The back garden of the Hunter household was small and modest. Tall evergreen trees lined the lawn, hiding the swingset in the corner. A thin twisting path snaked its way from the back door, curving around an old plastic fountain and leading to the worn wooden gate at the back. Beyond that gate led a path down to the river and the small work shed built onto the bank.
Doctor Hunter had built the shed himself, working in his free time away from the surgery. Link, of course, had helped as much as he could but neither of them were great architects. And at the end of the day the shed ended up resembling a lopsided log cabin crossed with a pile of timber more than a sound structure.
The roof of the shed was festooned with twinkling lights, their soft white glow picking out the light snowfall in the air. It had been falling heavier earlier, almost completely burying the old plastic fountain near the house and hiding the path in sheer white camouflage. The worst of it still clung to the roof tiles and the tree branches. It seemed to sap all colour and noise from the world, leaving only the faint sound of music from the house and the slow trickle of water from the river.
It was peaceful, if not very very cold.
Naru didn’t seem to mind, though Zelda suspected that that had something to do with the husky’s thick winter coat. A coat that, in that moment, Zelda would have given anything for. Biting back her envy, Zelda let out a soft sight, her breath fanning out in a faint white cloud, mixing with the moon light. The chill winter air nipped at her fingertips, her nails already turning a soft purple underneath her manicure. Fighting back another shiver she held her hands under her armpits.
It really was too cold to be sitting outside.
She’d said that Naru needed air, and that the canine had to be watched at all times lest she try and swim in the freezing waters at the end of the garden. Well, that was only partly true. In all honesty she’d just needed a moment, some air, some quiet. The party crowd was a little… overwhelming? That isn’t to say that it was bad. Zelda couldn’t remember the last time she’d had so much fun! It was just -
The sound of boots crushing snow drew her attention.
“There you are! I thought I was gonna have to call a search party.”
Link stood in front of her, blonde hair already dusted by the snow, cheeks and nose flushed pink with the chill. His lazy smile tugged at the corner of his lips and Zelda felt her heart beat a little faster in her chest. She inwardly cursed at that. Eight months and still a simple smile from him was enough to knock her off balance.
Naru, on the other hand, was seemingly immune to Link’s looks; She let out several loud barks and a particularly playful howl before charging at him through the snow. Her grey and white coat made the perfect camouflage but Link had learned his lesson since their first date so long ago.
Zelda watched as he sidestepped the husky like a matador avoiding a charging bull. His hands flying above his head as a surprised “watch it!” fell from his lips. He fixed Naru with a look that Zelda supposed was meant to be stern. But with his sky blue eyes he looked just like a puppy dog himself.
“I love you too girl, but I can’t drop these,” he huffed pulling his hands back to his chest. “I’ll pet you in a bit I promise.”
It was only then that Zelda noticed what he had in his hands. Two mismatched mugs, one decorated with a countryside landscaped and the other, slightly larger one, covered in a green leaf pattern with gold accents. Steam floated on the top of the mugs and as Link go closer Zelda could smell…
“Is that hot chocolate?” She asked, trying and failing to keep the excitement out of her voice. She loved hot chocolate.
“Oh this ain’t just any old hot chocolate,” Link boasted, handing her the leaf covered cup. “This is Uli’s special Solstice Hot Chocolate, passed down through six generations of the Hunter family.” He took his seat beside her, leaning in conspiratorially “With a shot of peppermint schnapps just for fun.”
“Thank you.” She sighed. The mug felt warm in her hands, thawing her frozen fingers slightly. The scent of real homemade hot chocolate filled the air, the steam fanning across her face as she leaned in slightly to take a sniff. It would still be too hot to drink just yet but Zelda didn’t mind. The feeling of blood rushing back to her fingertips was more than enough for now.
And well, the feeling of Link pressed against her side, from shoulder to knee, on the small bench next to the shed, certainly wasn’t hurting matters either.
Next to her, Link held his drink out of Naru’s reach as the husky began sniffing around him, her tail wagging at a million miles an hour. Link was murmuring to her in the same soft voice he used with all his patients, a hand scratching behind her ears.
“I think she likes you more than me.” Zelda huffed, breathing in the smell of hot chocolate.
“Not true,” Link said distractedly, “She only likes me because I’m still new. No one could ever replace her mama.”
She’d meant it as a joke but the heartfelt tone he’d used, and the sheer sincerity of his words caused her already pink cheeks to heat and colour in a blush.
“You dork.” She scoffed, hiding behind her mug. Link turned to look at her then, blue eyes catching the lights on the roof. A lost expression clouded his features until he noticed her blush. Zelda watched as understanding dawned and a warm, joyful, laugh tumbled from his lips. He passed his mug to his other hand before throwing his arm around her shoulders. He pulled her in closer towards him, even though that was almost impossible on the bench. Rusl hadn’t built it to hold two people after all. (Or if he had, he’d gotten his measurements wrong. He had always been better at metal working.)
They sat like that for a while. The two of them pressed up together, Naru resting at their feet, the snow hanging in the air, and the soft sound of the river settling into the nonexistent space between them. Zelda resting her head against Link’s; her temple pressed against the ridge of his brow over his eye. She could feel his breath ghost over her neck, the sensation giving her shivers that had nothing to do with the cold.
It was almost perfect.
“You forgot the marshmallows.” Zelda looking into her mug. The only embellishment on her drink was a fine sprinkling of cocoa powder.
“Huh?” Link sounded like he’d been pulled from a dream. Distant, and distracted.
“There’s no marshmallows, see.” She tilted her mug towards him, showing the clear lack of puffy sugary treats. In the corner of her eye, Link rolled his.
“Well excuse me Princess.” He took a sip of his own drink, licking the chocolate from his lips. “The kids got to ‘em first. They wanted to play that game, you know the ‘Chubby Goron’ one. The one where you see how many marshmallows you can get in your mouth? I’m actually glad you missed it. I thought Talo was gonna - You know what, nevermind. Just drink your chocolate. I spent ages on it.”
“Aye aye sir,” Zelda gave a mock salute causing him to laugh lightly. The sound warming her better than any fire could.
Pushing down that thought, she took a sip of her now warm chocolate. The soft sweet cocoa coated her tongue, the bitterness cushioned by warm milk. This was proper hot chocolate, nothing like anything you could buy at the store. Even the strong peppermint sting of the schnapps wasn’t enough to sour the drink.
“How much booze did you put in this?” She teased, swirling the drink in its mug. “Because I think there’s definitely more than just a shot in here. If I didn’t know any better I’d think that you’re trying to get me drunk Doctor Wolfe.”
Link snorted, the arm around her shoulder dropping to her waist. “Because that's totally my plan? To get you wasted on the best hot chocolate in the history of the world. I’m an evil mastermind.”He pressed a light kiss to her neck, right over her pulse point. “That's why I’ve kept you out here rather than drag you back to the party.”
Oh right. The Party.
It was tradition in Ordon, going back centuries. When the sun set on the shortest day the people would gather in their homes. The would light lanterns and sing songs to keep the night and the darkness at bay. Tomorrow they’d visit the light spring and leave candles by the shore to thank the spirit that dwelled there for watching over them. Nowadays the Solstice festival had become an excuse for a good old fashioned knees up. The importance softening into tradition, and the tradition softening into excuse.
Still the whole thing meant a lot to Link and his family (They even made matching jumpers for crying out loud) and he had chosen to share this night with her.
“It’s a wonderful party,” she said, fixing her eyes on the hot chocolate still in her mug. “I just need to breathe is all.” Link nodded as if he understood, but she could tell that he didn’t. How could he? The Hunters loved him like family, Rusl and Uli had practically adopted him. They all cared so much!
“Just as long as we haven’t made you uncomfortable.” Link took another sip of his own drink, obviously trying to hide his anxiety. Even though they had only been together for a little under eight months, and most of those months where spent apart and separated by a six hour train journey, Zelda still felt confident in her ability to read Link’s mannerisms.
“It definitely isn’t that,” She assured him, “It’s just…” she thought back to her own family celebrations. The lavish parties for the Giving Months. Expensives dresses and booze and decorations. Over priced trinkets and fake smiles. Every act calculated to say “Look how much money I have, look how much better I am than you!” No love, no light. Just a room full of assholes who were to busy trying to one up each other to care about stupid things like other people’s feelings and the less fortunate.
“It’s just that you all like each other so much.” She continued, “It’s just pretty new to me. That’s all.” She could tell by the way he shifted against her that her explanation had done little to ease his mind. She took a swig of her drink to distract herself, the schnapps burning less this time.
“We all like you too,” he nudged his head against hers slightly. “I like you the most though.” At their feet Naru let out a huff, her head twisting to glare at Link. “Alright, alright,” he conceded. “I like you the second most. Naru likes you the most.” Satisfied by that, the husky returned to her job of keeping Zelda’s shoes warm.
The three of them lapsed into silence for a moment. Zelda finishing her drink, Link resting his lips against her shoulder as he thought. At the house someone had put on a cheesy Solstice song, the singer crooning about how she had her love to keep her warm.
“I really have had a good time.” Zelda promised, breathing the silence. Link’s lips curled into a smile but he didn’t say anything. He just held her tighter against his chest. She wondered if he’s spoken as much as he was going to for now. He was a very quiet man when he wanted to be,not that it really bothered Zelda. She enjoyed the quiet. Not every moment needs to be filled with sound after all.
“I’m glad,” he murmured, lifting his head so that his chin rested against her shoulder. He let out a sigh so deep that she was sure he was going to fall asleep right there on that bench.
She thought that that was him done for the night, that the river and the decades old pop songs would fill the air instead. She was certain of it. So much so that when he spoke again his words took her by surprise.
“Have you thought any more about … y’know?” His voice was quiet, almost timid. It was like he was afraid of asking the question, or of hearing her answer. It didn’t suit him. Her brave country vet who called her at midnight when she couldn’t sleep and regaled her with stories about farmyard animals and housepets. The man who greeted her at the train station with a smile like sunlight and a laugh like a warm summer breeze.
“I have,” She said, trying to keep her voice level. “I would love to be here with you. It’s just that…”
Just that P.A’s and secretaries and her Father had already decided what she would be doing that winter. Ringing in the End of the Year in a white dress, holding a glass of red. Surrounded by her brother and about two hundred and fifty of their “closest friends.”
She shifted in her seat, twisting at the waist so she could look Link in the eye. “It’s complicated.”
Zelda watched as Link’s eyes seemed to dim slightly. The hand that had been around her waist now settled at the small of her back. She could tell that the idea of being apart again was difficult for him, he was very open about wanting to spend as much time with her as possible. But there really was nothing she could do. She had a responsibility to her family back in Castleton. One she couldn’t avoid.
But looking at Link… She’d had so much fun tonight. The children laughing, the paper lanterns, silly party games. She felt like part of the family here. Still new and shiny, but accepted without question. Without second thoughts.
“It’s the marshmallows ain’t it?”
“The marshmallows.” He clarified, “I should have been quicker with the marshmallows for the hot chocolate. I’ve ruined the Solstice for you so you don’t want to come back for the end of the year. It’s okay, I get it.” He was smirking now. The kind of smile that starts in the eyes and works it’s way down to the lips. He was messing with her, trying to lighten the mood before the darkness could set in.
“That’s it!” Zelda cried, wrapping an arm around his shoulders as she pressed the back of her hand to her forehead melodramatically. “You’ve broken my heart Doctor Wolfe, all I wanted was some sweet marshed mallow for my Solstice drink. And now my life is ruined. Oh woe is me! How will I go on? I sh-AH LINK!!”
His laughter was like a symphony as he pulled away from her neck. A class example of a shit eating grin displayed proudly on his features. The sly dog had taken the opportunity to plant a big wet sloppy kiss right over her throat.
“You fiend!” She cried, laughter colouring her words. “I’m going to get cold now. I hope you’re happy!”
“Exceedingly so.” His other hand moved to join it’s twin at her back, pulling her gently towards him. “I can tell you ain’t though. Let me make it up to you?”
“And how exactly do you plan on doing that?” Her hands settled on his chest, the leafy green mug pressed against his sternum obscuring the details on his Solstice jumper slightly. “Are you going to give me a nice warm scarf to keep the chill off?”
“I’ve got something much better than a scarf.”
His breath was hot, almost burning, against the skin of her neck. A sharp difference to the frozen caress of the winter air. The quick change in temperature caused her to gasp, her free hand fisting in the fabric of his jumper as his lips trailed slowly over the pulse point under her ear.
All the air seemed to rush from her lungs leaving her light headed. Her eyes slipped closed, the world fading away to nothing. Nothing except for Link’s arms around her and the twinkling lights dangling from the roof of the shed. She could have stayed in that moment, that nothingness, forever.
Then Naru let out an almighty howl and leapt to her feet.
The sound startled Link as he pulled away, freezing cold air rushing into the space between them and killing all warmth. Zelda turned towards the husky just in time to watch her sprint up the path and collide with the youngest son of the Hunter family, the force sending them both flying into the freshly fallen snow.
Luckily Colin didn’t seem to be hurt, though that didn’t stop Link from racing towards where his little brother had tumbled.
“Are you alright?!” He asked, pulling Colin to his feet. Zelda watched as Link ran his hands down the boy’s arms, checking for any bruises or breaks, before taking his chin between his finger and thumb, tilting Colin’s head this way and that.
“I’m fine,” he laughed, brushing his big brother’s hands away. “She was just playing.”
Naru didn’t seem to have the decency to look ashamed. She sat at Colin’s side, her tongue hanging out of her mouth and her tail now wagging at light speed. The husky was historically very choosy about who she spent her time with. She didn’t tend like like most people. When Zelda had first picked her up at the rescue as a puppy, it had taken months to get her to trust her. Colin had taken minutes. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t a little jealous.
“She knows better than to plow people into the snow.” Link put on his stern voice, and Zelda half expected him to put his hands on his hips, point his finger, and start calling the dog “Young lady”
Colin rolled his eyes and shrugged, a hand scratching behind Naru’s ear. “Ma said that the cookies are done. She said to tell you before Dad and Lula eat em all.”
That softened Link up, the worried tension fading from his shoulders. If Colin was more focused on cookies that meant that he probably wasn’t dying. Probably. Sometimes it was hard to tell.
Link ruffled his hair. “You two go on ahead,” he said turning to look over his shoulder at where Zelda was still sitting. His eyes shining with something a little brighter than the twinkling lights above them. “We’ll be right behind.”
Zelda felt her face heat in a flush. She could still remember the feel of his lips pressed against her skin, his arms pulling her close. Link only smiled at her, not his shit eating grin from before or his teasing smirk. This smile promised a little privacy later in the evening. The idea made her blood run hot. She hoped the frigid air would cool her down slightly.
If Colin noticed anything weird, he didn’t say. He simply patted his legs to get Naru’s attention before turning and sprinting up the path. A warning carelessly tossed to the wind “Don’t take too long, I can’t stop Dad when he’s hungry.”
The sound of the back door closing signalled that the two of them were now alone. Truly alone for the first time all night. Link stepped closer to her, walking till he towered over her from where she sat on the bench. It wasn’t often that Link was taller than her, she kind of liked the change.
“It’s cold.” He said, his voice anything but. He reached out a hand to pull her up and she took it, raising to her full height. She stood almost eye to eye with him, their noses brushing slightly. From this angle Zelda could simply lean in and press a kiss to the corner of his lips if she wanted to.
“Is it really?” She slid her arms up his chest and over his shoulders. She could smell the faintest hint of peppermint lingering on his breath. “I’ll honestly say that I hadn’t noticed.” She leaned against him, her body pressed against his from their shoulders to their hips to their knees. His hands settled on her hips, his thumbs trailing over the waistband of her jeans. “You’re quite warm Doctor Wolfe. I dare say you could moonlight as a personal space heater.” Zelda felt Link’s laughter more than she heard it. The sound reverberating through her chest making her heart skip a beat as he leaned in to kiss her cheek.
“Come on,” he sighed, pulling himself away from her. “Let’s get you back inside. Hopefully Rusl hasn’t snatched the last of the cookies, ‘cus you gotta try these.”
He took her hand in his, leading her back up the path towards the garden, the sound of snow crunching underfoot following them as they left the river and the shed behind.
The air was soft and quiet as they strolled through the gate. Lights shone in the windows, paper lanterns covered with glitter and held together with pipe cleaners. Children’s projects crafted at school and kept safe for decades. Zelda knew that Link had a lantern. Uli had placed it in the kitchen and, despite the fact that all the glitter had come off years ago, she’s still said it was one of her favourites. (Later, Rusl had explained why. It was the first lantern Link had made for them as a child. A keepsake from the first Solstice they shared as a family)
The idea of holding onto the past like that, cherishing the memories even though they were imperfect, felt foriegn and new to Zelda. The Hunters had built a family in this house, and filled their home with trinkets and knick knacks to remember the good times. Photos on the wall next to the stairs, artwork hanging on the fridge, Solstice cards hung on a string.
There was a card for her to. A simple one with a photo of a lantern on it. Inside it said “To Link, Zelda, & Naru. May light shine on you all. Love from Uli, Rusl, Colin, and Lula xxx” The children had signed their own names, Lula’s signature was hardly anything more than a squiggle and a lopsided smiley face. It was the most beautiful card Zelda had ever received.
Stopping just before the back door, in front of the plastic fountain, the chill air blowing through her with every gust or breeze, Zelda had an idea.
“Next year, can I get a jumper too?” Zelda had been trained on the piano and harp from a very young age, music was a language she knew better than most. She’d studied great pianists and opera singers, she’d poured over masterful compositions and plays their music every night before bed.
All of it paled in comparison to Link’s laughter.
Pure unadulterated joy, the kind of joy that only children can display, shone in his eyes. His lips turned up in a huge goofy grin.
“Next year? You wanna come back next year?” He asked, breathless from laughing and sheer disbelief.
Zelda feigned a nonchalant shrug, “I wanna be where you are.” she watched as Link’s expression turned awestruck, all of his breath rushing out in a sigh of white air.
“I’d love that.” He admitted, pulling her into a hug. “Next year.” She could feel his smile pressed against her shoulder, his heart pounding against her ribs.
“Next year.” She agreed