Zelda crouches in front of her dresser and lifts one shoe box after another. They have to be here somewhere ... It’s Ashei and Shad’s bachelor party tonight, and she is looking for her favorite pair of heels; often chosen because they are black, which means they blend into every outfit, loved because they are as comfortable as heels can get, and maybe preferred because Link has sometimes complimented her when wearing them. She doubts that he had her shoes in mind when he told her she would look pretty, especially as he is- she has to give him that- rather generous with compliments. But who knows? The last box in the third row is the one, and she pulls them out to place them on her bed.
Now a dress. She is happy that there’s no dress code tonight so she can at least choose freely from her own clothes. As much as she loves dear Paya, wearing the gamboge nightmare of tulle that built up static electricity with every step that she had selected for their night out with the girls, is an experience she isn’t willing to repeat so soon.
Fortunately, Ashei and Shad are less traditional when it comes to things like that. For tonight, they have decided to celebrate together and invite only their closest friends, so Zelda is about to spend her evening with the bride and groom-to-be, Paya and Sidon, and well, Link. Karane and Pipit are missing out because their daughter suddenly hates car trips, and they said it’s more than enough to hear her non-stop crying for a two-hour ride for the following wedding that they would be attending.
Weddings. They are everywhere these days. All of her friends seemed to decide at the same time that tying the knot would be perfect this summer. Her own engagement was the one that started it all, but as she flips through her dresses and comes across her old school uniform, it’s another proposal and another man she thinks about.
She pulls the piece of clothing towards her and the coat hanger screeches on the rail from misuse. There are no cookie crumbs on the fabric, but when she closes her eyes and rubs the fabric between her fingers, it is as if she is sitting on the bench in the schoolyard again, the sun and wind tickling her skin.
It’s Link’s 17th birthday, and she was a little giddy when she finally gave him a box of half-burned cookies. He asked for the first time then. She had given him a lot of birthday presents over the years, but this was the first time she had put her heart into it and made something on her own. Perhaps the change was too subtle for him to decipher, but she wouldn't dare be more open about the reason for that.
Link opened the package with childish joy, eyes sparkling when she admitted that she made them herself. They probably tasted horrible, but he closed his eyes and savored one, burnt chocolate and all. She wasn't sure what was more difficult to ignore – the heavy fluttering in her chest when he pressed a chaste kiss on the corner of her mouth, or Malon's bright love bites on both sides of his neck.
“Marry me?” he grins at her.
She swallowed because surely he’s joking, and rolled her eyes at him, just for good measure. “We are minors, Link. Try again when we are old enough.” Next thing she knew Groose was shoving him away, loudly announced that he had told him before to keep his dirty mouth away from his girl. She wasn’t technically with Groose, but she liked the sound of someone calling her ‘my girl', so she didn't correct him when he started a few weeks ago. Link had no real interest in her anyway – it was her way of moving on and keeping their friendship intact.
Little did she know back then, that the proposal would become a bad habit for him. She slides the school uniform back in the wardrobe and allows herself to dive further into the bitter-sweet memories.
It was a constant on-and-off again with Malon; she was never sure if they were together or not. It didn’t hinder his flirting with her at all. Not that it was her business, no, it was just a little difficult to stomp out the sparks that rose from her belly button every time he did.
Prom was around the corner and Groose was persistent in his attempts to win her over. She was hyper-aware of Malon's constant complaints that Link hadn't asked her yet, although she was relatively sure that they were not together at that point. It was hard for her to offer her comfort. She knew that Malon was kind and funny and that she was popular for a reason, but she just couldn’t manage to warm up to her.
Day after day passed by, and the walls she'd erected around her feelings for her best friend began to crumble as she held out hope that he might ask her instead. She hated herself for it.
A few days before the Prom, Groose told her that it would be the last time that he'd try, and she finally agreed. She was tired of waiting for something that would never happen. That evening, Link showed up at her house with a bunch of silent princesses to ask her. She wondered if it was his plan all along to wait until she had to refuse, but that just didn’t make sense, did it?
She sighs heavily when she flips through her dresses, yanking forward this one and that one without taking them into serious consideration. As if Link ever cared if his behavior towards her made sense or not.
He had reassured her that it was ok that she had to refuse, he just thought it would be fun to go together since they were in the same class since preschool. Just friends hung in the air. What did she expect? She kicked the door frame of their front door when he left. She finally got what she wanted, but Link managed to turn an invitation to a Prom into a friend zone thing.
Prom night finally arrived, but the party turned out boring. Groose stepped on her feet a thousand times when they danced and if that wasn’t enough, he’d left her alone to drink with his friends. She decided to look for Link to tell him that her 'no' hadn’t meant that they couldn't begin dating after the Prom at all. Maybe she had misunderstood him. A girl could dream.
When she spotted him in the passenger seat of his car, she suddenly knew why his friends let out a wolf-whistle when she asked where to find him. His arms were casually crossed over the headrest, and he was leaning back as far as the seat allowed. Through the window she saw Malon's red hair bobbing up and down in his lap and his soft gasps pierced through the night. She turned on her heel and prayed to Hylia that his eyes stayed closed long enough so he wouldn't catch her looking.
To this day she wasn’t sure if he had seen her or not, but she started to date Groose for real after that. He was a little crazy, sure, but he did care. They separated as good friends when she went to college, and he took up responsibility in his mother’s business. The last time she saw him he was pushing a twin-buggy and told her excitedly that he just bought a house for his family.
Settling down, starting a family... thinking about how these things are so far away for her now causes her to move the clothes with more force than necessary. Finally, she pulls out two dresses and lays them on her bed. One is tinted a navy blue and accentuates her cleavage in just the right way, while the other is dusty pink and leaves her shoulders free due to its halter neckline. She likes both very much and Link probably… well- it doesn’t matter which one Link would prefer. He promised to pick her up last weekend, but they’ll only have a twenty-minute car drive without the others. That’s not exactly what she would call a date.
They never really managed to date, although there was a time when they at least came close. The time frame was only short, but she often wonders how things would be different today if she had found the courage to be honest.
It began when she lived in her own apartment for about two months. Without warning, Link was suddenly standing in front of her door. They had always stayed close friends, closer than Malon and Groose would have liked, but that didn’t stop them. He looked weary, with an ice cream container in his hands, and when he collapsed on her sofa, she believed for the first time that maybe they had broken up for real. After eating most of the ice cream himself, he swore that he was done with Malon once and for all.
She made the mistake of asking what exactly Malon had done this time and since she was half lying in his arms anyway, he pulled her onto his lap.
“She said that I have to forget about you. That I should stop talking about you, Zelda.” He pressed a kiss between her ear and her cheekbone. “I told her that I will never stop.” The next kiss was on the corner of her mouth. “She said that she never wants to see me again if that’s the case.” His lips hovered over hers for a long moment. “And that I should finally fuck you if I want you so badly.”
She listened to his words in rapt attention, hope slowly worming its way up from the bottom of her heart; but the last sentence caused something to snap inside her like a dry twig. Swallowing the tremble in her voice away, she asked “That’s why you are here, asshole?”
She couldn’t believe that he shrugged .
Her hand print on his cheek was still red when she came for the first time that night.
After they hit the mattress for the third time, she stared at the ceiling and wondered what in Hylia's name she was doing.
Link on the other hand wasn't one for second thoughts. He spooned her and pulled the covers over them, snuggling his nose in her hair, and asked “Marry me?”
If she wasn’t so exhausted and could lift her arm, she would have given him another slap in the face. So she just snarled instead, “I'm not your rebound girl, Link.” So very convincing while laying naked in his arms.
He kissed her nape softly as if she hadn't just called him out and murmured, “No, you are not.”
She was relieved to find him gone the next morning because she wasn't sure if she could stand him leaning casually against her kitchen table and nibbling on her burnt toast without bursting into tears. She cried alone over his note instead.
The note reappeared when she unpacked the last things she had stored in the basement after her ex-fiance moved out, and she has pinned it to her fridge, hidden among many other postcards and notes. The ink is a little washed out and the paper has begun to yellow, but she can’t bring herself to throw it away.
Thank you for everything. xoxo, Link
She never dared to ask him what he meant by that. The comfort she offered him? The sex? Their friendship in general? Or truly everything? Not that it matters anymore after so much time. The one chance to find it out passed some weeks after their first night together, and she didn't take it.
She didn’t contact him and it wasn't until she attended the traditional harvest festival in their hometown that she saw him again. The mood had an awkward edge until he gathered his courage and stood with two pumpkin beers in front of her.
She had no real reason to refuse him, so they moseyed around the area until they found a corner and a bench quiet enough to talk. Half of her beer was finished when his voice cut through the thick silence.
“I wasn't sure if you wanted to talk to me. That’s why I haven’t contacted you, I mean.”
His hand came to rest on her thigh and her stupid body had nothing better to do than sending a little shock. Traitor .
He squeezed. “I hope you don’t think you took advantage of me. It’s ok, I wanted it.”
She blinked. Twice. What? She? She took advantage of him?!
Ok, maybe he had been the one with the heartbreak, but she … oh great goddess, he was right. It was her responsibility to refuse him. He was a mess, and she should have been the one with the clear head. Instead, she took the first opportunity to give in to her silly crush toward him.
“I'm so sorry,” she whispered.
“Don't be. I don’t… I don't regret it. Ok, maybe the timing.” He ruffled his hair. “To… to be honest… I was thinking if… I mean if you want…” He raised his drink helplessly and waggled it. “We could maybe go on –"
His hand tightened on her leg and his eyes darted beyond her. Zelda turned around and was met with a death glare.
“Of course.” Malon snaped, pointing at Link's hand on her thigh. “Are you happy now, Zelda?”
Link pressed his eyes shut and withdrew his hand. “Malon, please. Let Zelda be. She has nothing to do with it.”
“Nothing? Sure, I can see that, Link.”
“Calm down, ok? Zelda and I have been friends for all of our lives. I wasn’t willing to question this when we were together and I’m not discussing this now.”
Zelda cringed inwardly at the word friends, but that’s what they are, aren’t they? One-time-only-friends, maybe.
“Friends? Don’t make me laugh.” She narrowed her eyes at Zelda. “I always told Groose he shouldn't trust you two so easily. How long has this been going on? From the beginning?”
“Malon,” she tried to soothe her. “There was nothing, don’t worry.”
Malon snorted. “Was? Oh, of course. I bet you two dumb heads didn’t waste a single day to jump each other’s bones when I was finally out of your way.”
Her words were so close to the truth that they hit her in the stomach like a fist. Link's hand rubbed her smaller back when he noticed her trembling, but it was too late. She barely managed to hold her hair aside and hurled her beer into the adjacent trash can.
Distantly, she heard Malon hiss: “Pathetic. Both of you.”
Link helped her up when she was done and insisted on bringing her home.
They walked in silence afterward, the words still hanging in the air. Before they parted, Link stood with his hands in his pockets in front of her parent’s house.
“I’m sorry that you had to hear that nonsense. Don’t worry about Malon.” He sighed and kicked pebbles with his foot. “I think she realizes that it’s over now.”
He smiled lopsidedly at her. “It is. Even my stupidity has limits.”
She smiled back. “If you say so…”
His smile broadened and he opened his arms for her. “So, we are ok?”
“I guess, but, Link, I just vomited in a garbage can.”
He pulled her close and hugged her. “I couldn’t care less.”
She averted her face nonetheless.
“Zelda, you are precious to me. I will never allow something or someone to stand between us, ok?”
If her mouth hadn't the bitter taste of throwing up, she would have tried to catch the kiss he pressed on her forehead with her mouth and ask him if he thought of the same kind of precious she did. Now was not the time. So, she nodded in his coat and said only: “Me neither.”
Releasing her, he stroked her head.
“Ok, good. I was worried for the last few weeks. About what I meant to ask –“
The door behind them opened and Zelda's mother popped her head out.
“Link! So, these old ears can still hear. It's good to see you. Why don’t you come in?”
“Oh, were you two having a moment? I'm sorry, I can close the door again. Just pretend I'm not here.”
Zelda rolled her eyes. “Link walked me home because I'm unwell, ok?”
Link smiled at her and kissed her knuckles before taking a few steps backwards. “I guess you are in good hands from here. We will stay in touch.”
Inside, her mother nearly jumped up and down. “Did he finally ask you out? Or is he still dating that… that person?”
“Mum! Her name is Malon, and she is a nice girl.” Well, maybe not today, but a broken heart could bring anybody to their limits. “Link and I are friends, you know that.” She fiddled with the hem of her sleeves. “Besides, I just vomited in front of him.”
“If you believe a little vomit can stop true love, you are not as smart as I believed you to be, darling. Now come and rest.”
She can't pinpoint what it was that stopped them, she muses while she paints her lashes. Neither of them asked the other out until it was too late.
Her mouth forms an 'o' when she applies the lipstick. Not too much, she wants to wear her hair loose, and she hates it when the wind blows strands in her face, causing them to stick to her lips. Also she has decided on the pink dress, and dark red lipstick and light colors don't go well together.
Link would prefer the blue one. But this isn't a date, she reminds herself again. It's Ashei and Shad's bachelor party.
Did he ever think about how he looked for her ? Probably not. He was under no obligation anyway. They lived their own lives and neither questioned the decisions the other made.
That's why she said nothing when he phoned her several weeks after the festival. They spoke once or twice a week at least, so that was far from unusual, but she knew immediately that something was different. At first, she suspected that he had changed his mind about Malon, but it was worse. The first ten minutes of the call were filled with enthusiastic babbling about the big chance he was given, something about a development aid project in Lorule, a neighboring country that had suffered from a long civil war. It sounded perfect for him, and she told him as much. Seeing the world, helping people in the direst need - that was something he had always dreamed of.
Only when he answered her question about how long he would be abroad with a quiet ‘ two years’ , the gravity of his decision knocked the air out of her lungs.
Words formed silently at the bottom of her stomach when he promised to write or phone her when possible. Unable to voice them, she asked if it would be dangerous instead. He didn’t give her a clear answer, probably because he wasn't sure. The words were in her throat when he asked her to join the little party his friends were organizing for his last evening. Instead, she assured him that she would come. When he said she'll be the one he would miss most, they were on the tip of her tongue. She told him that she would miss him, too.
Only when they had ended the call, she nearly crushed the phone in her hand, and whispered, “Don’t go.”
They managed to stay in touch despite the distance, although phoning was difficult because he was always in areas with little infrastructure – that’s the reason he was there after all. Writing letters wasn't as romantic as it sounded, sadly, especially since they both remained in platonic territory. After a few months, she wasn't even sure if the chemistry between them was a result of her vivid imagination.
College came to an end, and she took up responsibility for her parents' company. It was during one of the many conferences that she met Ganondorf. He was an impressive man, polite and handsome, and both their parents spoke of a fairy tale union when he asked her out. It was the only time when there was a gap of several weeks between Link's letters when she told him that she was dating Ganondorf, but then he wrote her that he was traveling and got her last letter belatedly.
Ganondorf treated her like a princess, brought her flowers every weekend and for a while, it was good to have butterflies in her stomach again. He could be a little clingy sometimes, but it never crossed the line from endearing to creepy. Maybe it was because they were often separated due to their business travels that he stuck to her side once they were reunited.
She told him early on about Link, their lifelong friendship, and their status as pen pals because this relationship was serious, and she didn’t want to start on the wrong foot. He said he was looking forward to meeting Link in person, squeezed her hand, and his smile was so genuine that she believed him.
She smiles too now, when leaving the bathroom to finish getting dressed. The time with Ganondorf will always have a special place in her heart. She still has some of the little presents he used to give her, and she does not see any reason why she should get rid of them. Even her engagement ring is still somewhere in her nightstand - he didn't want to take it back.
Yes, she was freshly engaged to Ganondorf when Link returned to Castletown for summer. They invited him over for dinner, and she half expected him to bring someone along, he was a handsome man after all. He came alone and it was strange, yet familiar to see him again. His hair had grown out and was sun-bleached, he spoke more naturally and teased less, but she was probably more mature, too. It was easier to see your growth in someone else's eyes. They were not childhood friends anymore, and the awkward teenage years were clearly behind them – they were both adults now.
Ganondorf and Link got along surprisingly well and at some point in the evening, she even leaned back to sip on her wine to simply let them talk.
“I like him.” Ganondorf smiled and pulled her closer when they laid in their bed later. She wasn't sure why, and it was an ugly thing to think, but somehow she would have preferred he didn't. “Don’t like him too much,” she joked instead, “I know you have a soft spot for pretty men.” The tips of Ganondorf's ears were tinted pink, but he whispered in her ear, “I have a soft spot for you, Princess.” She snuggled in his embrace and ignored the nagging qualms at the edges of her conscience.
To think that only a couple of weeks have passed since then. It feels like ages.
Early summer was busy, but when Karane and Pipit organized a trip to the beach, she made room. It had been too long since she had seen the sea. Ganondorf was on a business trip yet again, so she agreed that Link could pick her up. To her dismay, Paya and Sidon had sent their apologies at the last minute, something about her grandmother feeling unwell; and Ashei and Shad were busy with planning their wedding.
Zelda and Link met with Karane's family at the beach, but the fun was cut short when their daughter was suddenly feverish in the warm morning sun. Before she could blink, Link and she were alone.
They refused to waste the wonderful sunshine and stayed. It was a fun day with lots of swimming, ice cream, and flirty chit-chat, and when the evening came, they stopped at a viewpoint to see the sun fall into the ocean. The din of the traffic on the highway behind washed over them like white noise, and she pointedly stared at the orange glowing sky, ignoring their interlaced hands lying on her thigh.
Her stomach was already uneasy from dismissing too many red flags when Link whispered, “Marry me.”
She squeezed her eyes shut, saying, “Link, I can’t. I'm engaged to Ganon.”
“Cancel it. Just call it off.” He leaned in and breathed, “Elope with me, Zelda.”
She knew it was a mistake to turn towards him before she did it. It didn't hinder her.
“You don't love him.”
Link tilted his head, kissed her softly and her eyes fluttered shut when she should’ve pulled back instead. She did, eventually.
“I want to go home,” she whispered, and the two hour ride back passed in silence.
Ganondorf came home two days later with a warm smile, hung a pretty necklace around her neck, and went about their life like always, unaware that anything had changed.
It was changed for Zelda.
She aimed to wait it out, to give him what he deserved but it was getting more difficult from day to day. When they went to Karane and Pipit's 5th anniversary, a photographer proposed a photo with their daughter and Ganondorf said he hoped they would manage to become such a happy family someday. She smiled through her sudden nausea.
When they finally went inside, they ran straight into Link. Her fiancé greeted him cheerfully, but she couldn't take her eyes off the woman he clinged to like a puppy. Her name was Midna. She was one of the co-workers in his new company and Zelda was overwhelmed by her beauty to the point that she had to quash the urge to slap him away from her. Maybe it was more the way she bossed him around, but it hurt less to lay the blame on her looks. She thought he deserved better, but he was love-struck and seemed to be happy. He shot her a wink at the bar that made her sick in the stomach, and she couldn’t help but ask herself over and over again if he had met Midna before or after he asked her to run away with him. Not that it mattered now.
She dragged herself a few weeks longer through her engagement with Ganondorf, but when he finally asked her if something was wrong, she shattered. He was crestfallen, spoke of a dream that was too good to be true. It was hard to see him like that because he had grown on her, but when he hugged her for the last time and told her he loved her, she could only say she was sorry in return. He deserved better, too.
Sometimes it is still difficult to let these memories go. It was a dream, for her too. She puts the dress on and slips the heels on her feet. The problem was that she loved the dream and not the man. She looks at her reflection in the mirror, sways the skirt of the dress a little. It falls loosely around her knees and her bare shoulders are half covered with the waves of her hair. Not that bad . It's quiet in the apartment, and she tries not to think about how Ganon would flatter her if he was still here. She misses the idea of being with someone, not him.
Sometimes it’s still strange to be on her own again, even after weeks. Most of her friends are married, engaged, or in a relationship at last, and going out with her colleagues lost its thrill early on. She thinks about Link often too, but she doesn’t dare contact him.
When the date to send her reply to the invitation to Paya and Sidon's wedding approaches, she hesitates to seal her answer envelope, although she knows it’s wrong to even consider not going. Her friends are not the reason for her melancholy, and she can’t blame them for being happy. It’s just… a romance lasting for a lifetime seems so far away for her.
She put even more effort in her outfit back then. Back then? Last weekend. It feels like an eternity although it’s exactly one week.
She sat on her chair for the ceremony far too early, but she couldn't stand all the lucky couples around her, so she rearranged the folds of her evening gown over and over again. Someone slipped into the chair next to her and when she looked up, she was surprised to see Link's dashing smile.
“Hey. Are you ok? I thought you’d be chatting with the others.”
Her eyes darted discreetly behind him to look for his companion. “I'm not in the mood.”
“That's a pity. It’s a wonderful location, don’t you think?”
She swallowed all the things that suddenly stood between them. They never had the need for small talk before.
“Yes, it is. I'm looking forward to seeing Paya's dress. She will look wonderful.”
“Not as wonderful as you,” he smiled and her heart skipped a beat. Will that ever stop? “Where is your better half, by the way? Business calling?”
She looked down into her lap, hands tightly wrapped around her clutch. “We broke up.”
He shifted beside her and laid his hand over hers. “Did he find out about what happened at the beach? I… I can talk to him if you want. If you tell me that you really love him, I'll do that. I'll tell him that it was just a kiss between friends, in the heat of the moment. Nothing more.”
Tears welled up, but she pushed them back because she didn't want to ruin her makeup before the wedding even started. Nothing more . It’s not that she didn’t know it before, but hearing him say it in plain words was hard.
“No, I was the one who ended it.” She breathed through the lump in her throat. “You were right, I don’t love him. It was unfair to him. He is a nice guy, you know?”
He squeezed her hand. “I’m glad that you realized that. I can't stand seeing you unhappy.”
She nearly cracked and snapped at him that he should finally love her back if he wanted to see her happy, but being surrounded by white chiffon and pink roses, she pushed through, for Paya and Sidon. She took another look around, but couldn't see his girlfriend anywhere.
“What… what about Midna?”
“Hm?” He withdrew his hand slowly. “Ah, she was only in Hyrule for a few weeks. I doubt I'll ever see her again. It wasn't supposed to be more than a fling from the beginning.”
“Oh. To be honest, you looked like you lost your heart to her.”
His smile wavered at the edges. “I only gave my heart away once, Zelda.”
She sighed, lucky Malon. And still, it didn’t last.
“So, we are both single, yes? You know, being single at a wedding sucks. Would you mind being my company tonight?”
“Not at all,” she smiled, and meant it.
He kissed her hand and laughed. “I’m looking forward to it.”
He was right, being single at a wedding sucked. When the photographer asked her for a portrait for the album, she danced on her feet in her heels like a nervous horse, willing the awkward loneliness away. Link appeared and saved her, saying they can go as friends. Neither of them commented when his hand on her smaller back slid a little too far in the direction of her round behind for just friends during the photo session.
It was nice to catch up with him over dinner and it didn’t hurt that the wine was excellent and the waiters never missed when she had finished her glass. She was so tired of fighting for her battered and broken heart that she scooted closer to him when she felt his hand come to rest on her knee under the table instead of telling him to keep his distance. What was one more time?
The evening passed in a breeze of laughing, drinking, and flirting. She had stripped her heels at some point, both because she was too tipsy to walk gracefully with them and because her feet hurt. Paya dragged her personally to the dance floor, and of course, she was the one who caught the bouquet.
Sidon whistled and waved Link over to give him a cheeky grin. “Your job, my friend.”
She tried to hide her face in the bouquet, but to no avail. Link bowed and held his hand out to her. “Would you honor me with this dance?” Their friends cheered when they lined up in dancing positions, and she dared to say they were doing alright for the amount of wine they'd both drunk. But then, the tune slowed and when she gave DJ Urbosa a confused look, the woman winked at her. The minx .
Link pulled her closer and pressed their cheeks together while they were swaying. Great goddess, she had a hard time resisting him when she was sober, how should she now?
“How are you getting home?” His tone was friendly and far from suggestive.
“I was planning to take a taxi.”
“I have a room here. You can… you can stay with me if you want.” He cleared his throat and stroked lightly over her back. “I’m not implying anything. It’s just been a wonderful evening with you, and I don’t like the idea of you having to ride home with a taxi in the middle of the night for over an hour.”
She leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed. She really, really shouldn’t. It would take her weeks to piece her heart back together.
“Ok,” she whispered. He kissed her feather-light on the temple and she closed her eyes until she was too dizzy.
Not an hour later, she was dizzy again, but this time his tongue pressing against a sensitive spot on her neck was the main reason. It was a shame that she wouldn’t remember much the next morning because even drunk he was a passionate lover. He seemed to have forgotten everything apart from her name because he was saying Zelda over and over again when he caressed the skin of her neck, her breasts, her belly with his lips. He paused after a lingering kiss on her sternum and crawled up to her, caging her face between his propped arms. “Marry me, Zelda,” he mumbled against her lips.
“Link, you’re drunk.”
He slipped his tongue in her mouth, rocked his hips into hers, and they both moaned in impatience.
Kissing a line over her cheekbone to her ear, he asked, slurring his speech, “Will you ever say yes?”
She’s still cursing herself because she nearly slipped there, in his hotel bed with his body weight pressed against her and his lips lingering on her skin. It was difficult sometimes to remember that it was the other way around with Link. She loved the man, but they don't share the dream.
As if to prove her musings, he is late. She looks out of her kitchen window as if her stares alone could make him appear. They haven't agreed on a specific time, but if they want to be on time getting downtown to meet with the others, he has just a few minutes left. It was careless at best that she didn't contact him the whole week to ask if he really was planning to pick her up. She should have nailed him down on a time at least, but the hangover made it difficult to think straight. And what a hangover that was.
That morning, she awoke with a splitting pain between her temples and a broken heart. Link had wrapped his arm around her, and when she tried to slip out of his embrace, he pulled her closer and mumbled, “Don’t go, sunshine.” She stared five minutes at the black hotel television before she tried again. Once free, she had to sit down at the edge of the bed quickly again, the air heavy with ‘could be' and too little oxygen. Her desires pounded inside her head as she sat out the rising nausea. When it settled and the oppressive dizziness lifted, she made quick work in the bathroom and struggled to dress again in the silly evening gown. Just when she cracked the door open, Link stirred awake and sat up, rubbing his head. Shit. So much for sneaking out.
“Hey. You’re leaving already?”
She sighed and closed the door again. As much as she would have preferred to have this conversation without her pulse drumming against her skull, she couldn't leave now.
“Oh.” He blinked owlishly at her. “Ok.” And then, “Did… did I do something wrong? I don’t remember much, to be honest.” She teared her gaze from his half-hidden bare form and swallowed. There was much in their relationship that was far from feeling right , but wrong was a strong word. It was hard to pinpoint if one of them had done something wrong. She wanted to sleep with him yesterday. So, what could he have done wrong? He had never taken something that she hadn't offered in some way. So had he done something wrong apart from not reciprocating her feelings? That was not something anybody decided consciously.
“Phew. So nothing to apologize for?”
“I think you asked me to marry you.”
“Oh. What did you say?”
She rolled her eyes at him. “Link.”
“What?” He narrowed his eyes, probably fighting through the same headache as she did. “It’s a reasonable question to ask.”
If not for her trembling legs, the dizziness, and nausea, she might have asked him to elaborate on which of the two questions he means, but it was a pointless discussion anyway.
“Uhm, so this won't stand between us?” he asked.
She took a deep breath which made her headache worse and her stomach revolted. Cursed wine.
He let himself fall back in the bed. “I’ll see you at Ashei and Shad's bachelor party next weekend then? I just decided I'll drive. No alcohol for me. I can pick you up?”
Pressing her eyes shut, she stomped the erupting butterflies in her belly down. It was not a date, he was just being practical.
“Yeah, why not.”
Outside, she took a moment to lean her head against the door and closed her eyes. Did a broken heart have a point of no return?
In the hallway, she bumped straight into Paya. Her gaze lingered on the purple mark in Zelda's cleavage that her gown failed to hide, and she grinned like a Cheshire cat at her.
“Oh, I was not the only one having fun last night. So, you're finally getting somewhere?”
Zelda rubbed her head as if the throbbing pain would magically disappear if she tried hard enough.
“No. Well, yes for the fun part. But that’s all for him.”
Paya stroked her bare arm and Zelda suppressed a shudder. She hoped this wouldn’t take too long, she had to sit down soon. “Are you sure? It’s so obvious that you are made for each other.”
“He didn’t even know which girl he was cuddling when he was half asleep, he called me ‘sunshine’.”
“Maybe because you are his sunshine?”
She took a trembling breath. “Paya, please. I know you want to cheer me up, but you are making this worse. He isn't looking for anything serious. Actually, he told me yesterday that his last relationship was planned as a fling from the start. He doesn’t care about these things.”
Paya waggled her head. “Maybe he just needs a push in the right direction.”
“Maybe yes, maybe no. Right now I just want to go home and cry in my pillow.”
The pity in Paya's eyes was nearly too much to bear, but she seemed to realize that herself. “Sorry for pressuring you. Come with me, you can borrow some clothes so that you don’t have to wear this thing.”
Looking down at her glittering dress, she met Paya’s gaze with weary eyes and followed her. “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. Thanks.”
The hangover is long gone, but the heart-break nurses from a deeper source than a little intoxication.
It's past her self-set departure time and Zelda smears her lipstick on a glass of water that she’ll regret later when she has to look for a clean toilet too early. Why did she even bother to believe Link would come? He was still half-drunk when he promised to pick her up. She should have known better than dressing up and putting so much effort into her looks. Why does she fall for him over and over again? Surely he'll stand around with the others and wonder why she’s late. A glance at the clock and a decision later, she makes a beeline to the door to catch a taxi on the main road. If she is lucky, she'll be only a few minutes late.
She is in such a hurry to leave the building that she nearly topples over one of her neighbors who attempted to open the front entrance. He chuckles when he steadies her with his strong arms and his bright blue eyes sparkle in the evening sun. Wait – that’s not her neighbor. That’s Link.
“Hey, so eager to see me that you waited just behind the door?” He hugs her properly and kisses her cheek. “Don’t worry, I missed you, too.”
“Hello, my favorite idiot,” she rolls her eyes at him. “I really thought you didn’t remember our appointment. I was about to get a taxi.”
He takes her hand and twirls her around. “Let me look at you, beautiful woman.” He's pulling her in, and she stops with her hand against his chest, her body entangled in his arms. A deeper source, indeed. It takes him only seconds to offer her heart a bounce back.
His voice lowers to a husky whisper. “Since when am I your favorite idiot?”
She imagines that his heartbeat quickens under her palm when only a few inches separate their faces.
“Always have been.”
His gaze flickers to her lips when she speaks, but he doesn’t move. Neither does she. The blue of his eyes intensifies until she can't bear it anymore and murmurs, “We should go. We are already late.”
It’s three seconds until he slowly says, “Yeah, we shall.” After another five, he finally sets her free.
Unfortunately, nobody pushed them.
They meet up with the others, and Paya shoots her a questioning look when he seeks another excuse to touch her at their arrival and rests his hand on her smaller back. She can only answer with a thin smile and a shake of her head.
During their bar-hopping, she tries to refuse the majority of the drinks. She still ends up with a glass of sparkling wine, but she is determined not to get drunk again. The others don’t have this foresight, but well, they don't have to wear a dress that covers their cleavage to hide Link's now green and yellow mark either. Maybe she should have opted for the blue one and wear the love bite like a trophy.
Ashei tries to carry Shad over the threshold of a bar at some point in the evening, bragging that she could fulfill this part of the marital duties as well. Sidon grabs his wife Paya and dips her to the amusement of the group, planting a very loud and wet kiss on her cleavage and insisting that Ashei has a big misunderstanding of the term marital duties. Paya blushes furiously, squealing ‘Sidon!’ while there's an awkward moment when the other couples giggle and kiss. Zelda stands next to Link like a statue, looking everywhere but at him while he busies himself with drawing doodles with the tip of his sneaker on the ground. She decides that another glass of champagne couldn’t hurt.
Before she can organize herself one, the bride-to-be stops abruptly and stretches her arms out to halt the group. “Ey, look at that! Ain't that the famous wedding chapel? The one from the TV, yeah?”
Sidon smiles a toothy smile at Ashei. “This your first time going out downtown?”
“Pff, yeah, maybe. Anyway, someone should wed!”
Zelda rolls her eyes in amusement. “Well, go ahead you two. It’s your bachelor party.”
“No, no, no! We invited everybody and all this” - she gestures wildly with both arms - "...mess. We can't, yeah, Shad?” Her fiance hugs her from behind and props his head on her shoulder.
“Nah, we can’t. And if I… if I remember correctly, you caught the bu-… bou-… that flowa thing Zella. Y’a next.”
“Unfortunately, I'm single. So… no.”
“But it'll bring bad luck for us if we don’t keep the order!” Ashei whines. “You have to! And you love us, don't ya?” She straightens her back, grabs Paya's hand, and starts to march off. “We’ll find you someone.”
“Are you crazy? No!”
Link steps up, raising his arms to stop the girls, and grins smugly at Zelda. “Guess I have to save you again from an unhappy marriage.” Zelda narrows her eyes at him, hoping he can read the ‘cocky asshole' from her lips.
But then, an evil smirk enters her features, when Paya purrs, “Ooooh, someone volunteers!”
Link's face shifts and she grins harder. Revenge, finally revenge for all these mindless ‘ marry me's .’
“Well,” she states, crosses her arms, and tilts her head up, “Without a ring and a proper proposal, nothing’s going to happen.”
Link pats his jacket and his jeans, sighing, “If I had known that you would finally say yes, I would have come prepared. Pity, that.”
“Uuuh,” Paya interjects, stripping her ring from her finger and struggling not to let it drop, “You can borrow mine.” She waggles her other hand with her wedding band. “Got a upgrade last week.”
Link snatches the ring out of her hands, turns to Zelda, and drops to one knee. She meets his gaze in challenge. If he thinks he can turn the cards back on her, the sly dog, he is barking up the wrong tree.
“One down, one to go,” he grins at her and grabs her hand.
The girls whoop while Sidon and Shad are still flabbergasted with the change of events.
He strokes his thumb over the back of her hand and waits until everybody has calmed down. The look in his eyes is unreadable.
“Zelda,” he begins, and she thinks his voice is a little raw for a prank. “I’ve known you since I can remember. You were always part of my life and I wouldn’t want to have it otherwise. I've told you before that you are precious to me and if you let me, I'll tell you for the rest of your life.” He presses a kiss on her knuckles, and she hears the others sigh. She is definitely not tearing up now! It’s a goddamn joke. “You told me earlier that I'm your favorite idiot,” he chuckles. Oh, he is clever, using all the terms they have already established between them, so she can't nail him down on something later. “I ask for nothing more than to be your favorite idiot forever.”
Blue puppy eyes glance up to her, and he squeezes her hand. Not so easy. She’ll definitely not let him win this.
“I didn’t hear a question, Link.”
“You don’t spare me, hm?”
He takes a breath, closes his eyes for a moment before he looks directly into hers.
“Zelda Harkinian, will you marry me?”
Her jaw goes slack, while the others giggle and cheer. This time, he isn’t drunk. Technically, there’s no reason to refuse him. No other engagement, not even another relationship. No formalities like being underage. No rebound sex or other absurdities. He has asked her although there is the possibility that she’ll say yes.
She is still staring when he releases her hand, gets up, and turns to Paya to give her the ring back.
“Can’t blame a guy for trying, hm?” He shrugs in Sidon’s direction who pats his shoulder.
“Yes, I will.” She won’t let him get away with this. Not this time. Not when he has the nerve to play his game with her in front of their friends.
Slowly, he turns, his mouth hanging open. He snaps it shut, swallows, and licks his lips. Without breaking her scrutinizing gaze, he lifts her hand and slips Paya's ring on her finger. He is about to say something, but Ashei dashes between them, pulling them with her, and exclaims, “Let’s go then! I‘m soooo excited!”
He doesn’t want to let her win, the stubborn mule he is. Just you wait, Link… as far as she is concerned, the minister asked Paya first last weekend. So… she can just wait it out. He will be the one who has to back out at the last second.
Is this evil? Maybe a little. She can't blame him for not loving her back, but for playing with her heart, even if it is unintentionally. It’s just a little prank with no harm. The minister will roll their eyes at their antics and that’s it. It’s a wedding chapel in a nightlife district, they are surely used to worse.
In the hallway of the chapel is a desk for the formalities and Ashei drags them right there.
“These two lovely birds…. Na . Lovebirds want to wed!” She beams at the secretary.
The woman raises her brow. “Is that so?” Her eyes scan Zelda with the certainty of someone who has seen a lot of weird stuff. She must have found what she was looking for since she receives a firm nod of acknowledgment before she analyzes Link. He passes as well. “Since it’s Saturday Night, we only have the speed-arrangement available.” She pulls her keyboard towards her. “First marriage for both, I assume?”
Link shuts his mouth, nods, and looks over to her. Ok, no backing out here. Well. Then she has to follow through. “Yes, first,” she mumbles.
This time, she is faster and Link doesn’t take his slightly narrowed eyes off her until her card is on the desk. His driver’s license follows suit.
They shake their heads simultaneously without bothering to break eye contact.
“Well, they are obligatory anyway. The bill will be sent to your… one of your addresses.” She turns and looks at a screen behind her. “You are in luck, you don’t have to wait. I think that’s a first for a Saturday evening.” A polished smile and a hand gesture to the right later, they find themselves inside the chapel.
She can see why it’s so famous. Her hand strokes over a stone pillar, while Paya hooks her arm under hers and whispers, “Beautiful, hm?” The ceiling towers above them, so high that she can’t even see it. Or is there none? Maybe it’s some kind of light illusion that gives the impression of standing under the starry sky. The whole place is breathing history, and she imagines its breeze tangling in her hair. Despite the tension in her shoulders, she likes the setting very much. It’s far from ordinary and much more elegant than she expected.
Her heels click on the old, worn stone floor and for a moment she forgets why she is here, admiring the triforce that is carved in the ground. Paya leads her to the two chairs decorated with white flowers that stand right in front of the emblem. Even Link seems to be intrigued by the atmosphere. His smile is welcoming and his eyes are soft when he awaits her at the end of the aisle. Paya squeezes her arm a last time, and Zelda is flooded with emotions she isn’t ready for.
This is not real. She is not going to marry Link. No matter how much her heart flutters when he takes her hand, he does not feel the same. They are here because they are both too stubborn for their own good and not because they love each other and want to be together forever. Whatever he is doing, it is fake. She will get her revenge when he has to pull back at the very last minute and tomorrow they'll laugh about it, and she will continue to hope against everything that it will come true one day.
The minister starts her speech, something about the place, that it was called sacred ground in other days, and she tells tales of knights, princesses, and heroes. She seems to be used to people who don't listen to any of her words because she doesn’t bother to ask their friends to stay quiet.
“You know,” she hears Paya whisper behind them, “it’s about time.”
“Yeah,” Ashei agrees. “It’s sooooo obvious that they’re meant to be.”
Sidon begins, “I’m on the same page with you, don't get me wrong, but…” he pauses. “I dunno, isn't it a bit rushed?”
“Nah, I caught her sneaking out of his room last weekend,” whispers Paya.
“Ohhhhhh…” That must have been Shad. Skies, he must be really drunk when he can hardly speak anymore.
“Are you ok?”
But who was that? Oh. Link is stroking his thumb over her hand. What? Did he just ask if she was ok?!
She turns and smirks at him. “Afraid that I'm a runaway bride?”
He lifts her hand and kisses her knuckles. “Maybe?”
“Well, if you want to run away, this would be the moment.” The minister grins at her. She is shockingly young and somehow Zelda feels better with the knowledge that they are not fooling a stuffy, traditional man with no sense of humor.
“No, I'll leave that to my groom.”
Link's eyes flash dangerously at her, and she can’t help but giggle.
The minister waits a moment, looks smiling from one to the other. If she ever wed for real, she'll try to get her again. The atmosphere is so personal and at ease, it’s amazing.
“Ok, let’s go then,” the minister continued. “You can hold hands if you want, even if you don’t have rings.”
Link takes both of her hands, and they turn to face each other. The moment is so absurdly real that she swallows thickly. She tries to resist the flood of warm feelings that suck in on her, but before she can blink, they envelop her like Link's jacket on that crisp summer evening back in the 11th grade. Maybe she hasn't tried hard enough to resist either.
”Will you, Zelda, take this man to be your wedded husband?”
A small moment passes. Link's hands are as sweaty as hers, but his gaze on her is soft. The challenge in his eyes is long gone and is displaced with something else. What might that be? She can’t tell, but it draws her in like a sailor gravitates to the horizon.
“Yes,” she hears herself breathe, “I will.”
The strange emotion in his eyes flickers and his smile grows when the minister offers him the question in return. His answer is quicker, however, but she suspected as much, there is nothing for him to think about now that she has said yes.
Dimly, she registers that the minister nods and Link captures her lips with his. There is an uproar of whistles and whoops behind them, but the warmth is still there, so she melts in his kiss, forgetting everything and everybody around her. She was never good at resisting his kisses anyway.
“Ok,” someone interrupts them, “I think that’s enough for now.”
She pulls away, but Link chases her lips and kisses her again before he withdraws reluctantly as well.
The minister grins at them, and she grins back, warm and fuzzy inside.
“Do you have any prepared vows? If so, you can say them now.”
Vows? She slowly shakes her head. They have stumbled in here because Ashei is too drunk, and they are both – wait. What. Why did they kiss?
The words coming out of the minister's mouth blur together and too soon she is surrounded by her babbling friends. What? What happened? They are shoved down the aisle again, Paya hooks her arm under hers while Sidon and Shad try to carry Link over their heads when they are outside.
“Look,” Paya laughs, “he just needed a little pushy-push. Told ya!”
Ashei hugs them from behind and shouts, “I’m so freaking haaappy for you two! Let’s celebrate!”
Zelda drags her steps until she stands still. Paya still clings to her arm and stumbles, tipsy as she is, but she can’t think straight while she is walking. The warmth is a distant memory now.
Link… didn’t say no . He said I will . He didn’t back out. Her knees begin to wobble dangerously. He was too prideful to let her win, and he just... he just married her. He even got the cheek to steal a kiss afterward!
She is trembling, and she goes weak at the knees for real this time.
“I want to go home,” she utters and frees herself from Paya.
“But...” Paya gazes at her with wide eyes, pupils blown from alcohol and concern.
“Nobody is goin’ home,'' shouts Shad. “We gonna celebrate! Right, Ashei?” He makes a pirouette. “Where’s my girl? Ah.” He staggers over to Ashei and hugs her dramatically.
“No, the party is just getting started, Zelda!” Ashei pouts. “We just started! Why would you wanna go home when the fun starts now?”
Zelda stares at her friends. They are all drunk, ok, but did they miss that Link just married her out of spite?
The man in question – her husband – worms himself out of Sidon’s arm over his shoulders and takes big strides over to her while she realizes that he is ironically the only one who’s sober beside her. He squeezes her shoulder lightly. “Come on, I can drive you home.”
She swallows. “No... I’ll take a taxi. Or I’ll walk.”
“No one is going home!” Shad shouts again and tries to grab both their arms. “You can start ya honeymoon when the party's over!”
“Shad!” Link snaps at him and swats his hand away. They both ignore his overprotective husband remark.
“It’s dangerous to go alone.” His eyes fall shut for a moment, and he takes a breath. “Please, Zelda.”
When she doesn’t protest further, he quietly lays his arm around her shoulders and explains to the others, “I’ll take her home. I won’t come back, so enjoy the rest of your evening.”
The others grumble and complain as they leave and Zelda walks mechanically next to Link. Minutes later, he opens the door of his car for her, and she drops on the seat.
“Zelda.” He addresses her while driving out of the party district. “Please talk to me.”
She stares out of her window. What is there to talk about anyway? It’s like the last hour has drained all the energy out of her, and she is just the shell of her body now. She is married to Link. Why? Why has he done that? She has always thought... well, it’s ridiculous to think about dreamy wedding scenarios now. The man she always hoped to marry is her husband and he is holding the door open for her like the gentleman he normally is when he isn’t occupied being an asshole. She walks past him like a ghost.
“Zelda. Don’t do that.” The door clangs shut and he catches up to her. “We need to speak about this.” She brushes his hand from her shoulder. “Zelda, please. I know we have never talked much about the things between us, but I’m not ok with that anymore.”
“A little late, don’t you think? Please go, Link.” Her legs turn to jelly when she starts to walk towards her door, and she has to hold herself up on the fence.
“Zelda,” he begs, “don’t do that. Don’t shut me out. Not now.”
Her stomach revolts and just before her knees give out under her, she pukes over the fence in the flower-bed. She’s prepared to hit the ground, not that it matters anyway, but Link is fast enough. He picks her up with one arm under her knees and the other under her arms and her head lolls against his chest, when he mumbles, “Not under my watch.”
Somehow, he manages to pry the keys out of her hands while holding her and carries her into the apartment. Cautiously, he lies her down on her bed and after returning with a glass of water, he strips her heels from her feet. Dragging the chair on which the blue dress still hangs over the backrest in the direction of the bed, he sits down on the edge and wrings his hands. His concern makes everything worse. What did he expect? That he marries her and she laughs it away? It is a freaking marriage! That’s a lifetime decision and not a prank! It should be, at least. Not for him, apparently. She isn't sure if she wants to slap him in the face, sob into his shirt, or kiss him so senseless that he wakes up tomorrow and loves her to the moon and back.
“Get out.” She whispers.
The hand he has outstretched to brush her skin snaps back as if burned. He stares at her, eyes and mouth open.
“Please,” she adds.
She sees him gulp, and then he stands up. His palms bump the back of the chair a few times before he starts, “I…”
He shakes his head, thinks better of it, and says, “Call me, please. I made a promise once and I have no intention of breaking it.” Slowly, he pads over to the door, looking back at her. She stares at the ceiling.
For the first time ever, she isn’t sure if their friendship will survive this .
Link jolts awake to a buzzing sound in his pocket and hits his head on the window of his car. He rolls his shoulders to get rid of the stiff pain and wipes his aching temple, while his elbow smashes the window again. Wait, why is he in his car? What? He groans and rubs his eyes. Why are his eyes so swollen? He wasn't drinking, or he wouldn't be in this car. Blinking, he takes a look through the glass windshield. That’s… that's Zelda's neighborhood, maybe two or three streets away from hers.
He flinches a second time – the marriage. She had finally said yes and then everything went south. That’s why he is here, she kicked him out without a word yesterday and when he tried to drive home, he had to pull over because he couldn’t see anything through his tears. He must have slept in at some point.
The phone buzzes again, and he finally frees it from his pocket. Zelda . She sends a location, a time, and a message. 10 o’clock. Be there . After checking the clock, he zooms in on his map, only to freeze when he deciphers the address. The family courts.
Of course, she would reject him again. Why was he so stupid to believe she wouldn’t just because there was a formal label on their relationship for the first time? A marriage certificate isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if it holds no meaning to the bearer.
Tears sting his eyes again, and he hits the steering wheel violently with his fist. Damn it!
The wedding was a crazy idea to be sure, but there were so many opportunities to say no if she didn’t want to! Why does he fall for her over and over again? He is like a drowning man clutching every straw that she throws him. So what if she didn’t say no for the first time when he asked her last weekend? She was drunk as hell, he shouldn’t have given her maybe any further thought. No, naïve as he is, he tried to persuade himself that she sneaked out to let him sleep and not to avoid him. Convinced himself that she had important stuff to do that day, so she couldn’t stay cuddled in his arms. She didn’t give him a clear rejection this time, after all. No, he didn’t hinder his hopes in skyrocketing the whole week like he should have, peaking in the half-hour in which he was sitting in his car in front of her door to let the time pass to avoid being overeager.
Perhaps he should have kissed her then when she landed in his arms. She would have pushed him away, and he would have plodded after her like a beaten dog, but that would have spared him the experience of getting divorced from the love of his life.
He takes a shuddering breath and starts the engine. Divorce . He... he has always thought that when she finally agreed to marry him, it would be forever. Now it wouldn’t even last the day.
She is nowhere to be seen when he enters the historical building. The air inside is chilly due to the thick stone walls although the sun is starting to turn the morning into a lovely late summer day. Maybe it’s good that she isn’t here, so he at least has time to pee, pop a mint in his mouth, and wash his face in the sink. Dozing off in a car after crying his eyes out isn’t exactly what he calls beauty sleep.
When he steps back out of the restroom, she is there and her eyes slide over his damp curls on his forehead and the same clothes he wore yesterday. She says nothing. He takes a few strides in her direction, unsure of how to greet her. If only he could pull her in his arms, tell her that he loves her. She doesn’t even have to say it back yet, they could just pick up from here, start with the things that have manifested between them over the years already. There is something between them, he isn’t imagining that like he always thought. The others see it, too. Of course, the wedding was ridiculous, but the look she gave him made it impossible to withstand. The tenderness of the moment, the vibes between them were so real that he just… well. Pointless now.
He stops in front of her, his arms limply at his sides. Her hair is wrapped in a neat bun, and she is dressed up with a close-fitting blouse, cloth pants, and pumps. The aura she is radiating is clear: Business. Don’t touch. The circles under her eyes are painted with concealer, and she has brushed a dark berry tone on her cheeks. She is hiding her pain. It stabs him in the heart like a dagger. She is hiding from him .
“I already spoke with them. They say, if neither party had the serious will to get married, the marriage can get annulled.”
The rock that has made itself comfortable in his stomach since yesterday evening is getting heavier from second to second. She doesn’t even bother with a greeting. “We don’t have to apply for a divorce if you confirm that you had no intentions to marry me for real. It would be like yesterday night never happened.”
As if yesterday night never happened? How? How should he ever forget the way she clutched his hands and breathed yes, I will ? How should he erase the sweetest kiss of all the kisses as husband and wife from his memories? It will never be like last night has never happened. Not for him.
“Zelda.” His voice cracks from lack of sleep, crying, and not being used until now. “That’s not – “
She cuts him off. “I already signed the documents. You just have to go in and put your signature on the papers.”
He closes his eyes and tries to let the seconds pass while the feeling that she is slipping through his fingers grows unbearable. It’s an illusion anyway, she quashed all the moments when he hoped they were getting somewhere like clockwork and today is no exception.
“This is what you want?”
She gives him a long look and ridiculous as he is, he hopes she says no, let’s forget about it, drink a coffee and tell our children that we were married before we even started dating.
He clenches his teeth violently, but in the end, he is left to nod.
“As you wish.”
She turns to show him the office, and he thinks maybe she’s hiding that she’s tearing up, too. Why do they have to do this? Why can’t she just talk to him?
He shakes his head and stomps over to the office. Fine . If this is what she wants, he won’t stand in her way. Inside, he raises the pen, but when his hand hovers a moment too long over the paper, the administrator reassures him that an annulment means that there will be no trace in his files, so he doesn’t have to worry about a future marriage. He thinks maybe being married for 16 hours is more than enough for the rest of his life and signs the documents.
When he leaves the office, she is gone. At least her trust in him is still intact enough that she doesn’t worry about controlling him, he snorts to himself.
Outside, the sun blinds him and tickles his skin. Unfortunately, he can't slap the sunshine away. He would if he could. Stepping down the majestic stairway, a small girl nearly bumps into him. She is twirling and twirling around, her eyes riveted on a ruby-red heart-shaped balloon. “Sorry, Mister!” she shrieks and lets go of the ribbon. Jumping up and down to get it back, she starts crying when the balloon flies out of her reach. He may be heartbroken and overtired, but his instincts are still intact. Catching the ribbon with ease, he crouches down and gives it back to her.
“Oh, thank you, Mister!” she cheers when he ties the ribbon around her wrist with a little knot. “Look, it’s a heart, can you see that?”
“Yes.” He fights to smile at her. “I see.”
“I want to share it with my friend. She is really kind, you know?”
“Oh, yes you should do that. That’s a nice thing to do.” He pauses. “But maybe you won’t get it back.”
She offers him a curious look. “When I give it to her, I don’t want it back, Mister. You shouldn’t reclaim a gift.”
Trembling, he tries to blink his tears away. “You are right,” he whispers, “I don’t want mine back either.” He stands up and waves at her before the poor girl has to coax him through a breakdown. “Go on, look for your friend.” She waves back and dashes away.
Shoving his hands in his pockets, he wanders off to get lost in the streets of Castletown. He should probably drive home, get breakfast on the way and take a shower, but he can’t bring himself to make his way to the car.
Why did she say yes, twice even, when she was so furious with him now? He hasn't gotten them into this alone. It just doesn’t make sense. Maybe she wanted to tease him for the proposal in front of their friends, but that doesn’t explain why she followed through with the complete formalities and the ceremony. She has never hesitated to turn him down before, but now that she didn't, it was his fault? There were so many opportunities to pull back, but she seems to blame him alone. She even kissed him after he said I will !
He kicks a crumpled can with too much force and because it’s his lucky day, he hits someone. No. Extra lucky day. It’s Zelda, waiting for her bus. Before he can mutter something else than a bashful sorry , the bus arrives, and she hops on.
He stares at her in disbelief. She wants to get away from him so urgently that she doesn’t even register that this is the freaking tourist line , a roofless bus with open windows, sightseers, and all. It's just a little leap for her, but nothing has ever hurt him so much. Not even the letter in which she wrote him that she was dating Ganondorf and what a good match everybody said they were. No, not even the news that she was engaged, and that knocked him over for days.
She walks over to the backseats and since there are no windows, they are suddenly only a few steps apart. People are still boarding the bus when she holds his gaze and mouths a silent, heart-broken, “Why?”
It’s the last straw that makes him snap.
“You? You ask me why, Zelda?” He immediately catches the attention of the tourists, but he couldn’t care less. “What do you think it means that I've asked you over and over to marry me? Come on, you’re smart. Two words, it’s not that difficult.”
The bus begins to pull away from the curb and she asks him, baffled, “What?”
Groaning, he starts to walk alongside. Now she decides it is a good time to finally talk to him? After they have annulled their marriage, and she is in a goddamned bus driving away from him?
“You never were the rebound girl. Malon was. Remember the day when I came to you with a black eye and told you I ran into a brawl?” He moves at a brisk pace now because the bus is picking up slightly more speed. “That was Groose, threatening me to leave you alone.” He pants a snort. “I thought it wasn't worth the fight because you would turn him down anyway. Well, you… you didn’t, so I gave in and dated Malon. Same… same with Midna.”
Her face is deep red now, but she still stares at him as if he just morphed into a great fairy. The bus is going too fast now, so he stops with his hands on his knees. She hasn't said a word anyway, what is he even trying to prove? “You know, don’t worry. I won't ask again," he shouts over the traffic noise.
He is about to turn around when the bus comes to a screeching halt. Someone has pulled the emergency brake. Zelda still stands in her place, so it wasn't her, but soon, a figure pulls her arm and shoves her out of the bus. A small and very old lady raises her cane, and barks at Zelda, “Girl, how many boys do you think you'll get to chase a bus for you in your life?! Talk to him at least!”
He catches up to Zelda when she gathers her footing again and his upper body slumps when he sees that she is sporting something similar to a smile. She throws herself into his arms and hugs him tight. He presses his eyes shut and breathes her in.
“Is that true?”
“What, that I love you?”
She pulls back and looks at him with round eyes at the words that slip so easily from his tongue.
“Why did you think I kept asking you?”
“I… to be honest, I always thought you were teasing. Flirting at best. And that… wasn’t what I wanted.” She cradles his face. “You always left me with the impression you weren't interested in something serious.”
“Well, I wasn’t. Except with you.”
She sags in his arms with an incredulous exhale that might as well be a laugh. It’s not the first time, he holds her like this - her frame flush against his chest, her hair on his cheek, her arms around his waist - but it’s the first time that he isn’t afraid to release her. She shifts and does pull back, but only to brush the stubborn curl off his forehead that takes the lack of a shower as a personal affront. Smiling, she leans in and a split-second later he has to revise his opinion on the best kiss ever. Too soon, they are interrupted by the honking driver who shouts at them, “Do you want to get on again or what?”
“One moment, please, I have to… clarify something first," Zelda calls back.
Link frowns at her antics until she bends her knee and takes his hand.
“Seriously, Zelda?" he chuckles.
“You said you wouldn't ask again and I will not make the same mistake twice and take your words lightly.” She grins up at him. “Since we have a bus to catch, I'll keep it short.” Kissing his knuckles, she continues. “Link, will you marry me?”
His snort is anything but an appropriate answer to a proposal, but he can’t help it. “Zelda, you are completely crazy. But yes, I will. Of course, I will.”
“Ok, good.” Standing up, she wriggles Paya's ring from her hand, slips it on his pinky, and gives him a quick kiss. They enter the bus with matching grins, but Zelda is determined to hide her face in the crook of his neck as soon as the tourists greet them with warm applause. The old lady with the funny hat nods at her.
“Zelda?” he asks when they are seated in the back row and he turns his pinky this way and that to marvel at Paya's pretty ring.
“Why are we sitting in a bus full of sightseers?”
“Uhm. It's… it's a date. I thought we should try that first this time.”
He laughs and pulls her in his arms. “A city tour? Sure, why not.”
The bus slows down and the tourists change the sides when the driver announces Castletown’s nightlife district on the left.
“It has a very famous 24/7 wedding chapel if our newly engaged couple is interested?”
A look is exchanged between them before they burst out laughing. “No, thank you!” Link calls. “We take it slow this time around,” he says only to her.
Zelda snuggles into his side and kisses the spot under his pointed ear. “Link?”
“Just in case that it wasn't clear," she murmurs, “I love you, too.”
He kisses her hair. “I figured as much.”
She sighs a deep breath and squeezes her hand on his thigh. “Let's try to figure less and talk more, ok?”
“Wise words, sunshine.” A beat passes. “Ok, then let’s start right away. I would like to take you out for brunch after this, but I need a shower and a toothbrush first.”
“Where were you last night, if you don’t mind the question?”
He clears his throat. “To be honest, I just dozed off in the car. You woke me up with your message.”
“Oh, wow. Ok, your apartment is it then.” She strokes over her cloth pants. “Do you mind me staying in this? It isn’t exactly my dating outfit.”
He presses his fingers to her waist and lets his rough cheek brush over her skin before he whispers in her ear. “Can’t promise that all of these silly buttons will be still in place when I'm done with you, but besides that, I don’t mind at all.” Nibbling on her earlobe, he breathes, “You look gorgeous.”
It’s a good thing that they are in a very public place because the look she throws back at him is so dirty that he isn't sure he could restrain himself if they were somewhere more private.
“Bold words for someone with a button-down shirt that has to come off anyway.”
He shoots her a wolfish grin before he tugs her under his chin with a happy sigh.
At this point, the only thing he regrets out of the last 24 hours is that he vowed to never propose to her again – this woman is simply too amazing never to ask again and again, and again.