A/N: PLEASE READ.
Guys… This is the last chapter. This is the end. I seriously can't believe we made it this far and I have so much I want to say to all of you, but for the sake of keeping your feelings solely on what's going on in the story versus real life, I'll keep this short here and I'll write out a follow up author's note you can find on my Tumblr, along with a slew of questions I asked you that you also wanted me to answer.
As you're reading the ending, just keep in mind that THERE IS MORE TO COME. While this is the end of my Twilight Princess novelization, I have so much more planned for these characters. There is a sequel (titled When Heroes Fall) so please remember that and make sure to have a look once you're done here! Please just remember that if you feel like anything is left unanswered here, I did so because I plan to answer everything in the sequel. I did my best with this ending, and more than anything, realism and true, raw human emotion were the most important for me to nail. Endings are so, so, SO touchy, and I knew going in that there was no possible way I was going to be able to make every single one of you happy, but I did my best. I literally poured my heart and soul into this – this story is my baby, guys! I've loved it and cared for it so much, so I really hope you guys appreciate the ending I've carefully crafted.
I hope you've laughed with me and smiled with me. I hope you've been angry with me and I hope you've cried with me. I love you guys, thank you so much. Without further ado, please read and enjoy the final chapter of What Makes a Hero, and let me know your final thoughts down below...
This chapter was revised as of 6/2/17 - Polished, minor errors and typos fixed.
What Makes a Hero
By: Selphie Kinneas 175
Chapter 67: What Made a Hero
When morning came and the hero awoke, it felt as if someone had dropped a horse drawn carriage on top of him.
His whole body was extremely heavy, and it was so difficult to move that it was almost as if his limbs were glued to the floor. His head pounded with each beat of his heart, the sparse amount of light that filtered in through his rapidly blinking lashes giving him a splitting migraine. He moved his hand up to rub his aching temples, only to notice that it was bandaged up, but he couldn't think of why.
He sat up in a flash, a quick and uncomfortable rush to his head making him momentarily regret it. He looked down at himself, noticing that not only were both of his hands bound – as well as a few fingers separately beneath that on his left – but his ankle and his foot were, too.
"What in Hyrule…" he whispered, and the immediate scruffiness in his throat forced him to cough.
He rubbed at his neck, his voice protesting use just the same, but he still couldn't think of why he was in this state. What happened that he couldn't remember?
"Midna?" he tried, looking to his shadow, but there was no response.
He got to his feet with a bit of a struggle, and as he looked around his mind began to piece everything back together. He was in Ordon… he was in his house… She was gone.
He sighed and hung his head, allowing the deafening silence of his surroundings to engulf him for quite some time. When he finally lifted his gaze, he could barely think. He didn't notice that Renado had cleaned his home for him, having dusted and tidied up the various things Link had knocked over in his prior disorientation. He didn't notice that the fire was slowly trickling out within the hearth, and he didn't even notice the pumpkin soup that the shaman left for him in the hanging pot for when he should inevitably awake famished. His eyes were glazed over, his heartbeat was quickly rising, and so all these things went unseen.
Without a moment of debate, he turned to his door and headed down his ladder in a flurry. Ilia, Rusl, and all of the children were playing just outside in the clearing, but he didn't even look in their direction.
"Link!" Colin called, noticing that his big brother was mounting his steed, "Where are you going?"
Still avoiding eye contact, he turned Epona toward the exit and replied coldly, "Don't worry about it," just before delivering a swift nudge to his mare's sides and sending her out of the forest and toward the field.
"Wait, Li-" Ilia tried, but Rusl held her back.
"Let him go. He just needs some space to clear his head," the older man explained, "He'll be back."
Ilia looked at him worriedly, but he gave her a reassuring nod and she gave in with a defeated sigh.
"Is Link gonna be okay?" Beth asked, gazing nervously up at the adults, the other children soon following suit.
There was a long pause, a deep intake of breath in preparation of giving an answer, followed by quick reconsideration and another long pause. It crossed his mind to just say 'yes,' to tell them that Link was going to be okay, but he had learned by now that lying to them – even with good intent – was never the right response. These kids had been through so much, had learned and grown up so fast that there was simply no point in demeaning them with a false reply just for the sake of keeping their spirits high.
No, it was often best to change the subject all together.
"Why don't we go see if we can catch a fish for Sera's cat? Hm?"
There were frustrated groans and discouraged sighs, but they all gave in anyway. They knew there was no pestering for an answer, as when the adults didn't want to give one, they simply wouldn't, no matter how much it was desired. They were smart enough, however, to grasp that Link's wellbeing was clearly spiraling, and their youth and naivety did not prevent them from noticing that the whole of Ordon was frantic over their hero's mental state. So, despite wanting nothing more than to chase their big brother down and force him to come to his senses and play with them like he used to, they followed Rusl to the lake beside the village, and they would give it their all to put their adolescent minds on cheerier things, for everyone's sake.
By now, Link was already in the process of crossing Hyrule Field. He clutched firmly to the reins, staring down his destination in the distance – Castle Town. He could see from here that both the town and the castle itself had taken quite the beating, most of the tall peaks and elegant spires having been destroyed completely. He was sure that many people would be at work to restore their once-glorious kingdom to its former state, but that was not why Link ventured there.
He reached the drawbridge and left Epona with a quick pat and a forced smile. He made his way into the town only to see that everyone was running amok. Townsfolk, guards, and several men in armor that he did not recognize were all doing whatever they could to help rebuild the town. Some were simply tidying up overturned shopping stalls, while others were moving large chunks of debris. He could see the princess in the distance standing with an unfamiliar man at her side, and the members of the Resistance were not far behind. Link scoffed, turning a corner and entering the warm, inviting bar.
"Oh, sweet pea!" Telma suddenly screeched as she made her way around the counter towards Link. She grabbed him in for a hug that he did not reciprocate before holding him at arm's length by the shoulders and saying with a broad grin, "Let me get a good look at ya!"
Her smile diminished as soon as she did just that. He had dark circles under his eyes, a frown on his lips, and overall he just looked tired and completely unlike himself.
"You don't look so good, honey."
He brushed her off, "I'm just here for a drink."
She nodded apprehensively, shocked at his snippy reply, "Sure, sweet pea, alright, I'll get you your milk right a-"
"No," he shook his head, "Some ale or some whiskey, just whatever alcohol you have will do."
She looked at him with narrowed eyes, an expression of both utter confusion and deep concern displayed clearly on her mature features.
He sighed, growing slightly frustrated at the prolonged pause, "A drink… please, Telma."
She gave in apprehensively, heading back around the counter, "If you say so, honey. You won't drink too much I take it?"
He nodded and agreed, but had no intention of keeping to that.
He grabbed the full mug of Hylian lager she handed to him and took a seat at the empty table at the back of the bar where he often sat with his friends. They were busy helping the princess at the moment, and he was honestly glad to get the alone time. Even though there were various other patrons seated at other tables around him, he still felt alone. He tuned out the drunken ramblings of the men at the bar, the clinking of glasses and the chugging of liquids; all he heard were the musings in his own mind and the rapid beating of his own heart.
He sat, his body hunched forward with his elbows resting atop the table and his left hand loosely grasping the handle of his mug, sipping every so often with a tight brow, his mind obviously keeping him plenty entertained despite being alone. He remembered everything that happened the day before as clear as ever now, and yet, he felt too exhausted to do anything about it. Midna left, she was gone, and he beat himself up for it. Was it rightly so? Yes and no, he told himself, thinking that the blame deserved to be equally placed. She lied to him, led him on and broke his heart, but he was dumb enough to believe it. He was naïve and he fell for her every word.
He shook his head and sighed, taking another gulp of his beverage. She wrecked him more than she would ever know; he wasn't sure he would ever be able to be himself again. For Din's sake, he was even taking it out on those who remained here for him. He felt bad for leaving the villagers the way he did, and a pang of guilt hit him hard when he realized how callously he had replied to Colin just before taking off earlier. If Midna had been in his shadow, he was sure she would have come out and asked him what in Farore's name his problem was, as it was so uncharacteristic of him to behave so coldly.
He couldn't explain it, he just felt… so different. He didn't feel like Link, the hero or the goat herder. He felt like a stranger in his own skin, like some kind of evil entity was dictating his every action and reaction, except the only evil entity within him was himself. He just felt mad about everything, he felt angry at everyone, but more than anything he just felt numb.
He took another swig.
Numb was the perfect word.
Numb. That was exactly how he felt.
"Numb…" he whispered, staring unflinchingly at the flickering candle in the center of the table.
"My stars! If it isn't Link!"
He heard that voice, recognized it, and in a flash his much-desired solitude was gone.
Shad rushed up and clapped the hero on his shoulder, "I do say, old boy, what a sight it is to see you out and about!"
The scholar took a seat across the table just as Auru came up and sat down at his right, "I am surprised to see you so well so soon, Link."
"Shouldn't you still be resting or something? You took one hell of a beating, yeah?" Ashei entered at the last, pulling out her chair and sitting opposite the old man.
But Link said nothing, nor did he look up at them.
"Uh… Are you drinking? Like, an actual drink?" Ashei asked, staring at his beverage and noticing that he was drinking from a mug as opposed to a glass as he usually did.
He glanced up at her, nodded, and swallowed hard, slamming his now-empty cup down on the table for it to soon be replaced with a full one by one of Telma's assistants.
The three lifelong friends exchanged bewildered glances, each one understanding what Link went through and knowing exactly what he was trying to come back from, but each of them were still baffled at just how he was taking it all. Not only was he not acting like himself, but he didn't even look like himself, and it chilled each of them to the bone.
"Perhaps just some more time to cool your head would be wise, old chap?" Shad suggested, but he got no response.
"Link, I think Shad's right," Auru tried, "You should be spending time with your loved ones… They can help you to heal internally."
But Link said nothing. He avoided their stares and he simply continued to chug his beer. They didn't know him, they didn't know Midna, and they didn't know the situation. They didn't understand, and they never would, so for them to give him advice like they knew what they were talking about? All it did was agitate him.
"This is about that Midna girl, am I right?" Ashei dared to ask, finally eliciting the faintest hint of a reply that any of them had yet to receive – eye contact.
"You felt something for her… and she left, yeah?" she went on, her voice gentle and compassionate as opposed to her usual snarky way of speaking; it was obvious to her that he was very sensitive about the whole subject, and she knew that her brand of typically rude comments would be misplaced and uncalled for.
"Partly, yes," was all that he said, and was all that needed to be said. He turned his attention back to his drink and it was clear to everyone at the table that it was time to change the subject. They were all intelligent enough to understand that they just couldn't understand, and that trying to help him in this state was futile.
Sometimes, letting someone ride the waves of their insanity was necessary before they could be helped – after all, it would be impossible help someone that just didn't want it.
Shad cleared his throat, "Well, it appears that our dear princess is all prepared to marry."
'You know, you've changed a lot since all of this started.'
It was back. That voice… Her voice…
"Ah, yes," Auru added, eager to assist in the topic change, "Prince… Viscen? Yes, I believe that was his name."
'Yeah. You've become so… heroic.'
He hung his head and rubbed his eyes, groaning quietly at the disruption of his dreadfully brief state of peace.
"Seems like a jerk to me," Ashei scoffed.
"Why's that?" the older man asked.
'I know, that was corny, wasn't it?'
He tugged violently at his hair, wanting all the talking to just stop. The conversation in his head mixed with that of the one going on around the table was enough to make him sick.
'No, I just never thought that would be a word used to describe me.'
She took a sip of her ale with a shrug, "Just looks like a jerk, yeah? The way he walks around our town like he owns the place, looks down his nose at us like we're inferior. He just rubs me the wrong way."
'Why not? That's exactly what you are. You put others before yourself and do everything you can to help even though hardly anyone ever cares or even knows what you've done. I couldn't do that.'
"I do say, Ashei, you are quite quick to judge," Shad replied as he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, "He seems like a nice young chap to me."
Ashei laughed, "You really think this guy would just marry into this kingdom when it's at its lowest point, spend all of his own land's resources to rebuild it, and still have to share the rule with our princess out of the goodness of his heart?" she shook her head, "I don't buy it."
'What do you mean you couldn't do that? You do that every single day.'
He couldn't even hear what was going on around him. He was now completely oblivious to those at the table with him or the fact that they were even speaking. All he could hear was what his mind was manifesting.
'No, I don't.'
"Despite what you think, some people actually do do things out of nothing but pure intentions," Shad argued, "Perhaps this gentleman saw that we were in need and wanted nothing more than to help us during our desperate time. Or, some rumor that he and the princess have been matched up for many years, as it were, so perhaps the arrangements were made before the destruction."
'Yes, you do. Every single day that you continue to help me with this you're helping strangers that don't even know you exist. You're helping save two worlds from corruption.'
Just stop. He wanted to scream. Just stop.
'All I do is hang out in your shadow and pester you to get up every once in a while when you're down.'
She shrugged it off, "Well, all I know is that I feel bad for Zelda having to marry that guy, especially since she hardly even knows him. She had this guy picked out for her; she didn't even really have a say in the matter. That just sucks, yeah? I couldn't do that."
'Exactly. Where would I be if I didn't have you picking me up when I fall?'
Nowhere, he thought. Nowhere.
Without a word, Link got to his feet and headed for the door.
"Is everything oka-" Telma called as he hurried past her, but he was gone before she could even finish. She looked over at the familiar table and everyone there seemed just as stunned at his sudden departure as she was.
"What in Din's name was that about?" Shad questioned, his face contorted by unbridled confusion.
Ashei sighed, feeling truly bad for him, "He's been through a lot, yeah? I'm surprised the kid's keeping it together as well as he is."
"I just hope he can come back from this," Auru stated, and they all fell equally silent.
Link didn't care if they were shocked, perplexed, or if it didn't even bother them at all, he just needed to get away. He felt so alone, and so, in turn, he just wanted to be alone. It didn't quite make sense to him, but… at the same time it did. Being around people almost made him feel lonelier; all it did was remind him of what he lost.
He went around to the alley behind the bar, finding multiple crates of various brews of alcohol beside the back door. He dug into his pouch and brought out a few hundred rupees. He left them on one of the unopened barrels before grabbing as many bottles of liquor his arms could carry and taking off. He made his way out of Castle Town, holding on tight through the dense crowds. He emerged into the bright, afternoon sun, greeting Epona on the grass. She neighed a warm hello as he placed all but one of the bottles in her side satchels. He pulled the cork out of the one he kept and immediately started guzzling. He stopped with a huff and a grimace, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth before plopping down on the ground beside his companion.
He rested his back up against the short, white wall that led to the Castle Town bridge. He leaned his head back against it as well, gazing up at the clouds rolling by above him. He remembered watching the clouds with her before, too, and he was instantly mad at himself again. It seemed like there was nothing he could do, nowhere he could go and no one he could talk to that wouldn't remind him of her. There was something, someone, or some place that brought her to mind anywhere he went, and he couldn't stand it.
He took another swig.
"Numb," he mumbled.
It was the perfect word.
And another swig.
Epona, sensing that her master wasn't well, reached her head down and nuzzled him in the crook of his neck. He smiled, however faint, but it was a genuine smile nonetheless.
He reached over and pat her neck, "Thanks, girl. You always know how to make me feel better," he paused, "You would never leave me, would you?"
She whinnied, and it was enough to convince him to smile again.
Despite the comfort of his beloved mare, there was still no relief for him. His insides ached with every waking breath, and as he sat there throughout the day, the hours ticking by and by until the sun was starting to descend, all time was lost to him. He didn't notice when the tears quietly escaped his lashes, nor did he notice when anger crept back in and his fists clenched at his sides, and he especially didn't notice when the bitter emptiness took hold and he did naught but sit and stare in utter silence for hours. None of it mattered to him anyway.
Night was now upon them, and the temperature had dropped significantly. The drink had taken its hold on him, but he still had a mind enough to head home. He got onto Epona's back and spurred her in the right direction. Around midnight he finally stumbled up his ladder and into his treehouse, but he didn't quite make it to the bed. There was no fire, no food, and no company, and so his house was freezing, but Ilia had been waiting.
He had been so out of it that he hadn't noticed her watching for him on a nearby stump in his clearing, worry plastered on her pretty face as she waited up for him nervously. When he hobbled through his front door, she followed after him, eager to make sure that he was alright. By the time she got up there, however, he was already passed out on the floor. She checked him over apprehensively just to ensure that he hadn't done anything to get himself hurt, and the only thing she noticed that was strange was the bottle of liquor in his hand. She picked it up and set it on a nearby table before getting a fire started in the hearth.
The fireplace warmed up the whole of his small home in no time, and she was happy to see that he was no longer shivering. Her heart physically ached from the amount of worry and anxiety she felt over him, but she knew there was nothing she could do about it, at least not yet. He needed some time to himself to collect his thoughts and his feelings, and to tame his inner demons, and so she would give him that.
With a kiss on the cheek, she placed a blanket over the top of him and exited the treetop dwelling, allowing her hero to get his much needed rest.
Link's state of sleep was awful. He endured nightmare after nightmare, seeing nothing but all the pain he had endured over the past year flash before his eyes again and again. He saw beasts and monsters and nightmarish places that he was trapped in. He saw chilling fire and he saw burning ice. He saw time stand still and he saw it slip through his fingers like grains of sand. He saw demons and he saw phantoms. He saw four walls closing in with dozens of hellish, villainous eyes glaring at him through a blinding darkness. He felt strong hands grasping at his throat, and the deep voice of the demon king reverberated off the confined walls of his subconscious.
The next morning came much slower than it should have, and Link awoke as soon as the sun pierced his eyes. He squinted and groaned, his body immediately protesting alertness. His stomach turned and he instantly felt like he was going to be sick. He went to the nearest waste bin, but nothing came up. He sighed as he hugged the sides of the basket, closing his eyes and just rocking there momentarily, wondering what in the world he was doing to himself.
"Midna…" he whispered, moving his hands up to grasp his head, the discomfort in his still-mending fingers barely even present to him.
Without another thought, he knew exactly what he wanted to do, what would make him feel the slightest bit better.
He hastened out of the house, not even caring to change into clean clothes or to eat any breakfast. There were a few people outside just as usual, but he didn't even bother to see who it was. He mounted Epona and was off to wherever the fancy struck, which, today, was the lake.
He spent the day thinking and gulping down drink after drink. He couldn't turn his mind off, even when the rum set in; it just made the nagging thoughts easier to deal with. He didn't like what he was doing, what he was becoming, but he couldn't stop himself. He didn't like ignoring his loved ones, but he just couldn't face them. He didn't like being so unproductive, but he just couldn't bring himself to do anything. He didn't like turning to alcohol to make himself feel better, but it was the only thing that took the edge off. It didn't erase the pain, didn't let him forget it was there, it just dulled it ever so slightly.
To him, it and Epona were the only things he could count on, the only ones that would be there for him day in and day out and would never let him down or leave him. And so, that was what he devoted his time to.
He went home that night and passed out, only to have Ilia tuck him in just as she had the night before. His dreams remained horrifying just as they always were. He dreamt of an all-enveloping darkness that had hands of its own that grasped him tighter and tighter. He saw himself squirming for freedom but he was never strong enough. He was always too frail, too weak, too far gone. The darkness drowned him, suffocated him - it buried him alive.
He never even noticed when he woke up in tears and a cold sweat. He spent the next day with his drink in hand and his horse at his side on a different patch of grass just as he did for the day after that, the day after that, and the day after that for at least a week, maybe a little more. He drank himself to the point where he was even farther from being Link than he had originated. It became all he cared about, and those around him began to worry even more. Uli and Rusl tried to speak with him, but he never said more than two words in reply. Colin and the other kids tried to get him to play, but he always shrugged them off. Ilia tried to comfort him, but he just couldn't handle it.
On the surface he was numb, but his goal was to become completely numb to his every emotion. Feeling was just too hard, too painful. The blood splattered across his soul was incomprehensible. The lives that were on his hands and the images of the various hells they went through together were too grotesque of an image to stomach anymore. The memories hurt too much, her voice hurt too much. He didn't want to hear it anymore, and so that's when he drank more.
"I just wanna be numb," he whispered into his fourth bottle that day, not noticing a single tear that snuck down his cheek.
He went home that night in an appalling state, and this time, Ilia was waiting for him inside his house. He stumbled through the front door and almost stopped cold when he saw the young girl standing beside a warm fire.
"Link, can we talk?" she asked, crippling concern thick in her voice.
He was silent for a moment, wavering on his feet a bit as the drink threw off his equilibrium before shaking his head, "No. Tired. Need sleep."
"Link, please?" she tried again, stepping closer to him and grabbing his hands to get his attention.
"Lay down with me," he exhaled indolently, his eyelids drooping from exhaustion, "Too tired. Come lay down."
"W-Wait, what?" her eyes went wide in disbelief, but before she could get anything out of him he was already heading up the two ladders to his bed beneath the window.
She simply watched for a moment, going over what he had said in her mind and wondering what she was getting herself into. She followed him hesitantly, eager to have a conversation with him and if this is how he wanted to have it then so be it.
He took off his cap and his tunic, tossing them aside before getting comfortable and giving her room to join him. She looked on reluctantly for a moment, unsure of where this was going to go and what would happen if it went as far as she knew it could. She lay down beside him, slowly resting her head atop the pillow and staring over at him. He had bags under his eyes and it was obvious that he was drained, but it was more so mentally than anything else. He looked over at her just the same, but it just felt… off.
"Can we talk now?" she asked.
"I don't know," he replied, closing his eyes, "Tired."
"Wait, please stay awake, Link," she begged, placing her hand on his cheek, "I… need you."
He opened his eyes and narrowed them in her direction, "You… need me?"
She nodded with a smile, "Yes, Link… I really do."
Without thinking, he pulled her into him and he kissed her. Excitement burst in her chest, and she reciprocated in an instant. She lost all sense of time, but she was sure that the unexplainable bliss went on for a while. In the back of her mind, she scolded herself – she knew that, with Link being beside himself, this may not be genuine, but she just… she couldn't help but love it anyway. This was all she ever wanted, all she ever dreamed of and hoped for. The touch of his skin… his loving embrace… How could she say no?
He pulled away only long enough to whisk off his ivory shirt, and he helped her with her dress. After that, everything was a blur. Despite her mind nagging her that he wasn't himself and that he might not understand exactly it was that he was doing, she was in heaven. She had loved this man since they were children, and her heart was able to convince the rest of her that he did mean this, that he did love her, and that this was the sincerest form of showing her that, even if her head didn't agree. The heart always seemed to win out in situations such as these, as it were.
They gave each other everything that night, and when morning came, Ilia's heart had stopped racing and her vision was no longer clouded by her extreme infatuation. She threw her legs over the side of the bed, the hero still sleeping soundly beside her. She dropped her face into her hands and just cried. She cried because she let her emotions get the better of her. She cried because she felt like she took advantage of him when he wasn't able to think clearly. She cried because she felt so stupid… she felt so, so, so stupid.
She got up, got dressed, and pulled something out of her pocket that had luckily remained in there through the night, and it was the reason she had been so desperate to talk to him last night. She placed the object on the center table on the bottom floor and left his home with haste.
Link awoke an hour or so later with a splitting migraine. He stretched and yawned, rubbing his closed lids with balled up fists. He glanced around the room, noticing that he had actually made it into his bed the night prior, which hadn't happened in a very long time. He saw that he wasn't sleeping in the center, and it appeared as if his bed had been made… for two?
At that moment he didn't know if it was because of the realization of what he did last night or because of his hangover, but he was instantly sick to his stomach. He leapt from the mattress and ran to the nearest waste basket, emptying what little was in his stomach into it. He coughed and heaved for several minutes, his brain pounding agonizingly against his skull with each motion. His arms like jelly, his body finally gave him a respite. He set the now-filthy bin aside and grabbed a nearby half-empty bottle of whiskey. He threw his head back, sloshed the liquid around in his mouth a few times, and then spit it out into the basket just the same. With a disgusted scowl he wiped off his face and got to his feet.
Had he really done that? Had she really done that? They really… They really did that, they really… Oh Gods…
Just as he was about to storm out of his home for a much needed rinse in the spirit's spring, something caught his eye. There was something placed on his table that hadn't been there before. He approached it with a furrowed brow and picked it up. It was a small, cloth pouch with a note attached to the red drawstring. He flipped it over and his heart sank in his stomach when he immediately recognized the handwriting.
'Mister Big Important Hero,
I hope this finds you well… I mean, I hope you're in a good place when you read this. I hope you have found peace within yourself and I hope more than anything that you don't hold hatred in your heart towards me, or even worse, towards yourself. I hope you know how much I care about you, and that if I could have made it any easier… I would have.
I asked Ilia to give this to you when she thought you needed it, so, hopefully that means that you're doing okay? I really hope you're doing okay…
Please, Link, don't do anything… stupid. If you ever need something to remember me by, I left you this… I hope you keep it close to your heart, and just remember that whenever you're missing me, I'm missing you, too…
He flung the bag open in a frenzy and what he found inside made his heart skip a beat.
It was the Twilight Crystal.
He was… mad. It made him so angry. All at once he felt all the fury he had been holding in, and, without thinking, he crumpled the note and threw the entire thing into the fireplace with all his might. A very audible crack could be heard as hundreds of pieces soared out of the pouch upon impact, an immeasurable number of shards now lying in the hearth. The crystal was broken, just like his heart – a suitable match, he thought.
He panted as he took in his handiwork, staring with rage in his eyes and clenched fists at his sides at the cackling fire, the dancing flames almost mocking him. He raised his hands to his head, wanting nothing more than to just scream all over again, but he refrained.
There was Ilia, and there was Midna, and, for Din's sake, he couldn't keep his head on straight! He started pacing again, mumbling to himself in a desperate attempt at making sense of it all.
"She left that for me… Why would she leave that for me! To torment me? I was… I was doing okay, wasn't I?"
He stopped still, running his fingers through his hair shortly before dropping to the ground and resting up against the leg of the table.
"No… No I wasn't doing okay at all. The drink was doing okay for me. But Ilia…" he sighed, dragging his hands down his sweaty face, "Oh, Nayru, Ilia… What have I done…"
Despite knowing that it didn't help at all, he grabbed another bottle and started downing it. He simply sat, drinking and watching the fire slowly die out for hours. His mind never stopped running him ragged, and he was so far past his wit's end it wasn't funny.
He had done the one thing he was the angriest at Midna for doing – he led Ilia on. He took advantage of her undying love for him, hoping that it would help fill the hole in his heart, but all it did was make it bigger. It made him feel worse, it made him feel emptier, it made him feel… awful. His careless actions had probably ended the last close relationship he had left; surely she wouldn't want to talk to him again after that, he knew he wouldn't if he were her.
He cried. The tears trickled down silently, but they were there. He felt so lost, so completely and utterly lost that he didn't know what to do anymore. He felt like he had abandoned all control, not just over himself, but over his life. He felt like he hadn't been able to make his own decisions since the light spirits declared him the hero well over a year ago. His entire life since then had been devoted to a single, selfless cause, and he had no choice in the matter. He thought, once he was done, that he would have his life back, but he couldn't have been more wrong.
He felt so much more lost now, so much more out of touch with everyone and everything than he had even when he was half way across the kingdom in some forsaken underwater temple or volcanic prison. He felt like a prisoner within his own mind, like he was kicking and screaming to be set free but no one noticed or even cared.
He wanted to be able to talk to someone, anyone, but when the opportunity presented itself, he just couldn't. He felt like he wasn't himself anymore. He couldn't hold a conversation with his mother or father, his brothers or sisters, not even Ilia. His mind would fog up and his heart would start beating faster than he could keep up with. His palms would sweat, his words would slur, and he wouldn't even be able to hear what they were saying because his own insanity would drown it out. He was constantly being plagued by images and sounds of the past, and he couldn't escape it.
He had nightmares relentlessly, but it wasn't just while he was sleeping. They followed him into his every waking moment, and he didn't know how much more of it he could take. He would see monster after monster, he would see their blood and he would see his own. He would see demons and ghosts, death and strife. He would see her, and he would see himself. No matter what he did, he was perpetually in a nightmare of his own creation. His mind couldn't shut it off, and so it drove him mad.
One week passed by, and then another, and then another, and Ilia did not come to visit him. He stopped even attempting to leave his home, losing all interest in seeing anyone, even Epona. He had his drinks, and that was all he cared to have. It blurred the images a bit. It muffled the sounds. For a moment, he could almost think for himself. Only for a moment. That was usually the time he would get sick again.
Rusl and Uli came to see him, but he still couldn't acknowledge them. Rusl had grabbed him by the shoulders and Uli took him in for a hug, but he was utterly lost. He was just a shell, an empty void of the man he once was. They tried and they tried. Uli sobbed and Rusl yelled, but the most they could ever get out of him was a plead for solitude, and so they gave it to him.
The parents kept their children at bay for the time being, knowing that Link was so far beside himself that he would unintentionally crush their spirits. No, the little ones certainly did not need to see their big brother in that state. They tried to protest, but to no avail, and it was justly so.
Ilia hadn't even tried to visit him in those weeks. She was confused, upset, but mostly she felt… embarrassed. She knew she had made love to a man that was not entirely himself, but her heart still wanted to convince her that he did love her in return, but she just didn't know. She felt ashamed, like it was written across her forehead for all to bear witness. So she stayed in her room for days, wondering why in all of Hyrule the Goddesses would do this to them. Why did they have to take him? Why? Now everything was ruined… They ruined him, and she didn't know if she had it in her to forgive them.
The nights came and went, as did the days, and Link barely ate. He consumed just enough to stay alive – a piece of bread here, a bite of an apple there; he just had no interest in eating, and so he rarely did. He just drank. He drank, and he drank… and he drank.
He had lost a substantial amount of weight, and he was sick often. Renado – who had remained in town with Luda for the sole purpose of making sure Link was physically well – tried to reason with him that his health was declining, but he didn't care to listen. The shaman and his daughter often left delicious, home cooked meals and pails of water or milk on his doorstep in hopes that he would eat, but it was rare that he would even take a bite out of any of it. They never stopped trying, though, and they never gave up hope.
One night, after at least one month had passed by in a blurry haze and the harsh cold of winter was diminishing into the fresh chill of spring, he was sitting in front of a fire that was barely flickering in his fireplace. Drink in hand, he tipped his head back for another mouthful only to discover that there was nothing left. He carelessly tossed the empty bottle aside and reached for another one, only to find that he was touching someone's hand instead.
He jumped in shock, turning to find none other than Ilia standing behind him – he had been so engulfed in his rampaging thoughts that he hadn't even heard her enter.
"Hi, Link," she chimed.
He hustled to his feet, but he couldn't find his voice. He stuttered a few incoherencies, but it came out as nothing more than gibberish.
She glanced around the room, the strong smell of alcohol heavy in the air. There were discarded bottles strewn haphazardly about the floor, and there was a small pile on the ground where he had been sitting of new, unopened ones as well. He was dressed in naught but his tan breeches, dirt and stains covering them from the waist to the hem. His hair was disheveled and matted with sweat, and he had extremely dark circles beneath both of his eyes. This was so not him, and she was almost positive she could feel her heart sinking into the pit of her stomach as she realized just how far he had fallen.
"Link… Can we talk?"
He shrugged, "I-I don't… I don't even know what to say."
"Just talk to me, Link. Talk to me like we used to when we were younger and we weren't so weighed down by so much nonsense."
He looked at her, he opened his mouth and he gave it an honest effort, but nothing came out.
She looked at him sadly, "We used to be able to talk so openly with each other… What happened?" she asked sincerely with a tense brow, taking a seat in front of the fire.
He followed suit, the words coming a bit easier now, "I'm just… I'm not the same person I was before."
"What do you mean?" she pressed.
"I… I saw and did things during the twilight that will never leave me, Ilia. I-I feel restless, I feel claustrophobic… I feel empty… I feel lost, or like a stranger that has no idea how to get home."
Ilia looked disheartened, "Aren't you home here?"
He hung his head, knowing that his next words were going to be hurtful but knowing at the same time that they needed to be said, "No…" he shook his head solemnly, "No, I'm not."
She wanted to cry then, in fact, she only held back the tears by giving it everything she had in her, "Well then… How do we get you home?"
He scoffed, "I don't even know where that is anymore."
"Sure you do," she forced a weak smile for his sake, "Isn't there a place or a person that makes you feel happy? Or… at the very least… takes a bit of the hurt away?"
He stared over at her, knowing that she was hoping he would say that she made him feel that way. In a way, she did, but not to the extent in which she was inquiring.
"You take some of the hurt away, Ilia… but happiness…" he paused and shook his head, "I don't know if I'll be able to find happiness again."
She hung her head, gazing down at her hands in her lap. She wanted so much to be that person that could help him, the one that could bring him out of his own darkness and help him to see the light again. She was beginning to realize, though, that she just wasn't that person.
"Do you remember that conversation we had back in Kakariko? Right after your birthday when your leg was broken?" Ilia questioned.
"Yeah, what about it?" Link furrowed his brow, unsure of where this was going.
"You said you felt years older than you were. You said you felt aged beyond how long you've actually been alive, that you'd seen and done more than men past their hundredth birthdays."
Link feigned a slight smirk at her now-hyper-precise memory, "I'm glad you can remember stuff that well again."
She didn't smile at that like he had hoped, her face retaining a very serious expression the whole time, "If you felt so aged and bogged down by everything that had happened up to that point, my question is... how old do you feel now, after having completed the worst of it?"
He parted his lips to answer, but before he could say anything she was quick to add, "I guess what I'm really curious about is... do you have any youth left within you anymore? Or do you feel so old that being around me is like sitting a child?"
Link was taken aback, "I, uh…" he stammered, but he felt completely backed up into a corner. He had no idea what to say, or what she wanted him to say.
Even though he was initially in shock at her words, she was right. He did feel old, and being around Ilia did feel like being around someone far too innocent to relate to. The thing about Ilia was… she was naïve, she was youthful, she was oblivious. But that didn't change the fact that she had been his best friend growing up, and he used to consider her his everything, and even though he couldn't feel that way anymore… she still did.
The look on his face was answer enough, "That's what I thought… and it's okay."
"No, really, it's okay," her voice cracked a bit, her sadness becoming more and more difficult to mask, "I understand that I'm not enough anymore."
"That's not it, Ilia, it's just…"
"What?" she urged, her beautiful emerald eyes twinkling with a wetness that was wanting so badly to escape.
He sighed, "It isn't that you aren't enough… nothing is enough for me anymore," he stared over at her, wanting nothing more than for her to realize how hard this was for him to explain to her, and that he was literally pouring his all out in front of her, "I feel no sort of contentment anymore, I feel… nothing most times. I feel like… I gave my all during my time as hero, and I gave so much of myself that I'm just left with nothing."
He gave her a moment to reply, but she didn't know what to say, so he went on.
"The best way I can think to explain it to you is this…" he adjusted his chair and sat facing her head on, leaving very little space between them, "Each time I left home, each time I got injured and had to have Renado fix me up, each time I had to watch either you, the children, or anyone else suffer, I gave away a piece of myself. I handed out piece, after piece, after piece, and now…" he gestured down at himself, "This is all that's left. I gave so much away that there's just… nothing now. I didn't leave enough for myself. There's just no more to give."
She closed her eyes and hung her head, having clearly lost the battle against the tears. His words broke her heart, and his analogy was the first time it had really been put into such a clear perspective for her – it was overwhelming.
"Please don't cry… I didn't tell you that to make you sad," he said, placing a finger under her chin and lifting her gaze up to meet his, "I just… wanted to help you understand."
"And, Midna…" she mumbled, her voice sounding meek, "She… understood all this?"
He nodded, "Yeah… She… She's the only one who could ever really get it. She's the only one who really knows what it all was like. That's why I just… feel so alone. There's no one I can really talk to about it. No one that really understands."
"Did you love her?" she asked without a moment's hesitation.
He exhaled as he sat back in his seat, having been both taken aback and awaiting that question all at the same time. He needed only a second to think about it, and that was only because he wasn't sure for a moment whether he should lie or not. But no, there was no sense in lying at this point.
"Yes… Yeah, I did."
"Then why did you…" she tapered off, the words struggling to come out and Link swallowed hard when he anticipated what was coming. She gathered the strength and finished strong, "Why did we sleep together if you don't love me?"
Oh Gods, he thought, letting out a long sigh.
"I do love you, Ilia," he tried calmly, but she was clearly deeply upset.
"No," she shook her head, "You love her."
He breathed deep yet again, rubbing his temples.
"I'm sorry…" she sobbed, "I'm not angry at you for it, I just wish… I wish more than anything that we could have worked out, and that night I thought… I thought…"
He had absolutely no idea what to say. Honestly, he wanted to just get up, grab his drink, and leave. It crossed his mind and he dwelled on it for quite some time, but he stopped himself. He told himself he was done being childish, he was done letting this conquer him.
After all, if Midna had been here the past month to see what a wreck he had become, he was sure she would have smacked him senseless.
"No," she cut him off, shaking her head, "It's okay. You were lonely, I was lonely… We were both trying to fill an unfillable void. We both just… made a mistake."
"I'm sorry…" he whispered, being completely at a loss for words. He didn't have a clue what to say to make her feel better, he didn't even know how to make himself feel better. He still felt so lost and confused within himself, there was no way he could figure out how to make her happy when he couldn't even do that for himself.
There was a prolonged silence then that permeated the very air in the room. The only sounds they could hear were those of the crackling fire and their own anxious heartbeats. No one said a thing for the longest time, but Ilia finally knew what to say to turn him around.
"Midna asked me to take care of you."
He looked up at her bewildered, "She… what?"
"She knew what she had to do was going to hurt you, and so she asked for me to do my best to make you happy again…" she scoffed, "Guess I failed that one."
His eyes wide as saucers, he was too caught up on the fact that Midna had requested that of her to catch her last bit, "There's more to this story… isn't there?"
Ilia bit her lip, looking up at him wondering how he knew. There was more… Midna told her that she had to lie to Link to make it easier on him, but she wasn't so sure it was her place to tell him. She didn't know what the lie was and she didn't know if telling him would help him or only hurt him worse.
"No," she fibbed, but he saw right through that.
"You can't fool me, you know."
She sighed, "Midna told me she had to lie to you… to make it easier for you."
She looked over at him, and his eyes were completely glazed over. She couldn't tell what he was feeling, and she had no idea if he was about to jump for joy or break everything within arm's reach.
"I-I don't know what she meant by that though," she added swiftly in an attempt to amend her previous words.
Link was totally silent. He didn't utter a sound for what felt like eons, but when he finally did, Ilia's heart skipped a beat.
"She does love me," it came out so quiet that she almost didn't catch it, "She does love me."
"She loves you?" Ilia parroted, "That's what she lied about? Are you sure?"
He nodded, but he still seemed so… blank, "Why would she lie about that…"
She could physically feel her heart snap in two at the thought of their love being true and reciprocated on both counts – why couldn't she have that? Why couldn't they work out? She had been here from the very beginning and she had loved him every single day since, but… it wasn't her that he wanted.
On the inside she was screaming, but more than anything… she just wanted him to be happy, and if letting him go to be with the one person whom he truly loved was the only way to do that, then she would do everything in her power to help them be together.
"Is there no way to reach her?" she asked, biting her lower lip hard as her fluttering heart protested the words.
He shook his head, "No… The path to her world is gone."
Ilia furrowed her brow, slightly perplexed by his word choice but she suspected he just meant that her kingdom was dreadfully far or unreachable due to other means.
"You can find another way to her, Link, I'm sure of it."
He scoffed, "It isn't that simple."
"Sure it is," she reached over and grabbed his hands, "You're Link. You're the hero! You can do anything. If you truly want to find her… I believe you can."
For the shortest moment, Ilia saw a spark of confidence in his eyes, but it died down quickly when he realized yet again that it was impossible.
"I can't, Ilia… There's no way to get there."
"Make a way," she smiled, "I know you can. After everything you've done… you're really going to let 'finding a way there' stop you?"
She saw it again – that spark. His eyes lit up at the mere sound of her words and it was like his heart finally started beating again. It was as if she had helped his lifeless frame to breathe again, like she had restored his vitality and his will to simply hope and to try.
He let out a deep breath he had been unknowingly holding in. He glanced down at their clasped hands and then back up at her pretty face, "Why are you saying this, Ilia?"
"Because I want you to be happy," she replied humbly and with the utmost sincerity, "There's nothing I want more in this world than just to see you smile again… like you used to."
And just like that, he couldn't help but to smile, "Ilia…" he cried, a single tear making its way down his cheek, "I do love you. Please don't ever question that."
She wiped away his stray tear and whispered, "I love you, too."
He leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek which she accepted blissfully, even if it was because she was sending him off to find his true love… she was glad he was going to be happy again.
When they parted and he started getting dressed, she spoke up, "Just make me a promise."
"What's that?" he asked, throwing on his long-sleeved shirt followed by his green tunic.
"It seems like it was forever ago that you told me you would teach me how to use the horse grass and you still have yet to. So I'm holding you to that promise… okay? You have to make it back home and teach me."
He smiled, "I will, I promise."
She watched from beside the fireplace as he strapped on his boots and gathered only his most important belongings. She followed him outside under the fading moonlight and stood by as he prepared Epona for travel. She cried as he saddled up his beautiful mare, but she hid it well.
When he dug his boot into the stirrup and hoisted himself up, he grabbed her hand and kissed it, saying at last, "Please tell the others that I'm alright… I don't want the kids thinking I've gone and abandoned them, but I just couldn't explain this to them."
She nodded, "I understand… and I will."
"Thank you. I'll try my best to visit soon."
Just as he was turning to leave, she ran up to him and grabbed his arm one last time, "Just… one more thing?"
He looked at her with that handsome face that she had been so desperately missing, and she almost lost her voice.
"Um… This might seem like an odd question..." she paused apprehensively, "If you were ever to have a child, what would you name it?"
He pursed his lips, taking a moment to think, "I would definitely want to name it after someone as important to me as Renado. I wouldn't even be alive today if it weren't for him. Why do you ask?"
She shook her head with a giggle, brushing it off, "Oh, you know, just for Colin and the other kids. They asked me for a name for their latest toy the other day and I just drew a blank."
He furrowed his brow a moment, but honestly didn't think much of it as his mind was so heavily dwelling on totally different matters.
"Okay," he gave a forced chuckle, "Don't let the others miss me too much."
"I won't," she feigned another meager smile, and with a solemn wave, he was off.
She stood there at the edge of the clearing where he first stumbled into her life, watching as he left it just the same. She loved him and she took his words to heart, but she still couldn't shake the feeling that she wouldn't see him again.
She clutched her hands tight to her chest, wishing that the pressure would ease her heartache. She wanted so badly to chase after him and beg him to just stay with her, but she couldn't. He would never have been happy. She was glad that she told him the truth, for it was the first time in so long that she had seen even the faintest flicker of hope in his eyes, but it still hurt her so much.
She wanted nothing more than for him to be happy again, and if allowing him that happiness meant sacrificing her own… she would do it gladly.
All she could do was stand and stare as the form of the horse and the rider became more and more faint, before they were finally gone entirely behind the thick trees. The sun was rising and the beautiful colors of dawn filtered in through the sky, but Ilia was oblivious to it. When she could no longer hear the galloping of Epona's hooves, she fell to her knees and just bawled.
She wailed and cried into her hands, the pain in her chest overwhelming her. She tried to concentrate on the fact that he would be okay, that he would find joy again and that he would be smiling, but it just didn't erase the agony in her own heart no matter how hard she tried.
"Ilia!" a loud, booming voice that belonged to none other than her father suddenly caught her attention, but she didn't turn toward him.
He bounded up to her and knelt down beside her, Rusl doing the same on the other side.
"What is it? What's wrong?" Rusl demanded.
"Link…" she sobbed, her breaths so ragged she could barely get a word out, "H-He left…"
"He leaves a lot these days, my girl, he jus' needs some time to himse-" her father tried but she interjected.
"No. N-No, not like before… He left to f-find her…"
"What!" Rusl yelled, and Ilia could hear a gasp from farther behind as well, likely from Uli or one of the children.
When the older man got to his feet and attempted to run after him, Ilia leapt forward and grabbed his hand, "No, Uncle Rusl! I told him to go… it's the only way he'll ever be able to be himself again… He never would have been able to be happy here… don't you see that?"
Rusl looked at her with a flash of anger in his mature eyes, but it was gone just as quickly, "You're right…" he sighed, staring down the path his son took out of the forest only briefly before the agony became too much, and he turned away.
Bo grabbed his daughter in for a tight embrace, telling her that everything was going to be okay, that Link was going to be alright and that he would make it back to them one day.
Rusl hung his head all the way back to where his family stood at the entrance to the village, beyond the treehouse and the stump he had sat on that night that Link found them all those years ago. As he made his way nearer, Colin ran up and closed the gap, stopping his father short as he noticed the tears in his boy's eyes.
Rusl bit his lip, his wife stepping forward and placing one hand on Colin's shoulder as the other held Calie, "He'll be back, sweetie," she said, trying to sound strong, but it was clear to everyone that she just wanted to break down.
"Do you promise?" Colin begged, glancing between his mother and father.
Rusl saw the desperation in his eyes, he understood it, but he wasn't exactly sure how to remedy it. The other children stood not too far behind, and Renado and the other parents made their appearances soon after, eager to see what the commotion was about.
He knelt down to Colin's level, placed two strong hands on his boy's shoulders, and looked him right in the eyes. His son was getting too old to be lied to – he was passed the point of stretching the truth for the sake of preserving his feelings; he was just too smart for that. He was old enough and mature enough to handle the truth, after what they had seen and been through, all the children were.
"Colin… Link is gone, but I truly believe that he will be back as soon as he finds himself again."
"What does that mean?" he questioned anxiously, "Is that a long time?"
"It might be… it might not be. Do you remember how you felt when the other kids wouldn't play with you? When you were all alone and had no one to be with?"
"Link feels like that. Like he's… always lonely."
"But we would've played with him!" Talo shouted.
Rusl feigned a smile, "I know, guys… I know. But he just… he felt sad inside, and nothing made it any better. So he's taking some time to try and find something that makes it better. Does that make sense?"
"I wish we could've made it better…" Beth muttered sadly.
Rusl sighed dejectedly, knowing that he felt the exact same way. Renado saw that he needed assistance and stepped in.
"Children… there are simply some things that only time can mend. Link just needs time… After all, you want him to be happy, don't you?"
Colin hung his head, "Yes…"
"Give him time… I do believe he will return to us when he is ready… when he has found himself again."
The kids still didn't quite understand, and they were hurt that their big brother would leave without saying goodbye, but they clung to their parents and they did the best they could to console their children, even though they needed consoling just the same. No one could say whether Link would come back or not, but they all held out hope that he one day would. Some thought he would be back in a week, some thought he would take months or years, while some thought that the bleakness of farm life would keep him away indefinitely, even despite having loved ones here.
Most of the adults didn't even understand, having not really been able to grasp the entirety of what their hero went through in the first place. Those that mattered most did, however, and they knew that he deserved to do whatever it would take to try and find some peace of mind again. They would miss him, they would worry over him every day, but if taking off would lead to his happiness… they would just have to keep missing him.
Link had already made it out into the field, and he spurred Epona on and on. He didn't know where he was going to go, but he was going to find a way back to Midna, he was sure of it. She still loved him… and that thought alone gave him the optimism he needed.
He didn't know how he would find her, or even if he would be whole enough to recognize it, but he would do everything within his power to be reunited with her. His mind still tormented him even now, and he kept a few bottles in Epona's saddlebags for company, but he would try to be better.
As much as it pained him to leave his loved ones in Ordon, he just knew there was no way he could ever be content there. Having to live with him and see him slowly degrading more and more each day would surely be more painful for them to witness than his departure. There was simply no way of picking up the pieces of his old life. No way to go back to what he was.
There was no going back for him now, and he knew that. He would never be the same, but the least he could do was find the person that understood why. Without her, there was no going on. Some hurts just run too deep. Some memories are impossible to forget. With her, though… perhaps it would be a bit easier to stomach.
'I love you, Link… with all my heart.'
He heard her voice again, only this time, he welcomed it.
"I love you, too, Midna… and I will find a way back to you again… I promise."
As the time went on, so, too, did the people.
Children grew up, seasons came and went, and eventually everything changed.
Years passed, and no one had seen or heard from the hero in far too long. Most of the villagers had lost all hope, thinking that in his quest to find himself, he had done just the opposite. There were a select few, however, that never gave up. They waited for him day in and day out, counting the hours until he would ride in on his mighty steed and be the Link they knew him to be.
There was one little boy in particular who was very eager for the hero's anticipated return.
"Mama," the small seven-year-old called out, "Why does everyone call Daddy a hero?"
Ilia giggled, hanging a pot filled with delicious stew over the fire, "Ren, I've told you before."
"Aw, please tell me again! I love to hear the stories about what made Daddy a hero!"
His mother smiled and made her way across the room to sit on the floor beside him. She told her son the story often, and most times it was all the way from the very beginning to the very end, but he never tired of hearing it. He was so much like Link, and her heart ached with each additional day that he didn't get to know his father, and that his father didn't get to know him.
Still, she told him the story whenever he wished to hear it, knowing that so long as she kept the hope alive with him that it would remain with her just the same.
She had to believe he would come back one day… She just had to.
"Well… It all started when your father stumbled into the village all those years ago…"
In the end, what made a hero was not always the number of monsters slain in battle or the amount of blood lost in war.
It was, instead, the inner demons overcome and the sacrifices made for others that defined a hero.
Sequel titled When Heroes Fall can be found on my profile.