The memories cling to him, tenacious and whisper soft like spider silk. They coat his mind like the thin film of a cracked egg, hardly there at all and Sheik thinks that if he tries hard enough, he can still feel the Dark Lord's semen, cooling against the backs of his thighs.
He doesn't think Zelda had meant to do it. When she'd rewound time, set the clock tick-tocking all the way back, the memories should have gone with it. Only those at the center of the storm -the princess and the hero, destiny- retained their memories and he knew she'd been counting on that. He doesn't know why, can't even think of the why, because one second he'd been lurking in the cobwebbed recesses of her mind, watching Link watch her and the next he's thirteen years old and trembling under the scratchy sheets of his bed back at Impa's place. And the memories were. still. there.
They're persistent, insisting, and when he tries to clear his head they just creep right back in, unwelcome strangers in the back of his head that feel like a half-remembered dream. He wakes up with Zelda's screams reverberating around his skull, with the taste of Ganondorf's laughter clinging and coating and viscous against the backs of his teeth and wishes that he had it in him to hate her, for screwing it up, for letting him keep these memories when the rest of the world lives on, peaceful.
When he meets Zelda for what's supposed to be the first time, she smiles at him, faltering and fragile, and he thinks I could break her. Instead, he bows and introduces himself, plays the part because really, she doesn't need to know.
Sheik thinks that the palace guards are lazy. They miss things that they shouldn't, and it's a little bit impossible that while they're gossiping like old ladies, the Hero of Time is sneaking past them- crouched low to the ground and hardly sparing a glance towards any of them, intent on that inner-most garden. Sheik smiles, because even if Link's body has regained the shape of a child's, his mind is still clearly that of a warrior's. He's careful to turn away slowly so the other guards don't notice, doesn't want to draw attention, but by some twist of fate the new guard (Hector, perhaps?) fumbles at his side for his whistle, eyes widening-
The screech of the whistle is shrill, piercing the serene quiet of the afternoon and startling a flock of sparrows into frenzied flight. Grass crunches behind him as the guards rush for the intruder and he turns, wondering what Link could have possibly been distracted by to give up his position-
Link is staring at him. Staring with blueblueblue eyes and so clearly startled by recognition that Sheik's speaking up before he can stop himself.
"He's with me," he says, too quiet because the guards are still clapping meaty hands around Link's spindly, what- fourteen year old? wrists and hauling him towards the gate. He has to clear his throat and raise his voice a few decibels before he's heard.
They glare at him, as if he's taken away all their fun, grumbling beneath their breath about meddlesome teenage Sheikah's as they shove Link away, towards him, and shuffle off into a different part of the gardens. Link stumbles a few paces, clumsy on his gawky teenage legs, and doesn't take his eyes off Sheik.
The garden is quiet, just the sounds of his own too quiet breathing and Link's nervous shuffling.
"Sheik?" His name, awkward and fumbling in Link's cracking, adolescent voice. He closes his eyes against the onslaught of memories, tries to chase away the haunting melody of ocarinas and harps, before-
"Do I know you?" he asks, cocking his head inquiringly. Link shuffles back a few steps, hurt festering fever deep in his eyes, bumping into a nearby rosebush and knocking a few petals askew. "The princess informed me of your arrival, Hero," he explains, even if this is a blatant untruth. Zelda has told him no such thing, and certainly nothing of Link, not a whisper or a prayer since Sheik had joined the palace guard. Link flinches backward as if slapped, pricks his thumb on a thorn. Sheik thinks that it was probably the title that had caused the reaction. Blood trickles sluggishly and Sheik eyes it with indifference, because after seeing the boy's gut gored open, a mere thorn is rather mild.
"If you'll come this way, please?" Bowing, he turns towards Zelda's garden, nudges Link inside. He slips quietly away before they can notice.
Zelda is ethereal in her anger, flush high on her cheeks, blond strands in dissaray and-
"You remember don't you?"
He doesn't even pretend, because really, there's no point.
"Yes," he says, simply, with ash and dust and bones cold on his tongue.
Sheik had been young, too young, when Impa had come for him- pulled him from his village and glared at all the Sheikan elders who'd dared to defy her and said, "He has always been mine. Taking him from me was not wise."
He hardly remembers the village itself- the sand, white like ivory and scorching beneath his bare feet. The sky, too blue where the horizon met the earth. Mostly, he remembers the hunger. The other orphans who'd stared after him with poorly-concealed envy as Impa had dragged him away. The bodies, rotten and stinking behind the houses.
So he chokes down those age-old images of a place that was never home, drowns it in the texture of scratchy sheets and sun streaming through open windows. The smell of books in the air.
Impa's home is small, homely, and it has always been as such. The sheets are just as scratchy, the books just as dusty, and the sun still bright where it pools, warm, in his lap. The little house is silent, so quiet that the sounds from outside seep in through the cracks. The carpenters shouting the occasional obscenity, the cucco's chirruping (quiet, for once) in their pen. A couple of the village children are chasing a dog across the grass, and it's happy barks are startling, because even if it has been five years since time had been reworked, he still isn't quite used to the absence of screams.
It's here that Link finds him. The click of the door's lock is loud and echoing, the creak of the door opening even more so.
"Zelda told me that you remember," Link is saying as he's shuts the door carefully behind him and perhaps Sheik should have given him a little bit more credit because he is most certainly straight to the point. "Princess Zelda," he corrects, even if his mouth is too dry, hands quaking so minutely that Sheik thinks he might be imagining it.
Blue eyes narrow, frustrationangersorrow, and yes, same old Link- emotions not so much as revealed as they are hurled at you with the intensity of his gaze. The tilt of his chin, the irritated jut of his hip is something that Sheik has seen before. It is concern masked beneath anger, the same face Link had worn in a different life, a different time- when he'd pressed close and tucked Sheik's bruised body beneath the covers, already groping for the sword at his belt, promises thick on his tongue that he'd be back soon.
The look reminds Sheik of well spirits and a temple that sang dirge after dirge; of that first (and last) quick, embarrassed kiss that Link had pressed to his lips before he left.
"How much? How much do you remember?"
Outside, a boy's voice hollers. A dog barks. A cucco crows. Inside, Link is unrelenting.
Link is warm, beautiful, and there's dust in his hair- red dirt that tells Sheik more than the scent of spiced oils that he's been to the Gerudo's Fortress recently. Every tantalizing inch of skin is a map, the details of which Sheik desperately wants to study. He traces the faint freckles on Link's shoulder with his finger, links them together like he's painting a portrait.
There are still ghosts carding their fingers through Sheik's mind; an older, exhausted Link with hands stained red, a shadow and a dead tree, Zelda's screams and sobs for her broken kingdom, Ganondorf's voice in the dark whispering, "So I'm your first, am I, Sheikah?"
They will always haunt him, same as they do Link and Zelda herself, but this time, when Link finally closes that distance and brings their lips together, he doesn't taste like blood.