Notes and Disclaimer: This has been revised in its entirety as of February 2017, and will be updated regularly. I own nothing.
Summary: Continuation of Precedent, with OOT crossover.
For a while, he waited beside the empty frame, day after day, letting the sun turn his skin into something like burnt leather. He hated himself for it. But when the moon rose and the winds died down, he sat quietly, unfailingly, on the sandy stones and watched the moonlight sparkle across the great black stone, onto which the Mirror used to cast its portal. The stillness brought the self-hatred – the despair. In the silence he questioned her last words to him, and his resolve to believe them. Predictably, Zelda hadn't provided him with anything remotely reassuring, so he was left with his goddesses-damned loyalty – or was it trust? Stupidity, maybe. Misguided something. And while some days were better than others – and some nights, worse – he couldn't bring himself to tear his eyes from the frame and leave it behind, bleaching away quietly in the relentless heat. Not yet.
The time was coming, though. Zelda wanted him to champion the Resistance – her Resistance, her adopted militia. Both supporters of the monarchy and dissenters of the current political climate were turning up in Ordon when he left, only serving to hasten his departure. He wanted a moment to breathe, to himself, to reflect, goddesses-damn it – not to embark on a new war. And it would be a new war, because from what he'd seen of the changes in Hyrule, the council wasn't about to relinquish its hold on the country. For Farore's sake, he and Zelda were attacked on their way into Ordon on the strength of a rumor. He'd dragged the only two survivors into the village for interrogation and learned through Garmin, one of the leading members of the Resistance nowadays, that the ambush was meant for the suspected murderers of "Lord Dragmire." Something about bringing them to justice. He'd snorted at that. Link was willing to bet a considerable number of rupees that the "council," in whatever shadowy existence it possessed, had never actually seen the real Ganondorf, although it was inconsequential now. The two terrified guards were at the mercy of the Resistance and the princess herself, and he was also willing to bet a somewhat smaller number of rupees that Zelda intended to return them to their masters. Whatever war was brewing, she was about to set it all into motion.
Link rolled over, and then again, letting the warmth beat down on his face as it crested the ruins of the Arbiters Grounds. Shading his eyes, he glanced around curiously, trying to find the source of the uneasy feeling that had woken him, but the expanse was empty. Not even a bird. No clouds in sight. Annoyed, he sat up and stretched, growling at the mess of his blankets and sleeping roll. Maybe he would explore the temple a bit more today. The sound of the sand skittering along the sandstone always gave him a kind of rush; it reminded him of wind through high branches, or air whistling through his fur. He'd slowly plugged away at the massive network of tunnels, and compiled a detailed map that even he found impressive, although it didn't hurt that he'd found a few nice treasures along the way, either. At any rate, there weren't many unmapped chambers left, and since this morning was probably somewhere around day… day the-pack-is-feeling-light, he should probably move on and leave some mystery for another day. He yawned. Stretched again.
Wasn't there a cave, just before the ruins? Yes. He'd gotten some fairy tears there once, with Dark Link. Long time ago. Could use some more.
Shuffling around lazily, he collected his things: rolled up his bed, neatly stowed his weapons, thought guiltily of Zelda and-
Link blinked. It was there before, wasn't it? It absolutely had been there before – been there just last night when he happened to strip off his gauntlets to brush out the stray sand, the same place it had been all his life. Except it wasn't there. Something like fear chased through his veins. Shock. Relief. Grief. Confusion. Must be a trick of the light. It's a trick of the light.
It wasn't. He scrambled to the brightest part of the courtyard and stared, practically boring a hole through the flesh with his intensity. Turning his hands this way and that, rubbing and scratching at the skin, squeezing and releasing white-knuckled fists, Link began to feel numb. Empty. He sat down heavily on the stairs to the Mirror dais.
It would happen here.
His eyes stung from staring for so long, and he finally shut them, pressing his palms into the sockets. He checked his left hand again just for good measure.
It was gone. The Triforce of Courage had left him.
"Will he return?"
"In his own time," she replied calmly, although her mind was in turmoil. Books, maps, and letters cluttered the table in front of her, but despite the mess, no progress had been made. Zelda sighed, palms braced on tiny patches of bare wood. "They will have arrived at the castle by now, but perhaps we may still save face. We should bring a small company – a show of support, but diplomatic."
The scarecrow of a lieutenant shuffled closer, brows knit in consternation, as he muttered, "I shouldn't have let them go. It was a grave mistake." Then, to her: "However, I still believe Link's presence would bolster morale – he- Your Highness, his fighting skills are invaluable, especially in the context of a convoy. Yes, the council may be alerted by now but- would it not be to Your Highness' advantage to await his return?"
He means well. Zelda breathed in through her nose, slowly, in an attempt to hide her growing irritation. This was not a conversation she wished to have given the present circumstances. Alternatively, if Link hadn't rushed off to soul-search in the desert- That was cruel. She knew full well that he needed to go, needed to collect himself and rejuvenate just as much as he needed to see the emptiness of the frame. Maybe one would bring about the other. He needed whatever small amount of closure he could find. Goddesses knew that she needed some sort of closure as well despite the stinging questions buzzing about her mind incessantly: Was Midna right? More importantly, was Midna really willing to risk everything on her theory? Why did she, Zelda, do nothing to caution Midna? Why did she let him go…?
In the darkest corners of her mind, she entertained selfishness as the true motivator. She wanted the throne so badly, perhaps she let it cloud her judgment; removing the threat of the Mirror equated to preventing another Twilight Invasion from someone like Zant. However, selfishness would have placed Dark Link on the opposite side of the portal – unless Midna was correct. Would certainty have altered the events in the Mirror Chamber? Everything hinged on Midna's little theory, and Zelda still trusted in Nayru to guide her. There were simply too many variables and possible outcomes for Zelda to even begin to quantify, and so she didn't, instead choosing to look forward to the problems at hand; namely, Lieutenant Garmin, formerly of the Imperial Guard, and his grand ideas of revolution.
Carefully, Zelda nodded towards the man. Pensive as always. "We simply do not have the luxury of time, Lieutenant. If it were not for the sensitivity of this matter, I would not be opposed to your suggestion. However, as we speak, I suspect our stories are being mercilessly shared, spreading like wildfire through the castle walls, much to our disadvantage. We must act before the council organizes an assault."
Garmin regarded her quietly. His thin face twisted in thought, dark hair matted to his forehead from the stained felt hat he always wore. The fire danced lazily in the tarnished buttons on his battered lieutenant's uniform, which Zelda noted had been issued some years before the Twilight Invasion. He claimed it was his father's and, since joining the Resistance after the coup, had shed his garb from the Imperial Guard and taken to exclusively wearing the fraying suit, complete with tailcoat and three-point felt hat. His loyalty was touching. As if sensing her train of thought, he backed down. "Of course. Your Highness is correct. The council is the proximate threat."
"Will you accompany me, Lieutenant?"
"It would be my honor, Princess." He swept into a regal bow. "Please excuse me, Your Highness. I will see to the preparations."
She waited for the pop of the door behind him before she let out a deep, bone-wracking sigh and allowed her face to crash into cold, almost-shaking hands. Before he'd left, Link had bluntly suggested she earn her sovereignty this time, and although the comment had stung at first, she understood his perspective. Now, it was sinking in, taking root, fracturing her confidence little by little, even as she traced the Triforce of Wisdom with the tip of her nail. The Resistance had been largely crushed by the council and its merciless leader Hart over the years, but the surviving pockets trickled into Ordon over recent weeks, whispering about the rumored existence of a princess. Hopeful, but skeptical. With literally only the clothes on her back as proof of royal blood, her tiara having been lost somewhere during the wild fight on horseback, the thought of organizing – mobilizing – people began to eat away at her. Hart had been the face of Ganon's government for decades now. How could she plan like this? What happens next? Crimson eyes distracted her for a moment and she fought to clear her mind. If only she could show them-
"We move," she told herself out loud. "We go to the castle; we announce our intentions to the council."
The thought made her laugh ruefully. As if the visit would end there, with the head councilman handing over the crown and scepter. This will mean war. This will bring death and destruction to rival the Invasion. With such a high price, how badly did she want the throne? How much did she need it? However, even with her Wisdom, she could only see herself seated in the castle once more – there were no alternate realities. If she failed to reclaim the throne, would Power rise again to fill the void? Zelda knew better than to curse the goddesses, but… but the endless cycle, the endless conflict between Power, Wisdom, and Courage, the knowledge of this cycle – it made her nauseous. Weary. She sensed some despair, but kept it at bay, for now. There were plans to make, and she needed to heed Link's advice, to clamber down from her royal high horse-
A light knock on the door.
Smiling slightly, she gathered her folded cloak from one of the armchairs by the crackling fire and swung it about her shoulders, striding the few short steps to the door. "Good evening, Renado."
"I'm sorry, Midna. I think we've all drawn the short stick here."
"Glomin, no." Pressing a hand to her forehead, Midna slunk down into the throne, her eyes squeezed shut against the nonsense in front of her. "For the love of- Do you have any idea why it's happening at least?" Waspishly, she thought to herself: Could you sound any more desperate? "What are they saying?"
The loyal captain of the guard, a stout Twili in a well-worn cloak and felt hat, shrugged, and she could almost see the awkwardness he felt rolling off of his heavyset shoulders in waves. "Midna…" he began. "Midna, we both know nothin's changed."
"I can't believe this-" Springing to her feet, she began pacing in front of him. "You know, I told him- I knew this wouldn't work. Ahh, why am I not surprised? Have you at least heard from him?"
"Not a peep."
Midna continued pacing aggressively, thoughts whirling out of control with every step. Unsurprisingly, Dark Link never managed to make nice with the Twili despite being her personal guest in the palace. Particularly, the xenophobic, overly paranoid, and insufferably overprotective council remained unconvinced of his lack of regicidal plans, and unceasingly advised for his "dismissal" from the palace grounds. She still wasn't entirely sure what was being insinuated there… even after he set out for the Outlands, the council wasn't pleased, and she could only assume that they wanted to kill him. Midna couldn't help snorting at that, prompting a knowing smirk from her captain.
"They were never gonna be satisfied, Midna. You 'n' I, we both knew that. I think the boy knew it too – maybe even before we did."
"It's still absurd. I should just tell the council to go-"
Someone tried to batter the throne room doors, and almost disinterestedly Midna waved a hand to remove the barrier she had placed, allowing the doors to buckle uncertainly before springing open. A young Twili hurried towards them, clutching something tattered in his hand. Turning her back, she let Glomin deal with whatever it was – the more pressing issue for her remained, and she wasn't sure how to convince the superstitious members of the court that the dimming of the already meager light wasn't due to some divine fury directed towards poor Dark Link. In fact, if anything, it was almost certainly related to the Mirror, but she wouldn't have a definitive answer until goddesses-damned Dark Link returned from the Outlands with however many Elders he could find. Which probably won't be very many, she reminded herself wryly. The Elders lived in the Outlands for a reason, and no one ventured out to bother them without a good reason, and even then, it was next to impossible to find the Elders' settlement without a very good reason, because they found you.
"I think the sky burning is a pretty damn good reason, and if that's not enough, he's got the best possible reason in that stupid bag," Midna muttered to herself. "I'm sure even those old bats can see it from wherever they- What? Why are you looking at me like that?"
Glomin had planted himself just over her shoulder with a very serious scrunch to his face. Narrowing her eyes, she glanced around for the young Twili but he was just shutting the door behind him on his way out. Not a good sign. In the split second she had before the bad news, she braced herself by holding her breath-
"Midna," he started, then stopped, and then tried again. He gingerly placed a stiff piece of black fabric in her hands, stained with a mixture of mud and flaky purple- "One of my lieutenants is downstairs in a holding cell… says he-"
Quietly, bracing again, failing: "What did he do to him?"
"Off a balcony, day he left. Just confessed though. 'Bout to go check the area but…"
Midna watched the captain shake his head sadly and she wanted to shake him, shake this insane lieutenant, shake herself from when she had decided it would be a brilliant idea to send Dark Link to the Outlands on his own while she sat here uselessly on her goddesses-damned throne. How did she not know? All she could see were crimson eyes and the Mirror, and beyond that- beyond that, blue irises and betrayal. And they were fading. And goddesses damn it, but he had never left. He had never made it out of the grounds. He had come all this way to this terrible alien place, and had left the throne room that morning with so much hope when she gave him the medallion, and she- her own lieutenant of the guard-
"Oh my goddesses, Link. What have I done?"