It's time for Chapter 4, in which Link returns and…..okay, other things happen too, but that's the big one, with some rather surprising outcomes. This one focuses mostly on Link and Zelda because this is a turning point for them…and that's all I'm saying about it *laughs mysteriously* Oh, and thanks to all who read and review my stuff; you rock!

I'm dedicating this chapter to Leigh Em, who reviewed the last few chapters at a time I was really struggling and inspired me to push through (and also introduced me to two of the best Zelda-based stories I've ever read!) Anyhoo, thanks girl; I look forward to seeing more of you here and on DA.

LOZ belongs to Nintendo. If it were mine, I would own Link…..and….. eh, I'd still let Zelda have him; they're like PB&J Oh, and the Skull Kid and Mask Salesman's dialogue and the setting for the first scene comes from the ending of Majora's Mask.

Making Up For Lost Time

Ten-Autumn

Through the haze of unconsciousness, Link heard a familiar neighing at a very close range and opened his eyes to see Epona's head almost directly overhead. As he rose to a sitting position, he saw the Skull Kid standing to his right, and Tatl and Tael hovered nearby. The forest creature no longer wore Majora's Mask and was looking up at the four giants who had prevented the moon from falling. They were huge! Link also thought they were rather freaky-looking; almost like long legs attached only to torso, which had a face where the chest should be, and green hair that looked like branches covered with leaves. After speaking briefly with the Skull Kid, the four giants headed back in the directions from which they had come: the Southern Swamp, Northern Mountains, Western Ocean, and Eastern Canyon.

The Skull Kid, after watching the giants disappear, turned to Link and said, "Did you….did you save me?"

"Yeah. That mask cursed you, but the giants held back the moon and I fought the monster that was really causing all the problems," Link told him.

He briefly turned away from Link, looking toward the edges of Termina Field, where the giants had departed. "I though they didn't want to be friends with me. But…..they hadn't forgotten about me."

Kinda hard when you're causing chaos all over the place, Link thought to himself, startled when the Skull Kid turned and faced him. I hope he can't read minds or anything, Link thought, feeling a bit guilty about his internal comment.

The Skull Kid, however, was oblivious to what had been going on inside the young Hero's head. "Friends are a nice thing to have, heh heh," he said with a giggle.

"Yeah; I have friends back home and now I have some more here," Link replied.

"Could you be my friend too?" the Skull Kid asked.

"Okay…..I guess. I mean, I'm sort of friends with Ruto because she's friends with my friends…..and even after all this, I still like you better than her," the Hero answered. The Skull Kid moved toward Link, who was expecting a hug and stepped back a bit when he found himself being sniffed."

"Eh hee hee," the Skull Kid giggled again, jiggling his body with a sound that reminded Link vaguely of the Stalchild population that used to haunt Hyrule Field at night. "You have the same smell as the fairy kid who taught me that song in the woods…"

"Hey; you're that Skull Kid?" Link asked in surprise. In his quest to save Hyrule, he had played Saria's Song for this kid as part of a side quest to earn the Mask of Truth. He'd come from Kokiri Forest, just like Link!

"Hey….I know. Let's do something!" The Skull Kid said excitedly.

"Uh…..well…" Link was a bit hesitant about this. The last time this guy 'did something' the moon ended up nearly crushing an entire town. Thankfully, the Happy Mask Salesman, whose presence Link had not noticed before, spoke up as he looked down at Majora's Mask in his hands. Oh, please don't let him transform into a monster, too! Link thought.

"Oh…so the evil has left the mask after all."

"Thank goodness for that," Link replied, sighing in relief when the mask didn't do anything weird.

"Well…..now I finally have it back." He turned to face Link and bowed thankfully. "Since I am in the midst of my travel, I must bid you farewell." He walked between Link and the Skull Kid, who appeared to be shaking for some reason, then turned and addressed Link again. "Shouldn't you be returning home as well?"

"Yeah; I'm leaving in just a few minutes," the Hero of Time answered. "I just wanted to say a few goodbyes first," he said, indicating the Skull Kid and the two fairies.

"Whenever there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow."

That's the story of my life, Link thought, his face troubled as he remembered all the partings in his life: losing his parents when he was just a baby, leaving Saria and his forest friends when he went off to save Hyrule, Navi leaving after his mission was accomplished, and Zelda, on that day in the castle courtyard when he was sure his heart was being ripped out of his chest.

The man saw the sadness in the young boy's eyes and said, "However, that parting need not last forever." Link's frown deepened as he thought about this. Some of these partings were forever, and there was nothing he could do to change it.

The mask salesman interrupted his train of thought with words that made Link wonder if he could read minds. "Whether a parting be forever or merely a short time….that is up to you." He bowed again, and Link realized the truth in this statement. While he would never see his parents again, and Navi was probably gone for good too (though he somehow felt she was still alive somewhere), he still had so many people he cared about in Hyrule and now in Termina. And one of them he had made a promise to that he intended to keep right now. He was going home: to Hyrule, to the castle, to Zelda.

With another bow, the traveling salesman spoke once again. "With that, please excuse me," he said, then turned and walked toward Clock Town. When he had nearly reached the entrance, he turned once again and said, "But my, you sure have managed to make quite a number of people happy. The masks you have are filled with happiness. This is a good happiness."

Yeah, I guess it is, Link thought as he watched the man…..disappear into thin air?! Wow; is he part Sheikah or something? Nah...he didn't use a Deku nut. He continued staring at the spot where the Happy Mask Salesman had disappeared until a familiar voice interrupted his reverie.

"Well, both of us have gotten what we were after," Tatl said.

"Yep. You're back with your brother, and I saved Clock Town from the angry moon," Link told her with a satisfied smile.

"So this is where you and I part ways, isn't it?"

"Uh huh. I've got to get back to Hyrule; I think I've been gone for like…..three or four months now. I miss it," Link told her.

"You know, it was kind of fun," Tatl said wistfully.

Link replied in kind. "Yeah….it was. I met some really cool people and got all these masks as souvenirs," He chuckled, "I wonder what Mido will think of the one that looks like a cow? He's soooo scared of that one that lives in the forest. Guess I'll find out soon enough, huh?" he said, and was surprised to feel a pang of sadness; he was actually going to miss this smarty-pants ball of yellow light!

"Well…..it's almost time for the carnival to begin," Tatl told him. She, too, seemed sadder than she wanted to let on.

"Yeah…..I guess it is," Link said with a sigh.

"So why don't you just leave and go about your business? The rest of us have a carnival to go to," she said haughtily, though Link could hear tears in her voice.

"I'd better hurry if I'm gonna get that letter from the mayor; I think the wedding's gonna start soon," Link told her, then said, "Guess I'll see you around." He climbed onto Epona's back and rode toward the entrance to Clock Town. He rushed to the mayor's office and picked up the letter Kafei had promised, then, declining an invitation to stay for the wedding, exited the town for the last time and once again mounted his horse. He fought the growing sadness by thinking not of what he was leaving, but what he was returning to.

"Yah!" Link said, and Epona started off. They were going home at last! Link would never forget Termina, and he would never forget Navi, the reason he'd left Hyrule in the first place, but it was time to return, hopefully to his old job and his room at the castle. And to the girl whose face, once again, had helped him to press on through the times when it seemed his mission would never be complete.

Zelda awoke with a start, realizing she'd overslept. She was going to help Malon collect autumn leaves for a school project, and the princess had promised to help her…..and to meet her in half an hour! The girls had reconciled their friendship as soon as the late-summer rains had ended, and Zelda didn't want to cause anymore problems by being late. She quickly put on a simple dress of cranberry red and her brown riding boots, wishing she could wear pants instead, and grabbed her cloak before rushing down the stairs toward the stables. The sound of a commotion at the opposite end of the hall slowed her pace, and the mention of Link's name stopped her dead.

"Yes, Your Majesty; we found him in Hyrule Field, on his horse," a voice said, and Zelda quickly did an about-face and ran toward it. She found her father conversing with two knights just outside the closed door to the castle's infirmary, their faces somber.

"Well, he will be…Zelda," the king said as his daughter arrived, breathlessly, at his side.

"Father," she panted before bobbing a curtsy. "Link…..he's back?" she asked hopefully, pushing the worry of what their expressions meant from her mind. He's okay; he's got to be. I would know if he wasn't…..wouldn't I?

"Yes, he has returned. However, he was unconscious when he was found, and still is. The Royal Physician is with him and will….."

The princess interrupted, her voice desperate. "I want to see him. I want to know that he's…." she reached for the door handle and her father blocked her advance with his own arm.

"No, Zelda," the king said gently, seeing the growing panic in his daughter's eyes. "You must wait. Faro and Regas were unable to detect any external injuries, but we don't know what is going on inside of Link. Stephan will let us know as soon as he determines what is wrong. You are supposed to meet Malon this morning, am I right? Perhaps you should just go on, and…."

"No! I won't leave him! Please, let me…"the princess said to her father, her tone pleading, her eyes beginning to fill with tears.

"I'm sorry, but you cannot," the king said firmly, and Zelda began to cry. She retreated to a nearby bench and sat, pulling her knees up to her chest and burying her face in her arms, frustrated that after so many months, Link was so close, and yet she was still being kept from him.

The king looked at her shaking form guiltily, yet he did not go to her. He did not know what could be done to help the softly sobbing girl before him, and thus walked on down the hall toward his study, awaiting word of the Hero's condition.

Link opened his eyes at the sound of the infirmary's door opening and the sound of Stephan inviting someone in. He'd been expecting Zara with his lunch and was surprised to see Zelda standing at the edge of the room, staring at him as though she couldn't believe he was there. He sat up and raised his hand in a wave, and she slowly crossed the room and sat on a chair beside his bed. She'd waited months for this moment, but now that it was here, she wasn't sure what to say; what to do.

"Hello, Link," she said hesitantly.

"Hi Zelda," he answered, looking at his lap and blushing furiously. She'd…..grown while he'd been away, and it somehow made her seem like a different person. "How have you been?" he asked, briefly glancing up into her eyes.

"All right, I guess; I've…..Link, look at me," she said softly. He did, and she said, "I missed you," in a voice that was even softer.

"I missed you, too," he told her, and reached for her hand. She took it, squeezing it tightly, and they looked silently into each other's eyes until the door opened once again, bringing a female healer named Zara with a tray containing a bowl of soup, some bread, and a glass of milk for the Hero's lunch. When she had unfolded the legs and placed it over Link's lap, Zelda said, "Would you like for me to come back later, so you can eat?"

"You can stay if you want," he told her before taking a big gulp of milk. He hated this. They were best friends; this wasn't supposed to be awkward. They were supposed to hug and laugh and tease, not just….sit here, like strangers. It had never been like this before, not even when they'd first met.

"Zel, is something wrong?" he asked, reverting to the familiar nickname in hopes of regaining their former camaraderie.

"No," she said, refusing to meet his eyes this time. There was something inside her mixed with the relief at seeing him again. Something foreign…something she felt guilty about though she wasn't sure what it was. "It's just…..I don' t know…..I guess I've waited so long to see you again that it almost doesn't seem real now that you're back."

"Come here," he said, and pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her tightly, burying his head in her neck and inhaling the clean scent of her hair. She sighed heavily, then returned his embrace. "I'm sorry," he told her quietly.

She pulled back, staring at him questioningly. "Link; for what? There's nothing to be…" And then it hit her. The strange feeling she'd had before: it was anger. She was angry with him for leaving. For leaving her! She knew it was selfish and stupid, but she couldn't help how she felt.

"Did you find Navi?" she asked, biting back the sudden bitterness. She couldn't be mad at Link! He was her Hero; he had done so much for Hyrule and for her personally. How could she begrudge him going off to search for his fairy after all he'd given for his kingdom; all he'd sacrificed?

"No. But I found another kingdom," he said, "and I saved it from being crushed by the moon."

"Really?"

"Uh huh. It's called Termina. It's through the Lost Woods, in a part I'd never been to before. The Great Deku Tree told me I might find Navi there, but instead….I met the Skull Kid, and he had a mask that was evil. He turned me into a Deku Scrub!"

"No way!" Zelda's anger dissipated slightly, and was replaced by fascination. "How did you get back to being you again?"

Link told her all about playing the Song of Time and the endless dungeon battles, mask collecting, and people helping he'd done in the four months he'd been gone, though he'd lived the same three days over and over. "And it was so weird; there were a lot of people there who looked just like people in Hyrule! There were three brothers who looked like Ingo, and a Zora singer who looked like a grown-up Ruto, and two sisters, Cremia and Romani, who looked like Malon!"

The princess' anger returned in a flash, growing quickly so that she could no longer contain it. "So you've spent the past three months not just battling monsters, but 'helping' girls, while I waited here, wondering if you were dead or alive, scared to death I'd never see you again?" she asked him, rising from the chair and standing with her hands on her hips.

Link looked at her in astonishment; he'd never seen her angry like this before, and she'd certainly never been angry with him. "Zelda, I help people who need it; that's what Heroes do, and…."

"I don't want to hear it," she cut him off, her face hardened. "You left here to find Navi, and when you didn't, you should've…."

"Come back and let the moon crush an entire town, so that the people who lived there lost their homes and their stuff just like the people who used to live in Castle Town after Ganondorf took over?" Link's own anger had been sparked, and his words conveyed this as he spoke. "You think I wanted to be gone; to be changed into a little wooden creature; live the same three days over and over? You think I'd rather be off who knows how far from my friends and my home, fighting monsters and trying to save people again, instead of being here where I can almost be a regular kid?" His voice softened and he looked into her eyes. "You think, after all the time we spent apart before, after I fought so hard to save the kingdom, and prayed to the Goddesses with all my heart that when you turned back time that we'd still remember, that I would want to be anywhere else in the entire world, with anyone else but you? Because if you do, you don't know me at all." He had been expecting her to be happy about his return; instead she was jealous and angry. It was a big disappointment, and not only made him angry, it also hurt. A lot. "Princess, I think you need to leave now," he said formally, trying to ignore the lump that was developing in his throat."

Just as fast as it had grown and spilled over, Zelda's anger dissipated, leaving her ashamed and embarrassed about her quick reaction. "Link…..I'm sorry. I shouldn't have….."

"I don't want to talk about it anymore; just…go," he replied, looking everywhere in the room but at her.

"Link….please, we can…"

"Get out now! I said I don't want to talk about it, and that 's what I mean!" he said forcefully, though his voice was hoarse with held-back emotion. Zelda stared at him for five long seconds, feeling her guilt grow tenfold as he lay down and turned away from her, covering his head with the sheet. Then she quietly left, head looking down at her feet as she walked down the hall toward the stairway.

"Whoa, princess; what's eating you?" Nabooru said as she barely avoided colliding with the troubled younger girl.

Zelda let out a huffy sigh. "I did something really stupid, and now I feel really bad about it."

"Eh…..I did the same thing last time I came into Castle Town; there was this…..never mind," the Gerudo cut off, remembering that even though Zelda had been seventeen once, there were still some things in the adult world of which she had no knowledge. "So what did you do that's so awful, and more importantly, who'd you do it to?"

"Link," the princess answered, looking down at her feet once more, battling tears.

"Ah, yeah; I heard he was back." Noticing the princess' expression, she asked," What happened, kiddo; you two have a fight or something?"

Zelda covered her hand with her mouth and closed her eyes, her body shaking as the tears she'd been so desperately trying to hold back came out in a rush. The Gerudo looked at the princess in bewilderment; the girls of the desert were taught to keep their emotions in check at all times from an early age. Thus, seeing this girl of ten and a half weep so openly really threw Nabooru for a loop. "Hey, come on; don't do that," she said to her fellow Sage in a voice that came out a little more brusquely than she'd intended. She hesitantly patted the princess on the shoulder, and Zelda threw her arms around the older girl, burying her face in the shoulder of the white halter top the desert leader wore.

"I've ruined everything! He's never gonna forgive me for saying what I did, and he's never going to speak to me again! He'll probably leave and go away and I'll never see him again and…oh, Nabooru, I think I would die if he did!" the princess sobbed as her companion raised her arms to envelop her in a full hug. This was really uncomfortable, but apparently this is what Hylians did when someone was upset. When the little girl had calmed somewhat, the Gerudo led her up the stairs and into the sitting room of the princess' suite, plopping down unceremoniously on a small couch as the princess graciously perched on an ivory armchair.

"Okay, so tell me what happened, Princess. Apparently you people like to talk about it when you have problems instead of beat the sh…tuffing," she quickly amended, "out of each other. Nabooru shrugged. "Oh well; when in Hyrule do as the Hylians do, so that means you're gonna spill it so I can try to help you or something. That's how this thing works, am I right?"

Zelda nodded, then said, "I went to see Link about an hour ago, and it was…..weird. I was glad he was back, but…. I was mad at him, too."

"Mad? Why were you mad?" Nabooru asked incredulously.

Zelda felt the heat of shame course through her body, and knew her face had to be bright red. "Because he left me here while he went to look for Navi."

"So you've been mad at him this whole time? Because he couldn't find his fairy and he left you? That's just…." You may be the princess, but you're kind of a drama queen.

"I know; stupid. I just realized today that I was mad; I really did miss him, and he needed to go, and I know that, but... what kind of friend am I to act that way?" She looked down at her folded hands and said, "And that's not even the worse part."

"Oh?" the Gerudo said, cocking an eyebrow up skeptically.

"He started telling me about Termina; that's where he went, and…." Zelda told her everything that Link had said, ending with, "…..and then he started telling me about how the people there look like people here, and there are these two sisters who look like Malon, and I got even madder and yelled at him because I said he was off flirting while I sat at home and worried at him…even though I believe him when he said he really was in Termina, keeping the moon from falling." The princess couldn't believe she'd acted that way, and with Link, of all people.

Nabooru's mouth hung open in surprise. "You got all green-eyed monster and flipped out?" The Gerudo shook her head sadly. "I really had hope for you Princess; that you wouldn't be like other Hylian girls, but I see it's already too late for that."

"What are you talking about; too late for what?" the princess asked, absolutely clueless to that which the older girl was referring.

"I mean about what you're doing with Link. Zelda, he fought for you, and battled Ganondorf with you, but he's not yours. You can't lock him away in a box and keep him from helping people just because they're girls and you're threatened by them because…."

"I do…..I'm not threatened by anyone!" the princess exclaimed.

"Oh….Princess, how you delude yourself….but not me. I see through your bul….loney. As soon as the subject of other girls came up, you erupted like the Death Mountain volcano." She smiled, almost as if to herself, then said, "Oh, my friend, you have got it so bad…..but this ain't the way to deal with it"

"What are you talking about?" Zelda inquired, though the color rising in her cheeks told Nabooru she knew exactly how that statement had been intended.

"I mean, you've got some feelings for our Hero that go beyond friendship, and don't even try to lie to me and tell me you don't." the Gerudo said with a smirk.

"I…..how….you. Yes! All right, I like him; are you happy now?" Zelda admitted in frustration, her blush deepening even further.

"Eh…..I already knew it, from before. It's old news," she said with a shrug. "And by the way, it's mutual, in case you didn't already know." The princess was positive her head was going to explode; her face was absolutely on fire!

"Are you…but he…..we're not….." Zelda sputtered, not sure what to say.

"Ahhh….so nothing's official yet; that's good, seeing as you're only ten and you don't trust him any further than you can throw him….wouldn't last long anyway."

"I do! I trusted him with my kingdom when I threw him the Ocarina of Time, and I trusted him with my life, too!" the princess insisted, shocked that Nabooru would make such an accusation.

"But you don't trust him with your heart, and without that, you're doomed, chicky. Hey; I'm getting pretty good at this talking stuff!" The Gerudo said in wonderment, then, "Sorry; back on track now. What I mean is, you've gotta get past this jealousy. And, the girl he was talking about when you got so mad is one who looks like your best friend. That's not good. Does this mean you don't trust her, too?"

"She's beautiful," Zelda said, tears welling up again.

"So? I mean, he's the freaking Hero of Time! Link's always gonna help people, and some of them are gonna be female." Nabooru told her with an impatient sigh. "You've got some issues, and I can't help you with them; it's something you've gotta figure out yourself. Besides, I've had enough girly drama stuff for today…I've gotta get back to the desert, where the real women live before I get the urge to wear fluffy dresses and read romance novels. Ugh." The Gerudo shuddered. "I guess the next thing you need to talk to Link about this."

"But he won't talk to me! I apologized as soon as I realized I was wrong, but he just told me to leave!" A tear made its way down her cheek and Nabooru rolled her eyes.

"Oh, come on, Princess; if anyone's got a right to be upset about this, it's him, not you! Besides, he's a guy; they don't like licking their wounds in front of other people. You're gonna have to give him time, and then you're going to have to apologize." She shook her head sadly once again; here was this girl, who was a princess and a Sage, and her main concern was whether some boy that wasn't even her boyfriend was cheating on her? What was the world coming to?

Link was sure he'd never been so miserable in his entire life. This was worse than when Mido called him names, because Zelda was, or so he'd thought, his friend. After she'd finally left, he'd lain there, hearing her words over and over again, and he'd grown increasingly angry with her. How could she say those things; how could she even think them? She'd cut him deeply, but he chose to focus on the anger in an attempt to downplay everything else; if she was going to treat him like that, make accusations that were ludicrous (he'd heard that word in Termina and used it whenever possible, even inside his head), he didn't want to be her friend anyway…right?

As soon as Stephan, the Royal Physician, gave Link a quick examination a few hours after Zelda left, and knew for sure that the boy before him needed nothing more than rest and food to recover his full strength, he released the young Hero from the infirmary. Link decided to go see the king immediately. If he was going to be leaving the castle, he wanted to do it before dark, since the wise woman Catrine had predicted the first frost of the season to happen that night.

The Hero went up to his room, finding everything just as it had been before he left, as well as the stuff he'd brought back from Termina on the floor beside his bed. He quickly changed out of his pajamas and into a clean pale green shirt and a pair of black pants and black shoes, (he thought it would be assuming a lot to wear his knight's uniform) then dug his letter from Mayor Kafei and a bottle of Chateau Romani out of his bag.

He found the king in his study, where the monarch often spent the hours between lunch and dinner. Link could feel butterflies in his stomach as he hesitantly knocked on the ornately carved door.

The door opened, and James, the king's personal bodyguard, answered. "Oh, so it's you," he said disdainfully. He'd been serving as the king's protector for twenty-six years, and the thought of this child being put in charge of the princess' safety, and then abandoning his post without just cause, gave the man before Link an air of intimidating superiority. Hero my foot!

"James, who is it?" the king inquired.

"It is Link," he said, purposefully leaving off the Sir.

"Send him in," the king said in a voice whose tone Link couldn't interpret.

The boy nervously entered the room, kneeling just inside the doorway. "Hello, Your Majesty," he said, forcing himself to look straight ahead as he rose to his feet. He could feel James' eyes boring into the back of his head, and could sense the triumph on the man's face that stemmed from Link's insecurity with this situation.

"So the Hero has returned," the king stated, in the same indecipherable voice. Was he angry? Disappointed? Link had no way of knowing, and stared at his feet, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Yes, Your Majesty. And…I'm sorry. For leaving like I did, without talking to you and Ronan first." Link hated to say those words, remembering the trouble that had started when he'd said them to the king's daughter just a few hours earlier.

"Did you find her?" the king inquired, throwing off Link's expectations, causing him to look up into the man's brown eyes. But they, too, were unreadable.

"What…..I mean…." Link was at a loss for words. What was the king talking about?

"Your fairy. Did you find her?"

"Oh….no, Your Majesty. Sir." Link said, "But to be honest, I really didn't spend much time looking for her…I found another kingdom that needed saving, and that's what I've been doing the past...how long have I been gone anyway?"

"Three, maybe closer to four, months," the king replied. Link was shocked; had it really been that long? But counting it in his head, he found this to be true; he'd left in mid-June and it was now the second week in October. "Now, tell me more about this kingdom…was it Bolegyn?"

"No; Termina. It's through the Lost Woods; to the….northwest, I think. I fell asleep on the way there, so I'm not exactly sure."

"Termina….hmmm…I've never actually been there; it's close to Latara, right?"

"I don't know; before all this Ganondorf stuff, I'd never even been out of Kokiri Forest, Your Majesty," Link said with a shrug. "But here; this might help you to figure out where it is," he said, and handed the king the sealed letter from Mayor Dotour. The king opened it and began reading silently, then refolded it when he'd finished, looking up into Link's eyes.

"This is very commendable for anyone, let alone a ten-year-old boy," the king said quietly and calmly. "Not only did you prevent this Clock Town from being crushed by the moon, but you have established friendly relations with a kingdom which even I have never had any dealings. I'm very proud of you, Sir Link." Link could sense some of the air leaving the overinflated James in a barely-perceptible hiss

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Link said with a bow. "And here…..I brought you this. It's called Chateau Romani. It's a big deal in Termina; like fancy wine, only it's milk." He held out the bottle and the king rose from his desk and took a glass from a wooden cabinet on the left wall. He then removed the stopper from the bottle and poured a bit of the milk, which magically stayed at a constantly chilly temperature, swirling it in the glass and inhaling the aroma before taking a drink.

"This…..is amazing! It's the best beverage I've ever tasted!" the monarch exclaimed. "So rich, with sweet undertones and a smooth finish. I shall have to pay this Termina, and Mayor Dotour, a visit, and further establish diplomacy between it and Hyrule." He sat silently for several heartbeats, then said, "And I will need an ambassador to serve there as well; I'll speak with Hal immediately."

"Hal? But he's….I mean….." A sense of elation filled Link, though he was still ticked off at how Zelda had treated him.

"His wife, Savana, is expecting their first child. Her family is from Latara, which is indeed close to Termina; just a few miles down the coast from Great Bay, according to the map Mayor Dotour enclosed in his letter. Hal hasn't said anything, but I've heard that Savana wants to be closer to her family after the baby is born, and this will allow him to accommodate her and still serve Hyrule, which is his home kingdom."

"But if Hal leaves, who will take care of Princess Zelda?" Link asked, not daring to hope….

"You," the king said, chuckling at the pleasure that appeared on the boy's face at his words. "I meant it before, when I first met with you, that you're the best man for the job. Your fighting skills surpass those of many men, yet you possess the energy and tenacity needed to keep up with my daughter. In addition, you care for her; you are her friend, and your opinion carries a lot of weight, which I know has helped to avert more than one potential disaster…..including one involving a bag of Deku nuts and some Cuccos?" he said humorously.

"Oh...well, uh…..I…..hey, how'd you hear about that?" Link said in surprise.

"Impa heard about it from someone in Kakariko, and she told me."

"Okay….but what about how I left like that; without telling anyone? Aren't you worried I'll do that again?"

The king rose from his chair, and, to Link's astonishment, crossed around his desk and placed his hand on the shoulder of the boy from the forest. "No. Because you brought it up; I didn't, and that says a lot about your character. It also tells me that you have learned much in the time you've been away, and that you realize that you should've spoken with me in person. I honestly do not think something like this will come up again, do you?"

"No, sir, Your Majesty," Link said, looking up into the king's face. "Navi's gone, and I don't even know if she wants me to find her. Now that it's over, my place is here; with the princess. You can be sure that I will take my duty to her very seriously," he said, speaking in a formal voice that made the king suppress a laugh, while James slunk from the room, unnoticed, steaming with anger. How, after everything that had happened, could His Majesty so easily put his trust in a boy that didn't even shave yet…..again!

"Then you may return to your former post tomorrow morning, and I will speak with Hal before dinner."

Link beamed at the king and said, "Thank you, Your Majesty; you won't regret this, I promise!" before leaving the room in a joyous sprint. He had to tell Zelda right awa…halfway down the hall, he stopped, remembering their fight, and his elation fled. He had his job back, and a place to stay, but what would she think about that? What was he going to do? He slowly made his way up the stairs and to his room, where he finished unpacking all the masks and equipment he'd collected on his journey before falling into a deep sleep that lasted nearly fourteen hours.

When Link didn't show up for dinner, Zelda was dually relieved and concerned. She'd been dreading having to eat in the same room as he, yet she knew he was still weak and needed to eat, and worried when the meal ended and he'd neither shown up nor sent word to the kitchen to ask that a tray be sent to his room (she'd ventured into the vast preparation area and inquired about this herself, surprising the staff greatly). She climbed the stairs and knocked lightly at his door, then slowly opened it when there was no answer.

"Princess, what are you doing?" Impa inquired in a fierce whisper, causing Zelda to nearly jump out of her skin.

"I was worried about Link, so I thought I'd…"

"He's resting; you need to leave him alone," the Sheikah said more calmly.

"But he needs to eat something; Stephan said he….."

"He'll be fine; if he wakes up hungry, he's a big boy; he knows where the kitchen is, and if not, he's not going to starve to death before tomorrow morning. Now come with me; you have three tests tomorrow and you need to study." Zelda's tutor, Dwight, was a man who had no qualms with challenging the princess' mind and worked her hard for five hours a day five days a week, and he was especially brutal when it came to math. Zelda was sure this was because she hated it so much; the Triforce of Wisdom allowed her to learn things easily, but it couldn't make her like them. She gave one last look into the darkened room and closed the door before following Impa next door to go over her notes on the types of angles before going to bed.

The next morning, Link opened his door to go down to breakfast to find Zelda waiting for him in the hall. He brushed by her and headed for the stairs without so much as a 'hello.'

"Link, wait!" the princess said, running to catch up to her again-protector. "Please; listen to me," she said, grabbing onto his arm. He turned and looked at her, and she could see in his eyes just how much she'd hurt him with her baseless accusations. "I'm so sorry. Sometimes….well, a lot of times, actually, I say things without thinking about them first. I'm trying to do better, but…"

He pulled away and began walking again, and she easily matched her pace to his; she was a good five inches taller than he was after her summer growth spurt. "Link, I don't want it to be like this with us. I want us to be friends again, but we have to….."

"There's nothing to talk about. I'm in charge of your safety again since Hal's leaving, but that's it." He sighed wearily; even after all the sleep he'd gotten last night, he was still exhausted, and he was so hungry he felt sick. "Now if you'll excuse me, Princess, I skipped dinner last night and I need to eat; doctor's orders." There was nothing she could say to that, so she followed him down the remainder of the stairs and sat, sulkily silent, by herself as she picked at her bacon and waffles.

"Link? May I speak with you?" Impa asked through the door of the Hero's bedroom. He'd been giving Zelda the silent treatment for nearly three weeks, and the Sheikah thought that perhaps that she could get to the bottom of whatever had caused this little spat in the first place.

Link was wearing his Zora mask, strumming his guitar halfheartedly, and quickly removed it so that he was in his Hylian form again. "Come on in," he said, placing the Ocarina of Time back in its pouch (when he'd tried to return it to the king, the man had told him to hold onto it; that he trusted Link to keep it safe).

"We haven't had much of a chance to talk since you returned from your latest adventure. How are you, young Hero?"

"Fine, and you?" he said, his voice flat and lifeless.

"Well, I'm placing myself in the middle of a combat zone, but it's for a good cause."

Link looked at her strangely. "Impa, what do you mean?"

The Sheikah sighed. "This…discord, between you and Princess Zelda has gone on long enough. She tells me you won't speak with her about your problems and refuse to accept her apologies, though she has made many attempts to atone for what she has said."

"So you blame me for all of this," Link said in a voice that spoke of oncoming temper.

"No; not at all. I know how impulsive Zelda can be, and how stubborn both of you are," Link gave her a suspicious look, as if he didn't believe that she was truly a neutral party. "I want to help you; both of you, but I can't if you don't give me your side of the story."

"Fine," Link said with a deep huffy breath. "She came to see me after I woke up and it felt…strange. She's….different….more grown-up," he said, blushing. "It felt really weird being around her again after such a long time when she's changed so much."

"Link, she's growing up, just as you will do one day. But I don't really see how that has anything to do with why you won't speak to her."

"I guess it doesn't; it was just…..awkward, and it just didn't feel like we used to. Plus, I felt kind of guilty even then…about leaving, even though I needed to and ended up helping a lot of people while I was gone." His face darkened. "And that's the problem. Zelda thinks...I was flirting with all these girls while I was gone or something when I wasn't; I was just helping them to get their eggs back and fight aliens and take milk to town without getting attacked….it's a long story," he said when he saw Impa's amused look. "But it just made me mad that she could think that I would…...when…." he trailed off, blushing to the tips of his ears.

"Oh, my dear. I understand. How you feel…..about her." Link swallowed and she took his small hand in hers. "I can't say I condone it, but….this was there from the moment the two of you met, and it has endured and grown. And that's why it hurts so much," she nearly whispered, and he stared at their joined hands as two tears fell down onto his lap. The Sheikah understood what Zelda had said the morning that Link had left; watching him sit there and cry, not even bothering to wipe away the tears, was devastating. Her mother's heart felt for him, and she pulled him over into her lap. He might be the Hero of Time, but right now he was just a sad little boy, and the need to comfort him was almost overwhelming. She wrapped her arms around him and he placed his head on the front of her shoulder, his breath coming in soft sobs. She stroked his arm lightly and said, "You need to talk to her about this. Both of you are miserable; you need each other, in ways that perhaps only the Goddesses themselves truly understand."

"But…..I'm scared," Link said in a thin voice before being assaulted by a new round of tears. Impa pulled him against her tightly and kissed his sweaty, puppy-dog-scented hair gently, as she would had it been Ian she was holding.

"There's nothing to be afraid of, little one. And when it's all over, you'll feel better."

"But what if I tell her and she doesn't…you know?" he said, calming himself and looking into her red eyes with his watery blue ones.

"You'll never know if you don't talk to her, will you?"

"Zelda?" Link said hesitantly, standing in the doorway between the princess' sitting room and her bedchamber a few minutes later She was still dressed but had taken down her hair and was brushing it in sections before moving them behind her shoulders.

"Link. What…what are you doing here?" she said, placing the brush on her dressing table and looking into his eyes. She could tell by looking at him that he'd been crying, and it once again felt as if a knife had gone through her heart.

"Zel, we need to talk. About a lot of things. And I need to apologize."

"Me, too. Come on; let's sit on the sofa. Impa's not here, so you can even prop your feet on the table if you'd like," she joked feebly, though it elicited a tiny smile from him.

"No; they're kinda dirty, even without my boots," he said, and she noticed for the first time that his feet, like hers, were bare, though the floor beneath them was chilly. They sat down on the sofa side by side, and after sitting in silence for a good thirty seconds, both decided to speak at once.

"Link…."

"Zelda…."

"Go ahead; you said it first."

"No I didn't; we tied."

"Well, you can have your turn….."

"Do we really want to argue about who's going to apologize first?" Link said wryly.

"No," Zelda said, a small smile creeping onto her lips as she turned her body to face him, taking his hand in hers as her face became sincere. "Link, I'm so sorry for what I said to you. I didn't want you to go, but you had to….and I'm glad you did. You were right to stay and help those people save their town, and I was just being selfish and stupid and jealous. I really am trying to keep my words inside until I think about whether or not it's a good idea to say them, but sometimes it's like I just can't stop them. And I have no right to tell you about who you can and can't help. Impa and Nabooru both told me that, and they're right. I hate fighting with you; let's never do it again, okay?"

Link chuckled softly, then said, "I don't know that either of us can keep that promise, but I'm sorry, too. It was weird coming back after being gone; it's just been a few months, but it felt like a lot longer." He took a deep breath, knowing his next words wouldn't be easy, and then said, "I'm sorry for ignoring you when you wanted to talk to me. I didn't like what you said, but…..Zel…." he said, rubbing the back of his neck with his left hand, his right one still holding hers as he looked into her eyes, "I want you to know something. You're the only girl I care about. I told you before; you're special, and I mean that. You have been since the first time I met you. And sometimes…that scares me," he said softly, and then, even softer, "I don't think ten-year-olds are supposed to feel like this."

"I know," she whispered as she lay her head down on his shoulder. "But it's almost like it's not even our choice to make; it just…. is."

"Yeah; it's kinda freaky. But in a good way, I guess," he said as he pulled his arm from her grasp and wrapped it around her shoulder. They sat silently, drawing strength from each other, healing, before she spoke again.

"Link?"

"Hmm?"

"You said that in Termina that there were people who looked like Malon and Ruto and a bunch of other people. But was there anyone there who looked like me?"

"No," he said with a smile as he pulled her tighter against him in a sideways hug. "I'm pretty sure you're one of a kind."

Awww…we had some angst for awhile, but it ended up all sweet. But are things gonna be smooth sailing from here on out? Nope; Zelda won't let them. I had this chapter written out as one big fluff-fest, but she said, "No way; change it," and this is what we ended up with. I'm pretty happy with it, and I'm glad that I'm working with kids who used to be grown-ups; normal ten-year-olds would never say some of the stuff they do…..but then again, they're getting ever-closer to eleven (someone's having a birthday next chapter!) This chapter introduces a lot of stuff that will come into play in the future, so if certain parts seem incomplete, that's why. Oh, before I forget, my DA contest submission won first place! I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! *lol*;)