"Paradise Lost"

Disclaimer: You know how it is, with me not owning Zelda or anything and only writing this pathetic story to fulfill my dastardly needs. "Fate goes as fate must" is a quote from Beowulf -- now that is some great epic poetry! Anyway, I hope you enjoy!

---

Later, when Link had time to reflect on the situation, he cursed himself for rebelling against destiny. How could he have been so bullheaded, so stupid? He'd made one of the biggest mistakes he was ever like to make.

But he had fixed it, in the end--

No, he hadn't. This wasn't how you fixed things.

You didn't fix things by standing before the waiting entrance of Princess Zelda's makeshift bedchamber, contemplating death.

He was tired, though his legs were still strong and could have supported him for as long as he needed them to. Rather, he was tired of bloodshed. He had slaughtered what seemed to amount to armies, facing death with sober eyes to preserve the goodness of the kingdom. He had sacrificed his boyhood unresistingly, bending himself to the crushing weight of destiny's will. He would have fallen on his own sword if the order came at the goddesses' demand. He had much to show for his sacrifice: the lives of good men and women preserved, the integrity of Hyrule restored, destiny -- the motif of Hylian history -- fulfilled.

He'd done noble deeds, though the gore that stained him when he gutted Iron Knuckles seemed less than noble somehow. Still -- how he wished he could disobey Her Majesty, even when she wanted to be happy, even when her needs served the good of the realm...

She had wanted to be happy on that night, that night the seven sages sealed Ganon in his own twisted world for either eternity or until their power faded, whichever came first. He remembered how the two of them had celebrated in the clouds, figures softened behind a veil of relief, rejoicing at the feat they had accomplished, the overwhelming evil they'd toppled. Link himself was still smarting and bloodsplattered from his last battle with the transformed Gerudo when Princess Zelda finally approached him, making him quiver inside with the suppleness of her slender form, the heaviness of her blue eyes -- and the blood on her too. Her too.

She enveloped one of his battle-scarred hands in both her gloved ones, staring seriously at him -- and, taking the chance, he stared back.

Never before had he dared such impropriety, not even when she appeared to him as Sheik; a sense of nobility radiated off the young man that always made Link respectfully lower his eyes. He'd been affected by this feeling when she dressed as befitted a princess, too. No more. In Ganon's Castle they'd shackled themselves together with ties more lasting than love or hate, lust or friendship: death and destiny. They'd cemented their connection to each other through the bloodthirst of their shared gods, and the thought of not looking her in the eye now -- as they stood so intimately close -- was unacceptable.

He was glad he'd taken the chance; Zelda looked no more surprised at this than she might have at the sight of the sun rising. Link had the impression of seeing her eyes clearly for the first time, a nervousness at the thought pulsing irregularly through his veins. Those eyes were deeply blue and solemn, instantly satisfying a hundred shunned needs within him and hinting at a hundred more, secret pleasures forever out of reach but endlessly tantalizing.

Anticipation, fueled by adrenaline, was the only thing that kept him -- the Hero of Time, as much a solitary figure as the Lone Wolf Thief! -- standing. He felt speechless; he felt lovesick; he felt a fool.

"Link," she whispered, her voice queerly diplomatic and unattached, "I'm going to send us all back in time -- seven years back, before you infiltrated the castle, before you obtained the first spiritual stone. I feel...guilty about what I've done. The unacceptable things I've made you do." Her eyes, still heavy with emotion and blood, dropped first. "Destiny decrees a second chance for us -- all of us. You can relive everything I've helped you lose. Does it sound a paradise, Link?" She raised her eyes again, serene in her confidence. "I'll do it now, but I'll need your hand -- and the Ocarina..."

Link understood she awaited his response when she let go of his hand and held one of hers out -- a small-boned hand -- to serve as a sacred altar on which he'd lay his last offering in this world. Link, under the spell of imagined love, made to reach inside his tunic for the treasure of treasures, the thing that evoked such powerful emotions in him with its music, the Ocarina -- and then stopped, the bewitchment broken like the calm of a body of water when a stone is thrown into its depths. He froze, contemplating.

What had he to gain by going back? Saria, Mido, alienation, relative anonymity, the comfort of knowing that nothing more could happen with the wretched Ganon trapped in the horrors his mind had created everywhere...

Yet she would not remember him; the princess had told him as much earlier as she wrung her small hands, looking at him hungrily as though she expected some reply. How could he answer that? The thought of her high in an ivory tower, awaiting the arrival of some lordly cousin or foreign prince who would marry her and claim both her maidenhead and her lands, disgusted him. He knew exactly why. She had fought with him to save Hyrule, serving as both mentor and guide, proving herself both courageous and wise as she earned her birthright through blood. And she had grown into a young woman of astonishing beauty; Link could scarce forget that. In this world they had created together, they might have found comfort in each other...

...Only Zelda was zealously committed to the gods they shared, and was willing to give up all she had earned to appease them.

For as long as he could remember, Link had been used as the willing vessel of the goddesses, blessed with the patronage of Farore on the condition he did as She wanted. Her pull existed in him even now, manifesting itself as the overwhelming temptation to accept what Zelda was offering, but...but...he remembered how Zelda had fought the shadow beast that had lurked in the well, remembered the shy and sweet smile she had given him as a child, remembered her as she was now, and he could not so easily erase all they had shared together. Not for the gods; not for a second childhood. He couldn't give up on their future yet. They couldn't.

Link jerked his hand away, keenly aware of Zelda's undisturbed blue stare. "No, Your Highness," he said through clenched teeth, forcing the words out as his body worked against him. "I...cannot accept."

Zelda recoiled as though he had hit her. Then the hopeful expression on her face crumbled like a mountain of sugar, the granules falling slowly, gradually. Her eyes bright, she took Link's hand again, warmth climbing with creeping fingers into her voice. "Destiny decrees it," she repeated.

"Yes. But I..." He could not get enough air, but somehow he made himself squeeze breath out, weaving lies from air in the pauses between breaths. "I am grievously tired of war; it sickens me. I need to rest, without the looming threat of enemies with steel in their fists to rouse me."

Her eyes hinted that they shared a connection he did not understand. "Link...do you understand what I'm offering us? A chance to rest, to laugh, to live without the threat of Ganondorf! It's not a small offering..."

Her renewed offer was nearly enough to cow him, to make him succumb to desires his still-childish mind didn't quite accept or understand, but he checked his feelings before he could do something he would regret; instead he spoke. "Princess, I want to enjoy this land I've saved. I love Hyrule, but I don't care about the past anymore, I don't care, let me stay, let--"

Let us stay. He thought he spied a flicker of interest in her eyes, some latent hope, but the words tangled in this throat and by the time they faded unsaid the moment had passed. He watched as a trembling smile touched Zelda's lips and felt a mad, sudden desire to soothe her tense slim frame; but not understanding why she was so affected, he couldn't. "I accept your decision," Zelda said in a composed voice. "I...I think you may be able to salvage something from the shards of your childhood, given enough time. I understand there's quite a celebration at Lon Lon Ranch..."

Link didn't hear her. He stood and trembled as the noise of the Zora River meandering downstream filled his ears, the roar of destiny unfulfilled.

---

He'd ridden all night, and now dawn stained the sky. For that Link was glad; it would have been awkward to arrive at Lon Lon Ranch in the middle of the night as he thought he'd might, to pester Malon with plaintive pleas as though he were a beggar.

Wasn't he a beggar, though? he thought to himself as Epona entered Lon Lon Ranch. It had taken him one week to use up his savings at Kakariko Village's only inn, a place where the men's eyes reflected the bloodlust in their hearts. Link didn't mind those men, though. He stayed in his room -- with the door locked -- and stared down at the Ocarina he had kept from the princess, though he took no joy in it; the princess and the gods had made him aware it was no longer his to hold. He came down from his room three times a day to take his meals, and in this way, acclimated to normal life.

It wasn't really acclimating, though, when he was staying in a place filled with men who were inclined to violence. Yet he wasn't sure where else to go. The thought of petitioning Princess Zelda jellied his insides: he'd denied her, leaving her the Queen of Love and Beauty abandoned by her Champion. (Would she receive him now?) And she and her meager court were constrained to live in tents on the castle grounds while her builders sought a way to rebuild Hyrule Castle; he was sure he'd find no refuge among those seeking quarter themselves. Nor could he go back to Kokiri Forest; with his long limbs and the peach fuzz ringing his jaw, the quiet deadliness in his eyes and the pain in his voice in his cups, he'd be as much an outsider there now as he had been without a fairy, only ten years old and not ready for what was about to happen to him.

With no other option available to him, he went to beg Malon for mercy. He liked Malon. She was sweet and courteous, even faintly pretty. She'd make a good wife for someone looking to settle down -- if they could afford the surely astronomical bride-price Talon would demand for her hand. But after hearing what one gossip stone had to offer him behind his Sheikah mask, he knew that Malon would make a good wife for some other man. She wanted a knight in gleaming finery to sweep her off her feet and lead her onward to a gilded land of adventures; Link wanted to nurse his wounds, reflect on the full life he'd lived at seventeen, and go forward on his life's journey slowly, slowly...

Epona stopped adjacent to the ranch house while Link stared in envy at his surroundings. How idyllic it all seemed: the corral, the undisturbed pasture, the sturdy and practical house. What would it be like, he wondered, to live here, to concentrate forevermore on naught but the trifles of everyday Hylian life? A great sense of peace at the fantasy rippled through him, and as a small part of him put his dream-self through its paces, the larger part -- the part of him directed by Farore -- fought to crush the daydream.

"Link!"

That voice! Reflex made him think that Navi was calling out to him -- except he'd only ever heard her voice inside his head, within his dreams...and the fairy had been lost somewhere in the Sacred Realm, maybe forever. Shunning the reflex, he looked up the side of the house and saw Malon staring at him from a window.

"Link!" she half-whispered.

Her long maidenly hair, a blood-soaked war standard, hung out the window and framed her face. Freckles stood out starkly on her pale skin, and the red lines under her eyes were as present as ever. Malon's face was pretty, but it was those red lines that intrigued him the most. Did she lay awake late at night, thinking of the years her father had been held as a willing hostage at Kakariko? Did she cry herself to sleep after vain efforts to recall the memory of her dead mother?

"Malon!" he called, rising from his fancies. "Your ranch has given me meat for a week's daydreams...how serene it is!"

Was that desperation in her face? "Link! Go away!" She gestured wildly at the exit of the ranch while disquiet grew in his insides. What waited for him here that he had not anticipated?

Link saw the man all in black up on Malon's roof a moment before an arrow grazed his arm. Jerking his feet out of the stirrups, he slid off his horse bonelessly and hit the ground, pretending to be wounded. He snapped his eyes shut as though that would drown out the sound of Malon's horrified screams, reaching surreptitiously for the hilt of his magic sword.

He'd pulled the Master Sword free of its sheath by the time he heard several darkly clad figures hit the ground to examine him. Rising, tasting bitter dirt in the back of his mouth, he came to meet them.

"Halt!" ordered one of them. "We do not come to do battle, no matter what the appearances. Princess Zelda has requested your presence at court to serve her pleasure. Strongly requested."

Yes, yes, she will receive me now. Link froze, save for his eyes, which traveled up the three dark-clad forms to examine their faces. He was shocked to see a familiar face looking back down at him: the face of the soldier in the Castle Town armory he'd known in his youth, no older now than he'd been then. By what magic...?

Pushing aside his surprise, he forced himself to laugh. "Then why do you come to me dressed for mourning?"

"Because there very well may be death this day," said the tallest one as the other two suggestively fingered their bows. Link thought he'd seen that tall one before too; it didn't take him long to place him as the captain of the guard.

"If I don't serve Her Majesty's pleasure, you mean?" Watching them, he let the sword fall from his grip to the ground. He felt the alienation he'd been experiencing these past few days melting away into cynicism and -- worse yet -- betrayal. How could Talon and Malon have allowed these men onto their land, knowing their purpose?

The captain backed up a little, settling a hand over the hilt of his sword. "That's the general idea."

Link shrugged, and despite the balmy breeze issuing from the south, he felt horribly numb and cold. "I've already heard Her Highness's proposal. I'm of no humor to agree to it."

"Then let it be battle between us."

Before Link could respond, the captain had his sword out and was lunging at him. He was fumbling with his shield when he heard the house door open and Malon yell, "Dad, no! Don't interfere! They said they wouldn't hurt him!"

He braced himself and staggered backward as the captain's sword bit into the shield, just managing to protect himself. The captain backed away with his own shield out as Link bent to retrieve the Master Sword, as the two archers nocked up two arrows and aimed at Talon, who was transfixed in the threshold of his home's only door.

"Leave the boy be!" Talon hollered as Link defended himself against another lunge. The farmer surged forward. The two archers gave no warning, just loosed their arrows. One arrow sailed harmlessly over Talon's head. The other pierced his throat, sending a spray of blood into the air, sending the man to his knees as he gagged and held his hands to his throat and died.

Link did his best to block out Malon's renewed screams as he blocked the captain's fervent lunges and thrusts. He spied one of the archers coming toward him from the side, dirk in hand, and he swiftly hit him in the face with his shield as he parried a lazy cut from the commander. The young soldier went down shrieking, and before the leader could attack again, he looked around and saw the other archer hovering close. He shoved his sword through the man's chest, and twisted.

It came loose in a spray of warm blood as Link turned quickly to parry a slice from the captain, a powerful killing blow; a moment's hesitation would have meant his head. The two of them fought together between the house and barn for what seemed to amount to hours, their swords meeting with a merry music. It was Link who took advantage of the soldier's cumbersome black armor: he began to circle the man, going left, kicking the boy he'd incapacitated with the shield in the head as an afterthought.

As he'd anticipated, the captain was too slow to keep up with Link's cautious circular movements...and as he quickly noticed, his gorget wasn't properly fastened. Link knew victory was close at hand -- at least, until the captain whirled around quickly to face him, bringing his sword around in a high deadly arc. Link parried it easily, and while the captain wasted another cut on his shield, he shoved his own sword into the man's guts.

Sword and shield tumbled from his hands, and blood leaked from a corner of his mouth. "You cut me," he said incredulously, his eyes glassy with shock.

"I certainly did." Link brought his sword up, ripping him open from navel to breastbone as he sought his heart. "I'm sure Talon didn't believe it either, when your archers did for him. Did you know his name was Talon? No matter, I'm sure you two will become well acquainted very soon."

He pulled the sword free, cursing the dirt in his eyes that was making him cry. The leader's mouth gaped once, and that was all; he went to meet Talon. Link looked down at the captain as the man slumped and fell to his knees, hovering there a moment as if in final prayer. As the Master Sword clattered to the ground, Malon fell to her knees too, clutching her dead father to her chest and begging the goddesses for guidance.

---

The house was shrinking. As the uncertain light of sunset settled over the farm, Link heard the house groaning and shifting around him, saw the high beams contracting, the shadows reducing the dimensions of the rooms. Down in the kitchen, he spread his arms to touch the walls and found they fit, tight and perfect. In the odd manner of houses, this one was shrinking to accommodate its sole inhabitant.

He intruded on her grief silently, delicately. It was a new, tentative experience for him, a boy who healed by killing. Never before was there any thought or care given to what to say, what to do, when the thing bleeding and dying before you had a family, a familiar face -- an identity. But now he knew anger and loud words would be blasphemy.

She lay straight and stretched on her neatly made straw bed, still in her bloody skirt and bodice. Her eyes were open and unblinking, fixed on some point on the ceiling. She did not move as Link came in, did not acknowledge his presence with a look, or a gesture, or a cry.

"I know who sent those men here, Malon."

Link heard nothing but the sound of his own voice ricocheting off the walls of this shrinking, hollow cave. He hated the sound of it.

He moved towards her. "You must be worried about the fate of...your father. Fear not. I know what I must do. Talon would think it best. Would see...the justice in it."

It took him a moment to realize he'd spoken without realizing it, but by then it was too late to take the words back. He knew he had the truth of it; in Hylian society, the wages of murder were death, even if you hadn't wielded the blade yourself. And he'd recognized Hyrule's royal crest beneath the poorly dyed black surcoat the soldiers wore. Bringing royal justice to the princess herself...that was a new thought, and one so horrible that Link wanted to hide from it, but never before had he shirked his duty.

The ties of death and destiny has destroyed all tension, all awkwardness, so Link sat down on the bed beside the girl unafraid, trying to rid himself of his traitorous thoughts of Zelda. But he found little distraction in Malon; coldness radiated from her body, and she did not look at him.

"It will be...a hard thing to do. But necessary," he whispered fiercely. Slowly, outrage was overtaking the numbness he felt. The numbness he'd always felt since offering his body to the gods. As if he were just coming out of the cold, he felt tiny pinpricks of pain at the corners of his eyes.

It was so quiet.

He did not realize he'd lost control till his fist slapped against his sore thigh, over and over. The pain was gnawing and the only thing that kept him from reacting against Malon, so silent and still and plastic. "I'm going to kill for you! Mightn't you display a little gratitude?"

Malon turned to face him, her stare grave. Slow tears oozed from her eyes and down the curves of her face. "I'm sorry, Link. It must be...very hard to take another's life. To wonder...why must it always be this way."

I don't wonder why; I know. The gods have assigned me this fate, have named me The Hero, and though I should be grateful, it's wounded me. It's given me a killing wound. Was that the first time he'd acknowledged that repressed thought? Or the first time he'd ever thought it?

When she saw he wasn't going to answer, she sat up in bed and brushed away her tears. There was a strange sadness in the smile she gave him then, as if she knew his thoughts and understood. "You needn't kill for me," she continued, her voice tentative. "You've...given me all I need."

He'd given her three dead men, a cairn near the corral for her father, and a wallet of rupees to see to her needs for a few moon's turns. It wasn't enough. One last death for justice, for my freedom, he told himself resolutely, but that didn't silence the little boy inside who cried, No -- I won't be the one to do it. Farore, as I've been true to you, do not let this fall on my shoulders. I cannot do this thing.

But the goddesses would not intervene in something he'd decided to do for himself. For justice. For freedom. He took a deep steadying breath, and forced his heart to harden. "Destiny decrees it," he told her. No, it hadn't.

Malon sucked in a breath of her own, apparently readying herself for one last protest. She herself didn't want him to do this thing...that was the hardest part later, the disappointment in her eyes. "F-father, he hated bloodshed, he wouldn't have wanted this. He wouldn't. Link, hear me--"

"They killed your father." He stared her boldly in the face. "I know what I must do."

Malon did not argue further against the blood in his eyes. "Then do your duty," she said, turning to mourn as the house grew small around her.

---

Now -- now -- here he stood in front of the Princess Zelda's tent, hesitating in fear of her fabled magic power. He'd already done for the guards; they lay dazed at his feet, not to return to consciousness for several hours. It was the princess he reserved his fears for now. He'd often felt this overwhelming fear before battling the vicious monsters that dwelt in temples, only now...now there was an eager rush to the apprehension, a hunger to see her and touch her skin one last time before he laid Talon's murder at her door.

Will she receive me now? It was time to find out. He pulled open the tent flap and entered the gloom of Zelda's tent.

Light from a smoke hole in the ceiling was all that illuminated the tent, but he could see the ornate furnishings nonetheless, the clothing scattered carelessly amongst the rushes. He looked away from the undergarments, angered by his sudden arousal, turning to examine a delicate golden wedding chalice dulled with age. Her mother's, most like, or her mother's before her, but luxurious still. Perhaps he would take this to remember her by...his eyes strayed to her bed, and excitement bloomed in his middle. Unacceptable.

He crept up beside the bed, pushing aside the gauzy curtains around it that hid its occupant from view. Then he pulled the dagger from his magic bag as silently as possible. Intrigued by the maiden carved into the wooden hilt, he had bought it long ago. Now he would use it to kill a maiden.

The night was dark, but he could see her still. How beautiful she was in sleep, her sunshine yellow hair artlessly tangled, her body lithe and nubile beneath her silken sleeping shift. How eager she must have been to return to the opulence of her castle life, to forget what death was... He noticed her shallow breathing and the flawlessness of her pallid skin and an ache developed within him, gnawing away at his resolve and deepening his guilt.

Zelda. Had he said her name aloud or thought it? She did not stir, so the sound of her name must not have risen above the thudding of his heart. How could his desire for her persist in his hate?

Lovesickness, or grief, or the sting of betrayal twisted the face of the carved maiden as Link laid the dagger casually against the princess's throat. He looked down at his weapon, hypnotized by the cold gleam of the blade. Never before had he taken joy in killing, for he understood it to be his solemn duty. He wondered if he could find joy in it when Zelda was... Zelda...

"Zelda," he whispered.

She must have been used to being roused from the grip of prophetic dreams, for she opened her eyes uncomplaining. She froze when she felt the dagger, but her face was so still Link wondered if she recognized the purpose in his eyes. How long had she been expecting him to visit her here, like this, late at night?

"I thought you might come," she whispered.

"Of course you did." His voice was cold. "If you had meant to kill me, you would have left nothing to chance. But you meant to draw me here with your ploy at the ranch, and you succeeded. Make your peace with the gods."

"How did you know it was me?"

"None other would expect more sacrifice after their own salvation," he snarled.

"You wrong me," she protested. "It was the gods who wanted this, not me."

"It was you who sent men to kill me."

"The gods--"

"It was you who betrayed me."

"Hear me, it was demanded by the gods!"

"How pious you are! Even I did not realize that betrayal was a value held dear by the goddesses!"

"You angered the Gerudos when you killed their king. You angered his sympathizers." Her chest heaved as she spoke, her desperation palpable. "You knew your fate if you were to fall into their hands. It's why you carry your sword with you still."

"So you did arrange for the guards to ambush me at the ranch, thinking I would not bring my sword with me there?"

"Only after...only after I overheard the girl, Malon, speaking of you when she delivered milk here. Then I saw the chance."

"Then you plotted to placate your gods," he snarled, pressing the dagger a little harder against her skin. The blade trembled with the power of his emotion, and the sharp edge slipped and broke her skin. She gasped, and as blood welled in the cut, she whispered urgently of the Ocarina, the paradise that awaited them, the wrath of the gods. He didn't bother listening to her, just pulled her to her feet.

"I do not slaughter maidens in their beds," he told her, but it was more than that. Had he slaughtered her abed her blood would have been on the sheets, inescapable. He could not have borne that, no more than he could bear this. But I cannot shirk my duty.

She trembled as he forced her to her knees, but she didn't speak. Link wondered if it was guilt that kept her silent, and hoped it was as he fingered his weapon. "Your ambush wasn't completely unsuccessful. You killed Talon. Thank your gods for that."

"Who?"

She doesn't even remember his name. "You put your soldiers on his property." He laughed bitterly. "Did the gods tell you there would be no casualties? They lied to you, Princess, just as they've always lied to you -- and me."

"You are lying!" she insisted, giving him the indignity of her back. His anger flared, and he had to resist the urge to kick her, to kiss her, to leave her there, because he would never know what had been right or wrong or folly.

"I saw it myself. That arrow exploded out of his throat like doves exploding from one of those giant pies you must like so well. The girl, Malon, held him as he died. I wonder if she'll ever be all right again. What -- are you surprised the gods didn't protect him? They don't care about us, so long as their precious destiny is fulfilled."

And Princess Zelda began to cry.

Suddenly, Link felt foolish with the dagger in his hand. He had come here to bring justice to a woman who'd coldly plotted to capture him, with no thought to the consequences -- he found a girl who trembled in the face of death and cried when he revealed to her the scope of her atrocities. She was just a pawn like him, not worthy of the destruction he'd come to bring her. But I will give it to her, all the same. I must not shirk my duty. I must not.

"My fault..." he heard her whispering. "Would that I could have convinced you to go back...would that I could have ignored the gods..."

He waited for her crying to stop, knowing she would not want the comfort he would give her, knowing he had to keep his heart hard against her. And when he heard her doing naught but sniffling, he steadied her, and brushed aside her feather-soft golden hair to reveal her tender neck. "You've made your choice. Now pay for it."

"I have no coin," she whispered, a dark jest, but the words rang hollow in Link's ears and he did not answer her. He kept his silence as she solemnly bowed her head and folded her small hands in her lap. She knew the price she must pay for her actions, the blood price...yet she never once cried out for help. Zelda possessed an iron sense of justice when the goddesses were not whispering in her ear, Link knew, and he wondered if it was that which stayed her tongue. Or was it the gods? Or was it... No. An unworthy thought.

He steadied the blade and held it against the back of her neck, resolve hardening within him. She had made her choice, had shown no mercy to him or Malon or Talon, and now she would get what she deserved -- as they all did in the end, imperfect creatures within Hyrule's kingdom who exposed themselves to the goddesses' brutish forms of atonement...

"Link?" the princess whispered. She turned to face him as the dagger clattered against the floor, her eyelashes spiky with tears, her expression raw. "Link?"

Looking down at the face so familiar to him, the face of the girl who had shaped so much of his life, Link found himself incapable of killing her. The thought of living without her felt wrong somehow, as if he didn't belong in a universe bereft of this princess...and he knew he would follow her into death if he killed now, an outcome he wasn't willing to accept. Not now that he had discovered that she was a pawn too.

"Get up," he ordered. "I'm not going to kill you. Not yet."

She tried to rise, but her legs wouldn't work right, so Link was forced to help her to her unsteady feet and she was so warm, so close. Zelda was crying again and she kept a hand on his shoulder, a soft bare hand. Her close brush with death had lent a vulnerability to her face he had never seen before; it only served to make her more beautiful. But he must resist her, he knew; there was no telling when she would betray him again...

...Yet he could not control his voice. "We were under the thrall of the goddesses, once," he told her. "Perhaps we still are. You are, for certain. But we can change our destinies, I know the way. We stay here, and we face this future, and we learn." He wanted to touch her, but his infatuation was tangled and confused with his hatred of her, his lust, and the hand she'd placed on his shoulder had already fallen away.

Zelda wasn't crying anymore, and he knew she would remember this night for as long as they both lived. Unless we go back, she'll remember naught then. There was a tenderness in her eyes that he didn't like and trusted less. "Link," she said softly, "I've already told you the way to take control of our destinies. We've talked of it. It's why I brought you here. Take my hand, and let me take my Ocarina... I will forget you, but you'll remember me. Please remember me." She moved forward.

He knew the truth of it then; anger filled him hot and fast, and his eyes tingled. Fool, she'll never be free of the goddesses' thrall, this is her fate and yours too, you should have killed her when you had the chance. Shouldn't he? He had allowed her to draw him here, believing himself to be acting under free will although he'd only neatly drawn himself into the fate decided for him by the gods. Perhaps he should have killed himself. But still, he grabbed her by the arms, hoping it hurt. "I should have killed you," he said in a voice that trembled. "You're naught but a tool of the gods..."

She paled visibly. "No. It's not that. I cannot live this future with you, for I have a duty to my leal people...even you. Hyrule's very core has been wounded by Ganondorf's rule, and it must be healed. Destiny decrees it. But please...please remember me." Her eyes, heavy with feeling again, were pleading with him, but he felt naught but revulsion.

"Stop hiding from the truth; the gods are only using you again." But her eyes were burning holes into his skin, and somehow he knew he must relent. He had meant to kill her, but she was only a pawn. Please remember me. He remembered the shy and sweet smile she'd given him as a child, remembered seeing her as a woman for the first time -- remembered her pleading for the Ocarina, under the evil thrall of the gods. Who was Zelda, really?

Despair seized him. It doesn't matter if I remember her or not, she cares only for the gods. For destiny decrees it. Disgusted, he reached into his magic bag and seized the instrument he had held all this time, Hyrule's treasure of treasures. "Here is your precious Ocarina. Do what you will with it, it is naught to me." He flung the Ocarina at the princess's feet, and left her to face her demons. And once he was gone Zelda hid her face in her hands, still hiding, still hiding.