My newly found self-loathing as an author makes me think this is the worst thing I've ever written. It's not, of course -- one look at the trainwreck that is Genesis is enough to prove that. However, the feeling is hard to ignore, and even harder to make go away. So I'll just live with it.

There's far too much internal monologue than actual dialogue, and possibly too much description. What do y'all (and by "y'all," I mean myshadowspirit, my most faithful and only reader) think? Keep it in mind while reading. I'd mention more specifics that are annoying me, but I'm hoping you won't notice them. :D

Chapter Twenty-One

"It's okay, Link," Navi whispered. "We just have to think rationally. What could be inside? We don't want to go in unprepar —"

Link ignored his fairy and shoved the door open. A boy was laying on the floor,his dirty blond hair fanned out around his face. He could have been asleep, save for the rope around his wrists and ankles and the blood running down his cheek.

"Zelda." He took a step forward, but stopped as Navi flew out in front of his face, placing her hand on the tip of his nose.

"Don't," she said. "It's a trap." She spoke with utter certainty, and Link knew, somewhere deep within his mind where common sense hadn't been completely rooted out, that she was right. How could this be anything but a trap?

But still. . . . This was Zelda. What else mattered? He shoved her out of his way and rushed to the boy's side.

He hadn't gotten more than a few feet away when he was knocked off his feet. A blast of electricity sent him to the floor, his head hitting the stone with a painful crack.

He lay there for a few seconds, breathing hard. Finally he sat up, wincing and looking around. A large blue dome covered the place where Sheik had been. Link could see the faint outline of him through the almost-opaque wall, still unconcious. The air was crackling with a mix of electricity and magic; his hair was standing on end from it.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, he berated himself, climbing painfully to his feet. Letting emotion get in the way of thinking clearly. Of course it was a trap.
Navi knew it was a trap. You knew it was a trap, deep down. Why can't you ever learn, you stupid, stupid idiot?

"Hey!" Navi shouted, her voice thick with alarm. But he had already heard it — the unsheathing of a sword. He whirled around to see Ganondorf standing next to Sheik, whose force field had disappeared.

Though his weapon was raised, Ganondorf didn't look angry or determined or . . . anything. His face with expressionless, his shoulders slumped slightly. He looked . . . tired.

However, he raised his blade wearily, eyeing Link with a combination of loathing and amusement. "Surprised?" he asked.

Link shook his head. "No."


"No." He was, a hell of a lot, but he'd die before admitting that.

Ganondorf almost smiled. "Good." He looked down at Sheik and gently prodded him with his foot, pushing the Sheikah over to the wall, where he was less likely to be stepped on. Link was slightly disarmed by this gesture of almost kindness.

Recovering quickly, he drew his own sword, watching Ganondorf's face warily.

"Might as well get this over with," Ganondorf said with a sigh. Link nodded, his jaw clenching. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and lunged.

Sheik came to slowly, his brain foggy and his ears filled with buzzing. The first thing he noticed was a pounding in his head and stiffness in his limbs. He tried to move and discovered something else: he couldn't. With a groan as his head gave a particularly nasty throb, he opened his eyes and looked down at his wrists and ankles.

Yep. They were bound, and tightly. He tried sliding one of his hands free, but only resulted in rather painful rope burn. He sighed in defeat and let his head fall back onto the stone. He was so tired. . . .

Clang. The sound of steel on steel cut through the ringing in his ears and made him finally look up. It took everything he had to keep from crying out.

Ganondorf's sword swung toward Link, prepared to slice him in half. He ducked, rolled away and sprang to his feet, running toward the Gerudo king almost before he'd finished standing. Ganondorf blocked Link's attack, shoving him back several feet with the flat of his blade.

For a long time, Sheik could only watch the fighting in mute shock. Link was here. He'd come to save her (well, him).

And he was one wrong move away from being shish-kebabed. Sheik tried again to pull his hands free.

Nothing. He sighed, and watched Link dodge another near-fatal blow with a grace and ease Sheik — and Zelda — had always been jealous of. Unfortunately, elegance wasn't going to get either of them out of this alive. He tried once more to escape, pulling at the rope until his hands turned purple.

Nothing. His hands were too big to slip free.

Too big. He couldn't believe the profound depths of his stupidity. He turned back into Zelda slowly, so as not to draw the attention of either Link or Ganondorf.

Of course, the ropes fell easily away from the smaller, slimmer hands, and Zelda scrambled to her feet, hoping her idiocy hadn't cost Link his life.

Link stooped under Ganondorf's arm and slashed at his unarmored leg. With a cry of pain and anger, Ganondorf swung around, ripping a gash across Link's shoulder.

"Watch out!" Navi shouted. Link turned, his eyes widening as he saw Ganondorf's sword cleave the air in two, heading toward his face.

Zelda closed her eyes and pictured red. Red, fire, smoke . . . a wall of it, with demonlike faces peering out of the flames. "Din's Fire!"

She felt a wave of heat. Looking up, she saw both Link and Ganondorf leap back, avoiding the wall of fire that had sprung up between them. She ducked behind the wall and ran up to Link, tugging on the back of his shirt collar to get his attention.

His eyes were huge as they moved from Zelda to the fire and back. "You're okay?" he asked hoarsely.

"Yeah," she whispered, smiling and feeling a rush of awe and affection for him. His hair was tangled beyond belief, and his face was shiny with sweat and covered in dirt. But his eyes were the same brilliant blue, reflecting the dancing fire, and she felt the insane belief that they would be all right, as long as she kept looking into those eyes.

However, she heard Ganondorf's careful footsteps and knew that he was coming around the wall, sidestepping the fire-demons she'd conjured. She grabbed Link's arm and pulled him close, swinging her free arm in a wide arc. Flames rose up from the floor in a ring around them.

She crouched down, where it was easier to breathe, and put her head in her hands. It was draining to keep this kind of magic up, and she was feeling dizzy.

Link knelt down next to her. "Are you all right?"

She nodded, taking a deep breath — or as deep a breath as she could without coughing — and said, "Where are the Sages?"

"Nearby," he answered.

"Then why can't we call them? They can help us fight!"

Link shook his head. "We can't risk any of you dying. If you did . . . I'd have to kill him." His expression was neutral, but his hands balled up into fists.

Zelda nodded, coughing. The smoke was getting worse by the second. "I understand."

"Do you?" His eyes met hers. "That means you have to stay as far away from him as possible. Don't interfere."

"But —"

"Zelda." His voice held a note of deadly seriousness, one she rarely heard from him.

"Fine." She stood, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand. It came away wet. "But we have to get out of here." It was getting hotter every second, and harder to breathe.

He nodded, and she let the wall drop, feeling the cool air rush over her sweat-soaked body.

Immediately, though, Link grabbed her shoulders and practically threw her to the side, out of the way of Ganondorf's sword. Zelda huddled in the corner, hating herself for not fighting and hating herself even more for feeling relieved about it.

Coward, her internal self whispered.

Zelda shut it out; she had much more important things to worry about.

But she couldn't help but wonder: now that it had appeared, would it ever go away?

Link glanced over at Zelda. Good — she was actually doing what he'd told her to. For once.

"Ah!" He ducked, feeling Ganondorf's blade barely miss the top of his head. That was a hell of a lot closer than he would have liked.

Navi zipped around Ganondorf's head, a blue streak making dizzying circles. Distracted for a second, Ganondorf swatted at her, and Link dove forward. He swung at Ganondorf's arm and immediately leapt out of the way. His sword was bloody, and there was a long gash in Ganondorf's arm; it was one of the few hits he'd actually managed.

He was growing tired, too. His muscles were just beginning to ache, and he knew he had to win this quickly. Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, which was only increasing as the fight wore on, he pressed forward. He'd been lucky so far, with only one injury to speak of. He just had to hold onto that luck for a little bit longer.

Zelda couldn't take it anymore. She couldn't stand just sitting there and watching Link battle for their lives while she just hid in the corner. She
looked around, seeing nothing she could use for a weapon. Sheik had weapons . . . unless she'd be better off using magic, in which case she should stay as herself.

Well, magic had worked before. There was no reason why it wouldn't work again. She pushed herself off the wall and sneaked around Ganondorf and Link, trying to find an opportunity to strike.

Suddenly Link's gaze met hers. He started to open his mouth to shout something, but then his eyes flicked up toward Ganondorf, whose back was to Zelda. He couldn't say anything without giving her away. With a scowl that said everything (ie, that she'd better get the hell out of the way or else), he dove at Ganondorf, drawing his attention as far away from her as possible. Zelda knew that she probably should listen to Link, trust that he knew what he was doing. However, what if he didn't? She didn't want to be too late.

Useless, the voice whispered, filling her with hate at that part of herself.

Fueled by anger, she lunged forward with fire on her fingertips, not really aiming, just desperate to do something, to prove that she was worth something.

Before she could, though, something smashed into her side, pulling her back and away from the fight. They hit the floor hard, and she could hear her attacker gasp in pain. She turned her head and saw Link let her go, lurching away from her and back toward Ganondorf. He was limping; she guessed he'd twisted his ankle, because she couldn't see any signs of injury.

She started to climb to her feet, but he turned, giving her a level glare, trusting Navi to keep Ganondorf busy.

"Don't even think about it," he said, and Zelda was actually afraid to argue. Never in her life had she seen him this mad. She'd seen him scream and hit things (and people). She'd seen him explode. Sometimes that anger was directed at her, and it wasn't something she enjoyed in the least. But she'd never seen him so angry that his voice had gotten this cold and quiet. It was enough to make her back up and let him go after Ganondorf, even if she wanted nothing more than to run up to him and fight by his side.

It wasn't a good feeling.

Link was back to battling, but he wasn't doing very well. He couldn't put much weight on his left ankle, and it made him much slower. Ganondorf stepped to the right and slashed. Link tried to move out of the way, but he landed on his left leg, supporting all his weight on it. For a second he wobbled, and then crashed to the floor with a grunt.

Faster than Zelda thought he could move, Ganondorf reached forward and grabbed Link around the throat, slamming him into the wall. He pinned Link there with one hand, slowly crushing the air from his lungs. His eyes swiveled around the room until they landed on her, and Link's followed.

"Whistle!" he shouted hoarsely with what little breath he had left. Ganondorf stretched his free hand out toward Zelda, and she didn't realize what he was doing until she saw the magic electricity shoot across his fingers.

She flung herself to the floor, her hair flying around her face. She brushed it out of the way hurriedly, keeping her eyes on Ganondorf. Rolling to the side, she stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled loudly.

For a terrifying second nothing happened. Link's face slowly turned purple and Ganondorf smiled slightly, aiming once again at her. Then there was the pounding of footsteps and a flurry of panicked voices. Ganondorf dropped Link and whirled around to face the door as it burst open and the six Sages tumbled into the room, each in various states of distress as they saw Link slumped against one wall and Zelda huddled against the other. Then Nabooru's eyes narrowed, and she lifted her sword with a humorless smile.

The cavalry had arrived.

The second Ganondorf's attention had been diverted, Zelda staggered to her feet and hurried over to Link. Impa and Nabooru were nearly unrivaled in fighting, and Darunia could certainly hold his own, but the sooner Link could get back into battle, the better.

They were kidding themselves if they thought they could survive for more than a few minutes without him.

Navi was already flitting around his face, muttering darkly under her breath about how Link was always getting into trouble, and it was because of his stupid plans, and someday he'd die because of it. He waved her aside, gulping air in deep, ragged breaths.

Zelda knelt beside him, keeping one eye on the fight and the other on him. "Are you okay?" she whispered, fumbling around her skirts. "Do you need any red potion — I think I have some in here. . . ."

He met her eyes briefly and shook his head. Quickly, though, his gaze turned to the battle as Impa stumbled back with her hand over her left eye, trying to fight one-handed while blood flowed freely down her cheek and neck.

He swore, clambering to his feet. Though he paled as he put weight on his leg, he didn't show any other signs of pain. "You came over here to help me?" he demanded, his voice much more accusatory and angry than she'd expected.

She nodded, realizing as she did what he was thinking; Nabooru was fighting at that moment, her swords whirling around her in a silver blur. However, the ground around her was slick with blood, and all the other Sages — even the ones who'd been trying to avoid a fight — showed signs of injury.

How had that happened so fast?

Ganondorf slashed upward, grazing Darunia's side, and the Triforce on his hand flashed gold.

The Triforce of Power. Of course. Fighting was his specialty; why would she think for even a moment that six people — three of whom were basically useless — would be a problem?

Sometimes she wondered if she had some other piece instead of Wisdom. Maybe the Triforce of Bad Decisions would have been more fitting.

Link waited until Nabooru had reclaimed Ganondorf's attention before reaching behind him for his sword. Zelda handed it to him without a word, shamefaced. He didn't turn back to her, but said, "Keep the Sages safe and get them into position."

She nodded, then realized he couldn't see her and mumbled, "Okay." Then, before he could leave, she added, "Be careful."

He did turn then, and gave her a quick grin that said nothing and didn't make her feel any better. Then he turned and moved as quietly as possible toward Ganondorf.

Nabooru saw him coming as she was about to duck under another swing — which would have brought Link into Ganondorf's sight. With a lightning-fast movement honed by Gerudo training, she jerked backward and reversed the motion, keeping Ganondorf's attention on her. Link was, for the moment, safe.

Zelda gestured to Rauru, who was closest to her. He tapped Ruto's arm, and the two of them sidled over as inconspicously as they could (which wasn't very, but she trusted that Ganondorf's attention was focused on other things). "We need to get ready," she whispered hoarsely. "Get into position." She didn't wait to see if they'd listen before she turned and focused on the others. She stepped up to Impa and whispered in her ear. "Are you going to be okay?" she asked, noticing that Impa still had her hand over one eye.

"Of course," Impa replied gruffly. "I've had worse than this. I'll be fine."

Nabooru suddenly leapt back, ducking out of the fight. Ganondorf paused for a second before whipping around and flinging his sword at Link. He twisted to the side, barely missing the blow, and smoothly took Nabooru's place in the battle.

Zelda grabbed Nabooru's arm and pulled her to the side. She repeated the same instructions she'd given everyone else, and shoved her toward the direction of the circle. Ruto, Rauru, Saria, and Impa were already moving toward their sections of the circle, and Nabooru, with an expression that clearly said she wanted to finish her fight, followed.

Darunia hovered at Zelda's elbow, watching Link and Ganondorf. "Shall I help?" he asked.

Zelda shook her head. "No — just get where you need to be." After a moment's pause she added, "But thank you."

She waited until everyone else was in position before hurrying to the one empty spot at the front of the room. Her eyes met Link's, and he nodded. She closed her eyes and concentrated, feeling the other Sages do the same. A spot of warmth hovered in her chest, above her heart. She took a deep breath, feeling the warmth spread through her body, down to her toes, up to her face, flooding every inch of her with pink, warm light. As she focused, the warmth grew strongest at her fingertips and in her palms, until finally she could see it — the way into the Sacred Realm.

She opened her eyes, unable to see anything but light at first. Slowly, though, she could make out shapes and colors, until Link and Ganondorf were standing, frozen, in front of her.

And behind them, the door.

Too late Ganondorf realized what had happened. He swore and tried to step away from both Link and the door, but Link wouldn't let him. He lunged forward and tried to shove him backward, through the door. Ganondorf was surprised enough to stagger back a few steps, narrowly missing falling in. He ducked and turned, so that he ended up behind Link, his sword raised.

Link whirled around and managed to keep from being impaled, but the blade cut through his tunic and across his back, nicking the shoulder that was hurt. He cried out and instinctively grabbed his shoulder, which only made it hurt more. Clenching his teeth but otherwise ignoring the wound, he turned to Ganondorf with a defiant expression.

Zelda felt sick. With them all working on keeping the door open, none of them could help Link if he . . .

If he. . . .

She almost broke it off then and leapt into the battle, but the warmth in her chest suddenly burned white-hot, blinding her view of whatever was going on as her vision filled with light. She screamed, thrashing wildly and trying to see something, anything, trying to escape the heat that was inside of her heart, boiling her blood, making her want to die. . . .

And yet, she realized that it was ebbing. Slowly, painfully, it was fading and she could see. Link and Ganondorf's fight had come to a standstill as they stared at each other, weapons raised. Neither appeared to have noticed anything out of the ordinary, and even the other Sages didn't seem to have heard her screaming. And now she was strong -- strong enough, at least, to keep the door open and not race down and rescue Link, because she knew he'd be okay.

She was aware of a presence at her side, and a vaguely familiar voice whispered, "Don't screw this up; the Goddesses don't like helping people like you." Then, with a gust of warm wind, the presence at her shoulder was gone. She turned her head to the side and saw a flash of red and yellow, which also disappeared. She remembered the heat, the pain, the familiar voice . . .

Din. It had to be.

If she could have picked any goddess to help her out, it would not have been Din. But she didn't need wisdom right then, or even courage; she'd needed strength, and for that Din was the only one who could have helped her. No matter how painful the aid had been. She sighed and muttered a quiet, reluctant prayer of thanks, then turned her attention to the standoff below.

Neither of them were moving, two statues frozen in combat. But there was a distinct difference between the two. Link's body was stiff with tension, his hands clutching the sword with a white-knuckled grip. Ganondorf, on the other hand, didn't seem to have any fight left in him. His expression was flat and emotionless, and his grip on the sword, though far from lax, wasn't the panicked, desperate hold Link had. And his eyes were filled with pain, as though maybe he wanted to lose.

But that didn't make sense. It didn't even pretend to make sense. Ganondorf wanted nothing more than to win. Why else would he have given so much up for this moment?

His lips were moving, and Link was listening intently, though cautiously, and his grip never relaxed. She would have given anything to know what they were talking about, but there was a magic-induced buzzing that filled her ears — and the ears of the other Sages — that made it impossible to hear.

Ganondorf leaned forward slightly, letting his sword inch a hair lower. Link braced himself, but didn't strike or move away. Ganondorf took a deep breath and spoke. "Listen, kid —"

Link looked annoyed at that, but had the sense not to argue the point.

"I'm not going back in there. Not for anything in the world." He allowed his eyes to land for a second on Nabooru, who was hovering in the corner of the room, glowing orange. "You'll have to kill me."

Link didn't move. His expression was perfectly calm.

"Did you hear me?" he hissed. "I said you'll have to kill me!"

A flicker of surprise crossed his face as he realized how serious Ganondorf was, but he recovered quickly. The cool mask was back, now tinged with a hint of sadness. "No one's dying," he murmured with a faint, wry smile. "Go back to the Sacred Realm — anything's better than being dead." There didn't even seem to be any hate in his eyes, like he didn't have any left. Like he was above it or something.

That was fine; Ganondorf had enough hate for both of them. "You've never been in there. It's much worse than being dead. And I'm not going back."

Link shook his head, looking like some stupid, stubborn little kid. Which, of course, he was. "You have to."

Ganondorf sighed, shaking his head. He raised his sword, leveling it at Link. Link's eyes widened, and he swung his sword up as well, so that they were standing blade to blade, tip to tip. His eyes narrowed over the handle, and he squared his jaw to hide his nervousness. As though the sword itself could sense his agitation, it glowed a cool, reassuring blue.

That gave Ganondorf a sudden, beautiful, horrifying idea.

By raising his sword, he'd only been showing Link that he was willing to fight to the death, and perhaps get the boy to . . . attack? Retreat? Well, to do something, in any case, that might give him a way out of this. It wasn't until the Master Sword lit up that Ganondorf realized anew that the sword was strong, and could do things no other blade could. Things like force him back into the Sacred Realm, and perhaps . . . perhaps pierce through leather and flesh with little, if any, momentum.

And he realized that there was another way out.

He drew his sword back, watching Link's eyes widen. He angled the blade for the most possible damage — if somehow this didn't work, he wanted Link to die, at least. And if it did . . . then so much the better.

Even if Link managed to survive, it wouldn't matter. It wasn't like he'd be in a position to care. But it would still be nice to kill the brat.

He lunged forward, and Link lifted his sword higher, aiming to block. His sword glowed bright blue, humming with power. Ganondorf kept his eyes focused on the pinprick of white that was the tip of the sword. It was now or never. And part of him wished it was never.

He leapt forward, swinging his shoulder back so his sword would come down and slice Link in two. Link's eyes shot up toward the sword as he sprung into action; bending his knees, he lifted his shield up over his head and braced himself. His own sword, though held carefully, wasn't really his main concern unless it would protect him from a change in Ganondorf's attack.

The longer you draw out the death of an enemy, the longer the Goddesses will torture you. Keep your deaths swift and efficient; petty vengeance earns nothing but pain. It was an old, stupid superstition that was whispered by the mothers of the fortress, but the belief that for every minute spent causing needless pain, one minute of your life would be torture, was the idea that shaped the Gerudo's way of dealing with enemies. And as much as Ganondorf knew he deserved some sort of karmic kick in the ass, he didn't think he'd ever be able to cause as much unhappiness as he'd suffered, though perhaps that was the Goddesses' way of doling out punishment.

Seven years of conquering Hyrule and killing anyone who stood in his way, seven years of madness-inducing hell in the Sacred Realm. Though he did do other "evil" acts before and after these years, where did that compare with being corrupted by the Triforce of Power, the Goddesses' so-called gift to the world? And what could he possibly have done to deserve Nabooru leaving? Those were all his doing . . . but the Goddesses created him; they knew what was in his future. Why couldn't they have prevented it?

Where was the Goddesses' karmic payback?

Link prepared himself for the attack, fighting the childish urge to close his eyes. The next hit was going to be hard; he could tell by the look on Ganondorf's face. There was something dark, insane — more so than usual, even -- in the man's expression.

He was planning something, all right. Probably something clever and very painful for him. Part of him was worried that he was going to turn into a pig again, something that still terrified him, strangely, far more than anything the human Ganondorf could do to him.

Link's grip on his shield's strap, slippery with sweat and hard enough to break the leather in two, tightened still further as he forced his arm to be steady and not tremble like a leaf.

It felt like forever for Ganondorf to get his arm high enough to strike. The seconds seemed to crawl by. Suddenly, though, everything sped up, catching up to itself for a split second of real-life-time before zooming ahead into fast-forward. Link barely had time to shift his weight to better absorb the blow before the sword came crashing down on his shield and he was close to collapsing beneath its weight.

His left arm, barely registering in his mind because all of his concentration had been on his shield arm, suddenly jerked forward and down, forcing him to divide his attention between the attack from above — which was like a never-ceasing pressure on his shield — and the unexpected assault from below. He looked down at what his sword had hit and choked.

The Master Sword, glowing so brightly that it almost hurt to look at it, was embedded almost to the hilt in Ganondorf's chest. Blood was seeping through the leather and cloth, sliding down the metal of his sword and covering his fingers. He stared at the wound for an impossibly long time, unaware of the dull throbbing in his right arm as some of Ganondorf's increasingly-dead weight pushed down on his shield, or of the blood now staining his gloves.

Finally he tore his eyes away and looked up at Ganondorf's face. It had the blankness of someone almost dead, but when their eyes met, he seemed to cling to consciousness and regain a little bit of the contemptous hate that had filled his face every time they'd seen each other. For a second a smirk crossed his features.

Then it was gone, with a barely audible sigh that seemed to blow the last of his life out of him.

"Din," Link breathed, as Ganondorf's head lolled forward and the weight on his arms increased tenfold. All the pain shock had kept at bay returned, and his arms started to shake. "Gah!" His knees wobbled, then buckled. Letting go of both the sword and the shield, he collapsed under Ganondorf, gasping as his left ankle — already swollen and aching — was twisted under him. He couldn't move it; he was keeping himself up slightly by balancing backward on his free arm, and it was only a matter of time before that, too, gave in and he fell onto his back.

There was a sickening snap!, and then a screaming pain in his ankle. Link bit his tongue to keep from crying out and tasted blood. His arms, trembling and burning, finally gave way and sent him collapsing flat on his back, his head hitting the ground with a smack. Blackness crowded the corners of his vision, and he let it, focusing on the growing darkness instead of the pain in his arms and shoulders, head, and chest -- and he definitely couldn't think about the unbelievable agony that was his ankle. Just thinking about thinking about it made the darkness come faster. He let his eyes drift shut, feeling the world fade away as Ganondorf's weight slowly crushed the air out of his lungs.

"Link? LINK!"

Zelda ripped herself away from the other Sages, forcing herself to return completely to the real world. She fell to the floor, stumbling as her feet hit solid ground and sprinting to Ganondorf's fallen body. Her slippers were soaked in blood as she knelt next to it. Her throat was tight as her fingers scrabbled against Ganondorf's armored shoulder. "Link!"

He didn't move, didn't make any sound to indicate that he'd heard her. She heard the muffled thumps as the other Sages broke off the charm, but ignored them. "Damn it, Link, wake the fuck up and help me!" Her voice cracked, and tears threatened to spill over. She whirled around, feeling like a pathetic, lost little girl appealing to the grown-ups. "Help me!" she repeated, her hands clenching into fists.

Nabooru just stared, her face impassive except for her wide, shocked eyes. Impa was panting shallowly, one hand still pressed over her eye. Darunia was the only one who seemed able to move. He came over to her side and gently lifted Ganondorf up, cradling him like a cold, still, humongous baby and setting him on the floor a few feet away. "Is there anything else I can do?" he asked. "I don't carry any red potion with me, unfortunately. . . ."

"No, I have some." Her voice was hoarse, but she wasn't focused on anything but the paleness of Link's face, the way his ankle was twisted at such an unnatural angle, the way the bone poked at the skin, almost breaking it but not quite. Her fingers were shaking as she uncorked the red bottle. She opened it and stared, at an utter loss as to what to do. Did she just pour it over his ankle, or . . . ?

"You have to set it." Nabooru crouched next to Link, keeping her gaze fixed resolutely away from Ganondorf's body. "If you don't, the skin will heal around the bone wrong, and he won't be able to walk."

Zelda nodded, swallowing. "Do I set the bone?"

"Unless there's a Healer nearby that you could call right now."

She was too sick to feel embarrassed by the insult. "None of you know how to?"

They all shook their heads, but Saria and Impa came down anyway. "I know a little bit about healing," Saria said softly. "The Kokiri did get hurt

Impa's free hand reached out and carefully brushed her fingers against his lower leg. "It's a fairly clean break," she said, her forehead furrowed. "I don't know much about this kind of thing, but it shouldn't be too hard to fix."

They both looked at Zelda, and she swallowed hard. "Are you sure?"

"I think what we need is some sort of stick," Saria said, ignoring her completely. "Would one of his arrows work?"

Impa's uncovered eye met Zelda's, and she felt like she had when she was younger, with Impa's critical gaze following her every movement as she tried to learn how to fight. She wordlessly tilted him up into an almost-sitting position and removed an arrow from his quiver, handing it to Saria.

Saria refused to take it. "I need to tie his leg to it," she said, searching her pockets. She pulled out a light green ribbon and gestured for Zelda to move down to his foot. "You have to line the parts of the bone back up," she said with a look that was partly apologetic, partly impatient.

Zelda took a deep, shaky breath, balling her hands into fists to keep them from shaking. Part of her wanted to say she couldn't do it, turn to Impa and say that it was too hard. Impa would do it, she knew; Impa was one of those people who had courage hidden somewhere buried within them, and could do almost anything. It was so tempting. . . .

Then her eyes landed on Link's face, nearly white and covered in a sheen of sweat. Even unconscious, his jaw had a stubborn set to it, and his forehead was furrowed.

She had to do it. With everything he'd gone through, everything he'd risked for her, she didn't think she could face him if she didn't do something to help, even if it was something so . . . trivial.

She gingerly placed her hands on either side of the break. Slowly — more slowly than she'd ever done anything — she closed her hands around his leg, hearing the slight grinding sound as the ends of the bones hit one another.

Link groaned, stirring slightly. New beads of sweat rolled down his forehead and along his hairline. Wincing, Zelda almost let go. Only feeling Impa's stern gaze on her kept her hands steady. She gently maneuvered the bones closer together, moving with painful slowness and fighting the urge to just cram them into place as fast as possible. Quick, like removing a bandage; that was how she'd learned to deal with almost everything. Quick and painful. Hesitation was saved for making a decision -- the follow-through had to be fast and violent.

Eventually, though, she felt them line up, and knew that it was as straight as she could make it. She looked up and met Saria's eyes, managing a small smile.

"Ready?" Saria whispered, her face almost as pale as Link's. Zelda, unable to speak, nodded. As Saria tied the hastily-made splint, Zelda kept her eyes glued to her hands, trying to keep them from moving even an inch.

"Get the potion," Saria said, shifting so she could cradle Link's ankle and let Zelda move away.

After setting the bone, opening the bottle of red potion seemed like the simplest thing in the world. She poured it over his entire leg frantically, using up three-quarters of it before Impa tapped her on the shoulder. "That's enough."

"Should we move him now?" she asked hoarsely. "Or wake him up?"

Impa shook her head. "I'd leave him here for a few minutes, at least. He deserves a bit of a rest."

She nodded again — it seemed that all she could do was nod — and climbed to her feet. The second she had, all the blood rushed from her head and she staggered. Nabooru's arm, slim yet hard as a boy's, came around her waist, balancing Zelda against her hip and shoulder. "Are you hurt?" she asked, looking around for some kind of injury.

"No, I . . ." She was confused; why did she feel so weak? She hadn't been hurt — she hadn't done anything that could have gotten her hurt.

"Emotional strain," Impa said, taking Zelda's arm and pulling her away from Nabooru. "Trapped in here all alone, then the fight. . . . It's perfectly

She muttered something vague in reply, feeling disgusted with herself. She didn't deserve to feel awful unless she'd done something to . . . earn it. It didn't make much sense, even to her, but it was impossible to deny the feeling.

Link moaned, his eyes fluttering open. "Zel?" he asked, trying to sit up.

She shoved Impa away from her, only dimly aware of her rudeness. She made it over to his side and collapsed next to him. "I-I'm here."

He looked up at her, his eyes narrowed against the faint light. "My shoulder hurts," he mumbled thickly; there was blood pooling in his mouth, and she assumed he'd bitten his tongue.

"Oh. Here." She picked up the red bottle and shook a little bit on his shoulder. She scooped out a handful and held it up to his mouth. He opened it obediently, and she tipped it into his mouth. "Better?" She hoped so; there was barely any left, and she still wanted to get Impa to put some on her eye.

"Yeah." He cleared his throat and struggled into a sitting position. "Where's Navi?"

Link's hat was lying on the floor a few feet away. At the question, it trembled, and the small blue fairy poked her head outside. "Are you mad?" she asked.

"What? Why would I be?"

"Because I . . . I let Zelda escape, and I couldn't help you fight, and I . . . I'm the worst fairy in the world!" She ducked back into the hat. Link just stared, clearly as confused as she was.

Zelda stood, picked up the hat, and handed it to Link, leaving as quickly as possible and ushering the others out of the room. He and Navi needed to be left alone.

"Navi?" Link opened the hat and saw her curled into a tiny ball at the bottom. He tipped it upside down and shook her out. She hovered around chin level, staring down at her hands.

This behavior scared him a little. "Navi, what . . . what do you mean?"

She looked up at him, her large blue eyes swimming with tears. "I should have been more helpful! I should have given you better advice, and used that stupid fairy magic . . . but I don't seem to have that fairy magic, because I've never been able to heal you before. . . ." She was babbling, which reassured him somewhat. He didn't know why, but it did.

"What are you talking about? Your advice is great; I just don't listen to it. You can't blame yourself for that."

She sniffed, rubbing her eyes with the backs of her hands. "Really?"

"Of course. I mean, you might want to work on being less annoying, but you're definitely not the worst fairy ever." He lowered his voice, leaning towards her. "In fact -- you can't tell anybody, of course, especially not Tatl -- but I think you might be one of the best."

Navi grinned, her entire face lighting up at that thought. "You're right," she said, flying up to meet his gaze. "It's not my fault that you're too stupid to take my advice. In fact, I think I'm the unlucky one, to be saddled with such an idiot. When I think that I could've had a nice Kokiri kid — Mido, perhaps. . ."

"Don't push your luck," he said, shoving her out of his face. "Just because I'm an idiot doesn't mean I'll let you insult me."

"What can you do about it?"

"This." He picked her up and dropped her into his hat, cramming it back on his head. He stood slowly, making sure his feet wouldn't buckle under him. His eyes were, for the first time, drawn to Ganondorf, and he took a slightly shaky step toward him. He didn't know what he felt about Ganondorf. There was, of course, the underlying hatred that had spanned nearly eight years. His entire life, for almost as long as he could remember, had been about hating Ganondorf for what he'd done — and almost done — to Hyrule . . . and to Zelda. That definitely reinforced the hatred. And the anger, pain, and confusion at how anyone could be so evil.

However, it was impossible to deny that those feelings had definitely ebbed over the last hour or so (had it really only been an hour?). Perhaps it was because he'd seen how tired his enemy had been, how beaten. And he'd seen the horrible pain and apathy aimed at him.

That was the realization that shocked some of his hatred out of him: that he, Link, the apparent victim of an evil tyrant . . . he had caused someone else to hurt at least as bad as he did. He was the one who made Ganondorf into something that would kill itself given the chance. In a way, nearly everything that had happened to Ganondorf had been his fault. That gave him an uneasy feeling, one that was so alien in association with Ganondorf that it took a moment for him to recognize.

He felt . . . guilty.

"Link?" Navi asked softly, putting one hand on his cheek. "Are you all right?"

A lump filled his throat, making it suddenly harder to breathe. Whether it had been his fault or Ganondorf's, whether he could have done something to fix this or not . . . it didn't matter. It was all over, and his greatest enemy — if he was his greatest enemy — was dead.

Something broke inside of him, and he sunk to his knees and cried.

The Sages all stood outside the door uneasily. They couldn't hear anything inside, and Zelda was dying to go inside and make sure Link was all right, but something was keeping her back. Whatever was going on, she had to let him deal with it. So, every fiber in her body tense, she waited.

About ten minutes later, though it felt like much longer to those both inside and outside the room, the door opened and Link stepped out, Navi on his shoulder. His eyes, though red, were dry, and he managed to give them a wan smile. It was a pale imitation of his normal grin, but it was something. He crossed over to the far wall and leaned against it heavily.

"What should we do about him?" Ruto asked, jerking her head toward the open door.

"I could carry him out," Darunia suggested. He turned to Nabooru. "Would the Gerudo like to give him a proper burial?"

Nabooru shook her head. "No. He's better off just . . . staying here." She stared at him for a few moments, then turned and focused on Link. "What now?" she asked.

He took off his hat and ran a hand through his hair, exhaling loudly. "I think . . . we go home." And he was so relieved to have a definite answer for once that he grinned for real, feeling like the worst was over, even if it wasn't. Or maybe . . . it was. Because what could possibly be waiting for them that topped that?

Zelda beamed, either feeling the same relief or merely pleased that he was smiling. She reached over, like she was going to take his hand, but pulled away at the last second, her smile slipping a notch. "You're right. Let's go home."