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An exercise in Grief

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The rubble surrounded them. Every swaying step shifted through what felt like snowy inches of dust and crumbling stone. With the state of Hyrule castle, it would likely take weeks for renovations to bring everything back in peak working order–– months more to restore it to the peace and splendor before… before. 

It was… something remarkable, to be able to look on it all with something resembling hope. 

Something remarkable; something that couldn’t last. 

(It felt wrong to be unhappy.)

“Sidon? Why are you waiting over here?” Mipha tugged at Sidon’s hand, her fingers barely managing to wrap around two of his, and smiled so happily up at him his breath caught in his throat. He hadn’t brought it up. Couldn’t, not with everything going on–– and certainly not now when everyone was so happy but–– Sidon couldn’t help the way his body instinctively startled when he looked at her. How even breathing the same air as Mipha felt like walking in a dream. 

Mipha’s golden eyes stared up at him, tail fin waggling happily. He had never grown old enough, when she was alive, to be looking anyway but up at her. Staring down at her now, tiny and so deceivingly fragile… 

Something nudged at his back. Sidon looked back, startled, to see Riju behind him. She nodded up at him, expression understanding. Sidon pressed his lips into a tight line. Most of his fellow descendants hadn’t wanted to risk squandering their chances to be with their loved ones. Even Teba seemed more at ease to stick close to the Rito Champion, despite that Sidon knew the archer to prefer a bit more peace and quiet than the celebration allowed. 

...Maybe it was more lingering overprotectiveness than anything. Sidon would be at his sister’s side regardless, that was natural, expected. But Teba, Riju, Yunobo… From what he knew, none of them had ever been lucky enough to meet their ancestors, their legends. All that had allowed Sidon to have known Mipha at all–– to live until a point where he could meet her again––  was the longevity of his people. 

Yet they hovered so closely. Sidon turned back in time to watch Riju slip from his shadow, her small frame and light feet carrying her almost unperceived to where she slot back in place at Lady Urbosa’s side. 

“Sidon?” Sidon whipped around as Mipha’s other hand delicately joined her first, inscrutably gentle where they touched him. She tilted her head up at him, slowly beginning to frown. That look was familiar. That was the expression marking a hundred clumsy slips, a thousand training accidents, a million little scrapes and cuts and bruises. “Are you alright?”

He couldn’t look at it anymore. 

“I’m alright, dear sister,” He said and leaped to appear as jovial as possible. It wasn’t too hard, despite it all. A century of practice after her death suited him well. Sidon’s act was perfect. Mipha was perfect, was ideal, was the astute, kind, intelligent ruler that everyone strove to be.

But Sidon had had a century to grow up without her. She would not recognize whatever face he put on now. 

Mipha smiled at him, easily assuaged. The joy on her face seemed to make her entire being glow with drunken warmth. It soaked into everything around her, radiating from her scales like sunlight. Sidon basked in it, shoving down the weight in his stomach until it settled among the hundred others. 

“Come on, then,” She coaxed, turning and pulling him along over her shoulder. “Unlike us Zora, the others will likely be gone by your future.” The thought seemed to dim something in her. Sidon flailed inwardly for a moment, unsure what to do, but it was just as quickly gone, leaving her rosy-cheeked and sunny again. “I want you to meet my friends as they are now, while we’re still here in our prime!” 

He already technically had. In extreme depth. There was no not getting to know someone when you were forced into such an elongated intense situation with them. He knew Urbosa’s electric fury, Daruk’s resilience, the force of the wind under Revali’s wings. 

The Champions turned to greet Mipha as she returned to their sides, smiling warmly, reaching out with affectionate, careful hands. 

“So this is the baby prince, all grown up,” Daruk commented. The Goron looked him up and down, eyes teasing. Without the heat of battle behind them, they seemed almost as if an entirely different color: lighter, friendlier. “Should we expect you to end up so tall too, Mipha?” 

It took Sidon a moment to realize the question was directed at him. His stomach turned. “I–– I, uh,” 

“I would hope not,” Revali scoffed, “What would she even do with all that? Mipha excels as she is now, small and agile enough to break through the cracks in an enemy’s defense. It would be far too hard to fight the way she prefers if she gained as much body mass as Sidon, or King Dorephan.” 

Impa rolled her eyes from where she was sitting and reached up to pluck one of the small ruffled feathers sticking out from under Revali’s armor, making him squawk. “Oh, please, you’d just be upset that she’d be taller than you! And don’t think any of us missed that thinly veiled compliment, you do care for us, don’t you?”

Revail whipped around, all of his feathers raised. “I would never––!”

“Pipe down, she has a point.” Urbosa cocked her hip, running thoughtful fingers over her painted lips. Mipha helpfully twirled for her as the Chieftess circled her with an appraising eye.  “You would strike a much more forbidding foe if you had some extra feet in you,” She admitted. Mipha huffed, breaking into a smile of her own when Urbosa threw her head back and cackled. “Take no offense, Princess, I don’t mean to say you can’t be as adorable as you are and strong enough to wrestle a molduga!” 

The sound of laughter roared around them. Mipha’s delicate little giggles seemed to pop over the static in Sidon’s head like bubbles, colorful and bright. It did little to soothe the sudden sick feeling in his gut. 

A hand, almost burning in its warmth, touched his forearm and Sidon clamped his teeth shut around a mouthful of bile. 

The Princess of Hyrule looked up at him, smiling kindly. If he wasn’t all too aware of the power built up under her skin he would have thought her to be dangerously feverish. There were dark circles under her eyes. The searing hot hand on his arm had a fine tremor. Still, Zelda nodded to him with as much affection as she had his sister, and seemed to somehow mean it just as much. 

“I am glad to know that little Sidon will grow up to be someone as valiant as you,” She said. She was beginning to tip forward a little. Sidon wasn’t sure if she even noticed the way she was steadily leaning more of her weight on him, sinking forward slowly. “The long life spans of the Zora people may mean I will not live to the time when you will be as you are before me now, but know that the current you in this present time is a cherished friend to all of us, and all of Hyrule.” 

Her eyes were starting to unfocus. Sidon braced to catch her. Would it be considered improper to touch her? Sure, they shared a battlefield, trusted their lives in one another, but royal etiquette and mannerisms were different when the weapons had all been sheathed. Her hand on him began to slip. “Know that… know…” 

Princess Zelda slumped forward. A familiar figure slipped in almost as if out of thin air to catch her. 

“Oh!” Sidon exclaimed, unable to help his jump. Link thankfully was too polite–– or maybe just too reserved–– to comment on it. The knight did not even make eye contact with him. His gloved hands made quick work of the Princess, carrying her off to the sidelines with Impa and the King as if having done so a thousand times before. Easy, smooth, thoughtless. 

Sidon watched the young knight go. Watched the straight, impenetrable line of his back when he straightened out of a bow to the King, the stiff and unmoving posture of a soldier addressing his officer. 

There was the other problem. One he wasn’t entirely sure whether it could be classified as a problem or not. 

Another bow, a perfect angled dip, and rise. The Master Sword followed his motions perfectly When Link turned, walking briskly back to the Champions sides, his face remained stony and unfeeling. 

Sidon couldn’t help it. The memories slid around in him like live eels, like water through his gills, like sand in his lungs and missing scales. Flashes of blue scaled armor. The glint of a sword, dripping lake water and oozing miasma. The almost comforting weight on his back as he sliced through the water, ice shards scraping past his fins. 

Wide eyes, taking in the beauty of the Domain as if he had walked into someplace magical and unheard of. Stumbling back from Sidon, head tilting up and up, the Hylian’s expression openly awed. The feeling of inquisitive and calloused tiny hands as they slid across the scales of his forearm. Excited gestures and rough, almost high-pitched noises forced out of a scarred throat. 

The friend he knew. The friend he loved. 

This Link’s head tilted, ever so slightly, and Sidon startled as the stranger caught his eyes. 

The sick feeling in his gut lurched uncomfortably. He whipped his eyes away immediately.

They landed on Mipha. His sister, unbeknownst to his thoughts, seemed almost like a painting frozen in time to him. Smiling, fins swaying playfully, gentle golden eyes crinkled with laughter as her fellow Champions poked fun at each other. The lingering warmth of her magic, the burn of Zelda’s blessing, the humming heat of spiced wine and celebratory mead–– everything around him seemed to swirl, comforting and kind. Fuzzy edged and hopeful. Happy.  

This was a world built by winners. A world for a war that wasn’t lost. 

A world where the Princess of Hyrule was not trapped for a century and the King still lived. A world where Link never lost his memory. A world where his sister was still alive.  

Sidon’s jaw tightened behind his plastered on smile. 

(A world he didn’t fit into.) 

A feathered hand brushed up against his arm. Sidon turned and was surprised to look down to meet eyes with Teba.

“You look like you need a break,” He said, gruff, quiet, “I think I do too. Think we can find a good spot?” 

I can’t–– Sidon looked back without answering. Mipha was already looking their way, smiling the way she always had. The ragged edge of exhaustion did little to roughen the absolute gentleness she gazed at him with now, the pride, the joy–– “Don’t worry, little brother,” She said, voice light and far too heartbreakingly affectionate for him to handle right at that moment, “We aren’t going anywhere for a long time yet. You can come back to the festivities whenever you both have caught your breath.” 

Sidon still hesitated. His teeth worried at the inside of his cheek. “Mipha,” He said and stopped. He wasn’t sure what he even meant or wanted to say–– it just felt, suddenly, so, so important to say something. Anything. The urge swelled up in him almost violently, churning a lump in his throat, and yet… 

Mipha only smiled brilliantly at him, body seeming to be swaying into a little dance. Strong as his sister was, she was rather small to have drunk the amount of wine they all were. He moved to steady her and blinked in surprise when she latched onto his arm with surprising strength, leaning in closer. A playful glint shifted in her eyes. “Perhaps,” She mocked-whispered, loud enough to cut the other’s laughter short, “You’ll take long enough to miss the bulk of Revali’s gloating.”

Revali squawked in offense. Mipha pushed Sidon away before he could think to say anything in response, waving cheerfully back at him even as a new bout of laughter and yelling roared up around their small clearing. 

Link was quiet though–– quietly watching them. Watching him.  

It was only Teba’s wing nudging at him that managed to get Sidon to actually move away. 

They crossed gingerly over bits of rubble and frayed tapestry. Sidon hadn’t had much of a chance to look at it all before, in the heat of battle or the warmth of celebration but looking at it now… 

Teba’s talons were a welcome distraction, clicking across the stone floors. They moved in silence as they picked their way through the half-destroyed castle hallways until they made their way to a stable enough balcony. Teba immediately shook out his feathers, sighing in relief as the cool night air breezed past them and shook away some of the still fairly oppressive smoke and curding smell of malice. 

Sidon sat heavily against the castle walls, overlooking the scarred fields. 

So much ruin, so much destruction. Malice still pooled in the spots where mechanical talons left gouges in the earth. Smoke still rose from the charred stone and rubble. Although the monsters killed hours before had long since vanished the way only monsters did, the acrid stench of monster blood remained thick in his nose. 

“I can’t believe it’s over,” He found himself saying. 

Teba followed his gaze without nodding. For a moment they both just stared. “We should be happy it’s over somewhere,” He finally said. 

Sidon shut his eyes tightly. They burned regardless. Mipha was alive and happy here. Her friends were alive and happy here. No one was forced to suffer a century of imprisonment in any way, whether within their divine tomb or inside the walls of a castle–– Link never died, never was put to sleep, never lost his memories. “We should,” He agreed. 

This world was leagues better than their own. Wasn’t that something to be happy for? 

Teba fell quiet. Sidon was grateful for it. 

“You two are so gloomy.” 

Sidon jumped. Both of them turned to see Riju step out of the darkness into the moonlight of the balcony, Yunobo worrying his hands close on her heel. 

“We should not stoop to pitying ourselves,” She said. “So what if their world is different than ours, so what if that different may be better? It isn’t as if everything we have worked for and live for only exists here.” 

“We cannot forget our people,” Sidon agreed listlessly. It hurt as much as it soothed. Sidon had been raised a ruler, yes, but… it still felt like an aching sore, to have their only balm be one of responsibility. He couldn’t help but envy his fellow descendants in that regard. Teba, Yunobo–– they bore no royal blood. That was simply not how the Rito or Goron people worked, of course, but still. Only Riju shared the exact burden of leadership with him. Not even that was the same. He was alone in this regard–– out of all of them, he was the only one cursed to have known Mipha in the flesh. 

The thought froze him in his tracks. Sidon’s breath stuttered, painful and choking. How could he consider having known Mipha as a curse? He was lucky to have her as a sister. He could he even dare to consider that? 

“It just feels so much more… I don’t know. I just feel like so much more could have been avoided if we had won in our own world,” Yunobo said quietly. Sidon watched without seeing as Teba nodded hesitantly.

“Do you really think this is all perfect, compared to us?” Riju barreled on. For being the smallest and youngest of all of them, the Gerudo Chieftess struck a plenty intimidating figure, crossing her arms and cocking her head. “Even if the Champions are alive here, even if the Calamity didn’t get a foothold here in the same way it did our time–– Have you looked at Link? He’s so… lifeless, here. If I didn’t know any better, I’d ask Princess Zelda if he were another guardian prototype!”  

The mention of Link nearly made Sidon wince. Drawing comparisons between the Knight and his friend made that sickly feeling in his stomach twist uncomfortably. 

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Yunobo protested, but Riju wasn’t done. 

“I know it may be a little hard to hear, or even think about,” She snapped, “But… looking at the ways things are here, at the way even Lady Urbosa doesn’t think his behavior is strange... “ Riju went quiet. Her arms tightened around her chest, shoulders curling in slightly. “If he’s so stoic and cold here… Maybe, at least for him... M-Maybe it was a good thing that things happened the way they did.” 

Sidon shifted in place, making awkward eye contact with Teba and Yunobo when Riju failed to speak again. The young lady’s face had twisted into something painful midway through her sentence. Sidon was unsure if it would be impolite for him to attempt to comfort her–– if she would even want comfort. For all that their times (and the Link of their times) connected them, Sidon had only had the pleasure of sparse meetings between descendants. Most of what he knew were stories excitedly passed along through the grape vein–– and through Link. 

Riju breathed in deeply, back straightening. The hurt on her face disappeared like footsteps in the sand. “We don’t know how long we’ll be here,” She said, simple, brisk, blunt. Sidon did flinch that time, unable to help himself. Riju paused, giving him an apologetic nod. “...We should spend what time we have left here with those we will soon leave behind. I am going to rejoin Lady Urbosa and the rest of the celebration–– feel free to join me at your leisure.” 

She spun on her heel, braid whipping behind her. Yunobo meekly shifted to let her pass. 

The silence, without Riju’s decidedly firm tone to fill it, was a bit suffocating. 

(It was follow her back to the party, or be stuck with his own thoughts. Neither were glittering suggestions.) 

“So,” Sidon started, a little desperate, “Yunobo! How is it meeting the Champion Daruk?” Teba’s feathers lowered a little. The Rito settled his gaze back towards the field, but now Sidon was pleased to note his attention focused on them. “I heard he was–– is family to you, similar to Riju and I, yes? It must be nice to be able to meet your ancestor in the flesh!” 

Yunobo perked up. Goron didn’t often come to the Domain. The way their features moved, the way they gestured, was so alien to a Zora’s fluidity, but there was no mistaking the ruddy blush that lit the Goron’s face up with glee. “Ah–– yeah! It’s pretty cool to see Daruk in action–– or at all, I guess. I’ve only really gotten stories. Well, that and the big monument of him in town, but it really doesn’t compare to meeting the real guy, you know?” 

I don’t know. 

The pleasure faded, somewhat. 

It’s not a curse. Mipha could never be a curse. If I had to do it all again I would in a heartbeat, even if knowing her means to lose her all over again–– even to lose her again four times over. But how different would I be, if I had never met Mipha? If instead of my sister she were my mother, my grandmother, and I simply never got to––

“He’’s so cool,” Yunobo continued, eyes sparkling, “He’s got such a rough and reckless personality! I may be his descendent, with his unique abilities, but I definitely don’t carry any of his charisma or bravery. Link always says I’m plenty brave, but I don’t think helping with our own Calamity really counts, right? That wasn’t about bravery, that was about…” 

“It was a necessity,” Teba answered, and Yunobo nodded fiercely. 

“Yeah, exactly! A necessity. We all helped out, and I don’t think you guys aren’t brave but–– it wasn’t really about bravery for any of us, was it?” 

No. None of it was. Sidon would have liked if his part in it all, the war, the Calamity, was an act of bravery. Strength. Sure, it was to bring peace to his people, and in extension all of Hyrule, but in the end what had fueled his decisions was…

“I think you’re very brave,” Sidon said cheerfully. Yunobo and Teba turned to look at him. “The both of you–– all of us! It takes immense bravery to have acted the ways we all chose to, and to act the ways we do now. None of us would have managed to accomplish much if we stayed frozen in fear!” He swallowed behind his grin. There was blood on his tongue. “Link always told me that the ability to get up, over and over, was worth more than anything. Even when you think there’s nothing left to fight for.” 

Especially when you had nothing left. 

Mipha filled his vision. His big sister, more than twice his size even petite as she was. As delicate and gentle with him as she was in battle, loving and careful and warm in every little thing she did. The sight of her walking tomb, wailing and rampaging barely on the outskirts of his home had been–– 

“Our Link said that,” Yunobo said, quiet. “He definitely would. He’s just… like that, all the time.”

“He makes it look effortless,” Teba agreed. His eyes slid shut. “This Link… does seem rather empty, compared to ours.” 

Sidon smiled as wide as he could and refused to let it hurt. “The Link of our time, our Link, is the bravest person I know. He makes some… questionable decisions, when it comes to dealing with monsters and traveling, but the bravery and courage he has seems inherent to his character!” The two other descendants blinked at him, uncomprehending, and Sidon pushed through the constant sick weight in his stomach. “The legends claim our friend, did they not? He may be… may be different here, but he has so many friends around him. He has my dear sister! We should not be so hasty as to pity someone so clearly loved, even if he reacts to it differently.”

...Or not at all.

The thought of going back out into the celebration still felt a little bleak. What little of him the cool wind outside had soothed wasn’t enough. But at the very least his companions seemed a little perkier, and Sidon counted that a victory. Besides, Mipha was still waiting for him–– and he wouldn’t forgive himself if he didn’t soak up all the time he could with her. “Come on, friends,” He encouraged, “Let us return to the others. Maybe our misgivings simply stem from not getting to know this Link enough, yet! Riju said it herself, we don’t know how long we have. May as well make the most of it, right?” 

Yunobo gave him a somewhat wobbly smile. Teba’s talons clicked against the stone as he finally turned from the railing, facing back inside the castle. 

The warmth of the room reached them long before they turned the last corner back to the others. The ever-present tendrils of active magic; the pulsing glow of healing, the static tingle of lightning. The laughter that seemed to ring off every piece of rubble, filling the empty halls. 

Sidon walked back into the dining hall, picking his way between splintering tables, and watched the occupants turn at the sound of their return. Princess Zelda had returned from where Link had set her down, more swaying with Riju than dancing where Urbosa and Impa carefully spun her between them. Revali and Mipha were locked in a conversation about something or other, interspersed by scoffing and giggling. Mere feet away, a rosy-cheeked Impa and Link had set to sharpening their blades in peaceful quiet, listening attentively as Daruk passionately recounted a story from the battlefield. The King, drinking wine beside them, didn’t seem to care that they had settled into sitting on top of what was left of the dining tables… even as Daruk’s weight threatened to down the last of them. 

Teba and Yunobo peeled from his sides. They saddled back alongside their Champions easily greeted, pulling into conversations as if they had never even left. The lively chatter, even sleepy and half-drunk on victory and mulled wine, even amongst all the rubble… seemed so cozy. So impossibly cozy.   

Mipha perked up the moment she saw him. Despite it all, some of the ringing in Sidon’s ears subsided. 

“Sidon,” She greeted, “Welcome back! You look like the fresh air did you some good–– would you like some more wine? Impa found a couple more bottle, stashed within the kitchens!” His sister practically skipped over, fins wagging happily as she heartedly ignored Revali’s squawking, and fell against his side. 

Sidon flailed a little to catch her. “Sister,” He called, alarmed. How had she gotten so intoxicated in his short absence? “Are you sure you do not need to sit down for a moment?” The only surviving chairs were the one King Rhoam was using–– and the ones Link and Impa had scattered around them. Sidon would brave facing the knight if it meant his sister didn’t give herself a concussion on the rubble, of course; truly, how had she managed to drink so much–– 

Small hands laid on his forearm, shining with healing magic. It seeped under Sidon’s scales, warm in his veins. 

Mipha smiled up at him, practically glowing with over-brimming happiness. “Why would I, when you are right here?” She asked. Sidon blinked, unable to do anything else but lean down, as she reached up on unsteady tiptoe to cup his cheek. “You’ve grown so big and strong, my brother… I am sure you’ve tired of taking care of me, by your time, but I trust you to catch me if I fall.” 

The warmth of the healing could do little for the sudden icy ache in his chest. Sidon closed his eyes, leaning into Mipha’s touch. Maybe, if he just kept his eyes closed, she wouldn’t be able to work whatever magic let her know him so well. “You can count on me, sister,” He said, voice rough, and hoped she was too drunk to notice.