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Hit List

By zestycrouton

Romance / Action

Friends, Enemies, and Dangerous Doors

Link Hero lay slumped on his desk, his head resting on his forearms as he gently tapped his feet to the music streaming through his carefully concealed headphones. His thoughts drifted around lazily in his head as he waited for the final bell to ring, signaling the end of the school day.

‘Goddesses, I’m starving…’ he groaned internally, absently nibbling on the cuff of his ratty green hoodie and wishing his clothing was edible. ‘For the love of all that’s holy, why hasn’t this class ended yet?’

Giving up on his clothing snack, Link sighed and sat up straight, stretching his back with a yawn and earning several audible cracks for his effort, much to his delight. He spared a brief glance at the girl who was sitting on his right, her eyes fixated vacantly on the dirty desk in front of her. Her name was Midna Twili, obligatory gothic class member and also one of Link’s best friends. In spite of what gothic clichés might suggest, Midna Twili was arguably the wildest, brashest, most extroverted person Link had ever met, and it was exactly that brazen lack of respect towards other people’s private business or personal space that had been the catalyst for their friendship; one fateful day in the fourth grade she’d stumbled upon him being bullied by some older kids out on the playground and had decided to teach them a lesson on manners with her fists.

Midna was your classic punk rocker/gothic chick, black nails and all. She always wore dark scuffed-up Vans and baggy, torn pants that worked in unison with her oversized sweater to give her the appearance of a homeless vagabond; a look she had strived with diligence to perfect over the years. Something about going against the crowd which didn't really make any sense seeing as half of the student body dressed in a similar manner, but far be it from Link to try to teach a female anything about fashion. Teenagers were dumb and tended to follow crowds even when they were convinced they were going against them. But that was about as much philosophy as Link could stomach for one day.

He shot a quick glance up at the clock on the wall behind him as he tugged the headphone out of his ear. 2:47, only three minutes left ‘til the end of class. Goddesses, this was taking forever… He slumped back in his chair and let his eyes settle on the vacant desk just in front of him and the years of accumulated gum and graffiti plastered to the back of it.

Moe wuz here, eh? Congrats, dude, what an accomplishment…

This seat was typically occupied by Link’s other best friend Sheik Shadow, but the idiot had been playing hookie for the past couple of days now. Not that he’d ever admit it out loud, but part of Link wondered if everything was all right with Sheik; his mother was a druggy with demanding medical issues and an even more demanding attitude, and his father had left them when Sheik was little. A life like that could really mess up a guy; Link knew, because movies told him so. Still, he wasn't overly concerned. Tragic back-story or no, Sheik would have grown up to be the lackadaisical slacker that he knew and loved regardless of what was happening in his life. Knowing him, he was probably passed out on his couch with an upturned bowl of Coco Puffs on his gut and a crappy blockbuster movie playing on the TV. He was going to flunk out of High School, just watch, and then Link was going to have to support him for the rest of their lives…

That actually didn’t sound that bad. He could think of worse roommates.

Frowning, he turned his attention to the class for the first time since he'd lain down about an hour ago. Professor Ezlo (as he preferred to be called) had just finished his daily sermon on whatever topic he had chosen to pontificate on for the day and was now facing his students, a disgusted twist to his lips. His ancient eyes surveyed the classroom with cold distaste; he looked as if he had just happened upon a cluster of particularly repulsive cockroaches and was trying to decide in what manner he should bring about their demise.

Although elderly and at first glance feeble, Professor Ezlo was infamous for his short temper. He could explode in a senile fit of rage at any moment and for any reason at all, even if you hadn't done anything wrong. Unfortunately for him, Link had a knack for causing such flare-ups. It was probably because he chose to sleep during his classes.

Professor Ezlo's eyes suddenly zeroed in on a girl sitting near the front who was trying, and failing, to conceal her cell phone from him as she texted her friend across the room.

"Miss Domain," Ezlo called out in a high-pitched feeble sort of voice that made him sound suspiciously like the Keebler Elf, "Would you care to summarize for the class what you learned today?"

The girl, a cheerleader named Ruto, looked up at him blankly.

"Do what?" she asked in her annoying valley girl voice. Ezlo held out his hand with an impatient frown and she handed her phone, sneering.

Link couldn’t restrain his snicker. Ezlo's eyes snapped towards the noise faster than a hawk who’d just spotted a one-legged field mouse.

"Mr. Hero? How about you?"

Link felt his grin grow crooked and slide off his face. He should have seen this coming.

"Um, we…well…"

"No, of course not. What was I thinking?" said Ezlo dryly. Link flushed.

"Alright then. In order to ascertain who was actually paying attention in my class, you will all be writing me a five-page essay on today's lesson, due when you walk in this classroom tomorrow afternoon."

The whole class practically exploded at the unfairness of it all. "Maybe," Ezlo called loudly over the uproar, "if you had listened-"

The bell rang shrilly, cutting of Professor Ezlo mid-sentence and the angry mob of students practically stampeded out of the room.

Link stuffed his headphones into his pocket savagely and started down the hall towards the stairwell, feet slapping against the filthy tiled floor as he muttered darkly about Professor Ezlo and the various impossibly convoluted torture techniques he'd enjoy performing on him. Midna, who’d exited alongside him, matched his pace but said nothing. She stared without seeing down at the grungy floor tiles, blue because they were on the second floor, and gave half-hearted nods in agreement whenever Link said anything particularly obscene. 

He let his words die off and gave his friend a concerned look. Midna was usually the first to join in whenever Link suggested doing cruel and physically impossible things to teachers; she took it as a challenge to try and be the one to think of the most absurd ways to kill a person, and she usually did. You’d think it would be that that would make Link feel uncomfortable, but the opposite was the case; her silence made his skin crawl. Generally speaking, it took a lot to make Midna loose her eccentric personality, and going by the hollow look on her face something must have gone seriously wrong.

The question was: did he pester her about it? Females tended to be more than a little strange about this sort of thing. Sometimes what they wanted was for you to show concern about their well-being, and sometimes if you even so much as hint at their behavior being odd they’d tear your head off of your shoulders and mount it on a pike as a warning to anyone else who dared pry into their personal lives. He tended to veer towards the side of caution on such matters and waited until whatever the problem was sorted itself out (which, for most women, meant waiting until it was no longer a certain time of month), and yet there was something about the dull pallor of her face, the shadow in her usually vibrant ruby eyes that had him second-guessing his normal behavior and considering putting his life on the line to make sure she was alright.

As they reached the ground floor and exited the stairwell, a typical high school scene evolved in front of them.

Amidst the ocean of students mingling in the halls to chat with their friends or else rushing towards the busses or car pick up lanes or parking lots, eager to be out of the school and out into the freedom that was the real world, a familiar red-haired scrawny kid was ambling down the hallway, his nose pressed in a book, not really paying attention to where he was going.

He bumped into another student on accident, and the next thing anybody knew, poor nerdy little Shad has his body slammed up against the lockers, his book knocked from his hand, his glasses askew, as Darunia Rocks held his forearm up to the kid’s throat.

“Hey!” Darunia snarled, spittle flying off out of the football captain’s mouth and onto Shad’s face in gross globs, “Watch where you’re going, freak! You just ran into my girlfriend! Apologize, now!”

“I-I… erk…” Shad squawked, face going red as Darunia crushed his windpipe, unable to form the words needed to say sorry.

A ring of students formed around the spectacle, but none moved to intercede. It was a fairly normal showing; Darunia Rocks was arguably the most popular kid in the school, other than Kafei Dotour, the mayor’s son, and he alongside the other jocks and athletes sort of ruled the school by merit of martial law. That is, since they were bigger and meaner, they did what they wanted and you either dealt with it or got pummeled. Tacky? Sure, but apparently nobody but Link and his friends had ever seen the Breakfast Club, and who was he to deny Darunia his four years of glory? Everybody knew that after High School, Darunia was going to become a washed up pot-bellied car mechanic and Shad was going to win the Nobel Prize for inventing a time machine or something like that. Karma would see that Shad and Darunia got what they deserved… or at least that’s what Link told himself whenever guilt for never trying to step in and help the poor unfortunate souls who crossed into Darunia’s warpath.

Hey, it wasn’t cowardice, it was good sense! Link couldn’t beat Darunia in a fist fight, let alone his entire gang. No sense in dying a martyr.

“Roonie,” Ruto crooned pathetically into her boyfriend’s ear, gently tugging on his forearm, “it’s ok, he didn’t hurt me. Let’s not waste any more time on him, we’re going to be late…”

Ruto Domain, captain of the cheerleading squad and resident airhead from Link’s English class, was about the only person who could get away with telling Darunia what to do. Link chose to ignore the clichéd stereotype about the football team captain dating the captain of the cheerleading team; like it or not, Ruto had a rocking body. She was a completely narcissistic space case with a face like a fish, but… well, credit where credit is due.

When Darunia didn’t move, Link thought that for once things were going to get serious, however the altercation was suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a tall, long-legged, loud-mouthed girl.

“Hey Rocks,” Ashei barked gruffly, idly chewing on a piece of gum, a flat, dispassionate expression on her face, “mind moving out of the way, yeah? You’re blocking my locker.”

Darunia turned and gave the new arrival a considering look before dropping Shad to the ground and stepping back, wrapping his free arm around Ruto’s torso.

“Oh… Hey Winters. Good game last Friday.”

“Thanks.” She replied monotonously, returning Ruto’s imperious sneer with a mock one of her own. As though to disabuse any bystanders of the notion that she’d interrupted to come to Shad’s rescue, she gave the fallen kid a quick nudge with her food and growled, “Out of the way, nerd, I’m going to be late for practice.”

Shad scrambled to his feet, gathering up his books and adjusting his glasses. He and Link made eye contact for a brief second before he vanished into the crowd.

“Why is everyone just standing around?” Came a gentle but authoritative voice from somewhere down the hall. The crowd broke at once, people scattering away like ants before a water hose, and before he knew what was happening Link and Midna were alone in the hallway with the man who had asked the question, Mr. Auru.

Link smiled in spite of himself. Mr. Auru was one of the history teachers at Ordon High, and easily the favorite of the student body. He was older, in his mid-to-late forties, and his hairline was beginning to recede, but there was something about his gentle eyes and leathery face that instilled a sort of grandfatherly kindness in the man, and you couldn’t help but like him. That, and he somehow managed to make his class interesting, something Link didn’t think was possible for history. He covered the basic stuff; wars and leaders and enlightened thinkers and whatnot, but made sure to spruce it up with various legends and folklore about whatever place or period they happened to be discussing. Turns out that the Hylian Alliance had a veritable treasure trove of myths and legends, and anyone in Mr. Auru’s class was libel to find themselves talking about flying castles or the Hero of Time more than actual history. It was safe to say that Auru’s was Link’s favorite class- so much so that he’d signed up to take a second one with him this year after enjoying his so much the year before.

Mr. Auru shot Link a quizzical look and quirked an eyebrow. Not one to risk his life by ratting Darunia out, Link simply replied with, “Ah, you know, teenagers, hormones, someone cheated on someone… normal stuff.”

Auru nodded sagely, stroking at his graying goatee. “Ah yes, to be young and stupid again… Not for all the gold in Subrosia, eh? Have you finished your assignment on the Phantom Isles Revolution?”

Link grinned confidently. “Haven’t even started.”

“Of course not.” Auru laughed, continuing down the hall. “Well, it’s due in a week, so better hurry up!”

Link snorted. “Right, I’ll get started on it two days before it’s due, just like always, right Mid?”

He turned to his silent companion to see her staring blankly at the floor again. Link frowned. Alright, enough was enough; he didn’t know anybody who could zone out like that, but it wasn’t normal. She probably hadn’t even noticed the entire Darunia/Shad altercation that had just gone down. Looks like he was going to have to dive in and get his hands dirty after all.

Scanning the hall, Link grabbed Midna’s hand and dragged her off to the corner beside the door to Mrs. Telma's office. Deciding he needed to broach the topic gently, just in case it was something serious like that she was moving or somebody in her family had died, he opted to play it casual.

"Hey Midna, are you… feeling alright? You seem kinda out of it lately." There you go, smooth as silk, nothing assuming about it.

She didn't reply. Her eyes still remained glued to the floor.

Well now that was rude.

"Um, hello? Earth to Midna?" He snapped a few times in front of her face, and when she still didn't react he popped his finger into his mouth and crammed it into her ear. She jerked back with a startled shriek and began trying to clean out her ear with the cuff of her sweater.

"Link! Goddesses, what is wrong with you?! Oh, gross! I’m gonna have your spit in my ear canal all day! Ugh, you dirty little…! Do that again, and I swear to Din I'll knee you so hard in the groin you’ll stop being a man!"

"Mmm, I’ll remember that." He chuckled, bemused. "Now do you mind telling me why you've been walking around like a zombie all day?"

She scowled defensively, still trying to clean out her ear. "I have not."

Link quirked an eyebrow. “Really? So can you tell me what went down in the hallway just now?”

Midna frowned. “Uh… School just got out?”

“Yeah, school just got out… And Shad nearly got murdered by Darunia. Seriously, Midna, just tell me. What’s going on?”

He thought for a moment that she was just going to blow him off again, but to his surprise she leaned against the wall and sighed wistfully, finally removing her sleeve from her presumably dry ear canal. "It's just…it's nothing. Look, just forget it, ok? I’m just being silly." She bit her lip and turned to look down the hallway like a lost little puppy.

Well, if that wasn’t a blatant cry for help, Link didn’t know what was.

Opening his mouth to begin prying into her like a linguistic crowbar, the door behind him flew open unexpectedly and with a painful crack his vision momentarily went black.

When he could see again, he found himself laying flat on his back on the floor with a throbbing pain in the back of his skull. The first thing he registered was Midna's laughter, every bit as condescending as it always was. Great. The second was the face of the most startlingly beautiful girl he'd ever seen hovering over him. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook himself roughly to clear his head, but instantly regretted it as pain reverberated around his skull like fireworks. When he opened his eyes again, vision swimming slightly, the girl was still there, a veritable angel, golden halo and everything.

It took him a second to realize that she was talking.

"Whazzat?" he blathered ridiculously as he pushed himself hastily to a sitting position, the world spinning nauseatingly around him as he massaged the back of his head. Midna was laughing so hard she was snorting.

"I asked you if you were ok," the stranger repeated. Her voice had an entrancingly melodious quality to it, and her concern seemed actually genuine. Odd, that. Usually girls like her ignored his existence entirely. This sort of thing only happened in dreams… Oh, Farore, don’t tell him he was hallucinating. He can’t have been hit that hard… "I'm really, really sorry! I-I didn't mean to hit you, I just didn't know you were standing there, and I was sort of in a hurry and… Goddesses, I'm so sorry…"

Her voice sort of squeaked there at the end, and it was then that Link registered that not only was her concern for him the real deal, but she was getting emotional about it. Nayru, was she going to cry?! Quick, Link, do something to reassure her that you’re ok! Plastering a dopey smile on his face that probably made him look mentally addled, Link braced himself against the lockers and pulled himself gingerly to his feet in between Midna and the girl who’s struck him, leaning heavily against the cold metal wall to make sure he didn’t wobble.

She was an inch or so shorter than Link was, maybe around Sheik’s height, with long dirty-blonde hair that cascaded down her back like waves of honeyed gold and curled slightly at the tips. Her eyes were a deep purplish-red color, like a gemstone, and her bottom lip was held between her teeth as she studied his face, looking for signs of permanent injury. Goddesses, she was attractive… and way out of his league, although strangely enough something about her seemed somehow… familiar.

Had he met her somewhere before?

"If you two lovebirds are done drooling over each other, I really need to get going."

Link jerked his eyes away with a jolt, his face flaming. What was wrong with him?! You can’t just ogle a girl you barely met, that’s weird! And creepy! And pathetic! And not at all something you want to do when you’re trying to make a good impression so she looks passed your innumerable faults and decides she wants to forego common sense and go out with you!

"Well, sorry again about the door thing." The girl mumbled awkwardly, keeping her eyes averted and staring at her shoes. "I swear it won't happen again."

Link nodded, then let out a stupid guffaw against his will and said, haltingly, “I wouldn’t really mind… I mean, no, I don’t want you to hit me again, that would suck, but I mean, like, it would be ok if we… if you… I mean, no, I just, gah! It’s ok if you… if we… I’m not mad.”

He snapped his mouth closed, mortified. What in the name of the Goddesses’ green earth had just come spewing out of his mouth?! What was this, a bad chick flick?! Seriously, why didn’t life have rewind buttons for moments like these? Ah, that was so middle school! She probably thought he had mental problems or something! Why was he such a loser at talking to girls?!

The girl, who had been staring at him blankly during his entire idiotic diatribe, suddenly erupted in a fit of giggles, making her eyes dance and sending him straight to heaven.

“Wow, I must’ve hit you harder than I thought!” She gasped through her laughter, sounding half amused, half traumatized. “I’m so sorry!”

Link couldn’t help but chuckle along with her, though thankfully his response was more controlled.

“No, really, I’m fine. You just caught me by surprise is all. Don’t worry about it.”

Midna began tapping her foot impatiently.

"So…I guess I'll see you around…?" She asked quickly, taking half a step away but looking at him expectantly.

His brain clicked into gear a half-second later.

"Ah, Link! Link, I'm…I'm Link." he spluttered.

She smiled and said "I'm Zelda,” extending her hand. He took it and marveled at how small and warm it was. Midna cleared her throat loudly.

"Uh, bye then." He said, dropping her hand and stepping back, feeling his face gradually flushing again no matter how hard he tried to stop it. She smiled once more, glancing down at the floor abashedly before turning around and hurrying off towards the opposite hallway.

Link stared at her retreating figure numbly, the smile slowly melting off of his face. What was wrong with him? It's not like he'd never seen a pretty girl before. He was sixteen, thank-you-very-much, he knew how to comport himself in public, he wasn’t an awkward twelve-year-old going through ‘changes’… But there was something about the way she'd smiled at him, the way her eyes had sparkled with worry when she'd found that she'd hurt him, the way that her hair swayed now when she walked…

Something wet and slimy was forcibly jammed into his ear and he jerked away from Midna with a hoarse yelp.

"Din-! What the heck, Midna?!" he bellowed, hastily cleaning out his ear with his sleeve while Midna cackled with fiendish glee.

"Call it pay back." She taunted, giggling maddeningly. “But I mean, seriously… Wow. Could you be any more of a dork?”

“Shut up.” Link grumbled, readjusting the backpack on his shoulder. Casting Zelda one last subtle look, he hurried on down the hall towards the student parking lot, Midna dancing along in his wake.

"So," she drawled as they ambled on down the hallway, "do you always drool when you meet new people?"

"Come on, I wasn't drooling." He grunted sourly, refusing to make eye-contact.

"Right, sure. So then explain that waterfall of saliva pouring from your mouth-"

"I was not drooling!" Link repeated defensively. "I just had…slight brain damage from the door hitting me so hard!"

Midna sniggered. "Link, I think you need to have a brain before you can have brain damage."

Link shoved her playfully into the wall. "Oh, so funny, ha ha ha. Come on, let's get going."

Threading their way through the rapidly dwindling mass of students, Link and Midna headed down the main hallway on the first floor towards the cafeteria-slash-commons area. Admittedly Ordon High had a rather peculiar set up; the first floor was in the shape of a giant U, the bus drop-off on the east end, and student parking on the west. The first floor held the major elective classrooms; i.e. band, chorus, P.E., art, etc, as well as the special Ed classes and the lunchroom, and a handful of staff offices, like the school resource officer and some of the councilors. Second floor held all of the academics, and was shaped like a smaller U to fit atop the first. It even had a little balcony where students used to be able to go up and eat lunch, but the door had been locked long since. Legend says that a boy leapt off of the balcony and killed himself… Seeing as it was just one story, Link doubted it. The real reason was probably because the faculty was too lazy to unlock it every day or to send teachers up there to monitor the students and make sure they didn’t throw things at people from the roof.

Last but not least came the third floor, and here was where the school got a little strange. There was a sort of mystery about it… not that students had never been up there; quite the contrary. They were up there all the time. No, the mystery lay in the way it had been set up. For whatever reason, the builders decided during construction that the main office should be up on the third floor… and only the main office. No classrooms, no janitor's closet, just the office. You can imagine parents' angry mutters as they climbed the stairs when their children had been caught smoking or vandalizing property. It didn’t really make any sense that arguably the most important part of the building was so sequestered, but then again maybe it helped the Principal feel like he actually mattered what with being literally above everyone else. Link wasn’t really certain.

There was also a little door that led out onto the roof so that the teachers could check the lightning rods and satellites, but unlike other schools, few tried to sneak out of there because of its close location to the main office.

As they passed the commons area, Link looked out among the many clusters of students and their various extracurricular activities, and felt the familiar twist of contempt overtake him. Goddesses, but he hated this place... There were the Cheerleaders, the Dance Squad, Mock Trial, and, of course, the football team. Despite it being March, the football season long over, the team still hung out with the cheerleaders after school and talked of nothing but their exploits during the last season. They were loud, crude, and overwhelmingly obnoxious, totally ignoring the Key Club who was trying valiantly to meet right beside them in spite their raucous laughter. The poor kids couldn’t get on with their business… but then, what exactly did Key Club do, anyway?

Ordon High was very big on its cliques. For example, jocks only hung out with jocks and cheerleaders, who in turn only dated jocks. There was a sort of hierarchy of popularity, and only the wealthiest and most athletically gifted could rise to the tops of these hallowed ranks. If you were a nerd, or ugly, or antisocial, or strange, don’t even try it. The chess team was limited to social interaction only with those who took classes in advanced placement, and the loners basically kept to themselves. Then there was a sort of ambiguous 'middle class'; those who were average in intelligence and physical activity, but still had friends, secretly dreaming of one day becoming popular like Ruto and Darunia. Link guessed that he fit somewhere in that category, although he tried his best to ignore the stereotyping. Sure, the star quarterback, Darunia, still liked to pretend he didn’t exist and the head cheerleader, the Ruto girl from Ezlo's class, always looked down her (probably fake) nose at him, but that really didn't bother him all that much. He hated the popular kids about as much as they hated him, but he felt no jealousy towards them. He felt that his small cluster of friends were about as diverse as you could get in such a backwater town as Ordon, and to be honest, they were all he really wanted out of High School anyway.

Heading outside, Link pulled his green hoodie around closer as a cold breeze blew over the campus. The last bitter gusts of winter were finally dissipating and signs of spring starting to crop up all around them. Some memorial garden planted by the doorway in honor of a senior class years gone was starting to show promising signs of flowers, and the sky was already bright blue and cheerful, ready for the coming spring. Heading out into the student parking lot, Link smiled up at the sun; he hated the winter. He didn't much like being indoors either, so the sun was a much welcome sight.

Link and Midna tossed their backpacks into the back of Link's beaten up old pickup truck before climbing into the front seats. The paint had peeled off ages ago, and years of exposure to the elements had caused the old metal to rust, giving it a dirty brown hue. When Link inherited the truck from his grandfather, he had decided to christen it 'Epona', after his mother's old horse, because they were both brown and enjoyed giving Link problems.

"Where's Aryll?" Midna asked as she climbed into the passenger seat. Link slammed his door shut with undue force and turned his key in the ignition. It sputtered and refused to start.

"She's got lacrosse or something after school. My grandma will get her when she's done." Link grumbled, trying the key again. With an elderly wheeze the truck kicked into life.

Midna nodded absently and then turned to gaze out the window as Link fiddled for a radio station and pulled out of the parking lot. Sweet Nayru, he hated the top forties station… Where was that classic rock at? All he was finding were commercials…

It was a couple of minutes before he remembered what he and Midna had been talking about before he'd had his head cleaved in two by the woman of his dreams. She’d thought she’d managed to change the subject… cute.

"So," he drawled casually, leaning back in his seat as they pulled to a stop at a traffic light, "are you going to tell me why you've been so emo today?"

"I said it was nothing, remember?" Midna replied tersely, folding her arms with finality as if that was going to get him to back off. The light turned green and Link put his foot to the gas pedal.

"Tell me anyway, you know how nosy I am." He sent her a playful grin to demonstrate his point.

She frowned before shoving his face away from her. “Keep your eyes on the road, you moron, you’re going to get us killed.”

“Please, we’re perfectly safe within the confines of this screaming metal death trap.” Link replied bracingly, sticking his arm out of the missing driver’s side window and slapping the side of his door. “Now stop changing the subject and tell me, or else I’ll drive around in circles ‘til we run out of gas and I’ll make you push us home. Don’t test me- you know I’ll do it.”

She sighed. "Alright, whatever! Geez, you’re such a girl… Look, it's just…have you seen Sheik around lately?"

Link blinked. "Sheik? No, not for a few days now… But seriously, stop changing the subject, I want to know what's up."

"I'm not changing the subject, Link, I'm really worried about him. Do you think he's hiding because of the kids at school?"

Link looked at her disbelievingly. "Because of the…? Look, I know the kids at Ordon are real jerks, especially to guys like Sheik, but come on. He's seventeen, and far from a coward. He wouldn't run away if he had a problem, and he’d have definitely told us about it. Remember the fight he had in seventh grade?"

Midna glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, then said slowly, sounding as if she were choosing her words very carefully, "It's probably nothing, but…I saw him about a week ago hanging out with Ganondorf and his posse by the old Arby’s down on ninth. You don't think he's gotten himself into trouble, do you?"

Link forced a casual laugh. Din, when had Ganondorf gotten out of Juvy? 

He shook the thought off and said, "I think you’re giving him too much credit, Mid. Sheik’s too lazy to get into trouble. Actually, I'm surprised he has enough energy to get out of bed in the morning. That's probably where he is right now, the lazy little…"

Midna gave Link a reproachful look. "You know what Ganondorf's like, Link."

The fake smile fell off Link’s face and he focused on the road ahead of him, mulling over Midna’s recent revelation in his mind. Ganondorf was always the weird kid back in elementary and middle school. Not because he was nerdy or shy; actually he was really popular among his group of friends. No, he was just plain creepy. Ganondorf had some sort of malevolent aura that surrounded him constantly. Just being around him made you fearful, and it wasn't just him. Even the teachers could feel it. It was like, you just knew that something inside of him was off, but you couldn’t quite put your finger on what…

When he was in elementary school, Ganondorf and his friends used to pick on Link mercilessly, and it had only gotten worse as the years progressed. It had started out as teasing and theft, then pushing, shoving, hitting, fighting, trying to bury him in the sand at recess… Childish stuff, but there was a look he got in his eyes when he was reprimanded, like the teacher’s scolding remarks only fed the malevolent fire that burned darkly in his heart. It sounded silly, sure, but Link was honestly terrified of that guy.

Ganondorf hadn't been much of a problem lately, however, because sometime in freshmen year he'd been sent to a juvenile correction center for severely injuring a student. Link, who had stayed  behind late because he’d gotten a detention for not doing his homework for the umpteenth time, had made a wrong turn and walked in just in time to see it happen, and it was basically because of Link that Ganondorf had been caught. He hadn’t seen Ganondorf since then, but if Link was a betting man he’d say that the next time the two met things weren’t going to go so well for him.

"Link, are you listening to me?" Midna asked, snapping Link out of his dark reverie.

"Yeah," he lied quickly, shooting her a reassuring glance, not even having realized that she’d been talking the entire time. She glared skeptically then sighed and returned her gaze out the window.

Really though, Link couldn't see why she was so worried. The thought of Sheik getting all buddy-buddy with Ganondorf was completely insane. The two couldn’t have been more different; Ganondorf was the sum total of all of the evil that existed in the world (in Link’s totally unbiased personal opinion), and Sheik was a lazy, sarcastic idiot who liked to hang out at Link’s house and watch movies and tease his little sister. There was no way that Midna had seen what she’d thought she’d seen… and yet, if there existed even the slightest possibility that she was right…

The rest of the car ride passed in silence. Link wanted to say something to reassure Midna, yet every time he tried the words died in his mouth. But when they pulled onto Midna's driveway and Midna moved to get out of the car, Link reached out and stopped her.

"Listen," he said, "I'll call him tonight, ok?"

"Thanks, Link." she said quietly, shooting him a warm smile before she stepped out of the truck and shut the door, slinging her bag over her shoulder and walking toward her porch. Link took a slow, steady breath, and then let it all out in a rush. This was madness. Pure, unadulterated madness. There was no way Sheik had gotten himself mixed up with that crowd, he was just being his usual lazy self, holed up on his couch, watching movies and doing nothing. There was no dark, nefarious reason for his disappearance. Midna was just being paranoid. Just watch, Link would call and everything would turn out just fine…

…Wouldn’t it?

Sheik, what have you gotten yourself into?

Sheik lay alone on his bed, eyes transfixed upon the small metal object in his hands. It felt odd and clumsy, cold and foreign, but Ganondorf had assured him that he wouldn't have to use it, that it was just for show. Ganondorf had others to use those, he had said. It was all part of his plan...

 He dropped the object on the bed beside him and ran his fingers through his long, unkempt blond hair.

 What have I gotten myself into? 

His apartment was silent, the only sound to be heard being the dull drone of the air conditioning unit and the rattle that came out of his ancient refrigerator. There was nobody else around. His father had walked out on them back when he was a toddler, and his mother…

He crushed the rising sorrow firmly. None of that mattered now. Come tomorrow, everything would be different. Everything would change. It had to change. Ganondorf had promised. With the rising of the sun, he had said, the very foundations of this once noble country will be shaken forever. It was Ganondorf's grand plan. Sheik smiled crookedly against the tears that welled up in his eyes, threatening to fall. Everything different…

The tranquil silence was shattered by the sound of a phone ringing. For a moment, Sheik considered answering it. It might be one of the guys, after all. There could be a last minute change of plan... But no, there was no point. Why waste his energy by moving? If it was them they'd leave a message. Besides, he didn't really want to talk to anybody right now.

After a handful of rings, the answering machine picked up.

"Sheik? Are you there? Sheik, come on, pick up the phone."

Sheik's heart nearly stopped. He’d know that voice anywhere. Link? Why was Link calling? Had he somehow heard about…? Could he suspect that he was…? His hand stretched out to pick up the phone, but stopped halfway. No, Link couldn't know... How could he know? Besides, he couldn't afford friends right now. Nobody was his friend; nobody cared about him except for the Group. Link was lost to him.

He let his hand fall.

"Sheik? Sheik? All right, fine. Um, when you get back from wherever you are, call me. Or Midna. We're starting to get worried about you. So, um…yeah. I guess… see you whenever you decide to stop being a hermit. Later, man."

The phone hung up, and Sheik released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Link and Midna… Worried about him? Had they found out…but no. There was no way. Nobody knew of the connection between him and Ganondorf, and as long as it stayed that way nobody he cared about had to get hurt. Ganondorf had promised. His plan was so perfect, how could it fail?

A laugh bubbled its way out of him as his mother’s last bottle of wine tumbled out of his hands and thudded hollowly on the carpeted floor, staining the once clean white carpet with splotches of deep, harsh red. The tears fell freely now, but in his laughter he hardly noticed, consumed as he was by the sick joke he called life.

Link, he thought desperately, staring at the gun that lay beside him as tears made trails down his cheeks and the bed rocked with the force of his humorless laughter, Midna. Please, whatever goddesses can hear me. Don't let them go to school tomorrow.

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