...Is anyone still here? Either way, this is finally finished :D

Just a heads up to any readers I have here that I've pretty much entirely moved to ao3 now (username aperplexingpuzzle) and probably won't be updating to ffn anymore. Thank you so much to everyone here who's ever read and enjoyed my stories. It means the world to me.


Link slept that night in the Sealed Temple.

He tried to sleep, at least, shifting endlessly around in his makeshift cot for a comfortable position. More than just the Triforce's light had drained out of him with his wish, as Link had discovered when his first step out of the portal nearly deposited him off the platform entirely. On any other night, such bone-deep exhaustion would have put him out the instant his head hit Groose's musky pillow—but, elated and apprehensive and a thousand other things, his overactive mind refused to let his body rest.

The cosmic kaleidoscope of light painted across the sky wasn't helping matters, either, beautiful though it was. Behind closed eyes, Link could still see its arching pattern. He'd never worn the blindfold for this long before, and a dull ache had started to form behind the bridge of his nose as the constant barrage of light became… overwhelming.

One thread in particular called out for his attention, catching his eye over and over until at last, Link gave in with a sigh. Tossing the blanket aside, he pushed himself up on weary legs, bare feet shuffling carefully across old, broken stone. The thread's other end wasn't far. Ghirahim could avoid Link easily enough if he wanted to, assuming he wasn't sleeping himself, but if not…

Ghirahim was not asleep, Link discovered, wandering down the corridor towards him—nor was he alone.

Quiet conversation echoed through the ancient hall as Link approached, tensing with slow concern. He might not have recognized the dim point of light that hovered near Ghirahim with thin tendrils of thread sprouting from its center, but he knew Groose's voice when he heard it.

"...still don't see why I can't just give it to him myself," Groose was saying in a deep, suspicious growl that Link could only just make out.

"Who's stopping you? By all means, go," Ghirahim's voice responded in an indifferent sort of way. Neither seemed aware of Link tiptoeing closer, some unseen barrier shielding him from view. "Wake him, if you wish. I only questioned whether Zelda would want his rest disturbed after a day like today, but if you think it's for the best…"

Groose must not have thought that despite his suspicion, because the dim light stayed reluctantly where it was.

"I can't believe we're just supposed to put up with you from now on," he grumbled instead. "You and your… dumb pants."

"Dumb… pants," Ghirahim repeated, his words easily discernable now. Link came to a hesitant stop, wavering on his feet.

Groose snorted.

"I said what I said. All those little cutouts, like you have something there to flaunt. Your legs aren't that pretty."

"Neither is any part of you," Ghirahim quipped. "I assume that's why you draw so much attention to your abysmal hair—to distract from the greater crime that is all the rest."

Link bit his lip, deliberating. On the one hand, leaving Ghirahim and Groose alone together could go… well, poorly was a generous way of putting it. Still, he hesitated to go charging in, and not only because he thought his knees might give way at any moment. He couldn't expect to keep watch over Ghirahim's actions every minute of every day from now on. Eventually, he'd have to trust him enough to… let go.

Lowering himself to an unsteady crouch, Link waited.

"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. You know I can—" Groose's voice rose with irritation before dropping back to a rough whisper. "Don't think I can't handle you on my own if it ever comes to that. You know that I—that I have it in me to—you know."

His audible gulp ruined the feeble attempt at bravado. If anything, he sounded vaguely sick.

"Maybe," Ghirahim mused, "though you do seem unenthused by the notion. Is the knowledge of your own capabilities perhaps more disconcerting than empowering?"

He waited politely as if expecting an answer, though Groose only stood in stiff silence. Link racked his brain, unable to decipher what either of them were talking about.

"No matter," Ghirahim said at last. "Every gift has its limits, doesn't it? Maybe one day I'll have the opportunity to find out yours."

"I…" Groose had to stop to swallow. "I don't know what Link sees in you." Link heard him start to stalk away, only to turn around again with the rough scrape of boots, stomping back. "You don't deserve what Link did for you, you know. Not that someone like you would even care, I guess, but I still hope you know that."

Ghirahim hummed in agreement, acknowledging it as fact.

"Consider it known."

Half rising to his feet, Link wanted to protest what Ghirahim seemed to take as obvious. Groose was wrong. Nobody deserved to be—

He could make no sense of what happened next. Groose's dim light met Ghirahim's for a drawn out moment, the one almost on top of the other—and Ghirahim hissed, his red thread spasming as he flickered backwards in space.

Link froze in place uncertainly.

"Still got it," Groose said, sounding unbearably smug. One of those thin threads sprouting from Groose's center connected him to Ghirahim himself now, Link noticed with a start. Had that always been there? "You'd better just keep on playing nice, 'cause I'll be watching you."

This time he left for good, his light retreating into insignificance among all the rest as his footsteps faded into the distance. To Link's relief—and consternation—Ghirahim let Groose go without comment, his breath shuddering in and out of him. In all the time he had known him, Link had never known Ghirahim to allow anyone else the parting word.

The air prickled with dark fury, warped… and relaxed, wisps of tension ebbing away.

"Keeping an eye on me… so to speak?"

Link jolted in place, looking up guiltily as chimes broke the air above him. Of course. Ghirahim always had an uncanny knack of knowing exactly where Link was at all times.

"I wasn't! I…" Flushing, Link ducked his head. "I couldn't sleep."

He took his time standing, brushing himself off unnecessarily while his heart hovered, pounding, in his throat. It wasn't exactly the first conversation they'd had since emerging from the portal, though Ghirahim had barely spoken more than two words together in Link's presence in the hours since. Groose had heard more from him than Link had now, which… well, he knew better than to feel jealous, but the fact of it still rankled. Link hadn't quite dared to prod the why of that out of Ghirahim yet, either, his heady confidence from earlier that day already a fading thing of the past.

"Did Groose… want something?" he settled on asking, steeling himself through the silence that followed. Had Groose done something was maybe the better question, but this one felt safer.

"He came to pass on a message from the—Zelda," Ghirahim said, just when Link was starting to think he might not answer at all. "She has spoken with Eldin already, it seems, and requested that he stand aside for us. Our path to the final flame… is clear."

Just like that. Despite himself, Link couldn't help but think dryly that it had only taken the power of the Triforce itself to get through to her.

Still, he thought he'd save his celebrations for after they'd used the flame and completed Ghirahim's sword. It wasn't that he didn't trust Zelda, exactly—just that after everything they'd been through, it all felt… too good to be true. A temporary turn of events that might turn again at any moment. If they hadn't both so desperately needed rest before the last flame, Link might have asked Ghirahim to take them there that very night to get it over with.

It didn't help that Zelda had sent the message through someone else, either, or that this was the first he'd heard from her at all since Link had turned down her half-hearted offer to accompany him back to Skyloft earlier that day. Not so long ago, neither Ghirahim nor Zelda had been willing to so much as let go of his hand. Now both were going out of their way to avoid him.

"He also returned your shoes," Ghirahim said, bringing Link back to himself with a start. Blinking, he flexed his feet against the cold stone floor. "Along with the rest of your… er, uniform. On closer inspection, it does seem that you managed to leave home without them. Remarkable.

"Bit of an oversight on my part, I guess," Link murmured, allowing himself a small, sheepish grin. That… was really more Ghirahim's fault than anyone else's, though Link wasn't about to bring that fact up now. "Don't know what I was thinking."

"I should have known you'd be barefoot playing in the mud the minute you left my sight," Ghirahim sighed, relaxing bit by bit into the familiar pattern of back and forth. Link's grin widened. "You are little more than a savage even on the best of days, sky chi—

He cut off, the bubble of warmth between them pricking out of existence as quickly as it had formed. Confusion melted into mortification as Link remembered why that particular little nickname might give him pause after the day before.

"You can call me that if you want," he muttered, his ears growing hot. "I… don't really mind."

Link could almost feel Ghirahim drawing back. "It makes no difference to me."

Maybe the Triforce would grant Link one more wish and let the earth swallow him up. It wasn't fair. He'd had his whole heart scraped out for Ghirahim to see now, with no idea what Ghirahim made of any of it.

From the way their red thread began to lengthen, he wouldn't be finding out tonight, either.

"We will both need our rest for the flame tomorrow, I think," Ghirahim said with careful formality, footsteps backing up. "Sleep well—"

"Wait!" Link half threw out a hand to stop him before catching himself, clasping his fingers together instead. "I mean, before you do— would you mind—" He battled with himself fiercely for a moment before the memory of tossing and turning in bed made his shoulders slump. As long as he was here, he might as well ask. "I was wondering if you could... help me fall asleep?"

Even hearing the words leave his mouth made him cringe. Sky child, indeed.

"An… interesting request," Ghirahim said, considering him. If he hadn't said yes, at least he'd stopped retreating. "Shall I read you a bedtime story, perhaps? I've no real inclination towards singing lullabies.

"No!" Link said quickly, his face so hot now he half expected his Fireshield Earrings to activate. "I didn't mean—you did it before, right?"

He spun a finger in helpless spirals as if the motion alone might spark Ghirahim's memory. Hadn't he done something that night when Link first brought him back to Skyloft? Or had Link really been so exhausted that he'd fallen asleep on his own?

He didn't think so, but the possibility made him want to shrivel with embarrassment.

"Forget I said anything," Link muttered, letting his hand drop. It had been a silly request to begin with. Reluctantly, he turned to find his own way back to bed—and a quick grip on his wrist stopped him.

His heart leapt back into his throat.

Ghirahim lifted Link's hand carefully, maneuvering it so that the palm rested face-up. Pressing a thumb against the veins on the inside of Link's wrist, he rubbed in slow, deliberate circles, and Link's knees almost buckled in relief at the cool, soothing sensation that radiated through him.

"Like this?" Ghirahim asked.

Eyes closed, Link could only nod. So he hadn't imagined it after all.

But Ghirahim didn't stop there. As waves of calm softened the harsh edges of awareness, he raised Link's hand up further. Smooth hair brushed against Link's palm as Ghirahim leaned in, fabric rustling, and in a touch so light as to be almost imperceptible, pressed and held two lips against the very tips of Link's curled fingers.

Link blinked slowly, terrified that to do more would break the spell. So… restrained. Why was he acting so…

As quickly as he started to fall, Link felt strong arms catch him. Strung between sleep and waking on trembling threads of light, he could have sworn he heard Ghirahim whisper:

"As you wish."


The Fire Sanctuary hadn't changed in the year since Link last crossed swords with Ghirahim in its echoing heart. Sprawled out across Eldin's summit, the stone rooms and corridors radiated with intense heat that Link's enchanted earrings barely held at bay: a powerful fortress perfectly suited to guard Din's flame.

Link's steps dragged for the first time that day as he approached the dais, his disquiet echoed in the slow sweep of his cane. As promised, they had found the flame unguarded by either human or dragon. It was by far the easiest one they'd claimed so far— too easy, the nagging voice in the back of Link's mind insisted, waiting for the other foot to drop. Nothing was ever this easy.

Footsteps clanked to a stop behind him, and Link paused along with them, glancing down at the red thread stretching out backwards from his chest. Then again, most of this morning hadn't been easy at all.

"Are you coming?" Link asked, shifting from foot to foot.

"Antsy today, aren't you?" Ghirahim said, his flat voice echoing in the enclosed chamber. Link never could read Ghirahim's mood in this form as well as he could most other times. For Fi, the ring of dispassionate metal in her voice had suited her. For Ghirahim, it did not. "Are you really so eager to be rid of me?"

Link blew out a frustrated breath between his lips, but didn't rise to the bait. Ever since awakening, Ghirahim had made it his mission to work himself under Link's skin, abandoning his deafening silence for… whatever this was. It was enough to make Link think he'd imagined the night before, which he could barely recall through a haze of crimson light.

"It's really quite callous, when you think about it," Ghirahim went on. "The way you keep shoving me into these flames with barely a day's rest in between. It is no small thing to walk through fire, even for me."

"Did you want to wait another day?" Link retorted over his shoulder, equal parts confused and exasperated. It didn't help that the dull throb behind his eyes had expanded during the night into a full-blown, pounding headache. He could only hope that he'd soon grow used to the shifting strands of color that defined his new world, because the longer he spent beneath their unrelenting light, the more those threads pressed like wires against his skull.

"Of course not," Ghirahim scoffed. "Draw out my sword and present it to the flame already. I would like to get this over with."

Link was more than happy to obey, exchanging his cane for the heavy sword strapped against his back. He reminded himself that at least Ghirahim had rediscovered his voice now, even if a part of him wished he hadn't.

Heat rolled off the flame as Link drew closer, and he couldn't help but wince. It wasn't that he disliked this flame, exactly, though he'd always preferred Farore's air of playfulness, or even Nayru's cool serenity. Din's flame crackled with raw power, burning hotter than its sisters in fierce, fiery challenge. It would purge this newest sword of darkness as it had the one before, and it would never once consider holding back.

The process engraved in his mind by now, Link started to raise the sword in preparation for the onslaught of flame to follow—and stopped, gritting his teeth. He thought he knew how well his concern would go over, but with the flame so real in front of him now, he had to make sure.

"If you do need more rest…" he ground out. "I mean, the flame will still be here tomorrow."

As expected, his attempt at consideration did not go unpunished.

"And there's the hesitation I expected," Ghirahim said, pouncing on his indecision. Link's jaw clenched in exasperation. "It's understandable, I suppose. What use could you possibly have for a sword that won't take orders?"

It was such a ridiculously absurd accusation given the circumstances that Link wanted to laugh—or maybe hit something. Nothing he did was right today, and he didn't know why. If he walked too fast, it meant he wanted Ghirahim to leave faster. If he took too long, he wanted Ghirahim gone for good.

Well, whatever Ghirahim's game was, Link could play it, too.

"You're right," he announced, turning his back on the flame. "I've changed my mind about all of this, actually. Let's go back."

Shouldering the blade, Link walked back the way he'd come with a determined stride. Ghirahim's footsteps did not follow.

"You are walking towards a wall."

"I'll find the door," Link muttered, certain he wouldn't get that far. Sure enough, a snap and a run of chimes put Ghirahim directly in his path.

Stopping short, Link cocked his head.

"I'm sorry, did I call your bluff?" He grimaced. "Are you ready to tell me what's actually going on?"

Ghirahim was not, as it turned out. Instead, he watched Link without speaking, until Link's teeth ground audibly. Apparently, Ghirahim only spoke now with the sole purpose of antagonizing Link. That was fine.

With very little to go on and no hints forthcoming, Link begrudgingly tried to figure it out on his own. Ghirahim had never shown anything beyond wariness towards the flames themselves, especially once he'd made it through the first unscathed. At Nayru's Flame, he'd practically vaulted into the fire almost before Link was ready—but with every flame, Ghirahim had taken the time afterward to inspect his newly altered sword. Not only was this the final flame, Link realized abruptly, but the moment of truth before Ghirahim's final form.

He cleared his throat, well aware that there was little that he specifically could say to help with that.

"I'm sure you'll still look… good… once this is finished," Link tried, shrugging a shoulder helplessly.

Whether that was the problem or not, it drew a dry laugh out of Ghirahim.

"You are never half as reassuring as you think you are in that regard. Of course I will look good," he sniffed. "I will still be myself." Doubtfully, he added, "You ought to concern yourself more with whether you will even be able to bear my sword properly once this is finished. These flames have not shaped me for your hands like you thought they would."

"I can use it now," Link protested, half lifting it off his shoulder as if to prove it. The sword might have been heavy, but he could do it.

"Better for you if it was half that size," Ghirahim sniffed pointedly. "Could you have defeated Demise with my blade?"

That stopped Link short as he remembered that fast, desperate fight.

"...Fi's sword changed the most in the end. We still have time."

"Yes. Time enough still for me to make myself less." Ghirahim's thin voice hissed. "I doubt sometimes that you appreciate how I have changed for you."

Link flinched as if struck, his hand clenching slowly around the hilt.

"I don't think I deserve that," he said quietly. "I don't think you really think that, either… so what's really wrong?"

Ghirahim hesitated briefly, and for a second Link thought he might actually get an answer.

"I am only hastening the inevitable," he said instead, reverting to the previous night's cool, unapproachable distance. Link growled, pressing a hand against his bangs. His head throbbed.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You'll figure it out eventually." Ghirahim's cloak snapped through the air, slapping Link's arm as he whirled around. "Or not. Now, if this must be done, then let's do it already."

"No," Link said, grinding the point of Ghirahim's sword into the ground defiantly. "Not until you tell me what's wrong." He could wait for as long as he needed to. After the lengths they'd gone to just to get there, it felt wrong to let things end like this.

The flame crackled and hissed behind them. Then Link stiffened as, without warning, two fingers slipped beneath his chin, tilting it up.

He knew at once that Ghirahim was teasing him, hating his own heart for pounding so easily despite that fact. Unfortunately, Ghirahim had also kept such a carefully maintained distance between them all morning that Link just couldn't find it in himself to pull away. His breathing stuttered resentfully as Ghirahim leaned in, his curtain of hair brushing against Link's cheek. Was this how things would be from now on—intimacy dangled as another weapon for Ghirahim to use against him? How long could Link stand to put up with that?

"Oh, Link…" Ghirahim murmured apologetically as if he knew what he was thinking, fingers trailing up to twirl lazily at an earring. "It is so far beyond your power to stop me now."

And his presence vanished, their red thread jerking like an arrow towards the sacred flame.

With a muttered phrase that would have earned him extra chores with Henya back at the Academy, Link stumbled after it, his sword held out awkwardly in front of him. Already, he could hear Ghirahim's rough, metallic breathing over the roar of flames, growing in harsh crescendo towards a rhythmic, ragged pant.

"This isn't over, you know," Link snapped as he ran. Skidding to a stop, he whipped the sword up just as the first burst of fire came hissing towards him.

Gritting his teeth, Link could do nothing but wait it out, barely keeping his own footing against an assault that was just as merciless as he'd feared. The heat licking his fingers, more spiritual than physical, still made sweat break out across his arms, and irritation melted into sickly anxiety as he imagined standing in the midst of that flame.

It was almost over, Link told himself, despite having no way of knowing that was true. Just a little bit longer. Just a little bit–

And then it was. The flame retreated all at once, burning quietly in place as Link drew in a ragged breath of his own. He shivered once—and laughed, the tension draining out of him so completely that he nearly fell to his knees. It was over. Despite everything, they had done what they set out to do. With sacred flame coursing through the blade, all they had left was to await its final change.

Link turned towards Ghirahim's slow approach, his earlier anger forgotten as he held the sword out with a helpless grin of anticipation. The sword vibrated in his grip with an expectant, high-pitched hum, growing hotter and hotter and hotter until–

Crack.

With a cry of pain, Link snatched his hands back from the force that rent its way through the blade, clutching his ears instead as it fell to the ground. The ringing cacophony of steel striking stone only added to the unbearable din of screeching metal that shrieked out of the sword, a noise far beyond Link's ability to discern—but as the crashing echoes fell away and he cautiously drew his hands from his ears, the strangely scattered sounds of metal hitting the ground faded to form a deep, consuming silence that felt… wrong.

More than wrong, Link thought, searching frantically for the other end of the crimson thread and finding it near his feet, dim and distressingly thin.

"Ghirahim," he said roughly, refusing even now to believe anything without proof. Dropping down to hands and knees, Link reached out for the crimson thread. His grasping fingers closed around the hilt, lifting it easily. Too easily.

Ghirahim's crimson point of light twinkled weakly from what felt like a fractured gem set beneath the hilt's half-melted guard, hot enough still that Link could barely stand to touch it. He ran his thumb along its cracked surface, imagining that he felt it thrumming weakly beneath him, and swallowed. Walking his fingers up where the blade should have been, he found… nothing. Half an inch of metal cut off abruptly in a jagged edge.

Numbly, he set the hilt aside, feeling around the floor for the missing blade and finding only part of it, too small and light to possibly make up the whole thing. Another few seconds of searching revealed another sharp piece. And then another. A pile began to form as he gathered them, and even in the depths of his denial it came to Link slowly that he would have no way of knowing if and when he'd found them all. Not with only a single, thin thread to connect that single point of light, the blade's individual shards cosmically insignificant from fate's point of view.

Abandoning his search, Link took a piece of the sword in each hand—and pressed them together.

"Come on," he muttered, his muscles trembling with effort as if human strength alone could solve this. His voice was shaking too, he discovered. And his hands. "This isn't– how– ah!"

The pieces slipped against each other, twisted metal catching against his thumb and slicing through. Wincing, Link brought it to his mouth automatically—and stopped. Heart pounding, he reached instead for the red thread's end, pressing his bleeding thumb up against the fractured gem itself.

"Wake up," he whispered fiercely. "Wake up!"

Nobody answered.

Over a minute passed, sweat slipping down Link's neck to gather in his collar, before he could admit to himself at last that nobody would. Defeated, he pulled back his hand, his thumb stinging anew as he peeled it away–and pounded his fist against the floor with an echoing scream of frustration, heedless of the unseen shard that scraped the heel of his palm. So little in life was fair, he knew, but this… Was he despised by the goddesses now as well as Demise? Or was it the Triforce itself, cursed to make his wish irrelevant each time he made a new one? Maybe Zelda had been wrong, and mortals were never meant to use the goddesses' power after all.

Faded or not, though, that red thread still burned between them. Ghirahim had to be in there somewhere—and a broken sword could be fixed.

Link repeated those words to himself over and over, whispering them grimly under his breath. A broken sword could be fixed. He had to believe that, and that fixing the sword would bring Ghirahim back. If not…

"…Link?"

Link turned his head quickly.

Soft footsteps that he'd missed over the sound of his own muttered mantra approached him carefully, the bright, golden thread tying him to their source as surely as the red thread still tied him to Ghirahim drawing itself short. Of course. Zelda of all people would know exactly where to find him. She'd probably just been waiting all this time so she could talk to him alone.

Well, he was alone now.

"What happened?" Zelda asked hesitantly. "Where is…"

She stopped short, close enough now to have a better view of Link—and the broken pieces laid out in front of him, barely recognizable as the sword they'd been. Link jerked his head back sullenly, wiping his eyes.

"Oh. Oh, Link." She sank to the ground beside him, resting a tentative hand on his knees. Link shrank from the gentle touch, and it withdrew. "I'm… so sorry."

"Sure," Link said, curling in on himself. Ghirahim was gone, and Link had done it all himself. He could only imagine how sorry she must feel.

"No, I…" She sighed, letting it drop. "Can you… tell me what happened?"

Link laughed without mirth, gesturing in front of him. Surely she could put it all together.

"The flame… just…" Pressing his hands together, he let them fall apart, dropping lifelessly in his lap. "It broke him."

Tears pricked the corners of his eyes again as he admitted it out loud, and he shrank in further.

"I see," she said in a small voice—and a dark suspicion came over him.

"You knew."

"What?" Zelda stirred, taken aback by his intensity. "I didn't–"

"That's why you let us through so easily," Link insisted, heat rising in his voice. "That's why you told the Fire Dragon to stand down."

"That's not true," she said, heated herself now in the face of his accusations. "If you thought about it for even two seconds–"

"Oh really?" He wasn't being fair now—but Ghirahim was gone, and the lights were too bright. He wanted to lash out, and if he had no way of reaching the goddesses themselves then Zelda would have to do. "It was your idea to use the flames in the first place."

"If I knew this would happen, do you think I would have tried so hard to stop it?" Zelda snapped—and seemed to regret her words as Link flinched. "I– that is–'' She let out an explosive sigh. "Link, I didn't even know Ghirahim was still in the sword when I suggested… no. No, of course I didn't know this would happen."

Link's blood ran cold as another possibility occurred to him. "So it's my fault, then."

"What?"

"I… my wish…" Link stumbled to explain. "He… Ghirahim's a sword, right? What if he wasn't meant to be freed like that? What if– what if I broke the magic, or…?"

"Link," Zelda interrupted gently. "Some things aren't anyone's fault. Demise was always powerful. It's possible that his corruption was simply beyond even the power of the flames to fix."

Link poked at a jagged piece.

"We were fighting when he went into the flame this time," he muttered unwillingly, cringing as if he thought she might gloat at the fact. "Could that be why…?"

Zelda didn't answer, nor did she gloat. Instead, her head fell against his shoulder, one arm wrapping around him… and this time Link didn't pull away, his own head resting atop hers. He'd had more than enough fighting for one day, he decided wearily. Whatever grim pleasure he'd gotten from striking out felt more than hollow when it did nothing to bring Ghirahim back—and he'd always hated arguing with Zelda. A part of him was relieved to know that hadn't changed.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled into her hair. "I– I didn't mean–"

"I know," Zelda interrupted him. "I'm sorry, too."

Something in her voice made Link think they weren't only talking about the argument anymore.

"I don't… hate you," he said haltingly. "You know that, right?"

"Well, it's certainly nice to hear." Her teasing tone of voice rang false in this room, with Ghirahim's shards scattered around. As if realizing that, she cleared her throat. "But… yes, Link. I know."

"I was just—so frustrated." A deeply rooted frustration that went beyond Ghirahim, planted long before he'd ever decided to follow their red thread of fate. If he had waited, given Zelda a chance to start pushing him off cliffs and stop hiding him away… would he still have gone flying after it?

Yes, he decided wistfully… though maybe with less desperation.

"I still don't think I was wrong, exactly," Zelda said slowly, piecing together her own thoughts. When was the last time they'd gone flying together? How had that fallen away when they'd both tried so hard to preserve everything else? "I'll always have more to think about than just you and me. If Ghirahim ever did to Skyloft what he did during the war—"

"I know." Link swallowed. He'd never stopped fearing the possibility himself, even if the balance between risk and reward had fallen out differently in his own mind. Maybe he'd just seen a different side of Ghirahim than Zelda ever had.

"But…" She hesitated. "I don't feel like I was entirely in the right, either. Maybe if I'd known the two of you were—were together like that…" She laughed abruptly, a dry, bitter sound. "No. No, that might have made it worse, actually."

It took a moment for that to sink in. Link straightened, the back of his neck heating up as he started to understand what she meant—and what she must have seen.

"I…" Link coughed, his voice coming out a full octave too high. "You… you saw all that in…"

"The Sacred Realm?" Zelda sounded apologetic, and far, far too kind. "I'm afraid so. You never really sent me away in there, you know? I suppose you just didn't want to acknowledge me anymore… but I was there. I saw."

Link nodded wordlessly, not sure what else to say. If Zelda had really watched him pursue Ghirahim through the portal world… well, he no longer had to wonder why she'd been avoiding him. How could either of them still bear to look at Link after seeing the worst of him on display like that?

"I am sorry," Zelda said, and this time Link believed her. "I… well, I still can't imagine how that ever happened between you, but—"

"It didn't," Link said, hugging his legs close and resting his chin on his knees miserably. "We never… I know what that must have looked like, but it was never like that at all, really." He bit his lip. "Actually, I think he might hold it against me now."

Squeezing his eyes shut, he could still see the red thread between Ghirahim and himself alongside every other glaringly bright thread in existence.

"I see," Zelda said carefully. "You… said earlier that you were fighting?"

Link very nearly laughed. He wished he hadn't mentioned it at all now, considering that she had no reason whatsoever to hope things worked out well between them. He'd known her for so long, though… and who else could he tell?

"He…" Link picked at the fractured gem in front of him, reminded uncomfortably of the hairline fractures he'd carved himself into Ghirahim's core. It was starting to feel like all he could ever really do with Ghirahim was break him. "I don't know. Yesterday, Ghirahim would barely even speak to me. Now it's like I can't do anything right—or maybe he just wants to pick a fight? I can't think what else it could be except…" Link had never even had the chance to try to hide how he felt, he thought despairingly. As soon as he'd known it, Ghirahim had known, too. For all of his teasing, maybe that was just more than Ghirahim had bargained for in the end. "When I made that wish… I thought he would be happy, you know? So I don't know what's wrong, and he won't tell me." He winced. "Now he can't tell me, and I don't even know if he's–"

He cut off, refusing to finish that sentence. A broken sword could be fixed, and Ghirahim would come back when he fixed it. That red thread hadn't vanished yet.

They sat in silence for another minute, each immersed in their own solemn thoughts. Eventually, Zelda stirred.

"Did you… want to keep the pieces?" she asked tentatively. "I can help you gather them up, if you'd like."

Link shook his head in determination. "I'm going to fix the pieces."

There was an awkward pause.

"Link…" Zelda began, "I don't think you can–"

"They can be reforged, right?" Link said roughly. Melted down, made anew. Whatever Link had to do with them, he would do—and the gem… "Anyway, Ghirahim's still in there somewhere. I can see him."

"…See him," Zelda repeated, and Link growled impatiently.

"The red thread. I can see it." He hooked a finger as if pulling an invisible thread from his chest. "If that's still there, then he's still there… right?"

Zelda said nothing—and he suddenly, feverishly needed her to say something. The goddess in her must know, right? That red thread had to mean what he wanted it to mean.

"You need some fresh air," she said instead. He scowled, and she added, "Please, Link. There's nothing more this flame can do for any of us now. I'm sure we'll both think more clearly… somewhere else."

He bit his lip, still grimacing. Leaving felt like making the painful admission all over again that he didn't expect Ghirahim to wake up—but maybe the sooner he admitted that, the sooner he could start changing it. A broken sword could be fixed, but maybe not by the flame that broke it in the first place.

"Okay." Taking a deep breath, Link nodded reluctantly. "Let's go."

With Zelda's help, he gathered up the pieces of Ghirahim's sword, pressing her over and over again to make sure they didn't leave any behind. What they found, they gathered in his sailcloth, until they had the entirety of Ghirahim folded into a heavy, awkward bundle that Link insisted on carrying himself.

"That sailcloth will need mending again," Zelda noted with a sigh, and Link shrugged helplessly. Ghirahim's sword had never been all that kind to her gift, come to think of it.

With his hands otherwise occupied, Zelda helped guide him, leading him step by step from the flame's chamber until at last it occurred to Link to wonder where they were going.

"Did you go all the way through the Fire Sanctuary yourself?" he asked doubtfully. Burdened and unarmed, he wouldn't be much use if the monsters had returned.

"Oh—no," she admitted. "Impa taught me her traveling trick when I first fell from the sky—though in a way, she learned it from me? Here."

Zelda's grip on his shoulder tightened, and he quickly dug in his heels.

"Not Skyloft?"

"Not Skyloft," she reassured him, and Link relaxed, letting himself be led. He couldn't avoid it forever, nor did he want to, but the thought of explaining the bundle in his hands to Groose, or even Fledge…

The ground fell away more gently than it had when Impa made the portal, the air that rose up around him a warm, tranquil breeze scattered quickly by the wind as his feet again touched earth. A cricket chirped nearby, the cries of nesting Loftwings barely audible from further in the distance… an outlying island, maybe. So far above the world, lights strung out above and below him, leaving Link suspended in their midst. Breathing in, he caught the faint smell of flowers.

"Better?" Zelda asked, and Link nodded despite himself. It felt wrong to enjoy the open air with Ghirahim trapped in a shattered sword, but he had to admit that it felt good after the confined heat of the volcano. Even the pounding in his head eased up—for a moment, at least.

Zelda breathed in deeply herself as if gathering herself. Then her hands moved from his shoulders to the gathered pieces, and he tensed right back up again.

"Don't–"

"Please," she said. "This won't take long, I promise. There's just… something I want to see. Help me lay them out?"

Reluctantly curious, Link did as he was told. With the sailcloth spread across rugged grass and Link standing uncertainly off to the side, she began shuffling the pieces around. Only the soft rustle of fabric and the rare clink of metal hinted at what she was doing.

"Are you looking for something?" Link asked dubiously. He'd kept the half-melted hilt to himself, cradled in his hands.

"Not quite," she said, though she didn't elaborate further. Another minute passed, and a strange thought occurred to him.

"Are you… helping me?"

The rustle of fabric stopped for a moment, the golden thread between them briefly still.

"If I can," Zelda said reluctantly. "I might not be able to do anything, but there's… something I thought I could try. You really think Ghirahim's still in there?"

Link nodded slowly, a tiny hope bursting to life inside him no matter how he tried to contain it. It hadn't occurred to him before that she could help, much less that she would… but it made a certain amount of sense the more he thought about it. What one goddess broke, could another fix?

What didn't make sense was that Zelda would do anything to bring Ghirahim back when she'd tried so hard to prevent it in the first place.

"Why?" he asked, bewildered, and the rustling stopped again. Zelda let out a deep sigh.

"What else could I possibly do?" she asked wearily. "When this first began, I wanted to think that you'd been manipulated or deceived, or at the very least misguided. Later, I told myself it didn't matter either way, because Ghirahim was too dangerous to let walk free even with you watching over him."

Her words picked up with the wind, shaking through the grass.

"Then you made your wish—and over everything else you could have wished for, or should have wished for, you wished for exactly what I was most afraid of." Her voice wavered. "So what am I supposed to do now? Be the one who makes your sacrifice all for nothing? I've made my mistakes through all this and lived with them, but I won't do that." She laughed weakly, metal clinking together as she took up her task once more. "I'll have to trust that you know what you're doing, Link, because it was over for me the moment you made that wish."

Brow furrowed, Link turned the jeweled hilt in his hands, listening as a second cricket joined in with the first. He could see how his wish might look like some grand gesture from the outside—his only chance at sight exchanged for Ghirahim's freedom—but he hadn't seen it that way when he made it. In truth, he thought he'd never done anything quite so… selfish.

"These aren't going together right," Zelda muttered to herself, sounding frustrated. "There are too many edges, and not enough—" She cut off with a sharp inhale. "Ohhh. Oh, I see."

Sweeping the assembled shards aside with a metallic rustle so much like the sound of Ghirahim appearing that Link perked for a moment before sagging again in disappointment, she continued her inscrutable work.

"I didn't mean it as some big sacrifice," he admitted eventually. "I just… wished for what I wanted."

"I'm sure you did," Zelda murmured. "It was part of why the goddess chose you in the first place—but it still amazes me that you never seem to recognize the lengths you'll go to on behalf of those you love." In a sour voice verging on insult, she added, "I'm not surprised that someone like Ghirahim doesn't know what to do with it."

He could think of nothing to say to that. Pressing the fractured gem to his chest so that the red thread vanished against him, Link drew it back out again, repeating the process over and over. Was it really that simple in the end? Now that he thought about it, even the smallest of kindnesses had never gone down well with Ghirahim before. Perhaps, out of practice in giving and receiving, a gesture as seemingly large as this was… too much to comprehend.

Come to think of it, how many hundreds of years had passed since Ghirahim last knew real freedom? Slowly, Link found himself grasping the troubling notion that his wish had been a start—but only that.

"What is this supposed to do, though?" he asked abruptly, turning his attention back to whatever Zelda was doing. From the sound of it, he thought she might be trying to assemble the sword like a puzzle. "It's not like you can glue the pieces back together."

"I am aware," Zelda acknowledged, a bit dryly. "Actually… I had thought to give the sword my blessing."

Link blinked—and understanding pierced him through. Of course. Of course. Even the Master Sword hadn't fully awakened beneath the three flames alone. Only Zelda's blessing… Hylia's blessing… had unlocked its full potential.

"You think that will work?" Link asked, standing straighter, the hope bursting from its tight containment to curl, flowering, around his beating heart.

"Maybe," she said. "I can't see through time like the goddess did, and even she never knew everything—but I think it might be enough, if…"

Link waited tensely for her to finish, unable to contain himself in the end.

"If?"

"Well," she said quietly. "It's… hard to offer up a prayer you don't really mean. I know for you it must be different, but Ghirahim… never did much to endear himself to me. Quite the opposite, in fact."

Link understood, unfortunately, all too well. He also saw at once the difficulty that presented.

"You, uh… you don't have to like him to save him, right?" Link asked, forcing a strained laugh, and heard her do the same.

"Hopefully not."

It was far from the certain answer Link wished it was. Tapping his foot against the grass, he tried to think of anything else he might say to sway her, knowing deep down that the power to do so went beyond words. It didn't help that, as far as he could tell, Ghirahim felt little beyond contempt for her, either. The fact that Zelda was even willing to try felt like a miracle on its own.

"In Faron Woods," Zelda began slowly, and Link's foot stilled. "The two of you up in the trees… that really happened, didn't it? Part of it, at least."

…So she really had seen it all. Link nodded shortly, not sure how to feel about the thought that anyone else, even Zelda, had born witness to even imperfect echoes of the scene that had haunted him alone for so long. Nothing had really even happened that night to see… but then, that was always the whole point of it. Would it continue to haunt him now, he wondered suddenly? What would it take to reclaim that moment for good?

"I thought so," she said, satisfied. "It explains—well, the carving, for one thing. Maybe other things, too." Her voice hardened. "He didn't hurt you, did he?"

"No," Link said quickly. "Though… he could have." Could have, and probably should have, considering what he'd been trying to achieve. "I never knew why."

"You must know now, though," Zelda said… and something about his confusion made her laugh despairingly. "You really think it's all one-sided, don't you? Ghirahim… cares about you, I think. In his own way. I didn't really expect that, before." Link wanted to laugh at how reluctant she was to admit it, though he couldn't help but wonder what made her so sure. "Maybe that will be enough, in the end."

Link hoped she was right, in more ways than one. Enough for her to bring him back… and maybe even enough to carry them all through everything that came after.

"I was going to ask you why you made that wish," she went on. "But thinking about it now, I suppose I know already."

Holding the hilt to his heart once more, Link thought about the question himself… and smiled. He knew, too, even if it took a second to find the words.

"Because if he's free, I'm free." He wished that Ghirahim could hear him now, could understand. "I think we both deserve to be free."

The sun was thin in the sky, but enough. Link felt it against his skin for what seemed like the first time.

"If this doesn't work, I will bring Ghirahim back, one way or another," he promised fiercely, staring above Zelda's golden thread and hoping he caught her gaze. "You should believe that like you believed I would come find you when you first fell from the sky."

"I do," she said simply. "And… I'm done."

Link blinked, brought tumbling back to earth with a nervous jolt.

"It's… all there, then?"

"It is," Zelda said, a hint of amusement in her voice as if she knew what he was thinking. "Though not quite in the way I expected. The flame did something to it after all, aside from—well…"

Breaking it.

"How does it look?" he asked, and she stopped to consider the question.

"Like him," she decided. Nothing in her tone made Link think she meant that as a compliment, but he smiled anyway.

"So… what happens now?"

"You're holding the final piece, I think," Zelda pointed out quietly. "May I?"

Nodding quickly, Link held the hilt out, watching the red thread intertwine with gold as she took it. The breeze picked up again, a gentle whisper through the grass.

Zelda took her time settling beside Ghirahim's sword, slotting the hilt back into place with a light clink of metal, but eventually the two threads went still. Link closed his eyes, waiting… and felt the first stirrings of warmth against his face, like a softer sacred flame.

His breath caught in his throat.

Though he'd expected her to say something, not a word escaped her lips that he could hear. Link only knew it was drawing to a close when the warmth against his skin increased tenfold. Tingling power prickled over him, culminating in the bright sound of ringing metal… and then it was done, the last, lingering divine warmth blown away on the wind. After so much anticipation, it felt almost anticlimactic—except…

"There," Zelda said, her voice unreadable. "I've done my part, for better or for worse."

Ghirahim's red light twinkled beside her, steady and bright. Link took a deep breath—and lurched forward, nearly falling to the ground in his haste.

"You did it," he breathed, his hand curling around the restored hilt in disbelief. Lifting the sword was still easier than expected—lighter somehow in its restored form than all of the broken pieces combined—but nowhere near the disconcerting ease of lifting a hilt with no blade. Most importantly, running a hand across the gem, he could find no hint of the cracks he'd felt there earlier, hairline or otherwise.

"Yes, but— Link?"

Reopening the cut on his thumb was as simple as biting it open, the barely healed wound from that morning ripping anew. Letting the blood drip across the blade, he waited breathlessly for the final proof of life, ignoring Zelda's dismay. For a few tense seconds he heard nothing, but then…

"Again…?" Ghirahim's weak, incredulous voice whispered in his ear, fading back to nothing with that single word uttered. That didn't matter. What mattered was that it was there at all.

"You did it!"

Zelda's weak protests said she maybe already regretted what she'd done, but they cut off as Link's arms wrapped around her, his face buried in her neck.

"Thank you," he whispered, wanting to say more but not knowing what else to say. Giving in, Zelda hugged him back just as fiercely.

"You know that I love you, right?" she said.

Link's laughter came out choked. "I know."

"That's the only reason I was able to…" Holding on tightly for another minute, Zelda was the first to pull back, brushing the hair out of Link's eyes. "You'll be careful, though, right? You promise? And if he hurts you, or– or anyone else—"

"It's going to be okay." Link might have been tempted to laugh if he didn't know how deep that worry ran. "I promise."

"Well," Zelda breathed, amused and exasperated and reluctant and so many other things all at once. "As long as you promise."

So bright was the tapestry of light around them that it took Link a moment to notice the new thread of light forged with the sword's blessing: a dark, burnished gold tying her up with Ghirahim himself. He… thought he might keep that one to himself for a bit. Whatever it meant, he doubted that Zelda or Ghirahim would be happy to know it existed—though he secretly had his hopes.

"That isn't all of it, though," Zelda said, grabbing his free hand and shaking him from his thoughts. "Let me show you what you missed."

Curious, Link let her lead his hand back down, wrapping it around… the hilt of a sword. A second one.

"Like I said before, Din's Flame left its mark," Zelda said as Link lifted it up, holding them out together with his mouth hanging open slightly. That was… unexpected. "This must have been its will for the sword all along, though… I can't say I know why."

Remembering the pair of swords Ghirahim had wielded through their most recent battles, Link suddenly thought he knew. Ghirahim might have been right before, though maybe not in any way either of them had expected. Those flames had not shaped his sword for Link's hands, after all.

"There's… something else." He heard a pouch snap open that Zelda rummaged through, and a piece of paper pressed against his hand. "This is actually what I came to give you in the first place. No pressure, but if you're looking for something to do next… well, we could always use your help. I could have used it all along, I guess, if I'd been willing to let you give it."

"Help?" Link repeated. Unfolding the paper, he recognized at once their own secret cipher of indented marks.

"If you want." She sidled up to him, looking over his shoulder.

Running his fingers over it, Link found… a list. Tasks that needed doing, areas that needed clearing out. Places and civilizations to seek out across the surface that had been lost in the time since Demise's sealing, and resources that the surface settlement would need as it grew.

The idea of it left him feeling strangely warm. Maybe she understood him after all.

"I've told everyone back on Skyloft as much as they needed to know," she said as he read it through again. "Home will be waiting for you, when you're ready."

"What did you tell them?" he asked, and felt her shrug against him.

"That you're Link," she said simply. "Stubborn to a fault, with a heart where your head should have been." Link swatted her arm with the paper, and she laughed. "Well, not that exactly, but… I think they understood."

Link nodded ruefully, pocketing the list. Nowhere in all that had she mentioned if Ghirahim was welcome, too… but maybe this wasn't the time to push it. It would all sort itself out eventually.

The warm silence that fell between them on that sunny little island felt almost as easy as all those nights Zelda had spent in his room watching him carve, painting his little figurines as he made them. Almost. The longer they sat, the more Link realized that something felt unalterably shifted, even if he couldn't put a finger on how.

"I… guess I should probably…" Zelda burrowed into his side even as she said, "You'll probably want to be alone when he wakes up."

"Probably," Link admitted. He couldn't quite bring himself to suggest that she leave, though, a heavy pang running through him. It wasn't goodbye forever, or even for very long… so why did he feel something slipping away? "I'll be back though, you know? You're not losing me or anything."

"Not yet," Zelda agreed, something surprisingly bitter in her laugh. "Hopefully not ever, even if…" Ignoring his questioning look, she began to pull back—and paused. "You said you see the threads of fate now? Only the one you share with Ghirahim, or…"

"All of them." Raising a hand to his eyes, Link winced as they pulsed brightly, acknowledging his attention.

"Did you ever learn to interpret them?" she asked, and Link shrugged.

"Not exactly." Impa had mentioned that the ability might come in time, and he couldn't help but remember how those scenes made of thread had woven before his eyes in the Sacred Realm—but he'd never managed anything like it on his own. "Why?"

"There was something I could never quite determine about Demise's curse," she began, smoothing out his collar. "The spirit of the hero is you, no doubt about it—but the blood of the goddess…" Zelda hesitated. "Well, you can see how that might be me or my descendants, you know? So I wondered if you knew… after this life, can you see if we'll still…?"

Link understood. Nodding uncertainly, he tried to focus on their golden thread, tilting his head as if he might look into it. Though the light connected them through physical space, he had the sense that there was more to their golden thread, to every thread he saw, if he could only see it. It had all come so easily in the Sacred Realm, though here he didn't know how…

And then he caught a glimpse. It was a story curving in on itself, told and retold—the details ever shifting while the heart remained the same.

Blinking against the brightness of that vision, he lost it. He wasn't even sure what it was, exactly, or how he'd found it in the first place… but he knew what it meant.

"This isn't the end," Link said, slipping a quiet hand up to press against his head. "We're both tied up together, I think… through this life and the rest."

Bit by bit, the tension eased out of her.

"Good," Zelda said softly. "That's… good. I don't think I could have forgiven myself if the goddess's actions had set you on that path alone, but at least I'll be there to help you… one way or another." She paused, watching him for another moment before asking, "You still have your blindfold, right?"

Surprised, Link nodded, pulling it from his pocket to make sure. He hadn't thought about the blindfold since he'd come out of the portal, and didn't quite know what to do with it now. With the threads in his head, it seemed like he might have outgrown it.

"Did you want it?" he asked, holding it out.

"Keep it," Zelda insisted, folding his fingers over the fabric as if to make sure he did. She sounded sympathetic. "Wear it. I think you'll find it useful when everything becomes… too much."

Curious, Link smoothed it a few times through his hands to shake out the spots where it had crumpled in his pocket. Pressing it over his eyes, he tied the cloth behind his head—and gasped. Tears of relief sprang from the corners of his eyes as the grand tapestry of light vanished from the sky, and his vision became blessedly, mercifully dark.


The angle of the sun's warmth had shifted, continuing along its unseen path across the sky, before Link began to hear the telltale signs of Ghirahim stirring. He'd had time during the wait to explore the small island where Zelda had left them, which hadn't taken more than fifteen minutes. A simple place of wiry grass and small, clinging flowers, it had little more that he could find beyond a few gnarled trees to distinguish it. He thought maybe he and Zelda had climbed those trees together, long ago.

Leaning against the trunk of one now with the two swords crossed in his lap, Link smiled to himself at the slow, scattered run of chiming notes that emerged, as long and languid as a yawn. Even though he'd been expecting it, it was still a good sound to hear. Adjusting his blindfold, he settled back again, giving Ghirahim the chance to get his bearings. His hands brushed absently against twin hilts.

"Don't you want to see?" he called out eventually, gesturing at the swords in his lap. There was a short pause, the leaves rustling overhead.

"The spirit maiden's doing, I presume." Ghirahim's voice emerged from above him, unimpressed. Link's smile skewed as he shrugged.

"Better than the alternative."

"Maybe," Ghirahim said, as pridefully stubborn as always. Rolling his eyes beneath the blindfold, Link grasped the swords by their hilts, lifting them up for Ghirahim to see.

"Look."

Curiosity overcame Ghirahim's reluctance, as Link had suspected it might. That run of chimes shimmered in closer, and first one sword and then the other was plucked from his grasp.

Link let them go, lifting his arms up to rest his head against his palms. He'd had more than enough time to explore the swords himself, mapping them out inch by inch beneath attentive fingertips. One straight as an arrow with nods along the edges towards its once-jagged form, the other curved like a scimitar, each had the same braided hilt and complex pattern of diamonds etched across the flat of the blade as the other, marking them as a set. Link had traced the grooves of that pattern so thoroughly as he waited, he thought he could have sketched it out himself.

Only one sword had the gem set beneath the flared guard—the outward expression of Ghirahim's core tied to their red thread. The other had the symbol of the Triforce notched in its place, no longer inverted after Zelda's blessing. Link hoped that symbol could come to mean something more now than the vow against the goddesses Demise had no doubt intended it to be.

"Convenient," Ghirahim mused, keeping his own thoughts guarded. "One for you and one for me?"

"Or both for you," Link said, only half ruefully. He'd looked forward to bearing Ghirahim's sword, but he couldn't deny the obvious. "I might have carried the sword for you all this time, but I think the flames were forming them for your use all along. If– if you want," he added, frowning. The air felt suddenly ten degrees colder, and plunging. "You fought me with two swords before, didn't you? In the Fire Sanctuary, and– and after."

"Two swords very much like these, yes," Ghirahim said as Link shivered, still in that same, soft tone. "But wasn't the entire point of this drawn out quest to form a sword fit for your use?"

"I…" Link shrugged, at a loss. "If I beg, maybe Eagus will give me another Academy sw—"

"Finish that sentence, and I will use these swords to carve out your tongue," Ghirahim hissed, and Link cut off wisely.

"Well, if you don't mind…" His heart skipped a beat. "I'd like to use your sword, if you'll let me."

The harsh bite of chill in the air began to thaw.

"I might allow it," Ghirahim said, as if he hadn't just threatened Link for daring to suggest otherwise. "Will you beg for me, as well?"

Link huffed out a laugh, though he couldn't quite tell if Ghirahim was joking or not. The words were right, but something beyond the words felt dangerously on edge. He could only guess at what might be going through Ghirahim's mind—and knowing Ghirahim, he'd guessed wrong. Still, in the time he'd had to think while Ghirahim slept, he'd known they couldn't afford to fall back into awkward silence or pointless bickering. If something had to give between them, Link could be the first.

He cleared his throat.

"I'm not… waiting for you to thank me or anything," Link said, letting it all out in a rush.

Ghirahim's lack of response was deafening.

"If that's what's been bothering you, then don't worry about it. I don't care. We can just move on from everything that… happened." Link flushed, hurrying on himself. "I got what I wanted already, so… I'd be fine with that."

This was all he'd wanted from the beginning, after all: a sword at his back, and Ghirahim at his side. That could be enough. Link had no intention of throwing that away just because he'd come to want more.

"Of course," Ghirahim whispered, almost to himself. "Why should forged weapons like us expect to receive anything at all in exchange for our sacrifice, much less… gratitude?"

Link frowned, getting the slow, uneasy sense that he'd been taken the wrong way.

"What?"

"Oh, never mind that." Brushing him aside, Ghirahim's voice rang out from the treetops, mockingly triumphant. "All that matters is that I am free, right? With Demise's last wrong undone, your heroic task is completed at last! Truly, nobody could accuse you of being anything but thorough."

He'd definitely said something wrong. Shaking his head, Link sat up warily. "That isn't why I—"

"In fact, you have saved me so thoroughly now that you will soon have no use for me whatsoever. Swords are hardly a rarity in this world, and never mind that mine would outshine any other. All that's left for us now is your impending descent—" Shifting downward, chimes shattered almost above Link's head. "—towards resentment."

Ugly scorn twisted through that final word as Link gaped up at him.

"What are you talking about?" he demanded.

"It is inevitable," Ghirahim jeered, any pretense at pleasantries falling away. "As if we haven't just watched the same story play out between you and the goddess reborn herself in tedious fashion. Offer so much while asking so little, and what follows is as predictable as happily ever after, if rarely quite so happy. You will resent me when I fail to live up to unspoken expectations, remembering all that you gave up on my behalf—and then…"

Understanding struck Link like a physical force, leaving him feeling vaguely winded. Far from his secret fear that his affections had scared Ghirahim off, Ghirahim had instead reached the conclusion that Link was going to leave him. Worse, he realized with another blow of blinding clarity, just like that morning outside the Ancient Cistern when Ghirahim had tried to force Link at knifepoint to take control, he'd decided to provoke what he feared himself rather than wait for Link to strike.

Before Link could do more than gape, Ghirahim's hand clenched the front of his shirt. Hauled up by his collar, Link grunted as his back slammed against the tree trunk, hands moving automatically to claw at Ghirahim's fist with his feet left to dangle.

"Did you ever stop to consider the consequences of your little fairy tale wish?" Ghirahim whispered, his dark hiss slithering through Link's ear. "The flames saw me for what I am, and shattered me. You know what I am, and have forgotten. I am not your tame little demon now… but since you and your goddess saw fit to restore me, I will be your curse."

"Let me go," Link gasped, straining against the pressure on his chest.

"Will you ever know, truly, what I do behind your back?" Ghirahim ignored his protests, his fist slowly tightening. "In fact, why should I resort to subterfuge at all? Imagine what I can get away with in front of your face, shielded by the darkness you chose for yourself."

"Let me go."

"And what of when you're gone? I will far outlive you, as will the consequences of your generosity. How many generations will suffer at my hands before… stop it." Ghirahim's voice sharpened indignantly, and he shoved Link roughly. "Stop that! Can you possibly think that I am joking? I assure you, I have never been more serious."

Link shook his head helplessly, spasms of laughter wheezing out of his compressed lungs despite himself. The bubble of joy in his chest—the perverse thrill he felt at hearing his own demands brushed aside like that—was just too much to contain. He'd hated having to hold back all this time, picking through each of his words so carefully before speaking them. Now he didn't have to—and as long as he wasn't holding back…

Link knew it would hurt him more than it hurt Ghirahim. He swung anyway.

"I told you to sto–"

Ghirahim cut off as Link's fist collided with the side of his face. Sure enough, pain bloomed through Link's hand as if he'd punched a statue, but surprise loosened Ghirahim's grip enough for Link to tear free. He fell to his feet with a gasp, shoving forward on instinct before Ghirahim could regain his own balance—and realized too late that Ghirahim still had a hold on his shirt as the two of them fell together, hitting the ground with a thud.

Ghirahim moved first. Before Link could react, he felt both wrists pinned against the dirt above his head, something sharp settling point-first against his throat—and everything went still. Wind whistled through cracks in the rock, ripping through the grass. Pressed against Ghirahim's chest, the thunder of Link's heart couldn't quite drown out the rasp of hot breath across his face.

Slowly, Ghirahim withdrew. The blade vanished from Link's neck, and he pushed himself up, seated across from Ghirahim in the grass. Swallowing, he pressed a tentative hand to his throat.

"See?" he said once he trusted himself to speak again, smiling weakly. "I'm not going anywhere."

"You…" Ghirahim trailed off. With all his dark bravado stripped away, Link had never heard him so uncertain. "You will resent me for this someday, you know. How could you not? With everything you could ever want at your fingertips, you chose—" He cut off with a frustrated growl. "It leaves me with impossible expectations."

"You don't have to stay, either," Link said, and thought he could hear Ghirahim's very breath still.

"What?"

"Not that I don't want you to," Link hurried to add. "But… not out of obligation or anything. That would kind of defeat the purpose of all this, wouldn't it?" His lips twitched in a hesitant grin. "Just to be clear, though, I think we've both had plenty of chances to leave already. Seems kind of silly for either of us to consider it now that there's nothing in our way."

He crossed his fingers surreptitiously, hoping that this was what finally reached him.

"I never resented Zelda for what I did for her, by the way. I only resented what came after—so as long as you don't start treating me like I'm damaged, we should be fine. Besides," he prompted as Ghirahim turned that over silently in his head. "Isn't it just a little bit nice? Being… free?"

He held his breath, waiting. The fabric of Ghirahim's cloak rustled as he leaned in… and gloved fingers inched beneath Link's blindfold.

"You should know better than to think I would ever act out of obligation," Ghirahim said, loosening the knot so it draped around Link's neck. Light sprang up around them, their red thread so close it filled his view. "I really am a very selfish creature at heart."

"Really?" Link murmured, too relieved to try to stop him. It wasn't so bad now, knowing he could block it all out again whenever he wanted. "What about when you followed me through the portal?"

It took effort not to lean into Ghirahim's trailing touch across his cheek.

"Also not obligation."

Then what? Link wanted to ask, his tongue darting nervously between his lips. Now that Ghirahim seemed less eager to drive him away, he could almost bring himself to believe what Zelda had told him earlier.

"So… maybe we understand each other after all?" he breathed.

"Oh, I understand you," Ghirahim said—and he started to laugh, a rich, melting sound. "You've missed being at my mercy, haven't you, sky child?"

Both hands raised to cup Link's cheeks. Eyes widening in alarm, Link felt suddenly more than a bit breathless.

"That's not exactly how I remember it."

"Oh really?" Ghirahim's breath brushed over him, leaning in. "Maybe I should refresh your memory—"

"Wait."

Ghirahim stopped at once, and Link shivered, a different sort of thrill shooting through him. Hearing Ghirahim ignore his orders was satisfying on its own—but it was something else to know that Ghirahim would only listen to him because he wanted to, as well.

"There's… something I want to try." Slowly, Link stripped off his own leather gloves this time, tucking them behind his belt. Then, with a steadying breath, he offered up his hands.

Ghirahim knew exactly what he meant by it, of course. After a thoughtful pause, he took them.

Even now, Link remembered as clearly as the day it happened how strange Ghirahim's face had felt beneath his fingers once—an approximation of human features, with none of their warmth and yield. Not knowing him yet as a sword, Link had still known him as something other than human that night. The sensation had made terrifying, fascinating sense for someone like Ghirahim who made guidelines out of nature's laws, shifting from place to place with no regard for the distance between. Now…

The cool, polished skin he traced with shaking hands no longer held terror or surprise for Link, who had lived that encounter over and over and over in his mind. Only the fascination remained. Running a thumb along the diamond etched against Ghirahim's cheek as smooth hair fell across his hand, Link closed his eyes, waiting for that long ago moment to rise up, carry him away, and…

Nothing happened. The wind whistled through the branches above them, thin and dry. Wiry grass bent beneath his legs, pricking him through the thick weave of his trousers. Somewhere on the island, a single cricket still chirped.

Link's trembling fingers steadied, a vice-like pressure releasing from his chest as he breathed in, and out. With the world firm around him, cradled above and below in threads of light, the anxious wonder of that long ago night felt more distant than ever now. Relegated at last to a mere moment in time, Link had no more need to fear that night… or any of its implications.

Tentatively, he ran a questioning thumb along Ghirahim's lips, first the upper, then the lower. They pressed in more easily than the rest of him, warmed by the heat of his breath—but Link knew that much already. He had felt them against his own lips before, though never in a way that really mattered.

Adjusting his hold on Ghirahim's face, Link half leaned in, only half in question. He thought it might be right, this inkling he had—that maybe he wasn't the only one who wanted…

"You are too slow," Ghirahim growled, and closed the distance between them himself.

Falling into the kiss like a leap from the sky, Link felt disbelief as damp wisps of clouds, uncomfortable and clinging but quickly blown away. Joy followed after, a warm wonder gusting up beneath him at the thought that the red thread he'd once followed into battle had somehow led to this . Diving in happy freefall, Link smiled, content… and fell right back into the kiss itself as Ghirahim met it with a wicked grin of his own, his tongue flicking out between them.

If Link had thought he knew what to expect from their previous encounters, he discovered quickly that he hadn't accounted for how Ghirahim's eager participation might change things.

Sharp teeth scraped at Link's lip, extracting a gasp that had nothing to do with pain, and Ghirahim's tongue curled eagerly around Link's the second his lips parted. He felt his hat pulled free, Ghirahim's hands burying themselves in the tousled hair beneath, but even as they tugged, Link couldn't complain too much. His own hands wandered downward, clenched against Ghirahim's chest where the light that emerged half-filled his vision with vivid, burning red.

Breathing in through his nose, Ghirahim pulled back slightly.

"Maybe we should just call it even between us," he suggested. "After all, how many times have I saved your life? Once more now, after that trip through the portal."

Link blinked, too dazed to understand what Ghirahim meant at first, though when he did, he laughed in disbelief.

"Not as many times as you threatened it," he murmured, rolling his eyes. "But sure. Even."

Link leaned back in—and stopped short of Ghirahim's lips with exasperation as Ghirahim pulled back again, holding Link in place by his hair.

"Now, now." Amusement bubbled out of Ghirahim, all fiendish delight as Link growled. "I just want to be sure, of course—I would hate to think I misunderstood—but this is what you want?"

Link's indignant struggles slowed as he realized there was something buried beneath the question—a need for reassurance that Ghirahim would never admit to out loud.

He thought about the strange twists in their thread that had brought them here in the first place, against all odds. He thought about the list folded carefully in his pocket—all of the choices and possibilities still ahead of them, the tiny shifts in direction their thread might take.

Grabbing Ghirahim by the cloak, Link pulled him in closer. This time, Ghirahim followed him willingly.

"See for yourself."