AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story does have a slightly slow start, but it will really get moving next chapter, which should be posted pretty soon. I'd really appreciate feedback. I am trying to create some good relationships between characters, but I'm worried it's just coming across boring. Please let me know!
Also I kind of had a headcannon of Ashei as April Ludgate, which was adorable.
Several weeks later, as promised, Zelda appeared at the Disaster Preparedness Committee's monthly meeting. She arrived just as the meeting ended, and was pleased to see that Link had not shirked his duties. Not everyone she strong armed into public service followed through with their semi-coerced duties, so she was grateful to him. She caught his eye as he was putting away the folding chairs the group had used for the meeting and gave him an appreciative smile, then went to find Ashei.
Ashei Yi was the chairwoman of the Disaster Preparedness Committee, and she took her role very seriously. Her cool, impassive face was framed by two incongruously cute jet black pigtails, and she and had started working at City Hall only a few years after Zelda. Initially, Ashei had been an exceedingly apathetic public servant, and Zelda had had to practically drag her by the hair to get anything done. She had eventually found her calling in the Water and Power Department. Zelda wasn't quite sure what it was about Water and Power that motivated Ashei, but she had always been difficult to figure out.
"Ashei! Nice to see you. How was today's meeting?"
"It went well, yeah. We caught Link up to speed on what we've been doing to plan for hurricane season and he had some pretty good ideas, yeah."
"Great! Well, hurricane season is pretty much already here, I'd love to know what you have planned. Could you email me what you guys have come up with?"
"Yeah, yeah," said Ashei. "I'll send it tomorrow."
A thin man with dirty blond hair and perfectly round glasses bounded up to Ashei.
"Hey, Ash, we were all going to go to Telma's to watch the rest of the game. Want to come? Um, the mayor is also welcome, of course," he added, nervously pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
"Sure, Shad," said Ashei. "Zelda, want to come too? It should be fun, yeah."
Truth be told, Zelda was pretty tired, and the idea of going to a bar wasn't entirely appealing. But networking and meeting as many people as possible all came with the territory of being mayor. She would never be able to properly serve Hyrule if she didn't know the people.
"I'd like to come, but I live really close by, so I walked here. Do you think I could get a ride?"
"Yeah, no problem."
Zelda and the members of the Disaster Preparedness Committee found a booth in the corner of Telma's bar with a good view of one of the large TVs showing the game, and Zelda soon found herself nursing an iced tea at the sticky table with a couple of old friends and more new ones. They were all supposedly watching the baseball game, but mostly they just chatted. Zelda learned that Shad taught math at the local community college, that Bolson owned his own construction company, and that Beedle ran a chain of convenience stories. Link and Ashei she already knew, although she certainly felt like she was learning more about them as well. For instance, although Ashei was hard to read, Zelda became increasingly convinced that she was harboring a major crush on the bookish Shad. The fourth time Ashei clapped Shad vigorously on the shoulder to make a point, Zelda shot her a questioning look. Ashei looked away quickly and muttered something like, "yeah, well, yeah," and Zelda smiled knowingly.
Eager to move on from whatever strange looks Zelda was levelling at her, Ashei looked to Link, who was on the opposite side of the table from Shad, and spoke.
"So, uh, Link, I hear you like fishing, yeah."
Link, who'd been staring silently into his drink, looked up.
"Yeah, I do. Do you fish too?"
Everyone at the table waited for one of the two of them to ask some kind of follow up question, but both Ashei and Link seemed content to let the conversation end at that. After an awkward silence, Beedle decided that if they weren't going to move the discussion forward, he would.
"Do you fish on the lake then, Link? Or in the ocean?"
"Mostly on the lake."
Lake Hylia, which was only a few miles out of town, was a popular fishing spot for many a resident of Hyrule, and Zelda herself had spent numerous summer afternoons on the lake. Talk of fishing on the lake brought back memories of long, lazy evenings with her Dad, catching little but talking a lot.
"You have your own boat and everything, right? I think I've sold you some equipment before," said Beedle.
"I bought a boat recently… It's been nice, being able to go fishing whenever I want without paying any rental fees."
"Do you cook any of the fish you catch? Or do you usually let them go?" Zelda asked, deciding to jump into the conversation.
Link, who'd seemed rather uncomfortable for most of the evening, lit up.
"I let a lot of them go, but I love cooking fish too. Smoked, fried, baked, cooked in stew, I've tried it all."
Seeing Link opening up brightened Zelda as well. She truly enjoyed cooking, but more than that, she loved this moment in a conversation, when two people found something in common and things just clicked. As a politician, she had to partake in a lot of small talk with a lot of people, but she could always tell when a conversation shifted from the inconsequential to the sincere.
Zelda took a moment to check herself. Maybe she was getting a little carried away. He might seem a little more engaged, but they were still just talking about fish.
"I love cooking too! I feel like my fish always come out dry though," said Zelda.
"Do you keep the head on?" asked Link, deadly serious.
"Uh, no. I don't like to eat the head, so I take it off before I cook it."
"Well, that's where you're going wrong. A lot of flavor comes from the head, and if you keep it on it will retain moisture better."
Strange as it was (they were talking about fish heads, after all), this was the most animated she had ever seen Link, and Zelda found that emotion complimented his features quite nicely.
"Thanks, I'll have to try that next time. I usually just pan fry my fish, but I feel like they always end up overcooked."
"Yeah, pan frying can be tricky. I think the key is to only flip the fish once, so it's cooked once on one side and once on the other…"
Link looked about ready to explain every possible way to cook a fish, but Bolson, whose eyes were glued to the TV, cut him off.
"Come on! Every time they're about to win, they somehow find a way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!"
Bolson threw his hands up in the air dramatically, although his face remained grimly still. Shad patted the distraught man on the arm, while Zelda looked at up at the TV and saw that the Termina Tornadoes had just barely lost the ball game. Hyrule, small as it was, had no baseball team of their own, so most residents were fans of the state capital Termina's team.
Ashei let out a heavy sigh.
"Well, once Bolson gets like this, there's not much anyone can do. We should probably call it a night."
"Yeah," said Beedle. "I gotta open the downtown store tomorrow bright and early."
"I should probably get back soon, too. Early meetings, you know?" said Zelda, relieved to have an excuse to get home. As much as she liked talking about cooking, she was getting tired, and bars weren't really her favorite place to meet people.
"Oh really? That's a shame, I wanted to stay and watch the National Spelling Bee. Telma plays it here, just for me. Anyone else want to hang around for the show?" said Shad. He let out an uncertain chuckle at the incredulous looks his friends shot his way and scratched the back of his neck. "It sounds really lame but it's actually really fun…"
Zelda was almost shocked by how incredibly nerdy Shad was being. Who watches the National Spelling Bee at a bar? But Ashei seemed genuinely interested. Ashei looked between Shad and Zelda for a moment, clearly torn.
"That might be fun, yeah… But I need to give Zelda a ride home."
No. No way was Zelda going to keep this from happening. Ashei was definitely not the kind of person who would want to watch the National Spelling Bee, so now Zelda was 100% certain she had a crush on Shad. And this could be an important night for them! Zelda took her job as mayor very seriously, and part of her duty was the ensure the happiness of her constituents. Zelda was about to protest that she could take a taxi or the bus when Link cut in.
"I can take her home. It's on my way, anyway. You live right by City Hall, right?"
"Thanks! You can just drop me off at City Hall," said Zelda, relieved both to have a ride home and to give her friend an opportunity for romance.
Zelda followed Link to his car, a beat up old pickup truck of a truly ghastly reddish-brown shade. The truck was high, with no foot step, so Link gallantly gave her a hand so she could climb up into the passenger seat.
"Thanks for giving me a ride," she said as Link buckled up into his own seat and started the ignition.
"No problem. Shad really likes Ashei, and I wanted to give them a chance to hang out together alone," Link responded easily.
"Really? She hasn't said anything, but I am certain Ashei has a thing for Shad."
"Well then, cheers to us for being such excellent matchmakers."
"To us," said Zelda in agreement.
Zelda looked out the window as they pulled onto the highway. They quickly left Telma's, which was near the center of the city, and drove north towards City Hall. They passed the moonlit Zora River, the neon-glowing Bombchu Bowling Alley, Lanayru Elementary School, and Lon Lon Grocers. She always loved looking out at the city when she drove-it reminded her of her purpose, of why she went to meetings, fought for policies, attended fundraisers, handed out flyers, worked late hours, and did all of the other things that came along with being mayor of a small city.
Link cleared his throat, interrupting Zelda from her reverie.
"So, I knew in High School you'd be successful, but I never imagined you'd be mayor in just over ten years. What's it been like?"
"High School? You were in my year?" Zelda said, confused. She didn't remember knowing Link in High School.
"Well, I was a freshman when you were a senior. I guess it makes sense you wouldn't remember me. You were a big deal, being Student Body President and all. I was just a shrimpy freshman."
"Really? Yeah, sorry I don't remember you… I really thought I knew everyone in High School. How do you know Saria then? She was in my same year."
"Saria and I were next door neighbors growing up. Her brother Mido and I were the same age so I came over to play a lot, but I always got along better with her than Mido."
"Huh, that's funny…" Zelda said, trailing off. Saria was slightly uncomfortable territory, as they were both trying to ignore the fact that Saria was trying to set them up.
Zelda risked a glance at Link, whose eyes were focused on the road, and immediately regretted it. He had a nice profile, and the conversation was flowing fairly well. He was probably the best prospect, romance-wise, that she'd met in years. That was bad, because she had already decided she wouldn't go out with him. She should probably avoid casual encounters with him in the future. She didn't want to give herself ideas, or give him any false impressions.
"So… What's the being the Mayor of Hyrule been like? Any different from how you expected?" Link asked, trying to restart the conversation.
"It's nice," said Zelda, looking back out the window. This was good. Work was a pretty safe topic of conversation. Decidedly un-romantic, not like reminiscing about childhood or anything personal like that.
"I mean, it's hard, but it's fulfilling. As far as expectations… Well, there's more administrative and bureaucratic crap to deal with than I thought. Everyone told me that's what it would be like, but it's different knowing about it and having to deal with it yourself."
"How can it still feel fulfilling when you have so much busy work to do? That's why I wanted to be a police officer-you also have paperwork and stuff, but most of the time you're actually out, on the streets, getting things done."
Zelda shrugged. "I mean, the bureaucratic stuff is annoying, but it actually is important too. You need those things to happen in order for the government to function properly. So when I feel like I'm not getting much done, I focus on the long-term goals. And besides, there are other times when I get to see my impact first-hand, like with that river cleanup last month, or when we got the new playground installed in Lanayru Elementary School."
"I get that," said Link as he pulled into the City Hall parking lot.
"Thanks for the ride," Zelda said, unbuckling her seatbelt and opening the door.
"No problem," said Link, and once again Zelda chanced a look at his face. He was smiling, and it was probably the warmest, most sincere smile Zelda had ever seen. Her chest tightened, and she looked away quickly, waving goodbye as she headed home.
The next day found Zelda preoccupied with infrastructure improvement requests. Zelda loved all of the beautiful trees in Hyrule, but their roots wreaked havoc on the city's roads, and it seemed that every street was in need of repairs. It was almost lunchtime, though, and Zelda could take a break for lunch and come back rejuvenated and ready to solve problems.
"Ahem," someone cleared their throat from her open door. Zelda looked up and saw Link standing in the doorway.
"Oh! Officer Kokiri, what brings you here today?"
Link flushed a little, although Zelda couldn't imagine why.
"Well, I thought I'd catch you before you took lunch. Can I come in?"
Link looked relieved, and walked into the office, shutting the door behind. As the door clicked shut, Zelda started to suspect the reason for his visit, and she grew nervous. Link walked towards her, stopping several inches closer to her than he had been the last time he'd visited her at her office. He stood in front of her desk while she remained sitting, avoiding eye contact.
"I had fun at Telma's yesterday," he said, and Zelda nodded, looking up long enough to see a dangerously enticing gleam in his striking blue eyes. He cleared his throat again, obviously not sure how to interpret her silence, but soldiered ahead anyway.
"I was just wondering if you wanted to get coffee sometime. Maybe tomorrow afternoon, if you're free? We could just go across the street, since I know you don't have a lot of time."
Zelda felt her heart squeeze and fall at the same time. She at once felt the rush of pleasure that accompanies the knowledge that you are admired and desirable, and the sorrow of the impending loss of that affection. She stood and looked Link in the eyes. He deserved a straight answer.
"I'm sorry, Link, I think you're really great, but I don't date government employees. It has nothing to do with you, I just need to keep my work life professional."
"Oh," said Link, taking an involuntary step back. "Oh, I see, I'm sorry."
"You have nothing to apologize for, it's totally fine," said Zelda, trying to calm the panic she could see building in Link's face.
"Yeah. Well, I get it. I'll… see you later Madam Mayor," he said, turning and practically running from the room, head bowed in defeat.
Zelda sighed at his retreating form. Well, there went that. Zelda couldn't deny that she had been enjoying the sense of suspense and excitement that comes along with meeting someone with whom you could envision yourself romantically involved, but it was better to end it now, before either of them got too invested. She repeated that to herself multiple times that afternoon, like some sort of calming mantra, as she read through boring documents and made phone calls.
Several weeks passed, and while Zelda was plenty busy with other things, she found herself thinking about Link often. It didn't help that they kept running into each other. It was so bizarre, Zelda couldn't recall having ever seen him at City Hall before he'd come to the City Council meeting weeks before, but ever since then he seemed to pop up everywhere. Zelda might even be tempted to suspect him of stalking, except she could see the genuine panic in his eyes every time they ran into each other. She could tell he sincerely did not want to see her, and each time they crossed paths was a painfully uncomfortable dance of avoidance.
Zelda could be mature. She was completely willing to resume a normal, polite relationship with him, but he had to go and make everything so awkward. Although they kept seeing each other, he had barely spoken two words to her since "the incident," and it was getting annoying.
"Saria, can you please tell Link that he doesn't need to be so weird around me," Zelda said to her friend one day over lunch.
Saria set her fork down on her plate, looking up at Zelda with an exasperated expression.
"Zelda, you have to understand how painfully shy Link is around girls. Maybe it didn't seem like that when you guys were talking, but that's because I think you had some real chemistry! He's usually pretty quiet. It was really hard for him to ask you out, so he's feeling kind of crushed."
"Crushed? Come on, it's not like this is the first time he's been rejected. Everyone gets rejected sometimes. It's not my fault he can't handle it."
"I'm not saying it's your fault, or that he's justified or anything. I'm just trying to explain how embarrassed he's feeling, and hence how weird he's being around you. You've been rejected before, right? Remember what that feels like?"
Zelda nodded. She remembered the first time she had asked someone on a date-it was Sidon Zorza, Ruto's cousin, and she'd asked him to Winter Formal her junior year of High School. It was during that phase of her life where she was always looking for something to do to prove how much of an Independent Woman she was. Somehow, at the time, asking a guy out to a school dance was the the most feminist rebellion she could conjure up.
Sidon was an almost aggressively likable guy, so there had been nothing cruel about his rejection. He'd shot her his million-dollar grin, and said, "Thank you so much for asking! I'm so flattered! But I already told Hilda I'd go with her. I'm sorry! You know I think you're amazing, right?"
Even with his kind words, the rejection had hurt more than she'd thought it would. In fact, somehow his kindness almost made it worse, as if he were being generous with her embarrassing lack of smoothness. Suddenly, she found herself more able to commiserate with Link's awkwardness.
"I guess that makes sense. I'll cut him some slack."
"Good!" said Saria, and she moved some carrots around aimlessly in her salad. Zelda could tell there was something else on her mind, so she waited patiently for her friend to bring it up.
"Have you heard about Tropical Storm Ganon? They say it might progress into a hurricane some time this week," Saria said eventually.
"Another tropical storm? They keep saying they'll reach here, but they never do," responded Zelda carelessly. This was what had Saria so preoccupied?
"Yeah, I know, but I heard this one has a pretty good chance of making landfall…"
Saria paused, and Zelda looked up from her own salad. Saria was unusually solemn, and it didn't suit her childlike features.
"I don't know, Zelda, for some reason I have a bad feeling about this one."
That gave Zelda pause. She wasn't a superstitious person in general, but she had noticed that Saria had uncanny intuition, so Zelda had made it a personal rule to always pay attention to her impressions. She made a mental note to tell the Fire Department to start putting sandbags up around key flooding points in the city, and was already composing an email to Ashei in her head.
Zelda would later thank the goddesses that she had listened to Saria, because Hurricane Ganon made landfall only four days later, and it was the worst hurricane Hyrule had ever seen.
END NOTE: Conflict is coming! Also, I definitely watched the National Spelling Bee in a bar once, so you know, it could totally happen.