It's when he sets foot into the courtyard for the first time in a century does he recall this fracture of his missing memory.
Boys dressed in steel.
Iron grips in iron hands.
Rust, sweat, bandages of gauze on crying wounds.
He was seventeen, scrappy, good with a sword, and supposed all the other knights were expected to be conditioned in parallel.
Autonomous, uniform, obedient. That's how Hyrule weeded out the dogs from the warriors: true knights were bound willingly to picture-perfect servitude for not much else in return. Link strove hard to become the container to these liquid terms, to live by the word of the Royals and predetermined qualities like law.
Yes... he remembers this, albeit a fragment. But he remembers.
Maybe this was where it began.
He faces the familiarity of recollection again, another snippet, when his presence is requested at the dining hall.
"We've made apple pie," is how both the princess and Sheikah heir greet him at the moment his youth occupies the comfortably vacant room. Indeed, both have been busy; it's easy to catch the dusting of flour in the dimples of their smiles, to recognize the overwhelming scent of woodsmoke and cinnamon from the neighboring kitchen furnace. (For a second, Link forgets that he's not at home.)
He courteously takes a seat near the end of a grand table when Her Highness motions for him to. Autonomous, uniform, obedient, he thinks.
Zelda mimics his movements, likewise; she grooms her humble apron before settling at the relative end. "Your favorite, correct? I have attempted my hand at preparing it with guidance from Paya, but..." She pauses suddenly, looking bashful. "I am nowhere as good as you are."
Link allows her the sympathy of a returned grin, an appreciative gesture in response to both the compliment and thoughtful surprise, while Paya serves them with an individual cut of the desert. Forkfuls of the foodstuff, one by one, brightens both girls' faces. It also brings a bitter memory.
The cinnamon came first. Then the spirits. Then the laughter, the boys... the drunken, drunken boys.
Link was never one for celebration in the form of ale, rum, ichor of Hylia. Instead, he took bites of a solid piece of home (which, mind you, tasted like apples and buttery crusts).
He wasn't one for the pushing or shoving either, but at some point, words grew slurred and eyes grew hazy, and gods, were they right about the fact that when boys drank the blood of the deities, they became men, for hands once known as friendly reached for his as bodies tumbled out of chairs like dethroned kings.
The boys in the iron tunics hovered above him; he saw their eyes, gray, clouded with glaze, much akin to an animal.
One of them opened his mouth, then said his name, echoing with the voice of the princess. (Her call of it brings him back, grounds him.) Now the gray eyes are green, hair long, face ever so dainty... ah. We live by the word of the Royals, is what he recites silently after returning.
"Are you alright? Hopefully the princess' attempt was not all that bad," Paya says from beside him, eyebrows scrunching with concern was as she inches another slice of pie onto Link's empty plate, which he refuses to look at.
Zelda is less than amused at the remark, but even more so at the fact that she knows better. Knows that Link, in spirit, leaves the present to live with the ghosts of the past, when he freezes, goes inert.
And so, naturally, she doesn't try to stop him when he rises from his seat and promptly exits the room.
He remembers now, and it hurts.
So, so bad.
Sleep doesn't come easy.
In fact, it never did to begin with, but at least past sleepless nights were filled with open air, crickets, quaintness. Now all Link can perceive are fleeting, withering touches—ghosts of feverish coos and cockeyed kisses.
Hands on the navel, teeth at the neck. (Are these nightmares or memories? At this point, he can’t even tell the difference.)
He digs into his skin with the callousness of his palms, feeling it grow irritatingly inflamed with the aggressive friction.
A kick of his legs helps him worm out from underneath bedsheets of satin, and a brief recess is granted to him when the room’s cool air licks at his body. Taking an erratic, shaky breath, he decides that laying down isn’t a viable option if he wants to survive the night.
So he begrudgingly sits up, neck craned, swallowing the rest of his somnolence like a handful of painkillers.
"Look at yourself, Link." The princess reaches to cup the side of his face gingerly, and hearing his name on her tongue strums an icy chord inside of him.
Her thumb traces circles on the evidence of weariness under his eyes, holding his pale, sickly visage.
What she hadn't anticipated was his flinch in reaction to her unbridled touch, a sorry act. When her hand draws back immediately in an unspoken apology, Link averts his eyes and lifts his shoulders pathetically. Must he reject every semblance of a wanting hand? Even the one of who is most divine?
But it is her holy power that stings him, for he has been crafted to be the Demon's advocate... and I have been forged from sin, he thinks.
I'm sorry. His mouth moves in tandem with his hands, silently, while he avoids meeting the godliness in her eyes.
Princess' veil of golden hair is tousled, cascading down her spine when she shakes her head in rebuttal. "Please, tell me, Link," whispers she, frightfully, "of what ails you."
Silence pervades the both of them, louder than her aid.
I'm not troubled, Link decides to say while biting his lip. Not at all.
"Link, my friend!"
The prince of the Zora is as exuberant as he always is—his face brightens at the sight of a blue tunic and familiar figure.
Link had anticipated all friendly welcoming gestures since he stepped foot into the domain for a rendezvous surrounding the reconstruction effort (or... maybe it was an excuse for him to leave the castle), though he’s comfortable enough with a far off call of his name. But he should’ve expected that Sidon would be the kind to come in great strides—a landbound tsunami—and open the waves of his arms.
The prince’s towering shadow and intimidating closeness, however, is enough for Link to flinch, to provoke an uncharacteristic cower and the instinct for his hand to grapple for the sword on his back. (And so the prey meets its predator.)
He doesn’t draw, though. He can’t. This is not them, the boys, the knights in steel...
Don’t come any closer like that, Link pleads without words and harboring a hazardous light in his eyes, please.
Maybe it’s the fear in his eyes, maybe it’s the threatening of his sword—regardless, the claws don’t come and the teeth don’t bite. Instead, Sidon stops.
He thanks the stars that the prince notices his silent beg for mercy, and, though he appears confused, he lowers the preemptiveness of his embrace.
Fingers growing slick with sweat as they dig into his upper arm, Link lowers his crown and swordhand in apology. His shoulders begin to shake, and the steely gaze of the prince singes the thread of his hood.
Silence meets muteness, if for a moment.
Then the Zora gets on both knees and tries to steal a glance at Link’s empty face. Link shies away.
"May I see your face?" Sidon asks. It’s an innocent enough question, but the tone of his voice is indiscernible. "You do not have to comply, if you do not wish to."
The proposition hangs in the air, untouched, before the Hero swallows the burning in his throat and thumbs the black of his hood away.
Sidon’s touch is fleeting. Cold, yet warm. Wet. Comforting.
It does little to quell everything else, but it is appreciated nonetheless.
"I could almost confuse you with a ghost.” His voice is dark with worry, an emotion that he has only heard prior to their assault on Vah Ruta. It reminds him of a darker time, but a time in which he had other demons to fight.
Link averts his eyes in response.
All ghosts pass on sometime.
But the goddesses won’t let his.