She is walking across a desert.
Her hands are soaked with gold. They run with it – like rainwater from an unseen storm – from her palms and from her feet. She leaves a winding line of damp, luminous footprints along the thin spine of the dune. In one hand is a bow. Platinum and mathematically curved. In the other hand – four arrows. Gold as well, hollow, and fletched with silver. She climbs a hill slowly. She knows with no context that she is going to the Arbiter’s Grounds to find the execution circle – the abandoned ruin at the foot of the desert colossus and then, having thought that, she is there.
She stands at the top of sandstone steps under a granite arc facing the colosseum circle – pale curves of stone built over and over atop one another so the diameter of the arena stands three stories tall. Rotted banners waves from the battlements. The floor is grainy, wind worn, and hot beneath her bare feet. A pool of silvery light gathers and evaporates on the stone where she stands, dripping, her clothes wet, her lips running with rain, her hair caught up in slow eddies behind her.
There are two people standing in the ruined arena.
Link is there. He’s wearing armor she’s never seen – a green tunic and chain mail. She can see his breath in the desert night; it glows gold, as though he is exhaling from some kiln burning steady within, the endless smoke rolling over his tongue and dissipating into the dark. In his hand – the blade, burning silver. It shivers the air around them with every breath it breathes in sync to the soul of the Hero. He doesn’t look at her when she mounts the steps. He only has eyes for the man on the other side of the arena.
The other man in the arena is Draga.
She’s never seen the armor he’s wearing. It fits too close – black metal and old Gerudo script tooled in leather. He’s crouching, massive and dark, across from Link. There’s a claymore smithed of black steel in his hand, resting point down against the sand-eaten stone. The ground beneath Draga’s boots is glowing, pulsing a slow gold vibrato through the earth, like the heartbeat of some great animal and when Zelda descends the first stair he looks up at her.
She can’t see his face. It’s dominated entirely by the steady hell-red burn of light in the sockets of his skull.
When she sees the glow – it cleaves through her like a butcher’s blade, laying her heart open and she begins to weep immediately, tears running gold from her eyes and cooling against the skin like a mask. She’s standing over him suddenly, looking down into a familiar face made black with shadow. The sacred bow lies shining on the ground. She cups her friend’s jaw in her hands and tries, with her thumbs, to wipe the darkness away – like you wipe dirt from a boy’s cheek.
She wipes gold where the shadows are, smearing it like oil, leaving it like gold-leaf against his cheek.
She bends down. She can smell his breath – iron oxide and alkali earth.
She kisses him, gold over flowing from her lips, melting down his jaw and filling his mouth, his throat, his lungs. She is drowning him but he doesn’t move – still as a statute and warm as a hearth stone as she –
She wakes up.
The moon overhead hangs heavy and bright – caught up in the warming sky. Constellations spark like pin pricks of bright fire in her mind and for a reeling moment she can’t recall if these were the stars in that desert or if there were stars at all in that old ruin or if she ever looked at the sky. She groans, rubbing hands over her face, feeling her belly pitch and yaw with the aftermath of Draga’s flask. Her mouth tastes sticky and sour. There’s a residue of sweat on her face and her hands feel cold, like they’ve run through glacial streams. She can hear voices talking in the distance. One voice speaking low, coming into focus as she begins to listen and hear…
“What do you mean you ‘rode him’?”
There’s a murmur.
“Link,” Draga says, “I know you don’t speak out loud very often so I say this with the gentlest of criticism, but you cannot just say the crown prince of the Zora –who is over a century old and known in the land for slaying mountainous sea creatures – let you ride him. That sounds very…” He struggles. “…offensive? Is that offensive to Zora? It sounds offensive, to say nothing of somewhat suggestive…”
Zelda rolls over to squint toward the edge of the canyon where Link and Draga are seated at the edge of the cliff, bodies framed by the faint edges of dawn beginning to spread along the horizon. Just enough light that Zelda can make out the open-mouthed look of mortification on Link’s face – all blue-eyed, blond, and offended. Draga shrugs, facing forward, one long leg hanging off the cliff, the other drawn up so he can drape an arm over his knee.
“You said it. I’m just telling you…”
Link hisses something.
“I know you well enough to assume as much, but most people know you as a madman so it would not take much for them to make very different assumptions. That one fellow thought you sold your soul to a mountain lord. God knows what he might think if he heard a Zora Prince let you mount him…”
Link immediately swings around and kicks Draga in the ribs. Hard.
“He’s Mipha’s brother!” Link says, horrified, loud enough that Zelda can hear.
Draga, lying on his side, drawls, “I apologize. That was rude.”
Link settles a little.
Draga props his chin in his hand, lounging. “You also share a bed with the crown queen of Hyrule so there’s that too.”
Link kicks Draga again, repeatedly.
“What?” Draga is laughing over the thump of Link’s boot knocking into his thigh, hip, and lower ribs. “A misguided bard could have a field day with it. This is what happens when you don’t come forward and tell your own story.”
Eventually the furious kicking lets up (mostly because Draga catches his boot in one massive hand) and they both sits straight again. There’s a sociable quiet and Zelda hunkers down against the blanket, pressing herself flat to the rumpled wool, afraid to disturb that quiet lest she derail its pleasant trajectory. The wind rising from the canyon makes a riot and a mess of Link and Draga’s hair respectively and, side by side, the difference in their size seems exaggerated – Link no more than a shadow beside a monolith – and its only then, in the contrast, that the residual anxiety crawls forward again.
Zelda squeezes her eyes shut and it’s there: The desert. The shadow. Gold dripping like honey and nightshade. She opens her eyes. Draga is shoving Link with a companionable brutality. Link elbows his arm away. Her heart races in her breast – quickened by unfathomable instinct. Like she needs to stand up. Move. Go to them, immediately and… and what? Warn them of what? The dread crawling through her belly like a trapped salamander? Her premonition of a desert and symbolic dangers? She lies, paralyzed and afflicted, by her own promise to Link only months before: I swear it. I would tell you if we were in danger.
Draga says, “When is your dragon coming?”
“Is it true they’re wardens to the Goddess Springs?”
“What are dragons like? In case none come.”
That seems to surprise Draga who glances at Link.
“Like a storm is indifferent,” Link goes on calmly.
Draga says nothing to that for a moment. Then, “Which dragon are we waiting for?”
“Dinraal. Lord of fire.”
Draga sits forward, setting his elbows against his knees and looking out into the void beyond, boots braced against the cliff face while the wind gets pieces of his bangs loose. Zelda has this theory he cut his hair too short, too fast, and after years of classic Gerudo coiffures (based entirely in volume and length and elaborate restraint) was at a loss for how to style it. And so, he makes due wrangling it into half braids and gold clips. She hasn’t told him lately that it suits him. She should do that.
Zelda can hear his smile, even if she can’t see it.
“I would be disappointed to not see Dinraal.” He laughs. “For all that I’ve traveled… there is much I’ve not bothered to see.”
Link cocks his head.
“My circumstance was too urgent for that, you understand. I had to… acquire power quickly. This journey back to my home country – winding, unfocused, lackadaisical as it is – it’s the longest stretch of time I’ve spent actually seeing this land. Doing what it is our pilgrimage is supposed to be.”
Link fidgets. Then, after a moment, he asks, “Will they bar us from entering because we’re voe?”
“They won’t bar me. I’m returning from pilgrimage and I’m of the People.” He shrugs. “As for you, any voe can ask for a circumstantial pardon if you’re there on business. You just need someone to vouch for you and –” He stops. He looks at Link. “Are you saying Riju hasn’t already given you a pardon?”
“A pardon. You can come as a voe into Gerudo Town if you have one. It just means the Gerudo who sponsored you must be with you. In this case, I would be your sponsor, but I assumed you had pardon already.”
“I didn’t have that.”
“So how did you get into the city?”
Link must answer quietly because all Zelda hears is Draga’s loud, belligerent rejoinder.
“You did what?”
Link squirms physically, hot with embarrassment.
Draga stares Link dead in the eyes, a soul-crushing judgement. “Gerudo Town is a trade post, not a central stronghold. The vai-to-vai commercial traditions date back eons, yes, but they aren’t life-or-death. It’s a trade practice to protect our merchants.”
Link signs, ‘Really?’ with one hand.
Draga growls. “I understand going under cover as a vai once to meet with Riju, provided the guards didn’t believe your admittedly ridiculous story, but after that you could have claimed sanctuary and gone as voe with escort. Either Riju assumed you identified both ways or knew you didn’t and thought it was hilarious. She is thirteen so…”
Link thinks about it. “Oh,” he says after a long while, softly.
Draga looks disgusted. “You idiot.”
“Oh,” Link says, covering his face.
Draga sighs, relenting a little. “This does not… improve upon your actions, precisely, but the actual writ of the law is that you must act in accordance with Gerudo norms while within the city. This interpretation is… very subjective, intentionally, so we may bar whoever we like from the city provided they are disruptive or disrespectful. Even if a guard suspected you might be a Hylian male in form, when dressed as a vai, you are vai.”
Link’s less embarrassed now. “I didn’t know that.”
“Almost no one outside of Gerudo culture does. That’s the point, but that does not apply to you, Hero.” He calls him ‘hero’ like you call someone ‘idiot’. “When we get there, you should ask Riju for a formal pardon outside merchant law.” A beat. “Unless, you do feel as a vai…?”
Link looks up, blinking. Draga’s squinting at him and it’s then he must realize the Gerudo is legitimately asking. “Oh! No, I’m… I’m voe.”
“All the time?” Draga says, like that’s surprising.
Link kind of stares for a moment, then gives it some thought. He nods.
Draga shrugs. “Blessed for you that it’s so easily known.” A pause. “You know Draga is not my birth name, do you not?”
Link gives no sign this surprises him.
“Not every Gerudo comes home with a new name, but I am. It is… uncommon. As is my trade. When I stand before Chief Makeela Riju and her council, it will mean something if you and Zelda are there for it as witness. It will… assure people.”
“Why that name?”
“I don’t know. It felt correct.”
“Mer Draga,” Link says, using his Gerudo surname. He nods, as if he likes the sound of it.
Draga smiles. “It’s reversed in Hylian, is it not? Surname and given name?”
Link’s smiling. He begins to say –
And that’s when, all at once, something erupts from the canyon directly below them. A geyser of molten red exploding from a gap in dimensions and the displacement of otherworldly air knocks Link and Draga flat to the ground. Zelda, in her instant of panic, thinks of Death Mountain: That a dormant vein from the core of the great volcano has come awake in the canyon. But even as she thinks it, the volcanic eruption snakes like a great, red-black ribbon in the sky overhead and resolves, finally, as something else entirely. A hovering twist of magma suspended in the atmosphere.
And then, slowly, the dragon’s head – horned in flaming iron, maned like a lion, muzzle the color of ash on cherry red metal – rises from the loops of its body and stares down at them.
Its eyes are gemstone and older than comprehension. The sight alone garrotes the functions of Zelda’s lungs. But the dragon isn’t even looking at her. It’s staring directly down at Link and Draga.
Link’s already up on one knee, blade in hand, his fist snagged in the collar of Draga’s tunic. Frozen with the potential energy of flight but illuminated in the furnace glow of the dragon… he doesn’t even breathe. Draga lies stunned, just… staring as the dragon-god Dinraal (fire wyrm, guardian of the sacred flame, beast that eats the falling stars) twists upward suddenly, breaches the low-hanging clouds… and begins to dive.
By then, all three of them are sprinting away.
They run toward the long open flatlands leading back toward the road, stumbling in the dark over unseen divots in the grass, breathing fast and ragged. They say nothing to each other. Running close to one another. Link’s crushing her hand in his. The moon illuminates the way before them, illuminates Link’s shoulders, angled back, the blue-gold scabbard strapped to his spine, the blade in his hand and – Too familiar. Too familiar. She’s been here before.
“We can’t outrun it.” Draga’s voice is unnervingly calm. “Link? I can route her. I can hold her, but I need your sword.”
“You think we can kill Dinraal?” Link sounds stunned. When he looks over his shoulder, Zelda feels a momentary spike of fear – the unrecognizable rage in his face. “You’re that arrogant?”
“I know you believe it’s a servant of your Goddess –”
“–but your blade might get through.”
To which Draga says, “Well, I can.”
Then the air sucks inward, pulls impossibly – like gravity gone amiss – then snaps back in the empty space where Draga once stood. Zelda shouldn’t be surprised. If the Yiga can manage it, then of course Draga can pull it off. She and Link stop running immediately. Panic taking them both.
“There.” Link points.
She follows his arm and, standing at the peak of Mount Rhoam and facing the beast in Tanagar Canyon, is Draga.
The air shimmers. A smell like hot metal rising from the earth. There’s a rumble in the veins of stone beneath their boots. Draga coils two loose fists at his sides. The air around his fingers smears with heat. There’s a fist in her belly – Draga. He’s pulling paths of power like roots from the earth – their ends grafted somehow in the wellspring of his soul and conducted there by sheer force of will.
She’s sprinting up the mountain road.
She feels it before it happens.
With terrible, almost unimaginable, force… Draga drives both hands together and Zelda watches in horror and awe as three enormous stone pillars erupt up from the ground, slamming against a section of Dinraal’s flank, its jaw, and belly. Like ribs bursting from the chest of the planet, they push and push outward – bones from a horrific wound ensnaring the great beast. Dinraal scores the earth with its claws, scarring the stone. The impact knocks scales like cooled magna from its body. Link is beside her. He’s screaming something.
He’s yelling at Draga to stop.
The blade in his hand is awake – burning like a sheet of involuntary starlight.
Zelda is not sure what evil has whet its edge.
Dinraal rolls, shoved onto its side by the sudden obstacles, a half-mile of sinuous lower body sliding off the cliff into the canyon even as its back legs claw for traction – like Draga is shoving an enormous cat from the desk. The entire stone shelf where it writhes begins to crumble then fall into the canyon but the dragon doesn’t seem frantic. It claws the ground two forearms, digging in, then grabs hold of the stone columns. It nudges one with a strangely doggish nose, cat-like curious. Then it takes hold of the pillar blocking its shoulder, like a person might grip a loaf of bread…. then it rips the stone apart. Shatters it.
Zelda feels the break. Physical and spiritual. Feels every line of power sever itself at the wrist from Draga’s soul. He staggers, doubles over –
By the time he recovers, Dinraal is on top of him.
It’s impossible. The speed. Interdimensional. Snapshots of motion. (It moves like Link moves.) In an instant Dinraal tears a path up and around the mountain top, coils around the summit like a field snake around a rabbit until its great body lies looped in a barrier. It breathes like a furnace. The air around it is on fire. The mountain is shaking, vibrating in the bones of the earth and Zelda can’t hear anything over the roar of the wind. She can’t even hear Link, who is yelling.
All she sees is Draga, standing there looking up at god-beast. He doesn’t move a single step back as the dragon rises over him like a cobra before the strike. Blotting out the moon until the only light left is the hell-red glow breathing beneath its scales. And Draga doesn’t move. Not even when the beast opens its jaws, great mouth yawning volcanic and indifferent and –
She closes one fist and a golden curve of light flashes there, solidifies, becomes the second sacred weapon in her hand. From nothing she fashions three silver arrows and in that instant (she learned this before the Twilight came, she knows this, how to kill the darkest of men with nothing but a bolt and bow) she looses a blazing shot.
The arrow disintegrates inches from the dragon’s face.
It stops. It looks at her.
The Bow of Light evaporates in her hand.
Then she knows – sees clear as a premonition – that if Link draws his blade against the beast that the sacred sword will not just dim and dull. It will turn its impossible edge back on it holder. So, when Link starts to move, time shifting around him like wind along an angled plane, Zelda grabs his arm and wrenches him back into the present, holding him there.
Link’s eyes in the dark – panicked and blue, the wind ripping at his clothes and hair. She lets him go but he stares at her.
Link is shouting. But she’s looking at the sky.
“Goddess.” She doesn’t know if she’s cursing or praying. “Why? Why is this –?”
And then the back of her right hand ignites gold.
It hurts – like lightning coursing through her bones. Zelda screams and grabs her wrist, falling to her knees, panting, choking back her voice because this pain is familiar, infinite, indifferent. She focuses through it, lives inside the river of shrieking nerves. Red on red on white – the holy nail driven through her palm – and she forces herself up on one knee, then to her feet. It hurts so much. Why does it hurt so much? She can barely stand it. Draga. She can save him. Just like before, just like Link. That’s why. Isn’t it?
Isn’t that why?
The world is glowing, is blurring, is hyper-focused in segments. The sky, the ground, her fingers, a sword gleaming on the roadside. She blinks and it takes an eternity. She focuses. Sees… Link. He’s on the ground too. He’s on his hands and knees. He’s got one arm curled in the dirt, his forehead pressed against it, his other hand flat against the stones in front of him. For a second she thinks he’s praying or hiding his eyes or…
It takes her a moment to realize he’s screaming. His right hand, like hers, is lit up from the inside – a three-sided section of sunlight burning in his palm and it’s the agony that has him on his knees, not faith.
She can’t focus on him. She has to… save Draga. She has to…
Zelda can’t see anything now. Everything is burning light and blinding. She’s staggering through the maelstrom. Her blood is boiling. She’s dying. Surely. She screams and looks at the sky and to her wonder and agony there are dragons – green and silver, indifferent and immortal, distantly circling like sea serpents swimming in atmosphere. She can’t fathom what’s happening to her. To Link. To all of them. She can’t feel her skin. She can’t move or speak. Link isn’t moving anymore, just lying on the ground while the divine power bleeds across his body like fire, possessing every inch like its possessing immolating her. She staggers forward, toward the mountain, toward Link. She’s burning. Like a thing on an alter.
And in the distance -- Draga’s there, standing in the coils of the dragon. He’s clutching his right arm. There’s gold light eating the world.
She loses consciousness.
Someone says her name.
“Zelda, please. Please, wake up.”
Someone is cupping her head in their hands, their fingers sunk into the braids at the back of her skull. Someone is leaning their body against hers, sitting over her, holding her. She feels their thumbs run against her temples, pushing hair or dirt or blood from her eyes and that someone presses their forehead against hers. They are breathing so close to her, she can taste their words on her tongue. She can feel them shaking, hear the shudder in their breath. Someone is praying over her without speaking, their lips almost and sometimes catching against her nose and mouth as they speak.
Someone kisses her, desperately, like you kiss the dying and says, “You can’t.”
She opens her eyes.
Link is kneeling over her. He’s staring at her in a way… she doesn’t have a word for that look.
“I’m here,” she says.
He yanks her into a hug.
“Ow,” she says.
Link doesn’t say anything; his face is pressed into the curve where her neck meets her shoulder. He’s holding her so tightly his arms shake a little with the effort. She swallows, uncertainly raises her hands to smooth them across his back then up behind his head. His hair’s singed. Her nails tangle a little in it. She says it’s okay a dozen times. She says it half a dozen times more before he lets go. He tries to say something, but his voice is gone again so she just tugs his forehead against hers until he calms down.
“Link, where is Draga?”
He doesn’t have to speak – his blank, terrified face mirrors hers.
Link pulls back and pulls her to her feet. She fists her hair back from her face and turns an unsteady circle. The mountain is empty – the stones scorched at the head of the hill, great loops of black wherever the great beast laid its body. And yet, there’s fresh lichen growing, mountain flora and grass pushing up through the ash, flowers blooming before her eyes. Death and resurrection. She starts to walk up the hill, toward the top. She starts to jog, then to run, stumbling as she clambers the uneven stones. Link races past her, bounding up the path like a mountain cat, then turns to help her up a steep rock.
Wordlessly, they run for the top of the hill. Link’s hand in hers.
When they reach the head of Mount Rhoam, they stop.
Zelda is the first to move. Link’s gone rigid. She steps around him. She knows how to do this. She’s done this already. Muscle memory guides her to her knees (just like before) where she lays one hand on Draga’s shoulder and one on his hip. This time, she’s not crying. She’s not capable of it. She tugs him gently. He’s so much heavier than Link was, but he’s the same – the same lifeless momentum, head rolling to the side, his arms slack. She pulls him onto his back. He’s not burned. The rest of the mountain is scorched, but he looks perfect – like the day she met him at Highland Stable.
“Draga,” she says softly.
She starts to touch his face, hesitates, hand hovering, before she lays it against his forehead.
“Draga, please.” She shakes her head. “I can’t do this again. So wake up.”
She feels Link standing behind her – the intensity of his fear shivering off his skin, electric and conductive. She lays her head against Draga’s chest, but she can’t hear anything through his armor. She places a hand against his throat, searching for a sign, a breath, anything. She tries again, leans down, cupping Draga’s head, her thumbs hooked behind the hinge of his jawline and staring into his seemingly sleeping features. Peaceful and eerie.
Her kingdom if he would just scowl at her.
“Come back,” she says steadily.
Her palms glow gold, but the light won’t diffuse into the skin like it would if she were healing a person and not… not an object.
“No,” she says. “Draga. You have to come back, stupid idiot. Who tries to fight a dragon?” Her eyes are dry but stinging. “Who does that? You can’t run around trying to do whatever foolish thing Link does, that’s just a bad idea. Okay? So, wake up.” She feels Link kneeing beside her. She shakes her head and drops her forehead, gently, against Draga’s and begs, “Please, come back. Come back. Come back…”
She kisses Draga. Once, carefully, turning her head just a little – like you kiss someone for the first time because you’re not sure how you will fit, if your noses will accidentally bump or how the other person might like it. She kisses him like Link kissed her, as though that were the thing to break the curse. And it’s only in that horrible nightmarish instant that she realizes some part of her had vaguely hoped to do such a thing under much better circumstance.
Link puts a hand on her shoulder.
When she turns her face up to look at him, he’s blank-faced and calm. He lets go of her shoulder and carefully takes Draga’s hand between his palms and just… sits there until she reaches along his arm and lays her hand on top of theirs. Insanity feels like a fever, you know. Zelda knows it. Malarial. Contagious. Shimmering and unreal. She hasn’t known that disease in one-hundred years kneeling in a muddy field, but she feels it now, sitting here with Link, letting reality settle into them like cancer eating into the marrow.
“Link,” Zelda whispers. “Your hand.”
He looks at it.
He’s wearing thin swordsmen’s gloves, fingerless soft leather, but there’s… light. Soft and gold, superimposed against the back of his hand. Link stares. She knows he’s seen the like of it before and when Zelda bring her right hand up, fingers spread, it’s there on her too. A small dull triangle of light, like a tattoo, but humming with warm luminance. Like there is a tiny lamp just under her skin. They look at each other – conflicting emotions – confusion, grief, warring for majority because it’s too familiar. It’s just like before. It’s happening again and Zelda can feel Link seeing it on her face –
Link shakes his head, losing his blank calm to rage, to despair, to disgust –
“Link, wait. Don’t –” Don’t what? Hate what’s killing us? Why not? “Open your hands.”
Because there is light bleeding between his fingers. Link forgets the fleeting blasphemous hatred she saw (just a shadow of it) that began in him. He opens his hands from around Draga’s palm and there’s more light – from Link’s hand, from her hand, almost too bright to look at now, but there is a blinding, mathematically perfect triangle shining also from the back of Draga’s hand. Shimmering gold in the dark of his skin, pulsing like a heartbeat.
And that’s when Draga groans and opens his eyes.
The two heroes of Hyrule, the destined souls who struck down Calamity – stare, stricken, illuminated in light.
Draga grimaces. His eyes are old jade set against the rest of his face. When he starts to sit up, the light dims in their fingers and fades.
“What happened?” He notices how tightly both Link and Zelda are gripping his palm, almost entirely encasing his hand in theirs. He frowns at them. “What?”
To make a fortifying pumpkin stew you need a few things: A Kakariko pumpkin (one will do, they’re small for a gourd), fresh milk (fresher the better), Tabantha wheat flour, goat butter, carrots, onions, leeks, salt, pepper, thyme, garlic, and a bit of Goron curry powder if you like a little kick. Link has all of these things in his travel pack. Which would seem odd if it wasn’t preposterously enchanted. At one point, Zelda caught Link up to his shoulder fishing around inside what is essentially a shoulder satchel only to eventually pull an entire breast plate of armor from the depths. So his casually producing the ingredients for comfort food is less impressive and they’re all used to it by now.
Draga watches Link sauté the onions, leeks, and carrots then transfer the sizzling contents into a pot of bubbling pumpkin and spice.
The communal cookpot and fire is free. Courtesy of there being virtually no other customers in the whole stable and the fact Link’s cooking at 4am in the morning out of pure nervous reflex. Draga and Zelda are sitting side-by-side observing his practiced culinary hand in silence, the crackle of the fire and the pop of cooking food filling the void where they should be talking about what happened. Instead, they enjoy the smell of home cooking, despite being far from any home at all.
They watch Link prep and cook in wordless inertia.
They all, Zelda knows, look like hell but none of them have made a move toward getting a bath or changing clothes or anything that might require them to separate even briefly for reasons of privacy. They just huddle together by the fire.
Eventually, the soup’s ready.
“Are we going to talk about it?” Zelda says after staring into her bowl and not eating it for five minutes.
“I see no point,” rejoins Draga, who’s on his second bowl, his appetite apparently unafflicted by his near-death experience, “since we don’t know what it means.”
Link doesn’t say anything. He also hasn’t eaten anything.
He hasn’t said a word, aloud, since the mountain.
Zelda glares at Draga. “Not talking about it will not make it go away, as you’ve well reminded me time and again.”
“Maybe,” Draga snaps, “I’m tired because we almost died on some godsforsaken mountain because your holy Goddess let a bunch of mad dragons chase us down like field mice. Perhaps that’s my hesitation, Princess.” Then, after a moment. “That was uncalled for. Apologies.”
Link’s sitting cross-legged, back to the fire, staring intently at a section of grass a few feet in front of him. His hands are resting on his knees, curled lightly into fists and at this angle, his bangs eclipse his eyes. The pumpkin soup is sitting in the grass beside him, untouched. It smells phenomenal. Like home. Zelda toys with her spoon, then carefully eats a single mouthful from her own bowl.
“This is good,” she says.
“You remember the first time you made it for me?”
He says, “Mhmm.”
“After the Yiga attack, I was… so shaken up it took two bowls to calm my nerves. It’s been one of my… one of my favorite meals ever since. I didn’t know you were carrying the ingredients with you all this time. When, uh, did you get a chance a pick them up?”
He doesn’t move to answer for a moment.
Then he signs, ‘I ordered some of it delivered.’
“That’s a lot of trouble.”
“I appreciate it.”
Draga drops his bowl and spoon in the grass beside him.
“Enough. You want to talk about it? Fine.” He stands up to face them, animated with his anger. “What do you want to talk about?”
Link looks up and breaks his silence, finally. “I think you should go to Gerudo Town without us.”
Which, apparently, wasn’t what Draga thought either of them were going to say. Zelda, in fact, wasn’t expecting him to say that. But now, hearing it, she agrees. Draga stares at Link, a micro-flash of confusion and hurt that catalyzes immediately into anger. He tilts his head, hands tight at his sides.
Link never breaks eye contact. He stares calmly at Draga. Then just shrugs. Draga’s glare deepens.
“Yesterday, you were desperate to break my curse. Now you want me gone?”
“You’re a bad liar.”
“It’s not the dragon that scared you, is it?” Draga calmly rolls his right sleeve up, inspects the back of his hand. “Was it this?” He touches a faint, triangular scar. Like a burn. Perfect and three sided just below his middle knuckle. “We all have one now. Does it mean something to you? Have you seen it in a past life, Link?”
“Yes,” he says.
“On the hand of your enemies?”
He tenses, but for a second he breaks eye contact.
“Is that it?” Draga moves to crouch directly in front of Link, face-to-face. “You think I’m your enemy?”
Link’s jaw is clenching.
“Do you think you’re mine? You want to be? You’ve thought of killing me?”
“I have,” Zelda says quietly.
A deafening silence follows. Draga, who was likely just being dramatic to get a rise from Link, seems a little horrified to get an answer. Both of her friends stare at her, sitting there, with a bowl of soup in her lap and her knees drawn together, fingers curled carefully around the smooth clay bottom. She thumbs the lip of her bowl.
“I have nightmares, Draga. Not always, but sometimes, I dream about fighting you. About…” She trails off, watches their faces until she’s sure she’s conveyed the violence of it. “And sometimes when I look at you and Link, I feel like I’ve seen you together before but I don’t know where or in what context. I feel like we’re… moving along a pre-determined path. Which wasn’t a problem before because you and I noticed it and we all decided we didn’t care if there was something strange about our meeting but now…”
She uses one hand to quickly wipe her face.
“That dragon came for you. I’m afraid of where we’re going. More afraid of that than the possibility that it could be good. I fear we’re destined to… I don’t know. But I don’t like it. I think you should get away from us before we…” She wipes her eyes again. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to say this to you but I keep having visions where you’re dying and I don’t know what it means! Maybe it’s the demon. Maybe we’re too close and if we fight it, we’ll kill you. I just don’t know…”
“Then don’t fight it,” Draga says quietly.
“I’m scared though! I’m scared something is going to happen!”
“Why?” Draga says. “You’re the girl who killed Calamity. How can you be afraid? You see one vision and run?”
“Not just one –!” Link bites his tongue. Holds it.
Draga stares. “Oh?”
Link says nothing.
“You’ve thought about fighting me before?”
Link says nothing.
Draga leans forward. “I ask you again, do you want to kill me?”
“Then stop fretting about figments from past lives,” Draga snaps. His face is very close to Link’s. “I’m sick of telling you this. Do you know how to be anything to others but the role Hylia gave you? The Hero to everyone you meet? Zelda at least has the spine to hate it and defy it. You let it take everything from you up. Everything, Even own goddamn voice. Like the Goddess owns you. You act like it.”
Link stares, eyes wide, expression empty as a bell jar.
“I’ve seen myself,” he says, “fighting someone with that mark on their hand…”
Draga shoves him with one hand, forcing him to catch himself with one hand in the grass.
“You’re not going to kill me, you moron! Your sainted Goddess herself could come down and tell you to take up your sword but you don’t have to. That’s the point, Link, you can tell the gods to fuck off. So even if there is some divine plan between the three of us, it doesn’t matter. We can say ‘no’. We can walk away. How is it that you two don’t understand something so fundamental about the roles you play – that they hinge on your willingness? You never had to fight.”
His expression softens a little.
“Which is why is matters that you decided to. That’s why you two are so impressive to me. Do you understand?”
Link is getting angry. “You’re my friend, Draga. I don’t want to–”
“Is that what I am?’ Draga angles his head. “Your friend?”
Link never breaks eye contact. “I don’t –”
Draga doesn’t move fast, but he didn’t have much distance to cover.
He just leans forward – rather like he’s done it a hundred times before in this or another life – and hooks a finger under Link’s chin and kisses him. Calmly. Easily. Like it’s the most obvious thing the world. So obvious it’s almost unromantic were it not for the small uncharacteristic spot of hesitation in the curl of Draga’s fingers. His touch along Link’s jaw. How he tilts the other man’s head just slightly so he can fit their mouths together without any awkwardness in angle and having done that, he does nothing else. He initiates no further – like he’s asking a question in an entirely new language. Hoping for an answer.
Link’s shock freezes him for a heartbeat.
He – Goddess above – he looks at her, his mouth caught against Draga’s, parted on the last word he’d been trying to get out and there’s something about that. There’s something about her knight errant holding still, his shaky breath against Draga’s mouth, how blue his stare looking at her through his touch-tangled hair, how he won’t move a fucking muscle even though she can see it in every line of his body that he wants to but he keeps staring at her. Like he’s waiting until she, herself, makes a move but she doesn’t know what. Something races down her body. Link is still looking at her. She feels hot. Aching. Why is he looking at her?
She nods, once, terrified but hypnotized.
Link closes his eyes and his hands go immediately to back of Draga’s neck and pull him down.
Draga’s hands close reflexively on Link’s shoulders, fingers digging into his biceps, thumbs pressing into the curve of his collarbone. Link doesn’t let go. He’s half the other man’s size and, yet, he’s indestructible in Draga’s grasp. Unmovable. He slides his hands up into the shorter hair at the back of Draga’s neck, fingers threading up into the thicker braids and gold beading. He’s kissing Draga now. Breathing raggedly and rapidly between instances of urgency, his mouth guiding Draga’s to open against his and allow him for just a second. He pushes his tongue into Draga’s mouth. Once. Twice. Again. Link bares pale teeth and catches them just once against Draga’s lower lip and the Gerudo makes this… sound in his throat.
Link groans, frustrated, and jerks back.
“Fuck you,” he says, so close to Draga it’s like a second kiss when he says, “That’s not fucking fair.”
He pushes away and gets up, walking out of the light of the campfire. Zelda can hear him swearing like a soldier as he goes down the hill.
Zelda stands to go after him. Stops because Draga is just sitting there, staring after him, with his hair messed up where Link has his fists closed in it.
“I don’t know what to do,” she admits.
“Why are you looking at me?” Draga says, laughing. “I don’t know.”
“Shit,” Zelda says. She starts to go down the hill again. Stops. She darts back to Draga and, ignoring his bemused expression, plants a kind of angry kiss on his forehead and hisses, “He’s right. This doesn’t change anything. We need to talk about this. You… cheater.”
Then she runs down the hill after Link.