Title: Moment Eternal

Author: Dendera

Rating: PG

Summary: Link/Zelda. A re-working of the ending to "Ocarina of Time," which I was thoroughly dissatisfied with. Contains spoilers (obviously)

Disclaimer: Sadly, Link and Zelda do not belong to me, but to the rich folks at Nintendo. However, my words do. As such, I must ask that you do not copy or reproduce this story in any way without my permission.

He couldn't recall the last time he had seen the sky so vividly blue. And endless. It seemed to stretch on infinitely, as if he were wading in vast cerulean sea. It was a sorely missed sight, a natural radiance he had long forgotten on his tiresome quest to free Hyrule from a madman's grip. The last few weeks had been little more than a blur to him, a whirl of dank dungeons and freakish monsters, deadly combat and continuous conflict. Quest after quest… It was no wonder that life's little joys, the rewards that accompanied youthful exuberance, had escaped his notice. But now, in the light of freedom, it was the second most beautiful thing he had ever beheld. The first, being the lovely flaxen-haired creature at his side.

It should have been an hour of great jubilation, for the sadistic King of Thieves, Gannondorf, had been vanquished. The merciless reign of terror that had snuffed out so many innocent lives would plague Hyrule no more. Instead the Princess's regal face bore a countenance of pensive melancholy. She had confessed her remorse, ashamed of how she unwittingly allowed such evil to enter the holiness of the Sacred Realm. And while he wanted to whoop and cheer at their triumph, to clutch her hands and assure her that it wasn't her fault, Link heeded his manners and listened quietly to her speech.

Zelda took in a breath, her petite shoulders sagging slightly. "I dragged you into it, too. Now it is time for me to make up for my mistakes." He nodded politely, unsure of her meaning. There was a brief pause as she considered her next choice of words. "You must lay the Master Sword to rest and close the Door of Time," she explained, reluctance slipping into her silvery voice.

Her gaze lingered on him expectantly, waiting for the realization to set in. "However, by doing this, the road between times will be closed." Link blinked in puzzlement, wracking his brain in order to follow her sense of logic. The Princess was hinting at something, carefully trying to ease him into an unpleasant topic and it worried him.

A pained expression crossed her exquisite features, "Link, give the Ocarina to me." And then the meaning finally sunk in, the weight of the words hitting him like a ton of bricks. Oh. No... She wanted to send him back. Right now, in this place among the fields of clouds, it was the last thing he had expected to hear.

"As a sage," she murmured in penitence. "I can return you to your original time with it." All he could manage in reply was a blank stare of disbelief. She extended a porcelain hand, her fingers outstretched and awaiting his compliance. Link eyed the priceless treasure hesitantly, before placing it in her open palm. She brushed her other hand across his, patting it in unspoken gratitude. It all seemed so surreal to him, that after such an amazing victory he would be requested to leave. As the Hero of Time, he was proud of his accomplishments, and though he didn't expect gleaming medals and ballads composed in his honor as a reward, he never could have predicted this turn of events. He would be returned immediately to his childhood days, subjected once again to feelings of alienation among his Kokiri friends.

Zelda's clear turquoise eyes reflected a mutual sorrow, a glimmer of realized missed opportunity. "When peace returns to Hyrule, it will be time for us to say goodbye." She clutched the pale blue ocarina close to her chest, as if was the only thing keeping her from drowning in a pool of emotion. Link's gaze locked with hers, their eyes meeting for a final, silent exchange.

"Now, go home, Link. Regain your lost time," she whispered softly. "Home…where you are supposed to be...the way you are supposed to be…"

He felt a pang of regret flood through his entire being, a nagging sense of doubt he couldn't suppress. What if he chose not to return to his childhood? Certainly Zelda wouldn't force him against his wishes. She couldn't. Not after all the battles he had waged, the blood he had shed, the lifetime he had sacrificed—his sacred duty, all for Hyrule. All at her request. And Link had the intuitive notion that he might spend the remainder of his existence serving the Princess, and being pleased to do so. It seemed unfair to sever his mystical bond with Zelda, not when he had found himself at last. The Triforces imprinted on their hands did so much more then bind them together as allies, rather it joined their two paths, uniting their spirits. It was a connection that left him bewildered and yet strangely at peace at the same time. How could he return to his youth—to Mido's relentless teasing in a village where he was labeled an outsider—when he had achieved more than he had dared to dream possible? She owed him more than that. Hyrule owed him more than that.

His eyes searched Zelda's, desperate to prolong the inevitable, but the ethereal princess had lowered her gaze. Slowly, painfully, she lifted the small instrument to her lips, poised to play the melody that would alter time. This was it; the time for their farewells had come.

No. Link caught her slender wrist in his hand. "Wait," he interjected quickly, his voice penetrating the somber silence. It wasn't going to end like this, not yet. Zelda paused, her delicate features registering in equal parts confusion and relief. He could make out the trembling of her fingers as he held her wrist, reluctant to let go. When he had finally found his voice and the courage to use it, he spoke up once more. "Not yet. We've had no time to…" the words came with a strained difficulty, "to…talk. I'd like to see more of you before I have to go." A spark of hope flickered in his fair blue eyes. "One last night. Just a few more hours. Please."

After a moment of uncertainty, Zelda managed a weak reply. "Link…I…we shouldn't." It was foolish to torture themselves by entertaining such thoughts. She was already so terribly fond of Link, her respect and admiration for the young hero having deepened with every minute she had been with him as Shiek. "I've been waiting for you, Hero of Time…" Shiek's announcement, her own words, echoed strangely in her mind. And so she had been. It felt as if she had spent her entire lifetime waiting for this one man. Time and time again he had proven himself to be worthy of every legend that foretold his coming. The Hero of Time, Savior of Hyrule, the third bearer of the Triforce, and…her friend. He was so selfless, the living epitome of bravery and valor, and Zelda feared that with each passing second she grew to esteem him even more. She couldn't fall in love with him now. It would be agony to have to return him to his proper time. To be torn from the person whom she had cared for and prayed over for so long.

Her gaze wandered down to her wrist, still enclosed in his gloved hand. And suddenly, whatever feeble argument she had prepared merely evaporated. He had given his life to King and country, had surrendered his childhood for the sake of the cause, and all he was asking in return was for one moment. How could she deny him now, especially when her heart longed for the same thing?

"Yes, of course," she answered breathlessly, her heart fluttering with anticipation. A moment alone with him, away from their world and its concerns, where all titles and responsibilities could be abandoned. Where she could cast aside her royal obligations and merely be Zelda, a young woman…keeping a young man's company.

"I suppose a few hours could do no harm." She carefully eased her captured wrist from his grasp, and placed her hand atop his in a tender gesture. "After the perils you have faced for Hyrule's sake, it is the very least I could do. You certainly deserve whatever reward you desire."

Link's liquid blue eyes shone merrily. "We both deserve it."

The two children of the Triforce sat together side by side, watching the moonlit waves of Lake Hylia gently lap against the shore. The carefree afternoon had given way to evening, and had passed within the blink of an eye. What little time they had left was brief, every second bringing them closer to the unavoidable. Still, it had been an extraordinary day; allowing Zelda the opportunity to experience the feelings of freedom and tranquility that had been absent from her life for so long. Link had filled their afternoon with as many invigorating activities as possible, eager to show her all of his favorite pastimes. She had learned so much about the high-spirited young man merely by the recreation he chose. Like how thoughtful and reflective he could be when near the graceful oaks of the Lost Woods, and then, in direct contradiction, how silly and swaggering he was when it came to fishing. The more time she spent at his side, the more Zelda found all of him to be pleasantly endearing.

"I don't know Princess, that was an awfully big fish you caught." Link was insisting, flashing her an impish grin. "It almost beat my catch of the day."

Zelda made a face at his mild teasing. "Yes, I'm certain my three pound trout was exemplary new record for the fishing pond," she boasted, playfully sardonic. "Second only to my other proud catch— the attendant's cap."

He was quick to rise to her defense. "Hey, that was an accident," Link reminded her. "Besides…we gave it back to him."

"After he threatened to charge us fifty rupies for it," she mused. "What a grumpy man."

Link inspected a blade of wild grass before placing it in his mouth to chew on. "He's always been like that. Even when I was kid," he recalled, speaking around long stalk. "He's pretty no nonsense when it comes to fishing."

She tilted her head to the side, observing him curiously. "Do you spend much time there?"

His expression was one of guilty feline, having been caught sniffing around the bird's cage. "Occasionally," he answered bashfully truthful. "Between my quests, when I need a moment to clear my head—but it's usually only for a few minutes!" He straightened his shoulders in vain effort to maintain his gladiator image. "I just want you to know that saving Hyrule was a responsibility I didn't take lightly."

Zelda laughed in gentle amusement at his hasty reply. "I know that. You need not justify it to me, Link. Even a great hero, such as yourself, is entitled to an interlude from battle."

"I suppose," he agreed, lapsing back into a grin again. "A break between bruises."

All signs of lightheartedness faded away, and Zelda's facial expression reflected her trepidation. "Were you ever injured badly during your quest?"

"Nah…" he clarified for her, hoping to put her mind at ease. "Just a few knocks on the head, some scrapes here and there. They were nothing to be concerned about." He winked at her, turning on the charm in an attempt to win a smile. "I can recall worse wounds from when I was a kid. Falling out of trees and such…"

"Are you eager to return to your own time?" She inquired, her angelic face awash with the pearly light.

Link gave a nonchalant shrug, his eyes never leaving the lake's rippling waters. "I guess so," he replied, growing solemn. "I feel like I've missed out on so much, I mean seven years is a long time to lose." Turning to face Zelda, he caught a glimpse of her troubled expression and silently cursed himself for his clumsiness. The Princess blamed herself not only for Hyrule's downfall, but for the loss of his innocence as well. Sealing him away in the Temple of Time, adrift in the void between time and space, was a grievance she would never forgive herself for.

"But," Link continued on hurriedly, "I've seen so much and experienced more than I ever imagined. Learning the truth about my heritage, the reason why I was set apart from the other Kokiri, has really put things in perspective for me." His features clouded over for a moment, contemplative. "It's like I finally found my place in the grand scheme of things. This quest has made it all so clear." He paused to flash her a sheepish smile of embarrassment. "I'm sorry…this probably isn't making any sense."

"No, it does," she assured him. "I understand what you mean. You found a life's purpose here, discovered the hidden potential within yourself and—"

"It'll be hard to go back." He finished for her, summing up the root of his anxiety.

Zelda nodded in thoughtful agreement. "Change is always difficult, especially when one is unprepared for it." Her eyes glistened with emotion. "But think of all of the possibilities that lie ahead for you, Link. Seven years of new experiences, new opportunities to learn and achieve your goals. It's a shame to be in such a hurry to grow up."

Link shifted his position, heaving a small sigh. "I know," he admitted, a slight grin forming at the corners of his mouth. "But it's sure going to be weird to be a pipsqueak again. To go from the Master Sword to a slingshot all in one day." He chuckled at the thought, his laughter a deep and melodious sound.

"Being small is not as bad as you might think." Zelda contested good-naturedly, "Why, there are many things a little person can do that adults cannot."

Link propped his chin on his hand, watching her with interest. "Such as?" He prompted her teasingly.

"Well…" she stopped to ponder for a moment. "Such as…winning people over with your boyish charms. No one can resist cute little children."

He waved a hand, dismissing her theory. "I already have that ability." A lopsided grin spilt across his face. "What else?"

Zelda laughed softly at his lack of modesty, "True enough. But there are other things. For example, some places are more easily accessible in your youth." She smiled lightly, as if in remembrance. "Like tree houses, passageways, and the nooks and crannies only children can appreciate."

"All right," Link relented. "I'll give you that one. I guess it's also easier for a kid to slip by unnoticed. They can sneak around without getting caught."


"Although…" his voice took on a lower, more suggestive tone. "That's kind of what we're doing now. Sneaking off…" He was observing her intently, in that keenly perceptive way of his. His unwavering stare seemed to pierce right through her, and she felt her cheeks flush slightly in response.

She glanced down at a patch of lush grass, suddenly uncharacteristically shy. "Something like that."

He smiled at the effect his statement had on her, and laid back comfortably in the cool grass. "You're right though, it was easier to sneak into the palace as a kid. I would never have been able to get by the guards if I hadn't been so little."

"I remember that day. I was in the courtyard…spying on my father's audience with Ganondorf," Zelda reminisced, adrift in her memories. She looked up to meet Link's gaze once more. "Then I turned around, and there you were. I remember expecting to be surprised by your presence…and yet, I was not. It was almost as if I knew you would come, that our meeting was some memory from a half-recalled dream. I had foreseen it."

Her eyelids fluttered closed, and she touched a hand to her forehead. "That day marked the beginning of the end. I should have known better than to take matters into my own hands, especially concerning the Sacred Realm."

Link sat up, troubled by the turn their conversation had taken. He leaned towards her, gently taking her hand in his. "Princess…please don't burden yourself with this. We were both so young," his golden brows knit in concern. "We couldn't have known the consequences. You couldn't have known." He lifted her chin to look into the blue depths that were her eyes. "Whether you believe it or not, you saved a lot of people—even in your mistake. You helped to unite the six sages, and sealed Ganon away for good, eliminating the threat he posed." He took in a quick breath. "And you gave me something to believe in, Princess. You helped me to find myself. So thank you."

Her eyes brimmed over with tears, and it was clear she was struggling to hold them back. "But—"

He shook his head firmly, interrupting her guilty protest. "Don't think about it anymore. It's in the past, we've left it far behind." He brought his hand to her fair cheek. " Just be here with me, right now. In this moment."

Zelda nodded resignedly, attempting to regain her lost composure. She was a member of Hyrule's royal family, born and bred to be a servant to her crown and subjects. Throughout her life she had been instructed to put all matters above her own heart. To control and push back her own conflicting emotions for the sake of her kingdom. And here she was growing misty-eyed in front of the legendary Hero of Time, on their last night together no less.

"I'm sorry," she apologized, smiling through her tears. "I did not mean to spoil the evening for you."

"You didn't." His kind eyes probed her face, transfixed, taking in every detail as if this were his last opportunity. After a minute of silence, the seriousness of his expression melted away, transforming itself into a boyish smile. "So, would you mind if I snuck onto the castle grounds again sometime? To visit you?" Though it was probably meant as a joke, the hopefulness that crept into his tone made her laugh.

She favored him with a dazzling smile. "I would like that. Very much."

"Great." He beamed back at her and they sat quietly content, watching the sea of twinkling stars above. Link appreciated their glittering beauty even more tonight, now that he finally had someone to share them with. Another lifetime ago he had spent many a sleepless night with Saria, watching the heavens from the secluded Sacred Meadow. It was she who had taught him all of the constellations and the fascinating mythology behind them. Her knowledge of nature and all of its glory still astounded him, just as her benevolent heart and gentle spirit always had.

"The pure souls of the past travel through starlight," she had murmured dreamily to him once, amidst the shimmer of hovering fairies and moonbeams. "After death, those with good hearts prepare for the next journey. They voyage from this world to a beautiful realm tended by the Goddesses themselves, where all there is, is bliss." Saria had invested her imagination in the legend, convinced that one's essence could never truly perish. He hoped that his friend was right, that there was truth to be found in it. Perhaps that radiant place was where his mother was.

Link peered up at the velvet expanse of sky, squinting to make out a familiar constellation. The group of glinting stars lingered closely to each other, fashioning the rough form of a young maiden. Link knew the configuration well, for it was Saria's favorite. Though it took some imagination to piece together the image, one could see the damsel if they stared long enough.

"Do you see that?" He questioned, his voice mysteriously low. "Up there, that bunch of stars?" He pointed to the celestial woman for Zelda to see.

The Princess followed his gaze, turning her face towards the heavens. "Yes, I see them," she acknowledged. "The cluster of about fifteen stars."

"That's 'Farore's Daughter'," Link told her, recalling the legends that had been faithfully passed down by the Kokiri. "When I couldn't sleep, Saria used to tell me all of the fables behind it and the other constellations."

Zelda observed his nostalgic state, listening with fascination to his childhood memoirs. By the whimsical expression etched on his face, she could tell that he was reliving the pleasant memories from his past. She knew, whether he realized it or not, that he found much contentment in his childhood days. They were simply overshadowed by the turbulent thrill of his adult adventures.

She leaned a bit closer, "Would you tell me the story that accompanies it?"

"If you like," he consented, and she nodded for him to go on. "Long ago," Link began, a little doubtful of his own storytelling ability. "After the birth of Hyrule, it was said that the three golden Goddesses, being pleased with their work, returned to the cosmos to watch over their creation. Din continued to refine the earth, maintaining the fertile lands and rivers. Nayru blessed the mortals with her laws and a concept of justice. And Farore kept vigil over all of her life forms. However, because of her gift of life, the various races had acquired minds of their own. They developed their own ways and opinions, sometimes straying from the Goddess's will. Farore grew saddened by their rebellion and deeply troubled when they defied the laws."

"Lonely for a different companionship than that of her Goddess sisters, Farore used her rich life energy to create another being—her own daughter. The maid was said to be everything that was beauty and grace, and was Farore's most beloved treasure. She was called Lycia. In an effort to redeem the creatures of Hyrule, Farore sent her daughter to earth so that she might serve as an example. She was to be a gift of purity to all life. But like all of the things the Goddesses gave Hyrule, Lycia was ill-treated, abused and taken for granted." His brow wrinkled slightly, in perfect accordance to the story's mood.

"Being so sweet and virtuous, she was unprepared for the harshness of life, and her mother eventually found her dying along the roadside. Anguished by her precious daughter's defilement, Farore carried Lycia to the heavens and placed her among the stars so that she might never be hurt again. She remains there today as a reminder of the perfect gift we lost..." Slowly, the last of his explanation trailed off and he glanced over to read Zelda's tender expression.

"I can see her now," The Princess informed him, looking to the Goddess's starry child. "What a melancholy tale

"They're not all like that. Some of them are pretty exciting, even funny at times." He assured her with a broad smile. "I'm afraid I'm not the expert that Saria is, I can't remember all of the different myths. I was more concerned with roughhousing and sword play."

Her heart went out to him; he had missed out on so much of his young life. "You miss her."

The heartfelt statement sent a quiver of longing throughout his body, a longing for simpler times. For days that were long past. "Yes, I miss her." Link rubbed the back of his neck absentmindedly, lost in thought. "I suppose I do miss it…a little. Childhood, I mean." Zelda nodded her understanding, encouraging him to continue. "I guess going back makes sense. It's just that-- well, I don't want to…" he struggled with the correct words, "you know, forget anything. The people I helped, the monsters I destroyed, you… anything."

He drew his long legs up to his chest, wrapping his arms around him. "I suppose that's what scares me the most. That whatever memories I do maintain will eventually fade with time and none of this," he swept out an arm to gesture at their surroundings, "will have ever happened."

The light touch of her hand on his arm brought forth unimaginable warmth. "It happened," she reassured him softly. "Whether the world remembers it or not. Even if your deeds are only known here and now, I know I will never forget you Link. And someday, our paths will cross again."

"I hope so Princess." His eyes were bright, illuminated by moon's glow. "I hope so." Propelled by an instinct he didn't quite understand, Link moved to slowly wrap an arm Zelda's small frame. To his surprise, she leaned into the embrace, resting a silken cheek on his firm shoulder.

He must have been deeply dreaming, because when Zelda finally shook him to his senses, all images of golden realm and its mystical brilliance fused into reality. Link shook his head sleepily, straining his eyes to adjust to the early dawn's rays.

Zelda chuckled at his bleary-eyed expression. "Welcome back, oh weary one."

"Woah… I must have really drifted off." He blinked to regain his focus, turning to face her. "That's kind of embarrassing—offer to entertain the Princess and then fall asleep on her."

"At least you do not snore," she countered warmly. "Besides, I'm just as guilty as you. I fell asleep shortly after you did." She was a vision in the light of daybreak; the sun's beams having lit up her hair, giving it the appearance of spun gold.

With some effort, Link managed to get to his feet and stretched languidly. Helping the Princess to her feet, he smiled faintly. "All joking aside, Princess. I really wanted to say thank you." His voice caught slightly, exhibiting a hint of shyness. "Tonight was more than I could have asked for." Self-consciously he trailed a hand through his amber colored locks, his attention focused entirely on his boots.

Zelda's lips quirked in a faint smile at his oafish attempt, comforted by the knowledge that she was not alone in her nervousness. She so often forgot that though Link's lean, muscular physique displayed all of the signs of manhood, he was still in many ways the naive little boy she had met so many years ago.

"It is I who should be thanking you Link," she acknowledged, holding up a hand. "I realize it's a pitiful reward, but if it's any consolation, I had a wonderful time today."

His expression was one of genuine incredulity. "An entire day alone with you? Pitiful?" A broad smile revealed traces of irresistible dimples. "If that's truly 'pitiful', I'd be interested in seeing your version of 'wretched' and 'despicable'."

She wasn't beyond dispensing with courtesy when it came to matching his banter. "Actually, I believe those terms might neatly describe your table manners." She flaunted a mischievous smile to assure him that she was only kidding.

In a theatrical gesture of mock injury, he brought a hand to his chest, mouth agape. "Why Princess…" he uttered, looking most offended. "That was a low blow. And here I thought I had spent the afternoon with a regal lady."

"You did," she retorted with relish, "and try not to forget it." They exchanged appreciative smiles, both taking pleasure in the verbal duel.

"You can be quite the sparring partner when you want to," Link observed, looking her over. "How are you with a sword?"

"Father was never thrilled with the idea of me practicing swordplay, but after a significant amount of pleading, he consented to allowing Impa instruct me in certain staff techniques." She eyed his shield and the sheathed Master Sword. "However, in light of all that has befallen my Kingdom, I would still like to learn how to use a sword. So if necessary, when the time comes to defend Hyrule again, I will be able to fight as well."

He gave a nod, admiration clearly written in his face. "Knowledge in self-defense is always a good idea." Then without thinking, he blurted out; "I'll have to teach you sometime."

The sentence lingered on the air, followed by a pervading awkward silence. It was Zelda who finally broke it. "Again, I thank you for this evening, Link. It gave me a sense of peace I have not felt in years." The Princess gravely folded her hands in front of her, in a picture perfect gesture of aristocracy. "But now you must allow me my atonement."

"To send me back…" he translated, disappointment splintering his tone. "Right." He fought to compose himself, for he had known this was coming. There was no use in causing a scene and upsetting the Princess, who felt badly enough as it was. He forced a smile onto his face, and hoped she wouldn't see the underlying hurt beneath it. "Well, Princess, it's been fun."

"I feel as though I cannot apologize enough for this, Link." Apparently she wasn't fooled by his brave front. "I can only hope that you understand why this is necessary, why we must correct history. If there was only some way to make it up to you…" She swallowed back the cold, hard lump that was forming in her throat, preventing her from speaking. "I wish so desperately that there was."

"There might be." His eyes bore into her with an intensity that caught her off guard.

In moment of boldness, Link closed the space between their bodies and grasped her shoulders, pulling her to him. Zelda stared up at him wordlessly, her heart hammering against her chest. With the ineptitude that only inexperience could induce, he pressed his lips to hers, kissing her fully. Her mind reeled in a fluster of emotion, her knees nearly giving away. For a warrior, his kiss was not boorish in the least. It was innocent in its tentativeness, curious and explorative as it increased momentum, the passion escalating. She clung to him and kissed him back, ignoring the common sense in her that cried for restraint.

Abruptly, Link broke off the embrace, his breath coming raggedly. "I…I'm sorry," he recoiled, apologizing profusely. "I don't know what came over me." He quickly withdrew his hands from her, the blush on his cheeks almost more prominent than hers. "That was…uncalled for." She could have very well slapped him for his audacity, and Link fretfully braced himself for her infuriated response. But it never came. The sound of sweet laughter greeted his ears, and he looked up to find Zelda tittering into the back of her hand.

Her laughter dissipated, fading into a wistful smile. "Perhaps," she admitted, her sapphire eyes sparkling like polished stones. "But it was a goodbye kiss, and therefore, can be justified." She pressed her hands neatly to her chest, gingerly beginning again. "Besides, I'm pleased to help continue such a tradition."

"I just…had to know…what it felt like. Before I had to go back." All at once he was the little Kokiri boy again, so childlike and vulnerable.

"You will know it again," she replied, her words full of promise. "In fact, I'm certain of it." Her light smile grew playful, "From what I understand, you seem to have won over the heart of every single, young woman in Hyrule."

"Every young woman?" He questioned meekly, looking to her in hopeful expectation.

She bowed her head slightly, unable to deny the obvious any longer. Unwilling to deny it. "Every young woman," she repeated slowly, meaning it.

"There was only one heart I was after," he confessed in a murmur, timidly stepping closer to her. His fingers found her hair, threading themselves through the aureate locks. "And I never thought it would be mine to take. Never allowed myself to hope for so much." He tilted her face towards his, his lips drawing her in, eager to kiss her. And she wanted him to, more than anything else. She longed for him banish her troubles away, to make the entire world stand still so that nothing mattered except the two of them. But she couldn't.

"Please," Zelda protested weakly. "Please, let me set things right." She struggled against his hold, and wracked with humiliation, he released her. "We cannot allow ourselves to…become distracted…when we must…" Why couldn't she form a coherent sentence? Her thoughts raced in so many directions at once, she feared her brain might burst from all of the frantic activity. From the corner of her eye, she caught a view of Link's bewildered expression and winced. He looked as though he wanted the earth to crack open and swallow him whole.

"Link I do not want you to think that—"

He let his hands drop uselessly to his sides, unable to look at her any longer. "I apologize if I offended you," Link offered, his voice a chilly monotone.

"You have not offended me." Her remark was flavored with a plaintive aggravation, and he figured it was due to their difficult situation rather than him. "I just…feel so torn. When we get close like that…" her cheeks took on a rosy tint. "I find it harder and harder to follow my conscience."

Link clutched both of her hands in his, holding them tightly. "Let me stay here with you. We can rebuild Hyrule together." His eyes were filled with a desperate urgency. "Why must I go back at all? Why should we have to fix the past?"

"Link—" It was all she could do to interrupt, but it didn't deter him at all.

"It's not our responsibility, Zelda. I mean, this had to have been part of the master plan, right? It had to have been fate. So why bother changing it?"

Zelda felt the tears welling up once more, threatening to storm. She wanted so badly to believe him, to allow ignorance to blanket her mind so that she might forget her own mistakes. To toss caution and duty to the wind, and for once in her life, consider her own happiness first. If only it were possible, that she and Link might have a future here...

"Ganon is gone. We're in the present; we're alive and together with our whole lives ahead of us. Is it so much to ask, for us to be happy?" He continued ardently, his declaration growing more impassioned with every word. "We just saved the entire world, I think we deserve this much."

"It's not a question of what we are entitled to," she halted his discourse, her voice choking up. "We cannot think only of ourselves…this decision affects so many others. There is more at stake than you could possibly know."

Her response had left him crestfallen, and she could see the raw devastation smoldering in his eyes. "Just tell me this Princess, Do you feel anything for me? Anything at all?" Link held her by the shoulders, almost pleadingly. "Anything that might ripen into love?" The very sight of him nearly made her heart break.

"You know I do," she told him earnestly, wearily sinking into his arms.

He blinked a few times, still clearly confused, and enfolded her in his embrace. "I'm not sure I understand your logic, Zelda." He closed his eyes and inhaled the scent of her hair, making note of how light and fragile she felt. "If you love me…then why shouldn't we be together?"

With her head against his chest, she could make out the rapid pulsing of his heart. It nearly matched the fierce beating of her own. "I'm afraid it's not that simple, Link. Our feelings for each other are beside the point." She heaved a doleful sigh. "There are many other circumstances that must be taken into consideration first."

Link took a step back, warily holding her at arm's length. "Why not?" He demanded evenly, his smooth brow wrinkling in a frown of frustration. "Give me one good reason why not. Why we can't be together."

She took in a shaky breath. "I can give you a thousand reasons, one for every life Ganon's malignant evil touched. One for each innocent child who lost its mother or father during the midnight raids. One for every home that was burnt to the ground out of ruthless intolerance. One for every drop of blood that stained Hyrule's soil." She pulled her arms to her chest, wrapping them protectively around herself, as if to compress the painful memories. "And one for my Father, the first of many to perish at Ganon's hand."

The self-righteous anger began to drain out of his expression, leaving behind a brooding despondency in its wake. He looked a bit a taken back and ashamed by his own foolish naivete. Her father... The possibility that Hyrule's King might not be among the survivors had never crossed his mind.

"I'm sorry…" Link whispered in sympathetic apology, moving to comfort her. "I didn't think of it like that. I was being selfish." He averted his gaze, tearing his eyes away from hers in a moment of self-loathing. "Some hero, huh?"

"You have been asleep seven long years, Link. You could not have known all of the tragic events that have led up to this day." Her lips bent in a woeful smile, as she intertwined her fingers with his. "It's not selfishness to want to love another person. To desire to remain with them for the rest of your days. I want it too, so badly. I wish I might wipe all of this land's wounds from my memory…" Her voice faltered, wavering slightly, and grew stronger with resolve. "But I cannot. I am a servant to the populace, and as their Princess, I have sworn an oath to protect and defend them always."

She looked poignantly to him, watching as his face blossomed with understanding. "Even at the sacrifice of my own heart."

She felt his taut fingertips grasp her firmly, flattening her against his breast. Hyrule's greatest warrior then buried his face in her hair, like a child seeking a mother's solace. "So what can we do?" He queried, sounding oddly defeated, "What now?"

Zelda squeezed her eyes shut, grieved by the words she knew would come next. "We do what we know is right. We must send you back and alter time." Their course of action was clear, had even been stated outright, and yet their bodies refused to comply. They remained frozen in place, secure in each other's arms for what seemed an interminable amount of time.

"Princess?" Link's hesitant inquiry eventually cut into the ephemeral serenity. "If we're going to do this, we'd better do it soon. I don't know if I'll be able to go through with it if we wait any longer." He shifted his position, allowing her to slip away from him.

From within the folds of her gown, Zelda produced the Ocarina of Time. She turned it over in her hands several times, as if uncertain of its purpose and then glanced questioningly back up at Link. Unable to voice anything, he could only give a short nod in reply.

The Princess leaned forward, brushing a cool palm against his cheek. "Thank you for understanding, Link. With this sacrifice, you have bought back so many lives. Hyrule will be beautiful and whole again, a place where children can experience all life has to offer without fear of having to grow up too soon." She planted a gentle kiss upon his lips, "Children like you and I."

He held her close, willing the remembrance to become branded in his mind. "Don't forget me, Princess."

She gazed to him through lowered lids, tears glistening in her eyes. "Go home, Link." She added, scarcely audible, "I'll meet you there."

Link knew it was just a single evening, merely a moment that would shortly cease to exist. A brief wrinkle in the fabric of time, unbeknownst to the rest of the world and just as easily dismissed. And he was grateful for it, for the gift the Goddesses had so generously bestowed upon him. Even if no one remembered him or his daring exploits, it would all be worth it for this one moment alone. A memory that would remain with him always—a moment eternal.

He stepped back to watch as the Princess brought the ocarina to her mouth, her deft fingers positioning themselves over the instrument's holes. With an artist's precision, she began to play, her gaze watery as she allowed herself the opportunity to behold him one last time. The ocarina's notes rang out resonant and clear, the song's harmony flowing like water. A stream of luminescent blue light engulfed his senses, and the gates of time opened, beckoning him to enter. He felt his back arch up, his body suddenly growing strangely weightless, and then the light claimed him entirely…

"Goodbye Link…" He barely heard her last words as they died on the breeze, fading along with his consciousness. Link closed his eyes and let himself go, falling back into the arms of destiny.

Link tossed a pebble down the slick marble path, and chuckled at his own cleverness as the guards clambered off towards the noise. Either he was an extremely strategic explorer, or the palace's security was a bit lax these days. He ducked behind the large leafy hedge, and scrambled past the two burly soldiers. It almost seemed too easy, and the castle grounds were strangely familiar to his nimble feet.

He could see a small courtyard just ahead, and if he timed it just right, he could dash the remainder of the distance without being caught. The Kokiri crouched in waiting, carefully calculating which moves and what speed would be necessary for escaping the guard's notice. In the end, it didn't take much. Link merely waited for the soldier to amble by on his patrol, and once the man's armored back was turned, he sprinted the last few feet to safety.

It was rather unimpressive as far as gardens went, but also possessed a simplistic quaintness. Surrounded by towering stone walls, the modest courtyard retained a distinct elegance due to the lack of gaudy embellishments. A crystal moat encircled the lawn of immaculately kept grass, and the grounds were sprinkled with a medley of yellow blossoms and shrubbery. It seemed an appropriate place for quiet introspection rather than a site of amusement—a poor man's entertainment. Though Hyrule's king can hardly be considered poor, he thought wryly.

Then he saw her directly ahead of him, so small and sprite-like, and his breath caught in his throat. A vision so eerily similar danced through his mind, giving his whole body a tingling sensation. It was as if the scene had already been played out before once upon a time, that he and she had been fated for this encounter. Her back was turned towards him, but even so, he could still make out the regal splendor of her clothing. Surely she was the Princess Zelda, the youthful beauty everyone in Hyrule Castle Town spent so much time gossiping about. For some reason, when Link thought of royalty, he had always envisioned them sitting upon golden thrones, waving their aristocratic hands while ordering servants about. Instead, here was the kingdom's only heir standing in a humble garden, spying through one of the large windows.

How strange. His own logic reminded him that he didn't know her, yet his heart knew with absolute certainty that he did. Though any memory of her escaped him, nothing in the world seemed more natural, more fitting, than for him—a peasant boy—to be paying a visit to his future queen.

Swallowing the rest of his apprehension, Link took another step towards the stone platform where the young girl perched. As if sensing his presence, the tiny figure whirled around, startled. Their eyes locked in mutual astonishment. He saw her gasp, pressing a hand to her parted lips in a gesture of shock. For a fleeting instant she could only stare at him with large, frightened eyes. And then recognition gradually seeped in.

Like a dainty little bird, the Princess tilted her head, watching him with wonder. Then she clasped her hands together, beaming with delight. "Oh…I thought you might come."