Notes: I honestly never even thought about this pairing until recently, when I saw this: gallery/?offset=24#/d19gdxg and then I got to thinking and then this happened. This fic is set in my headcanon, but you don't need to have read my other fanfiction to understand it-basically something prevented Midna from leaving Hyrule immediately, and then she got the chance to stay, and she took it. Anyway, this is what I imagined would have happened with Ilia, whether Midna left or not.
Diclaimer: Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and all its characters and world belong to Nintendo and not me.
I walked across, an empty land
I knew the path just like the back of my hand
I felt the earth beneath my feet
Sat by the river and it made my complete...
Ilia needs Link.
She needs his eyes, his voice, his patience. She needs him beside her more than she needs anything else.
But he doesn't need her. Not anymore.
Ilia watches him grow from an irresponsible farm boy into a selfless hero, and suddenly Link isn't just the goat herder who had once been her best friend. He is the Hero Chosen by the Gods, he is the new queen's champion, he is the people's savior.
Link is so much more than Ilia could ever be, and it stings like a killer wasp to know he doesn't belong to her anymore. The first time she meets the Twilight Princess—taller than her, far prettier than her, stronger than her—she is holding hands with Link.
The sight fills her with a rage so intense it burns, but she practically slams the smiling mask over her features to hide the anger—because as furious as it makes her, the one thing she doesn't want to do is hurt Link. Midna is elegant with a voice like the wind through the grass, and Link looks at her in a way that makes Ilia want to scream.
She leaves two days later, because seeing her Link with girl who isn't her opens an aching gap in Ilia's heart. Fado says little on the cart ride out of Ordon, but she can tell he knows why she's running away. The only sound between them is the clinking of goat milk jugs in the back of the cart.
Kakariko is bustling with sound and change and life, already so different from the place she left behind two months ago. The queen sent workers to rebuild and expand the village, with Renado overseeing the construction. Ilia stops thinking and lets her feet do the walking, and she is not surprised to find herself in the sanctuary, safe inside the white walls and gentle glowing torches. But the carpet where Link once handed her a horseshoe-shaped charm that brought her life back hurts too much, and she climbs down the metal grating on the wall. She doesn't even notice that the rusted metal cuts into her hands.
Ilia starts down the hallway of packed dirt but stops abruptly, because she is hit by a whining animal cry that rips its way out of her throat. All she can think of is blue eyes and a contagious laugh and lying in the stable loft with the musty scent of hay surrounding her and a blond-haired boy beside her. Missing Link is like going through withdrawal, violent sobs and shaking body and aching heart. He was the world to her—the sun, the wind, the chirping birds, the trees, and he still is, but he belongs to someone else. She is on her knees without knowing how she got there, palms pressed against the cool earth of the wall as if it will give her the answers she needs so badly. But the tears don't stop coming.
"Hey," says a voice behind her, and some foolish part of her wants to think it's Link. But it's not, and she knows it, and before she can stop herself she whirls around and punches Shad square in the face.
And he lets her.
They stare at each other, Ilia with tear-streaked cheeks and Shad with a somewhat embarrassed look on his face.
"Sorry," he says, scratching his head awkwardly. "I didn't mean—"
"Sorry for what?" Ilia says incredulously. "I just hit you!"
"It didn't hurt much," he assures.
"I—" the words stick in her throat like a spider caught in a web. She doesn't even know why she punched him—maybe just because the prospect of hitting something felt strangely appealing.
"There's something I've been wanting to show someone," Shad is saying thoughtfully. "Originally, I thought it should be Link—" at the sound of his name she flinches as if from a physical blow—"but maybe you need it more than he does."
"Link doesn't need anything," she snaps, but there's less anger and more regret in her voice. "He doesn't need me."
Shad watches her but says nothing. Ilia likes that about him—there are no prying questions or judging words, he just listens. "Come with me," he says finally. "It's not far from the village.
Ilia follows him because she doesn't know what else to do, arms wrapped around her broken self as if that alone could hold her together. They slip through Kakariko and out into the bright, sunny field. Shad veers off the path and towards a copse of trees not far off the road. "The sky book that Link found told me of this place," he says as leaves close in over their heads, blotting out the sun. At first, Ilia sees nothing but a clearing dusted with fallen leaves, but as Shad walked to the center and brushed away the leaves with his shoe she saw the frayed yellow rope, and the twisting symbol carved into the ground, and the trap door.
Shad pulls the rope and heaves open the door, revealing the staircase descending into darkness underneath. He lights the lantern hanging from his belt and drops down to the first step, looking back at her.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" she asks, trying to peer into the gloom, only slightly suspicious of the mysterious dark passageway in the middle of Hyrule Field.
Shad smiles a little, dimpling his cheeks, and Ilia looks at him—wrinkled clothes and messy auburn hair and owlish glasses—and smiles back.
She follows him down the stairs, their footsteps breaking through a silence that feels impenetrable. The light of day fades away and Shad holds the lantern out, trying to illuminate as much as possible, but it barely pierces the murky air. The staircase ends and he stops suddenly, making her bump into him.
"Where are we?" Ilia asks, and the question echoes back at her dozens of times. Someplace big, then.
Without a word, Shad blows out the lantern, and suddenly the darkness is surrounding them, choking, so thick Ilia can't speak. She sucks in a breath and takes a step back, and suddenly Shad is there, his warm hands on her shoulders. "Wait," he whispers.
Slowly, slowly, something on the ceiling begins to glow a soft yellow that reminds her of the summer lilies that bloom on the riverbank in Ordon. Then a reddish-pink in the far corner, and a deep purple right above their heads. One by one the crystals embedded in the cave ceiling light up, shining in hundreds of different colors. Pure white like Epona's mane, green that matches Ilia's own eyes, blue as bright as the sky, orange like the Twilight Princess's hair. Light drifts through the crystals and casts multicolored streaks into the cavern, illuminating the whole place and showing something both familiar and alien—a forest. Trees, a trickling spring, butterflies flitting around bright flowers. The cave reminds her of Faron and doesn't, gives her an aching homesick feeling but fills her with wonder.
Ilia realizes to things after she's taken it all in and can form real thoughts—one, that her mouth is hanging open, and two, that Shad hasn't taken his hands off her shoulders. And for some reason, she doesn't mind at all.
"I don't know how," he says, "but in some way sunlight reaches the crystals and shines right through them. They won't shine when you bring light of your own, and at night this place is perfectly dark."
"What—when—does anyone else know about it?"
"No. You're the first one, and…I think it should stay that way. Some places should be kept secret."
Ilia nods, because she knows—this place is a sanctuary just like the one in Kakariko Village, and humans would tear it apart if they could get their hands on it. She drifts across the path, and he follows her, and they explore, and for the first time in what feels like years, Ilia laughs. Sitting under a towering tree with light pink blossoms, she tells Shad everything. And he gives her back her smile.
She looks at him, and his eyes are blue like Link's, and that stings like salt on an open wound. But maybe it won't always hurt. Maybe she can learn to forget, and maybe she can heal.