I still didn't understand why I felt so strongly not to take that deal. I wondered now if it was a mistake. An opportunity like that wasn't bound to appear again anytime soon. Then again, given that Torrin was the one offering, my rejection was probably for the best, but I still couldn't understand his reasoning, and it was now far past the two-week deadline. Shouldn't his scheme have become clear by now?
Auru was no help in that regard. He seemed to know more than he let on, but he refused to reveal what was happening. He wasn't supposed to keep secrets from me. We were allies. I usually trusted his discretion, but this was driving me insane.
Which is why I was planning to confront him for a final time. The goddesses had granted me wisdom, but that meant nothing if I didn't understand what was happening around me. I would not be denied.
However, I thought it wise to gather myself first in the one place I could be alone. It was that time of week, after all. Despite my assertions that I was doing everything to move on from Link, I still allowed myself this one indulgence of spending time once a week on the roof. I told myself that the roof had been my place since before Link, but even if that was technically true, I knew I was fooling myself. It was my last connection to Link, and I was clinging to it.
When I opened the door that led to my destination, I saw a familiar figure standing in my place. As comprehension dawned on me, I let out a gasp. I now understood Torrin's offer.
Surprised. I had wondered how she would look when she saw me, and it was clear that shock was her overwhelming emotion for the moment. Though I had expected that after my quick conversation with Auru. Apparently she thought I was in the Twilight Realm.
"How? How are you here?"
I smiled. "Did you think you could push me away so easily?"
My answer seemed to only cause her greater confusion. "My lookout saw you. You went into the caves. He waited for hours, and you didn't come out." She seemed to be speaking more for her own benefit than for me.
"He should have waited longer. I just needed some time. After all, you finally made me accept that us being together was impossible. I had kept trying to tell myself that, but our conversation finally made me accept it. For about two days anyway. And then you know what I realized? I was sick of being told what was possible. Because you know what else was impossible? That an orphan kid could face some of the biggest, nastiest monsters in existence and come out the victor. That a goat wrangler could find the courage to challenge the King of Evil. That an Ordonian could become one of the most celebrated men in Hyrule. I lived the impossible for two years, so why was I conceding defeat without even trying? No, I couldn't accept that."
Zelda still seemed like she was in a state of shock, which was actually probably a good thing. This way I could say everything I wanted without interruption. "So I made a plan. I may not have the right blood, but I have many other assets, and I put them to use. I traveled to every kingdom with any sort of relationship to Hyrule. While there, I gathered these," I took out the roll of parchment with all the signatures and handed it to her, "using any means necessary. Sometimes I fought monsters, other times I was asked to do things a little outside my skill set. Whatever the case, I got a lot of them.
"In addition to those, I called in a favor with my friend Shad. I put his researching prowess to good use. After some time, he found an old, buried amendment to the marriage law that says, 'To marry into the throne, the requirement of royal lineage may be waived in the case of an individual of exemplary character whose deeds completed in the name of Hyrule are recognized throughout the provinces as extraordinary.' Can you believe that? It's perfect, too perfect if we're being honest. This has to have happened before. Which hero of the past do you think is responsible for the law?" I shook my head. "Never mind, that's not important.
"I know the most important thing to you is to find someone who would make a good king for Hyrule, and I know I'm lacking in some of those areas. I didn't grow up in this culture, I'm not really clever with my words, and I don't have a great political mind. But I can do things no else can do. Those signatures on that page are proof. Who else could get all of those? And I'm likable. This trip, I didn't go around to the provinces, but I feel pretty confident I have their support. They would love you for marrying a commoner like me. And you can trust me. I'd be your ally, one you'd never have to worry about betrayal with because I don't care about power. Don't you see how perfect this is? Besides, there's another reason."
"Link." Zelda finally broke from her stupor.
"No, I'm not-"
"Please stop," she said, cutting me off. "Everything you've done," she swallowed hard, "it's incredible. Your plan was smart; I never would have thought of it. Instead of appealing to my council, you left them with no ground from which to deny you. With your support inside and outside of Hyrule and that law you dug up, none of their objections will hold, not if they want to keep their respectability with their provinces. However, there's a different problem. One I never told you because it never mattered given every other obstacle in our way, though it was always there."
My breath hitched. What other problem could exist? I thought I had done everything I needed to, looked at this from every angle. Unless... unless she didn't feel the same way.
She sighed. "You spent so much time and effort trying to prove you were worthy of me when the truth is, I'm not worthy of you."
I let out my breath in surprise. What was she talking about? She was the queen. She wasn't below anyone.
"You're so good, so honest. I'm not that good. I lie without hesitation, I manipulate others when it suits my purposes. I try to pretend I'm so far above my council and my court, but the truth is, I'm the same. Or very nearly. The only thing separating me from them is our purposes. They're doing it for their own interests, while everything I do is for Hyrule. That might make me nobler, but on a more basic level, it means I'm no better than them."
She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment as if saying the words out loud was hurting her. "I never wanted to admit that to you. The way you looked at me like I could do no wrong in your eyes, it was a nice feeling, one I didn't want to let go. After all, what was the harm? Our relationship could never progress far enough for that to be an issue. I thought I could allow myself that one indulgence because I couldn't stand the thought of the way you'd look at me if I broke the illusion.
"But I underestimated you, which I realize now was a silly mistake." A sad smile appeared briefly on her face as she looked down at the ground. "So now I have to make you understand that you deserve better than me. You deserve someone who's good, someone who can devote herself to you. Because for me, Hyrule always has to come first. You could never be my top priority, and that's not fair. Not to you. Not when you'd be doing this despite the position you'd acquire."
She looked back up to me with shimmering eyes. "I'm so sorry you went through all of that for nothing. I should have told you before, but I was selfish. I can't be selfish anymore. I have to let you go. You need to find someone who is everything you deserve. You should have your fairytale. I can't be a part of that."
I looked at her in amazement. Was that it? Was that why she had tried so hard to push me away? She thought she wasn't good enough for me? And to think, I had spent all that time trying with everything I had to prove myself worthy of her. I might have dwelt on that, let the irony sink in, but Zelda was in pain. I could never stand to see her in pain.
I took a step closer and touched my hand softly to the side of her face, lighting both our hands. "Oh Zelda, don't you know that fairytales always start with a princess?"
For a moment I thought I saw want in her eyes, but it quickly turned to resolve. I wasn't going to allow that. If she denied me because she thought I'd be a bad king or because she didn't have feelings for me, I could possibly accept that. But I absolutely would not let her sacrifice us based on a misplaced sense of guilt.
"How skewed you see yourself," I said, my hand still touching her face. She hadn't backed away from my touch, which was good. Now we were both being honest, now there were no walls between us. "You lie and manipulate? Guess what I did to win the war. I stole and I killed because I had to. If we're going to be defined by the worst we've had to do, I look objectively worse.
"But our imperfections don't define us. We have our virtues too, you more than most. I could start a list if you want. I could extol your wisdom or your compassion or your selflessness. I could go on about your intelligence, your resilience, your devotion. But that would take hours, and really, there's one thing that makes all of your talk about worthiness meaningless."
I took a breath to savor the moment as I gazed into her beautiful blue eyes that were filled with both fear and hope. This was it; this was me playing all my cards.
"I love you, Zelda."
She breathed in deeply as her eyes filled with emotion. She had to have seen it coming, but I think hearing it out loud made it different, made it real. I know it did for me. Those feelings had been there for so long, but finally saying it out loud to her was exhilarating.
"I have been for awhile. I can't tell you exactly how many rooftop meetings it took, but I know it wasn't many. I tried to deny for a long time, but not anymore. I want to be with you every moment I can. And I don't care if you're not a saint or if Hyrule comes first, the only thing that matters to me is that you feel the same way. So how about it, Zelda? Do you love me?"
This was a dream, it had to be. One word to give me a life I never even dared fantasize? That wasn't reality. I had accepted that long ago. But that word would also condemn him to a life full of people and customs he'd hate. He seemed to think I was enough to live that life. How could that be true? How could I be that important to him? I didn't want him to wake up a few years down the road and realize I wasn't worth it.
Negative thoughts coursed through my mind, convincing me I should lie to protect him. It would be best for him in the long run. Then a new thought came into my head. Who was I to say what was best for him as if he were a child? Given everything he's done, didn't he at least deserve to make his own decisions? I owed him the truth. What he did with it was his choice.
"Yes," I whispered. "I tried so hard not to, but the truth is, I do love you."
I had never said those words even in my mind, but I felt like a huge burden had just been lifted from me. I couldn't help but feel better when I saw Link's reaction. His face lit up brighter than I had ever seen. I wasn't sure if he'd be able to restrain himself from dancing or shouting out. Instead, he leaned down and kissed me.
This kiss was softer than our first. Instead of being filled with anger and desperation that we might never see each other again, this one promised to be the beginning of many more to come.
My heart was filled with joy as we broke apart. Could I really be so lucky? How had I, the Ice Queen, have won the heart of a man so beautiful in both body and spirit? Someone who was willing to go to such desperate lengths just to have a chance of being with me? The goddesses truly were benevolent.
Though I couldn't help but wonder if this is what they wanted all along. Maybe Link would make the best king for Hyrule. He would need a lot of help learning diplomacy, laws, and proper procedure. However, I had no doubt that with my help, he would prove equal to the task. With the piece of paper I was holding, he had proved that he could get results in the political realm, even if that meant using non-traditional means. We could complement each other well. Perfectly, even.
I thought I might collapse from happiness. Zelda, the supposed Ice Queen, had finally admitted her feelings. Nothing could stop me now. We could be together. Though, I suppose I should ask her formally.
I knelt down and grasped her hands in my own. "I thought about buying you a ring, but I realized you probably had one from your family that you'd prefer to wear. However, I didn't want to come here empty handed. Luckily, as I passed through Ordona before coming here, I happened to find this," I said as I once again pulled the Ocarina of Time from my belt.
Zelda gasped and her eyes filled with gratitude. So I was right to think she'd want it back. It hurt me at first to see it sitting on a ledge by the Temple of Time's ruins as I entered the grounds to plead my case to the goddesses one last time. I thought maybe it meant that she was leaving behind everything we had together. I hoped she would accept it again.
"I know re-gifting is tacky, but I hope you'll make an exception in this case." A comment that once might have gotten a twitch from the corner of her mouth now yielded a full smile as she had no longer had any defenses raised.
"No doubt we have many trials ahead of us, but I'm convinced that together there is nothing we cannot accomplish. I'm overjoyed at the thought of waking up and seeing you first thing everyday. I know it's not an easy path, but I don't want easy. I want happiness. I think that's a lot harder. You could make me happier than anyone else if you just say yes. Will you marry me?"
She closed her eyes, but this time, it didn't seem like she was at war with herself. I think she had resolved those issues. This time it seemed like she was trying to savor the moment.
A big smile appeared on her face as she opened her eyes. "Yes, Link. I would be honored if you were to become my king."
I had never been happier than I was in this moment. I had finally done it. I had managed to tear down all of Zelda's walls. She was finally mine. And in this moment, with her smiling down at me as joy danced in her eyes, she had never looked more beautiful.
I grabbed her by the waist and popped her into the air as I stood before twirling her around. She let out a gasp of surprise that turned into laughter.
"What was that?" she asked when I put her down.
"You said yes." I pulled her close to me. "We don't have to hide anymore. We can be together." I brushed her hair from her face before I leaned down to kiss her. I was in heaven. Then an awful thought ran through my head, and I pulled away. "We can, right? We don't have to worry about Torrin or your council separating us, do we?"
Zelda held her gloved hand to my cheek. "Don't worry about that. You fought so hard for me. It's my turn to fight for you. I can handle any objections they may raise. You should focus on resting. You must be weary."
Actually I had never felt more alive, but I saw the look in her eye when she said she'd fight for me. It was something she needed to do. That was fine. Great really, since she was as invested in our relationship as I was. We had all the time in the world to work together.
"Right now I'm just happy," I said as I stared at her, grinning like a fool.
She pressed her lips together and squeezed her eyes shut as a drop of moisture fell down her cheek.
"Is that a tear I see?" I asked.
She wiped it away. "A queen never cries." The corner of her mouth turned up playfully. "It must be some of that ice melting."
I laughed. "They won't have a nickname for you anymore."
"I doubt our marriage will stop them, but even if it does, they'll come up with others. You'll probably earn one or two yourself."
"Really?" I drew my eyebrows in as I considered it. "What do you think they'll call me?"
"Well the people will probably call you the Hero King."
That clearly wasn't the whole answer. "And your council?" I pressed.
Her eyes darted to the side. "If I had to guess, they'll probably call you something along the lines of the Idiot King."
She said it with reluctance as if she thought I might be mad, but I just laughed. I knew I had a lot to learn, and I'd probably make plenty of mistakes that would justify the name, but I was willing to take on that learning curve. Zelda was worth it.
"The Ice Queen and the Idiot King. Quite the pair, huh?"
Zelda intertwined the fingers of her right hand and my left so that the Triforces shining through both our gloves were opposite each other. "The goddesses seem to think so. Which makes anyone who says otherwise blasphemous."
I smiled at the joke. Zelda had a surprising sense of humor that I was excited to discover further. It seemed almost unbelievable that we'd be able to spend every day together soon.
It truly was incredible. Everything we had been through, the progress in our relationship, starting when she told me to call her Zelda, to the heated argument that ended in our temporary separation, to my return and her acceptance of my proposal; all of that stemmed from simple rooftop conversations.
A/N: Goodness, I could not figure out a way to end this chapter. I wrote everything else in a moderately timely manner, but the last part defeated me, so I apologize for the delay.
Anyway, I hope this chapter managed to be a satisfying ending for most of you. I'll probably write a short epilogue chapter that ties up a few loose ends, but otherwise, this is it. On the small chance I don't write an epilogue, there are a few things I want to say to all of you.
First off, thank you so much for reading this entire story, and a special thanks to everyone who took the time to review. This story was just meant to be a one shot, and it's incredible what it turned into. I have you guys to thank for that because all the support is what convinced me to continue. I love the Legend of Zelda franchise, and I feel honored that I could contribute, as small a way as this might be. Thank you again so much for all the support because every email I got from fanfiction, whether it was a new review, favorite, or follow, really made my day.
Any final feedback is, of course, very much appreciated.
P.S. Sorry for lying to you about only having a part from Zelda's perspective at the beginning of the chapter. As I was writing, I thought it might be interesting to delve into Zelda's thoughts during that moment to give her answer a little more impact.