Tassoh scarfed down his breakfast with reckless abandon, shoving his fork into whatever piece of bacon or egg he could find atop his plate with the ferocity of a tiger, all but demonstrating the difference between himself and his friend. In contrast to the sloppy display, Azoh normally silent demeanor carried him through the meal, his movements slow and deliberate, careful to take equal parts of each ingredient in each bite. Careful to brush off a flung bit of egg that came off Tassoh's personal space like shrapnel, Azoh eyed the older of the two with droll eyes.
"Tassoh," Malon spoke up evenly, "Perhaps you should slow down. You'll choke, you know."
The teen laughed heartily, pushing himself up against the backend of the chair while reaching for a rag, "Yes'm, sorry about that! Still just'a bit excited 'bout last night!"
"Was it that exciting?" Link wondered aloud while pouring himself another cup of tea, "I haven't been to a Moon Festival in years, myself, and even then, I've only gone with Malon."
At such a suspicious stipulation, Malon's eyes shifted toward Link as Tassoh laughed, "Oh, it w's great! We started down at th' stalls; they had a Goron there selling some'a that- The, uh- The meat there!"
He turned toward Azoh in expectation, as if hoping the younger of the two would answer him aloud, though Azoh simply continued eating politely enough, paying his friend no mind. Snapping his finger quickly to conjure up the word, Tassoh thankfully laughed with nerves as Link answered him.
"That's the one," Tassoh nodded, "I'd ask'd him about it; only Goron hands c'n tear free the ex'askeleton in just th' right way- It was delicious though; Azoh even had sec'nds!"
Azoh bowed his head with embarrassment, preemptively expecting Link and Malon's eyes to be upon him after being mentioned, remaining still as Malon happily noted aloud, "Wow, he never accepts seconds here! You know you're more than welcome to it."
"It's just his thing, I s'pose," Tassoh laughed, reaching over to pat the younger teen's shoulder, "After the stalls, we checked out the festivities in th' square, but by then, th' alcohol'd taken its course and everybody was just out there havin' a time! Azoh kind'a got off on his own; I was just dancin' with whoever, and then the dancers showed- Y'know, the back alleys got some of those things going on during the festival- There was one woman who had a set 'o-"
He paused, his attention wrested from his words as Malon's eyes curled in something resembling maternal distaste, forcing Tassoh to clear his throat, "Uh, sorry ma'am."
Not a moment later, he leaned toward Link to more subtly continue his conversation, "Y'know, I'm talkin' big."
Link's lips curled inward as he nodded, feeling Malon's eyes on him now, deciding to simply indulge the young man as he replied, "Yes, I know what you mean, Tas."
Now turned giddy with recollection, Tassoh reigned himself back over to his breakfast, continuing to chow down as Malon gave a sigh of relief, not too privy with a boy who'd become something of a son to her recalling such things, deciding to turn her attention to Azoh, for what it might have been worth.
"Azoh, what all did you get into?" she wondered, watching the quietest of them all despite knowing the result would result in him not speaking.
Tassoh shrugged, "I dunno, he prob'ly went for more dodongo, but he likes just wandering around, don't'cha?"
Azoh replied as he often did, with silence, though Malon felt the need to include him despite this. Link did much the same, though it happened to be slightly more problematic when giving Azoh instruction out on the ranch. Only once or twice had Link ever heard the boy's voice, when the tension was high and, desperately in need of a reply simply to know what Azoh was doing, Link had shouted for such a thing. More often than not, most off communication went through Tassoh, and even then, Link nor Malon could even know just how much Azoh spoke to his friend behind closed doors. It seemed as though Tassoh was intuiting more than speaking for the boy, but perhaps that simply came with years of friendship.
Azoh's utensil meandered about uncomfortably as he remained the center of attention, saved only by Tassoh's absent-minded wondering, unaware he was coming to his friend's aid, "So what's on'th docket today? You still takin' Riri up th' river?"
"Yes," Link nodded, "And I'll need Malon to come along since she knows her way up the river. You two, if you don't mind running the horses around and getting that stall fixed, I'll take the cows out when we return. Keep you two from dealing with wrangling them."
Azoh's eyes raised only momentarily to take in his instruction, though Tassoh ran against his face with concern, speaking softly in kind, "Y'know, we could go on and handle 'em to help ya both out. I've been out with ya enough times- I know how-ta-"
He came to a stop as Link solemnly shook his head, bringing his mug of tea to his face, "Just keep 'em in their stalls. They'll be fine until I get back."
Tassoh's brow fell at the insistence from a man he regarded as a something of a mentor, an insistence that kept him from doing what he could to help out along the ranch, forcing his eyes to plead with Malon. In her own reply, Malon simply met his glance with a dismissive look of her own, frowning softly to demonstrate her own disappointment. Still, she knew just as well as the teens how important the cows were to Link, even if they couldn't exactly pinpoint why.
After his refusal for help, Link pushed himself to his feet before leaning over to kiss Malon's head of still-bright red, "Delicious as always."
He gathered his dishes before shooting the boys a mischievous glare, "You two learn how to cook this well and I'll start kissing you as well."
Azoh's head buried itself closer to his chest while Tassoh scoffed, shooting Link a pithy grin, "All th' more reason for me not to learn. I picked up a hot pan growin' up and that was the saddest beginnin' for my culinary life."
"I could always teach you two a thing or two," Malon assured with a smile, "Especially two teenagers like you, always on the go. Any pretty young thing can pick up a skillet, but it takes a certain prowess to cook a meal while also wrangling cuckoos and lassoing cattle while the ranch-hand is in over his head. You two always on the go, I know a few quick little dishes."
"While I'm quite happy to learn how to impress the ladies," began Tassoh as he returned to his plate, "It's just not my thing. Azoh's usually the one tinkering with ingredients. Plus-"
He aimed a fork toward Link, "I'm not all that keen on impressing him."
Link chuckled while rolling his eyes in jest, dropping a rag onto the counter before waving his hands in the air to dry them off further, "I'm gonna go get Riri ready, but we're in no hurry."
As he passed behind Malon on his way to the door, he slowed up, reaching out his hand, fingers splayed out like a claw, before catching his fingertips atop her scalp, running them down her thick strands of hair in a loving scratch that stretched down near her neck. Malon smiled sweetly at the loving gesture, shivering at the sensation that trailed down her back as Link exited, taking a lasso from a nearby coat rack and strapping it over his shoulder before shutting the door behind him. Malon's eyes remained on him until he disappeared, smiling to herself before returning to her own meal, lazily poking at a bit of egg as her mind wandered.
She recalled her childhood, growing up thinking she had always been far too boorish of a girl to ever have a chance at finding anybody who might have given her the time of day. On any given day, with only her father and ranch-hand, Ingo, on the ranch, the death of her mother had meant Malon was needed to help, despite her young age. Instead of the prim and proper girls in Hyrule Town, who were perpetually dressed in neat garments, quills in hand, Malon was left with a scroungy dress, made up from an old tablecloth that eventually had the name of the ranch emblazoned upon it as it was the only advertising that could be afforded.
It was more a testament to her father's love of her than any thought of greed or potential profits. So blinded was the man, Talon, after his wife's death that he hadn't a clue his daughter, to any potential consumer, wasn't any different than any other. But for him, he was parading around a young girl more precious than the finest silk or gold; why wouldn't anybody gaze in awe at his beautiful daughter and not be drawn to anything she advertised?
Malon always felt far more the outcast during their trips to Hyrule Town, where the eyes of the townspeople were always upon them. While cow's milk was widely drank by the Gerudo specifically, with Zoran royalty acquiring a particular taste for it themselves, the practice was far more frowned upon by the Hylians, making the Lon Lon Ranch venture far more of a hindrance than an asset. Talon would spend hours, even days, in the Marketplace, peddling his wares, hoping to make his product's consumption more respectable than the shameful show of bestial communion it was often viewed as. Even unto his death, his largest regret was forcing his daughter to live with his faults upon her shoulders.
Still, Malon had managed to turn the ranch into a far more profitable affair, with her inclusion of horses upon the ranks of cows. While interest was steadily growing, it was mostly due to visitors from the towns coming to ride the mustangs and mares who were taken aback by the charm of this rural existence, the drinking of cow's milk included. It wasn't easy, particularly after Ingo's departure, but by then, the roughhewn girl of tawdry dress had grown into something of a respectable entrepreneur, with a husband at her side to lighten the load left by her parents whose dreams for their daughter had outweighed their ability.
"Hey, quit it!" Tassoh laughed as he recoiled in his chair, pulling his arms into his chest to defend himself as Azoh sent a sharp kick toward him, the table vibrating subtly as it landed against its leg rather than Tassoh, the disturbance forcing Azoh's eyes toward Malon with surprise.
"H-" Azoh stammered, "He- started it…"
Tassoh growled defensively, "Did not! He was'th' one talkin' about me gettin' slop duty!"
Malon couldn't hide her smile at the sudden display of brotherly interaction, shrugging as she dismissed their actions, "No need to explain. I often did my best to get out of slop duty myself; I'd usually offer to help if it weren't for these other matters."
"Slop duty? You?" Tassoh inquired with something like shock in his voice.
Grinning, Malon rose up to rinse off her plate, "Hey, I'll have you know, I was quite the brute growing up. That board on the side of the barn that's crooked? That was me wrestling an unruly foal when I was about your age."
Tassoh's eyes shrunk in terror, though his voice was threaded with excitement, "Whoa. You gotta teach me s'm moves! Azoh's always startin'- Hey!"
"A- Am not," Azoh struggled to defend himself, though another ill-placed kick seemed easier for him to get his point across.
Malon laughed, "Pfft, those days are long gone. Just letting you know, is all. Now!"
She readied herself as she slid her plate into the crank-faucet sink, turning toward the two as her hands clasped together, "You two are going to be here alone today, so I've prepared your lunches whenever you need them. We ought to be home by dinner, but if not, there are double portions."
Her maternal inclinations overpowered her as she went over her words, "Are you two sure you're going to be okay by yourselves?"
"Of course!" Tassoh assured, slamming a hand against Azoh's shoulder, "We've got it under control!"
Taking in a deep sigh of contemplative relief, Malon nodded, "Alright. I don't mean to sound like that, but- We trust you two a lot, both of us. I know you two will keep a good eye out. I'm just making sure."
"Hey, it's both ways," Tassoh shrugged, "I dunno about Azoh, but fer me at least, this's been the best job I've had. and that's includin' bein' a barrel boy down at th' lake."
Malon's brow curled with worry, though her expression softened as Azoh spoke up quietly, "It's nice."
Sighing once again, Malon smiled, "Okay. Well if you two need seconds, or fourths, there's plenty more over the fire. I'm gonna head on out if you're both fine."
Tassoh gave a thumbs-up to accompany his grin, "Yes'm! Hope it ain't too crazy up there!"
"We'll just have to see," Malon explained as she grabbed her coat, "It's been a good few years since I've been up there. Hopefully it hasn't changed too much."
She gave a final thanks before leaving herself, exiting the home to find Link crouched down at Riri's side, having finished adjusting her harness. He was now simply sitting there, stroking her shoulder with a gentle caress as he spoke quietly under his breath, Malon's eyes softening with worry at the sight. A blustery gust forced her to pull her coat together across her chest as she approached the two, Link quickly rising to his feet as he noticed her arrival, leaving Riri with a hearty pat before turning to his beloved.
"She looks about the same as yesterday, so hopefully she'll make it," Link noted, eying Malon's coat, "You have buttons, you know."
She smiled, "I like when you do it."
Link's face fell into a droll expression, frowning at the idea of being some show-pony, though the feeling was rather trifling and more of a show itself. Feigning antipathy, Link growled under his breath as he reached out to take hold of Malon's coat-ends, carefully working the buttons into one another as he worked his way up her torso, allowing Malon's smirking face to remain staring at him as he progressed.
"You don't usually get so upset when I ask you to perform elsewhere," Malon teased, earning her a jolting stare from Link before his eyes turned toward the doorway, forcing a giggle from Malon, "You're such a dad."
Link's brow furrowed, "Pardon?"
She shrugged, "Looking out to make sure they didn't hear me."
"Yeah, well," Link replied as he snapped into place the final button, "I'd hate to share your cute little moments with anybody else."
Malon grinned mischievously as Link pulled his own coat into place, speaking up childishly, "Missed one."
Watching her with confusion, Link's eyes examined her coat for only a brief moment before Malon helpfully raised a finger to point toward her pursed lips. Link sighed, again feigning resistance, before completing his task, leaning in to give a rather chaste kiss.
"Alright," Malon gave with a start, "Let's head on out."
Link nodded, taking a hand to rest atop Riri's back as he approached her harness, "You hear that, Riri? We're gonna get you all better again."
Such tenderness brought a soft smile to Malon's face as the three of them made their way toward the ranch's entrance. As tough and burly as Link was, she'd had enough years at his side to know just how kind and gentle he was in his interactions with her. But watching him extending such paternal zeal toward a mere animal- it saddened her of the thought that he might never have a son or daughter with which to extend that very same loving hand toward.
This dark cloud of thought settled into the back of her mind as they made their way forward, nestled in the same place it often remained; just outside of her immediate thought, where it could only intermittently bother her with guilt.