People, places, many things don't belong to me. But the words themselves do.

Here is a more... shall we say, expanded, telling of the ending of Ocarina of Time. I've taken elements from both the original video game and the derivative manga drawn by Akira Himekawa, but in the end much of it comes from my own mind, because we were given so little.

The full content of this story can be found at liuart .com/ nc/doff .txt (remove the spaces). What is presented here is an edited piece, censored to keep family-friendly. You may call it a teaser, or sample (albeit a very long one), if you wish.


-.-.-.-.-
Destiny's Opus: Finale
-.-.-.-.-

Yakusoku wo shiyou yo
Ano hi no hageshisa wo
daite
Ashita saku mirai wo
ikiru

"Let's promise each other
that we'll hold on to the intensity we felt that day,
and live the future that blooms in tomorrow."

- "Yubiwa", Vision of Escaflowne

-.-.-.-.-

.

"Six Sages... now!"

The spell was hope, song, and weapon all in one. Dazzling light streaked across space and dimension at the summon of the Princess of Destiny, congregating on the prone, defeated body of Ganon and weaving a luminescent cage over the boarish hulk. Gathering at their pinnacle, the colorful rays merged into solid white light, its unbearable brightness a mere suggestion of the magic's sheer magnitude.

"Curse you... Zelda! Curse you... Sages!" The roar of rage bellowed from the center of the incandescent spell, a last, futile attempt to rip through the enchantment with all its fury.

"CURSE YOU... LINK!"

With a final wrathful howl fading into the echoing depths of time's corridors, Ganondorf, Hyrule's vilest scourge and tormentor, was gone.

Princess Zelda slowly rose to her feet, still light-headed from the amount of energy she had spent. Battling the dark magic of Ganon took more power than she had ever dared to exercise; the effort to restrain his thrashing evil had threatened to tear her mind apart. And immediately afterwards, taking up her role as the seventh and central Sage, she fed and supported the power of the others as they bound Ganondorf to his seal. The pressure had been great and terrible and drove her to her knees, and for one heart-stopping moment she feared that she had failed the spell, even as she watched the grotesque, twisted form of Ganon disappear into the confining light.

It was over, now... seven years of hardship and suffering, what seemed a lifetime of grief and darkness. This final battle had been a test of Zelda's will unrivaled in all her years, and it was unlikely that she would ever again meet such a match - Goddesses forbid. Let it have been enough payment for one lifetime.

Still, what difficulties she had suffered only paled to the efforts of one Hero of Time, who had given things no child should have lost for a filthy, undeserved war. He stood now, showing little sign of acknowledging the horrors that had tormented them only moments before, unnaturally quiet amidst the ruins of what had once been the heart of Hyrule's kingdom. Gauntleted hands hung at his side, their postures weary yet still firm in grip on weapon and shield. His tunic, once a brilliant forest green, was now soiled with stains - the foul, sickly green blood of the Evil King, and - not as widespread but more eye-catching across the emerald fabric - the deep red of his own. Though his form remained still, Zelda's sharp ears picked up the shudder in his heavy breathing, an echo to the weary tremors that coursed through her own body.

Above them, a wind blew, and the sickening vortex of clouds that had so long polluted the land at last dissolved to reveal a blue sky more pure and dazzling than her war-torn memories could recall. Yet the wind also brought resolution and aftermath, and though it whispered "victory" at her ear, Zelda could not find the joy in her heart for celebration. She was so very tired, tired from what little they had won and for all that had to be lost.

This final battle had been nearly too much, too long too hard. They had both thought it finished with the collapse of Ganon's Tower, but then the fiendish form driven mad by the Triforce of Power burst out of the rubble - and Link, who had already spent all his strength to overcome Ganondorf's magic, who had rushed her down the endless flights of stairs crumbling at their heels, who had fought off those last surviving monsters with pure adrenaline and desperation alone, took up the Master Sword once more to face the deadliest struggle of all against what had once been the Gerudo warlord. Though he appeared calm now in the face of victory, Zelda sensed that he was at his most fragile, both in spirit and body; the Hero finally threatening to fall against all the darkness he had been forced to shoulder.

She ached to comfort him, to wipe away those sullying scars of battle so he could be pure and radiant again as the boy she had met once, what felt like an eternity ago, before the dark clouds had covered Hyrule and drowned out its shine. But what had been tarnished could never be as new again, only covered up and polished over; and mistakes of the past could not be erased, only uncomfortably accommodated - or perhaps forgotten.

(Right?)

She took a step toward him, but was beaten to her target by a small yet chatty fairy. "Link! Link!" Navi squeaked, flying frantic glowing arcs around her charge. "Are you all right? You're hurt! You need a potion—"

Pulled from his precarious composure, Link looked up and raised a hand to gently scoop the fairy onto his shoulder, a well-practiced motion that calmed the tiny sprite somewhat with its familiarity. He smiled softly to her in reassurance, though the smile did not quite reach his eyes. "Don't worry, Navi. I'm okay."

"Are you?" He turned at the voice of the Princess, who had now picked her way through the rubble to stand at his side, a sorrowful understanding reflected in her eyes. She watched the slight surprise in his expression quickly melt into protective concern.

"Zelda! Are you—"

"I am unhurt," she said softly, which was the truth if only for her physical flesh. "You are the one who is in need of treatment and rest."

Link grinned endearingly, and self-consciously wiped at a cut on his cheek. "Oh, I've had worse. Just a few bruises..."

Zelda winced inwardly at his words, their feigned lightness slicing across her heart. Just how much "worse" had he been forced to endure for the sake of Hyrule? She knew he told less than the truth, perhaps seeking to pacify her as well as the easily-excited fairy on his shoulder. Now that she was close to him, her eyes caught the more telling signs of the battle's aftermath - the dried smudge of blood over his bruised lips, the magic singe marks that scored each hit on his tunic, the way his right arm pressed slightly against his side...

She touched his hand lightly. "Please, let me help you. Hold on to my hand and I will take us to a safer place."

Link took her gloved hands in his unquestioningly, making her heart tremble even as she called upon the simple spell long etched into her mind. "Where are we going?" he asked with boyish curiosity.

"Home..." Zelda had time to reply before the warp magic swept their presences away from the wounded ruins.

.

The room where they materialized was modest in its sparse furnishings, with only a chest beside a thin cot, and two chairs by a cold fireplace. Curtains and blinds were drawn across every window, leaving the surroundings veiled by translucent shadows. The place was neatly kept, though a thin layer of dust spread across the wooden floor. The residue of magic from their teleportation had stirred up some of the dust, and the fine specks danced through the few rays of sunlight that managed to slip through the window shades.

Link went to one of the shuttered windows and tried to peer out. "Where are we?"

"Kakariko Village," Zelda replied, smoothing one hand over the bed covers. "This is where I stayed with Impa while we were hiding from Ganondorf."

"It doesn't look very lived-in," Link said, watching Navi's pale light explore the room.

"It is the way of the Sheikah to leave little sign of their presence." Zelda smiled, though her eyes grew sad. "And after Impa left, I didn't come back here often. It was easier to seek shelter in the shadows while I took longer journeys."

She watched dawned realization flicker across stormy blue eyes before they lowered in remorse. He, too, had seen friends depart for the spiritual existence of the Sacred Realm. "I'm sorry," Link said, "I took her away from you."

Zelda frowned, suddenly overwhelmed with a deep sadness for him as much as for herself. "Do not apologize, Link," she told him firmly. "You were never to blame for any of this. Were it not for Ganondorf—" But she could not bring herself to continue that thought. It was too dangerous a road to go down, to wonder about the what-ifs and could've-beens. She did not want to dwell on past evils now, not when they had just conquered it so recently.

"Come," she said, working up a shaky smile. "I will treat your wounds."

She led him to the inner bedroom, a dim sanctuary where a young princess once worried for her kingdom, where a Sheikah warrior once honed his skills, and where both spent nights dreaming of a boy who became so much more. Leaving Link and his fairy momentarily, Zelda retrieved a basin and washcloth from her bedside, and headed outside for water.

The stream that ran behind the house was clear and cold, ideal for drinking and laundering needs. Still, Impa had taught her that it was best to boil the water she used for bathing wounds, to eliminate any impurities that may hinder the healing process. And so Zelda sat now before the fireplace, its ashes brought back to life after weeks of dormancy, and waited for the kettle to heat up. The fire brought warmth and light to the room, two things often missed in this house of secrecy. However, the flames also darkened the gloom where its glow could not reach, and made the shadow dance over walls, teasingly concealing and revealing details in turn.

Zelda did not mind the darkness. Shadow had always been a constant under Impa's tutelage. One of the first lessons she could remember from the Sheikah woman was to never fear the dark. Instead, it was wiser, more strategic to blend into the depths of shadow and learn the secrets it had to bestow. Zelda never mastered the nature of shadows as fully as Impa could - she had always felt a little alienated from them, like an outsider. The pure Hylian blood that ran through her veins, said to be blessed by the Goddesses' favor, was too full of light. But Zelda had listened attentively to her nursemaid's teachings, and she became almost as good. She covered up her radiance behind wrappings, and slipped through the shadows like a fish through water - not at one with the element, but certainly welcomed as a familiar guest.

All of her disciplines seemed to turn to naught, however, when it came time for her to step out of shadows to guide the quest of the Hero of Time. Surely, he had been the antithesis to her alter-identity during those days. Zelda would find herself dazzled by him every time, the shroud of darkness she wore shredded and swept away in the presence of the brilliance of his noble soul. The shining energy of the child from seven years ago had been refined into a firm, piercing light - the same light that she had seen so many times in her dreams, breaking through the dark clouds to bring salvation to Hyrule. And so he had.

Link... as always, she could not prevent her thoughts from stealing back to his side, even daring to entertain one or two girlish fantasies. There would be no need of hiding herself in shadows tonight. For once, without the constant haunting of danger and paranoia, without running risks of discovery or capture, he was with her, in her own room even; she would treat the aches and weariness of his journey, and then...

And then, where do they go from there? Time will not sit still for them in this humble little cottage. She was a princess, now crown ruler of Hyrule; the responsibility of an entire land awaited her. And he, with his unfading spirit and courageous soul - what happens to the Hero once he has done his job?

He cannot stay here, you know. There are amends to be made, debts to be returned. It would be selfish to keep hold of him for yourself.

"I know..." Zelda moaned quietly, passing a hand over her eyes. Here was a dispute she had fought countless times in her mind, when she lay shivering beneath her sheets at night and pondered the best course of action to remedy those childish mistakes. But it had sounded far easier then, before she was faced with the demands of impatient reality, before the promise of peace became more than a far-off dream, before she met the Hero of Time and looked into his steel-blue eyes...

The kettle's hissing steam pulled her away, like an alarm to remind her of more solid matters at present. Removing the kettle carefully from the fire, Zelda filled the washbasin and headed for the bedroom. There would be time for decisions and actions soon, very soon. But perhaps for now, just for these few moments, she would have his company to divert the nagging inevitability.

.

She found Link leaning against a corner of the room, polishing the Master Sword's blade with a spare cloth. There was no longer need for the burden of weapons of war, and so for once the weight of the Hylian Shield rested against the wall instead of his shoulders. He looked plainer, softer and maybe a little younger, when he was unloaded of his equipment like this. It is a refreshing look, Zelda thought, watching while he slid the sword back into its sheath.

"Take off your shirt," she told him absently as she set down the bowl, in the same tone she had heard many times from Impa when getting her own scrapes and cuts treated. However, the parties involved this time were rather different, and a heated blush worked its way up Zelda's neck as she realized the impropriety of her words. She turned around quickly as Link started to undo his belt, and tried to focus her mind solely on scrubbing the washcloth.

She dared a glance back, however, just in time to see Link lift his white undershirt over his head. Her gasp was matched by a horrified cry from Navi as the full extent of his wounds was revealed. Dark bruises and red welts from direct blows ran up his torso, while his arms and shoulders were bloodied from being thrown numerous times against the rough stones. Zelda nearly dropped the washcloth from her trembling hands at the sight. She had seen all forms of injuries in these dark days, even a fair share of them over her own body, but Goddesses, they had no right to defile his fair skin so. Ganondorf's attacks had been unrelenting, and Zelda could only hope that the dark magic had not left residue of its evil within the angry wounds.

"Can you sit?" she asked shakily, afraid that the injuries went far further than she could see. If the venom of the spells penetrated beyond the surface, if the foul darkness had dared to invade his light...

Link carefully lowered himself to perch at the edge of the bed, a move that settled her fears only slightly. She positioned herself at his back, where more scrapes and abrasions met her eyes, including a long, straight bruise from where his scabbard had dug into his flesh upon impact. Sending a silent prayer to all three Goddesses, Zelda began cleaning the gravel and dirt from his wounds with hands she hoped would not shake too badly. She tried to be as gentle as she could, but there was no preventing the touch of wet cloth against raw exposed nerves. Still, Link sat quietly as she worked, though she could feel him tense when she touched a wound.

Once she found the cleansing satisfactory, Zelda dropped the washcloth back into the basin, then stripped off her long satin gloves. She closed her eyes to channel her magic until the heat of it flowed through her hands, gladder than ever that Impa had insisted she train beyond the most basic healing spells. It had been handy to be able to treat herself while traveling alone, but the ability was beyond a matter of convenience now. Slowly, she passed her glowing hands over broken skin, guiding the magic to rejoin tissue and speed up the natural healing forces. The bruises which marked damage beneath the surface were more elusive, and she massaged those places directly, gently working the magic into the muscles.

There were so many wounds... it was painfully frustrating to watch the slow progress of healing over each tear in his flesh. Zelda had to force her hand to remain steady, lest she rushed the spell and ruined its delicate workings. She ached to merely take him in her arms and soothe away the pain, but the extent of his injuries would not allow that. Instead, she bit back her impatience and merely watched with attentive concern as the harsh marks faded one by one.

She heard Link sigh softly as she finished touching up a strained muscle on his shoulder. "That feels nicer," he murmured. "Thank you."

"Do not thank me," Zelda uttered weakly, the words falling from her mouth before she could realize. Caring for him just this once, being able to erase the hurt - the gesture only re-sparked a long-time wish that she could have done more for him throughout his quest besides speak riddled words of encouragement and pass on enchanted tunes of transport. The injuries on his back were not serious and would heal nicely, but she had also come across scars from old wounds that had not seen such tender treatment. "You should never have had to suffer these pains..."

She paused, realizing that her train of thought had once again thrust her against her secret guilt. Why did she have to draw his pure light into this filthy maelstrom of struggles? The wounds that pervaded his body before her eyes were a live, visual embodiment of the suffering she had caused. For so much to tumble down from the consequences of one wrong decision... It was maddening, and the solution no less so.

Link had turned to partly face her, his profile resolute in the veiled light. "I am the Hero of Time," he said quietly, the conviction of steel framing his words. "I have no regrets for doing my part for the sake of Hyrule - or for you, Princess."

The words should have been reassuring, but her solace would not come so easily. If only you understood, Zelda thought, carefully avoiding those eyes that shone with so much brave confidence. Would he blame her, scorn her, when he learned that she was the source of Hyrule's downfall? Probably not, a small, hopeful voice in her head said. He was too trusting, protective, too full of light. But the verdict that rang accusingly within her own mind was enough.

Shaking away the troublesome thoughts, Zelda arranged a couple of pillows for support and bade Link to lie down. Taking washcloth in hand, she resumed the task of bathing his wounds. It was easier to distract the hateful voices when she could focus on more urgent necessities at hand instead.

The injuries on his front were caused by hard-hitting blows, and wounded considerably deeper into the flesh than the lacerations she had treated on his back. Zelda moved slowly as to not aggravate the wounds too much, but even so, Link could not suppress a small grunt of pain when she reached a particularly nasty bruise on his side.

Zelda quickly retracted her hands. "I'm sorry," she crooned, cursing herself for not being more considerate of possible internal injuries. Without touching the tender wound, she held her hand over him and extended her magic to probe the depths of the trauma instead, feeling for dissonance in the body's energy. One cracked rib and another bruised, she diagnosed with a frown. It would take stronger magic to mend this damage, an extent quite beyond anything she had tried on her own...

But, did he not deserve the effort? What was a little strain to her, compared to all the grievances that he had gone through... that she had put him through?

Zelda bit her lip, and focused hard until the golden shape of the Triforce shone forth from the back of her right hand. Aid me now, gentle Nayru, she prayed, hands trembling as she fought to control her concentration. Carefully, she poured her magic into the wound, feeding his energy with her own, determined to correct at least this injustice wrought upon him. The torn flesh and bone slowly knitted under her touch, and she watched in satisfaction as the discolor of the injury gradually faded away to a healthy pink.

A sudden dizziness fell upon her the moment she released her hold on the power, the drain on her already fatigued mind taking its toll. Zelda's vision swam as she collapsed to her elbows over Link's form, fighting a disorienting surge of nausea. As her mind slowly cleared, she came to recognize two strong hands supporting her shoulders, and a voice calling her name in alarm.

"It's all right..." she breathed, gingerly sitting up and resting her forehead on one delicate palm. "I just... exerted too much power during the battle. I will regain the energy in a moment..."

Link looked at her worriedly, one hand still cautiously gripping her arm. "You should stop, Zelda, save your strength. You've already done more than enough—"

"No!" She shook her head fiercely, a flare of stubbornness surfacing within her. I owe him this much. "I will be fine. Please, let me finish this. It's the least I can do after... after all you have been through."

Link's eyes searched hers for a long moment, seeming to probe tentatively at the hidden hurt behind her words. Finally, he took her right hand in both of his, thumb rubbing tenderly over the spot where her mark - their mark, she corrected herself - was even now fading from sight. "Please be careful," he said, fair brows knotted in concern.

She smiled at him. "I will."

.

Treating the rest of his injuries was easy in comparison; the more minor wounds did not require such an intense level of concentration to maintain the healing spell. Half trance-like, Zelda allowed her trained reflexes to adjust for the magic feedback, letting her mind wander.

It was nice, this gentle pace of therapy. Within these temporary bounds of their secluded world, she could almost believe that there were no battles and duties, no princesses and heroes, only the way simple things could be. A healer treating her patient, a friend aiding a friend... a wife caring for her spouse? Zelda blushed and pushed the thought aside. Link would never meet acceptance as the Princess's suitor, even if he held such affections for her at all. But, if...

Idly, she found herself watching him, taking in the things she had not been able to notice when working at his back. Flaxen hair like fine strands of light itself, falling scattered over forehead and high cheekbones. Deep azure eyes that snapped open to anxiously watch for her well-being, but would then gradually succumb to relaxation and weariness and droop closed again. His occasional sighs, almost like purring beneath her palms - and what lay beneath those palms directly, smooth skin taut over well-developed muscle, and—

Stop it! her mind shouted, making her flinch at herself. There was no time, oh Goddesses not enough time for this foolish fawning. Even as the traces of each wound vanished from his body, the countdown pressed forward towards when there would remain no more excuses for her delay. If only, if only, a voice whispered, hollow chants that had berated her innumerable times before. Had she not been so careless... would they have the chance to be together now? Would Hyrule have been prosperous, victorious in face of the odds? Would their world have seen peace, suffering, hope, despair? Hundreds of unasked questions, thousands of untold possibilities, the burden of a mistake that weighed upon her shoulders all the more because she had a way to mend it.

This must end, now. There were no more chances to avoid the inevitable, no matter how she wished she could somehow forget her sin and toss away the responsibilities. She owed abandoned duty to her country, unjustly shed blood to her people, and seven cheated years to a boy who never knew the innocent joys of youth. But it was hard to face the cold demands of letting go, and Zelda could not stop one tear from falling when she found her fingertips lingering on his face in a wistful caress, even after the scraped skin there had fully healed.

The droplet was not quick enough to escape a hero's trained eyes. "What's wrong?" Link asked with concern, raising his hand to brush her cheek in an echo of her own gesture. The touch only served to aggravate her emotions, as passion and guilt welled up as one and clashed within her chest. With an almost angry motion, Zelda turned away and sat up, trying to give words to the thoughts that cascaded through her mind.

"Link... I need to apologize," she began, seeing startled confusion at once sweep across his face. "Not only to you, but to all the peoples of this land. All the tragedy that has befallen Hyrule was my doing..." Her voice wavered, forced herself to hold strong. The words of guilt must be told now, or else she might never find the conviction to speak them again. "I was so young... I could not comprehend the consequences of trying to control the Sacred Realm. I thought that if I obtained the Triforce, I could have the power to defeat Ganondorf's evil ambitions. Instead..."

There was no need to describe what had taken course instead. They had both seen it first-hand in each wound of the desecrated land. Zelda shuddered and closed her eyes. "I dragged you into the conflict, too. You should have been allowed to experience a normal childhood, not thrust into this responsibility against your will. I... I wish you would never have known this burden, and I know I could not ask for enough forgiveness."

It has been said. Words she had never admitted out loud, not even fully to Impa, though she was sure her long-time nursemaid had known the source of her pain on those nights when she felt a coarse but gentle hand on her hair as she cried her shame into her pillow. The confession should have been cathartic, but instead her words hung thick in the air before her, suspended by tiny strings of doubt and fear and guilt. Poisonous. Choking.

Warm fingertips brushed her own, soothingly. "There would've been no such thing as a normal childhood if Ganondorf was left free to do what he wanted. You only did what you thought was best for Hyrule's interests," Link said, reaching out to wipe away the dampness on her cheek. She tried to turn away, but he caught her shoulders and forced her to hold his gaze. "You didn't know, Zelda! None of us did. Hyrule doesn't blame you. I don't either."

What forgiving magic such simple words could carry! In spite of herself, Zelda found the stifling unease that haunted her chased away by his sweet sincerity. "Thank you, Link," she whispered, allowing herself to relax into his touch. They remained that way for a frozen moment, sharing faint comfort through the delicate contact, before she sobered in remembrance and pulled away.

"Regardless," she took a deep breath, "I must still atone for my mistakes. The cost has been far too high to ignore, not while there is still a way to undo the damage."

"How?" His eyes held such trusting wonder that Zelda felt loath to reveal the key, as if the tainted answer would only disappoint his innocent hope. Swallowing, she forced herself to go on.

"In the royal library, there were ancient texts which spoke of a powerful magic that lies within the Ocarina of Time. There is a way... a spell that can be laid, which can reverse the effects of time itself. With the aid of the Triforce's power, I think I can turn back time... back to before Hyrule fell into ruin." Her eyes glittered with apprehension, the words forming more quickly with fervor. "The Sacred Realm is a place that transcends time, and it will remain closed to all save the magic of the Sages. Ganondorf is sealed within it, and he would not be allowed to spread the discord he had in this world when he reached the Triforce. You will be able to live a peaceful life as you should have, and regain those seven years..."

"Will I remember?" he asked, volumes of words remaining unvoiced in the query. Will I remember the pain and evils that hid in the night? Will I remember the glory and triumphs that bloomed in the day? And, most important of all, will I remember...

"I do not know," Zelda said, a reluctant admittance to what she had feared for so long. "Time is a fickle thing to mold and trick. The ancient tomes did not describe all the consequences of the spell, and perhaps it varies with each casting. I cannot tell if you will remember the time that has passed, or if those who were affected will, or if anybody will. It may be that this present will cease existing altogether, to be replaced by the rightful stream of time."

"Then what should I go back for?" Link asked, a tone of frustration rising in his voice. "Why do I have to watch my accomplishments be erased? I don't want to forget all the things I experienced and the people I met. If Ganon is sealed away both here and then, can't I stay to see everything I fought for?"

Zelda shook her head heavily, golden earrings swaying against her cheeks. "Link, your efforts were not in vain. The Sages would not have been able to neutralize Ganondorf's power without your help. But, you must realize... You are not the only one who had unaccounted years stolen from him. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people were lost in the bloodshed of the war. They should not owe their lives to a single mistake."

Those words seemed to shake him, a previously unseen arrow finding its way past his defenses. The Hero was summoned to defend the land and its people, but he could not protect the victims lost while Time kept him to prepare for his destiny. And for what, all this time, had he been fighting? "I understand," Link said softly, lowering his gaze in quiet surrender.

So was it decided. Zelda closed her eyes, at once thankful and mournful, hateful and joyful that she had managed to convince him. "Give the Ocarina to me, Link," she murmured, each word painful over her tongue. "As a Sage, I can return you to your original time with it."

He procured the small instrument from his belongings without protest, and pressed it into her outstretched palm. The tingle of the ocarina's magic seemed to bind their hands to its surface, reluctant to let go of this final connection. Zelda finally pulled away and let her hands drop to her lap, watching the light play over the smooth porcelain. Such a heavy decision immersed in such a whimsical device.

"I just wish..." Link spoke again, hesitant words startling her in the emptiness of the room. "I wish it doesn't have to be so soon. I spent so long looking for you, and now finally—" He stopped abruptly, seemed to struggle inwardly against the futility. "I guess it wouldn't matter anymore, now," he finally said.

A resigned silence fell over them, its weight stifling against their hearts' unvoiced calls. For what agonizing, lonely months he had spent searching, she had waited longer still while his soul slept within the stream of time. How unfair it was, to have struggled so far to come together, only to find that it was the point where the tapestry of fate split apart and unwound back into nothing! And if the weaving were to be mended anew, where would they be? Would their paths intersect, or steal a passing glance, or never touch at all? Or would the design of the new embroidery turn out entirely different, so much that they would not recognize themselves even when they chanced to meet?

Despairing, Zelda turned her gaze towards Link, wishing for at least one last memory, a final image of him, if only to hold to herself. Her eyes traced over him wistfully, tucking each detail carefully away into the most treasured recesses of her mind. The sharpness of his features that added to him fierceness at times and elegance at others... The ever-present floppy green cap, snug over hair golden like spun sunshine... Long, chiseled neck that angled down to wiry but strong muscles over his lithe frame, and thin white tights that left far too little to the imagination... oops. Blushing spectacularly, she returned her gaze back up to his face.

Then, their eyes touched.

A shock seemed to run between them, as if truly realizing the extent of each other's emotions for the first time. I don't want to lose you, a whispered echo quivered through the space surrounding them, though neither made a move to express their thoughts. The depth of his eyes held so much longing and regret... or were those simply reflections of her own expression instead? Floundering, Zelda found herself leaning closer, feeling as though she would fall into his eyes, but it was Link who dared to bridge the gap between them, and pressed soft lips to hers.

His kiss was beautifully innocent, a light touch held carefully in place as if afraid to breach some barrier of etiquette. Even so, it was enough to make her heart skip a dozen beats and take flight in defiance of her attempt at restraint. At last...

She let him hold the tentative contact for a moment longer before retaliating, drawing closer in spite of the admonitions that clawed at her mind. They should not be tempting fate any further; this was crossing too deeply the line that divided their destinies. It was improper, it was unwise, it was wrong... it was more wonderful than her dreams could ever have described, and there was more...

It wasn't long before Link responded, matching her soft nibbles with tender strokes. Roving lips traced across hers in mimicry of her own explorations, lighting embers beneath each practiced touch. He is a fast learner, Zelda thought dryly, then jokingly chastised herself for being so callous. But soon, those thoughts too were swept away, drowned out by the intimate warmth of another's closeness and tiny sweet tingles that seemed to melt in her mouth and oh...

They finally parted for breath, faces flushed and hearts wild. "Sorry, that was... unmannered of me..." Link mumbled, suddenly shy and uncharacteristically nervous.

"No, it's okay..." She shook her head, blushing as fiercely as he was.

Link smiled, and leaned to kiss her again, but Zelda forced herself to back away. "I'm sorry, but we shouldn't..." The words died on her tongue even as she tried to speak them, her body rebelling against what shreds of good intentions she had left. She cleared her throat and tried again to justify her conscience, "...We cannot afford to dawdle; the stream of time grows wider with every moment..." But even that was a lie. What were a few minutes, an hour, a day compared to seven long years of heartache?

With a sigh, her shoulders drooped in defeat. "If... If we were to fall in love... I'm afraid I would not be able to let you go," Zelda admitted in a small voice.

Link let out a low chuckle beside her. "I think," he said, "it's already too late for that."

Yes, it was far too late. It had been too late even from the first time they met, though she had fought and denied and tricked herself, thinking it would be okay to let go. But now, faced with the immediate sacrifice, her brittle resolve was cracking as readily as her heart. Zelda stared into her lap, unable to speak for holding back the lump in her throat. Was it too late for him, too...?

He must have taken her silence for reluctance, or even refusal. "I'm sorry," Link started, embarrassment tingeing his voice, "I didn't mean to... to presume..."

How could she tell him how very mistaken he was? Zelda could only shake her head hopelessly, "No, I..." And then she was kissing him again, sealing off his wronged apology with her lips, trying to convey to him her entangled feelings through only this simple contact. Link received her eagerly, arms coming up to hold her closer, and she clung to him with equal need. He was warm, so very warm, and as their bodies met it seemed to fill a loneliness within her that she had never known existed. But now, having found it, she was certain it would be a thousand kinds of agony to live without...

Abruptly she broke off the kiss and buried her face against his bare shoulder, her breaths coming in ragged half-sobs of desperate passion. It was not possible. It was just not.

Link stroked her back gently, his tight grasp on her waist betraying his own emotion. "Please, Zelda," he begged, voice muffled against her hair. "Just a little more time... I promise I'll go back. I just... If this is goodbye..."

"We can't!" Zelda burst out in anguish, angry at her own weakness. "Time - how much time will be enough? An hour? A week? Just an eternity more? If we give in to our wishes now, how will we be able to restrain them later? I, we..." Her voice wavered and failed, the momentum of despair suddenly exhausted. The look on his face was heartbreaking, but even the extent of their sorrows was powerless to change what is to come. "Link, please understand," she whispered tearily. "We cannot... cannot afford to be selfish, right now..."

Link sank one fist into a nearby pillow. "How is it selfish! We've already given so much for Hyrule! Haven't we at least earned this much? Great Deku Tree...!" He raked one hand through his hair in frustration. "Don't I at least get a... a last request or something for saving the world?"

She gazed at him with pity, at once feeling very tired. "What would you ask of me then, Hero of Time? What do you wish for your reward?"

Link started to say something several times, but only broke off and shook his head wordlessly. "...I don't know," he mumbled at last, suddenly unsure and vulnerable, a little boy lost in a hero's body. "I never wanted riches or fame, or anything like that. But, I had thought... in the end we'd be able to be together, at least, as friends..."

"I know," Zelda murmured sadly. Her heart desolate, she wrapped her arms around Link, helpless to do any more than mourn with him. "At least, we have this moment," she whispered, feeling him tremble against her. "Even if everything is erased, even if we forget... Nothing will ever change the fact that we had this time together, once. The Goddesses themselves could not take it from us."

Link held her tightly for a long moment, gathering his thoughts and composure. At last, he took a deep breath and released her. Sadness and something unreadable stretched across the planes of his face, but his eyes were clear. Resolute, he told her, "I have nothing to ask for. It was an honor to have been able to serve you, Princess."

"Link..." Crumbling, Zelda closed her eyes and let the tears fall. So, this was the end. Standing at the critical point, she still could not be as brave as the Hero, who now wiped the tumbling droplets from her cheeks, who now cradled her as if soothing a small child, who now reached for her hands and closed her fingers around the Ocarina of Time...

Zelda shuddered violently at this gesture of finality. It was too sudden! How was she to play with such mad shaking in her fingers, with such broken sobs in her breath, with such hollow aches in her heart? Desperate for a reprieve, she looked pleadingly at Link, who only gazed back helplessly with an expression already forlorn. Oh Farore please I don't want to lose him not now...

The haphazard thought frightened her, despite her brave words earlier. What if she turned her back on the only chance they would ever have?

No. No, not yet. Turning, Zelda laid the Ocarina on the nightstand by the bed, where it glinted blithely, but did not protest. Obligations, consequences, cruel farewells will come later. Time can wait for them.

She looked up at Link, mouth very dry. "There is... one request I would ask, before you go."

"Anything."

Surely he would not respond so assuredly if he glimpsed what she had in mind. Zelda felt the blush creep over her even before the words formed. "One night. Let's wait one more night... just until tomorrow. We will face everything in the morning, but... just for tonight, maybe we can be together..."

Link's eyes widened. "You mean, like..."

"If you would like," she murmured demurely, the tips of her ears burning. "I would not push you if you don't want to, we could just talk, or..."

"I wouldn't mind," Link cut her off hastily, turning a very bright shade of red. "But, um, I don't know very much about... that..."

"I understand, if you are not ready—"

"No! I mean..." He flushed even further, impossible though it seemed. "I know what happens, and stuff, I pick things up here and there... It's just... I've never done this before, and I don't want to ruin it for you..."

Zelda smiled and nuzzled his cheek softly. "You are my first, as well. We can learn together, right?"

"Zelda," Link breathed, but anything more he had to say was lost as his lips caught her own, suddenly urgent with relief and freed passion. She kissed him back with equal ardor, heart soaring at the prospects that had been opened to them. One short evening, one whole night, to love and explore and simply hold and be held, to pretend that time did not nip at their heels and that a mere embrace could keep them together for eternity... It was enough. It will have to be enough.

She sighed his name against his mouth, and the desperate intensity of his kisses fell away, growing soft and burning with a slow hunger. Taking the opportunity, Zelda slipped her tongue past his seeking lips to flutter at his teeth, which quickly parted to grant her entrance. His tongue met her in a parry, and she gasped at the liquid tenderness of it, seeming to touch a nerve that extended directly into her heart. He tasted like the scent of the forest, clean and lush with a hint of fresh grass, a sensation she could drown in...

Link drew a shuddering breath and cautiously pulled away, to her great reluctance. "Are you sure about this? ...With me...?"

"I have wanted this since I first saw you in the Temple of Time," Zelda admitted, a blush rising high in her cheeks. "I just thought, if this is to be our last time together, maybe..."

Link stroked her cheek hesitantly, something akin to wonder in his eyes. "I've had dreams, and... But I never imagined you'd really... I mean, you're a princess, and I'm just—"

"The legendary Hero of Time?" she supplied. He grinned sheepishly and looked away, but she held him and gazed deep into his eyes. "Please, Link, let's forget about titles and duties right now. This is our moment, where we can be just Zelda and Link, as only lovers and nothing else."

"I'd like that," Link murmured, cupping her face in both hands and kissing her cheek. Lightly, his fingers skimmed up to her temples, and lifted her tiara away from her forehead. The dainty piece of jewelry joined the Ocarina in its place on the nightstand, and soon they were entwined again, utterly lost in each other.

...

Amidst the long, ageless expanse of Hyrule's history, there is one key moment in time, hardly the length of a day, where the turning points of many a destiny were created. At this particular wellspring of potential, stories were born and stories were ended, and a great deal of lives were changed. Though the details of the circumstance would fade and blur as it passed down through the ages, its renowned echo would be long remembered.

A number of significant spells were to be cast within that short, crucial span of time. There was power to lock the gateway to another world, and magic to change the history of an entire land. But none were as powerful as the enchantment that was spun that night, for though the Hero and the Princess could not guess it, their parting embrace had awoken a bond that spanned across all ages. It would not be their last meeting in this lifetime, nor even the next, nor ending as the fabric of time stretched on, weaving with it the threads of Legend.

Within the small cottage, the lovers lay oblivious, not knowing that outside their walls the world rejoiced at the dissipation of the dark clouds, not knowing that the eyes of six Sages smiled down upon them, not knowing what is to come. They held only each other, and the precious echoes of this moment, for tomorrow will bring its own bittersweet trials anew.

And the night slept on.

.

Dawn's light was slow in seeping through the shuttered windows, and Zelda woke at an hour rather later than what she had been accustomed to. She panicked a little at the missed time—there was training to be done—news to be gathered—traps to be laid—until she reminded herself that there was no longer need for any of those tasks. The warm body that she nestled against was certain proof for that. Things were very different, now.

Humming a little with blissful relaxation, Zelda raised her head to gaze up at Link fondly. He looked so idyllic in sleep, all tension and burdens wiped clean from his face. It was almost easy to imagine him as the carefree boy from once ago, who bore few concerns and knew little of the outside world.

Yet, one had only to look to his bared torso for proof that the young man within had seen more than his share of trials and battles. Zelda dragged her fingers lightly across his skin, imagining the scenarios that brought upon each telling scar. Here, the parallel tips of cruel Wolfos claws, a glancing scratch that had been halfway evaded but not quickly enough. And this mark, a cut from an unclean blade that had left some of its foulness, and while the wound had been fortunate to not fester badly, the dark trail would serve as a reminder for long years to come.

Or it would, were it not being erased today, along with all other scars and pains that had been unjustly dealt over these seven years. Zelda sat up, blinking away her lethargy as she remembered. One night. Let's wait. Until the morning.

This was it. No more excuses.

Yet it was hard to summon a fatalistic mood over the morning rays, not while he still slept so peacefully beside her. "Link," Zelda called softly, leaning over him and letting her hair brush his face.

Though she had not expected any particular response, Zelda was nonetheless surprised when Link grumbled and swatted at her. "Go 'way, Navi, it's still early..."

The actual fairy in question yawned from the windowsill and flew up to the bed, bathing them in her blue-white glow. "He's always impossible to get up in the morning," she remarked to a slightly nonplussed Zelda.

"Is that so?" Feeling playful, Zelda leaned down and kissed the tip of his nose. Link only responded by scrunching up his nose with an annoyed sigh. Laughing to herself, Zelda decided on a more direct course of attack, and targeted his mouth instead.

For a few moments there was no reaction. But just as she ran the tip of her tongue over his lower lip, she felt from him a small, surprised movement, then his arms snaked around her with certain purpose, capturing her for a thorough retaliation. Muffling her giggles, Zelda struggled and managed to pry herself away after a minute. Link lay back with a languid smile, as if savoring the moment, then at last opened his eyes. "Hi."

She smirked and tickled his chest. "Good morning, Hero."

Link grinned at her, then stretched lazily. "I was dreaming about the forest," he said sleepily, a soft smile lingering on his face. "It was the yearly Kokiri Festival; that's the time when the Great Deku Tree gives life to new fairy spirits. We get to hold a big celebration in the village, with games and music and tons of good food, and there's fairy lights in the trees everywhere you look..."

So therein lies the weakness. Despite all his brave quests and extraordinary adventures, it was clear where his heart still lay. Zelda swallowed hard and steeled her heart. "It's time to go home, Link," she said softly.

He looked startled for a moment, then glanced away as disappointed realization crept over his face. For all the Hero's courageous efforts, he had still one final duty...

Suddenly the intimacy of the narrow bed seemed confining instead of cozy. She couldn't bring herself to face him in the light of her own foolish cruelty. Mumbling something about having to wash up, Zelda grabbed some cloths to drape around herself, and fled from his presence.

.

The creek behind the house was particularly cold in the early hours of the day, not yet having taken in the heat of the sun. It engulfed Zelda as she stepped in, thoroughly numbing her under a blanket of chilliness.

Numb. Numb was good. It meant that she did not have to dwell over the places where he had touched her last night, not feel where the torn soreness still lay deep within her, not look where the unfeeling stream washed the stickiness from her thighs. It meant that she could ignore her heart's pain, and block out her rampant thoughts, and forget to shed the tears.

The tears that now coursed down her cheeks in hot rivulets, leaving thawing trails of feeling behind them.

...No. No, no! Zelda wiped at her face angrily, succeeding only in mixing the tears with river water, leaving her face miserably soaked. Tears were useless. It was folly. She had no right to grieve for something that was never supposed to be. Besides, what did it matter in the larger scheme of things? He was merely a forest boy, and she was merely a spoiled girl. Fate held no obligation to either of them, nor their selfish desires.

But Nayru, sweet Nayru, it had felt so right to hold him in her arms... And now, having at last tasted that rightness, she was to face the rest of a lifetime without him? The thought that this would be the last, that she would never again know his warmth, froze her heart more than any frigid river could.

Oh, it was cold. Fate was cold, and time was cold, and she wanted no more of this biting coldness. Wading stiffly to the bank, Zelda wrapped herself in her linens and huddled against a large rock, trying to gather warmth from the distant sun.

She knelt there, shivering, for a long time.

.

Link had already dressed while she was away, and was even now strapping weapon and shield to his back. He looked up as she stepped into the room, then quickly averted his eyes, though Zelda could not tell if it was out of courtesy or grief. She dressed quickly, not wanting to face her own vulnerability.

"...I think it would be best if we went to the Temple of Time," Zelda murmured as she pulled on her gloves, wincing at the harshness of her own words through the hopeless silence. "The sacred magic inherent there will be conductive to... the spell."

Link nodded quietly, and picked up the Ocarina of Time from where it had lain, almost forgotten. Zelda retrieved her golden harp from its storage spot, cradling the familiar weight in her arms. A sharp twinge of memory struck her as Link lifted the ocarina to his lips and met her eyes, awaiting her signal. The last time they stood in this position, it had been the start to potential adventure, not bitter parting...

Choking back her tears, Zelda plucked out the Prelude of Light on stiff harp strings, each note falling from her fingers with the weight of a thousand gemstones. Link followed her cue, echoing the melody on the airy tone of the ocarina. Before the last flourishes of their instruments faded from the air, the golden sparks surrounded them, and the house stood empty once more.

.

The teleport magic deposited them on the hexagonal warp platform without ceremony, far too abruptly for her preference. The sudden solemnness of the temple was stifling, and Zelda lowered her head, gulping for air and trying to calm her heart. She felt Link take her right hand and squeeze it gently. Courage.

With hands clasped, they walked up together to the stone altar where the three Spiritual Stones still hovered, untouchable guardians of the gateway into future and past. Here the Hero had descended at destiny's beckon, and here he would return to reclaim his life.

"When peace returns to Hyrule, it will be time for us to say good-bye..." Many times she had rehearsed the words in her mind, but she could not, dared not utter them now. Such a thought was too hopeless, too permanent to touch upon. Her hand was still in his. It was warm...

Link turned to her, an agonized resolve firm in his face. "Princess, I..."

She shook her head to silence him, afraid that she would not stand against his words. "There is no need for formalities now. You are going home, Link. Home, where you are supposed to be... the way you are supposed to be..." She even allowed herself a shaky smile, for it was at least some encouragement, the thought that he would now be allowed to find true happiness as fate had meant for him. Perhaps, it would be compensation enough.

He seemed to soften somewhat, though his eyes still held a distant regretfulness. "I just want to thank you again, for everything. For giving me this chance... Zelda, I... I really..." He reached out for her, but she looked away, and he let his hands drop. "Thank you," he said merely, and was silent.

There was no use in delaying further. "I will perform the spell, now," she told him. Link nodded, and said nothing.

"In order to ensure the security of the enchantment, you must lay the Master Sword to rest and close the Door of Time..." Her voice wavered, almost lost to raw emotion. It was this one consequence that wounded her most of all. "However, by doing this, the road between times will be closed..."

Link pulled her into his arms, allowing her the chance to dry her eyes silently on his tunic. "I will find you again," he told her simply. It was not a question or empty wish, nor even an unfilled promise. Time itself would bear testament to their vows.

They shared one last kiss in the gloom of the temple, slowly. It was chaste and longing, and spoke of ages of emotions untold. The Ocarina of Time was left in her hands as they separated, and Zelda gripped it tightly, for she could hold on to nothing else. Link slid the Master Sword from its sheath on his back, and walked through the Door of Time. He did not look back.

The familiar blue light enveloped the Hero of Time as he plunged the sword into the stone pedestal, claiming him once more into the swift stream of time. But through it, the clear notes of an ocarina drifted and cradled him, soothing his soul and easing his journey. And then, there was whiteness.

.

(Thank you, Link...

Good-bye...)

.

.

The sky was blue, that day, over Hyrule Castle.

A wind blew through the trees, whispering secret things. Soft footsteps padded over the grass. The ten-year-old Princess of Hyrule peered into the low castle window from her favorite spot in the courtyard, as she was wont to do.

She turned, and met the eyes of a boy dressed in green.

The world froze, and they froze, quivering with uncertain anxiety. Neither moved—neither dared—as if listening for some instruction from the heavens. To run? To shout? To laugh?

.

They stood, and waited.

.

- The Beginning -

.

.


Misc. author's notes:

- Don't we love time-travel consequences? I've done my best to come up with a logical explanation that still fits into what little we know from canon, but even I still get confused sometimes.

- The first time I beat Ocarina of Time, Link really got beat up about that much. I basically had to defeat Ganon with one heart and no fairies remaining; now that was intense.

- There will most likely be a sequel to this, similar in content and greater in magnitude. (scary!) It's just a question of how long it'll take to get written. Might be a pretty long wait, but hopefully it'll be worth it...

- Referenced events and selected quotes come from the game. Personalities and settings derived from the manga. Link's appearance description from the ever-so-detailed model in Soul Calibur II. =P

~ Aug. 13, 2003