He had been the perfect, noble and selfless hero.
After Demise had been defeated, the first thing Link did was return her to Skyloft. He remembered the countless promises he'd made to the other knights, the children, and especially Zelda's Father, that he would save her.
Zelda had been very nervous. She felt that everyone in Skyloft would view her differently. Groose hadn't, though he seemed to have matured all on his own. More than anything, she was anxious to see her Father again. She was Hylia, but she was still her Father's daughter. But he was the keeper of Skyloft's history…he worshiped the Goddess. She feared that he would crumble to his knees the moment he saw her.
When Link and Zelda breached the cloudline, she held fast. Link waited a moment, to see if she would call her own, before calling his bird and carrying the both of them towards Skyloft, just like he had after the Wing Ceremony. When they flew above the island, heads turned. Link's Crimson Loftwing was unmistakable.
To save Zelda from loud crowds, he took his bird into a low dive and circled the island from below. Link's Loftwing suddenly cried out, and a higher-pitched return cry followed. Zelda gasped and pulled her head away from Link's tunic, to see a rapidly approaching blue Loftwing.. Zelda's bird flanked Link's nearly crashing into them to see Zelda.
Zelda looked up with a gasp, and smiled, tears coming to her eyes. Link smiled, and focused on turning his bird upward to breach the academy. She had been missed.
The birds rose up together, circling the courtyard in front of the academy before descending. Gaepora had been looking out to where the statue had once been, and slowly turned when he heard the flapping. Link helped Zelda to the ground, and she walked forward on her own.
Gaepora saw her, and did not move, or speak, or breathe. Zelda took a hesitant step forward, holding her breath as well. Then Gaepora let out a quick sob, and his face tightened.
"Zelda…" She hurried forward, and the man in red threw his arms around her. Link smiled, and closed his eyes.
It hadn't been over after he defeated Demise. He had been waiting for this moment. Gaepora looked over Zelda's shoulder.
"Thank you." He said, and Link nodded. As quietly as he'd began his quest, he turned away and slipped out of it.
Zelda finally pried herself free, gasping and laughing and trying not to cry. Gaepora had lost all restraint and was covering his face with his hands now, letting out long whines. Zelda turned around to share an inside joke with Link, but the boy in green was gone.
He returned to the academy very late, and had to dodge Mia on his way inside. He took off his shield, and placed it against his bed. He felt a moment of panic when he saw his empty sheath, then a sting in his chest.
His friends seemed to leave him for sleep very often. But Fi wasn't planning to wake up at all. They would have to wait until another lifetime, whatever that meant.
As he sat on the edge of his bed, he felt like a weight was pushing him through his mattress.
Another lifetime…Fi had never been poetic. Everything she said was literal.
He did not fall asleep for a very long time. And he woke up much, much too soon.
After many heavy knocks, his door was opened.
"Good afternoon, Sleepyhead!" Link groaned, and buried under his blankets. "I don't care if you saved the world, I'm not letting you sleep in and miss lunch." Link wasn't fully awake as Zelda took him by the wrist and led him down the hall. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. No, he wasn't awake at all.
She was happy that they didn't have to go upstairs to get to the kitchen. He probably would have tripped.
He was woken up very quickly when he entered the kitchen. Groose turned around, and raised his arms.
"Look who finally rolled out of bed!" There were a dozen knights in the kitchen, and they all broke out in cheers and applause. There were all his classmates, and the knights a year older than him. A woman in dark violet pat him on the shoulder and asked him if he was still sleepwalking off the edge of the island now that he was a Hero, and another older knight said that he looked forward to racing Link in the skies again.
Link's eyes widened as the crowd raced towards him, patting him on the shoulders and back until he stumbled.
"Okay, okay, give the little guy some space!" Groose shouted, and Link was, for once, grateful for the redhead's commanding voice, even if he was indirectly calling him short. He was getting flashbacks of suffocating fights, and was starting to feel dizzy.
Pipit stepped up once the others had backed off.
"See everyone! I told you to stick around." He leaned in towards Link and smiled. "We all had faith in you. Didn't doubt you for a second." Link scratched the back of his neck, and loosened a knot in his hair. He hadn't even washed his face before Zelda dragged him out of bed. He self-consciously rubbed his eyes and faced the crowd, his vision a bit clearer now. And there was quite a crowd.
"Wow…I don't know what to say." He finally got out. The crowd laughed. That was more verbal than most of his responses, after all.
"Keep it simple, Link! You don't have to say anything." Link was grateful for that. He felt his voice fading to the pits of his lungs again, and it felt good.
The lunch lady gave him double portions, with freshly cut fruit, which was a rare delicacy on the islands. No one complained though. He'd earned it.
Zelda had talked her Father out of a formal speech. She knew that the party was almost too much for him, especially after he'd been away from people for so long. But she secretly knew he needed it. She watched as he gradually relaxed, and started laughing with the others.
Zelda was getting a decent amount of attention still as well, though she'd made her rounds yesterday after Link vanished. His sudden disappearance had scared her. She feared he would never come back, but she stayed awake and listened for him until she heard his door open and close.
The crowds thinned as knights returned to duty, but Zelda stayed. When it was just them, Groose, and Pipit, the golden-clad knight dragged the redhead away to leave them alone.
"I got a little worried when you disappeared yesterday." She admitted, wringing her hands together.
"I'm sorry." Link said facing her to his left. "I wanted to give you and your Father some time." She nodded, then stopped.
"Don't, next time." She said weakly. He moved closer to her, his brow furrowing.
"Zelda?" She took a quick breath and smiled back at him.
"No, don't worry. I'm fine." She stood, but he caught her hand before she could get away. He tugged gently until she sat back down beside him. He smiled sadly at her.
"Don't lie to me. Come on, best friends don't do that." She quickly closed her eyes and nodded.
"Well…maybe I didn't think we were like that anymore." Before Link could untangle the hidden meaning in her words, she slipped free of his grasp and hurried back into the halls. She walked until she was out of sight, and then he could hear her running.
He couldn't find her for most of the day. He asked around, but even the knowledgeable Pipit didn't know where she'd run off to. He was getting nervous. She hadn't decided to fly down to the surface without him, had she?
"But you said she got upset right after she mentioned being friends?" Pipit clarified. Link nodded.
"Yeah, but…I don't know why. We are best friends, aren't we?" He nodded slowly.
"Yeess…but after you risked neck and limb to save her, well, that was all the proof she needed."
"Proof?" Pipit sighed, exasperated.
"Come on, Link- you aren't that dense." Link begged to differ. Pipit walked around him and threw an arm over his shoulder. "Remember when you ferried that love letter from Cawlin, to Karene, and I found out?" Link nodded. "Okay, well, for me, that confession took about twenty seconds. For you, well, you've been at it for months. You've been screaming those words at her every time you cut down a monster to get closer to her. Get it?" Pipit stopped walking, put both hands on Link's shoulders. "Look at me and tell me you don't love her."
"Of course I do!" He snapped, and the man in gold crossed his arms happily. Link quickly faded back into confusion. "But I've loved her for years now. We grew up together." Pipit sighed, and shook his head.
"No, no- you're getting colder. You two are grown up now. An act like that can only mean one thing. She just wants to hear you say it. But apparently you need to say it to yourself first."
"I…" He felt quite breathless. Why had he been trying so hard to save her? There were dozens of motivators, but seeing Zelda again, and keeping her safe, had topped them all. Link smiled at the ground, fond memories lighting sparks in his chest. "That's it, Link." Pipit clapped his hand over Link's shoulder and took a step back. "Now, I'm loaning you my twenty-no, ten, seconds of mindless bravery to you now! Go get that message across."
Link hurried down the stairs of the academy, feeling motivated, and powerful.
Finally, he found her the second time he passed the plaza. She was talking to Groose, and the red-head actually seemed to be calm about it. Groose's friends were close by, but reluctantly hanging back, as if under order to. Link passed them, despite their yells to leave the two alone.
Zelda saw him approach, and she sighed. She pat Groose's shoulder, dismissing herself from the conversation, and walked over to Link.
…What had Pipit said to him?
"Hi Zelda." She chewed on the inside of her lip for a moment.
"Oh, I'm sorry I ran off this morning. I shouldn't have left you like that. I'm being moody."
No, no…this wasn't right at all. What had Pipit said? Something about thirty seconds?
"No, Zelda, I…I…"
"Hey, Zelda, we better go soon before the boys chicken out!" Groose called, waving. Zelda nodded.
"Okay! We'll be there soon." She faced Link again. "Groose convinced those other two to fly their Loftwings below the clouds, and see the ground. I need to check on the Triforce as well…You'll come, won't you?"
"Of course…!" He said quickly. "Of course." She smiled, but not genuinely happy yet.
"Okay. Good. I need to change back into my dress, and I'll meet you at the sky pier near the academy, okay?" He nodded.
"Of course." She hurried off ahead of him, and he watched her go, feeling terrible. He dodged Pipit on the way to the pier, not eager to be confronted on how his half-minute with Zelda had gone. He watched as Pipit ran into Karene, and how easily the two agreed on getting lunch at the Lumpy Pumpkin. It seemed like something he would have asked Zelda to do with him before they had gone to the surface. Only, Pipit and Karene walked away holding hands.
"Is it really that simple?" He muttered.
"Link?" He jumped up from his hiding place behind a bush, and Zelda frowned at him. "Looking for starry fireflies again? How many times do I have to tell you, they only come out at night by the river."
"Yeah, you're right…" She was dressed in the white dress of the Goddess, her hair freshly braided and skin glowing. He considered bowing.
Instead, she shrugged, and sprinted and lept off the pier. Link followed. She was already in a headfirst dive for the patch of open clouds, but Link soon caught up. Three more birds, with darker toned feathers and odd crest plumage, joined them in the dive. Link saw Groose biting back a yell, and his friends were grasping the straps for dear life.
Link landed on the cold surface of the stone statue, and Zelda's bird hovered above him, waiting patiently for Zelda to drop down. Her feet touched the surface without a sound, as if something had cushioned her fall.
They looked over the edge and watched Groose introduce his friends to fist-sized birds. They had a similar reaction that Groose had upon landing on the surface- hysterical.
Zelda turned her focus to the Triforce, and closed her eyes. She took her skirt in her hands and lowered herself to the ground, and put her hands together in a prayer. Was she making a wish? He wondered how many wishes those triangles granted. Could Link ask for another?
…It would be for courage. For just twenty or so seconds of it. Courage to face something he loved, rather than something he needed to kill.
"Zelda?" She looked over her shoulder, granting him her attention right away. "I'm glad you picked me."
She stared at him for ten of those remaining twenty seconds, and finally, when he had just a moment or two left, she smiled.
"It was always you." He laughed softly, then moved the golden harp into his arms.
"I've been working on something for you." He said.
"Play it for me." His twenty seconds were up, but he strummed the song for her. Her song. Her ballad. And he played it until Groose and the others departed, along with their Loftwings, leaving them alone. And he still had the courage to tell her that he would stay.