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“You really want to make the journey on foot?”

They're cleaning the crabs they caught that morning at Hateno Bay, cooled from their initial boil. It's messy work, so they sit outside while they crack them and pick them of meat, rinse them with fresh water, and toss the broken pieces of shell into the pot for stock.

“It won't be like the last time we went,” Link is saying. “It was high summer then, and the weather patterns were different, too. There weren't even any snows until we were halfway up the mountain.”

“You remember that?” Zelda tries to hide her grin by ducking her chin to her chest, but she can't hide it from her voice. “What else do you remember?”

Link stops what he's doing and makes a show of glowering at her.

“I'm sorry,” she says. “I can't help it. I'll get used to it eventually.”

“I talked back then.”

“Not like now.”

“No,” he concedes. “Not like now.” He takes another section of crab leg and cracks it in half. Zelda has to use pliers. He doesn't.

Zelda is sure that, eventually, she'll also get used to things like Link breathing and the fact that they're living in the world they saved, preparing supper on his front lawn.

She reaches out and lays her hand on his forearm. He's wearing an old threadbare shirt, sleeves rolled up past the elbow. His skin, even wet, is warm in the autumn sun. He stills when she touches him. “I need to do it,” she says. “The long way, no fast travel. To all three, at some point, but... Lanayru first.”

Link nods, not looking at her.

“Not in that dress, if that's what concerns you. It's a rag, anyway. I'll take something more suitable, and bundle up nice and warm for the trip. We'll take elixirs, too.”

He does look relieved at that. “When?”

“In a few days, I think. I'll need warm clothes, and boots... ” She sighs, taking her hand back. “And money...”

“I told you, what's mine is yours.”

“And what's mine is yours. Only what's mine happens to be a smoking ruin at the moment.”

“A ruin I did my best to plunder,” he says, giving her a little smirk.

She laughs. “You did, at that. Though you might have been good enough to grab some of my clothes while you were at it. Assuming there's anything left that's wearable. What I wouldn't give for those lovely winter whites of mine...”

“My offer stands,” he says.

“I know.” She brings the pliers to bear on a crab leg, cracking through the shell. “I'm just not quite ready, yet. But we will. Soon. There are many things I'd rather not leave to any looter intrepid enough to start testing the waters again.”

“There are a surprising number of them. Makes me kind of proud.”

“Of the looters?”

“Well, you know.” He shrugs. “Takes courage to do that. Lots of the people out there... they're strong. They do what they have to. So much has been lost, but... ”

“But they’ve never given up,” she finishes.

He smiles at her in a way that makes her want to reach out and brush her thumb along his cheek. As though she doesn't already want to do that all the time.

They make crab risotto, sweating aromatics in butter, toasting the rice, stirring in the simmering stock one ladleful at a time. “Couldn’t we add all the stock at once?” Zelda asks.

“We could,” Link says. “But we’d just be making rice.” He explains why as she stirs, and he's right – the slow additions turn it full-bodied and rich, as though she's poured a pint of cream into it. When it seems ready, she offers him a taste off the spoon, and her mouth waters to watch him savor it.

At the table, while they eat, she touches his arm again. She can't help it. He's changed to long sleeves, but it's still only cloth. No bracer or vambrace to guard him.

He goes still again. In those moments she knows he's waiting, to see what she'll do. She doesn't always know, herself. “I'm sorry,” she says, to her hand. “Does it bother you?”

His voice is soft. “Your rule to break.” Which isn’t an answer, and isn't precisely true.

 


 

“I told you, I'm not taking it, tonight,” Zelda says, the next evening. “It's been two weeks. You should sleep in your own bed.” She points a finger at him. “And you may as well stop the glowering. You aren't much good at it, anyway.”

Link apparently takes this as a challenge.

“That's really more of a snarl,” she informs him. “Mmm, no, that's more of a – ” Her jaw drops in mock outrage. “And that's not a very knightly gesture at all!”

His laughter rings from the walls as she picks the pillow up off the floor and thwacks him with it.

“Now there's no chance I'm sleeping up there,” she says, fluffing the pillow back into shape. “But if you want to sleep on the floor so badly, I don't mind sharing.” She says this with a casual nonchalance and a flipping sensation in her stomach. To illustrate her point, she drops the pillow back onto the pallet, then follows it. She crawls in, pulls the blankets to her chin and peers up at him.

His face is unreadable as he studies her, thumbs hooked into his belt. “You're still dressed,” he says.

She raises her eyebrows at him, and watches with profound amusement as color creeps like deepening sunset across his face. “I – that's not what I meant.”

Pity, she thinks. “I know what you meant.”

“I only meant that – that, you know, because – ”

“That I'm not yet changed for bed, so my getting into the pallet is an empty threat,” she says, giving him her sweetest smile. “Well, I'll have you know, Hero of Hyrule, that I plan on sleeping in my clothes, tonight.” Or out of them, if you would be so good as to assist me, she does not add.

Link sleeps upstairs in his bed, behind the curtain tacked to the rafters. Zelda twists in the pallet on the kitchen floor, in her clothes, weighing her various options, until well into the night.

 


 

“Absolutely not,” Zelda says. “Those are far too expensive. We can purchase something here in Hateno.”

“But the Rito ones are better,” Link says.

“That's like saying a golden chalice is better than a silver one. They'll both hold your wine just the same.”

“Silver tarnishes,” he says.

Zelda opens her mouth, then closes it again. “All right, bad example,” she says. “But my point stands. I'd rather conserve our resources just now. There'll be plenty of chances for extravagance later.”

Link puts a thumb to his lower lip, thinking it over, and the irony twists inside her, remembering the extravagance of that mouth.

And, once again, he goes along with her more sensible plan. They go to the shops, and she buys a very reasonably-priced set of cold-weather clothing – though they do pay just a little extra, so she may have it in white.

They don't buy boots. “Trust me,” Link says.

When they return to the house, he shows her.

“They'll be too large,” Zelda says, but tries the snow boots on anyway. They're actually not far off. Link's not what you'd call a mountain of a man, and she doesn't have the daintiest feet in the world.

“Close enough,” he says, prodding the toes of the boots, looking satisfied. “We'll put some padding in them. Trust me, they'll make life a lot easier for you.”

“And what of you?”

“I've got my Rito pair. I'll have to trudge a bit, but I'm faster than you, so it'll even out.” From anyone else, this statement might smack of condescension or conceit, but there's no trace of either. He shakes his head. “You don't want to know what I had to do to get these.”

“Link.”

He's kneeling in front of her chair, winding the laces of her left boot around his fingers and pulling them tight, so he can check the fit around her calves. When she doesn't say anything after his name, he looks up.

“I know what you had to do,” she says.

He forgets, sometimes, what she saw. Which was almost everything. “Shit,” he mutters, ducking his head. Then: “Not my finest moment.”

“On the contrary,” she says. “After so much time watching you uphold the knightly virtues of honor and propriety, seeing you engage in bit of cross-dressing subterfuge just about made my whole century.”

A small snort of laughter escapes him, but he doesn't raise his head.

“It's true. You were always so proper and disciplined. It was maddening. You've no idea how much it made me want to – ” she stops, realizing where this line of conversation has strayed.

He looks up at her.

He's not wearing the blue today, just simple travelers' clothing in shades of brown. It's hard to decide which color better sets off the blue of his eyes – the matching shade, or the complementary. She usually comes down on the side of whichever he happens to be wearing at the moment.

It's moments like these, the closest and most quiet, that are the most dangerous. Moments when she feels the pull as the pull of the earth. One can resist the earth's pull, if one is strong enough. One can climb and climb. For a while.

Zelda reaches out and curls her fingers beneath his chin and lets herself slip, just a little, just enough to let it draw her towards him. She moves with slow purpose, so that her intent is clear, that he might stop her if he so wishes.

He does not stop her. Nor does he advance. He remains perfectly still, save for a slight tremble, as she hovers two inches from his mouth.

Still disciplined.

She remembers that week of kisses in Kakariko, stolen in whatever spaces could be found among the watchful eyes of Impa and the villagers. Whispering to him that last evening, I'd like to see your house.

“Thank you for the boots,” she says, and doesn't kiss him.

 


 

Early the next morning, Zelda descends from the loft to find the Hero of Hyrule, the man who vanquished the Calamity and saved the world from eternal darkness, humming as he peels apples at his kitchen table. He holds them in his left hand, turning them against the knife held steady in his right, so that the peels come off in long, curling strips. There is no pile of peels to be found, and she knows that this is because they've all found their way into his face. This is likely how one translucent sliver of apple has managed to paste itself to his cheek.

Zelda plucks the piece of apple from his face and deposits it in the compost bin.

“I was saving that for later,” he says, not missing a beat. An apple turns in his hand, red bleeding away to white. He places it in a bowl of water to await slicing, stuffs the peel in his mouth, and starts on the next.

“We're leaving tomorrow,” she says, seating herself at the table, “and you're making pies?”

“Not those kinds of pies. Hand pies.”

Hand pies?”

He pauses in his work to trace a circle on the board with his knife. “You make a circle of dough, fill it and fold it over. Fits in your hand. Good for travel.”

“Huh. That's convenient.”

“I know. I'd forgotten all about them. Uma reminded me. I'm making some extra to take to her.”

Of course you are, Zelda doesn't say, and props her chin on her fists as she watches him work. The knife makes a smooth whispering scrape against the apple's flesh.

Zelda thinks back to her introduction to this dining table. To the sound of breaking plates.

“I've changed my mind,” she says.

The peeled apple gets plunked into the water. “We don't have to go, if you don't want. Or did you want to postpone it?”

That's not what she means, but she doesn't press the matter. “How can I help?”

“You can slice apples, or you can roll dough.”

Zelda slices apples. She holds them by the stems, the way he shows her, cuts the flesh from the cores in large chunks, then cuts the large chunks into small chunks. “They don't have to be perfect,” he says, and that's good, because they aren't.

It's dangerous work, because the knife is sharp, and she keeps looking away from her fingers and over to him. His sleeves are rolled up, his hands are dusted with flour to the wrists, and the muscles of his forearms flex as he works the rolling pin. There's flour in his eyelashes and on the tip of his nose. In Zelda's mind, plates shatter.

“I've changed my mind,” she says, to the apple she's slicing.

“Hm?”

“Nothing.”

They make meat pies, too. Zelda peels carrots and shells peas. Link takes a handful of peas and tosses them up, one at a time, trying to catch them in his mouth. He gets roughly one in three.

“You really should be better at that,” she says.

“Practice makes perfect.” He stoops and picks peas off the floor.

“You're going to rinse those before you eat them, right?”

He does, but she knows it's only because she told him to. He's eaten far more dubious things in his travels.

She'd kiss him anyway.

The pies are delicious. “I'm a good cook,” Zelda says, licking savory juice from her fingers.

“It's all fun and games until you're on crust detail,” Link says.

They check on the jerky drying out front. Link pronounces it ready. They remove the netting and collect it from the drying rig, making bundles and wrapping them in cloth.

Zelda thinks back to the shadows of leaves dappling Link's face in Retsam Forest; the steady tension of his body in the draw. Bringing the buck down in a single shot to the eye. Link saying, I'll have to field dress it now. Will that bother you?

I've watched you before. In the Minshi woods, on our way to Eldin.

The light of recall, dawning.

She starts gathering another bundle. “Do you remember when you used to procure this sort of thing from the castle kitchens, instead of having to make it yourself?”

His eyes take on their faraway look. She waits. “I liked the marinade they used,” he finally says. “We should make it that way next time.”

They bring feed to the horses and saddle them up for their daily exercise. Link has them so tame that they roam about on the property, grazing and drinking from the pond, without being penned. I go where you go.

Zelda tries not to glance over at the apple tree behind the shed. She tries not to remember that first afternoon, Link fetching an apple down for her, just shy of ripe the way she likes best, crisp when she bites into it. Link putting a hand to her jaw and kissing the juice from the corner of her mouth. The apple falling from her hand.

They ride out to the inn, where Uma likes to sit outside in the sunshine. Her tired, wrinkled face is transformed in delight at the pies. “They look just like the ones I used to make when I ran my shop!” She thanks them, and pats Link's hand. “And how are you liking your stay in Hateno, my dear?” she says to Zelda.

Here in Hateno, Zelda is known as that pretty blond girl who's named for the princess. The villagers don't pry, though she's heard more than a whisper of wondering conversation in regards to her origins, how long she might be staying, and how innocent – or not – her current sleeping arrangements might be.

“It's like a dream,” Zelda says, because it is.

They bring a few pies to Purah and Symin up at the lab. Symin takes Link aside to ask if he's seen a certain specimen he's found in a book.

“Change your mind, yet?” Purah says, with a giggle.

Zelda is better at glowering than Link.

Before they start back to town, they stand outside and take in the view. Distant water sparkles; a windmill turns. Western sunlight glows golden over the mountains.

Then Link is no longer looking out at the mountains, but at her. He reaches out and touches the backs of his fingers to her cheek. Zelda doesn't breathe. She thinks that if they'd been in darkness, the spark of that touch might be visible to the eye.

He only weakens this way when there are others close at hand. Purah and Symin just inside, possibly sneaking peeks at them from the window. Alone, but not too alone.

When he touches her hair, Zelda breaks. She turns in to him, locking her arms around his waist and burying her face in the crook of his neck. She knows she shouldn't, but the draw is too strong. And anyway, she's changed her mind.

Alone, but not too alone, and so he weakens just a little more, enclosing her in his arms. A sigh escapes him. Being this close to him again constricts her throat.

Zelda thinks back to that first evening in his house. Up until late, making supper, making tea. Making plans. Link walking her up the stairs, insisting she take the bed. I have extra blankets. I'll be fine.

A goodnight embrace, as when they'd part at nighttime in Kakariko. Her arms around his neck. One of his hands high on her back, in her hair. Being held to him. Being held.

A goodnight kiss. Another. Brushing her thumb along his cheek. One more.

Tumbling to the bed.

Link's hands at her bare breasts. His mouth at her neck. Sparks behind her eyelids. Stop. We have to –

Here on the hill overlooking Hateno, fully clothed, they part with just as much reluctance, and Zelda swears she hears the sound of breaking plates.

 


 

It's almost a full day's ride to Kakariko, so they get started early. They wear high-necked garments of a Hylian cut against the autumn chill. Zelda feels a pang of sorrow when Link closes up the house, but reminds herself they'll be back. They saddle the horses, and Link gets the saddlebags loaded.

When Zelda is mounted up, Link hops up onto the picket fence next to her, balancing on the soles of his boots, putting them at eye level. Her heart races as he glances about. Then he takes her face in his hands and kisses her for the first time in seventeen days.

A chaste kiss. Soft. Sweet.

Until she opens against him and makes a needy sound in the back of her throat, and feels the sound he makes as that breaks him. She clutches his collar, hanging on for dear life, as he curls his tongue into her mouth.

His breath is hot on her face when they part. “One more,” she pleads, and pulls him back in.

It's three more, and the state in which this leaves her makes the first few miles on horseback rather interesting.

There's still the occasional monster once they get past the woods; for the most part, sad stragglers weakening with time. So when they spot an actual band of five Bokoblins near the road, Link leaps from his horse and charges like a wolf into a pack of hounds. The monsters screech and regroup, pressing back in, their own brand of simpleminded ferocity a strange caricature of courage.

Link's ferocity is anything but simpleminded. His face is a study in focus as he takes them on – one at a time, two at a time, tricking them into attacking each other when they think they've outflanked him. He saves the strongest for last; a snarling brute with striped silver skin, wielding a massive club. He dances around it, harrying it, dodging its wild swings and pressing in with a lightning rush of strikes. Zelda sees the disappointment when the creature slumps to the ground and Link turns about to find himself unopposed.

At times like these, Zelda is reminded of who he is, if indeed she ever can forget. The spark is always there, inside of him, when he sleeps and when he eats and when he flings flour onto a board. A handful of kindling with an ember at its heart, awaiting one strong breath to burst alight.

On the side of the road is a patch of wildflowers, a common variety of autumn-blooming aster. Link selects a fresh-looking bloom with bright white petals, then approaches her horse and hands it up to her. He watches her tuck it into the braid beside her ear, takes a slow, deep breath, then turns and jogs back to his horse.

Zelda nearly dismounts and runs after him.

Kakariko is much the same as they left it. Villagers greet them warmly as they dismount.

“Princess Zelda,” Paya says, rising from her prayers before the row of short statues, dipping in a hasty bow. “Master Link. I was not expecting your arrival this evening.”

“We're only staying for the night,” Zelda says, smiling at her. “We're on our way to Mount Lanayru. I must commune with the Goddess, and with the spirit Naydra.”

This is the sort of thing to which Paya can relate, and she seems to relax a bit, though she shoots an uncomfortable glance at Link. “Of course, your Highness. I shall ready my room for you immediately.”

“I'll not hear of it,” Zelda says. “I've imposed far too much upon you, already. Link found the inn quite comfortable when we were here last, and it will more than suffice for me as well.”

But it's Paya who won't hear of it, and she looks close to tears before Zelda relents. They watch as she hurries off and up the stairs, to get things ready.

“Now I feel terrible,” Zelda says. “I should have sent a – ”

Zelda's mouth goes slack.

A letter, she was going to say. Even though there hasn't been a post in a hundred years. Even though one of her primary goals in her plans to rebuild is to establish one.

She comes back to herself to find that Link is looking at her, and has taken her hand. “It's easy to forget,” he says.

In the middle of Kakariko Village, under the watchful eyes of the villagers, Zelda rests her head on Link's shoulder and sighs into his neck.

Later, when he departs for the inn, and Paya is out at the statues finishing her prayers, Zelda sits with Impa drinking tea.

“I've changed my mind,” Zelda says.

Impa's expression is steady as she sets down her cup. “How soon?”

“Soon. Upon our return, if it's up to me.”

“Hmm.” Impa picks up the teapot and refills Zelda's cup, then her own. “Well. It would appear I owe Purah fifty rupees.”

 


 

The journey to the East Gate is a passage back in time: up the slopes of northern Kakariko, past the ancient shrine, past Cotera's fountain, on to the Promenade. The rhythmic clop of hooves sounds on flagstones as Link draws his bow, his aim as deadly as a hundred years past, picking off the last of the straggling monsters that linger here.

Part of Zelda almost expects to find her four Champions waiting at the gate when they dismount. She pauses, her hand reverent on the stone, remembering. “It must have been so strange for you,” she says, “reliving those memories, not knowing of anything that led up to them.”

“It was strange,” he says. “But I wanted to remember.”

They lead the horses as they proceed into the valley. Always on foot, from the gate.

“Huh. That guy's still here,” Link says, as though he's speaking of a man sitting on a stump outside a general store. When she looks, she sees what he's referring to is a white-maned Lynel.

Zelda expects Link to charge, but he doesn't. Instead he unhooks the bow from his back and pulls an arrow from his quiver with a strange, rounded head. When he nocks and draws back, a glowing blade emerges from the arrowhead and locks into place with a hum.

The arrow flies. The Lynel dies.

“That Robbie knows his stuff,” Link says.

When they're close to the pass to what is now known as Naydra Snowfield, Zelda can already feel the icy chill rolling down off the mountain. The temperatures up there are no joke. It gets to twenty below in some places – maybe colder now, with autumn underway. Apparently Link wasn't exaggerating.

In a stand of birch trees, they change into their warm clothing.

During the first few days of Zelda's overnight stay in Hateno, they took on the practice of stepping outside when the other needed to change. On the fourth day, Link borrowed a ladder and tacked a tarp to the rafters, screening off the loft. A fine enough idea.

Or so Zelda thought until that night, when, ten feet below her and essentially in the same room, she heard the clear and distinct sounds of Link undressing for bed.

They turn their backs, now, but that's not much help, either.

Zelda removes only her outer tunic. The remaining layers, and her trousers, stay in place as she pulls the thick winter layers over them. She throws herself into this task, and into the lacing of the snow boots, as though Link were not three feet away from her, shucking his trousers in a stand of trees.

It would be so easy to turn around. Just as it would have been easy to descend those stairs and descend with him to the kitchen floor. Not necessarily onto the pallet.

Does he imagine her, too, when she undresses in the loft? Does his mind paint him a picture behind the screen? Does it go back to that first night, to finish what they started? Does he imagine her naked in his bed?

It's hot here in the valley, where a chill rolls off a mountain of ice.

The horses stay behind. “They'll stick around in the valley,” Link says. “Plenty of grass and water for them. “Otherwise they'll go back to Kakariko.” All the essentials are in their packs.

Before Zelda shrugs on her pack, she buckles on a shoulder belt, and Link secures the flameblade to her back. Even sheathed, it's like having her back turned to a potbelly stove.

“Remember, if I have to draw, keep your head down and to the left. It takes a few seconds to ignite, but I don't want to take chances.”

“You take chances all the time,” she says.

“With my neck. Not yours.” His tone is light, but his face is serious as he reaches out and draws the white hood up around her face. Then his bare fingers trail along the thick braid draped over her right shoulder. The fingers stop before they reach her breast, though the braid does not. The hilt of the sacred sword gleams over his shoulder. Beneath his brown hood, his eyes are a lesson in color theory.

“Ready when you are,” he says.

 

Chapter Text

He does need to draw, on the mountain. There are monsters of ice, and quite a few of them. They fall to the enchanted blade with shattering screams.

“There were more of them, last time I climbed,” Link says, replacing the blade in its sheath. Warmth once again at her back. “At least now they'll stay dead.” But she recalls him in the Ginner Woods on their way to Hateno, turning amongst the scattered corpses of his foes. Turning his eyes to the canopy of leaves overhead. Sometimes I wonder what I'll do with myself, once they're all gone.

He is careful to clear out the surrounding areas before they make camp, about two thirds of the way up the mountain path, on the leeward side of the drifts where the stone is brushed clear.

On this mountain of solid stone, the tent can't be staked into the ground, and must instead be secured with weighted guy lines. Zelda is not much help in this regard; the tent itself looks like some sort of puzzle designed by a ten-thousand-year-old monk, she doesn't know the first thing about knot tying, and can't even budge the slabs of rock Link uses to weigh down the lines.

But she can build a fire, so she gets to work stacking wood, spacing it carefully to allow for airflow. For a moment she considers using the flameblade, but it's unwieldy and hard to control, and there's a certain meditative satisfaction in using the flint.

She takes a large handful of dry grass from their tinder bag, forming the kindling into a nest, and places a piece of charred tinder in the center. She holds the flint in one hand, and with her steel strikes down and down, showering sparks onto the nest until the char catches in bright orange flecks. Folding the nest around the little ember, she blows on it, coaxing it to wisps and then billows of smoke, until flames lick out between her fingers. There is an instinctual fear in that moment of ignition, a primal beat that wants her to drop the bundle and back away, but she maintains her hold and gets it in place at the base of the stacked wood.

The fire is crackling away by the time the tent is up. “We're a good team,” Link says, taking the flameblade from her to place inside the tent. He puts their bedrolls, coiled into thick cylinders, near the fire, to use as seats.

Zelda imagines when those bedrolls will be laid out next to one another, inside the tent. Wicked thoughts. Zelda tells herself that in the house in Hateno they already sleep in the same room, if separated by ten feet, a flight of stairs, and a makeshift curtain. That there is nothing to stop her there, either, from creeping down those stairs in the night. That having him lie next to her, half an arm's length away, is no different.

She tells herself this, but she's not listening. Because she’s changed her mind, and now there are those bottles that Impa gave her, sitting in the pack with the elixirs. Not that I'm suggesting you use them just yet, but I was young and in love once, too.

It's so overcast that evening passes from sunset to twilight as an indistinct gray dimming of the sky, and night falls as a formless black. But there's the light of an oil lantern, a cheery campfire, and, of course, the company. This close to the fire, they strip off their gloves to eat. They place the pies on a pan near the flames to warm them, and roast foraged mushrooms on skewers.

“I put too much salt on mine,” Zelda says, chewing on a mushroom.

“No such thing,” Link says. They trade.

After their meal come the warming elixirs. “What are these other ones?” Link asks, regarding the smaller phials that have been added to the pack, containing clear liquid with a faint herbal tint.

“Something from Impa,” she says. “Long story.”

He retrieves a pair of larger bottles, full of red liquid. Sitting at the fire, they clink them together, and it's down the hatch. The taste is of spice without flavor. It simmers in her stomach and opens her lungs like inhaled steam.

“Is this what liquor tastes like?” He's turning the empty bottle to the firelight, studying it.

Overlaid upon this image before her eyes is a hundred-year-old image from her mind: a no-longer-quite-so-silent swordsman, eyes lit with firelight and Champion's blue, holding a bottle with that same pensive expression. “You’ve asked me that, before,” she says, a hundred-year-old ache blossoming in her chest.

“I have?”

“The last time we were here.”

His eyes grow distant.

She waits a few moments. “And then, I asked you – ”

“ – How it was possible that I’d never had any,” he finishes. “I remember.”

“You blushed so sweetly,” she says.

“And then I asked how it was possible that you didn’t see how that was possible.”

Zelda doesn’t bother to hide her grin. She rests her elbow on her knee and her chin on her fist. “What else do you remember?”

He rolls his eyes.

“Tell me. Please.”

He still blushes sweetly. He clears his throat. “You said that you... couldn't help thinking of me as someone who had experienced so much. Even after you learned how much of my time I’d spent dedicated to the sword and the training of a knight. You were still hard pressed to imagine that there was something I’d never even tried.”

“I still have to remind myself, sometimes,” Zelda says. She holds an ungloved hand out to the fire, already warmed through from the elixir, just to feel the proximity of the flames.

“And I told you that there were plenty of things I’d never tried, and that some of them... were the things I wanted to try most.”

“And then,” Zelda says, “you gave me this look. I’ll never forget it. I thought I might faint dead away.”

He closes his eyes, as he sometimes does when he’s immersed in memory. Flickering flames paint his face. “I almost lost it,” he says. “I almost gave up and kissed you, right then. Almost told you everything. I came so close.”

“I know you did. Then, when you didn't, I almost did. I wonder – I wonder if we had given in – if things might have gone differently. At the spring.”

He shrugs. “No way to know. We couldn’t have done things any differently than how we did them. We were the same, that way. We put our duty first.”

And here we are, she thinks, a hundred years later. So much different, so much still the same.

Her heart almost stops when Link takes her hand, the one held to the flames, and brings it to his face. He kisses it. “It's late,” he says.

Zelda's stomach flips and flips.

While Link checks the tent over one more time in the light of the lantern, Zelda takes the pot of snow melt and fills their canteens, then – with a very deep breath – picks up their bedrolls to take into the tent.

“Where are you going with that?” Link says, indicating his bedroll.

She frowns at him, but holds it out. “Well, if you'd rather set it up yourself, be my guest.”

He takes it, looking askance at her, as though he suspects her of pulling some sort of prank. Then he moves over to where they'd just been sitting and places it back on the ground.

“You're joking,” she says.

He is not, apparently, joking.

A raw emotion flares in Zelda's chest, and she has to fight the sudden urge to scream. Her tone is level as she says, “Don't be absurd. I'm reasonably certain you've dispatched with nearly every living thing on this mountain, including the mushrooms.”

“There are wolves.”

“That had sense enough to run away from us.”

“And if they come upon us while we're both asleep?”

He's holding the lantern at chest height. Though the fire casts a faint competing shadow on the side of his face, flickering from the edge of his hood, his face is still revealed to her in full, washed with golden light, and she can almost believe it is a source of light itself. The hilt of the sword gleams in the darkness over his shoulder. His eyes knife her with longing.

“It's not wolves you fear,” she says.

Zelda has seen Link hide everything from her, and she has seen him hide nothing. It is something in between when he looks at her now, his gaze flickering from her eyes to her mouth.

Her heart batters against its cage.

She wants to tell him that it doesn't matter anymore, if indeed it ever did. That she's changed her mind. That customs and conventions and concessions are important, and that she'll need them to foster acceptance and good faith – but that, whatever part of this belongs to their people, it belongs to the two of them first. The people will find it in their hearts to embrace it, or they won't. She cares not. She'll do whatever she can for this land, regardless, and so will he, each at the other's side; for that is now the only place for either of them, wherever that place might come to be.

She says none of this. There's a thump as her bedroll falls to the stone. A scuffing of boots as she moves to him, to take his face in her hands. One startled breath puffs from him, a cloud of shimmering steam. It is the last air she breathes before the kiss.

As their lips touch, they make the same sound at the same time. A sound that could be relief, if it weren't just the opposite. There's a moment where Zelda thinks that maybe it will be all right, that maybe they can share a kiss on this secluded mountain without completely losing their  minds –

Then he opens to her, and she to him, and it breaks.

Zelda crushes to him, a savage pressing to his body, gripping his hair so tight she feels the tugging at the roots. Retribution, restitution, for his deliberate precariousness of the morning before, when he balanced on a fence and kissed her on horseback, no contact other than their faces and hands. As close to a safe kiss as they get.

This kiss is not safe. It's furious and full of teeth. He locks an arm around her with desperate strength and all but growls into her mouth. He still holds the lantern in his other hand, sending leaping shadows behind Zelda's lids. She wants to rip it from him and fling it off the cliff. She wants his hands and his body against a wall. She wants him tearing her clothes off on the cold hard ground.

Link regains his reason first. He releases her and extricates his hair from her hands. They're panting, steaming into the freezing air. He holds his hands up, one still holding to the lantern. Holding her at bay.

“We agreed,” he says, in a billow of breath.

That they did.

A week of stolen kisses in Kakariko, amidst the watchful eyes of Impa and the villagers. I'd like to see your house.

Stepping into his home that first afternoon, the sound of their boots on the floorboards. Alone. Alone.

That first look across the dining table, stretching out.

Plates shattering as they're knocked to the floor.

Recomposing themselves before too much clothing is out of place. I suppose we can be forgiven that lapse, under the circumstances. We'll just have to get used to behaving ourselves when no one is about.

Later, at the tree behind the house. Apple falling from her hand.

Shoving him against the shed. Attacking him with her mouth. His hands on her backside, digging in as if to tear. Hardness against her front.

Red-faced and disheveled when they summon the will to separate; glancing about for any signs they'd been seen or heard. Link saying, give me a minute, as he leans a hand against the shed and breathes and breathes. So swollen between her legs it's hard to walk.

That night, tumbling to his bed from a goodnight kiss. Stripped naked to the waist. His mouth at her neck. Love you. I love you. Sparks behind her eyes.

It's best if we keep our distance when we're alone.

Yet they stayed in the house at Hateno, together. They could have separated. They could have left. Gone back to Kakariko. Gone any number of places. I go where you go. They stayed and stayed.

Now, here, on the path of a holy mountain, they are alone. Very alone. More alone than in the house in Hateno. More alone than in the valley beyond the gate. More alone even than they were on their last journey here.

It is not wolves he fears.

Link holds the lantern before him, panting. Holding her at bay. His hood is pushed back, crumpled to his high collar. His hair sticks out in all directions. He looks halfway to unhinged.

Zelda decides to help him the rest of the way. She unfastens her hood and stuffs it in her pocket, and pushes her braid back over her shoulder. Then she reaches up to her high collar and undoes the first button at her chin.

“What are you doing?” The words hiss like vapor from a kettle. “It's freezing out here.”

“Is it?” She undoes the second button. Her cheeks are flushed from the elixir, from the kiss. “I'm feeling rather warm, myself.”

It's a ridiculous thing to do. She's wearing five layers and isn't even exposing any skin. But it's the act of unbuttoning that draws his helpless eyes as she undoes the third button, and the fourth.

At the fifth button, he sets down the lantern and is on her.

Between kisses, they get the top buttons open on the layer underneath, and then her throat is exposed to the frigid air and his hot, hot mouth. All of her seems to tip backward, backward, though she's still standing mostly upright in his arms. She makes a broken sound as he sucks at her, grazing her with his teeth. She grabs hold of his hair and hangs on. This is where she wants to be. Nowhere else. The pull of him is the pull of the earth – where she'll fall when she lets go, every time.

Link's hands grasp at her waist, at her hips, at her backside. He's hard against her like that afternoon behind the shed. She remembers working a hand free and starting it downward, toward that hardness. She remembers their separating before she could get there. She remembers lying in his bed at night, with him ten feet away and down a flight of stairs, putting a hand to that same place on herself and imagining.

If she has to go one more night only imagining, she thinks it might break her for good, and so she frees a hand and brings it down and down. Slow, so her intent is clear. Slow, so he can stop her if he wishes. He doesn't. He presses his forehead to her ear, shaking, and slackens his arms just enough to make room. Between the space of their bodies, she presses her hand to the front of his trousers, and feels his mouth open silent at her neck.

It all happens rather quickly after that.

Near the fire, the ground isn't as bone-achingly cold, and she's glad for that. She's glad for the elixirs and the thick Rito down as she unbuckles the sword belt from his chest and slides it away. With him on his back, on bare rock, she hikes up the hem of his tunic and works her hands at his laces. Works her hands into the layer underneath. Works her hands into the deepest layer, where the heat rises as from the coals of a brazier.

At the first brush of her fingers on him, Link jerks so hard that for a moment she's afraid she's hurt him. When she looks up she sees his face drawn in something very much like pain. His eyes are locked on her, gleaming beneath his lashes, slivers in firelight. She dips her fingers in again and watches him suck in a breath between clenched teeth. His hips tilt up, just a little.

Zelda wants to look at those eyes, at that face, as she pulls him free. But it's not as easy a task as she'd imagined, with the stiffness of him, and the size, and all those layers. She has to stretch the material and work it around, carefully, so as not to hurt him. And so she's treated to the sight of him surging, finally, from his trousers into her waiting hand.

What a strange irony, how she's spent so much time thinking of skirts as prisons, and trousers as freedom, when clearly it's precisely the opposite. She'd give just about anything for that freedom right now; the freedom to lift a skirt and push her drawers aside and take him in right here.

Instead she must content herself with taking in the sight of him, and the delicious feeling of him in her hand. She tightens her fingers on him, stroking just a little, wondering at how anything can be so hard and so soft. She has the strangest urge to put her mouth to it, but isn't sure whether she should.

Then she hears the strangled noise from him, and sees the expression on his face, and it's his lips that she has to kiss. Her hand still on him, she moves forward, half-covering his body, and kisses from him what breath he has left. Her braid tumbles over her shoulder to his chest, and Link reaches blindly and seizes it, the grasp of someone preparing to hurtle over an edge.

So she makes to send him there.

If there's some secret refinement of technique, she doesn't have it. She takes joy in this, at the thought that there is so much ahead, so much to experience, so much to learn. For now, she just touches him in a way that, were she in his place, she thinks she'd like to be touched. Firm and slow. Up and down. Skin like silk around a sculpture. Hot enough to make the cold air a thrill. Her eyes on his face, rocked by his little movements, it's almost as if she can feel what he feels. As if she can step into him through that touch and feel it slide in the wetness between her legs.

Firm and slow does not last long. Her heart takes off as he ramps up beneath her, more and more frantic for her touch. He still holds to her hair as he slaps his palm against the stone and pushes up, pushes up, pushes up. She thinks she might come from that alone. She slides off him and sits on her heels and opens her fingers a little so that he can thrust freely – so he can have what he craves, so he can take it the rest of the way. His throat opens up and his panting breaths are given voice, rhythmic, desperate sounds as he works against her hand, until his voice breaks and his head grinds against stone and he pulses all to liquid on his front.

For another moment everything remains suspended, his breath in ragged wisps of steam, his body drawn tight as a recurve bow as she continues to stroke him, loathe to let him go. And then he collapses, unstrung. She releases him, then, feeling him tremble against her. Sees his chest rise and fall. Sees the tears at the corners of his eyes.

Zelda's given no thought to logistics, to the handling of this milky fluid on his front and on her hand, but she finds she doesn't care. She pulls the hem of his tunic down to shield him from the cold and wipes her hand on the back of her thigh as best she can. She'll sort it out later.

She props her sticky hand on the stone beside his head and kisses his lips, his sweet face, the moisture from his temples. Brushes her thumb along his cheek. Breathes of him. There's a hitch in his breath as he holds his arms out, reaching for her, and she settles her weight onto him, heedless of the mess. She strokes his hair and wonders at this strange place of choking lust and choking tenderness. Wonders if it's normal to have this profound a sense of accomplishment, while trying not to rub herself against his leg.

“Fuck,” he whispers after a while.

Zelda grins into his jaw. That's a word she's never heard from her stalwart knight.

“How did that – how did we – ” He swallows. “I love you,” he adds.

She has to hold in her laugh of sheer delight.

“I didn't mean to – you know. I got it all over you.”

“All over me, you say? Sounds messy. I suppose I'll have to find some way to retaliate.” She shifts her hips against his thigh.

Half a minute later, they're fumbling with her belt so Link can get his hand down her pants.

The ground is hard against her hands and knees, but she'd kneel on a bed of iron spikes if it would get his hand down there. She's so wet and swollen she feels the friction of her own movements as she positions herself, straddling his hips, palms at the sides of his head. She sees her own eagerness mirrored on his face – yes, fuck, yes – as one hand holds open her multitude of waistbands, and the other slips down inside. She half-expects to come the second he touches her.

She almost does.

Below her, Zelda hears a groan escape Link, and it vibrates her like the pluck of a string. He feels it too, what she felt when she touched him. She wants to open her eyes, to look at him while he does this to her, but she can't. It's too much. Her head falls forward, her hips back and back as she works against his fingers in a delirious wet slide. Oh, she's needed this. Every part of her has needed it. She feels it in every part of her, in her thighs and the tips of her fingers and racing up the sides of her neck.

He's breathing hard underneath her, sucking air between his teeth. His other hand is on her hip. She feels something bump against her middle and opens her eyes to the sight of him hard again, straining and untouched, bypassed by his wrist inside the waistband of her pants.

The sight undoes her. Her head falls back, hips forward, and she presses into his hand – “Link – yes –

It lances her down to her bones. Paralyzing. Shattering. Awareness locked in rictus as he works her. Can't breathe except for out, out, out.

Then it's too much, and she's pushing at his forearm, pushing his hand away, lowering herself down. Struggling for air. His hand is gone but her body still spasms in little ticking jerks.

Link's voice. A hand - his left - stroking her back, her hair. “Are you okay?”

She jerks against him. Tick, tick, tick.

Some sound had come out of her that she's never heard. The thought occurs to her that if there are any wolves about, that might have scared them off. Then the little ticks turn to weak laughter.

“Fuck,” she says.

He chuckles against her, his arm around her, kissing her hair.

A few more moments pass before she picks her head up and looks around.

They're on the cold rock of Mt. Lanayru, close enough to the fire that this endeavor is slightly less uncomfortable than it might have otherwise  been – but not by much. Link's bedroll is near his head, where he placed it earlier. The sword is nearby, in its sheath, next to her belt with the Sheikah slate.

Apparently they can't share a kiss on a secluded mountain without losing their minds. Good to know.

Beneath her, pressed against her belly, Link is still hard.

She knows just how he feels. After weeks of thwarted longing – not to mention the hundred years before that – a quick stroking on cold stone just isn't going to cut it. Even as spectacular a stroking as it was.

With enormous effort, Zelda manages to push herself up and back so she's straddling his thigh. Link pushes up onto his elbows, glancing down at his erection – which has not wilted in the slightest – then up at her, looking almost sheepish.

“Give me a minute,” he says. “I'll be – ”

She wraps a hand around him again.

He gasps, head falling back, body tensing on trembling arms.

He's sticky from earlier, and so is her hand, so she can't really stroke him. Instead she just gives him a little squeeze, thrilling at what it does to him, and to herself. If it’s like this with just a hand on him, what will the rest of it be like? She bites her lip as she sizes him up compared to the length of her torso, wondering how much of him will fit inside her. She intends to find out.

“I’m not done with you, yet,” she says in a low voice. Then she releases him and starts the slow and unsteady process of climbing to her feet. Her legs feel like that of a newborn colt. “Come on.”

Link sits up and pulls his tunic over his groin – as much as he can, given its current state – against the chill air. “I just – need a minute,” he says. “I’ll be right there.”

It would seem he’d prefer to clean up in private. It’s not a bad idea, at that. “Don’t be too long,” she says, as she scoops up her belt and his bedroll, collects the lantern, and, on profoundly unsteady legs, heads for the tent.

 

 

Chapter Text

Inside the tent, the flameblade has warmed the air like a miniature hearth, though the ground is still nearly as cold as outside. The lantern fills the tent with soft golden light. Zelda wets a rag with canteen water to wipe the stickiness from her hand, and does what she can with what's been smeared onto her clothes. In some disembodied part of her, it occurs to her that she should find this mess shameful, or at least distasteful. She doesn't. She tosses the rag aside and dives into the pack with their elixirs, unstoppering one of the bottles that Impa gave her and downing the contents. It's bitter, and she washes it down with a gulp of water.

She's undone the straps on the bedroll and is trying to remember how her arms work when Link crawls in through the flap and sits on his heels beside her, looking flushed and bewildered. He's done more than clean up. He’s also strapped the sword back on and tucked himself fully away. She frowns at that.

He has brought her bedroll, however. The tent is just large enough to sleep two, with their gear placed around the perimeter for insulation, and for a moment she considers combining the two rolls into one contiguous bed. But that would involve separating the outer tarps, putting the pads together, and rearranging all the bedding, and she has neither the patience nor the inclination. Instead she just unfurls his bedroll, unfolds the covering tarp, and points.

“Wait,” he says.

“I'm done waiting,” she says, and points again.

“Zelda.”

“Don't say it,” she says, and attempts to move in for a kiss.

He catches her by her shoulders. “We can't do this.”

“I told you not to say it.” Her eyes are drawn to his mouth.

“We can't. You know why we can't. What we just did was bad enough.”

“You loved what we did.”

He closes his eyes.

“You did, you loved it, you – ”

“Come here,” he says, and folds her into an embrace. Kneeling on fabric-covered stone, she rests her head on his shoulder and tries to breathe. Her heart is still pounding, the dregs of ecstasy still draining from her limbs. She feels like someone half-starved who's been handed a tiny morsel. And then told to wait. Why did she walk away from him out there? Why did she give him the chance to think?

After a moment his hands go from her shoulders to her upper arms, and then he does kiss her, soft and slow like he did in those earliest days. She makes a sound in the back of her throat, a sound that could be relief, if it weren't just the opposite. There's a scent to him that wasn't there before, but before she can chase it – before she can get him to ignite – he pulls her back by her arms, gentle in his inexorable strength.

“I asked you, remember?” His hands, gentle iron, give her a tiny shake. “I asked you. I would have married you that day. There and then.”

That day behind Impa's house in Kakariko Village, looking out at a waterfall, looking out toward the future. Zelda saying, your work is done, you know. No one could ever ask more of you than you've already given. If you're tired of all of it, or just want to find your own way in the world, I understand. Calm voice on the edge of despair.

I've found my way. His eyes, like a hundred years of hope. I go where you go.

That first kiss.

He's still talking. “You still want to rebuild, don't you?”

“Of course,” she says, “but – ”

“Then we have to wait. You said that. You said that when we marry, it can't just be for us. It has to be for the people. That our union will be a symbol for them. That they'll want to witness and be part of it. 'We can't cheat them of that' – that's what you said, and you were right.”

“I wasn't right,” she says, sudden tears choking her. “I've changed my mind.”

He kisses her forehead. “No, you haven't. We just weakened a little. It's okay. We can be strong again.”

Strong.

“I – what we just – you don't know what you do to me, all right?” he's saying. Even through her layers of winter clothing, she can feel the warmth of his hands. “You don't know. But we can't be together like that. Not yet. Not if it's going to be years until we're wed. If we start this now, there's no stopping it. You know that. We won't be able to hide it. People will find out. They always do. We're already pushing it in Hateno. The rumors are starting. We're going to have to move on from there. We were only supposed to stay the one night.”

Zelda blinks to clear the swimming of her sight, and the suspended tears drop down her cheeks. “Do you remember that evening we walked the grounds of the Citadel, during our trip to the Spring of Power? Do you remember our conversation?”

There's no search for recall in Link's eyes. He takes a breath. “About how... it seemed like everyone got to break the rules sometimes. Except for us.”

“Do you remember what that was like? Having all those eyes upon us? Our whole lives ruled by duty, with no room for anything else? Do you remember the way you felt you had to live? From the day you drew that sword you barely spoke – you shut yourself away and carried yourself as a legend, a symbol, instead of a person. You fooled even me. Every time I'd look at you and that sword, I'd see a rebuke. Like a voice saying, that is the way you ought to be. Strong, like he is. Unassailable. That is why you fail.

“But that wasn't true at all, was it? You weren't what you pretended to be, and that wasn't why I failed. We were both of us locked inside ourselves. And we were both the key.”

In the lamplight, in the glow of the tent, she sees her words resonate. She sees him remembering.

“It doesn't have to be that way anymore. Why did we assume it did? Why did we lock ourselves away again? Why did I refuse you that day, and say we had to wait? Why did you go along with it? Why are you defending that decision – still, even now, after what we just had out there?”

His fingers tighten on her arms, and she knows he's trying to disguise the fact that his hands are shaking.

“We're free, now. We've won. This is a new time and place, and we can make our own rules. Why didn't we see it? Why did we assume that a life of duty and purpose has to sacrifice everything we are?” On his face, she sees the resonance. She sees the dawn of hope.

She sees the ember at his heart.

“I want a life where I can touch you,” she whispers to him. His eyes are bright and dark. With her arms pinned by his shaking hands she can't reach his face, so she brushes her fingertips along his knees.

And then Link's hands are no longer pinning her arms, but pulling them. He hauls her thighs around his thighs, her mouth to his mouth, and wraps his arms around her as though he fears that, at any moment, she might be snatched away. Zelda feels a rush of blood to the tips of her ears. She knows this kiss. Starved. Devouring. The kiss that had her on her back, in his bed, half her clothes off before she regained a fraction of sense. The kiss that flared up so hot and fast that they had to smother every spark since, or be consumed.

Link's arms are tight around her to the cusp of pain. A fraction of his strength. Not tight enough. She feels the buttons on her jackets digging in through all the cloth, and knows he must feel them, too; through all those layers, her chest to his chest, she swears she can feel his heart. Beneath her thigh she feels the stiff swell of him, hard already, the knowledge sizzling up the back of her neck. His breath blasts her cheek. Her pulse hammers in her throat.

She curls her fingers into the short hair at his nape, to keep his mouth to hers, and pushes back against the vise of his arms. After a moment he loosens them, so she can shift backward on his lap. Her hands go to the remaining buttons on her outer jacket. One, two, three. Open. The inner jacket. His hands take over. “What am I doing,” he's panting against her mouth, “what am I doing – ” and what he's doing is taking fistfuls of the jacket and leveling his elbows and pulling them apart in an explosive crack, tearing fabric and thread and scattering buttons across the canvas-covered floor.

Zelda goes up like flashpaper.

The next thing she knows she's on her back, half on the blankets, as they struggle to rid her of the confounded jackets. Zelda arches her back and wrenches her shoulders as Link tugs and tugs, the shearling lining of the inner jacket sticking fast to the woolen garment underneath, crackling with static, resisting every step of the way.

But then they're finally off, and he's back on her with that devouring kiss, and his hands are hiking up hemlines to get beneath her shift. She quivers at his touch, at the slide of his hands along her skin, rucking up the layers of fabric to bare her. Eighteen days. Eighteen days.

When he puts his hands to her breasts, the kiss breaks. They pant into each other's mouths. She still remembers the sound he made when he took his first sight of her. He makes it again now, as he moves down. He takes her in two handfuls and feels her with his lips, his cheeks. His hair brushes her in whispers. His breath steams across her skin. “Tell me to stop,” comes his voice in a rasp, before he sucks one of her nipples into his mouth.

Sparks behind her eyes. She writhes, feeling the sliding friction between her legs, feeling almost as though he's sucking her down there. “Don't you stop,” she says through bared teeth, knowing what would have happened that night if she hadn't stopped him then. Knowing what will happen now. He sucks her until she takes fistfuls of his hair and moves him to the other side. Again he takes her in his mouth. He doesn't stop.

That night in his bed, he was careful not to press against her, so she didn't feel him like she did at the shed. He isn't careful now. He's hard as iron, shifting in restless torment against her leg. She imagines him taking himself out and working himself against her body. She imagines him cracking her trousers at the seams and entering her right here and now.

“Take them off,” she begs, when she can no longer bear it. She lifts her hips. “Take them off.”

She means her pants, but he lets her up and grasps her tops in his fists and pulls them off over her head. Better still. Then it's two sets of hands working at buttons, unlacing boots, peeling off three layers of trousers and socks.

And then it's Zelda, in a tent on a mountain of ice, in a pair of soaking wet underpants. The canvas floor is cold, so she scoots back onto the bedroll, falling back onto her elbows. Link kneels before her at the foot. She looks down at her body, at her stiff nipples, her parted legs. Then up at him.

He's shaking. Even in the light of the lantern she can see it. Sweat stands on his brow and on his upper lip. He's still bundled in his Rito gear, with the brown hood pushed down around his disheveled hair. Eyes impossibly blue. Wearing the same half-mad expression that had her undoing buttons in the dangerously frigid night air. “Fuck,” he breathes. “Zelda, I – ”

Eyes on his eyes, she lies back and brings her hands to her hips, to the last scrap of fabric that covers her.

Zelda has seen Link hide everything from her, and she has seen him hide nothing. He hides nothing from her now, and so she sees it – the last vestige of his resistance, that beat of primal fear like the holding of flames. She feels it, too. But she fought for these flames, coaxed and fed them with her breath. The real risk of burn is in the cold.

And it's then that Zelda remembers who he is, if indeed she can ever forget – because she doesn't get a chance to remove that last scrap. Link gets there first.

He pulls the fabric down and off.

Then he crawls between her legs, and his hands slide up her thighs, and it hits her then what that scent on him was that she couldn't place – that he'd taken a taste of her out there, once he was alone, once she couldn't see. And then she knows what he's about to do but still doesn't quite believe it until she feels his tongue – his brazen, wicked, fearless tongue – lick her.

She gasps.

Then it's gone and he raises his head and in a rushing breath asks, “Okay?”

She can only nod.

The second time, she grasps the blankets and gives a wordless cry and wonders if she's actually asleep and dreaming on that pallet in Hateno. Link touching her, Link tearing her clothes off. Link, with his mouth between her legs. That slow slide of his tongue in her wetness, skirting her, around and down low, not in the place where she'd pressed against his hand, but luscious all the same; beautiful torment, a deepening ache. He dips inside her and she can feel how ready she is, can feel herself tighten around his tongue – wet on wet – and it's good, so good, but still not what she needs.

Teeth clenched, she reaches down and grasps his hair and pulls, gently, moving him upward, and angles her pelvis down –

He hits it. A blinding arc through her body, jolting her hard enough to release him, panting, hands scrabbling in the blankets.

“You okay?” Link’s breathless voice, from somewhere. Somewhere with words. She can do that. She can form words.

“Ngh,” she manages, and shifts back toward him, spreading her knees wide. Come on, come on, she pleads inside her mind, the only place in which she can. There. Again. He comes on. That hot mouth again, and that hot tongue, and –

She cries out with a broken voice. “Yes.That’s it. Right there.

And she’d thought his hand was good.

Her mouth falls open. She can’t do anything but feel. Can't do anything but give herself to that mouth, to the little rocking motions that take her, to his hands at her hips tensing their grip in the same rhythm. Beneath her own breath and own cries she hears his voice in strained and desperate sounds, and those sounds alone almost break her. The thought of him wanting this, of craving it, of sneaking that taste of her and then falling upon her the first chance he got –

She moves against him and feels his hands on her hips and it’s too good, too good. Too soon. So close, already. Already on the verge of throwing her head back and letting him lick her straight to oblivion.

“Wait,” she chokes out, pushing at him. “Not yet.” The loss of that mouth is an agonizing throb, but she's not going over without him again.

He looks pained from the loss, himself, as though he’s contemplating just pushing up her knees and diving back down there. He glistens with her wetness from chin to upper lip, and just manages to give his face a cursory wipe with his sleeve before she drags him in for a kiss. She tugs at his clothing, at his hood. “Off.”

The tunic's fastenings are strange and oddly placed, and Zelda considers taking the knife from Link’s belt and slicing it right off his body. Considers it, but then is caught up in yanking at hooks and fumbling at toggles. Caught up in kisses that taste of where that tongue has been. Caught up in Link’s hands straying from the fastenings to squeeze her breasts, to caress her bare skin; in Link's eyes stopping to marvel at even her shoulders and wrists – beautiful, you're so beautiful

Caught up in the path of her fingertips along the faded scars that cross Link's body. In the warmth of his chest over his glorious heart. She puts her hands on him and feels him, brimming with life and strength. The muscles of his arms. The lean ridges of his torso. Thighs turned to steel under her hands.

Zelda could lose days to the way his skin glows in lamplight, to the taste of sweat gathered at his collarbone – and she means to do so. But not just now. Not now, with him down to his briefs, and with what she needs so ready for her inside. She shoves him back onto the blankets and drinks him in, eyes to ankles, then brings her hungry focus to his groin. To the rigid length of him trapped inside the fabric along his thigh. She runs a hand over it, unable to resist. Feels, as well as hears, the sound that he makes. Feels herself tighten around an unbearable ache.

He lifts his hips when she works her fingers beneath his waistband and eases it down. She lets out a shameful sound when he springs free. Just because she can, just because it’s no more wicked than what he’s just done to her, she stops and presses that kiss to him, as she’d wanted to earlier, and watches his body tighten in its need. Swallowing, she peels the briefs off the rest of the way.

Her mouth is on him again before she can think.

Holy – ” His hands move up to cage his face, and she wants to pry them away so she can see, but her thumbs fit so beautifully in the grooves at his hips, and the feeling of him in her mouth has her salivating. She has no real idea of what she's doing, just wrapping her lips around the head and letting it slide against her tongue, up and down in gentle motions. Again, she swears she can feel it herself, and wonders if that is how it feels, if it's like what he did to her. She whimpers around him at the thought.

His breathing is ragged behind his hands. There's a sudden sweet taste, a drop of welling moisture, and then he's reaching down and grasping her hands, grasping her forearms, pulling at her, urging her upward. She goes, sliding up his body, letting him pull her into a feverish kiss. He burns like a branding iron against her hip. She swings a leg over his thighs. “In me,” she says, inches from his lips. “Please. Now.”

Link sobs another curse and takes her face in his hands, crushing her mouth to his again. His erection is pressed flush along her lower belly to her navel. “Like this?” he says, in a voice that’s the last shred of reason. He takes hold of her hips. “This way?”

“Yes. Any way. Doesn't matter.”

But no sooner are the words out than she realizes she's once again given no thought to logistics. How does she do this? Should she be leaning forward? Back? Standing up and then sinking down? Where to put her legs?

Then, because he's right there, and she's so aching and swollen that she can't think, she shifts forward to where his erection is trapped between their bodies, sliding her wetness along the length of it as she did earlier with his hand. At the contact she throws her head back and lets out a high-pitched cry, a counterpoint to Link's low groan.

A mistake, she realizes as she rocks herself against him. She'll lose herself to this in moments – and so will he, given his clenched teeth, his fingers digging into her. They should stop. They should stop. She looks down into his face, into his eyes, letting them anchor her, the only thing keeping her from flying apart.

“Zelda,” he's saying, “Zelda,” and he's stilling her with his hands, and cradling her in his arms, and rolling her beneath him to the blankets.

“Yes – Link, please, yes – ” because it's his weight on her, his skin on her skin, that she's conjured in her every helpless fantasy since that night in his bed. Or, if she's being honest, since long, long before. She gathers him to her, gathers the feeling of him in her arms, as if she could pull all of him into herself. Sucks at him with greedy kisses. Pinches at his spareness of flesh.

Opens for him.

He hovers over her, hair pouring like honey around his face. “You don't know, you don't know,” he whispers, as she takes hold of him to guide him between her legs.

But she does. She does know.

It takes a moment to happen. He’s too low and then too high, prodding at something that has no give. He’s so slick with her wetness that he slips from her grasp, and they have to line him up once more. It’s tense as a breath held too long underwater, born of an urgent need for air, and as one must breathe, so they must try again. They kiss and whisper please, please and try again, and when it happens it happens all at once, a sudden alignment into right.

She clings to fistfuls of his hair as she takes him in. So much of him. So right. In and in. Even the twinge of pain is right, a delicious sharp tang at the edge of so much sweet.

“Fuck – oh, fuck – ” Link’s voice, and Zelda knows what he means because it’s impossible, this feeling – impossible to contain it all, to be so full of him it’s like he’s touching every part of her, inside and out –

Impossible that they haven’t been here before.

Because they have. She knows it. She knows that the way Link’s middle quivers against hers is the way it always has; that the way she grips his flanks with her knees has been likened to the urging of a mount. She’s held his hair this way before. Felt this depth and breadth before. With other voices she's sobbed and sobbed his name.

Yet this belongs entirely to them. It's her voice in raptures now, and his flanks between her knees; it's their bodies caught in all the thrill and tremor of the new, of knowing what to do and not knowing. And so they hold this way, two shards reforged, forehead pressed to sweaty forehead, and exhale and exhale and exhale.

Link. Link inside her. She slides her hands to his neck, to his shoulders, needing him to lay into her but wanting to draw it out, to feel him this way just a little bit longer. Her body tightens, squeezing, the way it did when she was aching to be filled – but now she is filled, and instead of tightening around emptiness she's tightening around him, broad and slick and solid, the feeling lighting her all up and making her gasp. Link jerks against her with some sibilant sound that could be the fragment of a yes, and she can't help it; she does it again, in rhythm now, squeezing and squeezing. His shaky breath is hot on her face, his lips flushed and gorgeous, and she tilts her mouth up to his –

A little motion, that rolls from neck to hips. A tiny pull, a soft wet slip of separation – but nothing soft about what it does to them.

“Fuck – I can't – ” Link moves over her, his hips drawing back, and the air between their bodies is a breath of suspense before he sobs and eases back in.

Zelda's mouth opens on a soundless cry.

She lets her head fall back and her knees fall wide and moves with his rhythm as she takes him in again and again, and if it's gentle it's as the rising of magma is gentle, and if it's slow it's toward the edge of a cascade. She takes him from everywhere, from the wet stroking of her insides to the shift of his shoulders beneath her hands; his mouth is at her ear and through her pounding pulse she hears yes – yes – fuck through clenched teeth, and returns it with soft little cries.

Then it's not enough, no longer enough, and she's straining and striving against him – “Please, Link, please – ” and it's no longer so slow, so gentle, and he's rearing back to look at her, teeth bared, eyes bright and feral in their dark lashes. He feels it, too. She doesn't close her eyes, doesn't surrender, stays with him and lets him hold her together as he drives in harder, faster – “Oh yes, just like that – ”

Until she can't hold it anymore, has to close her eyes, has to dig into him and hang on for dear life because it's his body on her, in her, it's Link driving to the back of her throat and there's no stopping it now, no stopping it – and when it hits it slams hard, bending her back and clenching her thighs and tearing out in a bestial wail. And he's still going, fuck, he's still going, and it's still thundering through her when his rhythm breaks and he shouts and shouts himself hoarse.

On a mountain of ice, in a tent of flame and sweat, hot tears fall on Zelda's face.

Some of them are hers.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

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.”

“Ah.”

“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.”

They do.

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.”

“Handbooks?”

“Handbooks. References.”

“For...” he prompts.

“Sex.”

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.”

“I am?”

“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.