1. Heart of Ice
Her first mistake happens in the heart of ice.
She had just finished teaching him the song, and she would already have teleported out of the Ice Cavern if its walls weren't so thick, and the exit currently obscured by the Hero of Time. Not that she needs to see her targeted area to make the trick work, but the way Link looks at her is getting more and more distracting from one temple to another.
He has already learned the futility of engaging her in conversation, so he remains quiet, only tilting his head in a careful question. Why has the elusive Sheikah still not fled?
The truth is that she is as surprised as he is of the fact. Before she can process it, he tentatively steps forward... stops. Waits.
Seeing that the wrapped blue silhouette has yet to slip away, he takes another step, careful, wary almost -she would say, if she didn't know better. She can hear his heartbeat as clearly as a drum if she focuses enough, but she needs to spare as much magic as she can -she still has to go and check if the Water Temple is ready for the Hero's arrival, after all. Another step.
Now he is right in front of her, and the next step will bring him to less than arm-range.
As she fears, Link extends a hand -and it's foolishly dangerous!- but the aim is toward her shoulder -nowhere near compromising her charade. She teleports away. His shoulders slump down -a gesture she had yet to see from him- then he turns back and freezes.
Sheik doesn't know why she teleported there, right behind her Hero. The exit was the key, she has business waiting and her secret might be ruined and sweet Din is she crazy?
He suddenly laughs.
It's the first time she hears it. A fierce freedom is what she notices first in the melody. It reminds her of his true age, of what she has lost. It makes her cringe under the scarf. But she is too aware of the sound's nervous stream and the almost maniacal edge there is to it. She wonders how long the fairy boy will survive through it all.
She shifts her weight from one leg to another, tasting sour guilt on her tongue, almost as coarse as his voice when he speaks again: "You cannot stay put, can you?" And the scolding makes her jump a little. It isn't a question - he knows she doesn't answer those.
Instead, he approaches her again, and she finds herself circling him to maintain the distance. He follows her movement. But this isn't a battle- definitely not a game either. The smile that creases his cheeks is wild and weary and a little wicked too, here. Still, it isn't much of a surprise when she knows she has been plotting with his life and heart.
Does he think Sheik's cryptic attitude a whim? She suddenly wonders. Does she look like she is enjoying the deception around of him, of all people? The first time she saw him in her castle's courtyard, the hope of finally having a friend almost made her forget the somber Gerudo behind the window. The memory seems far away now, but the feeling has remained...evolved, even, if she had dared to say; if seven years weren't in the way... The little freedom she tastes in this second life is simply stunning; it's a shame that she has to keep him out of it... But sometimes, she likes to imagine that her absence nourishes the boy's courage... and her kingdom can't afford to risk his savior's zeal.
The distance has become a little cruel now, hasn't it? Her heart skips a beat.
Still... Sheik tightens her lips. She can't waste years of teachings and a hell of mental preparations for -generous-strong-familiar-beckoning-blue-eyes(!)
It's that kind of girlish foolishness that brought her father's slaughter; that led to the tearing of a kingdom now bleeding monsters, rotten corpses and walking ashes...
"How come you still haven't run away?"
When his words brush against her eardrums, the gruesome memories aren't yet locked away; she finds herself inspired by his voice's strength before she realizes it and does it matter if it does or doesn't fit a mind as young as his?
A slight cringe brightens Sheik's eyes. Her heart skips a beat.
Now the Hero...the child... Blinks.
And his face softens; the smile but a curve.
For a moment, telepathic senses tell her the boy wants to comment on her cryptic attitude. The next, Sheik's mind recoils as if burnt; she can only grasp a few feelings that way, but she would never get used to hurt and regrets. The visceral yearning throws her off her feet. She takes a steadying breath. What a convincing Sheikah.
She will bring the years-long plan to fruition. But she needs to make him understand, even if as Sheik she has only silences to express her feelings - and she doubts he would accept an answer of cryptic poetry right now.
His gaze trails over her form, and she is glad she doesn't find more than the usual curiosity in it. At least, he stops and focuses on her eyes. The boy always seemed to have a fascination for them- Did she frown? Sheik blinks. No.
Years of training can't go out the window simply because of a boy in a man's shoes with heaps of courage and ideals of loyalty that can't have anything to do with fealty only - can it?
Besides, if her eyes ever truly led him to suspect something, frowning so often can only give away the whole story.
"Thank you." Again, his voice tears through her thoughts, melts them away; but now his eyes are fierce and his face grave. "For your help through all this." A pause. He steels himself. "For your support... No one else-" He sighs, but still doesn't dare look away and give the Sheikah the chance of blinking out again. "For your faith. Or your loyalty to the Goddess...or to the Princess," he amends. "And... For listening."
She is lost, her will as frozen as this cavern's chill. He keeps the frown for a couple seconds, but then his smile blooms, resolute; as if he had the power to stir faith and courage on sheer will alone. But through it all, for the first time, she sees the raw fears, the self-doubt and the loss of identity through his shield. She suspects he leaves his masks down just to make her guilty for her distance.
Her heart doesn't think so far and just breaks.
She looks for excuses to gather the shards. She thinks about 'I'm sorry', or 'such is the hero's fate'; both would resound as cruelly in the mind of a child who doesn't even have time to understand his adulthood.
If he shows her this much, isn't it the least Sheik can do to acknowledge him?
It's her turn to walk forward, the thrill of breaking rules making her well-aware of her petite figure gliding in catwalk steps until she is within arm's reach again.
She looks him square in the eyes, trying to ignore the pull of divine chemistry binding their souls and the very hand she put on his shoulder in a brief pat. But despite her effort, her grasp is anything but elusive.
Then she notices her touch is lingering longer than most males' would have. She shivers and she realizes the boy stands shocked. He could have returned the gesture anytime now; perhaps on her shoulder, perhaps lower...
She pulls back, with as much calm as she can manage, a little ashamed. The yearning she could feel from beneath his every muscle for...for comforting words; for a simple friend's touch- the feelings still tingle on her skin while she tries to stifle the impertinent sensations.
This has lasted long enough.
In a heartbeat, Sheik is no more.
[In a lifetime, Link finds more than a friend]
A/N: Good betareaders tend to do that to your fics. Yeah Nendil's fault. Again. :D