Legend Of Zelda Fan Fiction ❯ The Legend of Link: Lucky Number 13 ❯ What's Done In The Dark. . . Pt. 08: Stacking the Deck ( Chapter 40 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]

Chapter Forty

"You were chained in a hole-tortured by day and all alone at night-for four years," Destiny had replied to Link's reserved outburst in gentle register. "Don't insult our intelligence or your own. You know as well as we do that a person-especially an individual as battle savvy and independent as yourself-will not only think about all sorts of regrets and missed opportunities, but also endure tremendous mental wounds under circumstances where they're completely stripped of all power and control. Those women had done that to you, Link. The odds may have always been stacked against you, but there was always the ability to fight. Here, you'd been found unconscious, stripped naked, thrown into a hole and chained like a beast-stripped of even that barest ability."

Link had stood abruptly from his throne afterwards, pacing, thoroughly agitated by their presence and the new radicals introduced into his line of thinking. His godly benefactors saw fit to not only yank him out of reality in mid-sentence with Sepaaru, but also spew a set of ridiculous could've, would've, should've scenarios. They'd explained his seemingly odd behavior in this new script of history as "what would've happened without the Chonoes presence in that war." The Kroatoan knights attacked in the same way the Chonoes did. However, their king hid a backup legion among the forests in case the rumors of Link's involvement were true and just in case his main infantry was lost.

They did lose, but where Cornelius was a sniveling coward in the old history, this time he'd entered the battle after watching Rampart die. He thought rage could carry him through, but Cornelius ended up unconscious from an unguarded shot to the back of the head. Link carried him up a ridge to let him recover away from the action, only to have the knight wake up after everything was over and spot smoke coming from the nearby forest. Link opted to investigate while sending everyone else home, and, over the course of two weeks, led a one-man incursion against those hidden troops.

That simple exercise in stealth moved history just enough to throw a wrench in things.

"And as you know, a few days can make a large difference," Link recalled Fate telling him, following up by filling in certain gaps Sepaaru had purposefully neglected to mention. For instance, the kids still died. This time, however, their deaths were due to Link letting the Gerudo fight the Sheikah only to have the kids come back from Kokiri and idly stumble into the midst of it. Worse than that, Zelda had died twice-once by his father's hand like in the old line and again as a fifteen-year-old in between the Sheikah and Gerudo skirmish. "I guess the one called Sepaaru decided to lie since you seemed completely oblivious to your place in that world. These Gerudo are quick with the guarding of thoughts, no?" Fate had said, smiling that innocent smirk that made Link want to slap the taste out of the guy's mouth.

They then told of how Nocturna scanned the Great Bay region of the world for his dreams at the same time she did in the old line. Conversely, this time, Link recompiled two days later. Thus, Nocturna never removed the exiled pirate queen-a fact she neglected to mention the first time-and Link ended up tortured. By the time Nocturna came back around, things that he never bothered to think about were now given free reign to roam about his mind, as he had nothing to distract his thoughts while in that hole.

"She gives you the sword, which you still name Nightshade, with a bit of her powers to add to your own fledgling abilities," Destiny went on to tell him. "With that boost in power, you escaped to the beach of the Great Bay and set off for Hyrule-still angry with the wife, but more open-minded than you'd ever been. Moreover, Link, you'd come to accept yourself. You don't attempt to cater your thoughts to one mortal paradigm or another, or agonize over whether or not your perception of the world is warped. You embrace and explore all possibilities without heed or concern for whether certain thoughts or feelings are considered normal by your theoretical contemporaries."

Link wasn't blind. He couldn't help but notice the passion in Destiny's voice as she said that to him. All he could think about at the time were the extremities they'd described prior to that revelation. The Link of this era, despite the grueling torture, seemed … comfortable. Granted, there weren't gargantuan leaps in character change, but this rendition of himself was so self-aware and calm-and not just on the surface, but inside as well-that it was disturbing to the disturbed him … or something.

What he wanted, he took. What he was curious about, he tinkered with. This Link wasn't lost in the shuffle of trying to fight the past to make the future better. He submersed himself in his present. Link's mouth opened immediately, but then it slowly closed. Why was he fighting this? He suffered none of this emotional havoc in making the decision to alter history for a man he never knew, yet there he stood trying to deny himself some fragment of closure. His children still loved him by all accounts, even if Zelda was still a tad bit disturbed in reference to her brother's birth from her "sister." So, then, what the hell was so wrong here?

"Why are you telling me all of this?" Link naively asked, though, he somehow seemed to know the answer all the while.

Fate rubbed his hair back and smiled. "I'll be completely honest with you: You're a lot less dangerous in this time. You control your emotions-all of your emotions-and as so, you possess clarity and both inner and outer stability."

Link didn't pretend to not notice the emphasis on the word inner. In so many words, Fate was telling him that this obsession with Nabooru wasn't going to cut it. But how do you not love someone? For that matter, why couldn't he work on his own marriage without just giving it up? And if he was in such emotional control, why did he snap and bite Nabooru's head off when he walked into the throne room of this era?

"There's expression of emotion, and then there's loss of one's self to it," Destiny said in response to his unshielded thoughts. "You've mastered the ability to tell the difference in this time."

"You speak as though I'm actively aware of…" Link's voice faded, as he closed his eyes and smirked with realization. "Let me guess-you want me to give up my current mind for this docile version, right?"

As the brother and sister stared with seemingly innocent eyes, Link's paranoia climbed.

"Okay, so you've got us," Fate replied, keeping things unusually blunt for a change. "But the question isn't a question so much as it is a choice."

"What's the point, then? You tell me this whole song and dance-tell me that nothing has really changed from the last rendition of history-for what? I was on my way to closure and docility the last time. You go through the trouble to rewrite everything almost identically, sans one event, and expect me to believe it was done for my benefit?" Link stated, highlighting his annoyance with minute twinkling embers of power dancing through his eyes.

"Moron," Fate uttered, shaking his head and closing his eyes to the naïveté. "In the line of old, as it was written, there was no `closure.' You and your wife attempt to reconcile far too soon, leaving old wounds untreated. They resurface throughout the shaky reunion, culminating with Nabooru, in a fit of malignant pride, insisting that you remove her immortality to show that she isn't after you for power. Three months later, Nabooru's killed on a trip through Western-most Hyrule. Pride isn't so easy to dismiss, even in death, Link. As so, Nabooru refuses resurrection for the serenity and easiness that is death to prove her point to you.

"You become disillusioned. Sepaaru and your daughter Zelda attempt to stand by you, but the loss of Nabooru remained fresh. Over the next thousand years, your son would lose his hope and become a fabled warrior of the evil breed, all to get you to notice him. It fails, ending when he has an encounter with a god and goes too far. Sepaaru, now immortal, comes unhinged with the news, crushing her medallion and ending her life in a wash of despair two months later. Your tumult grows, having lost a friend and your child, until it begins to drain on your very soul … killing you, your daughter, and the very reality around you both.

"So, when I say there's a choice, I mean it: Choose to kill everyone in a petty show of emotional instability or live. Those are the choices."

Link was aghast.

"What kind of sick monsters are you people?" he shouted, eyes blazing with mystical energies as he glared at the childlike gods. "Why would you `write' something like that?"

"We didn't. You did," Destiny replied, correcting him with an astuteness that made him glare that much harder. "We present mortals-and most gods-with a set of choices, determined by whether they're born under my term or his. This ability to choose is what we call subjective free will. It's the free will to choose between two or more predetermined choices."

"You don't apply anymore," Fate continued. "Your choices are yours, be they destructive or benevolent. The thing you can't seem to comprehend is that your mortals are still bound to our laws. They're bound to subjective free will. You, however, have what we like to call absolute free will. You create your choices, good and bad, as well as their answers."

"Because the mortals are still facing predetermined choices, you think we're slighting you every time they act outside of what you want, when you refuse to make them act as you want," Destiny added, giggling whimsically. "We're not. You could easily give them choices in line with your own motivations and terms, like immortality. Instead, you make your choices and leave us to create their possible reactions to your choices. But we're digressing. Link, you gave yourself an out with death in that line, because you wouldn't let yourself move beyond Nabooru. However, it was your desire for everything to stop that destroyed reality. Heck, the only active roles we can take in your life on the mortal plane are in instances where you are mortal again. From there, we take a look at all the possible choices you could make, and render a history in the minds of those around you about you based on the choices that you'd most likely make."

"So, basically, this is all about getting what I want on some level," Link whispered, echoing his father's words from so many years ago.

"Exactly-it's what you wanted," Fate and Destiny said in the frightening synchronous tone before fading into the darkness. "Call us when you make a decision, literal or otherwise."

He sat down on his throne and clasped his hands in front of his face, shutting his eyes to focus. Am I resisting this because it's a bad idea, or is it because they're involved? Link continued to search his feelings for a long moment after his thoughtful question. A part of him needed that calm, desired it even. Almost without trying, he began to vividly recall the stories he'd been told. However, this time, Link actually remembered the experiences. A surge of force rose around him, came out of him even, that appeared to be sapping his strength. His body shook and his chest heaved, until Link grew still, almost as if he'd fallen asleep.

In that instant, he'd made his decision.

"Think he's made his choice, sister?" Fate chuckled, fading into existence before the sleeping god.

His sister Destiny appeared seconds later, adding: "I think he did. Peculiar, isn't it? He reintegrated himself into the current time stream without our aid. I didn't know he held that much control over the chronosphere."

"Nor did I," Fate replied, though, a lot more concerned with it than his sister appeared to be. "Let's place him back among his mortals for now. He'll have decisions to make that'll affect both our worlds soon, and he'll need the rest."

Link's eyes stirred for a moment, catching only a blurred image of two people in front of him. The fatigue left him the instant he touched down in the mortal realm, as his self-inflicted ordeal was over, which left him groggily coming to in front of Sepaaru. She patiently stood before him with her hands on her hips, agitated for some reason.

"Do you always fall asleep after asking someone a question?" she asked, slightly annoyed, though her temper quickly subsided as Link ran his eyes back and forth across the room. "Is something wrong?"

He shook his head, replying, "I just got a weird feeling, like I'd forgotten everything about me or something."

Sepaaru went to confirm that it wasn't a dream, but paused mid-sentence as her mind went blank to what it was he could possibly be talking about-an interference from above playing a major role in that slip of the mind.

"You're probably just going stir crazy down in this hole," Sepaaru chuckled as Link did likewise despite the prickly chill he got from the word "hole."

"So, how'd the boy and his sister handle the power restoration?" Link asked. As he stretched and stood up, he walked toward the center most painting and touched a stone beneath it, which saw the painting slide open to reveal a closet full of tunics.

"I don't see why you bother changing clothes," Sepaaru said, watching as he changed from the hair dye-stained yellow tunic into his typical green one. "Anyhow, the last I heard, Zelda went to see Nabooru after we came back here. And Junior-well, I imagine he's somewhere with Saria. No one's mentioned them or how they're reacting to the powers."

"Oh," Link mumbled, before shutting his closet. "Guess they're prepping for the big introduction to the grandparents …" he paused when Sepaaru shuddered. "Is something wrong?" She shook her head quickly, but the false sincerity was too thin to overlook. "If you don't want to go through with this, I can call it off."

"No!" she shouted, recoiling at the volume of her own voice. Sighing, Sepaaru confessed, "I'm fine, just a little a nervous."

Link appeared beside her, resting his hand on her shoulder and squeezing gently.

"I never met my mother, either, so I can relate. I also know that it sounds stupid, but just try not to have a reaction until that time comes."

"Easier said than done," Sepaaru scoffed before reluctantly nodding.

"Perhaps, but you'll have to try before you know." Link finished lacing up his tunic before heading towards the stairs. "I'll be back in a few hours, and I'll bring some of Varia's eggs back for you."

Sepaaru smiled as she picked up her sword and shield, noting he'd read her mind, before suddenly grimacing. "Wait … so, you're going back to the fortress?" He answered by nodding, which left the Gerudo quietly queasy. It was bound to happen sooner or later, of that she was certain. However, it still didn't change the fact that this subsequent end to their little affair stung.

"That doesn't mean I'm going to abandon you," Link whispered, before Sepaaru found his lips on hers in a subtly powerful kiss.

And like that, Link vanished. In his wake was one flushed, guilt-ridden Gerudo. Nabooru was going to find out about what they'd been doing since Link's second ascension to godliness. At the same time, she couldn't dismiss the affect his presence had on her. That was also why leaving Cornelius was so much easier than she let on. Link was almost painfully deep under her skin, literally and figuratively.

"But if it came down to it, could I stop feeling like this if … when he goes back to Nabooru?" Sepaaru's quiet musing went unanswered, because that feeling had been present ever since she'd met him as a sixteen-year-old girl trying to fit in by testing the supposed Hero of Time.

As she walked from his chamber, the Gerudo captain found herself trembling in morbid anticipation. The urges she felt around him were easy to control before they ever slept together, but now … now, it had been nearly four months of mutual lovemaking … sex. "It was sex," she stated. That was their way of saying "fuck the world that fucked us" by using each other in the same manner their respective spouses did. The only difference was that they didn't make illusions about love and honor. They were concubines to one another's carnal desires, no more and no less.

In truth, she was a little girl living out her childish crush on the large scale with no way to balance it. One scale held her mother and the other her mentor, her friend, her lover, and the father of her only child. The door of Link's chamber slid up, and Sepaaru paused at the threshold. She gave a stiff "heh," exiting as she realized that she'd still let him drill her senseless, even in the midst of all the emotional confusion.

"I just don't know when to give up, do I?" And with that ho-hum little statement, the door slid closed behind her.

Meanwhile, across Hyrule, Link stood under the dusky sky among the springtime bloom of his former home. He imagined the various carnations and rosebuds smelled amazing, because he couldn't physically smell them, as being on a different physical plane limited that ability. The chatter of the remaining Gerudo inside the fortress clamoring around the dinner table caught his ear, which caused him to chuckle. Without further hesitation, Link passed through the center door on the lowest level into his old home and went toward the kitchen.

"Varia, should I see if Nabooru wants to come down?" Takara asked, kissing her lover's neck innocently. Varia shook her head, leaning her neck closer to Takara's lips.

Though they couldn't see him, Link leaned against the doorsill and smiled at the scene before him. But, as it was, Nabooru didn't need a summons this evening. She walked through his immaterial body, pausing as a strange chill shot up her spine. The other Gerudo caught wind of their queen's arrival, all falling into an eerie hush as she stared up and into the hall, almost as if looking at someone.

"Good evening, ladies," Nabooru said in her reserved manner, still facing the emptiness of the hall before turning to face the group and dismissing the chill all in the moment. "What's on the menu?" She casually made her way to the center of the table and took her usual seat-a seat that hadn't saw her butt in it in nearly ten years (closer to nine and a few months, but still close enough to ten)-ignoring the surprised states of her comrades.

"A few cuts of lamb, baked chickens, beef steaks, pork steaks, pork chops, bread, water, milk, and as soon as this clock rings, the seventh layer of that cake," Varia replied in much the same cadence as her queen, pointing to a chocolate cake that stood roughly four feet tall without its final layer.

Link's chuckling visage slowly came into view at the exact moment the small, ovular clock over the stove chimed a hollow ding. If Nabooru's appearance ceased sound, his caused a halt in brain activity. He shrugged the silence off, taking his former seat across from Nabooru. Of course, there was nothing casual about his presence. He sat slumped in the chair, wearing an eerily out of place grin, as he leaned on the right armrest with his head tilted into the same hand.

Nabooru was uncomfortable … highly uncomfortable-and it showed. There was a certain blankness to his mirth, which, when coupled with his already intimidating gaze, easily unsettled everyone in view of his eyes. But he wasn't staring at everyone. Link was just staring at Nabooru.

"Still cooking for an army, I see," Link suddenly prattled, never once taking his eyes off Nabooru.

Varia laughed. Ever since he'd browbeat her into learning how to read, the world of books and written word had saw her read every cookbook, gardening guide, and herbal tome she could get her hands on. And like her battle skills at one time, no one could touch her skills when it came to cooking. No one.

"Yeah, it still relaxes me," she eventually said. "And with my nephew running in and out of here, it still might not be enough. It's a wonder he left my sister breasts at all with his appetite. So, what brings you through these parts, besides the obvious?"

"Nothing … much," Link explained, "but, since I did tell this one I'd tell her what happened to me one day, I figured I'd do it now." He sat up straight for a moment before returning to his slumped stature, only leaning on his left hand this time.

"Uh, maybe we should discuss this in private," Nabooru suggested, shifting uneasily in her seat as Link cut her off.

"Everything between us was communal here the last I heard, so why bother?" The spite didn't go unnoticed, and everyone's attention switched to Nabooru for a retort.

Frustration caused Nabooru's eyes to narrow in offense to his statement. Guilt caused her to say nothing in response. Varia frosted her cake without interrupting the ugly silence, but wondered when the king and queen would just get on with it. And, in her mind, they would, because Link couldn't even keep his angry-man act up for a few hours in council. Not to mention that his mere acknowledgement brought Nabooru back to life, even if she wouldn't admit that his return for his powers that night so long ago was the reason she finally decided to clean her ass up and get out of bed for the first time in nearly a decade.

"The actual purpose of this little visit is to let you know what I'm about to do," Link sighed, idly drumming his fingers on the table. "The kids asked me if they could meet their grandparents-my parents, yours, and Sepaaru's-and I agreed. I came to ask if any of you wanted to attend this gathering of the dead."

And with that the room came to life with murmurs and mutterings.

"Zelda told me earlier," Nabooru replied, observing Varia's sudden shift from calm to anxious with a reserved knowledge of why. "And I don't have a problem with it."

Link freely absorbed the thoughts screaming from Varia's mind, and sighed. "I'm not doing this out of spite, Varia," he told her, removing the condescension from his voice entirely. "Zelda and Junior wanted to hear things from their grandparents' perspective, and I can't rightfully deny it."

"Why!" Varia shouted, unconsciously whirling around and slinging chocolate frosting from her spoon across the room. "Why can't they just leave it where it is? The past is dead, buried, and forgotten-or it should be! You of all people should understand the desire for that!" She rested her hands on the island next to her cake and shook, even as her lover rubbed her shoulders. All the pain she'd suppressed was now bubbling back to the surface and all Link could do was try to help ease it.

"I do understand," Link told her, his voice just as genuine and empathetic as it used to be. "In these last few years, I've been through some things that have made me reconsider that line of thinking, though."

"What possibly could've done that to you?" Varia demanded to know, almost daring Link to give her a reason to accept this stupid decision. She'd never even paused to consider that his own mother died because of his birth, as Varia wasn't exactly a reasonable woman when she was angry or hurt.

"Gerudo," Link whispered, nearly used the word as a curse. "Prior to coming here as a decrepit old man, I spent four years in a barren well being tortured by an exiled Gerudo Pirate Queen and her cohorts."

Varia's head rose, a look of utter astonishment on her face. Everyone mirrored the look on their former captain, only to transition from shock to horror. Link chuckled grimly to himself, accustomed to the look.

"Turns out, I blew myself apart at the core when I … left this place," he continued. "I came together as a Hylian and washed ashore on the exiles' island. Their queen recognized me as the boy that stole the `demon creatures' eggs,' had me stripped naked, and chained figure-eight style hands to feet and dropped in the well." Link abruptly laughed again, but it was blatantly hollow.

"See, here's the thing: My powers were coming back very, very slowly. So, that means I couldn't exactly die, because I kept healing with each burst of new power. And, let me tell you, that lady didn't like it when the wounds healed … at first. Then … then it became a game.

"`What'll happen if I spin your body over this open flame for a night?'

"Answer: I'd scream, and scream, and scream." Even as he smiled and laughed through his description, Link's body unconsciously shifted into that of his charred mortal flesh for a moment, causing those nearest to him to leap back in disgust and horror. Grotesque, raw, pus-filled boils and blisters had covered his cracked, blackened skin, sickeningly describing the damage more than words ever could. "I healed after a few days. But before that, she thought it would be funny to stand my charred body up in the salt water.

"Whoo, you don't know pain until salt water leaks in a fresh wound.

"`So, we could just slit your stomach open and touch your guts, and you wouldn't die?'

"Answer: Yes, she could do all of that-and she did." Again, Link's body transformed with the memory, and although his tunic covered this transformation, the sickening squish of exposed organs resonated through everyone's ears. "She was a sick, sick woman-the systematic burnings, the cuts, the holding me under water until my lungs literally felt as though they were bursting, things shoved in holes without a care in the world. After a while, you begin to crack up. Odd that I can't really recall who said it-the deck was always stacked against me, sure. But at least I always had a chance to fight back.

"`Maybe I deserve this,' I would think some nights.

"Soon, I accepted it for what it was. However, somewhere between her piercing my eyes with that dagger and the sword hanging from my beating heart that day, I lost the ability to roll over and just take the torture anymore, even if I was powerless to stop it. I didn't deserve that. No one deserved that." Link closed his eyes and shook for a moment, frowning as though in genuine pain before continuing. "Anyhow, the point that I'm trying to make is that it's okay to be aware of the past. Just don't get consumed by it, wake up one day with absolutely nothing, and then realize how much you've lost dwelling on, and prepping for, the past to sneak up and bite you on the ass. You miss things right in front of you. And when you miss those things right in front of you, the cycle begins again: You're prepping for the past to make the future better, missing what's in front of you, reflect, and repeat, on and on. So, remember what Ganondorf did. Remember how your mother lost her life. But don't give the past the power to ruin the present."

Varia's face scrunched up despite itself. The son of bitch still had that unerring way of taking the rage out of her. And then to play the Takara Card on top of that-it was enough to make a woman scream! Alas, she didn't. Didn't mean it was going to be over that easily, however.

"So, what do you call your little-what's the word-tirade against Nabooru earlier today? Seems you're still quite stuck in the past," Varia lobbied, causing a consensus groan to emanate from the table.

Link didn't twitch or show any sign of discomfort, she noticed dismally. Nabooru, for all her strength, was still quite fragile on this subject. She did enough twitching and uncomfortable seat adjusting for the both of them.

"Would I be here if I was?" he replied with a smooth, almost practiced authenticity. Varia nodded some to concede his point. "Realistically, I'm still working on it-taking things as they present themselves and only giving a nod to the past as a guideline instead of a stone map of what's to come, and all that."

"So … what does that mean for us?" asked Nabooru, surprised her mouth had moved at all.

Link didn't react, so much as look at her words. "I don't hate you, if that's what you're asking," he said impassively, before abruptly standing and pushing his chair in. "I don't trust you, either. But," Link smirked, "that's something that you have to work on." He stood there momentarily, as if waiting for something to occur, only to tilt his head in an "it figures" sort of way before departing back through the doorway.

"Is everyone all made up now?" Zelda asked from the shadows, as her father nearly walked over her.

She was huddled in the shadows between the orange glow of two torches, lithe arms folded neatly across her chest. She wore a cropped green tunic, tied in a knot just below her breasts, exposing the stomach of a young woman familiar with hard work, with fluid white silk pants tucked into her emerald colored boots. Her father had been the one to put her in the tunic as a child, never minding the revealing outfits of the others, but a tad bit more protective of his own child's welfare. Zelda had simply continued the tradition, altering it some to suit her needs to feel desirable.

Link looked down at her and sighed. "Honey, it isn't that easy." He watched her attempt to tuck her white forelocks behind her ears, only to give up as they jutted back to the forward sides of her face. Much like that hair, his daughter seldom relented easily.

"You said-"

"I said that I would see your mother," he interrupted. "It takes time to work through things like these, feelings like these … you can't possibly understand, and I hope you never do."

Zelda laughed for a second, but slowly hung her head. Link squinted, unnecessarily, his brow creasing with lines of worry as he saw tears streaming down her face.

"Well, I guess we have something in common now," his daughter told him, numbly walking toward him and sniffling to keep her sobs in line. She fell into her father's arms, her safe place, and cried viciously into his chest. Link held her, issuing the smallest of shushes, as he stroked her back through her long red ponytail.

"Baby Girl, what happened?" he asked, feeling that helpless swell of self-loathing every parent experiences when someone or something has done wrong by their child. Link wasn't every parent, though. He was the king of the kings, lord of the lords, and the god of gods almost-and that meant nobody fucked with his children.

"He proposed," Zelda screamed into his chest, breaking into more sobs the instant it left her mouth. "Artie, he-he-we … he proposed, but I said no!"

Ah, so the Prince of Hyrule proposes to Link's own blood and got rejected. It would've been a sick a vindication of sorts if the boy's name wasn't Link. As it were, the world seemed positioned to keep the Links and Zeldas of the world apart, even if this Zelda called that Link by a form of his second name.

"Why? You two have been inseparable since the crib almost," Link whispered, still stroking his child's back to quiet her nerves.

"Mom," Zelda sobbed, pulling back from her father's chest and exposing her face, which was nearly as red as the bulk of her hair. She broke down in his arms again, as Link spun his wheels to figure out what that meant. "S-sin-since I'm part of her … I-I-I didn't want to hurt him, you know? I didn't want to hurt him the way she did you! And if I said yes, I would've, because I'm part her!"

Link sifted through the almost indecipherable blurts of speech, reading his child's open mind and configuring her thoughts with cohesion. It turned out Zelda had denied his query for her hand a dozen times prior to this one, beginning two short years after Link's own disappearance. The fear of running "Artie" away as Nabooru had done her father made Zelda unable to accept his proposal, but, instead, always give an impassive answer of "soon," "one day," or "in the future." He'd asked again tonight, went so far as to ask her to co-rule Sermonia on his father's behalf. She denied him, and, as was also a theme in the Book of Link, he left alone.

In the dining area, Nabooru sat shaken to her very heart as she overheard her child. Link had given the children full access to their gifts earlier, apparently, and Zelda had learned the warp process ages ago from Victorious. She'd left the fortress to go show Artie, as she'd so dubbed him at the age of three, but things had gone wrong, obviously.

"Sssh, girl," Nabooru heard Link say. "You can't worry about things like that, okay? Your mother's not a bad person."

"Yes she is!" Zelda shouted back with such conviction that it nearly toppled her mother over. "If she wasn't, you would've never left! She made you go away because she had to be a cheap who-"

"Stop it!" Link shouted overtop his child, surprising all in earshot. "Listen to me," he said, softly this time, "her issues are hers. Stupid decisions aren't passed down, Zelda."

Nabooru wanted to go back to her room. Listening to her child wail about ending up like her, all the while the man she wronged defended her, left the Gerudo Queen at a simple crossroads. She could confront the situation or hide from it. If it was so simple, why didn't she move? The obvious reason sat right in front of her … it was always in front of her. Everyone watched Nabooru storm from the room, swapping looks of puzzlement and wonder before shuffling off behind her.

"Be quiet!" Nabooru shouted as soon as she stepped into the hall, grabbing her daughter by her shoulders and jerking her from Link's grasp. "You're nothing like me! You're better! You've got to be," she ultimately whispered.

Link grabbed his former wife's shoulder, prying her off the distraught child. "That's enough, Nabooru," he whispered, before she whirled around and grabbed two fists full of his tunic.

"No it isn't! It is my fault everything's like this! All because I can't be second to anyone … to you, to Ganondorf, to anyone…" she huffed, taking her hands off Link. "I was the one that had to be the one after Ganondorf dropped. Me, me, me-it's always been about me. I even pressured you to accept the title of king just so I could beat the great hero at something."

"That doesn't make any sense," Link replied in genuine confusion, though, he could've remedied it with more mental delving.

Nabooru scoffed, fighting the urge to flee just as much as she placed all her faith in the truth. "Sure it does. They liked me more than you, so I was still number one, but an even greater number one since it made the Hero of Time number two," she told him, looking back at her women with shame. "It changed, though. No matter how many times they whispered things, outright insulted you, or whatever, you wouldn't stop trying to better us. I didn't know what the hell I was doing, or what to do after I assumed the title of queen; I just knew that I was absolute for once. Then you moved in and made everyone out there see us all as more than bandits and whores.

"Like I said earlier, things changed. As they watched you suffer through that fight with your father, I could see their respect and fear shifting sides as you purposely limited yourself-sacrificed yourself even-by holding back the energy waves and whatnot to spare us. I was slipping into second with no way to stop it, and I resented you for it. Was that enough, though? Nooo, of course not!

"You brought life to this place and opened our eyes to things Ganondorf and exile had kept us ignorant of for years. You didn't betray their trust. You didn't demand their respect for holding a title for a decade and doing nothing with it. You earned their respect and love by teaching them how to defend themselves properly, how to read, how to write, and on and on and on, Link. And even if these ten didn't leave me, I know it's out of duty to the title more than the person at this point." Nabooru sighed through her nose, looking at her sisters-at-arms. She smiled wistfully, as some averted their gazing eyes and others just shook their heads, all confirming her statement. "They finally saw that everything I said about you was right, but I couldn't handle it. I thought I had to measure up and surpass all that you'd done. But I didn't know how … I couldn't. I was in second place again. So, I found someone inferior to me and claimed superiority over them to cope with it.

"The sad part was that I honestly believed that was all I had to offer-a quick fuck here or there at my say so was what supposedly made me number one. Despite everything you'd done, Link, you always made me feel like I was truly at the top of everything when we were together. I always thought you were sparing my pride when you told me that what everyone else thought of you didn't matter, so long as I loved you. I couldn't understand how having that much respect couldn't mean anything or mean less than the love of one person to you.

"The way you looked when you caught us that second time … I-I didn't know what to say! Everything was just so damn clear that I felt like a fool for missing it. But it was too late then. I'd driven off my child's father, for what? Was it to even up the game by fucking Cornelius until I had a child by someone other than my husband? Please! He never made me feel like I was something special, just a hole that made noise when properly poked. I was `number one' here for ten years, and I never knew what that truly felt like until I married you. Still, here I am rambling about myself, when all I'm trying to say is that I'm sorry for doing that to you," Nabooru told him, calming down as her pride had run out of practical uses. "And I'm sorry I chased your father away. And I'm sorry I took your king. And I'm sorry that I broke your heart."

Link couldn't move his mouth. No one could. Nabooru bowed her head to each party respectively and left. She didn't make a selfish plea for another chance or try to rely on guilt. She walked down the hall toward her room, head held high and shoulders back, relieved of a great burden: She had finally found something that meant more to her than public perception, and now he hopefully knew it. No one could've ever predicted that, and from the look on Link's face, neither could he.

"It's about time," Link thought out to her, pleasantly surprised she'd exposed any type of vulnerability in front of her peers.

Nabooru didn't stop walking, but replied, "I know."

"Be at the lake around sunrise tomorrow, if you want to oversee this meeting with me." Link patiently waited, seeing if Nabooru would respond to this thought. "We'll discuss … the marital issues afterward." This tacked on gem caused her mind to gasp into his, amusing him some.

"Thank you," Nabooru whispered back into his mind, accepting his offer and expressing gratitude for this third chance.

"Daddy," Zelda said, sniffling some as she stared up at him. He brought eyes from up the hall back to the child in front of him, smirking some as he pulled her back against his chest. "What happens now?"

As muffled as her voice appeared to the others, Link understood his daughter perfectly. The question was sound, even if his answer was simplistic.

"First-we're going to get some food in your gut," he said wistfully, shrugging off her protests. "Second-we're going to see if we can't get you hitched. Third-I'm going to see Charon about your grandparents."

"I'm not ready for marriage, Daddy," Zelda whispered, still childishly clutching to him for shelter and shielding. "Not just `cause of Mom, either. I'm just not ready, but I don't want him hurt because of it. And about Mom-"

Link rubbed her back, chuckling deeply within his chest in that fatherly, all-knowing way as he looked at the cluster of Gerudo in the door. "Let me worry about your mother. And we'll wait awhile for number two, is that okay?" Zelda gave a small uh-huh in response. She was emotionally tired, despite the raw, godly energy flowing through her. "You'll learn-in time-that the power doesn't make the emotional stuff any easier," Link said in reference to her thought.

"Well, that sucks as … s … well, it stinks," his daughter replied, pulling back and wiping at her eyes.

"Yeah, but there's always this," Link stuck his thumb in this mouth and puffed until his head turned into a bulbous ham. "And, let's be honest, ham makes everything okay." Everyone laughed a bit, before his head returned to normal. "Varia, make sure that she eats something other than the cake. I have an appointment to keep down below."

"I'm not hungry, though," Zelda whined as her father kissed her forehead. "I'm a demigoddess! I shouldn't have to eat if I don't want to!"

"Yeah, well, I know a certain demigoddess who liked to wear her diapers on her head," Varia quipped, causing Zelda to whirl around and stare at her in disbelief. "And if she wants those tales kept under wraps, she'll sit down and eat like a good little princess."

"Wow, blackmailed in my own home," the Gerudo Princess sighed, "is there no justice?"

"Of course not," Link laughed, fading away in the process. "There's never justice, just us gods here."

A pained groan swept from mouth to mouth, as Zelda and the women made for the kitchen.

"I guess being a god doesn't help those jokes, huh?" she muttered to her comrades, all of whom agreed, smiling despite her best efforts to stay in turmoil.

From his slot in between dimensions, Link smiled and thought to himself, "It might not help the jokes, but it did make you feel better-and that's all that really matters."