Just a Little Farther...

"Just a little farther… can't stop now… must… keep… going…"

Link was slumped rather unceremoniously on Epona as the mare galloped quickly but smoothly through Hyrule Field. He grasped his right arm, blood dripping in a steady pattern as he bounced along the saddle, his limp form just barely managing to hang on to the horse.

"Can't stop… I'm almost there… must… get… to ranch…"

Link's head slowly rose and he managed to force a weak smile, seeing Lon-Lon Ranch appearing over the horizon. He strained his ears and as if by instinct, he picked up a soft voice, singing from the ranch.

"She's still alright… I can't stop now… I have to get to her!!!!"

Link forced himself to rise and take a tighter grip on the saddle, digging his heels into Epona's haunches, he weakly yelled out, "Faster Epona! We're almost there!" The horse moved with unimaginable speed, and it was less than ten minutes before the walls of the ranch were all the separated them from what awaited inside.

Malon heard a loud whinny from outside the barn. She looked up from the cow she was milking, and the whinny sounded again. A whinny she had heard many times before… one that was all too familiar to her. She dashed out of the barn and her smile grew as Epona leapt over the gate and into the main area of the ranch. However, her smile soon fell away and was replaced by a horrified look, her face paling drastically and her hands covering her mouth before a terrified scream could escape her lips.

Link wavered on top of Epona for a bit, but soon slid off the horse and landed on his back with a sickening thud. Malon rushed to his side and knelt down, tearing away his cloak. She wanted to hurl, she wanted to go blind. Link's green tunic was torn to shreds, and deep ugly gashes stretched across his chest. His hat looked burnt and charred. His face seemed relatively unharmed, save for a nasty cut on his forehead. His arms were covered in littered scratches and bruises, with a deeply bleeding cut on his right arm.

"PAPA, PAPA, GET THE KIT, LINK'S IN TROUBLE PAPA!!!" Talon came rushing from the house, swearing loudly when he saw Link. "Fer goodness sake man! Whatcha been doin' to yerself! Malon, get 'im inside the house! He needs help before them cuts drain him of all his blood!" Malon struggled but managed to get Link to try and stand, leaning on her shoulder for support. His blood dripped onto her apron and he smelled as if he had just come out of an inferno.

"M…Malon…"

"Link, please hold on! I'm taking you inside!"

"Malon…I- AAARRGGGH!" Link fell to the ground, gripping his side painfully. Malon was near hysterics and Talon rushed out to pick up Link, taking him inside. "Malon, go put Epona in the barn then come on back! I need yer help if we're gonna save the boy!" Malon nodded, tears flowing freely as she quickly tied up Epona in the barn, running back to the house as quickly as her legs would carry her. She rushed upstairs to Talon's room and found Link on the bed, moaning and grunting in pain, sweating as Talon tended to his injuries.

Malon put a hand to his forehead and cringed. He was burning like an inferno. "Malon! Get a hold of yerself! Get me a cold compress, quickly before we lose him!" Malon rushed downstairs and wet a rag with the coldest water she could find. She ran back upstairs and placed it on Link's head. Talon quickly rubbed medicine on the wounds, earning a few pained grunts and moans from Link, and wrapped them up tightly with fresh bandages.

Malon returned with a glass of cold water and dipped it into Link's mouth. He gulped it down ravenously and coughed a couple times. As Talon finished up his bandages, Link finally seemed to calm down a little bit and his sweating slowed to a stop. Talon wiped the sweat from his own brow and put a hand to Link's forehead. "He's still burning up… we need more medicine if we're gonna save him. Malon, I need you ter stay with him while I go into town to get more supplies. Take good care of him, replace the bandages and cold compress every two hours, and for the love of the goddesses, make sure that he don't try to get up and leave again! Link is in yer care now, don't leave his side fer a minute, you hear me girl?"

Malon nodded tearfully and Talon embraced his daughter quickly. "I'll be back in a day or so. Good luck Malon… take care of him." Talon ran downstairs and whistled as he ran out the door. Epona's head snapped up and broke the reigns tying her to the stable. She galloped out and Talon jumped on her saddle, and together the two disappeared into the fading sun.

The sun had set on an uneasy ranch that night. Malon toiled to keep Link's bandages fresh and his cold compress cold. Her eyes dropped occasionally, her arms and legs screamed for rest, but she would not allow herself to let fatigue get to her, not now. Not when Link needed her so much. His temperature seemed to fluctuate, although it seemed slightly steadier now, although it was still higher than would be considered healthy.

Malon replaced his cold compress once again and took a good look at his face. His expression once twisted in pain and suffering, was finally peaceful again. She put an ear to his chest and found his breathing to be deeper and steadier. It seemed Link had finally gotten to sleep. Malon looked over his injured form and felt like crying. His chest was covered in bandages, already becoming red from the blood that was soaking through. She had managed to stem the flow of blood from his arm, which now lay completely wrapped in bandages. A single bandage was wrapped about his head to cover the cut up there.

"Link… oh Link why? Why must you constantly throw yourself into danger, and end up like this… why do you insist on scaring me to death whenever you come, half an inch from death's door! Stop doing this Link… don't keep risking yourself like this…"

Malon began sobbing like a lost child, burying her head in his chest, holding him tightly. She squeaked out between sobs, "Stop it Link… I love you too much… please don't leave me again…" She wasn't sure when she had fallen asleep, only that the room seemed to get darker and darker as the minutes crept by at an agonizingly slow pace…

When Talon returned to the ranch, he quickly led Epona back to the barn and gave her a full pail of oats and water. "Eat up, girl. You ran a good trip…" Talon walked back inside quickly, a parcel under his arm. He ran up the stairs and opened the door, finding Malon still asleep, resting on Link's chest. He sighed in relief as he put a hand to Link's head. His temperature was still up, but stable enough for him to get some work done on his wounds.

He gently shook Malon from her rest and guided her wordlessly to her room. She crashed into her bed and was out like a light, absolutely ragged from tending to Link last night. He pulled out a small vial from his parcel and went back into Link's room, and upon opening the door he nearly dropped the medicine in shock. Link was out of bed, by the window and leaning against the wall for support when needed.

"Fer the love of the goddesses, Link! Git yer crazy self back in bed! You can't possibly be well enuf ter…"

"It's alright Talon, no need to yell. I was just stretching my legs a bit." Link hobbled back to the bed and crawled in leaning against the headboard. Talon shook his head and said, "I swear, yer gonna be the death of me, boy-o. What the bloody hell did you get yourself into this time?"

"Stalfos."

Talon sputtered out, "S-stalfos!? For the love of the goddesses, Stalfos, Link! What, did ya go up and spit in one of their faces!?"

"I was ambushed coming back from Castle Town, for your information. I was on my way here and they popped out of the ground like daisies. I had to fight them or they would've run me and Epona into the ground."

Talon gave him a skeptical look, and Link sighed. "Alright… the Stalfos were attacking a traveling merchant… I rode in and started warding them off…there were a lot more than I had first thought…" Talon rolled his eyes and said sternly, "Link, if you keep insisting on getting' yerself sliced up like this I'm not gonna keep fixin' ya up!"

"Aww, come on, Talon, you and Malon like taking care of me, and you know it."

"Dammit, Link! I'm not gonna keep bringing you in, an inch from death every time! I'm not gonna do this to my daughter again!"

Link looked at him, confusion evident in his face. Talon said sternly "My daughter works herself sick when you come by with a new set of cuts and injuries, and worries herself to death whenever yer gone. I won't let you keep scaring my daughter half to death like this."

"Talon….I didn't…"

"Didn't what? Didn't think that she cared? Well she does, a lot more than you may realize…"

Link had lost his casual smile and now held a look of guilt and confusion. "Link, my daughter loves you. She doesn't say it, but she does. Do you know how much it killed her to see ya like that yesterday? I never seen Malon so flustered…"

Link's eyes were wide in shock. Malon… loved him? That meant he…

"Talon…"

"What?"

"My cloak, bring it over here."

Talon looked at him oddly but did what he said. Link rummaged through his cloak until his hands closed around a bottle. Upon pulling it out, Talon saw it to be full of some bright red liquid. Link popped the cork from the top and downed the whole bottle in one go. He shivered slightly and grimaced. "This stuff was always kinda bitter…" Talon took the now empty bottle from him and yelled when Link started ripping off his bandages.

"What do ya think yer… my goddesses…" Link's scars, cuts and bruises were gone. It was as if the stalfos' blades had never touched him. "Talon, where is your daughter, I need to talk to her." Talon shook his head to regain his composure and said, "She's asleep, she was werkin' on ya all night…" Link grabbed his cloak and walked over to Malon's room, making sure he was quiet as he closed the door behind him.

From his cloak he pulled out a small brown satchel, and laid it beside Malon on her bed. He caressed her face lightly and kissed her forehead. Walking back out, Talon followed him downstairs and into the kitchen. Link sat at the table, looking quite serious now. "Talon…when I told you about the stalfos, I told the truth about why I was traveling. I was coming back here."

"What fer? Another milk stop before you go gallivanting inter trouble agin?"

"No… I was coming here because of Malon."

Talon looked at Link as if he'd been clubbed on the head. Link sighed and said, "Talon, I am deeply sorry for worrying you and your daughter like this… it was never my intention to cause you so much grief. The truth is… I love Malon too."

Whatever Talon was expecting, it wasn't that. "Link… how did… do you…" Link nodded and said, "I came here because I wanted to stay. I wish to live here on the ranch with you and Malon. I will do whatever tasks you wish to help out with tending to the animals and ranch, and… I am humbly asking to…to… court your daughter."

Talon looked at Link in disbelief. Link reached into his cloak again and pulled out another satchel, which he dropped onto the table. Talon's ears perked up at the sound of clinking inside the satchel. Upon opening it up, his eyes nearly fell out of his head. Dozens and dozens of golden yellow rupees fell onto the table. He looked at Link in a loss for words, shock evident on his mustached face.

Link rose from his seat, bowed and said, "Consider this a gift from me. Having nothing to my own name, the Princess Zelda was kind enough to reward me for my services to the kingdom. Consider this my contribution to the family and ranch. Even if you throw me out now, the money is yours to keep…"

Talon shoved the money aside and stood to place his hands on Link's shoulders. "To think that you would give so much… while I still think yer off yer nut to be fighting beasties like those all the time, I will give you one thing… you have heart, my boy. And I would not choose anyone else ter be the one for my daughter. But ya hafta promise me one thing, boy-o…"

"Yes, Talon."

"You hafta take care of my daughter. You can't keep riding off like you do all the time now, once you're in this, you have to be here if she needs ya…"

"Talon… this traveler is tired of traveling. I'm done fighting wars and slaying beasts. I never chose that life for myself in the first place… I did it because I had to. But now the need for a hero is gone. I want to stay Talon, not because I have to, but because it is my deepest wish." Link looked up the stairs and said, "Malon has been taking care of me for years now… it is time that I start caring for her." Talon smiled weakly and said, "Very well my boy… go to her, chances are she'll want to see you when she wakes up."

Link smiled and walked upstairs, quietly closing the door behind him as he crept into Malon's room.

Talon stared at the rupees lying on the table, all together there were easily hundreds. He looked back upstairs and murmured, "Goddesses bless him… bless them both…"

Malon's head throbbed with a dull pain. She had been up all night and her sleep hadn't been very restful. It was plagued with images of Link in bed, thrashed to the bone and dying, crying out her name in fear. She moaned softly, placing a hand to her temple, only to feel a warmer, rougher hand take its place. "Father…" Malon slowly opened her eyes and found that the man bent over her was definitely not Talon.

Her deep blue eyes opened all the way and stared into a smiling face, with messy blonde hair and two sky blue eyes. "L… Link!? Link, what are you…"

"Shhh, it's alright Red. I'm fine, I just took Talon's medicine and used a little of my own."

Malon sat up and looked into Link's face. Her smile fell and she looked out to the window. Link grew concerned and said, "Malon, what's…"

"When are you leaving again?"

"What?"

"You're leaving again… I can feel it. The minute you're back up and running you leave… you never seem to quite stay still for any period of time, do you fairy boy?" Link looked at Malon, still facing the window. "Malon, I kept leaving because I had to, I had a duty to fulfill. Now that duty is done…"

"That didn't stop you from leaving last week…"

"Malon, look at me."

"Why? It's not like you're gonna be here for long, why should I grow accustomed to seeing your face again?"

"Malon, look at me."

She hesitated, but turned to face him nonetheless. His smile was gone, and instead he held a look of utmost seriousness. "Malon, I left because I had an errand to run for you and your father. But now that errand is done and I'm back. I'm not leaving again Malon." Malon's eyes grew wide. She couldn't believe she was hearing this.

"Prove it Link. Prove that you're not leaving." Link nodded and took Malon's face gently in his hands, leaning near to her face until they were merely an inch apart. He whispered softly, "I'm not leaving because I have a reason to stay… you…" Malon's eyes shot open wide as Link pressed his lips against hers. After her initial wave of shock, her eyes fluttered closed and she melted into the kiss, only too happy to return his affections. She wrapped her arms about his neck and pulled him down on top of her, the kiss becoming deeper as time went on.

They broke apart slowly for air and Link reached for the small satchel he had left on her bed. Giving it to her, she opened to bag and her eyes grew wide. Inside was a bracelet, crafted of bright silver, and emblem of the Triforce emblazoned in emeralds worked into the fine silver ropes of the band. Her wide eyes returned to Link's and she felt more tears coming. She thanked the goddesses that they were tears of joy this time. Link put the bracelet on Malon's tiny wrist and slid his fingers through her ruby red hair. "Malon… I love you. I love you more than I can ever say." Malon's face inched closer to his again and she whispered, "I love you too Link… oh goddesses I love you so much…"

She pressed her lips against his firmly and he was all too willing to kiss her back. Her fingers tangled themselves in his messy blonde hair while his arms wrapped about her slim waist, pulling her deeper into the kiss. Their tongues crept out slowly, tangling with one another gently.

They finally released each other for air again and smiled broadly. Link let Malon up from the bed and allowed her to brush out her dress. Together, they walked out and downstairs, where Talon awaited them with a large smile.