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Flames Beneath Your Skin

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It was nice to hear her laugh, Link decided. Away from the pressures of the palace, the princess was almost a completely different person. He’d definitely seen hints of the person hiding behind that cool facade before, but here amongst the Sheikah, she could truly be herself. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Zelda gestured wildly beside him, deep in conversation with the young scientist they had accompanied here. She smiled freely, speaking in animated tones that Link had never heard from her before in the castle.

Though, thinking about it, perhaps she had been more animated before his arrival at the castle changed her life for good. As soon as Link appeared wielding the sword that seals the darkness, the pressure on her to redeem her own powers grew immensely. He hadn’t known her long, but it made Link uncomfortable to know that he had been the catalyst for her suffering. Remembering this once more, he dropped his eyes to the table.

How long had that drink been there? He tried to remember the server who must have placed it there, but couldn’t recall their face. Inwardly he cringed at his own rudeness, his father would have been mortified at his bad manners. The drink sat between Zelda and himself, cheerfully fizzing as many of the colourful drinks around the table did. (Sheikah technology, Purrah had explained at Link’s original concern.) It looked innocent enough, but still Link found himself eyeing it suspiciously. Why couldn’t he remember who had placed it there? That thought unnerved him, he glanced around the room trying to spot someone out of place.

With their white hair and brown eyes, it should have been easy to spot an interloper amongst the Sheikah. Yet, the task proved impossible as every face Link saw featured those deep brown eyes. Perhaps he was just being paranoid.

Yes, he must be. Zelda was surrounded by her closest allies in her fight against the Darkness, there was no way someone would try to harm her here… so why did Link feel so on edge?

That unease heightened to a crescendo when Link saw the princess’s hand reach out towards the unassuming cup between them. Panic flared up inside him. Without thinking, Link’s own hand shot out, snatching the cup away from her.

Struck dumb by his own actions, Link stared at the cup as he felt Zelda turn towards him. “Link, I believe that’s my ㅡ”

Clearly, all reason had abandoned him. Link swallowed the last of the drink, gulping as his throat felt as though it was tightening already. He could feel the stares of half a dozen people around him, could feel his cheeks warming under their scrutiny. Although, that could be due to the drink.

He was sure now, that it had been poisoned. He could already feel it ravaging his body, tearing him apart from the inside. It was like someone had poured molten lava down his throat, and filled his insides with razor sharp blades for extra measure. Swallowing felt like torture, but he did it anyway.

“ㅡ can’t believe you just drank my drink!” Zelda was saying as he tried in vain to quell the panic within him. He clearly wasn’t doing a great job, as Zelda’s eyes suddenly went wide and she turned to look, horrified, at the discarded cup. “He’s been poisoned,” she gasped.

Between one ragged gasp of a breath and the next, the room had erupted into chaos as various people scattered to find an antidote, while others began seeking out the assassin in their midst. The blur of movement around him made Link’s head spin and he squeezed his eyes closed, trying to block out the thundering of his own heartbeat in his head. His limbs suddenly felt heavy, but also like his bones had been replaced with chu jelly. It wasn’t until after the fact that he realised he had tumbled backwards off his chair, sprawling in an inelegant heap on the floor.

Then the pain started. Fire licked through his chest, scalding his lungs and boiling him alive! He reared up, back arching off the ground as a pained groan escaped his swollen throat. His eyes snapped open, though they saw nothing in his pain-addled state. A flash of gold crossed his unfocused vision before he screwed them shut once more.

At his sides, his fingers curled into tight fists before clawing at the ground beneath him. He continued to spasm and groan as the poison did its damage, setting every nerve alight and stealing his breath away. A wretched sob escaped his lips as the blaze in his chest grew to an inferno, threatening to split him in two. Tears, hot and stinging, brimmed in his unseeing eyes before slipping down the side of his face.

Though he did not feel it, a gentle thumb swept those offending tears away as a voice he did not hear whispered to him platitudes and reassurances. “It’s alright, Link. They’ve got the antidote now. You’ll be fine.” A never ending stream which fought against the buzz in his ears. When orders to open his mouth failed to get through, a hand - much stronger this time, more calloused - squeezed his clenched jaw open and held it there as a liquid was poured in.

Link coughed and spluttered against the intrusion, unable to comprehend it as white hot pain seized his mind again. The same hand from before closed over his mouth before he could cough out most of the liquid, forcing him to swallow if he wanted to breathe.

Swallowing was an agony all of its own.

It was like forcing a dozen blades down his throat, all of them jostling for space and carving into the tender flesh there. Fresh tears streamed down his cheeks, though they felt cool against his scalded skin. The hand over his mouth was removed, and Link sucked in a harsh breath. He barely even noticed as breathing became less of an impossible task and the fire corded through his lithe body eased.

All at once, his energy failed. He took a last, heaving breath before darkness pulled him under.

~x~

At last, the tension in his limbs eased and Link fell silent, his head cradled in her lap. Zelda took a shaky breath of her own, carding her fingers through his hair. Though she would hate to admit it, the last few minutes had shaken her to her very core, leaving her trembling as she clung to her chosen protector.

And to think, without his swift actions, it would have been her writhing in agony on the ground, barely moments from death. She realised then, that her father had been right. She truly was just a foolish girl, playing at being an explorer. The thought of her father’s face when he heard the news sent a shiver down her spine. He would be livid, would probably keep her under lock and key for the rest of her days if he knew. She had been so stupid, so naive.

Her eyes, filled with unshed tears, came to rest on the face of her appointed knight. He looked almost peaceful, and so much younger, now that his face is relaxed. She had long suspected that the carefully neutral expression the knight had worn constantly was nothing but a mask, but now she was sure. With the back of her hand, she gently swept away the hair that fell in his eyes as he slept.

It was an unwelcome revelation when the room around her snapped back into focus. A hand on her shoulder jolted her back into awareness just as other hands crowded her vision and wrapped around Link’s shoulders. Her heart lurched. No! They couldn’t take him. She wanted to know that he was safe, that he was alive.

She barely managed to stop these thoughts from bursting forth as two men lifted Link out of her arms. Purrah stood beside her, a warm hand gripping her shoulder. “He’ll be alright,” she was saying. “That antidote was created to combat any poison throughout Hyrule. He should be right as rain by the morning.”

Zelda felt a flutter of anxiety. They wouldn’t know how bad the damage was until the morning. She watched forlornly as Link was carried from the room with the utmost care - he was the Hero of Hyrule, after all.

“Where are they taking him?” she asked quietly, still watching as they carried him from view.

“I told them to put him in the room beside yours,” Purrah said. “It’s been his room unofficially since you two arrived, he just refused to take it.”

Zelda smiled at that, fighting the urge to roll her eyes. Of course Link would refuse to be anywhere but outside his princess’s door as she slept. “Thank you,” she whispered, reaching up to squeeze Purrah’s hand, still on her shoulder. Taking a steadying breath, Zelda swiped the tears from her eyes and rose to her feet. She was supposed to be a princess, she could do this. Resolutely, she set her shoulders and turned to her friend, striking what she thought was her most princessly pose. “Please take me to him,” she said.

For a second, Purrah seemed to stare at her in disbelief. Then she shook her head with a snap and the look was gone. “Sure,” she said, setting off towards the door, “this way.”

They had already placed Link beneath the covers when Zelda arrived. Someone had removed his shirt, which had been damp with sweat, she recalled, and set a bucket of cold water and some rags on the table beside him. Link was nestled in the centre of the bed, which seemed to dwarf him, having been built for a taller Sheikah warrior no doubt.

Zelda held her breath as she entered the room, though she was sure nothing would wake him now. She risked a glance at her chaperone. “I want to stay with him,” she said plainly, turning back to watch the sleeping figure before she could see Purrah’s disapproving stare.

There was a tense moment of silence before Purrah sighed. “Alright then,” she said. “But if your father gets wind of it, I’m denying all knowledge.” Zelda couldn’t help the bubble of laughter that rose up within her. She knew there was a reason Purrah was such a close friend.

“That seems fair,” she laughed, smiling at the older woman. “Thank you, Purrah. He would have died without your quick thinking.”

Purrah nodded sagely. “Probably. But that’s why you keep me around, I guess.” She flashed her a sly grin before turning to leave. “I’ll leave a guard posted outside, just holler if you need anything.”

The door shut behind her with a soft click, but to Zelda it was as loud as a slam as she stood in the centre of the room, suddenly very unsure of herself. After a moment of dithering, she shook out her trembling hands and set to work, dunking the rags in the icy water and wringing them out as best she could.

It occurred to her that from where she stood at the side of the bed, she would struggle to reach him easily. After glancing at the door once more, and then down at the unconscious man, her resolve was settled. She climbed up onto the bed, tucking her feet under herself as she knelt at Link’s side.

Taking one of the rags, she began to wipe the sweat from his burning skin, trying to relieve him of the heat that still clung to him. She worked diligently and in silence for the most part, humming to herself when it grew too oppressive. She was used to filling in the silence with him around after all - he took his duty as knight protector very seriously and apparently that meant no conversation. He said once when pressed that he was focusing on his surroundings.

At the time, Zelda had taken it as an excuse not to talk to her, but now she realised there might be more truth to it than she’d thought. If Link hadn’t been so cognisant of his surroundings tonight, things could have gone very differently. She shuddered at the thought of slick, roiling fire scalding her throat as it seemed to have done to Link.

By now, all the residual adrenaline had completely fled her body, leaving her shaky and exhausted. She glanced around the room, looking for a chair to collapse into once she was finished tending to Link. With the last of her waning energy, she managed to find one and drag it across the room. As she flopped down into the chair, she realised she was face to face with her protector.

She should change positions. This was highly improper.

But in all honesty, Zelda couldn’t care less right now as she took in his strong jaw and high cheekbones, those long lashes still glittering with tears and barely parted lips. Her eyes slid closed as she gazed at his face blindly, delving into unconsciousness to follow her chosen knight.