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time like a river

Chapter Text

He’s grateful not to know anything, just for that moment, the second chance to discover how beautiful the Zora are.

Link watches the graceful movement of an arm raised in welcome, drops scattering from the fingertips like tiny diamonds, with an almost dumbfounded awe. It’s the first joyful thing he’s seen since he’d woke on the table, in that barren, empty room. It’s the first thing he’s seen in the river that hasn’t spit a boulder back.

In slow motion, Link sees the Zora's bright smile fade into horror, wide eyes full of fright looking over his shoulder but he’s already moving, dodging to the side even before she can shout to warn him of the hissing lizard with the spear aimed for his spine.

His body knows. His body remembers, from that very first encounter, the dodge and the strike and the splintering branch in his hand, where a sword should have been. The movements all ache, and sleep is often difficult to find, no position where something doesn’t protest. He’s not as fast or as strong as he ought to be, the way he should be, but his body still moves on instincts deeper than memory.

Diving behind a half-broken wall at the last possible moment, as he listens to the fearsome, muted hiss of claws in the grass, nowhere near as loud or as slow as anything so massive ought to be - his heart’s thudding, the rusted sword in his hand barely a joke, listening to that red eye swivel, searching out a target. Link closes his own eyes, jaw clenched, not even breathing. His body remembers. Pain and fire, blood and desperation and the knowledge that it would be his turn to fail, that he would be the last-

The Guardian moves on, and after a long moment, so does he. On to the hills and the Zora, the welcome he wasn’t expecting and everything after.

It’s raining, then and now and what seems like always. He has scrapes on his knuckles, bruises along one side from a sudden squall that started up in the middle of a climb, the rocks gone slippery, a now-fragile hold crumbling under his hand. It’s incessant, as he makes his way along the meandering river, through the hills toward the land of the Zora. The hood he’s wearing somehow neither keeps the rain off his face or the back of his neck, his wet clothes chafing and whenever he does stumble into a bit of shelter, even the tips of his ears are dripping.

It’s a misery, but it has its advantages. The wet ground muffles his footsteps, so the monsters don’t always know to look. The steady discomfort keeps him distracted, keeps him from thinking too much about everything he doesn’t remember. It keeps the wind from blowing silently across the grass and the stone under a too-beautiful sky. Along the shattered remains of buildings and gently waving banners like rows of tombstones, flying above the roads with their crumbling edges. Roads that are terribly wide, for the few people left to creep carefully along them.

His heart aches. His heart remembers - and even the worst of the rain never hides the castle at the center of it all, surrounded by its own tempest of nightmares. He turns to it without thinking, marking where he is by where it remains, and the first moment that Link saw it, he didn’t have to remember to know.

————————————

A girl. A boy. A monster.

A swordsman, ten-thousand years ago, who must have held a princess’ hand and believed that they won, that they’d always claim victory. It had been a golden age.

It will never end. The castle says to him, a flicker of darkness in the distance, between the hills. It will never, ever end until I win.

Maybe not even then. Maybe this just goes on and on, no matter who wins or loses, no matter what battle everyone convinces themselves is the last. Maybe the only difference this time, is that he has something to remember he’s forgotten.

The sketches of rocks in straight lines, the outlines of villages are all that speaks to the horrors that must have been. No graves, with no one to dig them, not when a Guardian’s beam leaves behind only ash. Link fights a pack of Moblins in a ruin so damaged its purpose is now forever lost, distracted by the stolen weapons they all carry, the cairn of swords and shields behind them that could outfit a platoon or more of palace guards.

He needs his memories back, if there’s anything to be found in them that might make a difference, that will help them win. But Link doesn’t really want to know, not the names or the places or how they fell. The stories in Kakariko are enough, even with the details blurred. He doesn’t ask Impa for more.

It takes a while before he’s attacked in earnest by the Yiga, before they greet him as fellow travelers, or appear cackling in midair. Link keeps his distance from the start, though - cooking at the edges of the small waypoints, buying and selling with his hood up and his face down. It feels lonelier being near people than it does by himself, knowing that whatever he does remember is still a world they’ll never know. He wonders what kind of a person he was. A knight. The sworn shield of a holy princess. Which answers most of the important questions, really.

It wasn’t enough. The darkness whispers, in tiny, crystaline flickers that rise up and vanish. Embers in a black fire beneath a moon flayed raw. Whatever you were, it wasn’t enough.

———————

Link thinks the person he was before would have liked Sidon more than he can. Knowing now that bravery and hope - courage, wisdom - won't always win the day. He still smiles back, because that grin is impossible to ignore, all good cheer and brash certainty, far more a thing out of time than Link himself.

“I believe in you!”

Why?

The domain of the Zora is beautiful, tucked safe among the mountains, all waterfalls and soaring arches that glow gently in the dark. It’s clear they’ve endured their trials, but it’s nothing compared to the damage of the plains. The Hylians had been the ones to feel the full brunt of Ganon’s opening assault. Maybe that had been the goal all along, and someday they’d just be out of Hylians, and princesses, and knights. Ganon’s blight like a tide, slow and inevitable, erasing the shore.

The Zora are an emotional people. Sidon is free with his praise, but nothing any of them feel is small. Many of the others don’t like him, don’t forgive him, and given all Link’s seen, the wreckage of the past strewn across the land, it seems only fair. He isn’t doing this for praise, or understanding, or even absolution. It has to be done, and that’s all.

“I thought our armor would look good on you.” Sidon says, surprising Link as he stocks up on arrows - shockingly quiet, for as tall as he is, broad enough to cover Link in shadow. The shopkeeper seems familiar with the prince’s presence, children paying little heed as they dash in and then out of the shop in the last rays of the sun. Link has the sudden sense that it isn’t always like this, that he might remember more solemn processions through villages, all heads bowed in the presence of a girl with hair so bright, the crown was little more than an afterthought.

“Have you tried it out yet?” He’s jolted back into the present by Sidon tipping his head toward the walkway, the open air and the deep lake beneath.

Link isn’t sure, exactly, where it starts, but he thinks it might be here. Diving from that breathless height. Sliding through the water with ease, the reflections of stars and luminescent pillars rippling all around them, and then Sidon jumps up the waterfall and Link follows.

It is all in service of another fight, a chance to put things right that will not bring back any of what’s been lost - but for a moment the world is nothing but rushing water and spray and then Link crests the top of the falls, leaps like a fish and he’s laughing in pure delight, looks down to see Sidon keeping pace with the rushing water, nodding his approval and when he thinks of the Prince later this is what he remembers. What it was like to leap so high, to steady his aim against Sidon’s back as they dove and dodged and skimmed the surface of the water like a skipping stone, as the Divine Beast rumbled and bellowed in their wake.

Link is just a piece in an endless game, his purpose known and his destiny ordained both forward and back, eternally - but when he thinks about the Prince of the Zora, he feels free.

————--

Food first, Link. Food first, and then make the elixirs. Ugh.

—————

Link sits in the shelter of the shrine’s archway, as far back as he can go, watching the thunderstorm roll through, the lightning almost petulant as it strikes, and unerringly vicious. The horse he’d rescued an hour or so ago from its monstrous rider whickers, shifting nervously from foot to foot, but calms when he pats it. He’ll leave it at the stables, although there are very few places Link feels safe enough to ride for any distance, even the life of a horse more than he wants on his conscience.

He tries to fire off warning shots for the wolves when he can, and has yet to shoot at any of the cranes he’s startled into the sky. They’re beautiful, and Link does not want to take one more beautiful thing out of this world.

He fights. He climbs and runs, sneaking past the sleeping Hinox and the Lynel that seemingly never does, clinging to walls and cliffs until he loses all the feeling in his fingers. In a labyrinth so cold it aches to breathe, he missteps on a landing and trips back into a pool of malice. The barest touch, but even through his boot Link feels his leg go numb to the knee, and then the sharp bite of pain. His hair stands on end, a sick weight in his gut and a deep and powerful laughter, echoing from the dark. The memory, again, of his own blood running down his hands, the certain knowledge of the end.

It has killed him before. It can wait.

He means to buy fresh boots from the next merchant he comes across - but the Yiga find him first, and the assassin is young and foolish and just about his size.

Link sits on the top of a tower, overlooking dry desolation all the way to the sea, and listens to a Rito musician serenade the stars. He still knows so little, and it already feels like more than he can bear.

Chapter Text

Link tries to find the places in the pictures on the Slate, to fill in all the gaps. He stares for a long, long time at the picture of the sacred grounds just outside the city, trying to catch a glimpse of any buildings between the trees, the people who must have lived there.

Other memories come back quietly, in the times in between, mostly when he’s not looking for them. Like deer picking a path through the trees - little glimpses, there and gone again.

Link dreams of rain, of a time before the fall, when they’d planned and prepared and thought it would have to mean something in the end. So Link has a ceiling above him, to keep the rain out, and sturdy walls to train behind. Hyrule Castle has had ages of peace to refine its beauty - and so even the training hall is lit with stained glass windows hung high, brilliantly colored and marking the glory of the gods they thought were with them, spilling their color across the stones as Link sweeps the Master Sword through its paces, one focused strike after the next.

He’d prefer to be outside, even with the storm. The thrum of tension and anxiety runs more thickly through the palace by the day, by the hour, and Link can feel servants and soldiers watch him as he passes by, looking at the sword on his back and wondering silently if it will be enough.

Link hears the door open, and takes a knee when the king steps inside.

“Please, continue.”

He rises, and moves back into position - a performance now, for his liege. He wonders if he’s the only one thinking it - there is nothing in the world to match the sword he carries, but it is still only one sword.

Link doesn’t think it’s a coincidence, that the king waits until he’s in the middle of a particularly complicated set of strikes to speak.

“I have heard that the Zora princess intended to gift you with… armor, for the war to come.”

Link had hoped the news would not travel out of the Domain, would not reach the throne. King Rhoam is his liege, he is sworn to serve without question - but Link does not respect him as much as he should. Rhoam is too blunt, and pretends it makes him decisive, even when a gentler way would end in much the same place. He is worried, they all are, but that fear pushes him very close to cruelty, especially when it comes to his daughter.

Link finishes his practice with smooth severity, the sword cutting his hapless, imaginary foe in two. An exercise for a more peaceful age, perhaps - in the battles he faces now, Link rarely fights only one at a time.

“No, your Highness.”

“I can’t accept it.” Link had said, when he’d found out, when he’d overheard the same whispered story echoing off the Domain’s arches - Mipha’s heart, with the Hylian, and the King of the Zora ready to give his blessing. Mipha was kind and generous and loved him so much he could feel it, his heart in her hands. How could he not love her back - her and the Domain and all her people? One of his life’s greatest fortunes, to know so many incomparable women - but it’s not only love that turns the world, it’s destiny and duty and the sword that’s chosen him. “My heart is not my own, and never will be. You deserve more than I can give you.”

“I know that.” Mipha smiles. “Before I made the first stitch, I knew.”

"You understand that you have an obligation.” The king frowns.  “I expect better than you, than to let yourself get… distracted from your duty. It does not look well on us, if the Princess’ protector has his eyes elsewhere.“

Link nods, without raising his head, his expression a practiced blank. Underneath, of course, he rankles. He does not need the reminder of what he already knows, to be scolded like a silly child. As if he doesn’t know the stakes, hasn’t seen the signs. The rumors say there are Moblins thick in the woods, just past the roads outside the city. Growing bolder as their numbers increase. The rumors say there are Lynel stalking the outlands, that they’ve taken to hunting in packs - which can’t be true, it just can’t be.

“Yes, your Highness.”

The king sighs, a deeply weary sound - reminding Link that he isn’t the enemy, no matter what the Calamity might yet make of them all. The silence stretches, and he thinks there must be something more to come - but the king only turns and leaves. Link doesn’t raise his head until he hears the door creak shut, and when he looks up, Zelda is standing there. Hidden in the shadows, perhaps looking for him herself when her father appeared. Overhearing the whole conversation - and she is as furious as he has ever seen her.

Link likes her best when he’s not supposed to, all the imperfections the princess does her best to hide away. How quick she is to get impatient, how hard she has to work at times, not to get annoyed with anyone who can’t keep up with her quick mind. Link certainly can’t - she understands things about the world, about the past, and it has nothing to do with being holy or chosen - she’s just curious and driven and brilliant. Link loves that fierce intelligence, her determination and frustration and how she bangs, constantly, on the bars of tradition and destiny.

The way she’s looking at him now - he remembers the day they’d finally gotten one of the Guardians to fire, and there’s something in her gaze that is much the same.

“Is it true?" She says. "Do you love her?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Zelda stalks over to the rack of weapons and armor against the wall, yanking it down with a cry of inarticulate rage, sending shields and helmets and blades all banging across the stones. Link stays where he is - his life in her service, always - and he knows it annoys her, his steady calmness in the face of any challenge, accepting her anger and her scorn. He never intended to be this, a measuring stick by which she could compare the size of her own shortcomings.

Link should have told her sooner, that he was on her side. He should have realized how much fear could be hidden behind nobility and propriety. It had seemed only right, at the start, to keep all his training, all the work out of sight. What did the Princess care for her bodyguard’s struggle? She had more important concerns, and it was not his place to add to them. But now Link knows it only made his success look effortless. What Zelda never saw were the days and weeks and months spent training until he ached, until his fingers refused to straighten from their grip. How he had pushed and pushed until there was nothing else in his life - but to tell her that now would only be guilt of another kind.

She steps up to him, very close, and he meets her eyes, watches Zelda stare at him like a captain with an unworthy recruit.

“I release you from your duty. We will find another Champion.”

Except it doesn’t work like that, and they both know it. Link doesn’t move.

“Give me the sword.”

He turns the blade around in his hand, presents it hilt-first even though he’s not surprised to instantly feel the edge of it against his throat.

It really should have been her. He thinks, not for the first time. She should have been her own Champion.

Urbosa thinks so too - he remembers dusk falling in the desert, with torchlight holding the chill at bay - and a Queen handing a Princess her own sword, guiding her slowly through the motions. If only they’d had more time.

“I release you.” Zelda’s voice wavers, anger trying to hide the tears underneath. “Go to her. Go.”

If it were within her power, he thinks, she would do it. Zelda would take up the sword and stride onto the field and throw back the Calamity all on her own. It’s what she wants, not to have to be a burden, not to force anyone else into the fight.

Except it isn’t in her power - very little is in her power, and after a moment Zelda’s shoulders sag and she lets the blade fall. The Master Sword rings like a struck bell when it hits the ground - point first, then hilt. Link ignores it. Drop the entire castle on it and the blade wouldn’t so much as chip. She backs up slowly, every movement stilted and full of frustration and hurt.

“I don’t want this. I don’t want it.” She finally reaches the wall, and slides down it, knees up and head bowed against her crossed arms. Link sits down beside her, and after a long moment she sighs, deeply. “How you must hate me.”

“No. You’re worth this.”

Zelda stares at him the way she stares at one of her ancient treasures, as if he’s written in some indecipherable script.

“Why?”

“I see it in you.” He shrugs. “What you are, what you’re trying to be and you think you’re failing - but I know it’s there. I can see it.”

He’s not royal, not touched by the gods - but he knows what he sees. Link has to protect her, to keep her safe, that is all that matters. Mipha understands, or she wouldn’t have made this fight her own. The time will come when Zelda needs him, and if he doesn’t stay, if he doesn’t devote his life to this Link won’t be there when it counts. She’ll die, and he can’t bear the thought of that, no matter what part of his own happiness rests on the other side of those scales.

“I found a story. A… history.” Zelda says, softly. “It was fractured but… it was about the great battle.” Link doesn’t have to ask - there’s only ever the one. Over and over again. It’s frightening, how many times they’ve come across another telling, only to realize it was written in an entirely different age, for yet another fight. “It was terrible, and the darkness was sealed away - again - but at the end… the hero died. You died.”

Link nods. It’s not what he wants, of course, but it’s possible. Whoever that ancient Champion had been, he’d known it too. His life for Hyrule, and for hers - that’s how it’s supposed to be.

“What if it’s not real?” Zelda says, just as soft. “What if you don’t, what if you don’t really… and I’m not what you think you see.”

What if this is some trick of fate and destiny, and Link doesn’t have any choice but to shackle himself to a failed princess?

“I’m doing this for you.” Link says. “Not because of what you are. Not because your father ordered it, or because the sword chose - or even for Hyrule. I’m doing this for you. Zelda. You’re the one I believe in.”

He’s not sure what she thinks of that, but Zelda puts her head on his shoulder, her hand in his, fingers intertwined. They sit like that for a long time, watching the light through the windows, raindrops sliding over jewel-colored shadows of the past.

———————————

It was a good plan, her plan. It was.

Link hates nothing so much as how it all turned out - all Zelda’s pride in her hard-won knowledge, in the weapons she’d helped uncover, that everything she’d done to try and save them had only been their undoing. It was cruel, after all the struggle to make up for what she thought she lacked, when she’d done everything she knew how to do. Using the Guardians, the Divine Beasts had been their only option - and if it had all stayed buried, they still might have been overrun. Maybe there was never any chance at winning.

Link still believes in her. He will always believe in her.

At long last, he finds himself in the Lost Woods, wandering through the lights and mist until he hears the familiar chime of wood on wood, strange voices laughing in the distance.

It feels as if another hundred years have passed, when he finally walks away with an empty scabbard and an impossible failure and a future stripped of even the bare scraps of certainty, or hope. A defeat as heavy as all the mountains of Hyrule, pressing down on him with each step he takes.

———————————

Link finds a safe enough place to bathe in a sheltered cove near the water, the Great Plateau at his back. It’s a little too early to make camp, but given that the last three monsters had more or less exploded all over him, the break is justified. At this point, he thinks even a Talus could smell him.

He’s preoccupied. The water had seemed clear of dangers, and as a rule monsters were not known for their patience, so Link is caught entirely off guard as a large hand wraps around his ankle, yanking him down under the water and spinning him head over heels. He has no weapons, nothing he can do but at least push his hair away from his face to see the danger approaching - and there’s Sidon, luminous eyes crinkling with amusement. He’s grinning as they break the surface - no one with so many sharp teeth should seem that friendly. That golden, slit-pupil stare should not feel so familiar, or safe.

“I’m sorry, Link. I couldn’t help myself.”

He doesn’t look sorry. At all. Link considers the foolishness of getting into a water fight with a Zora, and then splashes back with all his might.

Eventually, they end up on dry land, Link mostly staggering his way to shore, coughing a bit with his skin slightly scuffed in the places he’d collided with Sidon during their underwater war. The Prince is unruffled, and entirely too smug about it. He must have been a terror when he was younger. Or perhaps not, with the demands of a broken world already weighing on his shoulders.

Link’s very lucky, that it’s only the Yiga he has to worry about, that there aren’t any other factions among the Rito or the Zora trying to dive-bomb him from the sky or drown him at every turn. Even in the armor, Link doesn’t think his chances of beating Sidon in the water are much above ‘never’.

“You’re a little far from the Domain. Is there a problem?” Link says, lazily sparking flint to make a fire. He’s fairly certain there’s no problem - or Sidon would be there instead of here.

“It was important to patrol. Now that the rains have stopped, it was necessary to check on any damage and… that the fish were still..” He trails off, even his sheepishness a bold and shameless thing. “I wanted a better look at Vah Medoh.”

Link glances up, to the ever-present line of light overhead. If he were further out in the meadows, he’d see three of them, converging on the castle. Only Vah Rudania remains, plus or minus a few lizard-flavored elixirs, and the question of whether he’d rather just be on fire. And then, and then…

“I found dinner before I found you.” Sidon says brightly, holding up the mesh bag, the contents still twitching. “We should share a meal, while you tell me of your victories.”

Link feels a pang of guilt, the way he always does when he stops to do more than just catch his breath, to resupply or plot out the shortest course to his next destination. Zelda, or whatever is left of her, is out there waiting. While he is warming by the fire, while he enjoys dinner or watches wild horses on the hills or laughs as an outpost dog chases and catches its tail - she’s alone and suffering. As she’s been for a hundred years.

“Is everything all right?” Sidon looks at him in concern.

He shakes it off. What else can he do? Link needs to eat, and there’s not much more he could do for her in the few hours before dark anyway.

So Link tells him the slightly-less-than-impressive tale of overcoming the leader of the Yiga Clan, of striking out to recover Vah Medoh and Vah Naboris. Sidon is, as always, the most appreciative audience he could ask for - leaning in, gasping as Link talks about sliding across the sands, electricity stinging the air around them, the larger strikes leaving pools of glass in their wake. He pumps his fist in fierce congratulation as Link describes how he brought an end to the blighted monsters within the Divine Beasts, restoring them to their rightful purpose.

Sidon pleads with Link to see Urbosa’s Fury for himself, but the aim on that is not something to be trifled with, especially near a Zora - so instead he uses the Gale to throw himself high into the air, listening to the Prince cheer and thinking he might hear the distant sound of Rivali groaning, wishing there’d been any other Champion left to inherit his powers.

Ganon must realize that he’s coming, that he’s still alive and slowly taking back what was lost. Link’s had dreams of losing control of the Beasts again - it’s not like he knows how it all went wrong the first time - and he hates to think it could happen again. Now that he’s vanquished the darkness that killed the Champions, it’s too easy to imagine how they’d died. Rivali and his beautiful wings, broken on the ground. How frightened and alone Mipha must have felt, at the end. He’s seen their spirits freed, but the thought still lingers.

At least Urbosa had been prepared for the worst, a warrior born - and remembering her had been as difficult a memory as he’d been bracing for. He liked her. He wishes he had her counsel now - her sly humor, her strength and perspective and wisdom. The only reason he does not grieve harder is that he knows she wouldn’t want it. If Link’s going to mourn her, it should be with her sword in his hands, charging the enemy. She would expect no less.

“Has your father ever met with the queen of the Gerudo?”

“No.” Sidon says. “We are friends, or we would be friends, but it’s difficult for the Zora to make the trip across so much desert.”

Link can sympathize, even prepared he’d been nearly knocked over by the heat, and then the cold. “You should try to meet in the middle someday. I think you two would have a lot to talk about.”

He has the sudden, clear image of Riju shield-surfing on the river, with the Prince in place of her favorite sand seal. Urging him to go faster while Sidon grins, diving at top-speed over a waterfall. Maybe talking wouldn’t be first on their agenda.

The Gerudo and the Hylians have had a fractious history, dating back to the legend that Ganon had once been one of them, or pretended to be. If he sees the other side of this, Link will work as hard as he can to change that, to strengthen their alliance. Riju is proud and brave and determined in the face of uncertainty, and he wants very much to see her again.

There’s a fire, but no cooking pan. Link has made do with less, but the Rito and the Zora often prefer to eat many things nearly still alive, and the memories come back to him now, the time he spent learning their customs. He remembers Mipha setting out a glistening platter of raw fish as a welcome gift for him, and he would have choked them down for her if they’d been a Goron buffet, but he’d been startled by the delicate intensity of the flavors, vibrant and delicious.

It’s not quite the same assortment of delicacies, but there is still a rare pleasure in it, watching the Prince use a knife and his own sharp claws to turn his catch into a meal, passing Link what are most likely the choicest morsels. 'His most treasured friend, the Hylian champion.' Link has a feeling Sidon feels an equal bonhomie for the valet that straightens his sash and ties his cravat in the morning, but it feels good to sit here with him, to listen to the fire crackle and watch the tiny dancing dots of fireflies appear in the tall grass.

He had been planning a return to the Domain, if for nothing else than to drop off the sack full of luminous stones he’s gathered in ones and twos from various corners of Hyrule. He’s certain Bolson is a bit annoyed at his indifference to anything but the most utilitarian decoration, even the bed mainly for storage, the whole space more a warehouse than a home. Link had wanted to go back, but he knows the Zora are safe and happy, while there are other places and other people who need him more - and Zelda is waiting. The whole of Hyrule is a clock, ticking down. At night, when it’s too quiet, Link imagines he can hear it.

“You still wear our armor.” Sidon says, with a gesture to where it rests in a careful pile. The curves of the greaves shine in the firelight.

It’s not all that Link wears, but he prefers to when he can. It’s something he didn’t get from a shop. It was made for him, by hands that cared for him, and when he traces his fingers along the details he can feel that time and attention and love.

“It makes me feel less alone.”

He hadn’t meant to say that out loud, but Sidon doesn’t seem to find it strange. The two of them make quick work of the whole of Sidon’s catch, until Link has nothing left to do but lean back and sigh and regard the Prince for a moment in the glow of the fire. The way the gills at his ribcage flex slowly, even out of the water. Strange and alien and fascinating - until Link realizes Sidon has noticed him watching.

“You didn’t wear any armor at all, when we challenged the Divine Beast. How do you protect yourself in a fight?”

“I don’t get hit.” Sidon shrugs, and laughs when Link rolls his eyes.

“I have a hydromelon in my pack, for dessert.” He says. “Give it to me so I can throw it at you.”

Sidon reaches for the bag, only to fumble his grip, sending half the contents spilling free.

“No harm done,” Link says, the melon rolling into reach. He sees a glint just behind it, on the ground - an opal earring, part of the set Link had thought to give it to Kodah as a gift the next time he passed through the Domain, carefully wrapped in - oh no.

“You have a… friend, among the Gerudo?”

Of course Sidon’s found the veil, held with an almost absurd delicacy between the very tips of his claws.

“… not exactly.”

Link’s blushing, even though he’s not really embarrassed. It might be easier if he was. But he’d never worn anything like what he’d had to, in order to get into Gerudo town and… it had felt like an adventure, inside his own skin. He hadn’t wanted to trick them, but there had been something so warm in their welcome, when they’d thought he was just another vai. A sense of camaraderie, of understanding and… well, sisterhood. Link had been surprised at how much he wanted to hold on to it. The reason he’d kept the clothes, when they no longer served any real purpose. Zelda would laugh, to hear the story. He’d definitely end up wearing his ‘disguise’ again, so she might give him her full appraisal.

Will he ever get to tell her? Is she even alive?

Sidon is waiting in expectant curiosity, and Link doesn’t think he’ll be allowed to dodge the question. So he tells the story of his time among the Gerudo, and the Prince laughs brightly but there’s nothing cruel in it, only questions about the places he’s never been, people he doesn’t know. What it’s like to wear that much silk.

“I think it all sounds wonderful.” The Prince says, taking a slice of melon off the edge of Link’s knife.

Link scoffs. “You think everything I do sounds wonderful.”

“Of course.”

It hurts, the simple admiration on Sidon’s face - the pride, trust and faith. Link has to look away - he doesn’t deserve any of it, from anyone, least of all someone he’s already failed. The Zora would have their Princess still, if things hadn’t… if Link hadn’t… and now? Sidon needs to know, he needs to understand that he’s made a mistake. That maybe everyone’s made a mistake.

“… I wasn’t strong enough, to wield the Master Sword.” Even though Link wants to confess, the words are barely more than a whisper,

“What?”

He doesn’t look up. “I found it. The place where it’s been hidden. It was… sealed away, and I wasn’t strong enough to pull it free.” Link had tried. He’d felt his heart slowing even as he’d gripped the hilt, each breath more difficult but he’d braced himself and pulled as hard as he could and did not let go, even as the world faded - what else could he do?

He woke up gasping for air, on hands and knees with the forest a watery blur around him and the sword still in the ground. The Deku Tree had been talking - chiding him, in that way of immortal things - though Link had mostly heard his own ears ringing. This is what Zelda must have felt, knee-deep in icy waters and praying for what ought to have been her birthright, not knowing how or why she fell short of the mark, only that she had. Of all the difficult things he’s had to do, of all the terrible possibilities - walking away from the Master Sword had lashed right through him, down to the bone.

“I’m not good enough. Maybe I’m not the Champion anymore, not like I used to be. Or it could have been a mistake, all along.” He doesn’t know. He doesn’t understand. “Zelda couldn’t find the power she was due, and maybe… maybe I was granted mine too easily.”

“That can’t be true.” Sidon says, because of course he does, all stubbornness in the defense of his friend. “I know you can do it.”

“Your sister thought so, too.”

It’s only when the large hand covers his that Link realizes how hard he’d been wringing them. The skin on Sidon’s palms is less rough than the backs of his hands, dark claws half the length of his thumb, but careful where they rest against his skin. He may be bolder, brasher than Mipha, but he is just as kind, with a heart as vast as any sea.

“My sister is at peace. You were the one to make that happen.”

Her Grace was so warm, so gentle when it had passed to him. She still believed in him, even after everything.

“Mipha would have fought against the Calamity. Whether or not you were there, whether or not there was a Divine Beast at all, or any hope of victory - and I know… I know she was happy. I remember watching her make your armor. I was young, but I was there. How she smiled, and she told me there was nothing quite like the happiness of being able to protect the one you loved.” Sidon smiles, wistfully. “I remember seeing you. You came to visit, with the Princess. I was too young to be there but I snuck out anyway, to see. The very first time I saw you, I thought… that’s what I need to become. That’s who I want to be.”

The idea that he’s an inspiration, let alone for someone like Sidon is… well… “Congratulations.” Link says, considering the years since then. “I think you’ve been a better me for longer than I have.”

Link certainly hasn’t tried to defeat an enemy from the inside out. If things go badly with Ganon in Vah Rudania, maybe it’s worth a shot.

“You say that I think too well of you, but I don’t… You’re the one who shouldn’t…” Sidon stops, with a rueful, sharp-toothed grin. His hand is still on Link’s, and clenches slightly. “If you had triumphed against the Calamity, all those years ago - I wouldn’t have ever known you, not like this. By the time I was old enough, you would have already been… it’s difficult to know that my happiness comes at the cost of my sister’s, and yours, and all of Hyrule.”

“It’s not your fault.” Link says, the words he can’t give to himself so easy to bestow upon a friend - and it makes them both laugh a little. “I know Mipha is proud of everything you’ve done. You’re as brave and noble as any Champion.”

“If I had a white scale, I would give it to you.” Sidon says, and leans down to kiss him.

—————————————

The first thing Link thinks, a little dizzily, is that the fan club’s going to be disappointed.

He’s not exactly experienced at this. Even with some pieces missing, Link’s fairly sure of that. All he remembers of his life is training, or accompanying Zelda on a voyage and then training, or waiting outside the door while she met with scientists and officials… and then more training. He’s the sworn defender of a goddess incarnate - chastity might not have been officially in the rules, but it was probably worth erring on the side of caution, just in case. Then the Calamity had been on the horizon, and there had been little time for anything but trying to stop it.

Still, Link doubts that any experience could match up to kissing a Zora prince nearly twice his size. There’s just… so much of him. Link can go for an arm or a shoulder, or put a hand on his waist - cautious of the gills - but wherever he’s touching, there’s more of the Prince that he’s not. Nothing soft to be found, only thick muscles flexing and shifting beneath that sandpaper skin and Link lets Sidon lift him, move him around until he’s half-kneeling in the Zora’s lap, bracing a hand against that broad chest and still kissing, Sidon very careful with those sharp teeth. The Prince’s hand is splayed across his back, holding him close.

Will he grow to be as big as his father? At least Link’s had enough experience now with climbing mountains, that he might be able to make it work - and the thought makes him laugh, Sidon leaning back to give him a quizzical look. The prince is so strong, he could probably skip him across the lake, as easily as Link tosses one of his own bombs, but his touch is gentle. It feels strange, to let someone else decide how this should go, that he’s not being expected to lead. It’s not what Link’s supposed to do - hero, champion - but it feels good, to just relax and stop thinking about what happens next.

“I should get you in the water.” Sidon says like a promise, his voice a low rumble and Link has no idea what that entails, but his heart is drumming hard and fast at the thought.

It’s a strange mix of awkward and ardent, each of them equally fascinated by the other’s differences. Sidon gently tugs Link’s hair out the loose tail he’d pulled it into, letting it hang free, sweeping his hand through the strands as Link boldly reaches up, beneath the fins that hang down, protecting where the Zora’s ears would be, if he were a Hylian. He thinks he brushes his fingers against the curve of something that might be an earlobe and Sidon makes a soft, surprised sound, Link close enough to see his eyes widen for a moment, all black. It makes his blood rush just a bit, some part of him remembering when people like Sidon must have hunted people like him - but even more, the part of him that is in awe of this wild, beautiful creature that considers him a friend.

The prince tugs down at the collar of Link’s undershirt - fairly fitted when it was new, but time and battle and a few skipped meals have mangled it into something that hangs down, revealing the soft hollows of throat and collarbone.

“So many scars, and you’re so small.” Sidon is admiring, and Link’s noticed more than a few places on the Zora’s skin that speak to a shared history of hard-earned valor - thin, pale lines and star-marked gouges on that field of carmine. As close as he is now, there are so many more shades he can see - pale and creamy pinks and tiny sparks of ruby, even small flecks of yellow scattered across Sidon’s body like panned gold in scarlet clay.

“Magnificent.” Link murmurs, and watches that hue darken - the Prince is blushing. The back of a claw follows the line of a scar near his shoulder, dips down to near his breastbone - and the mark there isn’t any larger than the others, but Link knows it went deeper, much deeper. He feels the shock of that touch all the way through him and is certain, all at once - this was the one that nearly killed him.

He remembers falling, remembers hearing Zelda’s voice and he had to get up, she needed him and he had to get up, but his body wouldn’t work right and everything was dark and he was falling, falling…

“I could taste you, in the river.” Sidon says. “It’s how I found you.” He’s had no major injuries for a while now, but no matter how many potions or meals, it seems like some part of Link is always recovering, and there’s always a new fight to be had. From what he’s heard of the Zora, it doesn’t take much blood in the water.

“I can find you anywhere, now.”

Sidon’s looking at him, with one of those breathtakingly open stares, fierce and serious and Link thinks that maybe this is a vow of some kind, that if he were a Zora he would know what to say back - but the world is rubble and Zelda is only whispers on the wind and he doesn’t have the sword that seals the darkness and Link is done with words, with oaths and prophecies.

“I can’t give you anything. I can’t promise you anything.” He sighs, leaning his head against the Prince’s chest. “I can’t even promise I’ll win.”

Link wonders, sometimes, if he’s been brought back just for this. The final fight. He’s not sure he’ll survive what comes after. He’s not certain that’s what he’s meant for.

Sidon’s hand is on his neck, one thumb against the line of his spine. Link can feel the weight of the gauntlet he wears, pressing in near his shoulder blade.

“I don’t need you to.”

Please. Link thinks, even though he knows no one’s listening, only the same gods who didn’t care the last time around. Or maybe he’s praying to himself. Please don’t let me fail again.

The wind picks up, sneaking in around Sidon’s embrace, and he shivers just a little.

“What is that? Are you all right?!” The Prince looks astonished, and Link lifts his arm, his skin pebbled, the hairs standing on end. “What are those?”

“… goosebumps?”

Sidon peers closer, his breath warm on Link’s skin. “Amazing!”

Link laughs, but before he can say anything, a cold drop splashes on the back of his head, and then another.

“You’ve got to be joking.”

He looks up, just as the shower becomes a deluge, the sky like a tipped bucket. Of course, he’d been too distracted to notice the storm rolling in. At least it doesn’t sound like there’s any thunder. Link leans back from the relative comfort of Sidon’s lap, eyes closed and rain already dripping off his nose and ears and everything else. He hears the hiss of his campfire going out.

“Sidon, I’m going to fight the sky.”

It’s wonderful, to feel the Prince’s laughter this close up, shaking through him. Sidon leans down, the storm of no real concern to a Zora, and licks the rainwater in a slow line, all the way up Link’s ear. He shudders - more goosebumps, if for a far different reason.

“Come back to the Domain with me.” The Prince murmurs. “It isn’t so far - not if I go fast.”

As if he has any other speed. He’s proud of his skill - showing off for Link, wanting him to be impressed. Is this what it feels like, being courted? What a strange thing. Link smiles to himself, as he shrugs on the Zora armor, Sidon leaping into the water with an unnecessary extra flip - definitely showing off.

Please. Link thinks. Please don’t let me fail him.

Chapter Text

“You must be more careful now, Sidon.” Mipha says, not for the first time, with her hand on his shoulder, healing him from his latest misadventure. It wouldn’t have been so bad, if he hadn’t bounced off the cliff on his way to the river. “It will be your responsibility to protect the Domain, and look after Father while I am away.”

He wants to. He’s not strong enough yet, Sidon knows that. He’s not tall enough to reach the lower tips of his sister’s trident, even if he stretches. Which doesn’t stop him from nodding solemnly. Sidon loves his sister. He’ll do anything she asks.

“You’re leaving soon, aren’t you?” There are conversations he’s not supposed to know about, long meetings in the throne room, his father leaning in to listen to the Hylian princess explain her strategy. Whatever little time they thought they had, there is even less of it now. Mipha will be leaving, to accompany the princess on the final part of her journey, and then to pilot the Divine Beast, and save Hyrule. Sidon has nearly been swimming circles in excitement and pride at the thought - oh, he wants to go with her. He wants to see her victorious, and the princess triumphant, and her Champion strike down the darkness once and for all.

“Yes.” Mipha says, and drops her hand into a caress, tilting his chin up until he’s staring into her eyes - but she doesn’t look excited, isn’t smiling like usual. She looks at him as if she’s trying to memorize him, as if she has not known him for nearly every day of his life.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Mipha smiles, and the dark, serious look fades from her eyes as she leans forward to kiss him on the brow.

“i saw the Hylian Champion practicing in the courtyard.” His sword had gleamed, and the Hylian wore bright blue and moved as swift and graceful as any Zora, while Sidon watched in awe. He wished he was old enough to be one of the soldiers the Champion had sparred with, although he had easily bested them all.

“Do you like him?”

“He’s so pretty.” Sidon smiles, remembering their arrival, how the whole entourage had seemed burnished by the sunlight. “They both are. Are all Hylians pretty like that?”

“No, not all of them.” Mipha's smile turns even softer, and Sidon knows why, even though it’s supposed to be a secret. He has watched her polish the finished set of armor, smaller than that for a Zora - because when they have bested the Calamity, the Champion will return as her betrothed. Sidon is delighted by the thought - he can show the Hylian the best places for fishing, underwater caves that still hide treasures from ancient times, and they can spar together. Sidon can learn from the strongest and best fighter he has ever seen - and he knows he is quick, that he will grow up strong and worthy to learn from such a teacher. A brother, and a friend.

So it is with great pride and happiness that Sidon waves goodbye to his sister, the procession leaving with all the best wishes of the Zora to guide them. His sister is as beautiful as he has ever seen her, looking back to seek him out in the crowd - and the Hylian follows her gaze, Sidon going still and awestruck as the Champion smiles at him, raising a hand in farewell.

It’s one of his most cherished memories. One last glimpse of the world that was.

———————————

Sidon had not ever planned - no, that is a foolish thing to say, for everyone knows that the Zora prince never plans as often as he ought. When he had caught scent of Link in the water, had he not stopped to scoop up every fish he saw, to bring a meal and an excuse for them to spend more time together?

How could he be so fortunate? Sidon knew they’d needed a Hylian, a warrior, and not only had they found one, but they’d found him

Of course, Sidon had considered, had wondered what it might be like, if Link would even want… but those had been daydreams, simple fantasies. They had laughed and joked together like the oldest of friends, but Link had not wanted him to notice the look in his eyes, whenever he’d glanced away - so very weary, with much left to do. Sidon had been too young, those hundred years ago, that he can be certain of what he remembers. If Link had been the same back then - but how could the Champion not be burdened now, in ways he never was before? If he had only wished for friendship, it would have been Sidon’s honor. Anything that might ease that burden, the loneliness he’d seen when the Champion had gazed up at the stars.

But in the end he had been too forward, because he is always too forward, too foolish - and then Link had kissed him back. Oh, he was beautiful, strong and brave, matching Sidon in his ardor and the prince could have gladly kissed him and held him for another hundred years. His thoughts from that moment on have been scattered by foolish fancies, of stealing Link away to hidden grottos, of bringing him down to the sandy floor of the sea, surrounded by vivid corals and beautiful sea blooms on all sides and Sidon thinks it would work, has overheard other Zora who have taken lovers from beyond the Domain, how it is possible to breathe for them beneath the waves, to give them that world.

Sidon would like him to see it, and every other wonder he can provide. He’s seen Link admire one of their blades, letting his hand glide slowly along the flat of the curved sword, watched him smile softly when dusk fell and the Domain began to glow in earnest. He loves beauty - Sidon’s looked through the pictures on his ancient slate. Sky dragons and flowers and endless vistas, all captured with a careful eye.

Of course, the seas are all studded with monsters ever-lurking, and Link does not have time to waste on idle pleasures. Sidon understands now, even more than he did as a child, that there can be obligations other than those of the heart. The reasons they made armor for the ones they loved. It was a terrible thing, to send those you cherished into danger - but sometimes there was no other choice.

I can’t promise you anything.

Link had been been hiding many things from Sidon when they’d first met, when he’d cut his way through the dangers of the Domain with ease. Or perhaps the Prince’s hero worship had simply not allowed him to see more than he wanted to. Still the Hylian Champion, but the alliance Link had once is gone - no princess, no armies or kingdom at his back. Only flickering spirits in ancient machines, long journeys across inhospitable places, and the final battle waiting in the ruin of the lost. As the memories pile up around him, how can Link not feel the loss more deeply?

The Zora make pilgrimages to Vah Ruta now. Nothing official or even spoken of in the city, but they still climb to leave tribute at the feet of the beast, to speak words of congratulation and hope and peace for their Princess, to remind her that she is still remembered and forever loved.

Sidon has made his way there, alone. To say hello. To tell her that he is fine, that Father is fine. Apologizing for things that are not his fault and that she’d never have blamed him for - and other things, that maybe even she might.

“I love him.” He says, not quite touching the base of one of the Divine Beast’s great legs. He can’t get inside. He might have tried once or twice, just to be sure. The air is perfumed with flowers - blue nightshade and Silent Princess and water lilies brought up from the pools at the heart of the Domain. It’s very quiet on the mountaintop, only the night wind flicking at the edges of his epaulets. “I think I’ve loved him - at least the idea of him - for a very long time. And now that he’s returned… I care for him even more than that.” Sidon says. “I know it isn’t fair. I wish it was you, to welcome him back, that you were still here. If I could take your place… He misses you - we all do.” He follows the line of light from the Divine Beast down to where it disappears into the churning darkness. “I promise that I’ll keep him safe, whenever I can. I will protect him, for both of us.”

It isn’t as heroic as it sounds, when there’s very little Sidon can do to make good on that oath. Link had spent only enough time in the Domain to resupply and meet briefly with the King before leaving to scout a path to Death Mountain. A place that has earned its name, despite the friendly and hospitable nature of its people. Even harsher than the desert wastes but Link will go because he has to and Sidon must stay where he is and protect his home.

He still traveled with Link up the river, and the farewell was… extensive, neither one of them finding it easy to be the first to let go. The Zora are not the most reserved people, rarely interested in hiding their desires - Link can have whatever he wants, all he has to do is ask, but there is a distance between them still, the Champion holding back. Stopping the Calamity is what matters, nothing can take his focus from that. Or maybe Link wants Sidon to have less to lose, if things go as badly as they did before.

He wasn’t lying, about the white scale. There is no way Sidon could care more than he does already.

Link is trying to protect him, though they both know the dangers. Eventually, the Champion must go back into the great forest and kneel before the sword that seals the darkness, and either rise with it in hand or never get up again.

———————————

“Highness. Highness, we must go.”

The nursemaid has him in her arms before Sidon can even open his eyes.

“W-what is it?” She isn’t alone, a pair of royal guards with her, and all his life she’s smiled at him when she wished him good morning. But it isn’t morning now, and she doesn’t smile.

“What’s happening?” Sidon says again, because no one’s answered him. He’s being carried so that he can see over her shoulder, and the soldiers behind her are stern and tense as they walk along the glowing halls.

“It’s all right, my prince. Everything’s going to be all right.” Except that he can hear the tremble in her voice - and other voices, speaking in hushed whispers as they move through the palace, everyone moving swiftly and all of them looking afraid.

High above them, the moon goes dark, like a great pair of jaws snapping shut.

Sidon hears the rumble like the sky itself has cracked, as if the owner of those shadowed jaws is now growling in his ear, and the entire palace shakes like someone had reached out and given it a push. Sidon hears a distant scream, the nursemaid’s arms tightening around him, the soldiers with their weapons raised and ready, though there’s nothing to be seen.

He wants his father. He wants his sister. But Sidon is a prince, and princes must not be afraid even when they are. So he stays silent, watching everything all around as they descend the stairs - and there is his father at last. The king resplendent in full armor, as Sidon has never seen him before, with what looks like every Zora who can fight at the ready, swords and shields gleaming, a silver waterfall that disappears down into the dark. The king is last to leave, and looks in his direction, but there’s too many shadows. Sidon can’t see his father’s eyes, and then he’s gone.

The nights and days that follow all blur together - he’s kept in a room in the lower levels of the palace, with secret exits that wend into the caves in the mountains, underwater passages that only the Zora can travel, all the way to the open sea. There are other children - many children, and the servants are kind and try to keep them entertained, playing games and singing songs but there is fear in their eyes - everyone looks toward the archway where the guards are when there is even the slightest hint of sound. Sidon hears the adults whispering to each other in quiet, strained voices - the castle, the Hylians, Princess Mipha - but they all go silent when he appears.

So Sidon sneaks out, not to frighten anyone and not to cause trouble but because he is a Prince and a Prince needs to know what is happening, to the Domain and his father and his sister. The inner halls are silent, and empty - the skies crackle with lightning that never touches land, weaving in and out of dark and swirling clouds.

Sidon turns a corner, out into the central promenade - and everyone is there and shouting, everyone torn and burned and bleeding. It pools and smears under his feet as he moves between the bodies, so thick in the air it’s like he’s already underwater, and with a scent that strong there wouldn’t be anything else to sense. It would be like swimming in a river of blood.

There are wounded Zora everywhere, breastplates scorched and gills split wide and straining as the healers move between them. Mipha should be here, she would know what to do and Sidon’s helped her before, her hands on his to set a bone or apply pressure to a wound but he can’t do it without her, he doesn’t know where to start. The moans echo off the pillars, sharp voices calling out orders and no one notices a Zora child moving between the bodies, prince or no.

It isn’t only warriors, isn’t only his people - there are Hylians here, more than he’s ever seen before. Some of them warriors and others… not, Hylians wearing pieces of cloth, longer than Mipha’s sash - dresses, he’s seen them in books. Some are lying down, others lean against each other, weeping or simply staring off into space. He sees a infant Hylian, looking back at him from the shelter of a man’s arms, and Sidon moves forward, curious - only to trip over an outflung arm. Sidon starts to apologize, but the Hylian is already dead. Long, dark hair and eyes open wide, an expression of horror on her face and a single scorch mark on her chest, the tiniest hole marked by a mere trickle of dried blood.

A great splash and cry drags his eyes away from the sight, as the King appears at the top of the walkway, a dozen Hylians or more clinging to his back and sides, the air full of coughing and moaning as he sets them down or they fall, too weak to cling further. Sidon has only ever known his father as indomitable, like the mountains that surround them, but as he watches the King staggers, lowering himself to the ground. Still giving orders, soldiers running off in all directions and when they are gone he looks up to the sky, stricken, and then down at his open hand.

“It’s like trying to save the rain.”

King Dorephan casts a slow gaze around the chaos - until his eyes alight on Sidon, although he doesn’t seem surprised or angry as he beckons his son forward. He is glad to be in his father’s arms, up above the tumult, even if his father smells like smoke and blood. The King isn’t hurt, not badly, and Sidon curls up against his chest and listens to the beating of that great heart and doesn’t care how grown-up he’s supposed to be.

“… what happened?”

“Hyrule Castle is no more.” His father murmurs. “Swallowed by the darkness. We have no word from their king, or his daughter, or their Champion. The ancient machines have turned against us. The Divine Beasts…”

His father shuts his eyes. Sidon doesn’t want to ask, doesn’t need to ask, but he does anyway.

“Where is Mipha?”

The King only holds him closer, as Sidon begins to cry.

———————————

The Prince spends most of his days as he has for nearly all his life - out hunting monsters with his retainers, a group of Zora as brave and nearly as reckless as he is. It is an endless task, protecting their borders, and now keeping new trade lines open for travelers, forever dealing with the monsters who reappear with each blood moon. Are they the same, with each rebirth? It never seems that they remember Sidon killing them, not the third time or the thirtieth. In a way, it seems as terrible a fate for them as anyone, to be locked into such a pointless, endless fight.

The Domain opens itself to its new guests - Rito from the west, Gerudo from the south, Hylians from all their scattered villages in between. It doesn’t surprise Sidon when they all speak as much of the bravery of Queen Riju, of the Rito warrior who flew against the Divine Beast as they do of Link - he wouldn’t seek the praise, had only accepted the celebration feast from King Dorephan because it would have been impolite not to.

Sidon has grown up with the Calamity as a constant. In that way, even his long life makes him little different from the rest of the world - he can’t imagine it, if the red moon never rose again. If the monsters disappeared and the world was at peace. No one can - but they’ve started to whisper about it, just the same. What if, what if...

“Highness, there’s news of a traveler up by the lake.” One of his guards approaches. They’re past the borders of the Domain - a small caravan had asked for their protection, and so they’d accompanied it to the safety of the waypoint. Zora are unmatched in the water, but even on dry land they present an intimidating force. Unfortunately, the monsters of Hyrule rarely shy away from a fight, even when they are outmatched - and perhaps they are aware that any defeat is only temporary. Still, it had been a quiet day, and Sidon was happy to give his guard the opportunity to relax, trade with the locals and simply enjoy a brief respite.

“They say,” the soldier’s smile is slight, but sly, “it is a Hylian, in strange blue armor.”

Sidon has tried to be quiet about his infatuation, though discretion is not among his more practiced habits and the Zora are rarely shy about matters of the heart. Hylians can have many relationships, but their goal is to take a single lover, for the whole of their lives - although Sidon has seen and heard enough to know that this is not necessarily true for all. He would never want to hurt Link, to make him feel less than first in the Prince’s heart, but it is not so uncommon among the Zora to have many lovers, even after they are wed. Sidon could find another to bear his heirs without any among the Zora thinking ill of it - although he thinks it would be little difficulty to find one who would happily welcome Link into her bed as well.

You are swimming far, far ahead of yourself. As usual.

Still, it’s in his thoughts as he makes his way to the lake. What the future might hold, somehow.

The Champion in the waters beneath the palace, swimming with their children. Teaching the future princes and princesses how to hold a sword, or a bow, or soar on that that strange, beautiful glider of his. Link riding the waterfalls with them for the first time, all the way to the top, so they can see a world finally free from the Calamity.

Link choosing to stay in the Domain, with him, forever.

The Champion is on a small boat, near the middle of the lake. Sidon keeps his head above the surface, ready to dive down should he be spotted, but the Champion’s attention is firmly on the water beneath him - and even as Sidon wonders why, Link steps back and lifts the Slate in his hand up high, like a fisherman, pulling a sunken chest out from the water.

The Slate has many powers, Sidon knows, and Link wields it with care, bringing the treasure to shore before trading the device for a large leaf to carry his small craft back to shore. Sidon could call out, could race him there and easily beat him - or he could swim under the boat and dig his claws slightly into the wood, kicking back against the force of the wind so that Link remains right where he is. He feels the tug of the wind, once, twice - Sidon stills, having to contort himself carefully to stay hidden beneath the boat. He shouldn’t do this - it isn’t nice or particularly safe to tease someone who often travels with a quiver full of shock arrows, but he can’t help himself, spinning the boat in a slow circle as he considers what mischief he ought to try next.

Nothing, as it turns out, his arms and legs suddenly freezing in place as Link uses the same power that works on metal chests and crates to grab his adornments and float him up out of the water until he is hovering at eye-level with an unimpressed Hylian.

“Good afternoon, your Highness.”

“Hello, Champion.” Sidon beams, dripping a bit. “I was just admiring your excellent ship.”

“Obviously.” Link says. Sidon glances skyward.

“Since I’m already up here, could you raise me a little higher, please?”

He is unceremoniously lifted further into the air, but even as high as he can go, the trees block most of his view, only the tallest point of the stable rising up in the middle distance. A shame, it would have been wonderful to wave to his men, to see their reaction. He looks down, heart twisting a little at the fond bemusement on the Hylian’s face.

“I should introduce myself to the Rito this way.” Sidon holds his arms out, and flaps a little. “Impress them with my wingspan.”

A marvelous thought, a Zora greeting them in mid-air, and Link must imagine it too, breaking into laughter just enough to lose his grip on the Slate and send Sidon falling back into the water. Of course, he turns it into a graceful dive that barely makes a ripple and doesn’t overturn Link’s boat. That comes a moment later, when Sidon has the brilliant idea to hoist himself up onto the edge. The raft is little more than a few tied-together logs - it would tip over if it didn’t simply snap in half first.

“My hero.” Link mutters, treading water as the logs float away around them, but he winds a hand into the sash around Sidon’s chest, dragging him in for a kiss. It’s all better in the water, like he knew it would be - he can feel each of the Champion’s hitched breaths, the beating of his heart and every shiver, every twitch of his fingertips echoing through Sidon's whole body.

“Trust me.” He says, grabbing Link in his arms and spinning fast, one good kick taking them both to the bottom. It isn’t exactly the sea, little to be found here but stone and sand. The light still ripples beautifully, high above them, Link’s hair drifting around his face like sea fronds, and he doesn’t struggle, doesn’t look at all worried. Merely curious, quickly understanding what Sidon wants as the Zora deepens the next kiss and breathes for him. It’s awkward and unpracticed and Sidon knows he should not keep them here for long, that the next time they do this he should definitely have the Champion wear less armor, but every moment is still painfully sweet and he brings them back to the surface slowly, Link’s legs wrapped loosely around his waist, fingers tracing warm patterns down the length of his fin.

“I have something to give you.” Link says, once they’ve resurfaced, and he’s had a few deep breaths of real air.

“Is that not what we’re doing now?” Sidon teases, and Link flicks the surface of the water, splashing him in the face.

“I have something to give you - on shore - and a favor to ask.”

“Anything, my beloved friend.” Sidon says. “Anything.”

The treasure chest he found contains swords and armor long-rotted and rusted away by their time underwater - but a few jewels, sapphires and rubies that Link tosses in his bag without any ceremony, only to draw out a pair of ornate and carefully wrought bands that seem laughably large in his hands, each one crafted in the Zora style, studded generously with a small fortune in topaz.

“I had them made in Gerudo Town.” Link says. “Topaz is a ward against electricity.”

Someday, Sidon may spend more than two minutes alone with Link without kissing him senseless, but today is not that day.

Chapter Text

Sidon traces his fingers once and again over the loops and swirls of the cuffs, admiring each carefully-faceted gem. Link brought him a gift. The Champion had been thinking about him while he walked the sands, each time he picked up another sun-colored stone, He wanted Sidon to be safe, because he cared, because…

A gift of protection. Does the Champion realize what it means, even if he’s no Zora bride-to-be? Whatever Link might intend with such a gesture…. it does mean something.

“You don’t have to wear them right now.” Link mutters, a little flustered, as they’ve rejoined the other Zora and his sudden change in armor has not gone unnoticed. A few knowing looks and smiles pass among his guard, but any teasing is born of camaraderie, and respect - the Hylian Champion has fought for them, has proven his worth to even his most fervent critics, none of whom were ever among the prince’s personal guard. The prince of the Zora is well-loved, and if Link has come to care for him too, all the better.

“I like the way they catch the sun.” Sidon says, rewarded with a look that says he would be splashed if they were still in the water.

Link sighs. “Just don’t be in a rush to try them out, all right?”

No danger of that at the moment, though there is still plenty of peril to be had. It turns out the favor Link wishes of him is nearly as gratifying as his gift.

It’s time to go Guardian hunting.

——————————————

The Prince and his men accompany the Champion to the wetlands beneath the Akkala Citadel. Sidon has grown up on stories of the great fortress and its loss. How the Hylians fought for every minute they could give their fleeing countrymen, surrendering ground inch by brutal inch, fending off wave after wave of beasts and ancient machines to the very last. A few Guardians patrol there still, and while even they are no match against a Zora in the water, they’ve never been a real threat to the Domain and there’s never been much to gain from provoking an attack - at least until now.

“I’d like your help, gathering some materials from the broken ones,” Link says, spinning a strange arrow between his fingers, looking as close as a Hylian can to smelling prey in the water, “and anything that’s still moving… well, we can change that.”

The arrowhead seems like it ought to be too heavy, too awkwardly shaped to be worth much- but it glows, blue lines etched into its surface that glow like captured fireflies and Link assures them that it flies true, that it can destroy a Guardian with a single shot.

“The lab at Akkala made them for me - but I need more materials, and I want to test it out on one that can really fight back.”

He’s gathering weapons, then - preparing for the final fight. Everyone knows the ancient machines increase in number the closer one gets to Hyrule Castle.

Link may be gathering his courage, as well. The Champion is… afraid of them, Sidon thinks, even though Link would never breathe a word of it. It’s in the way he doesn’t ever mention them, or how his eyes have gone so cold and distant now. Of course, there had been stories of the final fate of the Hylian princess and her Champion, each of them more terrible than the last. In more than a few, Link had perished protecting her from the machines that should have been on their side.

He cannot protect Link from the past, so Sidon does what he can instead. Rallying his men to the Champion’s aid, while teasing Link in the same breath - he swims well in his armor, for a Hylian, but they would be much faster if he was on Sidon’s back. Link looks flustered, while the other Zora proclaim their interest, wishing to see how the Champion rode their prince into battle. Everyone laughs, even Link, the worry and grief drawing away from him like the sun through the clouds. Sidon wonders if this is how it might have felt, a hundred years ago, the Champions rushing off to battle, full of hope and determination.

Maybe he is as foolish as they say, not to be more hesitant, to worry that things could turn out exactly as they had before, but with Link on his back and the water a bow wave rushing in front of them as they race upstream in formation, Sidon can’t feel anything but exhilaration.

It’s raining, by the time they reach Akkala, Link tipping his head back with a long-suffering sigh as he slides off Sidon’s back into the water, kicking off gracefully for the shore. A few of his men follow, to begin scouring the ruins and wetlands, picking over the scraps for the materials the Champion requires while the rest of them stay in the water, ready to act as decoy while Link goes hunting.

The Zora armor blends in well enough against the stones and bushes that even Sidon loses sight of Link for a moment as he creeps beneath a crumbling wall, edging closer to his target - the Guardians are ever vigilant, always hunting - but they can surely be hunted, too.

In the end, it’s not so difficult to goad and lure, dodging the machines’ attacks, and Sidon keeps one of the great weapons distracted while his guard handles the other. Separating them enough that Link doesn’t need to risk taking down more than one at a time. Sidon doubles back on his path as the Guardian’s beam turns the water ahead into a pillar of steam, and as he glides beneath the surface he can see the Champion’s first attack land true, the explosion impressive even through the water. One arrow is enough, just as Link said, and the machine twitches and staggers and collapses in on itself, that deadly eye going dark.

Sidon kicks to the surface, watching as Link draws another arrow from his quiver, every inch the Champion as he calmly nocks the bow and whistles to the Guardian still firing futilely where his guard no longer swim. It turns, narrowing its gaze on new prey, but that only gives Link the perfect target to aim for.

Oh, and here is a new way for Sidon to love him. Even at Vah Ruta, Link had been distant, distracted by fractured memories of the past, of all that it meant to challenge the first Divine Beast. Still a stranger in many ways - but now, Sidon thinks he knows him. Enough to understand the triumph burning in Link’s eyes, a smile that seems more wild and real and full of hope than anything that’s come before.

“She was right. Zelda was right.” He says, when Sidon rejoins him on the shore, all of them fierce and flush with victory. “We can make this work for us. We can win.”

———————————————

By the time the sun considers setting, they’ve hauled what seems like half of the wetlands up to the workshop, bag after bag of parts and pieces all fed to a strange machine that pings and bleats and spits out weapons in a steady stream. Link gives them each their pick of glowing spears and swords and shields, a gift for the journey and the work done. Good hunting to good reward, along with the open invitation to return to Akkala with any more scraps they might find. Sidon can already think of a few ancient wrecks, dead machines that had slipped beneath the water, inaccessible now to all but the Zora.

His guard make themselves scarce when it’s time for farewells, polite enough to simply ‘scout ahead’ and leave Sidon alone to find Link standing along the edge of the cliff, watching the waves roll in.

“Do you ever wonder what else is out there?” Link says softly.

“Grand adventures.” Sidon says, and scoops the Champion up, setting him on a nearby stone so they can be eye-to-eye when they kiss. It’s been a glorious day. It always is, when Link is there. Sidon loves the feeling of those small hands against his chest, loves the weight of him when Link leans in, and the shiver when he runs a claw along the edge of a pointed ear. It’s harder to say goodbye each time he has to do it. Sidon wonders if Link feels the same.

He promised you nothing. His exact words.

“The Domain is more peaceful than it’s been in a hundred years.” Sidon says. “We’re stronger than we’ve ever been, and with these weapons you’ve given us now, I could speak to my father, and-”

Link’s touch is light against his mouth, but it’s startling enough to stop the offer before it can start.

“Sidon, please don’t.”

He’s still caught up in the victory of the day, of fighting side-by-side with the the Hylian Champion, and doesn’t quite hear the edge in Link’s voice. Not the way he ought to.

“… but we can help. Why shouldn’t we help?” If they had the time, he would ask his father to reach out to the Rito, the Gerudo, and create a worthy honor guard like the Champions of old. “We could use the weapons you gave us. Any of our soldiers would be proud to be your escort, or act as a diversion. It wouldn’t-“

No.“ It’s the closest he’s heard Link come to anger, at least toward him. Link draws away, his whole body tense, stepping back off his perch to the ground. “Highness, I don’t wish to be rude, but it wouldn’t do any good. The weapons were a gift, and I appreciate all that the Zora have done, but I don’t… I don’t need you there. Your help is meaningless. You’d just be in the way.”

“O-of course. I wouldn’t presume to… I apologize.” Sidon stammers, suddenly feeling like a thick-finned child out for his first swim, spun into sudden rapids. He flexes his hands awkwardly, aware of the space between them now, wishing Link were still in his arms.

“I need to get moving, and you should too.” Link says, not looking at him. “If you hurry, you could make it home before night falls.”

The last time the Champion had slept well was in the Domain. Sidon hadn’t meant to overhear that, but he had, an off-hand comment Link had made to one of his guard. It’s difficult to find a truly safe space in the wilderness, and the last time that Link had bedded down at one of the common outposts there had been a Yiga knife waiting for him in the dark, the clan still seeking vengeance for their fallen master.

Hyrule hasn’t been very grateful to its savior. Does Link think that Sidon doesn’t believe in him, that he can do this on his own? As if such a thing could be true - he’s the Hylian Champion, he’s a legend and Sidon has every confidence that he will gain the Master Sword and strike down the Calamity, but if there’s anything he can do to help, to make that fight any easier…

“Link, I don’t…” He ought to say nothing. At the very most, only bid Link a fond and grateful farewell. “…I’ve heard rumors of better ways into the castle than the front gate. Safer ways. There is even a waterfall near the docks of the castle moat.”

The Prince of the Zora so rarely says nothing, especially when he ought to.

Link sighs heavily, and Sidon tries not to wince. A stupid thing to say, pushing too hard, giving advice where it wasn’t wanted. Except that Link turns, and the look on his face is as amused as it is exasperated - and sad, so often with that touch of sorrow, but there’s a fondness too. An affection so rich and warm it makes Sidon feel like the first time he’d come up for air, his body still learning how to make the switch and stunned breathless whenever he’d mistake the two.

“… I’ll come back to the Domain. After Death Mountain, and before… I’ll come back, all right? I promise.”

He reaches up, tugs a little bit on Sidon’s cravat until he bends down, eye-to-eye once more. Hylian eyes are beautiful, Link’s own the color of shallow seas on cloudless days, infinitely bright.

“Be safe, Link. My most beloved friend.”

———————————————

Sidon wakes up one morning, to a fourth line of light high in the sky. Link has tamed Vah Rudania.

As if in outrage, the blood moon rises that very night, and all their work is to be done yet again. A rumor passes through the Domain - one among many - that the Lynel Link had killed for them near the lake did not return with the rising of the red moon. Sidon does not think long on it, or consider it strange. If anything, perhaps it is a good omen. One more unexpected reprieve granted to them by the Champion.

The gift Link had given him proves its worth in battle. The Lizalfos archer has just a moment to be surprised at the way Sidon deflects his shot before a swipe of his claws tears him once again out of the world. No one is foolish enough to say it out loud, but all the Zora are thinking it, it fuels their fighting with a new ferocity- what if this is the last time? If Ganon is struck down, the blood moon will never rise again.

What to do with all those hours, in a world at peace?

The Champion had mentioned a very, very large horse he’d encountered in his travels- maybe Sidon will learn how to ride one. Maybe Link would teach him.

“Your help is meaningless. You’d just be in the way.”

Perhaps not. Sidon frowns at himself, trying to banish the memory - he hadn’t meant to suggest… and it had been foolish to even offer, as if he could step into a battle that had been decided a century ago, and make a claim for himself.

He promised you nothing.

Maybe it isn’t just… maybe Sidon isn’t what he wants. The Champion might be seeing the end of this, the Calamity gone, and decide he needs to distance himself now. Maybe once all of this is over, he has no intention of giving his heart to a Zora again. Link is kind, and good - but that doesn’t mean this is forever. Whatever is between them, it might have always been just for now, and a more world-wise prince wouldn’t need to have it explained. The Champion never shared the details of his plans, not for the other Divine Beasts, or how he would strike at the Calamity or even when he intended to retrieve the Master Sword. Sidon is not his advisor, or his intended, and there is no reason he should mean as much to the Hylian as Link does to him - once the world is as it should be, perhaps they will go their separate ways.

Sidon runs a thumb along the curve of a gauntlet for the thousandth time - he will be all right, if that is how it ends. He offered what he could to the Champion when it was needed, and those memories are still his to keep and cherish and it will be all right. It will have to be.

“ - I do wonder, Prince Sidon, if that is how you believe we should proceed.”

He blinks, dragged from his reverie and into the last of the day’s meetings, a room full of courtiers and officials and his father the king all staring in expectant silence, and Sidon realizes he has no idea what’s going on.

“I… um, yes. If that is your wish, father, then I am in full agreement.”

It seems to be the right answer, several pleased nods here and there as the room breaks up into smaller clusters of conversation. The king is quietly amused, Dorephan not at all fooled by his son’s formality, and turns to him as everyone begins to leave.

“Sidon, will you stay a moment?”

“Of course, father.”

Maybe Link had been unimpressed with the conduct of his guard? Sidon thought his soldiers had performed well and admirably, but they were young and wild and perhaps it did not compare well with what Link knew of Hylian forces. Or maybe Sidon had compared poorly to his sister, to the way she had acted as a Champion?

Maybe he doesn't love you. Maybe he tried, but he just doesn't.

“I have heard that you won a great victory. Many among the soldiers admire the weapons you and your men have returned with - is it true that they destroy Guardians with ease?

“The arrows, especially.” Sidon says, thinking of Link lining up his shots, thinking of the hard and haunted look in his eye.

“I would ask why you seem so distracted, if the weeping of your admirers wasn’t threatening to drown us all.”

Sidon blinks. “Father?”

“How familiar this feels,” The King says, with a small, sad smile. “in so many ways. I have also heard that your esteem for the Hylian Champion is every bit as great as Mipha’s was.”

“You…. disapprove?” He had thought at least that his father would be happy. Maybe the situation was a bit strange, but the king had never been anything but welcoming to Link. “It was not his idea, Father - I am the one who approached him… pursued him. He has done nothing but fight for us, asking only that we allow him to do so. Link didn’t even know who we were, and he still wished to help, and-“

“Calm yourself, my son.” His father says, gently. “I have no doubt that Link’s intentions are honorable, and I am certain you made your own very clear. If I approved of your sister’s choice, I cannot begrudge you yours.” He sighs. “It is… simply the price of having such wonderful children, that I must share them with the world.”

Sidon feels a moment’s shame, that he may be worrying his father over nothing. He hasn’t actually professed his feelings to Link, and the Champion has certainly given little reason…

“He would never put me in harm’s way. Link doesn’t tell me of any plans he thinks are truly dangerous. He won’t speak of the Castle at all.” His voice drops to little more than a murmur. “He has not said… that is, about us… nothing has been decided.”

His father is silent for a long moment. “Your sister made her armor for the Hylian Champion, but there was a reason their engagement was a secret. There was no true engagement.”

Sidon frowns. “I… don’t understand. Mipha wouldn’t have spent all that time if… Link would never have led her on in such a way, if he did not intend…”

The king nods. “He is as honest and true as any hero of any legend, that I do believe, but he had responsibilities to Princess Zelda that forbade him from swearing his heart to another. Until this is finished, that has not changed, and even afterward… well, we shall see.”

The princess has been battling through every moment of the last hundred years, Link said. It is her power that bound the Calamity to the castle, keeping Ganon from simply laying waste to everything - but is it simply her spirit, like those in the Divine Beasts? Is Link fighting for what will only be an empty throne?

“The last oath the Champion swore crumbled to dust around him, and left him stranded in a future very little like the one he fought to save.” King Dorephan says. “I can see why he would be hesitant to swear any more, unless he was certain he could fulfill them.”

Sidon’s heart rises at the thought. It isn’t that Link doesn’t care for him, but there are matters of duty and honor. As a Prince, Sidon surely understand this, just as Mipha would have. If nothing else, then, Sidon can send Link into the final battle aware of his true feelings, the depth of his adoration. He hopes the Princess can be restored - that she is alive, and Link can fulfill the vows he made to her. From everything Sidon has ever heard, Zelda is as kind as she is wise - she would never wish for Link to be unhappy. Whatever happens, if Link does love him, then they will find a way to be together.

“Thank you, father.” He can’t help but beam. “I believe you are right.”

“One final word of advice, my son?”

“Yes?”

“You do know there are tips you can put on your teeth and your claws to blunt them, if your beloved prefers not to add to his scars?”

Sidon had - maybe - been fretting about that - a little. The dangers of the wrong impulse in a moment of passion - but this is not how he wished to learn of a solution. “F-father?!”

The King laughs, a great booming, rumbling sound. “You think I was born on this throne, at this age? I remember what it was to be young.”

“I… er…” Sidon will have to make a few inquiries on where to find such things. Discreetly. Elsewhere. “I… should really be going.”

Sidon tries to pretend he’s not fleeing the throne room, with his father’s amusement still echoing off the pillars.

——————————

The storm is dark and ominous, lightning lashing across the skies, cracking viciously against the hills. The weather’s been promising the worst all day, the skies leaden and the air nearly as thick as the river around them. It prickles against Sidon’s skin with ill memory, a reminder of how it had been when the waters were still rising, before the Champion had returned and the Divine Beast had been calmed.

A scout slips through the water, rising up a few feet away. “No sign of the Lizalfos that usually camp near the shore, or the Moblins further down. No one at all there. It doesn’t make sense.”

As irritating as it is to clear away enemies that will return without fail, to fight the same battles again and again, Sidon likes an unexpected change far less. Ganon’s armies are spread thick enough across the land, but they don’t tend to gather, certainly don’t go to war. As if the dark force behind them is enough to bring them to life, but not urge them forward with a plan of attack. The Domain was fortified and distant enough from Central Hyrule to deflect even the worst of the initial destruction, a devastation that had razed the Hylian lands to the ground, but a larger force could still do great damage. If not to the Domain itself, than at least to those small waypoints that had built up along the roads, the villages unprepared for anything beyond a random ambush, or a raiding party on horseback.

“We can’t go any further today.” Sidon says, as the lightning cracks once more. “Not with that in front of us. I’ll let the king know that this is a matter to be-“

His eyes catch in the hills, on a point at the very edge of the storm, a burst of lightning that isn’t… quite… lightning. A Lynel’s arrows, raining down in that terrible, shattering arc they prefer. A Rito’s keen eyes would be more useful, as well as a better vantage from higher in the sky. Sidon can make out several other figures - a few Moblins, perhaps some smaller figures blurred by the curtain of rain - and the distant sounds of combat. It seems a wandering band of monsters had tripped over a Lynel’s hunting grounds - they were known to trample even fellow beasts who dared to tread into their territory, but-

“What’s a Lynel doing there?” His guardsman says, all his guard watching now, more figures appearing and disappearing along the edge of the hills. “I can’t believe they haven’t all been struck by-“

The comment breaks off into a sharp gasp, as a bolt of lighting does strike true, but that isn’t what tosses a half-dozen bodies into the air - and Sidon’s heart is in his throat at the sight of a fading blue glow right in the center of the chaos. One of the strange explosives from the Champion’s equally strange relic.

No.

Sidon is downstream in an instant, paying little attention to whether or not his soldiers care to follow. He leaps over obstacles without notice, jumping onto land and back into the water to scrape even a few extra seconds from a bend in the river because that was Link, it is Link in the center of that fight and the Lynel shouldn’t have been there, just as none of the fortifications he swims by should be empty because they’ve all been gathering, all been gathered to ambush the Champion. Ganon doesn’t need to wage a war against the rest of them, not this time. He only needs to bring together too many monsters for one man to beat.

I’m coming, Link. Hold on!

Sidon’s swimming as fast as he can, which is not nearly as fast as he needs to be when he catches the first scent of blood in the water.

————————————————

He’s too late, that much is clear. The meadow leading down to the water has been all but razed, patches of fire still burning, churned-up earth and arrows everywhere, along with the piles of weapons and the occasional parts and pieces the enemy leaves behind. A Guardian is skittering back and forth along the shore, that great beady eye glinting ominously and Sidon feels a rage like he has never felt before, such hatred for the pile of metal and mechanisms that dares to think it is a clever machine of war, that wishes to take Link from him. He leaps out of the water with a roar of fury, and the Guardian turns just in time for Sidon’s spear - one of Link’s gifts, ancient and gleaming - to drive down through its glowing eye to the center of the shaft and Sidon still tears at it, claws raking away at the metal even as it twitches and collapses from that first lethal blow.

He wishes there were more to destroy, gazing over charred dirt and stone, the swollen banks of the river and the sky rumbling ominously above and Sidon’s not at all afraid of the lightning. He feels electric, no different than the storm.

“Highness!” His guard arrives moments later, leaping onto the land, weapons at the ready.

“The Champion is here!” Sidon says. “Help me find him!”

The scent of blood is mingled too thickly, dozens of creatures together and Sidon knows Link is here but not where. The remains of another Guardian lay… no, two, one of them scattered into pieces strewn halfway up the hillside. Sidon had seen the bomb from the ridge, but if that’s Link’s blood in the water he must have fallen, and he grimaces at the thought of such a fall, at how fierce the battle had seemed even from so far away. How long had Link been fighting? Sidon finds snapped wands and massive clubs and a Lynel’s bow very far from where he’d thought he’d seen the arrows. The first mangled body stops his heart, but the clothes are all wrong, Sidon can see that even as he closes the distance and it’s a member of the Yiga Clan, or was, and not the only one of its kind, either.

A foolish oversight, not to think such a thing were possible, to think that Calamity Ganon was unaware of the challenge rising against it, of the Divine Beasts poised to end its threat for good. Or perhaps Link had known all along, but didn’t want to share his fears, didn’t trust Sidon with that possibility any more than the rest of his plans. It’s not a good thought for a time like this, rage and hurt and panic all warring inside of him, and everything around him already looking like the worst has happened, like the battle has been lost-

The sword doesn’t look like much as he makes his way around the hill. Sticking halfway out of the ground, covered in mud and muck, and it’s not until Sidon is standing on top of it that he can see the wide blue guard, the etched and interlocking triangles on the flat of the blade. He remembers seeing it in pictures, when he was a child. The disappearance of the Sword that Seals the Darkness had been as much a blow as the loss of the Champions or the Princess.

Sidon reaches out hesitantly, unsure of what might happen, only to feel foolish a moment later when his hand closes on the hilt and he lifts it, as if it were just another blade, though it was obviously made for a Hylian-

“Highness! We have him!” His heart clenches again, at the fear in that voice.

By the time Sidon arrives, his guard are lifting Link carefully from where he’d been laying half in the water. He has two arrows in his side, at least one of them still alight with the slightest hint of electricity. Shock arrows are a terrible danger to the Zora, but they are no kindness for a Hylian, either. It must have been excruciating, and that’s only a small portion of the damage done. He’s not wearing the Zora armor, encased instead in an unfamiliar suit that has seen heavy wear - it must be what he wore at Death Mountain, to protect him from the heat.

He was on his way back to us. They would have had a celebration, how could they not - and maybe they would have fought again, Sidon wouldn’t have been able to help himself but ask why Link should fight so alone, but even if the Champion hated him for it, that would be better than this.

“Does he live?” Sidon says, afraid of the answer.

“He’s weak, and fading.” There are healers on his guard, field surgeons for the purpose of stabilizing wounds even as grave as this. “We need to get him to the Domain as fast as we can.”

Sidon nods, confused as the guard’s eyes lock for a moment on the sword in his hand, as other of his guard gather and stare - and only then he remembers that he’s carrying the Master Sword. The monsters would have never dared to touch it, but the Yiga might have, and if they’d spirited the blade away…

“I think the armor kept them from going too deep.” Treating him here is hardly ideal, but they can’t move him far with the arrows still in, so Sidon watches as the shafts are snapped, as Link’s armor is carefully removed and the Champion does not stir, as still and quiet as if they are already too late.

“It’s going to be all right, Link.” He murmurs softly, the Champion’s hand in his own. “We’re here now. You’re safe.”

The Hylian’s skin parts with frightening ease against Zora claws, as the guardsman deftly maneuvers to pluck the arrows free. Sidon is amazed yet again that Link ever responded to his foolish gestures, ever saw him as other than a towering beast with claws and fangs that could tear him apart so effortlessly.

“You will be fine. You fought them, and defeated them, and now-“

Sidon stops, as the surgeon pulls the second arrow free, and feels as if he’s been plunged into ice.

The arrow is not tipped with electricity, but darkness. Malice.

————————————————————

Sidon has never felt slower in his life, the river like mud around him as he races back to the Domain, swimming as fast as he can while keeping Link above the water. He still arrives all but on the heels of the scout sent ahead to announce them, and the healers leave him half-collapsed in the hall, catching his breath as Link is rushed away.

He surges up what seems like only moments later, when a strangled cry comes from the room, and Sidon comes in to find Link struggling, fighting as they try to move him into a healing pool, his eyes blank and wild with fear.

“Don’t put me back. Don’t put me back! I can’t do it again, I can’t, please don’t put me back-”

Sidon remembers Link explaining a little of his past. How he had been spirited away, near death, to recover in the safety of an ancient crypt. At the time, it had been just another detail in the story, a simple recounting of history but Sidon can see now how wrong he was. How afraid Link is of losing another hundred years, of losing his memories and being separated even further from the world he knew. He might be more afraid of it of that than he is of the Calamity. Sidon hates that he considers that place even now - if it were possible, if they could get there and the machine still worked… if it meant keeping Link alive? But it isn’t possible, there’s no time - whatever happens, it has to happen here.

The healers step back, allowing him to move in close, to take up Link in his arms.

“No one will leave you there.” Sidon soothes. “No one will leave you alone again. I promise. I promise.”

He doesn’t know if Link can really hear him, or if the Champion just runs out of strength, finally going still, but Sidon keeps talking, holding him close as he steps into the water. The healing pools are good for all kinds of injuries, for Hylians and Zora alike, although there’s different methods that are best for each, time spent in and out of the water, herbs to be applied and bandages changed. So Sidon does the only thing there is left to do, and stays at Link’s side and does as the healers bid and wishes with all his heart that he had any whisper of his sister’s gift, that there’s anything he can do but watch. Link is pale, shivering, burning both hot and cold in turn and he does not wake again no matter what they do.

“The arrow was poisoned?”

“The Calamity’s bane.” Sidon says. The arrowhead itself had been eaten away by the darkness in front of their eyes. He wonders if it was the Yiga who were so inspired, or a Lynel doing as it was bid. It doesn’t much matter, the damage has been done. “Is there anything…?”

Sidon would go to the ends of the land, and beyond. Seek the aid of the faeries, or the goddesses themselves.

The healer shakes her head. “I’m sorry, my prince. We’ve done all that we can, but-”

If the Calamity has its claws in him, in his blood, then there is nothing to be done.

Sidon nods. “We will hope for the best. Thank you. I’ll stay with him.”

He sends word and a scout to his father, to explain all that has happened. The healers clear out the space for him, bring in a small cot of Hylian make, and a chair for him to sit by the Champion’s side when they’re not in the water. A pile of fine towels, more medicines that won’t work, food that Sidon only eats because he knows he should, but it tastes like nothing and he can barely look away from where Link is curled up, twisted in pain - so small and pale and fragile in a way he has never seemed before - fighting to breathe, the Calamity striking out at him in a way that none of them can protect him from.

“I’m here, Link,” Sidon says, reaching out for his hand. “Hold on, my brave one. I’m right here.”

————————————————

The healers are looking for answers, of course they’re looking, studying the ancient texts for any clues that might aid them. Sending their swiftest to Kakariko for aid, although even if they arrived in time Sidon knows there’s nothing even they can do, no miracle cure. Sidon’s still been looking, of course, trying to focus, seeing glints of the Hylian he loves in all of the heroes and Champions of the past, but he is no scholar and there’s nothing the pages can tell him, nothing to do but try and keep himself from ripping the tomes in half in frustration.

“… Sidon?”

He’s startled from his grim thoughts to find Link looking up at him, with a dazed and weary confusion.

“Link! You’re awake!”

A moment later, and Link is struggling to sit up, panic in his eyes. “… sword? Where is the sword…”

“It’s right here.” Sidon says, unsheathing it - the blade hasn’t left his side since he pulled it from the riverbank. Link relaxes, eyes closing again as if even that slight exertion has exacted a heavy price.

“… Sidon?” He says again, achingly unsure.

“I’m here. You’re safe. You guard the sword, and I guard you, and all of the Domain protects us. My most treasured friend.”

Link raises a shaking hand to rub at his eyes, hissing as the movement jars several injuries. Sidon helps him sit up, enough to sip at the potion the healers left. He drinks half, as Sidon brushes the hair out of his eyes, watching Link tremble and wince at another clench of pain.

“I’m sorry.” Link says softly. “I didn’t think they’d plan like that. Stupid, that was stupid… after how we lost the first time. I should have seen it coming…”

“It’s not your fault.” Sidon says.

“There you go again. Always thinking the best of me.” Link smiles at him, and Sidon feels the pain of what he stands to lose lance through him worse than any bolt of lightning, has to look away and clench his hands and struggle for composure.

“It’s bad, isn’t it?” Link says quietly. “I can feel it. I tried to use the power Mipha gave me, but it isn’t working…”

“You’re going to be fine.” Sidon says, although it sounds more like a command than reassurance. He hates the look that Link gives him, weary and fond and too understanding. Link shivers once, and then harder, his teeth chattering.

“S-sorry. Just a l-little cold…”

The healing pool is warm, even warmer when Sidon can hold Link close against him, and the Champion presses his face against the Zora’s chest and fights through his trembling.

“Sidon…” Link stops, takes two slow breaths, steadying himself. “If I can’t, if I… the Master Sword is yours. You need to take it, and finish this, for the Domain and for all of Hyrule.”

His eyes go wide. “No, you can’t - it didn’t choose me.”

Link’s smile is a bitter thing. “Well, it’s going to have to learn to live with disappointment, like the rest of us. Nobody got what they wanted.”

I did. Sidon thinks, with a dawning, bitter horror. He’d had the Champion, at least for a little while. Out of all the pain and suffering of the last hundred years, there had been a glimmer of light and hope and Sidon had been able to fight at his side. It had been like all of his childhood dreams come true, but better and brighter than he could have hoped for.

“Was this why you didn’t want me near the castle?” Sidon says, not sure if he dares to trust the thought. “So I would be here if you needed me, if things went wrong again?”

Link laughs, the barest huff of breath against his skin. “No. I lied, that you'd be in the way. I lied. I wanted you to be mine, Sidon. I wanted you for myself. I couldn’t risk…” He sighs. “I wanted to be selfish, just once. I lost Mipha, and Zelda and everyone else. I couldn’t mourn you too. I couldn’t do it.”

He cares. He does. It ought to be the happiest moment of Sidon’s life.

“Sometimes… I like to tell myself that you’ll stay.” Sidon admits, holding Link a little tighter. “After the Calamity has been defeated, and the world is peaceful and - and Princess Zelda returns. My father might let me be… a diplomat, perhaps. I could see all those places you’ve talked about, we could go there together, and then… maybe after, you would stay with me. You would call the Domain your home.”

“Tell me more.” Link says, eyes closing, curled as close as he can get. “Tell me about all the places you want to see. Tell me everything.”

So Sidon does. He’s hardly known for his reserve, but this time he barely pauses for breath, doesn’t dare stop as he tells the tales of where they’ll go - to the south, where the waters are nearly as warm as the healing pools, and then to the west, to let the sands scour his skin and to see what it is to look out over the deserts from high above. He wants to see the Rito and their village, the dragons, the Temple of Time high on the plateau where they say all of Hyrule began.

He tells the story of all the things he might be, of all that they might be together, even when he knows the Champion can no longer hear him, even as his world narrows to watching the slight shift as Link’s chest rises and falls, as he struggles to breathe. It’s the middle of the night, and even if Sidon could see the moon high in the sky, he thinks it would have stopped. Waiting, the way they all are waiting, and he’s certainly not as alone as he feels - a guard at the door, the healers ready to rush in on his word, but there’s nothing any of them can do. He’s as helpless as he was before Link arrived, and even prayer seems a lost cause, with the Master Sword in easy reach and even that weapon unable to defend the Champion, to do anything against this last assault. Sidon glares at the sword, and for a moment he almost hates it, hates whatever fate or prophecy put Link in the path of such an endless struggle.

He’s so pale now, barely breathing at all, unmoving in Sidon’s arms.

“Please, don’t leave.” Sidon whispers. “I’d fight it for you, if I could. I’d do anything you asked. I don’t need you to be the Champion. I just need you alive. Please stay with me, Link. Just stay.”

————————————

Sidon never intends to fall asleep, too afraid of what he might find upon waking. Pretending that if he doesn’t sleep, if he doesn’t look away, then Link won’t go. So it’s a surprise to see the dim glow beyond his closed eyes, and even more of a surprise to open them, to see that they aren’t alone in the room.

“I will say,” Mipha smiles, looking down on them with the slightest hint of mischief, “right now, I am a little jealous.”

“… Mipha?”

He can see through her, his sister’s spirit blue-edged in ethereal flames and as beautiful as she’d been in life, and when she reaches out to touch his cheek Sidon can almost feel it - he can feel it, the warmth of her spirit.

“You’ve done such a wonderful thing, Sidon. You gave him something new to fight for. You gave him hope.”

Sidon feels a moment of panic, remembering how bad - but Link is still breathing, curled safely against him in the water. He seems more peaceful, not in pain, no longer so terribly pale.

“He said that your healing didn’t… but you were fighting, weren’t you?”

“The poison did not let go willingly.” Mipha says, and for a moment her gaze is ice and steel. “I couldn’t protect him before, but I will never lose Link to the darkness.”

“Neither will I.”

Sidon had been afraid of what she would think, of the thought that he was stealing Link away from her, but his sister is as she ever was, her smile gentle and kind and proud.

“I… we all miss you.” He says. “Father misses you very much.”

Mipha nods. “I wish I’d been there for you, for everyone. I’m so proud of what you’ve done.”

Sidon knows she won’t stay, can already see the flickers around her, the way she’s fading. He wants to plead with her… but she once asked him to be strong. “I’ll make sure he’s safe. I’ll make sure they’re all safe.”

“I know you will.” His sister says, and then she’s gone. a few lingering motes of light vanishing one by one.

The familiar ache of sorrow and longing fades, when Link shifts in his arms, slowly opens his eyes.

“Mipha was here.” It’s not a question, but Sidon nods anyway. It makes Link smile. Sidon hadn’t been sure he would ever see that smile again, and he bows down close, presses his brow to the Champion’s and lets the worst of the panic and the dread slowly leach away. “I’m glad you got to see her.”

“Stay with me.” Sidon says, before he can lose his nerve. “Whatever happens, I want us to always be together.”

“I want to promise you that.” Link says. “I do.”

“Then we’ll find a way.” Sidon says, and Link lets out a soft huff of laughter but doesn’t argue, just leans against him once more, and for a long time there is nothing but companionable silence and the distant roar of the falls.

“Tell me again,” Link murmurs sleepily. “Tell me about how I save the world, and then how we sneak you into Gerudo Town, before I teach our dozen children the most entertaining ways to break a shield.”

So he does.