Hi, all! I prefer to let my work stand on its own, but a couple of refs to other fanfics and official Zelda works need mentioning:

I make a reference to the excellent fic "Time Cannot Erase" by the lovely and talented CallistoHime, and a tip of the hat to a cool character from "LoZ: The Return" by Rose Zemlya (both here on fanfiction dot net). I also very occasionally use dialogue directly taken or derived from Nintendo games, mainly Ocarina, and one line from the Ocarina manga.

Standard disclaimer: I don't own any of these people, places or things. Heck, even most of the verbs belong to someone else. :-) All characters and settings © Nintendo. Hey, they've earned it.

Prologue: Overture

His life unwound like a clockwork coil springing open.

The Hero was seventeen, and awake at last. He fought monsters all over Hyrule, across mountain peaks, in watery depths, in blazing light and endless shadow. He fought to protect the innocent. He fought for her.

The Hero was sixteen. He slept. In the dream, he held Zelda's hand and watched over her as she gazed at the stars, tears glistening in her eyes. It was a dream, but he knew it was really her.

The Hero was fifteen. Something evil stirred in Kakariko, and the princess' guardian had gone to face it. He lent her his Power to Repel Evil, though he dared not let her feel it directly.

The Hero was fourteen. A phantom warrior trained him in swordplay, tireless bodies clashing swords for hours upon end. When the session ended, he watched over Zelda as she slept.

The Hero was thirteen. The Zoras barely resisted another sorcerous assault by Ganondorf. They would never know that a boy's spirit had made the difference.

The Hero was twelve. A winged spirit taught him the way of the bow, becoming one with arrows and the magic they could hold. When the session ended, he watched over Zelda as she slept.

The Hero was eleven. The Kokiri sang mournfully, their drums and ocarinas reflecting innocence lost. Yet they survived, for a power that loved them watched over the forest. Him.

The Hero was ten. He slept. A man and a woman wrapped him in blankets of light; when he rose, it was night in the world, and he went to watch over the grief-stricken Zelda as she tried to make herself rest. Then, backwards, he emerged from the Master Sword's grip, and...

Link looked down at his tiny body. I can't believe she really did it, he thought, but he refused to let the tears come through. How could she? She didn't even ask.

The boy scowled. Yes she did. Zelda had asked with her eyes. All Link would have had to do was place his hand over the Ocarina and say no. After all they had been through together, she would never have sent him back if he'd refused. Besides, she doesn't know. I guess now, she never will. Even Rauru hadn't known what the Master Sword did to him...did for him...seven years of training, of war and peace, of grief and triumph. He'd been there in Zelda's dreams, comforting her (and yet, he'd never even suspected that she was Sheik...funny, that); he'd been a deadly ghost, protecting the Kokiri Village; he'd watched over the Gorons and Zoras as much as he'd been able, the Sword's Power to Repel Evil blunting Ganondorf's might at least a little.

He still didn't think he'd ever forgive the thing. It had allowed him to protect the people he loved the most...but what about the others? Why had it allowed the people of Castle Town to be driven from their homes - or worse, slaughtered, only to be brought back as ReDead? Why had so many people been forced to suffer? Because Din had believed in her Chosen, Link thought bitterly, though he didn't blame the goddess. That he reserved for Ganondorf and his evil twin 'mothers.' Din, after all, had been the first to grant the Hero her favor and Fire. Indeed, all three goddesses had given him their blessings and their strength.

In the end, Link didn't blame anyone for his return here but himself. Zelda had looked at him with those huge, beautiful, wounded eyes, and begged him for the chance to make it right. Link had never been able to say no to those eyes. Never. Triforce of Courage, ha, the Hero thought bitterly. Some Hero I turned out to— "HEY!" he blurted as Navi flew up towards the window. "Navi!"

"Hey yourself!" Navi shot back and flew out a crack in the corner of the window.

"What in Farore's name are you doing?!" Link wailed, running as fast as his stubby child's legs could carry him. A sudden thought froze his blood, but only propelled him faster. I'm not a Kokiri. Hyrule is safe. Is she...leaving me? He darted out of the Temple of Time, noting in passing that the Spiritual Stones were gone. In the back of his mind, he wondered exactly when Zelda had sent him to. He saw the tiny blue sphere flitter down the road towards the castle, however, and every other thought vanished. "Navi!"

Link ignored the handful of outraged cries as he dove past the people of Castle Town, reaching the familiar vines shortly after Navi stopped there. "What...are...you...doing?" he gasped, panting. I hate kid-running.

"You think I couldn't feel you beating yourself up back there?" Navi replied caustically, arms crossed. "Honestly, what's enough for you? How many times do you have to save — well, everyone — to realize how great you are?" With that, the dam broke, and she threw her arms as far around his neck as they would go, which was barely on both sides of his windpipe, and hugged him for all she was worth. "You big dope," she sobbed.

"Oh, Navi," he whispered, gently cradling the fairy in one hand. He smiled in spite of himself. "At least I'll always have you."

"Oh, yeah!" Navi replied, sorrow seemingly forgotten. "Follow me!" She darted up the wall.

Link sighed. Why me? he thought in exasperation. It was obvious now where Navi was leading him, but he humored her all the same. It dimly occurred to the Hero to wonder where Malon was, but he had other things to worry about. The guards had sharp eyes, and from what his Brother Darunia had told him, they'd fought fearlessly to the end against Ganondorf's legions, but those helmets of theirs made them all but deaf. At least by Kokiri standards, he thought with a wicked grin. No assassin would get past Impa, of course, but he'd have to have a word with her about security all the same. Link's grin vanished. It would probably be the last time he would run along this path...