AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks so much for the favorites, follows, and comments, I really appreciate it. Let me know what you think of Link and Zelda's personalities-does it feel like they fit the spirit of their characters? I've tried to make Link kind of stoic and brave, but sometimes I feel like he talks too much.
Disclaimer time! There is some mention of waiting for the Coast Guard in this chapter. I just want to make it clear that I have the utmost respect for the Coast Guard in real life, this is just a plot element in the story.
An hour later, which was honestly sooner than Zelda had expected, she saw the telltale red-and-blue lights of a police car making its way towards their park bench camp. A black police SUV forded the floodwater, easily parting the muddy depths until it reached them, and Chief Impa rolled down the window to call to Zelda.
"Mayor Harkinian, are you OK? Are the two other people with you in any immediate danger?"
Zelda leapt to her feet, motioning to Anju to get up. Anju looked up, relief flooding her features at the sight of safe transport. She gently shook Kafei, but the dark-haired young man did not stir.
"No, we're OK," Zelda responded, "Or rather, one of us is unconscious, but other than that we can move."
"Great," said Impa with a weary voice, "Get on in."
Zelda got the sense that Impa had heard very little good news today. At forty, Impa was fairly young to be Police Chief, and her uniformly silver hair had always looked as if it belonged on an older person. Today, however, it seemed to fit her.
Another police officer emerged from the back of the car and helped Anju with Kafei, and soon the injured man was carefully positioned in the back seat of the car. Zelda took the front seat next to Impa, and Impa reported the damage.
"...Most of Lower Hyrule is flooded, although the very worst of it was in Ordon, near the Middle School. A decent number of folks have shown up at the High School for shelter, but I don't think enough people know about it. Also, I'm worried there are people who wouldn't be able to make it to the High School, even if they knew there were beds and food available."
Zelda rubbed her temples. There was just so much to be done. A small, selfish part of Zelda wished she was back waiting on the park bench. There, she couldn't do anything to help even if she'd wanted to. Now, the ability to act came accompanied with the imperative to save, and she felt the full weight of her responsibility settle back onto her shoulders. Still, in the end it was a responsibility she'd chosen for herself. She wouldn't let the people of Hyrule down.
"Has the police force been out trying to find people then? What is being done?" she asked.
"We have, but we don't have that many vehicles. The Coast Guard is supposed to be arriving soon, but they aren't here yet. And they won't have a lot of the knowledge of the area that would help." Impa's grip on the steering wheel tightened. "I'll do my best to coordinate with them, but it won't be easy."
"What about the shelter? Are we OK with food and water? What about beds?"
"There's enough food and water for now… But Zelda, Ganon was worse than we expected. We did not plan for this much of the city to be under water. Not everyone has made their way to the shelter yet, but I think we will probably run into shortages before long."
Zelda let herself sink further into her seat, then tilted her head back so she could stare at the ceiling. It was easier than looking out the window, where she'd have to bear witness to the fallen trees, smashed windows, and damp refuse that marred the once-beautiful streets of Hyrule.
"Thanks so much for taking care of things last night. I really wish I had been there."
Impa looked at Zelda sideways.
"It's fine. Your Emergency Preparedness Committee did a good job. And there wasn't much anyone could do during the storm..."
Impa trailed off, and Zelda sensed there was more the stern woman wasn't saying. She waited, but of course Impa did not volunteer her thoughts. Zelda sighed, guessing she'd have to drag it out of her.
"What is it, Impa? Did something happen?"
Impa hesitated, cleared her throat, then spoke.
"It's nothing serious, Madam Mayor. I just…" she shot Zelda another sidelong glance, "I think I've seen Officer Kokiri wear that shirt before, at a department picnic."
Shocked into silence for several moments, Zelda finally managed a weak scoff and roll of her eyes.
"My clothes were soaked, so I had to borrow some of his. Why does everybody have to notice that?"
"Well, it's a little hard not to notice." Impa said with a smirk.
Zelda sputtered a few more weak disclaimers, but Impa just laughed them off. Still, Zelda didn't really mind. As embarrassed as she was, both she and Impa were grateful for the distraction, however brief and frivolous, from the task at hand.
Hyrule High School was built on a hill higher up on the gentle slope upon which all of Hyrule was built, so by the time Chief Impa pulled into the parking lot, there was not an inch of floodwater to be seen. The parking lot was jammed with cars, which was a good sign to Zelda-it meant a decent amount of people had come to the High School before the water was too high to drive. There were also some supply cars, cop cars, and other vehicles clogging the area, but overall the scene wasn't too chaotic. Zelda thanked the goddesses for that.
Kafei and Anju were rushed off to the first aid area, which was located in the High School's home ec rooms. The nurses assured Anju that Kafei was going to be fine, and Zelda felt one of her many burdens being lifted from her shoulders. Zelda bid the couple farewell, as she needed to go find Ashei. She knew Ashei had planned to set up her headquarters in the Principal's Office, but she decided to walk through the gym first. The gym was where the town's refugees were to be housed.
Zelda walked briskly through the halls of her old high school, passing other similarly-focused volunteers and some wandering, dazed-looking citizens. There were plastic tubs of supplies, bright yellow volunteer vests, and people everywhere. It was strange and disorienting to walk through her own High School, now being used for such a different purpose and being put in such a different context than it had been in her youth. She reached the gym and saw every inch of it covered in cots. People lay on their humble beds across the floor where she'd sullenly participated in PE over ten years ago, the few belongings they'd managed to bring with them stacked up around them, the only small pieces of home they'd been able to preserve. Zelda was grateful to see that most of the inhabitants of the gym looked healthy, if a little shell-shocked. She wandered around the gym, eyes searching for some familiar sight, although she wasn't quite sure who or what she was looking for. Zelda left the gym without examining her behavior too closely.
Zelda found Ashei in Principal Gaebora's office. Ashei sat in Principal Gaebora's tall-backed chair, radiating authority like an empress surveying her kingdom. Or actually, upon further reflection, more like a dictator reviewing her domain. When Zelda entered the office, Ashei was talking to a harried-looking volunteer who hung on her every word.
"We need those extra beds to be set up now. Have you finished prepping the cafeteria yet?"
"Y-y-yes ma'am! I set up all 200 beds myself, but I don't think we have enough blankets."
"Look, Jiro," Ashei said with a sigh, and the exasperation in her voice compelled Zelda herself to stand up a little straighter, "I can't do everything for you. Find a way to get blankets on those beds by tonight, yeah?"
Jiro's head bowed and he mumbled a response, looking utterly defeated. Zelda's heart went out to both of them-Ashei was doing her best to keep things moving in a stressful situation, and all of the pressure was clearly getting to Jiro. Zelda caught Ashei's eye, and Ashei immediately brightened. Before Ashei could say anything, Zelda shot her a look, silently begging for mercy on behalf of the hapless volunteer. Ashei noticed the look, and her expression softened.
"Try talking to Cotera," she said, addressing Jiro again. "She should be able to help you with the blankets. Just… do your best, yeah? Your work is keeping people warm and safe, yeah, and everyone appreciates it."
Jiro dared to look up, and gave Ashei a half smile.
"I'm on it, ma'am," Jiro said, then he fled the room in search of blankets.
Zelda sat down in the chair opposite Ashei, feeling a little like a schoolgirl about to get detention. Ashei leaned back in her chair, rubbing her temples and closing her eyes.
"Ashei, you don't have to scare people to get things done," said Zelda, half-teasing and half-reproachful.
"You're one to talk about scaring people, Zelda! Everyone was wondering where you were, yeah. I'm so glad to see you."
Ashei stood, reaching across the table to hug Zelda. Zelda hugged her back, a little taken aback by the normally-frosty Ashei's sudden display of affection.
"Thanks, Ashei. It's nice to know you care."
"Stop teasing, Zelda. We really were worried, yeah."
Zelda broke from the embrace, sitting again in front of Ashei's desk.
"I know, I'm sorry to worry you. I should have come back to City Hall earlier, but I waited too long, and the storm…" Zelda grimaced at the memory. "Well, I'm here now. What can I do to help? How are things going?"
Ashei looked up, her features considering.
"Things are going… surprisingly OK. Thankfully, quite a few people listened to the evacuation warnings, and either left town or came here, yeah. Of course, that means our resources here will be stretched thin, yeah. We have enough food for today, but if a lot more people show up in the next 24 hours, which they probably will, we're not sure that we'll have enough food for everyone before supplies from the Coast Guard come in. I've been on the phone with them, yeah, but they keep saying they won't get here with supplies for another two days at least."
"Hmmm," said Zelda, mind racing, "I'll focus on the food issue, if that's OK with you."
Ashei shrugged, "Sure, I could alway use more heads dealing with these things, yeah. I've also got security concerns, medical supplies, and rescue efforts to worry about."
A knock at the door interrupted their discussion, and Ashei looked over Zelda's shoulder, as if she could see through the frosted window in the door with Principal Gaebora's named painted across the glass.
"We should talk more, but I need to see who this is first, yeah. Do you mind?"
"Not at all," said Zelda.
"Come in," Ashei said loudly, and Link walked into the stuffy office. The bright green of his jacket forced Zelda to realize that he was who she'd been looking for in the gym; she'd been more worried about him than she'd allowed herself contemplate. He looked tense, his eyebrows tightly knitted together, but they seemed to relax somewhat at the sight of Zelda.
"Oh, you made it back! Is Kafei OK?"
Zelda sent him a tired smile.
"He was doing well the last time I saw him. He's in the First Aid Room now."
"Good," said Link. He paused, and looked as if he wanted to say more to Zelda, but wasn't quite sure what. He never found the words, so instead he turned back to Ashei, leaving Zelda feeling mysteriously disappointed.
"Ashei, I got permission from Chief Impa to go back out to the flooded areas for search and rescue, but I'm running low on fuel. Do you guys have any to spare?"
Ashei sighed heavily, expression grim.
"I don't know, Link, we need the fuel for ambulances and to transport supplies. We thought the Coast Guard would be doing this kind of thing, yeah, so we didn't allot any of our supplies to search and rescue, yeah."
Link's normally passive features grew agitated. It felt strange to see Link upset, almost unsettling.
"I know it wasn't part of the plan, but the Coast Guard isn't here yet. We can't afford to wait for them, people are stranded!"
Zelda had known Ashei for many years now, and she was familiar enough with the cool, dark-haired woman to know that she would not react well to direct challenges to her authority. Ashei's face darkened, and Zelda quickly stood and stepped between the two before tensions could escalate.
"Link, I can get you some fuel. And no," she said, raising a hand to stop Ashei's objection before she raised it, "it's not a part of the Disaster Preparedness Committee's cache, don't worry. Ashei, I'll be back in 20 to talk about food. Link, follow me and I'll get you some gas," Zelda said briskly, turning from Ashei and heading for the door. She collected Link along the way, grabbing his hand and pulling him from a potentially time-wasting argument.
Moments later, they were walking down the taupe-colored halls of Hyrule High together, and the bizarre sense of deja vu that had been following Zelda since she'd arrived at the school returned.
"So where's this mysterious fuel cache you mentioned," asked Link, and Zelda could see that his eyes purposefully avoided glancing towards their still-joined hands. She let her fingers slide from his grip, but a part of her mourned the loss of contact.
"It's in the janitor's shed, by the pool," Zelda replied, "I'm pretty sure there's fuel there for the lawnmower. After that runs out… Well you'll probably have to siphon gas from abandoned cars."
Link nodded grimly, and something about the set of his jaw reminded Zelda of something… some distant memory she couldn't quite grab hold of. She became aware of the fact that she'd been staring at him for an uncomfortably long time, and forced herself to look elsewhere. As they left the administration building and crossed the quad towards the pool, her eyes fell on the fountain in the middle of the quad. She remembered eating there, seated on the cement sides of the fountain, when the weather was good. It was the sight of that fountain that suddenly jogged her memory.
"Oh my gosh! You're… that guy?"
Link turned to Zelda, single eyebrow quirked upwards in bemusement.
"What? What guy?"
"You're the guy who found my backpack in 12th grade!" Zelda said, the sudden rush of memories exciting her. "Someone stole it from my locker, and you returned it to me!"
"Oh… you remember that?" Link said, looking abashed for some reason. "It really wasn't a big deal."
"Yeah, maybe not," said Zelda, and immediately regretted it as she saw Link's face fall. "I mean, maybe it wouldn't be a big deal now, but at the time I was so worried! All of my Calc notes were in there, and I was taking the AP Test really soon. You were a real lifesaver!"
Link's wry smile returned and he chuckled. It was getting warm outside, so Link paused by the fountain to take his jacket off. Zelda was pleased to see a gauze bandage around his arm where he'd cut himself beneath the jacket. At least he'd gotten that taken care of before going off in his boat.
"It was so long ago, it really was nothing."
"So you did remember? This whole time you knew?" asked Zelda as they continued on towards the shed. She felt uncomfortable that he'd been interacting with her this whole time with the knowledge of that memory, while she had been totally oblivious to it. It didn't really mean anything, Zelda knew that, but somehow it made her feel like she'd been at a disadvantage.
"I mean, of course I remembered you. Everyone knew you, so of course I remembered the one and only time I ever talked to you in High School."
Zelda thought back to that day, when she'd opened her locker to find it empty so many years ago. At that age, it really had felt like the end of the world. She'd stayed after school for swim practice, and she'd been in a rush to get home and do homework. She'd looked around frantically once she'd found the locker bare, but the whole school had already been deserted for a while. There was no chance the person who'd stolen it was still around, and what's more there was no one to talk to, no one to ask for help. Whoever had taken her backpack was long gone.
She'd sat down on the edge of the fountain in the middle of the quad and cried. Zelda was no stranger to bullying-she was pretty popular at school, but there were plenty of people who disliked her as well. Her father was one of the wealthiest men in Hyrule, so some of her classmates tended to think of her as spoiled or stuck up, regardless of how she actually treated people. She'd been sitting on the hard, dirty concrete of the fountain for some time when a scrawny, blond-haired freshman in a green t-shirt walked up to her and asked her if she was missing her backpack.
"How did you find my backpack, anyway?" Zelda asked, bringing herself back to the present. "I never asked."
"The kid who'd stolen it was bragging about it, so I found him, and made him give it to me."
"'Made him'?" asked Zelda, and Link's ominous words made her curious as to how he would look angry. It was difficult to imagine, but she had a sense that it would be quite unpleasant to be the target of his rage.
"It's better we don't go into that. It might reflect poorly on me, now that I'm a peace officer."
They were both still laughing when they reached the shed. It was padlocked, but Zelda had picked up a pair of bolt cutters from the gym in anticipation of this obstacle. She raised the cutters up to Link.
"Given the circumstances, you don't think Principal Gaebora will mind, right?"
"He'll live," said Link.
Zelda cut the lock, and they walked into the darkened shed. After some fumbling about, and nearly tripping over a mop, Zelda found three cans of gas. She silently blessed creepy old Janitor Kilton for buying in bulk.
"Here, three full cans of gas," she said, dragging one of the cans over to Link, then kicking it firmly. The can responded with a reassuringly deep sloshing sound.
"This is perfect. Thanks so much Zelda." Zelda thought she could see his eyes shine with gratitude, despite the darkness,
"Of course. Thank you for going out and looking for people. How are you… How will you know where to go?"
Zelda's eyes had adjusted to the dim room by then, so she could see Link shrug in the dark.
"It would be nice to have names and addresses, but I don't have time for that now. I'll just have to go to badly flooded neighborhoods and help whoever I find."
Zelda paused, for the first time considering the wisdom of what Link was planning. Oh, it was undeniably noble and worthy to try and rescue those stranded by Hurricane Ganon, but it was also risky.
"...Are you sure you'll be OK? There could be looters, leaking gas, downed power lines, and who knows what in the water…"
Zelda's imagination ran wild, and she saw the myriad ways Link might injure himself flash before her eyes… It simply wasn't acceptable.
"Yeah," said Link, grimacing. "I'll be careful."
Zelda frowned. Careful wasn't good enough, and there was something about the way Link said it that gave Zelda pause.
"Wait… are you going alone?"
Link shifted, and even in the dark Zelda could see that he was avoiding her gaze.
"Everyone else in the department is busy with their assignments…"
"So you're going out there by yourself?" Zelda asked incredulously.
She lauded Link's desire to rescue those who had been stranded by the storm, but that didn't excuse him being reckless with his own life. It was in that moment Zelda realized that Link's safety mattered to her, not just in the general way that all humans mattered to her, but in a more personal way. She eyed the gauze wrapped around his arm and her chest tightened
"Yeah," Link said with a shrug, clearly unaware of Zelda's recent epiphany. It was funny how he could be so oblivious to something that was shaking Zelda to her core.
"Don't you at least have a partner or something? Shouldn't you go with him?"
"Ravio? He hasn't shown up yet. I was actually going to check out his neighborhood first."
Zelda crossed her arms, dissatisfied with Link's responses. What would she do if he hurt himself? If he passed out or was injured or ran out of gas, who knew how long it would take to find him again. She tapped her foot against the ground, trying to channel her anxiety from her head out through her limbs. It wasn't working.
"Still, it's not safe to go by yourself. Isn't there anyone who can go with you?"
"I don't think so… everyone has their duties already assigned, and it's important all of those things get done. This… this is what I can do. It might not be safe, and it might not be much, but I have to do what I can."
Zelda fell silent. She could sense his resolve, and knew she would not be able to sway him. Still, she wracked her brain for something she could do to guarantee that he would come back, something she could do to keep him safe. No matter how her mind circled, she came up short.
"Zelda? Is everything alright?" Link asked hesitantly, and Zelda realized that she had been silent for some time.
"Oh, I'm fine. I just…" Zelda reached out through the darkness, her fingers eventually finding the gauze binding Link's arm. She fingered the frayed fabric gently for a moment. Link flinched under her touch, and her hand jerked back reflexively. What on earth had she been thinking? Hadn't she decided, multiple times now, that she wasn't going to let herself get involved with him?
"I'm sorry, just, please be careful," Zelda said. Zelda sensed her resolve to distance herself from him hardening, but even as she became aware of it she could no longer accept it. Regardless of her personal rules, Link was an amazing person who deserved her respect. What's more, he deserved to have someone out there in the world who was worried about him-someone who waited for his safe return. Maybe she wouldn't always be that person, but she decided that she would be that person today.
She stepped a little closer to Link, so he could see her better in the dim light. She mustered up the summation of her sincerity and courage so he could know the promise her words carried.
"Come back, OK?"
Link's bewilderment gave way to understanding, which in some ways was more terrifying than his confusion. He reached for her hand, the same one that had touched his arm, and squeezed it briefly. That same hand then moved up to her face to brush against her cheek. It took Zelda a moment to realize he was wiping away tears-tears that she had begun shedding without even realizing it.
"I will, I promise," he said, his face leaned forward and his voice low. Zelda shivered despite the warm, muggy air.
"I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm crying," Zelda said, ducking her head and rubbing at her traitorous eyes with her wrists.
Link's hands dropped to his sides, but he kept talking in that quiet, comforting voice.
"A devastating hurricane has just rampaged through our town, of course you're crying. And… And… things are really tough, but you're doing a great job, Zelda."
"Thank you, Link," Zelda said, with only intermittent sniffling. "Thank you… for everything."
Link smiled at her as he fiddled restlessly with his fingers at his sides. Zelda thought that he was probably resisting the urge to touch her again, and she wished he'd just do it. Instead, he grabbed the gas can at his feet and lugged it out of the shed.
"Can you help me with the gas? I really should get going"
"Sure," Zelda replied, holding back her disappointment. He was right-time was short.
As she helped haul the gas to the parking lot, she selfishly wished Link would stay. She thought up all kinds of justifications: he'd already risked himself enough, there was plenty he could do at the high school, the Coast Guard would be arriving soon, etc, etc. She gazed at his back as he trudged along in front of her, and she grew ashamed of her short-sighted thoughts. Link wasn't scared, he wasn't letting fear, or a sense of self-preservation hold him back. He wasn't letting his… personal feelings get in the way of helping the people of Hyrule. Zelda needed to follow his example, and do what she could here.
They'd both do their part, she told herself, and just pray to the goddesses that they'd make it out OK.