Well, here it is: the end. Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed and everyone who stuck with me this far! It was my first finished multichapter fic and I am proud of the way it turned out.
As always, please leave a review if you can! ;)
He caught her and held her tightly, as they both shook with remnants of adrenaline and fear. She buried her face in his neck, crying silently, so glad to be alive and yet even more glad to see him. He might not love her, he might not care for her the way she would always care for him, but he always turned up when she needed him most and for that she was thankful.
They held each other for a few moments when Link, demonstrating subtle agility and strength, managed to sheath his sword with one hand and hold her with the other. She went willingly as he brought his hand beneath her knees to carry her, and she did not even look to see where he went. She knew she would be safe so long as he was near.
She loved him, in that moment, more than she ever had. Her other lives might disagree, but to this Zelda everything was old and yet so new; the feel of him carrying her, so carefully, so tenderly, warmed her skin and swelled her chest with emotion. The tread of his footsteps bringing her to safety; the sound of his heart beating furiously in his chest; the faint scent of leaves and sunshine and sweat lingering on his skin—she loved it all. It did not matter if he meant to simply return her to her castle. She would savor the moment always.
They reached Epona quickly and Link managed to place her in the saddle before climbing up behind her. He held her tightly still, cupping her waist with his arm, and he took the reins and hastened his horse ahead. They rode for an indiscriminate amount of time and Zelda shook and shivered as she tried to forget what had nearly happened. She could not look out into the darkness without seeing more moblins that were not there, so she closed her eyes and leaned into Link's broad chest. He, in turn, tightened his grip on her and urged Epona faster.
They slowed just as the lights of the castle appeared to grow brighter and Link steered them toward an outcropping of trees, sheltered by the side of the mountain. They were just yards from the castle and yet Zelda felt as though they were sheltered, distant from it. She had been ordered by the goddesses to return as so she had. Her journey was ended. Her life could now begin.
Link dismounted first, scanning the area thoroughly before he would let her down. When he determined the location safe, he grabbed her by the waist, gently lifting her from the saddle as though she were made of glass, and setting her against a heavy tree trunk. She closed her eyes again, and she felt him leave her side for only a moment and return quickly with a heavy blanket to shield against the cold.
He sat in front of her as he worked on building a small fire. Zelda peeked from beneath her lids and discovered that the setting resembled the one above the cliff tops, where he had taken her after the initial moblin attack. It was blocked from sight on two sides, and the terrain and composition of the trees offered shelter and safety. It appeared that the hero knew the land by heart, revisiting places he had deemed safe in the past and outfitting them properly so as to have no need to recreate the campsite every time he returned.
Zelda tried to stand, to help him, but the movement caught the hero's eye and he pushed her back against the tree gently, shaking his head. Still neither of them had said a word to the other. Zelda wondered if they would even speak that night or what else there was to say. Surely there was much to discuss, but perhaps some things were beyond mere words.
Normally, her mind was full of thought, thoughts of what to do, thoughts of what she had seen. The attack she dismissed from her mind: it did not warrant any reminder. But everything from the last few days with Link—every talk, every touch, every sense—became buried in the far back of her memory so as not to be summoned now. It was being kept for later remembrance, for later analysis. She knew that soon, enveloped in the heady nights of the castle, she would recall everything the hero had told her and everything he had been to her. She would cry out, she would clutch her heart in an attempt to drag away the pain. She would sleep little, eat even less, consume herself with the reconstruction of the kingdom and nothing more. But the nights would be hers to lament and to cry.
The faint words of the goddesses echoed through her ears as she attempted to remain calm. Regardless of the year and age, Zelda, you will remain a constant in the story of Hyrule…. Peace be with you, child, and do not fret…..We shall send you a sign, then, to either of you….to either of you….
Zelda sat upright, away from the tree, the blanket falling away from her. She stared at Link's back, but he did not appear to notice her sudden agitation. She did not move, barely breathed, as the words swam through her head again….to either of you…
Did that mean that Link himself has asked for the same thing as she? Did that mean that his cold and distant behavior was not directed at her, but at the realization that neither of them could have what they wanted? Was his anger because they could not be together? Or because she had asked for it in the first place?
Zelda attempted to stand, to question Link, but found her throat dry and her words failing her. She realized this answer, from the goddesses, did not actually answer her own questions; she knew that this minute detail did not change anything. Surely they would send some sort of sign to either of them, but she doubted a moblin attack would be such a sign. Indeed, Link may have disregarded the command of the goddesses and followed her into the night, anticipating her foolishness in riding so far by herself. After all, he did not care for their commands anyway.
She leaned back against the tree slowly, letting the thought sink in. Surely the goddesses meant to send either of them a sign, if only because Zelda wanted to know and Link needed to know so as to not disobey again. The goddesses probably meant for her to find out and then inform him to stay away, which in his stubbornness and resentment he would do. And if they sent the sign to him, then it did not change anything: Zelda would never disobey, never lose faith, even if the goddesses forbid them from seeing each other again. Regardless of what the princess and the hero felt or wanted.
He finally finished fixing the fire and turned to her, exhaustion clearly etched into the lines of his face but the concern in his eyes overshadowed it. He knelt before her carefully, noticing the blanket had fallen. Rather than readjust it, he began to pull it farther away from her.
Zelda stared at him for a moment, unsure of his intent, but she removed the blanket herself, watching him as he checked her over. He inspected her briefly for cuts or bruises, taking her arms and legs carefully, bending and twisting them to look for breaks. His touch sent fire trailing across her skin, even through the fabric of her riding habit. She watched his hands work because she could not look at his face.
Finally, he seemed satisfied with his inspection and let his hand rest on her shoulder, grasping a lock of her hair.
"Are you all right?"
Zelda stared back at him, her heart pounding in her chest, and she forgot the fear of the attack and the pain of missing him. She laughed lightly at the question.
"I feel as though you are always asking me that."
"And I feel as though I always need to ask that."
Zelda had the pride to look slightly indignant at this, but when he smiled at her, she smiled back at the jest. "Well so long as you are the one saving me, I am sure I will be fine."
Link's smile faltered at this statement, but only as he grew more serious. With his other hand he grasped hers, staring at their entwined fingers intently. "I believe that I will be able to meet that requirement." He kissed the back of her hand, letting his lips linger over her skin. "For as long as you need me."
The shock of his actions, coupled with her yearning for them, sent shivers down her spine. She stared at him, confusion coloring her features. She seemed barely able to believe his words. "For as long as…you…"
As she repeated the words, a flood of memories began pouring through Zelda's mind like a river running free. She saw each tender moment, each happy time. She saw herself sitting beneath a similar tree, kissing him in the pale moonlight; she saw herself in the castle gardens, dancing with him during the dawn; she saw herself jumping into his arms, nearly tackling him to the ground in her excitement; she saw them laughing together, walking together, holding on to one another and never wanting to let go. The statement was in each of those memories, mingled with words like love, forever and together.
Her heart must have grown larger in just the few moments since he carried her away to safety. She felt it beat doubly, stronger and more robust, filled with the love of all her previous existences and amalgamating with the love she now felt herself. She slowly placed her hand against Link's chest, to feel the same erratic and stout heartbeat she had always known was there.
The warmth between them burned quickly into something deeper, and Zelda used her other hand to grasp his face, pulling it closer to her own. "Oh Link…."
Their lips were mere inches apart, and yet they both hesitated, waiting for some sign that they could not, should not, continue. Or, at least, Zelda waited, even pulling back slightly to look at the sky above them, as though the goddesses were spying upon them from the stars. Link smiled, bringing Zelda's gaze down again.
"Worried about lightning bolts and divine intervention?"
Zelda recalled the double shock she received just by merely touching Link's skin in a less-than-formal gesture. "It happened before, in the forest…" But she saw Link's smile twist, as though he was trying his best not to tell her something outright. She cocked her head to the side, thinking that his tone and question must indicate something…
Then it clicked: the sign. "Did they send you the sign? To inform us of their decision?"
Link looked at her, faraway. "The sign of their decision?" He watched her face as a blush bloomed over her cheeks, noticeable even in the darkness. "How did you know they were deciding something?"
Zelda bit her lip, slightly embarrassed. She wanted to spell out her love for him in a hundred different ways in a hundred different languages but she also could not bear the rejection if her thoughts and sentiments were not reciprocated.
"I—I asked them. In the temple. What they would allow us to be in this lifetime."
Link let her hair fall from his hand, gently holding her cheek. "You asked them if our souls could finally be at peace?" He watched the blush creeping up her cheeks and decided that there was more. "You asked them if our souls…might finally be together?"
Zelda sighed at his wording. It was exactly what she had done. "I feel very…attached to you. I thought at first it was from the connection with Midna, and then I believed it was because we are the reincarnation of the Hero of Time and his princess, who were in love….But now I am certain it is because I care for you as much as any other time in my many lives."
His eyes appeared to light up though his expression remained serious. He leaned in to whisper in her left ear. "Does your heart feel ready to explode any time you are near me?"
She had to breathe the answer out, the sudden closeness overpowering her. "Yes."
He switched to the other ear, whispering again as though keeping it a secret. "And does your mind fill with memories of all the love and happiness we've once shared?"
She nodded. "Yes."
Link fell back, smiling. "Good, I thought that was just me."
There was a pause, before Zelda huffed and sputtered out word with no meaning, before she understood, truly, what he had just said. "Do you mean to say that you—that you also…?"
"Care for you more than anything? Yes. Love you beyond words and reason? Yes."
Comprehension evaded Zelda. The words she had always wanted him to say were finally being said, and yet they seemed out of context. The timing of it seemed imperfect. Her brow furrowed as she frowned. "But why? How? How could you love me so in just a few short days?"
Link smiled against the back of her hand, brushing his lips against it once more. "How can you say it's been only a few short days? Surely you remember our many lifetimes?"
"Well, yes, but—"
"But what, princess? Do not fret with worry, thinking I only care for you now that I remember the past. I also care for you, here and now, past be damned." He brushed a stray lock of hair from her face. "You're stubborn, you're funny, and you're too curious for your own good. And I can't help but irritate you. But now, with the time we have been given, I want to be there to see those things. I want to remember them myself, not from some distant and shrouded memory of the few moments we've had over a millennia."
Zelda's brain felt fuzzy with sentiment. Perhaps he was right—the timing was imperfect and yet it had to be that way, because of the way time warped their very existences. Her heart swelled as he explained but her reasoning process seemed to slow. "So does that mean the goddesses…do they…?"
Link smiled and pulled her closer. "They send their regards….and consent."
Zelda's heart now beat frantically against her ribs, chest nearly exploding for the joy of what she just heard. Her eyes lit up and her smile grew wide; she trembled from the news, felt it filling her up with some sort of heavenly promise of good things to come.
Still they did not move close enough, and Zelda twisted her mouth in a sly grin. "Well then what are you waiting for, hero?"
Both lost their smiles as their lips found each other. It was a heartfelt kiss that grew greedy, both drinking in the taste of the other as though it were the fruit of life itself. Zelda felt as though she had ascended into the heavens, the pleasure and the joy of the kiss too much for her to bear. She clung to him tightly as the kiss deepened, lips roving over lips, tongues touching gently. They only parted when the need for air became more insistent than the need for each other. But even as their lips broke apart, Link continued to trail kisses all over Zelda's face and neck, as though he would never be able to do so again.
Zelda sighed in contentment, happiness exuded from her in waves. But it was not long before her mind began to process the entire ordeal, to question and wonder at the strange turn of events her life had taken in just a few short days. Link noticed her sudden contemplation and ended his onslaught of kisses, twisting around so that he could rest against the trunk of the tree, still holding onto her as tightly as he could.
She rearranged the blanket absently so that it covered them both and he smiled into her hair. He knew she would begin questioning him soon, because he knew her, just as readily and just as easily as she knew him. And so he waited to hear her thoughts, though he did not have to wait long.
"Why would the goddesses tell me to journey back, by myself, if they never intended me to finish the journey?"
Link pointed carefully to the castle road just beyond the ridge. "The castle is just there. You basically made it back by yourself."
"Then what was the point of forcing me to do it alone? Why did they not command you to journey with me?"
Link shifted a bit uncomfortably next to her, and she yearned to hear his thought process out loud. "They sent you back because you were ready to accept whatever must be. I was not."
Zelda craned her neck to look at him and he looked down at her without expression. "Does that mean you were not sure of us?"
Link shook his head; Zelda felt the movement brush against her own. "It means that I was not sure of myself, let alone us. You have had an eternity of faith, Zelda. I am just now beginning to grasp it."
This admission brought sorrow as well as joy to Zelda's heart, as she felt her soul reconnected in places, some bitter and some resentful. Faith was a fickle thing, she decided. Some went centuries without ever losing it, and some never seemed able to entertain it at all. She wondered at the opposing emotions she felt. Could it be possible that she envied herself this moment? Could it be that she had long been waiting for Link to have faith in her, in them together?
Zelda sighed lightly, rubbing her face against his chest as she buried closer to him. "And what brought on this renewed sense of faith, Link? Did you too learn something during the religious journey?"
He held their hands up for them both to look at, their fingers entwined and fitting perfectly. "I think you might have knocked some faith into me, princess. I merely learned that it's best to listen to the Bearer of the Triforce of Wisdom."
"That's a lesson a long time coming," Zelda remarked, and found the words strange in her mouth; they were not just her own. But Link merely laughed.
"So what now, princess? Shall I return you to your castle and serve as your personal guard, sneaking kisses and dances whenever the time permits it?"
Zelda shook her head. "No, that is the old story. We can write a new one now, together, finally, at long last."
Link cupped her chin, turning her face to his. "And what will the new one say?"
Zelda paused for a moment, staring into his eyes and thinking. "They lived happily ever after?"
Link grimaced before laughing. "Surely that's an old tale too?"
Zelda licked her lips before closing the distance between them. "True, but 'tis worth remembering."
The End! El Fin! Liked it, loved it, or hated it? Let me know what you think!