This is the first fic I've written for LoZ, so I'm a little worried about how this will blow over. If I butchered any information about the game, I'm sorry. Also, this may or may not be a load of crap, but I have to get it off my chest already. I've been getting the ZeLink feels recently, and I just finished playing Twilight Princess again. I tried to edit this carefully, but no one looks at any of my stories besides me during the publishing process. I don't have a beta reader, and I don't have the patience to start looking around for one. If there are typos, I apologize in advanced. Ah, what the hell. No one reads these stupid notes anyway.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Well, besides the story below, and even that is questionable.
He had been angry, and clearly upset, and she could respect this fact. He had been cut off from the one who had turned him into a hero, from the one who become his only guide on his quest to save all of Hyrule, and from his other half. She had no other way to describe the relationship that Link had shared with Midna. It had been somewhat shocking to witness his anguish at seeing her destroy that mirror, but he had probably loved her. She would not have blamed him, if he had.
And the twinge of jealousy she felt pulling on her heart was completely unjustified. She hardly knew the man, and now that her kingdom had been restored at his efforts, he had disappeared, a wraith in the dead of night. Link would forever remain a mystery to her, and her gut instincts told her this was for the best. He was a wild card, a man that now no longer had nothing to tether him down, with Midna now back in her own realm.
He had done more for her than she could possibly repay, and as much as she wished...no. She would not allow herself to finish that thought. She was being irrational, and even if he was attractive-she mentally swore, as unladylike as that was. Zelda knew she had to stop thinking about him, and his ridiculously firm looking-
In any case, she accepted the fact that he needed a little bit of time to mull over what had happened. But, (because there always did have to be a but) she was fed up with waiting for him to keep his promises. In the seemingly long journey back to Hyrule Castle from the Gerudo Desert, she had told Link she wanted to have him knighted. He deserved more for what he had gone through, but at that moment, after having seen his soul torn in two with Midna's departure, she had to say something.
He had accepted her offer, his gloved hand pressed to his breast, knowing very well that it could mean being dragged into another goddess forsaken, life-altering crusade that would only leave him more drained than he already was. She had given him a grim smile at that, and the only other thing he had said on their trek home had been, I will escort you to Castletown, but I need to tie up a few loose ends at home before I can stay. I won't take too long.
That had been almost eight months to the day, and the only word she had gotten from him was a big, fat nothing. It frustrated her to no end that he had so little respect for their agreement. The worst part was, she did not even know where home was, and had no clue where to even start looking for him. And she could hardly drop everything and go on some insane Link hunt. Zelda was responsible for an entire nation's wellbeing, and it was not a duty that she took lightly.
So, she only did what she could, and sent someone to seek out his location in her stead. She had waited with bated breath for almost a whole more month, before she finally learned that he was residing in the small providence of Ordon. It had taken all her self control to not jump up in excitement and put on her riding clothes.
She could only struggle for so long, however, and by the next morn, she had taken her grey stallion from the stables, and had lost herself in the wind as it blew her hair out in every direction, its golden tips meeting the sun and lighting fire. It had been so long since she had last felt so much freedom. Urging her horse to go faster, she flowed with the landscape of Hyrule Field, moving with such speed that time itself seemed to stop.
Instinct told her that going to Link like this was not the most wise of her decisions. A niggling feeling, an echo in the very back of her mind, told her that she should just let him live a peaceful, quiet life without her to wreck everything. Against her better judgement, however, she continued onward, determined to reach Ordon before nightfall.
It was such a strange thing, that Link seemed to travel all around Hyrule's entirety in the span of a day, when it took such a long time to reach the humble village in which Link had settled himself. Granted, she was rather quick to give Arif, her stallion, breaks to rest. More like, give herself breaks. She was not used to taking such long rides, and even if the scenery was breathtaking, and the air wonderfully fresh as she rode, Zelda found it was necessary to stop at midday.
It was nearing twilight, a time of day that still gave her some grief, as she reached Kakariko Village. She had heard plenty of how dangerous the gorge could be, even if it was possible to see one's way, and she had the first bright idea of the day by staying in the inn for the night. After traveling so far through the country, she could no more than dump her rupees at the front desk and drag herself into the room she had been given.
The bed could have been solid rock, and it still would have been a gift sent by the Golden Goddesses themselves. Zelda had been mentally exhausting herself all day, panicking slightly as her destination approached. Why had she not considered that she had no idea what to say to him? This was madness. And if she somehow ended up killing herself in a fit of fatigue, she hoped to hell that Link would take responsibility.
Even if it was her that was the one riding around the country like a fool.
Throwing herself onto the small bed she had been provided with, she exhaled slowly, stretching out her limbs and sinking into a thick, woolen blanket. A candle blew out, and she was in a deep, restful sleep.
It was a good thing she had stopped in Kakariko too, because she had needed those hours of rest to sort things out. When she woke again the next morning, she had been splashed with a reminder that she was bigger than all this. She was princess of Hyrule, and one day would be queen. And she was worried about talking to one man? It was silly, especially considering how many times she had needed to address the hundreds of people that lived in Castletown alone. There had been no nervousness then, and she refused to let him make her feel anxious now.
Confidence now somehow boosted, she had eaten a light breakfast, before tearing out through the front gate of the village on Arif, in the direction of Kakariko Gorge, of the great Faron Woods, of Ordon, and ultimately, in the direction of Link. She would not let the fact that he had never sent her word bother her, not when she was going to show up right on his damned doorstep unannounced. And she was going to give that man a piece of her mind.
There were no excuses he could use that would placate her, and she was going to let out all her anger at him for making her wait, making her worry. He could not have even sent a note, saying that he had arrived home, wherever that was, safely? Zelda did not care if he was a hero; Link was a mortal man, and death always came unexpectedly, especially whenever she was involved.
At last, however, she reached Faron Woods. All of Hyrule's land was sacred, created by the Golden Goddesses, but she knew, once surrounded by the ancient trees that blotted out most of the blue sky above, she was on holy, timeless land. For generations, Faron Woods had been visible, if only just, from Hyrule Castle, but from that distance, it was impossible to tell how vast the place was.
Roots intertwined together seamlessly, moss covering it all in a sheet of green, and she felt as though the entire wood was just one, living being. Arif had slowed down to a trot as she gazed up to the treetops, amazed. She had not an idea how many hours had past before she reached the bridge that crossed over to Ordon. Arif proved to not be particularly fond of heights, but they made it across safely, by some miracle.
Hopping off her stallion, she guided Arif by his reigns for the short, last leg of their journey. They had only walked a few feet before to their right, a clearing opened up, with a flowing, pristine spring at the center. Zelda felt a sudden jolt of surprise when she recognized the brown mare standing in the shallow pool of water.
With a somewhat undignified laugh that sounded more like a cry, she dashed forward to press her face into the silky coat of the mare's side. "Oh, Epona, it's so good to see a familiar face," she mumbled happily. Epona whinnied in response, her graceful neck turning so she could look at the princess fully.
Zelda felt extremely embarrassed, naturally, when she realized that Epona was not alone; a girl she guessed to be around her own age stood behind Link's horse, brushing her mane with care. Zelda straightened herself, taking a step back from Epona to smile awkwardly. "Forgive my excitement," she said softly, smoothing her riding gown. "I am looking for her master."
The girl, however, did not seem to know what to say. Zelda was certain that this girl, whoever she was, had not recognized her as the princess of Hyrule. Whether this was in her favor or not, Zelda could not be certain. Perhaps it would be refreshing to be treated like a normal person for once, though.
"How do you know Link?" The girl asked quietly, her vivid, green eyes wide.
Zelda hesitated. She was not prone to lying, but telling her that Link was the hero that had saved her country hardly seemed appropriate. She did not want to say outright that she was royalty, if she could help it. At length, she answered, "I met Link a few times on his journey." It was the truth, after all.
Her verdant eyes clouded over at that, and she whispered, "Oh, I see."
Ilia gazed at the woman through her eyelashes, and she understood. It was painfully obvious-a slap across her face-that this woman, whoever she was, had certain...feelings for Link. Heart heavy, she tried to tell herself that she was not one of the prettiest women she had ever seen, and she was Hylian, just like Link was.
She had known, from the very beginning, that Link was not an Ordonian. Those pointed ears of his marked him clearly as being of Hylian decent, unlike her own, small, rounded ones. He had never spoken of it, and Ilia suspected that he hardly noticed the difference between him and everyone else. Link was not the sort of man to care for appearances, and instead judged on character. He had never been treated like an outsider, and even if he was an orphan, the village had raised him, like they were a giant family.
No one knew who his parents had been, only that he had been abandoned, deep in Faron Woods. He had only been around six or seven years of age at the time, and had claimed to not remember where he was, or who his family was, or what he was doing there. The only think his traumatized brain could retain was his own name. At first, Ilia had pitied the boy.
Then, they had slowly become friends. She and Link were roughly the same age, and though she scolded him often for acting like an idiot, he must have always known that he was her closest companion. For a while, Ilia had fantasized that he had fallen for her, almost as hard as she had for him, but, the world had decided to blow up in her face.
She had been kidnapped, along with the village children. The only ones who knew what truly happened to Link were the Goddesses themselves, and perhaps the Hylian woman that now stood with Epona. He refused to speak of his journey to save her and the Ordanian children she had been captured with. Ilia had worried it was because she had lost her own memories. She had probably hurt Link by acting so cold towards him, even if she could not remember who he was at the time. And between the time she had lost her memories, and the time Link found the trigger needed for her to remember everything again, he had changed drastically.
The boy she had grown up with in Ordon was no more. He was quieter, more solemn, and smiled much less. He kept to himself, either tending to the goats, or hiding away in his tree house. She tried to visit him as much as she could, but whenever he went into his house, there was a mess of dusty, ancient books, and he was completely withdrawn. To think, she had once pictured them settling down to have their own family.
This woman though, was practically a goddess herself. And it irked her that Epona was so friendly with her; she watched wordlessly, as the Hylian woman patted the mare's nose with care, and she snorted back happily. Now there was only one question that circled her head mercilessly: what did Link think of this woman? Ilia tried to lie to herself by thinking that he would be as indifferent with her as he had become with everyone else.
But it was hard to swallow. Her intuition told her that he would open up to this woman. Defeated, she at last introduced herself. "My name is Ilia,"
Zelda looked up at her in surprise. Should she tell Ilia her own name? To hell with it.
"I am Zelda," she replied with a grin. The grin fell, however, when Ilia, stunned, dropped to her hands and knees to grovel.
"Your majesty," she breathed, "forgive my horrible rudeness for not recognizing you sooner."
Zelda exhaled slowly, unable to keep the disappointment out of her tone. She probably should have lied. She would have, if she were not so against it. And if she were not so terrible at it. "Please, Miss Ilia. This is unnecessary," she stated calmly. "If I wanted to be treated like a noble, I would have dressed more like one."
She kneeled beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder when Ilia did not answer, likely out of a skewed of respect. "I cannot force you to act as if I were any other woman, but would you at least tell me where I might find Link?"
Ilia swallowed. Worrying over competition seemed petty now, when she had been pitted up against a princess. There was no competition. "It would be my honor to escort you to Link," she murmured, eyes still downward. "He should still be at the ranch, at this time."
Zelda did not ask, but was sorely curious. Ranch? She was beginning to realize how little she really knew the man that had rescued her from that tower, and how he had led his life before meeting her. Taking Arif by the reigns again, she followed Ilia and Epona through the wood, another, wide clearing opening. She looked up at the house in the trees, unable to stop herself from smiling.
She had spent a lot of time imaging what sort of place Link lived, but now that she thought of it, it made sense that he would build a living space in the treetops-it was above where most dangerous beasts could reach. Why had she never pictured him leaving in a tree before? It was the perfect match, now that she thought about it.
But she had little time to admire the practicality of his abode more, because Ilia was on the move, and she did not want to be left behind. They continued onward, and Zelda found herself passing through a village that consisted of only a handful of households. Most of the Ordonians could only stare at her as she proceeded, and she had not fathomed how much she would stand out in contrast against these simple people when in only her riding clothes. And to think she had assumed she would blend right in.
By the time they had trekked up to Ordon Ranch, she had mentally prepared to giving him a good piece of her mind in full. He, however, was not out with the goats, and she instead found herself being cordially greeted by a cheerful man named Fado. Ilia went into the barn, leaving her briefly with Fado, who happily started boasting on Link's behalf that he was the best goat herder in all of Hyrule.
Zelda's head spun. The hero chosen by the Goddesses was a...goat herder? If she had not met Link herself, or seen him in action, she probably would have laughed. It was just such a mundane way of life, so peaceful and simple. He truly was an amazing man, if he had become strong enough to defeat Ganondorf after coming from such humble beginnings. Surely, goat herders were not usually taught the ways of the sword, after all.
A slightly flustered Ilia returned to her side. "He's inside the barn, your majesty, but I'm not sure you will want to go in there..." she trailed off uncertainly.
Zelda gave her another wining smile. "I'm fairly certain that it cannot be much worse than the royal stables," she said with determination, marching towards the barn entrance. She almost expected Ilia to give her further warning, but the girl stayed behind, biting her lip anxiously.
Walking into the barn, however, she was able to comprehend that it was not the smell that Ilia had been concerned about, but rather, the fact that an Ordonian goat was on it's side, right in the middle of giving birth. Link had his bare back to her, and was muttering quiet encouragement as he prepared to pull on the kid's hooves that had already started to show.
She watched, slightly astounded by how gentle he was as he reached to grab the kid's
ankles, and tug. The mother goat grunted at him, but he continued to pull on the kid, still coaxing her. He knew what he was doing, that much could be decided. Zelda was silent, not wanting to interrupt his work, and almost feeling that this moment was precious. His sweaty back may have been towards her, but his aura was calm, radiating in even waves.
The birthing process did not take too much longer, with him assisting the goat. When he finally turned around, his hands and forearms covered in goat embryonic liquid, Link looked utterly stunned at seeing her there. Clearly, Ilia had not given him fair warning that she was his visitor. He sputtered for a moment, blue eyes fully open, and she gave a goodhearted laugh at his expense.
She would let him recover again before ripping him a new one.
Link realized that he should not have been so surprised that Zelda would come visit him eventually. It was strange, because it felt as if it were only a month or two since the battle with Ganondorf, but it finally registered that it had been close to nine months since he had last seen the princess. She looked particularly pleased after seeing him help that goat, but he was certain...fury was boiling under the surface of her perfect, pale skin and pretty smile.
"It's good to know that you can do more than slay monsters," she said, her tone warm as he turned to wash his hands and arms in a barrel of water.
He snorted, before mentally berating himself-that was hardly the way to act around royalty. If she was bothered by it, however, it did not show in her dancing, indigo eyes.
"It's good to see you too, Zelda," he said, wiping his wet hands on his tan trousers, before awkwardly combing his fingers through the rat's nest on top his head that passed as hair. She was studying him still, and he was not sure if she was playing the hawk, waiting to go in for the kill, or simply staring at his bare chest. He crossed his fingers at the likelihood that it was the latter.
"Really now?" She asked back, sarcasm seeping into her voice. "I suppose that must be why it took you so long to return to Hyrule Castle, like you promised."
...And, here come the talons!
In retrospect, Link knew he deserved whatever it was that Zelda had to accuse him of, because he had promised his return. He had not kept true to his word, and now he was paying the consequences for that. What could he even say in his defense? That he had been upset about Midna closing off the only form of communication between their realm and hers?
He had gotten over that months back, when it struck him that he would never have to hear her scold him for being either stupid, insensitive, cowardly, or all three of the above. No, that was not what had kept him wallowing in self-pity for the past several months since saving all of Hyrule. Link was not looking for any form of hero worship, but a little bit of appreciation would have been nice.
Perhaps that was what Zelda had been trying to do, by offering him knighthood, but part of him resented her for thinking he would just bow down and become another pawn for her to push across her chess board. He had done his job as chosen hero, and he did not regret any of it with an ounce of his being, but now he was left to pick up the pieces of his broken life back in Ordon. There had yet to be a day that passed where he felt genuinely satisfied with who he now was. He was miserable, and there was no point in denying it.
He had officially earned back his title as goat herder in Ordon, and it was not until after his quest to save Hyrule that he began to feel shame in who he was. He did not like entertaining the idea of becoming one of Zelda's hundreds of knights, but he honestly missed sleeping with nothing but the starry sky above his head, and the lack of concern about where he was going next in his adventures.
He missed the freedom he used to have. Link never thought the day would come when he would wish he could transform into a wolf again. With Midna gone, that was never going to happen, but he thought of it more often than what was healthy. So maybe what Zelda was willing to give him was worth while, but picturing himself having to follow her every order was somehow painful.
He could not hate her for who she was, though. In fact, he liked her a lot more than he should have. Perhaps that was the real reason for his resentment, not that he would ever, for the life of him, admit it.
Was there no escape for him from bossy women? First Ilia, then Midna, and now the great princess of Hyrule, herself. He was a glutton for punishment.
"You probably want me to apologize," he stated slowly, and had almost continued to say that he had no intention of doing so, when she cut him short.
"No, I am not seeking any apology from you, Link." Her eyes were sharp. "What I want, is an explanation."
If he had any common sense, he would have told her straight out that the reason he had put off seeing her for so long was that he had found contentment in reestablishing himself in Ordon as a humble goat herder, but she would have been too smart to buy that. And Link knew as much. So, he did not try to create a ridiculous lie to tell to her face.
"Zelda," he replied softly, "I don't really have very much to say for myself that you would like to hear."
That should have been a very clear sign to back off. For all her wisdom, however, she did not pick up on this signal, and refused to stand down. "I don't care if I won't like it. I have the right to know why you thought it was perfectly acceptable to not so much as send me a note saying you had no intention of returning. Believe it or not, I was actually worried about you."
Link scoffed. As if a leader of a country had time to worry about one person. A person as insignificant as he was, at that. "None of the theatrics, please. I can't stand lies."
She looked seriously offended at this, and he felt a small amount of guilt pull on his conscience. "Neither can I," she whispered. "I really was concerned, Link."
She gazed up at him with emotionally turbulent eyes, before uttering, "You are the only person I know who still has the guts to treat me like a person, and maybe I was assuming too much, but I had thought there was a reason that you called me by my first name. I suppose I was wrong, though."
Saying that probably was assuming too much, Zelda realized, but, even if she was still afraid of whatever feeling he had for Midna, she had to speak her mind.
She could feel the sting of tears before they started to show, and she mentally cursed herself. What was wrong with her, getting so...weepy with him? She had thought she could handle doing this on her own; it had all been so simple in her mind. She would show up, tell him how much of an ass he was, then drag him back home with her. The reason she even thought this was necessary had not exactly occurred to her until that moment.
Zelda knew that she could not bear to let him see her cry, least of all over him. The humiliation would have been too much for her to possibly survive. He caught her wrist as she turned to leave, however, and yanked her right back.
"I'm not going to let you run off after you came to me to chew my ears off," he growled, the sound almost making her shiver. "That's not how it works, and I don't care who you think you are. I'm not about to let you get away with it."
She looked up at him with a tear shaken smile. "That's exactly what I mean. I don't want you to treat me like I'm something special, because I really am not." She steeled herself then, before again demanding, "I want an explanation, Link."
Since having once taken the form of a wolf, his sense of smell had heightened, and that was one gift that had remained. With her closer now, however, it could be considered a curse, because her scent of lilac and sunshine and pure, Hyrulian air was intoxicating enough to muddle his mind. He might actually be stupid enough to say something he should not.
"I don't like the idea of living the rest of my life at Hyrule Castle, having something I want, but can never have, dangled in my face," he stated frankly, before admitting, "Even if there was a reason that I address you by your name, there is nothing that can change the fact that I am no more than an uneducated goat herder living out in the boondocks."
She inhaled sharply, surprised. "I'm not sure I understand just what you are saying."
"I think you know exactly what I'm saying," he replied shortly. "Changing my title doesn't change who I am. I may have saved Hyrule from being torn apart at the seems, but I'm still a nobody."
It was instinctual, the way she was gravitating towards him. Link hoped she did not feel the goosebumps crawling beneath his skin when she pressed her dainty hand to his bare chest. He swallowed, not daring breath. He knew he was going to do something incredibly idiotic, in a matter of moments, if he did not regain at least a semblance of self-control.
"You are a hero, Link. That is who you are, not just some goat herder from Ordon," she breathed hotly. "Don't you dare let anyone, least of all yourself, think otherwise."
"Hero?" He shot back smartly, subconsciously tilting her chin upwards. "To who?"
"To me!" She snapped, completely unprepared for him to make what would be known as the most foolish move of his entire existence.
He leaned down and roughly pressed his lips to hers.
What was wrong with him? Why was it so difficult to stop? She should have pushed him away the moment their lips had met, so why had she only pulled him closer? She gasped as he wrenched her head the side, angling their mouths differently, and dug her fingernails into his scalp. He had no idea why she did not feel repulsed at him; he was sweaty, and had just helped a goat in delivery, for goddess sake. He knew that there was no way he smelt nearly as pleasant as she did. Zelda must have been about as out of her mind as he was.
He grunted aggressively, before trailing wet kisses down her chin and to the base of her throat. Dammit, the way she was softly panting into the shell of his ear in hot waves was going to drive him to madness. He had to somehow back away, before he did something he could not take back. Sudden, intense images of her slender, arched figure trapped beneath him flashed before his eyes, and he knew, he had gone too far as it was.
It took great effort to jerk himself off her, but it had to be done. He cursed himself for meeting her steady gaze, because the moment he had, all Link wanted to do was kiss her silly again. Mentally shaking his head, trying to wake himself from his dazed state, he breathlessly apologized-for anything that he had ever done to her-before stumbling out of the barn.
He did not wait to hear what she had to say now. And he did not feel obligated to justify himself to Ilia, who had probably seen the entire incident through the barn door, if her shocked expression was any indication. He did not give a rat's ass at the moment, and stormed past her before Zelda could fully come to her senses and give chase. He could not be held responsible for whatever reaction he would have if she did follow him.
Link resisted turning around when he heard Zelda's winded voice call after him, and quickly jumped onto Epona's back. He should thank Ilia for bringing his horse back, but he had a feeling that she was not going to be talking to him for a while, if she had witnessed what had passed between he and Zelda.
"Link!" Zelda called again, her cheeks flushed rosy red after his ferocious, passionate, wonderful kiss. He seemed intent on ignoring her, however, and spurred Epona into a gallop, before making a jump over the fence that surrounded Ordon Ranch. She wanted desperately to talk over what had just occurred, but he was clearly not interested in doing so. If she had not known any better, she would have hopped onto Arif's back and followed him, but she was wise enough to realize he needed time to process the implications of what he-they-had just done.
She sighed, curbing the impulse to find him again, just so he could press his perfect lips to hers again. Zelda let out a faint sigh, feeling very overwhelmed by what she had just gotten herself into. As usual, she could not do anything but make a mess. And this time, Link was not going to be the one to clean it up for her. She needed to think, to figure out what she should do next.
She turned to Ilia, who was looking frightfully pale, before doubtfully asking, "Is there an inn in town, by any chance?"
The girl helplessly shook her head a negative. "The only one who has any spare space would probably be Link, your majesty," she admitted softly. "He's the only one who lives on his own."
Zelda was silent. It appeared that Link had always been a lone wolf, even before he took the form of one. She closed her eyes thoughtfully, remembering when she had first met Link. He had looked beastly, not just because he had the body of a wolf, but because of the ferocious gleam in his blue eyes. It had been only because of his distinctive eyes that she had been able to identify him when he showed up in his true form. She had no idea how a man as frightfully handsome as him had been turned into a mangy beast, when he clearly should have taken the form of a noble bird of prey. Understanding his style of fighting, however, it made sense that he would become a wolf.
"Very well," she muttered at length. "I suppose I have no choice but to knock some sense into him."
Ilia did not reply, and Zelda was under the impression that the girl really had no idea how one should respond to such a statement, especially when coming from a princess. She felt for the girl, though. Zelda had showed up out of nowhere, asked her to treat her like she was anyone else, had an an argument with the local goat herder, then got kissed soundly by the frustrating man. In her defense, at least she knew how to make life interesting.
Ilia let out a long, shaky sigh. The princess, who had claimed she could use a good bathing, was in the hidden part of the river in which she herself usually cleansed. Ilia had left her there, giving the princess some privacy, and not really wanting to lose any more confidence than she already had in the past few hours. She now sat outside of Link's treehouse, in a blind spot he was probably unaware existed. Her father, Mayor Bo, was probably beginning to wonder where she had gone off too, but she was hardly in any condition to be returning home. Her unstable state would only bring up questions she did not have the control to answer.
In the short time Princess Zelda of Hyrule had spent in Ordon, most of Ilia's most ardent dreams had been quashed into piles of unrecognizable mush, like a pumpkin that had been run over by a horse, then left out to rot in the sun. She could not blame Zelda-the princess likely had no clue that Link had once belonged to someone else. Although, Ilia was beginning to question if he had belonged to her at all. She wished she could blame Link for finding someone else, but the problem was, he had every right to love the princess.
It was her that, even after Link had returned to Ordon, had continued to treat him cooly. Had she even thanked him for helping her remember everything, or for saving her life? She could not recall. Ilia had assumed that he just needed some time to get back into his old way of life. Wake up every morning, go to the ranch, spend a lunch break with her, round up the goats in the evening, let her steal Epona and follow her to the Sacred Spring, just because that was the game they played, then go home to sleep.
Ilia had taken this daily schedule for granted, and had never honestly appreciated Link, for all the things he used to let her get away with. If she tried to take Epona with the way he was now, it would result with a yelling match about how she was incapable of minding her own business. Of course, Ilia realized that Epona was Link's horse, and that he managed taking care of her very well, but she longed for him to be the shy boy she had met so many years ago, and fallen in love with.
Perhaps that boy had not really existed in the first place. No one knew his past, and it was possible that his recent change in character was due to the fact that he had learned who he truly was. She had never imagined Link to be frustrated with his life as a humble, goat herder until she had overheard his frantic conversation with the princess. But she had never had the sense to ask if he was satisfied with his lot, in the first place.
Then again, how was she was supposed to know that he was discontent being a goat herder, if he never bothered to express it with her? She was not so stupid that she could not comprehend his feelings on the matter. A lot of people would be discouraged with such a simple life, and she could empathize with the notion. They had been so close, but a year ago, and she saw no real reason for that to change, even now. So what if he had grown to become someone new? That did not mean that she loved him any less. Surely what had passed all those months ago had not changed the feelings he had for her once.
Irked now, Ilia stood. Walking around the thick trunk of Link's tree, she climbed up the wooden ladder and to his front door. She wished she had the sort of confidence to just enter without permission, but she knocked on the door with a light rap. There was no creak, indicating that he had gotten up from his couch to answer her, but instead, an incredibly sarcastic call.
"What is it, Zelda?" He snapped in a tone she had never heard from him before. "Not going to use magic to barge right in?" He continued with a biting sneer-but she could tell it was borderline teasing. "Oh, I know! You can be really dramatic, and just blow up the goddamned door!"
Ilia's jaw tightened. Had he honestly thought he would get away with stomping on her poor heart back at the ranch, and assume she would say nothing to him about it? That she would not have the nerve to show her face, after seeing him kiss the princess? Angrily, she threw open the door. The stunned expression on his handsome face was absolutely priceless.
She slammed the door behind her, and stomped to where he sat, before stabbing a finger into his chest. Ilia felt rather proud of herself, for glaring down at him with an intensity that made most of the village's men piss themselves. What she had really wanted to do was break down and cry. "You have a hell of a lot of explaining to do, mister."
Link gave her a flat stare. Clearly, he was unamused. "I don't really have to explain anything to you, Ilia. In that time you had been in Kakariko village, after you had regained your memories, I was still running around the country like a headless Cucco, and you never questioned it at all. If Zelda had never appeared in Ordon, I doubt you would have ever even realized anything."
She clenched her teeth, sorely tempted to slap him. "I'm sorry if I'm so dimwitted that it never occurred to me until now that you were keeping secrets. But I just learned that the man I love is comfortable enough with Hyrule's princess to address her by her first name, and that she thinks he's some sort of hero. I may not have realized you were hiding anything big before, but I want to know now."
"Is it so difficult for you to picture me as being a hero?" He asked, pointedly disregarding her confession. "Is it impossible for you to see me as anything but a hand at the ranch?"
Tears welled in her eyes. He was closing up to her even further, and she knew he was not going to tell her what had happened for him to be given the title of hero. "Link," Ilia whispered, "you never needed to be anything but a goat herder for me."
He looked guilty at this, and exhausted. She watched as he propped his elbows on his knees, resting his forehead in the palms of his hand. "Listen to me, Ilia," he murmured softly, in a voice that reached more closely to the Link she loved, "I was not born to work as a ranch hand. It has taken me until, quite literally, just now, to recognize that I have never really belonged in Ordon, even if the entire village has accepted me. I'm sorry, but that idealistic man you had feelings for was a lone wolf swordsman trying to fit into a mold."
He looked up at her, and she knew he was pitying her. She was the pathetic, country girl that knew nothing of the world, and had thought he was happy with a modest life, even when he had more options. "Is it because you're a Hylian?" She questioned quietly.
He looked surprised at this, but shook his head with a sad smile. His large, warm hands, with calluses on his palms that she did not recall him having before his adventure, gently wrapped around her own, smaller ones. "It's never been about that," he replied faintly. "I have always struggled with my fate, and maybe it was because I ran from it for so long, but I finally know who I'm supposed to be."
"And who is that?" She asked, teary eyes imploring. "Please, Link. Tell me what happened on your journey."
Ilia identified the fact that she was only making this harder for him. More than that, she knew that each time she asked, she was only pushing him farther away from her. She still felt she had the right to know, who it was that she had been in love with for so many years. That did not seem to matter to him, though.
"Ilia," he murmured, squeezing her hands lightly, "I hope you never have the burden of knowing who that man is."
She ripped her hands away from him, only to cup either of his cheeks. "I'm asking because I'm willing to bear that burden." Because she loved him.
He shook his head again, freeing himself from her hold, now having no more to say. He watched through apologetic, blue eyes, as she backed out of his house, weeping.
That was how Zelda found Ilia less than an hour later, slumped helplessly against the trunk of the large, ageless tree that Link had built his house in, softly sobbing. She glared up at Link's insensitively shut door with exasperation, aware that he was undoubtedly the cause of the girl's distress.
She could hardly go up to where Link was, knowing Ilia was just downstairs, crying her heart out, and so Zelda kneeled down beside the girl. "Would you tell me what Link did to reduce you to tears?" She asked calmly, removing a handkerchief from the inside of her sleeve and surrendering it over to Ilia.
She wiped her eyes, before giving her a hesitant look. At length, she answered, "He refuses to tell me what happened when he left Ordon-why it is that your majesty calls him a hero."
Zelda's eyes widened in genuine surprise. "He would not tell you anything?"
Wordlessly, she nodded her head. Zelda seriously wondered about that man. He had only just fought with her about not being considered a hero to anyone, and now he turned down the opportunity to be this girl's hero? It simply did not make any sense, even after all the chaos of the day. Clearly, he still needed much more time to sort his mind out, and she was patient enough to continue waiting.
"You love him," Zelda whispered, unable to prevent remorse from tainting her tone. This was all happening because she had rode into Ordon, after all. It was painfully obvious, either way, just by how the girl held herself with sound defeat. She had confessed to Link, while trying to get answers, and he had rejected her, predictably enough.
She reproached herself for saying anything when Ilia burst into a new set of tears, and almost doubled over in her grief. Uncertainly, Zelda laid her hand on the girl's shoulder, hushing her in a subdued voice. Feeling somewhat powerless, she looked up at one of the windows to Link's house, only to see him standing by it, gazing down at them with a troubled expression. He had not meant to cause pain to Ilia, at least, not to this extent.
She could then understand that he had simply been trying to protect the girl. Zelda sighed, before shooting him a small smile. For once, she got to clean up his mess, and it felt strangely refreshing. "Come with me," she said gently, helping Ilia to her feet. "I will try to clarify whatever questions he refused to answer."
Link looked about to hop out the window at hearing this, but stopped himself when she gave him a warning look. She would be back for him later, and he knew it. But she did not have enough anger in her to stay mad at him, and she hoped they would be able to sit down and have a good, long chat. They disappeared together, down the path that led back to the Spirit Spring.
Zelda sat down on the sand, then patted the ground at her side for Ilia to seat herself as well. Bewildered, the girl did as she was told, curling her arms around her legs in a fetal position. "Now," Zelda said, "Tell me what Link did share."
Again, Ilia did as she was told, almost automatically spilling every heartbreaking word Link had given her. She was near tears again by the end, and the princess was scowling, pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration. It was clear to her, however, that Link had only done the best he could, without having knowledge of the workings of a woman's mind.
"Link is an idiot," she grumbled first and foremost, "but he didn't want to tell you because he was afraid of frightening you." Zelda paused, before adding thoughtfully, "I, however, agree that you have every right to know who he really is, even if he will throw a fit for my telling you."
Swallowing, Zelda confessed, "You see, the first time I met Link, I was locked up in a tower of Hyrule Castle. And he had taken the form of a large, grey wolf with violent, blue eyes. He had a shackle around one of his legs, and had been broken out of his imprisonment by a member of the Twilight Realm's royal family, who had been equally cursed with the body of an imp."
Ilia wordlessly stared at her, trying to process what it was she had just been told, while trying to comprehend just how this was possible. Zelda did not suspend her story, however, going on to explain that all of Hyrule had been encroached by Twilight, and how everyone had been transformed into spirits, besides Link, and herself. It had been agonizing to admit her own loss at Zant's hand, and to acknowledge what the consequences to her defeat had been, but she continued nonetheless.
Ilia was utterly mute as Zelda imparted every gritty detail of what had passed in Hyrule, as she had been trapped in that tower, forced to watch the country collapse. She could have never imagined Link being strong enough to take on whole armies of beasts, and felt frustrated with herself for having been so blind. It was because of Link that she was living peacefully back in Ordon, and never had he once asked for anything in return.
It must have been so infuriating for him, to work so hard for a country that could not recognize what he had done for it. He may not have done anything for the sake of approval and commendation, but she understood wanting to be thanked. How many times had he almost died on his expedition? Probably more times than he could count on his hands and feet.
And she knew that the reason he had first set out was for her. How it must have killed him, when she had brushed off his warm greeting, back in Telma's bar when they had been reunited for the first time. She had not known who he was, but it did not matter. It must have stung, to be ignored by the girl he had been fighting for.
One thing was for certain, though. He was a hero, deserving to have his name written down in history. He belonged in a legend, like the ones he had began to read from those ancient texts recently. It still vexed her that he thought her unable to handle his tale, but at the same time...she remembered upon her return, that her father had mentioned a horrible beast coming into town and stealing the Ordon sword and shield. That had been Link, and the villagers had all tried to chase him away in fear and disgust.
No wonder he had closed himself up to everyone, even her. No wonder he had moved on, and fallen for a woman strong enough to admit her mistakes to a near complete stranger, and opening herself up to ridicule. It hurt, but at the end of the day, she just wanted him to feel pleased with his life. He deserved true happiness-the sort that was not in her power to offer him.
Link had gone about expressing it in the wrong way, but he had been right. He did not belong in Ordon, carrying out the rest of his days as a hand at the local ranch. It would always be a part of him, but he was so much more than that.
Silence drifted between them after Zelda finished describing the fateful battle she and Link (but mostly just Link) had fought against Ganondorf, and it might have continued for hours like that, if a sudden sigh had not been heard from the trees above their heads. Zelda resisted the compulsion to roll her eyes when the crunch of sand under his weight sounded as Link landed from his perch. Apparently, he had been eavesdropping the entire time.
"You know," he commented lightly, hands shoved into his pockets, "being a wolf was not all bad. Part of me misses it." He flopped down onto the ground tiredly, staring up at the blood-orange and grapefruit hues of sunset. If he could not beat them, he might as well join them.
"I think what you really miss is being led around by Midna," Zelda replied, her voice only just above a whisper. She could see him quirk his eyebrow from where he lay, as if to disagree, but his silence at the matter only encouraged her to continue. "If you hadn't looked so utterly torn apart at her breaking the Mirror of Twilight, I probably would not have let you abandon me at what was left of Hyrule Castle."
He could only just detect the edge to her serene voice. Link instantly regretted leaving his spot up on that tree branch, because he could already sense that she still had more to say. The very word...abandon...made him wince. He did not want to have any sort of argument with her in front of Ilia again, though-the goddesses only knew how that would end, considering what had happened in the barn that afternoon.
"I'm guessing that Hyrule Castle has been restored to its former glory, by now."
She smiled wryly. "I still have not had my tower rebuilt yet." She laughed bitterly, "but it has to be done eventually."
Link comprehended exactly what she wanted out of him. She needed his unconditional support back at Hyrule Castle. It must have been difficult enough for her to see her home decimated, and know that she had made a mistake in being so defenseless a ruler to fall to Zant's comparatively petty powers. She was bearer of the Triforce of Wisdom, so surely she should have been able to prepare her nation for an attack, with her abilities in foresight. She was, once again, a damsel in distress, and as Link was slowly learning, it was his duty as hero to help her.
"I have a hammer," he intoned almost dumbly. "I'll do it." He should have been helping from the get-go.
Zelda swore that he was the most admirable man in all of Hyrule, though perhaps a bit too confident in his construction skills. But he had proven himself to have a strange power that allowed him to do anything he set his mind to. He would never have succeeded in saving Hyrule, if he did not possess such a power. And she would have taken his comment for teasing, if it were not for the fact that she knew he was deadly serious. He intended to build her a tower, which of course, would mean he inteded to return with her to Hyrule Castle. Surely the girl would know what his aim was, as well. Zelda felt the guilt slither back into her countenance as she looked over at the unspeaking Ilia.
She caught Zelda's remorseful glance before she could gaze elsewhere. Ilia knew that her presence would only create an even more awkward atmosphere, and while it still pained her, she was woman enough to accept her defeat. She smoothly stood before she lost what dignity she had left, giving the princess one, last look over.
Chances were, she would never see her again, and as for Link, she was smart enough to realize his visits would be few and far between. He would come by in the near future to be certain that everything in Ordon was running smoothly without him around to assist at the Ranch, but each time he came would be after a longer span than before. He would only too easily fall into his duties as knight, and he would have other priorities. Like wooing the princess.
"Link," she said, at least attempting to keep her voice level, "I'm still angry with you...for thinking that I didn't have the stomach to hear your story. You should have had a little more faith in me." She would not mention how he had broken her heart, after all the years they had been friends. It would not do to sound so very resentful.
He swallowed, almost anticipating her to have get some sort of physical retaliation as well. He sure as hell deserved a swift kick in the rupees...but she gave him a forlorn smile instead. Link realized that she was saying goodbye. He had failed her in a lot of ways, and even the ever-forgiving Mayor Bo would probably hate him for abandoning Ordon. Everyone had expected he would one day join hands with Ilia, and take over the job as mayor. Nobody dared say it aloud, but every time he spoke with Ilia in public...the looks the villagers had given them had been as crystal clear as the falls in the Zora Domain. Now he was disappointing everyone.
Yet, he could regret nothing. If he had continued to be the goat herder as expected, and if twilight had never fallen over Hyrule, he would have undoubtedly gathered the courage to ask for Ilia's hand in marriage. They would have had a few fair-haired children, and maybe, they could have been happy together. Ignorant, but happy. He had become a different person in traveling through Hyrule, though. A man that she could not possibly love. If he became her husband, neither of them would be satisfied. Even if he was breaking her heart by choosing Zelda, Ilia was better off without him.
He would take her into Castletown at some point, and she would meet a tender, caring man that was much more capable of loving her than he ever had been. She would forget all about the dashing hero that had saved Hyrule from Zant and Ganondorf, bring that gentleman home, and rear half a dozen children. And Link would wish her all the joy in the world, because she deserved it.
Ilia then turned to Zelda, clearly trying to keep her emotions from spilling over. "I hope you realize that Link is a handful. I won't take him back, even if you beg me to...or offer me all the rupees in Hyrule." A tear slid down her cheek. "He's all your problem now."
Zelda could only nod her head, feeling that saying anything in response would seem insensitive. She wanted to say that there was no way in hell she would give him up anyway. Whatever Link's faults might have been, Zelda knew he was worth keeping. And Ilia was just as aware of this fact, undoubtedly. But then they were alone, and a whisper of a breeze blew through the clearing, rustling her flaxen locks and the layers of her riding gown.
It was too quiet-almost stifling in the silence-and she found that now she was alone with Link, she had no idea what to say. He was the one to edge closer to her, though. Link threw an arm around her shoulders, muttering something about how evenings in Ordon could be rather chilly. She knew it was a farce, but smiled despite herself.
"Now I almost feel as if I can't do anything right," she confessed, looking down at her feet. "I'm just so impatient and nosy...I had to know why you were not by my side at Hyrule Castle. And I've gone and made another of my citizens hate my guts for stealing the local farm boy."
Link scoffed. "Ilia doesn't have the heart to hate anyone," he told her before amending himself. "Well, perhaps she could hate me, for treating her like dirt. We had been best friends at one point, but when I returned to Ordon, I pushed her away. She wanted something I could no longer offer her."
"You wish then that I had never been such a foolish princess, to lose to Zant. Your life would have continued on as it always had, if it was not for me."
She was surprised when he forcefully turned her to look him directly in the eyes, his warm, calloused hands griping her shoulders. "Don't assume things like that, Zelda," he breathed. "I may be horrible at knowing what to say or do, and I should have returned to you immediately, but I really don't regret leaving Ordon or saving Hyrule, no matter what impression I may have given you earlier."
His intense stare made her limbs feel frail, and warmth painted across her cheeks. He had this way of making her melt in the strangest, most involuntary ways. "You know," she mumbled, "I had always thought your dearly beloved was Midna."
Link cracked the biggest, most amused grin she had ever seen from him, before he threw back his head in good humor to give a roaring laugh. Astonished by his unexpected reaction, Zelda gaped as he lost balance and fell back onto the cool sand. Was her deduction really such a strange conclusion? Even the last thing Midna had told him had hinted that their relationship was abnormally close for them to be just partners.
And he was laughing at her for suspecting that he loved Midna. Still smiling, he looked up at her. "Trust me when I say that I have never considered Midna in a romantic light," he said, tone jovial. "She was like a long lost family member who loved to pull me left and right at the same time. I was upset that she returned to the Twilight Realm without leaving any way to communicate, but not because I was besotted with her."
Zelda continued to gawk, very aware now that Link was right. She needed to stop making assumptions. "She was a surrogate mother."
He nodded enthusiastically. "One that liked to boss me around."
Was it terrible that she felt new relief wash over her? Most likely. The good thing was, she did not care. As much as she adored Midna, and had sacrificed herself more than willingly for her sake, knowing that Link was completely available was a great comfort. Well, as available as she could hope.
A shy smile graced her lips, and she started to hide her face for embarrassment. This was completely ridiculous. Why was she getting so emotional about this? Her breath hitched in her throat-she hiccuped-and she sniffled. But, with her face turned away from him, she was still beaming. By the goddesses, why was she crying? She was happier than she had felt in years! It was utterly irrational.
Link, however, had no way to see her overjoyed-nay, euphoric-expression, and could only guess that he had, yet again, said something wrong. He sat up, quietly expressing his apology. "Zelda, I'm sorry if what I said bothered you, but please don't cry."
The silence that followed only served to unhinge him further.
She choked then, before a breathless titter escaped her throat. How could she possibly describe her elation to him? It simply could not be done. Tears still streaked down her pale cheeks, she turned to him again. Her smile was wobbly at best, but her eyes shone brightly, and he understood. Women were the most bewildering creatures in the realm, but for once, he knew exactly what she was thinking.
He chuckled, more at his own expense than at hers, for being worried, even for the shortest moment. She did not leave him any doubt of her heart, and where it lay, and much to his surprise, she buried her face into the crook of his neck, her smile evident against his skin. "I don't know why I'm such an emotional mess," she whispered back, "I usually have better control over myself."
But she had been so worried about being rejected by him the entire journey to Ordon, and had truly believed he had stayed away because he was pining over Midna. It made sense a whole lot more than the idea that he would keep away for fear of liking her a little too much, as he had fiercely demonstrated for her back at the ranch. Looking up at him through her moist eyelashes, she wondered if he would be willing to show her again, exactly how she made him feel.
She had a hunch he would be more than glad to kiss her a second time, if his smirk was any indication.
AN: And there you have it. It really depends on what sort of feedback I get on this, (and if I have the inspiration to do so) but I might write a second chapter, or post a sequel separately. However, it wouldn't be such a long read. I promise nothing, though. I realize that there must be dozens of fics out there that are similar to this, but I just wanted to write my own twist. Because really, I needed a little ZeLink at the end of Twilight Princess. If I write more ZeLink, it'll probably be in a modern-AU situation. Just because those are so much fun to read.
 And because it's come up already in a review, I will say this: I'm pretty anti Midna and Link as a pairing. I adore Midna, but I really just cannot see her with him. (Plus I have this strange love for the illogical MidnaxZant pairing. Don't judge me. I have a thing for crack.) If you got a problem with that...then I'm sorry, but I'm entitled to my own opinion, just as you are entitled to yours.
Anyway, feedback is always be appreciated. :) Thank you for reading.