside him. His mind realized dimly he was laying next to the body of another. He could hear the steady breathing of someone else in a deep slumber close by, but he was not worried. This was not the first time he had fallen asleep beside Epona except... something was off. Epona wasn't usually so... He couldn't quite put a finger on it, his sleep muzzied mind unwilling to function properly. Automatically he reached out with a questing hand, stroking it lightly over the warm expanse of skin lying next to him. The youth's brow immediately knitted together into a frown as he tried to understand the feedback he was getting from the touch. Something about the form... It wasn't the right shape and... and it wasn't furry enough and the smell... There was definitely something unusual about scent around him. It wasn't unpleasant per se; a bit strong, slightly sour with sweat and a little musky, but rich undertones of exotic spices swirled within the scent as well, confusing it's possibly origin. One thing was for certain: it definitely was not the smell of horse. And yet, even though the hylian knew he was lying next to some currently unknown person or beast, he couldn't quite bring himself to be alarmed. Sure it was an unusual circumstance, but he would have never let himself fall asleep if it was dangerous circumstance and he definitely wouldn't be feeling so calm now. He was just too tired to remember precisely what was going on; yah, that must be it, but then who...?

Suddenly overwhelmed by curiosity, the youth's sleepy blue eyes fluttered open, slowly focusing on the dark chest of a man and a red streamer of hair.... Dark skin, red hair and... man?

The boy froze, his breath catching in his throat as his eyes widened with comprehension. No man had that coloration except... Link's stomach sunk with a dread so deep he barely dared to breath. It couldn't- It wasn't possible, but... Swallowing hard, the hylian tipped his head back, knowing what he would see, but not really believing it until his eyes lit upon Ganondorf's face.

"OHholyshitfu-!" Link's own hand clamped over his mouth, halting the stream of shocked profanity as he jerked back instinctively, wrenching himself away from the gerudo's side.

A moment later the teen found himself sprawled awkwardly a safe distance away, but not completely sure how he had gotten there. He had just moved and now he levered himself back up, resting much of his weight on one arm with his other hand still covering his mouth. Wide blue eyes locked on the man, watching for any sign of movement as the teen's heart raced madly with his chest and half-panicked breaths puffed from his nostrils. He knew his abrupt retreat hadn't been exactly quiet (or graceful for that matter), but despite his outburst and violent movement, the sorcerer didn't so much as twitch, the man's consciousness buried deep within a much needed healing sleep.

The hylian's wide eyes continued to stare at the Thief King in stunned disbelief, his mind momentarily unable to think past what he was seeing. Ganondorf. It was Ganondorf. I was sleeping next to Ganondorf! Oh goddess... Link groaned softly, finally taking his hand from his mouth to run his fingers up through his hair in a nervous gesture as he let out a strained, quivering sigh. He closed his eyes, trying to calm the frantic beating of his heart, feeling himself tremble with the adrenaline pounding through his bloodstream. What was I thinking?! he admonished himself mentally. Was I even thinking at all? I... Then he remembered the circumstances that had led to his predicament and groaned, rubbing a hand over his face. Goddess; that was so stupid. He could have killed me! Wait... Link brow furrowed as more memories returned to his waking mind. He KISSED me!

The youth felt his face flush hot at the thought as a fresh wave of new confused emotion crashed through him. Mortification bloomed within him and he ridiculously buried his face in his hands at he emotional onslaught as if he could somehow hide from it all. His first. That had been his first kiss. And the one who had given it to him hadn't even known he was the one on the receiving end. Ganondorf couldn't have known- There was no way... Link wasn't sure if that thought made him feel better or worse about the whole thing. All he truly felt right now was embarrassment and he hugged himself tighter, wrapping his arms around his head and burying his face in his knees. How could I- Goddess, I kissed him back and he doesn't even know! Link groaned, his cheeks somehow flushing even hotter until he almost felt dizzy with the heat. Oh stars what was I thinking?!

Desperately trying to sort out his thoughts and feelings, the hylian sat curled there for several moments, but the task was impossible. He had no idea what he would do when Ganondorf woke up. He wasn't even sure the man would remember let alone confront him about the... about it. The very thought made Link cringe, but there was nothing he could do about it now so he finally sighed and lifted his head from his knees to look over at the sleeping gerudo.

A fresh heat flushed over Link's cheeks as his eyes lit upon the Dark Lord and he cursed silently. Acting like a deranged floozy wasn't going to help anyone! He needed to get himself back together and fast if he was going to be of any use. 

Swallowing hard on a suddenly dry mouth, the teen forced himself to scoot closer to the sleeping man. The sorcerer's condition was still fragile and the boy knew he needed to get back into the right mindset to properly care for the wounded gerudo. Grimacing at himself, the teen took a moment and closed his eyes, making himself to take deep, calming breaths as he reign in his conflicted emotions. It was a struggle, but somehow he managed. He couldn't banish the strange feelings completely of course, but he could shove then back into the box they had sprung out of to be dealt with at another time.

Letting out a long sigh, the youth flicked his eyes open again, making them focus on the man lying in front of him. Vague remembrances suddenly flooded into him without warning: the Thief King hooking an arm around his waist and pulling him close, their bodies pressing together, the heat of the man's skin sinking into his own- The boy, cheeks warmed yet again, but he doggedly refused to loose himself in the embarrassment. He'd done what he had to to defuse that situation, no more and no less. Or had he? Had he needed to kiss the man back? Had he needed-

A sudden fresh memory flashed through him: the taste of the man's lips, the press of his mouth against -

No; stop it! the hylian chided himself harshly, his deep blush turning his pale cheeks scarlet. You're being freaking ridiculous, he grumbled to himself, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with a frustrated huff. Just focus on the task at hand. Focus on keeping him alive; you can deal with the... the rest later.

Scowling Link shook himself, trying to dislodge the confusing swirl of emotions that had rooted itself inside him. Focus. The youth's blue eyes blinked open once again and his sharp gaze immediately locked on the man. Setting his jaw in a grim line, the hylian stubbornly ignored the annoying, if less intense, flutter of embarrassment that swelled within him and instead clinically took account of the gerudo's condition.

Ganondorf was breathing; that was a good sign. And he didn't seem as flushed as before; that was even better. Maybe his fever had finally broken... but he couldn't quite bring himself to touch the man to check.

Link's head cocked to the side in consideration as he let his eyes rove down over the man's form. The was no sign of fresh blood on his bandages- good, the boy thought, automatically pulling the blanket that had fallen down to the gerudo's waist back up around his shoulders. And he was sleeping soundly; much more soundly then before when-

-hot breath against his skin, gentle teeth grazing his ear, nipping at the sensitive skin of his neck, making his cry out-

Oh shut UP! Link growled at himself in irritation as his traitorous mind and body betrayed him, his cheeks warming once more. He pushed those thoughts away yet again, his eyes moving up to consider Ganondorf's face again, then he blinked, his brow furrowing in confusion. Was Ganondorf... smiling? No it was impossible- Link leaned forward, resting his weight on one hand as he stared at the gerudo. The man was definitely smiling in his sleep, the soft expression easing the harsh lines of his face, making him look impossibly younger and maybe even... handsome?

Oh grrrgh! Link jerked back from the man, his jaw tightening in anger. I am not attracted to Ganondorf! he snarled viciously at himself. He's the enemy! I just did what I did because I had to. That's all!

And exactly who are you trying to convince here? another shrewd part of him mind asked sardonically.

No one, he snapped peevishly back. I just- it's the truth!

Uh-huh, drawled his mental voice. If he's really just the enemy, why did you bother healing him at all?

I couldn't just leave him- Link thought, shocked any part of himself could have seriously been considering such a thing. It wouldn't have been right!

No one would have faulted you- the other part of Link's mind started to retort but Link's own reply cut over it's words.

I couldn't- I had to! He was dying!

So? the inner voice said shrewdly. Wouldn't live be easier if he was gone?

I'm not- Just shut up! Link said angrily, suddenly unable to find the words.

You're the boss, the voice said with a condescending shrug in it's tone.

I said shut up! Link mentally lashed out, then froze realizing what he was doing. Oh goddess, he groaned, rubbing his hands over his face. Now I'm arguing with myself. I must be more tired than I thought.

The teen exhaled and forced himself to look up again, peeking at the gerudo through his fingers. Then he groaned miserably, feeling the uncertain shiver of strange emotion flow though him again. Obviously it wasn't going away anytime soon, so the hylian took a deep breath and just accepted it's existence. He didn't know what it meant or even what it really was, but somehow accepting it helped to ease the conflict it had been creating within him. Finding a measure of peace, he let out the breath he hadn't even realized he had been holding in a long shuddering sigh as he slowly lowered his hands to his lap and looked at the Thief King again, his head cocking to the side in consideration. The man lay quietly still, his broad chest rising with the deep, steady breaths of sleep. Okay, maybe he is kind of handsome, the boy admitted, studying the strong lines of the man's face as his minds eyes remembered the powerful, muscular form that now lay hidden beneath the soft folds of the blanket. Of course that's only when he's not grinning at you like he wants to eat you.

A wry smile twitched at the corners of the hylian's mouth at the thought and the youth leaned forward again to get a closer look as curiosity overtook him. Who were you dreaming about? the teen found himself wondering absently, his eyes tracing over the slight upward curve of the sorcerer's lips. Was it a lover? Family? Did Ganondorf even have any blood relatives? The boy's brow furrowed in consideration, but try as he might he could not think of anyone who claimed to be direct family to the Dark Lord. Besides no one kissed their relatives like that except... Well, Ganondorf was gerudo so... maybe they did? No, it wasn't possible, the boy shook his head, banishing the thought. Lover then; he must have been dreaming about a lover, but who...? The teen's brow furrowed again as he searched his memories, but he couldn't think of anyone he knew who claimed to be the Thief King's partner either. There was no 'Thief Queen,' was there? Maybe Ganondrof's lover was in Twilight-? No, that didn’t make sense. The man had wanted to escape that realm so his partner had to exist outside of the Twilight, but that didn’t make sense either. The Dark Lord hadn’t been outside of that realm for long enough to have had a serious relationship with anyone and his reactions didn’t seem like those of someone who had just had a one night stand. Of course there was the time before he had been trapped within the Twilight realm, but how long ago had that been? Decades? Centuries? Was he lover even still alive? Was that why he had been crying? Did he miss her? him? Maybe them? Link could still see those shining rivulets of tears staining Ganondorf's cheeks in his mind's eye, the man's eyes gazing at him so tenderly. Who would have thought the Dark Lord had enough heart left in him to cry...

Link felt his face soften at the memory. Of course Ganondorf had a lover... Maybe lovers? He was just a man after all. A powerful man yes; some would even go as far as to say evil, but still a man. The boy found himself staring down into the sorcerer's dark face as the thoughts flowed through him. He remembered the touch of the Thief King's hand, so tender. It seemed impossible that such large, rough hands that were more used to the sword then anything else could be so gentle and yet there was no denying they were. Link wondered who had known such tenderness from the man all of hyrule feared? Who had been brave enough to love the Dark Lord? And had... had Ganondorf loved them back? It did not seem possible for someone who hated so much to be capable of love and yet... How much did he actually know about the sorcerer? The only context they had ever met in was one that pitted them as adversaries. What was Ganondorf like outside of such conflict? Was he normally that gentle and kind? Or was that just a glimmer of his past self, one that disappeared long ago? Maybe there wasn't anything left of that kindness in the Thief King now. Maybe...

The boy frowned, scratching his head in frustration, annoyed by the unending flow of questions that plagued him. Why do I even care? he wondered, his brow furrowing with confusion. It's not like I could ever be his lover. He would never knowingly look at me like that. The teen started, suddenly recognizing the sinking feeling that thought provoked within him. Do... do I want that? Do I want him?

Link quickly searched his feeling, then shook his head, denying the possibility. No; there's no way. I've just been traveling for too long- been away from the company of others for too long. That's all. There's no way I could- He shook his head again, pushing the disquieting thought away. It just isn't possible-

Sudden motion caught the corner of the teen's eye and his head whipped around towards the entrance of the cave, his thoughts scattering as his mind blanked and his body tensed in preparation for a fight. But then his shoulders eased as the wild red fox bounded away in a rustle of brush and a flash of fluffy tail.

Link relaxed back and smiled to himself as he let out a tight breath, releasing the tension of the moment before. Foxes were notoriously curious animals, but usually they didn't venture too close to fire except... except when I've been to distracted to notice it has all but burned out.

Mentally kicking himself, the boy quickly set to the task of rebuilding the fire and within minutes had a new blaze shedding warmth and light into the confines of the cave. Somehow the menial task calmed his conflicted thoughts, even if it had not banished them completely. The boy found himself idly tracing a finger over his bottom lip as he sat, staring into the dancing flames, his body soaking up the welcome warmth. My first kiss, he thought absently. I lost my first kiss to my worst enemy; how ironic is that? The teen felt a light tread of humor flutter through him now that the subject was not so raw. At least it hadn't been a bad kiss, he reflected, resting his chin on his knees as he hugged his legs to his chest. Not that he had much of a frame of reference, it being his first and all.

The hylian felt his cheeks warm, but he pretended it was from the heat of the fire rather than the train of his thought. It doesn't matter anyway, he mused dryly. It's not like it will happen again. Ganondorf is your enemy and he didn't even know who you were when... when he kissed you so it doesn't really count, right?

The boy's brow furrowed as he felt that now familiar sinking feeling within him at that thought. Do I want the Dark Lord to kiss me? He wondered again, but then he realized, No. I don't want the Dark Lord. I don't want the crass man who is filled with rage and hate but.. but if the other one... I wouldn't mind if the one who was so tender and kind kissed me again.

Link's cheeks flushed hot, his heart beating a bit faster as a strange excited embarrassment swelled within him as he admitted the truth to himself if only in the secrecy of his own mind. The thought awoke something warm and fluttery inside his chest, making him squirm restlessly with the strange emotion that seemed to blend exhilaration, anticipation and fear together into something new and scary and wonderful.

Is this what having crush feels like? he wondered with honest naive curiosity. As a teenage male, he had of course become embarrassingly aroused by thoughts and sights of others, but it had never been like this before. No one had ever really looked at him like Ganondorf had. No one - not Ilia, not even the princesses - had ever made him feel this strange squiggly blend of embarrassment and excitement and the hundred of other emotions he couldn't quite name that seem to fill him until he thought he would burst. It was a strange feeling, but oddly good and he found himself grinning like a fool for a moment before the smile fell from his face as reality crashed back. No it was impossible; a stupid, childish dream. Ganondorf would regain his senses and never look at you like that again. You are his enemy; remember that, Link told himself sternly. It was dangerous to think of their relationship as anything else but... but what if it didn't have to be that way? The hylian sighed and shook his head, letting the impossible thought go. Stuff like that only happened in stupid bard's tales. Real life was never that simple and he didn't have time for such fantasies. He simply couldn't afford them; he had too many other things to worry-

A soft cry startled the boy out of his thoughts and he looked towards the noise, his eyes lighting upon Ganondorf's form sleeping a few feet away, except now the man's sleep was not so sound. The sorcerer tossed his head, his brow furrowed in the throes of another dream, one that did not seem as pleasant as before. As the teen watched the man restlessly mumbled something and rolled onto his side, turning his back on Link before quieting again, but the gerudo only settled momentarily. A second later he stirred fitfully again, calling out words the hylian couldn't understand.

Cautiously Link slid over to the gerudo's side, weary of being grabbed - he did not want to find himself in the same vulnerable possition as before - but he was also worried the man might hurt himself accidentally as he struggled against whatever nightmare had infected his mind.

As if sensing his thoughts, Gerudo twitched then rolled over again towards Link, forcing the youth to scuttle back out of his way. The man settled again, his head pillowed on his arm with his face turned to the boy, but his features were tight and soft growled words the teen couldn't quite hear streamed from his clenched teeth.

Link frowned watching the dark dreams play across the man face. It was rather strange seeing the man who was the nightmare of so many deep in the throes of nightmares of his own. Clearly nothing good was going on behind the gerudo's eyes, but still the hylian was reluctant to touch let alone wake him. The teen was still in the process of figuring out how he felt about what had transpired early that night; there was no way he was prepared to face the man, not yet... and yet, why did that make him feel so ashamed? It wasn't like he was putting himself before the sorcerer's well-being; not really anyway. There wasn't any real danger-

Suddenly the sorcerer's body gave a deep shudder, capturing the hylian's attention again. Conflicted the boy watched as the man moaned, his hands clenching into fists, his body straining against some invisible adversary. Then, abruptly, the man cried out, startling Link as he began to struggle in earnest, his body thrashing violently against the visions of his mind. Instinctively the teen lunged towards the sorcerer, the need to keep the gerudo from hurting himself again foremost in his mind, but the moment he touched the sorcerer a harsh gutteral phrase Link half recognized, ripped itself from the Theif King's lips in a rising scream. Tension that had been building silently around them suddenly snapped, relieving it's presence as the gathered magic lashed out on command, bursting from the Dark Lord's form. Link cried out, flinching back as the bright flash of released power assaulted him. He lifted an arm to protect his eyes then the magic hit him, flinging him from his feet. He felt the air rush from his lungs as the wind was knocked out of him then he was flying helplessly backwards through the air, but even in such a predicament his well-trained mind continued to analyze the situation as it searched for a defense. This had been the kind of magic he had expected the first time he had found the wounded gerudo, the violent terrifying force he had faced before. This was the kind of magic he was used to dealing with, but it took a lot power to control such a spell. He hadn't know Ganondorf still had the strength-

An sudden explosion in his head shot a dazzle of sparks across his vision as he slammed back into the rocky cave wall, the hit ripping his thoughts away from him. The hylian tried to gasp, realizing his mistake a moment too late. He was not used to fighting in such confines as the cave and had forgotten to brace himself against the eminent impact with the wall and now- 

Dark spots ate hungrily away at his vision as he desperately tried to suck another breath into his paralyzed lungs. He couldn't pass out now. He couldn't- Ganondorf...

The encroaching darkness flooded into his vision, sucking his consciousness down away from his struggles and pain as his body crumpled to the floor and lay still.

TBC...

Chapter Text

Link was unsure exactly when consciousness came back to him. At some uncertain point in time he simply became aware he was staring blearily up at a grey stony surface above him, but it took several more moments for the first few feeble flickers of thought to coalesce themselves into something somewhat coherent. The fragile thread grew in his mind, slowly, but steadily building until- PAIN!

Pain cut suddenly through the hylian, pounding at the back of his skull, dominating his reality and scattering his every thought to the wind. He gasped as the hot flash of agony abruptly came into  focus, screaming for attention. Groaning, the youth tried to sit up, but his body didn't seem to want to listen to him and the tinny, high-pitched ringing in his ears wasn't helping one bit. A moan escaped the teen's lips as his body automatically curled in on itself, circling around the pain with his head clutched between his hands as if he could somehow hide from the agonizing assaulting. The horrible sensation beat at him relentlessly, flaying his nerves until all he could feel was the hot throbbing inside. Suddenly bile surge up from his belly, burning the back of his throat then he was retching, sour vomit flowing over his tongue and out. He sobbed, his body heaving again and he choked roughly on the vomit before miraculously managing to pull himself away from the foul pool before the acrid smell made him puke again. The next time awareness sparked to life in the hylian he found himself curled up on the stone floor again, his legs hugged to his chest, but he couldn't seem to get his vision to focus anymore. Tears clouded his eyes as the pain ebbed and flowed within him, somehow growing even worse than before as his knowledge of it brought it into horribly sharp focus. A harsh sob ripped itself from the boys lips, the tears spilling down his cheeks in a cascade of misery as his body shuddered with the agony that tortured him. It was too much. Just too much. Fresh nausea curled in his belly as the pounding inside him grew until it was all he knew. He couldn't think. He couldn't even breath. Pain was his entire reality. Just pain and-

Cold was the next sensation Link knew; cold sinking into his left cheek from the rough stone floor, numbing his flesh and making his bones ache. He groaned and rolled carefully onto his back, but the ache stayed with him, making the side of his face throb painfully in time his pulse. Shakily the teen raised a hand to face, prodding gingerly at his cheek then wincing as the deep bruise responded to his light touch, shooting a stab of pain through the side of his face and back behind his eyes. The hylian let out a long shuddering breath before turning his attention inward to catalogue his various injuries, but for some reason his mind seemed reluctant to respond; his thoughts were strangely sluggish, grudgingly bubbling up to the surface of the gelatinous ooze that seemed to be his mind. Despite the debility, he tried to force his brain to work. Then he remembered his head hurt. A lot.

The hylian grunted, clenching his jaw against the pain as his hand reached back to investigate the source injury. Immediately, his fingers sunk into the sticky dampness of his blood soaked hair and he mentally cursed. Shit; I'm hurt? When? Where? He couldn't remember...

Confused the hylian opened his eyes, then immediately regretted it. The world around him seemed to have spontaneously turned into a place of liquids; even what he was positive was solid rock seemed to drip down to him as he watched only to snap back up in a dizzying swirl that made his stomach clench. The teen blinked, trying to clear his vision, but despite his effort the crazy scene before him refused to still. It tipped and whirled like some crazy kelidoscope, objects and shadows trailing colorful tails behind them turning his reality into a nonsensical pallet of multi-colored streak that created the impression of movement despite the fact that he was completely certain he was personally laying quite still. Link gritted his teeth in weak defiance, his fingers digging into the rock below him as if he could somehow anchor himself in this impossible reality, but it did not help. The world stubbornly kept dancing around him, swaying and jumping to some insane pipers tune, making him squint as the pain in his head became even worse.

Unable to take the confusing visual feedback, Link let his eye fall closed, the darkness cutting him off from the sickening swaying scene around him, but somehow the sensation continued on in his periphery, making it feel almost as if he were floating. It could have been a nice sensation, apart from for the fact that in his current situation it definitely wasn't. Goddess, am I drunk? the youth thought dimly, resting a forearm over his aching forehead. It would make sense; he could have gotten drunk and fallen. That could explain why he was injured and why the world was spinning so crazily except... Except he hadn't been in sight of a village is weeks much less stopped by a tavern for a pint. Besides even when he did indulge he was careful never to drink to excess, certainly not enough to incapacitate him like this. So what...? What had hurt him? And even more importantly was the danger still present?

A shock of fear flowed through Link, chilling him to the core and his eyes snapped open as a single thought solidified in his mind. I have to get up. I have to get up and... Well, he'd deal with the second part later. First he just had to get to his feet...

The instant Link started to move he knew he had made a dreadful mistake, but momentum pushed him on until he found himself on his hands and knees staring at the grey stone of the floor, which simply refused to stop swaying underneath him. He paused there panting, blood pounding in his ears in time to the hot stabbing pain throbbing through his head. He could feel his body already shaking with the strain, but he needed to move. He needed to get up!

Closing his eyes, the hylian steeled himself, preparing to heave himself to his feet, but the moment he decided to give it a try, his body revolted. Saliva flooded his mouth, then suddenly he was gagging on a thin stream bile, his body retching painfully as it tried to puke again, but his empty stomach had nothing left to vomit. Coughing, the boy spat, trying to clear his mouth as he gasped desperately for air. Oh goddess, he moaned, his body sagging limply back down to the ground. Goddess help me.

Somehow the youth managed to control his collapse, missing the small puddle of vomit as he laid himself down and pressed his forehead into the cool stone floor. He lay there breathing hard for several long second before managing to gather enough strength to turn and rest his uninjured cheek against the rocky ground, which, as small miracles would have it, also turned his face away from the sour smelling bile.

For several long moments, Link couldn't bring himself to do anything more then lay there and breath. He hurt too much, he felt too sick, and he was just too damned tired to think let alone move. Time and space seemed to bend crazily about him as he consciousness flickered weakly in and out of focus. He wasn't even aware of when his right hand started sliding down to where his belt and the pouch he usually kept an emergency potion in normally resided, but his fingers found only air. He had taken off his belt when he had removed his over clothes, leaving him with only his tanned leather pants and what had once been a white cotton shirt. Damn it all, he cursed silently, then, gritting his teeth, forced himself to lift his head, his bleary eyes searching for his packs in the dim light. Almost immediately he had to lay back down as the world tilted again, but as luck would have it he had caught sight of the bag he needed just a couple of yards to his right.

The boy didn't give himself another chance to think after that. Heaving himself up, he stumbled in what he thought was the right direction, but his surrounding refused to stay still. He reached out, trying to steady himself on a wall that was not as close as it seemed and overbalanced. He cried out, struggling to get his feet under him again, but suddenly up was down and down was up and side to side just weren't there! Wind rushed past his ears and he braced for impact with the unforgiving rock below- and collapsed right on top of the relative softness of his travel packs.

Groaning, Link blinked hazy eyes at a world that continued to spin around him before he realized something hard and quite uncomfortable was poking into his side. Letting gravity take over, the youth simply slumped limply over, his body sliding off the lumpy saddle bags until he was laying panting on his side on the ground once more. New aches and pains had joined the old, but somehow he was still in one piece and now he was in arms reach of something that could make all this unpleasantness go away.

Closing his eyes against the crazily tilting scene about him, the teen reached one hand over to rummage clumsily through the many pockets of his packs. His brow furrowed as he tried to remember which pocket his potions were in then he felt his fingers close around the smooth cool surface of a vial. It took several tries for his shaking hands to uncork the blasted bottle and he was sure he spilt at least a quarter of the precious liquid on the floor and himself, but then the vial was at his lips and the smooth liquid flowed into him, its magic making him whole once more.

Link blinked as the pain fled in the potion's wake, clearing his mind and vision. He let himself take one more long swallow before pulling the vial from his lips, knowing he needed to conserve the precious liquid; it was the second potion he had used in the last few hours after all. If things kept up at this rate he was going to run out all too soon and he hated the thought of that. Knowing he had potions to spare was far too much of a relief for him to ever take the prized little vials for granted. Thankfully it looked like a quarter of the crimson liquid still swirled within the vial he currently held; he could save the rest for later.

Closing his eyes Link sighed, allowing himself to lay still for a moment and revel in the simple pleasure of not being in pain. But before long the moment passed and the hylian reluctantly forced himself to open his eyes again, a nagging urgency demanding he discover why he had woken in such a debilitated state. Brows furrowing, the teens sapphire gaze flicked about, trying to piece together what had happened to him, but nothing was obvious became apparent. Cautiously the youth sat up, his eyes searching as his hands automatically put the potions vial carefully back in it's padded pocket within his bags. There did not seem to be any foes around and he hadn't been robbed but...

The corner of Link's mouth dipped down in a frown as his eyes locked on a scarlet slash of blood, dark and congealing on the stony floor a few yards in front of him. It did not seem to be enough to have been from an injury that could have incapacitated him so completely so what-? Oh...

Link's searching gaze found a darker splash of blood high on the wall, so close to the ceiling that the weakly flickering fire barely lit the stain. How in the world...? The teen's head cocked to the side in question as he considered the dark slash of his blood so high above his head; then his rattled brain remembered. Ganondorf!

Link gasped, his eyes flying wide as the memory came flooding back. Instantly his body flew into action, jumping into a crouch as his hand dove into pack, searching for his spare knife. Relief flooded through him as his hand close around the cool handle of the weapon, but confusion follow close behind, nipping at it's heels. If Ganondorf had managed to ambush him so completely, why was he still alive? Had the man just run or...?

Link's weary gaze caught the dark form laying half-hidden within the dancing shadows cast by the fire on the other side of the cave. His brows furrowed in confusion and the blade of his knife dipped down into a less threatening position. Ganondorf seemed to be right where he had left the man, asleep on the other side of the fire, but if that were true what in the world had just happened?

Link shifted uneasily, his mind running through what he could remember. There had been a commotion; Ganondorf's sleep distressed. The boy remembered reaching out towards the gerudo and then there had been a flash and pain and nothing. The teen's brow furrowed at the remembrance. The magic had to have come from the sorcerer, there was no denying that, but then why was he still here? Was this some kind of trap? But why would the Thief King ever bother with a trap when he had already incapacitated me?

Link scowled at his thoughts then shook his head, turning his attention outward once more. It just didn't make sense. Unless the bastard is toying with me; he's always liked to do that. The teen's eyes narrowed with sudden suspicion. Well, two can play that game.

The hylians teeth suddenly bared in a mockery of a smile. Yes, two can play that game, he thought a bit smugly, his mind turning towards another gift the princesses had given him on top of his wolf. He no longer had to shift completely to utilize the benefits of his lupine form. No, now he could let the wolf out just enough to see through it's eyes, hear through it's ears and smell through it's nose while remaining in his true hylian form. The little trick was still new to Link, which was why he hadn't thought of using it immediately, and even though it had been a gift, it still took a great deal of concentration to pull off. Midna had assured him that with practice he would be able to do it even in the heat of battle, but he was still very far from grasping that kind of mastery of the spell; but then this was the perfect chance to take it for a test drive. Whatever the Thief king was planning, he wouldn't get it past both Link and the wolf.

The hylian settled himself comfortably, cross-legged on the floor for the spell's meditation, his knife still clutched in one hand and held relaxed in front of him just in case he had to bring it to bear in a hurry. He stared across the room at the form shrouded in darkness, unwilling to take his eyes from Ganondorf for a second even if it would cause the sense-shift to take longer. He sat there quietly, breathing deeply and focusing on how it felt to be the wolf. On what the wolf saw, smelled, heard and tasted. On all that his hylian form was so blind to and slowly, ever so slowly he felt the wolf's senses override his own, even as he kept his original form. The change was unsurprisingly disorienting, colors shifting and changing as his view sharpened strangely. A sharp twinge of nausea stabbed at the boy as all his senses seemed to overload at once; his vision filling with too much detail to make sense of it all, the night growing so loud he couldn't concentrate and the scents around him mixing into a dizzying perfume. He felt the spell suddenly falter and begin to slip away as his focus lagged and he gasp, his eyes snapping close as he mentally struggled to maintain the sense-shift. Automatically, he raised his knife crossed in a guard position before him as his body panting with the effort of the spell. It was too much. He couldn't- Then wolf snap into place and the disorientation vanished in an instant. Link let out a slow deep breath, his shoulders relaxing as the commotion of sound and smell ceased. Now the senses would only respond when he engaged them, but putting them in place had been a bit more difficult than he had thought it would be. The hylian could feel himself shuddering slightly with the aftereffects and he let himself sit still for a few moments longer, his sharpening hearing keeping watch for any danger as the magic settle more firmly within him. Then he opened his hylian eyes and the wolf stared out.

New details picked themselves coyly from the night about the boy as his lupin gaze flicked back and forth bringing the dancing shadows into sharp focus. He was now certain Ganondof was the dark form he had seen before - the tell-tale cascade of scarlet hair now evident through the darkness even if the sorcerer's face was turned away from him - unless it was an illusion of some sort, but such magic had no scent.

Link's lips quirked in a smile, knowing his wolf's sense of smell would not only be able to scent the man, but also tell an old scent from a recent one. He would easily be able to sniff out the sorcerer even if the gerudo was trying to trick him. With an almost wolfish grin the hylian focused his senses, casting his mind towards the man as he took a deep whiff and -

SmokeSweatBLOODfearbileVOMIT-!

The youth gagged, his body automatically flinching back as his nose was assaulted with the horribly array of acrid scents around him, making his eyes water. A soft distressed sound, almost a whimper escaped the hylian as his hand automatically jerked up to protect his nose and mouth. He took several quick panting breaths through his mouth as his stomach roiled in protest at the offending input and he blinked tears from his vision until finally his belly settled once more.

Okay, maybe that wasn't my best idea ever, the teen thought ruefully, wiping tears from his eyes with the heel of one hand and sniffing his suddenly runny nose gingerly. But if I can't smell him through all this, I certainly can hear him. After all illusions don't breath.

With that new idea in mind, the youth closed his eyes and turned his attention to the sounds around him. Within seconds they amplified, growing louder and louder before the sense suddenly snapped fully into place. The night-land was a uproar of buzzing insects and the rustle of trees. The boy lingered there for a moment, listening to the far off cry of a cayote before jerking his attention back and casting his senses towards the problem at hand. Then he froze, his eyes jerking open in alarm as shock wrenched his out of the sense-shift. Ganondorf... That was definitely Ganondorf over there but... but the man was barely breathing, the sound of his feeble gasps shuddered weakly on the air.

Links blood ran cold and he stared at the Dark Lord for one shocked moment before his protective instincts suddenly kicked in, forcing him across the room in a flash to fall to his knees by the man's side.

Nononononononono. The words cascading through the hylians head as he anxiously rolled the gerudo's still body onto its back. You can't die now. Not after everything... Link's pleading eyes darted over the man's skin, searching for the cause of this new predicament, but nothing obvious could be seen. There was of course the wound in his chest, but why would it do this now? What had happened-? Then he knew: the spell. The youth paled at the thought, casting his mind back, remembering the sudden burst of light and... Oh goddess, it hadn't been intentional. The magic blast had been unfocused, uncontrolled, unlimited. And it had drained the Thief King's life to the brink.

In a flash of panic the teen dashed the blankets away and pressed his ear to the gerudo's bared chest, listening desperately for a heartbeat. Seconds ticked unbearably by then he heard it. Feeble, but steady, thudding sluggishly in the man's chest.

The boy let out a shuddering sigh, nearly collapsed on top of the gerudo in relief. He didn't know why he was so relieved. Life would be so much easier if the man simply died but... but what? Why did he care so much? For that question the boy had no answer, but it didn't make what he was feeling any less real. For some inexplicable reason he cared - truly cared about whether Ganondorf lived or died this night. After all there had been so much death already and... and Ganondorf might be the only one in the world who could truly tell him why; what the war had actually been about? The boy blinked, wondering at his thoughts. Was that all this was really about: curiosity? Link tried to search his feelings for an answer, but he was too tired to truly come up with any conclusion.

Shaking his head, the youth cast the confusion of thoughts aside, then pushed himself back up on his arms, his blue eyes examining the still form below him. The dark man was breathing and his heart was beating; he would recover with rest as long as nothing else happened this night, but that had been far too close. More than one magician had died from overextending their powers and accidentally allowing it to drain their life away. Link's brow furrowed at the thought. He couldn't believe someone as skilled as Ganondorf had been leaking magic, but that was the only explanation that made sense. And now the strain of the unformed spell had thrown the gerudo into an unconsciousness that was far beyond dreams. Nothing more would wake the man tonight.

The hylian's sapphire eyes narrowed as he studied the Dark Lord's slumbering face. What in the world could have caused the man to nearly kill himself like that? Ganondorf couldn't have been reacting to him or else he would have already been dead. The gerudo had had ample time to dispatch him while he had been disabled. Then there was the little issue of the spell draining the sorcerer so completely, leaving him weak and vulnerable. No experienced magic user would have ever knowingly done that to themselves... But then, if not him, what had the man been reacting to? What had made the sorcerer lash out like that? Was it another dream? A fear? A nightmare? Or something more?

The boy frowned at the troubling thoughts before sitting back with a sigh. There was nothing more he could do for the gerudo tonight; the only thing that would help the man recover now was rest.

Gently the boy pull the blankets back over the man's dark body before standing and arching his back in a stretch, easing his tense aching muscles. The dark shimmer of blood high on the cave wall caught the boy's eyes and he frowned slightly as he straightened. As far as he could tell he had hit the back of his head on the wall when he had been blasted back, then his unfortunate left cheek had connected with the floor when he had fallen unconscious to the ground.

The teen's hand rubbed reflexively his cheek as he mused. He could still feet a phantom twinge of the pain that had assaulted him so dreadfully before. Wounds to the head were dire and could cause a number of strange maladies, including the unfortunate disorientation and horrible nausea of before. Normally the sight of so much split blood would have worried Link more except for the fact that even the smallest wound to the scalp bled terribly.The real issue had been the jarring shock to his brain, but the potion had taken care of that. Even so his mind still felt a bit tender, although he couldn't tell if that was real or simply the effect of what he thought he should be feeling after such a wound. Idly, Link's hand drifted to the back of his head, feeling the crusty blood coating his hair and he shivered. Thank the goddesses I was able to get to my health potions, he thought before his gaze turned outward again, focusing back on the bloody wall. Ganondorf must have hit me really hard for the blood to be so high.

Link brow furrowed at the sudden conundrum before him. As a general rule he didn't like leaving pure samples of his blood just lying around where any nasty little master or mistress of the mystic arts could find it and potentially use it, but he had no clue how he was going to clean up that mess; it was a good twelve feet off the ground! Maybe if he stood on Epona's back he could reach it... At the very least he could fowl the sample with mud or something, but that would have to be a problem for another time. The teen's eyes drifted to survey the mess around him on the floor and his frown deepened. He had enough blood and vomit to clean up now as it was.

A little while later Link found himself sitting with his knees hugged against his bare chest as he idly poked new life into the fire with a stick. Cleaning blood and vomit off the floor had turned out the be the least of his worries as he soon realized his shirt and pants had also been fouled with the stuff, forcing him to strip down to a loin cloth to wash his soiled clothing. And that was on top of having to wash a bucket load a dried blood out of his hair and off his back. Luckily, the river had made those tasks possible and his clothes were even now drying by the fire, but that didn't make the brisk night air any more enjoyable.

A fresh breeze blew in through the entrance of the cave, it's cool touch making goose bumps rise on Link's flesh and he shivered, pulling his blanket tighter around his shoulders. He thought briefly about digging his spare clothing out of his packs, but then thought better of it, not wanting to dirty his clean clothing when there wasn't really any need for it. His current set would be dry soon enough and his hair was already nearly dry as it was.

The hylian sighed, resting his chin on his knees as his eyes flickered to the sleeping Ganondorf, only to find the man's condition the same as it had been five minutes ago when he checked last. At least the gerudo's previously trials had plunged him into a sleep so deep Link was unsure he could have woken the man even if he wanted too. But the hours of uninterrupted rest were doing the man good; his breathing had deepened and color was creeping back into his face. Now if only I can figure out a way to convince him not to try killing me the instant he wakes up.

Link snorted ruefully at the thought, his gaze sliding back to fire as he threw another log onto the blaze, making it belch out a wave of heat and a hissing fit of sparks, but then his heart hearth sunk a bit as his mind continued his former train of thought. He had been cautious, too cautious before. If Ganondorf had truly been in mortal peril, then the man would have died while he was still trying to figure out the dastardly plan even though one hadn't even existed. The youth couldn't believe he had fallen so easily into his old pattern of thinking again with Ganondorf being the wily enemy without even realizing it! Had they been enemies for so long they couldn't be anything else anymore?

The teen groaned, burying his head in his arms. Stupid, he's been so stupid! Sighing, Link raised his head again, letting his eyes drift back to the dancing flames of the fires. He needed to look at Ganondorf without the veil of old prejudices if either of them was going to have even a chance of surviving the others company. Of course that did not negate the fact that he couldn't afford to forget how powerful the Dark Lord was. He couldn't let his guard down if he was ever to survive the man, but... But what? Grrgh! The hylian scratched his head in frustration. Maybe it was all futile. Maybe Ganondorf would be better off if he just stocked the cave with provisions and left, but he couldn't do that either. He couldn't just ignore his duty and leave a quite possibly homicidal sorcerer to roam free so they were just going to have to live with each other. Somehow. Until he figured out what the hell he was going to do.

Pushing the swarm of foreboding thoughts away, Link simply stared into the fire waiting for morning to come.

Thankfully, nothing more happened that night. Gannodorf slept like the dead and had the grace not to die while the potion Link had drunk gave him the extra boost he needed to keep watch until the first dim light of dawn made it's way down into the canyon. The first birdsong of the day came gently to the hylian and he lifted his head to look out of the cave, his eyes recognizing the barest hint of twilight lightening the land outside. For a moment Link could not quite comprehend that what had seemed like the longest night was finally over and somehow both he and Ganondorf had made it through alive.

Yawning, the teen stretched and heaved himself to his feet, shuffling over to check on the sorcerer's condition yet again. The big man still slept, but for some reason Link felt sure the worst had passed. Even the gerudo's fever, which had plagued him so cruelly before, had broken, leaving him in a peaceful slumber.

Certain Ganondorf was no longer in any immediate danger of dying, Link banked the fire and, shrugging his dry clothes on, walked out of the cave. The new day brought much to do.

TBC...

Chapter Text

Link crept silently through the brush, his eyes focused on his quarry as his hands smoothly knocked an arrow into his bow. Just a little closer and-

The hylian stood, inhaling as he pulled the bowstring back and let loose in one fluid motion. The arrow whistled forward and hit it's target with a blunt thud. The deer let out a soft huff as the blow struck then fell, dead before it hit the ground.

Link sighed, letting out his held breath, and slung his bow over his shoulder as he trotted towards the fallen animal. He knelt by the body, resting a hand on it's flank to make sure the deer was truly dead - he did not want the creature to suffer - before allowing himself to survey his kill. The deer was small, only a yearling, but he had decided to take it anyway for he was unfamiliar with these lands and hadn't been sure when he would come across another such animal. He simply couldn't afford to waste time wandering around the forest in his current situation and, truthfully, the small deer was perfect for his needs. With only him and Ganondorf they didn't need a massive amount of meat, even with the gerudo healing, and he could dry or smoke the extra to replenish his dwindling traveling supplies.

Glancing up, Link frowned slightly as he considered the sky. The dim orb of the sun that could be seen through the clouds of swirling dust above was high in the sky, hinting at a late hour in the morning. Feeling a sudden urgent need to get back to camp quickly - he had been gone for a few hours now, Link pulled out his knife and began the process of field dressing the carcass.

/\/\/\/\/\/\

Golden eyes jerked open as consciousness came abruptly back to Ganondorf with a gasp. Heart racing, the man lay still staring straight ahead for a few seconds, his breath panting out of him roughly before he relaxed again with a sigh. "Shit," he groaned, sitting up stiffly and rubbing his aching eyes with one hand as he leaned back on the other. "What a crazy dream," he murmured, then froze as his thoughts caught up with his sight. Wait a minute; the man glanced up through his spread fingers. He was in a cave. A cave! And... The sorcerer look down at himself and mentally cursed as he saw the bandages. It hadn't been a dream. Dammit, where was the boy?

The Thief King twisted to try and get a look at his surrounding then winced as the motion sent a hot stab through his chest. For a second the pain was so great he couldn't catch his breath and he gritted his teeth in a silent snarl, clutching at his chest. Then the pain passed, but the episode left him weak and shaky. Panting, the gerudo move to look around again, this time careful not to aggravate his wound. Sharp golden eyes took in the saddle bags piled in on the far side of the cave, the weak flicker of the fire's dying embers, and the unused bedroll laid out on the other side of the cave, matching the spare bedroll he himself was lying on. Clearly the hylian had been here, but there was no sign of him now.

A slow smile spread across the Ganondorf's lips. The young fool had left him alone. This was his chance. He could escape.

Throwing the blankets off, the gerudo managed to stumble to his feet, then he had to pause and lean against the cave wall as a dizzy spell suddenly struck. Crap, he shook his head, trying to shake off the dizziness. This was bad; he couldn't afford to linger - there was no telling when the boy would return - but he couldn't afford to rush and risk injuring himself worse either.

Closing his eyes, the sorcerer sighed out a deep calming breath and gently spread his palm over his bandaged chest, stretching his senses to examine his wound with his magics. His brow furrowed as he considered the information that came to him. Somehow, impossibly, the sword that had impaled him had missed his major organs and even his bones. The blade had entered just under his sternum and had sliced diagonally through him to punch out between his ribs without sheering through them. He knew the force of the blow had cracked a couple ribs in the back, he could feel the lingering effects of the break, but somehow the bones were whole again now. He could sense the effects of a health potion in the past, helping to heal his mangled body. He frowned at that knowledge, unable to remember when he had taken a potion. He normally limited his intake of such things, but that was an impossible conundrum to solve right now so he let it go. The important thing was that there was nothing that was going to spontaneously rupture or puncture inside him as long as he was careful.

Now certain he wasn't going to kill himself simply by moving, the man focused once more on his escape. Leaning heavily against the wall, the gerudo forced himself to shuffled forward towards the mouth of the cave, moving slowly to protect his injury. He was chagrined to leave with simply the clothes on his back - the boy had been smart enough to disarm him - but he did not have the strength to carry any pilfered supplies and there simply was no time to search for a weapon. The youth could have hidden them anywhere and, while useful, a weapon was but a luxury. As long as he recovered he would be just as dangerous without a weapon as he was with one. He just needed to escape... but that was quickly turning out to be harder then he originally thought it would be.

Gasping roughly, the man felt sweat break out on his hot skin as he finally reached the entrance of the cave and he had to take a moment to rest, his body sagging against the rough, stony wall. He wiped his brow with the back of a shaky hand, panting as he considered his dismal situation. The stupid boy hadn't even bound him, but the reason why was becoming abundantly clear as he struggled to stay standing on trembling legs. His wounds had left him impossibly weak.

Looking out at the landscape, the gerudo's heart sank as his gaze took note of the large clearing in front of the cave, but there were plenty of sturdy trees in the forest just beyond. He just needed to get to one. Just one tree at a time. If the hylian had thought this little setback would stop him, then the boy had grievously underestimated him. The man's eyes narrowed and he gritted his teeth in defiance; the boy would rue the day he made such a mistake. He would make certain of that.

Locking his eyes on the closest of the trees that looked like it could manage his weight, Ganondorf stumbled out into the sunlit field. A burning ache quickly settled inside his chest after the first few steps, making it hard for him to catch his breath as he moved forward on limbs that felt as weak as a kitten's, but he forced himself on. Focused on stepping one foot in front of the other, the gerudo made it to the shade of the tree with a sheer force of will. Collapsing against the welcome support of the woody trunk, the Thief King looked back over his shoulder towards the cave and felt the pit of his stomach drop. What had felt like a distance of leagues had barely been ten yards.

Sighing, Ganondorf leaned his forehead against the rough bark, and focused on simply staying standing. Sweat soaked his body, dripping down his face and crusted in his hair as his entire body shuddered with the strain. All he wanted to do was sit and rest, but he knew if he did, he wouldn't be getting up again anytime soon.

Gritting his teeth, the man pushed himself off of his current support and took a few faltering steps towards his next targeted tree, but then his body revolted, his legs wobbling out from under him, landing him in an undignified heap on the ground. The jarring landing sent a hot stab though the sorcerer's chest and he let out a tight hiss, squeezing his eyes shut against the pain and mentally cursing his failing body.

Huffing roughly, the man's shoulders slowly relaxed as the pain eased and he blinked his teary eyes open. Then he blinked again, his eyes widening in alarm as he saw the boy's silver bay mare looking at him from across the field with her head down and ears back. A flare of fear lit within Ganondorf at the sight and he sat perfectly still, watching the horse wearily. He knew she was a trained warhorse, fearsome in the protection her master, but he had no knowledge of her normal temperament. Some warhorses were mild outside the field of battle, but others were absolute terrors. As the man studied the animal he felt certain she was studying him in turn, her liquid brown eyes sharp with intelligence. Then, to the gerudo's surprise, the horse shook of her head with a snort and went back to her peaceful grazing.

Cautiously, the sorcerer half stumbled, half crawled back to the shade and relative cover of the first tree. If anything he could at least hide behind the tree if the horse decided to charge, but a glance over his shoulder revealed that she seemed perfectly happy simply to graze; although he had a suspicion that she was keeping an eye on him just as he was keeping an eye on her.

Painstakingly, the man heaved himself into a sitting position with his back leaning against the tree, his spine sliding against the rough bark as he relaxed back. The position gave him a good view of the cave entrance and the approaches to it, but sitting there the man wondered dimly how he was ever going to get his exhausted body up again. He felt his heart sink as his plans for escape were dashed by the limitations of his body. He didn't even seem to have the energy to move to hide himself behind the tree anymore. His entire body felt far too heavy; dragging him down. He was just so tired. Everything around him seemed to be swaying lightly, his eyelids drooping as his shoulders sagged with exhaustion. The man shook his head, trying to keep himself awake, but it was a losing battle as his worn out body coaxed his eyes closed and he fell into a light doze.

/\/\/\/\/\/\

"Hey you're up!"

The cheery voice startled Ganondorf out of his slumber. His head jerked up, but the fast movement made him faintly woozy and it took him a few moments to focus on the hylian standing in front of him with a deer slung across pale, bare shoulders, looking down at him with worried eyes.

"Sorry," the teen said, his brow furrowing with concern at the man's startled reaction. "I didn't realize you were asleep."

Hate rose in the Dark Lord, a choking almost visceral reaction that seemed to lodge in his throat at the very sight of the handsome, fair-haired hylian who had ruined all his carefully laid plans. The muscles of his shoulders tensed as if he could do more than just glare up at the youth standing above him, studying him with a quizzical look in those sapphire blue eyes. He knew he was completely at this boy's mercy. Even the feeble threads of offensive magic he managed to gather slid through his metaphysical fingers as his focus slipped. All he could do was sit there and scowled at the teen, wishing he had never existed to get in the way.

"Not exactly a prime buck," Ganondorf finally said disdainfully, breaking the awkward silence, but he was surprised when his harsh words were met by a dazzling smile.

"Ah, it looks like you're lucid again."

Ganondorf grunted in response and shifted his shoulders to settle himself more comfortably against the tree, pretending to ignore the hylians words even as his mind raced at the implications of them. Lucid? When had he not been lucid? And if- What had he said?! What had he DONE?! He couldn't remember-

Movement caught the sorcerer's eyes and his attention flicked away from his anxious thoughts as his gaze refocused on the teen again as the boy crouched before him. "You know you shouldn't be out," the youth said, his blue eyes worriedly taking in the man's condition as he slipped the small deer from his shoulders and let it flop onto the ground.

Anger flashed hot in the gerudo's chest and his golden eyes narrowed spitefully, "Am I to be your prisoner now, boy?" he said harshly, baring his teeth in a snarl.

The hylian looked taken aback by the man's reaction and quickly shook his head. "I didn't mean that-" he said in an almost pleading tone before abruptly cutting himself off. He seemed to consider his words before looking back at the man and speaking again. "You're going to open your wound again if you're not careful."

Ganondorf could clearly hear how carefully the teen was choosing his words. Obviously the boy was trying to reason with him, trying not to aggravate him, but it was far too late for that. Still he needed a clear head if he was to gain the upper hand in this situation. Frowning at himself the gerudo took a deep breath, trying to think clearly through the swirling maelstrom of rage that filled his mind, then winced as his expanding lungs pulled the skin tight around his wound. He grunted in pain and shifted uncomfortably, a hand unconsciously lifting to cover his wound protectively.

"Are-" Link lifted an hand towards the Dark Lord, a worried expression spreading over his face at the sight of the man's pain.

Ganondorf's eyes widened, his fury bursting to the surface at the teen's audacity. "Do not touch ME!" he roared, knocking the boy's outstretched hand away with a snarl and a threatening flash of teeth.

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry," Link said quickly, startled by the gerudo's reaction. "I didn't mean to upset you," he added, sitting back on his haunches with his hands raised in surrender, scared the man might hurt himself in his anger. Aggravating a hurt, cornered animal was never a good idea, be they four-legged or two; finned, feathered, or furred.

In that moment the Thief King would have liked nothing more than to wipe that innocent little sympathetic look off the teen's face , but he simply didn't have the energy. Instead, the man slumped back, the exertion of his outburst leaving him panting roughly with his teeth now bared more in pain then in anger.

Painfully slowly Ganondorf's breathing came back under his control and he looked back at the boy with accusatory eyes. "What did you do to me?" he said, trying to keep himself calm and rational, but his voice betray him, making the words came out as a breathy growl.

"Oh you know. Just bandaged your wounds and nursed you through a feverish night. You're welcome," Link said lightly, punctuating his last words with a beaming grim, refusing to let himself get riled by the sorcerers tone. The man had reason to be worried, maybe even scared. It was obvious that was why he acted so hostile now, at least Link hoped that was the reason. Maybe the Thief King was just always a dick or maybe he was simply that unstable, but Link couldn't quite bring himself to believe either of those explanations. Not after the gentle tenderness he had seen the night before.

"Where am I?" Ganondorf asked, ignoring the teens blatant attempt to extend an olive branch. He didn't care what the boy thought. He didn't care how the boy acted. He just needed to milk as much information from of the youth while he could, before the hylian got smart.

"You know that I'm not 100 percent sure of," Link said, leaning back on his haunches and looking up at the sky. "If I had to guess by the sun I'd have to say... maybe 2 miles south -east of the castle."

The sorcerer's brow furrowed at that news. "You haven't moved me," he murmured, more to himself then to Link as he considered his mental maps of the landscape. That meant he wouldn't have to go far...

"Isn't that obvious?" Link asked, cocking his head questioningly at the man, oblivious of the gerudo's scheming thoughts. The man's golden gaze flickered back to focus on the teen again, but Link couldn't help but notice that his eyes had dulled with pain and exhaustion.

"It could be in a trick," Ganondorf said darkly, mistrust and suspicion as clear on his face as it was in his words.

Link sighed, feeling the frustration he had been keeping under a tight lock and key slip free, tainting the tone of his voice. "You were in no condition to move then and you really shouldn't be moving now," he said, the words coming out a bit sharper then he intended.

Ganondorf felt his hackles rise at the teen's patronizing tone, but he studiously ignored the implications of the boy's words. Instead he looked past the boy, his brow furrowing as another thought came to him. "Where are the others?" he asked, his sharp eyes looking erroneously for signs of other people at the camp, certain there had to be some. The boy couldn't have been foolish enough to chase after him alone.

"Others?" Link asked in turn, perplexity by the man's sudden seemingly nonsensical change of topic.

The sorcerer's brow furrowed in confusion as his searching gaze refocused on the hylian. "I thought- In the night..."

Link's eyes softened with sympathy as understanding dawned on him. "You were very sick last night. Delirious. What you saw wasn't real. I'm the only one here with you," he said softly, trying to explain the situation as gently as he could, not wanting to rile the man up again.

The man snorted in derision, not believing a word the teen said. "Put back your pity boy," he said, harshly. "I have no used for it."

Link scowled, finally fed up with the man's rude demeanor. "You know, you don't have to be such an ass about everything," he said bluntly, surprising himself almost as much as he seemed to surprise the Thief King.

Ganondorf started and stared at him with wide eyes for a long moment then huffed and turned his head away, saying nothing in reply. But Link could have sworn his cheeks colored slightly, though whether it was in anger at the words or shame at his own behavior, the boy could not say.

"Would you like help?" Link finally asked, his emotions more contained as he motioned back to the cave with a hand.

"I don't need your damned help," the gerudo snapped at the aggravating boy, the outburst leaving him flushed and panting.

Link's worried eyes took notice of the Thief King's condition, but he just shrugged nonchalantly, knowing the head-strong man would just get more irritable if he seemed concerned. "Suit yourself," he said and stood, stretching his arms with a grunt.

Shocked, Ganondorf watched as the hylian bent down and heaved the deer carcass back onto his shoulders before turning and walking into the cave without a backward glance. Confusion and perhaps a bit of curiosity ate away at the sorcerer's anger as he considered the teen's actions and words. Surly he and the boy couldn't be here alone. That would have been such a stupid risk for the hylian to take and supposing for a second that they were alone, why in the world was the teen just leave him to his own devises. It didn't make sense.

A moment later, the teen reappeared from the cave carrying a length of rope. Ganondorf watched the boy wearily, half expecting the hylian to walk over and insist on binding him hand and foot, but instead the boy moved to the other side of the clearing, studying the trees. Seemingly choosing one, the youth threw one end of the rope over a sturdy high branch then tied the opposite end to the hind legs of the deer. Laying the deer down on the ground, he heaved on the free end of the rope, jerkily hauling the carcass up to hang in the air, swaying slightly.

"You shouldn't hang that in the sun," Ganondorf blurted out, then started, surprised with himself. But coming from a tribe who had so few land resources, he couldn't bear to keep silent and let that much meat spoil and go to waste.

Link looked up, momentarily startled by the man's unexpected words, then he grinned, taking the advice, even if it was a touch condescending, as a good sign. "I know. I just wanted to drain more of the blood so it wouldn't make such a mess when it's hanging inside," he said, still smiling as he turned back to his work.

Ganondorf grunted, leaning back with a scowl, then was astonished to see the boy lower the deer to take his advice and hang the carcass in a shadier spot.

Finally securing the rope around the trunk of the tree, Link surveyed his work with a satisfied nod before moving back towards the cave, but he paused, looking back towards the Thief King. "Do you need anything?" he asked, his blue eyes intent on the man.

The gerudo tossed his head and looked away without answering.

Link sighed with a shake of his head, sensing their brief moment of cooperation had past, and turned away to pad back into the depths of the cave.

Ganondorf leaned his head back and closed his eyes with a sigh, feeling drained, but then his eyes snapped open again at the sound of the hylian exiting the cave once more. The sorcerer lifted his gaze to see the boy coming straight for him and he tensed, suspicious of the teen's intentions.

Link seemed to sense the gerudo's disquiet for the boy stopped a few feet away before bending down and gently tossing a small leather pouch and a canteen next to where the sorcerer sat. "You don't want to get dehydrated," the youth said then added a blanket to the little pile. "In case it gets cold," he said for clarification before standing straight again. The teen then gave the man a small smile then and said; "I'm glad you're feeling better," before trotting away into the woods with a bag slung over his shoulder.

Ganondorf stared after the hylian's receding back in utter disbelief. The boy was blatantly giving him another chance to escape but... Gritting his teeth, the Thief King tried to stand again, leaning his back against the tree and walking his hands up it's trunk, but his weakened legs slid out from under him and he thumped back onto his butt, his limbs already shaking with the strain. "Dammit," the man whispered, leaning his head back against the tree as his chest heaved for air. Why do I have to be so weak?

Frustrated tears pricked the corner of the gerudo's eyes at the thought. He had been so close. The triforce... If it hadn't been for this bloody BOY! Dammit! He pounded a fist back into the trunk of the tree, but it did no good and made his hand hurt. Ganondorf felt his teeth bare as the emotions and pain flowed through him, but he refused to let the tears welling in his eyes fall. He just needed to regain control. He could be patient, bide his time until he was stronger. Then the boy would not be able to stop. Not this time. He wouldn't allow it.

Forcing himself to take a few deep, steadying breaths, Ganondorf found his eyes wandering to the small pile of supplies the hylian had left beside him. Licking his lips, the gerudo noticed suddenly how very dry his mouth was. He hated having to take the boy's charity but... Grimacing the man snatched up the canteen. Scowling furiously, he unscrewed the cap and peered suspiciously into the dark interior of the canteen, as mistrustful as ever but finding himself in a pinch. After a moment the sorcerer shrugged to himself; there was nothing he could do anyway even if the liquid was drugged so he braced himself and took a tentative sip. The cool taste of pure, unadulterated water flowed over his tongue, soothing his parched throat. Sighing softly in relief the gerudo tipped his head back and took another long gulp before recapping the canteen, not wanting to waste all the water now, especially since he wasn't sure when his meager supply of it would be replenished.

Huffing a weary breath through his nose, Ganondorf leaned back, his tired eyes gazing up at the hazy sky above. All my plans...ruined, he thought morosely. What am I going to do now?

TBC...

Chapter Text

Link hummed softly to himself as he trotted back to camp, delighted by the success of his foraging trip. The empty pouch he had left the cave with just a few hours before was now heavy with fresh supplies; supplies he had desperately needed to replenish his own dwindling stores. He had been surprised by the richness, both in plant and animal life, of the canyon, but then he supposed that was common when you found yourself near the only water source available for miles. Now along with a whole deer the teen found himself with a good array of wild roots, berries and nuts as well as the knowledge of where he could get more if he needed to later. He had also accidentally startled a pheasant hen off her nest and had automatically shot her down with a well placed stone from his slingshot. He had felt a little guilty about that encounter afterward, knowing he hadn't really needed the pheasant with a deer waiting for him back at the cave, but then he got over it, knowing the meat would not go to waste - not with the cool depths of the cave to help keep any such perishables from spoilage. Plus there was the added bonus of the full clutch of pheasant eggs he had found hidden within the tall grasses near the kill. The hylian found himself grinning in remembrance. So far things had gone almost ridiculously well; now if he could only figure out a way to get Ganondorf to take the hostility down a notch.

Mind turning towards thoughts of the Thief King, Link broke off his idle humming as the smile fell from his lips and he slowed his pace to move more silently through the brush. He doubted the sorcerer had the strength to set up trap or some such thing, but it never hurt to be careful, especially around the Dark Lord.

Nearing the edge of the cave's clearing, Link paused to carefully brush back the leafy branches of the bushes and peer into the grassy expanse beyond. Unsurprisingly, his gaze found Ganondorf still sitting where he had left the man, although it did look like the gerudo had availed himself of some of the supplies he had been offered earlier. The corner of Link's mouth quirked in a wry smile as his sharp eyes took in that tidbit of knowledge. Even as he watched the man raised the canteen to his lip and took a sip of water before wiping his mouth with the back of a hand. Link couldn't help but feel a bit smug seeing that; guess the all-powerful boogieman everyone is afraid of is just another mortal man after all.

Suddenly Link found himself frozen with indecision at the periphery of the clearing, overwhelmed by an intense wave of curiosity that halted his progress forward even as his sharp eyes studied the gerudo before him. Silently, he considered the man from his hidden vantage, unable to help but think Ganondorf seemed rather different now that the man thought himself alone and unobserved. Something in the gerudo's face seemed... softer somehow; the rough abrasive edges of his demeanor smoothing away, making the negative aura that clung to him dissipate until it was almost as if Link were seeing a different man entirely. In fact the sorcerer almost looked... peaceful? No that wasn't right. Not with that frowny face. Maybe calm? The boy cocked his head to the side as he considered the man sitting in the sun dappled shade barely a dozen yards away, his red gaze fixed on Epona, studying the mare warily. Yes, calm, Link decided with dawning amazement. He had never seen the gerudo calm before except... The young warrior's mind flickered back to the night before; to the man's terror and tenderness and tears. To the stranger he wouldn't have recognized if he had not been wearing the Thief King's face; so different from the Ganondorf he knew who was only  full of rage, hate and spite. Was the fury the sorcerer wore like a cloak simply a disguise, a mask used to fool the unaware and bolster his fearsome reputation? the teen wondered absently. Or had the kindness he had seen before simply been an echo of what the man once was before his hate had twisted him into the monster the legends said he was? The teen had no idea which of those two theories could be true, but maybe, just maybe with a little covert observation he could find out.

Suddenly craving a better view, Link silently dropped his packs and turned to climb the tall, sturdy oak tree next to him. Effortlessly pulling himself up through the branches, Link found a high sturdy limb and eased himself out onto it on his hands and knees, trying to find a good view of the clearing and the man below. A break in the leaves appeared a few yards from the trunk and the boy laid himself down along the branch, his arm reaching out to gently ease down a leafy bough that was partially obscuring his view.

"Who are you really?" they hyalean mused softly, his eyes fixed on the sorcerer as he settled in to watch what would unfold from his relatively safe and secret vantage point.

/\/\/\/\/\

That horse; Ganondorf scowled dourly across the grassy field at the boy's silver bay mare. That damned horse. The gerudo lowered his head, his eyes narrowing with suspicion as he watch the mare crop a few mouthfuls of grass before taking a step forward and raising her head to munch on the succulent green stalks. He was almost positive he wasn't imagining it anymore; that animal had been unobtrusively sidling closer to him for the past hour - he was sure of it. Maybe the boy had somehow set her to guard him when he wasn't looking; he wouldn't put it past the little conniving bastard, pretending to be all nice and innocent when he was really-

Ganondorf's thoughts broke off as the horses ears suddenly flicked back and she turned her head away from him, gazing off into the forest for a second before snorting and lowering her head to the grass again. The sorcerer huffed irritably, his suddenly tense shoulders relaxing again now that Epona had obviously evaluated whatever noise she had heard and deemed the source harmless. Ganondorf had to admit, even if it was only in the secrecy of his own mind, that having the horse around did have its perks; he wouldn't get eaten by a bear or anything, at least not without knowing about it first. Still he had a sneaking suspicion that the mare had somehow been  told to watch him. Why else would she stick so close to him for hours, unless she was curious of course.

The Thief King cocked his head to the side, critically apprising that thought as he studied Epona peacefully cropping grass in front of him with fresh eyes. The mare certainly seemed intelligent enough to have an inquisitive side and plenty of horses had a curious streak within them. Maybe...

Seeming to sense his stare, Epona raised her head and nickered at him, one ear flicking forward and the other back in question as she ambled a bit closer to him.

"What are you looking at fuzz-butt?" he snapped reflexively, his hackles raising with suspicion even though the mare had done nothing recently to raise his ire.

The horse snorted at his words, shaking her head and taking a step back as both her ears flipped back then she turned her butt to him with an indignantly swish of her tail and pointedly went back to grazing.

Ganondorf chuckled despite himself at her response, feeling his sour mood lift as he eyed the tan expanse of horse-butt now standing in front of him. Faced with any other horses hindquarters he might have worried about getting kicked, but the mare showed no signs of hostility towards him; at least not yet.  If anything she seemed to simply be displaying her displeasure with him. The man felt an appreciative smirk spread over his lips at the thought. He had to admit, the boy's mare was quite the character. And a fine animal too, the gerudo thought, his eyes taking in her form. He wondered idly if the bay understood the rudiments of the standard trade language that was common between all the various peoples of the land or if she had just construed his unflattering meaning of his remark from his tone. Probably tone he decided, rubbing his beard thoughtfully. Many horses understood the odd word or phrase, but few if any were smart enough to learn a full language, but this one...

"A smart one, aren't you girl?" he mused, propping one elbow on his knee so he could rest his head in his hand as he looked at her.

The mare swung her head around to look back at him over her shoulder, her ears perked forward at the sound of his voice before she huffed a breath out of her nose and went back to her grazing.

The sorcerer chuckled to himself again feeling somehow as if a weight had been lifted from him; it had been a long time since anything had made him really laugh. He had almost forgotten how good it felt. Sighing Ganondorf leaned back against the tree trunk, his gaze lifting away from the horse to the sun dappled leaves above him. It was such a beautiful day; too bad he couldn't bring himself to enjoy it.

The corners of Ganondorf's lips dipped down again as the weight of his problems settled on him once more. Leaning his head back against the tree he closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh. A sudden pang of pain stabbed into his chest at the deep breath and he winced, clenching his jaw as a hand automatically rose to cover his wound. Dammit, I can't even breath with this thing, he thought bitterly, his shallow breaths huffing roughly from him as a sheen of sweat appeared on his brow and he tried to work through the pain. At last the episode past, leaving him feeling shaky and weak. The wound in his chest still ached with a hot, throbbing intensity, but then no one ever said having a hole in your chest would be comfortable. Ganondorf snorted in bitter amusement at that thought before turning his attention to the sky one more. The sun was still high over head, but time was passing him by. He needed to get moving if he was ever going to escape, but...

Using the tree as support, the sorcerer tried to push himself to his feet, but his grip slipped, skidding his hands over the rough bark, and he collapsed back, panting hard and trying to ignore the pain that stabbed through his chest every time he took a breath even as his skinned hands burned, demanding attention. Sweat dripped into his eyes making them sting and he dashed it away with an angry swipe of a shaking hand before letting himself slump back against the tree again feeling drained. Dammit, he thought without heat, too exhausted to hold onto the hot fury of his anger. Now what? Was he simply to wait until the boy came back and... and what? The hylian had yet to give a clue about his intentions. Why the young warrior hadn't killed him or simply waited for him to die was yet a mystery. What could he possibly have that the boy wanted?  The man scowled at his thoughts, unsatisfied with all the unanswered questions that plagued him. Wounded as he was he had nothing to do but sit and brood about his current lot in life and it was turning his disposition distinctly sour.

Sighing resignedly, the gerudo unscrewed the canteen's cap and took another small sip of refreshing water. His strained body wanted more of course, but the urgent need to conserve the precious liquid was also foremost in his mind. The boy hadn't left him with much in the way of supplies. Soon after the teen had wandered off, curiosity had forced the sorcerer to rummage through what the boy had given him. The pouch had contained food, some hard bread and cheese and a sad little apple that was beginning to wither (it was always hard to keep fresh supplies on a long journey). In addition, there was a smaller bag inside the pouch that contained some dried fruit and nuts and a few scant pieces of meat jerky. It all seemed to be of good quality, even the apple had once been, and unadulterated so Ganondorf had tried nibbling on the bread, but the strong smell of the cheese had quickly turned his tender stomach and he couldn't bring himself to try eating again now. What truly concerned him the most was the single canteen the boy had left him. He could die of thirst long before he would ever succumb to hunger and if the boy didn't return... Dammit, he hated being so reliant on the hylian brat, but if he couldn't get himself to stand let alone collect his own food and water what else was he to do? Dammit all to hell! The sorcerer snarled wordlessly through gritted teeth, his hands clenching into frustrated fists. He hated being so helpless. He hated all of this! Despite his bitter thoughts, the man's anger quickly subsided, his mind and body too tired to spend the energy on being mad for long.  Grimly, the gerudo allowed himself the luxury of one more swig, the cool water soothing his dry mouth, before recapping the canteen and-

Ganondorf grimaced as the sound of sloshing water abruptly brought another problem to his attention and the uncomfortably tight pang in his gut came to the forefront of his thoughts. Shit, he mentally cursed with a grunt of sudden discomfort; I have to pee...

/\/\/\/\/\

Link watched the gerudo's and equine's exchange with undeniable fascination. Epona was generally a good judge of character and now that Ganondorf was no longer overtly threatening her or her master, she was curiously relaxed around the man. But what did that mean? Maybe Ganondorf wasn't as bad as all the legends said. Maybe... No, Link shook his head. He needed more data before he could make, let alone act, on any such theories. It simply wasn't safe to leap to conclusions on such a thin basis, especially in this situation. If he let his guard down and Ganondorf turned out to be worse... Link grimaced at the thought. He couldn't let his wishful thinking cloud his judgment, but... he also couldn't let his former prejudices influence him either. Dammit, why did the man have to be such a mystery? The boy sighed with frustration then focused himself on the clearing again; bottom line, he needed to know more.

The young warrior silently continued his observations, feeling himself tense as the man struggled to stand before falling back against the tree again. Finding himself oddly disgruntled and concerned with the sorcerer's condition, Link settled again, his chin resting on the pad of his hands which were crossed over the branch he lay upon. He felt a flare of pity and a strong desire to help well within him as he watched Ganondorf sag against the tree, but he knew the man would never willingly accept any assistance from him so he simply stayed where he was, his eyes soaking up every detail, wanting to learn more even as his mind tried to figure out the puzzling man. At the very least the sorcerer didn't seem to have injured himself again.

Motion caught Link's gaze and he turned his attention away from his thoughts to focus on the sorcerer so far below him again. Confused, he cocked his head to the side, watching as the man somehow forced himself to his knees beside the tree, twisting to turning his back to the horse and, unknowingly Link and- Oh goddess!

Link quickly averted his gaze, feeling like a voyeur as his cheeks flushed with mortified shock. I didn't mean to see that; I didn't mean to see that; I didn't mean to see that, the boy chanted silently in his head even as a small, curious part of his mind tried to entice him to glance back; just for a second; just a little look- No, the hylian told himself firmly, shaking his head. I'm not some peeping tom!

Despite Link's firm, if slightly prudish, convictions, motion in his periphery vision automatically made the teen turn his head back, but luckily by then the gerudo had tucked himself back into his pants and was on his knees leaning back against the tree again.

Face still hot with embarrassment, the boy tried to settle himself again, but his thoughts kept wandering and he soon found himself thinking of the night before. It had been so different... Link sighed, uncertain where he stood when it came to the Thief King. Either the man was really good at acting or he honestly didn't remember that night. Didn't remember... kissing... Link felt his face grow warmer at the thought even as his heart began to beat just a little faster. Suddenly, he was startled to find himself idly tracing his bottom lip with a finger as he remembered the gerudo's soft lips. The taste and- No! Link abolished himself, blushing even harder as he balled the offending hand into a fist. I need to focus, he thought harshly. For all I know yesterday was a lie. And it had been a lie, hadn't it? Ganondorf never knew he was kissing me.

Feeling oddly forlorn at that thought, Link sighed, propping his chin on his hands as he went back to watching the man, resolutely ignoring the hot blush on his cheeks.

/\/\/\/\/\

A light wind shifted through the trees, making the dappled sunlight dance across Ganondorfs shaded form. The man sighed with relief, closing his eyes and reveling in the breeze as its soft touch cooled his hot, sweaty skin, but soon enough the moment passed, leaving him panting and hot from his exertions. (Who knew peeing could be so difficult)?

Shaking sweat from his eyes, the sorcerer squinted up at the sun and frowned. The day was racing by and his condition wasn't getting any better. If he was going to try escaping, it had to be now. His body wasn't going to miraculously recover in the next few hours and there was no telling if the boy would ever give him such a chance again. He had to go now.

Quickly, the man made his preparations to leave: slinging the water canteen over a shoulder and shoving the small pouch of food into one pocket and the apple into the other. He unfortunately had no room left on his person for the cheese and bread, but where he was going he had no need for such supplies; if only he could get there.

Closing his eyes, the gerudo took one last long deep breath, ignoring the pain, using the time to center himself and focus his will. Then his eyes snapped open and he heaved himself, stumbling up from his knees to his feet. The man was forced to steady himself momentarily against the tree as his vision swayed, but then he set out, pushing away from the safety of the trunk and into the sunlight, using his weight more than anything to guide his staggering step. Safety wasn't even a mile away; he could- But he couldn't.

Ganondorf groaned as his vision swam, making his step uncertain. He staggered blindly forward, stubbornly forcing his body on even though he couldn't really tell where he was going. Suddenly a knee buckled and his shaky legs gave out. The man cursed viciously, stumbling to catch his balance even as he began to fall. This had been stupid, foolish, the man snarled at himself as he braced for a hard impact with the ground, but instead he found himself collapsed, half standing against something... soft? For the moment he didn't question his good fortune, clinging to his sudden lifeline, his face pressed against the soft expanse as his body shivered with the strain. Sweat poured off him as he struggled to catch his breath, every intake of air sending a stab of pain through his chest. The sorcerer moaned miserably, a sound he would never had let himself utter if the boy was near, as helpless tears pricked the corners of his eyes. Why am I so weak?

Eventually the gerudo found his equilibrium again and brought himself back under control, even though his legs simply refused to take his full weight again. He clung to his support, breathing hard as he tried to figure out his next move. Idly the man found himself wondering why everything suddenly smelled of horse-

Ganondorf's blood froze as that thought sank in and he felt his breath catch in sudden fear. Surely my luck can't be that bad, can't it? The weakened sorcerer swallowed on a suddenly dry throat then ever so slowly he turned his head to find the mare looking back at him with her ears flicked back, looking thoroughly pissed. He had collapsed against the warhorse's shoulder. Shit.

/\/\/\/\/\

Link sprung into a crouch on his perch, his breath catching in his chest as Ganondorf fell against Epona's side. Normally he wouldn't have to worry about his mare is such a situation, but the sorcerer had been nothing, but their enemy; Link was unsure how she would react to the man's unsolicited touch. Tense as a bowstring, the boy waited to see what would unfold, ready to dive to the man's rescue at a moment's notice.

/\/\/\/\/\

Ganondorf stood frozen, his heart pounding painfully in his chest as he stared at Epona, certain the horse was going to lunge at him at any second.  He was soooo dead it didn't even bare thinking about. Why the warhorse hadn't struck already was a mystery to him.

The mare blinked at his slowly, almost lazily then blew out of her nose and surprisingly flicked one ear forward as he watched, breathless. A moment later she flicked her second ear forward and let out a soft nicker almost as if she were trying to reassure him. Ganondorf stared in amazement as the mare lowered her head, allowing him to slide gently down her neck to the ground in a controlled collapse. The sorcerer knelt in shocked disbelieve, barely daring to move as the horse sidled around the face him, pressing her face close to his as if trying to get a good look at him. Knowing there was nothing he could do if the warhorse suddenly decided to attack, Ganondorf sat there frozen as the magnificent beast before him studied him. Then she let out another nicker and tossed her head before stepping forward to nuzzle his shoulder. The sorcerer blinked, dumbfounded with the realization that the horse meant him no harm. Automatically he  reached up, caressing her soft fur and cradling her face in his hands as he rested his forehead against hers with a relieved sigh. "Thank you girl," he whispered patting her neck, feeling grateful tears prick his eyes even as he refused to let them fall. "Thank you."

/\/\/\/\/\

Link settled back on the branch with a relieved sigh, feeling pride swell within him as he watched his beautiful mare do her part to care for the injured man. It had been stupid of him to think Epona would do anything else; she wasn't one to attack a defenseless man. Smiling, he laid down along the tree limb again to continue his observations only to find himself astonished by what happened next.

/\/\/\/\/\

Ganondorf felt his heart sink as the mare pulled her head away from his grip, breaking contact. He hadn't realized how much comfort the animals touch had given him or the desperate need he had buried deep within him for such comfort. But then the horse simply circled around the gerudo and folded her legs to lay by him on the grass, offering the man her side to lean back against. The Thief King stared at the warhorse in shock, even as she gazed back at him with her calm, chocolate eyes. She looked away first, shaking her head before reaching out her neck and going back to her grazing.

The gerudo felt a smile spread unbidden over his lips and he relaxed gratefully, letting himself lean into the horse's warm, furry side. The mare made no indication that she noticed his added weight as she continued to crop the succulent blades of grass around her, stretching out her neck so that she wouldn't disturb the man laying beside her.

The man sighed, laying his head against the horse's warm shoulder, one of his hands reaching up to idly petting her soft neck. "Hungry girl," he murmured, more to himself then to the mare. Then he remembered- "Oh! I have something for you," he said, quickly fishing the small apple out of his pocket. That caught Epona's attention and she looked around at him questioningly, as if she was not quite sure he was one to share such a treat. Ganondorf chuckled softly at her look, stroking her shoulder reassuringly. "Don't worry girl. It's all for you." He had no knife so he bit out a chuck of the slightly mealy apple and offered it to the horse who gave a appreciative whicker and quickly lipped the proffered treat from his hand.  Ganondorf repeated the process, smiling as the mare delicately lipped each of the offered pieces of fruit from his hand until there was none left. "That's all," the sorcerer said, giving her an apologetic look as he showed her his empty hands. Then a laugh was startled from him as the horse, unconvinced that was the last of the apple, nose his pockets obviously looking for more. "Sorry girl," he chuckled, grinning as he scratched her behind the ears. "That's all I have." Epona snorted at that and turned back to her grass.

The Thief King relaxed back against the horse, laying his head against her soft coat as he watched the mare peacefully graze. She was quite a beautiful animal and had a much better temper then he would have guessed from any of their previous encounters. He was grateful for that.

A breeze rustled through the knee high grasses and the sorcerer tilted his head slightly with a soft groan, enjoying the cool touch as his dark skin soaked up the sunlight. It was a warm day, almost too warm in the sun, but the bright rays also felt good. He had been stuck in the Twilight for so long, he had all but forgotten what real sunlight felt like. He had missed the sun. He had missed all of his home world in his banishment, but now that he was back what was he to do? All of his plans had failed; there was nothing left for him anymore.

The man sighed, pushing the dour thoughts away and turning his attention to the needs of his body. He was tired. So tired. Snuggling up against the horse's warm side the gerudo let his aching eyes fall closed. He was too tired, hurt and weak to deal with any of this right now. Rest; he needed rest. He could figure out everything else after a nice little nap. Relaxing into the comfort of the horses side, Ganondorf fell asleep to the gentle kiss of sun and the rhythm of life pounded out by Epona's heart.

/\/\/\/\/\

Silently Link watched with wide eyes, his gaze eating up every detail before him, attention so focused that he almost forgot to breath. The events that were unfolding were so shocking, so contrary to popular belief that for a moment he almost didn't trust his own eyes, but everything was happening here, right in front of him. It couldn't be a lie. The sorcerer didn't have the strength the make an illusion so strong. Such spells relied on the viewer believing what they were seeing and this... this was simply unbelievable except.... Except maybe to one who had see the gentleness hidden within the man as Link had the night before.

Link couldn't help, but grin as he watched the man smile adoringly at Epona as he shared the apple with the mare. The boy wasn't sure he had ever seen the man actually smile, beside in his delirium. Sure there was that wolfish, I'm-going-to-rip-out-your-intestine-and-rend-you-limb-from-limb grin of his, but this... the was real. Maybe even happy... Then Ganondorf  had laughed;  he had actually laughed.

Link stared, barely daring to believe his eyes. The delirious Ganondorf of the night before had been surprising enough. Now this gentle, tender version of the Thief King  while he was plainly lucid was utterly unbelievable. The man before him simply couldn't be innately evil. He wasn't going out of his way to be cruel or mean. In fact his actions seemed almost... playful around Epona, teasing and perhaps a bit... relieved? None of which fit with the Dark Lord's sinister reputation. But then shouldn't that have been obvious? People were complex beings, no matter their culture or species. No one was completely evil or completely good; the world simply didn't work that way.

The teen, propped his head on his hands, considering the scene before him with fresh eyes. If this is who you really are, why do you hide it? The teen wondered as he watched the sorcerer curl up and seemingly fall asleep beside the mare. The Thief King was certainly a conundrum. There was no denying the sorcerer had done some horrible things in his life, but what if that wasn't the whole story? Link still had no idea why the gerudo started the war, maybe there was something else he was missing. It was already clear he had known very little about the Dark Lord before; it was likely there were still other things he did not know about the man. Maybe Ganondorf had thought he had a good reason for all he had done... Maybe some of the terrible deeds attributed to him had never actually been his fault. Goddess knew rumors and legends often took on a life of their own, growing absurdly out of proportion to reality. But then again, many rumors and legends also had a core of truth; he couldn't forget that. There was no way Ganondorf was a saint; that simply wasn't in the cards, but who was he really? What was the truth? One thing was for certain, the person that lay before his was a man, not a monster; even if he did have all the faults of man as well.

The hylian felt muscles he hadn't even realized were tense ease in his body as he considered his discoveries. Maybe the man he had glimpsed the night before still existed, buried deep inside the gerudo's rough exterior; wouldn't that be nice? Link felt a little thrill shiver through him at the thought and he sighed longingly, wondering idly if the gerudo would ever look at him as anything, but an enemy. Probably not, the teen decided pessimistically, but he could still hope, couldn't he?  He rather liked what he saw in the Thief King when the man was unaware of his presence. Too bad so far the sorcerer always seemed to turn into a giant ass whenever he knew Link was around.

The boy laid his head on one arm as he continued to gaze down into the clearing below.  He soon found that if he scooted forward just a bit and tilted his head slightly to the side he could keep both Epona and Ganondorf in view while laying in relatively relaxed comfort on the tree limb.  Of course only one of his eyes had a good view of the clearing so he closed the other. Then, of course, the bright sunlight made his open eye tired so he let it fall closed too to rest it... just for a second. Just one more... second...

The teen's breathing deepened as exhaustion quickly snatched away his consciousness in the darkness behind his eyes and the boy fell into a deep sleep, high in the branches above the horse and the slumbering Thief King.

TBC...

Chapter Text

A gentle touch smoothed over Link's back, making the teen moan softly in appreciation. No one had ever touched him like that before. No one... An inquisitive hand dipped lower, caressing a thigh and- Link gasped, his body arching up into the touch, drawing him up onto his hands and knees. A deep chuckle answered his reaction, the hand lifting to stroke over his belly before dipping low again and-

"Ah-ha," Link shuddered at the intimate touch, panting with the pleasure those nimble fingers gave him. Who? He turned his head, but it was too dark. All he could see was a glimpse of a shoulder and a flash of crimson hair before the apparition vanished from view, but the hands were still on his skin, exploring his body. A thumb flicked over one nipple then lips at his neck made him cry out and throw his head back with a shudder. A strong arm wrapped around his waist from behind, pulling him up to kneel even as a tongue drew a wet line across his throat and  teeth nipped at his ear.

"Who are you?" the youth gasped up into the darkness, his body flushed hot and quivering with desire.

The hands dipped low again, pulling his length free from his pants and stroking. Breath caught in the hylian's throat and he swallowed hard, gulping at the air as the touch made his insides tighten with need and tingles raced over his belly and thighs.

"Please; who?" Link gasped breathless. No one; NO ONE had ever touched him. Not like this. Not THERE.

Warm breath caressed his ear then a deep voice finally answered him. "I am who you want me to be."

The boy's eyes widened with shock. He knew that voice. He knew... "No," the small whisper was lost in deep laughter as the hand stroked his length again making his body arch, his hips thrusting out as his voice cried out in pleasure.

"Don't you like my touch, boy?" the strangely alluring voice queried, the hands still stroking, touching, pleasuring, but something dark in it's tone made the youth shrink instinctively away.

"Please," Link begged, but for what he wasn't sure anymore. Fingers danced over his length, teasing him to new heights, making his hips jerked forward desperate for release . He was so close; how could he be so close so soon? But something in that voice fanned a flicker of fear to life within him, keeping him from the edge.

"Please what?" the dark voice asked again, it's tone scaling the edge of sneering.

"I... I don't know," the teen whimpered uncertainly, his mind fogged with need and heat. And still those hands continued to grope and fondle him, keeping him from thinking clearly. With a soft moan he sagged back against the body behind him, feeling woozy with the  heat, but then cruel laughter made his flinch away with a violent shudder.

A rough arm pulled him back, pressing his back flush with the figure behind him as the hand on his length slid down to grip his thigh, holding him firm. Suddenly scared, Link cried out and began to struggle against the restraining hold, but then the voice was back, whispering in his ear and he froze, shivering with both rising fear and ebbing pleasure.  "Do you want me, boy?"

"I- I don't know," Link gasped, feeling trapped in the apparitions arms as his heart raced in his chest. "I don't know who you are."

"Does that matter?" the voice growled possessively, a hungry tongue darting out to taste his neck even as the fingers grasping his thigh dug bruisingly into his flesh.

"Yes!" With a burst of strength the hylian broke free, whirled and pushing away from those restraining arms and grasping hands. He fell back, away from the others body then gasped as he finally got a good look at the face that had been hidden before. The hair was red and the skin was dark, but there were no features;  there was simply smooth blank skin where the eyes, nose and mouth should have been.

"Who are you?!" Link cried out in disgust and fear, cringing away from the creature before him.

Laughter echoing hollowly around the boy as he shrunk away, then the being before him cocked it's unsettling head at him as if in consideration. "That is the question, isn't it?"  The words hissed from the creature, it's voice no longer containing the deep allure it had been before. Blood-red hair whipped around the apparition, lengthening and coiling like an agitated nest of snakes, reaching towards him. Suddenly, the thing lunged forward, clawed fingering grabbing for Link again and he jerked back, shielding his face with his arms as a scream of terror ripped itself from his throat. Darkness swept over him again, swallowing him whole and he was falling back. Falling-

 

Link gasped awake in a panic, his body jerking violently with a cry as he struggled blindly away from the phantom that plagued his dreams. Caught between sleep and consciousness, the boy was unaware of the danger that loomed before him until his body slipped off the side of the branch into empty space and plunged down toward the unforgiving ground below. Desperately the youth's hands shot up, instinctively snatching for the tree limb he had been lying on moments before, but it was already out of reach, his fingernails barely scratching the bark as he plummeted down, gaining speed. Pushing back the primal, animalistic terror that threatened to consume him, Link forced himself to breath, taking a precious second to clear his mind. He could do this. There were plenty of other branches he could work with. He just needed to keep his head and everything would be okay. It had to be.

Air rushed past the hylian, plucking at his hair as he carefully picked his target: a nice thick branch that was coming up fast. The boy swallowed hard, forcing himself to wait, judging the distance perfectly before throwing out his arms, snatching for the passing tree limb. The bough bent under his weight and momentum and he waited for the apex of the arch before releasing his grip and grabbing for the next branch down. He continued downward, sliding from one bough to the next. Using the tree's limbs, the teen carefully controlled his fall, slowing his decent without allowing himself to cling too long to one of the branches, which would have brought him to a jarring and potentially harmful stop. Too many arms had been broken or dislocated that way. He couldn't afford that. Not here and especially not now.

Nearing the ground,, Link eyed the earth below, critically judging the distance as he let go of the last branch. Tucking into a ball, the boy dropped lightly to the grass in a controlled roll, knowing he had spent enough momentum that he no longer needed to fear seriously damaging himself upon impact. Coming to a stop, the youth sprawled upon the soft grass breathing hard. He was scratched and had obtained a few new bruises in the fall, but was otherwise unharmed.

Letting out a breathless laugh, the hylian ran a shaking hand up over his face and into his hair, still high on the thrill of danger. Well that was stupid, he thought wryly, grinning up at the tree's canopy even as adrenaline continued to shudder through his system. Rule number one: don't fall asleep unsecured in a tree. The boy let out a snort of semi-bitter amusement, resting an arm over his eyes as his pounding pulse slowly returned to normal. Mentally searching his body for any new injuries gained in his little misadventure, the teen was amazed to find his foolishness had resulted in nothing more than a few new aches and scratches. His hands  burned, palms skinned by the tree's bark in his decent and he had a new sore spot right above his left hip that he was pretty sure was going to turn into quite the lovely bruise, but all in all he had gotten away relatively unscathed; especially from a potentially deadly fall.

Link sighed, his thoughts sobering as the high of adrenaline faded from his system. I can't believe I fell asleep in a tree, he grumbled silently to himself, absently rubbing his tired, aching eyes. Despite the rest he still felt completely exhausted; in fact, he felt even worse than he had before he had fallen asleep. I've got to get some sleep before I do something really stupid, he mentally groaned, resting the palms of his hands over his closed eyes. Damn, if my mind isn't fucking with me though. That dream...

The hylian's cheeks flushed, remembering how the dream started. Those touches and... Tentatively, the teen reached down with a hand and was relieved to find he had not soiled his pants, but the need was still there, a hungry ached that gnawed at his belly demanding release. He would have to deal with that later...

The teen frowned his thoughts turning to consider how the dream had devolved from pleasure to terror. What was his subconscious trying to tell him? Was it warning? A chill suddenly ran through the boy's blood as a new thought popped into his mind. What if Ganondorf was messing with his mind?! No, the youth quickly rejected that possibility. That was absurd. The sorcerer had been asleep; plus there was no way the injured man had the strength for such an enchantment. It simply was impossibly. All of this was probably just his hormones making him loopy; after all, it had been awhile since he had had the time to take care of his body's needs. And wet dreams WERE a signed that he needed to tend to that, bad. But what if-

"Who's there?!"

Link gasped, eyes flying wide as the deep, booming voice cut through his thoughts. The teen shivered with the power of the command, feeling it thrum through his blood, trying to compel him to speak. Few people he knew could weave spells into words like that and only one was close; that meant... Shit, Ganondorf! He had heard- The shocked voice in Link's head was quickly followed by the chiding tone of another. Of course he had heard, you idiot. You just crashed through a tree! Dammit; he had to think fast. He couldn't let the Thief King know he had been spying; the man would never trust him then. Sitting up quickly the boy glanced around for his stashed supplies, momentarily disoriented. Then he caught sight of his pouch a little behind him and to the left and he scrambled over to grab the spoils of his foraging efforts.

"Show yoursel-"

"Goddess Ganondorf. Simmer down. It's just me," Link said, forcing an exasperated tone into his voice as the demanding voice boomed again. Shouldering the heavy pouch laden with fresh supplies, the teen slipped between the brush and out into the clearing beyond.

Ganondorf scowled up from his defensive crouch by Epona as the boy materialized from the forest. "Who is with you?!" he hissed, his face flushed in obvious anger as his eyes moved to scan the trees behind the teen for signs of moment.

Link mentally rolled his eyes thinking 'and here we go again.' Why couldn't the man just be civil, just for second? But this time the boy couldn't really blame the Thief King for his sour disposition; he had just been rudely awaken after all. Guess even kings can wake up on the wrong side of the bed. The hylian had to struggle to keep the amusement from his face even as he dropped his pouch of supplies on the ground and squared off with the man. "I already told you, no one else is here," he said, feeling far too tired to be having this conversation again

"Then what were you doing?" the man demanded with a snarl, his narrowed eyes still scrutinizing the forest suspiciously. "Why didn't you answer the first time I called?"

"What's it look like I'm doing?" Link retorted just a bit petulantly, resting his hands on his hips, answering the first question with another and simply ignoring the second as his eyes silently catalogued the heavy rock the gerudo held clenched in his right fist.

The man looked him up and down for a long moment, golden eyes scanning the boy's form, then he snorted, clearly unimpressed. "It looks like you fell out a tree."

"Well I did," Link answered, defiantly tipping his chin up just slightly, refusing to be embarrassed.

"Um-hum." Ganondorf sat back on the grass with a huff,  thoroughly unconvinced even as he leaned back against Epona for support, grateful for the horse's silent but strong presence at his back . For a moment he had almost forgot about the hot throbbing ache in his chest, but now that the excitement was over, the pain reemerged with fresh vigor, punishing him for jerking so abruptly into a defensive crouch at the sound of crashing from the trees. The sorcerer grunted, pressing a palm to the bandages as if he could somehow physically hold back the pain. The wound made his chest feel tight and he found it suddenly hard to catch him breath as a wave of nausea flowed over him. Dammit, if the stupid boy hadn't woken me... The man hissed through clenched teeth, struggling to bring his body under control as the pain and sickness tore though him.

Link's brow furrowed as the sorcerer sagged against Epona breathing hard, the boy uncertain whether the man was fatigued or simply relaxing since there was no clear sign of danger, though either way he did look to be in pain. A lot of it. Link wanted to help, the need chewing away at him, but he knew if he tried now it would just rile the gerudo up and make matters worse.  "Look," he said rubbing his brow, trying to figure a way to at least mollify the sorcerer's suspicions. "If you must know, I was gathering supplies. You know, food? My stores alone won't keep us going for long."

"I thought you had the deer," the gerudo snapped breathlessly, tossing his head to the side to indicate the carcass still handing in the tree by the cave even as he struggled to quiet his breathing as agony continued it's relentless assault on his body, rolling through him in sickening waves.

"Well yah," Link conceded, eyes noting the man's degrading condition with deepening concern. "But it's nice to eat more than meat, you know?"

Ganondorf huffed and glanced away, but seemed to accept that explanation for the moment. Link watched as a deep shudder rippled through the man and he gasped for breath, his legs curling up, tucking under him as his body folded in around his pain. At the sight of the man’s clear agony, the youth took a small step forward, reaching out a hand beseechingly, unable to hold himself back any longer. “Can I-“

“Don’t.” Ganondorf growled, pinning the youth with his fearsome golden gaze, his eyes burning bright with hate for an instant before the pain made them fall closed again with a soft groan. “Don’t pretend you care, boy,” the man panted, muscles twitching in his face as he clenched his jaw, struggling with the agony and nausea within him.

Disheartened Link took a step back, clasping one arm in a hand as his gaze wandered to the ground, unable to bear the sight of the man sufferings while knowing he would not be allowed to do anything to assist. He wanted to deny the man’s words, knowing in his heart that they were not true. He did care. He didn't know why, but he did care. A lot, but if he tried to tell Ganondorf that the man would just toss his words aside with a derisive sneer. The teen sighed mournfully, caught up in his impossible dilemma. He couldn’t force the man to accept his help, that would only lead to more problems, but just standing here was killing him. Luckily for the both of them the episode soon passed and Ganondorf's strained shoulders relaxed as the pain eased back into something bearable.

His pain passing, the gerudo’s golden eyes flashed open again, staring at the ground as humiliated anger rose within him, flushing his cheeks. He hated showing such weakness in front of the boy, but he couldn’t help it. It had hurt too much... But at least he would have the last laugh. The man looked up, his eyes sliding over the teen in a sly sideways glance, something very close to curiosity shining in his eyes. "The tree?" he asked after a long moment, startling the teen.

Link blinked, head jerking up as his thoughts struggled to refocus on their prior conversation. Oh yes, falling out of the tree… How was he going to explain that? Link wondered, his mind racing for an answer. Still the teen couldn't help but notice the man’s question sounded oddly board; the youth was almost certain the Dark Lord's unobtrusive tone was hiding something underneath, but what was it?

Even as Link pondered his dilemma, relief flooding through him as the man sat a little straighter, his pain obviously receding. Eventually the boy shrugged a nonchalant  shoulder, answering the question as honestly as he felt he could, "We had a fight. It was mad at me."

"And exactly what were you doing to make a tree mad at you?" The man's tone was bland, but... Was that a glimmer of laughter in the sorcerer's eyes? No, it couldn't be... Could it?

Link considered the gerudo's words carefully even as he quickly fabricated a lie; he just couldn't tell the man he had been spying on him. Especially not after that dream... Link felt his face flush and before he could stop himself he looked down, clasping his hand behind his back, suddenly too embarrassed to meet the Thief King's eyes. "I uh... Well you see there were some eggs and-"

"Yes?" the man urged with a barely suppressed grin, sounding just a little too eager for the humiliating answer.

Link pressed his lips together, feeling his cheeks burn. Now it would really seem like he was embarrassed about falling out of the tree - which he was, but at least the man would never guess about his... impure thoughts. "The branch was too thin and it dumped me, alright?" he said in a flustered rush, hoping the man would believe the lie.

"I see..." Ganondorf said, stroking his beard thoughtfully with a hand. Something about the teen's words didn't quite ring of truth, but he doubted the boy would tell him anything more even if he pressed. Besides there was so much more fun to be had, for a second he almost forgot how tired he was. "You've got..." the sorcerer finally said, pointing to his head, barely able to swallow his laughter as he relished the moment. The teen had been standing there this whole time with a nice long leafy twig sticking out of his hair. Neither Ganondorf's temper nor his exhaustion were a match for how ridiculously cute the teen looked with his pale cheeks all flushed red and a tree sticking out of his flaxen hair. The gerudo's golden eyes danced with laughter as the boy gingerly felt the side of his head that the man had indicated, his sensitive fingers quickly finding the offending object.

"Oh... oh!" Link said as his nimble hands explored the rough length of the leafy twig, his cheeks warming with fresh embarrassment.  "Um, thanks," he nodded gratefully to Ganondorf as his fingers quickly detangled the stick from his hair, with a couple of winces, and tossed it back into the forest.

"Aren't you hoarding a little too much meat?" the man said abruptly as his eyes caught sight of the pheasant head poking out of the loosened mouth of the supplies pouch, his voice startling Link as much as the sudden change of topic. The boy hadn't expected the Dark Lord to be so chatty, especially not when he had just woken up.

"Maybe," the teen conceded affably as he combed his hands through his golden hair, searching for any other bits of wood or leaf that may have gotten stuck. "But I don't know how long we're going to be here and it'd be nice to age the deer for a little while since we're in a position to with the cave."

"Well then you know you really should age the pheasant too," Ganondorf  said mockingly, but the boy didn't seem to notice his sardonic tone.

"I was thinking about that," the hylian said, finally satisfied his hair wasn't hiding any more secrets and brushing his unruly locks back from his face. "I can make a venison stew today with the roots I found and leave the pheasant for tomorrow or the next day depending on what else comes our way." The teen shrugged a shoulder, lost in his thoughts. "After all it won't matter if the meat is tough if it's cooked long enough."

"Sure, why not," the man sighed, rolling his eyes, exasperated by the unflappable youth. The teen didn't seem to be goaded by anything. But another small part of the Theif King had to admit he admired how industrious the boy had been with just a few hours. The pouch the hylian had left with had obviously been empty, but now it was so full with fresh supplies that it was practically ready to burst at the seams. And that didn't even count the several smaller bags the boy was carrying, which must have been filled with more delicate spoils from his foragings.

"Oh!" The boy suddenly perked up and Ganondorf was surprised to see the teen glanced up to shyly consider him. "Um, is there anything you particularly like to eat that I can keep an eye out for?" Link asked carefully, feeling hope leap within him as he silently prayed he had finally found a safe enough topic that it might forge a little common ground between him and the Dark Lord. Ganondorf gazed back at him with a confused look, his brow dark brow furrowed as if he didn't understand what the teen was asking. "I'm pretty good at identifying most nuts, berries and grains and a few roots," the teen continued, trying to clarify his meaning without sounding too desperate. "I found some ramps (wild leeks) today and wild carrots, potatoes, um, we've got walnuts, hazelnuts, hickory nuts, tons of berries; I mean they're everywhere..." The boy rambled on caught up in the topic. "Oh, and there's wild oats and rice around. I didn't spend the time to harvest any this trip, but I can next time if you like.... And, we got lucky;" the youth added, grinning as he quickly un-cinched the drawstring of one of the smaller pouches he was carrying and carefully pulled out a little brown orb, tipping his hand to show to the Thief King. "The pheasant had a late clutch of eggs."

The beaming youth paused his babblings, obviously waiting for some sort of reply, but Ganondorf was at a loss. Completely baffled, he stared at the hylian, uncertain what the teen wanted from him. Congratulations? A pat on the back for a job well done? That was just absurd, but that's what the teens hopeful eyes seemed to be looking for. And what the hell was all this 'we' crap. There was no 'we.' The brat could act as nice as he wanted, but at the end of the day they were still enemies and that was all they would ever be. Why was the boy playing this farce. What did he want?! Was it some kind of trick? A trap? Unable to answer any of the question swirling around in his mind, Ganondorf simply shrugged. "Whatever."

The hylian's brow knit together at the man's reply, his sapphire eyes begging for something more. Just a little; Dammit, give me something to work with here! But when it was clear that was all the gerudo had to say on the matter, the boy sighed, his shoulders sagging as his fingers carefully slid the egg back into the pouch and pulled the drawstring tight. "I see," he said softly, sounding completely crestfallen. But what more could he really expect from the Dark Lord? The man clearly didn't trust him, but what more can I possibly do?! Link felt tears prick his eyes; his strong facade cracking with frustration and fatigue, but he forced himself to take a deep breath, bringing himself back under control.

Ganondorf stared in fascinating as emotions flickered over the teen's face, reflecting his innermost thoughts and troubles. The boy was horrible at hiding his feeling, especially from one as experience at reading people as the Dark Lord. For a second, the man even thought youth was simply going to burst into tears right there in the field. In that moment the hylian looked so young, so vulnerable that something buried deep within the gerudo cried out, wanting to comfort the young warrior. The Thief King had been trained for many things including to be the protector of his people and that part of him wanted to protect the child in Link from the pains and horrors of the world. Sometime in the rush of the war he forgot how young the skilled little warrior really was, a youth barely begining his adult life. But the boy was not of the tribe. He was not of The People. The sorcerer mentally shook off the urge to comfort, shrewdly scrutinizing the emotions that continued to flash over the boy's features as he struggled with himself and his thoughts. The teen was showing signs of weakness: physical exhaustion and mental fatigue. Soon he was going to get sloppy, the man thought, critically evaluation the boy's condition. I can use that to my advantage...

A heavy silence stretched between them as both hylian and gerudo became lost in their own thoughts, but eventually Link  brought himself to looked back up at the man with a fragile smile.

"Soooo," the youth drawled, shifting uncomfortably in the awkward silence, scuffing his boot idly in the grass. "What's the plan for the rock?"

"Rock?" the Thief King's brow furrowed and he looked lost for a moment until he realized the boy was talking about the heavy weight currently occupying his right hand. The sorcerer glanced down at his right fist, staring at the rock clenched between his fingers as if he wasn't exactly sure where it had come from.

Link suddenly realized the man had acted completely on instinct when he had grabbed the stone, his body reacting while his mind was still asleep, a hand automatically snatching up any close object that could be used as a weapon when faced with the unknown. The boy's face softened as he saw the confusion play across the sorcerer's face, the teen's eyes taking in the deep circles marring the man's features, the tired sag of his shoulders, the bloodshot red tinge that colored his eyes, which had been startled far too soon from a much needed sleep. The gerudo was utterly spent, but still trying to project some strength despite his exhaustion. Link smiled wearily, feeling his own exhaustion weighing heavily upon him, making his own body feel as if it had doubled in weight. "You don't need it," he said quietly, almost positive that the sorcerer wouldn't believe his words, but still wanting the man to hear them nonetheless.

Ganondorf started, his head jerking up at the sound of the hylian's voice as if for just a second, he had forgotten Link was there. Then the man started again, glancing down as Epona pressed her nose against his shoulder and blew out a long breath of air against his arm. As Link watched something imperceptible softened in the man's face almost as if he took solace in the mare's touch even though he made no move to respond in kind. After a moment the gerudo shrugged a shoulder and let the heavy rock fall to the ground beside him. "No, I don't need it," he said, his golden eyes fixing on the youth, clearly conveying the threat.

"I know,"  Link said, smiling back tiredly. For some reason he couldn't help thinking that the gerudo had actually given up the rock more for the horse than anything else.

Suddenly Epona nudged Ganondorf's shoulder with her nose and a soft whicker, catching the man's attention again. A smile flashed across the sorcerer's lips for the barest instant, so fast that for a second Link thought he had imagined it. But the smile had been there; he knew it had been there. Mentally Link shook his head, watching as the gerudo, who was completely ignoring him, gently placed a palm against the horse's soft nose. Why do you hide yourself? The hylian wondered silently, his brow furrowing in confusion and concern as he looked at the man. Why do you pretend to be so cruel when you're not? Do you just hate people? No, that didn't make sense; not with how he acted last night...

Ganondorf's eyes caught the boy's inquisitive gaze and narrowed. "What?" he snapped even as his hand idly continued to pet the mare's nose.

"Nothing," Link said, shaking his head with a small weary smile as he watched the man and the horse. "Nothing at all."

"Hmph." The sorcerer  snorted and opened his mouth to make another scathing remark, but a huff and another nudge from Epona cut off his words. Confusion flashed over the gerudo's face as the horse continued to nudge his back, gently pushing him away from her side and forcing him to sit up on his own. Understanding the mare's actions but uncertain of her intentions, the man leaned away from her, already missing the warmth and comfort her touch gave him. Shaking her head, Epona let out a soft whicker and heaved herself to her feet before happily prancing over to her master with a greeting nicker and the swish of a tail. Automatically, Ganondorf started to reach out, to call the mare back, but then let his hand drop back down, a pained look flicking over his face. No matter his needs, it was the horse's right to do as she wished, even if that wish was to leave him. He was not her master, he could not ask her to do otherwise.

Link watched distress cloud the Thief King's face as Epona left his side, but then the man clearly took control of his features, smoothing his face into an unreadable blank slate. The hylian only had a moment to consider the man's reaction before his horse pressed her head into his chest, immediately catching his attention. "Hey girl," he murmured, hugging the mare's head and smoothing his hands over the sides of her face as he smiled, delighting in his four-legged companion's company. "Have you been good?"

The horse wickered in answer and the boy grinned, leaning back to look at the mare, her head still cradled in his hands. "Of course you have been," he chuckled, scratching her under the chin with one hand as his other hand dipped into his foraging pouch. "Look, I found something for you while I was gone."

Epona's ears perked up as the boy drew out two scraggly wild carrots from the bag. Letting out an inquisitive little whinny, she pressed her head forward, eager for the treat.

"Yes, yes I know. I practically starve you, don't I?" " Link chucked, teasing his mare as he lovingly fed the wild carrot to her one at a time. Handing her the last of the little treat, the hylian stepped up and leaned his cheek against the mare's neck, his hands petting over his soft fur as she munched away. "Such a good girl," he sighed, breathing in her comforting scent as he affectionately nuzzled her neck. "My good girl."

Then the youth felt Epona's head dip over his shoulder and behind him a leather bag rustled. "Hey, hey; leave some for later," he said, shooing the mare's head away from the supplies pouch, but letting her keep the extra carrot she had stolen from it's depths. "I'm far too soft on you, you know," he sighed teasingly, cinching the bag tightly closed again. "You're going to get fat."

That prospect didn't seem to bother the mare in the slightest as she crunched away at the carrot and a soft smile spread over Link's lips again and he reached out to pet his hand over her nose. Then the boy was startled as he looked over Epona's shoulder and noticed Ganondorf, bloody Ganondorf, smiling almost gently at the two of them from where he sat in the grassy field. The soft expression instantly fled the man's face the moment he noticed Link's gaze, but the boy simply raised a questioning eyebrow at him. "Making friends?" he said, absently patting the bay's neck as he studied the Thief King.

As Link watched, Ganondorf's expression soften again as his gaze slid over Epona's form. "She is a magnificent creature," the man rumbled, then seemed to realize what he had said and his face instantly darkened with a glower and his golden eyes snapped back to the boy with a sneer. "Unlike her master."

Aaaand there's dickhead-mode again. The hylian snorted, bitterly amused by the man's changeable moods as he turned his attention back to Epona. Maybe the sorcerer was simply trying to hide his true thoughts, the boy reflected as he continued fawning over his mare, giving her the attention that he had not been able to grant her for far too long. After all such a tactic could be useful for keeping an enemy off balance, but that would mean that Ganondorf still considers me an enemy. And that in turn means that he will still attack given the chance. The boy frowned, knowing he would have to keep his guard up no matter how he might wish things were different between him and the Thief King.  Well, no sleep for me tonight, Link sighed ruefully, resting his forehead against the horse's and looking into her liquid brown eyes. "Thank you for looking after him," he murmured, his tone low enough that he doubted the Dark Lord could have heard his words. "I'll brush you down as soon as I can, okay?"

Epona lifted her head and nickered amiably in response and Link smiled and kissed her nose in return. "Good girl."

Ganondorf watched the scene before him with hidden curiosity, golden eyes devouring every detail and filing the information away for further analysis later. It was obvious to anyone who could see that the boy and the mare were strongly connected. Perhaps even as strongly connected as Ganondorf and his own great steed. The Dark Lord winced internally at that thought uncertain of his stallion's fate, but he didn't have time to ponder such things. He knew his horse was alive; he could sense it and that would just have to do for now. Right now his primary focus had to be recovering from his wounds. He could worry about everything else later.

As if summoned by his thoughts, another sudden shiver of pain shuddered through the Dark Lord and he had to struggle not to flinch. Desperately he tried to control his reaction, not wanting the boy to see his weakness, but something must have shown through his cracked facade for the teen lifted his head from the horses coat to look at him.

"Um... how are you feeling? You know, with the... uh..." Link stumbled over the words; it felt awkward to ask about such things when he had been the one who had inflicted the troublesome wound on the man, but the pain he had seen flash over the sorcerer's face worried him.

"Fine."

The boy mentally rolled his eyes at Ganondorf's gruff monosyllabic answer, but he pressed on, refusing to let the man's rudeness infect him.  "I'm sorry I woke you," he said apologetically, absently stroking  Epona's forelock.

Golden eyes flashed as the gerudo glared at the boy. "And how do you know I was asleep?" he demanded warily, suspicion flooding his eyes.

A knowing smile spread over the teen's lips. "It's pretty obvious," he said, waving a vague hand to indicate the dark circles under the Thief King's eyes. "You're a bit groggy. And Epona does make a rather nice pillow," he said in a tone that skated the edge of teasing. 

"Hmph." Ganondorf silently stewed, miffed with the hylian's falsely friendly tone, but too tired to do anything about it. All he wanted right now was to lay back in the soft grass and fall asleep. He could already feel his muscles trembling with strain it took just to keep him seated upright, but he simply refused to give into such weakness in front of the boy. Go away, go away, damn you go away! The Thief King mentally chanted, willing the boy to leave. A drop of sweat streamed down the gerudo's back and a suddenly wave of heat rippled through the man making him feel woosy. Glancing up at the sun, the sorcerer saw the bright orb high up above starting to lean down to the horizon, marking the day's advancement into the afternoon. And it had grown hot. Cursing silently he wiped his brow with an arm. Dammit, leave already, he mentally snarled at the boy, eyes glaring, but the teen didn't seem to take the hint.

"Um..." Link took a step towards Ganondorf, worry shining in his eyes as he took in the gerudo's condition. "So, can I get you anything? Water maybe?" the youth suggested tentatively, but still the Thief King stubbornly refused to say a word. Obviously this was the end of the conversation for now.

"Okay. Try and get some rest." The boy sighed, feeling as if he had been close to a breakthrough with the man only to have it snatched away at the last minute.  Without another word the boy heaved his foraging pouch over his shoulder and, with a last pat on Epona's neck, turned to head back to the cave.

Finally! Ganondorf sagged to the side with a relieved sigh as the boy padded away, his vision swimming. It was too hot. Far too hot. The man shuddered as another wave of heat flowed through him, making his head throb. Luckily the shade was not far away. With an effort the man lurched up onto all fours and painstakingly crawled to the closest tree and into the relief of the cool shade. He half collapsed there,  panting for several second as he leaned back against the tree that had supported him hours before. Swallowing hard, Ganondorf mentally winced as his dry throat burned in response. Now that water had been mentioned, he realized how very thirsty he was. Quickly, he pulled the canteen around to his front and uncapped it, allowing himself a few generous swallows, slacking his thirst completely before putting the water canister away again. He still had at least a quarter of the canteen left and it would be utterly idiotic to die from dehydration, especially when now he could simply ask for more water from the boy even if he was loathed to do so. The sorcerer sagged, exhaustion suddenly weighing heavily upon him as his body gave out, its reserved depleted. The excitement before had drained him and now he needed rest. Sliding to his side beside the tree, the man curled up, his eyelids fluttering closed and he quickly fell into unconsciousness so fast and so completely that one might have argued he had fainted.

Link glanced back over his shoulder as he reached the entrance of the cave, his brow furrowed with worry. For a second he couldn't find Ganondorf's form in the clearing and a swell of panic rose within him, but then his eyes spotted the Thief King and he let out a relieved sigh. The gerudo had somehow moved to lay under a tree and now was still with sleep. Link smiled at that; the man needed his rest. He looked so tired and warn... Worry flickered in the boy again as his eyes took in the shimmer of sweat upon the sorcerer's brow and the flush in his cheeks, but the teen then dismissed those as simple signs of exertion. It was stupid of him to worry over every little thing and besides, it wasn't like Ganondorf was going to thank him for it if he did. Link let out a derisive snort as he turned back to continue into the cool depths of the cave. No matter what, the Dark Lord's actions and words had certainly left him with much to think about; just no answers. The boy frowned at that thought, but then decided he would simply watch Epona for cues on how to deal with the Thief King. Heaven knew her instincts were sharper then his and for some mysterious reason she seemed to rather like the gruff man. For now  Link just needed to keep an open mind while also guarding against possible dangers the Dark Lord could throw at him. Easy as pie, right? The boy grinned ruefully at himself. Yah, riiiiiiight.

TBC...

Chapter Text

Link crouched silently before the gerudo king, sapphire eyes studying the man’s features now relaxed with sleep. Ganondorf looked so oddly peaceful – so oddly normal – sleeping there on his side in the shade of a tree,  his legs curled up, one arm pillowing his head while the other hung down over his over his chest to rest upon the ground. Droplets of sunlight played across the sorcerer’s dark skin as his chest rose and fell with deep, regular breaths. No restless dreams or nightmares troubled the man’s rest at present; at least, if they did, there was no sign of it upon his face. If it were not for his coloring and the scarlet hair that lay splayed out around his head, a vibrant splash of color against the green grass, he could have simply been anyone catching a nap in the shade. But he wasn’t just anyone. He was The Dark Lord, The King of Evil. Hell, some would go as far as calling him Hatred and Malice Incarnate. But… how could someone supposedly so evil look so normal? Who are you, Ganondorf?

Link felt his jaw tighten as the same old question plagued his thoughts yet again. Frustrated, he shook his head as if he could shake away the uncertainty that roiled within him before turning his eyes back to the man and his current dilemma. The sorcerer had slept soundly for the past few hours while Link had worked to prepare food and stash his fresh supplies. The hylian had even snuck in a little nap of his own while the stew he had thrown together simmered on the fire, confident in the knowledge that Epona would warn him of any imminent danger before it struck. Unfortunately the nap hadn’t done much for his exhaustion; he had quickly found himself unable to relax into full unconsciousness with so many worries swirling around in his head, but he couldn’t complain about the brief snatches of illusive sleep he had managed to catch. At least Ganondorf hadn’t tried to kill him this time around, not that the man really had the spare energy to try doing so anyway. No, the sorcerer had slept through it all, his being the deep slumber of healing. Link was loathed to wake the sorcerer now, but the stew was ready and his desire to get some food into the gerudo was outweighing his desire to let the man sleep. It had been a day at least since the man had eaten last and with all the healing the magician’s body would be starved for nutrients, even if it was something as simple as venison stew.

Giving into the inevitable Link sighed, extending out a hand to nudge the man awake, but then he hesitated, fingers faltering bare inches from the gerudo’s shoulder. Not even a day ago the sorcerer had blasted him across the room at a touch and from what Link understood that had been unintentional. What would happen if the Thief King woke up and decided to do something more… drastic?

The teen grimaced at the thought and he found himself looking around, his eyes unconsciously searching for a solution. He could of course simply call out to wake the man, but that would not keep Ganondorf from blasting him to the heavens if the mood came upon him.

Link’s scanning eyes caught sight of a fallen limb hidden within the shadows of the forest and he stood, padding over to consider the find. Roots and vegetation had grown around the wooden shaft and they tore, snapping as the hylian heaved the woody length from the underbrush. Finally freed, the youth hefted the broken branch in his hand, his eyes studying his prize. Close to the base the branch was too thick for the fingers of one hand to reach around, but it tapered to a blunt tip, perhaps two inches in diameter, and not sharp enough to break skin, which was perfect for his needs. Standing on end the stick was taller than he by a good bit, it’s length extending close to six feet, but it was not quite long enough to be awkward in the hylian’s hands. Time had left the wood-grain bare and the wooden length somewhat twisted, but still relatively straight and a pleasant weight in his hands. Later it would make a wonderful walking stick, but for now… Now it would be functional for the task at hand.

A moment later, after a quick stop in the cave to grab his shield, Link found himself crouched before the slumbering Ganondorf, the bulk of his body tucked behind his shield as he reached out with the stick to prod the man’s shoulder.  He cringed mentally, knowing he must look ridiculous, but the only other long item he had was a sword and there was no way the sorcerer would react well to waking up to a sword, be it sheathed or unsheathed.

“Ganondooorf,” Link called, gently tapping the man’s shoulder with the tip of the stick. “Hey, Ganondoooooorf.”

It wasn’t working. The man didn’t so much as twitch. He’d have to do something more drastic. Pressing his lips together into a determined line, Link lightly rapped the stick off the top of the man’s head calling; “Hey! Gan!”

The large man stirred slightly, his head lolling back then forward again as he shifted against the ground, but then he settled again with a deep sigh and was quiet.

Damn he was a deep sleeper, Link silently cursed. But then exhaustion and injury will do that do you. Just nudging the man obviously wasn’t going to work. Clearly he would have to do something a bit more… direct if he was going to wake the gerudo.

Drawing the stick back, Link quickly checked the end to make sure it wasn’t too pointy before extending it again. He didn’t want to hurt the man, but he didn’t particularly want to risk himself either. Holding his breath, the boy carefully chose his target and firmly poked the man’s bicep. “Hey! Wake up!”

Ganondorf’s hand swept up, slapping at his arm as if to ward away a fly, and the blow started him awake with a snort. A soft groan rumbled up from the man’s chest as he blinked bleary eyes up at the sunlight, his hands lifting to rub away the sleep as he half rolled to his back, his head tipping back in a splay of scarlet hair. Then, as his hands pulled back, his gaze caught the hylian hiding behind his shield and confusion furrowed his brow. “What the…“

The man’s voice trailed off as words failed him. The perplexed look that flooded over his features was rather comical, adding to make an almost childish image he created as he lay in the grass, his head tipped back to stare at Link. “What the bloody hell are you doing?” he said in an amazed tone that also suggested he thought Link might have just jumped off the deep end of the crazy pool.

“Sorry.” Link felt his cheeks blush in light embarrassment under the gerudo’s inscrutable gaze. He knew he must look quite the spectacle and feeling the fool he quickly stood, letting the shield hang unobtrusively down at his side, still ready to block with if needed, but no longer sure it’s presence was necessary. “You kinda blasted me into a wall the last time I tried to wake you sooo…” He shrugged a shoulder, letting the implication hang in the air as he planted one end of the stick on the ground and casually leaned against it as if it were truly a staff. Then the sudden dreadful realization that he was leaning against an untested dead stick flooded through him and he profoundly hoped it would not break under his weight. He’d really feel the fool if he ended up face-planting into the ground right in front of Ganondorf. Honestly, the branch felt solid enough in his grip, but he unobtrusively eased a bit of his weight off it just to be safe.

Ganondorf didn’t seem to notice. He just kept staring at Link like he was ten tons of crazy. “I what?”

Link blinked surprised by the man’s words. By now he had half thought the sorcerer would start cussing him out again, but it seemed he had so utterly and completely confound the man that the shock was chasing that profanity away. Surely, the man would start snapping at him once again when the confusion had been cleared up.

A smile twitched at the corners of Link’s mouth at the snarky thought before he focused on the man once more. His brief grin softened into sympathy at the alarmed confusion that flickered in the sorcerer’s gaze. Having blank spots in ones memory was never a comfortable feeling, Link knew. “Last night. You were having nightmares or something and when I tried to wake you, well… things went boom,” he explained gently.

The confusion smoothed from the man’s brown, but another question lit within the man’s eyes. Link could almost hear the silent words; if what you say is true, then how are you still alive? But before the words could be voiced the sorcerer simply nodded, seeming to accept that explanation or at least not willing to argue the point further at the moment. The gerudo sighed softly, shoulders Link had not realized were tense sagged as one large hand came up to run it’s fingers through his long scarlet mane. A slight groaned escaped Ganondorf’s lips as he rested the heal of his hands against his brow and closed his eyes, trying to shut out woozy sway of the world. His mind felt hazy, his thoughts smothered under a thick fog of weary exhaustion, keeping him from forming the words or summoning the anger needed to yell at the boy for interrupting his sleep.

“I really am sorry to wake you, but I thought you might like to eat.”

Ganondorf looked up from his hands, eyes narrowed, searching for the trick. Was it a trap? Was the boy trying to poison him? Kill or disable him? But the hylian simply blinked back at him innocently, looking so damned earnest.  Too damned earnest. Dammit, I’m too tired for these mind games!

The sorcerer’s lips began to lift in a snarl, but then his stomach gave a hungry twist and he sighed mentally, letting the anger fall away. The blasted boy was right; he needed to eat. But he’d be damned before he admitted it.

A sudden thought seemed to strike the boy. Ganondorf could swear he saw the moment the idea lit within the blonde’s little head. “Oh.” The hylian’s eyes widened slightly as the thought solidified and he glanced back down. “Uh… you do eat, right?”

“Of course I eat, boy. Don’t be stupid,” the Dark Lord growled, levering himself up on one arm. A tight stab of pain struck his chest, but he ignored it with a grunt and pushed himself into a seated position, his back leaning against the tree. He had intended to get to his feet, but the way his wound throbbed with every breath kept him from trying.

Link saw the pain flash across the gerudo’s strong features before the man could wrestle it back. Worry flared within him, but also anger; the man’s words had stung and he found himself snapping back. “Well how the hell would I know? Damned if I ever saw Midna eat.”Link felt his cheeks heat as the words slipped past his lips, but he jutted his chin out, his eyes defying the man to criticize.

Ganondorf was silent for several long moments, his shoulders rising and falling with his deep, ragged breaths as he glowered at the hylian from beneath his heavy brow.

“Everything has to eat, boy; one way or another,” the gerudo’s deep voice finally rumbled, but he didn’t elaborate any further. Instead his eyes seemed to wander, looking for something. Turning his head, the sorcerer eyes spotted the canteen, knocked to one side by his movements. Thirsty, he reached for it, but his depth perception was off, his fingers knocking against the container, sending it skittering away across the grass. Cursing, the man jerked forward, hand grabbing for the canteen, but the motion was cut short with a violent flinch and a gasp. Something quite akin to despair flickered through the man’s eyes before they squeezed shut, a tight hiss escaping through gritted teeth as his body folded around the sudden lance of pain that had imbedded itself in his chest.

Link’s body twitched at the sight, wanting to rush to the man’s aid, but he knew Ganondorf would not thank him if he did. Instead the hylian clenched his fists and forced himself to watch, his keen eyes looking for anything in the gerudo’s manner that might belay something more serious than simple pain.

Soon enough the man’s body uncurled, his back straightening as the pain lessened with him. Slowly Ganondorf leaned forward, golden eyes fixing on Link as he pointedly plucked the canteen from the grass, his casual air daring the boy to remark. Defiance shown in the sorcerer’s eyes as he unscrewed the cap and tipped him head back to drain the last of the water from the container.

Link cocked his head, considering the Dark Lord as he drank, confused by the man’s reactions. Why did the man try to hide his pain? Why push away all efforts to help? It didn’t make any sense. In Link’s mind, it would have been a relief to have some assistance, especially when it was so clearly needed. Why try to deny that need? It wasn’t going to help anything. Clearly that wasn’t Ganondorf’s opinion, but why? What had made him so distrustful? Did he just hate people in general or was it Link specifically? Somehow Link sensed that, despite the blood spilled between them, the latter was not the problem, at least not the main problem. But then what? Link twisted his thoughts, trying to fathom the Thief King’s mind. What would it feel like for such a powerful, prideful man to find himself as weak as a kitten and at his enemy’s mercy. Uncomfortable to say the least; perhaps even humiliating? A heavy weight settled in Link’s stomach as the realization came upon him. Every time he offered a helping hand, he unknowingly he wounded the sorcerer’s pride. And with that help coming from an enemy made it all the more degrading. No wonder Ganondorf was hostile towards him.

New understanding and empathy flowing through him, Link’s thoughts seemed to momentarily attune to Ganondorf’s. He felt the fear that flooded through the gerudo, not of his enemy, but of his weakened body’s betrayal. He felt the humiliation of finding himself subjected not only to his enemy’s mercy, but to his pity. He felt the anger, not at the boy who had finally felled him, but at a world that had failed him. Overcome Link gasped, staggering slightly as the foreign thoughts and emotions crashed through him. Then, in the space between one breath and another, it all simply vanished.

Stunned, the boy struggled to bring his thoughts under control. What-? He thought, blinked his eyes quickly, trying to clear his mind. What was that? A vision? An attack?

Link’s head jerked up, fearful of a psychic attack, but all his eyes found was the man staring quizzically at him, empty canteen in hand. The hylian blinked dumbly at the sorcerer for a moment, then his face flushed and he dipped his head, hands scrambling for his own canteen as he tried to hide the effects of the strange episode. “Uh here,” he said reaching out to pass the man his canteen. Then he froze, eyes widening as he stared down at his own hand. Was… was the Triforce glowing?

The canteen pulled from his hand, jerking the teen from his momentary stupor. The boy automatically glanced up as Ganondorf took the offered water from him, thankfully without a terse word. That had to be progress, right? Link found a hopeful smile spread upon his lips as the man silently sat back. Then he remembered the Trifoce, glowing?

The youth’s gaze jerked back down to his hand only to find dappled sunlight shifting on his skin, highlighting his golden Triforce tattoo. Nothing had been glowing; it had all been his imagination, hadn’t it?

Self-consciously Link dropped his hand, surreptitiously rubbing the back of it against his tunic. What if the vision had been real? Could he have really connected with the Dark Lord’s mind, if only for a second? They both had a piece of the Triforce so- No, the boy shook his head wearily. You’re reading too much into this. It was simply a trick of the light, a trick of your mind. But even as the teen dismissed his thoughts, a small niggling uncertainty in the back of his mind whispered that perhaps the incident was more.

Luckily, Ganondorf didn’t seem to have noticed his lapse. Surely the Great Sorcerer King would have noticed if the Triforce was active in any way. Or had the man had his own vision of Link’s mind? The boy blushed furiously at that thought, his mind racing. Oh goddess what if the gerudo had felt his… his impure thoughts. What if the man had seen his dream? Goddess; oh goddess-

Ganondorf’s brow furrowed as he sipped from the canteen, his sharp eyes wearily watching the hylian from under hooded lids. In the last few minutes, the boy’s cheeks had curiously shifted through several shades of pink, his sapphire eyes focused inward on his thoughts. The man could practically see the wheels turning in the teen’s head; though goddess only knew what was actually going on in there.  He did have to admit the boy’s pale cheeks flushed quite prettily. It was almost cute, in an annoying sort of way. After all the boy was a quite the specimen; smooth skin, so pale it was almost translucent, golden hair, so fine it gleamed in the sunlight, and those startling blues eyes, which for some reason wouldn’t meet his gaze. Almost as if the boy was… shy?

Huh, Ganondorf cocked his head to the side, considering the boy. That’s odd.

Suddenly curious the gerudo found himself closing his eyes, his mind reaching out toward the hylian to skim across the mental aura that radiated from all living things. The barest hint of the teen’s emotions came to him, like a whisper of perfume on the wind; uncertainty, compassion, embarrassment, desire- Wait WHAT?!

Ganondorf’s eyes jerked open, startled. Is he-? No. The man mentally shook his head, exasperated with himself. You’re projecting idiot, he thought ruefully. Just because you haven’t bedded anyone in decades doesn’t mean you get to lose yourself to the first pretty face you see. It’s Link for fuck sake. We’re enemies; it’s not going to happen. And yet…

The sorcerer frowned at himself and pushed the small hopeful thought away. Such frivolous fantasies he had no time for. Instead he carefully recapped the youth’s canteen, still half full, preserving the remaining liquid inside. Begrudgingly, he was grateful; the meager water that had been left in the previous canteen hadn’t been nearly enough to slack his thirst. Sharing water was all but a sacred act among the gerudo, it being the most precious commodity to the desert people. Ganondorf doubted he would ever get used to the frivolous way the others inhabiting Hyrule used it without thought, but then they never had to worry about running out. Such an event in the desert would mean death for the tribe.

Shaking his head, the Dark Lord turned his focused outward again and found himself rubbing absently at the Triforce tattooed on his hand. It felt oddly warm, but when he looked down the mark was silent. Just a trick of the mind. The man shook his head at himself then lifted his gaze to find the boy still standing before him, head cocked as if listening to a distant sound, eyes focused inward. A frown dipped the corner of the Thief King’s mouth as he studied the hylian, knowing that the boy’s help, his kindness was all just an act. A ruse to make his lower his guard. None of this was real: not his shy smile, not his earnest eyes and certainly not his gentle touch. The boy clearly wanted something from him and was willing to play this stupid game to get it. The only question was what? What could be so important that the boy would pretend to want him alive?

Ganondorf sighed, sagging back against the tree. I’m too tired for this shit, he thought bitterly, feeling a thread of sorrow weave through him as he lifted a hand to rub his aching eyes. It would have been too refreshing to meet someone so genuine, but he couldn’t let himself fall into that trap. This was just a trick, nothing more. The boy would discard him the moment he got what he wanted; he had to be prepared for when that moment came. And to do that he needed to regain his strength, even if that meant playing the little bastard’s game.

The man sighed again, then grudgingly raised his eyes to Link. “You said something about food?”

 Link started as the heavy silence was broken, pulling him away from his tangle of thoughts. “Oh, um, yes. I have some stew ready, but it’s back at the cave…” His voice trailed off as he rubbed his chin, eyes studying the gerudo, clearly trying to figure out how to get the man back to the cave.

Humiliation warmed Ganondorf’s cheeks under the youth’s gaze, though his dark skin hid the flush. So I look that weak, he thought bitterly, the disgrace coiling like snakes in his belly. He hated the boy for seeing him like this, for making him feel like this. Goddess, what would he do if the teen was really genuine? If the youth really had no idea the debasement he put him through?

“I can-“ Link reached down a helping hand, but Ganondorf dashed it away with a swipe of his arm and a snarl.

 “I can make it on my own!” he growled.

“Alright, alright,” Link conceded, hands up in surrender as he took a step back, giving the man space. His stomach fell as he recognized the hatred that flashed in the man’s eyes. I’m not trying to demean you, he wanted to say, but knew the man would never believe the words. Such a confession would likely just make the man angrier, but what else was he to do? He had to help somehow. If the man tried to stand or walk and found he couldn’t his pride would be wounded further, especially if Link were watching. But he couldn’t just leave; what if Ganondorf hurt himself in a fall?

Link chewed lightly on his lip, trying to figure out a way from between the rock and hard place he found himself in. What could he do that wouldn’t incur the man’s wrath? His thoughts flew through the possibilities, desperate for an answer. His hand unconsciously fiddled with the branch in his hand, rolling the length of wood in his palm as he stared down unseeing, searching for an answer. But anything he did would just set the man off. So how could he help without helping? Goddess this is impossible! He mentally cursed, fingernails digging into the wooden length clenched in his hand. Wait- he blinked, eyes refocusing on the world around him as an idea flickered to life in his mind. Of course!

“Take this!” he exclaimed gleefully, thrusting his former poking stick out to Ganondorf.

The man flinched at the sudden movement, the boy’s unexpected enthusiasm startling him. Then his eyes widened as he realized the youth was offering him the natural staff.

“Uh sorry,” Link said, feeling his cheeks heat self-consciously as he toned down his forceful enthusiasm. Goddess the man must think I’m an idiot. “You can have this. I don’t know if it will hold all your weight, but it should help.”

“Are you calling me fat?” Ganondorf said, trying to cover his surprise with a snide remark.

“What th-?” Link blinked, confused. “Where did that come from?

“Never mind,” the gerudo rumbled, rubbing the back of his neck as he struggled not to look to eager. The boy was offering him a weapon. The fool boy was offering him a weapon. It was all he could do not to snatch the staff from the teen’s hands.

Link sighed, thinking the man was being stubborn again. “Just take it, okay?” he said almost pleadingly.

Ganondorf hesitated, then carefully reached out for the proffered staff, his mind racing. Why would the boy offer him a weapon? There had to be a flaw. Was it rigged to break?

Golden eyes held Link’s gaze as the man’s hand closed around the solid wooden length and drew back. The hylian could see the man struggling to keep his composure, but he couldn’t hide his awe as he took the natural staff, his eyes holding so many questions he wouldn’t allow his lips to voice.

Link hoped desperately he hadn’t made a dire mistake. True the staff could help the man walk, but it could also be used as a weapon. Either way it was too late to take it back now.

With a mental shrug, Link slung his shield over a shoulder, the motion making Ganondorf glance up from the staff in his hand.

“I’ll see you back at the cave,” Link said, then turned to walk back to the cave, leaving the man to make his own way back. He hoped he had done the right thing. He half expected to hear the whistle of wood slicing through air as the man attacked, but the blow never came. Even so he couldn’t quite keep himself from glancing back over his shoulder to see the man holding the stick at arm’s length in both hands, his eyes scrutinizing it’s length as if it were a poisonous snake ready to strike.

Link chuckled at the sight, shaking his head incredulously as he stepped into the shadow of the cave. Such a suspicious mind the gerudo had. But maybe… maybe this small concession would finally break the tension between them. Link could only hope.

TBC...

Chapter Text

Link sat, staring blindly at the stew simmering over the fire, the fingers of one hand drumming an impatient rhythm out on his opposite arm. Gannondorf still hadn’t arrived.

Why isn’t he here yet? The youth thought, his teeth worrying his bottom lip as his mind raced with questions. Was something wrong? Had Ganondorf fallen? Passed out? Was he too hurt to make it so far? What if-?

The teen groaned, breaking his position to run his fingers up into his hair, his hands holding his head as he forced himself to take a deep calming breath. The rich smell of the stew and the crackle of the flickering fire dominated his surroundings, lending a warn almost homey feeling to the cave even though the rock surrounding Link was ancient and cold. It would have been peaceful if he wasn’t already being driven frickin’ insane.

Dammit, Link silently cursed, frustrated with his overactive imagination. Everything was fine. He just was overreacting. Everything was fine and he was not going to go look. If Ganondorf caught him, it would only cause more problems. Link was sure of that and yet… The blonde gritted his teeth as his thoughts reignited with worry. If Ganondorf really did need help, then he’d regret not doing something now, the boy reasoned logically. But if Ganondorf didn’t need help, then catching sight of him checking out the situation might wound the man’s pride and break the fragile truce they had built.

“Oh what do I do?” the hylian moaned under his breath, glancing towards the mouth of the cave then back at the stew. Surely it couldn’t take this long to walk just a few dozen feet. Maybe I should…? Just for a second…?

“No, no, no,” Link said sternly to himself, shaking his head with every word then casting his eyes around the cave in desperation. He had to distract himself, but what was there left to do? He had already bounced around the cave, making up tasks to keep his mind busy: stirring the stew, remaking the bedrolls, rearranging the packs, restacking the woodpile, but there just wasn’t anything left. Curse your stupid habit of keeping an orderly camp, the boy mentally growled only to sigh resignedly and lean forward to stir the stew that didn’t need to be stirred again. His foot wiggled restlessly under his crossed leg as he worked. Come on. Come on Ganondorf. Just be here already.

The teen’s worried eyes flitted towards the entrance of the cave, lit with sunlight so bright it obscured anything outside the rocky interior. Please? he silently begged, pleading eyes watching apprehensively for a dark silhouette that didn't come.

Dammit all, the Link snarled silently, viciously stabbing the stirring spoon into the stew. The thick liquid took the opportunity and abruptly sucked the utensil from the teens grasp with a plop. The hylian stared for a long moment, the spoon quickly disappearing from him sight in the simmering brown stew, before he dropped his head into a hand with a disgusted sigh. “Dammit,” he breath wearily, rubbing his tired eyes.

Lifting his head again, Link heaved himself to his feet and plodded to his packs to retrieve a second spoon from his supplies. At least that was a bit of a distraction he thought, morosely settling down before the fire again and proceeding to fish the first utensil from the simmering pot. And what lesson have we learned today? He thought to himself sarcastically. Don’t take your frustrations out on the food.

A ghost of a smile flickered across Link’s lips, but his concerns quickly replaced it with a frown. Plucking the stew drenched spoon from the pot, he tossed it into one of the waiting bowls, his eyes already searching for another task to busy himself with. But there was only so many bloody times one could brush away nonexistent wrinkles from a bedroll before one started looking crazy, so what else are you going to do? The boy thought, casting his mind about for an idea. Maybe he could call Epona and pretend to brush her to get a look outside…? No, that was stupid. Ganondorf’s far too smart to fall for a ruse like that. Unless… The hylian perked up for a moment, thinking hard, but then shook his head. No. Why would you start brushing your horse when you just asked another to join you for a meal?

Eyes drawn back to the bright daylight blinding the cave entrance, Link found himself trying to justify taking a peek yet again. Maybe I should- Just to check that Ganondorf was okay. Just for a moment. That would be alright, wouldn’t it? The boy glanced back at the stew, thoughts churning. Did he have any other option? He couldn’t just sit here doing nothing. And Ganondorf was taking a really long time. Okay, so it had only been minutes, but it seemed like a really long time. Maybe calling Epona for a treat-

Before Link’s worries could force him into action, he heard the telltale lopsided gait of the sorcerer and the cluck of a wooden staff against stone. Relived elation flooded through the hylian, and he glanced towards the cavern entrance, a smile on his lips. Blue eyes turned to find the Thief King red-faced and panting, leaning heavily on the staff at the entrance of the cave. Sunshine glimmered on his sweat-soaked skin, haloing in his tangled crimson hair and Link’s breath caught for a moment at the sight. Even shaken and weak the gerudo’s presence seemed to fill the cavern, catching the attention of all present. Then, as quickly as it had come, the moment past as the man stumbled into the cover of the cave and slumped against the wall, letting himself slide down it as he fell into a seated position, the staff still held upright, clutched between his fists. Shoulders heaving with his panting gasps, the sorcerer bowed his head, his forehead resting against the smooth wood grain of the staff as he tried to catch his breath.

Realized he was staring, Link blinked and quickly looking away only to have his eyes drawn back to the weakened sorcerer a moment later. “You okay?” the teen almost asked, but caught the words before they could slip from his lips, sensing the question, as well intentioned as it might be, would raise the man’s metaphoric hackles. ‘You think I’m weak?’ hylian could already hear the man’s growled response as well as imagine the furious glare his concerned words would earn him. So instead the boy simply picked up a full canteen and, transferring it between his hands, leaned over to set the container near the gerudo’s knee. Ganondorf’s sharp eyes caught the motion and he glanced up with a jerk of his head, suspicion flaring in his gaze. But the hylian pointedly did not acknowledging the silent accusation in the man’s eyes and simply went back to stirring the stew. Still the sorcerer glared.

Cheeks flushing lightly under the heat of the man’s gaze, Link struggled not to glance over, knowing the Thief King would take it as a challenge. He wasn’t going to give the man the excuse to rage. This was just going to be a pleasant little campfire meal between, well… not friends exactly, but, um… civil people. Yah. No need for the anxious tension building between his shoulder blades that made him want to shift to wolf and run howling into the wood. Mentally grinning, the young warrior now struggled to keep the smile from his face. As if the two of us will ever get through a meal like normal people…

The weight of Ganondorf’s gaze shifted away and, surprised, Link glanced up to find the gerudo setting aside the staff to use both trembling hands to open the canteen. The blonde mentally noted that the man had carefully set the staff beside the far side of his body, keeping it out of Link’s easy reach and guarded. It was clear the sorcerer wasn’t going to willingly relinquish his new walking stick, but that was fine with Link. If it made the gerudo feel safer and in tandem more civil, he could keep the staff as long as he liked.

Suddenly Ganondorf’s gaze flicked back to Link, catching him watching and the youth stiffened, mentally cringing at the expected harsh words, but none came. For the first time since the man’s delirium his golden gaze held no anger as he looked upon the hylian. Instead only a considering and slightly confused look glimmered in those eyes. Then the Thief King inclined his head in a slight nod before raising the canteen to his lips.

Link’s heart swelled, his eyes widening at the small gesture. Progress. Real progress. The teen squirmed, trying to conceal the relieved joy that flooded through him. Despite his attempts, he couldn’t hide the pleased grin that spread over his lips. He ducked his head, embarrassed that such a small acknowledgment from the gerudo could elicit such a strong response from him. It was ridiculous. He felt like his heart was going to burst. He felt- Oh goddess, the hylian mentally groaned, the smile falling from his face. I really do have a crush on him, don’t I? This was going to be trouble. He couldn’t let his emotions dictate- Except he’d always been one to trust his instincts. And now his instincts were telling him there was more to the Dark Lord then he and possibly anyone alive knew. The greudo didn’t act like an incarnation of evil. He acted like a person. Perhaps a bit of a prickly person, but still a person. And he could be nice sometimes, even gentle. His time with Epona was proof enough of that even if one excluded the kiss…

The youth’s fingers brushed lightly over his lips in memory. The press of that kiss, so gentle and yet so needy- Links heart fluttered at the thought. Ganondorf hungry, wanting, passionate- Link’s breath quickened, his heart pounding faster. That touch so soft, eyes so tender. Would the gerudo every look at me like that? Could he-

No, stop that! Link shook his head, shoving the fantasy back. You’re being foolish! Flustered, cheeks flushed, the teen glanced shyly back to the Gerudo King only to find the man dosing off, his head sagging forward to a chest that rose and fell with deep, regular breaths, the recapped canteen resting by his knee.

Link almost laughed out loud. He smiled, covering his mouth with a hand. Well that’s a relief. At least Ganondorf didn’t see you making a fool of yourself. And yet, the youth also felt pleased that the man felt comfortable enough to fall asleep in his presence, even if it had been an accident.

Quickly the hylian ladled a generous serving of hearty venison stew into the empty bowl before pointedly cleared his throat.

Ganondorf’s eyes shot open at the sound, his head jerking up with a sharp breath. The gerudo’s eyes darted wildly for a second before he recognized his surroundings. Then his gaze settled on the teen and he relaxed ever so slightly. Even so the hylian couldn’t help but notice how the man’s hands had scrambled for the staff in his moment of fear and even now it lay resting against his shoulder clenched in his fists, ready to bring to bear at a seconds notice.

Ignoring the potential threat, Link smiled apologetically at the man and held out the steaming bowl. “You should probably eat.”

The man glanced down at the bowl then back up at Link, his brow furrowing in consternation. Whatever answers he was trying to find in the hylians face seemed to evade him and he let out a frustrated sigh. “What’s your deal, boy?”  he said, setting his shoulders back against the wall and crossing his arms over his broad chest.

The gravelly words startled Link and he blinked, his head cocking to one side in confusion. “Deal?” he asked uncertainly, his hand holding the bowl unconsciously lowering a fraction as he tried to make sense of the man’s question.

“Stop screwing around boy,” Ganondorf said in an exasperated huff. “I’m in no mood for your games and I’m certainly not buying this little act,” he said, emphasizing his words by flicking his wrist in a dismissive gesture.

Here we go again, Link mentally sighed, then scooted himself to face the man full on. “Ganondorf, I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said, meeting the sorcerer’s eyes with his own, trying to convince the gerudo of his sincerity. “There is no game-“

“This!" the Thief King exclaimed, his hands flying wide to encompass the cave. "Playing tea party by the fire. Pretending to be nice. What do you want from me, huh?” he accused, jabbing a finger at the boy. “Information? Spells? What?!"

“Ganondorf I'm not trying to manipulate you,” blonde said seriously, setting the bowl of food down between them. “I just-"

"Then why the fuck are you doing this?!" the gerudo snarled, rage seeping into the words.

Link sat back, stunned by the force of the man’s words "Wow,” the teen said, pity seeping into his gaze. The force of the man’s pessimism was kind of impressive in a depressing sort of way. “You really can’t imagine a world where I don't have an ulterior motive, can you?"

"Everyone has ulterior motives, boy,” Ganondorf said warily, his hostility diminishing, leaving a pall of weary sorrow on his features. “It is the way the world works,” he added quietly, his eyes gazing inward.

What Link wouldn’t have giving to know what the gerudo was thinking at that moment. He let the silence between them stretch for a bit before asking, "So you probably won't believe it if I say I saved your life because I wanted to, will you?"

The Dark Lord gave him a sour glare.

Link sighed, rubbing his tired eyes with a hand. "Ganondorf look,” he said bluntly. “I know we've had a tense relationship, but that’s just because we’ve only met in battle. There's more to me then a warrior just as I am sure there is more to you."

"Then you are a fool,” the man said tiredly, leaning his head back against the cavern wall.

The hylian smiled, shaking his head. "People aren't just one thing Ganondorf,” he said gently. “Life isn't that simple. Here's an idea,” he said suddenly, dropping a fist into the palm of his other hand. “Why don't you stop pretending to be so aggressive all the time? What do you think about that?"

The man gave a bitter snort, turning his gaze away. "You do not know what you’re talking about, boy,” he said, but the tension in his shoulder shoulders eased visibly.

Link let the topic drop, sensing the man didn’t want to discuss it further, and was surprised to find him own shoulder relaxing, his body unconsciously mirroring the gerudos. And then he was surprised further when the man deemed to speak again.

"So I am to be your prisoner?" the sorcerer asked quietly, the lack of heat in his tone almost unnerving as if the answer didn’t really matter to him.

Link sighed, scratching his head self-consciously. “Honestly, I haven’t thought that far ahead. I was kind of more focused on you not dying.”

"Mhm,” the man said noncommittally. “You still haven't answered my question."

“Um, which one?” the teen asked, confused and a bit taken aback but the man’s oddly reasonable tone.

The gerudo fixed he golden eyes on the hylian and simply said; "Why did you save me?"

Link blinked. “Didn’t we already-“

“Not to my satisfaction,” Ganondorf stated, cutting the blonde off mid-sentence.

“Really?” The hylian sighed, dropping his face into hands as he struggled to control his mounting frustration. “Alright, fine,” he said, running his hands up into his hair and letting go of his irritation with a huff. “Let’s see. How do I put this?” he murmured to himself, tipping his head back, his eyes unfocused and searching as if the ceiling could magically give him the answer the gerudo wanted to hear. But that didn’t matter did it? Ganondorf needed the truth not just some platitude. “I uh…” The teen glanced toward gerudo then quickly away again, an embarrassed flush reddening his cheeks. Goddess why is my heart beating so fast? Just say it already, he thought swallowing hard. "I...” The hylian hesitated once more, idly picking at the rocky floor of the cave with a finger as he chose his words carefully. “I don't like death,” he stated, his head still bowed. He couldn’t get the words out if he met the Dark Lord’s eyes, but he needed to say this. Ganondorf needed him to say this. Taking a deep breath the teen closed his eyes and forced himself onward. “I really don’t like death. I kill when I have to, but I do not enjoy it and well…” Link felt his face heat further, his throat constrict with nerves as his words stumbled, but he mentally shook his head and gathered himself to continue.  “In your case I guess I saw an opportunity to maybe... fix things."

A silent relieved sigh escaped Link as the last words came free. He had said it. Said something completely honest and from the heart. True, he was too flustered to remember exactly what had made it out of his mouth, but now it was Ganondorf’s turn to react. To say something… but he didn’t. Link stared at the floor, at his hands, at the cooling bowl of soup still sitting between him and the sorcerer and still Ganondorf didn’t speak. Link hands clenched together, his shoulders tightening as the seconds stretched. Just say something. Anything. Please. I can’t take this. I can't-

Link’s head jerked up, his mouth open to speak, to break the unbearable silence, but those words died upon his tongue as he caught the man’s gaze. Those golden eyes, those fierce, blazing golden eyes looked upon him now with soft sympathy. The hylian’s breath caught at the sight, his throat suddenly dry, his heart racing as a flush of-of something shivered through him. Goddess how could anyone evil ever have such beautiful eyes?

"How many kills have you made?" The gerudo asked quietly, almost kindly.

“What?” the boy blinked, startled by the sound of the man’s voice. So gentle. So much like the night before. But the topic soured the sweet effect.

Ganondorf cocked his head slightly to the side, studying the boy wearily. The cursed hylian was his enemy, his destruction, his foe. In all that sometimes he forgot how young the boy really was. "You remember them all, don't you?"

The teen hugged his middle, his gaze sliding away from Ganondorf’s as a frown appeared on his lips. "I don't want to talk about it."

Ganondorf sighed, running a hand up his face and into his hair, feeling suddenly very old. He shouldn’t have pushed the boy into answering. This was not a side of his enemy he wanted to see. Empathizing with the hylian champion was not going to help his cause. Even so, it was hard not to when the teen looked so… vulnerable. Dammit stop it, the man silently snarled, shaking his head. You’re being stupid. And yet when he glanced up at the boy again he still felt a stab of sympathy in his hardened heart. The Gerudo King sighed, dropping his eyes. “Kids like you should not get into this bloody business,” he stated quietly. “You’re too soft for war.”

Anger flared within Link and his head jerked up with a sharp reply on his tongue, but it died before leaving his lips. The man had picked up the bowl of stew. The hylian blinked, surprise dimming his anger as he watched the man lean back against the wall to survey him. 

“So what are you going to do with me now?” Ganondorf asked mildly, idly swirling the stew in the bowl, the motion rousing a few wisps of steam. “Take me back for a trial or some other farce?"

It took a moment for Link to find his voice then he answered a bit petulantly; "Again, haven't really thought ahead that far."

"Marvelous,” the gerudo said with a bite of sarcasm. “Not only are you a fool, you’re unprepared as well."

"Wow,” the teen said, staring at the man in faint disbelief. “Seriously, who put a twist in your tail?"

"None of your damned business." The Thief King growled absently, but his attention was on the bowl in his hand. He needed to eat. He knew that. His body needed the food to heal. But then why did the smell of the stew make him feel so sick? Was his body trying to tell him something? Was it a warning? Was something off? Was there poison? The man grimaced, his nose wrinkling as nausea coiled in his belly. Was he being over-paranoid?

Link noticed the look on the man’s face as he ladled a bowl of stew for himself and took it for disgust. “I know it’s not great, but really it’s not THAT bad,” he said blowing on the surface of the stew before taking a sip. A forlorn sigh escaped the teen at the taste. “If only I had more salt,” he murmured to himself taking another sip. “And some rosemary,” he added before turning his attention back to the gerudo. “But really it’s not bad.”

“Mmm,” Ganondorf said noncommittally, still staring at his bowl.

Link sighed and gathered himself to bring up the elephant in the room. “And no,” he said wearily. “It’s not poisoned.”

The man glanced up, his head cocking to the side in question. “And how can I know the truth of that?”

“Putting aside all the effort I’ve expended to keep you alive and because I said so,” the indignant teen said pointedly. “Why would I poison food I was also going to eat, and have eaten?”

“You could have poisoned the bowl,” Ganondorf retorted smoothly.

“Oh for the love of- give me that,” the boy said grabbing the bowl from the sorcerer and quickly downed a sip. “See. It’s fine,” he said unceremoniously shoving the bowl back at the man.

Somehow managing to keep the stew from sloshing into his lap, Ganondorf and raised an eyebrow at the boy. “Uh huh.”

Link blushed and looked away; embarrassed that he had let his temper get the better of him. When he looked up again the man was again frowning down at the bowl cupping in his large hands.

“You know, if you keep scowling your face is going to get stuck like that forever,” Link teased hopefully, trying to lighten the mood.

Unamused the Dark Lord rolled his eyes. “Maybe it already has and you just don’t know it,” he said dryly then sighed and resignedly tipped the bowl to his lips and took a sip of the stew.

Caught in the middle of his own sip Link nearly choked. Had that been banter? Had the King of Evil really just bantered with him? Link’s thoughts raced as he tried to cover his coughs. Since when did Ganondorf banter? Jibe, goad and taunt, yes. But BANTER? The hylian glanced curiously over at the man and couldn’t keep the smile from his lips as he was greeted by the sight of the gerudo gulping the soup down with gusto.

“Easy there,” Link chuckled. “Eat too fast and you might get sick.”

The sorcerer grunted and ignored the boy, his attention focused solely on the glorious food. It didn’t matter how the stew tasted or what it was made up of or even it’s source, all that mattered was it was food. And he was HUNGRY. His appetite had come roaring back when the first morsel had touched his tongue and now it was all he could do to force himself to breath between mouthfuls. He couldn’t help a small shudder of delight as the heat of the hearty stew flowed into him, warming him from the inside out.

Pausing to chew a larger piece of meat, the Thief Kind considered the food and surreptitiously the hylian who had made it. The boy was trying and failing to pretend he wasn’t interested in Ganondorf’s opinion of the meal, but at least the teen was being quiet for once.

Ganondorf mentally sighed, the momentary euphoria of needed nutrition fading. His situation dulled the pleasure he normally received when partaking of foods from his birth realm. The sustenance of Twilight had been strange and much less palatable then what the hylian offered. The Twili fair by far was indigestible in many cases – at least without magical intervention and even his great skills could do nothing about the taste. The boy’s meager skills and supplies both smelled and tasted a hundred times better then the most succulent meal he had managed to piece together in his exile. Some who were native to the Twilight did make excursions into other realms, hunting for exotics they could return with, and when possibly Ganondorf had bartered, begged and stolen what he could of those foods for the effort it took to magically make the resources of the Twilight realm edible used so much energy it barely made the effort worth the cost. In comparison this tasted… good. Really good. It tasted like home.

A wave of nostalgia washed over the man and for a moment he had to fight back tears of longing. If only I could be truly home, he thought gloomily, continuing his meal at a more sedate pace. With my people… The man cast away those thoughts with a shake of his head. There was no time for wishing for what could have been. No time for such weakness. No matter how much he might wish otherwise.

Needing to occupy his mind with something else, the sorcerer turned his attention back to what he was eating. The stew had venison in it and some vegetables. He could definitely taste carrots and celery…. Also a few chunks of potatoes and some peas and corn – the hylian must have been carrying some dehydrated mixes to get such variety while traveling. What else did the boy have?

Ganondorf cast his eyes around the cave as he ate, silently taking in details he had overlooked before. The boy had certainly been busy, he couldn’t fault the hylian for that. Somehow during the hours he had been resting the teen had cobbled together a small wooden rack which stood towards the rear of the cave. Upon the rack the teen had hung the pheasant and several smaller bags presumably containing other foods and supplies. Farther back the deer hung from the convenient outcropping near the cave’s ceiling. Somehow the hylian had managed to sling a rope over the crag, securing the carcass. Ganondorf could see the leg the youth had cut strips of venison from to use in the stew. He had to admit the cool depths of the cavern would store the carcass perfectly. Such an industrious little annoyance the boy was, the gerudo thought even as a small smile quirked the corner of his mouth.

Distracted by his thoughts the Thief King lifted the bowl to his lips again and was surprised to find it empty.

“Would you like some more?”

Ganondorf looked up at the words to find the boy watching his over the rim of his own bowl, a smile glittering in his sapphire eyes. And the Thief King’s heart skipped a beat.

Taken aback by the reaction, the sorcerer stared dumbly at the hylian for a moment.

“More?” the teen asked again, nodding to indicate the empty bowl in the man’s hands.

“Uh yes,” the gerudo said, blinking out of his stupor to passing the bowl over for a refill as his mind raced wildly to understand what had just happened. The boy was beautiful, true. Even he couldn’t deny that and with the firelight dancing in his golden hair and laughter shining in his eyes… Ganondorf shivered as a small flicker of desire flared within him. AND you have not lain with another in decades, the man thought pointedly at himself. Of course your body is going to react. Not that you’d have the energy to do anything about it even if the boy were willing, he mentally grumbled. Which was an absurd thought in itself. Whatever you thought you sensed from him earlier was a reflection of your own needs not the boy’s. He is the enemy. Will always be the enemy. Don’t let yourself get de… stract… ted…

Ganondorf’s eyes widening in sudden horror, the bottom of his stomach plummeting as he watched the boy ladle him a fresh bowl of stew. How could he- How could he have been so distracted? He had let- Oh goddess… Oh goddess what have I done?

The man paled. He had willingly taken food from the boy. He had shared sustenance with the enemy and in doing so had bound himself by the laws of hospitality. The transgressions in the meadow might have been explained away; the boy had abandoned that bag of food near him. He hadn’t accepted it. But this…

“Goddess no,” the sorcerer whispered under his breath, his wide eyes staring at nothing as he frantically tried to think through his situation. Bound as he now was under the Ways of old he could do the boy no harm if no harm was done to him so long as he stayed in the camp. But the hylian was his enemy, the gerudo thought, his mind racing.  He had to escape the hyrule champion and this place. But could he under such constrictions? Could he afford to heed the Ways? Would he still be of The People if he did not? His life would mean nothing if he lost that claim. All he had done, all he had strived to accomplish had been for the betterment of The People. They knew that. They remember; they had to. He had yet the break the sacred laws. Even in battle, even when he killed, he was a soldier in an army of one. He was not a murderer as outsiders might believe. The People knew that, even if then did not always agree with his path. He would not- could not break the Laws now. But…

A strangled sob escaped the Thief King as hopelessness descended upon him. Dammit, how could I be so stupid? How could I forget the old Ways? Am I really that lost? Am I even worthy of my blood? Goddess forgive me. I-

“-dorf. Ganondorf?”

The man jerked, startled from his thoughts, his head whipping towards the sound of the voice. “What?” he demanded of Link.

The boy’s brow furrowed, his eyes worried. “Are you okay there? You look a little sick.”

“Fine,” the gerudo snapped, his irritation mounting. “What do you want?”

“I was asking if you would like to try some bread with your stew,” Link said slowly, his concerned gaze still searching the man’s face, wondering what had caused such a sudden shift in mood. “I have some hard travel biscuits-“

“Find. Whatever,” Ganondorf said briskly, cutting the boy off. Then he paused, considering. Something was wrong. He felt… off. The sorcerer frowned, mentally surveying his physical condition, looking for something out of place. He was hot, sweating in fact, but he had been drinking hot liquid. He was also uneasy, but considering his thoughts and situation that was easily explainable, except-

“Here you go,” the hylian said, holding out the bowl and a biscuit with a smile.

Ganondorf bit back a snarl as the teen’s voice broke into his thoughts again. He couldn’t blame the boy. This one time he couldn’t blame the boy. This dastardly situation was HIS fault. HE had been the one to accept the shared meal willingly. He couldn’t let himself lash out blindly at those who only wished to help. The sorcerer blinked, startled by that thought. When had he started thinking that? No, it didn’t matter; the man thought, mentally shaking his head and turning his attention back to the hylian. For a long moment he considered the boy who blinked back at him nonplussed, but still waited patiently. Ganondorf sighed and forced himself to relax as he accepted his reality. He had already bound himself by the laws of hospitality. Refusing the offered food now would not change that. With a rueful snort the man reached out for the offered bowl only to jerk his hand back as his stomach gave a sudden vicious twist.

The Dark Lord’s brow furrowed in confusion then he hissed in startled anger and pain as another cramp bit into him. Instinctively the man wrapped an arm protectively around his middle, panting through the pain as a fresh flash of heat cascaded through him, flushing his cheek. He swallowed hard as his stomach leapt into his throat, saliva flooding his mouth and his hate-filled gaze rose to meet Links.

 “What did you do?” the man growled, his voice trembling with quiet rage. He couldn’t believe he had been foolish enough to trust this stinking brat. He had been poisoned. The little bastard had lied straight to his face and- and… No law of hospitality could forgive this- this betrayal.

Shocked by the sudden change, Link blinked dumbly at the man, his mouth hanging open. “I-“

“What did-“ The gerudo’s snarled cut off with a groan and his hand lifted to cover his mouth, his stomach roiling. “Oh goddess,” he murmured, closing his eyes and panting roughly through his nose.

“Ganondorf?” the hylian hurriedly set down the bowl and leaned forward, wanting to help, but the man’s eyes flashed open, halting the boy in his tracks. For a second the hurt and betrayal flickered in that golden gaze was enough to break the boy's heart. Then the seething rage came flooding back and the sorcerer’s face twisted in a hateful snarl. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then paused, a sudden flush rising on his cheeks. Before Link could ask what was wrong the man lurched to his feet and away, stumbling towards the mouth of the cave, his staff clattering to the floor, forgotten in his rush.

“Ganondorf WAIT,” the blonde called, confusion and worry warring within him at the man’s sudden erratic behavior. Stumbling to his feet, the teen started after the gerudo as his big frame disappeared around the corner. Then Link heard the retching and his heart sunk.

Shit.

 

TBC...

Chapter Text

Impact jarred up Ganondorf’s knees as he fell onto all fours outside the cave retching, vomit splattering the grass before him in a warm, wet puddle. The sour stench assaulted his nose, making him gag and heaved again, his guts wrenching. Bile burned the back of his throat, flooding his mouth with bitter saliva as his stomach surged. He coughed roughly, retching then spat, his head hanging low, his sides heaving with hoarse, gasping breaths. The world swaying blearily beneath him, the gerudo blinked back tears as the nest of vipers that had settled in his chest struck at him with every breath. A deep shudder rolled through the sorcerer’s body as a flash of molten heat flushed through him, blurring his vision and fogging his mind. For a moment Ganondorf was certain he was going to faint, but he gritted his teeth, panting breaths chuffing from him as he pushed back the darkness, focusing on a single thought. Poison. His hands fisted in the grass, rage boiling up within him, deadening the pain. The fucking blonde bastard had poisoned him. The next time he saw-

“Ganondorf!”

Speak of the devil; the little shit came bounding out of the cave entrance, blonde hair flashing gold in the sunlight, looking for all the world like the true and good Champion of Hyrule and Ganondorf hated him for it. Blazing eyes fixing on the hylian, the Thief King growled low in his throat, knuckles creaking as his fists clenched tighter, his fury seething. The boy had said he wanted to help, but it was lies, all lies. Now, the brat would learn what it meant to deceive a sorcerer king. Oh how he would make the bastard scream. He would make the bastard burn.

But even as the gerudo’s rage flared hot, a small part of him despaired. A bit of him had wanted to believe the teen’s kind eyes and gentle touch. It had been foolish. His cynical side had known it was all an act, but he could not deny the part of him that had wanted to believe so desperately… But it was too late now. Reality was too cruel for such kindness to exist. But he could at least make this deceiver pay for his treachery, even if it was all he managed before he died.  

Determination smoldered in the golden eyes that tracked the boy across the grassy field until the youth paused in the clearing before the cave and shaded the sunlight from his eyes with a hand. “Ganondorf where-?” the teen called, uncertain. Then his eyes caught sight of the gerudo groveling on his hands and knees near the forests edge. Ganondorf had to admit, the hylian played his part well. Worry seemed to crease his young features as he took a step forward and said; “Oh goddess, are you okay?”

It was false. The sympathy in those blue eyes, the worried furrow of that brow; it was all false. He wasn’t going to let himself be taken in by this lying little shit again.

“Ganondorf?” The boy took another step forward, his head cocked to the side, his motions cautious but concerned. “Can you hear me?”

Of course I can hear you, you twit. Fury rising, the man snarled back at the boy’s words, his golden eyes flashing through a cascade of crimson tangles.

The glimmer of madness in the gerudo’s gaze halted Link in his tracks with a gasp. A feral beast stared back at him through those eyes, enraged and ready for a fight. They pinned the hylian in place, the boy barely daring to breathe as the tension of the moment caught him, his body shivering with the sudden air of imminent violence. “Ganondorf?”

The uncertain word trembled on the air, but it didn’t matter. Even as the Thief King watched the color drain from the boy’s face, he knew it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. It was all an act, except maybe the sudden fear he saw. That looked real. Ganondorf felt his lips stretch in a mockery of a smile. Good; the little bastard should fear me, he thought bearing his teeth. I will be his death.

“I don’t-“

“You will pay.” Ganondorf’s growl cut off the hylian’s words, wisps of mist rising from his clenched fists as he began to gather his magics. Red bled into the gerudo’s vision as his fury rose, spurred on by the harsh little voice in his mind that howled for blood. “You will-“

Words choking off in a grunt of pain, Ganondorf suddenly doubled over, clutching his middle with an arm as his insides twisted, a strong cramp ripping into him, breaking his concentrating.

Link’s breath came back to him in a rush, the tension breaking with the magic spell. For a moment he had forgotten; forgotten who he was truly dealing with. This was the King of Evil, the man who bought death to the land, the… the sick and wounded gerudo on his knees before him, panting and shivering with pain. What… what do I do?

Unsure, Link took the briefest moment and closed his eyes, centering himself, but the sounds of the man’s breathing, harsh and gasping, was loud in his ear, overwriting anything else. He could not abandon this path. Not now. I won’t believe the rumors, the legends. I will only trust what I see and know myself.

The hylian nodded, feeling sure of that thought. True the man was powerful but… he was still a person. A person in need. Link didn’t know what was wrong or why the man was suddenly angry, but he did know Ganondorf needed help. And that was one thing Link could offer.

The hylian opened his eyes, his gaze focused anew. Resolutely ignoring the small voice inside his head screaming at him to run from the danger, the blonde gritted his teeth and took a step forward.

The motion caught Ganondorf’s eyes and he wrenched his head up with another snarl. “You bastard,” he gasped, pain drawing deep lines on his face. “What did you give me? Was it in the drink?”

Link's brow furrowed in confusion and he paused his step. “Give you?” he asked, puzzled.

Damn the brat was good; Ganondorf seethed, seeing the look of confusion and even hurt flash in the teen’s eyes. But it was a lie. All a lie and he wasn’t going to be made a fool of again. “All you fucking talk,” the gerudo spat; then demanded, “what poison did you use?”

“Poison?” Link’s eyes widened, suddenly realizing the root of the man’s fury. For a second there was anger – How dare he... But then the boy’s eyes took in the scene again. The gerudo uncertain and feeling threatened suddenly found himself sick and puking. Of course his mind went to poison.

“Ganondorf I swear I didn’t poison you,” Link said slowly and as calmly as he could even as his mind raced. If Ganondorf really thought… Oh hell I’m in trouble. So much trouble. I don’t even have a knife, the teen thought, fingers clenching around the canteen in his hand - the only thing he had thought to grab in his rush to follow the man from the cave. Link tried to keep the fear from his face even though he knew that, if he couldn’t convince the gerudo of the truth, then the man wouldn’t stop trying to kill him until he, himself, was dead. And even now, even with Link’s words, the hardness and fury in the man’s eyes didn’t ease. Oh Goddess, how can I make him believe? “Ganondorf,” the hylian tried again, his once level voice shaking slightly. “I swear on my life, on Epona’s life, I did not poison you.”

Link’s heart thudded in his chest, blood pounding in his ears for a long moment, that cold, deadly golden gaze pinning him. Please, please, please Ganondorf. Please, believe me.

“Liar.”

The cold, seething word shivered on the air between the two and Link’s stomach dropped. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled as magic gathered to the man’s hands again, it’s color sickly yellow and black. Death magic.

“Ganondorf wait!” Link said desperately, shaking his head, his hands up in surrender as he stumbled back a step. He’d failed. Ganondorf was going to kill himself to get to him. Link was scared; he was mortal after all, but sudden frustration surged up inside of him, blotting the fear away. It wasn’t fair. He had done everything he could and now… It wasn’t FAIR “Ganondorf I-  DAMN IT, I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING!” The shout ripped itself from the boy’s lips as he stamped a foot, a few small frustrated tears accompanying the words, drawing glistening tracks down his pale cheeks.

Stunned by the outburst, Ganondorf stared at the hylian, his own plight forgotten for a moment. So distracted was he, he didn’t even notice his magic slip from his fingers and disperse.

“Sorry,” Link sniffed, wiping his cheeks with a hand. “I didn’t mean to yell. I just… I didn’t,” he said in a broken voice, his gaze unable to meet Ganondorf’s own, his arms wrapped defensively around his middle. For a moment it looked like the teen was going to just break down into sobs. 

Ganondorf's heart cried out at the sight; the urge to comfort the miserable boy surging up within him as strong and demanding as if the hylian had been one of his People. The gerudo frantically backpedaled from that sudden need, mentally panicked. No, no, no. I’m not doing this. I’m not getting involved. It’s a falsehood. A lie. I can’t- But it wasn’t; the boy’s emotions were visceral and real, playing out right in front of him.  The man let out a tight sigh, his rage deserting him, leaving only exhaustion in it’s wake. And this is why I feel like such an ass. Hated and alone. The gerudo’s head sagged, a bitter hollowness settling in his heart. I don’t like feeling like this. I don’t want to feel like this. If what the boy said is true… Maybe…

Looking up, Ganondorf opened his mouth to say something. He wasn’t sure what it would have been, but it would have been something. But his stomach chose that moment to wrench into a wicked cramping that brought his troubles crashing back down upon him. A soft gasp escaped the sorcerer, his eyes widening then squeezing shut as his body quickly hunched over the sudden pain, an arm clutching his belly.  Hissing through his teeth, he panted through the agony as it stretched time, seconds seeming to last minutes and more. Finally, as the bad spell eased, he blinked his eyes open, then blinked back the tears that blurred his vision and looked up. Several long moments had past, but the boy was still standing there, his brow furrowed with worry, looking miserable but not for himself; for the pain he saw in front of him.

The man huffed out tight, panting breaths through his nose, averting his gaze, unable to handle the sorrow of those blue eyes. Then he glanced back, the look in his own eyes lost and hurt, their orbs shining with unshed tears. “Why?” he croaked hoarsely, that one word filled with all his uncertainty, pain and fear.

Link's heart wrenched at that broken word. He wanted so desperately to help the man, but how? How could he convince the gerudo to trust him? All he had were his words and actions and they were never enough. But… they would have to be now.

Slowly, not wanting to startle the man into violence, the hylian crouched where he stood, his hands spread wide in a placating gesture. “I don’t know,” he said gently, uncertain the man would be able to hear his words until those golden eyes flicked up to his face. He gave the sorcerer a sympathetic smile, hoping the man would sense his desire to help. “Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe the food was too rich. Maybe your body wasn’t ready for solids or… Remember when I told you if you eat too fast…?” he said, letting the man pick up the rest of that line of thought.

The gerudo stared at him for a moment long enough that Link’s hope started to crumble. Then his great shoulders slumped and he sighed. “Shit,” the sorcerer muttered in a defeated tone, the word almost sounding like an apology to Link’s ears.

The hylian blinked, surprised the man had actually listened to him, but relieved by it. “My thoughts exactly," he said, then added. "Let’s get you back-“

The sorcerer shook his head abruptly, cutting off the blonde’s words. “Not done,” he said, his words clipped. The he swallowed hard before adding; “there’s more.”

Link’s mouth tightened, his anger flaring at the suffering before him. Hadn’t this man been through enough? Then he sighed, letting the emotion go. It would have no use for him here. Face setting in determination, he thought; I am going to help Ganondorf even if it kills me. Which it might, some cynical part of him murmured, but he pushed it away as well. He didn’t have time for doubt. Not now. Now was a time for action.

Stealing himself, the blonde cautiously moved forward until he crouched by the gerudo’s side. The man barely seemed aware of him, his great head hanging low as he panted, his face obscured by crimson tangles of hair. Link frowned, he didn’t want to startled the sorcerer and earn himself another unhealthy blast of magic like the night before, but… He had to do something. Setting his jaw in a firm line, the boy tentatively reached out and placed a gentle hand on the man’s shoulder.

The gerudo gasped at the touch, his head jerking up, golden eyes locking on the hylian beside him.

Link’s heart raced with the tension that sung in the air. Their faces were inches apart. Close enough to kill; close enough to kiss.

The teen swallowed hard, struggling to keep his face blank and his lips silent. He wished he could say something of comfort or companionship, but he dared not trigger the prideful man’s rage. Instead he kept his mouth shut and met the sorcerer’s searching eyes with his own calm gaze. It hurt Link to see those beautiful eyes glassy with pain and sickness, but they were still sharp and… he could have sworn he saw a hint of curiosity in those golden depths. Link felt his cheeks heat under that intense stare and he struggled not to shyly glance away. Still he could not deny the little part of him that thought if it wasn’t for the acrid smell of vomit on the man’s breath, this moment could have been something very different. But this was not the time for such frivolous thoughts and the boy mentally pushed them back as well. He had to focus.

Ganondorf hadn’t moved. Nothing in his gaze showed acceptance or threat. It was just… calculating. Link’s eyes widened slightly, realizing the gerudo was waiting for him to make the first move.

The hylian pressed his lips together, nerves tightening his guts as sudden fear flashed through him. What if I make the wrong move? What if I set off another tirade? What if… What if I am forced to kill- No. The blonde gave a firm mental shake of his head. You are not falling down that rabbit hole. You just… You just have to do something to gain his trust… But what?

Link’s eyes focused back on the world, his gaze now searching Ganondorf's face for a sign. What can I do? He thought, wishing the man would just tell him, but knowing he never would. What do you need? What would you accept? The hylian had no clue – his mind completely blank. The man was unknowable. Erratic. Link could never tell what would set his anger off, but… But there was another way to look at the situation. If I were sick like this, Link thought to himself. What would make me feel better? His eyes lit with a sudden idea. That… that might work.

Taking a deep breath, the teen gathered his courage. This would be the moment of truth; the moment where everything got better or went to hell. He could only hope he made the right choice.

Slowly, as non-threateningly as possible, the hylian reached up a hand and, after one more moment of hesitation, gently brushed the man’s tumble of hair back from his face.

The sorcerer blinked at the touch, pulling back slightly, but still let the hylian's fingers brush his cheek. He didn’t say a word. His shrewd eyes silently watching, but Link could have sworn he saw a moment of confusion flash over his features.

Emboldened, the youth continued his motion, gathering the gerudo's crimson hair up and away from the mess in the grass. This close Link could see their ends had already trailed in the acrid stuff, but the damage wasn’t bad yet. And maybe he could keep it from getting worse, if Ganondorf allowed. But why would he not? After all, no one likes puke in their hair, right?

Slowly Link continued until he was loosely holding the great scarlet bundle of all the man’s hair in his hands. Having seen how truly magnificent the sorcerer’s crimson mane could be, the teen now felt sorrow seeing the sweat caked, oily ruin of tangles he held. Knowing how low he would feel if his hair was such an unwashed mess, Link wished he could help the man clean it, but that would have to be a problem for another time. Now there were more pressing matters.

Glancing back at the gerudo’s face, Link found the sorcerer no longer watching him, though his body was still tight with tension. The hylian allowed himself a moment to study the man’s face, looking for any indication of… well, anything. All he could really say for sure was Ganondorf didn’t look happy, but he hadn’t stopped Link either; that had to be a good sign, right? So the teen took another chance and spoke.

“Do you need water?” the boy asked softly, then held his breath, waiting for an answer.

For a long, painful moment, the sorcerer didn’t react. Then, with a great sigh, the man’s shoulders slumped and he gave a reluctant nod.

Link’s heart soared at the positive response and he breathed out his relief. That was hurtle two? Three–? whatever. Let’s see what else we can accomplish.

Quickly, the young champion passed Ganondorf the canteen he had grabbed from the cave. The gerudo took it without a word and Link frowned, seeing the man’s hand shake. It was only then he realized the sorcerer was trembling. The teen doubted it could be from fear and it no longer could be from tension so it had to be from his illness.

The hylian’s frown deepened as he watched the gerudo fumble with the canteen, trying to unscrew the cap. The man was attempting to do the work of two hands with one and failing miserably at it. Why didn’t he just use both?  The teen thought, confused. Then he realized with a shock, that this fierce, imposing, powerful man was too weak to take both hands off the ground and stay upright.

Ganondorf’s hopeless fumbling wrench at Links insides. Quickly the teen gave the man’s hair a loose twist, coaxing the strands to stay in place without his hold for a moment before silently reaching over to take the canteen.

Ganondorf gave a frustrated huff as the container was slipped from his grip, but he let it go. A moment later, Link passed it back to him, uncapped. The youth expected to see anger as his blue eyes met those of gold, but… there wasn’t any. Instead the boy saw only weariness and a hit of surprise, as if the man hadn’t expected the help; as if he had thought being given a water canteen that he could not open had been some cruel joke. Then, strangely, a deep sorrow filled that golden gaze and the man turned away from him and, tipped his head back to put the canteen to his lips.

Link watched as the sorcerer took a long drink, gasping as he pulled the canteen away. Golden eyes locked Link again, then the man suddenly thrust the container back at the hylian's chest. Surprised, the boy fumbled his grip, but managed not to spill any of the precious water as he capped the canteen and put it aside. He wondered at the forcefulness of the sorcerer’s motions, but then noticed the man sway slightly, even as he put his second hand back on the ground to stabilize himself. Was it weakness or dizziness, the blonde wondered, his eyes searching the sorcerer's face for a clue. The gerudo did look awfully flushed...

Without thinking, Link leaned forward and placed a hand on the man's forehead, testing for fever. Ganondorf started, his eyes glancing towards the boy, but thankfully he didn’t pull away. Link was too engrossed to notice the concession, his jaw tightening as he felt the heat that radiated from the sorcerer’s clammy skin. He had hoped the gerudo’s fever was over and yet here it was back again sapping his strength; strength he needed to recover. The blonde grimaced, then started himself, noticing the man’s eyes watching him intently. “You’re burning up,” he said in explanation, even as his own cheeks heating with embarrassment.

“Leave it be boy,” the gerudo said wearily, brushing the blonde’s hand away. He was so tried and so sick. Everything ached; his head, his eyes, his chest, his stomach. He just wanted to sleep, to banish these pains with unconsciousness, but here he was, stuck on all fours above a pool of vomit. And he was pretty sure he couldn’t so much as stand on his own. He would have to ask for help. Shame seared through him, clenching at his already aching belly, and he squeezed his eyes closed, choking on the emotion. It wasn’t fair. It’s wasn’t-

His morose thoughts shattered as he heard the hylian sigh and speak as if to himself. “Eating was supposed to make you feel better, not worse.”

Ganondorf opened his eyes at the murmured words to find the boy on his knees beside him, face creased with worry.  And… there was fear in those blue eyes. Fear directed not at him, but for him. Goddess of the Sands and Sky what am I supposed to do with that? Ganondorf thought, finding a thread of sorrow flow through him at seeing someone so young in such distressed – over him no less. The man closed his eyes and sighed. Aren’t I miserable enough? He silently asked whatever Powers were listening. Must I also feel guilt over this boy? No matter what kindnesses he gives, he is still my enemy. I shouldn’t- But when Ganondorf opened his eyes to find the hylian still looking at him with eyes so lost and hopeless, the guilt stabbed in deep.

“Goddess save me,” the sorcerer muttered inaudibly under his breath, then raised his voice in a platitude, trying to ease the emotions twisting in his guts as much as the hylian’s worry. “It’s just a fever, boy,” he said tiredly, then added after a moment. “I… I may have been pushing myself too hard.” Ganondorf was startled to find himself actually trying to reassure the teen. Then he cursed himself when he felt his heart lighten as the boy brightened at his words. What the hell is wrong with me? The gerudo thought, perplexed. He’s you’re enemy. And yet… How is it that, even now sickened to the point of exhaustion, easing the boy’s distress makes me feel somehow better?

“Really? You’re admitting that?” The teen answered his words with a weak smile and a weaker joke. “Now I know you’re sick.”

“Don’t be cute,” Ganondorf snapped, eyes narrowing with the beginnings of anger born from a confusion at his own unfathomable emotions. But the boy was quick to raise his hands, conceding the point.

“Fair enough,” the youth said, his words and actions cooling the man’s reaction.  For a moment Link could have sworn the sorcerer’s eyes softened in the barest hint of a smile. But before the hylian could be sure, the gerudo’s eyes widened and he reached out and abruptly shoved Link to the side.

Startled anger flashed in the hylian as he fell back on his heels. How could Ganondorf be such an ass?! In this moment, when the man could barely stay upright, why in the world would he gather his failing strength to shove me? Was he really that stupidly mean? There was no way- no bloody way this- this bastard was the same man who touched my heart last night. It wasn’t possible. It wasn’t- Then he saw the gerudo's body wrench abruptly forward as he puked again.

“Oh, oh dear,” Link said, his brow furrowing once more in concern as he realized the man hadn’t push him out of malice, but rather to get him out of the splash zone. Oh man, I feel like a heel, the blonde thought guiltily, moving forward to try and gather the gerudo’s escaping hair up again.

Ganondorf didn’t notice, his stomach lurching again as another thin stream of bile hit the grass before him.  Half conscious, he gasped for air, a seething mass of pain writhing in his chest. He couldn’t catch his breath. Heat flashed over his skin, shuddering through him. It was too hot. Too much. His body heaving again, agony lancing through him, bringing stinging tears to his eyes. He felt himself falling…

Ganondorf groaned. He felt himself shivering, his body flushed with heat, but sweat cold on his skin. His chest was tight, throbbing, but bearable. His stomach, an empty aching pit. Muscles sore, trembling. Tired. He was so tired; the darkness behind his eyes calling to him. He felt himself sinking into it, unconsciousness folding him into it’s welcoming embrace. Pain faded. Muscles relaxed. Darkness. Sweet darkness…

A hand brushed over his hair, starting the gerudo awake. His eyes flashed open, then he winced, shying away from the bright sunlight. Noooo. Let me sleep. He mentally moaned, turning his head to bury his face in the soft cushion beneath him. The- Wait a minute.

Ganondorf turned his head back and forced himself to open his eyes. Light assaulted his vision and he had to blink back tears, squinting. Then his gaze focused on the worried face of the boy hovering over him. Oh bloody hell; his head was in the hylian’s lap.

Relief flooded through Link as he saw the man open his eyes. His heart had stopped when the sorcerer had collapsed. Somehow, he couldn’t really remember how, he had kept the gerudo from falling into his own vomit; lunging forward, he had grabbed the man’s limp body, rolling his weight to lay him on his side, his head pillowed in Link’s own lap. The hylian had been terrified; the bad spell had come upon the sorcerer so quickly, impossibly quickly. Desperate prays murmured under his breath, the boy couldn’t keep himself from nervously combing his fingers through the man’s crimson hair, assuring himself the sorcerer was still there and still alive as he frantically tried to think of something to do. But then the man had woken at his touch, praise the three goddesses. Then the stupidest thing fell out of Link's mouth. “You okay?”

The boy felt his cheeks flush as the man gave him the most incredulous look. Oh goddess, I just want to shrivel up and die, the hylian thought, his insides squirming with embarassment.

What a stupid question, Ganondorf thought vaguely, too tired to grant the mental words any heat. Instead of acknowledging the question, which the boy clearly knew was idiotic considering how his pale cheeks flushed scarlet, the gerudo blearily looked around, his vision swimming drunkenly. He blinked, then realized he was crying, his vision clearing with a cascade of wetness down his face. Dammit. Bitter shame sunk it’s claws into the man and he turned his face away from the teen’s sight. Why did this blasted boy have to see him at his lowest? He was weakened and wounded and sick and- Hell. Bloody hell. More tears fell and his breath hitched. It wasn’t fair. He swallowed hard on the lump that had formed in his throat, but the tears wouldn’t stop. Goddess, why? he thought, shame choking him. Why does it have to be this hylian witnessing my fall?

“Leave me.” Ganondorf managed to squeeze the words out of a throat burning with tears.

“No.”

“What?” Sudden sharp anger seared through the despair and Ganondorf’s furious gaze snapped back to the hylian, but he saw nothing there that could feed his rage. Those blue eyes simply met his own with understand and compassion and – Damn it all. Give me something; something to hate you with.

Then the teen spoke, quiet and composed. “You are risking your health for your pride. I’m not going to let you do that anymore.”

"Goddess damn you,” Ganondorf whispered, his voice shaking. Why did the blasted boy have to be right? The man let his gaze fall away from the hylian's, unable to challenge the truth of those words as new shame bloomed with him. He knew the boy was right. He knew he was letting his pride control him, but now, like this… What else do I have?

Choking back a fresh wave of tears, the man quivered on the edge. It wasn’t fair. All this mess; it wasn’t bloody fair, but… it didn’t matter. In the grand scheme of things it really didn’t matter. He just had to survive. That was all.

With a sigh, Ganondorf let the useless emotions go, his shoulders easing, hands he hadn’t realized he held clenched, relaxing. Resignedly, he glanced back up at the boy, knowing he looked a pathetic mess and hating it. But somehow he managed to keep the bitterness from his tone when he asked, “water?”

Immediately attentive, the hylian nodded and uncapped the canteen; then, after an uncertain pause, he helped the man drink.

The Thief King has to strangle another wave of sullen resentment, his hands too weak to even hold the canteen himself and drink. “Dammit, I hate this.” His internal words slipped from his lips as his head came down to rest in the hylian's lap again and the boy eased the canteen away from his grip to recapped it.

Quiet as the words were, Link heard them and gave the gerudo a sympathetic smile. “I don’t think anyone likes being sick,” he said, then caught his fingers absently brushing the man’s hair back from his face. Mentally grimacing, the teen resisted the urge to stroke the man’s hair again – an action he would have indulged in if it had been anyone else he had been trying to comfort. Instead, he let his hand rest against the sorcerers shoulder in silent compassion, hoping the gerudo would sense his desire to help.

Ganondorf would not admit, not even to himself, that the touch of the boy's fingers combing through his hair had felt good. Nor would he admit that the warm hand on his shoulder was an actual, physical comfort. It didn’t matter. Nothing matter. His eyes fell closed. The peace of darkness. Of sleep. It was all he wanted. Not this impossible conundrum he found himself in. Just… sleep. Then the blasted boy had to speak again.

“You think you’re done?”

Ganondorf sighed, then grudgingly took mental stock of his body. He hurt. He was tired. He was cold and hot in equal measures – a lovely thing that. He was shivery and weak, but… He wasn’t nauseous anymore. Just… empty. “Yah,” the man breathed, wearily. “I’m done.” In so many ways, he mentally added.

Link silently studied the gerudo, wondering about the wisdom of his next words, but the question had to be spoken. Cringing inwardly, he gently asked; “Can you get up?”

Ganondorf squeezed his eyes tight, bracing himself against that horrible reality. He knew deep in his heart he couldn’t. His limbs were leaden, his muscles weak, but he couldn’t give in without a fight. He had to try. Gathering his remaining threads of strength, the gerudo feebly strained, pulling his arms in close to push himself up, trying to sit. But his muscles wouldn’t respond, his arms slipping out from under him, unable to take his weight.

Link felt as much as saw the man sag against him, defeated; his body shuddering, sweat shimmering on his skin as his panting breaths heaved his sides. The hurt that filled the sorcerer’s eyes as they wearily blinked open was almost too much for the youth to bear. The gerudo’s chin quivered, despairing tears welling up in his eyes as his will cracked, the fire draining out of him at his body’s final betrayal. Link couldn’t- he couldn’t just watch this powerful man crumble to pieces and do nothing. He knew the man would never forgive him if he did. He wouldn’t forgive himself if he did. He had to do something.

“Never mind,” the hylian said quickly as the gerudo gathered his breath and opened his mouth to admit defeat. “It was another stupid question,” Link added, feeling his cheeks heat again as he remembered other such questions he had uttered bare moments before.

Another? Ganondorf’s eyes slid over to focus blearily on the hylian. Was the boy really admitting he had said stupid things before? Wait, was he blushing? Again? The man thought, briefly amused at how easily the teen blushed. No, never mind that, the man mentally shook his head as his thoughts turned serious once again. Why would he save me from this final indignity? Why… protect me? Protect; there was no other word for it. But why? What purpose could the hylian possibly have? A windstorm of confusion swirled in Ganondorf’s head at the sudden implications. Did the boy know what he was doing? Or had he just realize what such a question would mean to me? Had he never recognized all the past humiliations he put me through? Was he really that absurdly innocent? Was it possible?

Link caught sight of the gerudo’s somewhat confused gaze but – was that a glimmer of gratitude he also saw in those golden depths? The boy felt his heart leap at the possibility, but he shook it off. He didn’t have time to muse over such things now. Somehow he had to get this man, easily double if not triple his size, back into the cover of the cave. But how?

Ganondorf watched as the blonde sighed, rubbing a hand over his face and, for a moment, looking as tired as he felt. Goddess damn you, the man thought, mentally squirming. Damn you for making me feel grateful. It is your fault I’m here. Your fault I’m so weak. But despite his thoughts, the gerudo felt the gratitude grow stronger within him. The boy hadn’t needed to do all he had. Hadn’t needed to save his life. And yet he had… Why?

Distantly Ganondorf felt the teen’s hand brush through his hair again, scattering his confusion of thoughts. Eyes fluttering shut, the man had to struggle against the sudden urge to lean into that gentle caress. He hadn’t been touched by another person in so long. Not like this. Not… intimately. He had forgotten what a comfort a simple touch could be. He knew he should push the boy away, deny this comfort; he was the enemy, but Ganondorf couldn’t bring himself to care anymore. He was just so tired. All he wanted to do was sleep. Just like this…

“What are we going to do?” the boy murmured under his breath, his tone musing.

Not bothering to open his eyes, Ganondorf took a deep breath, readying to reply with something no doubt dry and witty, but the air caught, jagged in his throat. The next thing he knew he was coughing, great shuddering bursts of air that shattered into shards of agony in his chest. His body curled unconsciously around the pain, gasping desperately through the coughs, half the time unable to suck in enough air and punished agonizingly whenever he did. But as the coughing fit slowly subsided, he became aware of gentle fingers stroking through his hair again. And a voice….

“… orry. I’m sorry. If I knew how to make it better I would, but… I’m so sorry…”

Still panting roughly, Ganondorf groggily opened his eyes to find the boy hunched over him, cradling his head in trembling hands and whispering ceaselessly under his breath. A light wetness pattered again the man’s cheek, confusing him for a moment before he realized it was the hylian’s tears falling upon his face.

“What are you apologizing for?” the man said numbly, his breathless voice hoarse from the hacking coughs that had wracked his body moments before.

The blonde gasped at his words, blue eyes flashing open. Relief instantly flooded over those young features as the boy’s gaze focus on his face. Then embarrassment quickly took over and the teen looked away, wiping his tearstained cheeks with and arm. “I know; it’s stupid,” he sniffed, avoiding the man’s gaze. “But… it’s the only thing I can do.”

The honestly in those words choked Ganondorf’s heart. Then the boy looked back at him with such helplessness in his blue eyes that something inside the man cracked. The shell of ice that had protected his wounded heart for so long shattered away and sudden regret flooded in. It was a bitter taste. Bitterer then even the shame he had felt before, but it was also true. He regretted letting his hate blind him from seeing the boy’s gentle soul. He regretted so many things in his life. He had lost so much… So much he never let himself think about. Kanna….

Even as he shied away from the painful memories, Ganondorf’s throat tightened, sorrow flooding through him. They were from lifetimes ago. They didn’t pertain to this present. They couldn’t…

Fresh tears wetted the sorcerer’s cheeks, but Link didn’t say a word. Instead the young hylian just continued to coax his fingers through the man’s crimson hair, the touch a soft anchor among the gerudo’s chaotic grief.

Swallowing hard, Ganondorf blinked quickly, forcing back a second round of tears. He couldn’t think about the past. He couldn’t… Those memories would tear him apart. And even if the boy’s words were true, he had his mission to think about. He had to escape. He had to help his People. Struggling to keep his voice under control, the gerudo asked shakily; “What now?”

The boy sighed through his nose, one hand continuing to absently stroke the man’s hair as he perched his chin on the other, his blue eyes unfocused, his mind searching for a solution “We need to get your inside…” he murmured, then his eyes lit with a suddenly idea and he glanced back down at the gerudo king. “Do you think if I call Epona, you could use her help?”

Slow to understand, the man glanced numbly over to where the blonde had been looking and saw the beautiful silver bay grazing in the field nearby. Had she been that close before? His mind wandered aimlessly, snatching at any distraction that would keep it from the pain of the past that lurked deep within his memory. Surely she had not. He would have noticed, wouldn’t he?  Ganondorf’s brow furrowed in thought, trying to recall. But then, if the horse hadn’t been nearby, had she move closer to see what was going on? Was she concerned… about him? About her master? Could she have-

The sweet tone of a whistle broke through the sorcerer’s silently ramblings and he watched as the horse responded to the call, lifting her head, her ears perking forward before she trotted over.

The boy greeted her with a soft smile as she leaned her head down to his level. “Hey there girl,” he said reaching up to give her nose a rub before looking back at the gerudo. “Ganondorf do you think…?

The sorcerer looked between the horse and her rider, uncertain of what they wanted of him. There was no way he could so much as mount a horse, much less ride one, but it was clear the hylian had some kind of plan. And it wasn’t like he had any better ideas.

“I guess it’s worth a try,” the gerudo sighed, then winced as the next breath expanded his chest, sending a stabbing pain lancing through his wound.

A worried frown immediately creased the hylian’s brow. “We can wait-“

“No,” Ganondorf’s words cut off the boy’s, his tone harsher then he had meant it to be. He grimaced, closing his eyes and forcing himself to take another deep breath, ignoring the pain as it pulled his chest tight. Then he let the breath out in a shuddering sigh, centering his mind and emotions. After a moment he let his eyes fall open again, his gaze finding the boy watching him, a silent and patient presence by his side. Despite himself, Ganondorf found he was grateful for that companionship. “If we wait,” he said softly, his voice still gravely and tired, but his eyes focused. “I won’t be able…” His words stumbled, his throat thickening, unable to admit his weakness even now as his gaze slid away from the boy in shame. The hylian may really be trying to help, but he was still an enemy. I can’t… Then again the teen came to his rescue.

“You’re going to fall asleep.”

Relief flooded through Ganondorf as the young voice softened the blow. He swallowed hard, choking back the emotions that threatened to overcome him again and looked up, nodding.

The boy sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “So it’s now or never.

Ganondorf silently nodded again, not trusting his voice; then he closed his eyes and relaxed his head back, stealing himself for the task at hand. It was impossible. His strength all but spent, but… He would have help. He wasn’t alone anymore. Warmth rose within the gerudo’s heart at the thought. He had been alone for so long. But not now. The boy was still his enemy; hell, he was the bloody Champion of Hyrule, but maybe I can trust him for now. Just maybe-

A warm wind puffed against the gerudo’s cheek, scattering his thoughts as the dusty scent of horse flowed over him. Golden eyes flicking open, Ganondorf felt a smile stretch over his lips as he looked up into Epona’s brown eyes. The horse leaned her head closer as if to inspect him, then softly lipped a clump of his hair. A weak chuckle escaped the man at the silver bays antics and he unthinkingly reached up and rubbed the inquisitive mare’s nose. Then his action caught up with him and he froze, staring up at his hand before a sudden grin split over his features, joy leaping within his heart. If I have the strength to do this, I have the strength to do more.

Fire lit in the gerudo’s eyes and he looked back at Link, a fierce, determined grin upon his lips. “Let’s do this.”

Startled by the sudden change, the hylian stared at Ganondorf for a moment. ‘Let’s’… The man had said ‘let’s.’ He was accepting help. He was actually accepting help!

A matching grin split over Link lips and he nodded back, his own heart soaring. “Alright. Let’s get you up,” he said eagerly, holding out a hand. It was a silly, symbolic gesture – there was no way he could actually pull the giant of a man to his feet – but a jolt of excitement raced up his arm as the man’s large warm hand willingly slid into his grip.

Gold eyes met blue as the two enemies clasped hands and for a moment Link could clearly see the man’s thoughts. I’m trusting you; those beautiful amber depths said, still slightly unsure and yet for some reason ready to trust him, if only for a moment.

I know, Link thought back, determination setting his jaw. I won’t let you down.

Neither hylian nor gerudo noticed in that instant the soft glow that lit their triforce tattoos as the unspoken truce passed between them, cementing a moment of impossible peace between the Champion of Hyrule and the King of Thieves.

 

TBC...