A/N: This piece was mostly inspired by the song "Casimir Pulaski Day" by Sufjan Stevens (which I do not claim to own in any way). To make things clear, this isn't a songfic, no, not in the strict use of the word. Something about this song caught me from the moment I heard it. After looping it on my iTunes about 50 times, this story was born. If you have access to the song, I highly suggest you play it while you read; I think it adds to the story. Anyway, on to the story (please review)!
Oh the Glory
The girl searched the playground hopefully for a partner in her new game. After a moment of fruitless searching, she finally saw a boy sitting by himself under a tree. Her hope sparked, she jogged over to him and smiled brightly, introducing herself. "Hi! My name's Zelda! Who are you?"
The boy remained silent, continuing to stare down at his fingers.
Zelda sat down next to him and, not to be defeated, continued with, "Come on now, don't be shy! What's your name?"
Finally, in barely more than a mumble, the boy answered, "...Link."
Having broken some ground with him, Zelda decided to try and accomplish her original goal. "Come play with me, Link!" she said enthusiastically, trying to meet his eyes with hers.
Link pondered this for a little while, weighing the difference between playing with a girl (those cootie-infested creatures) and spending the rest of recess alone. At length, he started leaning toward catching cooties. "…What are you playing?" he asked suspiciously. He wasn't about to play some girly game.
Hearing this as a definite "yes", Zelda stood up happily and expounded upon her simple game, "I'm the princess trapped in the tower by the evil troll, and you're the hero that has to save me!"
Something about the grinning girl made Link feel less lonely, and he found himself drawn to her. Besides, being a hero sounded cool. Fighting off a troll definitely wasn't girly. He could probably even like this game. "With what?" he asked, looking questioningly into her eyes.
"With your legendary sword, of course, silly," Zelda explained patiently, meanwhile running a little way off to be trapped in her tower. She climbed on top of the monkey bars and waited there, legs dangling.
"Okay," Link said uncertainly. He picked up a dead tree branch from the ground and gave it an experimental, half-hearted swing at the empty air. "Like this?"
"Yeah, but you have to mean it!" Zelda said, frowning a little bit. With a look of mock-terror, she lifted her hand to her mouth and said, "Uh oh, Link, watch out! The troll's headed right for you!"
Spurred on by her imagination, Link charged at the gigantic gray troll with a fierce cry. He dodged under its sweeping arms and thrust his blade bravely into its ribs. After a moment of uncertainty, not knowing how the ending of this game worked, he asked, "Did I kill it?"
Zelda beamed at him and leapt off the monkey bars. "Stabbed it right in the heart!" She ran over and hugged him, despite his protests, and exclaimed, "My hero!"
"What's the matter, Zelda?" Link asked, frowning at the tears running down his friend's face.
Zelda just sniffled in response, trying to hide her face and wipe the tears away.
"Come on, talk to me," Link urged, kneeling in the grass in front of her and turning her to face him. "What's wrong?"
Zelda was silent for a while, only breaking the silence to sniffle or hiccup, but she eventually explained, "Mido made fun of me."
The name of the playground bully immediately alarmed Link. He began to get worried; he knew how mean Mido could be. "What did he do?" He demanded, his thoughts already headed toward revenge. No one hurt his friend and got away with it.
Zelda shook her head, "It doesn't matter." She tried to smile for him, and the forced aspect of it just enraged Link even more toward Mido. He decided that it didn't matter what Mido had done to her; the mere fact that he had made her sad was reason enough for payback. He stood up resolutely and searched the blacktop for a distinctive patch of red hair and a freckled face. Spotting his target, he started to walk across the playground, his eyes burning fiercely.
"Link, where are you going?" Zelda asked, watching him stomp away. "Link?" she called again, only to see him run and tackle Mido to the ground.
"I can't believe you did that," Zelda whispered quietly, shyly, as she watched the other kids playing through the window. They both had been sentenced to a recess time-out for the Mido fiasco, as had the bully. The red-head was currently being accompanied to the nurse's office to put a bandage on his scratched knee; she and Link were alone in the quiet room until the teacher came back with him.
"Well, he made you cry," Link said, somewhat embarrassed, as he poked at a new bruise on his arm.
Zelda just smiled warmly at him and hugged him from behind, surprising him. "Link, you're my best friend," she declared.
"Yeah," Zelda said, removing her arms and going back to watch the kids from the window.
A minute later, she felt Link shyly hugging her back. He turned to her and said, with a little smile, "You're my best friend, too."
There was only silence.
"Link, can you…did you hear me?" Zelda asked quietly, playing with the telephone cord nervously, absentmindedly.
Link cleared his throat and blinked his eyes. With a forced, humorless laugh, he began haltingly, "I don't think I did, actually. I must be mistaken, because I thought you said you had bone cancer, and that's impossible."
"You heard me perfectly fine, then," Zelda said sadly, having gotten over her own denial only hours ago.
"But that's not right; that can't happen," Link sputtered, running a hand through his hair and gripping the strands fiercely, "This sort of thing isn't allowed to happen to you, Zelda. This isn't fair, you're only eighteen for Goddesses' sake, it's just—"
He paused as the sounds of broken sobbing leaked through the telephone.
"Oh Goddesses, I'm sorry, Zelda," Link said remorsefully, mentally kicking himself. He clearly wasn't making her feel any better with his rambling. "I didn't mean to make you cry, I just—"
"Link, I'm so scared," she choked into the phone, and he could almost see her try and hold back her tears in his mind.
"It's alright, Zelda," Link said firmly, gathering strength within himself and attempting to project it through the curled wire. "I'll be there the entire time, as soon as you get home from the hospital. No," he said, changing his mind and grabbing his coat from the back of the couch, "I'm going to walk there right now and start being with you just that much sooner. Hold on, Zel, I'll be right over." He waited until he heard a strangled "okay" from the other line before hanging up and heading out the door.
On the other end Zelda broke down and sobbed wildly, clutching the phone with white knuckles and clinging to the sound of his voice.
"I pray for you every night, you know," he said, lazily running a hand through her hair, reading the page her hand was currently poised on.
"You do?" she asked, lifting her eyes from the words.
He nodded, staring off into space. "Over and over. First I pray to Din, then to Farore, then to Nayru, and then I pray to all three. Then I start the whole process over again. I kinda hope that if I do it enough, they'll heal you just to shut me up," he said with a little laugh, and she laughed along with him. He tried not to show it, but there was tension in his eyes. He turned to her, hopeful, and asked, "Do you think it's working, Zelda? Are you feeling any better?"
Zelda didn't dare dash that hope. "Yeah, Link. I really am," she said, smiling and taking his hand in hers. "Thank you." They sat in comfortable silence for a while, but neither were able to drown out the beeping monitors and the distant sounds of weeping. With a mischievous smile, Zelda turned to Link and, squeezing his hand, said playfully, "I guess you being so annoying finally paid off, huh?"
"Whatever, Princess," he scoffed, smirking. "You don't even know how annoying I can be."
"Oh really? I'd say I have a pretty good take on it," she said teasingly, tapping him on the nose. Without warning, his hands attacked her sides, sending her into helpless peals of laughter.
"Link!" She gasped out between laughs, trying to send him a verbal retort. "You…you…ahahahaha!" But she was helpless against his fingers, and he grinned at her efforts to ward him off, even though both knew she wanted him to keep on tickling her.
Finally, he released her, relishing in the laughter in her eyes and the blush on her cheeks. Daringly, he said, "You know, I could probably be even more annoying, if you wanted?"
"And how's that?" Zelda asked exasperatedly, her chest still heaving from all the laughter.
In answer, Link leaned forward and kissed her.
"So, what do you say?" he said as he drew back, nervously searching her eyes for reciprocation, the possible repercussions of his actions only now beginning to register in a flash of panic.
With a tender smile, Zelda lifted a hand and traced the outline of his face. "I guess I could put up with you," she sighed as she pulled him toward her; next to her bed, the heart monitor beeped furiously.
"You're leaving the hospital?" Link repeated, ecstatic. "That's great news, Zelda!" He held the phone a little bit away and pumped the air, doing a victory and dance and praising the Goddesses inside his head.
"Yeah," Zelda laughed, conjuring up the image of his joyful face, "it's only for the weekend, though. They're afraid to let me out of sight for too long." She said, careful not to break his joy too much.
"So," Link began, and she could hear the scheme in his voice, "in sight of your newfound freedom, do you feel like going to a mild, conservative party with your annoying yet dashingly handsome boyfriend?"
Zelda laughed and translated, "So, in other words, do I want to go to a wild, rambunctious party with you?" His assenting laugh gave her all the answer she needed. Gratefully, she continued, "I've been stuck with white walls and the smell of ammonia for the past weeks; do you even need to ask?"
He was silent for a few moments, and when he spoke his voice was thick with emotion. "Zelda, I really…Goddesses, I'm just so glad you're doing better. You mean the world to me, you know?"
Zelda had to keep herself from breaking. "…Yeah, Link. I know," she finally managed. She did know, and it killed her.
Zelda wrapped the sheet closer around her, stunned. "Link, I'm scared," she finally admitted, running her fingers through her mussed hair absentmindedly.
Next to her, Link stared off into space, his face pale.
"I mean, did you see his face? He's going to kill us!" Zelda said nervously, biting her lip and staring at the still-open doorway, so recently vacated.
"You mean he's going to kill me," Link said with a shaky laugh, "I'm the one who robbed his sweet little girl of her innocence, aren't I? I'll probably be lucky if he only castrates me and watches me slowly die in a vat of acid," he mused darkly, running a hand over his face.
"Come on now, that won't happen," Zelda chided him, taking his other hand in hers.
"Oh yes it will," Link affirmed, his eyes still glued to the doorway, contemplating his upcoming demise. "Did you hear what he said?"
"He only said, "Make yourselves decent and come downstairs immediately." That's nothing too horrible, right?" Zelda said comfortingly, twining her fingers with his; it was as much for her own comfort as it was for his.
"But did you hear how he said it? He was looking right at me, and in his mind I'm sure he was saying, "Link, you are a dead man. I will make sure you die slowly and painfully." No joke, Zelda," Link said, but he chuckled as he said it, and Zelda laughed too.
Shyly, in the wake of the laughter, Zelda turned her eyes away and asked, "Do you regret it?"
"Last night, you mean?" Link clarified, and Zelda nodded. "Why, do you?" He asked quickly, his heart hammering.
"No!" Zelda said firmly. There was absolutely no regret in her heart; there was no room for regret. "Do you?" She asked him back, and for a moment she was terrified.
"Absolutely not," Link said softly, turning to look at her. He lifted their twined hands and kissed the back of hers, latching his eyes onto hers as he did so. "I love you, Zelda," he said, and her heart broke.
"I love you, too, Link," Zelda choked out, hugging him and hoping he saw her tears as ones of happiness.
"I only just came over; what's the matter?" Link asked, bewildered. Zelda had come home from the hospital again, and he had just snuck through the window to see her collapsed into tears on her floor. He moved to try and comfort her, but she dodged away, hurriedly shoving her feet into her sneakers.
"Link, I just can't…I can't do this to you anymore!" She wailed, fumbling for the doorway through her blurry vision.
"What are you talking about?" Link asked concernedly, following her down the hallway.
"It's not fair!" She punctuated, trying desperately to tie her laces with her stupid, reckless fingers.
"What isn't?" Silence. "Talk to me, Zelda!" Link demanded to her turned back.
"I…can't. Just…don't follow me, Link!" She yelled, abandoning her untied laces and bolting out the door.
After a few moments of indecision, Link walked determinedly out the door, shutting it with a soft 'click' behind him.
He found her face down on the sidewalk a few blocks down, her body writhing in pain and her face silently screaming to the heavens. He was beginning to understand now that the pain echoing from her limbs was from far more than a stumble to the concrete. Wordlessly, he picked her up in his arms and carried her to the hospital, the truth sinking into him further with every step. He held her closer.
"Are you in a lot of pain?"
"No," she said, and he almost believed it.
"Don't lie to me anymore."
"Yes," she whispered, closing her eyes; two tears leaked out from beneath her lashes.
"You're…you're not going to get better, are you?" He asked, hating the answer he knew would come.
"…No," she admitted heavily, and he held his head in his hands.
"How much…how much time do you have?" He finally managed to ask, still hiding his face, not wanting her to see the pain there; she was already in so much agony.
"Not much," she said sadly, explaining, "That's why they let me out. I insisted. I wanted to see the real world again before…before I won't be able to anymore."
"I'll stay with you, Zelda," Link said firmly, taking his hands away and staring straight into her eyes. He hoped she could see the love and the stubbornness there, both of which would keep him rooted to her side.
"You'll have to go back to school tomorrow, though. It's okay. I'll be fine," she said bravely, smiling at him. The forced aspect of that smile made him hate the Goddesses. He wished there was some physical way he could restore her happiness this time; if only he could tackle this stupid disease to the ground, too.
"Who cares? None of that matters right now," Link said, wrapping both of his hands around her own young, beautiful, promise-filled one; it was so frail under his fingers. "I'm staying with you. I lo—"
"Please don't say it," she whispered, biting her lip and inhaling sharply. Zelda didn't want him to remind her of what she was leaving behind. She knew it from more than simple words, anyway. She smiled at him, a trembling smile despite her best efforts, and wondered if she could take the memory of his face with her into death.
Even when the nurse kicked him out of her room at night, he sat with his back to the door, listening to the various machines attached to Zelda; with every beep, he knew she still breathed. He talked softly to her through the door, and he hoped she heard him in her sleep. He hoped she knew he hadn't left her side. Eventually, his eyes drooped shut and he drifted into sleep.
A few days went by in this manner, or so Link guessed. There wasn't a very accurate way to keep track of time in the hospital except for his forced ejections from Zelda's room. Every night he slept against her door, and so far (either from lack of notice or a blind-eyed sort of pity) he hadn't been confronted by any other staff.
One morning, Link woke up slouched strangely in a chair; the nurse had begun moving him in the mornings so she could check on her patient. Something seemed strange, and at first he couldn't place it. His heart sank, though, as the nurse walked quietly out of Zelda's room and left the door ajar. He knew what she was going to say before she even opened her mouth.
The machines in Zelda's room no longer beeped with the steady report of life.
Link walked toward her house in a dreamlike daze, not even noticing his unkempt appearance and untied shoes. Soundlessly, he opened Zelda's bedroom window and slipped inside, not bothering to close it behind him. He sat down on her bed, running his fingers mindlessly over the cleanly-made sheets. He stared around at her room, trying to soak up pieces of her from the walls and the objects scattered across her desk. Slowly, he lifted a hand to his face and was startled to find tears there. Had he been crying?
Shakily, he rose to his feet and stumbled into her adjoining bathroom. He leaned over the sink and splashed his face, gasping at the coldness. After a moment, his arms failed him and he sunk to the floor. He sobbed against the sink, hot tears cutting down his face as he cried like a wounded animal. He knew this would eventually pass, but at this moment he felt as if he could sit here forever and just drown himself in memories of her. He didn't care if her father came home from his business trip to find him there. He didn't care if he ever moved from this spot, so long as he could surround himself in all he had left of her.
The cold winter air, struggling to hold onto spring, bit into Link. He wrapped his arms tighter around his knees, unwilling to leave just yet. "You know what's funny?," he started, turning his head to the side, "Mido came to the funeral. He's actually not that bad of a guy, I guess. I don't completely forgive him for making you cry all those years ago, but then again…we might not have been best friends otherwise, right?" He paused, fiddling with the gold flowers in his hands. "I wanted to give you these, but I'm afraid the wind will blow them away, you know? I know they're your favorite." Link suddenly snapped his head forward, searching her gravestone hungrily. After a moment, he relaxed; he could have sworn he saw her sitting there, smiling and breathing, from the corner of his eye.
With a sad smile, he stood and walked to the headstone. He kneeled and stuck the flower stems forcefully into the grass; they fluttered wildly against a strong gust of winter air, but did not become loose. Link closed his eyes, imagined her smelling their sweet scent gratefully beside him, and smiled. He stood and brushed his pants off, turning to leave.
"Goodbye, Princess," he whispered into the winter.
As he left, he paused and bent down, picking up a fallen stem from the grass. He swung it idly in the cold; he imagined that she, somewhere, dangled from the top of a set of monkeybars, waiting for him to come after her.