Ok, so even though its a bit late, I'm glad that I'm able to post this chapter before tomorrow (when my full load of classes start), because Din only knows when I'll have time after tomorrow to write this story so... Anyway, mostly angst here, but its all good angst that i'm pleased with so I hope ya'll (ya'll?) will be too! Thank you to everyone who has followed/favorited! Now onto the reviews!

xxxDreamingflowerxxx: I'll just reply to your reviews in a PM for now, until you're all caught up, since that's easier for me! :D

GO ZeldaXLink: Yeah... I'm sorry... :,(

Jarvis R. Yeriel: Indeed... and thank you. :)

Lovely girl 10: Yeah, it sucks that both Impa and Malon are gone and now, both Link and Zelda are really gonna want to make Veran pay for it!

Nintendoman01: She is indeed a heartless monster and she needs to go down. But in answer to your question... this chapter might provide the answer...

LooneyCat55: I felt like there was more of an impact if I killed them both off in the same chapter... but I'm sorry if it brought on the feels a little too strong... I tend to do that from time to time... ;P

RandomButLoved: No, Malon is dead unfortunately. Though she was alive in the flashback at the end, so I can understand your confusion. And yes! I'm glad to see you caught the B&S quote! When I originally wrote W&C before B&S, I actually took that quote from here so... ;) and yeah... I might have referenced Rue as far as Malon's death goes just a little bit... ;(

Anyway, with that out of the way, let's get started! :D

Chapter 24: The Only Way

"Here is my wisdom for you: selfless duty calls you to sacrifice your own spiritual needs, and do whatever it takes to protect the world…"
-Yangchen, Avatar: The Last Airbender

They had decided to spend the night in the Temple of Time. Neither of them had scarcely spoken a word for the past several hours, but at a time like this, words were not needed. They both well understood their respective grief and suffering. In fact, the most talking either one of them had done since their reunion was a brief argument that arose from Zelda wanting to bandage Link's injured wrist for him, but he quickly refused, knowing that she would see the chains still around it and immediately hound him with questions about it, questions that he certainly didn't feel like answering at a time like this. And so, the two of them simply settled down for the night, falling into fitful slumbers within the ancient structure and holding onto each other for protection and comfort all the while.

But even despite the fact that she was held securely in her hero's arms, Zelda didn't sleep for most of the night. Her mind was on a million things at once, and none of them would let her see enough peace to rest. And so, after about an hour of trying in vain to go to sleep, the princess busied herself with other activates to get her mind off of everything: braiding her messy hair, practicing her aim with the Bow of Light outside of the temple, strumming a few notes of her harp. But even so, she was still restless. Never before had she felt so empty and so full at the same time. It was as though the strong lingering pain of Impa's death would never leave her, even despite the momentary comfort that being with Link again had brought her. And so, to try and clear her thoughts, Zelda took a walk around the decimated town, looking to see if anything had survived at all, but mostly hoping to find a way to get rid of her deeply rooted pain.

As Zelda walked through the decimated town, she allowed her stray tears to stream down her cheeks as she let her mind think of Impa once more, and not just the Sheikah guardian's cruel demise alone. Looking around the remains of what had once been Hyrule's glorious capital, she thought of how quickly her kingdom had fallen from glory and into darkness. As she looked towards the place where the castle's pristine towers had once stood, she saw nothing, reminding her of the fact that her home, the very place she had grown up in, was now gone, never to be replaced. Whenever she glanced up into the dark blood-red skies above, the cruel reality of how her world was nearly shattered sunk in deeper and deeper. Almost everywhere she looked, there were reminders of how everything she had once known and loved had been either stolen from her or destroyed. And it was at that moment that the princess stopped crying, for her tears could no longer come. She had moved beyond grief now, and had hit the lowest of the low, to the point that even her heartache and pain seemed numb and distant now. She could hardly feel anything, and while it would have been a relief to some, Zelda found that she hated it. She felt empty, and in this emptiness, she found that even the comfort that having Link with her brought and the love that he offered her felt dry and meaningless, just like everything else.

As the princess was wandering around the ruins of what had once been the market, trying to let it all go but failing, she stumbled upon a bottle, somehow unbroken amidst the rest of the scattered rubble. Tentatively, she picked it up and examined it with curiosity, saw that it was a bottle of Hylian ale, an alcoholic beverage that had been quite popular among the lower society circles of Castle Town. The princess almost threw the bottle back down onto to the ground, but she hesitated instead. She had never even tasted any liquor before, and before now, had never had any desire to. She knew well that it dulled the senses and impaired one's wisdom and judgment, often leading to disastrous results. And yet, as Zelda stared at the flask in her hand, she suddenly felt compelled to try it, just this once. Her father would have had a fit if he knew and Impa would have been extremely disappointed with her, but they were both dead, and so there was no way they could possibly find out. And in light of that cruel fact, the princess needed some form of escape, even if it was one so shallow. She needed some way to be able to feel again, and this would certainly do the trick, even if the emotions it would bring on would be irrational and artificial. And so, the princess slowly uncorked the bottle, taking in the bitter scent it emitted, and, with a deep, nervous breath, took her first sip of the ale. She almost gagged the stuff out the moment it touched her tongue because of its sour taste, and yet she savored the pleasure that it gave her as it ran down her throat and somehow made her entire body feel warm and alive. Somehow, it was sour and luscious at the same time. And for some reason, she found that she craved more.

Holding the bottle aloft, Zelda looked towards the ruins of the fallen castle and proposed a toast. "To the king," she said whispered solemnly as she took another sip of the bittersweet liquid, a part of her wishing that her father was here to stop her from doing what she knew was foolish, even if she knew it was too late now.

She closed her eyes and bowed her head as she gave another toast, this one both mournful and respectful. "To the Sheikah," she said a bit louder, taking a larger sip this time as she allowed the liquor to wash away the pain of Impa's death for her.

Already, the princess could feel her better senses begin to dim and her mind begin to be led astray, but she didn't care. It felt so good and calming as it took her away from her troubles, replacing her emptiness with a strange, giddy feeling. Zelda held the bottle up once again as she grinned mischievously. "To Hyrule!" she proclaimed loudly, though her words were starting to slur together and her thoughts were clouding.

"To the goddesses!" the princess shouted, her inebriated voice echoing throughout the area as she drank even more, ignoring the taste entirely as she completely forgot all of her previous woes.

Zelda started to grow dizzy and faint, but she loved the feeling. Her body felt numb and her focus and clarity was completely lost, but she enjoyed the comfort that this new guilty pleasure brought nonetheless. "And…" she said with an intoxicated grin as she started to drunkenly stumble back to the direction of the Temple of Time with the bottle of ale still in hand. "To the hero…"

The hero stood alone on the top of the hill overlooking the small valley behind the village. The full moon shone down from up high, illuminating the landscape in a pale, gentle light. Warm summer nights like these were normally loved by both the girl and the hero, spent either sleeping wrapped in each other's embrace or blissfully gazing at the stars. But not tonight. Tonight the girl now slept alone and the hero stood on the verge of making what was perhaps the hardest decision of his life.

The Interloper leader had made the conditions of her demands quite clear earlier that day. In the wreckage of his now-destroyed former home, she had urged him to take her up on her offer, even if the repercussions of doing so would be worse than death. And yet, if he didn't surrender, then he would lose everything he loved and vowed to protect, even before he lost himself.

And so, the hero had been forced to face this issue, and what was worse was that he had no one but himself to confide in about it. He could not tell the girl or the Sheikah leader, lest they try to convince him to stay and fight, even though he was starting to think that he couldn't anymore. After all, he had been fighting for as long as he could remember now, and it had been such an arduous and difficult battle on all sides. He had finally come to realize that he never would win the internal battle he had been trapped in for several weeks now, and once he finally fell, he would be forever lost, as the demon had made quite clear. But before that happened, there was a chance that he could finally win the external battle by doing what had to be done and sacrificing himself for the sake of so many others.

He knew it would lead to untold pain and torture. He knew that he would never know freedom again. He knew that he would never again see the girl he loved, the girl he married, the girl he was doing this for in the first place. But if giving away his own freedom for the sake of the freedom of the surface and those who lived upon it, then he knew what he had to do.

Slowly, the hero finally stepped forward, knowing that the Interloper leader stood waiting for him right in the valley, waiting to do everything in her power to destroy him and wear him down even more than he already was. After all, if desperate times called for desperate measures, then the only thing he could do was act as desperately as he wished.

Because as nightmarish and daunting as this choice he had to make was, now, it was the only way.

Contrary to the princess, the hero actually managed to sleep some, even if he did find that, amongst the dreams and nightmares of Malon's recent passing, his most recent cryptic dream seemed to be telling him something, though he wasn't exactly sure what. But once more, as he was coming out of it, he had no time to ponder much on it, as the was all too soon abruptly awakened to the nearby, unpleasant sound of someone retching violently. Sitting up tiredly, he looked towards the Door of Time and found Zelda standing within the stone doorway, her back turned towards him as she vomited upon the temple's sacred floor without any reservations. The hero watched her with confusion for a moment until she began to sway backward. Without a second thought, Link was on his feet, racing towards her so he could catch her as she fell into his arms and let out a small inebriated groan. For a moment, all he could do was examine her with disbelief, noting her disheveled blonde hair and dilated pupils, before finally speaking to her softly.

"Zelda," Link said worriedly, shaking her by the shoulders gently in an attempt to rouse her. "What's the matter? Are you sick?"

The princess slowly opened her eyes and gave him a laced, slow smile. "Hi, Link…" she said sluggishly, her tone somewhat flirtatious. She didn't say anything else as she let out another set of rough gags, though she kept down whatever vile substance was bothering her before smiling at the hero once again.

"Zelda, what's wrong with you?" Link asked her with concern, looking into her dazed eyes. It was then that he noticed the bottle that she was firmly grasping in her hand. When he took it from her, she immediately groaned in angry protest as she struggled against him to get it back, but he managed to quiet her down enough to examine the now empty bottle, seeing that it had once been filled with Hylian ale. With shock, the hero looked at the princess once more, realizing that this explained her current condition. "Zelda… are… are you drunk?" he asked tentatively, not believing what he was saying, though the evidence was quite clear. He would have never expected Zelda of something so common and unrefined, but somehow it seemed to be true all the same.

"Shh…" Zelda's words slurred together as she placed a finger against his lips and gave him a small wink. "Don't tell Impa…"

"Zelda, where did you even-" Link stated to ask, but before he could, Zelda cut him off by haphazardly pressing her lips against his. Surprised by her sudden show of affection, the hero quickly pulled back, knowing that this kiss wasn't genuine like their other ones, but the princess merely pouted at him in dissatisfaction.

"What's the matter, Link…?" she frowned overdramatically, clumsily brushing her hand up against the side of his face. "Don't you love me anymore?"

"Yes, I do love you," the hero said quickly upon noticing the tears forming in the corners of her eyes. "But right now, you're not thinking clearly. You need to get some rest."

"But… Link…" she muttered, her tone still inebriated though laced with sadness. "I love you… so much…"

The hero took in a deep breath and closed his eyes, knowing that this was difficult for both of them. And so, he simply picked the drunken princess up and carried her back to the place where he had been sleeping earlier, laying her down gently as he knelt down beside her.

Zelda said nothing to the hero as she looked up at him with a fake grieved look, though Link only sighed and looked at her sadly, knowing that she wasn't in a clear mental state at the moment thanks to the alcohol. "I know," he said calmly in response to her earlier statement as he brushed aside some of her tousled hair to give her a small kiss on the forehead. "I love you too. Now, please Zelda, go to sleep. You'll feel better in the morning, I promise."

Zelda opened her mouth to protest, but whatever she was going to say faded into the haze of her clouded mind. She finally smiled as she let out a contented sigh and laid back, her eyes immediately closing as she fell into a much-needed stupor. Link smiled softly at her, knowing that even in her drunken state, she was still so beautiful in his eyes. But even so, it was hard for him to see Hyrule's respected, well-mannered princess in such a pitiful, pathetic state, though he understood what had driven her to try the mind-dulling ale in the first place. The past several weeks had been nothing but constant fear and torment for both of them and the ale had provided Zelda with a very superficial way to take her mind off of it all, but it had been a way of escape nonetheless. He couldn't help but sympathize with her, and he certainly did not judge her or look down upon her for a choice that had been made in a moment of desperation and grief. After all, if he had been offered the same choice as she had, he most likely would have succumbed to the temptation of relief and comfort as well.

Knowing that he wasn't going back to sleep any time soon, Link went outside of the temple to let Zelda sober up in peace. Walking into the dense silence of the abandoned town, the hero stopped in front of Malon's makeshift grave to pay his respects to her yet again. Though she had only been dead for a few hours, the farm girl's skin was as white as porcelain and her wounds were caked with dried blood, but despite that, she looked like she was merely sleeping peacefully, like she had never been cruelly attacked and murdered by a savage beast. The more Link thought about and looked at his fallen friend, the more frustrated he became with the situation as a whole. Though the wolfos that had killed Malon was dead itself, the hero returned to the square and examined its corpse, and it was then that he remembered what had happened while he had been fighting it earlier: Veran using the curse to call out to him. Without question, the sorceress had been the one who had sent that creature to attack him, but when she had seen the opportunity to make him suffer emotionally as well as physically, Veran had taken advantage of it and commanded it to slay the innocent farm girl instead. And as Link came to this conclusion, deep rage and hatred for the wicked sorceress filled him, as did the burning desire to want to bring her down from her reign of darkness and end her once and for all. After all, it was because of her the people had turned against the princess. It was because of her that Malon was dead. And it was because of her that Link and Zelda were now living in constant fear and misery.

"So, hero, have you finally realized that I am through playing around?" Veran's voice called out to the hero as if on cue as pain spiked through his wrists briefly but thankfully didn't spread to the rest of his body. "You would be wise to. After all, very soon, everything you know and love will be gone… But by then, you will certainly be dead, so I wouldn't fret about it too much. But all the same, I do hope that I made my message to you quite clear… Maybe now you won't put up such a foolish resistance to me…"

As Veran let out a cold laugh as Link realized that she had not taken his voice from him this time and so he was quick to call her out with clear fury in his tone. "And what message would that be?" he asked rigidly, unable to contain his blatant anger. "That you like to kill innocent people just for fun? Or that you're even more insane than I thought you were?!"

"Please, Link, calm yourself…" the sorceress said with little concern for his accusations. "Have you ever stopped to consider that perhaps the death of your little friend was your fault rather than mine?"

"What are you talking about!?" the hero demanded, appalled that she would even try to place the blame of Malon's death on his shoulders, even though he knew it was partially his fault for failing to protect her when she needed him most.

"Well, if you had never allowed her to tag along with you in the first place, then maybe she would have remained out of harm's way," Veran said smoothly. "And perhaps, by staying with your princess, you are allowing me to know where both of you are every step of the way, putting her in even more danger than she already is. I hope you have learned by now that I could swoop in and kill you both any moment I wish to."

"Then why haven't you yet?" Link asked with suspicion, wondering why Veran hadn't just killed them both yet even though it would be so easy for her to.

"The answer to that question, hero, is quite simple," the sorceress began. "I want more than just the two of you dead. I want to see you struggle and suffer. I want you to bend until you break. I want to shatter you from the inside out. And most of all, I want to make you pay for the sins of your ancestors, who thought that they could lock my people up as if we were nothing more than animals to be caged. The goddess and her hero should not have survived the great war that my ancestors brought upon this land, but they did and because of that, you and your princess must reap the penalties of their so called 'victory'. So, I hope you understand, hero… This is nothing personal… It's simply a matter of reckoning with the past…"

Veran let out another cruel laugh as her voice faded from the hero's mind, but he wasn't about to let her have the last word. With a firm glare, he managed to pull his glove off his uninjured hand so he could see the chain still wrapped around his wrist, reminding him of the ever present curse that was slowly killing him from within. The sages had told him that he had the Spirit of the Hero, and that it was his destiny to defeat Veran, and he knew that he would strive to no matter what. But this conflict had grown so far beyond that point now, that it could not be called a simple matter of "reckoning with the past", as the sorceress had claimed it was. Still looking at the chains of the curse, Link clenched his fist tightly, righteous fury and resolve both filling him as he sent one last retort to the sorceress, knowing that she would hear him, even if she didn't respond. "No," he said, remembering all the pain she had caused him alone over these past several weeks. "You're wrong. This is personal."

And indeed it was. After all, Veran had caused so much distress for so many people who were important to the hero: she had almost killed Saria by setting fire to the Deku Tree, she had forced him into lying to both Impa and Nabooru, she had brought Zelda down to such a tormented, broken state, and she had caused the deaths of not only Malon, but the parents he had never had a chance to know as well. The sorceress had stripped him of too many bright spots in his life, and had turned the peaceful world that he once knew into a nightmare. And yet, even in the midst of all this, there was still one bright spot left that Veran hadn't yet destroyed: Zelda. Though the princess was at the lowest of lows at the moment, her spirit battered and her happiness destroyed, she was not gone. She was still with him, still by his side, still loving him, even despite the danger he was putting them both in. But Link knew that if he were to lose Zelda, then he truly would be alone, left with nothing and no one to stand by him. And as he realized that couldn't imagine living in a world without the princess and her love, the hero vowed right then and there that he would do anything, anything at all, to defeat Veran so that he would never have to worry about losing her ever again.

And yet, at the same time, Link was apprehensive about his ability to actually do so. He had barely escaped his last encounter with the sorceress alive and it was clear that she had no reservations about killing him in an instant if she wanted to. With the Triforce at her command, Veran was unquestionably more powerful than she had been before. Even though the sages had said it was his destiny and Fi had confirmed that the Master Sword was strong enough to combat her evil, Link still had his doubts about whether or not this was a battle he could win on his own. After all, he was only human, and only seventeen at that, still so young to be dealing with the weight of the world on his shoulders, even if he had dealt with such a daunting task before. And yet, the threat Veran posed was so different from the one that Ganondorf had years ago, and it was so much greater. Questions began to fill the hero's mind and though he didn't like to think in anything less than absolutes, he found that he could not avoid them as hard as he tried. What if he wasn't strong enough to defeat her? What if he was unable to protect the princess in the same way he had failed to protect Malon? What if Veran killed them both and Hyrule was doomed to be forever shrouded in darkness because of his own weakness and failure?

As Link was pondering all of these troubling thoughts, he suddenly remembered one of the most important things that the sages had told him: "The might of the Fierce Deity is great and god-like. It would be enough to defeat Veran forever, even with the immense power granted to her by the Triforce…" The hero knew just how powerful the Fierce Deity's Mask was; after all, he had used it before to destroy Majora seven years prior. But at the same time, he also knew how dangerous the soul-corrupting mask was. The last and only time he had worn it, he had almost not been able to take it off. Its ominous power had pervaded his every sense almost and ripping himself away from its might had not been easy. Who was to say that if he used it again, he would be as lucky as he had been back then? After all, the sages had warned him well that there was a very good chance that the mask could corrupt him, destroying his free will and leaving him as little more than a mindless slave to its terrifying power. But if he didn't use it and was killed in battle, then who would rise in his place to protect Zelda? Was the risk that using the mask posed at least worth it if it meant that both Hyrule and its princess would be free from the terrors that now haunted them? If he was bound to lose his life anyway, wouldn't it be better to lose it fighting against the very evil that had condemned him to die in the first place?

Link struggled to find the proper answers for these conflicting questions, but the more he tried, the more he found that the only solution he could think of only brought him more dread and worry. If push came to shove, then he would do whatever he had to in order to keep Zelda safe. After all, if he was lost in this struggle, it mattered little, but if the princess was lost, then it would leave Hyrule without a leader, something that it certainly didn't need in troubling times such as these. Link knew that if this was to be the final battle of his life, then he had to make sure he would win it for Zelda's sake. Using the Fierce Deity's Mask could ensure such a victory, as the hero well knew. If he lost his soul to save the princess's life, then so be it. He had made his choice and there was no going back. This was what had to be done if Hyrule was to ever see peace again. This was what had to be done if the princess was ever going to be safe again.

This was the only way.

Zelda awoke the next morning to a pounding headache and a sickened stomach. The memories of what had transpired the previous night were completely gone, replaced with a dull emptiness all throughout her body. With a groan, she sat up weakly and looked around the temple, finding Link sitting not too far away from her, his expression contemplative as he looked at her intently for a moment before glancing away.

"What happened last night…?" Zelda asked tiredly, rubbing her head to try and ease the lingering pain away.

Link frowned at her, though he was glad to see her sober and back to her better senses once more. "Well," he said, not wanting to be to tactless at a moment such as this as he handed the empty ale bottle to her. "Let's just say you had some of this."

The princess took the bottle and immediately the bitter memory of the previous night came back to her as she looked at it. "Oh, Din…" she whispered in humiliation. "What have I done…?" In anger and shame, she tossed the bottle aside, not even caring as it shattered upon the temple floor. What a disgrace she was! If her people knew about this, then she'd be even more of a pariah in their eyes than she already was. She was still a princess, even though her kingdom had been torn from her. Under normal circumstances, she would have never behaved in such a classless, wild way. Had she been so weak in the face of tragedy that she had been reduced to something as lowdown as drinking? "Link, I'm sorry," she said apologetically, ashamed and embarrassed that he had seen her in such a scandalous state. "I should have known better. That was no way for a princess to act and I should have never thought it was appropriate, because it wasn't."

The hero took her hand and gave her a small smile, still not casting any unfair judgment upon her, especially not now. "It's ok, Zelda," he said consolingly, knowing that if their positions had been reversed and he had been the one to have gotten drunk, she would have taken care of him the same way he had cared for her.

Zelda closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, feeling exhausted and sullen in the midst of her hangover. "No, it's not ok. If Impa finds out, she'll…" she trailed off as the painful memory of Impa's death resurfaced in her mind. Her words hung open as a fear tears streamed down her cheeks, the pain of it all rushing back to her all at once.

"Zelda, what's wrong?" Link asked with concern, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder upon seeing her tears. The princess gave no answer, and so the hero pressed her for answers again. "What happened?"

Tearfully, Zelda lifted her head and looked up at him with grief. "There was a huge pack of wolfos…" she sobbed brokenly, trying to explain the best she could. "And Impa… she… sacrificed herself… for me… she's dead… She's dead and it's all my fault!" With a cry of emotional misery, the princess rested her head against Link's shoulder and grieved there inconsolably, refusing to hold back her sorrow this time.

Link wrapped his arms around the distraught princess and said nothing as she let poured great sadness out. The news of Impa's passing filled him with even more anger towards Veran, though at the same time, he was also grieved by the loss of the brave, noble Sheikah guardian, who had always cared for him as well as the princess. Without question, the sorceress had sent the pack of wolfos to kill try and Zelda, just as she had sent a single wolfos in an attempt to kill him, but luckily Impa had selflessly stepped in to save her, but at the cost of her own life. But even so, now both the hero and the princess had suffered a great loss at the hands of the merciless sorceress. They had both had someone special to them ripped away from them so cruelly, and in the miserable aftermath of their losses, now they only had each other.

"Link…" Zelda muttered bitterly after several moments of crying. "I hate Veran so much for this… She was the one who sent those wolfos. She's the one who's caused all of this destruction and pain… We have to stop her…"

Link nodded in agreement, remembering well his resolve and the choice he had made the previous night. "And we will," he said solemnly, looking the princess right in the eyes. "I promise."

Zelda wiped her tears dry but she was still clearly upset as she remained in his arms. "But how?" she said hopelessly. "She's so powerful… She wouldn't hesitate to kill us if she found us…"

The hero hesitated before giving her an answer. He wasn't sure if telling her about the Fierce Deity's Mask was the best idea, knowing that she try to stop him from using it even though he knew he had to. And so, he devised an answer that would hopefully ease the princess' fears. "We'll find a way," he said reassuringly. "But until we do, we can't let her find us. I think we should go into hiding for a while, at least until we come up with a plan."

"But where could we go that she wouldn't find us?" the princess asked worriedly. "Those wolfos were meant to kill us. But it's only a matter of time before Veran comes after us to finish the job herself."

Link hesitated for a moment, knowing that Zelda was absolutely correct. There was virtually nowhere they could go, no place to take shelter at, where Veran could not find them thanks to the curse. Even if she had been right about nothing else, the sorceress had been correct in saying that the hero was putting the princess in significant danger by simply being near her, but at the moment, he wasn't about to abandon her and leave her without any protection at all.

"We can go to Termina," Link finally said, knowing that he'd have to go there to retrieve the mask anyway. If they could make it there safely and back, then Veran's defeat would be imminent. And even aside from his main goal in going back to Termina, the hero knew that both of them needed a break from the constant plague of fear and darkness that enshrouded Hyrule.

"But how do you know she won't find us there?" Zelda asked with clear doubt in this plan.

"I don't," the hero said truthfully. "But it's worth a try."

"But… what about Hyrule?" the princess asked anxiously, her former fear for the situation turning to resolve when she thought of what Veran had done to her kingdom as well as Impa. "We can't very well abandon this kingdom at a time like this! The people need us now more than ever."

"We're not abandoning them," Link said, though he did understand her point. "We're just making sure that we survive so we can save them."

"Survive?!" Zelda exclaimed in disbelief. "Is that really what you're concerned about right now? What happened to 'all I care about is making sure Hyrule is safe'? What happened to you being willing to put your neck out on the line to fight for this kingdom? Veran does something like this and all of the sudden, you're afraid to stand up to her and would rather hide away in a land that isn't even ours?!"

"What?!" the hero asked, completely appalled by such accusations. "How could you possibly stand there and accuse me of being afraid!? I'm just trying to be smart about this, unlike you. I thought you wanted me to stay hidden, instead of throwing myself right back into a battle that could end up being the death of me!"

"After everything that Veran's done, there isn't any more time to wait around and hide from her!" the princess stated firmly. "We need to act now! If we don't, who knows what could happen!? If you're trying to do this just to protect me, then you can just forget it. I know what needs to be done, and I used to think you did too, but I guess I was wrong. Clearly your courage has been replaced with a selfish need for your own self-preservation instead!"

"I can't believe you!" Link shouted in complete fury as he roughly pushed Zelda out of his former embrace, rising to stand as she did the same, glaring at him all the while. "All I've ever done is try to protect you and this kingdom and I've never backed down once! I've gotten badly hurt and nearly died several times doing that, and what have you ever done?! Oh, that's right: sit around and wait for me to save you from Ganondorf, or Veran, or whoever else! Face it, Zelda: this kingdom needs me more than it needs you!"

Zelda opened her mouth to send a reply, but nothing came as she felt the full sting of his burning words. Instead, she simply stared at him with her mouth agape, her expression hurt, just like her pride. But for once, the hero wasn't phased by her oncoming tears as he was still fuming with anger towards her, Veran, and the cruelty of the heavy destiny that had been thrust upon his shoulders. And so, instead, he turned away from her, unable to look at her any longer, lest he lose his resolve. "If you think you can stand up to Veran on your own, go ahead and try it," he muttered bitterly as he began to walk away from her, not even caring about the sudden burst of weakness that had begun to fill his body. "See how long you last without me…"

The tears had finally began to fall from the princess's eyes upon hearing him say such cold words to her, but Link didn't both to look back and see them. He was still infuriated over how she was making light of the sacrifice he was willing to make, of all of the sacrifices he had already made, for her and her kingdom. But at the same time, it was only as he began to head out of the temple to go off to Termina and get the Fierce Deity's Mask on his own that he began to feel feverish once again. The world around him quickly grew blurry through his vision as he became dizzy and weak. Conflicting sensations of hot and cold filled him as he realized that once again, his spirit was making him sick in trying to ward off the curse, something that was futile effort, though he didn't know how to stop it.

Even though Zelda was sobbing quietly to herself several feet behind him, she quickly stopped as she watched the hero suddenly collapse to the ground, succumbing to his sudden illness all too quickly. She gasped out in surprise as she rushed to his side without a moment's hesitation, even despite the heated argument they had just had and the hateful words he had just said to her. "Link!?" she exclaimed, already panicking as she placed her hand against his face gently, noticing his look of pain. "What's wrong?! Are you alright!?"

The hero only let out a small groan in response as the fever made his view of the princess faded and distant. He simply nodded in confirmation, too ashamed with his earlier behavior to even speak to her, especially as she gently helped him pull himself to a nearby wall so he could lie against it. Worriedly, she placed the back of her hand against his forehead to check his temperature, immediately knowing that he was ill because of it. "You're burning up…" she muttered with a frown.

"Zelda…" Link said quietly, wanting to apologize even though the illness was already trying to drag him into unconsciousness. "I… I'm sorry… I…"

"Shh…" the princess said, placing a finger to his lips as she smiled at him with care. "It's ok. I understand now. We'll head out for Termina as soon as you're feeling better. And… I'm sorry too, Link… I hope you know that I do love you, no matter what happens…"

The hero couldn't help but smile softly at receiving her open forgiveness and love, even if he was undeserving of it. And so, he simply closed his eyes, allowing the fever to give him some much needed rest, but not before giving her one last message in response. "I… I love you too…" he said, as he drifted off into the void of unconsciousness once again, holding onto the princess's hand all the while.

Not all of Link and Zelda's escapades across Hyrule were simple explorations through the peaceful hills of Hyrule Field. On many occasions, they would travel to places that would certainly cause Zelda's father or Impa to scold them at the potential dangers of going there. But the two children saw such journeys as great adventures just waiting to be found rather than potential perils.

One such particular day found them attempting to scale to the peak of Death Mountain, where it was rumored that a mystical Great Fairy lived. However, the path leading to the summit was quite treacherous indeed. Falling boulders were quite common, as was randomly raining brimstone. The princess and the hero took care to avoid such hazards, but even as they did so, it was still an extremely dangerous trek for two children.

As they scaled the mountain, Zelda couldn't help but hold onto Link's hand tightly as he led the way up the path. They hurried as much as they could, dodging danger as they went, but even so, they could do little to avoid the relatively small piece of brimstone that happened to fall from the volcano and strike the very spot where the two of them were holding hands.

Simultaneously crying out in pain at the excruciating burn, the two children let go of each other's hand immediately, grasping onto their own injured hands instead. They had little time to dawdle though, for another spell of fiery rocks was coming down upon them already. With wide eyes and racing hearts, the two of them hurried to the summit as fast as they could, their hands throbbing in pain the entire time.

Once they made it to the safety of the peak, they sat down to catch their breaths and examine their burns. Putting aside his own stinging hand for the moment, Link put his concern for the princess's condition at the forefront of his mind as usual.

"Are you OK?" he asked her breathlessly. As he glanced over at her, he suddenly noticed the silent tears streaming down her reddened face as she squeezed her own burnt hand tightly.

"It… hurts…" she sniffled pitifully, thinking that this was the worst pain she had ever experienced in her life.

Link smiled softly at her and took her hand as gently as he could, as not to cause her any more pain, and examined the freshly-burnt skin while still ignoring the throbbing pain of his own. "It's ok," he said consolingly as he helped her to her feet. "I know someone who can help."

Zelda didn't question him as she wiped the tears of stifled pain from her cheeks. She continued to hold on to Link's hand as he carefully led her to the Great Fairy's Fountain, where both of their burns were healed almost instantly by the fairy's magic. And, even as they headed down the mountain via a different route, Zelda clung onto Link's hand tightly, unwilling to let go of the security and safety she felt so long as she held onto it.

Ok, so this was decently angsty, yah? But yeah... So as for the next chapter, a little action towards the beginning, but mostly more lighthearted stuff than this, so that's better I suppose... especially since its an all new chapter entirely! But before that... I have a question for you all... How many of you would read a Zelda/Avatar: Last Airbender crossover if I were to write one, cause I totally have one in the planning stages, with some stuff already written for it, so if that would tickle your fancies, mention it in the reviews and I will push out quicker for you guys! But anyway don't forget to REVIEW! Until next time! :D