A short oneshot for the excellent The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, brought to you by that mysterious rogue, khaki knight.
Disclaimer: The Legend of Zelda and related characters, ideas, etc. are the legal property of Nintendo, yadda yadda yadda. This is a solely nonprofit endeavour; if anything, I can, in fact, guarantee that I losing money (hemorrhaging it, even) on this deal at this very moment. This disclaimer applies to the entire work. Insert more legal jargon here if it will keep me from facing a lawsuit. For great justice.
Telma quietly wiped clean the counter in front of her, smiling faintly at her dim reflection in the varnished surface. Her expression quickly soured, though, when she spotted a new scratch in the counter's weathered top. "Well, isn't that lovely..." she said finally, giving up on the project with one last dab at the new scratch.
Tossing her cleaning rag over her shoulder, Telma leaned back. Casting a fond eye over the rest of the bar, she felt a little better. Everything else, at least, seemed to be undisturbed and in its place; even the fire was roaring along at a good clip. The bar was warm. Friendly.
That's the one thing she always loved about a bar (or, her bar, at the very least): it was always inviting. Regardless of how your life was going on the outside, it was entirely possible for one and all to come in and just forget, even if for only a few minutes. You could just relax, commiserate with your fellows, and recoup.
Granted, that same escapism could quickly lead to some dark places (the love of drink had led many a man and woman astray, and Telma had been around long enough to know that), but wasn't that the purpose of having a bartender in the first place?
She drummed her fingers on the counter, taking another quick scan of the bar. Things were, she was disappointed to find, unchanged. It had been, you see, an altogether quiet business day. Normally at this hour of the evening, guardsmen and knights would have been swarming the place, but with the majority of them tied up with the reconstruction of Hyrule Castle...
The bar remained nearly empty at this late hour, save for a few notable exceptions: A goron, her 'security,' dozed in the corner, trouble in to Hyrule thankfully in short supply at the moment; the mailman, forever at a loss about what to order, crouched on the far side of the room across from the bar; Jovani, drowning his sorrows as usual, sat disconsolate in the side room.
And then of course there was Louise. Pouring out a half bottle of milk into a saucer, Telma shook her head. "I swear, you're just one big ol' furry primadonna sometimes, you know that?" she told Louise.
Louise, for her part, just cocked her head to one side and meowed demurely before turning to the saucer of milk. "Yeah, that's what I thought you would say," Telma said, leaning against the bar.
Sighing, Telma idly drummed her fingers on the bar. After another slow fifteen minutes, she considered closing up shop early. Outside of daydreaming about Renado—that certified hunk of a Hylian!—what else was there for her to do tonight? A bartender is only ever as content as her customers, but without any customers...
It was right about then when the last person she ever expected wandered through the door.
And Telma didn't even notice him at first either. She had bent down to rearrange her extra glasses under the counter (she was reaching for things to do, she knew) when she heard the door creak open. She felt the cool, crisp wind of a Hyrule fall seep into the bar just as the door closed, and then there had been a flash of green and...
"How can I help—" Telma suddenly broke into a big smile. "Hey, there, sugar! It's been a long time since I've seen you 'round these parts!"
Link responded with a weak smile and an almost guilty nod. Telma cocked an eyebrow as he took a seat at the bar: something was definitely off. Link sat a good two stools away from where Telma stood, and sort of... hunkered down at the bar.
Judging from the fine layer of dust coating his trademark green jerkin and cap, Telma guessed he had been riding for quite some time. And his expression still hadn't cleared. He looked like his mind was on the far side of Hyrule... He looked... lost. No, she decided after a moment, that's not all, though. He seemed... Wounded, she thought finally.
Telma considered Link thoughtfully. This was nothing like his normal behavior. Even in the most trying of times, Link always seemed to try to remain optimistic and upbeat—no matter how great the odds, he always managed to keep an air of confidence about him. But now, sitting at her bar, he seemed so... down.
Thinking back on it, Telma started to wonder just how long he had been like this. Innocent comments Ilia had made in the letters that she and Telma exchanged suddenly took on an entirely new light. Ilia's letters tried hard to remain upbeat, but they had always seemed to retain a certain undercurrent to them, especially when discussing Link... Even Princess Zelda, on those few occasions when Telma had managed to talk with her, had made some certain off-hand comments about Link...
Telma hadn't really put that much thought into all of them at the time—after all, everyone had their low moments, and few had been through the ordeal that Link had. And taken singly, they were hardly any great point of concern. But taken together, and with the incontrovertible proof sitting right in front of her...
"Time to go to work..." she murmured to herself.
Much to her chagrin, Link apparently heard her comment, glancing at her in a confused manner. "Nothing, dear, nothing—just talking to myself again," she smoothly covered as she swept a glass from the counter and gave it a quick polish.
"Glass of milk?" she asked cheerily as she slid the glass in front of him.
He looked at the empty glass for a long moment, almost as if he didn't recognize it or even understand the question. After the awkward pause had stretched out a few seconds more, Link nodded, an embarrassed smile on his face.
Telma slowly poured milk into his glass, taking the few extra seconds to formulate her next step. "Is that good?" Telma asked, leaving Link's glass filled near the brim. Link nodded before taking a long sip.
He took another sip, and another, and seemed to be altogether disinclined to start airing out his problems; instead, Link stared into the depths of his milk, as if all the answers he was looking for could be found therein. The silence between the two stretched out into minutes. Telma's mouth quirked into a slight frown. He's going to be a tough nut to crack... She slipped her cleaning rag from her shoulder. In that case... Time for the direct approach...
"You know, it's always good to see you," Telma said cheerfully, carefully not making eye contact with Link and pointedly swabbing a section of the bar which had long since been cleaned.
"But if you don't mind my saying," Telma continued, her expression softening as her rag came to a stop, "you look a bit like a boy who's lost his way."
That caught Link's attention; he looked up sharply with that guilty and embarrassed expression on his face. He blanched at his reaction, before ruefully turning his gaze back to considering his glass of milk.
Now, Telma had been around the block enough times to know when not to press someone who so clearly (dare she say desperately?) needed to talk. She had every confidence that Link would broach the subject when he was good and ready. It was a lesson that had been drilled into her as a bartender: leave them an opening, then just... wait.
Of course, not everyone shared Telma's sense of restraint... "Ah! Mr. Link!" called a voice from the far side of the room. Near the wine rack, the ever-faithful mailman straightened up from his crouched position, before energetically hustling over to the bar.
"I haven't been able to catch up to you in quite a while! Oh!" the mailman declared, reaching into his mail-pouch, "And it just so happens that I have a letter for you, as well!" The mailman produced the promised letter with a flourish.
"This is a letter from Ms. Ilia!" Almost dropping into a bow, holding the letter rather reverently—and completely ignoring the suddenly conflicted look on Link's face—the mailman offered Link the letter. "Da-da-da-da-daaa!" he hummed lightly as the perplexed Link gingerly accepted the letter.
"You carrying a letter for me from anyone in Kakariko?" Telma asked quickly once the mailman had finished. Suffice to say, the mailman had become intimately acquainted with this particular question over the past several months.
"Ah—" the mailman started, before glancing into his clearly empty mailbag. "No."
Telma's face scrunched up. "Bah, then scoot, you!" Telma blustered, only half serious.
If the mailman was worried about having disappointed Telma yet again, he didn't show it. With something resembling a salute, he was off once again, the door to the bar banging loudly after him. Telma looked after him, only shaking her head.
As she turned back her attention to Link, she found him staring intently at Ilia's letter... His expression read six kinds of conflicted, and almost painfully so. Something tingled at the back of Telma's mind... But why would he look like that because of a sweetheart like Ilia... Unless... Telma cast another appraising eye over Link, and wondered.
After a long moment, Link set the letter on the counter, unopened. In the space of the next several minutes, Telma watched as Link attempted four different times to ask the questions that were hanging on the tip of his tongue. Each time, after struggling vainly for the right words, he looked completely stymied and quickly resumed moping.
The final time, he looked at Telma, and it was like she could see everything he was trying to say in his eyes. It was an expression that Telma had seen on the faces of countless heart-broken men over the years–she'd recognize it anywhere.
She's gone. I—She's gone. And she isn't coming back. Why did she...
Her mind started to race, and suddenly a great number of things clicked into place. She reached out and patted his hand comfortingly. "Our poor little hero," she started, a sympathetic expression on her face.
Now, Telma didn't pretend to understand half of what Princess Zelda had attempted to explain to her and the rest of the group after everything had finally settled. The Twili? Fused Shadows? Gannondorf? It was enough for Telma that Hyrule Castle had been blown up but the bad guys had been defeated and everything was okay now.
But all that, at this precise moment, didn't matter. What did was there had been a constant companion at Link's side, and they had grown very close, but she had gone away, and Link was...
And even though Ilia was waiting, he couldn't stop thinking about...
"You know," Telma said in a comforting voice, giving Link's hand one last squeeze before scooping up a glass to clean, "you're not the first to feel caught between two people like this."
By his dry expression, Telma figured that was cold comfort to him. "Well, for the record," Telma resumed, "it's okay for you to feel this way: you can have feelings for more than one person, you know."
Link still looked guilty, though, and very uncomfortable at the thought. She calmly set the now spotless glass top down on the counter, neatly lined up with the others. "I know that probably sounds a bit odd," she started, again tossing her cleaning rag over her shoulder, "But I think that in time you'll find that your feelings for both will..." and here Telma grinned ruefully at the lack of a better word, "...feel different."
Telma stared down at the counter, her expression suddenly somber. "Link, your feelings for one person will never be exactly the same as for another. But that doesn't make one more or less important... Even with all the differences, the importance is that they're still the same sort of feelings."
She paused for a moment, picking her next words carefully. "At best, we can only love those we have with us, and treasure the memories we have of those lost to us..." She blinked several times, shaking off memories from a time long since past.
She turned back to Link. "Does that make sense?" she asked, cocking her head to one side.
Link started down at the counter for a long moment, his mind no doubt whirling. Finally, he slowly started to nod, though his brow was still furrowed in thought.
Telma clucked her tongue, her solemn expression exchanged for another of her big smiles. "Well, don't worry too much if it doesn't seem all clear right now," she declared, wiping her hands on her apron. "You've got plenty of time ahead of you to figure it out for yourself."
Telma's expression shifted. "But for right now," she said softly, nodding towards the unopened letter in front of Link on the counter, "I'd say that Ilia is probably worried sick about you."
Link's gaze traveled back down to the letter, and a wistful expression stole onto his face as he picked it up. He slowly and carefully tucked the letter away, before standing up from the bar. As he turned to Telma, his expression held nothing but gratitude.
He reached into one of his belt pouches, probably for rupees. Telma shook her head. "No, no. Milk's on the house."
Link nodded, giving her another small smile and a wave before he disappeared out into the night.
But no sooner had the door closed behind him than Shad and Ashei, embroiled in a heated argument, tumbled through, a clearly exhausted Auru trailing behind.
Telma let out a small sigh. "Put out one fire..." she murmured, though she couldn't quite hide the ever-so-slight smile on her face.
She wasted no time in quickly setting out three glasses on the counter. She reached below the bar to pull free her finest bottle of Faron Wine, took a second look at the severity of the argument, then grabbed her finest bottle of Eldin Whisky instead. She finished just as the three sat down in front of her.
"Well, then," she started cheerfully, cutting through the increasingly loud argument, "Come and tell Telma all about it."