Author's Note: Link x Midna and Link x Ilia (yes, it’s possible), with a side of Zelda and Link friendship. I am not die-hard “shipper loyal” to any of these, I just obey the plotbunnies.
I’ve been sleeping in the street again
___ “A Man and a Woman,” U2
This was not a hero’s life, but perhaps it was a hero’s curse. The golden light of dawn streamed in through his bedside window. It had taken all of his effort to get himself out of bed and now Link was packing furiously, hoping to get his gear ready (and appropriately hidden) before any of his attendants came in. If he was lucky, maybe he could slip down to the stables before they took him to the infirmary for the day. He rubbed his arms, covered with sore spots where thick needles had been jabbed into his veins. The little incisions made in the skin on the back of his left hand hurt the most of any of his minor wounds. They were healed-over cuts right around his birthmark, particularly the bottom right corner, the leftovers of attempts to “retune” the sacred Triforce of Courage to restore his life energy – or some such thing. The doctors had their own strange jargon that Link never could completely understand.
He’d put up with all this meddling for quite a long time now, for the sake of hope, but he was now less of a hero and more of an experiment, and he was sick of it. It wasn’t that he wasn’t grateful for Queen Zelda’s hospitality; it was just that he needed to stop fooling himself. He did not have long left and there came a time when a person had to accept the inevitable. Link figured that he had two choices; to continue on, being a study in medicine and magic while fading away, or to have one last adventure and see a place he hadn’t seen in a very long time.
Perhaps it a silly personal fantasy, but he liked the idea that he might catch a glimpse of her, as well. He wanted to see her one last time. At the very least, he wanted to visit the place where her memory lingered.
Link finished stuffing items into his enchanted satchels and hiding what he couldn’t fit beneath his bed. All this shuffling around made his bones ache. He caught a glimpse of himself in his full-length mirror. He was wearing his thin, white bedclothes – loose pants and an open robe. He was thin, so much that he could make out a few of his ribs. He would wear the Hero’s Clothes when he left, though he knew they’d be baggy – just dripping off of him. He would wear the chain mail, too. For as tight and strong as it was, it had always been as light as a feather on him. His skin was pale and sallow. He looked rather…waxy, he thought, like wax – like he wasn’t even a real person anymore, but one of those creepy museum models. There was a waxwork of him in the palace museum, an image of him in his prime, modeled upon who he had been many years ago.
“Many years ago…” he mused, looking at a color pictograph on the writing desk next to the mirror. It was a picture of him with his sons, and Raphael when they were boys, proudly holding up fish they’d caught at Hena’s Fishing Hole. They visited sometimes, with his daughters and the grandchildren. Only Raphael and his family lived right in
, enabling visits once or twice a week. The other relations lived in far-flung corners of the kingdom, so they only visited once a month or so. Link wrote them all letters when he could, and he sometimes bundled the letters with small gifts for his grandsons and granddaughters. He had five children and seven grandchildren with one more grandchild on the way – ’s wife, Julia, was expecting. Castle Town
Link was glad, in part, that Ilia never got to see the extent of his sickness. His dear wife had died just over eight years ago, in a horseback riding accident. It was a very strange thing, a fluke. Ilia had been an experienced rider but her mount had been spooked and she’d fallen off and had hit her head on the hard earth in such a way that her neck snapped. She had been buried in Ordon, in a special place behind Link’s old house, which now belonged to his youngest daughter, Korrina, who’d yet to marry.
It was Korrina who’d suggested that Link take up residence in
just over three years ago. His health had been growing progressively worse and Ordon was just unable to provide him the medical care that he needed. She and his many friends could certainly take care of his basic needs, but she insisted that the Castle medics might be able to save his life. It galled Link, anyway, that he’d been growing too weak to help in the farm work and the other labors about the village - that he’d become a burden to his friends. Queen Zelda had offered him a well-kept, spacious room freely, as well as attendants and the best of physicians. Link took up her offer, hoping to become healthy again. Hyrule Castle
A knock came upon his chamber door. “Enter,” Link said, closing his robe. He expected it would be one of his attendants, come to do the customary morning check of his vital signs. He sat down on his bed, assuming a passive position.
“Oh, Your Highness!” he said. “I didn’t know… I’m sorry that I am not decent.”
Queen Zelda smiled sweetly. “Do not be embarrassed. I am not. I wanted to see… how you were.”
“Pretty much the same,” Link answered. Zelda… she was so healthy and full of life. She had, perhaps, grown a little chubbier in recent years, especially in the rear end – not that Link was supposed to be noticing that, but seeing Zelda reminded Link of how much he had aged in comparison. Zelda reflected her proper age, fifty. In fact, she looked younger by some people’s standards. Link was forty-eight, but he looked like he was in his seventies. His hair had lost its luster long ago, its sandy blond turned to silver sand, its blond remnants sparse. He still had some muscle, but it appeared to hang from his bones.
“Galen says they are still not quite sure what you’ve got,” Zelda said, sitting on the bed beside him and taking his hands in hers. She looked long at the birthmark on his left. “What he does know now, is that it doesn’t have anything to do with the Triforce.”
“Could he have found that out without cutting into me?” Link asked.
“He has a new theory, actually.” Zelda sighed, “But we don’t know if there’s any way of reversing it.”
“Alright, lay it on me,” Link said casually, and with a hint of bitterness. “Will the study require more poking and prodding? I know they mean well, but sometimes, these doctors of yours are worse than Bulbins. And if Renado hasn’t figured it out, I doubt anyone can… There was the Life-Force Drain Theory, poisoning’s been ruled out, removing those tumors from me didn’t do anything, the wear and tear my body took in my younger days doesn’t seem to be a factor…”
“It is,” Zelda said bluntly. “You did take a lot of damage….in saving Hyrule. It appears that much of it is catching up to you. As for the major part of Galen’s theory… it has to do with the fairies.”
“You’ve used many of them, haven’t you, particularly in your quest?”
“Yes, I have,” Link replied, “but what do they have to do with anything? They provide complete magical healing – they can cure almost anything!”
“Poisoning and injury they can cure,” Zelda answered, “but not everything, and not aging. Head Physician Galen has been doing a number of studies – animal studies, volunteer studies…. Some experiments on himself… He’s found that while a fairy can heal up an injury, they do so by regenerating the lost cells.”
“I knew that,” Link said.
“There is only a limited amount the body can regenerate cells like that, Link,” Zelda said dourly. “The constant regeneration of cells is what leads to aging - an entropy. It was necessary for you to heal yourself with the fairies, even to the point of death. It has caught up with you. You are, as you appear to be, older than you should be.”
“Then it is as I’ve thought for a while now,” Link said thoughtfully, “I am terminal.”
“Not necessarily! It might not even be wholly that!” the queen protested. “We are working on it. Everyone in Hyrule wants to save their Hero. You saved us… we need to return the favor. Besides...” Zelda turned her head and looked down, “I once promised someone that I would do everything in my power to take care of you.”
“Take care of me…. Who?”
“You know, Link.”
“Before she left, Link. Midna requested that I give you everything you need… a good life as one of my citizens.”
Link sighed deeply. “My queen,” he said, tilting her chin up, “You have. I couldn’t ask for anything better than the life I’ve lived. Hyrule has been at peace. You judge fairly and the people are happy. I had many good years with a woman I fell completely in love with. I have wonderful children, with good lives and I have grandchildren – a legacy. Just take care of them and I’ll be happy. I know I will be remembered. You even have that stupid bronze out in the plaza! You have that ban on hunting wolves! You didn’t have to do all that for me. You’ve been a very good friend to me, Zelda.”
With that, Link hugged her. Zelda hesitantly hugged back, worried that if she embraced him too hard, she might break him.
“Listen,” the man-older-than-his-years announced, “I am going to leave here. I may be quite frail now, but I still have some of my old skills, so I don’t want anyone trying to stop me. I want to go on one last adventure. I want to see one of my old haunts one final time. I may come back, I may not, but I must see it.”
Zelda stood and nodded. “As you wish, Link. If it is what you truly want, no one from the guard will try to stop you.”
“Thank you,” Link sighed in relief.
“Where do you wish to go?”
“Where else?” the old Hero replied, “I… I’m sure it’s silly of me… but I want to see my first love again.”
“You are going to Ilia’s grave in Ordon?”
“No. I loved her with all my heart, but I have put her to rest. Ilia was not my first love, truly.”
Realization dawned upon the queen. “The Mirror Chamber. Link! It’s a dangerous trip! And you know the connection between the Light and the Twilight has been severed. You cannot possibly hope to see Midna again!”
“Perhaps I will just see her in my heart,” Link replied, “in my memories. I just want to go there and remember her. You wouldn’t deny the whim of an old man, would you?”
“You are two years younger than I am, Link.”
“But I am sick. Since no remedy for my body has yet been found, I choose a remedy for my spirit. It is not as dangerous anymore now that the Hyrule Highway Department has built the overland trail. I don’t think I could even attempt it in my condition if I had to use the old canon.”
“Would you like a particular horse?” Zelda asked.
“That black gelding with the white diamond on his forehead, Justice-Swift-And-Mighty. He is a strong and even-tempered animal.”
Link still could ride. Justice was a gentle mount and nearly as obedient as his old Epona had been. Poor old Epona… at least she had died elderly, older than most horses and older than any other battle steed Link had known. Her skull was hanging in the main room of his old house in Ordon – now Korrina’s residence, painted in beautiful designs reflective of nature by an artist in Kakariko who specialized in honoring fallen beasts.
The desert trail was easy, but the ride across the shifting sands to the old Arbiter’s Grounds was difficult. All of the monsters that had once roamed this place were long gone, but Link could feel what he was sure was the presence of ghosts. The Grounds, after all, were a place where executions occurred, and probably not just those that simply banished the condemned. These were the lingering, angry souls of those whose lives had ended too swiftly, abruptly. He would not become a ghost here because he was ready for death, and he was far too content with the life he’d lived.
He gathered his things off his steed and slapped him on the rump. “Be free, my friend,” he bade the animal. There certainly was not enough water here for a horse. He was sure the beast could find his way down to
. Link set up a little camp and sat before the pedestal that had once held the Twilight Mirror. He leaned back against his rolled up bedroll against the ancient steps of the arena surrounding the empty pedestal and imagined the Mirror’s dark, shiny surface, etched in designs of ancient magic. It was long gone, now. A few of its shards remained glittering in the sands, but most of it had been scattered throughout Hyrule and beyond in pieces so small they could be called “glass vapor.” Lake Hylia
Link felt profoundly unwell. The ride and the heat, perhaps, and taken more out of him than expected. He was finding it difficult to breathe and his heart did not feel right. He’d hoped he’d get at least three days to camp out here beneath the blue sky, but if he had to say goodbye now, he was accepting of it.
He stayed, sipping at his canteen and contemplating the empty pedestal. The sun began setting, painting the sky around him in shades of fire. Link found it very beautiful. The color deepened until it reminded him of something he’d never forgotten, even after all these years. Midna’s hair had been deep orange, like the color of dying embers on a campfire, dark and almost red, yet glowing. The center of the sky, bordered by pale gold and the glisten of mare’s tail clouds, was this exact red-orange.
He had loved Ilia. After his great adventure in rescuing Hyrule from darkness and the Twilight Realm from the usurper king, Link had spent a lot of time wandering. He’d done a lot of work in
to rebuild the royal palace and acted as an emissary between Hyrule’s sub-realms and races. No matter the differences the leaders of different tribes had with each other and with the government of Hyrule proper, they all loved Link. He also did the dangerous work of clearing out remaining evil presences in the land and did the occasional work of finding one lost artifact or another that Zelda needed. Link had thrown himself into work to try to forget. Through it all, his heart had been quite lost. Ilia had been the one to find it again. Castle Town
During the times of rest he took in Ordon, she’d spoken with him, less of the past and more of the present in those bygone days. She’d noticed his distance, the coldness his journey had left him with. She’d never forced any issue with him, but, instead coaxed healing through soft kindness. She’d cleansed the scars on his body in Ordona’s Spring and the scars on his heart with her gentle tongue. She’d been the one to tell him that memories were important, but that they were not everything – and she would be the one to know that in the strongest way possible. Eventually, he’d opened up. She’d pieced together his shattered-mirror heart and he was forever grateful.
The years he’d spent with his Ilia and the children he’d had with her were things Link would not trade for the world or any other worlds - not even for the Twilight Realm. However, one never forgets their first love. Perhaps it was pitiful that he’d chosen to spend the end of his life in the place where his heart had once been shattered. Perhaps it was just that he’d had his years and had made his peace with Ilia, but he’d never truly gotten to say goodbye to Midna. He knew that he was on his way to see Ilia again. He did not know if he’d get that same privilege with Midna. He had no idea how long Twili lived, or if their spirits went to the same afterworld that Hylians went to.
The sunset deepened and Link knew that he was a sentimental fool, or maybe he was an old, stray dog missing its master – a stray wolf.
He looked up and saw something strange. He thought he saw spinning circles before his eyes, magical symbols dancing within the old Mirror pedestal. What looked like a washed out, spectral version of the old Twilight Mirror appeared. Link blinked and assumed that he was hallucinating or dreaming, or that his body was actually beginning the final death process and his dying brain was causing him to see unreal wishes. The chamber was painted in the orange-red light of sunset. The world looked like it had been set aflame.
Then a tall figure stepped down into the sand. It was walking toward him. Yes, this was wishful thinking, especially since she didn’t look a moment older than when he’d last seen her.
She saw the man slumped by the steps and wondered about him. He was a Hylian to be sure, but Queen Midna of the Twilight had not expected anyone to be in the ruins of the Mirror Chamber. It had taken her many years to find a way back into the Light without the Twilight Mirror proper, and even as it was, she was sure she’d only be able to stay during the hour of twilight in this world. It was already fading. This run was an experiment – a successful experiment, quite apparently. She determined herself to find other locations in which to emerge and, perhaps, a way to stay longer. For now, this was good – she had gotten back. It was a start.
She’d asked herself the reasons why she’d wanted to come back. They were the same questions her advisors had given her, but she had to think upon them very personally. First, she’d wished to return for diplomatic reasons. Midna had shattered the Mirror for protective reasons – she had wanted to keep both Hyrule and the Twilight Realm safe from their respective malevolent entities and magic. In hindsight, she’d decided it was a bad move, for she and her dynasty might have an eventual need to convene with the rulers of Hyrule. Her other reasons for wanting to return were far more personal. Twili though she was, she’d come to miss the Light. There was nuance and variety in the Light World, something subtle…something free that her heart had longed to see again.
Then there was Link. It had been many years – surely he had his own life now. Still, Midna longed to see him again. One might say that she’d “never gotten over him,” but it wasn’t as bad as one might think. The queen had never married, but by Twili standards, she was still young – still barely beyond adolescence. Midna knew that she’d find a worthy king among the Twili, eventually, and if she did not, she was content. No one who mattered thought that she was doing a poor job as Queen, after all.
Midna had hoped that Zelda made good on her promise to take care of the boy for her. She was made aware that the life spans of most light-dwellers, particularly humans and Hylians, were painfully short. Link and Zelda would be what they called “middle-aged” by now, half done with their natural lives. Midna had braced herself for this should she see them again. It probably wasn’t going to happen right now.
There was something painfully curious about that man on the steps. He was looking right at her, so she decided to walk over to him. He didn’t look entirely sane and he appeared to be quite an old man. He smiled as she walked closer to him. Did she know this man? There was something uncanny about him… familiar. Oh, it couldn’t be. He wouldn’t be this old yet…
“Why, if it isn’t Midna!” Link replied.
“Link, is that really you?” Midna knelt so that her face met his. She gently ventured to place a hand on his left shoulder. He was wearing the Hero’s Clothes, tunic, hat and all, but his hair was gray and the tunic sagged upon what was obviously a thin and sickly frame. “You… you…”
“I got old, Midna,” Link said calmly. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“I’ve missed that stupid smile of yours,” the Twilit Queen replied, “What happened to you, really, Link? You don’t look right…. I know I wasn’t gone that long. You shouldn’t be this - ?”
“I’ve been sick,” Link answered. “No one’s sure what it is, but heroes aren’t destined to live forever, anyway. I hope you have lived well. I have. I don’t have any regrets. I came here to remember. I didn’t think it would really happen, but I’m glad that I actually got to see you again…Midna.”
“Link, look up. Come on. Look at me.”
Link looked up at her and past her. The red light of the sunset was fading fast and the shadows of everything in the Mirror Chamber were growing longer. He looked to the sky, to Midna’s worried eyes and to the shock of hair she had secured over her neck. He reached out and gently touched one of the orange locks.
“Like fire…” he said, smiling gently, letting his hand fall.
“I… I suppose it is.”
It took Midna a few minutes to realize that he wasn’t moving at all anymore. No movement of the shoulders or chest. His eyes remained open, half-lidded, unblinking. Midna cupped his cheek and felt his neck.
“Oh, Link,” she said calmly and without tears, “this is just like you. I finally figure out how to get here and come all this way, just to see you again, and you have to go and die on me.”
She gently closed his eyes, cupped his face in both her hands and softly kissed his forehead. She braced her arms beneath his body, lifted him up and carried him. She ascended the spectral stairs into the Twilight Realm just as the last rays of the desert sunset faded.
It is said, though a person may search far and wide for it, that the grave of the Hero of Twilight cannot be found in Hyrule.
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