This takes place after the ending of Skyward Sword. It contains minor spoilers for the final Boss and the post-credits screen, don't say I didn't warn you! And unless someone else wants to continue this, it is a one-shot. (And that person is Kibasgirltsumi, with a remarkably similar story called "Finally" that I found only five minutes after publishing this! Gosh!)
The battle started out easy enough. Demise, solid manifestation of evil itself, was amused by his green garbed opponent. He was content to stand his ground and parry the feeble attacks that peppered him from all angles. As the battle raged on, however, it became clear his opponent had not won the Goddess's favor for nothing. Persistence and cunning made each strike faster, closer. Indeed, Link did not share any of the fear that slowly seeped its way into Demise; he only knew anger, a calm fury born of his sole desire to see Zelda brought back to life. He had lost her once already to her own noble, crystalline sacrifice and refused to have her taken again.
They traded glancing blows back and forth, Demise now seeing fit to go on a slight offensive, and Link had a new rush of gratitude for the shield recently bestowed to him. The Thunder Dragon's gift was proving to be as great a treasure as the sacred sword in his other hand. Unfortunately, the ability to withstand any blow did not lessen the impact of those blows. A heavy sideways slice broke Link's footing and he stumbled backwards, his defense lowered for a split second. Though his half-numb shield arm managed to raise itself again, the delay proved costly: Demise whipped his blade back opposite the way he'd just struck, and one of the pointed barbs along the length caught Link low on his right side. It cut clean through his chain mail, dug through his flesh how deep he could not tell, and now glistening red clashed again into the shield which had not quite been moved into position. Link instantaneously followed this diagonal, upwards strike with his own. Demise did not appear to have any defense besides the black blade, and swinging while this only defense was swinging gave the Hero the opening he needed. He scored a long, deep scar along his foe's chest, and both parties were knocked apart.
Unable to put a halt to his momentum, Link twisted as he lost his footing on the wet ground. He fell to his knees and, with the first true exhale he'd given in an eternity, clutched his side. Pain blossomed alongside the sticky, spreading stain.
"Master, I have detected that you are bleeding. Current projections indicate that it is not a fatal wound, but it is advisable that you complete this battle and seek medical assistance."
This was good news, but there was no time to dwell over it; the sky was changing. Demise had taken the worse of the two hits and landed flat on his back some distance away, but wasted only a second to catch his breath (or, as Link suspected, get over the surprise of actually being knocked down) before leaping upright. All at once the clouds turned black as midnight, a cold wind whipped violently, and a deluge of rain fell like a solid curtain.
Multiple claps of lighting greeted Evil's resurgence. With a roar that shook bones and a stomp that shook the earth, the black sword was raised skywards, up towards the heavens like Link had himself done so many times before. A bolt of electricity, attracted to the metal, struck. Demise was unharmed; instead, his weapon glowed a brilliant blue and crackled with a fierce charge. Link got to his feet as well, stoutly ignoring his exhaustion. This was by no means an insurmountable situation; his new shield was wonderfully "non-conductive", as Fi put it, so his defense would be the same as before. Much like the Technomoblins he had so often faced in the desert, all he had to do was avoid touching his body or blade to his opponent's weapon.
Chosen Hero and Ancient Demon stared one another down. In the end it was the Hero who lost this confrontation of wills, and he lost it by a seemingly trivial gesture: a smile from the Demon. It was a monstrous, crooked grin, white pointed teeth bared behind the lips, and a desecration to the original owner. That smile, or rather the soul that animated the body behind it, belonged to only one person: Zelda. Link charged.
But oh! What misplaced bravado! Demise swung his great sword and the charge left it entirely, flung forward exactly as Link's own Skyward Strikes were. There was no time to dodge. It struck him head-on.
The unexpected airborne transmission proved to be its only saving grace, as well; no closed circuit could be created to lock him in place. Instead a burning jolt, the pain a ferocity of which he had never known, flung him backwards. His landing was hard, though mostly on his back and thankfully not his head, and he rolled a few times before coming to a stop. Residual sparks cackled through this soaked clothing and across his burnt skin. Though certain his numb muscles would never move again, he managed one last, unfeeling roll to his side; an innate self-preservation took over when, stopped face down, an inhale of nothing but shallow water nearly proved disastrous.
"Master, you must get up. Master Link... you must... Link, please..."
Fi had her various ways of persuading him to do her bidding; mathematics, dire predictions of the future, dry insults... but panic was not one of them. The uncharacteristic "please" was unsettling. Demise must be close; what other reason was there for urgency? Link coughed, water still heavy in his lungs, and grasped the hilt of his companion tightly... only to find the metal in his hand cold and unfamiliar. This was not the sword he knew so well. This was not Fi.
Fear forced his protesting body up faster than Link would have thought possible. A damp weight fell past his face and, when he could again see properly, he found himself not where he had last been standing. It was darker than before. The room was not endless, nor stormy. It had walls and tall columns all made of worn, mossy stone. Most importantly, however, was the person before him. Gone was the towering figure and fiery hair that burnt with an impossible ferocity in the wind and rain; instead, a vision in white was seated with outreached arms. Zelda! His Zelda, the woman he had searched to the ends of the world for. He was not sure how this illusion could be possible, but when her fingers brushed his cheek he could feel them, actually feel their creamy softness against his day-old stubble.
He lunged, his uncoordinated body more so falling than reaching, and pulled her into a firm embrace. Zelda was no apparition; she was real, she was here. He tangled his hands into the golden hair that pooled at her waist, reveling in its softness and feeling slight remorse for the strands his indelicate swordsman fingers would undoubtedly pull free. And her scent! Link buried his face in her shoulder to better inhale it, learning that the flowery aroma came not from her clothes as previously guessed, but from her long, meticulously cared for tresses. He'd been sad when her sailcloth had lost this fragrance; as careful as he was to preserve her last present to him, there was no stopping the wind he sailed down upon from carrying away her perfume, from fraying the edges she had so lovingly hemmed.
She was speaking, her voice very near his ear, but all Link could decipher was the tone. It was soothing, and he let the sound sink into him as reality did. There was no need to look for Fi; she was a stone's throw away behind two massive, sealed doors. Their fight over, she had been entombed in eternal slumber upon the stone pedestal therein. Demise was dead and Ghirahim gone alongside his master. He, Link, and Zelda were safe on the surface. They'd set up camp inside the now whole Temple of the Goddess for lack of better arrangements, and currently had their bedrolls laid out on the mossy patch of ground beneath the Tree of Life.
"...just a bad memory now, it's all over. Everything is all right..."
Only a nightmare! Relief tinged with embarrassment escaped Link via a long sigh.
"Aah, are you awake now, sleepyhead?" Zelda hummed pleasantly. She made little of his queer behavior. This was a comfort, though it made Link question if this was not his first time doing such. "I'm glad to have you back, you were really tossing and turning! I'm sorry I couldn't wake you sooner..." Here her words faltered. "Link... I'm sorry. I'm so sorry... this is all my fault! I thought... with the Triforce... I never meant for you to get hurt!"
Link ordered her not to apologize. It came out much harsher than intended, his voice cracked with disuse and dehydration.
This only upset Zelda further. "Yes it is! I thought I knew what I was doing... I had my old memories... but I was just repeating the same foolish mistakes as before, being shortsighted and not sealing Demise fully..."
He wouldn't have this, refused to listen to her cries. This was not her fault. To use her own words against her, she was still his Zelda. His Zelda and nothing more. The story was resolved, they were here, and if needed he would gladly do the whole thing over again.
"You would?" Zelda sniffed.
He repeated a vehement yes, in a heartbeat. Not all of the journey had been bad; on the contrary, some parts were quite enjoyable! To see this surface, this world that nobody believed possible, was not something he'd soon forget. The scrapes he'd gotten along the way, though, those he could do without. Now that the terror of relived memories was faded, his "scrapes" from that last battle weighed rather heavily on his body. The landing which so abruptly woke him from the nightmare had manifested itself into a truly impressive bruise that covered a good fourth of his back. The long cut across his side burned from his awkward, bent position as did the tinier cuts along both arms, all bandages of which had been gently, if not inexpertly, rebound by Zelda today.
Link was conflicted. This position was growing more painful by the minute, and his blankets were very inviting; his entire body seemed covered in a sticky sheen of perspiration, which was chilling. At the same time, his head was hot and heavy and he had no desire to pick it up from Zelda's shoulder, no desire to move and further disturb the aches all over, and no desire to return to sleep with the dreams it most surely promised. He was unable to voice these concerns in any intelligible manner, but Zelda understood. She freed her pinned arms with great care and wrapped them around him, running one hand through his damp hair rhythmically.
After two soft renditions of the Ballad of the Goddess, Zelda pulled away. "Can you wait here for a second? Just one moment."
She ran to their pack of supplies and fished out a half-filled bottle of Heart Potion. Link frowned at her return. The stuff tasted awful; he knew exactly what bugs Bertie crushed into it, having caught them himself. Ignoring him, Zelda drew up a quarter-ladle of drinking water and, uncorking the glass bottle, diluted a careful amount. Whether she was sparing his sense of taste or was conserving their last bit left, Link was given no time to ponder.
"Come on. Small sips." True to her nature, Zelda was insistent; only when finished did she draw up another full ladle of clean water. This he downed in a single go, extreme thirst playing more of a role than the aftertaste of potion, and coughed on it. A, "Careful! Slow down!" and another ladle was earned for this feat.
Choosing to observe her well-placed wisdom, Link drank the second offering more slowly. Luv and Bertie's potions were effective, but they could not close open cuts nor erase the inky black bruise across his shoulder blade. This one also, unfortunately, did nothing for the fog clouding his brain. As though she could sense this, Zelda pressed a palm to his forehead. It was cool and quite nice; Link let his gratitude show with a pleased mumble. Her hand moved to cup his cheek, then to his neck. Her frown deepened at each location.
"I think you should lie down," she said. When he protested, she guessed his reason and assured, "You don't have to sleep, just lie still. Please?"
Link hadn't the energy to refuse her sweet please and, though he knew it would worry her greatly, could not muster the energy to hide his grimace at being moved either. Once down he managed a small reassurance to her newfound fretting, but was himself puzzled. Normally refreshed after a Heart Potion, it was strange to find his body heavier than ever. He certainly hadn't been this bad during the daytime.
"It's the fever. They get worse at night," Zelda explained. "Here..."
There was a scraping of metal on stone. Looking down as best he could, he saw Zelda repositioning his sheathed sword. It was a gift Eagus had sent with Cawlin and Strich to deliver, proof of his obtaining full knighthood and deemed necessary against any leftover malevolence or particularly wild wildlife on the surface after the Master Sword had been relinquished. Zelda placed the hilt within easy reach and settled herself on top of the sheathed blade. His inquiries into this absurdity received nothing but a, "Hush!" as she went about her work of wringing out of washcloth from a short water basin nearby, wiping down his forearms with care to avoid the fresh bandages, rewetting the cloth and dabbing at the open neck of his shirt, his neck, and face, and one last time wetting, wringing, and laying the cool cloth on his forehead. She wiped her hands on her miraculously always pristine Goddess robe (which had only found continued use as a nightgown; though it never seemed to soil, it stood out in the daytime sun too much to be of much use for traveling the forest unnoticed) and fussed about his blankets.
"Is it warm enough? Should I light a small fire? Oh, but this whole half of the Temple is covered in moss... I'd better not, knowing me I'd light the whole place up. We'll have to bring in a proper flat stone like we have outside, this place is so damaged I doubt a little smoke will do much harm."
But she did not forget his question, and reluctantly caved when the silence grew too long.
"You were... in your sleep, I mean... calling out for Fi," she muttered, giving the stone double-doors a guilty glance. "I thought it might help if you had this sword to grip, and it did, a bit, but..." Here she smiled lopsidedly, an almost exasperated look to her pretty features. "I hadn't realized how strong you've gotten, Link! Even in your sleep you were waving it around in the air, sheath and all! I was terrified you'd hit yourself or drop it... so I did the only thing I could think of: I sat on it."
Link apologized, but Zelda refuted his advances with a shake of her head. Her hair was appealing when down; though her usual ribbons had their charm, to be sure, when loose her hair had more flow to it. It spilled over her shoulders when she moved just now, shining as brightly in the dark as her white robe did. He felt she should know this, but it got half-jumbled with the thought and request that she move his sword out of reach. It wasn't the sword he was so desperately missing in his dreams, and more than anything he did not want to harm Zelda with it while unconscious of his actions. Whatever he did end up relaying, the message about the sword got through and the offending blade removed.
Silence resumed, long stretches broken periodically by Zelda wringing and replacing his cold compress. He did not want her to stay up on his account, but at the same time wanted her near and was so hot he dearly appreciated her devotion to this simple task. His body craved sleep, a temptation he hoped to stave off as long as possible. Demise, he could fight again. Fi, he could part with again. Zelda, flung away like an empty, broken doll... that he could not live again. In those dreams, Groose never appeared to make his miraculous save.
Zelda tried her best. She hummed soothing songs, brushed his hair away from his face, tucked his blankets snugly about him half a dozen times, but each failed attempt at getting him to sleep knit her brows closer together. Link was known for his affinity for sleep. He lied that he just wasn't tired; he'd certainly been resting enough these last few for it to be a plausible excuse. Whether or not she believed this, his voice, still cracked despite the water, gave Zelda a new task and the both of them a welcome distraction.
Back to their supplies, Zelda retrieved a wrapped piece of Deku honeycomb. Mixed in tea Deku honey was the best remedy for a lost voice, and by itself a useful sealant to protect wounds from airborne disease. The latter was a trick Fi had taught him; she claimed the sticky substance had excellent "antimicro" or some-such properties, whatever that meant. Having never collected it before and terrible at protecting herself from the bees with their net, Zelda was delighted when the friendly Kikwis both had and gladly gave a large chunk for their green savior. With minimal guidance today she'd lit a fire, set water to boil, cleaned off all of Link's various injuries with water hot as he could manage, and delicately anointed each cut with a fingertip of honey. Her bandage wrapping left something to be desired and would most likely need to be redone, but on the whole Link was quite proud of her unflinching work. He'd been injured a fair few times along his journey, and though Fi's cold, calculated analyses of his afflictions were never wrong, her remedies quick and efficient, there was no denying that having a fellow human being to physically care for you was immensely more satisfying.
Neither party wanted Zelda to venture out in the dark to retrieve one of their few utensils, so it was decided that fingers would suffice. Too tired or too concerned for his health to care much for decorum, Zelda dipped a finger into an undisturbed comb, spooned up a dollop of honey, and let Link take the whole finger into his mouth. Link, however, was not beyond feeling abashed at this intimacy and resolved to level the playing field. He nipped down on her knuckle, clamping the digit lightly in place, and swiped the sweetness off with a slow, exaggerated lick.
"That tickles!" Zelda cried, suddenly much more herself. "You fiend, let me go!" She feigned a look of betrayal when released; the next dollop of honey went to her own mouth, a gleeful grin curling the corners of her lips. The wider variety of flowering flora on the surface made for a much more fragrant, amber liquid.
When they'd had their fill and his compress refreshed, Zelda wrapped and returned the comb. On her way back she moved her own bedroll adjacent to his and lay down beside him.
"Mm, Link..." she began in a sweet, wheedling way that promised trouble, "if you are well enough tomorrow... I think we should go back to Skyloft. Now hold on!" She silenced his interruption before it could fully form. "Just listen a minute! We could use some more supplies and we're out of potion. I could fly back myself, but I can't leave you here in this state... Link, I know nothing of potions or medicine, I'd feel so much better if you had a real healer! Everybody still fears the surface and you know Luv can't leave her baby, even if she were willing to come. No, I'll help you up and then come back to guard- No! Not alone of course, I'll get Groose or one of the Patrol Knights..."
Truth be told, in his current state Link wasn't much of a guard for the Temple. Even when healthy, the only thing that had differentiated him from the other Academy Knights was the fancy sword he no longer owned. But hardly felt like telling Zelda, supposed reincarnation of the Goddess herself, that her destined Hero could not even lift a commoner's sword. He refused her suggestion.
"Oh come on! What if you get worse? If you can't call for your bird I can't get you back up, you know how hard it is for them to get enough altitude pass the cloud barrier with a rider! My bird can't carry both of us."
This was a very valid concern. It did not change his mind.
"You'd only have to stay for a little while. Just until you're up and about..."
This was also true and also did not change his mind.
"You could sleep in a real bed."
To his fever-addled brain, that was a convincing argument.
"Just think," Zelda cooed devilishly, recognizing the signs of his caving, "a soft pillow. A mattress. Wouldn't that so much nicer than this drafty, crumbling, dark, stone temple?"
The battle was as good as lost. Link gave her his agreement: they would leave tomorrow. But Groose or a senior would have to come with her, she wasn't to wander the forest without said chaperone, and he was coming back the second he was able. And then he would build a house.
"A... a house?" asked Zelda.
Yes. A house. A house with sturdy walls and roof to guard against the elements, a proper stove for heating and cooking, and, most importantly, proper beds. If Zelda was serious about living here on the surface, they needed to consider the future. The Temple of the Goddess provided adequate (if not somewhat uncomfortable) shelter, but it would not do so in the winter months. And besides that, a temple was a place for worship, not for living.
"Mm... you're probably right. Bucha was talking about snow today. He said sometimes it piles up enough to bury an entire Kikwi! Can you believe that? I really hope he meant the small Kikwis and not himself. I don't think I can even imagine snow taller than I am..." Zelda shivered and rolled onto her side to face him. "Do you know how to build a house?"
Her face made Link laugh outloud; expecting skepticism as this idea, he instead found an eager curiosity.
"What?" she reddened. "You carve those adorable little animals, I thought... I mean, I've seen you do some really impressive things lately. It wouldn't surprise me."
This was again a valid point, and not an altogether unfounded one. Though his woodcarvings were mostly done as a hobby, Jakamar had taught him the basics of tables, chairs, fences... Last year when Kukiel outgrew her crib, he learned how to build a four-post bed. It was just a matter of carving all the pieces so they locked snugly together. A house couldn't be much different. He would need help for the bigger parts, though, and what better way to get people together than a house raising? Who knew, they might even come to the dreaded surface!
"Hmm! I think a few people might be willing to fly down for that... and if they see that the surface isn't so scary, they might want to stay... we could build more houses... a town..."
Though Zelda spoke it with some hope, it was clear to both of them that this dream was a bit ambitious and distant. The spark was there, however, and while they waited for it to be realized Link resolved to make a pair of beds. That at the very least was something obtainable in the short-term, especially if Zelda would help with the linens.
"Of course I will! I am- or was, before this whole mess- crocheting an afghan. But it's filigree, kind of lacy? With a bird pattern to it, so I don't think it would do as a coverlet. I did want to start a quilt, though, and I'm sure my ragbag has enough scraps for two... or Karane could lend me some... and Granny Henya could show me how she does the top-stitching so well- Oh! I could make the top-stitching look like birds too, it could match the afghan? And Karane taught me how to turn a heel so I can knit you lovely warm socks for Winter. Sweaters, too! And I can braid a basic rug; what kind of table do you think we'll have, round or rectangular? And curtains; how many windows do you want?" The possibilities of this endeavor lit up Zelda's features. Her domestic joys, once only a pleasant way to pass time, were now going to fulfill a much needed purpose. "We'll need another pot or two, and a stove... you and I can't do that... Maybe Gondo can help? You did collect a lot of Eldin ore, I bet that would work nicely. Aah, I could actually coo- Oh!" Here she shot upright with a loud gasp, hands clasped under her chin. "Can we have a garden?"
Zelda began to name all the appetizing fruits and vegetables they could grow (that weren't mushrooms), how nice it would be to not have to forage (for mushrooms) daily, how she could actually cook real food (that wasn't mushroom stew)... the list went on. Personally, Link wouldn't complain about their current fare: Zelda's mushroom stew was delicious. The Kikwis in particular shared a fondness for it (and thus Zelda); with their natural fear of fire, they had never eaten anything cooked before. The experience was new and delightful for them. It was somewhat new for Link, too. He'd seen Henya dragging the young girls to help her in the kitchen, but never knew this training had borne such results. Watching her discuss their future, gleefully expanding the list of things needing doing, Link felt nothing but pride. What he'd had in mind was just a house, shelter from cold and a place to sleep; Zelda was going to make it a home. She was ready to dive headfirst into this arduous task and, with her usual energy and persistence, he had no doubt she would excel.
To have Zelda beside him, to watch her laugh and dream like old times was nothing short of a miracle. Only a few days past (though technically a different age) he'd stood before the stone double doors convinced she had died, convinced because even though Impa claimed it would take a few days for her flicker of soul left to extinguish, Impa would not let him into the chamber. She had just woken up, this couldn't be the end... After all he'd gone through to get here... just to see her again... to fail at the end! It was impossible. But Impa stood guard, firm that her highness was not to be disturbed. The pleasantry infuriated Link. This wasn't a princess, a goddess even; this was Zelda, the Zelda he'd spent all his life with in the sky, his Zelda, and though he knew it wiser to make haste to the dark, swirling portal to end this, knew it would do no good to stare upon her lifeless body or take her cold hands, he just... wanted...
A new coldness snapped him out of his reprieve. Zelda, both awake and perfectly healthy, was dabbing at his face with the cloth again. She asked no questions and he offered no insights.
"Link," she mumbled after a time, "do you... I mean... I told you what I want. I want to live here. And I know you said you wanted to stay too, but... You don't have to stay here. If you want to keep exploring the surface, you can! Don't feel obligated to settle down because of me... What do you really want?"
With a minimal prompt of a reach, Zelda took his hand. Worried blue eyes met his confident ones. With a squeeze, her face softened into the same smile she'd given him atop the Goddess Statue after all was said and done three days ago. She'd been so excited then, freshly full of life, and declared her intentions to stay without hesitation. He had responded in like manner; he also wanted to live here. Now, together and contemplating their future, he found his answer required an addendum of two more words:
"I want to live here with you."