The first time Zelda wakes, it's to violent shivering some time after the elixirs have worn off. Link scrambles from the bedroll to the packs, and with shaking hands manages to get two bottles unstoppered. Drafts taken, they dive beneath the covers on top of which they'd slept and pull them over their heads. They wrap themselves around each other, each huffing shallow breaths into the other's neck as their shivering gradually subsides.
The second time Zelda wakes, it's to a world of glowing warmth, the blankets folded back, tent golden in lamplight. Link is holding her close and pressing soft kisses to her shoulder, and when Zelda reaches up and runs a hand through his hair, finding it loose from the tie that normally holds it in place, he rolls her to her back and she feels another part of him that's waking up.
The third time Zelda wakes, the lantern has burned out and early sunlight filters through the tent. Their bladders are so full that there's real danger involved in the laughter of sorting out their mess of clothing, but they make it in time. They're too ravenous to bother with a fire, so they fall on their stores of trail food and canteen water, kneeling on the floor of the tent, and Link stuffs so much jerky in his mouth at once that Zelda feels the need to remind him he's not a sand snake. This devolves into a discussion about what else might be swallowed whole, a discussion which ends with Link sprawled out on the blankets with tunic hiked up and trousers down.
Zelda is rather disappointed in herself, for she barely manages to swallow half. She uses her hand to make up for it and resolves to work on this. Link, for his part, does not seem to find any fault with her technique, rudimentary though it might be, and afterward points out that it's only polite that he return the favor. He favors her until she's shrieking and shuddering against his face. Her legs are stiff and shaking, her back arched in ticking tremors, as he wipes his mouth and crawls up to kiss her. He's hard and straining at her hip. She meets his eyes when she says, “Fuck me,” and watches what it does to him. His trousers are still wrapped around his boots.
The fourth and final time Zelda wakes, naked and chilled under the covers of a bedroll that has definitely seen better days, she can see the outline of the sun overhead through the tent. Link, also naked, is sitting up, looking down at her with that pensive expression. He holds two bottles in his hand. The elixirs have worn off again, and between the sun and the flameblade it's at most fifty degrees inside the tent.
“Thanks,” Zelda says, sitting up and taking the bottle he hands her, downing the red liquid. Spice without flavor. Simmering in her stomach. Warmth creeping out toward her limbs.
The thick insulated pad of the bedroll is narrow; side-by-side, the two of them just fit. They still haven't bothered to unroll the other one. Her bent knee presses up against Link's thigh. His hair is looking more and more like a haystack each time they wake, and she finds it's not doing a thing to make him less devastating.
“Are we supposed to have the honeymoon before the wedding?” he says.
“Is that what this is?”
He shrugs. “Feels like it.”
“Well, if we can make our own rules, then why not?”
“Do you still want to get married?” He's smiling. “Or are you looking to live that far outside the rules?”
She reaches up and frees a few strands of his hair from where they've gotten caught in his earring, then tugs on his earlobe for good measure. “I think I can allow for one little concession. No need to cut our noses off to spite our faces, after all.”
“The words every man longs to hear.”
“I asked Impa if she'd do it when we got back. She said she would, though she advises against it. She says that the Sheikah are still mistrusted and misunderstood, and a Sheikah ceremony won't do much to endear us to anyone on the outside. But...”
“You want it to be her.”
“I do,” Zelda says. “Aside from you, she's the one I love most in all the world, and she won't be around much longer, and – well, it'll be another way to carry her with us.”
“The real reason you changed your mind.”
“It was a factor,” she says, nudging him. “Perhaps not the deciding one.”
“Speaking of Impa,” he says, handing Zelda another bottle. “You should take one of these, too.”
It's one of the little phials with the clear liquid. “You know about these?”
“I remembered when I saw them. They look a little different from the ones back then, but I pieced it together.”
“How did you – ”
“Hot commodity in the barracks.”
“The apothecary wouldn't sell them to anyone who wasn't married, so some of the married soldiers would buy them and sell them to the others for profit.”
Zelda rolls her eyes. “Naturally. Everyone breaking the rules but us.” His skin is warm against hers as she leans her head on his shoulder. “You were going to do it. You were going to wait. Years, if need be. You were going to wait for me.”
It's not a question, but he answers anyway. He puts an arm around her. “I was going to try.”
“You were a bit less than perfect, weren't you? You're clearly slipping in your old age.”
His laugh shakes his shoulders, and her along with it. “You just never really tested me before.”
The blankets are pooled around Link's waist, and in the sunlit glow, the scars on his torso could be the strokes of an artist, one who had painted perfection and then marked it in allegory. Zelda puts her hand to his breast, to a faint diagonal line right of center, and in her mind sees the blast that made it, sees it cutting across the slip in Link's defenses, sees it bring him to his knees, keening and clutching his chest. A blast that split three ribs and punctured his lung, starving him of air and sapping his already waning strength. She didn't know the specific damage at the time. Only later, looking on his recovering form with divine eyes, cast out from a cocoon of Malice, was she able to see.
At the time, all she knew was that he got back up, and continued to fight.
Now, all she knows is that they can still laugh.
“We will have to be symbols again, one day, though,” he's saying. “If things go as we hope. You were right about that.”
“I know,” she agrees. “But on our own terms, this time. We won't belong to anyone but ourselves. Not ever again. We've earned that right.”
“That may be a tough sell,” he says, but there's a smile in his voice.
“If we get burned, we get burned.” She hands the bottle back to him. “I took one already. Last night. You take them at the same time every day.” He pulls back to look at her, and she sees the question in his eyes. “After we were together outside. When I went back into the tent.”
And then the bottle is tossed over his shoulder, and she's climbing into his lap, and it starts all over again.
There seems no end to it. There should be an end to it. Instead it's sitting down to a banquet to find that each sumptuous bite leaves one hungrier than the last. The only solution is to never leave the table.
“We're not going anywhere today, are we?” Link says, panting, as she pushes him to the blankets.
Zelda finds enough breath to say, “She'll be there tomorrow,” because she still has some unfinished business from the night before. She straddles him and slides up, up, the way she did then, sliding him along that place where she aches. Just to feel him. She hears Link's soft oh and feels his hands low at the small of her back, pressing her into him. Her eyes are already shut. “I want you – ” she's out of air again – “in me this way. If we can – ” another breath – “figure out where to put my legs.”
Afterward, lying next to Link, basking in the ascending joy of watching him push sweaty hair out of his eyes, she says, “I wonder if there are handbooks.”
“For...” he prompts.
Link covers his face with one hand. His laughter comes in tiny huffs out through his nose. It appears to be all he can manage.
Zelda manages a feeble kick to his shin. “Why is that funny?”
Still huffing his laughter, grinning from ear to ear, he shakes his head. “Never change.”
Zelda feels a pang of sorrow as she watches Link takes down the tent. “Promise me we'll set up camp again, right here, on our way back down,” she says.
She's wearing the prayer dress she put together for the pilgrimage: a winter dress from Hateno, high-necked and long-sleeved, of rough white wool with a softer lining. It carried several adornments when she purchased it, which she since removed and replaced with a simple sash under the bodice. The hem falls to her knees. For now she's donned her jackets over it – buttons mostly repaired – her trousers underneath, and, of course, the snow boots.
The trousers, boots and jackets didn't make it onto her the first time she put on the dress. When Link came into the tent and saw her in it, in the process of braiding her hair, he kissed her and his hands went to that sash and the next thing she knew the dress was being pulled back off again.
She had to redo the braids, too.
“We're ridiculous, aren't we?” Zelda says. “More than two weeks in that nice, comfortable house, only to have our so-called honeymoon on a frozen mountain.”
“I don't know,” Link says, shrugging one shoulder. “It was kind of a honeymoon at the house, too. Except, you know. Without the honey.”
Zelda raises an eyebrow and shakes her head, but inside she thinks, never change.
On the path to a sacred spring, snow falls.
They set down their packs beside a pillar of ice, and Link fishes out an extra-potent elixir. If the standard ones are a simmer, then these are a rolling boil. “Ugh,” Zelda says, and brings a gloved hand to her mouth to suppress a decidedly unladylike belch.
“Yeah, you'll be tasting that for a while,” Link says.
“Well, don't look so smug,” she says, another belch singeing her nostrils. “You'll need one, too. You're going in there with me.”
“Of course. Why do you think we're here?”
He frowns at her. She waits.
The dawn of realization. “You came here... to ask for her blessing. For us.”
“I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I wanted to, but I didn't know how. Every time I'd look at you, I – ” She swallows. “It's only a formality. I've had her light inside me for a hundred years. But it's right that we do it. You're her beloved, too.”
In the overcast gloom, snow gathering on his hood, he takes her gloved hand in his, and kisses it.
I knew it. She remembers the tears on her face. The break of the flood. I knew it.
I knew I loved you before.
They strip off clothing beside a pillar of ice.
Not all of it, though the temptation is there, with the elixir boiling away inside. It's a profound relief to set down the flameblade and unclasp her hood. She removes her jackets, boots and trousers. She unbinds her hair. It flows around her in ripples, the printed memory of the braids.
Link removes his hood as well, and his boots and outer layer. Underneath is the white base layer, thick cotton from ankles to neck, the fabric stretching just enough for him to hike it to his knees. He adjusts the buckle of the shoulder belt holding the sacred sword. Last to go are the gloves.
When he takes her hand, she feels the pull. Feels her feet settle on the earth. This is where she'll stay. Nowhere else.
They walk the path, their bare feet melting prints in the snow. Where flakes touch their skin, they turn to water.
“This is so different than last time,” Zelda says. For now as they approach the spring, and its Goddess in effigy, she can see the presence rising. See the light.
“Are you ready?” she asks as they ascend the stairs. They stand on the dais among its broken pillars of stone.
“When you are.”
Zelda closes her eyes, and feels the presence. Feels the glow enfold her. She feels his hand.
Together, they step forward into the spring.