Chapter One: Zora's Domain
The day it started had been just like any other. Well, as like any other as could be expected after recently being freed from her hundred-year imprisonment in Hyrule Castle.
Zelda, with her appointed knight faithfully in tow, had just been to Kakariko to meet with Impa and officially announce Calamity Ganon's defeat. Her and Impa's reunion had of course been emotional and tearful, but they had not stayed long as Zelda had been eager to see what had become of her kingdom in the time she'd been trapped in the castle. Now, she and Link were on the road again, just the two of them, and everything was at once achingly familiar and brand new to the newly released princess; the land, the towns, and most of all, her appointed knight.
At first, Link had seemed just the same as before the Calamity; quiet and dutiful. He'd fallen back into their old pattern smoothly and seamlessly and his presence was something of a grounding force of familiarity in the wake a changed world. However, Zelda quickly began noticing new oddities in her companion, such as the way he now occasionally greeted passersby with a smile and how he more often chose to walk beside her rather than behind her. He still spoke very little, but he was more liberal than before with his use of body language. He was also more physical than he'd ever been in the past. With her, anyhow. He would take her hand to cross difficult terrain and sit close beside her when they made camp for the night.
In the beginning, Zelda had chalked this change in behavior up to his lingering amnesia. He probably just didn't remember the finer points of protocol and she wasn't about to refresh his memory. She was quite pleased by this new closeness between them. After a hundred years suffered without any kind of physical contact she was more than happy to receive it from the boy whose touch she'd yearned for even before the onset of the calamity. She just wished some of that initiative would translate into words. She was still no closer to understanding what went on inside his head. Just how much of their past together did he remember? What did he think of being reunited after so long? Was he content to travel with her or did he long for the freedom he'd enjoyed before she'd been set free? These were the questions that haunted her thoughts as they stabled their horses and began the long hike up to Zora's Domain.
The trek was tough but the riverside path was one of the most beautiful hikes in all of Hyrule and Zelda went out of her way to enjoy it. She diligently catalogued wildlife with the Sheikah slate and collected seeds and samples in a pouch on her belt. Link watched her work, his blue eyes following her as she climbed boulders to reach rushrooms and lifted stones hoping to find insects and reptiles. He said nothing, of course, but his attention was ever attuned to her, his eyes quickly finding hers whenever she turned her gaze to his face. Even when he walked ahead of her, his ears were alert, twitching when she so much as displaced a pebble with the toe of her boot. She sometimes wondered if her frolicking about wasn't causing him undue stress, but when she asked him about it he shook his head and continued on; his signal that the matter was closed.
They had safely passed Luto's Crossing and were circling around Ruto Mountain when Link abruptly threw an arm out, calling for a stop. Zelda's first instinct was to ask what was wrong, but one look at his face caused her to shut her mouth. His eyebrows were furrowed seriously over his eyes, which were trained ahead unblinkingly. It was then that Zelda heard what had made him pause. A low rumbling echoed through the ravine. It was a sound that Zelda had never heard before but clearly Link recognized it because his blue eyes narrowed and the corners of his mouth drew downward just slightly.
"What is it?" she asked in a low voice, hooking the Sheikah slate back onto her belt.
Link didn't answer. Instead, he motioned her forward with a finger and together they crept around the boulders that lay in their path until they reached a point where the path widened and the rocks became fewer. There, lying on its back and letting out great rumbling snores, was a creature Zelda had never seen before but knew from watching Link on his journey. "A hinox?" she breathed, her eyes widening at the sight of the great beast.
Link nodded. Silently, his hand reached over his shoulder to grasp the hilt of the Master Sword. He drew the weapon from its scabbard with a soft shiiiing.
He made to move forward but Zelda stopped him with a hand on his arm. He looked back at her with a curious tilt of his head. She cleared her throat and held out her unoccupied hand expectantly. He stared at her uncomprehendingly for a long moment before his eyes lit with realization and he pulled away to unsling the travel bag from over his shoulder. He handed it to her with a sheepish smile.
Zelda nodded approvingly and pulled the straps of the pack over her arms. Link was still unaccustomed to traveling with company and he often forgot to let her help shoulder the burden. He'd been reluctant at first to let her do any extra work, but she'd been insistent, telling him that there was no wisdom in weighing himself down in battle when she was right there to offer a hand. "Go on, then," she said, giving his shoulder blade a pat.
Now, this was the part where Link would normally nod and run off to neutralize the threat of the moment, but today, he surprised her by doing something entirely unexpected. His feet didn't move and his eyes remained on her face. His eyebrows furrowed slightly and his mouth tightened in a barely perceptible manner. He seemed to decide something and then he leaned forward and softly pressed his lips to hers. He lingered only for a moment before pulling back and rising to his feet. Without a word, he darted away, leaving Zelda to look after him with eyes the size of saucers and a rosy blush staining her cheeks.
The fight was brutal but not long. Link was as spectacular as ever, his sword flashing as he leapt and slashed and darted about the battlefield. The hinox never stood a chance. Link didn't even look winded when the great monster finally fell with a long, suffering groan. He didn't bat an eyelash at its corpse as he collected the treasures and weapons dropped in the scuffle and then turned to where she still hid and motioned for her to come out.
Zelda's face was still warm as she left her hiding spot and picked her way over to him. A million thoughts ran through her brain as she tried to decide how to respond to Link's bold action just before the battle. Did his kiss mean that he had feelings for her? He'd never shown such an inclination toward her before, though she had always hoped… Her flaming cheeks grew hotter as she joined him by the remains of the hinox. She opened her mouth to broach the subject but the question got lodged in her throat when Link drew suddenly near. For a single, heart racing moment she thought he was going to kiss her again, but he didn't even glance at her face. He merely slipped his hands under the straps of her pack and pulled it from her shoulders, replacing it onto his own.
Zelda could only watch in confusion as he began walking again, never once acknowledging what he'd done. After a moment's bewildered hesitation, she moved her feet to follow. Had she imagined his kiss? She remembered the feel of his lips on hers clear as day, but Link's behavior now had her completely perplexed. Had he forgotten? She knew he still struggled with amnesia to some extent. Could whatever blocked his mind keep him from retaining memories made in the present? She didn't think so, but then, she was hardly knowledgeable about the lingering effects of spending a whole century in the Shrine of Resurrection.
She held her silence for the remainder of the trip to the Domain. Though the questions crawled up her throat, begging to be asked, her anxiousness at his puzzling lack of acknowledgement of the kiss stilled her tongue. After a good half hour of deliberating in her head, she finally decided to simply keep quiet and treat the incident as if it hadn't happened. If Link felt like speaking about it, he would. Sooner or later.
Zora's Domain was every bit as exquisite as it had been a century prior. The tall, sparkling waterfalls, winding chutes, and soft, blue lamps were just as grand and lovely as she remembered. There was one difference, though—one she noticed immediately—and that was the addition of a statue in the center of the Domain. Zelda's chest tightened and she swallowed a lump of emotion when she laid eyes on the carefully sculpted likeness of her old friend. "Mipha…" she breathed, hurrying over to get a closer look. The statue couldn't have been truer to reality. Mipha's elegance and grace were perfectly captured by the sculptor. Zelda felt a sharp pang of loss as she gazed up at it.
"My sister was a magnificent warrior," a voice spoke behind her. Zelda jumped and whirled around to face the speaker. The Zora was tall and strong and undeniably handsome. Link stood beside him, his calm eyes trained on her as they always were. The tall Zora grinned, showing off a mouthful of sharp, white teeth and spread his arms. "And who is this golden-haired vision of heavenly radiance? Could it be that I am in the presence of her highness, the goddess in mortal form who kept the calamity at bay for one hundred years—our very own Princess Zelda?"
Zelda's cheeks warmed at the handsome Zora's reverential greeting. "I-I am," she answered, clasping her hands together in front of her bashfully. She willed the redness in her cheeks away as she looked up at the Zora steadily. "And you must be Prince Sidon, Mipha's little brother." She smiled and stepped forward. "My, how you've grown."
Sidon's mouth curved downward into a surprised frown for all of four seconds and then his eyes opened wide and he bent down to get a better look at her. "Oh, heavens. We have indeed met before, haven't we! Please forgive my rudeness. It has been a very long time."
Zelda laughed and held up a hand. "There is nothing to forgive. As you say, it has been a very long time." Extending a hand to him, she offered Sidon a beatific smile. "I have come to speak with your father, King Dorephan. Would you be my escort?"
Sidon returned her smile with a grin more dazzling than a hundred suns. He bowed and hooked his arm with hers. "It would be my pleasure, your highness."
Zelda allowed him to lead her through the Domain to the throne room while Link followed silently behind, his steps light and almost noiseless. All around them, Zoras chattered and oohed as they passed. Everyone, it seemed, was excited at her arrival and eager to get a glimpse of her. Link also garnered a fair amount of attention, which he seemed completely unruffled by. Zelda imagined he was used to being fawned over, being the hero who had saved the Domain from Vah Ruta. He occasionally stopped to wave or smile at someone, but otherwise he kept his attention fixed on her and Sidon.
Zelda was a little apprehensive about meeting with King Dorephan due to her role in the demise of his daughter, but it turned out she needn't have worried. The king was gracious and understanding and though it was obvious that Mipha's death still filled him with sorrow, he directed no blame her way. Zelda was both grateful and slightly troubled by this as she had yet to forgive herself for the tragedy that had taken the lives of her champions. She wished he would blame her, at least a little, because in her own heart she still felt responsible.
"My child, the losses you suffered that day were far greater than any of ours," he said solemnly, his eyes kind. "I lost a daughter, yes, but you lost your father, your friends, your kingdom, and your freedom. For a hundred years, you fought to keep the calamity contained and in that time Hyrule moved on without you. I cannot fault you when I know in my heart that you did everything you could."
After that, the topic shifted to the primary purpose of their visit, Vah Ruta's mysterious cessation of operation. Zelda promised to check on the Divine Beast the following day and the king arranged to have rooms prepared for her and Link in the palace.
Days passed. Zelda inspected every inch of Vah Ruta but no matter how long she searched, she could find no reason for its suspended functionality. "How very odd," she said for the umpteenth time as she and Link stood on the elephant's back. Far below, Sidon swam about in the lake, entertaining himself with flashy aerial maneuvers and dives.
Zelda looked up from her Sheikah slate to watch him. "He's very different from Mipha," she observed, smiling at the Zora's antics.
Link nodded. His eyes followed the movements of the crimson figure far below but his expression betrayed nothing of his thoughts. Zelda hummed and turned her attention back to the Zora. "He's different but…I believe he would make a fine pilot for Vah Ruta, just like his sister."
Link turned those large, blue eyes on her and one of his eyebrows rose just a fraction higher than the other.
"Of course, that's if we can get this beast running again," she lent. "Though I don't suspect we have anything to fear from Calamity Ganon for at least another few thousand years, so perhaps I am getting ahead of myself?"
Link actually smiled at this and his change of expression caused Zelda's heart to give a little flutter. She looked down at her boots to escape the soul piercing stare of his eyes. She always felt as though he could see straight through to her every thought with those eyes. Could he see the way her heart beat faster and her breath came shorter when he smiled at her? Did he have any idea how soundly smitten she was?
Perhaps the more important question was, would he care? He was male, so surely the prospect of a girl being interested in him would be something he desired…right?
But then, when had Link ever been like other boys? Her heart sank as she thought about all the ways he defied the norms of not just his sex but his species. Who could say if he was interested in girls or boys or Zoras or Gorons or Lizard People or even if being with someone in that way was something he thought about at all. To the best of her knowledge, the only things she could say for certain were important to him were food and his duty as her appointed knight.
She stopped herself from sighing. It just figured she would choose the most difficult person in Hyrule to develop feelings for. She'd never been any good at taking the easy road.
"In any case," she spoke again, knowing he wasn't going to say anything, "I think we've done all we can here. For now, anyway. Perhaps visiting the other Divine Beasts will shed some light on the situation."
Link merely nodded and followed as she walked to the ladder that had been constructed to provide access in and out of Vah Ruta. She would go to King Dorephan and tell him of her plan to study the other Divine Beasts. Hopefully, they would help her uncover nature of the problem.
They left Zora's Domain the next day. Sidon was disappointed to see them go and he promised that should they ever have need of him, they merely had to call and he would come. Zelda thanked him and she and Link bade the Zoras farewell, setting off to the North this time to begin the long trek to Death Mountain.
As they walked, Zelda passed the time by theorizing about what could have happened to Vah Ruta. She bounced her theories off Link as she always did, and while he never answered, it helped her just to speak her thoughts aloud.
The longer they traveled together, however, the more she began to wish that Link would break his silence. He hadn't breathed a word in at least a month, and even before that he'd only spoken five words to her since rescuing her from her imprisonment. Five words. That was what one hundred years of separation had amounted to. He'd been more vocal before the calamity. What really killed her, though, wasn't the fact that he wouldn't talk to her in particular, but that he was unwilling to voice his opinion on matters where his input could be quite useful.
Zelda knew Link was smart. It was easy for people to read his muteness as dimness, but she knew how calculating he was behind his silence. She'd seen him manipulate others on his quest and solve complex puzzles with ease. He was far from dull; always listening and quietly processing. She knew he had opinions about things and she wished he would share them with her. It seemed a terrible waste to keep all those thoughts to himself.
Sometimes she wondered if he was angry with her. Perhaps unlike King Dorephan, he did blame her for the deaths of their friends. She would understand if that was the case. He too had had everything he knew and loved ripped from him the day the calamity awoke. If he was being silent to spite her, then she wished she knew what to do to make him stop. She didn't want to be the reason for him not expressing himself. Although, she thought as she watched his back just a few feet ahead of her, he'd never struck her as the type to hold grudges. It seemed unlikely that he was maintaining his silence out of anger.
And he had kissed her. One didn't normally kiss someone they were angry with. Probably.
She was dragged roughly from her thoughts when Link's posture abruptly changed. He sank into a crouch and made a shooshing motion with his finger. Zelda shifted into alertness and immediately and fell into step behind him as he moved toward whatever had caught his attention. It didn't take long to find the beast. Or beasts, rather. A pair of lynels stood in the valley that opened before them, one white-maned and one silver.
Zelda sucked in a breath at the sight of the great cats and Link's jaw tightened as he fingered the hilt of his sword. The battle would not be an easy one. This time, Link didn't hesitate to hand over his pack. They both knew he wouldn't be able to fight two lynels while burdened with bulky bedrolls.
Once free of his pack, Link unfurled his paraglider. He planned to get the drop on them—literally. He moved to the edge of the cliff and was just about to kick off when Zelda stopped him with a hand on his forearm. He lowered the paraglider and looked back at her. Zelda's cheeks heated as her head filled with images of the last time she'd stopped him before a battle. She pushed those thoughts away. "Link…be careful. Please."
Link held her gaze with his own for a long moment. He didn't reply and he didn't nod; he just stood there and looked at her with those sky colored eyes. Zelda was just about to ask what was on his mind when he leaned in and carefully set his mouth on hers just the way he had on the road to Zora's Domain. His eyes closed and he lingered for just a moment before pulling away. This time, though, he paused to nod before turning away and jumping off the cliff.
Zelda just watched him go, once again flustered and very confused. Now she knew she wasn't imagining things. Link had definitely kissed her and he had definitely been aware of what he was doing. What she couldn't understand was why he'd done it. As far as she knew, nothing between them had changed…and Link was…well, he was Link. Zelda had never been kissed before and she was fairly certain that Link hadn't either. Probably, her mind again supplied. She of course couldn't know for sure what all he'd been up to in his life, but knowing the kind of guy he was, activities involving girls and kissing seemed unlikely.
What in Hyrule was he thinking? She wanted to know the answer to that question with a special kind of desperation now.
Alas, Zelda's question was to remain unanswered. Just like the time before, when Link returned from his battle, he made no indication that anything at all different had happened between them. They carried on just as they always did and Zelda couldn't bring herself to be the one to broach the subject out of fear of irreparably altering their relationship.
No, that wasn't right. Her true fear, if she was honest, was that voicing her confusion would cause him to stop. While she was completely perplexed by his change in behavior, she welcomed any motion on his part to initiate acts of physical or emotional closeness with her.
And maybe it was also because whether at seventeen or one hundred and seventeen, she was a girl who wanted to be kissed by a boy.
So she didn't say anything about his kisses. She followed his lead and acted as though there was nothing at all strange about a princess being smooched by her appointed knight. And in any case, it wasn't as though he had done anything that greatly breeched propriety. The contact had been brief and chaste both times; nothing that would besmirch either of their virtue in the eyes of the kingdom or the goddesses.
So long as he didn't make a big deal of it, she wouldn't either.