By Lyxie

Chapter 13: Healing

-Zelda: An Old Cottage, Lake Hylia

-Seven years, seven months and one week since Ganondorf's defeat

It had only been a week since Zelda left the castle, smuggled out by waterway only two nights after her breakdown, but already she felt like a different woman. Tetra had done well- she'd found Zelda a small, secluded cabin on the outskirts of the lake, far from civilization or disturbance. Neither Zelda's maid nor her assistant were with her, and though she sorely missed them both, she found she quite enjoyed her new freedoms. Gone were the stuffy gowns, the painful hairstyles- each morning, Zelda rose at whatever hour she felt like, donned a simple linen gown, and let her hair fall loose around her shoulders. Her guard was a young man named Sheik- one of the Sheikah, and as such, Zelda had only seen him a handful of times since leaving the castle. She was quite content in her solitude- for what was the first time in a long time, she was free to do and act as she pleased, and be alone in her thoughts.

She was humming contentedly in the garden, admiring the flowers set against the sparkling blue backdrop of the lake and the sky when a splash alerted her. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Link surfaced from the water, and just as suddenly, Sheik appeared from seemingly nowhere, taking the man by surprise and pinning him to the ground.

"What in the Evil Realm are you doing here, Link?" Zelda yelled at him as Sheik passively and effectively pinned Link's arms to his back.

"I came to see you! Get off me," he added violently to Sheik, trying to rock out of his grasp, to no avail.

"You're not wanted here," Zelda said angrily as she took in the man who had been the bane of her existence for the past month. "In fact, you're the LAST person I want to see right now. Leave."

"But... one day you were there at the palace, and the next you were gone! I was worried I'd lost you!"

"You never had me in the first place!" Zelda informed him vehemently. "And it was you, Link, that drove me to the breakdown that forced me to come all the way out here, if you must know."

There was an explosive silence as Link took in what she'd said. "Breakdown? You?" Link's face was shaken . Zelda looked at Sheik, who silently awaited her instructions. She tilted her head to the side quickly and in the blink of an eye he was off Link and gone. "You had a breakdown because... because of me?" He asked as he stood. "You left?"

"Because of you." It was a cold confirmation, a slap to the face. "Now if you'll excuse me, Link, I was enjoying myself before you arrived." She turned on her heel and made to walk away, seething with fury and hurt.

"Zelda." It was one word, broken, full of pain; it stopped the Queen dead in her tracks. She stiffened as Link came to stand behind her, hands on her shoulders. His damp clothes were wetting her linen dress- she should say something, she thought to herself, but she couldn't find words. "I never meant..." he began, then cut himself off with a bitter laugh. "Goddesses, I'm so stupid! We've both been hurt so badly, and all because I'm a blazing idiot who's too proud for his own good. I'm so sorry, Zelda... I'm sorrier than you can possibly imagine for all the things I have done wrong."

"And what brings about this change of heart?" Zelda asked coldly. "Why do you care if you've hurt me? You've gone to great extents to make it clear you despise me- why the change? Is this another ploy to cause me grief?"

"No! No, I would... I wouldn't do something like this. I wouldn't make you believe I was sorry if I wasn't. Zelda, I don't despise you," he said sadly. "Anything but."

"Why exactly have you come?" she asked him hollowly.

"Because I love you."

Zelda stiffened in Link's arms as joy and sorrow rent her heart in two. He loved her! And she loved him back, but she still hurt so badly from all that had passed between them.

"I saw you in the garden with a girl," she murmured quietly, voicing the first appropriate thought that came to mind. "You were trying to pay her for sex."

"What?" there was a note of genuine confusion in Link's voice, and then- "oh. Oh, no. Zelda, I would never do something like that." He sounded sincere and horrified at the idea, but Zelda couldn't be certain. "I was bribing her to put flowers from me in your room."

"You truly love me?" asked Zelda, though she didn't turn to face Link. She knew what she had to do, now- it hurt her, pained her, and the very thought of it caused hot tears to course down her cheeks. But as Link had tested her and broken her, so would she test Link. She just prayed he would make the right decision.

"Yes," Link said eagerly with a small, excited laugh. "Yes, I do truly love you. Yes, with all my heart."

"Prove it," she murmured. As Link began to gently push, trying to turn her around, she raised a hand and stopped him.

"What- Zelda, are you crying? What's wrong?"

"If you love me as you say," she murmured, turning her face to the sky, "do what is best by me and leave. Leave, and let me go on living my life thinking you dead. Believing that you were waiting for me at the gates to the Holy Realm would be easier than living and wondering if you were going to hurt me again as you have already..." her words cut off as she choked up with tears and she buried her head in her hands. Goddesses, but it was killing her, to ask such a thing of him- and she was scared, so scared, that he'd go.

Link stiffened- his hands tightened on her shoulders. For an unbearable minute, silence stretched out between them, punctuated only by the soft sighs of the lake and Zelda's muffled little breaths.

"Go!" she finally burst with an anguished yell, and she let forth her sobs, crying as though she were dying- which, on the inside, she felt she was.

"No," Link whispered, horrified. "No," he said again, voice stronger this time, though strangled. In a single moment, Link wrapped his arms around Zelda, holding onto her as though he would never let go. "You can ask anything of me but that. No. I'm not leaving."

"Link..." she started, voice pained and aching, thick with tears and sadness. "After all that's happened..."

"I won't," he insisted a little louder, cutting her off. He laughed hollowly then. "I'm the dumbest man in creation, but that doesn't mean I'm dumb enough to make the same mistake twice. I left you once and it nearly killed me- nearly killed us both, it seems. Listen to me," he told her, voice a little softer as he turned her to face him, brushing her hair behind her ears. Zelda kept her red, teary eyes lowered- she didn't want to show him the hope and pain that laid there. Not yet. "I left you once and it was a mistake I regretted more than anything. You can scream at me, beat on me, curse me to the ends of the Evil Realm, and I'll take it. The one thing I won't take quietly, the one thing I won't do- I'll never do- is leave you. Never again."

She exhaled. He'd made the right choice.

"You won't leave me?" she asked him in a little voice. It seemed to her that understanding dawned on him in that moment- he chuckled.

"Never- not even if I were banished. An army of a thousand couldn't keep me away from you."

"Goddesses, Link, you're an idiot," Zelda murmured, even as she relaxed a little in his embrace.

"Yes, but I'm your idiot, if you'll have me," he told her fondly, cupping her cheek with his hand. Zelda stiffened and a sudden silence fell between them. Was... was that... had he... did he just...? Her heart beat rapidly within her chest and her breathing quickened. He wasn't going to leave her- he'd said he'd never leave her again, and she believed him... and yet, how could she be truly certain his feelings were what he claimed?

"You don't just want to be king, do you?" she asked his shoes quietly. Link sighed, dropping his hand from her cheek to her chin and tilting it up so she had to look him squarely in the eyes. The love and tenderness Zelda saw there was more than enough to allay the last of her fears. She'd seen many deceptions in her life, but she knew that the way Link was looking at her now couldn't be faked.

"Zelda, if you want to simply take me as your consort and give me no money and make me wear rags, I'd be more than happy to take the position, just as long as it guaranteed that I'd never have to leave you."

"So... that was a marriage proposal, then," observed Zelda a little nonchalantly even as Link lovingly wiped away the last traces of tears from her cheeks.

"It was," agreed Link. Zelda studied his face in decided concentration for a few moments, then sighed.

"You're the only person I could ever seriously consider marrying," she said simply. "Nobody else could beat me in the arena."

"Which is why you put the rule down in the first place," teased Link.

"Yes," admitted Zelda frankly. "You've probably figured out, then, that I love you... have loved you for a while."

"I had my doubts for a while there," murmured Link, drawing Zelda into an embrace. "It's so wonderful to hear you say it, though. Say it again."

"I love you," whispered Zelda against his shoulder. Her hands ran across his back for a moment, then stilled. "And since I love you, you really shouldn't take this too personally, but..." Zelda stepped out of Link's embrace. As he looked up at her in confusion, the sound of Zelda's slap echoed across the tranquil waters of the lake.

"You're the most stupid man alive and if you think even for a second you're getting off easy with me, you're wrong! Goddesses, it's a wonder someone hasn't beat you to death already, you knuckle head! You're the most oblivious, idiotic, irritating, obnoxious, tiresome specimen of the male species and I, for one, can't stand you-"

"But you love me," Link cut in with a cheeky grin.

"Shut up!" fumed Zelda. "Of course I do- Nayru knows why! But then there's the matter of your all-consuming arrogance, your positively obnoxious elitism, your boneheaded idiocy and your bedamned hero complex..." she paused for a moment, catching her breath, and Link quirked a brow at her.

"You done yet?" he asked her, having endured her raging with interest and attention but no discernible regret.

"No I'm not done yet! You're so impatient, you know that? And you're low-down, and an idiot... have I mentioned that you're an idiot?"

"Several times now. Zelda?"

"Let me finish, will you?" she raved, glaring at him. He smiled and, before Zelda could return to her tirade, he'd caught her around the waist and kissed her passionately enough to shut up even the angriest of women.

"Oh, my..." she murmured a good deal of time later when Link finally broke the kiss.

"I love you," Link whispered against her cheek, kissing the skin fondly and moving back with a grin. "Are you still mad at me?"

"Mad? I was mad at you?" Zelda repeated a little stupidly, blinking a few times in an effort to shake off the daze of Link's masterful kisses. "Yes, I was! You're a low-down, foul, cheating, lecherous..."

Link stopped her abruptly with another of his mind-blowing kisses; it was a very, very considerable amount of time later when Zelda was able to put two thoughts together and come out with something coherent.

"You know," she said into the nape of his neck, "that's not always going to work on me."

"Guess I'll have to be creative, then," he murmured, voice low and exciting as he ran a hand languidly up the side of Zelda's body.

"Link!" she squirmed away. "That's positively improper!"

"We're to be married, aren't we?" he asked her casually, though his eyes were alight with love and something else that made Zelda's pulse run hotter.

"Not quite yet. You still have to beat me in front of my people, you know."

"Ooh, I'm so scared," he teased her, nuzzling her hair in a distinctly canine manner.

"You are going to have to fight for it," she informed him with a laugh.

"But you're going to take it easy on poor little me, right?" asked Link with mock fear and concern.

At this, Zelda smiled and shrugged, eyes drifting out over the lake. "We'll see."

-Link: The Grand Arena, Hyrule Castle

-Seven years and eight months since Ganondorf's defeat

"I thought you wanted to marry me!" yelped Link, ducking away from a particularly lethal swipe of Zelda's blade.

"I do!" she yelled back, spinning and parrying Link's feint. "but that doesn't mean you get off easy, remember? You pissed me off, and besides, I'm the Queen of Hyrule, or had you forgotten? I'm notorious for being painfully fair."

"I didn't earn this punishment," Link replied, catching Zelda's blade against his own and pushing her back.

"You're right," she said, dropping her guard. "You earned more." As he charged her she nimbly stepped behind him and bonked him gently on the helm with the pommel of her sword. "Stupid."

"No, smart," he replied, and in a second he'd spun his entire body about, bringing his sword crashing against Zelda's armor and knocking her to the ground. He poised the tip of his blade at her throat.

"I win," he gloated. Zelda smiled at him and dropped her sword.

"This round, you mean. You still have to beat me at archery, hand-to-hand, and melee."

"I can't wait," he replied as the crowd cheered uproariously. He pulled Zelda up and she grinned at him.

"You're an ass," she informed him candidly as two servants came to take Link and Zelda's weapons and armor away and bring them bows and a quiver. In what felt like the blink of an eye, the archery range had been set up and the Queen and her soon-to-be fiancee stood several hundred feet away from a very small target.

"Ladies first," stated Link, all chivalry and charm. With a mock-glare, Zelda drew the bow, took careful aim, and shot, landing her arrow dead-center. The crowd gasped, even as Link grinned down at Zelda. "Easy as pie." Without even aiming he nocked the arrow, drew the bow, loosed it, and in a cracking, splintering of wood, Zelda's arrow was shorn clean in half. The spectators began to cheer wildly, and Zelda shrugged her slender shoulders.

"You're going to beat me without blinking, aren't you, jerk?"

"Consider it a show of my love," Link told her as their equipment was taken away and the target was removed from the arena. They stood across from each other, bowed, and waited. A bell rang and they'd begun the hand-to-hand combat. "So, has anyone ever gotten this far before?" Link asked Zelda as he threw several punches, all of which she blocked.

"Nope." She swept her leg around but he nimbly jumped over it, then ducked a punch. "I've never had anyone last past round one."

"I must just be really special, then." Punch, dodge, kick, spin, jump, sweep.

"You're winning in a battle against the Queen and she doesn't seem all too perturbed by it. I'll let you draw the conclusions for yourself- oof!" Her concentration slipped for the faintest moment and Zelda found herself suddenly pinned to the ground and unable to move.

"I win, again," he told her, smiling down at her. Sweaty hair clung to her face and neck and her chest was heaving rapidly as she looked up at him.

"Cheap shot," she replied, breathless, eyes hot on his. He winked at her and stood, and the crowd, yet again, began to cheer madly.

"Three down, one to go, and then it's official."

"Should I just not even bother?" asked Zelda with a shrug and a helpless sigh.

"No," Link told her with a grin. "I want you to fight me with all you've got so that you can't bitch and moan about being tied down to me later."

"Link, watch your language," Zelda chastised as they were fitted with loose protective equipment and presented with a choice of weapons. Link chose a long spear after a long moment, and when he saw what weapon Zelda had selected he felt his stomach drop clear out of his body.

She grinned at him and cracked her whip. As soon as the servants were out of range, they were off.

The day was warm and the arena stands were packed, though the faintest autumnal air blew in from the east. Zelda swung the whip at Link and he nimbly dodged. He jabbed, missed, ducked and rolled out of Zelda's way, then caught the whip on his spear the next time she cracked it at him. With a swift jerk he'd pulled the thing out of her hands and had the tip of the spear pointed at her throat.

The whole four battles had only taken twenty minutes, start to end.

The arena was silent until Zelda smiled, putting up her hands. As the crowd burst into cheers, Link smiled too, dropping his spear, and in a moment he had Zelda in his arms.

"Link!" she laughed, even as he dipped her low for a kiss. Another great cheer went up and not a few wolf whistles followed this debacle as Zelda wrapped her arms around Link's neck, kissing him passionately back.

"I love you," he said to her as he pulled away.

"I love you too," she replied, and straightened up, then glanced at him quizzically as he backed away. Link only smiled at her, then sank onto one knee, taking her hands in his. A sudden hush fell out of the crowd.

"Zelda," he asked loudly, ignoring the scandalized gasps at his use of her given name, "will you marry me?"

"Yes, Link," she replied with a smile, and he saw the faintest sparkle of happy tears in her eyes. "I will."

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