This oneshot is dedicated to you. To all of you. To all of you who contributed to Only in Hyrule's success, making it reach the 50 000 hits, this early morning of July 10th 2007.
And yes, I'm still working on FG. Consider this a peace offering to nibble on until I get my slow bum moving.
Seriously though... Thank you. I never thought I'd ever get that kind of recognition, and I appreciate it very much. It's all thanks to you (yes, even you).
Of All the Princesses
Of all the princesses, Link angrily considered, in all the world, he just had to be beset with the smart one. Of all the blonde women in the world, he had to be stuck with the one who wittingly used her brains for evil ―or at least, against him.
What kind of bad luck was that, anyway? What kind of sick gods could possibly come up with something that disgustingly… cruel?
He angrily kicked the door and banged with raw knuckles, to no avail, of course.
Behind him, a few castle servants had stopped to observe, bemusedly, the usually calm and good-natured hero lose his grip on composure. Among them, a few were amused.
No one, of course, seemed worried. It was just his luck.
For the fifth time, Link paused his constant knocking to turn to his admiring crowd, who half-recoiled at his frustrated glare.
Finally, he asked, "Where is she?"
It took a while for the onlookers to understand what he was so coldly demanding. Ever since Link had been promoted to the rank of personal guard to the monarch, he had grown in stature and was becoming somewhat of an unwitting role model to children of the kingdom.
And here he was, openly admitting he had lost the one he wasn't supposed to lose sight of.
But Link didn't care for the stunned looks. All he could seem to focus on was the woman he was charged with ―the one who was currently missing. She was his whole life; she gave meaning to his existence, to a spirit that needed a goal. In fact, to say he was distraught when she asked for a vacation from palace life ―and her security detail― was an understatement.
He needed her to define himself, and she wanted to just… drop him? For a whole week?
It was ridiculous. He had, of course, outright refused. What sort of guard would agree to letting a dainty princess go off on her own, in a shack somewhere in the wilderness, anyway? He was no scholar, but Link was perfectly aware of the foolishness of her suggestion, and had spared no words to explain it to her.
But of all the princesses, he had to get the smart one.
"Where," he ground out for the second time, when no answer came forth, "is she?"
It was here that Link regretted not listening to her suggestions further. It would not have changed his untimely refusal, but at least he'd have had more details on her actual plans. For instance, he might have known just where, exactly, she intended to vacation to. He'd have then set out for that particular spot, seeing as it was her most likely hiding place.
But he hadn't listened, and she hadn't taken 'no' for an answer, and now he was standing outside her locked door, unable to enter her quarters to search for clues. Banging on the door, at this point, had merely revealed that she was no longer within the castle walls.
Link was not pleased.
She had probably left sometime during the night, with no word to anyone and no regard for his sanity.
Something buzzed in his ears, like distant mocking from the gods. Damn those pointed ears; he felt like he had antennas made to hear goddesses roll around on their happy little clouds of amusement and laughter at his expense.
And of course the gods would derive sick pleasure from seeing him tormented. He was their plaything, after all.
But dammit, where was she??
"Sir Link," a timid servant risked, and he turned sharp blue eyes on the boy, impatient. The boy made himself smaller, and weakly asked, "Didn't she mention she wanted to see the skies in Snowpeak?"
Something like dread crawled into Link's gut. Of course she had, but he had also stressed how dangerous the venture could be, hadn't he? He had described the precautions and dangers of traveling the snowy valleys and cliffs. And for the gods' sake, did she even own clothing warm enough?
It was bad already that Link had lost the princess, he was also beginning to worry that he had lost her in a place measurably more dangerous than the palace gardens.
All the servants watched him stalk off, shoulders tense and anxiety making him jittery. He'd have to gather warm clothes, and prepare Epona, and pack enough food for two, and get better boots and blankets…
Curses. Link gritted his teeth as the buzzing resumed in his ears, like giggling from above.
Really. Of all the princesses in the world, he had to get the adventurous one.
Bloody Snowpeak. Bloody cold, bloody ice, bloody snow, bloody wind. Bloody Snowpeak. The damn place was just barren and cold and just. Plain. Despicable.
She would probably disagree, he considered as he trudged through the snow, trying to spot a promontory through the blizzard where he could attempt to locate her tracks. She would probably claim that the biting cold was a mere chill and that he had to stop seeing the bad things in life, that he ought to appreciate the power of nature, wonder at their own fragility.
But not having Epona to travel with ―the mare could only travel the mountains during the summer months― made it all the more difficult to find his way.
His boot sank into a snow pit; he stumbled, the snow came up to his waist, and he cursed as he tried to pull his leg back out without getting too much snow down his boot.
She would probably laugh at him, her tinkling laugh light and capable of making him laugh too, brush everything off as amusing silliness, think the blistering cold a mere breeze, make him look through the snow and clouds at clear blue skies and crisp air.
But she wasn't here, was she? The wind howled around him, and he looked around, tears coming out of his squinting eyes from the unforgiving cold. He couldn't see anything. It made his heart swell with concern, and for a moment he forgot his anger. Worry was a foreign feeling, somehow. Never before had he felt so utterly incompetent.
This was all her fault.
He extracted his leg out of the hole and sat in the snow, looking around in growing despair and anger. This was all her fault. Her fault that he was here, so frozen and so worried, her fault that the wind was so powerful, her fault that snow quickly covered any tracks he may have hoped to trail. The very picture of him sitting there, trying to catch his breath, limbs exhausted, as he hoisted his packs and tried to move efficiently in clothes too thick for his comfort. Her fault, all of it.
Of all the princesses in the world…
Rather than sit and fume, he stood and used his energy on moving his heavy limbs. He wasn't even sure he was going in the right direction. Somehow he hoped against hope that she hadn't come this way, because he knew there were precipices ahead, unforgiving crevasses of rock and ice, the kind he had nightmares about.
Something would be adding itself to his nightmares soon, though. The idea of her, falling down those precipices, would increase the horror tenfold. He could picture his arm and hand too short to reach out and save her, his feet keeping him from jumping after her to die at her side, her pleading eyes and beautiful lips mouthing words to him he was too scared to focus on…
And it would all be her fault. His incompetence was her fault, even. If only she hadn't gone off and left him behind. If only she'd asked him to come along. He'd have gone with her, anywhere, anytime, for as long as she pleased. All she had to do was ask.
But she didn't ask. She told him to stop tailing her all the time, told him she wanted to be alone.
Link didn't like to be left behind. He couldn't stand it, couldn't stand the silence and that awful buzzing. Worst of all, he couldn't stand the idea of failing her, of something happening to her and him not being there to save her.
But of all the princesses in the world, he had to get the one who thought she could handle herself without his help.
There were tracks here. Link almost discarded the information as too good to be true, but having tracked people as a wolf did leave an instinctive sense of hunting with him, and he paused to examine the rapidly disappearing footfalls in the snow. They were evenly spaced, not hurried. She had walked, almost casually, towards the more dangerous reaches of the province.
Bloody princesses, always acting so confident and letting bad things happen to them…
If she had ultimately fallen into a crevasse, he'd just…
He preferred not to think about it. She wasn't dead. She couldn't be. Of all the princesses in the world, she had to be the most resilient, resourceful and prudent.
A strong gust of wind nearly slapped him in the face, and the cold made him wince. He felt despair grow inside him, welling up like absolute terror, and he couldn't keep himself from wondering how her smaller, weaker frame could withstand such gales, how she had braced herself against it, and why? Why?
"Zelda…" He breathed, the sound whisked away by the wind and unheard, even to his ears. "Zelda…" He stopped in his tracks, trying to make sense of it all, trying to understand why suddenly her trail turned into snow angels, how she could turn such simple things into a smile on his face, even despite his worry.
Why had she left? How could she do that to him? How could she expect him to wait patiently and not worry about her?
Where was she? Never before had Link wanted to find someone so much, never felt it pull at his insides with such desperation.
"Zelda…" He weakly called. "Zelda…! Zelda!"
His calls were pointless, he knew. If anything she was long gone, if anything his cries turned into howls with the distance. Howls of pain and despair.
There was no way he'd find her like this. He no longer had his wolf senses, and he'd have to rely on daylight, which was rapidly fading.
And then, he saw the shack.
It was more of a house, he considered as he found his way over. Snow had made trudging along tedious, and from start to finish, the trek had taken almost half an hour. The sun was setting early beyond the mountains, throwing deep shadows over him.
The house's stone was old, well settled, and he could see the windows were fogged up from the warmth inside. He could guess the glow of a fire; smell the faint scent of warm food. His teeth were already clattering, and he couldn't feel his toes in his boots. It was his white-hot anger keeping him warm and moving onward.
And, when he found himself in front of the door, his anger died.
She was singing. It was a low tune, one he had to stick his head to the door to hear. A rendition of her lullaby, a very low hum, one that she only used when she needed comforting, one he took as a signal to reach out and let her vent frustrations and tears, one he took as her blind way of telling him she needed him.
And here she was, singing without him nearby?
The song died out, her voice falling into silence. Link felt something tear at his insides. Did she need him anymore?
A strong gust of wind pushed him, and he was unbalanced, and he caught himself by slamming a hand against the door.
"Link?" Her voice called out, loud enough for him to hear, and he pushed away from the door, surprised. Her own surprise quickly turned to anger. "Link, if that's you at the door, know that I'm not going to let you in!"
Staring wide-eyed at the door panel, jaw hanging, the hero could only wonder how she knew.
"Link?" Her face ―so pink, so healthy, thank gods― appeared briefly in the foggy windows, just long enough for her to spot him, just long enough for him to see her annoyed glare. Her voice was muffled when she loudly declared, "You better head back to warmer climates, Link, because I'm not letting you in!"
"You said that already," he loudly replied, face rapidly flushing in anger, feeling foolish for screaming at a door while in the middle of nowhere, feeling the storm beat him from all sides. "But Zelda, if you won't, I'll just―"
"I want you to leave!" She loudly said, voice oh so close to him, just beyond the panel of the door, just so close… "If you won't, you'll just… you'll just freeze to death! But I won't have pity on you! So leave!"
Gods! Of all the princesses in the world, he had to get the stubborn mule!
"I'm not leaving!" He angrily announced. "You left for no reason, without a word, and I won't let you get off that easily!"
"Well, I'm not coming out!" She screamed. "You can just sit out there like an idiot, because I am not going to have pity on you!"
"Fine!" He spat, feeling her words sting and refusing to let it show. Instead, he loudly answered with, "I wasn't counting on your pity, princess! I can stand out here all day and night! I'm not leaving!"
"What do you want? You want me to go back? Short of a new war, I won't return for a while, so get used to the idea!"
"You need protection! It's not safe for you out here. As I already told you, before you decided to ignore my advice and act on your own, without thought."
"Well, I'm the one inside by the fire and you're out there in the cold, right? Not bad for a woman who doesn't think!" She was obviously miffed.
"Yeah, I'm outside, and I'll stay here as long as it takes!"
"For what?" She asked, on the same tone as his.
"For you to come back!"
"That's alright," the hero spitefully replied, trying to sound casual. "I can handle a little wait. I've got food for days."
"Good for you," she said, sounding a little worried by the information. "Because I'm certainly not going to share!"
He was silent for a moment. He wondered how their relationship could have degenerated to this. There had been a time where they had been friends. A time where they would laugh and be accomplices. A time where being her protector had been more than just an honour; it had been a pleasure and a real laugh.
But that was before. Before he ever started considering love. Before she stopped needing him.
By the time he had helplessly fallen in love with her, she was already trying to distance herself from him, addressing him only when necessary, and then briefly. He wondered why, and every time it made him ache more. The idea that he was no longer needed, that she no longer considered him a friend ―at the very least― was more painful than he liked to admit.
And perhaps he had withdrawn then, hoping that the injuries and rebuttals would not come as often as when he openly tried to be her friend. Perhaps, he rationalized, she felt she had a duty before friendship, and so…
And so he set about helping her fulfill that duty to its fullest.
Yet here she was, dropping duty! Dropping him! Why?
"Are you still out there?" Her voice sounded suspicious, cutting through his thoughts, like she expected that he would try something sneaky.
At any other time, he would have. He'd have tried to open the window, perhaps even knocked the door down. He would have done it.
But this time, he just said, "Yes, I'm still here!" and plopped into the snow, sitting in front of the door, back to the panel and eyes staring out at the snowstorm that seemed to be worsening by the second. His eyes darted around and he considered building a snow fort to at least break the wind a little, but then he figured there was no point after all.
If she wanted him to catch his death of cold, who was he to deny her wishes? She had, after all, gone to great lengths to lose him. If really she no longer wanted ―needed him, then why would he burden the world with his presence?
That would teach her, he smugly thought. Yes, she would feel guilty upon finding his frozen corpse on her doorstep tomorrow morning.
Well, it would serve her right. Of all the princesses in the world, he had gotten the one with the greatest propensity for guilt.
The buzzing in his ears was gone. Somehow, he was beginning to think that the princess' presence kept the gods from mocking him, but it was possible the buzzing only happened when he was angry.
"You should leave," she suggested callously. "Because I'm not opening this door."
"I know you're not. See if I care." And, to further prove his point, he took his packs off his back and hugged them to himself, trying to keep his warmth from escaping into the night. His teeth were shaking, but he resolutely ignored the fact. His heart was leaping painfully in his chest, trying to keep his blood flowing to his frozen extremities. He curled his toes in his boots experimentally, to keep them warm and active, and to check they still responded to his commands.
"What do you want with me, Link?" She loudly asked, frustration making her voice shrill.
"I'll take you back or die trying!" He declared with feeling, perhaps a little overdramatically, he admitted to himself. Then again, it was true, the way things were going, that he'd die trying.
"Oh," she scoffed from within the warm confines of her little house, "that's what it's always about with you, isn't it? You think courage is all about duty and dying, isn't it?"
"No," he replied, irate that she'd presume to understand his gods-sent strength. "Courage is not about dying or even duty. It's about wanting something and risking everything for it, even life."
"Well, that sounds like what I said!" She said, and he could see her in his mind's eye, flushed, crossing her arms across her chest, eyes narrowed angrily.
The thought brought a wistful smile to his face, until a strong gust of wind chilled him to his very bones. Teeth clattering, he curled over himself as much as he could and his smile turned into sadness and fear. "Why?" He weakly asked, his voice muffled by his thick sleeves, all anger evaporating into the frigid air.
"What?" She asked, still angry, and he considered that her voice was definitely not suited for anger.
"Why?" He asked, a little louder, but without animosity; only resignation and a tinge of hurt. "Why did you leave?"
There was a silence. He expected her to command him to mind his own business or something equally rejective. At this point, he didn't care anymore. He was so cold that he could pretend the pain in his chest was caused by the glacial air in his lungs. But he would not leave. He would die at her side, just as he'd vowed. He was her protector, her hero, and even if she didn't want it so, her friend. He was hers until the end.
The night was falling fast, and already he couldn't see much, mostly because of the snow falling so heavily, swept by strong winds.
But Zelda's voice, when she spoke, was much softer than before, "Why do you care? All you seem to think about is my duty and what I'm doing for the kingdom. You don't care for me anymore. The truth wouldn't make sense to you."
His eyes, which had been drifting closed ―he felt so tired―, snapped open again. Where did such an accusation come from?
"I still care for you," he answered.
"Stop it, Link," she said, her voice softening into something he identified as hurt. "You only care for my title. We used to be closer than this."
"Until you started shutting me out!" He exclaimed, shocked to hear her take on his pain, turning around to yell at the door. "Do you have any idea how confusing that was? One minute we're the best of friends and the next, you want me to call you 'highness' and 'your grace' and have me bow and kneel and beg!"
Distinctly hurt now, her voice sounded shaky when she said, so close to the door she could have been kissing it ―he could imagine her mirroring his own motions, pressing her forehead against the panel― "I couldn't ―I can't be friends with you, Link."
"It seemed fine to me at the time," he resentfully said. "But maybe I missed something, didn't I? Maybe I was just blind."
"I care for you," she breathed, and his spite died out again. "I needed to get away… You wouldn't understand."
"I wouldn't understand?" He incredulously repeated. "What is there to understand? Could you ever handle that I―"
"I was falling in love with you, Link!"
There was silence, and her shaky exclamation was followed by a brush of fabric. Perhaps she was wiping tears.
"What?" He asked, stunned.
"Oh, for the goddesses' sake, Link," and for a moment she sounded like she used to when she tried to teach him complex theories out of a book in her library and he would refuse to listen, "what else is there to say? I know you don't feel the same, so I made the decision to distance myself from you." She seemed to choke up a little, before adding, "I'm sorry, but I couldn't stay friends with you. I needed all or nothing."
"And you chose nothing," he concluded, wounded. "Without asking me what I wanted."
"Well," she snorted, sounding a little more sarcastic than usual, "can you honestly tell me you would have fallen in love with me, Link?"
Something about her disbelief stung, like she couldn't fathom that he was capable of such love.
Of all the princesses in the world, he had to want the one who was blind to his hopes.
Begrudgingly, he hoarsely said, "I guess we'll never know, will we?" And he stood.
"What?" Her voice was muffled, breathless.
"Well, princess," the hero announced, louder, trying to sound composed, and hatching a test of both their wills, "I can tell you've been pulling this off nicely. You can obviously take care of yourself in these parts. I'm sorry I underestimated you. I'm sorry I treated you like an idiot. I can see now that you know perfectly well what you want."
"Link, wait. What are you talking about?" He could hear her tremulous voice from just behind the door panel.
"I can see," he stated, "that you prefer loneliness to my company. If those are your wishes, I'll respect them. Seeing as it's freezing out here and I'm not welcome… I suppose I'll return to lands where survival isn't quite such a hassle. At least over there I know I'm not burdening you."
It was hard, he found out, to keep the hurt out of his voice. He hoped she wouldn't let him do as he said, hoped that he was making the right choice, hoped he wouldn't be forced to give up.
"And if you ever change your mind and choose to return," he added, "I will gladly resume my role as your guardian. If you want nothing of my friendship, I will not burden you with it. There will be nothing to feed both our delusions."
With those words, he felt his heart hurting, like it was being slowly, dully ripped apart. The goddesses buzzed in his ears. His feet sunk in the snow as he attempted a few steps forward and tried to find the best way down the mountain and out of the province. There was no way he had enough energy to find his way out before the storm engulfed him whole. He thought it would be strangely fitting for something so cold and emotionless to be his downfall.
But he didn't get very far. A sudden light drew his attention behind him and he saw her, in her doorway, wrapped in a warm blanket, cheeks pink and humid from tears. She looked cold, but the warm glow behind her told him she was still quite comfortable.
He wanted to tell her to close the door and return to the warm safety of the house, but he presumed she just wanted to get the last word; his advice would not be appreciated.
Her voice, when she spoke, was weak, but it still carried over to his ears. "Don't go. It's too cold out there."
He knew she was right, of course. He was feeling the icy winds bite straight to his core, like his coat was thin veil rather than warm lined protection.
"Oh, now you want me to stay?" He said as he turned back to look at her, trying to sound detached and cynical, but feeling hope and love surge at the mere sight of her.
"I don't want us to be friends," she daringly said. "I haven't been honest with myself. I want more. It was wrong of me to ignore your wishes, so now I ask this of you, Link: what do you want of me?" She had said it all in one breath, and now she was fearfully awaiting his rejection.
Of all the princesses in the world, he was beginning to think he'd made the right choice to fall in love with this one. She was more straightforward now than she had been in ages.
He shrugged and smiled. "At the moment? A warm fire might be good."
"And me?" She asked as he turned around and walked back to her.
"A warm fire and you," he confirmed. "Right now I think I could live the rest of my life with just those two particular things."
"What, then," she asked, raising a brow as they both felt the odd comfort of their forgotten discussions rekindled inside them, "becomes of me?"
He put a cold hand on her waist and steered her inside, smiling softly. "Nothing special, your grace. You've just acquired a new slave. That's all."
She laughed as he closed the door behind them both.
Really, Link considered as he felt soft lips kiss his chin sweetly, deliberately, the gods ought to be proud of him. Of all the princesses in the world, he had chosen one ―just one― and sworn himself to her.
And, judging by the way she was currently running her fingers over his warm stomach, she had accepted his self-sacrificing offer.
"It's a pity," she said, "that I didn't think of getting another bed for you."
His head rolled back against the carpet and he looked at her from under heavy eyelids. The bright glow of the fire cast her skin in tones of orange and peach. Liquid blue eyes peered down at him, heart-shaped lips curling at the corners. So beautiful.
"I'm your protector," he lazily said. "I can sleep on the floor."
She seemed to ponder the suggestion, but ultimately pressed her lips together, frowned, and shook her head. "No," she thoughtfully said, "no, that doesn't seem like such a good idea. You might get cold."
"That's true," he conceded, then smiled and brought an arm around her waist, feeling the fabric of her dress under his fingers. "I suppose you'll have to stay with me, then."
"Or we could share the bed," she said, raising both brows like he was forgetting the obvious solution.
"It might be a snug fit, don't you think?" He asked, furrowing both brows in mock-thought.
"It might, but it's an experiment I'm willing to make."
Oh yes, he thought to himself as she stood from him and tugged him up from the floor. The gods would soon be very proud of him. And those goddesses wouldn't be laughing as much at his incompetence tomorrow morning, he was sure of it.
"I seem to have forgotten my sleepwear," Zelda grumbled to herself, holding onto his limp hand.
Oh yes. Very proud. Of all the princesses in the world…
"That's a pity," he mildly replied, smirking.
He had fallen in love with this one.
"You wouldn't happen to be familiar with bodices, Link?"
Many sources claim that the Hylians had pointy ears, originally, to hear the voices of the gods. I don't imagine Link would enjoy that all the time, though.
Special thanks to Scop and Lyxie for their support and great advice. You are both awesome (not that you needed confirmation).