AN: Here we are! This took me longer to write than I had first expected, so I apologise for keeping you waiting! I've been alerted to the fact that there was a lack of Link explaining his actions in the last chapter, so I've tried to put some here to tie things up better. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy it!

A Time Once Lost

By Perfect Soldier 01

Epilogue: Link - Keatons and Rabbits

I stood alone in my chamber, looking down at what I held in my hands and what was spread out on the desk in front of me. The remnants of my adventure in Termina, my masks, stared up at me with their blank expression. Silent, they offered me no answer as to why I had been so foolish.

Glancing out the window, the sun shone brightly through the clear day. It had been some time now since I had returned here, since I had marched my way up to Zelda's chamber in the small hours of the morning… I smiled in remembrance of her soft smile, her open arms, and her beautiful lips; but whenever my mind came to rest fondly on that day I was always left with the bitter after-taste of realising that all I had offered her was an apology.

I had given her no reason, no explanation, and the silence was becoming more and more of a burden to me. I knew that my happiness was becoming jeopardised by the guilt of having made her suffer for so long. Nothing would ever equate to all the sorrow she had experienced.

Suddenly my door creaked open, framing the very woman who had been at the centre of my thoughts.

"Link, are you all right? You said that you would only be a moment or two, but you've been gone for nearly half an hour now."

My mouth dropped open. I had promised to take her horse riding and I was only meant to be finding Epona's whistle. I liked to wear it while I was riding out of sentiment, but I had stumbled across my masks instead. I apologised sheepishly and scratched the back of my neck, embarrassed by my forgetfulness, but Zelda merely walked up to my side and peered down at the Keaton Mask in my hands.

"What's that?" she asked.

"T-This is one of the masks I found in Termina. I found those accidentally while I was searching for my whistle. I'm sorry, my mind got side-tracked," I said, trying to laugh it off.

Zelda nodded nonchalantly and gingerly raised the mask to her head. "Well?" She giggled as she cocked her head to one side.

"Very fitting. It suits you well," I said, a smile of my own rising on my face.

She brought the mask down, hit my arm playfully and placed it back in my hands. "So you would rather play with your masks than ride with me, would you?"

"N-No, of course not!"

But she faced away from me and folded her arms in mock irritation. I realised that she was waiting for me, and I hurriedly dove into my bags to retrieve Epona's whistle.

"Shall we go? We won't be able to get very far before the sun goes down if we wait any longer," she said, turning her head to the side as she arched her eyebrow. "Really, Link, I cannot believe that you would dare to keep your dearest princess waiting for so long! I think some sort of punishment is in order."

As I spotted the whistle wrapped inside its cloth, I turned around to find that Zelda had picked up my Bunny Hood from the table. A malicious grin was emerging on her face as she approached, and her soft fingers brushed against my ears as she reached up to place it on my head. At once I felt the magic of the hood flow down into my body, a sensation so forgotten I almost jumped inside my skin.

"This is for keeping me waiting," she murmured close to my mouth, and I moved forward in expectation of a kiss but she stepped away just before I could catch her lips. "I'm going to make you wear that for the rest of the day," she said triumphantly as she walked towards the door.

Though I had been teased and denied, a daring idea of revenge appeared in my mind as the irrepressible energy of the hood bounced in my veins.

"You have no idea what this mask does, do you?" I said with a dangerous tone in my voice, beginning to feel the uncontrollable urge to bounce up and down on my feet.

She glanced back, a little unnerved by my words, the pert smile disappearing. Without warning I sprung towards her with such speed that even I couldn't believe the magic that this hood possessed. I scooped her up in my arms and hauled her down the corridor, out into the gardens, and up the mountainside where we would have taken the horses. All the while she screamed my name, shouting for me to stop and let her down, but the shrieking laughter in-between the threats to throw me in the dungeons and feed me to the Wolfos made it all the more enjoyable.

Eventually the snow made it difficult to run much further, but I stumbled having forgotten how to slow down properly. Both of us went down together in the cold, wet blanket of icy snow, but neither of us stopped laughing until we came to a complete stop. We were holding onto each other tightly, revelling in each other's warmth, until Zelda pushed away from me. I sat up in puzzlement but was nearly knocked down again by a lump of snow being thrown at my face.

"What was that for?" I said, wiping it out of my eyes, but she merely giggled and threw another one in its place. "All right then, princess. Two can play this game."

I dug my hand into the snow from where I sat and threw the entire contents in her direction. It collided with her neck and slid down over her shoulder, causing her to shiver. Her hand flew to where it had hit and she winced in pain. At that moment anxiety flooded my heart and the competition fled from my eyes as I immediately crawled over to her, apologising for throwing it so hard.

I really thought I had hurt her, but when she looked at me from the corner of her eyes and grinned, I knew I had been played the fool. But before she could assault me with another snowball, I leapt forward and enveloped her in my arms and we rolled gently down the sloping pathway. When we came to a stop, I looked down at her flushed face.

"You look so silly, Link," she said, trying hard to restrain herself from laughing.

I pressed my forehead to hers. "How about now? I asked.

"That's better," she replied, her hands tightening their grip on my back, and I leant down to kiss her parted lips while the snow started to fall from the sky again.

I felt her warmth all around me, the cold wind becoming as refreshing as a light summer breeze. But all the energy that rushed through me suddenly felt like it was being sucked away with every breath I took, and I realised that Zelda was pulling the hood away from my face. However, when the nape of my neck was suddenly blasted by the elements as well, I discovered that my Kokiri cap had been discarded as well. Zelda's hands were roaming through my hair, the unfamiliar sensation becoming more and more likeable by the second.

"Is my punishment lifted then?" I asked as I drew in the chilling air.

"I think so," Zelda answered coyly.

But at that moment an orange light shone brightly in the corner of my eye, causing me to sit up and see the giant sun beginning to set over the mountains.

"We had better be heading back," I said, offering her my hand to her.

We stood together watching the sun blaze in the sky for a moment, our hands tightly entwined, before Zelda started to sneeze. I began to reach for Epona's whistle when Zelda's hand stopped me.

"Seeing as how you had the courtesy to carry me out here, I think you should carry me back."

"Yes, your majesty," I said in mock ceremony as I obediently placed both of my hoods back on my head and I picked her up again. "Comfortable?"

"Very," she said as she nuzzled her head into my shoulder.

"Aren't you the sly one?" I said light-heartedly. "I think you should keep that Keaton Mask, you know. You're certainly about as cunning as any Keaton I've ever met, taking advantage of me like this."

I felt her smile indulgently against me, but it was soon followed by another sneeze. "I would like to hear more about your masks, Link. When I've changed I want you to tell me about them," she paused hesitantly, "and about your adventure in Termina."

A lump of reluctance rose in my throat but I swallowed it back down. "Of course, Zelda."

We parted ways when we arrived back at the manor, each of us needing to exchange our damp clothes for others. When I opened my chamber door, I replaced the Bunny Hood on my table and thought about what I was going to say to her.

Before too long Zelda was waiting outside and as I opened my door to her, I noticed that she had let her damp hair fall down her back, released from its tight plait. It curled around the ends into small ringlets and I wondered what it would feel like wrapped around my fingers.

"Link, it's like the middle of the night in here!" she said, breaking my train of thought. "Why haven't you lit your candles yet?"

Mumbling an apology, I went to light the single candlestick by my bed. I threw the match into the fireplace and blew gently into the logs to kindle the tiny flames, and brought the candle to the desk where we both sat down side by side.

"Is that the only candle you have?" Zelda continued, and I nodded. She sighed and peered around my room with disapproval. "Well, this is hardly fitting for the Hero of Time. I shall have a word with Impa and ask for you to be moved to a better room."

"Thank you," I said.

"After all, you're so far away at the moment that I doubt you would be of any use if someone came to attack me." She let her words linger, her cunning smile winning through.

Her beautiful face never failed to charm me, and now was no exception. I took her hand and her happiness shone brighter, making it all the more difficult to begin what I had been preparing.

"Zelda," I said with my eyes averted, "I need to explain something before I begin – something that I need to tell you." I looked up and her smile had vanished at the sound of my solemn words. Instead it was replaced by an expression of utmost concern. "I wanted to explain why I never returned."

"L-Link, don't - " she began, her hands retreating back to her knees.

"Zelda, please." I looked straight in her eyes. Eventually she nodded in understanding. "I know that you probably don't want to hear my excuses, but I need to tell you."

I took a deep breath and plunged into what I had rehearsed. "When I came back from Termina, Hyrule seemed like a very different place to one that I had left behind. Without a constant friend at my side it felt very lonely too; all I had was Epona. But through a stroke of luck I met the people of Ordon Village. Well, I actually met one of their goats first," I said warmly, thinking back to when I had wrestled a stray young kid to the ground in the forest. "Fado instantly took me in as his apprentice goatherd."

"You were a goatherd?" Zelda said incredulously.

"Yes, I was," I laughed, thinking about how ironic it must appear for the Hero of Time to be reduced to a shepherd. "Having to look after the goats all day left little time for anything else, but it was nice living like everybody else. Some of the things I had seen in Termina were horrible, disturbing even, and not having to confront those everyday was a relief. I felt like I could finally rest a bit."

I glanced at Zelda. Her eyes were fixed on my clenched hands but my pause caused them to jolt back up to face me. When she looked at me I saw the first glimmer of sadness begin to float across her eyelids, and I reclaimed both of her hands in my own.

"It's exactly like Impa told me," she whispered, her breath caught in her throat. "But I wouldn't believe her…"

"Zelda," I murmured, pulling her hands closer and motioning for an embrace.

She gratefully stood up and sat herself in my lap as I cradled her head against my shoulder, stroking her the top of her head with my fingers.

"I thought about coming back to you, I truly did," I continued, becoming conscious of the fact that I was stepping into unrehearsed territory. "In all honesty, I was frightened that you might have forgotten me. Everybody else seemed to. Nobody in Ordon seemed to know of what had happened with Ganondorf. It seemed nothing but a legend, an event that had happened hundreds of years ago. I kept imagining myself turning up at the castle and being thrown out for claiming I was the Hero of Time. 'Who would believe a mere child?' I always thought."

I kissed Zelda's hair. "I never thought that it would be you waiting when Midna brought me to see you."

She brought her head up close to mine, her eyes more misty with held-back tears than before, and I held her face along her smooth jaw line.

"I didn't want anyone to remember," she choked. "I didn't want to remember what had happened. When I turned back time, I cast another spell that would make your efforts seem like a distant memory, so that the people would understand what had happened without having to relive its horrors everyday. Even though I wanted to forget those seven years as much as everyone else did, I couldn't force myself to forget you, Link. I suppose we were each a victim of the choices we made, weren't we?"

Her voice was thick with emotion, and before I could see her shed the tears brimming on the edges of her eyelashes I hugged her fiercely. We held each other tightly, neither of us saying a word, listening only to the sound of each other breathing and the crackling of the fire.

"We might never be able to regain what we lost," I said eventually, "but we can at least try to make the best of now, can't we?"

Zelda gazed up at me and smiled weakly. "Yes, we can."

I leant down and kissed her with every ounce of my love. Her lips yielded easily, responding with just as much feeling and affection. My heart felt like it might burst at any moment and I never wanted to let her go for fear of it breaking. But her hands began weaving themselves around my neck, subduing the raging torrents of my guilt and sorrow with her gentle caresses. Her fingertips slowly pushed back the rim on my Kokiri hood once more until it glided down to the flagstones.

"Do you not like my hat?" I whispered against her cheek as my mouth began to wander from her lips.

She blushed. "Of course I do…" she said, trailing off as I kissed her neck. "But I like your hair better."

"Maybe I'll wear it less often then."

She was silent for a moment, and then what I had been waiting for was voiced. "You still have to tell me about Termina, Link."

Her request brought me out of my delightful reverie. I sighed my displeasure light-heartedly, but she hung about me tenderly which made telling my tale not quite so bad. We talked long into the evening, Zelda wanting to know every detail about each of my masks. We soon fell back into our usual banter, the heavy emotions of earlier seeming far away. She would smirk at me with her witty remarks and I would scratch the back of my ears in embarrassment, especially when I had to explain about the Great Fairy Mask.

I was so busy talking that I hadn't noticed Zelda's slowed breathing and the diminishing number of her comments. It was only when an expected remark never materialised that I realised that the princess had fallen sound asleep in my lap. The last thing I wanted to do was disturb her, but I already knew that the servants were chattering about our relationship, or at least about how Zelda was spending a considerable amount of her time in my company.

For the sake of her honour I forced myself to take her back to her room. She stirred as I slipped my hands under her knees and stood up but soon settled back into the crook of my shoulder. I was lucky to meet nobody on my way towards Zelda's room, but when I arrived I found it difficult to part from her. I knew I would miss her warmth once I returned to my dark room, and the thought of even sleeping on her floor seemed more appealing at that moment, if only to be near her.

But then the maid who came in with Zelda's breakfast would probably not look too kindly on finding me in the princess's chamber at such an early hour. I sighed in resignation and I gently laid her down on her bed with more success than I had predicted. However just as I turned to go I caught the sight of her eyes fluttering open.

I knelt at her bedside and kissed her forehead. "Go back to sleep, my love," I whispered, my lips wanting to linger on her skin, but I pulled myself away and stood in the doorway until I was satisfied she was at rest. Her face was leaning toward me with the serenity of a child, her eyes closed, her breathing steady. I wasn't sure how long I stood there watching her beautiful form slumber away, and I only turned away when my own eyes started to droop.

"Goodnight, my princess." And with that I crept back to my room in the silence of the early morning.

AN: Thanks so much to everyone who has taken the time to read and review A Time Once Lost in the past. Your support has been invaluable:) Please continue to do so for this one too! I'm really pleased with how this turned out, especailly as I haven't written anything wuite like this before, or anything in a while for that matter! I'm also curious to find out which parts you guys liked best, so please take the time to tell me which was your favourite chapter/paragraph/whatever :D It will help me to write what you want to read!

On a different note, I'm pleased to annouce that I have an idea for a sequel to A Time Once Lost! Not too sure when I'm going to start writing that, but to give a small teaser, the summary will probably go something like this:

Just when Link and Zelda have overcome their painful pasts, Zelda takes in interest in Link's mask collection. But when Link tries on his Fierce Deity Mask, the god inside it has other plans and doens't want to let Link take him off quite so easily as he put him on. Will Zelda be able to persuade the god to return Link to her, or will something more unexpected occur between them?

I promise you plenty of LxZ goodness. Hopefully I won't make you wait too long, as I'm quite excited about writing it. Anyway, I hope that you have enjoyed this story, thanks again for your support, and until next time,

- Perfect Solider 01