An End and a Beginning
There was distant sunlight filtering in from high, dusty windows when Link began to stir.
He was stretched out on the plush carpet of the Temple of Time, hand closed around a bundle of enchanted arrows, a bright spark of blue light flitting and flying above his head.
For a moment, he gazed up at it sightlessly, slowly becoming aware of a high, frantic voice.
"- and she disappeared and you took a step and you just collapsed and you've been out for hours and we've gotta save her and you made me worry, you big meanie!"
And, quite suddenly, Link had an irate fairy attempting to bounce off his head.
He blinked again. "Navi?" he said slowly, almost uncertainly. That was her name, wasn't it? He hadn't seen her... well, ever, a lifetime of memory overriding it all.
No. Not a lifetime. However long the illusion had lasted.
"That's my name, don't wear it out!" she chirped, then her frantic bobbing stopped, coming to rest on the back of his gauntlet. "What's wrong?"
"I," he started, not really sure where to begin - the Home the city the school Midna Ilia Aryll Zelda Sheik Ganondorf... he raised a hand to his eyes, rubbing away the tears that had risen. Sheik...
"Not again," he whispered pleadingly, repeating his earlier words, "Please..." Because he hadn't remembered at the time, but he remembered now.
He had been returned, everything had been restored, and Sheik was still gone.
Gazing sightlessly at the point where Sheik had disappeared, he dropped his head and began inventorising his items. Master Sword - in its scabbard. Shield - on his back. Bow, light arrows, longshot, bottles of potion, bombs, ocarina... He held the little blue instrument and remembered duets in the forest, in the mountain, in the desert, and mourned for someone he hadn't even remembered he had already lost.
"Link," Navi said uncertainly, "We have to go rescue Princess Zelda!"
Standing, Link nodded, deliberately not looking back at the chamber where he had first seen calm red eyes fringed with gold, and set off with her to save the princess.
"It was designed for you, in the end."
The battle was over, Ganon's corpse gone, Ganondorf's mind sealed away in the Sacred Realm. He and Zelda sat on broken bits of rubble and watched the skies clear.
"What do you mean?" he asked dully.
Zelda ducked her head. "I heard whispers," she admitted, "Saying that that world had been made for you. Because you didn't want to fight, so they gave you somewhere where you could be happy." A grieved expression crossed her face. "And where you could lose everything to force you to fight when you were returned."
Link nodded, numb. He remembered it, didn't he? Seeing Zelda stolen away again, dropping to his knees, screaming that it was too much. He had lost Sheik, he had lost Zelda, and it had simply been too much.
And then sleep, and a warm presence, and then...
"I don't remember all of it," he admitted softly. "People I should know, yes, but there were people there that were important to me that I don't remember at all."
Zelda nodded - and a strange expression crossed her face. "But those we do remember," she said softly, "We should hold on to."
And she held out her hand.
"Give me the Ocarina of Time, Link," she said softly, and slowly, he dipped his hand in to the pouch holding it. Taking it from his hand, she linked her arm with his. "Hold on to me," she instructed.
He did, mindful of the blood and gore and grime that covered him. And Zelda raised the ocarina to her lips, and began to play a melody he recognised as the Nocturne of Shadow.
Before he knew it, they were standing at the entrance to the Shadow Temple.
Tucking the Ocarina away, Zelda took his hand, leading him to the altar in its central chamber. The white patterns marked on the ground almost seemed to glow, luminous in the darkness, shifting shadows caused by the flickering torches moving uneasily across the ground.
She knelt before it, and so did she.
"I call on the spirits of the Shadow Temple," she started, her voice soft and even, "As the last remaining member of the Royal Family of Hyrule."
There was a sudden chilled breeze. Link felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
And then there was a whisper. "What would you order us do, Royal Daughter?" it asked, coming from all around them.
Hands splayed flat on the altar, Zelda raised her gaze to the ceiling and asked, "I would ask for the return of one who aided me to freedom and life."
And suddenly, Link realised what she was doing, what she was doing for him. His breath caught, moving one hand to cover hers, raising his gaze to the same spot. If she needed him to back up her words, he would do it in an instant.
And a many-voiced whisper returned, "This is a great ask, Royal Daughter."
Zelda swallowed hard, and Link squeezed her hand. "Please," he found himself whispering in return, "Please..."
He had already lost Sheik three times over, today. He had disappeared from the Temple of Time, he had died in his arms, he had had to remember his disappearance all over again. He didn't want to make it a fourth.
"Please," Zelda echoed, closing her eyes to hide the tears threatening to fall, tone of voice immediately losing its solemn tone and simply sounding like the girl he had drank coffee with in the park. "Impa, I beg you, give him back to us."
For a moment, there was silence. And then, a faint breeze picking up his hair and teasing his skin, and the faintest hint of lyre music - Zelda's Lullaby, he recognised it as.
Slowly, Link opened his eyes. Stretched out on the altar was Sheik, as solid as the young man who he had seen in a volcano, at the lake, in the village, as real as the boy he had swapped notes with at school, had kissed in abandoned corners, had seen in his bed, tanned skin against white sheets and what could only be described as love in his eyes.
For a moment, there was complete silence.
And then Sheik drew in a shaky breath.
"Sheik," Zelda choked, practically tackling him with her enthusiasm, clinging to him like he might disappear any second. Sheik's wide red eyes were dazed, not quite comprehending what had happened yet, not quite understanding yet.
And then his gaze landed on Link's, and recognition flooded back.
Silently, he extracted one arm from his embrace of Zelda, holding it out for him. And suddenly, there was no need to mourn any more, no more hesitation or fear or uncertainty, his grief gone in an instant as he held Sheik close and didn't let go.
"The world might have changed," he whispered, repeating the words Sheik had written in his letter a lifetime ago. "My feelings for you have not."
There were tears in Sheik's eyes. "Link," he whispered hoarsely, and then pulled him down for a fierce kiss, so much passion and love in it that it nearly sent Link reeling. "Link," he repeated as they broke apart, "Zelda, you... you brought me back?"
Zelda nodded, her face still buried against Sheik's shoulder, quite unable to stop her own tears.
"Your contract has come to an end, Sheikah," came a voice recognisable as Impa's, and the love there was evident as well - Zelda raised her head, a brilliant smile on her face. "And you are free."
"Free," Sheik whispered, an expression on his face of deepest wonder, "I'm... free?"
The whispers touched their skin like a farewell, and they were gone.
Zelda laughed shakily. "You are," she said, beaming.
"Then I would like to spend my freedom with you," he replied to both of them, slipping one hand in to Link's and the other in to Zelda's. "We have a life time, now."
And they stood, and, hand in hand, rose up the temple steps to step in to the light.