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Chapter Twelve
Here Comes The Sun

Link, gazing at Zelda, the Zelda he had known for eight years, didn't understand.

"I'm - back? In my own time?" he asked uncertainly, glancing down at the sword whose hilt his hand still rested on. Back in the stone, then - he had returned the sword to the stone four hundred years ago, and it had been returned in kind in time time, in this place.

"You are," she murmured, and held out a hand. "Come with me - we'll talk outside. I..." Zelda glanced away, shame on her face. "I owe you an explanation."

Link remembered the sight of Sheik's pale face and nodded. "Yeah, you do," he said softly, and followed her out, leaving the Master Sword in its pedestal - back where it belonged.

Zelda collected the stones again, the great door closed, and the two made their leave - emerging in to the sun, Link blinked on instinct, shading his eyes. "How long has it been?"

"Just a few hours," she told him, leading him to the gardens that sat behind the temple. "You made your way back with remarkable precision - you could have ended up days or weeks in the future."

Link smiled, but it wasn't a happy one. "What's a few weeks after four hundred years?" he sighed, flopping down on a fallen log - daintily, Zelda joined him.

There was awkward silence for a moment, and then Zelda sighed. "I've kept things from you," she murmured unhappily, "And I'm sorry. But... I promise that if you ask me anything, I'll answer them honestly. I swear it."

Nodding, Link frowned for a moment, then turned back to her. "I have two questions. Did you send be back to that time deliberately?"

"Yes, I did."

"And... did you know what would happen there?"

This time, there was a brief moment of silence before she sighed, softly confirming, "Yes, I did."

Link nodded, gazing out at the garden. "Then I have a third question," he said, and his voice sounded hollow. "Why?"

That one, Zelda couldn't answer immediately. Link frowned sharply, turning back to berate her for not answering his questions as promised, then promptly stopped - her eyes had filled with tears. "Because he asked me to," she whispered, and all desire to shout or accuse abruptly fled. "He told me everything. And... even through all the hurt, even though you'd lose him... he told me that for a little while, you'd be happy. And you had sacrificed so much... I thought you deserved a little happiness."

Nodding slowly, Link looked away, gazing at his boots like they were the most fascinating things in the world. He had been, hadn't he? Even though it felt like his heart had been ripped in two when he had felt Sheik fade away, the times they had spent together were... precious.

And he never would have had them if it wasn't for Zelda.

"I was happy," he said softly, ignoring the way his eyes prickled. "I was. I would have stayed with him then, if I could."

Zelda nodded, and hesitantly reached across to take his hand. "So would have I, if it had been possible," she told him softly, and Link glanced up at her curiously.

She had known him as a Shadow Guardian, as a protector between life and death. But that still left one question - "How did it happen? You and him, I mean."

Exhaling, Zelda sat back, her gaze distant as she let herself delve back in to memory. "I was ten years old," she murmured, "And Ganondorf had made his move. My father was dead - I had seen the deed done before my eyes." Her voice choked, and Link squeezed her hand instinctively. "Impa had whisked me away - and I'm sorry we nearly trampled you." A wry smile was on her face.

Link gave her a proper, reassuring smile. "No worse than being charged by a Moblin," he teased, and Zelda huffed a laugh before continuing.

"Impa had taken me to the Shadow Temple and laid me out on the stone - yes, the same one he had woken up on," she confirmed, catching the look on Link's face.

"He was cremated there, too," he murmured.

Zelda cringed.

"Sorry," he told her awkwardly.

She shook her head, and continued on - although she did look a little more fraught at the idea. "I don't remember a great deal of the ritual - I was unbearably sleepy, I couldn't keep my eyes open. And it was cold... but I remember being in the dark, and there was a young man there with beautiful red eyes holding his hand out to me - and then I fell asleep, knowing that he'd protect me."

Now, there was a smile to go with her eyes shining with tears. "For a very long time, it was like that. I'd sleep, but occasionally, there'd be moments of lucidity. Three years after we had both fallen asleep, I began to awaken - and Sheik began to speak to me."

Link couldn't have interrupted as he tried. Wordlessly, he tried to urge her to go on.

"He didn't know who he was, at first," she continued softly. "Impa had merely told him that he would be my vessel and to protect me with his life - he remembered nothing but darkness and the River of the Dead. But I told him about the Hero of Time, about a little boy in green and his fairy. And he began to remember."

"How much?" he asked hoarsely, mouth feeling like sandpaper.

"Everything," she said quietly. "The village, his brother, being sworn to my ancestor, his friendship with my - I believe she's my great-great-great-great-great-aunt. He remembered dying - he remembered every life that came after, and how they had used him for their own purposes, and how he began to drift away from the world. And he remembered a day when he still lived when he pulled a young man in green out of a river and how he lost his heart."

Link was silent, merely watching and waiting to see what would come next.

"For four years, we debated it," she continued. "Because you had told him then, we knew what was to come - sending you back was only an idea I had had when I had awoken to find you were sealed within the Sacred Ream, but now it was locked in to time as a fact. And that meant that your being sent back was a fact, as well - I would have to send you back to your own time, then hold on to the knowledge of what was still to come for another eight years. I'm sorry." And she glanced up at him, shame and guilt on her face.

"So I summoned you back to the Temple. In a way, it was still the truth - there was a danger that you would need to pick up the sword for, it was just a danger long past. I willingly sent you back in time knowing that it would break your heart." Her hands tightened in the fabric of her dress. "Link, will you ever forgive me?" she choked.

And Link couldn't answer straight away. How could he? She had willingly sent him back so he could find love, and so he could lose him twice over. She had known he'd see Sheik at his most distraught and be utterly unable to comfort him, knew that he'd be forced to fight and kill for a war that wasn't his (except it was, wasn't it? He had fought for Sheik, for Zelda, for everyone he had met and befriended there), knew that he'd hold Sheik in his arms as death took him and felt his world end.

And she had known that he'd find joy and companionship and love, and an answer to the search he had been lost in for eight years.

"I forgive you," he said softly, and suddenly he had an armful of sobbing princess.

"I don't deserve it," she whispered, face buried against his shoulder. "I made you live through terrible things, even if it did mean having him back - I knew he'd be taken from you again, and yet I still sent you back. But you deserved love - he's so easy to fall in love with, and... you deserved a reward for your patience. But..." She sniffled. "I'm sorry."

Eyes closed, Link whispered, "It's okay," and finally she sat back.

There was silence for a little while, before finally Zelda asked softly, "If we brought him back now... would you want to?"

The question made him pause, wrong-footed him entirely. They could bring him back, and he'd see him again, and...

But it had been four hundred years and eight years and an hour and a lifetime ago. He could see him again, and he'd lose him again, and he wasn't sure if his heart could take another break.

"Let him rest," he whispered, and remembered Sheik's promise - that they would see each other again.

They'd find another way. Now, it was time for him to sleep - free of the use and abuse that the centuries had wrought.

She nodded, then took his hand again. "Come with me to the Shadow Temple," she murmured, "Even if we don't bring him back - we can still say goodbye."

He exhaled shakily, then nodded, lifting the ocarina he still held to his lips. Zelda grasped his arm gently, and the two let the music whisk them away to the temple that had haunted Link's dreams for days and weeks now.

It wasn't to the temple that Link had explored that they headed - instead, it was down a set of stairs, widening in to a spiral that Link recalled from the rites and rituals they had heard that first night they had been together.

Now, he could see more details. In the walls on the outer edge of the spiral, niches had been carved, names and dates and perhaps a short epitaph. The nearest was very close to the top of the spiral, the date of death less than twenty years earlier.

"It's a memorial to the dead," Zelda murmured softly, and gestured to where unburnt white candles were gathered. "Take as many as you want."

He took three.

Three hundred years passed under their footsteps. Link left and lit his first candle at the niche bearing Naziya's name, smiling when he read the dates - she had lived to be a hundred and ten, a long and content life. But she wasn't their final destination - on and on they went, another hundred years worth of names scrolling on by.

And finally, they came to a stop - two niches next to each other, two identical dates of birth, two dates of death only days apart.

For Kula, they both left candles. "He did it for love, too," Link murmured, gazing at the epitaph - Son, brother, friend. "He loved his brother so much that..."

He broke off, shaking his head, and turned to the niche that represented Sheik's life and his death. Just nineteen years, two sets of numbers, a name - Link reached up with a shaking hand, traced the letters that formed Sahil, then lowered his gaze to the epitaph.

"Love knows not what time is," he murmured, and the faintest of smiles spread across his face. "I love you too. And - I always will. I'll see you again, Sheik."

Candles twinkling brightly to chase away the darkness, Link reached for Zelda's hand, and silently, the two left the temple - and their ghosts - behind.

Outside, it had started drizzling. Link rolled his shoulders, resting his hands on the fence as he gazed upwards, grateful for the coolness of the rain - used to the early winter of the past, the near summer he had returned to had been a shock.

"Come back to the castle with me," Zelda said softly as she joined him at the fence, "Rest for a while. You deserve a break. And if you'd like, and you don't have anything else to do, I wouldn't at all be opposed to you becoming my personal guard."

It did sound like a good idea - something to do, a way to protect his friend, a way to honour the other Zelda's memory. Finally, though, he shook his head, a faint smile on his face.

"I'm going to keep wandering," he murmured, gazing out at the graveyard and beyond. "See more of the world. Save girls from monsters." He grinned a little, his expression soft. "Maybe I'll start teaching people how to fight - the other Zelda was pretty good. Then, others can defend themselves as well."

Zelda nodded slowly - then, impulsively, she threw her arms around Link's shoulders. "Stay safe," she whispered, "Live well. Be happy."

And he smiled back, eyes closing. "I will. It's what he would have wanted, isn't it?"

They had left the graveyard, Link only looking back once to mouth a farewell. It was time to let the dead rest - he would keep on keeping on, and one day, he'd receive his just reward.

He deserved no less, after all.

At the drawbridge to Castle Town, he had called for Epona, then held the ocarina back out to Zelda. And Zelda had shaken her head, closing his hands around it.

"It's yours," she murmured, "It always had been. Remember your duets and playing on the roof top, and be happy."

She had waited until clattering hooves had approached, watching as Link petted and cosseted and murmured to Epona before swinging himself up in to the saddle. "Write to me some time!" she called, brushing back her damp hair as Link nodded solemnly. "Let me know how you're doing, alright?"

"I will. I won't forget you," he promised, gazing ahead.

Before Link was a road - a road in to the unknown, to an uncertain future, to days yet to come. A smile crossed his face, and Epona reared up on her hind legs, Link raising one hand in parting.

And without a backwards glance, he tore off in to the unknown.

It was dark.

Dark, and cold, and the only thing he could see was a flash of blue eyes - curious and unafraid, a little hand reaching out towards him. He reached towards it, and -

It was light.

He was on his back with stone beneath his bare skin, a white sheet draped over his body. For a moment, he reached for something that wasn't there -

And then someone was, an older, stern woman, white-haired and red-eyed. For just a moment, the word, 'Mother' had been on his lips.

"Do you know who and what you are?" she had asked, and he found the words without being prompted.

"I am Sheik," he said. "I will protect her with my life."

He gazed at the rippling surface of a river and tried to work out what had happened to him. For a moment, he wasn't alone - his head was growing less of his own, his thoughts less private. For a moment, he indulged her, ran a hand through soft water.

For a moment, she was pleased, and so was he.

Now, he wasn't alone. She was young and lost and bewildered, and he did his best to guide her through a world that was becoming increasingly dark.

One day, he asked what they were waiting for.

The Hero of Time, she told him.

And his world stopped.

The dreams would not end.

The village the lyre Kula playing in the mountains. A redheaded girl with freckles on her nose her brother long duties quiet moments. A stranger in the water blue eyes a sword he couldn't touch why are you acting like we've never met before.


Always Link, haunting his dreams and his nightmares.

The days grew closer, and it was almost enough to make Sheik feel ill.

He'd see Link, and he would be a stranger to him. Had this been what Link had felt when they had met all those years ago? Would he feel the sting of gazing at someone he loved with every last breath and have them gaze back with utter unfamiliarity in his eyes?

When first he saw him in the Temple of Time, Sheik almost couldn't make his feet move towards him.

And then a sunny smile spread across Link's face - every muscle in Sheik's body tensed as he swallowed back the urge to run to him and kiss him until they couldn't breathe.

There'd be time for that later - at least, there would for Link.

For himself, there'd be no more kisses or little touches or easy companionship in the rising sun.

And when oblivion came once again, he welcomed its embrace.

But now, there was nothing left of the River of the Dead.

No more lost and lonely souls drifted its shores and banks; the ever-present toll of the bell was gone. The moon once again shone on him as the last of the Shadow Guardians streamed out from what had once been the Shadow Temple.

High above an old, ruined village, two young men watched. The last of the Sheikah was gone, now - the Royal Family had long forgotten them, and the ties that bound them to the underworld had been cut. As his brethren collected the old woman and moved on to their final destinations, the two watched and waited.

And then they were the only ones left. One ducked his head, beads and braids in his long hair clinking gently at the movement. "Where will you go now?"

"To find him," the other answered, smiling a little. "I think it's about time we found each other again."

The long-haired one paused, then, finally, a smile crossed his face. The centuries had mellowed him out, too. "If he makes you happy, then go."

The shorter-haired one reached forward, wound his fingers in to the long locks, pressed their foreheads together. "Thanks," he breathed, his brother's approval the last thing he needed. "Sadir amah, Alifha."

"Sadir amah, Alifha," Kula echoed, and he, too, disappeared in to the moonlight.

Sheik watched for a long moment, then leaped down from the old watchtower in one smooth movement. He had somewhere to be, now - someone he hadn't seen in a very long time.

He pressed his fingers to the stone, and the edge of music caught his hearing. The sound of an ocarina... retrieving the lyre, he closed his eyes and began to play.

And then he was elsewhere, and a skeletal warrior was watching him in something that approached raw shock.

It was the warrior that moved first - every step he took shedding more armour, every step he took firming his flesh. Clear peach skin replaced brittle bones, blue eyes lit up in joy replaced empty glowing sockets, solid metal softened and brightened in to green fabric.

And by the time Sheik had reached his side, Link was himself once more.

"I've missed you," he said softly, and reached for the Sheikah. And Sheik willingly let himself be drawn in, eyes closing as he wrapped his arms around his hero, finally content, finally happy.

"You'll never have to miss me again," he whispered - here, with the two of them young and happy and together, they could find eternity in each other's arms.

And far away in North Castle, the girl who had slept for a thousand years opened her eyes again.

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