the oath of a century / breath of the wild
It's the toughest year, she thinks. It has to be the toughest.
She still hears the cries of her fallen Champions; she still sees Hyrule ravenously engulfed by fire and brimstone; she still smells the ash of burning corpses, piled high into the air like flags of charred flesh. Her people are suffering. Her city is dying. Everything is waylaid devastation, irreversible, unrebuildable.
She tries to think of sunlight, flowers, the sparkle of morning dew. She tries to think of that stoic presence, the one who was her second shadow. Fight, her mind sings, fight for it, fight to have it back.
But whenever she closes her eyes, she only sees the rivers of crimson gushing over her hands, through her fingers, pushing into the cracks of her nails. She hears the grim cry of Urbosa, the caustic chuckle of Revali, the ragged whisper of Mipha, the shuddering groan of Daruk, each passing in agony, trapped inside the bellows of their own Beasts. She feels the weight of Link's body as he throws himself over her, smells his charred skin as the Guardians' beams sear his limbs to pieces.
They've always protected her, and in return—
—she failed them.
And that's what she remembers. She remembers, even as her feet scream in pain, twisted in calluses from sprinting endlessly down the corridors of Hyrule Castle. She remembers, even as she channels spark after spark against the contorted, living nightmare that is Calamity Ganon. She remembers, even as the shrill screams of corruption pierce her ears and drone despair into the core of her mind.
Everyone was gone. Because of her.
Sometimes, she collapses, doubling over, the weight of it crushing her to the floor, and she just sobs, wailing into the crimson carpet, fisting her hands in the fibers to feel that she's still alive.
If it gets tougher than this, she doesn't know if she can handle it.
It's easier, maybe. The passage of three hundred and sixty-five days has numbed the ache in her soul. The nightmares begin to taste stale; the tears in her eyes begin to dry; the memories begin to fade.
She rises, a hardened veteran, fighting with her mouth set in a grim line, spells flowing out of her, life bleeding out of her, like clockwork, like an old habit that she can't cast aside. She knows even the most obscure corridors like the back of her hand. She moves with empty grace, her footsteps hollow but light, bounding like a gazelle, leading Calamity Ganon on a merry chase.
The nights are unpredictable. Sometimes, she sees blood, hears screams, smells soldered flesh. But other times—
—she finds herself on a breezy cliff, kicking her legs in the free-spirited air, leaning against the shoulder of a knight, her knight.
Or; she's being tutored in dancing, and her knight is her partner, and they spin around the ballroom, laughing at their own silliness.
Or; she's sneaking to the kitchen, and her knight is with her, and she watches him throw meat and wheat into a pot, and she hears him hum while he cooks.
Or; she's reciting her Sheikah literature, and she decides to drop into a ridiculous accent, and her knight stares at her very stoically, like he's trying his hardest not to burst out laughing.
She wakes with new strength, renewed purpose.
What is memory? What is just an idle daydream? She can no longer distinguish. She can only hope.
She begins to tire.
Every day is monotony and tedium. Her world is a neverending battlefield.
Sometimes, she lies in her small nook of the castle, unwilling to get up. It would be so easy—too easy—to let the world pass her by. Even the mornings are a battle, a battle to open her eyes, then, sit up, then stand.
The weariness goes past her bones and settles in the pit of her soul.
But that is when she dreams. She is lying in a field of flowers, and her knight is kneeling at her side. He leans over and kisses her awake, his lips whispering silently over her mouth. Rise, Hylian princess. You must fight.
She wishes for him to linger behind her eyelids, just a little longer. She wants to be drawn back into that space—that space of gentility, of peace, of meadow grass and silent flowers. But those are idle wishes, whims of a child. She has neither right nor ability to ask for them.
So instead, she wakes to a world with crimson ash and groaning corruption. She wakes, holding that spark of hope, that warmth of a kiss, close to her chest.
There is nothing left in her—neither tears nor smile. She is empty. The castle is cold stone, and she sometimes forgets why she fights.
All she has to hold onto, cling onto, is the warmth of a boy with a gentle kiss.
Who was he, again?
She's forgetting someone important.
The thought consumes her mind even as she ducks into ruined corridors, tumbles down stone steps, fires blast after blast of concentrated, sizzling light.
Frantically, she grasps for details—elfin features, a faint smile, tinkling eyes—but what color? Everything is grey and blurred.
A name, he has a name. What was his name?
She springs awake, the memory of it sharp in her mind—sharper than anything else in her world, dulled by time.
The Shrine of Resurrection.
She latches onto it, burns it into her mind. She won't forget the name again. She can't forget the name again.
Link, Link, Link.
She reaches out her mind as far as it will travel, screaming for him in the depths of her soul. The world suddenly throttles back into color. After decades of autopilot, of battling with nothing in her, she feels, she remembers, and it's terrifying. The pain stabs her in the chest; she's forced to face just how lonely she is, fighting with only emptiness at her side.
You must wake.
I don't know—
— if I can hold on any longer.
year one hundred.
"Do you remember me?"
His conflicted face tells her the answer.
She wants to break into tears. She cannot. She is already broken, boneless from exhaustion.
She crumples forward. He jerks forward and catches her, like it's a habit that was programmed into his body.
His arms are warm, and his heart beats solidly in his chest. The sound of his life becomes the lullaby that eases her to sleep.
Hateno Village is quiet, splashed with green like the fields of her dreams. Link shows her his house—bought with hard-earned rupees, legally owned, paperwork and all. Zelda's stricken with the unusual urge to laugh. She never pictured Link as someone who would settle—to her, he always seemed like the morning breeze, nomadic and free and silent.
He offers her the bed, likely out of courtesy. She refuses. It's too soft for her, she says, because she's spent a century sleeping on cobblestone. Link smiles wryly.
She realizes that he must have done the same, endlessly tromping through mountains and rivers and molten volcanoes.
So they both sleep on the floor, next to each other. It's strangely intimate. He holds her hand whenever the nightmares rise, and she huddles into his chest, and neither of them mention it in the morning. Sometimes she wishes to tell him to stop, to not comfort her out of obligation, but her tongue always freezes midway. She can't express how much comfort his touch brings.
He brings her to the apple tree and has her stand on the hill, close her eyes, and breathe in the fresh air. With every breath, she expels a little more of the adrenaline racing in her brain, a little more of the knots of terror in her stomach, a little more of the despair that weighs on her chest.
Hyrule is free, and beneath the ledge, she sees children, the hope of the future, smiling and laughing and playing out in the open.
She almost jumps when she feels Link's fingers tangle through hers, callused around the edges.
"I remember," Link says quietly.
He steps in front of her. The wind whispers around his tunic and brushes through his hair, making it shine like golden flax.
"Remember what?" Zelda says, her mouth suddenly dry. Her pulse throbs in her chest as heat colors her cheeks.
Link pulls her in by the waist with a strange decidedness—something she's not used to—and mouth slants over hers. Her breath catches as his hands thread through her hair, clasping the nape of her neck.
He'd always stood from afar, keeping his eyes lowered, his spine straight, his dignity intact. He'd always pretended that he didn't notice her, her fiery grace, her breathtaking smile. For one hundred years ago, if Princess Zelda had been wooed by her own knight, she would have been crushed beneath weight of the scandalized rumors.
But they were no longer set in a time of monarchy and royalty. He was a man and she was a woman, and they were both heroes wounded in soul and spirit.
He'd wanted to do this for a long time.
Hold her when she was broken.
Draw his sword when she cried for war.
He wanted to be with her, he wanted to grow with her, he wanted—wanted her.
"Everything," Link murmurs against her mouth. "I remember everything."
He means something else.
Zelda grips him, grips him like he's the only stable ground in Hyrule. She buries her head into his neck and breathes in his scent.
"Thank you," she whispers.
She means something else.
He kisses her softly beneath that apple tree, and he smells of wood and tastes like the fresh summer air.
Beneath their feet, Hyrule heals.
And Zelda heals with it.
so many feels
i never thought i was all that much of a zelda fan and then botw wrecked me