A/N: This is not connected to any of the other stories that I've written. Just something I wrote while in China and decided to type up. It looked better on paper, honestly, lol.
Without a doubt, Zelda mused, Link was most ardently a gentleman. And not the manipulative type that was seen at court, nor the ambivalent type where a man treaded the boundary of living up to his noble station and being an outright brute when his temperament took control. Link was gentle in the most congenial of forms.
Saria had done a most brilliant job bringing him up right when he'd been left as a babe in the care of the Kokiri. Really, Zelda could never thank the green-haired Kokiri enough for giving her Link as she knew him now. Polite and honest. Generous and kind. His title of hero could very well be singularly maintained by his charitable disposition.
It was what she loved most about him. That gentle side of him. For years she'd been witness to it. Playing with the Kokiri whenever he visited the forest, helping catch Anjou's cuccos after their frequent escapes, lending a hand at Lonlon with rearing the young colts and fillies, it was all done with a tender touch. Even among the soldiers he now commanded he handled disputes and unruliness with nary a finger lifted in violence. He merely used soft but stern words to persuade them to see reason. And if that reason was disregarded then and only then did he whip out his blade for a duel, leaving not a mark upon them yet still claiming victory and respect with every fight.
As a child he'd possessed that same gentleness. He'd always been kind and filled with warmth, directed at anybody he spoke to. And to her… to her especially, he showed the most gentleness he had to give.
It was foreign to her, Princess Zelda of Hyrule, who for so long had lived under the savage rule of survival disguised as a Sheikah. During Ganondorf's reign she'd been forced to toughen up to a life devoid of privilege. There'd been no mollycoddling, no beating around the bush, no mercy granted. The moment she'd escaped the castle and undertaken the role as Impa's pupil she'd been living in hell.
She'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be cared for. Reliving the years of her adolescence after they'd both gone back in time had helped to remind her, but it still astounded her whenever Link chanced to make any sort of physical contact with her. There were instances where he'd unconsciously reach for her hand when walking side by side as if they were still children, place his hand on the small of her back, brush it against her arms or cheeks, and even play with the stray wisps of her hair. And whenever he pressed his lips to her knuckles in an enduring kiss she became undone.
His gentle touch sent electric jolts of desire through her. She constantly wanted more of him. Their brief contacts were not enough. She craved his affection. She wanted to lean into him, mesh with him until she felt his gentle soul all around her, surrounding, loving, invoking, and tender.
But alas, there were also some instances where she could do without his benign personality.
Zelda winced after slamming into the ground, eyes closed and teeth jarring. Thank the Goddesses her fall was cushioned by a thick layer of powdery snow, otherwise she'd be feeling far more than a massively bruised ego. Fortunately, her Sheikah-honed body had timely twisted around in an instinctual act of preservation so that she'd fallen off the stone path to the side. Unfortunately, the upper part of her had landed in a bare rosebush.
She sighed, cheeks flushed red from cold and embarrassment, and set about extricating herself from the prickling thorns tugging at her thick cloak and dress. Her dismay grew unbearably profound when the reason for her small tumble came jogging toward her, a look of frantic worry across his face.
"Are you alright, my lady?"
Slowing to a stop beside her, Link crouched down and began to help disentangle her from the rosebush.
Despite the winter chill, her whole body became distractedly hot at his nearness. Her fingers fumbled uselessly at a stubborn thorn that seemed to not want to let go of the fur lining of her cloak. A small tug from Link caused it to release without a fight.
With his aid she was freed from the tangle of thorns and she eagerly shifted away from the bush, sweeping a track in the snow.
Link hovered beside her and her face heated at his scrutiny. "Zelda? Are you alright?" he asked again with insistence.
If only she could look at him without feeling total mortification. It was ultimately because of him that she had tripped on that jutting flagstone in the first place. She'd walked down the paths in the gardens numerous times. She'd known that particular uneven patch of walkway was there and had avoided it on previous strolls. How inconvenient to have forgotten about it this time.
Mere seconds ago she'd been taking a peaceful walk in the park – what most called the enormous gardens in Hyrule Castle. A new batch of snow had fallen just that night and she'd wanted to glorify in it before it was spoiled by the other residents of the castle. She'd been caught unawares when she'd seen him about twenty meters away by the pagoda. With his twinkling ice blue eyes and his green garb he'd stood out stunningly against the snowy backdrop. It had been hard not to pause and stare at him. It was when he'd caught her staring from the corner of his eyes and turned towards her that she'd decided on a hasty retreat and had in that impulsive moment tripped and fallen gracelessly in front of him.
How very inelegant for one who used to pose as a Sheikah. As a princess it was worse. Royalty were supposed to be dignified and graceful, not someone who lost their composure whenever the love of their life looked at them with their warm gaze.
"Zelda?" he repeated, voice laced with worry.
He reached for her and for some reason that sincere gesture made her angry. It was his fault that she suffered from this embarrassment. If he hadn't been there she wouldn't have been compelled to stare at him to the point of distraction.
Inwardly she knew how unreasonable it was to pin the blame on him. She also realized how absurd she was being for getting upset over something so trivial.
But that didn't stop her as she shot a glare at him and snapped tartly, "I'm fine, Link. You don't need to pester me."
Instantly she felt contrite as a frown manifested on his face.
He looked away, brushing a powdery dusting of snow from his shoulder. "I apologize for caring that you nearly broke your neck."
Feeling like a complete idiot, Zelda lowered her gaze. She jumped in surprise when his hand swept across a scratch on her cheek, wiping away a neat trickle of blood.
"You know there are no rosebushes on the other side of the path," he said in amusement, easing the tension. "Next time take that into account when deciding which way to fall."
Zelda stared at him, drawn to his upraised hand centimeters from her face, the tip of his first finger slightly smeared red with her blood.
Yes, at this moment she could do without his gentle ambience. How much simpler it would be if he'd just walked away and left her to simmer in her embarrassment in peace. All this humiliation was bound to give her a pounding headache.
Grumbling to herself, she extended a hand out to him. "Just, help me up."
Instead of taking the proffered limb, he grabbed her about the waist and lifted her as easily as if she were a feather, setting her carefully on her feet. Zelda tried not to think too much of his lingering arms around her as she settled on the ground, her shoes sinking into the snow.
"Thank you – oh!"
Link caught her as she fell forward. She tried to settle her weight again and felt a pounding ache in her left ankle.
"Zelda, what is it?"
Could her day begin any more terribly? Timidly she set her foot down and immediately winced at the jolt of pain lancing up her leg.
"I must have twisted my ankle," she admitted reluctantly. "It hurts to stand on it."
He gazed at her then without any preamble reached under her legs and lifted her up.
Zelda was caught by surprise and swiftly threw her arms around his shoulders.
"What are you doing!" she called with horrified dismay. "If anyone see's us-"
"You're hurt," he replied abruptly, with a no arguments edge to his voice.
He shifted her so that she was secured safely in his arms, and trudged through the thick blanket of snow to one of the viewing benches.
"There is no indecency in a man helping his princess when she is in need."
Her stomach clenched. His princess… It chagrined her that he considered her an obligation before anything else.
It had only been a few months since she'd at last admitted to herself that she truly loved him. She didn't know how it happened, or exactly when she'd fallen for him, but the realization had hit her squarely one late evening at a ball. That night they'd danced a little closer than they ever had before, spoke a little quieter, and socialized less with the other attendees.
She loved him. And it hurt to consider that her love may be unrequited.
Her heart fluttered whenever he entered the same room as her, practically whenever he was in the same vicinity as her, yet he was always as smooth and collected as ever. He was not affected by her the way she was by him.
She understood now that there was a boundary to their friendship. A line that if crossed would lead to the unleashing of strong desires. While she had already bounded over into that realm of romanticism, Link, it seemed, was determined to stay planted on the platonic side of the line. Friendship was all he sought with her.
"I'm not in distress or anything," she said, severely discomfited. Not the type of distress he was worrying about anyways. Her body was going into overheat at his proximity.
He placed her on the bench and took her hands in his, sending those familiar jolts of electricity racing through her. "Take another few steps on your own and see how long it takes before you break your leg."
"I'm not incompetent," she shot.
He chaffed a grin. "Merely uncoordinated."
Indignant, Zelda was silenced when he cupped her cheek.
He wasn't wearing gloves so she could feel his callouses on her smooth flesh. His rough hands were unlike the soft-oiled ones of the many nobles she fraternized with. His were ridged with years of experience from wielding his sword and the various other devices he kept with him. Yet the feel of his hands, calloused as they were, was more precious to her than the touch of any one of those men at court.
Then Link did something that made her heart leap in her chest.
"What are you doing?!" she demanded in shocked outrage.
Outrage? Or was it exhilaration?
She tried to shove her dress back down, but Link had already uncovered a decent portion of her stocking-covered leg and was untying the laces of her short dress shoes.
"Your ankle will heal quicker if we increase the circulation," he explained, pulling her shoe off and catching her foot by the heel before she could jerk it away. He ran his hands along her ankle, gliding over it with nimble fingers.
Zelda gave a small twinge as she flexed her toes. "It hurts." She winced when it came out as a whine. Impa had taught her better than to complain over simple injuries.
"Trust me, this will prevent it from swelling," his voice softened and he massaged her a little more gently. Always so gentle.
Mortification subdued under his diligence, Zelda began to focus on the movement of his fingers. They fluttered lightly over her skin, pressing but not too roughly. He rubbed on either side of her ankle in smooth circles and slowly the pain was eased into soft numbness.
Her eyes fluttered close and she sighed. After a moment she opened them to see Link staring intently at her.
"Does it still hurt?" he asked.
The warmth in his voice made her smile. Forget about propriety. With this man, her gentle knight, she was willing to risk scandal.
"Not anymore," she said, shivering a little. Her thick cloak protected her body well enough, but without any covering her foot didn't stand a chance against the bite of winter. "Although you could have waited until we returned indoors. It's cold."
"The quicker we tend to it, the faster it will heal." Without a thought, he covered her exposed foot with his hands and continued rubbing.
Could her face get any hotter? She didn't think so.
Many times she'd imagined them luxuriating in small acts of intimacy, but not something quite like this. It was…nice. As long as they were alone.
"It's no wonder you slipped," chided Link, focussed on his task. "You shouldn't be wearing heeled shoes in the snow."
Zelda looked away, wringing her hands in her lap. "I hadn't expected to be out so long." Or to see him there…
She should have known, however. The gardens were his favorite place to roam. And further in was the courtyard where they'd first met, before and after travelling back in time. It held meaning to him. Or at least, she hoped that it did.
Link shook his head and sighed softly, the mist of his breath evaporating as swiftly as it manifested. "I don't care what the council dictates to you about fashion or what everyone expects of you. Next time wear boots. Even if you don't own a pair and have to borrow mine. There's nothing ignoble about a woman wearing the proper attire for an outing."
"Y-yes," she replied, rather weakly in her opinion.
Blame it on the footwear. An easy way out. She'd take it.
Never would she admit that she'd slipped and fallen because she'd been too intent on admiring the sight of him that it threw her off when his eyes had met hers. Very malapropos for a future queen.
She watched as he concentrated on easing her pain. In all honesty the pain had faded minutes ago. Now she simply enjoyed his touch.
"That should be good enough," said Link, before abruptly releasing her ankle and standing.
Zelda looked up at him quizzically, hovering her foot above the snow and already missing the cradle of warmth his hands had provided. Link walked a few steps away and stopped as if undecided, then turned around and came back to her. Suddenly she felt her body leaving the bench as Link picked her up, hands supporting her around her shoulders and beneath her legs.
Her fingers fisted in the winter coat he was wearing as her whole body tensed. "Oh! Link you can't-"
"We need to get you inside," he stated, his eyes directed resolutely forward as he began the trudge back up the path. "You're liable to catch a cold if you're out here much longer."
"I'll return for it later," he said as he held her carefully, winding his way through the garden. "What has you out for a stroll at this hour anyways? Half the castle has yet to break their fast."
If she could just regulate her thundering heartbeat she might be able to give him a clear reply that did not consist of her scrounging for the proper vocabulary.
She swallowed thickly, eyes uncontrollably wide as she registered their closeness. There had only been three other instances that he'd ever held her like this, and one of those instances had been mere moments ago. He was too much a gentleman to make any sort of advance on her that seemed remotely inappropriate. His lack of reservation this time was only because of her ankle. That was it. She shouldn't look for a deeper meaning behind it because there was none to be had. She would be deluding herself to think that this might be a sign of something more than friendly devotion.
"I often go for walks in the morning when no one else is around," she replied when she was confident she wouldn't stutter. "It helps. To be alone sometimes."
His arms tightened around her as he held her a mite more snuggly. "I understand."
And she knew he did. They could conceal the pain of their shared past behind false smiles and pretenses in public, but they could never run from the effects it had left behind. They'd seen a lot and lived through a lot. Did he ever resent her for sending them back in time? Did he ever hate her for undoing all that he had done? All those people that he had saved and befriended. Was he glad that they were safe and hadn't needed him this time or was he resentful that they no longer recognized him as a friend?
She scrutinized him, observing features that she'd long memorized. His strong jaw, sharp pointed nose, crystalline clear blue eyes trained directly ahead, and long hair tied at the nape, just as he'd worn it during those seven years as the Hero of Time.
No, he could never hate her. He was too good to hate. Too kind.
She looked away. She could see the castle doors growing larger as they approached them.
"I feel fine now. If you would kindly set me down I can make it the rest of the way on my own."
"Out of the question," he said without hesitation. "I much prefer to carry you. I like the feel of you in my arms…"
She suddenly became acutely aware of his chest expanding and contracting against her with increased frequency. She could tell he hadn't meant to divulge those last two sentences and was now awaiting the consequences of his boldness.
That was not a mere friendly remark. The implications sent her mind wheeling and mouth gaping.
It was funny how just when he'd become daring with his words, she'd become mute.
He avoided looking at her as he carried her, but the anxiousness in his demeanor was clear. Despite being close friends for over half their lives, he'd somehow become timid around her. She realized at that moment he was just as nervous as she was, and it was because of that realization that she felt her confidence return to her.
"To be perfectly honest," she began, feeling the catch of his breath as he inhaled. "I prefer it too."
She relaxed her head against his shoulder and smiled when the breath he'd been holding released. He held her tighter, more possessively, as he strode with slower steps up to the castle.
One might mistake Link's gentleness as weakness, and those who did were the most foolish. Just because he was soft hearted did not make him any less of a man. It just meant that when his sword was raised it was raised to protect, never in offense. When his rage was stroked it was with righteousness, not with hatred. If he killed it was to eliminate the wicked so that the good may live. There was no glory seeking in what he did. He did not want a reward for his actions. He was truly altruistic.
Her gentle Link.
It was time, she mused, Hyrule deserved a gentle king.