By Queenie Z
Life on the surface took a bit of adjusting to for Link. Although he knew the terrain of Faron Woods quite well by now, it still did not have any of the commodities Skyloft had - that is to say, buildings, beds, and in particular, hot meals. While the first two were steadily being worked on, the latter was explicitly the reason that the boy hero had made his way to the Lumpy Pumpkin.
It wasn't the first time he'd ordered "to-go" from the pub and eatery. In fact, he had done so quite often, for both he and Zelda enjoyed their food immensely. The tinge of guilt he still felt for breaking their chandelier might also have had something to do with his frequent visits, but he tried not to remind himself of that little debacle as he opened the door, expecting a relatively quiet building and a friendly greeting from Kina.
What he got instead was a noisy group of knights he had never seen before and the overwhelming stench of alcohol. Link silently stared at the group for a moment before spotting Kina, who nervously served the men more ale. Did they even need that much ale? He could barely stomach a single stein full, so he never understood why people drank it so much.
Kina approached Link when she spotted him, her face apologetic. "Ah... sorry, Link, looks like you've come at a bad time."
"It's fine, I just wanted to pick up the usual." He craned his head to get a better look at the men. "Who are those guys? They look like knights, but I've never seem them in Skyloft before."
"I think they're from the Eastern Rescue Division," she replied. "They do their work away from Skyloft. Guess they're on leave today."
"Yeah, guess so."
"Oi!" cried one of the knights, his thick, black beard catching droplets of ale as he raised his stein at Link. "Who's the kid over there?"
A younger man whose freckled cheeks were flustered from his own drink replied. "Looks like senior class. Ain't they wearin' green this year?"
"Can't be! Look at that baby face; how could a chump like that even pass freshman training!"
Link's face soured, annoyed. Sadly, he was used to not being taken seriously as a knight - he had gotten plenty of it during his journey.
A quieter voice from a small, stout knight broke up the laughter that had ensued. "H-Hey, ain't that the kid everybody on Skyloft was talkin' about? The senior with the crimson loftwing who went to the surface?"
"How would you know that?"
"Well, they all said he was kinda short and had blonde hair - "
"Ha! You're drunk! That can't be him!"
Kina walked behind the freckled man and cleared her throat, getting everyone's attention. "Actually," she said almost too cheerfully, "that would be him. He went on a daring mission to rescue a girl from town who went missing, and he's a regular customer of ours." She turned to Link with a knowing smile. "Isn't that right, Link?"
He hadn't expected Kina to stick up for him. "Uh... yeah, that's right."
She turned back to the knights. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go put in his order." She then walked briskly away, eager to assist her father and to get away from the rowdy group.
The bearded knight turned to Link with a wide grin. "Well I'll be damned," he laughed. "A kid like you going on rescue missions! To the surface! Thought that place didn't even exist!"
Link rubbed the back of his head bashfully. "Yeah, actually, it - "
"Get over here and tell us all about it!" cried a bald man, "And take my drink while you're at it!"
"And mine, too!"
The young hero couldn't help but blush a bit. It was like this in Skyloft, too - once they'd heard he'd rescued Zelda and discovered the surface, they started showering him with praise and questions. It was almost a bit much. But he had to wait for his food to be cooked, so what was the harm in obliging his fellow knights? He sat down on an empty chair and picked up the one of the drinks that were passed to him, taking a sip from it. This caused the freckled man beside him to laugh and slap Link on the back.
"So tell us the story! Who's this girl you saved? And how'd a puny guy like you get her back anyway?"
"W-Well..." he paused to think - he couldn't say too much, of course. No one would know what he was talking about. Besides, he wasn't sure if he wanted anybody to know about Demise or the Master Sword or especially the Triforce. He spoke again. "...My friend had fallen while riding her loftwing, and her father said I should be the one to go look for her. So I - "
"Wait, your friend?" the bald man snorted, "This girl, she wasn't even your lady friend?"
Irritated at the interruption and embarrassed at the question, Link frowned. "We were friends ever since we were kids. Why is that even - "
"Oooh, right, childhood friends, I get it." Another knight with an incredibly large nose snickered and took a drink. "Bet that all changed pretty fast after puberty!"
"Got that right! Suddenly she's got an hourglass figure and bam! Happens to every boy; don't sweat it!"
"N-Nothing changed, she was just - "
The bearded man yet again interrupted Link. "Save it, junior, we already know. You were a daring knight trying to save your darling girlie... and it was all so you'd have the chance to bed her one day!" He laughed drunkenly. "Ain't that right!"
Link's eyes grew wide and the tips of his ears grew bright red. "No! That wasn't it at all! I just wanted to - "
" - wanted to hold her, wanted to kiss her, wanted to put it in that pretty little thing!" sang the man with the large nose. "I mean, come on... after all you did, you gotta admit you deserve that much."
Now Link had simply begun to grow angry. "I don't deserve any of that! I'm telling you, I was - "
"You mean she didn't go to bed with you?" The bald knight waved his hand dismissively. "Not worth it, kid. Any woman who wouldn't put out after a heroic stunt like that probably wasn't worth saving in the first place."
He stared at the bald man intensely, unable to believe his ears. Although he still held his stein in his hands, he didn't drink from it - it merely shook as his hands trembled with rage. How dare they talked about Zelda that way?
"Although," the knight beside him said in a low voice, "if she doesn't give it to you... you could always go in and take it. After all, you deserve it, right, little man?"
Link's ale spilled all over the table as he suddenly reached to the other man, grabbing him by the collar of his tunic and pulling him up with a strength that surprised the other knights. He glowered menacingly at him, just about ready to shake the drunkard until his neck snapped. Instead, he simply yelled at him.
"I'd rather die than do that to her!" he growled. "You sick bastards - what the hell is wrong with you! She's not - Zelda's not some trophy for me! I went through all that just so I could see her again! You would know that if you've ever cared about anyone like I care about her!" He glared at the other men, who had all begun to cower in fear. "You people don't deserve to be knights! I hope all your loftwings go and drop a load of - "
Link dropped the terrified man when he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Pumm, holding the order Link had placed, with a face that silently suggested that he leave. The boy hesitantly took it, his face still burning with rage, and walked out, forgetting to even pay for his food. Kina noticed this and began to say something, but Pumm shook his head.
"We'll charge him double next time," he said. He turned to the disheveled knights. "You boys have had enough. We're closing early, so go sober up outside." He marched back to the kitchen, muttering under his breath. "And learn to shut your filthy mouths while you're at it."
The flight back to Faron Woods was a tense one. Link had always hated getting so angry; indeed, it was almost out of character for him. But when it came to Zelda, he never could seem to help it, and for good reason: he loved her with all his heart and he knew it. Even she knew it, and it seemed that the two were right in the middle of a transition from being best friends to being something more.
Not that those troglodytes could have appreciated that, he thought, immensely glad that he hadn't brought that little detail up at the Lumpy Pumpkin. It probably would have only made things worse. However, the experience was still awful enough that he just couldn't get rid of the tight knot that had formed in his gut. How could they say such things about her? How could they even suggest that he would ever do anything to hurt her? He'd never felt more insulted for himself or for Zelda in his life.
The feelings lingered even after his descent into the forest and must have shown on his face, as the moment he found Zelda waiting for him at the gate to Lake Floria, she immediately went over to him.
"Here, I'll take that," she said, grabbing the satchel with their food in it carefully. "Link, what's the matter? You look..."
Link sighed deeply and shook his head. "Nothing's the matter. Come on, let's eat."
Zelda frowned. "You're lying." She sat down in front of the gate and sat the satchel down, opening it up and unwrapping its contents - a jug of hot pumpkin soup, two loaves of pumpkin bread, and a sweet pumpkin casserole topped with candied nuts. "You know how bad at lying you are. Let's talk about it over dinner, okay?"
If there was anything Link had learned after knowing her for so long, it was that trying to hide things from her was a bit of a pointless exercise. He sulked and sat beside her, breaking off a piece of bread but not putting it in his mouth.
"Okay, okay... there were these guys at the bar," he began, "knights from out of town. And - well, they were all pretty drunk, so I don't know how much of this they really meant, but - "
"They said something?" Zelda tilted her head, worried. "It must have been bad if it made you so angry."
The boy looked down. "...You could say that, yeah."
"Were they picking on you?"
"No - well, kind of, at first. Then Kina told them what I did and they tried getting friendly with me." He scowled. "But then... then they started talking about you. They were - I don't think I can even repeat what they said. It made me sick!"
Zelda's expression dropped. She wasn't the type of person to get too upset over the negative things people said about her, but she knew Link wasn't that way. She moved closer to him, until their shoulders touched. "It's okay, I can probably handle it. You might feel better about it if you tell me."
Link inhaled, paused, then let out another long sigh. "They were saying - ugh, they were saying that I should have gotten favors from you for what I did." He said the word "favors" with a good amount of disgust. "Like you're just some prize I'm supposed to claim. Then they said if you didn't do it willingly...!" He clenched his eyes shut. "How could they say those things! I was just about ready to... to..."
Now it was Zelda's turn to get angry. However, despite her anger, she took a hold of Link's hand. "That's repulsive. ...And that's not who you are at all." She narrowed her eyes at the ground. "You're so much better than that. I can't believe they'd tell you those things!"
Her words were comforting, but Link still felt the need to her a question. "Zelda... you know I don't expect anything from you, right? Especially not... you know."
She nodded. "I know." She turned back to face him. "That's why you're the Hero. And that's why I've always liked you so much."
He chuckled bashfully. "Good. ...That you know, I mean."
"But just because you don't expect anything doesn't mean I wouldn't give you anything, you know!"
The girl giggled. "Honestly, Link..." She craned her neck to give him a small kiss on the cheek before ruffling his bangs. "Do you really think I could feel that way about you and not give you something to show it?"
For a moment, he thought she was talking about... no, that wasn't important. What was important was that she'd kissed him for the first time. In a slight daze, he brushed the cheek she had kissed with his fingertips.
Zelda only laughed more at his reaction. "What, you don't appreciate it?"
"N-No, I do! I just - " He shook his head. "...Thanks."
"You're welcome. Now let's quit being grumpy gusses and start eating!" She took a bit of bread and held it out for him. "Say, 'ah'!"
They ate heartily, and Link was able to all but forget about his earlier troubles. However, he couldn't help but notice something - that Zelda's affection was, indeed, not a prize to be won but rather a gift to be received - and that somehow made her feelings all the more precious to him.