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They depart the Rito Village – albeit with some apologies for the structural damage to several rooms – and some notion of heading south toward Tabantha where, as Link promised, there was the possibility of dragons. They’re almost a mile along when a shadow cuts a swift but massive path across the road before them. They look up just in time to catch the sudden, high-speed intercession of a mostly recovered Mishi. He lands with a massive backdraft directly in front of Zelda’s horse, hitting the ground hard enough to kick up dust and mini cyclones. Luckily Maru is long accustomed to bizarre happenings and barely nickers even when a giant bird person appears from the sky. She just stops and snorts, offended.

“Wait!” Mishi says. He’s breathless, frazzled. “I didn’t want to miss you!”

Zelda, thrilled, dismounts to meet him in the road. “Mishi! You’re looking much better!”

The color in his plumage is brilliantly dark and glossy now, his eyes bright, feathers ruffled with emotion. Standing directly in front of her, he’s about half a head taller than her, wearing Rito archery gear, a breast-plate engraved with his clan crest, and a massive long bow clipped to his spine. Above them, the sun’s begun to track across the morning sky and – for a moment – Zelda feels herself pulled by anachronism. She’s been on this road before. Stood like this before. Facing a man like this before wearing armor like that before.

Zelda can feel Link behind her, waiting.

 She roots herself in the present. Mishi, not Revali, touches her forearms lightly, cupping them in the massive curl of his wings

“I couldn’t let you leave without thanking you.”

“No thanks necessary. Just… stay away from the eastern wind temple. There’s old magic there and that’s probably what..” She swallows. “I’m very glad you’re doing better, you know. We were worried.”

“Thanks,” he says. He reaches up and un-snaps a cord from his neck – a feather and stone pendent, a white arrow-head affixed with thin blue-black plumes. He carefully places it in her palm. “Carry that with you, priestess. On my family’s behalf. If you ever need help, you’ll have it from me and all my clan. You and your allies.”

Then, quite before she can do anything except stammer, Mishi puts both wings over her shoulders – warm, dark, and heavy.

“I won’t forget it, Zelda.”

He, gently, bumps his forehead against hers. Then he steps back… and takes off, straight up, launching skyward with such force the gale he leaves in his wake kicks up a spiral of wind – tearing her hair up into a weightless whirl as Zelda stands, laughing, shielding her eyes from the sun to watch Mishi rocket through the atmosphere. He cuts a sharp arc toward the mountains, tearing away on an unstoppable trajectory beyond the foothills and into the highlands. She presses her fingers, curled around the totem, to the smile on her lips and for a moment she lives in that rising heat, like warm waters on a tide, rising within her.

Then she ties it around her neck and mounts up again.

Link signs, ‘He’s fast.’

“Just like Revali,” she agrees. Then she blinks, hard, beset suddenly by a heat of tears. She clears her throat. “Draga’s upset with us.” She nods to the shrinking silhouette in the distance, largish and moving at a fast canter. “He hasn’t done that since the mask incident. He didn’t even want to talk about looking for dragons in Tabantha and that—” she makes a face – “is probably a bad.”

Link signs, ‘You think it’s because I punched him?’

She shoots him a look. “Don’t be smart. Why did you do that, anyway?”

He shrugs.

“Do you ever think about what you do?”

He shrugs again, more deeply.

Zelda shakes her head. “I think, before, you tried much harder to hide that kind of thing from me.”

He wrinkles his nose. “Not really. I wasn’t this reckless before.”

She blinks.

Link’s still watching the road. Zelda studies his face, but his expression is neutral and unconcerned. He pats Epona fondly and fishes for something in his shoulder satchel. She waits. Oh. He’s eating a snack. That… that was it. He just said that and now he’s back to riding. Zelda tries to look less worried while her former knight escort chews on a bit of dried apricot and hums to himself, content to set a steady pace beneath the cold morning sun. He’s wearing his hood up, lazy, letting Epona pick her own path down the road while he guides mindlessly with his knees. Zelda slowly looks away so she can frown privately at the back of Maru’s ears.

Eventually, Link takes not of her silence. She hears a short whistle. When she looks up, Link’s arching a brow at her like he’s been trying to get her attention for some time now. The sun’s moved in the sky. Draga is still pacing about a quarter mile ahead of them, so he’s still mad.

Link’s face asks before his hands. ‘What’s wrong?’

“What did you mean when you say you aren’t as reckless as you were one-hundred years ago?”

He gives her a funny look.

‘I meant what I said,’ he signs.

“Yes, but…” She stops.

It’s a clear day, but the Hebra cold leaves breath visible. There’s a thin layer of snow on the foothills not far above them. Link’s still staring at her, cheeks red, brow drawn down, half a question on his lips that never quite becomes. Then, slowly, a dawning blankness moves into his face and sets fine lines of dread across the interior of Zelda’s lungs.

Then Link just faces forward again and says nothing.

Epona tosses her head a little so he leans forward to run his hand across her neck and Zelda makes a detailed study of Link’s hand as he smooths it over Epona’s downy hide. At some point, Link let a stable girl to braid her mane into a loose series of rows and knots that allowed her to thread several bouquets worth of mountain flowers into it – trapper bells, apple bloom, and violets mixed with wisteria. They’ll wither by the end of the day, Zelda knows. He’ll have to comb and pick the dead plants from Epona’s mane and she thinks of him one-hundred years ago – his old war horse, tacked for battle, meticulously groomed and saddled.

“Is that… silent princess?” she asks eventually, pointing at a flower behind Epona’s ear.

Link glances at her. He’s lowered his chin a little, so the lip of his hood shades his eyes. She has to watch his mouth to read anything from the way he nods instead of speaking. Zelda, carefully, leans from Maru’s saddle so she can lift the flower from Epona’s mane. Zelda sits back properly again. She spins the blossom between her fingers then, on a whim, she slides the stem behind her ear, arranging it into a fetching angle at her temple.

“There. How’s that look?” she demands, swiveling at the hips to face Link.

He gives her a very small smile and thumbs up.

“Useless. I’ll ask Draga.”

‘He’s still mad,’ Link signs looking a little offended. She can see his eyes now.

“I didn’t punch him. You did. And he got the best of you in that fight, by the way, I hope you don’t think I didn’t notice.”

“What? No, he didn’t.”

“Bye,” Zelda says, kicking Epona into a canter.

“Hey!”

They race to catch up with Draga and she loses the flower before they even get there.

 

 


 

 

“Link, do you want to go back to Zora’s Domain?”

He glances at her.

The fire crackles, the scent of roasting fish rising warm from the small travel-sized skillet, the oils popping softly. They’re seated in the shade by a small creek near the road. Link is halfway through the motion pinching herb into the pan and he squints at her instead of giving it the attention it needs; he’s finicky about how things are salted or flavored. Damn. She should have waited until after lunch to ask that question. Ruining a meal with personal questions. She intended to ruin the afternoon generally with personal questions, but ruining food as well… that was just unnecessary.

“Sorry. Never mind.”

Link finishes sprinkling herb and dusts his hands on his pants. Then he turns to crouch facing her. Oh no. He’s giving her his full attention. Which isn’t to suggest he doesn’t usually, but rather that she wishes he wasn’t doing that right now because her question in retrospect seems presumptuous. Link folds his hands between his knees, his elbows on his thighs. Oh, Goddess. He’s giving her his full undivided attention. Link’s full undivided attention, among other things, has brought down giants.

Presently, it’s just making her deeply anxious.

“I only ask because… we’ve only been back the one time. Now that the shrines aren’t working, it takes so long to travel and I just wonder if you wanted to make some time to go there and…” She gives a helpless shrug. “Visit?”

Link thinks about it. Then signs, ‘Do you want to go there?’

“Well, it’s comforting you know.”

Link eyes her steadily then signs, ‘I’m fine.’

“I know Bazz and Gaddison have asked you to come around. Are you afraid they’re going to group hug you to death?”

“Terrified,” he says calmly.

“But, Link, all joking aside. Do we need go back?”

Link gives her a look.

Draga, who is no longer actively avoiding their physical presence, looks up from where he’s seated nearby – back against a log, reading a book. It’s much warmer now that they’ve dropped elevation but he’s still wearing full Snowquill gear and a scarf. This does nothing to detract from the vague sense of dangerous he exudes when he eyes them over the coils of said scarf.

“Zora’s Domain is on the other side of Hyrule. You know that, right? We could not be farther away, presently.”

Zelda glares back at him. “Yes. I know. I am aware.”

“Just checking.”

“I’m sorry, but don’t pick a fight with me just because you’re grumpy.”

“I’m not. I’m saying Zora’s Domain is far away.”

“Bravo. Geography. You know I was the Princess of this land once, right? I might know where things are located.”

Link, visibly uncomfortable, laughs nervously. “Can we not?”

Draga shuts his book. “Why do we need to go to Zora’s Domain?”

“Maybe that’s personal,” Zelda says, folding her arms. She lifts her chin slightly. “Maybe it’s none of your business.”

Draga looks at Link. “Why do we need to go to Zora’s Domain?”

The Hero of Hyrule, Hylia’s chosen hand, embodiment of the Light, glances quickly toward the creek like he’s wishing it were much deeper and he could throw himself into it to avoid this conversation. But he can’t and Draga’s sitting forward now, draping one arm over his knee, his book dangling between his fingers as he narrows his eyes. Draga’s right cheekbone is still bruised. He didn’t let Zelda heal him and seems to have used just enough first aid to close the cut there, but nothing else. Link still has a split lip and scraped knuckles.

“We don’t,” Link says.

“Zelda is making a face. I don’t believe you,” Draga counters.

Link glares at Zelda who wasn’t aware she was making any face whatsoever and tries to stop having a face immediately.

“I’m fine,” Link says.

“Why,” Draga drawls, “did you assume I thought there was something wrong with you?”

Link tenses.

Draga just stares, calmly, waiting.

“I’m sorry I hit you earlier.”

“Thanks, but that is not what I’m talking about right now or why I’m asking.”

Link signs, ‘It’s no problem.’

Draga signs, carefully, ‘L-I-A-R.’

“Leave it alone,” Zelda starts to say.

Draga interrupts. “But since you brought it up – why did you attack me? You’re crazy, but that was rude. You’re not usually rude.”

“I’m not crazy,” Link says calmly.

Draga rolls his eyes. “You’re reckless but you’re not rude. So why did you do that?”

Link’s mouth thins. Then, “I don’t know. Just felt right.”

Hitting me felt right?”

Link shrugs.

“Are you sure you’re not crazy?” Draga sighs, a little dramatically, seemingly ready to abandon this line of questioning.

Then Link repeats, quietly, “I’m not crazy.”

And then there’s a long silence.

Draga, who was clearly not trying to dig at a nerve, seems mildly unsure what to do upon realizing he’s found one. Zelda, who was not aware that was a nerve to dig at, blinks. Link, who seems to realize what he’s just done, freezes. Luckily that’s when the fish he left in the skillet starts smoking and then bursts, somewhat improbably, into flames. Small miracles. Draga points. Zelda yelps. Link, noticing the sudden flames, grabs the handle on reflex and promptly burns his hand. He hisses, then tries again with a towel whereupon he just flings the whole pan into the creek where it ricochets off a rock and disappears into the shallows on the opposite bank.

Zelda stares.

Draga, dumbfounded, says, “You lost your pan.”

Damn it,” Link says.

He inspects his burned hand. There’s a bright red band bisecting the centre of his palm.

“Here,” Zelda says, standing up. “Let me see.”

“Don’t,” Link snaps.

Zelda stops exactly where she is, boots rooted suddenly to the ground. Draga doesn’t say a word but Zelda can feel him… settling on her peripheral. Link flexes his hand a few times, furling and unfurling his fingers as the burn darkens, flushing with heat. She’s pretty sure it’s going to blister. She’s certain it must hurt. He looks over his shoulder at them and Zelda isn’t sure how to describe the specific notion that Link’s eyes get bluer somehow, intensify with his temper, even though that cannot be true. When he looks like that… huh, she thinks of the Wolf on the road.

“So there’s a demon in your shadow,” Link says, looking at Draga.

Draga, who was nowhere near that topic of conversation, stares then slowly allows the violent change of subject. “Yes, we established this. Are you getting that pan or…?”

“That doesn’t bother you?”

“Of course, it bothers me, but you get used to it.”

Link turns around. “Do you want us to try and get rid of it?”

Draga laughs, then seems to realize Link is serious. “That’s a notion, but no. You can’t break the tie with this demon. It’s too ancient even for you two. I admit, there is a wildness to you both that defies the laws of convention so nothing is impossible, but unless you exhibit some control over what you do I can’t imagine you breaking a curse this powerful.” Draga tilts his head. “No offense, Link, you’re strong. What power you possess, it tends to wipe out what stands before it, but you act in instinct. Do you even know how you did what you did back in the Rito Village?”

Link says nothing.

Zelda cuts in, “I could try though. The entirety of my inherited magic is fashioned for sealing malicious power.”

“And you used most of it against the Calamity,” says Draga evenly. “And what practical application has there been from your study of sorcery at the Hyrulian high court? Any at all? Or do you, like Link, draw on some unspecified knowledge at the time of necessity?”

“That may be true,” she says, ignoring the sting of that – the implication that years of prayer and study have amounted to nothing so much as book knowledge, “but how can a single dark spirit be more dangerous than the Calamity Ganon?”

“I don’t believe it is more dangerous, just more subtle. Zelda, your power is a hammer.”

“And that won’t work because…?”

“You cannot kill what you cannot reach. The demon isn’t… here. It’s on the other side of the veil. The demon tribe does not exist on this plane until they choose to do so and they needn’t present themselves in our world to do harm.” Draga gestures to his bruised cheekbone, the place where the monster laid a gash open during the fight. “Again, what you saw was a shadow on a wall. The real beast is… bigger.” He hesitates, like even talking about it sets him on edge. “But this is all beside the point: I have protections afforded me by my family. So long as I do not engage in pact magics, I am safe.”

“You’re sure?” Link says.

“After two decades of living with it? Reasonably.”

Zelda frowns, moving to take a seat on the log he’s leaning against. “Your basing this off the fact it… simply hasn’t tried anything historically?”

“No,” Draga says quietly, “I’m basing it off the fact my sisters worked very powerful magic to protect me before they died. Generations of my family have fought endlessly to break the curse and they’ve come the closest to doing it – to limiting its scope. It would dishonor their efforts to expose others needlessly to the danger now. So… I thank you, but pick a different battle. This one is mine.”

“So fight all the battles that aren’t close to us?” Link demands.

Draga looks at him. “Why are you so eager for a fight?”

“I’m not.”

“You’re being rude again. Are you going to fight me now?”

“Of course not.”

Draga narrows his eyes. “Okay, what you actually angry about? Because it’s not my curse. You’ve been in a mood since we left the Village this morning and you were fine before then so what is it? Because I think I’ve humored you long enough about something that is, actually, deeply personal so either respect my wishes not to be your next battleground or tell me what’s actually wrong.” He folds his arms. “If you can do that, maybe I’ll consider letting you help. Your choice.”

And Link, rather precisely caught, looks away.

After a while, Draga sets his book aside and moves somewhat laboriously into a crouch.

“If you’re not going to get that skillet, then I’ll do it. You’ll just be irritated about it later –”

“I don’t remember things,” Link says, cutting him off.

Draga stops. He processes that, then calmly, “I thought you said you’d recovered most of your memories.”

“Some,” Link murmurs. “Not most.”

“And that bothers you?” Draga asks.

He doesn’t quite smile. "You get used to it."

If Draga resents his words being echoed, he doesn’t give sign. “This is the first I’ve heard of it. Is it the first Zelda’s heard of it?”

And Link looks at her. She’s fighting back the knot in her throat because he looks so tired in that moment.

“I knew,” Zelda cries, hands clenching tight in her lap. “I thought it was… Link how bad is it? You never talk about it! You remember so much. We talk about the past all the time. I… I sensed that you’d remembered our time together. What do you mean you don’t remember things? What’s missing? Was I wrong?” She stops when Link folds his arms and looks away, a slight visible pain moving across his face, then sliding back into unreadable calm. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

He doesn't answer.

“We can go back to Zora’s Domain,” Zelda says, desperately now. She stands up, hands clasped tight, pressed against her stomach. She feels nauseous. Dizzy. “They remember you from before I knew you. You said before that they helped you get things back. You have so many friends there. They would certainly help you. Please, you don’t have to… pretend everything is fine. We can stop. We can go back. Just talk to me.”

“I don’t think it will help.”

“Why?”

He shrugs.

“Link, no. Tell me why.”

“I always…” He tries to go on, but his next words stick and die. He says nothing for a moment, as though he’s not certain about continuing at all, but Draga is waiting and Zelda is waiting, trembling with the silence, so he signs, ‘I always assumed I’d lose my mind. So, it’s not a priority.’

Zelda says nothing.

Then, “What?”

Draga, who is probably catching only a handful of Link’s sign, looks sharply at her.

“You’re not going to lose your mind!” Zelda cries.

What?” Draga echoes.

Link’s completely emotionless as he, wordless, lays it out in gesture and sign. ‘I already did once. It’s not unreasonable to think it’s likely.’

 “Why would you say that?” Her voice is starting to crack. “What do you mean…?”

‘I don’t know. I have a feeling. My instincts tend to be good. That’s all.’

“How long have you felt this way?”

’Since the sword chose me. Draga is right: I have no control over the power inside me. It's going to eat me alive.’

Zelda covers her mouth with one hand, shaking.

‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I didn’t know how.’

“I don’t understand what he’s saying,” Draga says tensely.

“Link…” Zelda hesitates to see if he wants to speak for himself but he gives her a small permissive nod. “He's saying he has no control. That... the magic itself is going to drive him insane and...” She looks desperately at her once knight and partner, who calmly waits for her to translate the massiveness of his admission into plain words. “…because he lost his memories once already, it's accelerated the timeline. He thinks he will lose his mind and that it’s going to happen sooner rather than later. That's why he's pushing about the curse, because he thinks it's going to get worse.” Tears are brimming in her eyes. “Link is that right?”

He drops his gaze.

He nods.

And Zelda, barren of any other instinct in that moment, shakes her head. Slowly at first, then hard, until her hair is in her eyes and her heart in her throat and she can’t – she can’t

She dashes across the short distance, hitting Link in the chest, palms first. She hears him grunt softly with the impact. Her hands close on his tunic. She can feel the scale mail beneath it – a token of his childhood friend, hand-crafted to fit him. His eyes are wide. She can see every organic fractal of blue in his irises and the faint scar at the top of his forehead where his hairline starts. He got it from a riding accident when he was ten. His ears are pierced because Zora give jewelry so casually as a gift.

His hands close over hers. She can pick out a myriad of pale scars on his fingers – a history of learned violence she was never witness to. She doesn’t know the stories in the callouses. She doesn’t know the topography of his lost history, mapped out in implication only and gone now in the wake of the Calamity. Her fists ball up in his shirt and she pulls at him so she can drop her forehead against her fists and breathe.

 “You could have told me,” she chokes. “I wanted…. I wanted to know that.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, aloud but so softly it could be lost in the breeze. “It was easier to pretend.”

She draws back, lifting her eyes. “How could that be easier?”

He doesn’t answer for a moment, just turns from her, so her hands slide from his breastbone to his shoulder. When he continues not to answer, she moves behind him and (after a hesitation, intense, all encompassing, white hot) loops her arms around him, tucking her arms around his ribs, her hands lacing over his chest. She lies her cheek against that back of his neck. His hair tickles a little. He smells like the floral bar soap from the inn. Her heart is slamming in her chest – rabbit-quick and afraid.

“You can tell me.” She swears it to him, but still the silence stretches. “Please. Please, just tell me…”

“You didn’t know me well enough to tell the difference.”

Zelda nods, just once, then presses her face against the slope of his neck, feels his hand close over her inter-locked fingers. Squeezing tight. Like an apology or to keep her from pulling away in the aftermath. She’s not sure. She’s not sure about anything. She's not sure he could have hurt her more if he drew his blade across her arm – letting blood from her veins like venom from a bite. His hand tightens until the bones in her fingers ache and she, acting on impulse, mouths ‘it’s okay’ against the nape of neck until his hand relaxes.

“Link,” Draga says, when it's clear Zelda can't go on, “do you want my opinion?”

He waits for Link to nod.

“In Gerudo teachings, magic use of any kind always carries some measure of madness. An attitude of risk. The greatest danger to any sorcerer is the possibility of losing themselves to the powers within them – The Thousand Voices. The Sea of Lives. To lose yourself to any of these is to fall to abomination and possession. It’s what killed my family and what stands in my shadow... so when you tell me you’re afraid to lose yourself, know that I hear you, but also know that I have some notion of the signs.”

He lets that settle for a moment.

“When you say you’re going to lose your mind, do you mean you’re going to lose yourself to the Sea or that your memory loss has made you a different man?”

“Both,” Link says quietly.

“One may not have anything to do with the other, you know.”

“I dream about drowning in twilight and a moon that falls time and again, infinitely.” Link’s hand tightens on Zelda’s again, his shoulders set. “I dream about falling so far from above the clouds that I can barely see the earth. In the dream, I’m another person. When I wake up, I feel that I don’t have enough of myself left to keep them out. One has to do with the other.” He shivers. “I’m… afraid of losing my mind again. It’s like dying…”

“Look at me,” Draga says. “Link. Look at me. You embody the soul of the hero, yes, so you have many lives lined behind you. Maybe they tell you how to move. How to fight. How to employ magic you’ve never learned or a tactic you’ve never tried. Maybe, in moments of battle or fear, you see a window into a section of their lives, but I don’t believe they will consume you.”

Link's looking at the creek, not Draga.

Link says, “Why not?”

“Because those lives are yours, in some degree. They’re behind you. Like memories. You’re troubled because you’re beginning to see memories that are not your own when your own memory has been so dramatically reduced. You were wounded in battle, Link. You lost parts of yourself. I won’t say that I know whether you will ever get those pieces back, but even so the man you are now… he’s far too stubborn to fall to the men that came before him.” 

“None of them lost to the Calamity,” Link murmurs.

“None of them had to come back from losing.”

“I can’t control it.”

“Such is wild magic. It’s not for you to control, but it’s intent is not your destruction. You can stand in the eye of the storm and direct its trajectory, Link, simply trust that you’re unmovable.” And when Link does not look at him, Draga moves forward and with two hands takes his head into his palms, fingers curling around the back of his neck, thumbs hooked behind the line of his jaw and when Link doesn't pull away, he guides his eyes up. “Listen to me," he says. "You are not insane. Even if every hero before you was utterly mad, you are not and you will not be."

Link exhales. "Why not?"

"You have Zelda. You have me.” He searches Link’s eyes, shakes his head. “I do not see the signs in you. So, you won't be lost."

Link doesn’t move. Doesn’t relax.

“Do you believe me, Link?”

Zelda can smell copper, taste it, like a coin on her tongue.

Link exhales, slowly. “I believe you.”

“Good. Then we should get back on the road.” Draga lets Link go and moves to pick is book up from the grass where he left it. “There are dragons at Tabantha Bridge. Or was that not true?”

Link turns in Zelda’s arms. Before she can react, he cups her face in his hands and presses his mouth to the plane of her right cheek. He says something, soundless, against her skin. ‘Thank you’ perhaps or… or something else. She freezes. Her entire face flushes, but as fast as he does it, he stops. He steps away, moving past her toward the creek where he starts to wade across the shallow water, hunting for the skillet. Zelda can’t explain why her lips, not her cheek, seems to ache from contact (or lack thereof) and the shiver that runs down her body ends somewhere in her stomach.

Draga turns around, slinging a satchel over his shoulder. “Gerudo country isn’t far from here. We have time to slow down before we head that way.”

Zelda rubs her cheek. “Yes, right. Of course.”

Link’s plucking the lost pan from the water.

Draga’s looking at her. “Are you alright?”

“Hmm? Oh. Yes. I’m okay.” She pulls her hair back. “Uh, thank you again, Draga. I… I appreciate it. I think Link needed to hear that.”

“You two need to talk more,” he says quietly. “I mean what I said – he’s safe but much of that has to do with you. Isolation is the fastest way for the Sea to take a soul beyond the shore.” He moves toward the clearing where the horses are penning beyond the trees. “I may not always be here. You need to be sentinel.”

Zelda hops the log by their rest site, chasing him down.

“Draga.” She catches his arm, pulling him around to face her. “If you leave Link and I, who will be your sentinel?”

He says nothing, just peers down at her, eyes unfathomable and green. He’s so tall he casts a shadow over her. She waits.

“I’ve been alone since I was fifteen, Zelda. I’ve had seven years to work out how to protect myself by myself. You needn’t worry about me.” He smiles a little. “But I appreciate it.”

She lets him pull away to check the tack on his horse.

“Okay,” she says to herself.

Behind her, Link is putting out the fire and packing up. Draga is patting Arbiter. She stands there, aware of them both, and silently over and over she hears Draga saying, ‘I may not always be here. I may not always be here. I may not…’

 


 

They board their horses at Tabantha Bridge Stable a full day later.

It’s a quiet and somewhat isolated outpost perched almost directly on the cliff besides its namesake – narrow arch of wood planking and rope that tenuously spans the dizzying plunge of Tanagar Canyon. So deep is the fissure in some sections of the country, the bottom vanishes into a deeper, darker layer of cloud and mist that seems it could very well be the migratory path of draconic beasts. Tabantha Bridge is the only permanent bridge linking the plains of Hyrule Ridge to the snowy region of Hebra and therefore, an essential waypoint for merchants and travelers of all variety.

They take day packs and hike out to the far edge of the canyon at the foot of Mount Rhoam, far from the bridge itself, and set up a comfortable spot for themselves on a wide jut of stone overlooking the canyon course. Zelda lays down several blankets within minute Draga has produced alcohol from a deceptively small flask that tingles when Zelda takes draft from it. She suspects, somewhat, that it’s enchanted in the way Link’s travel satchel is enchanted and carries far more than its dimensions should allow.

So, getting increasingly more drunk, they watch the color leech from the sky.

Turns out Link isn’t a talkative drunk.

After quite a few long draughts from the flask, however, Link does discard all sense of personal space. So he’s presently trying to climb on Draga’s back and Zelda – eating a small bag of candied fruit – makes absolutely no move to help. Link keeps saying something about ‘higher ground’ as he clambers their giant friend the way he might climb a rock face. Draga doesn’t seem amused. He pries at the smaller man with little success, Link clinging, tenacious as a limpet. He gives it up until Link is literally sitting on his left shoulder, squinting across the plains with the attitude of a mountaineer surveying the country.

Draga sighs and loops a hand over Link’s knee to keep him from tipping. He eyes the impetuous Hero of Hyrule with a long, calculated stare that is surely counting down to the moment he flings Link into the dirt. But he makes no move to do so. His hand on Link’s thigh is so large that his fingers very nearly encircle his leg just above his knee.

“I could throw you like a shotput,” Draga reminds him.

Link says, loudly, “Don’t be a drag, Draga.”

The Gerudo gives him this look like Link’s immediate future as a human bolo is forthcoming.

“Are you certain the dragon comes this way?”

 “Yes,” he says.

“When?”

“Very late at night. Or very early in the morning.”

Draga promptly torques to the left and flings Link to the ground next to Zelda. Zelda, still eating candied fruit, moves the bag out of the way so it doesn’t get crushed when Link rolls onto his back and lies there, a little red-faced, on the blanket. Draga takes a seat at the far edge of the blanket, the small campfire to the side casting relief on the three of them, the full moon laying silver highlight across the grassy slope up Mount Rhoam. Link points at the moon and signs.

‘I keep thinking it’ll turn red.’

Draga looks up, stunned. “The blood moons have stopped now that Calamity is gone.”

Zelda tilts her head. “Yes. You didn’t know that?”

Draga runs a hand through his hair, the wind ruffling some of the shorter bits. “I did, I just now realized that’s directly attributable to you two.”

Zelda does a little half bow/wave combo. Link gives a thumbs up.

“I take it back.” Draga lies back on the ground, lacing his fingers behind his head. “It’s not that impressive.”

“We probably should not be drinking if we’re trying to spot a dragon,” Zelda points out. “I’m already sleepy.”

‘They aren’t dangerous,’ Link signs.

“Wake me if dragons show up,” says Draga, closing his eyes and with a soldier’s immediacy, falls asleep.

Zelda prods the sole of his boot with her toe and gets no response. Link laughs, but silently, shoulders shaking a little. Zelda sits up so she can crawl over and peer down at Draga who, yes, appears to have completely dropped to sleep in the span of one moment and the next. She satisfies herself that it’s so by mock lunging and waving her hands inches from his face. Nothing. She sits back on her heels, examining their friend’s sleeping face. In consciousness, Draga’s neutral expressions are somewhat severe, lending him a default mien of someone vaguely irritated, just on the verge of a scowl. In sleep, the edges smooth away; you might notice his eyelashes are a little long, or that his hair curls where it get loose from the braids and clasps. Zelda has to resist a small, familiar impulse to smooth his hair flat where it’s sticking up.

She catches Link in the corner of her eye, signing.

‘I think we can break the curse.’

Zelda, glancing warily at Draga, signs back, ‘We should respect his wishes.’

Link sighs and flops back down, running his hands over his face. He signs, from his back, ‘We could fight it.’

Zelda moves to kneel beside him, leaning over her fallen knight so she can sign down at him. ‘I don’t know how to fight it.’

Link tilts his head. He’s so much smoother with his hand signals. ‘I think you did pretty well.’

She gives up on sign. “I didn’t know what I was doing. It was just… in the moment.”

Link grins. ‘You shouted down a demon.’

“I did not.”

He shrugs, makes a lazy one-handed gesture that translates, thereabouts: ‘I liked it.’

Link’s still grinning. His smiles linger longer, stick more easily when he’s tacky with liquor and slower to rein in the translation of emotions to body language, like drink gums up the gears that tell him to be stone before the eyes of others. A breeze rising from the valley ruffles Link’s bangs slightly. He’s a little more slack than usual, a warm fluidity born of drunkness and, she thinks, happiness. He’s been lighter since their talk at the creek. Quicker to smile and take to a joke. The firelight’s putting little strands of gold into his hair. He smiles up at her.

Zelda is not sure how it happens, or what part of her mind goes into automatic movement but the impulse – always there, vaguely, unformed and unexamined – comes to the forefront of her brain and asserts control. She places one hand on the blanket by Link’s head, bracing herself so he’s beneath her, looking up at her. He watches her, curiously, and begins to mouth a word. Lips parting on something, a question maybe or –

She kisses him.

Her lips find his just as his voice finds his throat. The vibrato comes across his teeth, settles in the bones of her face and it’s so unexpected she jerks back immediately, as if shocked. Link stares at her, half braced on his elbows in the attitude of rising, eyes wide in the dark, his lips still parted on whatever he was going to say before she put her tongue in his mouth and caught his voice against the back of his teeth. He can’t seem to get it back – rendered all again mute by her.

“I’m sorry!” Zelda covers her mouth with her hands. Horror possesses every fiber in her body and knots them up. “I didn’t – I’m sorry! I’m drunk! I didn’t mean that!”

Link sits up very slowly, expression… odd. His lower lip is a little swollen. She shakes her head, whispering.

“I don’t know why I did that.”

He keeps staring at her.

“That wasn’t fair. Oh. That was stupid. I don’t… I guess…. I thought it was funny what you said. Shouting at demons. Oh… that’s not very funny actually.” Panic. She’s panicking. Link’s all blue-eyed and pale and just staring at her and she’s losing her mind right in front of me so of course she rejoins, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It seemed like a good idea! Oh. Why do I keep letting Draga give me alcohol?! Just because I stole his wine that one time and suddenly it’s, like, a challenge of some variety I honestly… I don’t…”

Link is still staring. Zelda gives up entirely and covers her face with two hands, peeking between her fingers, because that will somehow make this less horrible.

Voice muffled, she whispers, “I didn’t ruin things, did I?”

Link stares. Then, “What?”  

“You know… by doing that. Did I… ruin everything?”

Link again, says, “What?”

“Did I break it?”

“It?”

“Us.”

“What?”

They might both be a little too drunk for this.

“You know!” Zelda flaps a hand. “With the kiss.”

Link stares.

Then he promptly bursts into laughter.

Which, given how appalled she is, seems almost offensive – him amused in the face of her utter mortification and crisis. Link falls over on his side and lies there gasping, hair in his eyes, just lost in laughter. It occurs to Zelda that she’s never seem him laugh like that – that he’s very, very different when he’s breathless and smiling and loud even in a passing moment and in this passing moment, Zelda’s heart seems to constrict in her chest. Suddenly, she’s very glad she decided to kiss him if for no other reason than this.

Eventually, Link stops laughing.

Zelda lies down on the blanket facing him, smoothing her hair in annoyance.

Link signs, carefully, ‘You can’t break us.’

“Can’t I?” she whispers.

He looks at her. Then says, calmly, “No.”

And she doesn’t know what to say, so she says, “I might sleep this off and miss the dragon.”

Link shakes his head. He signs, ‘It’s a dragon.’

“Technically, it’s a spirit.”

‘You’d going to miss seeing a DRAGON.’

She shrugs, closing her eyes. “We have time.”