Disclaimer: None of the Legends of Zelda are mine, a fact I lament on a daily basis. Well, at least weekly. Sorry for the absolutely lame title. I was feeling uncreative. Can I disclaim that?

A/N: Ah, another rendition of the ending of Ocarina of Time; what is it about this game that makes it the best? I don't know, but it is. And I absolutely love the conclusion...I really do. Although that had to be obvious by now. So! Like the summary suggested, this is not a fairy tale ending...well, not really. I do possess a certain inability to make my stories completely dark, so you can look forward to a slightly uplifting finish. But a few weeks ago I kicked Ganon's ass and promptly spat out this story (which has been kicking around my writing folder ever since), and it occurred to me, quite randomly, that Link and Zelda really get the short end of the stick. It's like, "You're a legendary hero/princess, have a craptastic life!" And then it occurred to me that well duh Link's life would suck, full of hardship and woe, but wouldn't Zelda's, too? It couldn't be peachy, masquerading as this red-eyed guy for seven years and watching your kingdom fall into complete ruin. So after that whole schpiel wandered through my mind, out came this story. Think of it what you will, but whatever you think, please review. That wasn't begging, either. Okay, maybe it was.

A/N the second: Those of you who like the way Link is usually portrayed in fanfiction(quiet, noble, almost submissive) will be sorely disappointed. I hate normalfanfiction!Link with a passion, I really do. He's shown as quiet because he doesn't technically speak during the game, but hell, he walks up to everyone he meets and strikes up conversation! You think he'd have to be decently outgoing, right? Not like he's outgoing, per se, in this piece, but you know what I mean. Actually vocal, shock horror. So, er, yeah. If it's even possible for Link to be OOC...in any event, don't hound me about it. I'll bite back. Er. -awkward sweatdrop- Oh, and I think it's generally accepted that Link and Zelda are ten in the beginning, but I aged them a bit (mostly for the hell of it, partially so it makes a bit more sense). And...I think that is all.

Shadow's End

Zelda waited.

In the vast, cavernous hall of the Temple of Time, she waited, perched like a crouching tiger on the altar, her feet blasphemously close to treading upon the sacred gemstones, the jewels of prophecy.

She didn't care.

Hunched over, her knees level with her shoulders and her arms extended straight, almost as if she were preparing to dive, Zelda waited in the guise of Sheik. She had done a lot of waiting in her life, and she had done a lot of it in this very position: poised in the temple for the precise moment when her hero returned.

Beneath the white wraps, beneath the false tan skin and the thin lips, Zelda's true face contorted into a humorless smirk as she reviewed the phrase.

Her hero. As if he were doing this for her. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And Zelda, in turn, was doing none of this for him. She wasn't traipsing all around Hyrule, popping up at opportune moments and offering guidance of the most meager kind so that Link would succeed. Or at least, she wasn't doing it for him personally. He only needed to succeed so that the world would right itself again, so that this horrific game the goddesses dared to call life would come to its end…at least until Din and Nayru and Farore grew bored again and placed the three key pieces back on the board.

Before, in her ignorant, idealistic youth, Zelda had fancied that they were chess pieces of quite some prominence: she was the king, ever in need of countless protection; Ganondorf was the queen, storming around the board without boundary and taking all who opposed; and Link was a knight, dodging obstacles and worming his way into places otherwise unreachable.

It was only after years of brooding in the empty temple that she realized they were all pawns.

But that was the burden of the Triforce of Wisdom; even as she dwelt on the subject again, the fingers of her left hand absently caressed the back of her right. She saw things she didn't wish to see, divined answers when naïveté was preferred and safe, foresaw events that were unavoidable and irrevocable.

Wisdom was a passive gift, and so Zelda waited.

As she stared unseeingly across the dusty, shadow-shrouded interior of the temple, she reflected that time was not the cruel mistress ignorant people made her out to be. Time was a changeable, alterable thing, as evidenced by Link's flagrant sailing back and forth via the Master Sword and the Sacred Realm. Time could deceive, time could heal, and eventually, time would end.

Destiny was another matter entirely.

Time was an unknown, something she could only glimpse in its amorphous being—little flashes of color and sound, bits and pieces of a future that need not be written—but destiny was ultimate. Destiny had marked her and Link and Ganondorf for the pieces of the Triforce before Ganondorf had even conceived the idea of seizing it. Destiny did not care how much time was meddled with as long as it would be fulfilled before the finish. Destiny was the hand that shoved her pawn of a chess piece into places she would not necessarily choose to go.

She was the princess, of course. It was her duty to protect and guide her kingdom. It was the burden of her birth. She probably would've followed this course regardless of the strictures of her destiny.

Still, it would've been nice to have been given a choice.

Zelda allowed Sheik's crimson eyes to close, some of the tension melting from her predatory stance. Compared to the seven long years she had spent before, the mere week or so since she had encountered the Bearer of Courage at the colossus was an infinitesimal speck, a blink—there and gone. He would have freed the Spirit Sage (Nabooru: on odd choice by the goddesses, if Zelda did say so herself) and cast down the evil because that was what he did, that was what he was destined to do. And then he would come here, and she would be overcome with that unpleasant mixture of guilt and vague revulsion and bitterness and the tiresome knowledge of the immediate future.

As if called by her thoughts, the gigantic doors that fronted the hall creaked open, but Zelda did not move: only Sheik's eyes rose, just one visible in the separation of the wild blond hair.

Link caught sight of his elusive guide and approached, his walk furtive and his eyes wary. Something ached in her chest when he drew near enough for her to notice details, the usual pain of his appearance striking deeper than ever before, and Sheik's chest hitched as her breath caught in his throat.

His tunic was open, split down the front, and he had one arm properly through the sleeve and the other nestled close to his body, amateurishly splinted and trapped in a makeshift sling. A still-healing gash highlighted his left cheekbone, tracing brownish red across his sun-tanned flesh, and he did not seem to care that flecks of blood drifted free every few moments, flitting to catch in his unruly dirty-blond hair. His tunic was a mess of stains, blood and mud and goddesses knew what else, and subjected to so much patching and stitching that it resembled some creation of Frankenstein's. Purplish circles dominated the crescents beneath his eyes, which in turn were darker than she had ever seen them: she could recall, now so long ago—and not just long in terms of time but in terms of destiny—when he had showed up in her courtyard out of nowhere and his eyes had been sparkling and bright and unmarred by the painful path he would be forced to take.

Navy irises, jaded with experience, leveled on her as he came to a halt a dozen or so paces away. Navi floated aimlessly around his head, even her usual exuberance tempered by the hard life of the lone hero. There was resignation in those eyes and the omnipresent wariness of a warrior who is not entirely sure if the person before him is friend or foe.

Zelda had to admit she wasn't sure which she was, either.

"Well, I'm here," he snapped, his voice hoarse but still drenched in dark sarcasm. "What was so important that Rauru insisted I rush all the way from the desert?"

His appearance suddenly made sense: she had seen him battle-worn before, but clearly he had taken the Sage of Light at his word and refrained from visiting a great fairy. It was ironic, Zelda thought with a mirthless inner chuckle, that for all her magic could do, she could not heal the damage she had inflicted, one way or another, on this young man who retained nothing of the boy he had been.

"I'm supposed to meet the person who's responsible for all this," Link continued, his face twisted into a mask of barely-contained infuriation. She saw that he was more haggard than ever, that his already-lean frame had been stripped of all excess from countless days and nights of not enough rest or food—just day after ruthless day, not enough, never enough. And all those days had been filled with too much battle, too much jumping at the slightest sound, too much driving paranoia: she could see it in the tension of his stance, the shifty nature of his eyes, the pale scars that crisscrossed his visible skin.

Her heart clenched again, but only out of guilt. It was she, after all, who had shown him this path, who had constantly been there, shoving him in the right direction so that Destiny could be appeased with the relentless sacrifice.

She wondered briefly if Ganondorf felt as trapped as they, if his own lust for power had been so outmatched by the Triforce's that he was a mere puppet of his fate as well.

The goddesses were orchestrating their coup de grace, and Zelda was determined to give them a memorable show, even if she would only be another member of the audience.

Zelda inclined Sheik's head in acquiescence, keeping the red eye trained on the battered soldier. "Yes. You are. But before you do, I must tell you that your fate is not any one person's doing, much as the party responsible shoulders the blame," she added with an inward grimace shielded by facial wrappings. "What is happening is a game of fate, a game which is fast approaching its conclusion. Before the end, though, it only makes sense that you are aware of exactly why you have been tortured so."

He waited, his brow furrowing with impatience and some confusion, but his shoulders remained squared and his head held high.

Zelda motioned with one bandaged hand, gesturing towards the arm Link had cradled to his chest. "You are a victim of fate, Link. You are the Bearer of the Triforce of Courage…Ganondorf could not claim the whole Triforce, seizing only that of Power, and Courage was transferred to you."

He was no fool. He saw where her conversation was leading, and he anticipated her climax. "And Wisdom, then? Is it you, Sheik?"

Thin lips smirked beneath the mask, and the sheikah's leanly muscled arms twisted into a complex sign. "In a way…" she allowed, and then the Triforce illuminated on Sheik's hand, blinding the warrior in a flash of golden light. When it dimmed and dissipated entirely, Zelda crouched on the altar in her true form, levelly meeting her hero's glare.

Because he was glaring—there was nothing soft about his expression, and his eyes burned bright with fury. "You!" he roared, jabbing his forefinger at her accusingly; she caught sight of the dried blood that never vacated his blunt nails, no matter how hard or long he scrubbed. "I've gone through hell for you, and here you sit, easy as you please! I hate you!"

Zelda didn't flinch as she suffered his onslaught; it was nothing she hadn't already accused herself of. "We are all pawns in the same game, Link," she remarked quietly, though her tone bore an edge, perhaps defensive, perhaps simply bitter at it all. "I just happen to see a few moves ahead before I'm thrust into circumstances beyond my control." She smirked now, visibly, a tart twist of her full lips. "Wisdom is a terrible thing, Link," she continued, murmuring, musing now. "The ability to see does not come hand in hand with the ability to change, and in the end, I am nothing more than a spectator."

"But you were the one I had to see," Link snarled, stalking closer until her hands, still outstretched in the same position, nearly graced his skin. "You were the goddess-damn princess I was so willing to throw my life away for. You were the one who convinced me I was worthy, I was special, that I could do something after years of being a hopeless outcast." His voice bled into a crescendo, and he stepped closer until he was pressed against the altar and her forearms were framing his head.

"You were the one who made me believe, the one I foolishly believed in! And look where it got me!" he spat, pure venom in the depths of his darkened eyes. "Running around and trying to fix a problem far too big for one person, and there you were every damn step of the way, pushing me along so that I could save your pathetic kingdom for you!"

His good hand shot out, and his fingers dug into her cheeks as he grabbed her face, forcing her gaze to meet his even though she'd never attempted to look away. She didn't react to his assault, only staring back at him and ignoring the painful press of her tender flesh against hard, sharp-edged teeth.

"Where were you, Zelda, when Ganon stole the Triforce? Where were you when I spent seven years in stasis and the world crumbled to pieces? Where were you when evil engulfed the forest and threatened my childhood home? Where were you when Zora's Domain froze over and annihilated an entire race? Where the hell were you?"

She closed her lids briefly against the sheer strength of his yell, but she reopened them when he shook her head, jaded blue meeting jaded blue.

"Huh? Where were you, Princess Zelda?" he demanded, sneering her title like an ugly curse. "Because I know where I was! I was fighting and bleeding and suffering for this stupid land, and you, you…you were twiddling your thumbs somewhere, waiting for me to clean up the mess so you could point me towards the next one! What the hell have you done, eh? Well?"

"I have played my part," she replied tonelessly, not missing the twitch of his jaw at those hollow words. "I was given the map, and you were made to follow it. It is cruel, and it is heartless, and it has been relentless, but it is all coming to an end now," she murmured, her eyes growing momentarily distant. "You will have to sacrifice one more time."

He struck her with his clenched fist, knocking her head hard to the side. She paused at the end of the momentum, remaining turned away for a long moment before she slowly faced him again, her lip broken and trickling blood. There was no remorse in his eyes, and she did not expect to encounter any.

"There," he growled, "now you have also shed blood for Hyrule."

She held his furious gaze, the guilt momentarily overwhelming her. "Would it make a difference if I said I was sorry?"

"No," he said instantly. "Apologies can't make it all disappear. Apologies are merely wasted breath. So don't you dare."

She nodded halfway, the motion incomplete with her chin bowed to her chest. "We have no choice, Link," she breathed, her eyes fixed on his broken arm. Her own arms, never moving, could have rested easily on his broad shoulders, and if they hadn't been who they were, she could have very easily kissed him. "You have to fight Ganon."

"I have an idea," he mocked, and this time his hand fisted in her hair, tugging cruelly on the long blond locks that otherwise hung limply around her face. "How about you fight Ganon and I watch? Wouldn't that be an amusing switch?"

She didn't reply to that, not possessing any answer, and instead she said, "If you defeat Ganon, I can fix everything. It is within my power."

He snorted, his fingers not loosening from their tangled positions. "Power? What power do you have, Zelda? All you're good at is shoving me in the so-called right direction."

"I'm the seventh sage," she revealed quietly, her eyes meeting his again. "When this is over, when the game has been played to satisfaction, I can return the world to the way it is supposed to be. I can make it so that Ganondorf never happened, that Hyrule never suffered this dark age…and that you never suffered along with it. I can do that," she promised, although no hope tainted her voice.

His handsome face contorted into a snarling grimace. "Are you trying to bribe me? Offering me some impossible hope so I'll bow to your wishes one last time? No," he denied, reinforcing his words with a sharp jerk on her hair; she felt several strands pull free of her scalp, but she didn't so much as wince. "I won't be tricked by you again, Zelda. Never again."

She studied him, her head tilted to one side from the strain of his hand. "Would you throw away all you've already accomplished? Would you leave all your pain unjustified? You must fulfill your destiny; it is unavoidable. It is destiny," she concluded with the slightest of shrugs.

"I have half a mind to let Ganondorf kill you," he threatened, twisting her head even further to the side.

"And the other half?" she prompted, aware that he had just bared her throat.

"The other half wants to kill you right now," he growled. "Even with one arm, it would be so easy to break your neck. Although it would be much more poetic to strike you down with this wretched sword, this blade of evil's bane. I think you qualify as evil," he finished with a sneer. He shook his head then, finally releasing his fingers from her hair. And in a motion so fast she couldn't follow, he had leveled the Master Sword at her neck, the ever-sharp edge of the blade biting slightly into her pale skin.

"The lovely, wise Princess Zelda, slain by the monster she created," he goaded, pressing the sword just a little harder so that the skin broke and blood trickled down her throat in vivid scarlet stains. "How perfectly ironic."

Zelda merely held his gaze, some part of her abandoning all instincts of self-preservation and waiting for him to end the game, to slide her piece from the board. All it would take was a little more pressure, a slight motion to either side. Death would be the easy way out.

Sadly, death was not in her cards today.

"As long as you have the ocarina," she whispered, the lack of quaver in her voice denying the presumption that she was begging for her life, "I can restore everything. I can turn back time, just like you do every time you lift this sword. Except unlike you, I can make the change permanent."

"Are you still blathering on about destiny?" he asked, disdainful. "I could kill you, and you're still trying to make me save the world. Have you utterly lost your mind?"

"Probably," she admitted, smiling wryly, and he looked taken aback at the unexpected response. "You think you're the only one who's missed out, Link. You think you're the only one who never got the chance to grow up. I sheltered in a disguise for seven years—this, today, right now, is the first time I've seen myself as a nineteen-year-old," she confessed. "I couldn't show myself, reveal myself as Zelda because Ganondorf would home in on my Triforce piece, and this game would have ended long before its time. I had to wait those seven years, the same as you, except I was denied the luxury of unconsciousness."

His eyes narrowed to blue slits. "You trying to make me pity you?" he demanded in a voice thick with incredulity.

"No," she said simply. "I am simply explaining that you are not the only one who's suffered, the only one who's lost something precious. You have borne the burden of physical labor, and I have borne the burden of knowledge—of knowing what I had to make you do, of knowing what I had to inflict. I have had to lead you to places I knew could be the death of you, and constrained by my gift—" she spat the word "—all I could do was watch and hope it wouldn't happen, that you'd make it through. There is horror in the inaction as well, Link."

Something faltered in his stance, even though the Master Sword did not waver. "You're telling the truth, aren't you? You can give me my life back. Tell me you're not lying!" he blurted, suddenly animated again.

"I'm not lying," she promised. "Once you defeat Ganon and I seal him in the Evil Realm, there is nothing preventing me from turning back the clock. You give me the ocarina, you return the sword to the pedestal, the Doors close…and it will be complete."

Light flickered in his eyes, too weak to be hope but close enough. "And…I won't remember? Any of this?"

Her expression tightened briefly, and she didn't dare shake her head. "No. You will forget."

Her tone intrigued him, and he added, "But you'll remember, won't you?" He didn't sound sympathetic, merely searching for the truth.

Her eyebrows slanted together, and she dropped her gaze from his. "I will. It is the burden of Wisdom. I have to learn from all the mistakes…all my mistakes. You will forget your suffering," she said, their eyes meeting again briefly, "but I will remember."

Silence hung between them as he considered all possible consequences that would come of such remembrance, and at length he retracted the sword and slid it back into its sheath. "Very well," he muttered, taking a step back. "I will kill the Evil King for you. And then I will forget."

"It is the least I can do," she replied, honesty tingeing her dull tone.

He studied her, his face unreadable, for a long moment before he reached out, his fingers brushing vermillion droplets from her throat. "I hurt everyone I encounter," he murmured, as if to himself. "It was only a matter of time before that included you."

"I don't blame you for your anger," she said softly, watching him wipe her blood on his tunic.

"When we were young, I was so taken by you," he continued, not paying her any attention. "I thought one day, if I strove hard enough and, well, saved the world, I would be worthy of your regard. Even after I woke up, I was determined to protect you, although I did not know where you were. I hated Sheik for what he did, for guiding me to death time after time…but it wasn't until now that I actually blamed you for any of it. I guess I always imagined you were a helpless victim of circumstance," he said humorlessly, "not the tactical genius."

"Destiny is cruel," she remarked emptily.

"I could have loved you," he said abruptly, his cobalt eyes piercing as they locked on hers. "But not after all this."

She couldn't look at him; she closed her eyes, feeling the long lashes mesh. "I deserve nothing less," she admitted. "I deserve your hatred." She smirked, another twisted grimace of her beautiful features. "I don't even think I know what love would be."

His hand rose again, and this time his rough thumb smeared the red on her chin in an effort to cleanse her lower lip. He watched the action as if mesmerized, and then he suddenly leaned in and pressed his cracked lips to hers.

All she could taste was their blood.

He drew back after a moment, his eyes a shade gentler, and he breathed, "I want to forget, Zelda. You have to come through with that. You have to."

She bowed her head, unable to look at him and watch his lips shape those words. "When this is over…" she whispered, "just give me the ocarina."

He nodded slightly, little bobs of his head. "When this is over," he repeated, as if air and water had become irrelevant and that was all he required to live.

Zelda didn't voice her thoughts on the phrase. She didn't say that even once the game ended, the pieces were only put away until the players took them out again and arranged them in the same order, in the same places, for the same purposes. She didn't say that her visions had shown her a never-ending cycle of hapless people thrown into terrible circumstances beyond their control. She didn't say that all their efforts now would prove futile at some later date, that the suffering of the masses was only postponed.

She didn't say any of that.

She merely forced a ghost of a smile because her hero needed the reassurance, and he had a destiny to fulfill.

She thudded to her knees, her body suddenly too weak to support her anymore; summoning the Sages and sealing the portal to the Evil Realm had taken far more energy than she would have dared thought possible, and her vision swam sickeningly in a torrent of blacks and browns and reds. Elbows struck the ground next as her slender figure crumpled in a strangely graceful motion, and her forehead followed, pressing into the ashy dirt as her blond hair tumbled down in a curtain.

She inhaled shakily, the smoke and fume in the air making her head spin, but the need for oxygen was greater than the need to gag.

It was over…she could hardly dare think the words. For her, for them, at least, it was over.

A low groan distracted her from her hazy thoughts, and she pressed against the rubble-strewn ground, lifting her head and searching for the source. It wasn't hard to find.

Link lay a dozen or so feet away, sprawled inelegantly on his back: one knee bent and upright, the other leg splayed at an unnatural angle to the side, both arms spread-eagled. The Master Sword lay close to his left hand, and the burnished surface of the Mirror Shield weighed down his right, effectively pinning his broken body to the earth. His chest heaved as he fought for breath, and even from the distance, Zelda could tell it was the one fight he was going to lose.

Unable to stand, she crawled to his side instead, streaking her royal attire with grime and not caring in the slightest, all her attention focused on the fallen warrior. He stared upwards at the thinning clouds, his blue eyes wide and bright with pain, his face drawn and ashen with it. She tried not to look at the ugly gash across his chest, but the gleam of ribs was visible in the depth of the injury, beneath all the harsh vermillion and blackened tissue, and something resembling a sob choked off her own breath.

Tearing a section from her skirts, she covered the wound, knowing it would not help him at all but at least it would allow her to pretend he was fine, that he wasn't dying from Ganon's final, desperate blow.

Her eyes stung, and she knew it wasn't just from the ashy smoke clogging the air.

He groaned again, a guttural, bestial sound, and his eyes rolled loosely in their sockets, snatching onto hers as if magnetized. His lips formed words that his voice could not supply, only blood bubbling forth.

"Shh, shh," she soothed, tracing a gentle hand down the side of his face. "It's over. You'll be okay," she promised, moving to unbuckle the heavy shield from his arm. He watched her, silently frantic, as she maneuvered his now-free arm so that his right hand also closed around the hilt of the fabled sword, angling the weapon so that the blade lay point towards his feet, as if he were poised to embed it in the ground. She busied herself with pawing through his various pouches, finally finding the small blue instrument that was indirectly responsible for this whole mess.

Her eyes lingered on the mark of the Triforce on its mouthpiece and narrowed.

He gurgled again, drawing her attention back to more important matters. Now was not the time to rail at the goddesses or cruel destiny: now was the time to make good on her word and see that Link was given the life he deserved, the reward for his trials.

"Now remember," she said softly, leaning close so that he would be certain to hear her, "you must replace the Master Sword. When I play the song, you will be transported to the Temple of Time, directly before the pedestal. You must replace the sword."

He gave a feeble nod, his bloodied fingers tightening in determination on the hilt.

Her hand caressed his cheek again, shifting aside some matted blond hairs, thick with congealed blood. "I know you don't want to hear it," she whispered, "but I am sorry. I'm so, so sorry, Link. Please understand that if there had been any other way, any other way at all, I would have pursued it instead. I never wanted it to come to this," she concluded, her voice cracking even at a whisper. "I don't expect your forgiveness. I just want you to know."

He stared up at her, a thousand emotions chasing across the cobalt rings of his eyes, but the pain blotted them out, leaving silent words unsaid.

Her fingers lifted from his cheek and settled on the small holes in the ocarina's surface.

"Goodbye, Link," she breathed before she placed the instrument to her lips, and her lids slid shut as she began to play her lullaby.

Blue light engulfed the hero, and their gazes met one last time before the brilliant glow washed everything away.

In the castle courtyard, beneath the warming rays of the summer sun, Zelda sat on white stone steps and idly performed her lullaby. The notes drifted plaintively into the air, rising up on the breeze to curl around the spires of the towers before floating off into eternity.

She had planned on burning the instrument directly upon her return, but something had prevented her, perhaps a foolish wish to see her hero again. She didn't expect him to come, and yet there she sat, waiting.

It seemed she always waited for him.

The ocarina felt large to her child's fingers, and she paused mid-strain, absently caressing the smooth painted wood, thinking that it felt too innocent for all the irrevocable—because she still remembered, and in some way, the Sages remembered—damage it had caused.

But then she forced herself to play again, hoping without any real hope that she would somehow be able to put herself to sleep, even though she did not want to encounter the nightmares that had haunted her for the past week, ever since her return to the proper time. All she could see when she closed her eyes was Link broken and dying, or his angry, too-true words to her in the temple before the final showdown.

And in the worst nightmares of all, she could recall the exact feel of his rough lips on hers.

The footfalls were so silent on the grass that she did not notice their creator until he spoke.

"That's a pretty song, Princess Zelda."

She looked up sharply, startled, and her mind only recoiled further in shock as she recognized the green-garbed boy before her. Although in some ways, she barely recognized him at all: his eyes were bright and cheerful, his cheeks flushed in a bashful manner, his lips curved in a triumphant smile.

He looked so innocent, and she had never been so grateful in her life.

"I don't mean to disturb you, but I sort of…felt like I should come here," he said, the flush winning over the smile for a moment, and he shuffled his feet. Zelda noticed Navi was no longer with him. "I was in Kokiri Forest, and I was talking to Saria about this strange dream I just started having, and she said I should go see you. So…here I am. I'm Link, by the way."

And he outstretched his hand.

Zelda vaguely realized that she hadn't said one word yet, and she blinked several times before she reached out and accepted his gesture. "Ah…Link. I'm Zelda, but it seems you already knew that," she added with a faint smile.

His own grin broadened, though the blush still faintly tainted his cheeks. "That's a nice ocarina you have there," he said, nodding at the instrument. "Saria has one just like it. Except not blue, of course."

And she knew then that he did not remember one single thing about his quest or their past—because it was the past now, no longer future—and her smile grew into something grateful and genuine. In his mind, he had never undergone any sort of suffering, and as far as he was concerned, this was their first meeting. She wondered if he felt the attraction to her that he had mentioned only later in life, and she wondered how she would feel if he did. She did not deserve his love; as she had said, she only deserved his hatred.

But she wanted nothing more than for him to live out his days happily and without pain. And, perhaps, if he decided one day that loving her would fulfill those requirements, would fulfill that destiny, then she would do everything in her power to love him back.

Somehow, she didn't think that would be very hard.

She patted the steps beside her, and he sat down, lounging in a wholly unregal fashion and looking completely at ease now. She gazed at him sidelong, still astounded by the sheer innocence of his features, and the guilt and self-castigation eased from a biting pain to a dull ache as he began talking again, apparently quite the chatterbox, and she surprised herself with a real, carefree laugh.

"Well, Link," she said as he finished his avid storytelling, "that sounds like quite a dream."


A/N the third: See, I told you I couldn't make it completely dark and depressing. And since you've soldiered on thus far, how about you review? Might as well, eh?