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amid sand and stone we stood

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“Real magic can never be made by offering someone else's liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back.”
– Peter S. Beagle, ‘The Last Unicorn’

*

The beast crawls up from the black pits of Hyrule Castle and meets him with a hundred gaping maws and unending hunger. The bow shines like a star in his hand, arrows ablaze with goddess-light.

Link kills it, then kills it again.

The flames emanating from its body are so hot that Link very nearly feels like he’s standing at the mouth of Eldin Canyon, facing down the volcano itself.

The beast dies on the grassy plains, leaking ichor into the dirt. It stinks powerfully of death, as though the very end of all things has been distilled down into one being that’s been left to rot in this fallow field.

Link soothes the mare and coaxes her in a slow circle around the massive corpse. He doesn’t want to rush this. He’s killed it before. He may need to kill it again. He feels as though something else both vital and terrible might happen if he looks away too soon.

Eventually, it goes the way of the rest of the corruption. Link lowers his bow, very nearly prepared to breathe a sigh of relief, when he spots the remains.

Not remains. A body. A figure. It shifts, alive.

He slides off the back of the mare and draws the blade, laying his hand on her flank to reassure her. She doesn’t seem concerned now that the beast is gone; she turns her head and lips at his hair and makes a soft noise, like Link is the one who needs reassurance.

He crouches next to the naked man — and it is a man, unmistakably. He’s never seen the Gerudo voe before, but there’s no one and nothing else the man could be except the Gerudo voe. The only Gerudo voe for centuries.

His long red hair is tangled around his bare face and shoulders. He looks as young as Link, though he’s nearly half again as tall. He’s a king by birthright, by virtue of existing.

Link thinks it’ll be a mercy to put him to the sword; the beast and the man may not be the same, but the beast Link killed has hooks sunk into this Gerudo in a way that transcends time.

Link knows this man, even though they’ve never met. He understands that much, and understands it with the same certainty that he felt when he pulled the blade from the stone at the foot of the Great Deku Tree.

He bends down and touches the man on the shoulder. Gives him a gentle shake.

When he doesn’t wake, Link stands and sighs.

*

Negotiating the Gerudo up onto the back of the mare is only a matter of some rope and determination.

Getting him back down again when Link finds a half-destroyed farmhouse that offers shelter from the autumn rains is more of a challenge.

Link nearly drops him twice; he’s strong, but the Gerudo is heavy.

He builds a fire just beneath the uncollapsed section of roof, piling kindling and logs in a loose arrangement on the dirty stone floor. He rolls the man onto a blanket and covers him. There are a few spare items of clothing that might fit him, but Link will let him dress himself in peace if he ever wakes up, so he folds them next to the bedroll.

Link pulls up his own tunic and sees to his wounds. The beast’s burning claws cauterized the gashes it left, but the flesh is still raw and open and there are bruises from Link’s right armpit to his hip. He pours a healing salve onto it, hissing between his teeth at the pain, and wraps it with clean strips of cloth soaked in a poultice against poisons.

It itches fiercely beneath the bandages as it heals. He grits his teeth and sets about sharpening the blade and inspecting the remaining arrows in his quiver. The tasks are a poor distraction for the pain and burn of rapid healing, but he has no other way to pass the time; the Sheikah slate was stripped from him in the fray. 

He’s left only with the blade and the bow and his own aching body.

“What’s her name?” the Gerudo asks when he sits up slowly a few hours later.

He’s looking at the mare. It sounds like he hasn’t spoken in a century, like he’s half-forgotten how to form words.

Link shrugs one shoulder. She’s been faithful, a good companion, fearless, but he can’t even speak to call her by her name, so he’s never given her one.

“Where are we?” the man asks.

Link shrugs again. He doesn’t know, even if he could answer. Somewhere south of Hyrule Castle, in a burned out little farmstead on the edge of a forest with no name. He puts more wood on the fire and settles with his back against the wall. The rainstorm sweeping across the fields brings cool air with it, a breeze that bites through his clothes.

Once the sun sets, the temperature will drop further. The fire crackles, giving off heat, and he checks his supplies. Their supplies, he corrects himself. He has to prepare for two, now.

“Can you speak?” the Gerudo asks, face lined with a frown.

Link shakes his head.

The Gerudo looks at him for a long time, firelit shadows dancing across his face. He’s handsome, with severe, angular features and startlingly dark amber eyes, the color of the sun at dusk. His ears sweep back in elegant points above a tangle of hair that’s more of a mane than anything.

He’s extraordinary. Link looks right back. It’s like staring at a ghost of someone he knew in another life.

The Gerudo signs Hylian with an inquisitive tilt to his head.

Link watches the Gerudo’s hands clumsily form the gesture and bobs his head once, quick, in affirmative. If he knows the Hyrulean Militia signals, Link can work with that. It’s more than most and he gets by just fine with less.

He scrambles to his knees and pulls a half-burnt stick from the fire, then squats next to the Gerudo. They’re near enough that the Gerudo’s breath stirs his hair.

My name is Link, he writes in abbreviated Hylian, then gestures at the Gerudo. He’s not sure if the man can read Hylian, but Link has a rudimentary grasp of simplified Gerudo if he has to try that.

He leans over to look at the shapes, heavy brow furrowed, face shadowed. Link feels the urge to reach out and touch him, the space between them clouded with potential.

“Link,” he says, shaping Link’s name carefully in his generous mouth. He touches Link’s arm, fingers like brands, and then his own chest. “I’m – Ganon.” He pauses, just long enough for fear to wing through Link’s rib cage and then away again. This Ganon is both the beast and not; the uncertainty in his expression is enough to confirm that. “I believe?”

*

It rains all night and for most of the next day. The shelter stays dry and warm and Link is still mending, so he’s content to linger until he’s fit to travel again.

The mare takes to Ganon. Link can see that she already likes him far more than she likes Link; Ganon spends time brushing her down and inspecting her for burrs and picking tangles out of her mane and tail, braiding them and speaking kindly to her.

Ganon’s soothing tones are too soft for Link to understand over the drumming rain from where he sits, but Link closes his eyes and allows himself to bask in the novel feeling of company. This man scratching beneath the mare’s bridle is too easy to separate from the beast, even though it lives somewhere inside him.

Ganon dresses in Link’s old, worn-out breeches. There’s not a tunic that fits him, but with the fire and the shelter even the autumn weather is held at bay for a time. Link is grateful he doesn’t seem very interested in holding any lengthy conversations. He’s too tired for the effort. They discuss tasks briefly, Link scratching words on the stone when hand signals fail to suffice.

It grows colder when the sun begins to set, autumn sweeping through the rambling countryside, though the leaves have not yet begun to turn. Ganon dons Link’s traveling cloak and disappears for a time, returning shivering with armfuls of damp wood and a brace of fat grouse just sprouting their winter plumage. They roast the birds over the fire and eat in silence and Link knows better than to ask how Ganon coaxed them from the tall grass – sorcery, perhaps.

They spread out Link’s bedroll together early in the evening and crowd onto it, side by side, and Link doesn’t object when Ganon settles only a handspan away, his big body casting off heat, and flings the spare blanket over them both. Sandwiched between the fire and Ganon, he begins to doze easily, eyes half open, watching rain hit the surface of a shallow puddle at the opposite end of the structure.

The opportunity for easy sleep has been rare and his journey punishing, so his mind finally succumbs to the deeply-anchored exhaustion of his body. He dreams about the great beast inside Ganon, the red boar’s mouth opening to swallow him whole, and wakes up with a hand on his face, sucking in sharp breaths.

“You’re safe,” Ganon says, a pinched line between his brows. He’s pressing Link to his body and it feels good. He runs his knuckles from Link’s chin to the hollow of his throat.

This isn’t how Link knows this man. That place where Hylia rests, where he felt the pull towards the blade, towards the Sheikah machines, towards Zelda’s blinding light, is silent on the matter.

The ache and shocking flash of desire to be touched that he feels is entirely his own.

Link gasps, shuddering, and wipes tears from his face. He pushes away from Ganon and climbs to his feet, standing at the edge of their shelter, full of strange heat and a lingering fear. It’s easy to see the beast from the man when only the man is before him, but it’s impossible to separate them. Link can neither bring himself to shake the feeling of being cradled in the beast’s claws nor to want the man’s warm hands any less.

“I apologize if I was in any way inappropriate,” Ganon says, misunderstanding. It’s better if he continues to misunderstand, so Link doesn’t bother trying to correct him. “You were thrashing in your sleep. I was afraid you might injure yourself.”

Link shakes his head and then shrugs, exaggerating the gesture. All is forgiven. When he glances at Ganon, Ganon has relaxed and is watching Link again, his concern smoothing away entirely when Link straightens and faces him.

No one has touched Link so sweetly in a hundred years. Even if his mind slept, his body knew very little kindness during his century long convalescence.

He misses Mipha, suddenly, with a viciousness, though what passed between them had been a soft, hopeful love put on hold for things far larger than the two of them. It’s been a century for the rest of Hyrule, but only a little more than a year for Link, most of it filled with frantic fear and pain.

This sudden loneliness is the enemy of his purpose. A hand that must wield a sword can hold nothing else until the killing is done.

Sorry, he signs, considering how to express the enormity of a nightmare about being eaten alive in a signal shorthand meant for militia operations. Bad rest.

Ganon looks at him and then looks out at the darkness beyond. The inclement weather obscures the nighttime view of the ruins of Hyrule Castle, but Link can make out the looming shadow of it, black and reaching lifelessly towards the sky. What Ganon remembers of it, if anything, he doesn’t share and Link can’t ask without effort.

“Come back to bed,” Ganon says, stretching out, inviting without even making an effort at it. His voice is soft, smooth, like a rasp of silk over bare skin. It’s tantalizing, like an oasis in the desert; Link has spent so much time alone, without even his own voice for company. “You’ll catch your death.”

Link settles back down into the warm space between Ganon and the fire. The stone floor bites into his shoulder blades. He can’t quite get comfortable even though he’s still exhausted. It has more to do with circumstance than the hard surface beneath him.

“What I wouldn’t give for a nice, soft patch of sand,” Ganon grumbles, evidently suffering from a similar plight.

Misery shared is an easier burden, Link thinks, badly stifling the smile that creeps up on him. He misses familiar comforts as well: a warm hearth, fresh bread, a soft bed.

Go where? Link signs, looking up at the cobwebbed rafters and the partially rotted roof beyond. Perhaps Ganon now has some innate pull inside him, like Link did.

Like Link still does. His hand itches to reach out.

Ganon rolls towards him but doesn’t try to reach out to him again. Link keeps his gaze fixed on the ceiling when Ganon says, “I don’t even know where we are.”

Link considers for a moment, each option as likely as the next without guidance. It only seems sensible to take him to Gerudo Town, though Link isn’t certain whether they’ll be welcomed into the gates as undisguised voe. Perhaps they’ll make an exception and usher him in to see Riju, who has previously offered both her royal auspices and kind forbearance. 

Who better, then, to know where to start than the people who bore him?

Go home? Link signs.

Ganon exhales heavily and shifts again several more times before settling onto his stomach. Link does turn his head then. Ganon’s back rises and falls slowly in the firelight with his steady breathing. One amber eye is still fixed on Link. He’s lovely. “If you think it best.”

Link watches the firelight casting shadows on the walls for a long time before falling asleep.

*

The journey to Gerudo Town will take more than a week of hard travel, first by horseback and then by foot, if they take the trade routes, and a few days less by the route Link plans out. The Riverside Stable will take them nearly a full day out of their way with one of them walking. Link encourages Ganon, barefoot and weaponless, up onto the back of the mare and leads them down the muddy forest path and out to the main road. They need supplies.

It’s early afternoon by the time they crest the last hill before the stable. They haven’t conversed in hours, Ganon peering out over the damp fields and watching Link in equal measure.

Wait? Link signs, tilting his head inquisitively. He won’t force Ganon down into the company of others. It’s not necessary.

“I’ll come with you,” Ganon says. He slides off next to Link and they hitch the mare where she can graze while they square away supplies.

The stable is bustling, traders flooding through on promises of rumors and lingering to hear news of the Calamity’s defeat. Link has to dodge several scruffy mules laden with heavy packs before they make it across the muddy field to where several merchants have pitched awnings between their wagons, their wares laid out on oilcloth blankets and arranged lovingly in wide-mouthed baskets, safe from the weather.

The noise and hum of so many voices – all of them on the outside of his head – is a relief.

Ganon shadows him as Link works through the makeshift merchant stalls. He negotiates wordlessly through half a dozen acquisitions, tucking his purchases into a leather satchel: a bundle of arrows with pin-straight cucco feathers, their sharp iron tips wrapped in heavy hide; a thick bedroll that’ll suffice for any weather; a heavy cloak lined around the face with wolverine fur; lumps of pemmican wrapped carefully in waxed paper and tied with red twine; dried fruits and nuts; and three of the largest water skins he can find. 

After a moment’s hesitation, he buys a stack of blank writing paper and a charcoal pencil.

A clothier from Lurelin cheerfully takes his rupees when he points to Ganon, who is drawing stares, passersby slowing to gawk at his bare back, their efforts aided by the sheer size of him. She circles him with a length of twine, measuring him right out in the open air between market stalls, and then leaves her assistant with her wares when she disappears into her caravan for nearly half an hour. When she emerges, she has several fine cotton tunics dyed in bright tones — turquoise, emerald, and saffron — and several pairs of long black breeches. Atop them is a pair of heavy travel boots.

Link shakes his head and reaches for his pouch of rupees. It’s too fine for the fee he’s offering.

“Take them,” she says, not to Link but to Ganon, wrinkled hands pressing them against his bare chest. He takes them and frowns down at her. “I know who you are.”

“Thank you for your kindness,” Ganon says, bowing his head in gratitude.

She reaches up and up and up and touches his face with her gnarled fingers. “May Hylia bless your journey with her unending light. Your road will no doubt be hard.”

Ganon says nothing, only holds his newfound belongings silently and nods down to her. Link knows she’s right.

The horse pens are next.

There are a good three dozen horses corralled for trade and a few hardy, friendly donkeys that lip pieces of apple from Link’s hand when he approaches. He’d love to purchase one of the long-eared asses to carry their packs, but none of these highlands beasts are bred for the desert and they’ll have to board the animals anyways once they’re through the canyon pass.

This? he signs in query when an enormous gelding sticks its head over the gate post and whickers in greeting. The horse is big enough to make Link’s nameless mare look more like a shaggy pony. He’s a strong-looking blood bay, well-kept and well-fed, with white fetlocks and a black mane and tail.

A stocky man with a cap pulled low over his bald head takes three thousand rupees for the gelding and a set of riding tack after some gentle haggling. Link allows Ganon to handle the business for himself, instead standing on against the bottom slat of the corral and scratching the gelding’s flanks as it leans against the fencepost.

It feels good to have someone do the talking, as little as he cares for the pity usually directed at him because of it. The traders here have a reputation for dealing fairly, so he tunes out the negotiations and only comes back around after the gelding is paid for and bridled.

“Shall we stay the night?” Ganon asks, a heavy saddle and riding blanket slung over one broad arm. “We both smell ripe and this may be the last chance at a bed for some time.”

Link grunts. They board the horses for the night after considering the cramped open beds in the lodging commons. Link pays for a private room with two beds and for a bath to be drawn, while at the periphery of his vision Ganon negotiates with a merchant selling medicinal salves.

Ganon joins him in the room with their gear just as Link is stripping down to climb into the wooden wash tub full of steaming water. He looks Link over once, quick, and then goes about his business, silent except for the faint clinking of glass on glass as he sets a handful of bottles on the squat table between the two beds.

Link slides lower into the water with a sigh of relief that isn’t at all dampened by the fact he has company. His muscles ache and his spine feels like it’s been twisted into a knot, but the hot water helps. His attention drifts: it’s been a good long time since he’s afforded himself the luxury of a proper hot bath.

The beast made a mangled mess of his right side. It’s healing more quickly than it would without potions and salves, no longer raw and open, but the knot of tissue is still red and angry. Link has earned a bath a hundred times over. He settles, breathing slowly, and lets the water carry away the tension in his shoulders.

He’s dozing gently when gentle fingers sink into his damp hair, gathering it at the nape of his neck. He starts, exhaling sharply, but it’s only Ganon. The blade isn’t within reach – and he doesn’t need it anyways – so he clutches the side of the wash tub hard with his sword arm and wills his breathing to slow.

“You’re hurt,” Ganon says, the words low with a husk of something sweet that sends fire directly to Link’s belly. His heart leaps unevenly when Ganon asks, “Will you allow me to assist?”

It’s foolish to allow familiarity, but – Link nods and doesn’t pull away from the touch.

Ganon combs his fingers through Link’s hair, gently freeing snarls and undoing tangles. His blunt nails scrape across Link’s scalp and Link feels briefly undone by the raw bliss of it. 

He relaxes back into the bath, opening and closing his hands restlessly. He’s unaccustomed to someone else’s hands on him. He closes his eyes and can sense the shape of Ganon close behind him, the way he kneels, the tilt of his head, the set of his shoulders. It’s like it was on the field and in the farmhouse, like it has been for months – he knows, unerringly, where Ganon is at all times, like a space for Ganon has been made in his mind.

“Do you know the tale of Neri and Lorai?” Ganon asks. He drags his fingers from the top of Link’s scalp to the base of his skull, probing gently. The sensation skitters through Link, a fizzing spark of warmth that catches and spreads.

No, Link signs.

“Lorai was a Captain of the Royal Guard when Ganon the Second ruled Gerudo, before the second Calamity,” Ganon says. “Neri was one of the prospective recruits. She was a young vai, no more than twenty summers, and not yet blooded in battle.”

“Each summer, the Royal Guard held recruitment for the prospective candidates. Those who were fit to fight and willing to wield spear or scimitar would be inducted as warriors upon completion of grueling training, but any who could beat a member of the King’s seven vai in single combat to first blood would take the honorary eighth position among the Royal Guard.”

“Neri practiced the entire year and signed her name in the training rosters,” Ganon says. “But she was inexperienced and overly ambitious; Lorai was a veteran of many years, more experienced with both blade and bow, and toughened by a long life spent in the deep desert. When the ritual fight began, Lorai disarmed Neri in seconds. In protest of fighting such a green opponent, Lorai refused to continue the match, claiming it unsporting.”

“It’s a great dishonor to be turned away, but Neri was clever. She pretended to be badly wounded by the fall. Lorai, who was tender of heart, bent to help her, and in her panic and desperation to execute her plan, Neri slashed Lorai’s shield arm badly with a dagger she’d concealed for the purpose.”

“They were both judged unfit for service for a year. Ganon the Second decreed that Neri serve as Lorai’s handmaiden as penance for her deceitfulness before she was allowed to serve on the Guard. Neri served three hundred days before the two vai reconciled.”

“There’s much more to their story, but during the period of service, Neri and Lorai became fast friends. They fought together in many battles, inseparable for decades to come, and then fell side by side twenty years later defending a Gerudo settlement from Ganon the Second himself. Their bodies were interred into a single tomb.”

“It’s considered holy to humble oneself in service to atone to those wrongfully injured,” Ganon murmurs, palms on Link’s bare shoulders. “What would you ask of me in restitution? Three hundred nights? Three thousand? I don’t remember clearly how much of this I should be sorry for.”

Link pulls away from Ganon, sloshing water out of the tub, shuddering all over. Service. Link doesn’t know how he can speak as such, when they’re as at odds as a fox and a rabbit in the natural order of fate.

Nearly every scar on his body is from the beast, and those not laid there personally by its claws are still there because of his long war with it. He remembers being torn open, dreams of it, of the way he’d crumpled, of how it had felt like too much pain to handle until it had felt like nothing at all.

He turns and faces Ganon, straightening, defiant. Ganon is kneeling, looking up at him, mouth set in a serious line. He’s otherworldly, like Hylia’s light, something rare and frightening to gaze upon.

This time when his gaze sweeps over Link’s body, it’s a slow path, lingering over Link’s scars — the fine lines that mar Link’s bare thighs, the knot of angry red tissue at his hip, the old, well-healed gouges where the beast’s claws tore his belly.

Ganon reaches out, touches him on the bare, unscarred curve of his waist. “I don’t remember what it did. I don’t remember what I did.”

Kill, Link signs, quick, the gesture vicious. Kill.

Then he shakes his head, because this man isn’t the beast, not right now, he just holds it inside of him. For the first time in many months he’s angry that he can’t speak instead of grateful to be alive.

He puts his hands on either side of Ganon’s wide, handsome face and kisses him. Ganon leans into it, placing his other hand on Link’s bare hip, careful. The touch is a question and Link answers it by opening his mouth to admit Ganon’s seeking tongue.

When Link breaks away, panting, Ganon rises and scoops him into his arms, still wet and dripping from the bath, and sets him on the edge of the nearest bed.

Sometimes when Link dreams he can feel where his footsteps have landed before, the familiar weight of the blade and the bow, the stamp of a ten thousand soldiers marching to battle behind him. A hundred other lives, lived by others that are him but also not him. He’s never once felt anything like the sizzling crackle of heat and old magic that fills this warm, dim room, or the way Ganon’s hungering gaze lingers on his naked body.

He considers putting a hand up, stopping this, even though it’s him that started it. Knowing Ganon this way isn’t safe. It complicates things. It rises in him anyways, between them, a thing with a life of its own.

Ganon slips out of his breeches and his tunic, letting them puddle on the floor at his feet, and Link’s mouth goes dry. Even if the beast hadn’t stolen his voice, Link wouldn’t be able to speak anyways.

He’s a good two feet taller than Link, with broad shoulders and broad hands, his mouth soft and expressive. His dark skin and darker nipples are half-hidden by a generous thatch of red hair that matches the curling mane that spills over his chest. His waist tapers down into hips that almost look delicate compared to the rest. Between his legs hangs his hardening cock, thick and heavy and flush at the tip where it’s begun to peek from his foreskin.

The smell of his sweat and arousal is like lightning and copper and woodsmoke. He’s elemental. He moves like fire in a dry forest and even without his advantage in size, he seems to swell to fit the space, larger than life, some trick of the power that crackles around them. 

Link can no more look away from Ganon than he can tear himself free of his own destiny.

Ganon kneels before him. Link closes his hand over the nape of Ganon’s neck and the contact is like grasping hot iron, a feeling beyond parsing. The goddess-magic that Link carries with him is not nearly so old as the thing that binds them together. It hits him bone deep and he arches helplessly when Ganon bites down on his bare throat.

Everything goes slightly fuzzy around the edges for a moment, until the crackle of magic that pulses through him subsides. It leaves in its wake only a lambent pleasure all Link’s own, and by the time he registers what’s happening, Ganon has urged Link up onto the bed and climbed between his spread thighs.

He touches Link there, in the dark, soft place where his body opens, sliding his thumb just over the ring of muscle. It’s a question, Ganon’s brow furrowed as he watches Link, so Link nods once, yes, and thinks, please.

It’s all the encouragement that Ganon needs and all Link has the patience for. Ganon holds himself above Link with one arm and plucks one of the little glass bottles from the bedside table. Link catches a waft of something mineral-smelling.

Ganon coats his fingers with it and eases two into Link’s body and all Link can do is pant and surrender to the invasion, any lingering doubt swallowed up by the sharp, electric contact of skin on skin.

Ganon’s fingers delve deep inside Link, who gasps when Ganon strokes something inside of him, and then nearly comes off the bed when Ganon thrusts them into him in earnest. The blunt stretch makes his entire body ring with pleasure, like a silver bell struck by a hammer.

“Beautiful,” Ganon murmurs. Link grabs him by the hair and slips his tongue in Ganon’s mouth, forgetting to be embarrassed by the praise, and is rewarded with a third finger inside of him.

It’s at the very brink of too much, but Ganon keeps him suspended on the razor fine-edge of pleasure, working him until the fire in the hearth just begins to dim, until his body finally loosens, taking the intrusion easily. He digs his fingernails into Ganon’s skin, hard enough to score marks into him, and Ganon groans low and dangerous. Without much warning, he hitches Link’s legs around his waist and then it’s his cock pushing into Link, not his fingers, and it feels so much bigger.

The tip of it slips inside, thick and hot, and once he’s worked himself a few inches into Link’s body in little fits and starts, he slides the rest of the way inside in one smooth thrust. Link can feel it seated in his body, deeper than he thought he could take even with Ganon’s thorough coaxing.

Link covers his eyes with one hand, gasping, and lets his focus narrow down to the incredible fullness. He’s never done this with a man, not even on lonely nights in the militia. If he concentrates, he can feel every inch of Ganon, every shift of his corded muscles, every greedy curl of a magic that both is and isn’t theirs.

Link can feel him where they aren’t even touching, in that place of light inside Link’s mind, moving where he shouldn’t be, inevitable, wonderful, terrible to behold.

Ganon pulls Link’s arm away from his face and pins it over his head, kisses him, long and slow, and rocks ungently into Link’s body. Link makes an airy sound into Ganon’s mouth, flush with pleasure, and grips Ganon’s hip with his free hand.

If he could speak at all it would be to beg for more.

The first real thrust makes him arch involuntarily, the sensation racing from low in his belly up through his torso like an arrow. It’s followed by a second and a third, then Ganon is moving in him too quickly for it to be distinct, each time he seats himself fully into Link building to a point of cascade.

Ganon is staring down at him, eyes wide and mouth just a little slack with pleasure, the immensity of the moment evidently not lost on him either. 

Link pushes himself up on his elbow and then hooks his arms over Ganon’s broad shoulders, holding himself above Ganon’s lap. He braces his foot against the bed and levers himself down onto Ganon, who slows the pace of his thrusts to allow Link to meet him. Link sinks down fully each time, a shivering, shuddering pleasure rabbiting up beneath his sternum.

His cock is so big and pushes in so deep it makes Link feel like he must be in danger of being speared by it, but there’s not even a hint of pain. Ganon leans in and kisses him with his eyes open, a big palm spread over Link’s lower back to support him.

It hits them both all at once, the punch of it no less dazzling even with the long wind-up. Link is the first to falter in his thrusts, open-mouthed and overcome by the deep joy of it. Ganon lays him back onto the bed and rides him through the last moments of it, going headlong over the precipice of orgasm together with fits and jerks and soft groans.

He buries his face in the curve of Link’s neck and the noise he makes is helpless. Link thinks he understands the sentiment; for all his untenable power, Ganon is in this moment merely a giant of a man felled by the same simple force as Link.

After Ganon comes back to himself, Link presses gently against his shoulder, then pats his side encouragingly when the single moment stretches on to become several and Ganon’s weight on top of him grows just a touch too heavy.

When Ganon lifts his head inquisitively, Link gestures at the mess between them and pointedly wrinkles his nose.

With a good-natured huff, Ganon says, “Very well, point taken,” and pulls away, wiping the mess from Link’s body with the sheets. His mouth is slanted up at one corner.

The whole process of rearranging themselves is greatly delayed by the kisses Ganon keeps stealing; Link finds him very hard to deny, even after the fifth attempt, and grins at him, joy making an unexpected home in his chest.

Ganon hooks his arm beneath Link’s trembling thighs and lifts him as easily as a miller carrying a sack of flour, then lays him on the other bed. He moves to stand but Link catches him by the wrist and gives a little tug, so Ganon joins him, pulling the blanket atop them both.

Link huddles into the shelter of his arms, draping himself half onto Ganon’s torso. The immense lassitude of his body is only matched by the unexpected warmth in his heart.

Hylia save him, he doesn’t know how he’ll stop wanting this. How he’ll hold Ganon and the blade at the same time.

*

Early in the morning, well before dawn, Link climbs on top of Ganon and makes good use of the bed again, since it’ll likely be the last one they sleep in for many days. The low fire burning in the hearth lights the room and Ganon looks up at him in wonder while he thrusts into the slick grip of Link’s body. The tide of fate has temporarily receded; what passes between them now is just the normal magic of two bodies.

Link doesn’t know Ganon like this, but he wants to. 

Hylia provides no guidance on the matter; for now, at least, their union is outside the domain of the goddess. He reaches down and touches Ganon’s face, smoothing his thumbs over Ganon’s heavy brows, plunging his hands into the mane of Ganon’s hair.

He looks like the beast and nothing like it at all.

It feels greedy to have him, all this hard desert muscle bent towards the singular goal of pleasing Link, of making his body feel good when Link has only known hard, impossible work and pain for the duration of his enlistment. Fate has mangled them both; now they treat each other sweetly, stealing this quiet moment together.

It takes a long time for them both. Link is sweating and panting and Ganon groaning so low and helpless that the sound has become a nearly constant thrum of noise. He’s exhausted all over again when he hits the peak, pleasure singing through him, and Ganon releases into him soon after, expression contorted into a rictus of ecstasy.

He presses Link back down into the bed, laying kisses across his face and torso, and Link twines his fingers into Ganon’s hair to ground himself. He feels like he might be in danger of floating away. Ganon’s fingers find the opening of Link’s body and he moans when he circles the rim of the muscle and finds his spend leaking from Link’s body.

“Three thousand days,” he says against Link’s bare skin. He caresses Link’s ribs, not straying from scars, intent on exploring Link’s body. “Three thousand days would never be enough.”

They sleep again for a time, and on waking again, Ganon presses Link face-down into the sweat-damp sheets and bites little red bruises into his flesh while Link pants and pushes back up against him. He knows he’ll feel it badly in the saddle, but he lets Ganon have him a third time, heat building and spreading under his skin until all he can think of is the way they’re moving together.

“Would you let me keep you like this?” Ganon says into the nape of Link’s neck while they lie in a heap, skin cooling.

Link nudges him with an elbow and Ganon slides off to one side, but doesn’t go far, pressing up against Link. He doesn’t know how to answer Ganon’s question with the words he has at his disposal. He thinks for a long time.

He shakes his head and sighs heavily. He turns in Ganon’s loose grip and signs work and battle and no rest. Link flattens out and looks at him sideways, pushing his sweat-damp hair out of his eyes.

“Ah, I know,” Ganon says genially, rolling onto his back. Ganon touches the mess on his skin, wincing. His nose wrinkles a little and Link has to resist the urge to touch him there. “Perhaps we should bathe before leaving?”

Link huffs, amused.

The water has gone stone cold overnight, but at least the room is still warm. Ganon dunks himself and, shivering visibly, scrubs off the road dirt and sweat with a cloth. Laughing and ice cold, he corrals Link between his strong legs, wiping him down while Link pushes at him in good-natured protest, barely stifling a grin of his own. He sits astride Ganon’s broad, bare thighs and allows Ganon to comb and braid his hair, a task complicated by the many breaks Ganon takes to kiss the nape of Link's neck.

They dress one another, Link smoothing Ganon’s tunic down and offering him the riding cloak Link purchased for him. He looks extraordinarily striking in the turquoise cotton and his dark breeches with the black cloak draped over his shoulders, his red hair curling damp around his temples and spilling over his chest.

“I won’t presume my further welcome in your bed,” Ganon says seriously, looking down at Link.

Link snorts. He pushes Ganon back, hand flat on his abdomen, until Ganon sits down on the bed behind him, and then Link bends forward and kisses him. He nips at Ganon’s lower lip, leaving Ganon’s mouth damp when he pulls away.

Travel far, Link signs, foolish and reckless for not taking the easy escape Ganon has given him. They’re strangers and fate makes them old enemies; anything else complicates matters. Night cold. He steps back and beckons Ganon, then slings his pack over his shoulder.

He can feel Ganon’s gaze on him. The heat of it has little to do with the omnipresent pull of fate between them.

They gather their things and Link pays for the two of them to take a hot meal in the dining hall. They eat quietly beside half a dozen other travelers before hiking out to where the horses are boarded. The stable boy, a young lad of about twelve, brings Link’s stocky mare and Ganon’s gelding from the back.

Link smiles when the mare bumps her head against him affectionately and scratches beneath her bridle. The stable boy helps them with their saddles and straps down their belongings. Link offers him fifty rupees for his assistance, watching his eyes go wide and round at the amount of money.

“Thank you, sir,” the boy says and Link leans down to ruffle his dark mop of hair.

They ride single file in silence until the stable is out of view and then Ganon urges his gelding abreast of Link’s mare, casting occasional glances in Link’s direction.

The grassy knolls that surround the Riverside Stable stretch into sun-dappled forests, silent except for birdsong and the faint, lazy sound of the Hylia River where it winds within a stone’s throw of the road. The autumn sun has chased the worst of the early morning chill away by the time they make the turn southwest and Ganon pushes the hood of his cloak back, tilting his face up.

Link is sore in the saddle and still a little sleepy, but an easy, pleasant lassitude fills him despite the weight of purpose behind their journey. The day is beautiful and full of green warmth and the countryside is free, for the first time in over a hundred years, of the oppressive smog of the beast’s presence.

Good weather, Link signs, draping the reins across the pommel of his saddle and allowing the mare her head. She plods on steadily without his guidance, all these well-worn forest roads familiar.

“A cold night, maybe?” Ganon asks, tilting his head towards Link, who feels himself flush. “Where do you plan on stopping for the evening?”

Night camp, he signs in response.

He lifts his hand and points towards the horizon, where the ruins of a garrison tower rise high above the trees in the distance, hunched like a broken gargoyle on the bald foothill.

Hyrule is still crumbling, a faint specter of its former self, a ghost of bright glory and endless prosperity. There are still residents in the deep woods, Hylians who retreated beyond the reach of the corruption surrounding Castle Town. They’re few and far between, but their roots grow as deep as the old trees. Birds and beasts alike have slowly begun to return to the long-fallow farmlands surrounding the castle, and they’re skittish and wary of travelers.

Defeating the beast can’t undo a hundred years of decay overnight.

Still, the sun is high in the sky, bright and beautiful, and the trees are all dressed in autumn’s colors and for a time, while they ride in silence, Link’s spirits lift. Ganon looks at him more than occasionally, smiling sideways, and Link can’t help but hope for something beyond princesses and dark power and a rot in the heart of the world.

*

The garrison tower has been overrun by bokoblins. He can see the flicker of firelight in the broken shell of the tower that almost makes him hope they’ll be fortunate enough to find another traveler, but the smell is distinct and fresh even at a distance. Link leaves the mare with Ganon and goes ahead to clear them.

Without the influence of the beast, Link only has to bare the blade and they scatter into the darkness, howling in fear. He climbs up a narrow stair and leans over one of the crumbling embrasures to watch them slink off into the trees.

The tower stinks like rotting fruit and damp fur. After descending to help Ganon make camp on the lower floor, Link huffs in disgust and kicks bundles of moldy hides and decaying food out into the dirt, busying himself with clearing a space for both them and the horses. He briefly considers moving along, but the nearest shelter Link knows of is a full three hour ride along the road and not nearly so defensible.

With the refuse ejected from the tower, the air begins to clear, smelling less of vegetal rot and more of woodsmoke.

Ganon’s gelding pins it’s ears back at the scent when they lead the horses inside, but Link’s mare only dips her head placidly to drink when Ganon returns from the river with full water skins.

Link pauses by her flank and frowns at Ganon while he tugs at ties for the saddlebags.

“Is something on your mind?” Ganon asks over the back of the mare.

Fight? Link queries. Weapon?

“Are you asking if I can hold a sword or if I want one?” Ganon smiles down at him. “The answer is the same for both, but do you think it’s wise to arm me?”

Link shrugs. The bokoblins and their ilk are less organized now, but they’ve raided Hyrule and her surrounding provinces for thousands of years even without the beast’s influence. Traveling unarmed is a risk.

He detaches a blade from his small cache of armaments, passing it scabbard and all to Ganon. It’s a scimitar of Gerudo make, a weapon forged for a young vai, and looks more like a dagger in Ganon’s big hand. But it’s a weapon made for Gerudo use and Ganon makes a sound of admiration when he checks the weapon’s edge.

“A wonderful gift,” Ganon says and lays the weapon against his own pack. “Thank you.”

Link nods once and looks away, bending to the task of stripping their gear from the horses and brushing their hides. He inspects their hooves and feeds them from a nosebag full of sweet dry oats since there’s no place to safely picket them for grazing with the bokoblins nearby.

He tries not to think that he might have to put a sword to Ganon if the beast wakes again. Or that Ganon might put a sword to him instead to save his own life.

Ganon builds a fire and kneels on the stone, spreading out blankets. Link takes an unsatisfying but familiar meal of dried jerky and pemmican while he crouches for a time just out of the circle of firelight to watch for any sign that the tower’s squatters might be returning.

All remains quiet. A nightbird takes up a song nearby, shadowed by a calling owl. Link retreats to the warmth of the fire and strips off the blade, setting it beside his bedroll.

Ganon, already half dozing, rouses at Link’s approach and rolls to face him.

Link looks at him for the space of several minutes. He wants to tell Ganon how afraid he is, how afraid he’s been. He wants to tell Ganon that he might have to kill him and that he’ll drive the blade into the beast’s heart another hundred times, as long as he has the strength in his spirit to lift a blade.

Ganon pushes himself up on one elbow, his expression troubled. “Do you remember dying?”

Link nods.

The expression that crosses Ganon’s face is complicated. Grief, fear, anger, shame. Link thinks he understands all of them. “I had wondered that you would let me – ”

Link puts a hand to his mouth, quelling further protest. The beast is no more Ganon’s choice to carry than it was Link’s to fight it.

Killing the beast had been no conscious choice at all; it had been a logical endpoint. He’d grown up a farmer’s son, with a mother who loved him before she passed to a hard winter sickness. For many years, Link was a happy child. Hylia had chosen Zelda and then Hylia had chosen Link through Zelda.

Link is still a farmer’s son.

He’s simply grown into the man that picked up the blade and bow that slew the beast.

Ganon is not always the beast, and the beast is not always Ganon, though it rides beneath his skin and threatens to devour the world whole.

Link sinks his hand into Ganon’s hair and gives him a gentle tug.

He gasps when Ganon’s mouth finds his throat, teeth bared, and thinks of the beast bearing down on him. The hand that slips into his breeches to palm him is massive and the smell that surrounds him reminds Link of the searing desert heat, summoning the hot and electric memory of sand crystallized into glass by the crackling magic pulled from the very clouds themselves. Link is achingly hard in moments.

Ganon lays him out on the blanket and strips them both nude and takes Link apart by inches. He lays his mouth on every scar and divot, every jut of bone and every curve of muscle, and then he puts his mouth on Link and sucks him, nose pressed all the way to Link’s belly while Link claws silently at his shoulders.

He gasps airily and spills into Ganon’s hot mouth and lays on the blankets with shaking limbs. Ganon kisses him, lips parted, and Link licks the faint taste of himself out of Ganon’s mouth, shuddering with aftershocks of his orgasm.

Link takes Ganon in hand and lifts his hips in obvious invitation.

Ganon pushes him back down flat and pulls his hand away. “Be still. I’ll hurt you this soon.”

Link shakes his head, but he knows Ganon is right. They can’t make a habit of this each night they travel by horse.

“Here,” Ganon says, settling back on his knees, feet folded beneath him. “Let me have you.”

He hauls Link halfway into his lap and presses kisses into Link’s scarred shins. Link’s mouth falls open in surprise when Ganon’s thick cock, leaking preejaculate, pushes between Link’s thighs, just below his own soft cock and balls.

Ganon holds his thighs together with one arm and thrusts a few times to demonstrate. Breathlessly, he asks, “Have you ever lain with other men before me?”

Link shakes his head. No.

Ganon slides a palm up Link’s belly, pupils dilated, licking his lips absently as his gaze travels over Link’s body. “It’s somewhat scandalous for the Gerudo voe to lie with another man, but if I ever desired to stake my claim to the throne, I’d happily face the judgment of the elder sisters to take you as my consort. You’re a feast to behold.”

Link is not a vain man; he’s given not a single moment of thought to his own appearance or desirability. In this minute, with Ganon stretched out above him, working between his dampening thighs just as though he was fucking into Link’s body, he allows himself to feel pleased, arching a little to meet each thrust. His own spent cock plumps beneath the stimulation and he reaches down to caress himself idly, eyes slitted with pleasure while Ganon works himself up to a frenzy of thrusting.

He spills hot and sticky over Link’s belly, groaning, and makes a mess of Link’s thighs.

Link reaches up and reels him in for a kiss, Ganon panting with exertion into Link’s mouth. The groans turn to delighted laughter and Ganon rolls onto his back beside Link, who lets out soft, soundless huffs of amusement.

“Do you think Hylia ever expected us to fuck?” Ganon asks, his brassy voice full of amusement.

Link shakes with silent laughter, startled. No, he signs. No.

“Ah,” Ganon says as the fit passes, considerably more melancholy but with a sly slant to his generous mouth. “I dread what comes before us, but I think we’ve both earned a little sodomy.”

Link scrambles to his feet before Ganon can catch hold of him and fetches a few sheets of paper and the pencil from his pack. He settles onto his bare stomach next to Ganon, who slides a hand greedily over the swell of Link’s ass.

He writes in tiny letters: It wasn’t your fault.

Ganon nuzzles into the curve of Link’s neck. His breath skims over Link’s shoulders. “Your graciousness is not well-deserved, but I won’t argue against my own benefit. You may be the only one who believes so.”

Further, printing with painstaking care, he writes: The beast is a curse. We’ll break it.

“My own mother spent nearly a decade trying when she discovered she was bearing the voe child,” Ganon murmurs. “She didn’t succeed.”

It's passing strange to think of Ganon as connected to something other than Link and the Malice. A mother. Link knows he must have had one once, too, but most of his memories of her are just blank spaces. He knows his mother died. He feels the root of his own sadness, an echo of her love, but he doesn’t know her.

Link shakes his head. We’ll keep trying.

“Does your goddess have an opinion on the matter?” Ganon asks mildly.

He considers that space in him that was filled with light when the beast bore down on him. It’s dark and silent now, but not empty. Hylia has no guidance to offer but she hasn’t abandoned them.

Link shakes his head.

“I thought not,” Ganon says, sighing breezily. “They say the goddesses steer entire realms, not the hearts of men. I suppose it’ll be our trial until she decides the problem is big enough to meddle again.”

Link writes, We’ll start in the desert.

*

Ganon is generous with him. Link has never been so wonderfully tired or so sated in his entire life. His body heals, the snarls of pain fading to dull aches, then to something he has to stretch out each time he wakes. Ganon’s touch grows firmer alongside Link’s own hungers.

It’s not a casual exchange; Link knows that from the second night, when Ganon runs his thumb across Link’s lip, watching Link with a heavy-lidded gaze. There’s no easy trade between them, no indifference.

Link doesn’t even consider turning him away.

It’s a four day ride from the crumbling garrison to the mouth of the canyon that leads to Gerudo Valley and they make excellent time in the good weather. Link dozes in the saddle for the majority of the journey and climbs into the blankets beside Ganon each night. He finds a momentum to writing down his thoughts, to conversing without speaking; they learn one another letter by letter.

They’ve made camp beneath a slanting rock face an hour’s ride into the canyon, where the dirt is rusted red and deep brown with clay and ochre. There’s no sand yet, but the deciduous forests have dwindled into gnarled, scraggly species that cling to rock faces with shallow roots badly concealed by thin dirt.

Ganon has only just finished telling him one of the Ten Thousand Tales – one of Gerudo parables and fables – this one about a hunt for a great desert wyrm. He sits with it for a time, thinking of the way it had felt like lightning going through him when Farosh had slid from the clouds, twisting sinuously over Lake Hylia, bigger and more beautiful than anything Link had ever known until that moment.

He reaches for his papers.

How do you know them all? Link writes, leaning against a boulder next to Ganon, paper braced awkwardly across the curve of a small hide targe in his lap. He thinks that it might be beneficial to purchase some sort of traveler’s folio the next time he can find a merchant that has one on offer.

Ganon, who’s deftly mending a rip in one of Link’s tunics — Link learned early in their journey that Ganon’s mother had been a talented seamstress and passed on her knowledge — leans over to read. “I don’t. None but the elders do. We learn them as we grow, from our sisters and mothers and grandmothers, as we need lessons in kindness and patience and honor. The tales teach us how to be Gerudo.”

Link furrows his brow. What if you forget them?

“Then you forget what it is to be Gerudo,” Ganon says seriously. “For many generations they were lost. The elders discovered a cache of written history in a library that had been swallowed by the sands in the great schism, a collection of stories centuries outside of written memory. It saved our people.”

Will you be welcomed home? Link writes. He no longer has a home to go back to — nearly all of the province surrounding Hyrule Castle is destroyed, and his last living family a hundred years gone besides — but it must be compelling to return to the embrace of an unbroken history, to a line of mothers.

“I don’t know,” Ganon admits. “But they’ll offer us hospitality, as is custom, and the elder sisters will like as not be glad to advise us if it hastens our departure.”

Link writes, Tell me another story, and he places the paper carefully aside. There are hundreds and hundreds of neat lines, all in his hand. He’ll buy more paper as soon as soon as they pass by the Gerudo Canyon Stable, and he’ll ask more questions. Until then, he’ll content himself with listening, greedy for the sound of Ganon’s voice.

“Have you heard the Tale of the Hundred Veils?” Ganon asks, running his thumb along a line of neat stitches. He sets the tunic aside, draws one knee up to his chest, and hooks his elbow around it, the full force of his attention on Link.

No, Link signs.

“Miruna and Olethe were twins, daughters of the legendary seamstress Peyle, who once crafted a gown of gold netting for the coronation of the Zora Queen Rutela the Wise,” Ganon begins.

The fire crackles, shadows dancing off the canyon walls. The night air is cold this close to the edge of the desert, so if Link inches closer to Ganon — if he finds himself pressed up against warm skin and solid muscle as he listens to Ganon describe Olethe’s intricate embroidery or Miruna’s careful beadwork — none need know except the moon and the red rock.

*

They run afoul of a moblin camp two days into the canyon, near dusk.

The dim-witted brutes have set up a roughshod attempt at an ambush, which normally wouldn’t be a concern for a well-armed group of travelers, but there are enough of the big beasts that they’ve made passage impossible without engaging them. It’s their good fortune that Ganon’s gelding is young and skittish; they approach from downwind and the horse balks before they’re spotted.

The canyon rises straight up on either side for nearly a day’s travel in either direction, too steep and too treacherous even for Link’s hardy mare to traverse. To go around they’d have to abandon the horses. A detour to a different route would take a week or more. Committed to their path, they leave the horses near an outcropping around a shallow bend and pick their way up to flank the moblins.

On foot, it’s easy enough to creep up on them. Link scales the largest of the rocks bordering the moblin camp.

Link flattens himself out on his stomach and peers down at the sentry, which scratches itself lazily and jabs at a pile of burning wood and fabric with a long branch. Ganon climbs up atop the boulder next to him, moving slowly to avoid alerting their opponents.

Attack? Ganon signs, the gesture jerky and unpracticed.

Wait, Link signs. The sole sentry will be no trouble at all to dispatch, but only three of the creatures are accounted for, and one of the beasts is dragging a club bigger than Link’s entire body.

He touches Ganon’s shoulder, then points at a cluster of rocks just past the moblins’ campsite. From this angle it’s not readily apparent, but one of the beasts emerges straight from the cliff face.

“A cave,” Ganon murmurs. “Should we wait until nightfall?”

No, Link signs. Then, wait here.

He kicks off his boots next to Ganon and shucks his kit except for the blade. When he drops from the top of the boulder into the soft, sandy dirt, he makes almost no sound at all, the clink of the scabbard’s buckle muted by his palm.

He draws the blade and holds it by his side. It feels weightless in his hand, perfectly balanced for his grip, and though the starmetal is a glossy blue-grey, it doesn’t reflect the sunlight and betray his presence.

It’s a matter of a trick with a pebble and some clever misdirection to get the sentry moblin alone without alerting the others, and once he does, the blade makes quick, quiet work of it. The beast lies dead at his feet in the shadows behind the red rocks, but he wastes no time searching its stinking body.

He tucks three more pebbles into his belt pouch and climbs atop a low outcropping overlooking the small fire. Link can’t see Ganon from this angle, but he can feel his presence as though he were the needle of a compass being guided by unseen forces; awareness grows in the back of his mind, as thin and as taut and as real as a thread stretched between them.

The second beast moves towards the fire, investigating, and throws another piece of dead wood on it, kicking sparks into the air. Link winds up his arm and bounces the pebble into the gap between the canyon wall and the boulder, the clatter just loud enough to get the moblin’s attention.

It shuffles over, snuffling hungrily. It goes down easily, just like the first, unaware of Link’s presence before it dies. He wipes the blade clean on its thick hide, sheathes it, and leaps straight up, catching the very edge of the outcropping with his fingertips.

He levers himself up and pads back across the narrow ledge, low to the ground, the stone hot beneath his bare feet while he frees the blade from the scabbard once again.

Link waits above the mouth of the cave for a long count, palm growing sweaty around the leather-wrapped grip. The moblin below him doesn’t move so Link doesn’t either, focus narrowed to the beast’s snuffling.

A quarter of an hour passes before the third creature takes an interest in the whereabouts of its missing companions.

Link pushes his sweat-damp hair out of his eyes as it slowly stands, sucking wetly at the air, tongue lolling. In the space of three seconds he leaps from above, blade pointed earthwards, and skewers it through the back of the neck.

The killing blow isn’t clean. It topples forward, thrashing and squealing, and goes limp only when he yanks the blade from its torso. The sound is enough to alert the other two, who were evidently dozing in the mouth of the shallow cave.

Link scrambles back in the sand, narrowly ducking the vicious swing aimed at his head, then rolls out of the way as a weapon the size of a small tree crashes into the ground where he was just sprawled.

He ducks a third swing narrowly and plunges the blade into the moblin’s thigh. It bellows in pain, reaching for him, but drops dead with an arrow through its throat.

The second moblin just behind it pitches forward as well, sprouting first one shaft and then two, drooling ichor as it expires.

Link hauls himself to his feet, gut churning. When he looks up, Ganon is standing atop the stone pillar, a second arrow nocked on the bow and drawn, his face twisted into a rictus of agony. He’s staring hard at the cliff face, apparently waiting for it to disgorge another attacker.

But there are no more of the beasts.

Link makes the signal for all clear and Ganon lets the arrow and then the bow fall from his bloody hands.

Neither of them expected the bow to burn Ganon, but now there’s nothing to do but tend to it.

They leave the ruined moblin squat, retrieve the horses, and make their way up past the next long bend of the canyon, out of the way of scavengers that might come for the remains. Ganon attempts to help make camp, even injured, until Link waves him away with a disapproving glower.

He manages to scavenge enough wood for a small fire, but it takes longer than he’d prefer. When he returns, Ganon has scattered the potions and poultices before him in the dirt and is fumbling with a stopper, face creased with pain.

“I’m not fit to wield Hylia’s weapons, it seems,” Ganon says when Link finally sinks to his knees next to Ganon and takes the bottle of healing salve.

Link makes a disapproving clicking noise with his tongue and shakes his head. He pries Ganon’s hands open and sluices them with water from one of their skins, then encourages Ganon to drink deeply from it. The desert will sap the moisture even from Gerudo flesh if the bleeding is left unchecked.

The potions will mend him. They’re old magic: water from a Great Fairy’s oasis, freely given, a decoction of herbs grown in a pool blessed by the mountain lord, and powder from a dragon’s scale. When he applies the paste to Ganon’s hands, the healing begins almost immediately, the blistered flesh along the outer edges of the wounds closing over.

Link wraps Ganon’s hands with strips of clean linen. Ganon reaches for him almost immediately, but Link pushes his hands away.

Wait, he signs, firmly. There’s more work to be done.

“Thank you,” Ganon says and subsides against the rock, face shadowed with pain.

Link throws a blanket over Ganon’s lap and stacks a few more pieces of wood on the fire. He takes the mare, not bothering with the bridle or riding blanket, slinging himself over her back and holding her mane loosely to steady himself, then turns back down the canyon the way they came. Link tries very hard not to think about what Hylia’s weapons burning Ganon might mean, but every justification only supports a confirmation of something they could both already feel.

The moblin camp is easy to find. Wild animals have already gotten to one of the bodies, but it’s only torn, not devoured. The fetid meat is too much even for the scavengers, Link supposes.

He finds a small trove in the shallow cave: arrows, a fine blade made for an adult Gerudo and set with gemstones, a bag of rupees. Several crates look like they’ve been taken from a merchant caravan — colorful silks, finely-made clothes, bottles of corked wine. Almost all of it is destroyed or fouled, but he finds some gold bangles and a heavy leather belt that looks made for a sword and takes both along with the rest of the useful salvage.

There’s a small food cache, full of fruit and nuts, but the smell is strange and overripe, so he kicks it open and leaves it for the animals.

Link manages to hunt several of the large, quick desert lizards on the way back, skimming them from the underside of rock overhangs where they’re sheltering.

He urges the mare back up the canon where Ganon is recovering and finds him laying out their bedding together, the pretense of sleeping separately dissolving in an instant.

Link cleans and spits the lizards over the fire and kneels next to Ganon, offering him the Gerudo blade. This one looks less like a toy when he takes it, balancing it carefully on his leg to examine it. “The beasts took Gerudo wares. Did you find any sign of struggle?”

He shakes his head. No fight.

“Was it a merchant caravan?” Ganon asks. There’s agony and anger on his face. Link can guess why.

Link nods. He slips the bangles out of his belt pouch and takes Ganon’s hand, then carefully works the cool metal over his bandages, until they dangle noisily about Ganon’s wrist.

“Ah — Link, this is — ” Ganon sets the sword aside and reels Link in, kissing him so hard it feels like waves crashing against a cliff in a storm. Emotion grips Link’s heart and squeezes. “Thank you. My sisters will be remembered in some way.”

They speak no more of the dead. The Gerudo vai will join the uncountable ranks of victims of the beast’s influence. The moblins were once countryside pests, driven off easily from sheep pens with sticks and shouting, but the beast’s power has made them bolder, cunning, more mercenary.

He straps the Gerudo sword with its plain scabbard onto the salvaged belt and lays it beside Ganon. The horses circle the edge of their picket lines, grazing on the sparse, drying scrub grass and whickering softly to one another while Link and Ganon make a meal out of roast lizard and dried fruit.

They lay down together after and Ganon drapes himself over Link’s body. He makes no effort to touch Link, just settles against him and takes slow, deep breaths. The wounds are mostly superficial, and the salve will heal him by morning, but pain always opens a new dimension of exhaustion in a travel-worn mind.

The night grows colder and Link gets up to stoke the fire. Ganon presses closer when he returns, wrapping them more tightly in the blankets.

Link thinks of the bow burning Ganon’s hands, Hylia’s light rejecting him — or the beast inside him — and tries to mold every inch of himself to Ganon.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Ganon rumbles, voice raspy with sleep. “I’ll feel it if it comes again. I didn’t know it the first time. I was barely more than a boy. I couldn’t fight it at all.”

Link sighs, burying his face against Ganon’s broad chest. He tries to content himself with the knowledge that he’s surrounded by the powerful arms that are, day by day, growing more familiar and more vital, and that each moment is a gift.

He thinks about the beast, about laying helpless below it’s open maw, its stinking underbelly inches from his body. Link thinks about it slowly crushing him, working at swallowing him, until he’d put the blade into it.

Link touches Ganon’s abdomen, feels the ridge of scar where he put the blade into the beast’s belly, and shudders with noiseless sorrow, his eyes wet.

Ganon isn’t some monster that’s crawled up from the dark recesses of the world. He’s a man, hard and warm and indulgent.

A man who bleeds, who can die, who might die by Link’s hand, who wears the beast’s wounds on his own skin.

“Be still,” Ganon says, pressing his mouth against Link’s hair. “Be still. We have time.”

*

They stand at the edge of the rocky outcropping, looking out at the Kara Kara Bazaar near sunset. The settlement squats around the oasis at the center and they watch the merchants packing up their wares for the evening, pulling down the posts that prop up their colorful awnings. Against the backdrop of sun-bleached stone, the distant figures are nothing but smudges of jewel-toned fabric that cast long shadows across the bazaar proper.

Two days of travel in the outer desert have been easier in the autumn weather, even though they needed to board the horses at the Gerudo Canyon stable. The heat is still blistering, but there have been no storms, and Link only hopes the fair weather holds on the next leg of their journey.

“I believe it’d be unwise to enter,” Ganon says. He sounds uncertain. “I should announce myself to the Chieftain before I make myself known elsewhere. My sisters outside the holy city may be more inclined to bare steel rather than welcome me with open arms.”

Link nods and shucks his pack, holding it over one forearm as he gestured back towards the bottom of the outcropping with the other. The Bazaar’s accommodations would be welcome after the trek through the outer desert. The heat will only get worse as they go and Link is already grimy and unpleasant, but he doesn’t complain.

He’s slept in worse places for smaller reasons.

Ganon joins him on the far side of the rock, settling in the sparse shade, and removes his pack and gear before stretching out in the sand next to Link while the shadows lengthen.

Link pours water into his hand and splashes it over his face, washing away the dried salt. It would be criminal to waste it in the deep desert, but the Kara Kara Bazaar is perpetually lush with fresh water even in the high summer, and Link will refill their waterskins in the morning before they take the merchant route to Gerudo Town. The journey will only take a day at their pace, with fair weather in their favor.

“You spent time in the desert,” Ganon observes, watching as Link rubs eucalyptus oil on his inner arms and at his ankles to keep away sand fleas.

Yes, Link signs. He raises an arm and points at the distant outline of Vah Naboris, standing dormant on the distant mountaintop, tall and still on the horizon. He shrugs and carefully puts the contents of his pack back where they belong, then turns his face towards the last dying rays of the sun, thinking of the way he’d climbed hand over fist into the heart of the ancient machine.

Vah Naboris had been the most troublesome of a difficult lot. The desert itself felt like it had been working against him.

Ganon chews slowly on a ration of dried meat and drinks deeply from the waterskin. They’re quiet for a time, then Ganon asks, “Would you do anything differently?”

No, he signs without hesitating. Then carefully pulling the papers from his pack and unrolling them, he prints, I volunteered. They like to tell stories about it, but I was only a sellsword from Hateno Village trying to earn a knighthood. I answered the call to arms to Hyrule Castle. There were twenty of us from the Guard who stepped forward. It never occurred to me not to try. I was the one that Hylia’s blade picked.

“Fate had its hand on you before you could know,” Ganon says, mouth curving upwards wryly. “I can’t find fault in your company now, and a finer warrior I’d be pressed to ask for at my side.”

Link feels his face heat. He puffs out his cheeks and makes a face. He’s relieved when Ganon laughs at him. It’s hard for him to take flattery in any form.

Link thinks about it for a long time, bouncing his knee, and then bends to write, I wish Hylia would give me a sign.

“What do you mean?” Ganon asks after mulling over Link’s response.

I don’t know what I’m meant to do other than use the blade, Link writes. I dream about it, but I always wake up just before I know.

“I believe I may be able to do something that might help,” Ganon says. He reaches out and tucks a stray lock of Link’s hair behind his ear and caresses down the hollow of Link’s throat with his knuckles. “Do you dream of me every night?”

He dreams of the beast. Sometimes killing him, sometimes in pitched battles, sometimes just looming in the distance.

It’s the same, he reminds himself. They’re the same. 

The dreams are — not prophetic, but on the verge of it, where nightmares and possible futures meet in a conflux. He can’t forget that.

Yes, he signs, then closes his hand around Ganon’s wrist. Kisses his palm. Ganon draws a soft breath.

“I thought so. You rarely sleep through the night,” Ganon murmurs. “Why don’t you ready a space for us? This will take a moment to prepare.”

Ganon lights a fire, barely adequate as a campfire at all, but it does the job of heating whatever decoction he makes from his pack. Link wonders at the contents — their supplies have been stripped down to the necessities, but he did see Ganon bending to examine the sparse foliage several times during their winding route through the canyon.

Link doesn’t bother putting bedding down on the sand, but he does unroll a blanket for the purpose. He stakes the blade in the sand, leaving it in easy reach, and settles down next to it, stretching his legs out. They ache a bit, not just from walking but from old injuries and bone-deep exhaustion, so he rubs at his calves, thinking of a warm bath.

When he finishes whatever his task is, Ganon kicks sand over the small fire, extinguishing it.

“Here,” Ganon says, offering Link a small stone bowl, heavy and shallow. It’s full of fragrant tea and Link takes it. He can feel the crackle of magic between Ganon’s hands when they touch. “Drink. This is old Gerudo sorcery. It’ll help you see hidden things.”

Link drinks the tea and for a time feels nothing but a strange, vague airiness. When the sun fades completely over the horizon, they lay together in the darkness, face to face in the warm cradle of the sand dunes, the blanket spread haphazardly over them to keep off the worst of the growing night chill. He dozes with Ganon’s arm flung over his waist, the wide sky filled with a vast spray of stars, stark and beautiful, and they spin away one by one into darkness as something like sleep claims him.

The great red boar looms over him, maw gaping, with a stink of musk and sulfur. It opens its mouth and he sees the end of the world inside it, a simple hunger twisted upon itself until nothing but ruin is left. Link is a hundred years old, and the beast tens of thousands, but the thing that made the dark pact that spawned it counts no time and sees no light.

Link lifts the blade. It blazes like the sun in the sky and even the old darkness, wearing the shape of a Gerudo man, the shape of the great red boar, shrinks before it.

He stands at the gates of a place of eternal night and holds the line until it presses down upon him again. His body is a pillar of white fire, his spine the arrow nocked in the bow, his raised arm indistinguishable from the blade. He’s a ray of light.

The blade carves out a path that lingers in the gloom, a rift of goddess-power that splits the fabric of the dream.

The night sky spills back through the gap. He isn’t sure if he’s awake, but the world tilts and Ganon is holding Link in his arms. Link’s body is aching, hot all over, and he reaches for Ganon, his mouth, the feel of him. Ganon says his name and Link can sense the way the stars pivot around them, their bodies the epicenter of ten thousand ripples, like a stone dropped into the still waters.

In the blackness at the edges of Link’s perception, the beast lowers its head and grunts. He can feel its breath. He can feel its rough, bristled hide under his hand, the flames licking at his skin, the way that it vibrates with a dark power too old to name.

Ganon helps him strip off their clothes piece by piece and they lay together in the sand, bodies hotter than the hot sand but colder than the cool night air, too many things to count and all of them jumbled up. Link feels like he’s two different men at the same time: one with his hands on Ganon’s face, the other with his hands grappling the tusks of the great red boar.

Ganon puts his mouth on Link like he could swallow him whole, holds him so tightly Link feels as though they’re in danger of no longer being separate people. He arches, gasping, pushing up into Ganon’s roving hand and when he closes his eyes again he has a vision of kneeling for a king with no kingdom, the blade forgotten at his feet.

*

Gerudo Town squats against the night sky, dark and silent except for the sentries’ torches. The two vai atop the gate stare down at them for a long time, torches raised, and then one of them disappears wordlessly into the shadows of the city walls.

Bularia appears some time later and orders the portcullis raised. Light dances inside the scarp, suggesting a flurry of silent activity at Bularia’s arrival.

She strides out onto the packed sand and stands silently looking between Link and Ganon. She plants her hands on her hips after a moment and gives an exasperated sigh. “You’ll have to come inside. If you stand out in the open like this, we’ll have the entire city in an uproar by dawn.”

“Sav’saaba. May I have your name, sister?” Ganon asks mildly. Link shoots them both sideways glances, uncertain. As far as Link understands, voe are forbidden in Gerudo Town, but Ganon seems unconcerned by the terms of their admission.

“Bularia,” she says, looking at him narrowly. “We all know yours, voe, so no need to waste any time. Lady Riju will see you, but be respectful about it. You walk on holy ground.”

Link falls in beside her and she tilts her head at him, giving him a thin smile that doesn’t reach her eyes. Ganon takes the middle position in the procession, followed by two more city guards.

Sorry he signs, making a Gerudo gesture of obeisance for emphasis.

“No apologies needed, Champion,” Bularia says. “Fate is often unkind to its vessels. It seems we are all still caught in its interesting winds.” She glances over her shoulder. “Even him.”

Ganon says nothing, but keeps his head lowered, as though he’s aware this place is his to claim in his domain, should he desire it, but that it wasn’t made for him.

The city is quiet this late at night; there are a handful of candles lit in open windows, shutters flung wide to capture the cool night breeze, but most of the homes and shops are hunched cozily in the darkness. The waning moon above only casts a thin light, easily outshone by their company’s torches as they proceed through the main thoroughfare up to the royal quarters.

Riju stands at the foot of her throne, bedecked in a warrior’s garb, a bronze crown heavy on her head and a spear held at her side. She’s still young but her show of strength is impressive. “Have you come to claim your throne, my King?”

“I have no claim to any throne,” Ganon says, falling to one knee in deference, “nor am I a king.”

“The voe is always King.” Riju waves a hand imperiously, her lip curled. “That has always been true. The voe is King and takes many wives.”

“The voe has always brought ruin,” Ganon says.

“This is the desert. Ruin lives in every grain of sand. When the voe rules, the elder sisters attend,” Riju says. “And when he is slain, we rebuild.”

Link tenses. Riju seems to take it as fact that Ganon will be put to the sword.

“I do not wish to rule,” Ganon says, “and I’ve been slain thrice before. The elder sisters need not trouble themselves.”

Riju, to Link’s surprise, tips her head back and laughs, bright and delighted. “The elder sisters will be pleased to return to their wine and dusty tomes.” She eyes him. “You don’t seem very good at staying dead.”

“A story finishes precisely where it’s meant to,” he says softly, rising. His every motion resonates; even Link, with no roots in Gerudo Town, can see that the very air knows him here.

“What do you say, Link?” Riju asks, inclining her head towards him, glittering with amusement. “Shall I allow him sanctuary? It pleases me to allow you the choice of breaking this impasse.”

Link takes a step forward and nods. He can feel Ganon looking at him curiously and understands at some point he’ll be asked to make an explanation of his services to Gerudo Town and of the happenings aboard Vah Naboris.

“Very well,” Riju says. “Please, allow Bularia to show you to the guest quarters. Deposit your things while I summon the elder sisters. They’ll no doubt want the comfort of seeing you themselves.”

They go, shadowing Bularia, who offers them a moment to wash their faces and take refreshment brought by a palace attendant. When they return to the throne room, she deposits them in a curtained vestibule with instructions to wait until Riju permits them entry. Link isn’t certain the purpose of the chamber, but the whole reception has an air of ceremony, so he waits patiently alongside Ganon.

The elder sisters arrive single file, heads bowed in deference to Riju’s authority. Link watches from behind a veil as they assemble themselves in a loose circle around the throne, several of the more elderly vai sitting on low benches brought for the purpose. They’re lovely all of them, swathed in robes and adorned with wealth fit for their honored station.

He knows somewhat of them and the tokens about their necks; each of the amulets they wear is a Gerudo counting sigil. Gathered thus, Link feels a low undercurrent of old magic. Deep in the recesses of his mind, his connection with Hylia shimmers softly in recognition.

“Why have you called for us, Lady Riju?” the First asks, the youngest of the lot. Her hair is silver with age and spills over her shoulders like a frozen waterfall.

Riju beckons. Link steps out into the open first, emerging from the shadowed alcove.

“You bring a voe among us?” the Seventh asks, her mouth twisted unhappily. “A Hylian? To even allow them into the market with escort is bending tradition enough, but these chambers are hallowed.”

The Fifth places a hand on her forearm. “He’s Hylia’s sword,” she says, her watery, unfocused gaze fixed just behind Link. “Do you see? He walks with the goddess at his back.”

“No goddess of mine,” the Seventh says, speaking now in perfect Hylian — so that Link might better understand her disdain, perhaps. “The wraith lies defeated. The moon no longer brings madness. The cycle will begin again a hundred years from now, so we have no need for this whelp in our holy city. Lady Riju, what is the meaning of this? No voe is permitted here. It is law.”

Ganon steps out from behind Link, pushing the curtains aside. He looks over them all, back straight, and says, “One voe is permitted, elder sisters. Link is Hylia’s sword, but now also mine. He attends under my aegis.”

A perfect silence that settles over the room, the moment stretching out until it fills every corner, and then the elder sisters stand in unison. Only the Eighth remains sitting, looking not at Ganon or Link, but out into the desert.

The Seventh speaks again, her expression steely, “Welcome, King Ganon. We attend at your pleasure.”

“I’m no king,” Ganon says, “and it would please me to see you all sit again. The hour is late and I come only to beg of you a boon and be on my way.”

The elder sisters share a look between them and subside onto their benches. The night breeze is warm, fragrant with the scent of flowers from the garden. The curtains sway and Link’s forearms break out in gooseflesh. The elder sisters are quiet for a time, but then the First gestures broadly with her arm, bangles rattling together like bells, and says: “Ask, but we will not offer guarantee.”

Ganon kneels before them, genuflect, and gestures to Link, who follows suit.

“I ask you only for a story,” Ganon says, looking at each one of them in turn. 

The Sixth says, “Which? There are many – of you, and of your Hylian. What would you know?”

“Only one will suffice. You know what I ask,” Ganon says. “Tell me – where is my grave?”

Riju, who has remained silent until now, draws a sharp breath, but it’s the Third who speaks, “We cannot grant this. We do not know. The knowledge is lost.”

“Untrue,” the Eighth says, speaking for the first time since the elder sisters entered the throne room. She lifts her hand, eyes narrowed, and points unerringly towards the open desert. The stars are brilliant, but they disappear near the horizon, which is darker even than the night settled over the desert.

Link knows what lies in that direction – a sandstorm that crackles with magic, howling with eternal fury in the deepest part of the sand, in the hottest barrens beyond the last oases. He stood at the edge of it, once, and felt its cataclysmic power.

The First tries to quell her, “Sister – ”

“You have always known,” the Eighth says, standing now. The sisters’ hands grasp at her, holding her steady, but her voice is clear and strong, despite the way she trembles with age. She turns to Ganon, addressing only him, “Can you feel where your ancestors have tread before you? If so, you know which way the road lies. You need no boon.”

“There are no others that walk beside me, elder sister,” Ganon says. “I remember little of myself and even less of my forebears.”

“You know what your name is but not who it makes you,” the Eighth says. She shakes her braceleted arm. “You need no boon from us – the favor you ask will be granted by the sands, soon enough. Walk into the desert and let it take you. You’ll find the truth there, or die trying.”

“Then we go to the desert,” Ganon says. He rises and offers Link his hand. “We’ll depart and leave the sisters in peace. Thank you for your wisdom.”

“Stay the evening,” Riju says, stepping forward. She places her hand on the Eighth sister’s arm, looking up at the elderly voe. “Sisters, since he seeks not the throne, might you offer them your good favor? A spell of protection for the journey, perhaps. They’ve traveled far and have far to travel.”

The elder sisters confer, closing ranks. Riju regards them with a tilt to her head.

“Very well,” the Seventh says, as they reach a decision. “The Goddess of Sand will lay her blessings upon you, child, king or no. The elder sisters will attend.”

*

Link is dipped and dunked with aplomb and the elder sisters that pluck at him afford him little modesty for the practice. 

He doesn’t mind overmuch; it feels a fine thing to be doted on after spending hundreds of hard nights on the road. They cluck at him in a vaguely maternal fashion, laughing behind their hands like young vai, and scrub him twice with sharp-smelling herbs for sand fleas and other desert pests. There’s a poultice for his aching limbs and water is poured over hot stones until the room is filled with steam; Link feels slightly faint, but they ply him with cool water and melon juice and several younger vai cool the room with vast fans, wearing barely-stifled grins.

Washed and stripped of travel, feeling oddly tender, he’s beat about the back with bundles of herbs until each sister says a part of some spell over him. He thinks it’s meant to be a warding incantation, but his Gerudo is already incomplete and the ancient words they speak only sound half-familiar.

They dress him and release him into the guest quarters, still stinging and fragrant with oils. His skin tingles with lingering magic and he knows unerringly, even without seeing, exactly where Ganon is.

They’ve adorned Ganon like a king. He’s sitting on an oversized chair, gazing out to the garden, and turns to meet Link’s gaze when he enters. It stops Link in his tracks.

A golden diadem rests in his red mane, embedded with five emeralds, each half the size of Link’s fist. His neck is bedecked with a heavy collar, dangling hundreds of rows of fine gold chains that drape in half moon loops across his bare, muscular chest. Bangles and rings sit in dense layers on his arms and hands, and someone has dressed him in a heavy loincloth, the fur white and sleek where it drapes between his strong thighs.

His long, pointed ears are laden with thin golden loops, each pierced in half a dozen places. Even his nipples are adorned with bejeweled bars, glittering against his dark skin.

He looks like a young warlord, his countenance serene, his stature vast and terrifying.

Link’s mouth goes dry. He casts his gaze downwards and drops to his knees at Ganon’s feet.

Ganon reaches out and tips his chin up. “Is it wrong to imagine you like this, kneeling for my mercy? Do you find the idea debasing?”

Link shakes his head, lips parted in wonder. One of the sisters has painted Ganon’s face; there’s a touch of carmine to his lips, dark brown ochre shading his eyes.

“They offered me to stay, as is tradition,” Ganon says. “I could keep you here, swaddle you in the finest silks and take you in the garden shade at my leisure.”

No, Link signs. It earns a soft sigh from Ganon.

“You’re right. The beast might slumber now, but not forever,” Ganon says, knuckling along the line of Link’s jaw. His voice has gone husky with desire. “Let me take you tonight?”

Link nods, shivering, already growing hard in his own breeches. He knows Ganon can see it. Ganon reaches down and palms him through the fabric and he makes a soft, explosive sound.

“Will you surrender yourself?” Ganon asks, his mouth curving with mischief. He bends and grips Link just under his ass and lifts him bodily with one strong arm. Link has to sling his arms around Ganon’s shoulders in order not to fall. “Have the sisters also scrubbed you within the very last inch of your life?”

Link presses a smattering of kisses down the side of Ganon’s face, shaking with silent laughter. Under their shrewd supervision, he’s half raw in places he didn’t know were meant to be chafed. They’d passed him bottles and potions and directed him in all manner of ways on how to apply them in the Gerudo fashion.

It’s somewhat of a sport among the vai, Link understands, to take a Hylian lover, and the elder sisters had been amused enough with Ganon’s interest in Link once they were certain Ganon meant to depart and allow Riju to retain her throne.

Link allows himself to be carried to the enormous bed, which is curtained with vast swathes of dyed silks in a rainbow of colors. Ganon lays him down in the very center of it and pulls the draping fabric shut around them, leaving them ensconced in a cool, dimly lit bubble of beautiful colors and soft bedding.

Ganon pries the diadem from his head and drops it on the bed, then undoes the collar, leaving his chest bare. The bed dips beneath his knees.

This night is a gift for both of them.

Ganon nuzzles down Link’s torso, slowly unwrapping the elaborate layers of silk from his body. He shivers under Ganon’s touch, pushing up into it, sucking in sharp breaths when Ganon bites bare skin, his touch growing rougher as his appetite rises.

Link yanks at the sheets when Ganon licks a sensitive stripe of flesh just below his navel.

“I’m going to taste you,” Ganon murmurs, mouth leaving traces of carmine on Link’s pale skin. “On your belly for me, now.”

Link doesn’t have to be told twice, willing to take whatever’s offered to him. He settles onto his elbows and knees, hair hanging loose around his face.

Ganon hitches his hips up and spreads him open. If it were anyone else, the position might feel humiliating, but Ganon just groans low and needy and even though Link hides his hot face against the bed, heat rushes through him at the idea of Ganon seeing him like this.

Ganon cups Link’s cock and balls and mouths over them, a delicious heat and dampness that makes Link convulse and clutch at the sheets.

If he could cry out he would do it when Ganon’s works his way up to where his body opens and circles the ring of muscle with his tongue. Link yanks at the sheets, pushing back, startled by the vivid jolts of pleasure that shoot up his spine.

His body feels like it’s burning and Ganon only grips him harder and plunges his tongue into Link, working him until Link is loose and wet and he’s shaking all over, gasping.

Ganon pushes a long finger into him and Link takes it like it’s nothing. He plants kisses on the backs of Link’s thighs. “You bear me like you were made for it.”

Link shudders with pleasure. Hylia remains silent, a dark hollow in the back of his mind, neither affirming nor condemning their affair, but joy sparks in him nonetheless.

A second thick finger works into his body, up to the last knuckle alongside the first. He slaps his hand on the bed, pushing back onto them, and then rocks again when he feels the drizzle of cool oil down the crack of his ass. Ganon pushes the slick fluid into him with ease, firm thrusts growing firmer. By the time a third finger is working into Link’s body beside the first two, Link has his eyes squeezed closed and he can feel the oil dripping down his thighs.

He pants open-mouthed against the silk. Sweat prickles all down his spine. He wishes he could beg when Ganon removes his fingers, but all he can do is clumsily sign yes and please, one-handed and mostly gesturing wildly when the blunt tip of Ganon’s thick cock threatens to drive him into the bed.

Ganon pushes into him, rocking just his cockhead past the muscle, then pulls out just enough to plunge his oiled fingers into Link’s body again. Link makes a helpless, breathy sound, a vibration of air, and wiggles back eagerly.

Laughing, Ganon grips Link’s hips and says, “Very well,” and pushes his cock in and in and in until they’re flush to one another and Link can only beat at the covers with his palm. Ganon runs his fingers around the rim, just where his cock is stretching Link open, groaning the words, “Relax, sweet boy.”

Link breathes slow and deep, a shudder running up his spine, like wrapping his hand around the blade — like light — and he wishes he could tell Ganon in this moment, the immensity of this feeling:

— a tenday of hard travel followed by the sun rising and setting three times in the desert, Link’s heart buoyed by the tender looks and the quiet stories, the gentle touch of a man who holds within him a terrible power that could rip the world asunder, the beast bearing down on him, Ganon pushing into him and the pure uncomplicated pleasure of it —

But he has no voice. The beast took that from him, a coin paid for his life.

Ganon drives home and all thought is submerged beneath the wave of feeling that washes over Link. He hangs his head beneath his shoulders and lets Ganon have him, fill him, push every thought out with a rising ecstasy. His body grips at Ganon’s cock even with the oil easing the way, refusing to yield completely, and the sensation makes him feel like he’s a vessel close to bursting.

He’s felt empty for too long; the joy of the fullness and wild heat of each thrust are almost too much to bear.

Ganon grips him by the hair and pulls his head back, bending to leave love bites along Link’s shoulders, mouthing at the sensitive nape of his neck. He pants with it, soft little ha ha ha sounds, each one a sharp, unvoiced gust of air with the full force of Ganon’s thrusts behind them.

He’s beyond words. He’s beyond the need for them. His body speaks, the way he twists, unseeing, and reaches for Ganon.

The momentary emptiness is agonizing so close to the peak of pleasure, the interruption jarring, but he’s on his back with Ganon above him in a trice, pushing in again.

In and in and in. He feels a glow in him somewhere deep, propelling him like a wind-bellied sail. Link twines his hands into Ganon’s hair, kisses him deeply for a time, and then mouths the words he wishes he had the voice to say.

Ganon seems to know them anyways. He bends Link with each jarring thrust, then empties himself into Link’s body, his groan of pleasure like the ocean roaring in a conch.

Even the softening girth of him is enough to be perfect, the friction like lightning inside of Link with the last few thrusts that leave Link writhing and shooting between them. Spunk smears hot on his belly and hot inside him, and Ganon withdraws, bending to get a taste.

Panting, Link lays his hands on Ganon’s shoulders. He’s too satisfied to move, even when Ganon feathers kisses over his body and pushes his thick fingers into Link.

Link arches like the curve of a well-strung bow. Ganon bends his head and they begin again, working up to a rhythm that shakes the bejeweled silks. Link palms Ganon’s nipple, pinching it around the new bar piercing the pebbled flesh — some trick of magical healing — and Ganon hisses, eyes slitted, and fills him again.

Sweat cooling on him, Ganon murmurs against Link’s shoulder, “Do you mean it?”

Link feels the shock of what he confessed go through him in the wake of his satisfaction. What he admitted in silence, the hot, desert-forged destiny-magic of it, the unshakable truth of it.

I love you.

Yes, he signs. He can’t even shape the words now, because he can feel the jaws of fate closing around him, and is abruptly aware of the inevitably of it, like death or time. There’s only one endpoint to this journey.

He’s not meant to know this man this way, but he is meant to put the blade into the heart of this man.

Link wonders if love ever cuts any differently than a sword, in the end.

He doesn’t ask if Ganon loves him. He knows the answer when he pushes himself up on an elbow and feels Ganon’s heart winging wildly beneath his breast. 

Link needs no words. Sometime between the beast’s fall and the desert crossing, it was Ganon that swallowed him whole. Link isn’t afraid. He knows that if they fail, the rest of the world will follow, so he reaches for the next kiss knowing he has nothing left to lose.

*

Riju greets them in the morning. She looks younger by daylight, without the menacing shadows of her station and the troubled set to her shoulders. She regards them with open amusement, as it’s well apparent to anyone that sees them that they’ve slept very little.

They break their fast in her private garden, Bularia standing guard just outside the lattice door. A thick and fragrant desert ivy grows on a pergola overhead, star-shaped leaves providing respite from a morning heat that already promises the day that follows will be a truly stunning display of desert extremes.

The low table is heaped with bowls of dried and fresh fruits, a subtle display of wealth and power. Link finds a wooden vessel filled with oranges half-hidden between a veritable mountain of palm fruit, melons, and cool cheeses, all arranged on copper salvers. He fishes one out and peels it, digging in with his thumbs. The pith sticks beneath his nails and he sucks the juice from his fingers. They’re small, but the smell of citrus is instantly potent.

Riju sits across from them, sipping watered wine from a small copper cup, one elbow on the table and her head in her hand. Her expression is thoughtful.

“Will you cross into the deep desert from here?” she asks, speaking in Hylian for Link’s benefit. “They say beyond the heart of the sands there lies an ocean again of the stuff.”

Ganon says, “The ocean is just another shape for the desert; for all there’s water, it’ll kill you just as soon. We were sailors and pirates once, under the Mad King’s reign.”

Riju sips her wine and gives him a calculating look. “You’ll have to be more specific. All Gerudo Kings were mad.”

Ganon makes a guttural noise of assent. “You invite madness into your walls now.”

Link pauses in prying apart his orange, looking sideways at Ganon with a small frown.

“Not yet, I think,” Riju says. “You are not King; the thing will find you slowly, when fate takes you and you begin to forget yourself again.”

“I don’t know myself,” Ganon says. “It may come at any moment.”

“That’s not the same. You’re still an unripe sa’iivaa seed,“ she says, “the desert has yet to reveal you. You’ll know what’s inside only when you’ve passed through it on pilgrimage, and then the curse will try to steal it back.”

“Have the elder sisters yet told you of Ganon the First?” Ganon asks, plucking plump green fruit from a brown length of vine.

They make a snapping sound when he bites into them, so Link surreptitiously steals a few for himself, to better know the taste of Ganon’s mouth, and finds them sweet and tart.

“The Chieftain learns his story on her ascension. I’ve known for some time,” Riju says. “A deal with a primeval force of destruction in exchange for his power.”

“They don’t tell it to vai as they tell the voe,” Ganon says, mouth pulled into a sardonic grin. “Only the lorekeepers know, the old mothers. The sister who bears the voe is told, so she may pass it on.”

“Then the tale is not for me to know,” Riju says, drawing back, expression guarded.

“The tale is for anyone to know, but it’s only mine to tell,” Ganon says, shrugging one bare shoulder. He jingles all over, still adorned lavishly. “Every Gerudo voe is born already on his deathbed with madness in his shadow. Will you hear why?”

The morning goes still, a hush settling over the very desert. Only the distant roar of Gerudo Town’s waterfall carries on untroubled by the silence; water has a power in the desert that nothing else holds.

Link puts a hand on Ganon’s knee and Ganon covers it with his own.

“Before the first Calamity, the bejeweled capitol of Gerudo sat by the sea. The high desert was once green and the oceans lapped at the cliffs, with deep bays and pristine harbors that sheltered merchantmen, wherries, and even ships of war. We did brisk trade with many peoples, sending merchant caravans from coast to coast, and even traded with peoples beyond the south seas.”

Link feels something rise inside of him, a tidal pull of history, that thin thread between them growing taut. He’s aware of his own body and everywhere that Ganon’s touched, memories flowing like sand through open fingers, and the sensation of nearness rises and then swells until he can hear the cries of unfamiliar sea birds and taste the salt air while Ganon speaks.

This is no ordinary Gerudo tale, a heroic history repackaged to teach a way of desert life — this is an unfettered truth, as vital to Link as it is to Ganon. Ganon is sharing the story with Link as much as he is with Riju.

He can see that Riju, with Urbosa’s destiny partially shouldered, feels it too.

“Ganon the First was not born royalty, but began his rise to power as a young Gerudo, granted a humble station as a public servant by birthright,” Ganon says. “The voe was not a king in the days of Ganon the First, but the advisor to the Chieftain, a conduit of ancient magic and well-respected by the elder sisters. The elder sisters represent the Goddess of the Sand, but the voe communed with the ocean itself.”

“Ganon attended the needs of the people for many years, laboring tirelessly with kindness and an even hand. Then, after a year of storms, a terrible blight came upon the farmlands, a rot that poisoned any who consumed it. Many fields burned in whole and much of the farmland was salted and bespelled to prevent the regrowth. Gerudo burned piece by piece, acre by acre, hillside by hillside, until the people grew angry and afraid and turned to the elder sisters and to Ganon with demands.”

“The Goddess of the Sands would not answer and the elder sisters refused to resort to the old enchantments,” Ganon continues. “They would not bend to the beseeching of their people; the risk was too great and the price for the power reckoned too high.”

Ganon leans forward and the texture and smell of the afternoon shifts. Salt lingers on the breeze, filling the garden with the brackish smell of a harbor city.

Stories have power in the places they were born.

Link closes his eyes — he can see the elder sisters gathered, eight unfamiliar faces, grim with determination, grave with suffering, agonized by their own helplessness. He feels as though he knows them each, though they’re only tall and faceless shades.

“Ganon the First went to the old temples to beg for the Goddess of Sand’s mercy,” Ganon says. “His prayers went unanswered — so he sought aid of a different sort.”

Behind Link’s eyes the image shifts: A far different Gerudo voe, much older, with a level countenance and face built for sternness rather than quick joy and mischief. Ganon the First stands tall and alone, his torch raised before the twin stone doors of the shrine of the sea god, whose name was lost even then.

“Ganon the First prayed until he could pray no more, then took a dagger and spilled blood on the temple floors. No gods or goddesses answered, but the darkness growing in the land, the blight, the Malice itself, tasted Ganon’s blood and hungered for something new.”

“It did not reveal itself to him at once. Three days Ganon the First waited, praying for aid while his people starved in the streets of a once-lush city,” Ganon says. “On the third night it came to him, in the dark of the temple, disguised with the voice of the sea god and cloaked in shadow so deep that he couldn’t discern the shape of it among the gloom of the temple.”

A shiver runs through Link. He can see Riju turn her face away from Ganon, a distant look to her wide eyes. Beyond that, in a cavernous room built by Ganon’s story, lies an ordinary sort of darkness, one that sits patiently beyond a pool of warm light cast by a single torch in a floor sconce, giving the impression that it might be moved if the torch is held aloft.

Somewhere in the shadows lies a deeper gloom. Link feels it even from ten thousand years away, senses the edges of it, old and hungry. It opens one orange eye and hisses, “We will grant you power if we may dine at your table.”

He knows without hearing the words what happened: Ganon the First, exhausted and desperate to save his people, took power without asking the true price of it.

“Ganon the First believed he’d banished the blight and thought nothing of his deal, nor the terms set by the darkness,” Ganon says. “The crops grew. Our people prospered. They hailed Ganon as a savior and sought to elevate him in his wisdom, even above the elder sisters. They made him the first Gerudo king and he ruled well for seven prosperous years.”

“But the Malice came calling once more. Ganon the First thought that the Malice might require sacrifice of bounty and prosperity, but it took Ganon the First instead. It sat itself at his table. By the time he was aware of the monstrosity growing within him, it was far too late. War would soon come to the Gerudo, and with it the death and suffering the beast feeds upon.”

“But the Eighth, the most senior of the elder sisters, discovered the creature’s deceit and placed Ganon the First under a spell of slumber granted as a boon by a goddess whose name is only known in the deepest part of the mountains.”

Link can see that, too, in his mind, though the dream is clouded: Seven vai stand in a semi-circle around the sleeping king, arguing with one another, while the Eighth keeps her own counsel. She hovers near Ganon the First’s head, a slender hand laid over his brow, and the expression on her kind face is one of agony.

She holds a dagger in her hand. He can’t see it, but he can feel it, knows it's there, knows the weight of it, knows the sharpness of the blade, the keenness of the point.

His mother, Link realizes. She’s Ganon’s mother – his own mother

“The Eighth Sister worked strong magic over him as he slept. She called to the spirits of salt and thunder for the strength to try to purge the darkness from Ganon the First’s body, but she couldn’t cleanse him, either alone or with the help of the elder sisters. No other would challenge their God-King.”

“The Eighth grew desperate. She knew that if Ganon the First woke from the magical slumber he would destroy her and all hope would be lost for the Gerudo. His reign would be ten times ten thousand years and the darkness nesting inside him would devour the world.”

“She killed him in his sleep?” Riju interrupts with a shocked expression.

Link feels it, both Riju’s horror at striking a helpless opponent and the monstrous truth of the Eighth Sister’s dagger bearing down on Ganon the First’s unprotected breast.

But he’s held the blade himself. He knows there was no choice at all to make, not in the end. Love can feel so small next to the darkness, next to Hylia’s light, but it was a tender mercy all the same to free her own child from the awful fate of destroying the world.

Link’s fingers itch for the blade. He knows without understanding entirely how Ganon, wide awake, would let Link drive it through his breast rather than allow the beast to claim him again.

Ganon continues as if there was no interruption, voice low, like a coming gale, “The Eighth slew him, but the darkness was canny. It crept into her heart alongside the shadows of her guilt and despair and shame, and began to gnaw at the roots of her mind as it had Ganon the First’s.”

“The elder sisters gathered, warding the Eighth as the darkness made a home in her heart. They stripped her of her power and made a spell to seal the darkness inside of her, that she might be its tomb. But it was old and clever and slipped away, half-unseen. In all Gerudo is a mote of the Malice, waiting to coalesce when the voe is born.”

Riju’s mouth is round, eyes wide with horror. There are tears pricking at Link’s eyes and his throat is tight. He can feel the misery of it, distant but so potent it may as well be his own.

Ganon picks his goblet up and drains it in one long pull. Link watches him in profile, aching.

They’d always held that the beast had been some monstrosity crawled up from the belly of the world to devour Hylia’s light, but it had been called forth by a man who didn’t know the price he’d pay for protecting his kingdom.

“Excuse me,” Ganon says, voice rough. He pushes himself to his feet and doesn’t look at Link. “Lady Riju, Link. Please, enjoy yourselves without me. I believe I have a matter to attend to with the elder sisters before we leave.”

*

They strike out at nightfall after resting together in the shade of Riju’s garden. Ganon is in a brooding mood, opposite his usual genial willingness to talk, to tell stories, but Link allows him his grief and his fear. What lies ahead of them is unfamiliar, but not unknown. When they strike out across the sand, he gives Ganon the lead, the blade strapped to his belt, the bow across his back, and a fine, Gerudo-fashioned scarf pulled across his mouth and nose to keep out the sand.

Ganon is still adorned about his limbs with gold and gemstones, bedecked with gems even in the desert, his torso bare except for the wide strap of the travel pack. He’s in his element between the sands southwest of Gerudo Town, his stride lengthening, his gait quickening; the deep desert is his ancestral cradle.

Link feels the thread of fate pulled taut between them. His palms itch with the urge to reach for Ganon and every time their gaze meets, Link feels as though something inside him is in danger of crumbling.

They walk for hours, time spinning away until Link is barely aware of his surroundings. Abruptly, Ganon stops in the lee of a rock and drinks deeply from his water skin. Link does the same, yanking his scarf down past his chin and swallowing in great gulps. He’s shivering for reasons that have little to do with exhaustion or the temperature. He still feels the tension and unpleasantness of Ganon’s story lingering over them, impenetrable, unshakable.

Ganon doesn’t look at him. They eat mechanically. Link feels the weight of the blade on his belt and the entire desert at his back. Even the stars above are no solace tonight. They’re walking towards death, now, no longer just meandering aside the possibility of it, and Link watches, minute by minute, as Ganon wrestles with his fear and his resolve.

Riju was correct. The desert is stripping him bare. He’s becoming himself again, pared down to essential parts. His quick smiles and easy joy, smokescreens for his uncertainty, shrivel away until he’s reduced to a single fixed point, like the tip of a sword.

Link, with nothing of himself left to discover, with nothing left to lose, can only watch and wait.

Beyond the rocks and ruins, the desert thins out into endless dunes. The dark horizon looms, but the stars above are like a spray of diamonds. Link tips his head up, watching the moon track slowly across the sky, bright and round and nearly full. The dunes are a strange blue beneath its cold light, the soft shadows blanketing the landscape.

The only warning Link has of the impending danger is the way the hair on the nape of his neck stands up. The quality of the air shifts so suddenly that there’s no time to prepare, even if they know it’s coming. The night is clear and then it isn’t. Link ducks his head, yanking the scarf back up over his nose and mouth.

Before he closes his eyes he sees Ganon striding purposefully into the worst of it, towards the very heart of the desert and the outer wall of the sandstorm that slams into them. One hand uplifted, he’s nothing but a blaze of red and gold in the night and Link can hear Ganon chanting, old words of power, but not what he says, comprehension stolen by the raging winds.

The storm devours him. Link struggles to stay on his feet, bracing against the impact of the wind. He squints into the darkness, unable to see beyond the howling, murky fury of it. He takes halting steps forwards, fighting against the impossible wall of air.

The desert blossoms with light, like the sun rising at midnight. The hair stands up all over Link’s body and the nape of his neck prickles. He tastes wood smoke and ash. He bites his tongue so hard there’s blood between his teeth and goes down in the sand, sprawled and scrambling for purchase where there’s none to be had.

He isn’t certain how long he lays there, flattened to the earth, to the sand, being pelted with the wind and grit until he feels half numb with it. It gets in his eyes, stinging, awful, and he struggles to cover them, burying his face into the crook of his arm.

But then the wind slackens – not entirely, but for a moment, enough that Link can suck in a breath without feeling like it’s being stolen from him. Once, twice, thrice. The third time it happens, Link shakes the sand from his hair and squints up at Ganon.

Ganon is unmoved, both hands now lifted to the dark sky, the verve of his chanting growing as he straightens. For a moment he looks unchanged, but even from this distance Link can feel him burning with dark power.

Link pushes himself to his feet, hand still crushed over his mouth and nose to keep the blasting sand from choking him. It collects in the angles of him, weighing him down, dragging at him. He takes a step forward and goes down on one knee, staggered by the force of the wind. Whatever ancient magic fuels this storm doesn’t heed Hylia.

Ganon shimmers visibly, his voice now a wailing howl that rises in pitch and fury with the storm. Link grapples with the sheathed blade at his hip, struggling up and forward, ready for — something — 

A wave of dread sweeps over Link. He feels something old bubble up from the bowels of the earth, a dark force that shifts the sands beneath him. Link’s knees hit the sand a third time and he stays there, trapped by the weight of Ganon’s magic.

The great red boar is there when Link squeezes his eyes closed, standing massive and immovable even in the storm. Behind it, Link holds his ground as best he can. He feels the ancient hunger of it all through him, resonating in his bones.

He knows without opening his eyes that Ganon is wreathed in its awful light. He can feel the crushing weight descending on them, heavy enough to flatten entire cities, old and hungry for power. Flames conjured from the deep well of the world blaze to life. He dare not open his eyes.

Looking now would mean madness of a sort he couldn’t escape. If it sees him, senses him, not even Hylia’s grace would spare him, not here in the heart of the desert where it’s death-filled grip is most potent.

But then, in the yawning blankness of his mind, the firmament cracks open above the great red boar, lightning arcing, and he feels the stinging sand begin to recede.

When he opens his eyes, nothing but clear sky stretches overhead as far as he can see, the dawn breaking in watery colors. Ganon is on his hands and knees, heaving into the sand. Link scrambles to his side, hands on his back, and Ganon jerks away, rolling, stumbling, wild-eyed.

Link stills, crouched opposite him, and waits. He knows all too well what it’s like to be in the grip of a magic so enormous it demolishes all sense of self. 

He doesn’t know what Ganon spoke of with the elder sisters before their departure, but he can wager that it was about harnessing this terrible power.

Slowly, Ganon comes back to himself. He rises from the sand and shakes himself all over. His expression is shuttered. He’s closed himself off. Link looks up at him, mouth a flat, unhappy line, and Ganon looks anywhere else, gaze distant.

If Link closes his eyes, he doesn’t know if he’ll see the beast where Ganon stands, but he can feel it, closer to the surface than ever.

“We should go,” Ganon says.

The sun is already beginning to peek over the edge of the dunes, the light spilling golden over them both. The storm seemed instant and infinite all at once. He feels tender and bruised all the way down to his spirit.

They stop near an outcropping to rest near noon, the heat bearing down on them like a smothering blanket. Link reaches for Ganon, who pulls away, shaking his head, mouth open to speak — 

But he doesn’t and Link knows he’s planning something foolish to try to soften what comes next. The final blow is impending and the strength of it can’t be borne. Pushing Link away now will do nothing to spare either of them.

Link bares his teeth. Ganon turns his face away, dropping his pack while Link sheds his own, so Ganon doesn’t see the attack coming.

Link flings himself at Ganon. They roll, grappling; Ganon is stronger by far, but Link is angry and slippery besides, and manages to worm his way briefly into a position that allows him to fumble with Ganon’s belt.

“Link,” he gasps, arching when Link plunges his hand into Ganon’s breeches and finds him already hard. “You can’t — it’s not safe for you — ”

Not safe. The audacity. He can, he is, because Link has never once cared about being safe, never once cared about what happens to him when he picks up the blade to fight. He’s hacked himself into pieces and given them away – to Hyrule, to Hylia, to Zelda, to the other Champions. He’s only ever done what others need him to do, he’s whittled himself down, and now his heart is the only thing left to his name.

He can’t tell Ganon. That was taken from him, too. He has his hands and his body. They’ll have to suffice.

Ganon is spread out beneath him. For all his size, he’s toppled beautifully, now at Link’s rough-handed mercy, begging softly after a few jerky strokes of Link’s hand. He fumbles with Link, lip between his teeth, eyes squeezed shut.

Link gets his own breeches down around his thighs, just enough to hold their bare bodies together. His own cock is slick at the tip with arousal and he makes certain that Ganon can feel him.

In the sand, under the sun, they grapple, until they move as one and peak as one, and Ganon sprawls wild-eyed and panting beneath him, half-dressed and stunned.

The rutting has taken the edge off Link’s anger but hasn’t entirely quenched it. He still feels it clutching at him. There’s no room left for doubt in what they have to do, in where they’re going, in what might happen once they get there.

No, Link signs, brows drawn down, mouth bent into a frown. Together. Go together. Me, you, together.

There’s no signal for love or anger or hope. These are things that don’t matter in combat, even though they matter now. Later, he might rummage in his pack and write something carefully about how he feels about fate, about walking into the mouth of the beast, but right now all he wants Ganon to know is that Link is with him. Here, now, and for whatever happens on the other side of the desert, he’s committed completely.

He bends down and traps Ganon’s face between his hands and kisses him until he has to break away to breathe, until his mouth hurts and his lungs protest.

“Link,” Ganon says. “Link. I’m — ”

Link glares down at him. Signs, Sorry?

Ganon makes a noise like he’s been punched, half laughter, half a sob. “Constantly. Ah — sometimes I wish you hated me. That you’d put that blade in me one more time. Do you think this is Hylia’s punishment? To be given something so wonderful, only to know I may destroy it?”

Tears bite at Link. Ganon makes no mention of the possibility of Link destroying him, so he doesn’t hold them back, throat tight. His mouth feels like it’s full of dust.

No, he signs, though he understands Ganon’s fear, his agony. They’re a matched pair in this. Link has the blade — and the next time he buries the starmetal in something’s flesh, it may be Ganon’s. The blade is feather light but the weight of it is almost too much to bear.

Ganon cradles Link’s face and kisses each cheek once, lingering close. “Let’s make camp. Will you forgive my fear?”

Yes. Always, perhaps. He climbs to his feet, unsteady, and offers Ganon his hand. Ganon takes it without hesitation and Link’s heart stumbles. He feels like a wreck listing in shallow waters, but the shore is now well in sight.

*

On the final day, near noon, they take shelter beneath the skull of a massive sea creature, each one of its smallest teeth as tall as Ganon and too large for Link to get his arms around. Even ten thousand years on, the thing still smells of brine and the faint odor of sun-bleached bone. Ganon falls asleep against the bow of its jaw, an arm flung over his face, chest rising and falling slowly.

The white scar on his bare, brown belly stands out like a river cutting through a field. Link stares for a long time before dozing off.

When he wakes, it’s nearly nightfall. For a moment all Link can see is the beast’s dark pupil staring down at him, but the vision dissolves and it’s only Ganon standing high above in the empty eye socket, looking out at the horizon.

Link feels the entire world around him in sharp focus, feels like he could count each grain of sand shifting beneath his fingers. This moment will be held in his memory forever. He stares up at Ganon, whose red hair spills over his shoulders in wild disarray, the only detail not swallowed by shadow and light, and pushes himself to his feet. Behind his deepening silhouette, the stars reveal themselves one by one.

He climbs up to meet Ganon and looks out over the desert, only to find it’s no longer the desert at all.

The horizon shimmers, sand shifting like water. At first he thinks it’s a mirage, some curiosity of the desert heat and the waning light, but it’s no trick. In the middle distance, white sand laps like waves at the edge of a fishing village, several squat, flat-bottomed trawlers returning to port for the evening. The windows of the homes are lit from within by lamplight, warm and inviting.

Far beyond the bay are mountains, stretching up towards the stars like snow-capped fangs.

Link puts his hand on Ganon’s shoulder.

“They’re Gerudo,” Ganon says, voice rough. “The sisters of the sand sea. I thought they were a myth.”

They gather their things and begin the long, sloping trip down to the village. The night air blowing in off the sand sea is cool and invigorating. There’s no barrier to entry – no sentries posted, no walls, no one waiting to herald their arrival.

Ganon makes a beeline to the village center and halts next to the statue of a vai warrior that oversees the paved square. They stand silently for a moment, Ganon looking at her, Link looking at Ganon.

He murmurs, “One of my mothers. The very first. Not my very own, but something like it.”

Link looks up at her stone face, weathered nearly smooth by time, and puts his hand on Ganon’s shoulder.

The streets are empty. A sleepy kind of stillness has settled over the fishing town, punctuated by the omnipresent sound of lapping waves, but their passage is well-marked by the residents. After some time, shutters begin to creak open, spilling lamplight into the night, and a tall vai approaches, meandering slowly down the main thoroughfare, alone and unarmed and unhurried.

“My King,” the vai says, though she doesn’t make any motion to bow or kneel. She’s dressed in flowing robes, swathes of fabric wrapped around her waist and cinched with a wide belt, the colors and cut unfamiliar to Link. Her legs and arms are adorned with gold in the Gerudo fashion, hair piled high atop her head. “Ah, my brother. We’ve been waiting for you to return home. Please, join us. Your journey’s been long.”

Link learns from the vai, who introduces herself as the Chieftain Miyena, that the Gerudo of Va’sii are descendants of the wayward daughters of the Eighth elder sister, Ganon the First’s mother. Many in Va’sii are Ganon’s sisters in truth, though they’re a family several hundred times removed.

They’re taken to Miyena’s dwelling, a sprawling, well-appointed complex near the center of the village that houses many young vai, who are boarded and formally educated while their mothers fish the sand sea. She leads them to an empty dining hall where they sit and are welcomed to serve themselves pottage and warm spiced wine.

“We don’t stand much on ceremony here,” Miyena says, smiling as she tears a loaf of crusty bread apart. “There are still humans beyond the mountains and the sea, and Rito, though we haven’t seen a Hylian since before the schism.”

The food is delicious. Link signs thank you and Ganon explains in low tones that Link can’t speak and regales her with the tale of his resurrection, their fated meeting, and their desert crossing.

Miyena regards them curiously. “Ganon the Fifth was the last to travel through Va’sii. By our records, it’s been well over ten thousand years since then.”

Ganon’s smile is razor thin. “I was held up for a time.”

It all seems the same to Miyena, who is also only the most recent of a long line of Chieftains, and unsurprised by Ganon’s story of Hyrule’s devastation. She has the airs of someone steeped in prophecy; the beast is well-known to them here, and they fear it very little. She tells them the lengthy history of Va’sii and their sacred guardianship of the mountain where Ganon the First is buried while they eat. Link works his way through his second bowl by the time she finishes.

“Who is your companion to you?” Miyena asks when Link rises to refill his bowl from the common pot. Link doesn’t fault her for misjudging his hearing; Hylians are keen-eared and Va’sii hasn’t seen a Hylian visitor in over six centuries, for all they do vigorous trade with their common human relatives across the sand sea.

“Hylia’s sword,” Ganon says. Link can hear his bangles jingling and the clink of his goblet when he sets it on the table. “And my lover.”

“Ah, my brother. Your heart has always been so foolish, in every incarnation,” Miyena says. Her voice is warm, like a sister’s in truth.

Link’s sister was eleven when last saw her. The memory surfaces with such an abruptness that it jars him and he nearly spills his bowl. There are still holes in his recollection, vast patches of blankness. He doesn’t know what happened to her or to his father.

He brings his third bowl back to the table and sits closer to Ganon than before, his elbow pressing against Ganon’s arm, seeking the comfort of touch. Ganon looks down at him and smiles. “We were discussing how enormously taken I am with you.”

He feels his mouth curving in a smile. Link signs, Yes. Miyena has seen it repeated enough she takes his meaning now and laughs.

“Fate is unkind but mortal hearts always seem to find a way to muddy the waters further,” Miyena says, though she sounds delighted by the complication. Link supposes it might make a good tale, no matter if they succeed or fail. “Has he told you your tale yet?”

No, Link signs, glancing sideways at Ganon.

“I don’t know it,” Ganon says, by way of explanation. “It’s not told to the voe with the rest. We learn other stories first, before the madness comes, and then we forget them until the cycle repeats.”

“They speak of a golden prince who walks alone with a blade made of moonlight and eyes like the old ocean,” Miyena says. “The story is a sad one. Not for you, but for all of Gerudo. I’ll tell you one day, if you return this way. Hylia’s sword has never come this far before — betimes he’s died alone in the desert, but has never made the passage.”

Link lowers his bowl to the table. Unexpectedly, tears sting at his eyes and he struggles a moment to regain his composure. Miyena gives him an empathetic look. She isn’t fate-bound, but her lineage makes her inextricably connected by her stewardship of this place. He thinks she may be a little god-touched herself, the way she holds her counsel and gazes occasionally out towards the sand sea, as if looking at something only she can see.

“Do you think then that we’ll return?” Ganon asks. “Do you know where we’re meant to go?”

“Up the mountain to the tomb of Ganon the First,” Miyena says. “I’ll take you to the path on the morrow. The journey from here is fairly easy; the sisters make pilgrimage there every spring to offer desert flowers in mourning. His tomb is empty, the bones crumbled to dust, but magic still holds court there.”

Link slips his hand into Ganon’s beneath the table, out of Miyena’s line of sight. Ganon squeezes it, lacing their fingers together, and smiles at Link. “Do you have a shrine to the Goddess of Sand? I’d make an offering to my mother before we leave.”

“Certainly. In the garden,” Miyena says, standing from her seat. “Shall I show you?”

“No, thank you,“ he says, and as Link makes to pull away until Ganon stops him. “Ah, Link, would you not attend? Hylia holds no provenance here, but I’m certain she won’t fault you for keeping me company.”

Link, already half out of his chair, nods his acquiescence. He bends and kisses Ganon’s brow. The blade weighs heavy at his hip; he’s stood in sleepless vigil a hundred times or more when traveling with Zelda, each one of the shrines a place of prayer, and this night will be no different.

*

Miyena finds clothes enough to outfit them for the cold ascent up to the mountain, where a great glacier flanks the tomb of Ganon the First. A bit of tailoring needs to be done to fit Link into a pair of fur-lined breeches warm enough for the weather, but otherwise their company is well-appointed for the trip.

Their departure is swift by necessity; they have no time to linger and enjoy further hospitality, though Miyena makes the offer. The Gerudo of Va’sii turn out to watch their sojourn. Miyena escorts them to the mountain pass herself and stands at the foot of the route watching them until they make the first bend in the trail.

It’s a walk of two slow miles up a well-traveled but steep path. In some places there are stairs shaped directly into the stone and in others heavy logs wedged between heavier boulders and filled in with packed dirt to hold back erosion. In some places, not far up the mountain at all, errant patches of wildflowers are still in bloom, the white-and-yellow heads of field daisies nodding in the cool winds.

The tomb is inside a cave near the glacier, bordered by a stream that trickles steadily from the base of the ice. The dark weathering on the rocks suggests that in the summer the ice-capped mountains shed their snowy peaks into the streambed, but this late in autumn the air is cold enough higher up that they manage to cross it easily using a fallen log and some careful balancing.

The meltwater from the glacier is the coldest thing Link has ever felt. He kneels at the edge of the rivulet and cups his hands beneath the clear water, then drinks deeply from the bowl of his palms.

The glacier is encroaching on the mouth of the tomb. In another five years, or ten perhaps, the massive wall of ice will have swallowed this entire section of the cliff, sliding inexorably down the foothills and towards the sea.

Ganon, wrapped in several more layers than Link and shivering occasionally, watches Link from atop the high path that branches up towards the mouth of the structure.

Link scrambles directly up the side of the squat bluff, scaling the twenty-odd feet to where Ganon waits, his passage dislodging a shower of loose dirt and pebbles.

At the top, he takes Ganon’s hand and presses himself against Ganon’s bulk.

Cold, he signs.

“You can’t possibly be any colder than me,” Ganon says, looking down at him pointedly. He’s trying not to smile.

Link shakes his head, signs, You cold, and jabs at Ganon’s side with a finger, accusatory.

“Will it satisfy you to know you were correct about needing another layer?” Ganon asks, heaving a sigh. 

Yes, Link signs, then slips his frigid fingers beneath Ganon’s clothes. The sound Ganon makes is unbecoming of royalty and Link shakes with bright, silent laughter. This close to their goal, joy feels much like theft, and Link covets every stolen moment.

Ganon picks Link up bodily and slings him over one shoulder like a particularly mobile sack of flour, a big hand squeezing high on Link’s thigh to keep him in place. “Did anyone ever tell you it’s extraordinarily uncouth to be smug?”

Link can’t answer, so he contents himself by admiring the inverted view of Ganon’s well-formed ass while Ganon hauls him the rest of the way up the slope.

He sets Link down and kisses him soundly, getting his hands under Link’s clothes, and it’s Link’s turn to gasp and try to squirm away. His touch is frosty but Link feels warmed by his laughter.

Ganon releases him, grinning, and turns to look up at the archway. His expression slowly sobers and Link takes a few steps forward, peering into the dim space beyond.

The stone is cold to the touch, but it’s only regular stone, a regular cave, with the regular kind of magic found in all wild places.

“Isn’t it too dark to see?” Ganon asks when Link beckons.

No, Link signs. Come.

The opening to the tomb is half cave, half carved monument. The mouth of the mountain yawns out in a craggy semicircle, like the toothy preamble to the gullet of some great wyrm, letting in sunlight. Their eyes need only adjust.

Link shucks his pack and Ganon follows suit. They stand in unmoving silence for a time, considering what lies before them.

At the far end of the cave, the tomb begins in truth — a heavy stone door carven with the great red boar blocks any advance. Before the door is a pile of fine ash, undisturbed. They must be the offerings to the Eighth Sister and Ganon the First, brought up to the mountain by Ganon’s cousins and burnt mourning.

These are not offerings to a god, not even a god of death and eternal night. Link crouches beside the pile and pinches the ash between his fingers. The substance feels silken, the smell of it fragrant and woody. This is a funeral pyre and a spell of power all in one, old but not faded: between his fingers rests the dreams of an entire people, offered in sacrifice to hold against an encroaching darkness they could not know the true measure of.

The cave is only an ordinary cave and the tomb is an ordinary tomb, but this entire mountain is a space where the veil is worn thin between one world and another. He can feel Hylia move in the back of his mind, deep down, like a spring wind over the ocean.

There’s Gerudo writing on the plinth, bold sigils in bas relief, but time has rendered it too faint to make out more than one letter in twenty.

Ganon tries the tomb door and, even straining mightily, can’t open it. He retreats after a moment, frowning, but they’ve come too far to let a single slab of stone bar their path, no matter how heavy.

Link looks down and sweeps aside the burnt offerings.

Beneath the pile of ancient ash is a stone circle set flush with the cave floor, but crafted from the same material as the tomb door. In the center of it, ringed by more Gerudo sigils, is a receptacle.

He unsheathes the blade. It glows like moonlight, casting scintillating rays throughout the cave. A thrum of power runs through him.

“Link?” Ganon asks. Ganon hasn’t seen where the blade will go from where he stands, but Link can sense what he must do even before he raises his hands.

Link plunges the blade into the stone. As at the roots of the Great Deku Tree, a cold light flashes and dies, though the sense of old power lingers. The blade is now a key; the tomb door rumbles open with an awful, grating noise, the threshold briefly suffused with goddess-light before all goes dim.

Inside, the utter blackness of the tomb lurks like a thing with claws. Link is certain if he were to step inside that he would be swallowed by it.

All he can hear in the ringing silence is their breathing. Link feels an old pain through his bones, aching everywhere. He died and lived again and the cost to wield the blade is high. The goddess takes as much as she gives.

Ganon lays his hand on Link’s shoulder. The touch warms Link, fortifying him. Ganon asks, “Does Hylia mean for you to make the descent?”

Link reflects on it. He imagines himself stepping beyond the doorway and into the darkness. A shudder runs through him. The ordinary would become extraordinary if Link carries the blade into the darkness beyond the gate.

He knows, without quite understanding how, that the writing on the doorway of the tomb is a warning: Link is to be the key, no more.

He shakes his head. No. What lies beyond is Ganon’s trial alone.

Ganon doesn’t look back, though he hesitates at the threshold. The darkness opens to welcome him and he steps into it with his head held high. Link watches him, fighting down the dread of the inevitable. Ganon died here once, long ago — or a version of him did. He may die here yet again.

Deep below, Ganon seeks a force older and more dire than Hylia. What transpires is not for Link to know; he kneels before the blade, hands on the pommel, and wards the doorway against deeper terrors than death.

*

Link waits. He can do nothing but wait.

While he waits he prays, and when he can no longer kneel on the cold stone without trembling, he takes a meal and drinks deeply from their water skins.

The blade remains in the stone and the tomb door remains open. No sound issues from the depths.

Hylia is silent but not absent, not even here, hundreds of miles away from her crumbling chapels. He’s carried her with him across the desert and she waits with him now. Time is trivial to the deified, but Link still feels its effects, so he sleeps for a short time and wakes to the dawn.

He spreads his papers out on the floor and begins to write.

He only knows a fraction of the Ten Thousand Tales, but he transcribes them until his hand cramps and aches. His fingers are smudged with charcoal.

Link dreams not of Hylia, but of Zelda. She sits in a wooden chair with her back to him, printing nearly-lettered words on a sheet of parchment. She’s wearing a white dress he’s never seen before, though he recognizes it all the same. Her hair is pinned up beneath a ceremonial diadem and she looks as soft and powerful as a winter sunrise.

There’s no fire in her, but there’s light. She’s effulgent, lit from within. She has no shadow, shrouded entirely in Hylia’s bright grace.

“Are you sleeping or am I?” she asks. When she turns to face him, his heart constricts. She looks sad; he took an oath to protect her, but he was never able to keep her safe from sorrow. There was simply too much of it.

Here, in dreams alone, he has a voice, so he says, “I think we both are.”

“I thought as much. You look well,” Zelda says. She puts her hands on her knees, sitting primly. “Are you well?”

“It’s hard to know,” Link says after a moment. “Hylia is with me. It’s hard to know anything at all with a goddess in your head.”

“I know.” She sighs. Link can feel the breeze of it; the whole day shifts, moving like a wind stirring the treetops. “I can only hope it’ll be enough. This isn’t how the story ends, Link.”

“No,” Link says. It’s strange; he can speak here, in this gently shining place, but he still has no words to describe how he feels.

Then the dream is like water, slipping away through his fingers. Like grains of sand. Like the winter air through the open door the night his mother died.

When Zelda turns, she melts away into light and sound and sorrow.

He wakes to darkness, tears on his cheeks, and catches his breath. He washes his face and kneels again, taking up vigil once more. Memories creep back into him, one at a time, each one as sharp and painful as a knife.

The tomb lies open and silent. The darkness beyond the threshold looms, threatening to spill forth, but the blade stands unmoved, the starmetal still cold to the touch.

On the seventh day, the temperature drops sharply, so he spends a few hours gathering firewood from the mountainside. When he’s done, he’s sweating, even with the late season chill, so he washes by filling a waterskin from the meltwater spring and dumping it over himself until he feels clean, then refills their empty skins to carry back to the cave. He shivers and lays naked on a blanket by a small fire until it gutters and dies to coals, but he feels less insubstantial.

Ten days.

He dresses. He eats and sleeps but does not dream. He doesn’t leave the cave again except for water. Their rations dwindle and he takes his meals carefully, eating slowly, drinking deeply.

He kneels. He prays. He washes himself again with a cloth, this time sitting in a faint sliver of sunlight until it disappears and he’s left alone in the darkness, cold and naked.

Hylia remains silent. He does not dream of Zelda again, but neither does he dream of the beast, for the first time in nearly a year.

Link sighs, uncurls from his silent pleas, and bends to write again.

On the eleventh day, Ganon emerges from the tomb and drops to his knees in front of Link, looking worn to the bone. There are shadows beneath his eyes, as though some of the darkness has followed him up from the depths. It hangs around him like a cloak, lingering in the crooks of his body like a morning fog over a river.

He’s no longer just a Gerudo man. Something inside him has blossomed. Link can sense it, though he can’t sense if it’s the beast or some other ancestral power. Perhaps both.

“What are these?” he asks, voice gravelly. He picks up a sheaf of paper – there are dozens now, Link’s work slow and painstaking but constant – and frowns at them. When he realizes he laughs, soft and delighted, the expression easing years from his face. “Link.”

Link lets himself be scooped into Ganon’s arms, lets himself be kissed even though Ganon smells of grave dirt and the deep places of the earth. He holds Ganon’s face between his hands when Ganon finally pulls back.

“You’re freezing,” Ganon says with a deepening frown. “Wait here.”

Ganon assembles a haphazard collection of wood in the makeshift fire pit and crouches over it for a moment, frowning. He holds his palm out over the kindling and old, half-rotted branches and Link furrows his brow.

He looks up at Link abruptly, something wary in his gaze. They make eye contact just as the flame leaps directly from Ganon’s hand and catches, springing to life in a flash. It’s a new trick. Link doesn’t know if it’s Ganon’s own skill with sorcery for the Malice rising in him, but he watches all the same with an ugly wariness.

Link stands slowly, shivering, and pulls the blade from the stone. It comes free effortlessly, humming to life in his hand. He feels a crackle of magic surge up his arm, a familiar feeling rendered sharper by the way Ganon now flinches, very subtly, at the sight of it.

He sheathes the blade and sets it aside with the rest of their things. He doesn’t need it again just yet.

Ganon coaxes forth a roaring fire just inside the mouth of the tomb. When Link settles next to him and puts a hand high on his thigh, Ganon coaxes Link into his lap, wrapping their travel-worn blanket around them both, working the tangles free from Link’s hair with his fingers.

Good? Link signs, and then, bad?

“Bad, I think,” Ganon says, pressing his mouth against Link’s hair. His breath is warm but slightly labored, as though he’s taken a blow to the ribs. “I grappled with the thing, but whenever I woke to the world again, it was as if I’d only been holding a nightmare of myself. How many days was I gone?”

Link counts them out for him and Ganon meets the number with a mulling silence. He finds a scrap of unused parchment in the pack at Ganon’s side and pulls out the last blank sheaf. He won’t have the chance to use it again.

He writes, Will you go back down?

“There’s nothing to return to but rubble and dust,” Ganon says with a sigh. “Whatever magic this place holds, it answered me once and no more. I cannot fathom the meaning of it.”

Ganon holds out his hand, palm facing up, and uncurls his fingers. In the curve of his palm, a flame dances, blue and green, stirred by their breath. It’s real. A real thing. A living flame.

Link reaches out and touches it. It feels warm, heat radiating up his forearm, his palm hot, but it doesn’t burn him. He covers Ganon’s hand with his own and the flame goes out.

He can feel Ganon watching him.

“How can you stand beside me?” Ganon asks. “After what I’ve done?” The pain in his voice is difficult to bear.

Link signs a one-handed query, head tilted. He looks at Ganon and sees shadows. There’s a fire there, too, flickering deep inside, but it’s banked, nearly smothered by the darkness lingering about him.

“I don’t know if I’m myself anymore.” He pauses, then continues, voice thick with emotion, Ganon says, “I remember everything. Not in great detail, but I remember the anger and my helplessness. Some of it was my own. It doesn’t allow hope to grow. I – hurt you – ”

He stumbles on the words, stops, looks at Link with grief knitting his brow, turning his mouth down.

Killed you is what comes next. But Link has made peace with that long ago and he thought Ganon understood. Link knows this moment, has lived it. Ganon’s faith has been shaken, his hope poisoned.

Link sets the paper aside and with it his words. He has nothing to say in the face of Ganon’s fear that will help either of them now. He lifts Ganon’s hand to his face and kisses each one of his knuckles. There are scars there, too, pale and thin, almost too faint to see in the low firelight.

Ganon’s touch is slow, meandering. He touches Link’s face, his throat, his torso. He slips a hand beneath Link’s tunic and traces a line all the way up Link’s spine, then grips him by the nape of his neck and kisses him until Link feels dizzy.

“Thank you for waiting,” Ganon says, pressing his forehead against Link’s. He exhales heavily. Link can feel him waning, faltering. “Thank you for your strength. I’m sorry. I’m so tired now.”

He wants to say, it’s okay, but Link doesn’t know if it is. Instead, he puts his hands in Ganon’s hair and kisses him again, trying to make it feel like something other than a goodbye. Trying to infuse Ganon with the courage they’ll both need to fend off the coming storm.

Sleep he signs. Sleep.

Link settles into Ganon’s embrace. Outside the wind howls and the fire spits and hisses at their feet. But he feels, for a time, like he belongs and always has.

*

Link wakes in the early morning to a world frozen over. Snow has begun to fall, heavy wet flakes pushed about by a gnawing wind. He dresses quietly at the mouth of the cave, donning his traveling gear and his cloak. He straps the blade to his belt.

Ganon sleeps for a time, then rouses, shivering so violently that Link can hear Ganon’s teeth chattering. He can smell the fever of the Malice from where he stands.

“It’s close,” Ganon says. Link can feel him watching from their bedroll and the nape of his neck prickles.

Link knows already. He can feel it in the air, in the space where Hylia resides in his mind. It visited his dreams. He’d put a hand out to it, the great red boar, and it swallowed him whole. Inside its belly, he saw his own death when the last mote of Hylia’s light was snuffed out.

He doesn’t turn to look at Ganon. There are no kings here, no knights, just the blade and a beast and the threat of a darkness so absolute that no love could ever hope to survive in its shadow.

Not his own. Not even a mother’s.

“I don’t know the answer,” Ganon says, voice soft. He’s afraid. Link can feel that, too. “I don’t want this to be the way things end.”

Standing in the mouth of the cave, Link isn’t afraid at all. To be afraid is to fail. To be afraid is not only to die, but to doom every other living creature to the beast’s darkness. He was a man for a time, while they traveled, and he’s still a man for now, but soon he’ll be the blade again, the bow, the arrow, full of Hylia’s light and nothing else.

And perhaps he’ll only manage to succeed where others have in the past. If stumbles, the blade will go into the stone between the roots of the Great Deku Tree and a hundred years from now, or a thousand, another man just like him will pull it from the rock and become a weapon for the goddess.

He draws a steadying breath. Ganon doesn’t know the answer, but Link has begun to feel the edges of it. None of Hylia’s warriors have ever made it this far. Ganon the First was entombed here for a reason, but it’s not his resting place that matters now.

Up. It pulls at him. A thread of light, of hope, of power.

Link signs, Up. He feels Hylia turning her face towards him; her gaze still isn’t upon him like it was in the throne room. But she’s close. So close.

That means the beast is, too.

“The mountain?” Ganon asks. When Link nods, Ganon stands very slowly, as if in pain, and begins to dress himself for the cold. He’s sweating, feverish, with dark circles under his eyes. “Very well.”

The ascent is dangerous in the bad weather, loose rocks and sharp edged crevices half-hidden by the snowfall. Link leads the way, using a dead tree branch to test footholds. The path is steep, but not impassable, not yet.

Near the top of the mountain, the slope levels out into a thick boreal forest.

They walk into the woods. The boughs of the conifers are heavily-laden with icicles, bent low. He can hear branches breaking, dead limbs crackling and the muffled clatter of ice shaken off by brisk gusts of wind.

Link finds a small, flat clearing hedged by old fir trees and stops. There’s a circle of stones. He steps into it and feels power surge up through him.

He draws the blade. The starmetal glows, casting glittering light about the clearing. The sky overhead rolls, all sense of sun and daylight swallowed up by the heavy-bellied clouds.

Even before he brushes the snow away, he knows the symbol that will be graven on the rock beneath it. He doesn’t know the name of it, but when he lays his palm over it, it feels warm to the touch, like the world is breathing beneath his hand.

Here, he signs and looks up.

Ganon looks at the triangular design for a time, hands clenched into fists at his sides. There’s snow frosting his hair.

Link sheathes the blade again. Power lies beneath this mountain and he has confirmation enough. He’ll need the starmetal soon, but not yet.

“I know this,” Ganon says when Link stands and touches him on the arm.

Yes, Link signs. Then again, Here.

Ganon turns and stares into the trees. “I’ll build a fire.”

There are no birds in these woods.

Link thinks of the dead, eyeless trees and lightless fog of the Lost Forest, the chittering laughter of the wood spirits as they scampered and rattled, always just out of his line of sight. Into the dark he’d gone there, and he doesn’t shrink from it here, though much of the desolation here is of the more ordinary sort.

There are no spirits here, only an old magic that spills into the air with a vaguely unpleasant urgency. The inhospitable weather keeps out the rest, though Link spots a skittish rabbit while he gathers branches to reinforce their makeshift shelter against collapse under the weather.

Ganon coaxes forth a blaze and stacks wood next to it. The fire sputters in the snow, wet fir logs spitting and hissing as they begin to burn, but the whole lot of it catches by the time Link has finished draping the borrowed oilcloth over the lean-to.

He feels too sick to eat but he forces food down anyways, drinking deeply from a waterskin until his stomach aches. Ganon sets their packs just inside the structure and crawls into the cramped space. Link curls up beside him, shifting on a compacted bed of leaves and blankets, hot on one side from the fire, searing on the other from contact with Ganon’s body.

The beast is in Ganon now like a fever. His skin is clammy where Link touches him.

Ganon drapes their cloaks over both of them, closing them away from the world outside. He catches Link’s hands between his own and rubs them between his own to warm them. He kisses each one of Link’s fingertips in turn.

Link can hear his breathing grow pained, the ragged scrape of his breath. It burns with power where they touch, but Ganon doesn’t pull away.

“When it comes — ” Ganon starts, but Link puts his hands over Ganon’s mouth to try to stop up the words, because he knows what comes next — what must come next — and he doesn’t want to hear them. Ganon takes his wrists and pries his hands away and wraps him up in strong arms that have spent the last twenty-odd days holding Link and finishes, “When it comes, you have to kill it.”

And Link, who has never borne his destiny with anything other than stoicism, wishes he had the voice to speak, to beg, to cry, to rail against his fate. 

When Zelda needed him to be strong, when Hylia called to him to help bear her light, when the blade had worked free from the stone and the Great Deku Tree had bent its boughs to advise him on the secret ways the beast might be sundered with the starmetal, Link had borne it without question or fear.

Even Mipha’s death, on the eve of Calamity, had not shaken him so wildly, because there had still been something for him left to fight for, some sliver of hope that something of his life might remain when the debt of Hylia’s power was paid.

He feels as though he’s been dealt a great, rending blow directly to his heart. He feels as though he’s bleeding into his own hands.

Link can’t even say it, can’t make Ganon know it. Even if he wrote a hundred pages, or a thousand, or if his voice returned to him, he has no words for what it meant to have Ganon rise from the depths of his own tomb to meet him again. To be alive just as Link had begun to think him lost. He can’t describe to Ganon how fervently he bent himself and prayed to Hylia, not only for a way to exorcise the beast, but to also keep some small scrap of happiness for himself.

Link knows now in this cold night spent in Ganon’s warm arms: Hylia’s light will come and Hylia’s power will find him, but goddesses care little for mortal hearts and mortal fears and mortal love. The cool, silent place where he feels her in his mind is vacant of all individual desire.

She loves Hyrule and will save it, in the terrible manner of goddesses and dark beasts. Fate has little care for the path it carves or the price it costs.

Link can only hope that loving Ganon might save them all. If the darkness swallows them there will be no love left at all, not for anyone.

Stop, Link signs. No. But it’s a plea, not a refusal. He’s taken up the blade, was born to take up the blade, and will take up the blade until he dies or the beast lies still.

His face is wet. He hasn’t cried like this since before his body was torn asunder by the beast. He hasn’t cried like this since he was a child, by his mother’s grave, his father’s hand heavy on his shoulder. He has no voice to cry now, though the sensation still rises through him, unstoppable.

The whole of it bursts from him, wet, gasping sobs, heavy and nearly silent except for the heaving breaths he takes. His tears are insufficient for his grief. The beast has swallowed Link’s whole world and Link must find the courage to not allow it to devour him alongside the rest.

Ganon speaks no more and has no words of comfort to offer. The time for hope is past; only succor remains. 

He holds Link to him tightly, in the dark, the storm rising to an unearthly howl outside their shelter, until it seems to be in danger of blanketing the whole world in winter, endless and uncompromising.

*

It comes for him all at once. The storm has subsided and there’s only the smothering hush of snow falling. The sweeping, windless silence of it and the faint susurrations of hundreds of thousands of fat, wet flakes pelting the earth drown out all other sounds.

The night is too still and he wakes to it with the blade in his hand, already rolling, throwing off the blanket and climbing from the lean-to. The beast whips past him in a blind charge, then turns its great bulk with effort, kicking up ice and dirt and the wet, mulchy loam beneath. The night smells like fire and the cloying, horrible musk of the great red boar.

Trees topple, cracking like thunder in the darkness, and the beast bellows, casting about with its head to throw off the grasping branches. Fire leaps from the beast to the trees, but the forest is too wet to burn easily, so it stamps and shakes off the debris, the air filled with choking woodsmoke.

The night stills, then crackles. He can see it through the trees, through the flurries of snow, head held low. It’s not as large as it was before, but it’s easily the size of a house, stocky legs as thick as tree trunks.

He’s fully awake and prepared when it charges him a second time. 

There’s no art in the way he scrambles from the half-trampled remains of the campsite, narrowly missed by a great cloven foot. Link’s only saving grace is its size; it struggles to stop and turn on the snow, skidding and slipping with angry squeals and snorts. He climbs to his feet facing it, the blade held out, body square to the creature’s hindquarters, the blade pulsing with inner light.

For a moment, Link considers hiding, retreating until he can find his bow and quiver in the wreckage, but the beast snuffles wetly at the ground as it turns towards him, groaning low and hungry.

He slept beside it for weeks while it waited below Ganon’s skin.

It has his scent, knows him, knows his body and how to find it. There’s no running and no hiding.

Link fixes his hands on the grip, the tip of the blade pointed at the beast, and relaxes into position, ready for it to charge.

It lowers its head and snorts.

He’s fought it before but he’s still not ready for how quick it is for its size. It seems diminished somehow, not so enormous as it was in the Hyrule Fields, but still monstrously large.

Link only tags it with his blade, scoring a line up its right foreleg. He misses his mark with the blow; his attempt to sever the beast’s tendon fails, the tip of the blade barely biting through its thick hide. It tosses him aside, the failing hit unintentional as it thrashes in pain and squeals in rage like a hog to slaughter. Link hits the ground hard, barely breaking his fall with his arm. His head spins.

He climbs to his feet and looks at the beast, which dips its head low to the ground, searching for him.

He thinks abruptly of his hand on Ganon’s midsection and the scar left by Link’s blade and falters. The agony of realization is like a knife in his heart, sudden and unexpected. It nearly overwhelms him.

Hylia is with him. He’s the blade. He’s the shield. But his heart is no longer entirely Hylia’s and no longer entirely his own. Something else drives him now.

He drops the blade into the snow and with it the very last of his fear. He won’t let himself lose this. He’ll finish this eternal battle, once and for all.

Blood drips from a gash in his scalp, a steady rivulet that threatens to obscure his vision. The beast turns its head, grunting, wary now that it’s been injured. It looks at Link with small, ancient eyes, with irises the color of liquid gold and pupils as black as a nighttime storm at sea.

The beast was inside the man. The man is now inside the beast. Both of these things are still true. He’s Hylia’s blade, but Hylia is also inside him, and Zelda is waiting somewhere between them, too. He can feel the thin thread that leads beyond the veil that shrouds whatever place of power in which the beast keeps her trapped.

He needs only to find some way to reach her and she can work Hylia’s light through him.

The beast took from him and Hylia commands almost every inch of what’s left. There’s a pauper’s lot granted to Link, a single sliver of his heart left – and he means to use it to make a different choice than the one demanded by blade or bow.

The great red boar steps forward, once, twice, thrice. It lowers its head, flames licking at Link’s body, searing hot but not touching Link’s flesh. He raises his arm and the light from his upheld hand flares and briefly overwhelms all sense of sight, sound, and touch with each expanding pulse, the power of it building beneath him and all around him.

He feels it from heel to palm, surging up through his body, coalescing around him. He’s become a beacon for the goddess, Hylia’s light rising from the place in his mind that was never empty and is no longer dark.

The beast makes a terrible sound, a deep grunting squeal that rumbles up from its belly.

Link plants one hand on the end of its snout and then the other. He leans hard against it, his whole body squeezed between the great gusting exhalations from its nostrils, and presses his face against the rough, pebbled skin. Each one of the beast’s tusks is as big as he is, bracketing him.

He pushes harder, using all of his weight. The beast is more than a hundred times larger than him and could easily swallow him whole, but size alone is not enough to deter him from the attempt.

The beast doesn’t move. The light grows inside of Link. He doesn’t release the building power, clinging to the great snout, until the light spills out of him of its own volition, from his palms, from his skin, from his mouth, until the light and the beast are all he knows.

He thinks no and please and prays to Hylia, who has filled him with her light but left so little room for his own love. He fights for that alone; he has nothing else left to lose of himself.

It washes over them both like waves breaking in a storm. Link holds the thought of Ganon in his mind, won’t allow it to be taken from him by the light, which begins to burn away at the beast.

The sound is horrible — a creature in its death throes — and he weeps and presses his face to the beast. He pushes and pushes.

It dies in pieces. It stumbles first, powerful legs giving out, knees buckling, and he goes down to the ground with it, still radiating Hylia’s power.

Hylia’s presence moves beneath the surface of his mind, his connection with her as thin as a spider’s single silken thread. Any more and Link would lose himself. He holds tight to that, to her, to the beast.

Love is the blade he wields now, his own and Hylia’s, and it cuts two ways.

Link understands, as the diminished beast exhales heavily and noses weakly at him, its piggish eyes dimming, its flames guttering, that he was always meant to plant the seed of love in a young Gerudo man.

That seed grew in the beast, too, like the beast grew inside Ganon. With that love, the beast let Hylia into its very being, where she could destroy it from the inside.

When the light goes out, the beast is gone, and Hylia’s presence withdraws. Link looks down at his own hands, singed and bloody, and collapses on the snow.

*

Link is lifted from the snow and placed into a warm bed. 

He sleeps and does not wake for many days, though he dreams of being carried.

Link sleeps for minutes, or hours, or days; he stirs a handful of times to find the whole world blurry and fearfully dim, then submerges again. Warm blankets are draped over his body. Hands touch him, large and small, distant impressions of skin on skin, cool and calloused and healing.

He wakes alone in a squat building made of lime-coated packed earth at the edge of the desert. A cool breeze gusts merrily through the open windows; the shutters are thrown open and lovely red linen curtains have been tied back to let in the day.

Through the nearest window, he can see snatches of greenery close to the building and sun-bleached rock in the middle distance. The dunes stretch out endlessly beyond. 

Link’s limbs are stiff, but he pushes himself out of the bed and goes to the door. Someone has lent the use of a home on the outskirts of a small trading post that overlooks the sand sea.

He takes a step forward into the sunshine and freezes, full of startled joy.

Zelda. She must have been delivered back to him by Hylia when the beast was destroyed.

His heart leaps in his breast. He’d never hoped of her return and now that he has it, it doesn’t seem real.

The sun is directly ahead, nearly noon, and Zelda is kneeling with a bowl between her knees, picking dark red berries from a trellised vine. As he watches, she eats a few, then scrubs her hands clean on her stained trousers, and adjusts her hair where it’s done into a careful pile atop her head.

He stares at her, willing her to be real and not another figment of some long, desperate dream. She’s the last thing he knows from his life, his strongest remaining memory from before the beast killed him. She’s his very best friend, his princess – now his queen –

She must feel him watching, because he doesn’t move, doesn’t betray himself. But she looks up and then his legs are carrying him to her. Her fingers are sticky where she touches him, giving a relieved little sob, and the hug she gives him is bone-cracking.

He doesn’t let go for a long time. Her hair smells like sunshine and the desert. There’s a braid in it, a single plait down one side in Hylian fashion, too intricate to have done herself.

Link steps back and signs, Okay?

“I only feel like I slept for such a long time,” she says, holding his face between her hands. She has tears of joy in her eyes. “Oh, Link. The price was so high, I thought we might not make it. I’m so glad to see you again.”

He covers her hands with his. They don’t need to discuss it. The silver thread that ties them together, Hylia’s light, shines gently between them. There hasn’t always been understanding between them; now that they’ve found it, he finds it undiminished even a hundred years on.

Link withdraws his hands and smiles down at her. She once seemed so very small, so very fragile, and he’d felt the need to protect her; now, he sees that she’s pearl with a heart of steel.

She looks up and he follows her gaze, his heart leaping into his throat.

Ganon is standing beside the house, a wide basket of fruit balanced on his hip. He looks good, better than when they were traveling, filled out a little in all his narrowest parts. The beast is no longer burning him up.

For a moment, Link is torn between duty and love, the grip of both agonizing. He looks at Zelda, questioning. They’ve finally crawled their way to victory, but his fealty is an oath sworn to her and her kingdom long before he knew the beast was his to slay.

“He told me his intentions and a very long story,” Zelda says, sparkling with mirth, her voice pitched softly so only Link might hear. “I think he’s quite madly in love with you.”

When he hesitates, she lays her hand on his arm and adds, “I can’t release you from Hylia herself, Link, but I can offer you your heart’s choice in this. He’s welcome in Hyrule — or you’re welcome to stay in Gerudo.”

Link’s heart stumbles. He’s walking before he can think to answer her properly, every part of him engulfed by the pull between them, and he won’t stop now that he’s set on his course.

Cactus fruit spills into the sand, scattering every which way, the basket abandoned. Ganon lifts him with an exuberant laugh just as Link flings himself forward, wrapping both of his strong arms around Link, and kisses him.

He can’t shout with delight, but he needs no words for this, no sound, not with the desert sun burning high above and Ganon’s heart beating double time beneath his fingers.