A/N: Sooooo, I revised this a little to make it a bit less cringeworthy, most notable is the change from first person to third person point of view. Please feel free to give your opinions on it and tell me if you see anything that needs to be corrected or improved upon.
Warning for two accounts of swearing!
Edited: November 9, 2014
"Seven lifetimes it's been…"
The walls rumbled and shook, as masonry fell from the ceiling. Grey dust kicked up as he sped through the corridor, focused and intent. From somewhere behind him there was a loud crack then a groan as something fell over. He swerved out of the way just in time to avoid the large pillar as it smashed into the ground, spreading spider-webbed cracks along the marble floor. He kept light on his feet as he continued to duck and dodge various other falling objects. Paintings were shaken from the walls, bits of marble flew as the floor began to give way.
Bit by bit the castle was falling apart…and they were still trapped inside.
Distantly, he could still hear the last echoes of Ganondorf's cruel laughter, haunting and real even after his demise. Link grit his teeth and worked to rid it from his mind. It was menacing. It taunted him, filled his thoughts with insecurities, made him realize the precarious situation he and Zelda were in. They were on one of the topmost floors in a castle that was more a tower. Two stairways had been blocked. He was riding on the chance that the southernmost one was still intact.
He never let it cross his mind that this time…this time they might not make it.
With Zelda injured and limp in his arms, their survival rested entirely on him.
A week ago he would have felt resentment at that notion. That she always managed to get herself captured, and he, as the hero, always had to rush in and save the day. He had considered her useless to him, something to lug around like an extra weight. She had been a burden, forcing him into danger while waiting patiently on the sidelines for him to succeed and then sending him off again. Remembering all those similar trials she put him through over their many lives, she'd become an annoyance. He had loathed her.
He frowned at the thought.
It wasn't until he had almost lost her that cold clarity had hit him smack in the face. Now he knew better. It hadn't been her fault, she hadn't chosen him for destiny, the Goddesses had. Just as they'd chosen her to guide him, they'd appointed him her protector, and he had foolishly rejected that duty.
She quivered uncontrollably in his arms, wracked with pain. Wrapped tight in his tattered cloak, she felt so small, so light, it was almost as if she wasn't even there.
They reached the southern stairway and Link sent a silent prayer to the Goddesses upon seeing it undamaged. Rapidly he started down them, skipping steps in his haste.
Another crash sounded and suddenly the steps started to collapse. One of the support beams beneath them must have broken apart, leaving them in a nice bit of trouble. He ran forward but came up short as the stairs began to crumble.
Tightening his hold on Zelda, he searched the area, breathing harshly.
"Shit! Hang on Zelda!"
Her response was a slight clenching of her hands as they grasped his tunic. It worried him that she had little breath for words, but he was somewhat allayed that she still had the strength for movement, even if it was minimal. She tucked her head, and breathed softly against his neck, a motion that without words conveyed the vastness of her trust in him.
It hurt. That she relied on him so much, even after all he'd done…
He had to get them out. He had to tell her how much she meant to him. That he regretted all those things he had said to her. They had to make it.
He grabbed hold of a sconce sticking out of the wall just as the stairs crumbled away. Agilely he swung to a nearby window, landing crouched on the sill, he climbed through the shattered glass and dropped down.
"Since we've started remembering…"
It was raining. Typical.
Menacing dark clouds loomed overhead, remnants of Ganondorf's malicious power.
He covered Zelda as best he could with the cloak, hiding away her face and hands from the stinging cold.
He landed precariously on the wooden scaffolding and hurried as carefully as he could along its slippery length.
The scaffolding had been used for the reconstruction of the outer ramparts, a part of the castle that had been almost demolished when Ganondorf first invaded.
It had been because of his pride and cockiness that he had let the Thief King come. So many times had he defeated him, singularly laid waste to his armies of moblins and stalfos, that he thought nothing of facing them again. He hadn't even considered that Ganondorf had been remembering too. That he was full aware of his reliving the legends, playing his part in an assigned cast set by the Goddesses. That he'd been learning from past mistakes, and improving as well.
Ganondorf had been determined that this time he'd be the last one standing.
"Each time we vanquished the evil…"
And it almost had been.
His foolishness and pride had gotten in the way; had cost them so many lives. He'd almost lost what he'd been sent to defend. A day it took for Hyrule to fall. Just a day. And in the space of a week Hyrule had nearly reached a state of total ruin, its people enslaved and monsters let loose over Hyrule to roam and kill freely.
Knowing his part, he had explored the temples, acquired the sacred items, and after a quarter year was ready to face the Thief King. Brash and impulsive, he had worked with Zelda as little as possible during this time and only dropped in occasionally to the freemen's camp where she had been hidden away, but never with the intent on seeing her.
She had warned him that his flippancy toward his duty would cause him to err. He'd take offence and always snap a sharp retort when she said this. To him she was insulting his skill and undervaluing his devotion to Hyrule.
But she'd been right.
He reached the end of the scaffolds and jumped, harried, onto the ramparts. Through the rain and mist he could make out the hordes of monsters in the bailey, running amuck and searching, having not yet realized that their overlord had perished.
Link crouched low and snuck along the wall. They greatly outnumbered him and although he could take them all at once on any other given day, right now he had someone to protect. Zelda was defenceless. He didn't want to risk her safety by being careless.
It seemed though that fortune was with them as they had yet to be spotted.
Zelda shivered more vigorously. The cloak had become soaked within seconds of being exposed to the elements and clung to her form like a second skin.
His ears twitched in warning and he quickly ducked beneath some planks as a group of moblins dashed down the ramparts to join their brethren in the search. Hunkered down, back pressed against cold stone, he waited fifteen seconds after the moblins had passed then darted out and continued looking for a way out.
Zelda released a low moan, her eyelids fluttering. Fearing that they might be heard he pressed her close, cheek resting on her forehead he felt how alarmingly cold she was. Soothingly he hushed her.
"Shhh," he reassured her. "Don't talk. Just…just don't worry. We're almost out…almost."
"It…h-hurts," she whimpered, her eyes squeezing shut.
He bit his bottom lip to keep himself in check. Thinking about what Ganondorf did to her…the reason she was in such pain… He would see to it that they emerged from this alive, for when Hyrule was reclaimed he'd resurrect the evil King and kill him again. Slowly and painfully.
Again he shushed her softly and cradled her head. He gently readjusted her in his hold, mentally wincing as she whimpered.
Time was short.
Puddles had amassed on the ramparts where the stone had not yet been repaired. Heedlessly he trod through them then jumped on the ledge overlooking the ravaged Castle Town. Once the pride and joy of Hyrule, the capital now lay in waste. Whole buildings were collapsed; others had been set aflame, burning even through the downpour.
He looked around him at the wasted castle, the burning town and the darkened fields beyond. He had done this. He had let it happen. All because of his foolish pride and arrogance.
He imagined what the reaction of the town's populace would be if they could see their homes now. They were gone, however. Killed, driven away, or run, terrified of that massive hordes that had brutally conquered them.
He'd find no help here.
The best luck there'd be was at Lake Hylia where the refugees and freemen had all run to. There was no chance that they would deny medicinal assistance to their Princess, their future Queen.
Link growled lowly. If only he hadn't used up all his red potions. What he wouldn't give for a healing fairy, or the great fairy herself.
Bracing himself, he launched into the air, casting Farore's wind to slow his descent and soften the landing.
"And each time afterwards…we had each other…"
They'd been spotted, as was inevitable, the light from Farore's wind having pierced the gloomy atmosphere like a telltale beacon. Atop the ramparts moblins had gathered, screaming in their language of clicks and shrieks, and pointing down at them.
He sent them a deadly glare and vanished down an alley just as a round of arrows thudded into the house behind where he'd been standing.
The streets of Castle Town turned out to be no less dangerous than the castle itself. Despite the fires and heady scent of death, monsters of all sorts were crawling about, preying on those weaker than them. Some were excited at the chaos and attacked whatever was in their range, while others, mostly those of the weak variety, converged in large groups and went out in mobs.
Stealth was the skill of asset now. Normally he was a natural, having on numerous occasions and in many lifetimes wandered out after dark to visit Zelda in her chambers during indecent hours, or avoided whatever guards stood sentinel in the corridors of Hyrule Castle and the various dungeons he had purged. However at the moment he had very little patience for such a tactic.
Zelda grew weaker with each second that passed. They had little time.
He rushed down the cobbled streets and alleys, ears pricked for the sound of lurking monsters. Upon rounding a corner he suddenly stopped short before he could collide into a vicious looking moblin. It heard him and quickly swerved around.
For a split second both stared at the other in a bemused sort of shocked state. Link was the first to recover and hastily darted back. He adjusted his hold on Zelda, freeing his left arm and whipping out his sword all in one motion.
He'd rather it didn't have to come to this, but if a fight must be had then he would gladly partake.
Angling his body to cover Zelda, he held out his sword threateningly, steely gaze unwavering.
The Moblin came out of its daze and raised its gnarled club, growling as it started forward. Link hunched low and blinked, sweeping rainwater from his eyes. Above the pounding rain his sharp ears detecting a faint clicking sound, but it drowned out beneath the moblin's growls. Again he heard it and his eyes widened in realization.
The moblin lunged and at that moment he sidestepped and spun around and switched their positions.
Stumbling to a stop, the moblin grunted in momentary confusion before something from above dropped out of the darkness onto the squealing moblin. Long-spindly legs and sharp dangerous pincers were put to use as the sculltula attacked its meal. The moblin continued to squeal and struggle. Dropping its club, it used its meaty fist to try bashing into the sculltula's armored back. The sculltula struck with its pincers and the moblin abruptly stilled, ichor spilling from its neck.
Link didn't hesitate to escape the scene. Sheathing his sword he wrapped his arms around Zelda, holding her more securely. He hoped she hadn't witnessed that.
"Link…," she spoke, voice soft and barely maintained above a whisper.
This time he was more cautious as he took the corner, making certain that the coast was clear before darting down the next street. "We're fine. It was just a minor scuffle, I hardly lifted a finger."
Silence. Then she spoke again, this time more steady as if she was really focusing to get the words out. "Link. Are you…are you still mad…at me?"
He released an involuntary laugh, thinking of all the things she could be asking of him she had to ask something like that. "Of course not. Why would I be? I would never be mad at you, Zelda. Never." His voice broke near the end, but both pretended they hadn't heard it.
She went on quietly. "You were…that day…in the courtyard. You were with Mell…" she sighed.
His breath caught in his throat as a cold unpleasant feeling settled in his stomach. There was no way of not knowing what day she was referring to. The day he had created that rift between them, when he'd most literally shoved her out of his life.
It was four months ago, the day he most regretted. Unbidden the memory drifted to the forefront of his mind.
"We'd marry...we'd have children…we'd age…"
The afternoon had grown lovely as the sun lit the ground with its soft caressing glow. It caused everything to radiate, the flowers, the trickling water of the fountain, and her.
Her name was Mell and he had been infatuated with her ever since setting eyes on her. She was a spritely thing, possessing a dashing smile, set with lush full lips, curvaceous figure and elegant brown tresses that ran down her back in curls, framing her face and enhancing the sparkle of her eyes.
She was a highly desired catch among the noblemen, and with her wealth and title in addition to her beauty is wasn't hard to see why. Many, however, were disconcerted and more than upset that out of all the available doting young suitors that came calling, she had chosen him, a simple peasant who had gained rank through soldier training. With her looks and dainty smiles she had easily drawn Link in pursuit.
Seeing her looking so resplendent amongst the flowers Link snuck up on her and surprised her by fastening his arms around her waist. Realizing who it was, she smiled in greeting.
"You know," she said as she looked up to meet his eyes. "People have begun to talk about us. Rumors of a most heinous nature have been spreading. It really is quite shocking."
Link quirked a brow. "Oh? And what may these rumors be?"
She turned her head away to overlook the pond and flashed a glowing smile. "You are from the outskirts, correct? They say that that is a questionable area. They believe that you used dark sorcery to make me enamored with you."
Link scoffed. What an absurd notion. "And you listen to them?"
She stepped out of his hold and began to walk among the hyacinths. "Well, it is difficult not to," she said plainly, "especially when they make no effort to be inconspicuous about it. They mean for me to hear."
"And do you believe them?" he asked, edging around the floral arrangement as he followed her.
She shrugged, an amused smile tugging at her lips. "I imagine I wouldn't be able to tell either way. The fact is that whether it is to be believed or not, I still adore you, by my own will or under the influence of magic, I might never know."
"T'is magic, I assure you," he said casually, to which she grinned at him.
"You jest," she accused, voice full of amusement.
He smiled in relent. "Alas, once again the lady is correct."
"They also say," she continued on, "and this I find most ridiculous, that our souls have become corrupt by demons and if a union should occur we shall be dragged to the dark realm."
"Ridiculous indeed," said Link, approaching her and taking her hands in his. "And how they would mourn eternally for your precious soul upon its loss." Then he added fleetingly. "Of course, mine is expendable…unfortunately. None but the ladies would care should it be damned."
She giggled lightly. "Oh, stop it sir. A life is a life, and none is any less than another. Even those of the nobility recognize that."
He gave a wide grin. "I shall take your word for it, my Lady, for I shall not take theirs."
He then made to pull her into an embrace, but she laughed and zipped away across the beds of hyacinths. His eyes trained on her. She really did look lovely, her gown a soft lilac color with an ornate white floral pattern on the bodice, blended splendidly with the flowers, as if she were one of them.
He made to reach for her again and again she darted away, laughing giddily. "You know, you've been courting me these last few months. Out of everyone, out of all my suitors, I just knew it had to be you."
He smiled and slowly stalked towards her, coming in at an angle lest she try to flee again. "Yes, as you've mentioned many times. And forever shall I be grateful for the humble generosity bestowed upon this lowly peasant."
She backed away even as he moved forward, step for step, until she reached the fountain and quickly circled around it. "Stop that! It's not you."
"What?" he asked, feigning innocence. "Speaking like a noble?"
"Yes," she moved parallel to him as they danced around the fountain, her in avoidance, him in predator mode.
"As the Lady wishes," Link smiled wickedly.
She was instantly on the alert and she quickly turned tail and ran as he vaulted onto the fountain and dashed through the waters. Although she had a head start, his legs were longer and swifter. In seconds he had her snagged around the waist. He raised her feet off the ground and spun her, eliciting a laugh from her.
Setting her down, she stumbled a bit, having become dizzy. "I have yet to reach my point," she said, trying to compose herself.
He cupped her cheek, leaning in. "And that is?"
She nuzzled into his hand, placing her own overtop it, she gazed at him with wondering eyes. "When?"
"When?" he mimicked, genuinely perplexed.
She blinked slowly and pressed. "When are you going to finally propose to me?"
Link was caught by surprise, the automatic response forming at his lips was 'never', but then he paused. Why ever not? What was preventing him from asking for her hand? That answer was obvious: Zelda. Marriage to anyone but his princess was practically unfathomable. But since he'd taken all this time to court Mell, perhaps it was about time he asked the life-altering question.
"And how should I propose to you?" he drawled. "Beneath the twilight on bended knee? Or perhaps down by lake Hylia. It offers such a splendid view, and no doubt the scenery would match your beauty."
Mell blushed a rosy hue and smiled softly. "To tell you the truth, I've never been fond of all that romantic nonsense. I do not want you to make a big scene or to plan it perfectly to the very last detail. If you were to propose to me, I would much prefer it to be on a normal day, perhaps while we were taking a walk…in the gardens. Then suddenly, you would hold me close," her eyes darted to his lips and Link licked them in anticipation, "and you whisper in my ear…"
He dropped his head until his nose caressed the curve of her round human ear, nuzzling it slightly. He whispered lowly. "And what should I say?"
Distantly there was the call of his name. His ears flicked on recognition of the voice and he ignored it. He was enjoying himself too much to be distracted by annoyances.
Mell sighed softly and wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders. "You'd tell me how much you love me. How much I mean to you, that you'd die without me and you'd die for me. You'd ask me to be the love of your life, forever and for always, even in death, we'd be together."
His breath hitched at her last declaration, but then steadied it unwaveringly. He pulled her closer and delicately kissed down her cheek and along her neck. She tilted her head to accommodate him, sighing in bliss.
It was then that he turned her face to fully confront his and kissed her directly. His movements were fluid as heated passion burned through their veins, inhaling her scent of lilies and cream, half anticipating that of roses and lushwood.
The distant cry of his name almost pulled him out of that special moment. It called closer and louder.
Their lips parted and they engaged in a battle of tongues, intertwining and persistent, saliva mixing as their heated mouths drew apart. They stood a moment, chests heaving and pressed against one another, foreheads together as they gazed into each other's eyes. Her's, saying without words of her adoration for him, and his…
Parting quickly, they at once turned their attention to the newcomer, the Princess of Hyrule herself. Link bowed while Mell delivered a hasty curtsy.
Zelda looked as if she had run a mile, chest rapidly heaving, a hand pressed against it to help slow her breathing, the other busy with smoothing back stray tendrils of hair. She looked over the two of them then locked her eyes with Link.
"Link, what in Hyrule are you doing?" she asked calmly, but he could clearly detect the hint of upset in her voice. He didn't let that bother him as much as it should have. He was more annoyed at her interruption.
"Kissing," he replied nonchalantly. "It is part of what courtship entails. Right, my Lady?"
Mell glanced up at him and smiled brightly. "Of course, my sweet."
Link flinched at the sound of the pet name Mell had chosen for him. It was overly endearing and not something he liked. No matter, he held back his displeasure in order to keep her happy.
Annoyed, he sent Zelda a peeved look. "Is there anything you wanted, your highness?"
The look she sent him was cold and overall unpleasant to be subject to. Link inwardly scoffed. Why was she acting so offended? She had walked in on them, butting into their affairs and demanding undue attention.
She cleared her throat and stood a little straighter. When she addressed him it was with aplomb. "I am afraid that I shall have to cut your afternoon…leisure activities, short as I require your assistance, Link. Now. Please."
Sighing, he shook his head with forbearance. So demanding. Sometimes she could be quite the nuisance, he found. Could she never leave off?
"She seems awfully trite," Mell whispered to him with some measure of cynicism, hands folded neatly in front of her. "What think you? Agitated? Undergarments in a twist?"
He couldn't help but smile at her remarks then grasped her hand in his, whispering just as lowly. "Well then let us go see if I can somehow untwist them." At her piercing gaze he rushed to add, "not in that way, my love. I shall return shortly."
He felt Mell's lingering gaze at his back as he went to Zelda, who seemed to have turned a nice shade of rose. Her ears twitched ever so slightly and Link could only assume that she'd heard that bit of conversation.
He forced a grin on his face and before he could proffer his arm to her she spun on her heels, walking at fast pace down the rows of hedges, sweeping past the courtyard and entering the castle proper.
Following at a respectable distance, he kept watch on the back of her head, admiring the elegant updo before casting his eyes around. He nodded at each passing guard with due respect while smiling with mocking jeer at the nobles. Those polished men dressed in finery viewed him with contempt, the older ladies, prim and proper, turned their noses up at him, while the younger trailed him with their eyes. He wasn't at all ignorant of the fact that he possessed looks that were considered stunning to most, nor was he ignorant of the effect they had on others. He gave a few winks as he passed, but nothing more, after all, he was committed.
They arrived in due time at their destination. Zelda's office was large and spacious, fitted with grander tastes in mind. The mark of the triforce littered nearly every item, from each corner of her desk to the sills above the window. A coat of arms hung on the wall above a great wing-backed chair designed to seat the build of a man. It bore the crest of the royal family, a golden bird, wings splayed, talons outstretched and the trifroce resting where its head should be.
He stepped in without hesitance, rocking on his heels, hands clasped behind his back as he waited expectantly. The door shut with a soft click and after a while of no movement, he turned to look at Zelda by the door. She had her head bowed, face shadowed by her fringe. She lifted her gaze and met his eyes with a look that he had never seen before. Something like determination mixed in with frustration and contempt. It boggled him.
He had noticed they'd become distant lately with each other, but not too distant that he hadn't seen subtle changes in her. It hadn't been hard to notice her more morose disposition and sudden loss of weight lately. Could the girl not even look after herself? So dependent she was.
"Link," she said softly, almost dourly.
He squared his shoulders brusquely. "Could you please get to the point, Zelda, I have more important matters that require my attention," he said flippantly, somewhat impatient to leave. The room suddenly felt overwhelmingly stifling, and he wanted to escape it post-haste.
She froze, snapping her eyes up to fixate coldly on him. "Are you quite finished?"
"Finished what?" he asked her nonplussed. Really, she did have a roundabout way of saying things.
"Playing these silly games?" she shot, stomping over behind her desk, she stood before her chair. "I consider myself very patient and understanding, long have I watched your infatuation with this girl grow and I concede that I have become quite a bit…concerned."
"Concerned?" he repeated, "about what?"
"About your lack of consideration," she replied, sitting down and placing her elbows up on the desk, fingers interlacing. "And your intentions. I've known you as an honorable man, it has never struck me that you'd be one to play around, as it were."
He stiffened as he gazed at her in confusion, bordering on disbelief. "Excuse me?"
She scoffed and turned her head to the side. "This game that you play with the countess needs to end. Sooner, rather than later. I can only imagine the heartache you'll put her through should you delay it long enough."
This was fast getting out of hand. Did she think that his affections toward Mell were a passing fancy? "You believe that I'm leading her on, don't you."
She sighed, looking up at him. "I am not mad at you for that, just…frustrated. You let her cling too closely."
"Mad at me?" he said, something indignant welling up inside him.
"Furthermore I believe that it is nigh time we formalize our union in this era," she said placidly. "With you as my King and partner you'd be placed in a more advantageous position to counter the oncoming darkness."
One word stuck with him. "Marriage? To you?"
"It is only the formalities," she went on, ignorant of his mounting anger. "We are basically already wed."
"You want me to reject Mell and marry you?"
Her eyes hardened as she looked at him. "Is that so difficult a concept to understand? Yes, reject her, and marry me."
Now this fanned his rage unlike anything else. Reasonably so. How dare that…that presumptuous little... "I'm afraid you are under a misconception of a sort," he said, with steady control. "This seems to be a one-sided decision made, you have yet to ask the opinion of the other party involved."
Zelda stammered for a moment then narrowed her eyes. "That – I didn't think…" she inhaled, "you are my husband."
"Not in this lifetime!" he shot suddenly, angrily. She jumped in shock at his harsh tone then glared at him.
"I've indulged you these past few months," she hissed lowly. "Since regaining our memories and our subsequent reunion I've been more than fair to you. I granted us both time to adjust, to settle properly into this era, saying nothing when you squandered your time on petty simplicities. It is enough; it is time you set your frivolities aside and attend to your duties. Already there are rumors of a darkness approaching from the east across the marshes. I believe that it is none other than Ganondorf."
His fists clenched as he grit his teeth. "I understand now," he said abruptly "You are acting under the preconception that we are still wed. That our marriage from our previous lives has carried on into this incarnation of our selves. That is where this attitude comes from." He then relayed clearly and with a tinge of disdain. "Allow me to reiterate: not in this lifetime."
She blinked at him in shock, mouth opening and closing, not knowing what to say. At length she said dimly, "But I thought-"
"What?" he spat with cool formality. "That I'd propose to you again? That I would desire to have you in this life?" He paced across the room to the hearth and placed a hand on the mantle, turning his head to stare out the window. "Let us speculate for a moment. What if – perchance – I wanted someone else? What if I no longer wanted you?"
"Link, what are you saying?" she breathed, alarmed.
Idly he tapped his finger on the stonework and looked out over the grounds. Her study offered a wonderful view of the courtyard. "Mell is a pretty thing isn't she. Kind and talented in all manner of things. Suppose I should want her…"
"Through life and death, Link!" she yelled, shooting up off her chair, her eyes acquiring a ferocious gleam. "Forever… that was in our vows, all of them, all those lifetimes…"
He snorted. "Lifetimes, too many if you ask me."
She blinked, surprise flashing over her face. "What?"
He shook his head and stepped away from the hearth, walking up to the desk. He leaned over and Zelda started back. Hitting the edge of the large wing-backed chair, she fell into it. He gave her his most severe look yet, filled with silent warning.
"That's the problem, that we have lifetimes, and it's always with you," he growled vehemently, for once not caring what effect his words might have on her. She was a spoiled bratty Princess, one who needed to be knocked off her throne – or rather her father's, since his death she had yet to claim it.
"I do tire of this shackle you represent," he said without emotion. "Marry you? Is that a requirement after saving Hyrule each and every time? To be pegged down and tied to you, unable to escape. I tire of the glares and cruel remarks I receive at court, all the looks of disapproval and the not so subtle whisperings behind my back. Yet you wouldn't have noticed these things, would you? Too enamored with your own life, everything turning out exactly the way you wanted."
"No matter the laws you pass and how well you mediate between those of higher and lower status, nothing has changed. They all resent me merely because I am of a lower class, they never fully accept me as their King. Even now, in this era vastly more advanced than the last, they still don't. The highborn are prejudice, that is something never to be cured. Mostly, though, I tire of you."
He gazed at her tellingly, uncaring of the budding tears in her eyes. His thoughts were on Mell and ending this little encounter so that he could return to her. He steeled himself to Zelda's feelings; they no longer mattered. What mattered was getting his point across. It was enough; she would no longer have this control on his life. He wasn't a mindless being at her beck and call.
He was his own person, and she'd damn well know about it by the end of this. He would fulfill his role as hero - there was no escaping that - then be done with her and live out his life in peace for a change.
"Link…I'm…I'm sorry," she whispered after a pause, tears beginning to cascade down her face.
Link only snorted in derision. "Oh certainly. Sorry for all that you had me endure," he said coldly, straightening to full height and she winced at the glare he sent her. "Sorry is but a word. It does not make up for all those times I risked life and limb for you and your country."
He snorted mockingly. "A fine monarch you make. Unable to ever hold onto your own lands and protect your own people. And when all is lost you send in me to conquer dungeon after dungeon, to face horrific beasts and undergo unimaginable peril. Are none of your gallant knights suitable enough to lend their aid? Was it always necessitated that I did everything myself? Because I was your precious hero?"
He slammed his hands down on the mahogany and she jumped in fright. "Just…shut up! It never concerned you what lengths I had to go through to save Hyrule. My health and safety was unimportant to you as long as I came out alive and virtually undamaged. I was a tool at your disposal and you never hesitated to use me."
Her face was one of aghast. "Link, I never thought of you as such!"
He shook my head in disappointment. "Unfortunately you did, and still do. Did you not just hear yourself? Me as King, not for an offer of love, but as a settlement. It is all tactical planning."
Zelda maintained a silence, sniffing audibly whilst digging her fingernails into the armrests. She shook as she cried, and like the merciless cad that he was, he drew satisfaction from that sight. At last, she understood. The release of all this resentment and scorn he'd kept bottled up over the years was alleviating.
Now she knew and now she could do whatever it was that pleased her with the information. He was done.
Link took a moment to flatten his fringe and fix the slight ruffles of his tunic. Abruptly he turned on his heels and strode out the door, his patience spent. Mell was waiting…
He spoke over his shoulder to her, one last word of parting. "I plan to propose to Mell. You may imprison me, exile me, or whatever petty little act of revenge you wish to plan. But just so you know, it is not always you."
He left her. Out in the hallway he could hear her break out into loud sobs from behind the door.
He frowned, heart clenching, then scoffed. Undignified, that's what it was.
Fixing a smile on his face he started back toward the gardens, each step making him feel more weighted and dreadful than the last.
He hadn't known then the true trials of love. He hadn't known that all this time he'd been taking for granted what was always there.
"We'd be together…"
He firmed himself against that torturous memory. How easily it wracked his heart with agony and regret.
Mell, he had later realized, had been used to get back at Zelda. She'd been a subconscious ploy to cause Zelda pain and distress. He was despicable for using Mell that way, and ten times more for ever wanting to cause harm to Zelda.
"I'm sorry, Zelda," he said silently. "I'm so so sorry…"
But as he had said that day, sorry was just a word. It could do nothing to make up for all the dreadful things he had said.
She hissed as he accidentally jostled her too harshly. He whispered another apology and kissed her brow, praying for the Goddesses to spare her.
He thought back to the battle with Ganondorf.
It had begun like any other duel against him. Strength was matched with strength, agility with agility, but it was inevitable that Link with the Master Sword overcame him and his stolen power. But then it all changed just as the fight was nearing its conclusion. Ganondorf must have seen that history was about to repeat itself because he'd managed to hold Link off a moment longer, just for a second, he'd pushed Link back then turned on Zelda.
She'd been in battle with him. For once not holding off on the sidelines while he'd gone to meet the evil King. She had fought alongside him. Rather than keep her distance armed with bow and arrow, this time she'd taken it upon herself to display her vast knowledge of swordplay and use it against the Thief King. He'd been amazed. Zelda's sudden zeal and drive to do more than she'd ever done had been inspiring, he had become confident at the austere manner with which she'd approached him.
Goddesses, had this all happened just mere hours ago?
He'd admired her then, although he hadn't had the chance to tell her. Just the sight of her, expression set in determination, a hard steel to her eyes, decisive and unwavering, had filled him with pride. He had felt that with her he could do anything.
His admiration for her had only grown when she had looked to him, and rather than conveying anger or bitterness towards him, her eyes had exuded respect. He remembered her holding out her hand and smiling, asking him if he would assist her, as if she were the hero, as if she was allowing him the choice to walk away with no regrets.
And he had taken it.
They'd fought brilliantly together, incorporating their distinct styles and skill sets to work marvelously in tandem with one another. She with her lither physique and swiftness virtually danced around the much larger Gerudo, taking advantage of his larger size and slower movements to strike then dart out of the way, adding a blast or two of magic. Although not as quick as Zelda, Link had been efficient and managed to make every blow count.
In combination they'd been a force to contend with, and Ganondorf had been battered mercilessly, overwhelmed and overpowered. His last act had been one of desperation and vengeance.
It burned vividly in his mind.
Ganondorf had at that last moment changed his battle tactic. Instead of meeting Link head on, he had feinted his strike and instead gone to her. His focus had been on Zelda.
It had happened in a split second and afterwards... Link had been consumed by horror at the sight. Ganondorf's monstrous sword plunged to the hilt through her abdomen, blood spilling down the black blade sticking out of her back. Her mouth had fallen in shock, body frozen. Ganondorf had grinned and then brutally yanked it out, he'd stood over her body, clutching a wound to his side and erupted in loud laughter.
Time had slowed as Link had watched her fall, hitting the floor, blood seeping everywhere. The instant she'd touched the ground, time resumed, and he'd gone into a rage.
He had exerted no restraint as he slashed at the Evil King, barraging him over and over in his attack. The manic man had been laughing, as if he were the true victor, even when Link's sword had finally been thrust deep within his skull, Ganondorf had smiled as he disintegrated and faded away into darkness.
"And then the cycle would start anew…."
"I – I'm sorry," she said softly, her eyes swelling with tears that spilled over and streamed down her face. "Ev-everything…is my…my fault…"
Link soothed her, whispering words of soft rebuttal while stroking his thumb over her arm. "Don't say that. I don't blame you for anything. I was wrong. You've always been there for me and I…" he grit his teeth. "Please hold on, Zelda."
He pressed against a wall as a gang of moblins ran past, shrieking wildly. He could see the gates from here past the rooftops. They were almost at the end, almost out. Then he could tend to her. She required a better bandage than the torn cloth he'd hastily wrapped around her middle. She needed to be bathed and given red potions, a whole batch of them.
He would see to it that she made it to Lake Hylia alive.
Kissing the top of her head, he rushed across the street to the next alley, hastily darting into the shadows.
Almost there, just a little longer.
"But never did I consider…"
A cold shock shot through him at the sight before him. A stack of furniture barred their way. A barricade, created by the villagers when the moblins and other beasts had first invaded. It posed a hindrance to them now; piled two stories high it would be a dangerous climb, if that were an option.
He'd have to backtrack and find a different route. But there were bound to be more barricades around here, and he couldn't keep lugging Zelda around with him everywhere, so much movement would bleed her out.
With firm resolve he made up his mind. It would be quicker if he went alone. He'd find a path then return for her.
Bending down he moved to place her near a pile of rubble. She fisted her hands in his tunic and clung on tightly, fearing the motion entailed that danger was approaching. Gently Link pried her away.
"I have to leave you here, but only for a short while," he explained, looking her in the eye and making sure she understood. "I have to scout around a bit. I won't take long. I'll be back soon, just wait…wait for me here. And whatever you do don't fall asleep. You mustn't close your eyes. I want you to tell yourself the tale of the Goddesses then retell it to me when I get back."
He adjusted some of the debris to better shroud her in darkness, enclosing her in a small niche of crates and boxes. He fastened the cloak more firmly around her then leaned one of the broken boxes against another so that she could have some semblance of a shelter. The ledge of the building shielded them somewhat from the rain, but the wind blew it at an angle.
It frightened him how little she responded. Breaths escaping in weary gasps, her eyes were half-lidded as they looked at him, pleading with him.
He could feel his soul render in two. It took immense effort to step away from her. "I'll be back."
Before he could change his mind he struck down the alley, faltering at the sound of her feeble voice calling for him. Heart pounding with urgency he hurried out into the streets.
Everywhere he went there were those damned blockades. He was fast becoming frustrated before finally he found an open route, a lone forgotten avenue that had been neglected during the siege.
He ran quickly back to Zelda, heart palpitating frantically in his chest, consumed with panicked worry. He did not know for how long he had left her alone, but he couldn't help but worry that it had been too long. That he'd return and find her in cold death.
He let out a breath of relief when he found her just as he'd left her. He crouched down next to her, smiling when she looked at him. Carefully he picked her up retraced his steps to the avenue.
"L-Link…the story of the Goddesses…" she said tiredly.
Swiftly he brought his lips to her, silencing her, tasting fresh tears and blood. "Not now. Later. Promise me you'll tell me later."
Her shivering had increased and she no longer had the strength to hold onto him as she'd done previously. Her hands were limp against his chest, fingers immobile.
"Come on," he said softly. "We're almost out of here. Just a bit longer."
"What would happen …"
It happened in a flash. Down one of the main streets, Link's foot hit something thick and heavy, causing him to trip and nearly topple over. He staggered before steadying himself, looking down to see a bleached white stick. He realized belatedly that it was actually a bone. Piles of them lay strewn about the shadows, arrayed in such a way that it appeared to be somehow organized.
Instantly he knew what they were. Stalfos.
With a swirl of wind and rattling of bones, the stalfos reconstructed themselves, forming the gruesome figures of fleshless skeletons.
Link grit his teeth. He didn't have time for this. He'd have to outrun them.
He tore down the street, aware of the beasts at his heels stumbling after him. They were rigid and slow, he had no fear that they'd catch up to him, what worried him was the harm all this running would cause to Zelda's wound. Now that he was ambling full pelt she was being jostled more, as her small moans of pain attested.
She groaned as Link veered around a corner. So silent and weak. He realized they might not make it to Lake Hylia, she wouldn't last that long. He'd have to head to one of the slave camps in Hyrule field where a massive revolt should be taking place. He'd arranged the details with the freemen who would ride in and attack from the outside as the slaves rioted within. They'd have won by now, surely. They'd have doctors to take care of the injured and sick.
Zelda emitted one last shuddering gasp and then fell still, eyes closing. Shocked and frightened, Link came to an abrupt halt and gently shook her, heedless of the impending danger.
"Zelda? Zelda!" Panic took him and he shook her harder. He caught his breath as her eyes lazily fluttered open and peered up at him. "Zelda," he breathed, burying his face in her hair. He realized that his shoulders were shaking.
She made a heroic attempt at a smile, the gesture reassuring. "I'm sorry…you have to do this…that I burden you so…and that you always…have…have to save me…"
He growled. "Stop. Stop apologizing. You've done nothing to be sorry for," he intoned fiercely, reorienting himself and shooting down another path. "I let this happen. I failed Hyrule; failed you."
"No Link…you didn't…" she sighed.
"If…one of us…"
The drawbridge had long been broken down, Ganondorf's first act upon arrival. It spoke miles of his foul mannerism. Link was grateful for it now. If it had been whole and in repair it would have most likely been drawn up and he'd be forced to go through all sorts of additional hardships to find a way out.
"Look, Zelda," he coaxed, spirit bolstered. "Hyrule field. Can you see it? Just a few more minutes and we'll be out."
Zelda hummed her delight, fixing her hazy gaze ahead at the expanse of greenery, slightly greyed by the overcast showers.
Link hastened his pace. He could feel the warmth of her blood as it seeped into his tunic. His face paled as he realized that in all that rushing her wound had reopened.
Something suddenly collided with his shoulder and he stumbled, loosing his grip. Zelda flew out of his arms and gave a small cry as she hit the ground hard, rolling over twice before stilling, head lolling and body limp.
Terror clutched him with its spiny tendrils, threatening to reap him apart from the inside. "Zelda!"
Rain dotted her form, and he could see the puddle that she half-lay in slowly start to stain red.
He launched at her but had to duck away as a thick arm appeared in his vision, making a grab for him. Swiftly he turned to face his assailant, placing himself between him and Zelda. A hulking moblin stood before him. It hesitated as it eyed Link warily as he drew his sword.
Slowly Link backed up then crouched close to Zelda, noting to his ever growing horror that she was fully unconscious.
"Zelda?" he prompted, willing her to hear him. "Zelda, wake up. Please, you must wake up."
Heavy footsteps arrived, accompanied by the clanking of armor and rattling bones. Link narrowed his searing gaze at the foe that now barred his path, a black-armored iron knuckle, followed by a mob of stalfos.
One-handedly he gently picked Zelda up and took a step back, sword bared in warning. "Your master has fallen," he said darkly, hissing through his teeth. "You no longer have reason to be here. It would be wise of you to leave."
The iron knuckle stepped forward, heavy footfalls clanking on the cobbles. "A threat," its deep resounding voice boomed over the downpour. "A foolish one at that. We have you at our mercy. Now, hand over the maiden, and come with us quietly."
He clutched Zelda more tightly to him and barred his teeth in a vicious snarl. "Did you not hear me? Your King has fallen! The rebels shall soon be arriving. If you wish to save your filthy hides you'd do as I say."
"You believe the mighty Ganondorf has been felled?" said the iron knuckle. "What lies."
"I speak the truth," defended Link. "I slew him myself." He gave a snide smile. "It was easy."
"Rubbish! As if our great King would fall to the likes of you!" The iron knuckle gave a sharp hand signal and the stalfos charged forward in attack.
Holding Zelda firmly, Link bent his knees and countered.
It felt gratifying shattering all those bones, splitting them into pieces, and decapitating heads. While he fought he kept the iron knuckle in his vision. Standing off to the side, keeping himself uninvolved, he stood like a statue, silently overseeing the battle.
Link became an unstoppable force. So enthused was he that the slices and cuts he received became nothing. He felt neither cold nor pain, only a rage so heated it engulfed him. Once one enemy fell he was quick to move onto the next and the next, all the while constantly keeping his body at an angle that offered the most protection to Zelda. He would let none of them touch her.
He grew frustrated as the battle progressed and there was no end in sight. There were always more stalfos to take the place of the ones who had fallen. They were wasting time!
Link felt his heart stop as Zelda came awake in his arms. Grey eyes hazily blinked open and filled with surprise as she registered what was happening. He could hardly contain his joy as he grinned in relief. She hadn't given up yet, and even now, surrounded by enemies, there was still hope.
"Link..." she murmured quietly.
He didn't answer her, to concentrated on keeping them both alive. He felt renewed determination and boosted his efforts in staving off the enemy.
Before long, however, he was overwhelmed. The exhaustion of constant fighting and fleeing over the past few hours, added with the fight against Ganondorf, drained him. He became sloppy and the stalfos honed in on that, attacking with renewed vigor.
One managed a direct hit to the base of his head, another succeeded and catching his wrist and sending the Master Sword flying. Link called upon courage, but his body could not sustain it, the triforce did not react.
Link collapsed, brought to his knees. He enfolded Zelda in his arms, shielding her as the stalfos besieged them.
Instead of the feeling of metal against flesh, Link felt the many skeletal hands grab him. It took only a second to realize that they were forcing them apart.
He curled himself around her, clutching her tight and ignoring the bones digging into his flesh as they tried to pull his arms away. Then a scream rent the air, terrified and pained. A stalfos had grabbed Zelda by the arm and yanked harshly.
Snarling like a caged wolf, Link struggled and bucked, trying to fend them off.
"Link!" Zelda cried out, looking up at him with scared grey eyes.
A pair of stalfos grabbed him, one arm each, and forcefully pulled them apart. He fought against them, but his strength was waning. To his horror there was nothing he could do. Another stalfos snatched her up from him. Hoisting her in its bony arms, it carried her over to the iron knuckle.
Link felt his heart rend as she looked back at him, eyes wide and pleading.
He grit his teeth, eyes filling with pain, and cursed. There was nothing he could do! Nothing!
"Link…" She reached for him, hand suspended midair over her captor's clavicle.
"Zelda!" One last shot of adrenaline coursed through him as he struggled against the stalfos, managing to tear one arm away before it faded and he was once again restrained.
He watched in dread as Zelda was presented to the iron knuckle, who was chuckling delightedly.
"We're to die early…"
"Princess of destiny indeed," grumbled the iron knuckle lowly. "A fatal destiny it seems. You're practically dead as it were."
Zelda flinched as the iron knuckle trailed a finger along her face, down her cheek then drifted it towards her wound and pushed his finger in harshly. She screamed out hoarsely, writhing, body wracked with pain.
Link jerked against his captors. "Zelda!" He growled and hissed. "Don't touch her! Get the fuck away from her!"
The iron knuckle withdrew his finger and observed the glistening digit. The blood was slowly being washed away by the rain. He rubbed his thumb against it, watching as it dribbled on the dark leather. Zelda panted, quivering, her eyes unfocussed.
"Zelda?" Link breathed tentatively, pained with concern. She was at her last. And even as his eyes confirmed it, his mind and heart were set firmly in denial.
"There's no use in keeping this one," the iron knuckle went on. "Might as well end her torment now. An act of mercy, if you will."
Link's eyes widened. "No," he shouted, tormented. "No! No don't!"
Zelda turned her head to gaze at him, suddenly focused and clear, as if in her last moments of desperation she was allotted that clarity. The triforce on his hand weakly pulsed as it sensed the use of its sister. Zelda used the last of her strength to activate her triforce.
Tears welled up in his eyes, trailing in rivulets down his face. His breath hitched as her eyes landed on him, reflecting insurmountable strength and courage. He sobbed and struggled futilely, seeing her demonstrating all the heroics that marked a true triforce bearer was more than he could bear.
"Zelda," he cried, voice filled with anguish.
The iron knuckle raised his sword, but Zelda paid it no heed. Her entire focus was on Link. "We'll meet again…in the next life…I'll wait for you there."
Link suddenly jerked forward, yanking his captors off balance. More were quick to grab on. "Wait! No, Zelda!" he cried out, then said desperately, "Marry me! Marry me when this is over!"
Surprise flashed across her eyes before she gave him a despondent smile. "Link…"
The blade came down, slicing through flesh and bone as it pierced her heart. Her head jerked back and her chest thrust forward in a reflexive response. Slowly, her eyes misted over until they became blank, her form grew limp in the stalfos' hold. She was dropped to the ground uncaringly, head flopping and blood spilling.
Link gazed at her through a clouded vision, body sagging in despair. The iron knuckle then approached the body. Nudging her with the toe of his boot he rolled her over onto her back then planted a foot on her stomach, pressing it down and squeezing out more blood.
Link felt bile rise to his throat. The iron knuckle bore down on him with glittering yellow eyes.
He jerked his head. "Take this one to the dungeons. Give him our most generous accommodations. I'm sure King Ganondorf will be thrilled to receive him."
Link was trapped in a frozen shock; the world seemed to glaze over in icy coldness, all the warmth sapped from it. The stalfos started to drag him off towards the castle and suddenly he snapped awake. Disregarding the screams of his aching body, he struggled fiercely in an attempt to break free.
"Unhand me!" he snarled, lashing out with arms and legs. "Zelda!"
Fighting to hold him down, the stalfos dug in their fingers and bent his arms. With a jerking twist Link managed to wrench away from the one on his right and steal the sword from the one behind him. Before he could make use of it his arm was grabbed, wrist squeezed until the limb failed and he was forced to relinquish it.
His arms were folded behind his back as they forced him to march forward. He persisted in his struggling, desperately twisting his head back to glimpse Zelda's dwindling figure.
She was gone… She was truly gone…
And he wouldn't see her again until their next rebirth.
"Zelda?" he sobbed, and then cried out, "ZELDA!"
"And what if…"
It was only a week that he spent, chained in the dungeons of the half demolished castle, although it felt like an eternity. He had been placed in the lowest and dankest cell, isolated from the outside by a thick metal door opposite to his cage. He had to be force fed is meals, as he was mentally and physically incapable of doing anything but hang there from his shackles, staring blankly at the ground.
He kept reminiscing on that day, those long months ago. What he'd said to her, the pain he must have brought her, forced to watch as he courted another woman. Pettiness, that's all it was. He'd been bitter and petty, wanting to get back at her for something that wasn't her fault.
Then one day the guards didn't come. He didn't eat. The next day his door clanged open and Hylian scouts entered his cell, having scoured every crevice to eliminate the remaining monsters in the castle and to free all the prisoners. They'd instantly recognized him and informed him that the slaves had been liberated and the rest of Hyrule was being freed as they spoke. They took him away from the castle, placing him in the temporary sick bay in the field to be treated.
He rested and healed. It was some days later that one of the rebel commanders mentioned, with some hesitance, that there had been a dispute about directly mounting an attack on Castle Town, and it had been the sight of their beloved Princess skewered on a pole above the drawbridge that had incited them to action.
Link had taken that moment to empty his stomach.
Her body had since then been rescued and tended to, and at her funeral, more than a few people had erupted in uncontrollable wails. Link felt more of a failure at that moment than any other time in the history of Links. He had stood there, in the shadows in the back, neither saying a word, nor shedding a tear.
Nobody blamed him. That's what they said. But he could feel their disappointed gazes on him whenever he passed them in the streets. The townsfolk muttering in utter sadness and the nobles gazing pityingly at him, as if he was the most tragic love story in existence.
He had soon learned that Mell had survived the takeover. She had returned once the rebuilding was well underway and the construction had been finished on most houses. She'd searched for him, but he kept purposefully away from her.
There was one time he had passed her at the market and he had swiftly drawn his hood, sinking into the shadows. She'd walked past without batting an eye, and all he could think of at that moment was that Zelda would have known it was him. She would have recognized his posture and the bearing with which he held himself. Mell, however only saw a stranger. He made sure to disappear from her life, to never be seen by her again.
Sometimes he wanted it all to end. He'd actively go out searching for danger, taking foolish risks, just so that he may die. He and Zelda had lived seven lifetimes together that they could remember, and he had at one point thought he'd become sick of her, but one lifetime apart and he fell to pieces. It was impossible to live without her; he just couldn't do it. But whenever he did try to end it, by his own hands or some other measures, something always called him back. To the castle, to the town, he wasn't sure, but he could never fully let go.
Sometimes the wind would blow through the fields and he'd imagine it's her arms, holding him, her hands caressing his face. He'd lean into it, taking comfort, and then he'd fall and return to cold reality. He felt her and saw her everywhere he went, and it was torment and shear bliss. Thinking about her was both agony and comfort. Agony for his loss, comfort because he knew that he'd live with her again in the next cycle.
And so he lived on, dying at the wizened age of 89. A sad and miserable life it was, and tragically, the longest he'd ever had.
And now as he looked over Hyrule field and stared at the Castle beyond, a great stone sentinel towering over the town as a symbol of majesty, embraced in his new 17 year old body, memories newly attained, he saw light.
"Zelda…my light, my love…"
"I'm coming for you."
"They weren't reborn…"
A/N: I wrote this after watching Clannad afterstory for the second time, and felt like writing a tragedy. I hope this makes some of you sad.
Still don't like the flashback scene with Mell. It needs to be worked on.
Please read and enjoy.