Chapter 16

AUTHOR'S NOTE: OK, it's finally here! Thanks so much for reading my story, and I hope you enjoyed it. I am sorry it took me so long to write the last chapter… I think I have a hard time with endings. I'm not sure I'm entirely satisfied with it, so I might re-edit it later (let me know if you have suggestions!), but for now I just really want to finish this story before it's no longer fresh in my mind. I also just want these two to be happy, gosh darn it! As you might expect, this chapter is fairly fluffy. But hey, I think Link deserves some fluff!

Zelda woke, trying to shake the haziness of the newly-conscious off and orient herself. The last she remembered, she'd been lying on the harsh, unforgiving stones of the courtyard in front of the Temple of Time, but now she rested on a soft, pliable surface. She opened her eyes and looked around blearily. She was in her room, lying on her large four-poster bed. Her father was asleep in a generous stuffed chair next to her bed, his chest resting comfortably on his chest. Zelda sighed in relief, revelling in the knowledge that she could continue lying here, and nothing catastrophic would happen. She allowed her body to sink into the luxurious cushions for a moment before returning to more urgent concerns. Was Ganondorf gone for good? Where was Link?

"Father…" Zelda managed to croak out, her voice not fully cooperating with her intentions. King Daphnes jerked awake.

"Zelda! Dearest! Are you ok? How do you feel?"

"I… I'll be all right. Where is Link? How is Castle Town? Is Ganondorf gone?"

King Daphnes sat up in his chair and leaned towards his daughter.

"Ganondorf appears to be dead, and Rauru tells me his piece of the Triforce has returned to the Temple of Time. It seems he will not return. As for Link, he's right outside. We tried to get him to the infirmary to take care of his injuries, but he refused to leave your side."

Zelda frowned, suspecting that King Daphnes had perhaps not made much of an effort to get Link to the infirmary. Their last encounter had been quite a disaster, after all. Sensing her mood, her father patted her arm placatingly.

"I really did try my best, Zelda, but he was remarkably insistent. Regarding Castle Town, the guard did well and all of the townspeople were evacuated before Ganondorf's forces attacked, and once Ganondorf was defeated all of his moblins ran away. We did, unfortunately, suffer casualties among our soldiers, but their brave sacrifice prevented suffering among the people."

Zelda let out a sigh of relief, then smiled at her father.

"Thank you," she said, but her father responded with a look of guilt. He leaned forward, taking one of her hands in his.

"I am so sorry I did not trust you. You truly were chosen by the goddesses. I do not even want to consider how many lives may have been lost had you not intervened."

"All is forgiven, Father. I understand how difficult it must have been to believe my story. In truth, had our situations been reversed I do not know if I would have believed you."

Zelda felt a peace fill her as she said the words and realized that they were true. She had been concerned that, after everything that had happened, her relationship with her father might be permanently damaged. It did seem that their relationship might be forever altered, but perhaps now it would be a change for the better.

"My child, what I did was not acceptable. I… I planned to entrust you with the future of our kingdom, and yet I would not believe you when it counted."

King Daphnes shook his head.

"No longer. You have proven your wisdom, and in the not-so-distant future you will be queen. I will no longer stand in your way when you wish to make important decisions. You will be more involved in the governing of the kingdom, and your counsel will be my most valued."

Zelda gave her father another weak smile, squeezing his hand in hers.

"Thank you, father." There was more to say, but this was a good start. They were building a new foundation for their relationship, and Zelda felt that they should take their time to ensure that the foundation was true. For some time they simply sat there together, silently enjoying each others' company in a way they hadn't in a long time.

"Father… I think I should speak with Link. I don't think he'll go to the infirmary before he sees me."

A small part of her worried that her father would object, but he simply nodded in understanding.

"I will get him."

Her father rose from his chair with a groan and left the room. Zelda closed her eyes, still feeling drained. She opened them again when she heard the door open, and found Link standing a respectful distance from her bed in the center of her plush red carpet. Zelda winced at the angry red blisters on his arm, his clear devotion to her moving her more than she knew how to express.

"You really should get your arm looked at Link."

Link looked down, shrugging his shoulders.

"I needed to make sure you were OK first. And… I didn't really know where we stood. I was worried if I left I wouldn't get to see you again."

She opened her mouth to respond, to reassure him that… well she wasn't quite sure what. To tell him that everything would be fine. She hadn't decided exactly what she was going to say before he continued talking.

"Your Highness, thank you so much. I could not have been able to stop him without you. I owe you my life, as do all of the people of Hyrule. You will be a wise and fair ruler one day, and I am honored to have served you."

He knelt down on one knee, head bowed before her. Zelda, taken aback, struggled to sit up in her bed. "Your Highness"? "I am honored to have served you"? Where was this stiff, distant treatment coming from?

"Link, what are you…? I helped you, but you were the one who defeated Ganondorf in the end. We did it together, as a team…" Zelda struggled to express precisely what it was about his mode of declaration that was bothering her. "Why all of this formality?"

Link remained silent for a long while, and Zelda wished he would raise his head so she could see his expression. He finally spoke, although his face was still hidden by his bangs.

"People know now…," he said in his calm, matter-of-fact way. "Even though we defeated Ganondorf, you're still the princess. I thought… it would be better this way."

Zelda huffed indignantly. Didn't Link have the Triforce of Courage? Where was all of this hesitance coming from? And in the hour of their triumph, no less! Well if he was going to treat her like as some untouchable superior, she might as well take advantage of that.

"Link, come here. As your princess, I order you to rise and sit beside me."

She patted the spot on her bed next to where she sat, now propped up against the headboard. Link stood, face flushed, and obediently took his seat next to her.

"So. You refuse to have your injuries treated because you're worried you'll never see me again, and then once you finally see me you behave distant and cold. Would not the result be the same as never seeing me again?"

Link simply lowered his head once more, avoiding Zelda's gaze. As he was seated on the edge of the bed, his back was more or less to her, and he had had to twist awkwardly to see her. Upon hearing Zelda's accusation, he let his body turn back away from her, embarrassed by the contradictory behavior she had pointed out.

Zelda frowned. She didn't want him to feel bad, she just wanted him to be comfortable with her. She wanted them to be able to celebrate their victory together. And most importantly, she wanted him to know how important he was to her. As she looked at his back, the green fabric dirty and torn from battle, she felt an overwhelming rush of affection for him. This man who had selflessly born the burden of a painful past in silence for so many years, this man who had thought nothing of his own safety and comfort in order to protect her kingdom, this man who had shown her unwavering loyalty throughout multiple lifetimes, this man was finally here, with her, and she found herself needing to show him how she felt about him in whatever way she could.

Careful to avoid his injured arm, Zelda snaked an arm around his torso and leaned her head against his back, giving his battered body a ginger squeeze of affection.

"I love you."

She felt rather than heard Link let out a small exhalation of air, and he twisted back around so he was facing her, wrapping his arms around Zelda and hugging her tightly. It hurt a little, her own body still sore from her injuries, but she didn't mind. Zelda settled her head under Link's chin and breathed him in, hoping for some sort of reciprocal response but not needing it.

"Are you sure?"

Zelda half-laughed, half-sighed.

"Yes, I am sure. We'll have plenty of time for me to convince you later, but for now just take me at my word."

She pulled back a little so she could see his face and smiled up at him. He looked back at her, eyes wide with wonder. The he pulled her close to him again, his mouth just by her ear. In a small voice, meant only for her to hear, he spoke.

"I love you too."

In that moment, Zelda felt perfectly content. His arms around her felt comforting, strong, accepting, and right. Her kingdom was safe, her father respected and trusted her, and the man she loved loved her too. She felt that, because this moment had come to pass, she had no right to ask the goddesses for anything ever again. She had already been blessed enough for a lifetime.

However, her very affection for Link informed her that this moment could not last forever. She could feel how he hugged her more tightly with his left arm than with his right, and she could smell the sweat and dried blood on his clothing. He needed to be treated, and he needed to rest.

"Link," she said, talking into his collar, "you really should go to the infirmary."

Link sighed heavily in response and loosened his grip on her.

"I know. I don't… I am feeling pretty weak. But I just… I'm worried if I leave this all will end. Like it might.. Disappear like a dream," he said.

Zelda backed away again and looked up at Link with determined eyes.

"That's not going to happen. I will not allow it. I will be queen one day, and as queen I have the right to make decisions for myself. And I will choose you. Always, no matter where or when, I will choose you."

Link smiled at her-a rich, full smile as warm as the sun over Hyrule Field. He leaned forward and kissed her again, then rose shakily to his feet.

"I'll see you soon," he said, then left.

And that was what was so wonderful about Link. Zelda knew that no matter what, he would live by his word. He would see her again soon, and that was all she wanted.

One Year Later

Link dubiously looked into the mirror in his room and nervously adjusted the ornate belt at his waist. It felt strange to be wearing such fine clothing, but he had grown more accustomed to it in the past months. He wore a cream-colored tunic with gold accents, and a rich crimson cloak was thrown over his shoulders. He felt almost naked without his trademark cap-or at least a helmet-and his finely polished leather boots, while fashionable, were stiff and uncomfortable on his feet. Eventually, Link shrugged and turned from the mirror. Regardless of how he felt, this was probably how everyone expected him to look today.

The door slammed open and Link's moment of reflection was interrupted by a frantic Taio.

"Link! What are you still doing here? You're going to be late!"

Link, never one for hysterics, simply nodded and strode calmly from the room, exiting the barracks that he'd called home for over a year perhaps for the last time.

Taio started towards the castle's main entrance, but Link signalled for him to go ahead without him.

"I'm going a different way," he said by way of explanation, but Taio's incredulous look demanded details.

"I promise I'll make it in time, I just need a moment to myself," Link said, hoping it would be enough to convince his over-enthusiastic friend.

"All right, but just know it will be my head if everything starts and you're not there yet."

"I know, I'll be there," Link said as he waved goodbye to his friend and headed off in the opposite direction.

Wanting to avoid all of the hustle and bustle surrounding today's festivities, Link left the castle by a side gate, crossing a small bridge over the moat and entering the fields that separated Castle Town and Hyrule Castle.

He walked with a solemn gait. Today was meant to be a joyous day, but Link needed to mourn as well. Eventually, he reached the small statue of Hylia that had been placed in a relatively peaceful and secluded area outside of the wall that surrounded the town. He made sure to take the time to read the plaque under the statue, even though he already knew what it said.

In honor of the brave soldiers who lost their lives in defense of Hyrule. Their sacrifice to stop the evil king Ganondorf will never be forgotten.

Link stood there, as he often did, and meditated. First and foremost, he prayed to the goddesses for these men's souls. He also played for their families, and he thought about the role he had played in their deaths.

If he had never met up with Zelda again, would they still be alive? Would Ganondorf have found a way back into their timestream eventually, regardless of what he did? Were these men's deaths on his head? Was this some sort of terrible price he had forced them to pay so he could be a hero? So he could be with Zelda?

These questions had eaten away at Link ever since Ganondorf's defeat a year earlier. He'd let the doubts fester away for months before finally breaking down one day and confessing his feelings of guilt and regret to Zelda. She had revealed that she had harbored similar feelings, and they'd discussed the issue at length. Zelda had even gone to the Great Fairy to ask her, but the Great Fairy had not provided them with conclusive answers.

"I can see vague shapes, directions, and major tributaries of the stream of time. But the kind of details you seek are unknowable, even to me."

The Great Fairy must have felt moved by the look of despair on Zelda's face, because after a moment of hesitation, she added one final piece of advice.

"Princess Zelda, you have been in the unique situation of having altered the stream of time, having changed the past. Because of that, you may be tempted to consider what could have been, what kinds of decisions you would change if you could. But I advise you not to indulge in that kind of speculation. Perhaps your decisions led to the deaths of those men, but perhaps those same decisions prevented the deaths of others. Pay whatever penance you feel you must, but focus on this time stream, and try to move on."

Link had thought over those words many times, and they had provided him with some comfort. Still, he couldn't help but feel that he had benefitted from the suffering of others. Especially today, when he was about to get everything he'd ever desired, he wanted to honor these men.

As he stood in front of the statue, he felt a peace come over him. He closed his eyes, and the wind whirled around him almost like a caress. As the wind whirled, words came to Link's mind.

Rest easy, Hero. These brave men are now in my care.

Link opened his eyes and and found himself staring into the eyes of the statue of the goddess Hylia. He smiled at her and gave her a small bow, then he turned to leave. He had more to do today.

About an hour later, Link waited at the altar of the Temple of Time, fighting the urge to tap his feet nervously against the cold marble floor. King Daphnes stood somewhere behind him, and the king's loyal subjects lined the benches that had been brought in to fill the temple in front of him. Still, Link didn't notice any of them. His eyes were fixed on the entrance to the Temple, through which Zelda eventually walked.

Zelda had always been a beautiful woman, but there was something different about her today. Her ornate gown of white, pink and gold was part of the reason, but Link thought that finally seeing the woman who would be his wife was what really gave her that ethereal glow.

Zelda walked with her characteristic grace down the center of the temple towards the altar, and she was all Link could see. When she finally joined him at the altar, she rested her hand in the open palm he offered her, and he felt that they would never be separated again.

Rauru officiated the ceremony, and Link was glad. Rauru may not remember it, but he and Link had been close friends. Of course, Link still didn't pay too much attention to Rauru's sermon. The sage spoke of the balance of the Triforce, of finding balance in marriage, and of relying on each other. They were good words, and someone was surely writing them down. Link was depending on that, since he was having difficulty focusing on anything aside from the perfect woman who stood beside him.

All of a sudden, it was time for Link to pledge himself to Zelda, in light and dark, in power, wisdom, and courage, and for all time.

"I do," Link found himself saying, meaning every word with all his heart.

"I do," Link heard Zelda say a short time later, and joy filled his soul.

They kissed, and the crowd of onlookers let out a cheer. Link pulled Zelda close to him in the midst of the merriment and spoke into her ear.

"Thank you for choosing me."

She had chosen him in so many ways. She had chosen to trust him with the fate of Hyrule when he was only ten years old. She had chosen to guide him and fight alongside him in his teens. She had chosen to remember him despite the pain and confusion it caused her, and she had eventually chosen to love him. He was grateful for all of it.

Zelda smiled back at him, a broad, innocent smile that she saved just for him.

"I'll always choose you. It does not matter in which branch of the stream of time we are, it will always be you."

At that moment, Link felt the weight of those other branches of the stream of time, of those other versions of himself that must surely exist. He hoped that they, too, could find happiness as he had, and he wished them well on their journeys.

After a long moment of staring stupidly into each others' love-struck eyes, Zelda's grin turned mischievous, and she grasped Link's head firmly with both hands and pulled him towards her for a kiss that was certainly more passionate than was proper in the temple. The cheers of the crowd turned to whoops of appreciation and Link, despite generally being very easily embarrassed, enjoyed every minute of it.

The End