Hey to all. Thanks for reading and reviewing. Took me awhile to get an idea of the pacing I need for this story, and I've decided to do a chapter per season per year (as in one for spring, summer, autumn, and winter for each year 10-17…..thought of it while watching Juno last week and decided it would be more manageable and enjoyable than a gargantuan year-long chapter per year). However, that doesn't mean that every bit of the season, as in all three months, will be portrayed, as that would take forever and be boring and I would go crazy…and this wouldn't be finished until I'm 60. A chapter may only cover a month or two, or even just a few weeks, depending on what I decide to do to (oops…with) my characters. I have some ideas already for specific events in future chapters, but suggestions for what you'd like to see are welcome (think of how life was for you in those years, maybe; what were your experiences? Fluff? Drama? Angst?) This is my first full-length chapter, and it was a doozy to get right; I tried really hard to make it match the style of the prologue, but it's not perfect by any means. In this chapter we're going to meet our main supporting cast members and see what their personalities are like and how they relate to each other as well as ZeLink, who are the leads. I also express my take on the whole Sheik thing and it is based on my impression as I was actually playing the game, though I know there are many different theories on the subject (and yes, I have read the manga, but this is my story and I'm going to be a brat about it. ;P Speaking of brats, I kinda hate on Princess Ruto. A lot.) I'm trying to keep it somewhat lighthearted, but there are a few parts rated A for Angst, especially toward the end. Okay, gonna shut up now so you can all go read.

I don't own Zelda; just a copy of A Link to the Past and the Majora's Mask players' guide….and book 2 of the OOT manga (gotta get the first one)….although I've played several other games (like this one, which you can't beat with a Deku Stick) courtesy of my brother and cousins…and the fine folks at Nintendo of course, who actually own everything Zelda-related and make a ton of money off of suckers like me. Any other works referenced also belong to their respective owners, not me. Also, all of Zelda's lines in the last scene come from the flashback in Majora's Mask (after you beat Skull Kid the first time)…but I inserted all the drama myself. :]

Making Up for Lost Time

Chapter 1-Ten-Spring

After changing into dry clothes borrowed from a young pageboy, Link had spoken with the king and his advisors, and had accepted the offers of knighthood and the job as protector of the princess (he would get to spend every day with Zelda and get paid for it!). The following morning he awoke well-rested and well-fed for the first time in quite awhile, and played the Minuet of Forest on the Fairy Ocarina, which Saria had given him when he left the forest to embark on his quest to save Hyrule. Within minutes he materialized from a stream of light and was standing in the Sacred Forest Meadow. The emerald-haired Sage of Forest was sitting on the familiar stump, eyes closed as she played the tune affectionately dubbed 'Saria's Song' by the Kokiri, her fairy flitting around in time to the music. Link took out his own ocarina and played the harmony to her melody, and after a few notes, she opened her eyes and stared, mouth open, at the Hero of Time.

"Link, you're little again!" she exclaimed, running toward him with her arms outstretched. When they collided halfway between the warp pedestal and the stump, the force was enough to swing both of them around. They laughed, glad to be together again as they'd been so many other times before, their laughter growing as they lost their balance and tumbled down to the soft grass covering the forest floor. When their sides ached from laughing and their breathing finally returned to normal, Link addressed Saria's earlier comment.

"Yep, I'm little. It's kinda strange; Zelda says it's like we're in a play, and the first performance wasn't very good so we went back and started it again from the beginning."

"Oh, you've seen the princess?" Saria asked, surprised and a bit disappointed that Link had seen Zelda before he'd come to the forest.

"Yeah; I went to the castle yesterday, and guess what, Saria? The King of Hyrule is going to knight me. And I get to be Zelda's personal guard. Isn't that great?"

"But what about Impa?" she asked him. The Sage of Shadow had been almost like a mother to Saria when they'd been in the Sacred Realm, holding the little girl in her arms when the battle between good and evil had become more than the Forest Sage could bear to watch. Saria was cautious about giving her approval for Link's new position if it meant her Sheikah friend would be out of a job.

"She'll still be Zelda's nursemaid, but since she's a sage now, and serves on the Royal Council, she has other responsibilities. Besides, the king says Zelda's a tricky little thing who needs someone her own age to keep her out of trouble, so since I'm the Hero of Time and all, he thought it would be a good job for me. And those are his words, not mine….so don't tell Zelda I said that about her, okay?"

Saria laughed and said, "All right, I won't, if you won't tell her I said she can be really stubborn, and you deserve a medal if you can get her to listen to you….reminds me of someone else I know," she said, poking the tip of his nose with her finger.

"I am not stubborn; I'm…..determined. And Zelda is…..a really good person," he said, defending his new charge.

"I know that, silly; I've met her. She's nice, and she was a big help on your journey; we owe Hyrule's safety to both of you, really, and I know you'll take good care of her. Wow; you're gonna be a knight! I'll bet you're the youngest knight ever, huh?"

"That's what the king said." Link said, rubbing his neck bashfully.

Saria sighed wistfully, then continued, "I guess this means you'll be living at the castle now, huh?"

"Yeah; I came here to visit but I also came to get the last of my stuff. There are a few things in my treehouse that won't fit in my hat," he said wryly as they rose and began walking back into the Lost Woods, toward the tunnel that lead to Kokiri Forest.

"Like that cow the ranch girl had sent over here. I'll bet Navi wouldn't….." she paused midsentence, something suddenly occuring to her. "Link, where is Navi? She usually comes out to say hello to Lili and me first thing. Did she stay at the castle; is she….."

"She's gone, Saria; just…. flew away at the Temple of Time," he said, somewhat irritably. He saw her flinch at his tone and said, more calmly, "I was hoping maybe you'd seen her, but…I don't know where she would be; she didn't say anything before she left. I guess I don't really need her anymore, since things are back to normal and I'm a Hylian anyway, but…..she didn't have to be so rude about it."

"Link….that's terrible." Saria said, her face and voice sympathetic as she took his hand and squeezed it. " I'll tell all the Kokiri and their fairies to look out for her, but…that's so strange; I've never heard of a fairy leaving before. Maybe we should talk to the Great Deku Tree about it after we get your stuff. Would you like to do that?

"I guess so." Link said despondently, then said in a surprised tone, his eyes hopeful, "So the Great Deku Tree is alive?"

"Yeah; time went back to that first day when he summoned you, only he doesn't have monsters inside anymore; just the Spiritual Stone of Forest."

"Really…." Link said, his face spreading into a smirk. "I guess that means the Gorons have their ruby, and the Zoras have their Sapphire, right?"

"I would think so." She looked at him strangely. "Link why are you smiling like that? It's kinda weird."

"Because…this means that Princess Fish Face can't say I'm her fiancee anymore, since I don't have the 'Zora's Engagement Ring'." The last words were said in a high-pitched voice meant to mock the Zora princess.

The Kokiri girl was a bit surprised at her friend's vengance toward the Sage of Water. "Link, be nice; just because Ruto's….different….doesn't mean…"

"Saria, you've met her; how can you even think that she's anything but a spoiled little baby?"

Because she promised me she wouldn't tell anyone how I really feel about you, Saria thought, but said, "She's a princess, Link; she's used to getting her way. I'm not saying that she's perfect, but….maybe you should get to know her better before you say things like that."

"If I got to know her any better, we'd be married and I'd be doomed to a life of eating raw fish. I think I'd rather eat rocks, like the Gorons do."

Saria sighed longingly and said, "I wonder how Darunia's doing? His son is probably just a baby again, or he may not even be born yet." Her face became animated, "Oohhh, I'll bet he's so cute! I'd love to see him sometime. The only other baby I've ever seen is you."

"Hey Saria," he said, pausing midstep, his voice filled with excitement. "You can see him! There's a tunnel that leads to Goron City just ahead. I can go in and bomb some rocks and you can go see Darunia anytime you like…..except…..you can't leave the forest." It was as if the wind had gone out of his sails, and he looked down at his feet, feeling sorry that his friend could never visit 'Big Brother' when he could see in her eyes how much she wished to.

"Oh; I guess you don't know. Since I'm a Sage, I'm an exception to the rule; I can go anywhere in Hyrule you can!" Link's eyes lit up again, and he squeezed the Kokiri girl tightly against him.

"All right! Saria, it's so great…..we can go swimming and fishing at the lake, and ride horses, and…..do lots of fun things,and you can see your friends!" They had reached the tunnel to Goron City when Link realized he didn't have any bombs; his bomb bag was back at the castle. "Sorry…I'll do it the next time I'm here, I promise."

"Or, you could bomb from the other side if you visit Darunia first," she suggested helpfully.

"I'll get it done; don't worry."

"You really are a hero," she said, kissing him on the cheek and blushing brightly.

"Saria, are you okay?" Link asked, concerned when he saw how red her face was. "You think you're coming down with something? Maybe we should talk to the Great Deku Tree another time. We need to get you home in case you have a fever or something."

Saria could only nod; she didn't know what else to say. She certainly couldn't tell him the truth; that she was blushing because she really liked him and had wanted to kiss him like that for a long time.

When they arrived in Kokiri Forest, Link's first sight was the person he least wanted to see. Mido, the self-proclaimed Boss of the Kokiri, came running toward the tunnel to greet Saria, but stopped when he saw that Link was with her. "Oh…..it's you," the redhead said, crossing his arms and turning up his nose at the Hero of Time.

Saria's face became cross, and she put her hands on her hips. "Mido, you're being very rude. Link is a hero now; you should start treating him like one."

"Some hero. He doesn't even have a fairy!" the Kokiri boy shouted gleefully, then, "Hey; what was that for?" when Link pushed him down and ran toward his treehouse. Saria followed; she was slightly taller than Link again, catching up to him as he was about to climb his ladder.

"Link…..you can't listen to Mido; he's just trying to upset you," she said, as Link packed the remainder of his belongings in a bag Saria had sewn of cloth made from Deku leaf fibers.

"Well, it worked." Link said in a huffy voice. "He just had to bring it up, didn't he? He always does that, and I'm sick of it! I'm glad I don't live here anymore, because it means I don't have to put up with his…." he barely refrained from using a word he'd heard while at the Gerudo's Fortress, one that he knew to be bad. "I'll miss you, Saria, but I'm glad you can leave the forest now, so we don't have to deal with the Kokiri Idiot when we're together

His packing finished, he took his ocarina from its pouch and played the Prelude of Light before he could change his mind and go back to punch Mido in the nose.

The following day, guests had begun arriving at Hyrule Castle for the many events that would take place to honor Link as the Hero of Time. There would be a banquet for the sages that evening, then a parade the following morning. After lunch, Link would be knighted, and another banquet would immediately follow.

After he'd returned from the forest Link had spend the remainder of the previous day with Ronan, who went over the rituals of the knighting ceremony with Link so many times that the Hero dreamed of it that night. He also dreamed of Navi. He was back in Kokiri Forest with Saria, and when Mido had teased him about not being a hero, Navi dive-bombed the Kokiri boy, pulling his hair and biting him while Link and Saria rolled on the ground from laughing so hard. Navi chased Mido deep into the Lost Woods, then returned to Link, saying, 'Come on, partner, let's go home', and Saria had cheerfully waved goodbye as Link and Navi turned into beads of light and warped back to the castle.

He woke up smiling, but the smile faded when he realized it was just a dream; Navi was still gone. He got out of bed and washed the sleep from his eyes in the adjoining bath, marveling once again at the castle's indoor plumbing. After he dressed in a clean tunic and his brown leather shorts, he walked to Zelda's room, two doors down from his, and knocked, wondering if she wanted to walk down to breakfast with him. He was startled to see a familiar, unwanted face when the door was cracked from within. First Mido, now her; the Goddesses must be mad at me, he thought before he was tackled by a hyperexcited Princess Ruto.

"Oh, my Hero, thank goodness you're okay! Now that that meanie Ganondorf is out of the way, we can finally get married…..no, let's wait a few years; you're sooooo handsome when you're older, and …"

She was interrupted by Zelda, who opened the door and said, "Get off of him, Ruto; he can't breathe." Sure enough, the Hero was frantically pointing to his neck, where Ruto had wrapped her arms to hold herself on his back.

"Oops; sorry, my love," the Zora continued, squeezing his arm with her slippery fish hands, then prattled on about 'their' dream wedding. She sure likes to hear herself talk, Link thought darkly. Maybe I should've just let Lord Jabu Jabu digest her.

"Look, Princess, I'm hungry and I've got a long day ahead of me. Can we continue this…..discussion over breakfast?" he asked, rolling his eyes when Zelda met his gaze, and the Hylian princess covered her mouth to stifle a giggle.

"Of course, darling; lead the way to the sashimi." Ruto grabbed his arm and practically drug him down the stairs. Link looked back and made a disgusted face at Zelda; watching the Zora princess eat raw fish for breakfast was not his idea of a good time.

Zelda began laughing so hard that she had to sit down on the steps and Ruto looked back at her, whispering to Link, "I think she may be a little crazy," and Link moaned in frustration at the prospect of being constantly followed by the real crazy one for the next two days.

All day long, Link tried, without success, to avoid Ruto; it was if she was tracking him. He ate, she was there. He took a break from his lessons on courtly manners and Hylian customs, she was there. He went up to his room to prepare for dinner with the Sages, she was waiting outside his door. I guess I'll be lucky if she doesn't come out into the tub when I turn on the water, he thought, and was so relieved when there were two locked doors between himself and the Zora princess that he stayed in the water until his fingers and toes wrinkled, and he barely had time to dress before the banquet started.

He had hoped that Ruto had gone on to the small dining room meant for gatherings of less than fifteen people, but no such luck; she was waiting outside his door, when he opened it and put her hands on her hips, saying, "What have you been doing in there? The banquet starts in five minutes; we're gonna be late. This is the third time you've kept me waiting like this, and I have half a mind to end our engagement right here and now."

Link knew that arguing with her would only make her hold steady to the notion that they were engaged, so he decided to trick her into breaking off the engagement that never was.

He looked down at the floor, shaking his head. "Yes, Ruto, you're right; I'm not good enough for you. You deserve to be with someone that wants to carry you around and eat raw fish and live underwater all the time. I'm not even a prince; I used to live in the forest with a bunch of kids. You couldn't take me anywhere; I'd probably make somebody mad and accidentally start a war. And…..he added, hiding his joy that he might finally be free of her unwanted attention, "our kids would look really weird. Not cute like Zora babies, or even Hylian babies, but…freaky." Well played, Link he thought.

Her anger immediately dissolved and she replied, "But Linky…..I don't care about any of that. I just want you….." in a whiny voice that made Link want to throw her in the Death Mountain volcano.

"Well…actually…since I don't have the Zora's Sapphire anymore, we're not engaged. And before you get any ideas about giving it to me…think about one thing. If we did have weird little half-Zora, half-Hylian babies, I would never be home to take care of them, because I'd have to be here at the castle, working." He sighed dramatically and said, "You grew up with just one parent and I grew up with none; don't you think your future children deserve more than you had?"

"But…I'll be all alone!" she said, her voice turning into a wail.

"You're the princess, Ruto; that's why they call you 'Princess Ruto'. I'm sure every Zora…boy, man, whatever they're called, dreams of marrying the princess, and doing all those things that Hylians, like me, don't like half as much as they would. Like breathing the same air as you. Plus, who wouldn't want to be king?

Her tears stopped and she sighed. "I guess you're right. But I'm still giving Zelda a piece of my mind about turning back time and ruining my plans"

I think I might've liked Ganondorf's plans for the future more than hers, Link thought as he led the princess downstairs, his expression neutral, while he smiled triumphantly on the inside.

"Brother!" As soon as Link entered the dining room, he was squeezed into a rib-crushing hug by Darunia, leader of the Gorons, Sage of Fire.

"Hey, Darunia, "Link managed to squeak. "Can…..can you put me down?"

"Sorry, Brother," he apologized. "Come meet Darla, my wife. She was in hiding in the other time." He lead Link over to a Goron woman whose back was turned, talking to Nabooru. She was wearing a dress with a jagged hem and when she turned around, Link was speechless; her stomach was big enough that Link and Zelda could both fit.

"Hello, Little Brother. I'm so honored to finally meet our son's namesake. Darunia insisted that we couldn't name him anything else, and now…..to think that he'll be named after the Hero of Time….I can't wait till he gets here again so you can see him as a baby, since you won't be in the Sacred Realm this time." Her personality was as warm as her husband's, but she was more subdued in physical show of affection, choosing only to 'pat' Link on the head, which gave him the sensation that his skull might be fractured.

"Darla, you gotta be more careful; you're gonna damage something up there," Nabooru said, walking past the Goron to Link's other side. "How go things, kiddo?"

"Good, and yourself?" he said, remembering what Matilda, Zelda's etiquette instructor, had taught him.

"Well, I'm not on guard duty at the bridge anymore, and things are a lot better since you kicked Ganondorf's sorry…." She was interrupted by Impa, who gave the now-sixteen-year-old Gerudo a warning glare.

"Little pitchers have big ears, my friend. It would be unfortunate if Link learned such language and inadvertently taught it to the princess; her father would be unhappy, to say the least."

"Sorry," Nabooru grumbled. "Of course, they're not gonna be this innocent forever; someday….."

"Yes, and we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Impa said, afraid to think of what the desert dweller might've said; she had no regard for propriety, even around children.

Just then the King of Hyrule entered, fashionably late, followed by his daughter, who was dressed in blue. Everyone in the room bowed, except Link, who could only stare at how pretty Zelda looked, until Ruto elbowed him and he bent at the waist until the king and princess had taken their places and the party began.

"Do you, Link, solemnly swear, to uphold the laws of Hyrule, to pledge your loyalty to the Royal Family, and to enforce the principles of the kingdom as long as you live?" The young Hero knelt before the king the following afternoon, nervous in front of the large crowd who had come to see him knighted and receive various other accolades afforded to the Hero of Time. The princess sat on her own little throne to his right, watching him, her eyes encouraging, calming his nerves somewhat.

"I do," he answered, still looking into Zelda's eyes, causing her to blush furiously. For a moment it felt almost as if…..and she wondered if, someday, when they were older, if it might come to that. He wasn't of noble blood, but he was the Hero of Time. That had to count for something.

The king took his ceremonial sword from its bejeweled sheath and held it aloft before saying, "I dub thee Sir Link, the Hero of Time, in the name of Din (he placed the blade lightly on Link's left shoulder) and of Nayru (this time it was the right) and of Farore (back to the left). May your days serving the Royal Family be many, and may your love for your kingdom remain in your heart always." A string orchestra played the opening notes to the Hylian anthem and the entire room began singing. Link was still a little unsure of the words and barely moved his lips, while Zelda sang loudly in a voice that was surprisingly strong for a little girl. When the song ended, the Royal Cleric intoned the words of the Anulus Beo, in a language that Link did not understand; he thought it might be Ancient Hylian but he wasn't sure. Afterwards, the party recessed into the Great Hall, where he spent over an hour receiving guests, being hugged and kissed and even proposed to on behalf of more than one young girl by fathers who told him they would be proud to call the Hero of Time "son". While trying to dissuade a particularly overzealous man, Link shot Zelda, who was standing nearby talking with Ruto and Saria, a helpless look, and she left her friends to come to his aid.

"Sir Link, I believe there is someone very important who wishes to speak with you. Excuse us please, sir,"

"Of course, Princess, he said, bowing deeply." Zelda took Link's arm and lead him back to where she'd been before, and Link's face lit up in surprised pleasure. "Mal!" he exclaimed, hugging the redheaded ranch girl. Zelda raised an eyebrow at their embrace. He just called her 'Mal' and now he's hugging so she looks like she might break in half? I don't know if I like this.

"Hey Fairy Boy…..or should I say, 'Sir Fairy Boy,' now?" she said, giggling in a manner which the Princess of Hyrule took to be flirtatious, though Link seemed oblivious to it. In fact, it looked as though his mind was somewhere else completely. Zelda wondered if he was remembering how pretty Malon had probably been when she was seventeen, at the time when Zelda had been disguised as a boy…

Saria whispered something in Malon's ear that caused the smile to leave the redhead's face. "I'm sorry…..I didn't know…..about your fairy. Are you okay?" She looked genuinely concerned as she placed her hand on Link's shoulder, and Zelda was torn between appreciating her kindness toward the Hero and wanting to knock the redhead's hand off her arm. What is wrong with you; you sound like Ruto, thinking things like that. Are you jealous of her? You should be ashamed of yourself, Zelda; she seems nice, and she's only trying to help her friend; your friend.

Link sighed and said, "If you don't mind, I don't want to talk about it." That same sad, almost haunted, look always appeared on his face when Navi was mentioned, and Zelda was becoming concerned about him.

"Well…okay….so, what do you want to talk about?" Malon asked, feeling awkward; Princess Zelda must think she was an idiot.

"How's Epona?" Link asked.

Malon smiled and said, "Oh, she's fine; I brush her everyday and there's plenty of fresh grass at the ranch; guess it can't get much better if you're a horse. She misses you, though, I can tell. She's not used to being cooped up on the ranch; you should come get her, take her out for a ride. Bring your friends if you'd like." She looked at the other three girls, and Zelda could see past her casual confidence; her eyes looked unsure, as if she wasn't sure how, or even if, she could fit in with the three sages, two of whom were princesses. Zelda felt a sudden surge of sympathy for the rancher's daughter, and felt it was her royal duty to make the girl feel at ease.

"I would love to come to your ranch; I always wondered what it was like at the place where our milk and eggs comes from, and I love horses." Zelda told her, smiling genuinely at the redhead.

"Really? You…..but…you're the Princess of Hyrule. Shouldn't you be thinking about…tea and crumpets or something, and riding your fancy horse around in your own little arena?"

Zelda scoffed, "Probably, but what's the fun in that? I've always wanted to ride as fast as the horse would take me, out in the open, with no fences and no trainers telling me to slow down and sit up straight. She made a face that caused Malon to laugh, and she could see the tension drain from the other girl's face.

"Well, my dad doesn't care how people ride as long as they don't get hurt. And since you're the princess, maybe he would let me take some time away from my work to play with you."

"Can I come too?" Saria asked eagerly. "I've never seen a horse in person before."

"Neither have I," Ruto added. "But I'm not making any promises that I'll ride one. I have to keep my scales pretty, now that I have to find a new fiancee," she said, glaring at Link, who was trying very hard not to laugh.

"Sure; like I said, all of you can come. Maybe I can get my dad to make a bonfire and we can roast marshmallows."

Their conversation ended prematurely when the king began tapping his wineglass with a fork and then made a speech about Link's bravery, followed by a toast in the young Hero's honor, and the five youth separated to go to their respective tables for dinner. When the meal was over, everyone went into the adjoining ballroom and a small ensemble played music. Link swore that he didn't know anything about dancing, but the girls made him do it anyway, and after several up-tempo numbers, he realized he was actually having a lot of fun. After the Goron Boogie (the dance which Darunia had done when Link played Saria's Song to cheer him up) was the Hylian waltz, and the breathless, sweaty new friends got bottles of root beer from the drink table and took them outside, where the stars were bright in the moonless sky. They sat, talking of Link's adventures and what life was like where each of them grew up, lying back in the grass when their bottles were empty, until one by one, everyone but Link and Zelda drifted off to sleep.

"So…..you really like 'Mal' don't you?" Zelda asked softly, feeling guilty about the pang of jealousy that continued to plague her even though she really did like Malon.

"Yeah; she really helped me out before. Epona was wild when she was young, and Malon sang this song that tamed her; she called it Epona's Song. When I went to the ranch for the first time, she taught it to me, so that when I grew up, I could just play the song and just like magic, that horse would come to me from almost anywhere in Hyrule. It made getting around a lot easier, especially before I learned all the warp songs," he said, nudging her gently on the arm, remembering who had taught him those.

"But do you like her? She could feel her pulse increase, and was almost afraid to hear his answer.

"Huh? Zelda, did you not listen to anything I just told….ohhhh," he said, finally realizing what she meant. "No I don't…I mean she's…but…" he swallowed nervously, and though it was too dark to see, Zelda knew he was rubbing the back of his neck.

"You called her Mal," Zelda said quietly. "I just….was wondering, since you gave her a nickname, if she was…well, you know. Special.

"No. I think she'd like to be, but I don't…..she's just my friend. Her mother died when she was seven and it's just her and her dad and their ranch hand, Mr. Ingo. She likes it when I visit because we're almost the same age; she has to work really hard and I know she gets lonely sometimes, being the only kid at the ranch. I think she would really like it if you were her friend; you live so close to each other, you could do stuff together all the time, and I know she'd like to have another girl around."

"Oh, well…..I really do like her, but I was just…..wondering, that's all."

"Here they are," a voice said from the nearby archway. They turned to find Impa standing there, along with King Zora and Talon. The adults crossed the courtyard and woke the three girls from their rest. Talon led his daugher toward his wagon, while King Zora slowly led Ruto to the pond dug especially for Zora guests of the Hylian Royal Family. Impa picked Saria up and said "Zelda, are you coming?" as she shifted the Sage of Forest's head onto her shoulder. Saria wrapped her arms around the Sheikah and continued sleeping.

"Yes, Impa," she said, yawning. She and Link gathered the empty bottles, so they could be melted down by a knight named Otto to be used in creating a mosaic portrait of Darunia that Darla had commissioned, then followed the Sage of Shadow inside, bidding her goodnight as she carried Saria to the guest quarters, before they continued down the hallway, stopping in front of their own rooms. Zelda yawned; the day had been long and full of excitement, and it was finally catching up with her. "Goodnight, Sir Link, the Hero of Time. Don't let the bedbugs bite."

He smiled at her sleepily, then said, "G'night, Zel. You're something special, you know that?" then entered his room, closing the door softly behind him. Zelda continued standing there, smiling so big her face began to hurt.

"Zelda, what are you doing? It's time for bed," Impa said when she returned five minutes later to see the princess still standing in the hall, the silly smile still on her face. The Sheikah looked at the princess, just standing and smiling, then shook her head in bemusement. "Come on, I'll help you unbutton your dress."

*****************************************************************************Two days later, Princess Zelda took her first trip to Lon Lon Ranch, where she rode a horse named Jonas bareback, legs astride, her hair flying around her until it was a tangled mass of knots. She and Link and Malon and Saria (Ruto had decided not to come; instead she had gone to Lake Hylia to visit her new crush, a Zora named Zuko) had races and climbed the ranch's lone tree and after a dinner of steaks grilled over the bonfire Talon had built, roasted and ate marshmallows until they were nearly sick. Talon had offered to let Link take Epona home that night, but he and Zelda were sure they would throw up if they attempted to climb on the horse's back, so they came back for her the next day. The following week, she wore an old dress borrowed from Malon, so she would appear inconspicuous, and went with Link into Castle Town. She beat him in eight out of ten Bombchu bowling games, gloating as if she'd just won a major war singlehandedly, and discovered the culinary masterpiece that was spicy Cucco wings (though she was careful not to overdo it, the memory of too many marshmallows still fresh in her mind). Afterwards, they went to the Shooting Gallery, where Link danced around after beating Zelda in every round of Rupee shooting and tripped over his own feet, causing the princess to laugh once she knew he was okay. All the prizes he won, he gave to her, smiling shyly each time, in a way she found to be absolutely adorable.

And finally, one glorious day, he took her to Lake Hylia.

Link had never tried warping with more than himself and Navi before, but with Zelda standing behind him, arms wrapped around his waist while he played, they were soon transported to the island in the middle of the gleaming body of water.

"We did it, Zel!" he exclaimed, hugging her. "It worked! Now we can go anywhere I can warp and still be back in time for dinner!"

"Link, do you ever think about anything besides eating?" she teased him.

"Yes…I think about lots of things. Riding Epona….shooting Ruto with ice arrows…pushing smarty-pants princesses in the lake…..you know, things like that."

She laughed so hard she nearly tumbled down into the lake, which was still chilly, and would be for another month or so. "Well, the first one's good, but the other two are only good ways for you to get in big trouble. Besides, I thought Ruto was staying away from you, since she's decided not to marry you after all."

"I know…it's just funny to think about…she's standing there, whining about something stupid, and then she turns into a block of ice, frozen with some weird expression on her face."

"My father hired you to be a good influence on me, not to plan assassination attempts on neighboring kingdoms," Zelda told him, stifling another laugh.

"Well, I guess I have to behave now. Come, Princess," he said in a formal tone, holding his arm out for her to hold. "Let us cross this bridge to yonder Lakeside Laboratory." Zelda finally laughed and said, "You're such a moron."

"Thank you, I accept your compliment, Your Royal Highness."

As they walked the long stretch of bridge, she asked, "Do you remember the last time we were here?"

"Yeah, I do. It was after Ruto declared her undying love for me in the Chamber of Sages after I beat the Water Temple. I'm glad that place is locked up; I hope they threw away the key." He made a face that let her know he had an even lower opinion of the temple below the lake than he held for its sage. "But yeah, I remember; you were standing back there on the island, and said stuff about how great it was that the lake was back to normal, and you jumped up into the tree when I wasn't looking and then you jumped into the lake and disappeared. Did you do that Deku nut thing underwater?"

"It's a secret to everybody…except me and Impa, that is," she teased him.

"Oh, come on Zel; you've gotta teach it to me. Pleeeeease?" he said, looking up at her with puppy dog eyes. "I'll be your best friend."

"You already are," she said, smiling down at him as she looked into his eyes.

"Really?" he said, stopping in his tracks, halfway between the smaller island and the Lakeside Laboratory, a surprised smile spreading over his face. "I…..you mean it?"

"Of course I mean it. Of course, I'm best friends with Malon, too, but that's different because she's a girl."

"Well, I'm best friends with Saria, but…..well, she's a girl too, but….if you can have two best friends so can I. So, friend, best friend, …..when do I learn the Deku nut trick?"

"You don't; I told you; it's a secret. Only the Sheikah can learn how."

"Come on…..it's not like you're a real Sheikah; Sheik was just a disguise. I mean..." he broke off, blushing deeply as an unbidden thought entered his head, but he just had to know. "Zelda, can I ask you something…..about Sheik?"

"I guess so," she said hesitantly, thrown off by his change in demeanor.

"When you were Sheik, were you really a boy? With….you know…..boy stuff?" His voice got increasingly lower, so that the last words were nearly whispered.

Zelda, too, became embarrassed, and was at a loss for words for several moments. "Link….I can't believe you would….no! I was just me dressed like a boy with my hair covered up. I didn't have…..boy stuff, as you put it." Suddenly, the idea of taking a dive into the lake didn't seem so bad after all; it might cool the heat that had enveloped not just her face, but her entire body. She took his arm and pulled him toward the shore and he was afraid that he'd made her angry.

"Zel, I'm sorry; I didn't mean to make you…please don't tell anyone…..I was just….please," he said desperately. When he let go of her hand, she turned around and looked at him. He looked absolutely terrified at her reaction.

"Link, listen; I'm not mad; it's just….embarrassing…Times were so hard then, and I had to dress that way so that Ganondorf couldn't find me. Girls…..change…..a lot in those seven years; boys do too. It would've been a lot easier if I had been a real boy," she thought sourly, not for the first time.

"What do you mean? I…you know what? I don't think I want to know," he said as they walked around the building in front of them to the doorway.

"No, you don't". And I'm not looking forward to going through it again.

He dreamed of the scene at the lake that night, when he'd been there with Sheik as an adult. The Water Temple had been conquered, the lake had filled again, and Navi was there, floating around the island, finding what seemed like a million things he would've missed if he'd been on his own. The difference was, this time he knew that Sheik was really Zelda. When he arrived on the island, he walked toward her, just as he had before, and reached out and took her hand. She was still trying to pretend she was a boy, and pulled her hand away, but he reached up and pulled off her cowl, her golden hair flowing down her back. Then he pulled her into her arms, and kissed her, for a long time, the way he'd seen two of the castle's servants do the previous morning. Then Sheik had broken away, doing as before; jumping into the tree, then into the lake. This time, though, Link caught up to her, kissing her again as they floated deeper and deeper into the lake, her magic and his Zora tunic keeping them from drowning. Then Princess Ruto had appeared, and she'd tried to attack Zelda. Navi had come to the rescue, fighting off the annoying fish girl, chasing all the way back to Zora's Domain, as Link and Zelda swam to shore and lay there, stuck, talking and laughing until the sun set.

"Link? Link, wake up!" a voice said,

"Wha….Navi? Is that…" he opened his eyes and felt a bit of guilt at finding Zelda thee instead of his lost fairy He turned over and put the pillow over his head, feeling self-conscious, with Zelda, who was literally the girl of his dreams, sitting on his bed, as he remembered kissing her. When he didn't move, she tugged on his arm.

"Hurry up and get dressed; there's something I want to show you," she said excitedly.

"But I'm not a morning person…..can't this wait? I'm tired." He tried to pull the sheet up further, but she was holding it down.

"Come on, Link…I promise, you're gonna like it."

He turned over and looked at her interestedly. "Is it the Deku Nut thing?"

"No…..but if you're not out of bed in ten seconds I'm going to drag you by your toenails," she said, and snaked her hand under the covers at the foot of the bed.

"Zelda!" he exclaimed, surprised that she would do something so bold. "Get your hand out of there, right now, or I'm telling!"

"One…..two…..three…..four….."

"Zelda, I'm not even dressed!" he said adamantly, "And I am not getting out of bed until you get out of my room!"

"Oh, Link; I know you; you'll just go back to sleep. Six…..seven….eight."

The Hero of Time was in quite a pickle. The night had been very warm so he'd slept only in his undershirt and white shorts…..the ones he wore under his knight's uniform. He couldn't let Zelda see those!

"Look; I'll make a deal with you. You leave, and if I'm not out in the hallway in five minutes, you can drag me out of bed and throw me in the moat, all right?"

"Deal," she said, then laughed.

After breakfast (Link had insisted he would die if he didn't eat first), Zelda led him down the hallway that led to her father's study, but passed it, continuing to the end of the hall, stopping before a set of double doors with leaded glass windows that looked like Hylian Shields.

"You got me out of bed for this? I mean, they're pretty, but not that pretty. The more time I spend around girls, the more I'm sure you're all crazy!" he said, rolling his eyes.

Zelda followed suit, then said, "No, you silly boy; it's what's inside that I wanted to show you." Then, in a hoity-toity voice, "I have simply paused here for dramatic effect." And with that, she opened the doors.

Link's jaw dropped at the sight before him. He'd seen books before; Saria had read stories to him when he was really little, and he'd learned to read on his own by the time he was six, but….he didn't know there could be this many books in the whole world! "Wowww….." he finally managed.

"I thought you'd appreciate it. You've showed me all kinds of nifty things outside of the castle, so I thought I'd show you one inside. I love to come here, especially on rainy days. Impa said my mother was the same way."

"Wow," Link said again, moving toward the shelves. "So, what are they about?"

"Just about anything you can imagine. This," she said, gesturing toward a wide piece of furniture containing what appeared to be hundreds of tiny drawers," has all the information you need to find out what books you want…..but I usually just use magic."

"Magic? How?"

"I just think of what I want to read about, and the books just float to me. We'll try it. What do you want to read?"

"Hmm…" the possibilities were so many that Link couldn't possibly choose. "Why don't you pick one?"

"All right…..if you're sure….." and with that, she squeezed her eyes shut and scrunched up her face. Link's eyes grew huge as he saw a number of books come floating toward them, all of them landing softly on a nearby table.

"Zel…..that's amazing!" he said, awestruck once again. "So, what did you choose?"

"Fairies," she said, taking the top book, bound in deep red leather, and opening it to a random page. "There are a lot of fairies around Hyrule, and I thought maybe we could learn more about them…..maybe learn something about where Navi might've gone." It had been weeks since Link's fairy partner had disappeared, but he still felt a sharp pain in his chest whenever she was mentioned.

"Uh…all right. Hey, are there any books about Great Fairies?" he asked, in an attempt to change the subject. "I always wondered what they ate and stuff…and why they dress like they do…..it's even worse than the Gerudos!"

Zelda laughed, then looked at the spine of each book. "Ah….. Great Fairies of the World . Might come in handy if you ever decide to go to…..Kangarala," she said.

"Where's that?" he asked.

"Far away; you couldn't warp there, that's for sure. Besides, from what I've read, it's not the most friendly place in the world; they have creatures called Nuboks there. I've seen pictures of them; they look like ReDeads, only uglier."

"ReDeads," Link shuddered, remembering the horrors of the undead creatures, and how they'd literally sucked the life out of him.

"Yeah; or maybe like a cross between a ReDead and a Moblin," she said.

"Ugh. Even Ganon would look pretty next to something like that."

They spent the remainder of the morning looking through the books Zelda had located using her magic, flipping through some, reading passages aloud from others. After lunch, Link found a gold-bound book with pictures of dragons and castles on the front. "Fairy Tales," he read, and Zelda immediately looked up, setting her own book aside.

"Oh…..that's one of my favorites!" she said. "Impa used to read that to me all the time before Ganondorf came. I'd forgotten all about it!" She moved closer to him on the richly upholstered settee and he spread the book open across their laps. They read through several stories, Zelda reading one, then Link, until he said, "Hey; these all sound a lot like our story. The princess is in trouble, a man fights a monster, he rescues the princess, they all live happily ever after."

"It does…..she said," an idea popping into her head. "Link….." she said, so excited she could no longer sit and instead stood and began pacing in front of the sofa. "We should do it…..we should write our story! Then people would always remember the Hero of Time!"

"And the beautiful Princess Zelda, who dressed up like a boy and helped to fight the evil monster."

"Link….."she said, hand over her heart. "You think I'm beautiful?" A dreamy smile came to her face, and Link realized what he'd just said, sitting up as straight as if he'd been shocked by the Barinade that had haunted Lord Jabu Jabu.

"What….I….no….I mean…yes." He rubbed his neck and studied the illustration of a girl in a tower with hair that reached the ground. "Yes," he said softly. "I think you're very beautiful."

"More than Malon?" she asked.

"Yes, more than Malon. And Saria, and Nabooru, and Impa, and a hundred times more than Ruto," he told her, still refusing to meet her eyes.

"Thank you, Link," she said, crouching in front of him so that her eyes were so close that he had to meet them. He remembered his dream, and he remembered that first day in the courtyard….

"There you two are; I've been looking for you all over," Impa interrupted. "So Link, how do you like the Royal Hall of Books?"

"It's really cool," he said, flustered, afraid that the Sheikah would use her powers to see into his mind, see what he had been thinking about when she'd walked in. He'd gotten away with it the first time (he kept forgetting that it was Zelda who had kissed him that day), but he wasn't sure he'd be so lucky again. "The princess wants to write a book, about our story and Ganondorf and…even you! If we wrote it…..we'd be…..famous!"

Impa and Zelda both laughed, and Link looked at them with his head cocked to the side, wondering what was so funny. "Link….you're the Hero of Time and the bearer of the Triforce of Courage, and I'm the Princess of Hyrule and the Sage of Time and the bearer of the Triforce of Wisdom. We're already famous!" Zelda told him.

"Well…I guess, maybe a little. But you're more famous because you have three titles and I only have two."

"But you," she said, poking him in the ribs, "have your own fanclub. All the girls in Hyrule between two and two hundred say, 'Oh, Link; you're sooooooo handsome!'" she said, pretending to swoon, and Impa laughed while Link once again turned the color of the Goron's Ruby.

"Zelda….you're embarrassing him again. Now, come with me, princess….it is time to practice your spells."

"But Impa….." the princess said, pretending to whine. "Do you always have to be Miss Meanie-Pants and ruin all my fun?"

The Sheikah scoffed. "It seems to me, my dear, that all you do these days is have fun. You say that you want to learn the ways of the Sheikah people, and they require much practice."

"All right," Zelda sighed. "If I have to go, can Link come and watch? Please, Impa?" Remembering what Link had said the previous day, she said, "I'll be your best friend."

"Hey!" The Hero protested. "That's not fair; you already have two best friends."

"So do you," Zelda retorted playfully.

"Zelda…..now. And I'm sorry Link, but you can't watch; what Zelda learns she must learn in secret."

"I'm never gonna learn how to disappear with a Deku Nut, am I?" Link said grumpily.

"I'm afraid not. But cheer up, young Hero; there are no monsters to fight this time. Perhaps you and the princess can work on your book later," the Sheikah said as she ruffled Link's hatless hair.

"Hey; I just thought of a great title! We could call it "The Hero of Time: A New Hope."

"No; I said it was our book, remember?" Zelda said in mock annoyance. "Besides, I'm the princess; if anyone's going to have their name in the title, it should be me."

"There she goes, playing the princess card…."

"I am…you….shut up! Come Impa; let us leave this peasant and go make things disappear."

"Hey; I'm not a bird; I'm a Hylian!" she heard Link exclaim as the doors swung shut behind the princess and her caretaker, and Zelda laughed all the way to her room.

After Zelda left the library, it held much less appeal for Link, so he decided to take the book of fairy tales up to his room and think about what would go in their book if they actually got around to writing it. "Hmmm….." he thought, lying on his bed, staring at a ladybug that crawled across his ceiling. "The Hero and the Princess? Boooring! Link and Zelda's Excellent Adventure? No, she'd probably want her name to be first, and then it would sound dumb. Back to the Future: The Adventures of Link and Zelda? Too long. Link and the Chamber of Secrets….oh yeah, I like that one….but Zelda would hate it." He sighed, then turned his attention back to the book and began reading the story of a regular girl who makes a prince fall in love with her and gets to be a princess all because she can wear a glass shoe. That's a good way to cut your toes off, Link thought. Glass shoes. Ha. He had Hover Boots!

Eventually he dozed off and was awakened when Zelda knocked at his door. He rolled to the edge of the bed, but before he was on his feet, she was halfway across the room.

"Zelda; you can't just come in like that. What if I was….you know…undressed?" he said, unable to make himself say the word naked in front of her.

Link, it's the middle of the day; why would you be…..undressed," she said, clearly making fun of him.

"Because…it would teach you a lesson about not coming into people's rooms without permission."

"Oh, would it, now?" she asked as she sat down next to him on the edge of the bed. "Or would it teach you a lesson about locking your door if you don't want people to come in?" She had him there, and he knew it. When he floundered, mouth opening and closing, for nearly a minute she smiled triumphantly and said, "And that, my friend, is why they call me the Sage of Wisdom."

"Ha; you're not the Sage of Wisdom; you're the Sage of Time; you have the Triforce of Wisdom, genius," he said, and was rewarded with a kick in the shin.

"Ouch! Zelda, stop being such a….."

"What? Come on, Link; say it. I know you want to," she said, smirking.

"No, because…..the word hasn't been invented yet for what you are. In fact, in the future, people will say, "Stop being such a Zelda."

"Is that so? Hmmm….so what does it mean to be a Link?"

"That," he said, "will be the highest compliment you can pay anybody. And it shall mean," he said, opening the chest at the foot of his bed and removing his sword , then holding it clasped in both hands over his head, "I'm the king of the world!"

Zelda laughed for several minutes. "That doesn't even make any sense! Does that mean that the person who gives the compliment is the king of the world, or is it the one who receives it? And what if one of the people is a girl?"

"Well…..maybe it should just be one for boys," he said lamely before putting the sword back.

"Hey…..what else is in there?" she asked. Link took each item and told Zelda its name, use, and place where he'd gotten it, ending with the Light Arrow, which he'd gotten from her just before the final battle with Ganondorf.

"Ah, yes; the Light Arrow. It's so pretty. Now that you don't need it anymore, can I have it?" she asked, batting her eyelashes and sticking her lip out.

"No, it's mine." Link said laughingly, switching it to the opposite hand so she couldn't reach it.

"Link, I am the Princess of Hyrule ; I command you to give me that arrow, or….I will torture you until you do."

"Zel, the princess doesn't do the torturing; they have guards for that," he said, shaking his head as if he couldn't believe she could be so ignorant.

"Well, most princesses don't save their kingdoms, so I guess I can make an exception for this too."

"Oh yeah? So what are you going to do, princess? Curl my hair? Put makeup on me? Make me wear a corset?"

"Those things are torture; I remember…never mind. No, Sir Link; I, the Princess of Hyrule, am going to give you…..tickle torture!" she said, wiggling her fingers toward him, which made him laugh almost as much as if she'd actually touched him. Link, she had learned, was extremely ticklish. It's a good thing Ganondorf didn't know that; we would have been in some big trouble.

"I don't think that's such a good idea, Zel," he said.

"Why? Is it because you're…a scaredy-Cucco?"

"No."

"Is it because…you're afraid of hands because of the Wallmasters?"

"No," he said, trying hard not to laugh.

"Is it because…..you don't have any ribs because Darunia crushed them all into powder when he gave you Goron hugs?"

He lost the battle and finally laughed, then said, "No, Zelda; it's because I had two bottles of milk and… now you really need to leave, okay?"

"Oh….so much for manners I guess," she giggled, enjoying torturing him in a new and unplanned way. "Matilda will be so disappointed that all of her hours of teaching were for nothing. You didn't even say please."

"All right, how's this: Please get your prissy little self out of here so I can go…."

"Fine; point taken. I want to take a bubble bath before dinner anyway…you know…..in the tub…with all that water….." she gave him a devilish grin and he wondered if covering her in honey and tying her to an anthill was too good for her…..

"Zelda!" he said desperately.

She was laughing so hard she nearly had to crawl to the door, and was still subjects to bouts of giggles even after all that water in the tub had been sent down the drain and he pretended to be mad as he escorted her to dinner.

Dinner that night was held outside, under the light of the full moon, to celebrate the festival of Luna, goddess of the moon. Link sat with the other knights but was soon bored with their topics of conversation, so after he finished eating, he wandered over to a nearby tree and sat down, then took out his Ocarina, playing the songs he'd learned on his journey one by one, starting with Saria's Song and ending with Zelda's Lullaby. When he opened his eyes (he always played with his eyes closed for some reason; it just felt….right) he saw that a small audience had gathered around him, Zelda among them. They made requests and he tried to accommodate them, though having grown up in Kokiri Forest, he didn't know too many Hylian songs yet. He played a song he'd heard the Gerudos sing (and was glad they hadn't asked for the words, as the song was rather bawdy) and then a song he'd learned from some frogs outside of the entrance to Zora's Domain. When Impa motioned to Zelda that it was time to go in and go to bed, Link followed her.

"I'm a little bit surprised, Zel." Link said as they walked beside the moat toward the castle's main entrance.

"About what?"

"This moon festival. I mean, it's the moon. It's really big. So shouldn't its festival be really big, too?"

"Well…I never thought about it that way before, Link."

"I mean, I'm kind of little, and they had stuff that lasted for two days when I came back, but then the moon just gets one meal outside, and not even a fancy one?"

"Well, it's actually for the moon goddess, not the moon itself, so maybe that's got something to do with it," she theorized. "Besides, the really big festival will be next week: the Festival of Solstice. It's at the Gerudo's Fortress, and everyone eats and dances and watches the sun set over the desert on the longest day of the year."

"Sounds like fun, especially the eating part. Nabooru says all their food is really spicy, so I'll bet it'll be good; maybe they'll even have Cucco wings!"

Zelda nudged him with her elbow, then dropped her hand down to take his as they climbed the stairs to their rooms. "What is it with boys and food? You eat like a pig but you always seem to be hungry."

"Well, I'm a growing boy; what do you expect? Besides, you appetite's not exactly dainty; you ate, what, twenty-two marshmallows that day at the ranch?"

She groaned, as if she'd just finished eating them, and said, "No, twenty-five. Don't remind me or I will be sick this time."

He stopped in front of her door and said, "Well, good night, princess. Sleep tight, or Impa's snoring will wake you up."

Zelda giggled, then nudged him again. "Impa doesn't snore, silly goose. That must be you."

"Hmmmph," he crossed his arms and stuck his nose in the air, in his best Mido impression. "I am the Hero of Time. I am too good to snore."

"All right; whatever you say. She reached down to take his other hand, then pulled him into a hug. "Good night, my Hero," she said before kissing him on the forehead and slipping into her room.

He stood there, just as she had the night of his banquet, with a silly smile on his face, for a long time.

But it was not a good night. Link had become accustomed to dreaming of Navi since his return to this time, but this time his dream turned into a nightmare. It was just as it had happened that first day; he was standing in the Temple of Time and saw her flying upward toward the high window, then out into the blue sky overhead. Only this time, it was as if Link was following her; she flew up to Death Mountain and into the volcano, near the part where the Fire Temple was located. Link could feel sweat pouring off his body, and it was nearly impossible for him to breathe without the Goron Tunic. He felt himself growing weaker; he looked down and was shocked to see his skin slowly melting from the ground up, like a candle burning in reverse. Soon his feet and legs unable to move, but Navi flew further and further away. To his horror, Volvagia, the dragon he'd battled, rose from the lava, speeding toward the fairy's blue light. Link called her name to warn her, but she kept flying, so he called it again, over and over, until he had melted down to a puddle and could only watch as the dragon's jaws snapped ever closer to his friend. His mouth was still working as he shouted, "Navi!" one last time as the dragon closed its mouth around the partner for whom Link had waited for ten long, lonely years, the sound of his own scream finally rousing the Hero from troubled sleep.

Zelda had awoken minutes earlier for a drink of water and heard Link's shout from her room. She tiptoed past Impa's room and knocked softly on his door. When there was no answer, she hesitantly opened it and crossed his tiny room to the bed, where he was sitting stiffly, breathing as if he'd just run a marathon, eyes wide open and staring straight ahead. Zelda cautiously climbed up on the bed and touched his arm, causing him to jump. When he realized who it was, he wrapped his arms around her so tightly that Zelda was sure she'd have bruises around her ribs in the morning. His breathing got increasingly faster until she feared he would hyperventilate, and then he broke, sobbing into her shoulder. It terrified her to see him that way, and she wished she could somehow absorb him, to take his hurt upon herself, to absolve him of whatever was causing him to cry so hard that the mattress shook with each sob. She continued to hold him, not knowing what else to do, or what words to say to bring him comfort, until he fell asleep in her arms, still releasing a shaky breath once in awhile. The shoulder of her nightgown was soaked from his tears, and her leg was beginning to cramp from its awkward position, yet she couldn't leave him; he had helped her when she was in need; the least she could do was reciprocate. She slowly lowered him to the mattress then lay down behind him, like two spoons in a drawer, one arm around his waist while the other rubbed his back in slow circles, until she, too, fell asleep.

That was how Impa found them the next morning. After the two of them had missed breakfast (something must be amiss if Link missed a meal), the Sheikah had gone in search of her young charge, and was surprised to find the two still in bed, and was even more that they were in the same bed. "Princess, wake up," she whispered. "You must not be seen here, and you've already overslept."

"Impa?" the girl said groggily as she sat up. When she saw how brightly the sun shone in the small window at the foot of the bed she said, "Oh, I didn't realize it was so late." She put her feet over the side of the bed, looking back at Link to make sure he was still sleeping soundly, then walked down the hall to her room, where she removed her nightgown and chose a dress she knew that Link particularly liked. "Impa, can we take a day off from training? Link needs me….I need to try and make him happy again."

The Sheikah paused while buttoning the back of the white dress and said, "Zelda, whatever do you mean?"

"He had a dream last night Impa, a bad one. I heard him scream when I got up for a drink and I went to his room. He was breathing hard and sweating and when I went over to him," her voice got very soft, "he started crying really hard. I didn't know what to do, so I just held him and rubbed his head until he went to sleep again, and then…..I couldn't leave him, Impa. I know I wasn't supposed to be in his room like that, in the middle of the night, but…." She trailed off, unable to find the words that explained how helpless she had felt while the young Hero of Time had cried himself to sleep in her arms. "Please Impa, let me just be with him today." She looked pleadingly at her nursemaid's reflection in the mirror as the woman braided the princess' golden hair and coiled it up on top of her head, pinning it before placing Zelda's headdress in its proper spot.

The Sheikah sighed; Sometimes I wonder if she cares more for him than for herself. "Zelda, as I have told you before, you cannot carry the world on your shoulders. If our Hero had had a bad dream, he will have to find his own meaning, and make his own peace, with it; you can be a supportive friend, but you can't fix it; you can't make him be happy. You should know that, from your prophecies when Ganondorf was here. You told me of them, and I wished them to be false, for you to sleep peacefully, but my wishes did not change anything."

"I know, Impa; I just hated so much to see him like that. I love it when he smiles….but it hurts me when he cries." She spoke the last words softly and looked as though she were ready for some serious tears of her own. Impa knew how close the hero and princess had grown in their time together, and could tell by Zelda's gloomy expression that her mind would not be on her lessons if she did not know for a fact that Link was okay.

"All right, but you have to promise me you'll work extra hard tomorrow," the Sheikah said resignedly. "And as for where you were this morning, you must not do such a thing again, no matter how upset your friend gets. There are some people, right in this castle, who wish to spread gossip about matters that may appear to be questionable and regard the Royal Family. Finding the princess in bed with a boy would definitely fall into that category, no matter how innocent your intentions." The princess looked at Impa questioningly, and, wishing to keep her innocent of some of the answers, the Sheikah ended by saying, "I will not tell your father of this, but you must be more mindful of propriety in the future, for everyone's sake."

"Thank you, Impa," she said, kissing her guardian on the cheek before running downstairs to sweet talk the kitchen staff into giving her leftover sticky buns and milk.

Link awoke half an hour later, his head throbbing and his eyes swollen. He washed his face and pulled on his Kokiri tunic, brown shorts, boots, and green hat. He'd been wearing a miniature version of the Hylian knights' uniform since being sworn in, but this morning he knew for certain that he had to go and at least try to find Navi. He took two pieces of parchment from the stationery set he'd received from Ronan after being knighted and quickly scrawled two letters; one for Zelda, which he left on his bed between the pages of the fairy tale book, and one for her father, which he would place in the king's study before leaving. He quickly equipped the Hylian shield and his sword before moving slowly down the stairs to the kitchen, empty at this time of the morning. He gulped down a bottle of milk and wrapped several ham biscuits in a plain cloth napkin before tying them into a bundle and putting them into his hat. It still seemed strange that the familiar blue fairy was not hiding inside, sleeping on a soft bed of his hair, or pulling it when he didn't heed her warnings of 'hey listen' and 'watch out'.

But maybe that would change soon.

He moved to the stables and saddled Epona, hoping that Zelda wouldn't come looking for him; if she found him, it would just make it harder to leave. He'd led Epona out of the castle and was about to climb onto her back and ride off down the road when he heard footsteps behind him. He knew it was her even before he turned around, and watched as she moved slowly toward him, a piece of white paper he knew to be his letter in her hand, her expression similar to the one she'd worn as she'd talked to him after Ganondorf's defeat, before turning back time.

"You are already leaving this land of Hyrule, aren't you?" she asked, her voice sad, her eyes devastating.

"Yes; I….have to go look for Navi. I have to try, or I'll never….I'll always wonder," he told her.

Her heart jolted in pain at his affirmation; they had just gotten to know each other, to become friends, and now he was leaving.

"Even though it was only a short time, I feel like I've known you forever," the princess said, tears gathering in her eyes.

"Me too," he replied, softly, unable to look at her.

"I'll never forget the days we spent in Hyrule…going Bombchu bowling , riding horses out in Hyrule Field…..becoming friends like I never had before I met you." She began crying, silent tears running down her face for several seconds before she said, hands clutched to her chest, her voice trembling, "And I believe in my heart that a day will come when I shall meet you again."

Link could only nod; he knew he could not speak without bursting into tears.

Zelda fought for composure, forcing herself to calm down so that she could speak. "Until that day comes, please…take this." She removed the Ocarina of Time, the same instrument he'd used on his journey as an adult, the same one she'd used to turn back time, and held it out to him.

The sight of the glowing blue ocarina, the one she'd entrusted to him as she fled the castle, was Link's undoing. His face crumpled and he moved toward her, wrapping his arms around her as they cried together, their hearts breaking at the thought of being separated so soon after they'd finally been able to be together. Several minutes later, when Zelda recovered the ability to speak she told him, sniffling, "I am praying….I am praying that your journey be a safe one." She kissed him on his left temple, but he was too upset to enjoy the feel of her lips on her skin; in fact, it only made him cry harder.

"Zel…..I don't want to do this; I don't want to leave you," he said brokenly, between sobs. "Not now, when things are so good…not ever. But I…..have to," he said, repeating what he'd said earlier, as much for himself as for her, then, after several minutes had passed, again; softer. "I have to." Somehow the words sunk deep into his soul and the thought of Navi suddenly ceased to make him feel sad; now she was his resolve, his reason for leaving the girl he cared about more than anything in the world. After all his fairy partner had done for him on their journey together, the least he could do was to make sure she was okay. Zelda was strong; he knew that from before and he knew it now. She would be okay until he got back. Impa would take care of her, and their friends would give her comfort. He would do this for Navi, but he was determined that, just as the princess had said, he would return someday, to Hyrule, to her. He reached up to wipe the tears from her eyes, for she, too, seemed to understand and had stopped crying. The time for tears was over; he had another mission and he had to focus on it, just as he'd done in his quest to save Hyrule.

"Link?" Zelda's voice was almost back to normal, save a slight stuffiness, as if she were recovering from a cold.

"Hmmm?" he responded, looking up into her eyes, which were slightly puffy but free of tears.

"If something should happen to you, remember this song…This reminds me of us," she told him, then raised the ocarina to her lips and played the Song of Time. She handed it to him and he replicated the notes she'd played, as he'd done when he was first learning it. He knew, though, that as long as he lived, he would never forget the song that meant so much, stood for so much between the two of them. Of course, this wasn't the first time he'd learned a song from her…

"So…..where's your harp…..Shiek?" he asked, and she covered her mouth with her hand, shaking silently, eyes closed. For a minute he thought she was crying again, but then a very un-princesslike snort escaped and he, too, began laughing, much as they had that first day back in the courtyard, nearly three months earlier. When they were calm again, she pulled him close again, hugging him as if to save it for the days ahead when he would no longer be by her side. She kissed him again, on each cheek, causing both of them to blush, then released him.

"I guess I should get going; I'm not sure where I'm going, but I thought I'd start in the forest, talk to the Great Deku Tree and see if there's anywhere in the Lost Woods Navi might've gone, somewhere I don't know about. I've been meaning to do that for awhile, but every time I'm in the forest I forget. If I hurry I can make some good progress before dark." He paused, taking her hands in his. "I don't know when I'll see you again, and I may not be able to let you know where I am, but I promise I'll come back as soon as I can. To you, my princess. " He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it gently before saying, "Goodbye, Zelda," thinking, I love you. He placed his foot in the stirrup and climbed onto Epona's back.

As he slapped the reins softly, the horse began moving. Zelda watched him, thinking, goodbye Link, I love you." She did not realize that she had spoken the words aloud, though her voice had barely been above a whisper.

"Zel?" He turned his head at the sound. "Did you say something?"

She nodded, said, in a voice loud enough that he could understand, "The Goddess of Time is protecting you. If you play the Song of Time, she will aid you." It wasn't what she'd said the first time, but she knew it in her heart to be just as true.

Wow; right at twenty-seven pages. This was like giving birth; it was long, and drawn out, but now that it's all over, I have something to show for my hours and hours of labor (though I think I'd ask to be shot if I was in labor for two weeks straight). So, suggestions and fanperson squeals are welcome; just click the little review button. It won't hurt.