Zelda hit her head against the steering wheel, hard enough to feel the reverberation in her skull, and immediately regretted it. Pulling away, she inhaled, pressed down on the accelerator, and felt the car rev under her fruitlessly.
“No, no, no,” she whined, as the windshield wipers ineffectually tried to clear the window. “Fuuuck,” she cried, hitting the steering wheel. Then, when the rapid turning of the wheels did nothing to budge the car, she lifted her foot off the gas and slumped in her seat, feeling her eyes prickle with tears.
The radio jingled cheerfully, Midwinter songs caroling through without care for her predicament.
She blinked through the blurriness in her vision and tried to make something out in the blizzard outside. The wipers were doing their best, but the fat sticky snowflakes were hitting the windshield in big wet splotches that caked together into a soggy, icy crust. The side windows were not faring much better ― the wind was blowing directly onto the driver’s side, and there was no light at all, except what her headlights bounced off the snow. It wasn’t much; she could barely make out the narrow road, and as the minutes passed it was vanishing under snow blown across the pavement. The flakes and sleet reflecting off the headlights as they fell made her feel like she was blasting through hyperspace, and she wasn’t even moving.
Where were the plows, anyway? She wondered petulantly, and knew the answer already. This wasn’t Castleton, where the Royal Quarter was a priority for snow clearance operations. Far from it. This was just a backwater road in Necluda, far outside of Central Hyrule. It didn’t even qualify as an intermunicipal road, let alone a highway.
Oh gods, she was going to run her battery flat if she stayed here until the plows came. And they wouldn’t come until the snowstorm was over ― that would be futile.
More tears threatened to surface. What was she going to do?
She put the car in park, breathing shakily. So she hadn’t anticipated that the squall would be this bad. That was entirely her mistake, because 95% chance of 40 centimetres of snow was not a negligible thing to ignore. Yet she had received the warning, and she had deliberately ignored it, because she hadn’t been thinking straight. Midwinter had come as a sorely welcome relief, with Parliament blessedly adjourned until the New Year. She had never anticipated a recess with such desperation before, but these were different times, and she was in dire need of some time alone.
At least, she thought as she wiped the wetness off her cheeks, she wasn’t crying over Papa all the time anymore. This was the first Midwinter she spent without him, and she hadn’t been ready― hadn’t wanted to consider― what that would feel like.
So she had declined all invitations, had requested that her security detail prepare the cabin, and then demanded to be left alone. Impa hadn’t been happy about that, but there was no real danger. Zelda was well-liked, and no one knew about the cabin. It was a private property, not a royal estate. No one would suspect that she would be there at all.
Especially if she never made it, she grimly thought.
Bracing herself, she zipped up her coat to her chin and pushed the door open, stepping out into the storm.
Blinking against the wind and the snow, she plodded over to the front wheels ― she knew the car was front traction only, and she hated herself for it now ― and peered down at the tracks she had made when trying, ineffectually, to work her way out of the snow pile.
How the fuck was she going to pull herself out of this?
Her cold fingers reached into her coat pocket, grasping for her cell phone. Impa had insisted ― insisted ― that she keep geolocation services on, but she saw now in the faint blue glow of her screen that this road, nestled as it was between Mount Lanayru’s roots, was outside the range of cell service.
Her geomarker had pinned her last known location, thirty miles south-west of here, at the Roast Cucco Inn.
Should she call emergency services? Her cell was supposed to work to call them even when she was outside cell reception range.
Except she wasn’t in danger of dying, and she was the Queen of Hyrule. How shameful would it be if she, of all people, turned emergency services away from actual emergencies just because she had stupidly gotten herself stuck in a snowstorm? How did regular people manage situations like these? Did they―
The idea struck her suddenly and she trudged to the back of the car, popped open the trunk, and peered inside the dimly lit box to see what tools she had on hand.
A diplomatic car, with diplomatic plates, was equipped with just what one would need to fix a blown tire, repel armed assault, and fill up on windshield washer.
But it was not, apparently, in possession of treads, tracks, or shovels. What were the odds?
She tore her eyes away from the rifle in the trunk and shut the lid firmly, ignoring the grim and petulant voice that said that, at least, she could try to shoot her last meal before she died buried in the snow. Fat lot of good that would do.
She returned to her driver’s seat and the warmth of the car, shut the door against the wind and the cold, and shut off the engine. The headlights remained, and the windshield wipers, but she turned off the radio, plunging herself into the sudden wintry silence.
She was being melodramatic. Survival rates weren’t that bad ― three minutes without air, she recited to herself. Three hours without shelter. Three days without water. Three weeks without food.
Alright. Shelter. She might make it to morning without freezing, with what she was wearing… and if she didn’t waste battery power.
So, to properly wallow in her self-pity, she shut off the lights and the wipers too.
Now the car was dark. The winter outside was relentless. She could hear the wind whispering against the frame, the little splats of the snowflakes ― which were almost as big as old Necludan coins ― and the rushing of the pine trees. In the dark, they seemed much closer to the road, looming overhead, blotting out the sky.
And Zelda cried.
So much had changed in the past year ― too much ― and this was not how she wanted to spend Midwinter. In trying to outpace her grief, she had buried herself in work, had ignored offers to retreat, had avoided moments of levity.
Papa had died in the spring, soon a full year ago. Summer had zipped by in a blur, and autumn ― autumn had brought its own pains, because she had been worn down by the grief, exhausted by pretending that she was fine and up to the task of ruling.
She felt the sobs wracking her body in the silence. It wasn’t about Papa ― not really. It wasn’t about the snowstorm, although that didn’t help.
She just hadn’t had a single moment in the past ten months to feel truly and properly sorry for herself. Now it was all coming out, all at once, and she let it.
She was so absorbed by her tears and the stream of snot coming out of her nose that she didn’t notice the headlights in her rearview mirror until they were parked right behind her, blinding.
Zelda wiped at her face, clarity returning with alarming alacrity.
Fuck. This was totally the kind of place where murderers preyed on stranded women. She knew the statistics. She was a fiend for statistics. Statistics had helped her win 87% of her arguments in Parliament, and had supported at least 72.3% of the winning speeches made by officials in the past two elections.
She 100% should have taken the gun from the trunk when she was back there. She had no idea how to load it, or how to shoot, but it might have been a solid deterrent against psycho-rapist-murderers.
The crunching of the snow as steps approached made her heart pound. Gods above, she would have to play her royalty charm to the max. Would a murderer really risk killing the actual, bona fide Queen of Hyrule? She might promise the man (or woman, gods knew women could be murdery too ―20% of all violent crime offenders were women) a knighthood or something, and deal with the consequences later.
The face that came down to her window to peer inside surprised her so much she startled.
She knew that face.
And that face knew her.
Zelda liked statistics, but even statistically, this seemed highly improbable.
And so, so unfair.
Stupidly, she pushed the button to lower the window. The key was still in the ignition, so it purred down just a crack, whereupon snow immediately began to blow into her face.
“Link? What are you doing here?” She blurted out, because apparently it wasn’t bad enough that she be stranded, she also had to be embarrassed about it.
Link Forester looked down at her with an impassive, unreadable expression. His eyes scanned the car for other occupants ―old habits died hard, apparently― before settling on her face once again. “What in the world are you doing in a snowstorm like this, alone?”
She felt the reprove burning at her face. “That is none of your business.”
He glanced down at her driver-side front wheel, then back at her. “Those aren’t winter tires.”
How could he tell ? Gods, how many life skills did he have, anyway? It was infuriating. “I do not need your input, thank you.”
“You’ve been crying.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” she said, reaching up to hide her puffy eyes and runny nose, “why― what are you doing here? How did you find me?”
“I didn’t find you. I saw a stranded car. I thought someone needed assistance.” He jutted his thumb towards his own vehicle, a large lifted truck that looked suitable for a lumber yard, and said, “So I came to investigate.”
She blinked up at him, then pithily said, “Of all the snowblown roads in all the world.”
She was pleased when his eyes crinkled a little. Amusement even danced in them, she was sure of it. “I don’t have my towing chain, your Majesty. Can I instead escort you back to town? I’m sure you can get a lift home from there.”
Panic seized her. The thought of going back to town and facing Impa and officials and people again so soon paralyzed her.
Link saw her expression change because he frowned. “Zelda.”
It wasn’t supposed to sound like that ― he didn’t mean it that way ― but when Link said her name, it inevitably made a hot shiver run down her spine.
This , Zelda reminded herself, was exactly why he had been reassigned in the first place. He had said her name ― her given name ― in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and then things had happened, Impa had stepped in, and wads of bureaucracy and retraining and paperwork and seminars later, he’d been 'reassigned'.
Well, that and also the incident . The incident that had caused him to say her name to begin with.
Not that she was going to remember the incident right now. Gods, a year had already passed. How long was she going to keep remembering it and feeling such keen embarrassment?
It did not do for queens ― well, she had been a princess back then ― to feel embarrassment. It also did not do for them to get drunk and make mistakes.
Because that was all that had been. A mistake.
A very bad, awful, no-good mistake. A spectacularly terrible mistake.
Zelda snapped back to reality by realizing she was looking at Link’s lips. They were moving. He was talking. She forced herself to pay attention.
“... a matter of safety, and you can’t just drive off in the middle of the night like this.”
She blinked at him, unsure, and decided to ignore the obvious remonstration. “I am not going back until after the New Year.”
He scowled. “ Zelda .” Oh, that was a lot less like how he was supposed to say her name. “You shouldn’t be driving in the first place. Where’s your chauffeur?”
“At home,” she said, lightly, with a great sense of superiority. “For the holidays. With his loving family.”
“Where were you going?” He asked, point blank.
She hesitated, then said, “The lodge.”
He didn’t understand, at first. Then, understanding dawned on him. “Oh. Your father’s cabin.” He frowned again, properly. “Skies, that’s at least another hour out. The roads are impassable there.”
Dismay seized her. “But― But I asked― I said―”
“You asked for the snowstorm to hold on?” Link deadpanned.
Gods, Zelda scowled. Link had always been like this. He was the most irritating voice of reason― “You know what?” She said, annoyed, “I’m fine. Thank you for checking in on me, but I don’t need your help. Good night.” She rolled the window up, started her engine, and was pleased when Link took a step back from the car.
Except her wheels were still spinning into nothing. They revved idly for a good half minute as she cursed them and tried in vain to speed off into the night, if only to win the argument.
When she gave up and Link approached the car again, she cursed everything ― the snow, the car, her life ― and wondered why she could never seem to leave his presence with dignity.
He knocked on her window again, and she reluctantly buzzed it down.
“Zelda,” he said, all patience and common sense, “get in my goddamned truck.”
She knew defeat when she was within its clutches. “Fine,” she muttered. “But if this is a ploy to kill me and bury me in the woods, I have been taking tae bo and I will fight back.”
Link rolled his eyes, but he pulled the handle of the car door and pried it open as far as it would go, though the snow bank prevented some motion. It seemed the squall wasn’t weakening, and Zelda felt a surge of gratitude that he was there after all.
“I need my purse,” she muttered, pulling at the back door. “And my suitcase.”
He slammed her driver’s door and helped her pry the back door open. “We’ll come back in the morning and pull it out of the snowbank,” he promised. He was a man of his word, Zelda knew. He never said things he didn’t mean, which could be annoying. Except now, when it was, well, actually kind of nice.
“I’ll have the Castle deal with it. Don’t worry about it,” she mumbled, dragging her suitcase out into the snow. The piles of the damn white stuff were reaching up her shins, and she was struggling to keep her luggage off the ground.
Link picked it out of her hands and over his shoulder, trudging off towards his truck. Apparently, he was impatient to get out of the storm. Zelda locked her car, hesitantly, then followed after him.
She plodded over, surprised to see the markings on the truck when she finally reached the passenger side. Pulling herself up into the seat next to him, she cast him a puzzled look. “Forester Lumberyards Inc.?”
He glanced at her as he put the truck into drive, making a big swerve to avoid her car as he effortlessly drove out of the snowbank and onto the slightly less snowed-in road. “Yeah. I quit security.”
This was the most astonishing thing Zelda had heard today, and she had not had an easy day. “But why ?” She spluttered. “You were― you had a natural talent for… guard… stuff.”
His sideways look made heat spread from her neck to her stomach. “Guard stuff?” He echoed, flatly.
“Oh, shut up,” she muttered.
He didn’t smile, but the corners of his eyes crinkled. He turned his focus back to the road ― and the effortlessness with which he navigated what Zelda had found impossible to traverse ― and answered anyway. “After the incident , I realized security wasn’t for me.”
The incident. Oh, gods. He referred to it as ‘the incident’ too! She was mortified.
“Link,” she breathed. She had never gotten around to apologizing for her part in all of it. “I’m― I’m so sorry. If I had known―”
He shook his head. “No, don’t worry about it. If not that time, it might have happened some other time, or with someone else. I figured I’m better suited to jobs like this, where I don’t risk… Well.” He shrugged. “Don’t beat yourself up about it.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to point out that she was the Queen of Hyrule, that queens never beat themselves up about anything. Except his words had, in fact, brought her a certain degree of peace, and she did, indeed, stop feeling relentless self-loathing for a brief moment.
“I’m sorry about your father,” he said, after a long moment of silence.
She was startled out of her quiet thoughts and nodded. “Thank you. I’ve… I’m starting to make my peace with him being gone.”
It was a strange thing to say, completely out of line with her usual comments regarding her kingly father’s death. But then, she had never been very good at keeping boundaries with Link. It was in the way he spoke to her: respectfully, sure, but… without panache or ornament.
“I remember when my parents died,” Link said, “it hurt for several years. Like a hole in my life.”
“Yeah,” she softly said.
“It doesn’t get fun,” he said, “but it does get easier, in time. I promise.”
“I know,” she whispered. He turned off the road and down a narrow pass between the trees that she hadn’t even noticed. “Wait, where are we going?”
The headlights were illuminating a flurry of snow. “I’m taking you to my place. It’s closer, it’s easier to access, and that way I know you won’t be freezing to death.”
“Oh. You―” She felt a surge of gratitude. “You don’t have to,” she said. “I could have gone back to town.”
“I thought you didn’t want to go back,” Link said.
She didn’t. At all. “I don’t.”
“Well, then,” Link said. He pulled up through the snow and the trees, reaching a small house ― not a cabin. It was just a small house, perfectly ordinary in its construction, but the porch light was on, and the lights inside too. It looked warm. Inviting. Cozy. Everything her father’s cabin wouldn’t have been.
He pulled her suitcase out before she could try to do it herself, and he trudged over to his front door, jingling his keys, pushing it open, then turning around to remote-lock his truck.
“It’s not much,” he said, as she was first to enter, to the crisp warm heat of a fireplace, “but the pull-out couch is way more comfortable than it looks.”
Something inside the house smelled like pot roast. She hadn’t realized Link knew how to cook.
She turned to him as he kicked the snow off his boots and entered, shutting the door behind himself firmly. Her voice dipped to a whisper. “Is there― Should I introduce myself?”
He blinked down at her. In the tiny foyer, they were very close together. He smelled of the outdoors, of smoke and water and pine. His big coat was all puffy and further reduced the space she had. “Introduce yourself to… whom?”
She inhaled the smell of pot roast, feeling her stomach grumble. “I just― I assumed―”
He peered down at her, a smile pulling at his lips faintly. “I’m single, your Majesty. That is my cooking you’re smelling.”
He wasn’t allowed to look so smug about it, she decided as he pushed past her and removed his coat, hanging it up on a hook. He was wearing a thick sweater underneath, but when he moved, it pulled at his shoulders and Zelda remembered… Well.
Apparently working in lumber yards did even more for his form than even being an elite guardsman.
“Do you mean to tell me you haven’t dated anyone since―” She interrupted herself, horrified by the question she had been about to ask. It was unseemly for a queen to pry.
“Since the incident ?” He asked, eyebrows raising, and she glared at him. He suppressed a laugh.
She thought it wasn’t fair that he should be so serene about the incident , considering how uneasy it still sat with her. Was she to understand that he’d spent this entire year perfectly content― completely at peace with what had happened?
Well, that wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair. That incident still haunted her. She still dreamed about it sometimes.
And sometimes, it didn’t end with Impa knocking at the door.
She let him take her coat and stepped into the living room. It was small, undeniably masculine, but it was warm and she was glad to get close to the fireplace.
“I’d offer you a drink,” Link said, “but I think you swore those off last year. Or have you gone back to your old ways of getting silly-drunk and propositioning your staff?”
She turned, scandalized, and saw the humour dancing in his eyes. He was laughing at her! She picked up a cushion from the couch and threw it at him; it bounced off his chest harmlessly.
“You― you― you bastard, I made you lose your job and you have the nerve to make jokes about it?”
Now he smiled, properly smiled, radiating amusement. “You didn’t make me lose my job. I lost that job fair and square. I knew the rules of engagement and blatantly―” He interrupted himself, searching his memory. “How did human resources, public relations and media relations put it?” He snapped his fingers. “Right! ‘Blatantly exploited my position to take advantage of Hyrule’s most beloved daughter’.” He flexed his fingers. “I signed so many confidentiality agreements that ironically I think you’re the only person left on this planet with whom I can still discuss it.”
She felt guilt eat up her insides. “I’m so sorry.”
“I hope not,” he said. “What a way to be fired,” he said, wistfully. “Shame no one ever found out. I would have so many bragging rights…”
He still had bragging rights, Zelda saw. When he sighed his chest puffed up and she could see he was more muscular than he had even been last year, which was downright unfair, because last year she had already wanted to lick him like a lollipop.
Now she wanted to unwrap him like a Midwinter present.
He saw the change in her mood and his smile faded. “Hey,” he said, gently, misunderstanding her silence, “I’m just kidding. I’m sorry.”
She scowled at him, feeling frustration rise inside her. “Feed me, peasant, and I may forgive you.”
Now he did burst out laughing, and she felt a small smile pull at her lips.
“Yes, your Majesty.” He motioned for her to follow him and she left the warmth of the fireplace to join him in his small kitchen. The smell here was mouth-watering. And the view too, she decided when he bent to pull the pot roast out of the oven. His jeans pulled over his ass magnificently, and she cocked her head to study the phenomenon with interest.
Yep, she remembered. This was exactly how it had all begun.
It had started with his ass.
“ Butt alert ,” Midna hissed, racing into the office.
Zelda looked up, confused, from the speech she was writing for the Castleton Charity Fund Spring Ball. “I beg your pardon?”
“Your new guard,” Midna said, sliding into the chair across from her desk with the smile of a cat in milk. “Oh, Zelda, he is delightful.”
Right, Zelda remembered. Rusl had gone on paternity leave. His replacement was starting this morning. And apparently he had a fine ass. “You can have him,” she absently told Midna. “If he’ll have you.” Which he would. She hadn’t known Midna to get refused often. She frowned, then looked up at her friend, who was still grimacing at her with disgust. “And you shouldn’t talk about people that way.”
“Good gods,” Midna said, “it’s like you’re made of marble or something. I need you to start feeling things with your disgusting human viscera, like the rest of us, please.”
Her disgusting human viscera did not signify. She was a princess of Hyrule. One day, she would be queen. And when she was queen, she’d have to marry someone, preferably someone whose body parts, combined with hers, could produce heirs.
Feeling had little to do with it. In fact, the less she cared about it, the easier it would be when the time came.
Impa knocked at the door; she had a distinctive rap that was hard, efficient, and specifically rhythmic. Midna turned in her seat, tense with excitement.
“Come in,” Zelda said, hardly raising her eyes from the speech. Was it better to say ‘honoured guests’ or ‘dear friends’? Or both? ‘Dear friends, honoured guests’? Was that too formal-sounding?
“Your Highness,” Impa said, and Zelda reluctantly interrupted her thoughts to focus on her chief of security.
And her thoughts came to a grinding halt.
Oh, damn .
“This is Link Forester,” Impa said, as Zelda felt herself, in fact, turn to stunned marble, inside which wiggled an uncomfortable pile of viscera. “He will be replacing Rusl for the coming year as your personal guard. Please feel free to call on him as necessary.”
“I’m sure it will be necessary,” Midna said, and Zelda regretted that there was a wood panel keeping her from kicking Midna’s feet.
“Your Highness,” Link Forester said, clicking his heels smartly. He wasn’t looking at her, not directly. “I am at your disposal.”
Yes, please .
Oh, no .
“Thank you, Link. Welcome to this office.” She hesitated, then managed, “Carry on.”
His eyes met hers for a brief second, blue, electric, and then he nodded, and the moment passed.
When he turned to stride back out, she saw it.
“Oh,” she breathed.
“I know ,” Midna gasped excitedly. “I do not issue alerts idly.”
“There’s a 92% chance he already has a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend, even.”
Midna grinned at her. “But he might not.”
Zelda considered this for the deep statement that it was, feeling a momentary lapse of good judgement threatening to take hold.
Then she exhaled and forced herself to focus on the Spring Ball. “It doesn’t matter, anyway. Just watch. I won’t even notice he’s there.”
She totally noticed.
She noticed when he wore his tailored suit during formal events.
She noticed when he showed up in the dawn hours, still looking a little haggard from sleep.
She noticed the aftershave he wore, whenever he came in too close.
She noticed the way he would shift his weight in boredom during meetings, especially if the words ‘a marginal increase in public support’ were uttered, or any percentages. That was the part that annoyed her the most. Percentages had been her lifeblood until then, the cold hard valuation of subjective issues, the best way to measure anything at all. Data was useful. It served. Her advisors knew she loved data. It was frustrating to be distracted by him when numbers were the order of the day.
She also noticed how much he ate, the clipped, efficient way he walked and talked, the way he liked to roll up his shirtsleeves if he could get away with it―
She noticed the way he’d run his hand through his hair all day until it became an unkempt mess.
And she noticed his butt. She noticed it a lot.
Summer was well and truly upon them when he entered her office, like he did almost every day, and shut the door behind him. She hardly looked up, absorbed as she was by her reading ―a treatise on the economic impacts of nationalistic protectionism― so she did not realize he was striding her way until his hand was on her arm.
She startled, pulling away from him instinctually. His touch had been warm, sending a jolt of heat to her shoulder and down her spine, pooling in all kinds of places she preferred to pretend did not exist.
His eyes, when her gaze met his, were focused, bluer than the sky outside. “Your Highness, I need you to stay calm and follow me.”
She stared at him. “What is going on?”
He pulled her office chair back, urging her to her feet. “The CBRN response team is investigating right now; I am under orders to take you to the safe room immediately.”
“ CBRN ?” She hissed, eyes growing wide, as he took her arm ― again, with that annoying heat― and pulled her out of the office and into her receiving room. “Are you seriously going to keep the threat that vague? CBRN is a huge gamut of possible ways to die. The chemical and biological threats alone―”
“It’s not nuclear,” Link said, though his tone barely assuaged her. “And unlikely to be radiological. But a large package of an unknown substance was left in the exhibition hall, and we’re worried it’s made its way through the vents.”
“Chemical or biological, then,” Zelda said, deadpan. “ Great . Stupendous.”
Link reached for a panel in the wall and swung it open, revealing a reinforced door. “Until we can be sure that the coast is clear, I need you to work from in here.”
‘In here’ was the panic room. It was a small, windowless, reinforced room that still smelled of paint. It was never used. Link shoved her in, then made to exit, and she turned, panicked.
“Wait― you’re not going to leave me in here alone, are you?”
He hesitated. She felt very small in the panic room, and with the recirculation system activated, the air blowing in was cold. “Uhh…”
“Link,” she said, firmly, with all the authority she could summon as a royal, “if you leave me in here alone, you are so finished. Words cannot express how finished you will be.”
Something flickered in his gaze, something she didn’t recognize then, but would begin to see more of in the weeks that would follow: inner conflict. She saw his eyes dart over her face in uncertainty, down to her body, her hair, her hands, her feet. Was he making a medical assessment? Was he seriously weighing her physical safety against her emotional stability?
“Link,” she warned again, and he relented, mercifully, reentering the room like a man going to the gallows, before shutting the reinforced door behind him.
It locked into place, and she shook her head at him.
“I cannot believe you almost ditched me,” she said.
He crossed his arms, taking up a post by the door, like he did whenever he didn’t have an assigned location, and she saw him shift his weight uncomfortably. “I didn’t think you’d enjoy being in close quarters with me for what could be hours.”
“Goes to show what you know,” she mumbled, turning to her book as she made for a seat. She heard him chuckle ―almost inaudibly, but unmistakable.
They were released three hours later. The substance had been harmless, a bad prank. Investigations would continue to locate the origin of the package, but Zelda was released from the panic room, with Link in tow, and they did not speak of it again.
But she started to see his gaze follow her more attentively afterwards.
“Can a person feel simultaneous delight and fury?” Zelda asked. “Because your pot roast is annoyingly delicious.”
Link smiled at her over his own plate, but didn’t respond to her question. “Explain to me how Impa let you go off on your own, without a single person to keep an eye on you.”
“Coercion, threats, and temper tantrums,” Zelda primly replied, suppressing a smile. “They’ve proven effective since my earliest childhood.”
He snorted. “I’ll bet.”
“Tell me about your work,” she said, soaking a piece of bread in her plate. “I mean… Lumber?”
“Guarding forests is a lot easier than guarding people,” Link joked. “Trees don’t move with quite the same speed or determination. And they can really eat a lot of bullets before they go down.” He shrugged. “But really, I like the work. I spend my days either cutting or planting. It’s hard going sometimes, but renewable resources are very attractive right now.” He gestured with his fork. “Do you know I make more money doing lumberyard work than even Rusl? He has maxed out his salary envelope, and he’s still expected to take a bullet for you.”
She shifted in her seat, uncomfortably. “I did not know that.”
Link’s eyes were bright with amusement. “Well now that you do, I imagine Impa will have even more reason to hate me,” he joked. “So don’t tell her you got that from me. She probably knows where I live.”
“Fret not,” she mumbled. “Impa already considers you like one of her professional lessons. There’s a training packet about appropriate behaviour that’s given to all the new guards now.”
She saw the grin spread on his lips. “You haven’t texted her about being here yet, have you?”
Zelda pushed a piece of roast around her plate awkwardly. “Hopefully I can play it off like I was stuck out of geolocation range until the storm passes tomorrow morning.”
Link smirked, and she watched him shake his head, tisking in disapproval while simultaneously looking very pleased with her behaviour. “Zelda, you horrible liar. Can the fate of Hyrule really depend on such a secretive woman?”
“I can’t call her,” Zelda said, defensively. “Knowing Impa, she’ll imagine this was all your doing.”
“What,” Link scoffed, mirth crinkling the corners of his eyes, “the snowstorm, your terrible driving, the snowbank you got yourself embedded into, and my propensity for rescuing stranded cars?”
“My driving is not terrible,” Zelda gasped. “And yes. Clearly, all the work of a mastermind.”
Link rolled his eyes. “You give me too much credit. If I were such a genius, I’d have a way to make my sister bake me cookies more than once a year for Midwinter. Speaking of which,” he added, “if you want your own batch, you’ll have to call ahead. I’m not sharing.”
She pursed her lips, knowing he was kidding. “Don’t worry, I’ll be out of your hair tomorrow. No sharing necessary.”
“See,” he said, chewing, “yet another sign that I’m not a mastermind. If I were, you’d stay, because I’d have charmed the pants off of you already.”
“I was going to ascribe that to your being a gentleman,” Zelda said, trying not to laugh.
“Continue thinking that, please,” Link said, smiling at his food as he speared another bite. “It’s always a pleasure to meet a fellow revisionist.”
She was about to ask him what he meant when she felt his foot came to rest against hers under the table. She caught his eye, wondering if it was on purpose, and she saw something in his face, a glint of knowing in his eye, a slight upturn to his lip, that told her he knew. He knew exactly what he was doing.
He always had.
The first time his touch lingered, it was raining.
Summer was coming to a close, and Papa was sick. He had been sick for a while, so efforts to prepare her for ruling had begun to ramp up. She was tired, she was distressed, and she had begun to sleep fitfully, continually worried that her night would be disturbed by a gentle nudge, terrible news, and whispers of ‘Your Majesty ’.
Papa’s latest medical visit had not gone well. This had trickled to her through his assistant, by way of a request to take over a diplomatic visit to Faron. Her public relations team had taken the invitation with too much enthusiasm ― a chance to put her further in the spotlight, a chance to get the ink flowing on her coming reign― and she had acquiesced silently because, well, what else could she do?
The flight to Faron had been uneventful, and the speeches too. She had been ferried from one event to the next, putting on her most winning smile, using her gentlest, warmest gaze. The people liked her (loved, her team insisted). She got through the thing with a straight back and her chin held high, poised with all the rigour of her childhood lessons.
And then there was a delay with the plane home. The thunderstorm had moved in too quickly over the area, so they were waiting for it to pass. Waiting as she was in the royal hangar of Lurelin’s seaside airport, watching the torrents of rain pouring down, she shivered.
She knew she was keeping it together, but only just barely. Papa’s declining health was a weight upon her mind that never ceased, simultaneously dragging her down and driving her efforts. Even with royal blood, she felt… lessened by his coming absence. Without his shadow to move in, she would be exposed for all to see, vulnerable in a way she had never been. And the vagaries of power would likely strip her of her health, bit by bit, as they had for her father.
Duty mattered, and she was refusing to grieve just yet, not while he lived, but…
The warm jacket was placed over her shoulders and brought her back to the present moment. She turned, surprised to see Link’s face so close to hers. He was grave, and his eyes―
He knew. He saw.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Zelda turned away, gratefully pulling his jacket closer around herself. It was heavy― much heavier than a woman’s jacket, but heavier than a man’s, too.
“Have you weighed it down with rocks?” She asked, hoping he didn’t notice the rasp in her voice.
“It’s got a protective lining,” Link said, and she heard his wry amusement. “Won’t stop a bullet, but it’ll shield against hand weapons.”
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“Don’t mention it,” he replied, then fell silent. He didn’t move away, though. Instead, he stood next to her, watching the rain fall.
When the rain began to lessen, and sunlight began to filter through the clouds, he suddenly seemed to come to a decision, reached up to her jacket-clad shoulder, and squeezed it comfortingly.
He refused to look her in the eye, but it didn’t matter. Even through the protective lining, through her blouse, his hand felt warm, and firm, and steady.
And, gruffly, awkwardly, he said, “You’ll be alright.”
She wasn’t quite sure how it had all begun, but that autumn, something changed between them.
On the surface, everything was the same. The routine and shifts were unchanged, the protocol and the fine daily ballet of responsibilities and appointments was unaltered; he addressed her with crisp politeness, and she responded with dismissive distance, the way she did for everyone.
“Your route tomorrow is being altered, your Highness,” he said, leaning in to hand her the new map over her desk. “This is the tentative itinerary, but it may change a little again before tonight.”
She reached for it, and their fingers brushed. He didn’t shy away. His eyes met hers, still that same electric blue, and she felt an answering flood of heat swell up within her.
“Thank you,” she murmured. “Will you be on the detail?”
“I will.” His gaze was fixed upon her, so she dropped her eyes to the page, trying to focus. Then, he added, “And I will be on duty next week, during the Harvest reception dinner. Security would like to know whom you’ve chosen as your partner that night, for vetting?”
She felt the heat burn at her face, at her ears, and something swooped in her chest. “I― I’ve received several offers.” She dared to look up at him. “Only, I think I will go unaccompanied.”
She wasn’t sure if the pleased light in his eyes was her imagination, wishful thinking, or something else. “As you will, your Highness.”
His voice was warm. She liked to pretend it was gladness. More likely it was relief that he wouldn’t have to supervise her partner. Thrice now she had imposed that double charge on him, and she knew it was exhausting for him.
Although why she should be concerned with his level of fatigue when this was his job, when it was her prerogative to grace some noble with her hand for the evening, she wasn’t sure.
Still, when she descended the steps towards the waiting car that night, on the way to the Harvest reception dinner, she was glad she had taken no one else. Link was dressed in his finest evening wear, the better to go unnoticed while he shadowed her during the event. He was conceal-carrying, she knew at once, because his stance was a little wider than usual, but otherwise he gave no sign of discomfort or apprehension.
She slid into the car, and he followed after her, shutting the door firmly, and then they were in the backseat, like so many other evenings where he followed her to events. Only, this time, she wasn’t wearing a suit; her shoulders were exposed, the hem of her skirt hitched up a little past her knee, and she could feel the heat he radiated next to her. His aftershave wafted again into her nose, masculine, clean, and something that was distinctly Link.
She tried to adjust herself in her seat, shifting against her seatbelt, and if he glanced her way, he made no comment.
In fact, he was silent for the whole drive, except when they rolled up into the long driveway of the glittering Hotel Royal, which was lined with expensive cars. As they slowed to the landing, he bowed his head towards her, angling away from the driver’s rearview mirror, although Zelda doubted the driver was looking at her at all.
Link’s breath was warm against her nape and her ear when he whispered, “You look beautiful, your Highness.”
It had to be calculated, Zelda decided, bemusedly. He had to have waited until it was too late to reply, and he had to know what that would do to any red-blooded woman. The hot shiver that started on her neck spread down her arms in goose-prickles, to her insides, to her legs.
When she turned to look at him, he had shifted his focus to the bustling outside the car, focus on his features. He was back to being a guard, to preparing for their stop, and Zelda wondered if she had imagined it all, except for the ghost memory of his breath on her ear.
He stepped out of the car first, as was protocol, and extended his hand to her, firm, impassive, unreadable, and Zelda realized she was still completely off-kilter. Was that intentional? It was deeply, sorely inappropriate, but she could hardly bring herself to get upset with him when her breath was this shallow, when she felt like her blood was pumping in brand new veins, like she was experiencing her heartbeat for the first time.
Gods ― was she running a fever? She hadn’t done anything, but she felt like her chest was constricted.
She placed her hand in his, almost afraid, and was rewarded with the dry heat of his palm closing around her fingers. He pulled gently, and she followed after him in a daze, coming to her feet in a haze of flashes and shouts. She blinked, and that tumult was enough to make her snap out of it. She was in public. She had to be dignified.
She felt the cold marble of her station slide into place around her pulsating, desperately living innards, and when he released her hand, she didn’t falter. She glided forward on the pale pink carpet, despite her ridiculous heels, and pretended that she wasn’t keenly aware of his presence right behind her.
It was hard to ignore, though. His gaze was on her all the time. She felt it like a hot weight, and though she conversed with acquaintances ― noble and elected alike ― his focus was unrelenting. On half a dozen occasions she caught his eye while turning, while reaching for a glass of wine, while laughing at someone’s joke. He was standing to the side, arms joined in front of him, impassive in all ways except… well.
He really had striking blue eyes.
And then, on the way home, it happened.
She had eaten her meal with only half an appetite, torn between the two conversations she was having with her table partners, so she hadn’t allowed herself to pay much heed to Link, but on the way back, as night properly covered the city, it felt like the car had shrunk. It was hard to tell in the quick coming and going of streetlights, but it seemed Link’s legs were spread wider than before, or perhaps she had somehow found herself sitting closer to the center of the seat than earlier― either way, his leg came to rest against hers, and his side brushed against her shoulder, and then she realized that the partition separating them from the driver was up. It was neither soundproof nor fully opaque, but it was enough to set Zelda’s senses on alert.
It happened quickly, gently, almost imperceptibly: Link’s hand moved, coming to rest between them, and then his fingers were resting against her leg. He had plausible deniability written all over him, but there was no way around it: he was touching her. On purpose.
It was all so juvenile, the sane, adult part of Zelda argued. This was what adolescents did when their parents were near and watchful.
The viscerally female part of Zelda, though, responded to his touch like a parched flower reacted to water. She spread her knees just a little so her leg touched his hand fully, the better to indulge, and she felt his fingers twitch against her thigh. Her skirt had ridden up, so he was touching her silk pantyhose, which did little to shield her from the heat.
He began to stroke the outside of her thigh, gently, slowly, with only the tips of his fingers, but it made her ache. She wanted to shift, to buck― she felt her hips strain against a natural, impulsive roll, and she felt the heat at the apex of her legs grow warmer.
And that was to say nothing of the madness that was taking over her mind. The gentle, slow teasing of something so small was impossible to ignore; she could think of nothing else. And her breath was growing shorter, her want waxing, looming inside like a brewing storm.
She wanted his fingers, his whole hand to lay flat on her thigh, to push her skirts up, to gently crawl between her legs and find the heat inside her.
As though he could guess her desires, he opened his hand and boldly laid it on her skin. Her eyes were still firmly fixed on the scenery out the window, but she saw none of it. She kept herself from moving by focusing all of her efforts, but there was little she could do to mask the want she felt. Her breath was shallow, her chest felt tight, like she had been racing against the tide, and when his hand did as she had hoped and began to slide upwards, she couldn’t hold in a keening little pant.
A glance at Link, and she realized he wasn’t looking at her. He was also looking out the window, but there was a sheen of sweat above his collar and his trousers were conspicuously tented.
His lips were pulled, ever so slightly, into a smirk of satisfaction.
On another man, it might have caused her to feel outrage. On Link, it was frustratingly attractive. He knew very well what he was doing, and that was what caused her to feel simultaneously indignant and hungry for more. The blatant disregard for her station, the subtlety of his touch― it was the least appropriate thing that had ever happened to her.
And she finally understood why people lost their minds over their most base urges.
Oh, gods. If he were to press on, to pull her legs apart, to focus that handsome mouth where she burned―
The answering, aching tremor between her legs was almost enough to make her shudder.
Then he removed his hand from her silk-clad thigh, and pulled himself in, sitting up straighter.
Zelda was left throbbing and breathless, confused― and frustrated beyond belief.
By the time they returned to the palace, she was bewildered, dazed, and she had soaked through her pantyhose. It was the least dignified thing she had ever been made to experience and she ached for more. In fact, she knew she had taken leave of her senses when she briefly considered telling the driver to keep going, if only to take Link to task. Properly .
But that, she realized as soon as the thought coldly dawned on her, was unthinkable.
She was a princess. He was so far below her station that nothing would― could ever happen between them.
Link was apparently very aware of this. He was using it to his advantage, driving her mad, making himself into an intolerable gnat, an untouchable temptation. He turned to look at her, that same small smirk pulling at his lips. And as the car slowed to a stop, he nodded at her courteously, like he always did: “We’ve arrived, your Highness.”
No, they most certainly had not , Zelda thought, mutinously, and her glare only seemed to make his smirk grow a little wider.
She left the car without looking back at him, stomping as well as she could in her high heels, and vowed to have her revenge somehow, someday.
She simply didn’t anticipate that he was just getting started.
By the time winter was upon them, Zelda was fairly certain she had lost approximately 50% of her sanity, with the remaining 50% on the verge of fracture and collapse.
A year ago, she had been completely possessed of a rational mind. At the time, she had been almost convinced that she was on the verge of achieving some sort of transcendence, or at least that she was above the foolish impulses of common mortals. She had naively convinced herself that it was the simple fare of royal status, that the grand affairs of state kept her from experiencing life as a mere average woman.
But now she was ready to surrender, in complete humility, admit she had been arrogant in the extreme, and beg for a merciful end.
Because in the span of mere months, a hot asshole had reduced to a wanton mass of nerves and need.
It would be one thing if he was a hot, dumb asshole. Zelda could deal with hot, dumb assholes. As the princess, she’d been surrounded by them her entire life: fellow nobles, celebrities, politicians, hangers-on, footmen... Hell, half her bodyguards were hot, dumb assholes. But Zelda wasn’t pining after them.
No. She was panting after a hot, smart asshole.
Link was a relentless presence. Granted, that came with the territory of being a guard, but even still, it would have been exasperating if it wasn’t also so comforting. In public, he was always there, a shield between her and anyone who might harm her. He was a comforting warmth at her side, a pillar of quiet strength she silently drew from. And in private...
In private, he was wonderful. On car rides, long plane rides, or other times when Zelda found herself isolated and alone, he’d talk to her, if she asked him. She learned that he was funny, and thoughtful, and that he had a mind like a steel trap. More than once, she found herself drawing on his observations and knowledge as she prepared for speeches or public events. He never forgot a face. He knew what made people tick, and from there could identify what it was they wanted. And as for what she wanted...
Well, that was why he was an asshole. A wonderful, hot, incredible, phenomenal asshole.
He harried her defenses with skill, almost artful in the creative excuses he found to touch her. And touch was a subjective term for it: sometimes he hardly even brushed against her. Sometimes he didn’t even need to touch, because he simply occupied her immediate space, just a breath away, and that alone was enough to make her chest heave with hope and loathing.
He’d recently reached a level of teasing that was maddening in the extreme, given how effective it was: he had started to give her looks, just looks, the kind that usually preceded his advances. His blue eyes would grow hungry, intense, electric as they had been the first time their gazes had met, and he would set his jaw, like he was preparing for an assault.
And, inevitably, by force of habit, Zelda would brace, anticipation racing along every nerve. Her heart rate would rise. Her chest would constrict, her skin would grow sensitive as though preparing for him to reach out, to graze her with the barest of feathery touches…
But as soon as Link saw her breath grow shallow, he’d smile, relax, and nothing would happen.
It was, in Zelda’s opinion, the most excruciating torture ever invented. He had essentially trained her to prepare for him, and now he was letting her stew in her want without even laying a finger on her. It was outrageous. He had achieved a level of power over her that foreign nations could only dream of, and now he could wield it from all the way across a damn ballroom.
She had, on multiple occasions, considered removing him from her service. It was the wise thing to do. The only sane thing to do.
So she was very angry with herself that she still hadn’t done it.
Part of her reasoned that his service would end soon. By next spring, Rusl would be back from his year on paternity leave― there was no reason she couldn’t wait it out. In fact, it would be silly to make a scene when her agony was sure to end naturally in a matter of months. It would be hard to justify and might cause more embarrassment than it was worth.
And also she had grown to crave Link’s teasing with a hunger she dared not explore.
Perhaps it was just called being human. Perhaps Link just made her feel like a woman, something she was never allowed to be.
Perhaps she just wanted to remove his clothes and climb onto his cock and finally get something.
Any one of those possibilities, really.
The worst part about her reluctance to remove him, though, was Link’s growing confidence. He knew very well he was walking the finest line, the blurriest grounds. He had certainly overstepped at least a couple of times. The fact that she hadn’t immediately put him in his place, or lodged a complaint, or done anything in her executive and legislative power to give him the dressdown of a lifetime had only given him more audacity.
As maybe she knew it would.
Still, this latest development was not in line with what she had wanted. She wanted him to grow bolder, not more subtle. While it was both embarrassing and impressive that he could turn her into a pile of nerves and juices just by looking at her, it was a far cry from the way it had all started. She wanted more hands, more heat, not less , dammit.
Well, he couldn’t make her squirm if she didn’t look at him. That would teach him.
She was steadfast on her crusade of aloofness when she asked Midna to join her for a quiet supper. The less time she spent under his watch, burning the midnight oil in her office, the better.
Midna, however, was unsympathetic.
“You know,” her friend said, over the rim of her wine glass, “Back in the olden days, there were no human resources or ethics committees to guilt you into being a prim little miss. As long as you were, you know, subtle about it, you could get away with pouncing on just about any poor guy.”
Zelda glared at Midna. They were eating their dinner in the privacy of Zelda’s royal apartments, out of earshot from any curious listeners, but she was still uncomfortable with Midna’s frankness. “Demonstrating why the ethics committees are a necessity.”
“Look,” Midna said, rolling her eyes, “it’s not like either of you has done anything wrong. Have you ordered him to do anything?”
“No,” Zelda replied petulantly. She had considered it, though, and that was bad enough.
“Have you implied his job was at risk if he didn’t do something?”
“Of course not,” Zelda spluttered.
“Has he made you feel unsafe?”
Quite the contrary. “No.”
“Well, then,” Midna said, reclining in her chair with supreme exasperation. “It sounds like all this is perfectly and boringly above-board. And I would know, I’ve toed the line more than once. I could write the manual on intimate workplace relationships.”
Then why did Zelda feel like she was on fire whenever he was near? And why did she crave his attention to the point of distraction?
“You know what the solution is,” Midna said, studying her as she sipped her wine.
“I most certainly do not,” Zelda muttered.
“Honey,” Midna laughed, the sound high and rare, “in positions of power like yours, if you don’t fill out a conflict of interest form at least once in your life, you’re doing it wrong. Put your cards on the table and stop prevaricating. Fuck him,” she enunciated, in case her meaning hadn’t been perfectly clear.
The thought made Zelda’s stomach lurch, and she wondered if something had been off in the food.
“Worst case scenario, he turns you down.”
“That is not the worst case scenario,” Zelda firmly said, glaring at Midna.
“Fine, worst case scenario is he slashes your jugular right as you orgasm. Wouldn’t that be perfectly sordid?” Midna feigned a gasp and brought a hand to her throat. “Oh no, but then I won’t be able to fuck him if he goes to prison.”
“Shut up,” Zelda groused. She sighed. “What if it sucks?”
“Oh, no,” Midna said, shaking a finger. “You can’t fire a man for being terrible in bed. That’s awfully bad ton .”
“I mean after. What if things get… weird?”
“What, like weirder than they already are?” Midna scoffed. “Come on, I’ve been here two hours and we’ve spent three quarters of the time discussing your bodyguard. Please,” Midna said again, placing a hand flat on the table, “for the love you bear me, fuck him and put us all out of our miseries.”
She was right. It wasn’t like things could possibly get more tense than they already were.
But then again, Zelda found herself worried for the bizarre, sexually-charged friendship she and Link had developed. It was its own brand of closeness, a mix of perfectly pleasant conversation on the surface, with a subtext of strange intimacy. In the past month, they’d spent a lot of time just… talking. She had discovered Link had a sister. She also knew he liked rock-climbing, that he loathed spiders, and that he was game to try any food he was offered.
And then, looking down at her crossed legs, he had made a comment about things he liked to eat that had made Zelda squirm and Link smirk.
Strangely, Zelda feared that acting on the need she felt would make all of it evaporate. That somehow frightened her more than the prospect of unending yearning.
But maybe Midna was right. Maybe things had reached an unsustainable level of tension. Maybe it was time for Zelda to say something.
Or do something.
Midna saw the turmoil on her face and sighed. When she spoke again, her words were light, unconcerned. “Don’t overthink it, darling. Regular people do it all the time.” Then, with a shrug and another sip of wine, she added, “Besides, it’s not like you have anything to lose.”
“Was it awful? Losing your job?”
Link blinked up at her from his recliner, by the fireplace. He was nursing a glass of Sheikah whiskey ―his second― and seemed lost in the dancing of the flames. But he replied without hesitation. “It sucked for a little while. Obviously, after that kind of downgrade, I wasn’t going to work for any national agency, so I started to look at private firms.” He grimaced. “My heart wasn’t in it, though. So when a friend offered me a temp job working the lumber yards…” He shrugged.
“You were a good guard,” Zelda softly said, averting her gaze. “You always knew exactly where to stand to stop people from approaching.”
He smiled a little at that, but didn’t reply. He looked serene. He had turned down the lights and added a log to the fire, and that log cracked now.
Curled up in her blanket on his couch, Zelda felt strangely peaceful.
“Did you ever get in trouble?” He asked, after Zelda had stopped expecting him to say anything.
“Trouble?” She asked, confused.
He smiled at her with annoyed patience. “For what happened. For us.” He grinned, his eyes losing their focus. “I can definitely picture Impa giving you the cold shoulder.”
She laughed, choking a little, and clutched her own glass of amaretto closer. “Oh. No,” she finally said. “Impa isn’t allowed to sulk at me. I’m pretty sure her job description explicitly forbids it. But she was mad .” She bit her lip, trying not to smile. “She spent five weeks forwarding me all kinds of pamphlets about workplace relationships, and my two next personal guards were women, up until Rusl returned, at least.”
Link nodded. “Hm. I suppose she knew you wouldn’t assault a middle-aged father of two.”
“Well,” Zelda said, wetting her lips in her drink, “a fiend has to have some sort of code.”
Plus, Papa had died, shortly after Rusl’s return. That had definitely altered everyone’s mood. Link had become a distant concern after that.
“So,” Link said again, after a long moment of silent contemplation had passed, “does that mean I was…” He trailed off, looking like he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to continue.
Zelda raised a brow, and Link took a fortifying gulp of whiskey.
At last, he seemed daring enough to continue, though he was very deliberately not looking at her face. His gaze was fixed somewhere on her shoulder. “Was I your only...?”
Zelda felt herself grow warm. “Oh.” She readjusted the blanket around herself. “I mean, you were the only guard I ever…” She suppressed a wince. “I know it sounds ridiculous to say this now, but I swear, I’m not that kind of woman.”
“Well, while we’re on the business of coming clean,” Link said, “then I’m not that kind of woman either. Or man. Usually.” He frowned a little, grimacing. “I mean, that sounds disingenuous considering that I came after you the way I did.” He sighed, looking down at the golden liquid in his glass. “And I suppose I owe you a formal apology. I’m still not quite sure what came over me. Something about you just got under my skin, I guess...” He shrugged.
“You didn’t do anything wrong. I wanted it,” Zelda assured him, and she nodded when his gaze met hers uncertainly. “ Badly ,” she added, laughing breathily. “The daily stress and the public appearances and the constant need to be so picture perfect all the time were bound to wear me down. You were exactly what I needed at the time, and if anything, I should thank you. Although I wish it hadn’t ended like it did.”
Link nodded. His eyes had crinkled at the corners. In the firelight, they were still that familiar blue. “Yeah,” he agreed, smiling. “I wish it hadn’t ended too.”
That wasn’t exactly what she had said. For a moment, she wondered if he would realize what he had just admitted. He seemed unconcerned, though. His eyes had gone back to the fireplace, and Zelda was left as if suspended in time, wondering. Her heart was fluttering in her chest, which was ridiculous.
“ So ,” he said, and the change in his tone signalled a welcome change of subject, “what are your plans for Midwinter? Shut yourself in the cabin and not emerge again until the days begin to grow longer?”
Zelda made a face. “Essentially.”
“Will anyone be checking in on you?”
She shook her head. “No. Not if I can help it.”
He clucked his tongue in disapproval. “Zelda, Zelda, Zelda . Tae bo will not suffice to protect you against determined home invaders.”
“The only ones who will know I’m there are you and Impa’s team.” She feigned the doe eyes of the innocent belle: “Or are you planning to break into my cabin and―” She gasped. “―have your way with me?”
He pressed his lips into a thin line, scowling at her antics. “Don’t give me ideas. What about food? Do you have enough reserves? What are you planning to cook?”
She swallowed a mouthful of amaretto before replying. “I had them restock it. My cooking may not be on par with yours, but I’m sure I can whip something up for myself. Really, Link,” she continued when she saw him inhale to ask another question, “I’ll be fine.”
He shut his mouth. Then, grudgingly, he took a long swill of his whiskey and looked away.
“... What about you?” She prompted, when she realized he had no further intention of speaking.
He shrugged, nursing his drink. “I’m scheduled to work after tomorrow, for the Midwinter’s Eve tree sale, and I guess I’ll drop by my sister’s place on Midwinter morning. But that’s about it until the New Year.” He frowned. “Don’t you have a Midwinter televised speech to give?”
She smiled. “Pre-recorded, my friend.” She sank into the blankets further with satisfaction. “I’m not letting anything get in the way of getting away.”
“Except snowstorms, apparently,” Link said, wryly. They both glanced at the window, where the storm was intensifying. The house was creaking around them, the wind howling, and the snow kept piling up.
“Yes, well,” Zelda said, pursing her lips, “some things are beyond even a queen’s control.” She returned her attention to him, and found he was already studying her. Suppressing a sudden rush of heat, she said, “Thank you for helping me.”
He shrugged, smiled and said nothing. As he averted his gaze, he lifted his glass to his lips.
She watched the way his throat bobbed as he swallowed, and blurted out, “Are you seriously single?”
Now both his brows lifted, but she didn’t imagine the teasing grin that tried to pull at his lips. “My, your Majesty. So forward.”
“I only ask,” she said, scrambling for composure, “because you clearly― you have a house, and a steady job, and you look―”
The words faltered in her throat. He had turned to look at her; in the firelight he was unbearably handsome, with those blue eyes, that jawline, the way his sweater pulled over his square shoulders―
And the way his lips were pulling into a knowing smile. A knowing smile that was intimately, painfully familiar.
“No, please,” he said, when the words remained stuck on her tongue. “Go on, your Majesty.”
“I just don’t understand,” she finally managed. “Surely finding a partner wouldn’t be such a challenge for you.”
He scoffed. “I could say the same for you. A woman of your rank, with your titles, and your intelligence, the face of an angel and the body of…” He glanced down at her pile of blankets, as though he could see right through them and recall her form. He sighed. “The body of a goddess,” he murmured. Then, his electric gaze lifted back to meet hers. “Even the gossip rags have nothing to speculate about. Is Hyrule destined to have no king?”
“Hyrule technically has no queen right now,” she reminded him. “My coronation is next spring, as soon as the year of mourning for Papa ends.” She lifted a finger, and her glass of amaretto swayed, the amber liquid dangerously close to spilling. “And don’t pretend like it’s the same thing. You don’t have to vet your partners extensively before taking them on a coffee date.”
“That’s true,” Link conceded. “All I have to do is plan an elaborate strategy involving snowstorms, and then I have to wait for them to get stuck, and abduct them back to my home. That is considerably easier than having a bunch of eligible bachelors show up at my doorstep, begging for my hand.” He reached down into a basket of magazines next to his chair, squinting for a specific issue. Finally, he pulled out a copy of Hyrule Weekly and leafed several pages in: “Misko Bards of Necluda wants to teach you all about romance, or so his tell-all interview promises.” He turned the page, then added, “And it looks like Duke Groose of Tabantha has been making noises about improving his station.”
She snorted with laughter. “Good gods, you read Hyrule Weekly ?”
“Is that the takeaway for you?” Link asked, hiding his smile behind a veil of indignation. “I found their list of top fifty eligible royal bachelors very well compiled.”
Zelda shuddered. “Who was top of the list?”
He didn’t even look it up. His tone was deadpan. “Prince Granté. Akkala.”
Zelda let out a low whistle, amused. “Ooh, he is very handsome. Not that it matters, he’s madly in love with Lady Paya.” She glared at him. “ Don’t tell anyone I told you that.”
“I live in the woods. I think Prince Granté’s secret is safe.” He was scowling at her. “So you really aren’t going to tell me who your favourite suitor is?” He reached up a hand to his chest, like a man mortally wounded. “After all we’ve been through?”
“I don't have suitors,” Zelda said, primly. “I don't want them.” She was still in mourning, and was grateful for having the excuse of her father's death to avoid all of those uncomfortable conversations. But even once mourning lifted, she wouldn't be ready.
After Link, she thought, she'd never be ready.
But Link wasn't aware of her moody thoughts. Instead, he was shaking his head in disappointment. “Finish your drink, your Majesty. You're clearly not buzzed enough to be honest yet.”
“Buzzed?” Damn him, he'd knocked her off balance again. “Queens do not get buzzed. Queens are always in control. And I take great offense at your implications of dishonesty.”
“First,” Link said, as she lifted her glass to her lips and drank the entire thing in one burning, grimacing gulp, “I did not imply you were dishonest, I overtly called you a bald-faced liar. Second,” he reached for her glass and plucked it out of her fingers, then made his way to the liquor cabinet, “I know for a fact that queens can get more than buzzed, even ridiculously drunk, because I met one.” He poured her another generous glass of amaretto, and poured himself a sizeable glass of whiskey. Then, he raised both, as in a toast: “So let’s speak properly , please. Drinks on the house.”
“Is that wise?” She asked, accepting her refilled glass. “The last time I got truly drunk I cost you your job.”
Link slumped onto the couch, next to her, and silently toasted her again. “No risk of that this time. Now come on. I want to know everything. Pretend I’m Midna, only nicer.”
“The difference is that I don’t want to have sex with Midna,” Zelda mumbled into her glass.
Link’s smirk was so wide she nearly choked on her amaretto.
“ No .” She said, pushing off the couch and looking down at him. He was sprawled lazily on his half of the seat, grinning up at her like a boy on Midwinter morning. Once again, sanity prevailed. “No,” she said again, and his smile weakened. “I can’t.” She pulled the blanket around herself like a shield. “I know we have… chemistry,” she said, and Link’s expression faded, melting into serious attentiveness. “And I won’t deny that you make me feel…” She sighed, feeling the heat of the fireplace and the heat of the alcohol in her stomach and the heat on her cheeks. “ Human .” She swallowed hard. “But I can’t. It’s not fair to either of us. You want something, and I… I want something else.”
He studied her in silence for a moment. Something flashed across his face that she didn’t recognize, and something in his eyes flickered too, wilting. But eventually, he nodded, and smiled. “I get it,” he said. His voice was soft. Gentle. Understanding. There was no anger in it, as she had initially feared. He extended a hand, inviting her to return to the couch. “It’s okay.”
She cautiously returned to sit next to him, uncertain. He was looking at her with a new expression on his face, one of contemplation, or perhaps of respect.
“You can’t blame a guy for trying,” he finally said, bringing his whiskey to his lips.
She laughed, the sound surprising even to her. She hadn’t laughed properly in… gods. Weeks. Months? “No,” she finally said, when they exchanged a smile. “I certainly can’t.”
“Alright then,” he said, sitting up more squarely. “Let’s agree we definitely want to have sex, but it’s not a good idea, and we should remain friends. Drunk one-time-only Midwinter friends.”
“Capital,” she said, and she was glad when he didn’t notice the strain in her voice.
Gods, but from up close he was handsome.
Not for the first time, Zelda was irritated with herself. So what if he was only interested in sex and she wanted more, which she couldn’t have? If she had kept her mouth shut, she might instead be kissing him right now, running her hands up his sweater to feel the muscles of his back, and―
She took a large swill of amaretto, and vowed to keep her self-loathing quiet.
Wine. Wine was the juice of happy people.
The Midwinter events had begun to wind down. Some older guests were already gone, but most lingered in the hope of stealing what remained of the champagne. The music would soon turn from ballroom classics to pop sensations of the past five years, and most of Hyrule’s young society was waiting eagerly for the switch.
The palace ballroom was already a mess. Someone had accidentally dropped olives on the dance floor, and the steps of the dancers had crushed them, squeezing their juices into the parquet. Someone else had spilled a deep red wine on a white table cloth, but the perpetrator was long gone.
But at long last, when Zelda and her father had finally bidden good evening to the last of their elderly guests, it was time for them to retire.
“You don’t have to follow me,” Papa had said. He was pale, despite the makeup that had been expertly applied to his face. “This is a time of celebration. You’re too young to follow us old folks to bed. Stay. Have fun.”
She had hesitated. And then, realizing that he was already feeling bad enough about his illness, and to avoid him feeling guilty for retiring now, she had acquiesced.
So now she was drinking wine.
So much wine.
“I should stop,” she said, to Midna.
Midna was dressed in a spectacular blue and black sequined dress that made her look like the queen of the twilight, but she was too busy eyeing the son of some count ― he had been very rude to her earlier, apparently, and she had mentioned something about an arrogant tongue she wanted to put to good use ― to pay attention to Zelda’s level of inebriation. Still, she said, “Sure, darling. Do what makes you happy.”
And then she pushed away from the table.
So. Wine. Wine was the juice of happy people.
She was considering another glass when Link sat in the chair Midna had just vacated.
In his formal evening wear, he looked perfectly at home in the palace ballroom. In fact, he looked more handsome than most of the elite she was expected to mingle with. Fortunately, her status as the princess and Midna’s general foreboding presence had greatly helped to keep her from actually having to blend.
“Your Highness,” he said, “might I suggest a glass of water?”
He reached for the pitcher of water and poured her a glass, but she ignored it.
“Link, how long have you been working for me?”
His blue eyes were alight with amusement. Something about her lack of sobriety, no doubt. “Ten months, your Highness.”
“Do you like it?” She plucked her wine glass from the tabletop and sipped from it.
He shrugged, but his gaze grew more intense as he studied her. “It has its perks.”
Her body responded like clockwork, blood rushing in readiness to every part of her she tried to ignore. “How many other guard jobs have you had before this one?”
He shrugged, surveying the crowd of rowdy guests. “Why the inquiry? Am I interviewing for another job?”
He had added innuendo to his voice, the soft amusement palpable. She wanted to admonish him for his lack of subtlety, but she, too, was beyond it now. “Do you treat all your charges with the same attention as you treat me?”
He opened his mouth to reply when a glass shattered to the floor. A collective gasp, and suddenly the dancing was stopped. In a moment, Link was no longer Link. He was her bodyguard, in a single stride standing between her and the shatter, moving so quickly she hardly realized it. His entire body was tense, focus thrumming along the lines of his face.
Gods, Zelda considered in a drunken haze. He really was going to protect her, no matter what.
“Sorry,” someone said. Guiltily.
It really was just a shattered glass. Zelda placed a hand on Link’s arm, signalling he could relax. Dancing awkwardly resumed, with some servants coming to sweep the shards away. Link was about to sit down again when Zelda pushed to her feet.
“Let’s go,” she said.
He nodded. “I’ll alert the herald―”
“No,” she said, softly. “You’re escorting me to the restroom, that’s all. I’ll just forget to return.”
He raised a brow. “Leaving before midnight, your Highness?”
She squinted at him. “I have more liquor in my office, don’t worry. I’m just tired of pretending I’m sober.”
He followed her to the private quarters of the palace, nodding at the guards he recognized. Occasionally, he’d hold her by the arm, if only to keep her steady.
When Zelda finally reached her office, she strode to a side cabinet and opened it, revealing a sizeable collection of fine gift bottles. She gestured with a flourish. “Nothing unites the people quite like the love of hard alcohol. Take your pick. I have hard Sheikah whiskies, sweet Gerudo nectars, Akkalan brandies, Hebran vodkas ―do not pick those, they are undrinkable―”
“I’ll stick to water,” Link laughed. “And so should you.”
She glanced at the mantel clock, regretting that she couldn’t wear her watch with her evening gown. “You can relax. Your shift ends in ten minutes.”
He was watching her, hands casually shoved into the pockets of his dress trousers. “My shift never ends.” There was a small smile pulling at his lips, and Zelda didn’t quite understand why it looked sad.
“Are you seriously going to bow out?” She whined. “Come on . Midna has found herself another man for tonight. I’m all alone, with no one to get drunk with on Midwinter, and that is just sad.”
He shifted his weight. “I really, really shouldn’t.”
She straightened, fixing him with her steadiest glare. “... What’s going on? Why are you…”
He avoided her eyes, looking somewhere at a point over her shoulder. “Why am I what?”
“You’re not acting like yourself,” she blurted. She looked down at herself, at the beautiful blue gown she was wearing, and a spike of fear pierced her insides. It wasn’t royal of her, but she couldn’t help it. She reached for him, and he stepped back, averting his gaze. “Am I… Do I look… do I look that terrible?” She felt herself close up. The wine was making her ramble, but she couldn’t stop. “I told Midna I ought to have picked the pink dress. She said it looked too girly, and I said―”
“That’s not it,” Link interrupted. She couldn’t tell if he was annoyed with her rambling or amused by it. Or both. “I’m not going to take advantage of you while you’re drunk. Not even a little. A fiend has to have some sort of code.” He added that last bit with a wry smile.
“Take advantage ?” She softly echoed, amazed. His smile faded. “ Advantage ?” She murmured again. He squirmed. “I, your actual boss, am literally trying to ply you with liquor until you consent to fucking me, and you’re afraid of taking advantage of me ?”
Both his brows went up. “Wait.” He stared at her, blinking, then managed, “Wait. What?”
“Link, really ?” She asked, still blown away (no doubt the wine was helping with the sense of wonderment right about then). “You’ve been teasing and torturing me for, oh, five months now, and you thought you were the only one calling the shots? I could have just, you know, fired you. It’s not like I conveniently forgot I’m the princess of Hyrule this whole time.”
He opened his mouth, then shut it, and then said, “Wow.” He paced a couple of steps to the side, then returned, and she saw his ears had grown a little red. “This whole time I’ve been fighting with myself about how much I want to touch you― I mean, I suspected,” Link said, now clearly out of his depth, given his rambling, “that you didn’t mind too much. I kept hoping you’d eventually tell me where to stop. But you never said when.” He gazed at her like she was glowing or something, then shook himself. “It doesn’t matter. I draw the line at messing with you when you’re impaired.”
Zelda opened her hands upwards. “Link. The impairment serves a single purpose: to work up the courage to― you know what, it doesn’t matter. Let me make myself completely clear. I want you. A lot. Fuck me, please. Please fuck me.”
She had never been forward like this before. But on the other hand, in the ten months she had known him, Zelda had also never seen Link speechless. She wondered if, perhaps, she had misread their interactions entirely.
Doubt surged within, horrible, cold, like a terrifying storm.
“Or, you know,” she finally stammered, feeling herself blanch, “ don’t .” She licked her lips. “But if you don’t, then stop teasing me all the time.”
It was a moment before Link spoke again. When he did, it was by raising two fingers to his neck and pressing them to his pulse. “Okay.” He waited. “Okay,” he said again. “Not a stroke. Okay.”
A stroke? He was kidding. Zelda felt the relief flood her with the same ridiculous intensity as the horror had only seconds before. She scowled at him, but he was already moving towards her and her anger stalled.
Link fixed her with that familiar, electric blue gaze. He was close now, and he looked down a little to properly study her face. His voice was low. “Alright.”
“Alright?” She echoed, unsure of what they were agreeing to.
“Alright,” he said again. His lips pulled into a fiendish little smile. “Zelda.”
The sound of her name ― not ‘your Highness’ or ‘Princess’― on his lips felt like honey. The warmth began at her neck, spreading slowly down her back, to her chest, to her stomach, and Zelda felt, not for the first time, the desperate urge to kiss him.
He grinned, and relaxed. “But first, hit me up with that shitty, shitty Hebran vodka. My shift ends in six minutes and I have some catching up to do.”
She wasn’t going to let him change his mind. “No, trust me, you do not want that vodka. Take something drinkable.”
“But then who will drink the vodka?” Link asked, reaching for the expensive whiskey.
“Someone I don’t like,” Zelda said, confused. “Do you think princesses are above regifting?”
Link burst out laughing, the bottle of whiskey clutched in his hand. “Good gods. That is appalling.” He shook his head, uncorking the bottle, and softened his next words with a smile. “I really thought better of you.”
“So did I, but here we are,” Zelda said. She accepted the tumbler he offered her before he poured his own. “Cheers.”
“Cheers, and Merry Midwinter to us,” he said.
They both knocked back the expensive whiskey like it was a shot. Zelda was sure that was offensive to someone, somewhere, and cared very little as the spirit burned its way down her throat.
She placed her glass back on the cabinet, expecting him to pour them another glass, but instead of going for the bottle, Link’s arm went to her waist and he pulled her in close, and she forgot what she was doing.
They had never touched like this before. She had, until then, been teased with mere touches, soft breaths, gentle nudges.
This sensation was an altogether different beast.
Link’s eyes were dark, his body was firm, and Zelda’s chest felt tight. From up close, his lips looked even more appealing; there was the sweet smoky smell of whiskey on his breath.
“Zelda,” he said softly, his voice hoarse.
She could get used to hearing her name like that. “Link,” she breathed. It was hard to do anything more than breathe shallowly when he was right there. She was afraid it was going to be another one of his tortures, another tease. Any moment now, he could release her and leave.
Oh gods, don’t let that happen .
No― she wasn’t going to let it happen. Her hand went to his face, softly, quickly; he was clean-shaven, but she could feel he’d missed a spot just there, at the angle of his jaw. She ran her fingers through the hair at his nape, and then she pulled him down, firmly.
His lips fell onto hers like it was the most natural thing in the world. They angled over hers, warm, hot even, hungry, and in moments she felt his tongue dart over her lower lip, and his teeth biting gently to encourage her to soften.
She melted, sighing, and his tongue found its way into her mouth. Her head was spinning, addled by the wine, by the sensation of him.
His hands dropped from her waist and fell to her ass, cupping it, and then he pulled her towards him.
She felt his erection.
Breathing hard against her lips, he said, “If you want us to go slow, you have to tell me now.” And then he didn’t let her reply, because his mouth was on hers again, hard and dizzying.
But it didn’t matter, because she didn’t want to go slow. She could feel her blood thrumming in her veins, her heart pounding in her ears. In mere months, Link had transformed her from a dull marble statue into a living, breathing creature of sensation and desires.
In his arms, she was vibrantly alive.
She pressed herself up against him, annoyed with the silk of her dress, annoyed with his lined jacket, annoyed with everything that stood in the way.
His hands were still on her ass, but he crouched a little and ran them down to her skirts, finding her thighs through the fabric, and pulling her up until she straddled him, legs wrapping around his waist. Then, without pausing for breath, although she doubted he could get much air given how desperately she was still kissing him, he carried her in two, maybe three strides over to her desk, where he sat her down unceremoniously.
In the process, she realized she had lost one of her heeled shoes. The other one was dangling from her toes, so she kicked it off.
“I’m wearing pantyhose,” she panted against his mouth. “It’ll be a bitch to take them off. Let―”
Before she could finish, his hands had pushed up her skirts and found her legs, and she felt him pluck the pantyhose hard, tearing them. The run began at her ass and spread down to her heel in a mere second, stunning her into silence.
“Oh no, guess you have to buy new ones,” he grunted. He pulled away just enough to smirk down at her. “Which is just as well, because I’ve wanted to fuck you in those since that first night.”
Her skirts were bunched up around her waist, spilling over his forearms and her thighs, and she gazed at him in indignant confusion. “Silk pantyhose are expensive― I could have just―”
“Bill me later,” he purred, and dove down for another kiss that destroyed her focus entirely. The hard surface of the desk under her lurched a little as he leaned onto it, and she realized he was now at the perfect height for her to unbuckle his belt. She began to tug at his buckle with the vigour of drunken desperation, and he barely paused kissing her to assist.
In seconds, his belt was gone, and then his trousers were undone, and she reached in to feel his erection. Hot, hard― it twitched through his boxers into her hand, and he hissed against her lips.
She was soaked and so ready that when he pulled away, his gaze dark and unfocused, to look down at her, she nearly whined.
But he was smiling. “I know this is going to sound like a cliché, but you are so beautiful.”
“Not now,” she curtly interrupted. “Five months, Link. I’ve had enough foreplay to last me a lifetime. Are you going to let me climb you like a tree or not?”
“Sounds dangerous,” he said. “But fine.” His expression grew more serious, and when he spoke next his voice was deep, commanding. “Come here.”
She pushed herself to the edge of the desk, too gone to care that he was giving orders. One of his hands was on her ass, but the other reached between her legs, and she saw him shudder when he finally felt the heat. His feather touch was everything she had wanted for months, and he did better. He ripped the pantyhose on her inner thigh, pulling until it was a gaping hole― and then his fingers were on her, in her, and she felt him moan more than she heard it.
“How are you so wet for me already?” He groaned, half in wonderment and half in genuine confusion.
She pulled him down roughly for another bruising kiss, then hissed, “Five. Fucking. Months.”
She left out the words ‘you absolute moron’, but judging by his breathless chuckle, he probably guessed them from her tone.
She was about to give him some sort of order when he preemptively crooked his finger inside of her. Her whole body shuddered, lurching, bending towards him, and he caught her with a soothing murmur that she barely heard. Her hips rocked, desperately, so he slid his thumb against her as well, and began his smallest, slowest torture yet.
“Oh,” she breathed, but she couldn’t do anything. His arm was invisible under her skirts; she couldn’t tell what he was going to do, but she sure as hell could feel it. She braced herself against his upper arms, shuddering with every gentle motion, and already she could feel something climb within her, unrelenting.
“Go on,” he whispered hotly in her ear, the warmth of his breath spreading on her nape and making her shiver. “Say my name.”
“ Link ,” she panted, without hesitation. “Oh―”
He was fiddling with his own trousers, but she couldn’t really figure it out. Her mind was already rocking away, cresting on successive, growing waves. She was about to beg him for more fingers when he removed his hand, pulled her ass closer to the edge of the desk, spread her legs wider, and buried his cock deep inside her.
All at once, the world lurched into focus. Her skirts were spread in every direction, her legs felt exposed, and she could feel the fabric of his shirt getting in the way somewhat. But it didn’t matter― his erection was hard and had filled her completely, cutting her breath off.
He forced himself to remain still, trembling as he braced over her, hands flat on the desk.
She resumed breathing, giving herself the time to adjust around him, to get a feel for his intrusion, and to relish it.
He groaned in her ear. She was fairly sure he whispered her name imploringly.
She started to rock against him, her pelvis grinding against his, and he started to move too, beginning a slow coming and going, his erection filling her and sliding out halfway, then filling her again. It pulled, it stretched. She could hardly breathe for the sensation of it.
And then the sensation of cresting waves and hot, tormented tension slowly returned, waxing with every thrust and waning less with every retreat.
She was holding on to him, panting. With one arm, he raised one of her legs around his waist so he could reach deeper inside, and then something shifted in their angle and oh .
“Link,” she gasped.
“I know,” he panted. His firm lower stomach was rubbing right there ; he angled himself forward just a little, though he didn’t have to. His abs were already flexing just to maintain their position, just to keep thrusting, and it made her nearly sob with pleasure.
“Link,” she begged, and he buried his face in her neck. Now they were moving like the animals they were. His hips pushed, and her legs opened more. She spread for him, panting, gasping, grabbing at every part of him she could reach, wanting him to keep going, to go harder, deeper.
She must have said it, because he was pushing against her now, each thrust strong, firm, coaxing her towards a cliff.
“ Yes ,” she breathed, feeling each wave growing uncontrollably. “Don’t stop―”
He groaned into her neck, kissing her collarbone hard. “Come for me,” he whispered, because his voice was failing. “Come for me, Zelda.”
She came for him. It started like just any rising wave, and then she realized she was on the brink, and suddenly her entire body was flush, hot, and the waves crashed over her in succession, throbbing, powerful. The explosion spread from his cock and shuddered through her, pounding into her skull, unending, wave after wave.
Screwing her eyes shut as she arched up into his body, she cried out, weeping his name, and he muffled her voice with his mouth.
And then, having lasted as long as he physically could, he thrust once, twice, and again, burying himself into her hard, pressing right there against the apex of her labia for one last shuddering burst of pleasure, as his own orgasm took him with a strained groan.
She fell back against the desk and saw stars.
Zelda woke to darkness and a pounding heart.
The fire had burnt low, so that only the embers of a log remained. It sizzled a little still, and produced a low sort of heat, but Zelda could have easily done without.
She was soaked through, and not just with sweat.
For a moment, she listened to the silence of the house. Outside, the snowstorm still raged, battering the side of the house relentlessly, and she could hear snowflakes and sleet ticking against the windows. But inside the house, everything was quiet, except for the ticking of an analog clock somewhere… and the gasping of her breath.
The sheets on the pull-out couch smelled like Link.
After making sure that her sudden awakening hadn’t also woken Link up ― his bedroom was down the hall; he’d promised he’d leave the door open in case she needed anything ― she curled over and buried her face into the pillow, breathing in the scent of his laundry.
And she throbbed.
It would be highly inappropriate, she considered, weighing her options, to snake her hand down between her legs and muffle her moans into the pillow. Link had very generously offered her a place to sleep, not a place to turn him down and then make herself come without him.
But what was the alternative? Wake him up? Tell him she’d changed her mind, and yes, she did, in fact, want his cock now? Now that it was… She blinked at the level of light outside, and saw it was still full dark. Before five o’clock.
There was being a rude guest, and then there was, well, being a very rude guest.
No. She couldn’t wake him up. She couldn’t do that to him. And she couldn’t put herself through the aftermath again.
But she also couldn’t touch herself, and that was a problem.
One more day, she vowed. As soon as she was alone at her cabin ― as she no doubt would be by this time tomorrow night ― she would do all she wanted, including, but not limited to, remembering Link’s mouth, remembering Link’s hands, remembering Link’s body, and remembering Link’s cock.
And remembering them now, very vividly, was not helping.
She turned over, trying to find a more comfortable position, but the pillow still smelled like him, and her clit was still throbbing.
“Fuck,” she murmured into the night, for the hundredth time that day. She shifted, to no avail.
And then she heard him stir, down the hall. She heard his feet landing on the floor, and she heard him make his way down the hallway towards the living room, where she held her breath, hoping that she wouldn’t give herself away, which was so stupid because it wasn’t like he didn’t know she was there, and anyway, how ridiculous was she being? She was Queen of Hyrule , dammit. Why was she so afraid?
“Do you want me to put another log on,” she heard his ask, softly, “or would you rather join me in bed?”
So he knew she was awake.
And apparently he assumed she was cold.
She pushed herself up to look at him. He slept without a shirt on, she immediately saw, and wasn’t that just perfect . Without the shirt or the sweater, she could see that he was, in fact, even better cut than before. And without the shirt, she knew she could follow that thin trail of hair down his chest, over his stomach, and see it disappear in the low waistband of his pyjamas.
Gods damn everything and her and sex and men who looked so good all the gods-damned time. This was so, so unfair, and her body agreed, because something inside her clenched with need.
“Sorry,” she replied hoarsely, instead. “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. It was a shame there wasn’t enough light to properly see his expression, because Zelda could have desperately used the additional information. He yawned. “But for real, if you want to just sleep in there with me, I promise I won’t do anything.”
But could she say the same? She treacherously wondered. “Are you sure?”
He shrugged. “It’s late. I’m still drunk. I’ll just pass out.”
It would be a mistake, Zelda knew. It would be a mistake to join him in his own bed, and curl up against his side, splay her hand on his warm chest and lay her head on his shoulder. It would be a mistake to inhale the scent of his skin, to feel his weight by her side.
It would definitely not make her life easier.
And still, she rose from her makeshift bed, ignoring the dampness of her pyjama bottoms, and followed him silently, heart racing.
And she was right. It was difficult. He fell into bed like a man exhausted, and she joined him tentatively, amazed at how warm his blankets were, but when she finally was curled in, remaining as close to the edge as possible, he turned onto his back, extended his arm, and pulled her in without hesitation, bringing her up against his warm body unflinchingly.
Gods. She had wanted this. A year ago she would never have pictured it, but how many times since then had she wished they’d been able to savor the moment? To cuddle like this afterwards, to enjoy true intimacy? How many times had she wondered what it might be like to just touch him, not as a bodyguard and not in the throes of lust, but just... just touch him, however she wanted, purely for comfort.
Instead, they had hastily readjusted their clothes before anyone could figure them out, up until they couldn’t. There had been no time for domesticity. No time for warmth, or cuddling, or even for true intimacy.
His breathing was heavy and even already. Zelda ran a hand over his chest, marvelling at his ability to fall asleep so quickly. She still felt a need for him, but it was subdued now, replaced by a quiet tenderness she hadn’t anticipated.
“If you keep rubbing your hands over me,” he said, his voice gravelly with exhaustion, so suddenly that she jumped a little, “I’m going to want more than sleep.”
Ah, yep. Now the need was back. “I’m just making myself comfortable.”
His eyes were still closed, but he snorted with light derision. “Well, then. By all means, your Majesty. Touch me all you want.”
Her insides clenched again. Damn him. “Good night, Link,” she said, firmly.
“Sleep tight,” he murmured. His arm squeezed her momentarily against him in a half hug, almost possessively. He was already fading into slumber again, but his mouth whispered so softly she could only hear it because she was snuggled up right next to him: “... Zelda .”
Damn him, she thought again, feeling her eyes prickle with tears. Damn his warmth and his gentleness. Damn his stupid handsome face and his stupid handsome body. Damn his humour and damn his patience and damn all of his damned qualities.
Damn her station and damn his lack of a suitable title.
And damn her heart.
The door to the cabin opened, and snow flurried in past her boots, landing on the straw mat and ceramic tiling.
It was suitably warm. Impa’s staff had seen fit to start the water heater and radiators before she arrived, but had set every room to a conservative temperature, and Zelda knew, as she removed her boots, that she would raise the thermostat as soon as she could locate it.
The central room of the lodge was airy and empty, void of the cheer that had once filled it, and none of the Midwinter decorations were hanging, but it smelled familiar. She wandered onto the carpet in front of the cold fireplace, feeling the thickness through her socks, and a sudden pang of homesick sorrow filled her.
Papa had picked this rug. Mama had teased him about its gaudy colours, but on cold winter nights all three of them had jostled for space on it, a convenient excuse for a family hug.
Tromping sounded behind her, and she heard Link shut the front door, deposit her suitcase in the lobby, and wrestle to remove his big lumberjack boots before venturing into the house.
She didn’t turn to him. “I miss them.”
He was silent, though she knew he was there. She could hear him breathe, could hear the way he shifted his weight. At length, he said, “You don’t have to stay here.”
She was in no rush to go home to Castleton, though. “I need…” She shivered, and felt her grief threaten to surface again, but she quashed it firmly. She had already cried enough. “I need time away.”
He was silent once more. Then, when she said nothing else, he cleared his throat. “Alright.” His voice was quiet. She heard him adjust his winter coat. “I’ll―” He sighed. “You know where I am,” he said, almost in question.
“I’ll be there. If you need anything, you have my number.”
She pressed her lips together; there were words that wanted to spill out of her mouth, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to find out which. Instead, she turned.
In the white morning light of winter, he was still as attractive as he had been yesterday evening. His eyes were piercing blue, his hair more unkempt than before, and longer. He hadn’t zipped up his winter coat, so she could see another patterned sweater underneath, and a collared shirt under that. He looked just like any one of her subjects, handsome and ordinary, and she longed to ask…
But she didn’t ask.
“Thank you, Link,” she said instead. “For everything.”
He didn’t reply immediately. There was a look in his eyes that she couldn’t quite figure out. “Zelda…” He approached her, then interrupted himself, frowned, licked his lips, and sighed: “You’re welcome, of course. In every way,” he added, solemnly. He hunched his shoulders a little, then forced himself to relax. “I just…” But then he shook his head and pressed his lips shut, and crossed the distance that separated them in only a few strides, until she was looking up at him. “I just want you to know―”
Her heart was racing from his proximity, as surely as it had a year ago, but Link seemed to war with himself, and when he spoke again she was sorely disappointed.
“Remember to lock the doors when you’re in, and don’t open for anyone you don’t know. If anything happens, at any time of the day or night, call me .”
She gazed up at him, mildly annoyed. “I know the rules.”
“Good,” Link said. He looked like he was debating something. Then something steeled in his eyes. He bent towards her, and gently pressed a kiss to her cold cheek, gently, warmly. When he pulled away, he looked half-pleased and half-horrified. “Good,” he said again, tightly, “because apparently I keep forgetting them.” Then, before she could recover, before she could say anything, he straightened, shook himself off like a wet dog, and tromped back the way he came. His voice was gruff when he called, “Merry Midwinter, your Majesty.”
“Merry Midwinter,” she managed to call, but he was already gone from the room.
He put on his boots and left the cabin by firmly shutting the door, the sound plunging her into solitude.
It occurred to her then that she might never cross paths with him again.
Instead of dwelling on that, she turned her focus to unpacking. She had asked for her old room to be prepared, instead of the master bedroom. That remained her father’s room, her mother’s room. Even a Queen dared not sleep with ghosts.
The day slipped by, populated with some reading and silence. Night fell around four in the afternoon, so instead of venturing for an excursion into the woods, Zelda busied herself with hunting for cooking implements. The cupboards were well-stocked, with enough fare to prepare a feast for three or four people, but Zelda felt no inclination for roast anything, or even for stewed anything.
The lodge around her was empty. She had put on the radio, but it did little to fill the silence. In the winters of her childhood, the lodge had been full of chatter and life; even when it had been quiet, she could hardly remember not hearing the sound of book pages turning, or the whistling of a kettle.
Outside, the snowstorm had abated, replaced with the flurries and wind gusts that took all the fresh snow and rearranged it merrily. Midwinter’s eve, tomorrow, would be beautiful, as picture-perfect as a postcard.
Except, now that she was here, contemplating her options for meals, Zelda realized she dreaded the expanse of time that awaited. Yes, she had brought books, but they did not furnish her time as she had hoped. She had found a selection of old puzzles and board games in the hall closet, but only the puzzles held any promise of entertaining a lone inhabitant.
She settled on a can of tomato sauce and made herself pasta. It was nothing like Link’s pot roast, and as she tried not to think about him, she inevitably thought of no one else.
He had said he was working tomorrow, for the Midwinter tree cutting, a tradition that she had always loved. She could well imagine him wielding an old-fashioned axe, striding through the snow, assisting the locals in picking and choosing their Midwinter tree, chopping it down and helping them load it onto their car. It was a task usually reserved for young men, usually followed by a potluck and unceremonious drinking.
The more she thought about it, the more Zelda thought Link was, in fact, much better suited to these community events than to the dry efficiency of palace service. She could picture him smiling, losing track of time while he spoke to the elderly, teasing the children…
It made her heart ache.
She didn’t bother loading the dishwasher. She left her empty plate right on the counter and returned to the common room, looking at the flurrying snow outside. The lodge had never felt this empty, she thought again, reaching up to brush her cheek. If she focused, she could still feel phantom lips on her skin, could still imagine warmth…
The real danger of growing close to those who weren’t of noble birth, she mused, was that one ran the risk of liking them just a little too much, and that would be a problem, later, if she started hunting for a husband, a king.
It was therefore ironic that her phone then began to ring, and her heart leapt with hope.
She suppressed the tiniest disappointment to see Midna’s name on the caller ID, but reasoned that the distraction of her closest friend was welcome, even if she wasn’t a certain lumberjack.
A certain lumberjack who had promised he wouldn’t bother her, and who didn’t have her phone number, now that she thought about it, because he’d only given her his.
Damn it all.
“I’m sorry,” Midna said immediately, when Zelda answered. “I know you’re busy being not busy and everything, and I swear I take your time off seriously.”
The harried tone was unfamiliar, so Zelda curled up in a blanket on the couch in front of the empty fireplace, frowning. “Not at all― what’s the matter?”
Midna let out a long-suffering sigh, which resembled her just a little more. “It’s really stupid. I hate it, but it’s really― I shouldn’t have called. It’s really dumb.”
Zelda could not recall Midna calling anything dumb since their last year together at boarding school. It was an expression Midna resorted to when she was profoundly flustered, the kind of expression that immediately alerted Zelda to the nature of her distress: “What’s his name?”
Midna said nothing for a moment, but Zelda could well imagine her scowling, pressing her lips into a thin line. “His name is Dark. How did you know― Never mind. Look, I’m sorry. I’ll… I’ll figure it out.”
“What happened?” Zelda asked, both out of genuine curiosity and because the interruption of the surrounding silence was a desperately welcome respite. “And what can I do to help?”
Midna was pacing, or so Zelda imagined, because her breathing was calm, but elevated, and she began ranting. Midna always paced when she was phone ranting. “Look, I don’t like to talk about this kind of stuff, usually. Most guys― I just don’t worry about it. I don’t let them get ideas. But…”
Zelda suppressed a gasp that was halfway between excitement and amusement. “Oh, gods, Midna, are you in love ?” She whispered.
“Shut up,” Midna said, too quickly, and Zelda felt a bubbling cackle come to life inside her throat.
“Oh, no,” she teased, “oh, you poor thing. I’m sorry, I’m not laughing. Please continue.”
Midna sighed. “Look,” she said, and on the line her voice sounded tired, resigned, completely stripped of its usual bite, “I… actually do like him. Quite a lot.”
“Is this the guy you were talking about last summer?” Zelda asked. “The one with the sexy hands?” She stared at the high ceiling of the lodge, studying the intercrossed timberwork. “I thought you said it was just physical.”
“It was ,” Midna cried, indignantly. “I swear, it was. Oh, Zel, I’ve made a huge mistake. It’s not my fault. He’s funny, he’s smart, he’s got a tongue that can do these unbelievable things―”
“I get the picture,” Zelda cut in, grimacing. She sighed and, before Midna could carry on, asked, “What do you need my help with?”
Midna was pacing again. “He’s a commoner.”
“Oh.” Zelda’s stomach dropped.
“Yes,” Midna said. “Oh. And I know I’m usually the first to say ‘screw the conventions’, but, well, the title laws are what they are.”
Zelda rested her head backwards on the cushions of the couch, screwing her eyes shut. “Well, you’re a Duchess, so by rule of Codeii,” she thought hard, reflecting on her historical law lessons, “I believe he’d have to be at least a Baron if you wanted to― wait .” She sat up. “Midna, are we discussing a wedding?”
Midna was quiet, so Zelda was quiet too, and at length she felt herself sag into the couch.
“ Oh .”
“We’re not discussing a wedding, though,” Midna said, bitterly. “On account of blood primacy. He’s not good enough for me.”
“Midna… Most barons and some viscounts have begun eschewing the tradition of blood primacy―”
“Zelda, come on. That’s true for the small titles, the landless peers. For the rest of us nobles, there is the expectation .”
Zelda made a most unladylike retching noise. Midna was right, though. “I’m so sorry. I suppose you could present a motion to waive at the next assembly of the House―”
“Or,” Midna said, “maybe―” She drew the word out. “Maybe you could… name him.”
Zelda had been about to expound on the legal procedure to waive the rules of Codeii before the House of Nobles, and this suggestion stopped her in her tracks.
Midna was one of Zelda’s closest peers in the nobility: where Zelda was Queen, Midna was Duchess of Necluda, a province in eastern Hyrule that ranged from the steep hills of Lanayru southward to the northeast reaches of Faron. It encompassed two of Hyrule’s largest cities ― Kakariko and Hateno ― and accounted for 21% of Hyrule’s gross domestic product, a contribution nearly comparable to Central Hyrule’s own productivity.
As Duchess of Necluda, Midna essentially governed a little under a fifth of Hyrule’s population, and her duchy was among the fastest growing of the past decade both in terms of population and development. She sat as representative of a jewel, a massive source of raw resources and industry.
More data flowed through Zelda’s mind, the kind of information she stored as a matter of fact ― figures concerning housing, energy consumption, social programs…
One notable figure had just changed though: the number of times Midna had asked for a personal favour from her royal person had gone from 0 to 1.
It had been a point of their friendship, from the very beginning, that Midna hated asking for favours. She had often bragged that she would never ask for a favour from Zelda unless that favour directly benefited Hyrule itself, and she had held to that promise with steadfast devotion.
Until now. This request was entirely selfish, and it would be a pain to fulfill, if Zelda ever managed.
“I’d do it myself,” Midna said, in the silence. She sounded annoyed, frustrated to have to ask. “But I―”
“No,” Zelda said, “I know. The Codeii are very clear― spouses cannot be titled from the same province.” She shut her eyes, feeling a headache coming on. “I―”
“Just a barony,” Midna said, softly, and Zelda knew how much it must have burned her to be begging. “You don’t have to give him actual lands. Just the title would be enough.”
Except it wasn’t that easy. Every title was tied to a parcel of land, and every parcel of land was already allotted. Giving Midna’s hopeful husband ― Dark Sexyhands, whatever his last name was― any bit of land would inevitably be taking the land and title from someone else.
Zelda would have to give him lands directly from the royal estates in Central Hyrule, and doing so would attract scrutiny. People would talk. “It would change things for him, you know,” she said. “I don’t even know him― would he do his job in the House? Not only on the national level, but on the provincial level, too?”
“I’ll make sure he does,” Midna fiercely said. Her voice was changing; Zelda could hear hope, an alien sound in Midna’s usual cynicism. “Let me introduce you. But if you refuse, I suppose I can ask Urbosa or Daruk ―”
Zelda couldn’t help but smile. “Gerudo’s lands are assigned matrilineally, and Eldin has been trying to go communal for three decades― they won’t allot a small parcel to a Central Hyrulian man.”
Midna’s temper flared. “Whatever, I’ll figure it out. It’s stupid―”
“Midna,” Zelda said, soothingly, “I’ll meet him. Alright? Don’t go chasing anyone else just yet. I’ll meet your Dark… what’s his last name?”
“Knight,” Midna murmured. There was misty quality to her voice, and Zelda knew she was relieved. “I―” She heaved a heavy breath. “I wish you were here. I’d give you the biggest hug―”
“Don’t worry about it,” Zelda replied. “I’ll meet him― I make no promises,” she added, firmly, in her queenliest voice. “But I’ll meet him, and we’ll see if we can’t get him a barony or a viscountcy, or something.” She changed her tone, going back to teasing: “So... I didn’t expect you to fall for a man so quickly.”
“It’s not that quick,” Midna scoffed. “I’ve known him four years already― we just never…” Zelda could hear her shrug. “I’ve been stubborn about him.”
Zelda smiled. The flurries outside billowed snow in volutes that looked like smoke, and she felt cold. “I’m happy for you. But you know that even if I do give him a title, you’ll have to wait a few years so it doesn’t look like you pressured me, right?”
“I’ll wait ten years if you ask it of me,” Midna soberly said. “You’re doing me a personal favour― I’ll find a way to make it up to you.”
Zelda sighed, turning herself on the couch so her feet rested on the armrests and her head hung upside down. “You’ll have to tell me what it’s like, being married to a commoner.” By law of Hyrule’s Codeii, the threshold of acceptable nobility for a queen was even higher than for a duchess. She would need a count, at minimum, but an earl, a duke or a prince would be ideal.
The pool of candidates was depressingly small, and depressingly unappealing.
And of course all she could think about was Link.
“You could find out for yourself if you struck down the Codeii,” Midna said, snidely.
“And unmade our constitution in the process,” Zelda smiled. “Nothing less.”
Midna snorted. She was a lot more relaxed now that the uncomfortable request was out of the way. “Fine, be reasonable and all devoted to the people.” She was smiling, though. Zelda could hear that much. “So, I vowed that I wouldn’t do Impa the favour of asking, but I’m kind of curious. What happened to your GPS last night?”
Zelda’s stomach dropped, and she rearranged herself so the blood would stop rushing to her face. “What do you mean?”
“Impa says your GPS wasn’t updating all night, and then it was finally working properly late this morning.” Midna dropped her voice. “If you went to party at Hateno’s Windmill Hut, I won’t tell.”
“I’m assuming that’s a club,” Zelda said, squinting at the empty fireplace, “but no. I got stuck in the storm and I stayed― it doesn’t matter, I made it to the cabin and I’m fine now, and I’m alone.”
Midna was quiet, the cogs turning in her mind. “... Are you implying you weren’t alone last night?” She gasped. “Zelda, darling . Have you finally begun to move past Link, the faithful, sexy guard that you got fired ?”
Zelda opened her mouth to reply intelligently, but all that came out of her mouth was a stupid ‘uhh’ and Midna somehow, somehow , just knew .
“Oh, gods― he lives in Necluda now, doesn’t he? And you met him for a night of passion.”
“I― There was no passion. Shut up.”
“But you met him,” Midna hissed, vindicated. “Oh― oh, Zelda . What would Impa say if she knew ?” The delight in her voice spoke volumes about her level of care for Impa’s actual opinion. “Does he still have the same butt?”
Zelda made a noise. “Midna,” she said, “he’s a lumberjack now.”
“ Oh ,” Midna said. “So the only reason nothing happened between you last night is…?”
“I said no,” Zelda replied. Like an idiot.
“You’re a moron.”
“A moron who can hand out titles, I’d like to remind you,” Zelda said, and Midna groaned.
“You’re going to hold this over me forever now,” she said. “But that’s fine. I’ll take the risk. Explain to me why you said no, if it’s obvious he offered you a night of torrid sex?”
“Because I like him,” Zelda said.
Midna was silent for a moment, and then she said, “Fucking commoners .”
“I know ,” Zelda whined. “Can we go back to the times where they were toothless plague-infested bags of skin and bones?”
“We should,” Midna said. “All this prosperity is only causing them to grow more attractive, whilst the inbreeding is really not doing us nobles any favours.”
Zelda laughed out loud at that. “I try not to think about it,” she said. “But I draw the line at sinking deeper. So… I thanked Link for rescuing me and towing my car the good old fashioned way: verbally.”
“Goddesses save you, that’s just grim,” Midna deadpanned. “And now you’re all alone up in that cabin― are you sure you don’t want me to drive up and keep you company? I bought a Midwinter nail polish that starts off green and cracks into flecks of silver. It’s so ridiculously extra .”
“I’m sure,” Zelda insisted. “But thank you for the offer. I’ll just draw a bath and… turn in early.”
“Oh, stop, you’re going to make me weep. I’m hanging up.”
Zelda did draw herself a bath, though. It was comforting, in a way, to go through the lodge and turn off the lights, reducing her living space to her bedroom and bathroom. With the wind howling outside and the cold seeping into her toes, the bath did wonders. She sank into it with a sigh, and forced herself to remember that this was exactly what this escape had been all about.
But instead of picking up a book or closing her eyes and indulging in the heat, she found herself… thinking.
And when she thought about Link, her body naturally responded.
She toyed with the idea of picking up where she had left off last night, but things were different. The energy that had caused her feverish desperation was faded a little.
So instead she picked up her phone and scrolled down her contacts to ‘Forester, Link’, and opened a text message.
For a moment her fingers hovered over the keypad, and she wondered if this was a good idea. On the one hand, it wasn’t like he would torture himself over it the way she was: he’d been interested in sex and casual friendship, nothing more. On the other hand, resuming any contact with him would only make the required distance more painful for her.
And still, before she could agonize over it, she sent him a text message: ‘Thinking about you. Thanks again, for everything.’
There. Now he had her number.
She was an idiot, she immediately decided, when no reply came for several minutes. She placed her phone down, and tried not to think about it. The water was soothing, even if it couldn’t scour her clean of foolishness.
Her phone vibrated once and her hand flew to seize it before it could vibrate again.
‘You’re welcome, YRH.’
Your Royal Highness. He was playing it politely. She found herself more disappointed than when he’d not replied at all.
And then, before she could put her phone down, another text message came in: ‘Thinking about me?’
Heat crawled up her chest that had nothing to do with the bathwater. Between her legs, something pulsated.
Neat trick, she mused. Now even a single text message from him had the effect of his intense stares.
She wondered what to reply, and felt something bold grow inside her stomach. Lifting her phone, she took a picture of her legs and feet, lifted against the edge of the bath, and wondered for a moment if the lighting was too dim, on account of the candles.
But she had started this, and she wanted to see what he might say.
So she sent the picture.
She didn’t put her phone down this time, staring at the screen with trepidation, biting her lip.
It took an agonizingly long time before he replied. ‘Should I be thinking about you as you are now?’
Her fingers were flying on the keypad. ‘If you want.’ The heat inside her was consistent, growing. There was something forbidden about this, a risk― if someone cracked her phone, cloned her phone, tracked her phone… if Link succumbed to indiscretion…
‘Third time today, then,’ he replied. She felt herself flush from nape to toes. The image it conjured was sheer torture― the thought of Link stroking himself, saying her name, picturing her―
‘Show me,’ she said, wondering if he knew there was little difference between commanding and begging right then.
There was a longer wait this time. She almost thought he wouldn’t respond. It had been a bold request, and he was not beholden to her, especially after she refused him this last night.
In fact, she was about to text him an apology when the picture arrived.
Link had always looked good to her, but in their past hurried indiscretion she hadn’t had the opportunity to enjoy the sight of this. His hand was curled around his cock, which stood fully erect, and it occurred to her that she had done that to him without even being in the room with him.
“Oh,” she whispered, and one of her hands dipped under the water to slide between her legs.
Another text came through: ‘I always knew you were a perv.’
Damn him, she thought, laughing, removing her hand to reply: ‘Excuse me, my fingers have important places to be right now.’
‘Say my name when you finish,’ he replied.
Good heavenly gods, she groaned, and she dipped a finger inside herself, bucking gently in pleasure. The wetness between her legs had nothing watery to it; it slid and glided easily― and she found herself climbing already, the image of his erection persistent in her mind.
She stroked, gently, slowly, and soon her motions began to have a touch of frenzy to them, a force and a rhythm that were familiar.
And his name became a whisper on her lips, a whisper that grew.
Her phone began to vibrate, and she nearly cried with annoyance, until she saw it was him.
She opened the line, and heard him panting.
“Link,” she gasped, into the receiver. Water sloshed softly around her with every movement, and she heard him grunt.
“Zelda― Tell me where your fingers are.”
“Inside me,” she murmured. “I want―”
“Touch yourself for me,” he said. “Don’t stop until you come.”
The roughness in his voice was arousing enough on its own. She spread her legs a little wider in the water and kept stroking, her head falling back against the edge of the tub, managing a broken little “Oh…”
“Don’t stop,” he commanded, gruffly. His breathing was growing ragged. “Don’t you dare fucking stop.”
“You’re very commanding when you’re having sex,” she breathlessly commented.
“I’m not having sex,” he replied, panting. “Those are your fingers stroking your folds, your hands pretending to be me― I’d fuck you so hard, Zelda―”
“Link,” she murmured, straining to breathe.
“Do it,” he rasped. “Come for me again, Zelda. Come for me like you did last year, like the slutty little queen that you are―”
She bucked, her legs spasming, and her breath caught in her throat, her body responding to his voice like it always did, and she felt her clit begin to throb. “Link,” she sobbed brokenly.
“Say it,” he gasped.
“Link… Link―” She managed a mewling little cry and felt the stars explode behind her eyes. “Oh, gods, Link !”
She heard him make a wordless noise, and silence filled his end of the line, punctuated only by gasps and pants. But Zelda was too far gone to think about it― the pleasure rolled over her body in successive waves, starting at her clit and washing over her.
For what felt like an eternity, she floated in warmth and relaxed pleasure.
Lucidity returned moments later, and with it a new colour of stark embarrassment.
Oh, gods. She had just had phone sex with Link.
She had just had phone sex with Link, not a day after telling him she wouldn’t resume their entanglement.
And good gods, she had liked it.
He was catching his breath on the line, and she heard his amusement when he broke the silence. “So... I guess you’re getting lonely up there.”
“I―” She was unable to breathe. “Oh, gods, Link, I’m so sorry. That wasn’t― I didn’t mean to―”
“Hey, hey, hey, hey,” he interrupted, “it’s alright.” His voice was full of laughter, soothing. “Don’t worry about it. I understand. I was there, I’m the convenient choice. Don’t sweat it. I promise I didn’t mind.”
She was mortified. “I swear I just― I’m―”
“It’s alright,” he said again. Then, more solemnly, “Your secrets are safe with me. They will always be safe with me.”
That was not helping. “Gods, Link. You shouldn’t be so kind to me. I keep taking up your time and attention, and it’s not like you’re getting anything worthwhile out of it―”
“I have a bunch of used tissues here that say otherwise,” Link baldly joked. She was not calming down, so he added, “Zelda, really. It’s alright. Don’t read too much into this. You don’t owe me anything. We don’t owe each other anything. Let’s just agree we had a good time, and leave it at that.”
She wanted his arms around her. She wanted his lips on her ears, on her neck, on her mouth. She wanted his warmth to crawl up against, and his firm presence to replace the tepid water. “I should go,” she whispered.
His end of the line was silent for a moment, and then, in a tone of cheer that sounded a little forced, even to her ears, he said, “Yeah, absolutely. Sure. I’ll, uh… I guess I’ll talk to you some other time.”
“Yes,” she said, while vowing to herself she would never slip up again.
“Okay,” he replied. “Well, then. Uh… Good night, Zelda. Your Majesty.”
She shut her eyes tight and suppressed her tears. “Bye, Link.”
And before she could psych herself out of hanging up, she ended the call.
She was not going to call him again.
Link’s mouth crashed onto hers with more force than she expected. Together, they slammed against the elegant wall of her receiving room, and Link kept from smashing his full-weight into her by bracing over her head with his forearm. Not that it stopped him from kissing her. His other hand was firm on her hip, and he pushed against her, panting; now his mouth was trailing a hot series of kisses up against her ear, then down the column of her neck, to her collarbone, and Zelda, princess of Hyrule, felt like she was burning up, like she wanted to explode out of her own skin.
This was not how she had meant for her day to go. She’d totally had pure intentions, especially after her massive slip-up the night before.
After doing her best to pick up her pieces last night, after the stark awkwardness of rearranging her desk ―they’d apparently knocked over several ledgers and one costly set of pens― she had wished Link a good night, and he’d given her that grin of his, then excused himself.
Midwinter was supposed to be a quiet day for a princess; Papa had plenty of work and public appearances to make, but for the first time in many weeks, she had a blissful nothing . She had therefore slept off the wine, getting much better sleep than she had in a long time, and had lounged in bed to the unsightly hour of nine in the morning, musing over what she had done the night before (getting her bodyguard to fuck her) and trying to find some semblance of a will to regret it (but who could?).
It was no use, she had giddily decided. She had finally, finally , gotten Link to touch her, and she wasn’t going to take it back.
Sure, things might be strange going forward, but it was fine. Everything was fine. Midna had intelligently advised her to do it, and now that she had, she did not regret it.
She was, however, grateful to have a while to compose herself before she saw him again.
Except then he was there again, at noon, like nothing had happened the night before, his uniform pressed and clean like he hadn’t been all rumpled only twelve hours earlier, and she realized she was in trouble.
The look he gave her when he knocked at the door, keen and blue and knowing ―
“Hi,” he said, shutting the door behind himself.
“Hello,” she had replied, looking up from her book guiltily, annoyed by how quickly she was eager for him again.
“Did you sleep well?” He asked, approaching.
And then he had smirked, and she had put her book down, rising, and then... well.
They hadn’t even waited one day, Zelda distantly mourned as the gold trim of her receiving room’s paneling dug into her back. This was really inappropriate; what did it say about her poise? But then all trace of shame and decorum flew out the window as he kissed her senseless again, and it took her a while to recover her train of thought.
“I thought you had today off,” she breathed, as his hand roamed up from her waist to explore the area under her blouse. “Un― oh ― until the New Year―”
“I exchanged my shift,” Link said, though with his face buried against her neck he was hardly intelligible. “Couldn’t stop thinking about you.” He pulled away to look down at her. “Would you rather that I go?”
His lips were puffy from kissing her, and Zelda realized her own must have been quite bruised. She ran a finger over his mouth, stupidly pleased with herself. “Don’t be ridiculous. Who will guard me if you go?”
The lips under her finger stretched a little, and a corner pulled up. Link’s eyes were shining with amusement. “I mean, I can guard you from across the room.”
“But I would be much safer,” Zelda whispered, trying not to smile, “if you stayed on top of me.”
“Right,” Link said, in a tone that was half laughter, half reasonable. “Because snipers are a constant, daily threat for you.”
“I’m so glad you understand,” she said. “Also, would you mind shifting a little? Your gun is digging into my hip.”
He dove in for another bruising kiss, then whispered against her lips, “That’s not my gun.”
“Welp, I really walked into that one,” she breathed, but then he was kissing her again, so she stopped talking.
It got really lovely and confusing after that, and she paused it all only when she realized he was about to take her to her desk again. Zelda intimated that they were not going to fuck there once more (shoving pens aside would make an ungodly amount of noise in the middle of the day), so Link dragged her over to her couch, where he took his shirt off.
“Listen,” she said, dizzy as she was from her position on the couch, looking up at his bare chest as he began to remove her shoes, “I know we’ve discussed this already, but you don’t have to―” His hands were warm on her calves, and Zelda was pleased she had gone for a skirt today. “I was saying,” she said, breath hitching, “that you don’t have to do this―” He pushed her skirt up, like she had dreamed he would on that first car ride, and began to pull down her underwear. Zelda realized what he was going to do, so she rushed out the last words before she forgot: “I don’t want you to think you have to do anything like this to keep your job. I appreciate it, but I don’t want to abuse my power―”
He kneeled between her legs, spread her knees, then hitched her legs over his shoulders. “I want this. I want you.” He hesitated for a brief moment. “Do you ...?”
“Gods, yes,” she breathed. “Good, okay.” He dipped his face between her legs and she felt her breath catch. “Yes. Oh ―”
His tongue felt wonderful, firm and soft and gentle, and when he hummed with satisfaction she felt her face burn up with embarrassment, but gods above, he was good at this. Patient, gentle, and…
Somehow still in the lead. When one of her legs twitched with pleasure, he brought a hand to keep her thigh still on his shoulder, firm, implacable. She had almost considered pulling away, the embarrassment of having his face between her legs just a little too real, but now she couldn’t. She had to― she had to wait until he was done with her, gods help her.
And he wasn’t in a hurry. His tongue laved over her slowly, like he was actually enjoying himself, and Zelda realized this was what Midna had said about men who gave . And for Link, to give was to take― he was bringing her slowly to the peak but she realized, when his shoulder began to move, that he was also taking his own pleasure.
When had he undone his belt, unzipped his trousers?
She wanted to see, but her eyes had fallen shut with every successive flick of his tongue. It was intense, almost too good― her fingers went to his hair, raking, and she felt her neck crane back, her lips parting. There was a delicious heat where his mouth met her clit, a familiar rush of coming and going that she was growing to know only too well.
“Link,” she breathed, “I’m going to…”
He didn’t stop. His tongue was still firm, still constant, and he didn’t slow, didn’t speed up, so the waves began to grow, breaking upon the shore with increasing strength. Under her leg, she felt the gentle pumping of his arm, and his breathing grew ragged against her.
“L…” Her tongue froze in her mouth, her breathing hitching more and more, and she struggled to form a coherent thought. The pleasure was still steadily growing, steady, constant, constant, like his tongue, like his mouth, like him― Gods, would it really go on? Could it really keep growing this much? She felt like a vase that was supposed to overflow, but whose size kept increasing instead, and she nearly wept with frustration as each wave filled and filled, never receding, never ceasing―
“Please,” she begged, unable to form any real request, aware that she wanted something only Link could give now, and desperate to keep him there until he gave her what she needed.
He hummed against her, and she realized he was laughing at her frustration. The outrage she felt was enough for her to open her eyes, to glare down at him―
Their eyes met― her skirt was hitched to around her waist, his hand was still pumping at his cock, and his eyes… so blue, full of amusement at her expense, daring her to live, to die, to come right there with his mouth.
She shut her eyes and felt her whole body arch, and she came.
After that, time squeezed itself into a pinhole, then stretched again back to its normal length as her entire body throbbed with pleasure. He pulled his face away from between her legs, and she realized when he crawled over her on the couch that he was ready, desperately hard―
She spread her legs, still feverish and throbbing from her orgasm, and murmured something like a plea. He hardly waited, sliding in easily, and she heard him groan, whisper something that sounded a lot like her name, then begin to move.
He moved slowly at first, as though he knew she was still sensitive, or perhaps because he wanted to take his time, but then his movements began to grow more desperate, more powerful, so Zelda lifted a leg, wrapping it around his waist, and tried to find a grip on the couch cushions, still senseless from her descent back into the real world.
“Gods,” he murmured, burying his face against her neck. “You’re so beautiful―” His hips thrust into her, then retreated slightly and thrust again, again and again, each roll of his body firm and increasingly desperate.
And Zelda felt the pleasure begin to rise inside her again.
“Link,” she tried to warn him, but he kissed her instead, and she sighed against his mouth, tasting herself on his lips, and abandoned herself to the feeling of his cock pressing, stretching her, gliding in and out―
She came again, slow and hard, biting his shoulder open-mouthed to keep from crying out.
“Good,” Link growled when she was done. “Couldn’t hold on much longer― Gods, you feel so―” His eyes fell shut and he began to tremble with the strain of trying not to come, each thrust sloppy and hard.
“Go on,” she purred, and she felt him shudder at the tone of her voice.
When he came, it was by saying her name in a ragged groan, in a way she would remember for the rest of her life.
He thrust into her a few more times, gasping, then finally slowed to a stop, pressing right where she felt him best, and then began to catch his breath.
Her heart was pounding in her ears.
He looked stunned.
She pulled him in and he let her. His heart was racing against her ribcage, but there was something utterly right and delightful about feeling his weight on top of her.
She enjoyed it for all of three seconds before she realized the pounding she heard wasn’t her heartbeat.
Impa. The knock at the door― familiar, insistent, and there was no way she could get dressed in time―
The door slid open, and Zelda felt her stomach drop.
And so it was that Impa’s day, Zelda’s Midwinter, and Link’s life were all ruined in a single moment.
Midwinter’s Eve dawned pale and pink, the sky light blue and clear. As Zelda rolled out of bed blearily, she realized the storm that had raged for the past two days was, at long last, done.
Which did very little to relieve her of her awful, awful headache.
“Good job, Zelda,” she muttered to herself, dragging her feet to the empty kitchen. “First you have phone sex with him, and then you dream about how badly you screwed him over. Great ideas. So relaxing.”
The lodge didn’t reply. She boiled water in silence, mulling over the way her shitty brain worked.
She had made it nearly a full year without dreaming about Link. Granted, most of that year had been hectic and mournful and all kinds of stressful, but still, she had been proud of herself for not dwelling on it. Much.
Sure, she had managed to keep Impa from pressing charges for assault ― namely by pointing out that she was the one in charge, not Link ― and she had gotten the record of the events sealed, and made Impa promise she wouldn’t ruin Link’s employment opportunities if he chose to leave…
But then, of course, she had never actually seen Link again after the incident , so she had never been certain that her actions had actually been effective. Link had left , after all, to her eternal frustration.
She had felt his absence keenly, though she had always assumed she could entice him back into her service once she was queen, a thought that was both grim (Papa would have to die first) and inappropriate (really, queens ought to have better priorities after their ascension).
But he was a lumberjack now. A sexy lumberjack.
The coffee she made for herself was pitiful, but it helped kick her mind clear of the maudlin thoughts.
Whether he was a sexy lumberjack or a sexy bodyguard, she forcefully reminded herself, he was of low birth and the law did not allow her to date him, let alone marry him. Not without unsettling Hyrule’s foundational texts, at least. Besides, he wasn’t interested in her that way. He was interested in casual sex, and her lofty title no doubt added some spice to the whole forbidden fruit nature of their dalliance.
Bottom line, she needed to stop thinking about him.
She started by doing last night’s dishes. There weren’t a lot. Then she went upstairs, tried on a couple of clothes, and settled on something cozy ― a sweater and some yoga pants ― then she had breakfast, did more dishes, brushed her teeth…
She wandered the lodge in silence, wondering what to do. At first, she put on the radio, tuning to some Midwinter carols, and tried singing along, before realizing she knew far fewer lyrics than she had initially thought, so she stopped trying.
At lunch time, she warmed up a microwavable meal, and ate it right out of the box.
She spent that afternoon trying to read, but struggled to get into it. Her mind was wandering continually, often inevitably back to a certain blond man, his eyes, his hands, his mouth …
She had finally settled for lying on the couch, looking at the empty fireplace without seeing it, trying to muster the energy to do something, when she heard the knock at the door.
The knock interrupted every other thing that was oozing through her mind.
No one knew she was here, or almost. Everyone had the same command not to disturb her. There was a very high probability, like 89%, that it was a bad idea to answer the door.
For a furtive, heart-racing moment, her first thought was to call Link.
She immediately began to berate herself. Link was not on call to serve her, he was no longer her bodyguard, and anyway she had sworn to herself never to contact him again after last night’s embarrassing interlude.
Still, he was the nearest. If she needed help― Link was Link , he’d definitely not begrudge her this. He was a good man, he’d help if she needed help―
In the end, paralyzed by indecision, she didn’t move from the couch, panicking, and didn’t answer the door. Whatever this was, it couldn’t be good―
Her phone vibrated on the carpet, startling her. She rolled off the couch, crawling on the floor ―just in case she was visible from the windows― and grabbed it.
Link Forester , the text ID announced.
It was ridiculous how her heart did a little flip inside her chest.
‘So,’ the text read, ‘when you said you didn’t want visitors, did you mean, like, none at all? Asking for a friend.’
Oh, gods. She scowled, fingers flying on the keypad. ‘Is your friend the guy who just knocked at my door?’
She could sense the hesitation in the slightly longer time it took him to answer a simple, ‘Maybe?’ There was a little smile emote that went with it. She pushed to her feet, racing to the door. Before she could reply, he added, ‘But I have a totally legitimate reason. Open up.’
She glanced at herself in the hallway mirror, decided she looked only passably presentable (she untied her hair and tried to fluff it, but it mostly hung limp around her face, and she gave up), realized she wasn’t going to have time to make herself look better, and, resigned, swung the door open.
Link stood there, encumbered by a tree. His cheeks and ears looked a little windburned, and there were wood chips, flecks of bark and sticky pine needles all over his winter coat. The tree next to him was just a little taller than he was, plump and evergreen, and freshly cut.
“Link Forester,” she said, “did you cut a tree for me?”
He looked at his tree, then back at her, and his face broke into a sincere grin that made dimples appear in his cheeks. “Is that not how the kids pull pigtails these days?”
She wasn’t sure if he had intended to make her heart swell a little, but it did. She stepped aside to let him in. “I thought you would be at the tree cutting all day. Don’t they have a big feast afterwards?”
“They do,” Link said, stomping into the house with his tree, its branches powdering the foyer with snow. “But I had one more delivery to make.”
She watched as he gently leaned the tree against the wall, then stood and looked at her like a proud puppy that retrieved the stick, or a boy who scored his first goal. Upon meeting her bemused gaze, his smile faltered a little and he shifted his weight.
“Yeah,” he said. “I know. I should learn to take a hint.”
She shook her head, ignoring how warm she felt inside. “Not at all. I’m― I just didn’t expect to receive a tree today.”
“No one ever expects a tree,” he said, jovially. “I found it’s really hit or miss, as gifts go. I was like, maybe I should have called ahead to ask if you wanted one, but then I was worried you would say no, and seeing as I really wanted to see you again, I didn’t risk it.”
He was rambling. Link almost never rambled. It was surprising, endearing, and she loathed him for it a little.
Rather than let herself fall in love, she turned to the tree and forced herself to seem very engrossed by its needles. She could feel her stomach twisting into knots, but it was better to get the awkwardness over with: “Link, if this is about last night, I really am sorry. I shouldn’t have messaged you. I put you in an impossible position, and now...” She licked her lips. “I hope you know I don’t expect you to commit to anything. I didn’t last year, and I don’t this year.”
She risked a glance at him. He was studying his boots.
“And,” she hastily added, before he could say something that would likely break her heart, “despite appearances, I really meant to stay out of your life. I want you to be able to move on without having to worry about disrespecting your queen or whatever.”
He lifted his gaze to look at her. There was something unreadable in his eyes. When he said, “Right,” she wondered why his voice sounded so hoarse.
“So,” she said, as lightly as she could, “let’s― uh, let’s put all of that behind us.”
He was looking at her silently, and his gaze made her heart flop over in her chest. He’d always had that power, which was upsetting.
Instead of delving further into the discomfort, she ran a hand over the pine needles (it really was a nice little pine, plump and dense with branches, shaped in a nicely rounded cone, like the most picture-perfect Midwinter tree ― she wondered where he had found it, and decided that lumberjacks probably specialized in this sort of thing) and added, as brightly as she could, “You know, I could really use your help to put it in the stand― there must be one in storage somewhere. Would you mind?”
He straightened, filling his lungs like he had been holding his breath, and managed a smile. “Sure,” he said. His voice was airy, light, and Zelda wondered why she felt disappointed by how easily he brushed off the awkwardness.
She headed for the storage room, which was piled high with boxes, childhood toys, old chairs and other pieces of furniture, some boxes of records, and a filing cabinet. She knew there had to be a box of Midwinter decorations somewhere in here. Mother had never thrown away a single decoration, preferring to build up a collection.
She felt Link’s presence in the doorjamb and turned to look at him. He was looking at her unreadably.
“It’s, uh, probably in here,” she said. She turned to survey the shelves of boxes. “Somewhere.”
“Maybe in that box labeled ‘Midwinter Stuff’?” He asked, pointing.
She turned, recognizing her mother’s writing, and her heart clenched. “Um. Yeah. That would make sense.”
She reached out to the box… and felt Link press up against her. He had removed his winter coat, and was now wearing another one of his sweaters. He irradiated warmth through his clothes that made Zelda keenly aware of him, his closeness, the smell of his soap―
He pulled the box out for her.
“I could have done it, you know,” she said, when he stepped back, the box firmly in his arms. And, before she could stop herself, she was poking his shoulder. His firm, warm, muscular shoulder.
He smiled down at her. “How else can I show off?”
She followed him out of the storage room. “I promise showing off is not necessary.” He entered the big common room, which was still cold and empty, and placed the box on the floor. “I have to believe one day you’ll be tired of trying to impress me.” Sadly.
He snorted, opening the box and searching for the tree stand. “ Sure ,” he said. Then, before she could ask him about his obvious sarcasm, he pulled out the pieces of the stand and changed the subject. “Where would you like your Midwinter tree, your Majesty?”
She pointed to the open space in front of the windows. Link nodded.
“I also can’t help but notice,” he said, as he prepared the screws on the stand, “that you haven’t made use of that big fireplace. Seems like a shame.”
She glanced at the empty hearth and shivered. “Yeah― I actually…” She crossed her arms. “I actually don’t know how to make a fire without smoking in the entire house.”
Link paused, looking up at her. “Seriously?” Then, hesitantly, he asked, “Would you like me to show you? After I set up your tree?”
She shifted her weight. “I couldn’t possibly ask―”
He pushed to his feet and strode closer to her. “Zelda,” he said, in that tone that always shivered its way down her spine, “Do you want a fire in your hearth?”
She already had one, she nearly said. But instead she nodded. “Yes… please.”
He reached up, as though he wanted to touch her. She felt her breath grow very still inside her chest. But then he paused, and immediately put his hand down. “Alright. I’ll light it,” he whispered.
Her insides flushed hot. And then she saw the shine of amusement in his gaze and she squinted at him. “Are you doing that on purpose?”
He shrugged, grinning. “That’s part of the things covered by my NDA, I think. Sorry.”
Gods damn everything. She rolled her eyes, pretending that the only thing she felt was annoyance.
But as Link set to propping her tree up correctly, she found the words tumbling out of her mouth quite without her permission: “You should stay for supper.” He glanced at her, surprised, and she shifted her weight. “Since you got me this tree… and you’re missing a feast on my account.”
She watched as his hands stilled. Then he smiled at her.
“If her Majesty insists.”
Zelda wondered if she was being seduced, or if it was already too late for that.
“This is a really nice lodge,” Link said, as he finished cleaning up his bowl of risotto.
Zelda’s attention was divided. She was trying to wrestle her last shrimp with the rice she’d piled onto her fork, while simultaneously ignoring the fact that, under his sweater, Link was apparently wearing a t-shirt that said Got Wood?
A t-shirt that hugged his shoulders in a very distracting way.
Nevertheless, she managed to say, “It is. Especially with the fire going.”
Link nodded in satisfaction. He was sitting at the counter next to her, looking at the results of their combined efforts: the tree glimmered, heavy with decorations, the fire in the hearth cracked and spat as it devoured a log, and little fairy lights had been strung around the room, hanging from the posts and the doorways, and there hung in the air the warm, homey smell of cooking, which Zelda hadn’t enjoyed until then.
Zelda finally managed to eat her shrimp, after which she said, “I didn’t have the heart to decorate the place all on my own. It looks much better like this.” She glanced at him, still keenly aware of his proximity. “Thank you.”
His mouth pulled into that attractive smirk of his. “You don’t have to thank me for everything. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now.”
She couldn’t help but laugh disbelievingly at that. “Oh, come on. That cannot be true.” She gestured. “The depressing, empty lodge of a dead king, and the woman who made you lose your job― if you don’t have anything better, I will be very worried for you.”
“And yet,” he said simply, “here I am.” He glanced at the clock ― it was almost eight, and night had properly fallen outside a while ago. “Although I should be going soon.” He licked his lips and brought his bowl to the sink. “Because despite me showing up uninvited and overstaying my welcome all afternoon, I do know when to make a graceful exit.”
There was a bitter note to that― Zelda wondered if he was alluding to last year, where his exit from her life had been decidedly less graceful.
Her heart wilted a little. “Of course,” she murmured. She didn’t say what she wanted to say, which was namely ‘please don’t go, and could you please kill a duke and take his place so we can be married?’
Link wasn’t going to marry her, she reminded herself. Link didn’t want to marry her. Link just liked to flirt. He liked to tease and have a good time, and she was deluding herself.
Link washed the dishes in silence, so she dried them in silence, ignoring the warmth he was irradiating next to her, and the strange feeling of their silent domesticity. It was painful to imagine that she could have had this, if only she hadn’t been born into royalty, because if she hadn’t, she might have been with him.
But then they wouldn’t have met.
The tangle of those thoughts was hard to justify and harder to express, because it came with a host of longing, sadness, duty, grief, love, and a healthy dose of good old fashioned selfishness.
When all the dishes were in the drying rack, he looked at her and gave her a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Alright,” he said, with finality. “Time for you to get some peace and quiet. For real this time.”
Her tongue was tied, so she nodded, and she watched helplessly as he strode out into the common room, retrieving his sweater from the couch. She was sad to think he was going to cover up his t-shirt again, but more sad to know that she was pining for something she couldn’t have, and she needed to let this happen. She needed to let him go, for both their sakes.
But then Link just stood there, on the carpet, looking at his socks, his sweater bunched up in his hands, his expression as unreadable as ever.
She was about to ask him if everything was alright when he turned to face her properly, jaw set in determination.
“Okay, actually,” he said, “there is something I do need to say. I know already that it’s stupid and futile, but if I don’t get it out now I’ll hate myself and I might show up with another tree tomorrow just as another excuse―”
She found herself clutching her dishrag so tightly that her knuckles were white. Link licked his lips again, and she realized he was nervous. Nervous ! Of all things!
“The point is,” he said, unable to meet her eyes, “that my opportunities to say this are running out. Now, I know that you’re the queen, and you have to marry a prince or whatever. I get it. And because I know that, I also know that I don’t have the right― that is, that I’m completely stupid for liking you as much as I do.”
Zelda stepped forward, heart in her throat. “Link―”
“Seriously, hold on. I just need to get this out there,” he interrupted. He still wasn’t looking at her. “The fact is that I didn’t intend it, but I am, well, absolutely head-over-heels in love with you. I am, like, fucking stupid for you. I shouldn’t have started touching you last year. I shouldn’t have― We shouldn’t have― let’s just say,” he said, laughing airily, “that last year’s incident didn’t exactly help me get over you. If anything, it’s only haunted me since. I can’t move on. I thought I could, but hanging out with you this week, it’s only made me want you more. Gods,” he ran a shaky hand in his hair, and when his eyes met hers, they contained a surprising level of strain. “I am so sorry to be unloading this on you. I know it’s hopeless. But… yeah. I had to say it. I love you, Zelda. There.”
Her mouth was hanging open. Link’s chest puffed up as he inhaled, then visibly deflated when he exhaled.
“Okay,” he said, his voice raw. He looked utterly miserable, and he exhaled again. “ Now I’m going. Bye.”
She caught him just as he was entering the foyer, reaching for his boots, and she only managed to stop him because she grabbed his arm.
“Link,” she said. “Wait.”
He turned to her, and nearly stunned her all over again.
There was no overt expression on his face; his jaw was set, his mouth pressed into an impassive line, but something flickered in his eyes that she recognized only too well: hope. Hope, fragile and vulnerable.
Her heart was pounding. He loved her. It was― it was impossible, and hopeless, and they both knew it, but...
She kissed him, hard.
He responded almost immediately, diving into the sensation, and when she reached up to his nape, embracing him, he snaked his arms around her, pulling her close, moaning against her lips.
It was, by far, the most exhilarating thing she had ever experienced ― her mind could scarcely keep up with the physical sensation of his lips, his arms, his warmth, his breath, and yet all she could think was, ‘he loves me he loves me he loves me he loves me’, a madcap racing thought that drowned out all sense, all logic, all reason.
She pulled away to catch her breath, and met his eyes again.
“I can’t be with you,” she breathed.
The hope in his eyes wilted immediately. His expression grew shuttered. She felt his arms loosen around her waist, could feel the break inside him, could feel its echo in her heart. He tried to retreat, retracting like he was struck in the gut. “I know.”
She held fast. “Link,” she breathed, “you don’t understand. I can’t, but I desperately want to.”Her hand went to his face, shakily. “I can’t stop thinking about you. I miss you,” she explained, and she felt his hands reach for her waist again, like he couldn’t stand not to be touching her. “I miss your heat, and your mouth, and your laugh, and your insight, and your penis―” He snorted, lips stretching, eyes bright on hers. “Don’t laugh,” she said, laughing, when she felt his stomach contract against hers, when she knew she was about to start chuckling breathlessly. “Link, I miss you with every part of me. I want you so badly, and it’s made worse by the fact that I can’t have you.”
He pressed his forehead against hers, and they were silent for a moment.
Then he broke the silence by saying, “But, like, you can, though.”
“Not in the ways that matter.”
“I mean…” He cast a look around them, then settled back on her. “I mean, I’m right here. You could literally order me to get naked and I would.”
“No, you handsome idiot. I want you completely,” she said, fiercely. “I want you so no one else can have you. I want you in my bed every night, and I want to have breakfast with you, and I want to have your babies, and I want you to stand next to me, not behind me.”
“Yeah,” Link said, pain coming over him. “That’s far less likely.”
“I know,” she faintly said.
For a moment, they looked at each other in silence.
And then Link said, “So… should I shove some of that snow outside down my pants, or…?”
She grabbed his stupid Got Wood? t-shirt and pulled him towards her.
They made it to her room. Eventually.
He lost his t-shirt in front of the fireplace, when she growled at him that wearing a shirt was wholly unpatriotic.
She lost her bra in the kitchen, when he bent her over the counter and snarled something about gender equality.
He stumbled out of his jeans in the hallway, when she whined that she couldn’t grope his cock.
She lost her yoga pants and her panties in one go, when he shoved her against her bedroom door and hooked his fingers into her waistband, then pulled them down her legs.
By the time he pressed her down onto her bed, she only had socks left to remove, but neither of them could bring themselves to care about them. Link, for his part, hastily removed his boxers and climbed on top of her.
Gods, she had missed him.
Instead of plunging deep inside her immediately, he covered her with his body, which was as warm and hard as she remembered, and began to rain kisses on her face, her neck, her shoulders, her breasts, so that she began to hum with pleasure. Her hands went up to his neck, and she tangled her fingers in his hair, feeling his breath and his mouth travel over her skin.
“I love you,” she whispered.
He hummed something, but his mouth was suddenly sucking on her nipple, and she figured whatever it was he meant to say was less important than this. Her body arched up against his, which was when she felt his warm, callused hands begin to roam; one of them came up to her other breast, whilst the other lovingly cupped her ass. She felt his erection pushing against her thigh, so she bucked a little against him, half to tease him, and half because she couldn’t help herself.
She murmured something, though she couldn’t be sure what. It was enough to draw his attention, so he lifted his head and stared down at her, eyes dark with hunger, and he smiled that familiar smirk that always worked wonders on her insides.
“What’s going on, your Majesty?”
“I―” Her breath hitched when his hand came up to her ribcage, firm and warm. “I want― I want you―”
He started to laugh, possibly out of amazement, but Zelda wasn’t interested in laughing. She rolled out from under him, only to push him back and climb on top, sitting on his lower stomach.
His laughter died in his throat. He looked up at her with something new: wonderment.
“Gods,” he whispered. “Zelda―”
She bent, capturing her name with a kiss. Then she reached down with a hand and guided his cock inside of her.
When she sat on him fully, they both fell breathlessly silent. Zelda rolled her hips experimentally, adjusting to the feel of him once again, and Link made a strangled noise, reaching up to grab her thighs, and he cursed under his breath.
“What’s going on, Forester?” She taunted, looking down at his half-lidded gaze and the dark pupils within. “Not used to the shoe being on the other foot?”
“Excuse me for savouring this moment,” Link groaned. “S’way better than I had imagined.”
“Which part?” She asked, rocking a little and feeling the pleasure of his cock stretching her in the sweetest way.
“All of the parts,” he rasped. “Please tell me you’re going to move― oh, fuck .” His eyes shut, his head fell back against her pillows, as Zelda pulled off of him slightly, then sat back down, pushing a little.
“Gods,” she whispered, as pleasure rolled over her, “I missed this.”
“Me too,” he breathed, as she lifted to do it again. “You should know I had very honourable intentions when I brought you that tree.”
“Good. Now shut up and fuck me.”
He did, pushing up to meet her when she came down, and before she knew it Zelda was on a journey of her own, using him, running her hands over his chest, and he was murmuring encouragement― his thumb came down to her clit, and then she was off, sliding up and down on his cock, rolling her hips, riding the crest of each successive wave of pleasure. She arched her back, lifting her chin to the ceiling, feeling white stars burst behind her eyelids, the heat growing between her legs, and the iron grip of Link’s hand on her hips, the slap of his skin against hers.
She felt a first spasm clench around his cock, and he made a wordless noise that sounded like he was in pain, but his hand only held her more firmly, and his thumb only pressed a little bit more, so she knew he was fine, more than fine.
And then she stopped caring about things outside of her body. Her whole world shrank to just him, his cock, his thumb, his breath, his heat, the way he was murmuring things about her ― how beautiful, how perfect, how much he loved her ― and how much those things were making her body heat rise, how much the pleasure was making her body react.
She felt herself grow tighter around him, could feel herself pull on his cock, could feel him spread her, could feel him grip her so hard she knew his fingers would leave bruises, and she bent forward to kiss him, so hard she couldn’t breathe anymore, and her orgasm exploded on his thumb.
It rocked its way up from her legs to her chest and into her skull, and she tried to arch upwards, away from him, but his arm had come up to her head, and he kept her lowered to him, kept her anchored there, and as she felt the unstoppable waves of pleasure rock through her body, one after the other, she felt him pump inside her, hard, his hips rising to use her, his mind completely gone, completely obfuscated by lust. By now, she had wet his full length― he could glide in and out with absolute ease, and he did, pounding into her with abandon, preventing her from escaping before he could spend himself inside her.
It was violent, unstoppable like a hurricane, and the forceful nature of his grip did something to her, kept the pleasure from ebbing away, so that with every thrust upwards, he was making her throb a little bit more, was making her clench a little tighter―
“Link,” she panted, into his ear, because she couldn’t escape him, because he wasn’t letting her go before he could finish. “Link―”
“I know,” he gasped. “Come again. Come again for me, Zelda―”
“Don’t stop,” she begged. “Fill me up―”
“Oh, fuck,” he groaned, eyes screwing shut, “you can’t say stuff like―”
“Fuck me,” she panted, and the pleasure began to grow white hot inside of her, ready to burst into a thousand glowing teardrops. “Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me―”
He came. Hard.
And so did she.
She wasn’t sure how it happened, exactly, except that he thrust once, twice, his lower stomach pressing hard against her clit, and suddenly she was crying out, weeping with pleasure, as she felt the explosive burst of hot wetness erupt between their bodies.
She collapsed on top of him, panting, her ear pressed against his pounding heartbeat, and nobody came knocking.
Zelda’s phone vibrated for the fifth time that hour, but she ignored it, trying to focus her attention on Midna and on the endless stream of New Years’ cards that passed across her desk.
“I’ve finally gotten my people to approve a new budget to renovate the provincial hall in Hateno,” Midna was saying, her manicured hands flipping through her agenda. “And there has been movement to fund the lab there more generously, so your research projects might find a proper home at last.”
“If your people don’t find a home for them,” Zelda said, “it’s fine. I’ll ask Akkala or Tabantha for resources. They’ve got new state-of-the-art facilities ready to deploy.”
“Yes, but I want the federal funding for Necluda,” Midna laughed. “Whatever. I know you, you’ll open up an RFP and have us all vie for your royal patronage like it’s a damn pageant.”
“I do love a good bidding war,” Zelda deadpanned.
“Fuck fairness,” Midna said, grinning. “What’s the use of being your best friend if I can’t reap the benefits?”
“You do reap the benefits,” Zelda said, glancing over a New Year’s card from one of Central Hyrule’s lesser lords, and adding it to the pile she had informally titled ‘Needs Reply - Least Urgent’. “I’ve had time to think about your handsome boy-toy.”
“He would greatly object to that moniker,” Midna said, lightly, but she was no longer leafing through her planner, so Zelda knew her attention was entirely upon her. Still, Midna being Midna, she gave herself an air of haughty indifference: “Well, I am positively rapt. What is your verdict?”
Zelda smiled at her friend. She had invited Dark and Midna for a casual lunch ―or as casual as lunches could get while in the Castleton Royal Palace― and she had enjoyed their combined company. There was no doubt Dark was Midna’s type through and through, a handsome, cocky man who echoed much of Midna’s almost cultivated arrogance, and because Midna liked him so much Zelda saw he was, in essence, as soft-hearted and tender in private as Midna could be.
But most importantly, he looked at Midna with that familiar mix of panic and devotion that Midna had long inspired in all of her most fervent beaux… and Midna couldn’t fully disguise the tenderness and admiration she felt when she reached over to run a hand over his shoulders, or when she stole a glance at him and pretended she was completely above the silly notion of love.
In short, they were completely mad for one another. And Zelda was certain of it; in fact, she had recently begun fancying herself an expert on true love.
Rather than let Midna languish in doubt, she smiled warmly. “I like him, Midna. I think he’s perfect for you. Just challenging enough, and tender when it counts.”
Midna didn’t reply immediately, which was unusual. When Zelda looked up from another card ― from Lord Groose of Tabantha, which she placed into ‘Needs Reply - Moderately Urgent’― she saw something highly unusual in her worldly friend: emotion. Her golden eyes were softer than before, and misty.
“Thank you,” Midna murmured.
Zelda snorted. “Don’t mention it. I haven’t fixed my mind of which lot I’ll be assigning him; either a bit of land near Lake Kolomo, or a tiny manor near Orsedd. It’s not much, but if I gave him more I’d have to justify the transfer to Parliament. Better make it look like a personal caprice.”
“Which it is,” Midna snorted. “But still ― thank you. It’s all he’d be missing to be a suitable baron, and as a baron…” She smiled, and Zelda saw her eyes were properly humid now. “As a baron, he can be mine.”
Zelda’s heart clenched, so she reached out and squeezed Midna’s fingers. “I know.” And she did: she knew better than anyone how much joy Midna must have been feeling.
It was about inversely proportional to Zelda’s own misery.
Midna saw the direction of her thoughts. “So… have you spoken to him since you returned to Castleton?”
“I texted him when I got home,” Zelda softly said. “To tell him I made it safely. But it’s… It’s strange now. I know how he feels, and he knows how I feel, but we knew we were spending borrowed time. We spent our last day together, before I left, just agreeing, over and over, that it was better if we didn’t…” She felt her throat closing up, and her voice died.
“If you didn’t stay in touch,” Midna completed, her voice muted.
Zelda nodded, feeling her eyes burning, and she reached up to press the heel of her palms into her eyelids, willing the tears to evaporate from pressure alone.
They were silent for a moment, and Midna broke the grief-filled silence by clearing her throat.
“Would you like me to change the subject?” She asked, uncharacteristically gently, which revealed Zelda probably looked like she was going to burst into tears at any moment.
Zelda nodded wordlessly.
“Right. So.” Midna flipped through her planner with newfound nervous haste. “Let’s see. Um. Right―” She glanced up. “Have I given you the update about Dueling Peaks National Park yet?”
Zelda swallowed a lump and forced herself to speak, though her voice came out raspy. “There is no Dueling Peaks National Park.”
“ Yet ,” Midna repeated. “In fact, there is not even a Dueling Peaks Provincial Park, but ,” she smiled, “after pestering my boards and councils for three years, I have finally gotten them to agree to form a provincial park within the next four years and make it into a protected reserve. Right now, we’re at the stage where we’re haggling over every single square mile to be converted to provincial territory, so, as you can imagine, I am ready to murder literally every single one of my council people. But we’re past the stage of arguing over the value of a provincial park, and that, my dear, is a goddamn win in my book.”
“It is a win,” Zelda said, forcing herself to smile. “Congratulations. I know this has been a huge pet project of yours. Well done.” Gratitude swept through her for Midna’s ability to throw positive events into her lap. It was comforting to know that, even if she was losing Link, she wasn’t going to lose her.
“I’ll have forms to make you sign― matters of stewardship, funding submissions, that sort of thing. It’s a shift of allotment, and beyond five hundred square miles, I need either a majority vote in Parliament or your royal approval―”
“I can smell Codeii studies all over you lately,” Zelda snorted. “Don’t worry. I’ll help you make your provincial park happen. And in a couple of years, when it’s well established, we can start talks about nationalizing it.” She fiddled with another New Year’s greeting card. “We can go over the paperwork now if you want. I’m so sick of reading heartfelt wishes of health and joy for the five hundredth time.”
Midna hesitated. “Really?” There was a note of optimism in her voice. “Are you sure?” Her hand went to the elegant briefcase by her chair. “I mean, I didn’t want to pester you with the formalities right as you came back from vacation―”
Zelda clapped her fingers to her palms, like a greedy child. “Please, Midna, give me purpose .”
Her friend laughed, and retrieved a folder from her briefcase. She handed the entire thing over, gesturing vaguely with her fingers.
“You can ignore the entire fifty page docket on the top. That’s just a description of the land for legal reference, and it’s drier than bone.” She leaned forward as Zelda lifted the stack of paper and set it aside. “I have a couple of signatures marked with those little adhesive flaps― Right, the first is for budget autonomy, up to a maximum of―”
“I see it― four million rupees a year, for five years.” Zelda made a low whistle. “No wonder your council is whiny.”
“We’ll recoup through campers, visitors and donors,” Midna said, with the calm assurance that promised Zelda she was certain of success. “I’ve been talking extensively with people about Eldin Volcanic National Park and Hebra Peak National Park. I have a ten year fundraising plan that I just need to polish. The draft is somewhere under there, if you want to see it.”
Zelda shook her head and lifted her pen. “This line here?”
“And the date,” Midna said. “The next document I need you to sign is a stewardship authorization, transfer of powers and authorities, that sort of thing.”
Zelda flipped up the page corner and signed. “Will you be heading the board on this one?”
Midna shrugged. “Until I find a suitable replacement. This project is like my baby; I’m not letting it go to just anybody.”
“I fear for them,” Zelda snorted. “And this other document―” She lowered her pen.
“You really should be reading this stuff,” Midna said, frowning. “I mean, you’re just blindly trusting me?”
Zelda ratified the form, dating it, and shook her head. “Midna, you’ve been telling me about this project for years now. And you’ve never acted in a way that wasn’t directly beneficial to Hyrule. I trust you.”
“But this is drastically cutting back on my distracting material,” Midna said. “If you don’t read my extensive paperwork, I’m going to have to find some other thing to put your mind off your sexy lumberjack.”
Zelda leaned back, smiling wearily. “I fear nothing is going to put me off him, so long as I live,” she said. “But I appreciate the effort.”
Midna’s gaze hardened a little, but she accepted the folder of signed papers back. “Zelda, darling,” she said, “nothing I do can ever be just an ‘effort’. That is not what my mother has taught me.” She delicately placed the folder back into her briefcase and added, “You see, when I decide to help a friend, I do whatever it takes.” She smiled, then, that little impish smile she reserved for her closest friends, the one that revealed just what a clever child she must have been before she became all sophisticated, and said, “Whether they see me coming or not.”
“Well now that you warned me,” Zelda snorted, “I’ll definitely be on my guard for attempts to distract me. You shouldn’t have said a thing.”
Midna laughed, the sound halfway between a ladylike giggle and a fiendish cackle. “Oh, honey . Be on your guard all you want. You did me a massive favour today. Therefore, I am extra motivated. I can promise you, you have no idea what awaits you. In fact,” she said, pushing to her feet, “my plan is already in motion.”
Zelda smiled bemusedly, rolling her eyes. “Alright, darling. Whatever you say.”
Whatever it was Midna was planning, she knew with sad confidence, it would never be enough to make her get over the sadness of not being with Link.
Or so she thought, until she actually found out what Midna had done.
Eight months went by. Eight agonizing months of work and not thinking about Link. Eight months went on where she tried, in vain, to go on with her life.
It wasn’t easy. Midna and Dark were getting on famously, but even their regular visits, distracting and entertaining as they were, only served to drive home just how lonely she felt.
Sure, she had the palace staff, and she maintained a circle of formal acquaintances in the House of Commons and House of Nobles, and she pretended to be very interested by candidates for a consort… but her heart wasn’t in it.
Her heart was still in Necluda.
So it was that eight months had passed without a single text from Link when suddenly her phone vibrated and she saw his name.
Unbidden, her heart swelled inside her chest. They had sworn not to communicate, that they would try to get over each other. She had held fast, desperately avoiding any thought of him ― to little avail ― and she had recently started to convince herself he had moved on. She pictured him with a cute redhead, the kind of heartwarming girl with nice curves that would cook him big meals and be a suitable mother to his children.
But this, a single text message from him, was enough to bring her right back to the start position. Suddenly, all of her efforts, all of her rationalizing, every single tearful night, were returned to ashes and dust.
‘Hey,’ the message read, and it took her several attempts before she could properly make sense of it, so amazed by the fact that he was texting her that she couldn’t focus. ‘I know we said we wouldn’t speak to each other again, but this is kind of related to that. Like, if I WERE dating material, you’d totally date me, right? This isn’t strictly one of those forbidden fruit things?’
She blinked at her screen, confused. She was certain she had made herself clear, that he knew she loved him, that she wanted him in every way… And the very thought of discussing this again opened a wound inside of her that bled. A lot.
She messaged back, ‘I cannot have been more clear about this. Yes, I would be with you. But we can’t; blood primacy means that I can’t unmake the law without ruining all of Hyrule’s fundamental systems.’
He didn’t reply immediately, so she tried to get back to work, uneasily, distractedly.
When her phone vibrated again, his reply was much shorter: ‘So, again, to be clear, if I were eligible, you’d say yes.’
She blinked. ‘Yes. But you’re not.’ Then, because she was concerned, ‘Are you alright?’
‘Right. K. Cool. Yes.’ And then, a second later, ‘Love you.’
And that was that. She spent an inordinate amount of time looking at that last text, wondering why he would unmake eight months of hard-earned progress, resetting her to that awful state of heartache and misery, on the basis of a simple hypothetical.
She took a bracing breath and decided not to think about him. Again-again.
It was another week before her private phone vibrated once more ― she received very few personal texts. It was Midna this time, and Zelda stifled a brand new bout of stinging disappointment. She had gone back to anticipating every ring like it was Link’s own hand reaching out.
‘We’re announcing the new park! HBC!’
At least Midna knew exactly when to distract her. Zelda made a mental note to send her some flowers, and reached for the remote.
The evening news on the Hyrule Broadcasting Channel was just starting. It would roll through national news, then international news, and finally end with regional news, Zelda knew; she was often featured on the national segment, and occasionally in the international segment.
There was a short report about interest rates stabilizing, a summary of bills Zelda had also been supervising, and then the anchor moved into the segment Midna had warned about ― punctuated by another text from her that simply said, ‘It’s starting!’
‘I’m watching,’ she replied, if only to reassure her.
The excerpt was from a conference Midna had been preparing for three weeks, one of the management board members explaining the final expected size of Dueling Peaks Provincial Park, and some additional information on timelines. All things Zelda already knew.
The reporter took over the air again, reading some facts off a sheet, and Zelda was ready to tune him out.
And then she heard it.
“... with park steward Link Forester―”
Zelda blinked, wondering if she was having auditory hallucinations, but then a video montage began to play, of a group of council members surrounding Link, all of them posing for a photo, while Link shook the hand of the chairman, and she groped for her phone blindly, feeling her head begin to pound.
Midna picked up on the second ring, and her tone was unmistakably amused. “Oh, hi , darling. Have you been watching the news?”
“ What did you do?”
Midna cackled, genuinely cackled. “Look, the next time I ask you to read my paperwork, you should read my paperwork.”
“Are you saying I signed off on this?” Zelda said, feeling her voice rise to a hysterical pitch.
“I mean, you signed off on several things,” Midna said. On the television screen, Zelda saw Link’s portrait next to several facts about him ― his age, place of birth, and the mention ‘new appointment’, which made no sense― and Midna added, “But mostly, you gave me the power to sign in a new land steward in Necluda, and what can I say? I knew a man who would be perfect for the job.”
“How did you― What―”
“It’s just, Forester Lumber Yards has been managing sustainable forest development across the province, and he’s a pillar of his community, and also I had a royal signature giving me complete autonomy to pick someone to oversee the entire park. He’s a perfect fit, though. He’s won the board over with his sustainability project ideas.”
“The hardest part was convincing him to say yes, but then I told him that a land that size inevitably would, de facto, make him a count. Actually, I fought tooth and nail to get just enough land to edge into county territory, because otherwise, what’s the point ? Anyway, he finally said yes last week, gods know what finally convinced him―”
Zelda felt numb. “Midna…” She let herself crumple onto her couch, the same couch where she had found herself feeling exceptionally good, where she and Link had been caught― “Midna, did you make him an actual count―”
“A Necludan count,” she specified. “And see, this is what happens when you don’t read the fine print. But I swear, if you overturn my park, I will be so mad at you. Just bloody marry him and I promise I’ll never surprise you again. And please,” she finished, right before hanging up abruptly, “once you marry him just rewrite the damn Codeii, for the sake of all the poor rich girls who follow us. God damn .”
And then the line fell silent with cackling finality.
Zelda sat there for a long moment.
Then, she texted Link: ‘What are you doing?’
She didn’t expect to receive a picture of two hairy legs propped up on the side of a bathtub, by candlelight, with the words, ‘Keeping busy, obviously.’
She burst out laughing, and just barely managed, ‘So I hear you’re a count now?’
‘Yeah, I just sent Impa a picture of my new land-title deed. She emoted a rage-face at me, but I think that means congratulations.’
Yikes. She would have to talk to Impa in the morning. ‘Stop messaging her until I speak to her. What are you, five?’
Then, a moment later, her phone rang. She could hear Link sloshing in the water, and she smiled at the thought of him going to the elaborate trouble of taking a bath just to send her a joke picture.
Gods, she loved him.
“Hey, so, uh, when can I see you in person?” Link sounded languid, happy. “I have a question I need to ask you.”
She felt her heart pounding. “You can ask me now.”
“I kinda did last week via text,” he said, and she closed her eyes, picturing him naked in the water, and suddenly his situation didn’t just seem like the setup to a joke. His voice was warm: “It’s just there’s, like, this whole thing where I have to purchase a metric ridiculosity of roses and everything. Super convoluted business.”
“I’ll check my schedule,” she wryly said, feeling joy flood her. “There’s probably time before next Midwinter.”
“Oh, good.” There was a comfortable silence, and then his voice got a little deeper. “ So ,” she could hear his eyebrows waggling, “what are you wearing?”
She broke into peals of elated laughter that made one of her bodyguards open the door and check in on her with concern.
But it didn’t matter, because now she knew for certain.
Sometimes, good things do come to those who wait.