Hey all! Thanks for reading this story! I thank you for all your reviews. Last chapter, I'm afraid. I'm working on Monagwis as soon as this is finished, so no worries. I have not forgotten.

Chapter Twelve

(Let's Gamble)

Crash. Link powerfully thrust a foot through the glass, causing Epona to whinny in fear. She had been tied to a nearby lamppost, to keep her safe. He cast her a glance, and nodded. "It's okay. I'll bring Malon back."

Sheik followed behind, leaving his horse beside Epona, as he realized where they were. "Why on earth would Malon have returned to the casino? Why would your father come here?"

"Because he knew that I would follow him," Link replied, his eyebrows furrowed in defiance as he stepped through the broken glass door, shards crunching beneath his feet like the sickening crackling of a fire. "He knows this is where I'm vulnerable."

Link stepped forward into the main hall, where he had set foot so many times before. This time the difference pressed on him, threatening to blow his concentration. A figure he knew very well indeed suddenly appeared menacingly from the shadows and a rough voice growled as if someone were trying to put a fork through a garbage disposal.

"How right you are, son."

"Why are you doing this? She's innocent. Let her go." Link commanded, spotting Malon behind him, tied to a chair in the same fashion as Sheik had been, her mouth covered by a thick strand of tape.

Red tear-stained cheeks framed her frightened eyes. Those pleading eyes caused Link to nearly cry. Then Link saw the dreaded figure from his nightmares. Those familiar eyes shone in the darkness like the devil himself. Greasy blonde hair hung about the man's neck, separated into thin strands that waved about much like confetti. Shaggy stubble coated the man's strong jaw, followed by a slightly ripped tuxedo to clothe him. Perhaps the man had been handsome once upon a time, but that must have been a while ago, for any sign of kindness had faded from his expression.

"You're overdue, son," the man stated as Link sat across from him, Sheik slowly moving towards Malon. "Ah." The man lifted his right hand, in which a small pistol lay. The sight of the weapon struck fear into all three innocents watching, though the gun aimed at Sheik. Click. The small noise felt to Link as if he had been electrocuted. The gun was loaded and his father's finger began to press down on the trigger. "Don't take another step, or I'll blow your head off."

Sheik backed away slowly, sweat breaking out on his head as his pulse thudded. "Okay, no need to do anything rash." He lifted both hands in a symbol of surrender, backing away as he held his breath.

"Good." The gun dropped from his hand, landing on the card table with Malon struggling slightly, no more tears able to escape her dry eyes. "You, shut up! I'll kill you with one bullet. That's all it takes." He picked up the gun and pressed it against the right side of her head, sweeping her long curtain of hair back behind her shoulder, sniffing her sweet perfume of white musk. "One bullet." His harsh whisper reached her ear.

Link took a step forward. "Jack, let her go." His gaze penetrated through his father's one disarming look. True, Link did have fear. However, it was that fear that caused him to discover courage as his heart seemed to threaten to escape from the confines of his chest.

"Where's the money, then?" The man swirled to face Link in the swiveling chair. "Do you have it?"

"There is no more. I'm your slave no longer. I'm tired of being abused by you. Mother never should have married you. You've done nothing but hurt this family! Now I'll show you what happens when you do that!" Link seated himself across from his father, fully aware of the black void of the pistol that stared him in the face.

"You think you can win that easily, boy? I taught you everything you know."

"Wrong. My father taught me. Now, are you going to talk, or are you going to play?" Link began to shuffle a pair of cards from the betting table, looking straight at his stepfather the entire time.

"The stakes?" Jack hissed, reminding Link greatly of a snake in more ways than one.

"If I win, I win the girl and the boy," he continued to shuffle the cards, the noise unnerving to the rest of the still silence. "Don't even think of betraying me, father."

"If I win, I get to kill them both, and you make me as much money as I say." Jack replied, his dark recessive eyes snapping in the eerie darkness of the closed casino.

"Deal." Link snapped, extending a hand with a partial disgust at coming to literal grips with his stepfather. "Let's gamble." The cards slid silently across the table, resting about Jack's fingers. The entire time while shuffling, Link glued his eyes to his father's sleeve, intimately staring it down just in case he began to think about cheating. The dealing of the cards finished and Link spread open his hand. A two pair. Not good enough.

The whole dangerous game came into play, having good cards alone was not enough. You needed to beat your opponent, to sense their bluff by knowing their eyes. This had always been the pinnacle of Link's problems. He never found himself able to read his father's expression. Those eyes were so clouded by hate and an abusing life, Link could not see past their shield of armored anger.

"Well? One hand, is this all it comes down to?" Jack rasped, chuckling hoarsely. "I say we raise the stakes a bit. I wager beating you at this game of cards… As well as every other low-life scandal you've ever committed."

"Link! Don't give up!" Malon muffled, though her thoughts shouted it.

"You really think he cares at all? Tell me…" Jack smirked, leaning in to whisper inches from the girl's ear. "Do you have any idea who my son is?"

"Stop it!" Link hissed, his eyes flashing dangerously.

"Did you know he's had at least one different woman every day? Do you really think he cares at all for you? An insignificant little rat who wastes her life away scrubbing stains of vomit off the floor? And did you know of the people he has dealt with? Those who truly needed mercy, and he's tossed them aside, squished their hopes, dreams, even their very lives as if they were meager bugs in his way?"

"Stop it now!" Link roared, overwhelmed with a sense of anger. "She's different! I love her!" He paused, realizing what he had just said.

"Well, well, well… this is a wonderful development. Unseen, perhaps, but in my favor just the same. Shall we finish our little game?"

Link's brow furrowed. He realized the truth. This whole occurrence had been the true gamble. He didn't know Malon would take him in that he would fall in love with her, any of it. "Let's." He laid down his hand, and time itself seemed to stop. Throughout all the passing and drawing of new cards, Link ended up with a full house. He had won. "Now, I'll take Malon, and you'll never see me again, Father."

Through his shocked state, Jack could hardly react. Enraged by the fact that he had lost, even though it was inevitable, he lunged forward towards Malon, grasping his pistol in one hand and pressing it once more against her head. A sudden thud smacked into the back of his own scalp as Sheik slammed a chair into it, completely catching him off-guard.

Malon scurried over to Link's side, who picked up the pistol and cocked it, pointing it at his father. "Don't make me shoot."

Jack wryly grinned, obviously quite unstable. "You think I only have one gun, boy?" He pulled, previously concealed, a second pistol, though smaller, from his pocket and with a click, began to pull down on the trigger.

"Put down the gun, Jack!" Link cried, also aiming his, the face-off directly between the two. "Put it down! I don't want to shoot you!"

Jack squeezed tightly, smiling all the while. "You don't want to shoot me. Well guess what, I'm going to shoot you instead."

"Don't! Don't! Don't!" Link repeated as his father readied it. He couldn't wait any longer, Link pressed his finger against the gun's trigger. Bang. The sight made Link drop the gun, backing away and holding Malon close, crying to a much greater extent than she.

Very slowly, Sheik moved to Link's side, placing a supportive hand upon his shoulder. "Let's go home."

…………………………………………………………………………………..

"It wasn't your fault."

Link glanced from his position in the stables, staring at Malon, her serene beauty enhanced by the night's eerie silence. "I know."

"… Was that true? What you said?"

"What?"

"That you loved me, Link. Tell me. Was it true?" Malon asked, pleading with him silently.

"… Malon." He turned, and extended a small wooden object. "Merry Christmas."

The red-head gasped, looking into his eyes with shock. "My… My music box. You fixed it…" She lifted the lid, and a sweet, tender melody floated out, bringing tears to her eyes.

"Malon… I've got a problem. Once I hug you, I'm going to kiss you, and I'm going to love you, and then I'll never find it in me to let you go…"

…………………………………………………………………………………

"Then what happened, Uncle Link?" One of the children in the circle fondly asked, smiling widely.

Slowly, the farmhand reached a hand over to pull the waist of his wife closer to him, smiling gently at her loving response of nuzzling him. "I never have."

Since you've all been so patient and comforting, I'll share a few secrets with you. Here you are. :3 Enjoy.

Secrets and/or Deleted scenes never put into this version but were originally plotted for the story:

Anju was supposed to be working for Jack under a debt her father owed, so that Sheik would have trouble accepting her love.

Link's Last name, Viasco, is actually a company billboard I saw on the way to my vacation last year. That is where I got the idea to start this story.

Briefly, I toyed around with the idea of Link being a Secret Agent, but that didn't quite work out so well and I left him with what he was.

Originally, Link left the ranch completely before returning to Malon on Christmas Eve to find her gone. I didn't like this idea as much, and decided Link would never leave and then return in this manner.

Before I changed some things, Zelda was supposed to make a guest appearance threatening Link to return with her as her own or she would send her father's thugs (soldiers) after him and force him to. I found this whole ordeal to be rather cumbersome and take up too much of the story without ever being resolved, so I dropped Zelda entirely out of the story apart from a short mentioning between Sheik and Link.

The last line was actually taken from an episode of the Simpsons, just modernized a bit.