If I Hope Too Hard

Notes: Ocarina of time does not belong to me. It belongs to... erm... other people. In any case, I am making no profit from this piece of work. Also warning: contains slash. Oh, and it's slightly AU. Well, possibly canon.

Six years and three hundred sixty-four days. And every day without fail, he had walked back and forth between the Kokiri Forest and the Temple of Time. Eventually, once Epona was old enough and had been gifted to him, he rode. But he still went there every day.

Link walked up the smoothe marble steps, the action so much a habit by now that he could have done it in his sleep. He payed his respects at the alter of the three spirit stones and headed into the back.

It was there, as it always was. The Master Sword. Its blade gleamed slightly in the late morning light. Link sometimes thought it looked as though it were calling him, just begging to be picked up again. But he knew he wasn't ready. He had been a child, too weak to even lift the sword. He was not prepared to weild it.


But that "yet" was swiftly approaching. Tomorrow. Tomorrow it would be seven years to the day since their little adventure had ended, and he would be strong enough. He would pull the sword out and...

And what?

Link knew what he wanted to do, but he also knew how foolish it was. He was chasing after something that didn't exist.

He sat down and leaned his back against the sword, not at all as reverant as he had been told that he should be. He knew the sword intimately, though technically he had never weilded it. Idly Link drew out the ocarina that Saria had given him and began to play the Prelude to Light. He sometimes missed the strange tingling feeling of being warped away, but this ocarina could not do that and he knew it. He simply wanted to hear the music. Link loved the way the soft hollow notes would echo throughout the cool stone chamber, bouncing back and forth until they had broken down into the merest shreds of whispers, finally dying away to a ringing silence.

Sometimes he fantasized that he could hear the harp accompanying him. He missed the incredible ecstasy of it. Playing like that had been the strangest thing he had ever felt. It was like all of a sudden the world disappeared, and the only things in it were himself and the music, whatever divine melody it happened to be. The ocarina and the harp. Himself and Sheik.

'Zelda,' he reminded himself. He remembered acutely the pang of regret he had felt to learn that Sheik was Zelda. Zelda, whom he loved, but not the way she wanted him to. He knew that, and he was pretty sure she knew it too. And it wasn't just that she was a girl, although that was certainly one of the main factors. To Link, Zelda represented his burden.

She had called him to the palace shortly after the end of his quest. Though she knew that they both had destinies to fulfill, she still wanted him. She still offered to be with him, to be his. He had almost considered it. Certainly he cared about her. But... she wasn't who he really wanted. She was just the same old princess who needed protecting. Always protecting.

He had thought, for one small, giddy moment, that Sheik was someone who would protect him. Someone who would not need to be defended again and again. But he was wrong.

'Maybe. Maybe. I don't know that,' said a tiny voice in his head. Link told his treacherous thoughts to shut up. He went through this with himself almost every day, needing to hope but hating himself for doing so. He shook his head, going through the same old argument.

'I know that it was Zelda. I saw her shed the disguise, for Heaven's sake. They're not two people. There's just her. The man I thought I cared about doesn't exist.'

'But the eyes...'

It always came down to that, didn't it? The one insane hope that kept him coming back even when nothing else would. He had memories of being lost in that intense ruby gaze. Red eyes like none he had ever seen in his life. Zelda never had eyes like that. Not that perfect.

'Zelda is a master of disguise magic. She could have easily changed her eye color.'

But it wasn't the same. There wasn't the same heat, the same intensity that he had gotten from Sheik. That strange inner fire. He ached for it. He needed it, even just once. He wanted to see that flame again.

Link let the notes from his ocarina die out. Sometimes, just as the music was fading, he could almost fancy that he heard-


Link whirled around, half rising. He was certain that he had heard correctly, that this time he would turn around and someone would be there. Maybe not Sheik, but someone, *anyone*...

But of course, no one was there. This wasn't the first time he had thought he heard footsteps. The Temple had incredible accoustics, it was why he loved to play there. But sometimes, like today, the sounds played tricks on him. Link slumped back down, sighing. It was stupid to hope that it was Sheik. Incredibly foolish. And yet he never managed to quell that first wild surge of hope. It happened every time.

Link looked over his shoulder at the blade behind him. Though it still gleamed, it might have been part of the stone that it was held in. It lacked the vitality he had felt in it when he drew it the first time. Was it dead? Or simply dormant?

Tomorrow he would find out.

Sheik sat in the royal garden, sitting idly on a bench overlooking one of the many complex flower arrangements that his sister favored. He knew she would be out here any moment, and he knew what she would say. He wasn't looking forward to it, but he knew that they must have this conversation. It was long overdue.

Even as he thought it, his sister appeared at the doorway, looking around for him. He didn't gesture or call out to her, simply waited for her to spot him, which she did. She hurried over, carrying her dress slightly so that she wouldn't trip.

She reached the bench he was sitting on and he wordlessly moved over to make room for her. She sat down daintily and Sheik found himself marveling once again at how delicate she sometimes looked. Certainly she was not the most fragile being that he knew, but she somehow seemed to exude this air of defenselessness that made you want to protect her. Unless you knew better, of course.

"You're going, tomorrow," she said by way of opening.

Sheik nodded.

"Don't!" she pleaded with him. "Please. We got you out of that mess last time, but only barely. If I hadn't been there when you teleported out... Sheik, you know that no one is supposed to know of your existance. Would you really jeopardize everything? I know you had to when Ganondorf took over, and you know how much I and everyone else appreciates what you did for Link and for Hyrule. But you can't see him again."

Sheik sniffed slightly and leaned back, gazing at the sky. He had to go. Nothing she could say would change his mind. Not about him or his safety, or his father's repuation or his mother's reputation. Nothing would keep him from going to see Link. Except, maybe...

"You love him, Princess, that's why you don't want him to see me."

Zelda blushed slightly. "Brother, please don't be so formal. You're my half-sibling. You of all people should at least call me by my name."

"No. I have never been your brother. Since I was born I've been forced into this stupid shadowed half-life, while you have gotten every privelege of an heir to the throne. I'm just a bastard son of the king and your bodyguard. The only reason I even inherited the Sheikah tradition was because of my mother. I haven't even been at the palace for most of my life. I hardly knew who you were seven years ago, and I can't say I really know you that much better now. So why don't you just admit the fact that you love Link and you're afraid that he'll choose me?"

Zelda's lower lip began to quiver and Sheik immediately regretted being harsh with her. But still, it had needed to be said.

"I just... it's so hard," said Zelda eventually, her voice trembling. "I, I know he doesn't care about me, but I really-"

"Love him," Sheik finished. He put a hand over his eyes, suddenly tired. He didn't want to hurt his sister, he really didn't. He loved her, even when she stood in his way, even though he knew so little about her. "How do you think I feel, then? He literally doesn't even know that I exist. He thinks that I'm just some figment of your imagination. And I don't even know how he felt about that figment. I haven't seen him in seven years. You've been to visit him, had him over to the palace, can't you at least let me see him again? Even once?"

Zelda was silent for a moment, but Sheik didn't press her. He was too wrapped up in his own thoughts. Link. He missed Link. Everyone who met him seemed to fall in love with the boy. There was just something about him...

"I can't stop you," Zelda said sadly, snapping him out of his thoughts. "But, just think about what you're doing first, okay? I know you care about him, but there are other things at stake here, you know?"

Sheik nodded. "I'm aware of the consequences of my actions."

Zelda turned and gave her half-brother a spontaneous hug. Somewhat startled, Sheik returned the embrace. He could feel her shaking slightly and realized that she was trying hard not to cry. He felt a rush of sympathy for her in spite of his general annoyance.

"You'll take him away from me," she whispered.

Sheik sighed. Maybe. He wanted to, certainly. It all depended on Link. But even if he did, there was still his heart-lost little sister in his arms, trying not to cry. "I won't take him away," he said comfortingly, rubbing soothing circles over her back. "I can't take him away from you. He loves you, in his own way. But Princess, Zelda, he likes men. We both know that, I hope."

She nodded, sniffling. In some ways, Sheik often wished that she had kept some of the scars that she had gotten over the seven years that she had not actually lived. They had made her stronger, he felt. She could use a bit of strengthening.

Zelda had stopped shaking, and so Sheik let her out of the embrace. "Better?" he asked, producing a handkercheif from within the folds of his cloak.

She took it, blew her nose, and wiped at her eyes. Somehow she still managed to look beautiful, and almost entirely unruffled. It was a skill, and Sheik often suspected that it had been taught to her by his own mother, who never looked anything less than completely calm.

Zelda stood up, brushing her skirt off and preparing to go. "Sheik," she said to him hesitantly. "Look, I'm... I wish you luck. And I'm sorry for impersonating you at the Temple."

Sheik nodded absently and watched her turn and walk quickly back into the castle. It hadn't gone nearly as badly as he had thought it would. He had been sure that she would be angry with him, try to forbid him to go. She had the authority, even if she didn't have the physical power. Now it looked like he had her permission- no, her *blessing* to go to the Temple tomorrow. He knew Link would be there, even if Impa hadn't told him that he went there every day.

He had to be there. It was an anniversary, of sorts.

Sheik let his thoughts drift into memory. It had been so hard to give him up. But he had met with Zelda right as Link had unsealed the last Sage.

"You can't go." He remembered it as clearly as though it had been yesterday. "We can't let you see him again, Sheik. You are the bastard son of the my father and Impa. No one is supposed to know about you. Think of the king's reputation. Think of your *mother's* reputation!"

"Repuations be damn-"

Zelda had interrupted him with an upheld hand. "It's not just that, Sheik. If people begin to know you exist, in this day and time, you will become Ganondorf's next target. If Link... if he fails somehow, you're our last hope. Would you really jeopardize the entire realm just to see him?"

'Yes,' he had thought, but instead he said, "So what? So I just disappear? He already knows I exist. I've met with him at least half a dozen times by now. Is he supposed to think I just vanished into another dimension or something?"

Zelda had thought about it for a moment. Finally, she had looked up at him and Sheik had *known* that he wasn't going to like what she was about to say.

"I'll pretend to be you. You wait for him in the Temple, and tell him that you are going to reveal who you really are. Then you can teleport away as usual and I will remain in your place. He's never seen you unmasked, so I can tell him that I used magic to disguise my appearance. We look similar enough, it should work."

It would work, too. Sheik knew it, and yet everything in him rebelled against the thought. 'He won't know I exist. He'll think that I was Zelda. He'll think that everything, the incredible, strange, intense magnetism that we had was Zelda.'

But it wasn't as though he had a choice. He knew that the safety of the Realm came first. And after all, wasn't it the tradition of the Sheikah to fade from sight? To be mere shadows?

And so he had been. But not anymore. Tomorrow he would take off his mask, whether Zelda liked it or not.

Link stood in front of the Master Sword, gazing at it. He tentatively put a hand on the hilt.

'I'm the only one who can pull it out,' he thought. 'I'm the Hero of Time. It will come out for me.'

As he touched it, he suddenly felt the familiar vibration of magic in the sword. It was alive, after all! It was waiting for him. He could just pull it out and...

Right. And go back to saving everyone.

Link let go of the sword and sat again as he always did with his back to it. Did he really want to? If you wanted to be a hero, then you had to take everything that came with it. And that meant being the person to hold the world's cares on your shoulder. You had to be the prince on a white horse. Did he really want that?

Sighing, Link once again brought out his ocarina. He played a few notes thoughtfully before beginning the Prelude to Light. He had always loved that song. It was the first one that Sheik had taught him. He had practiced all his ocarina songs over the years. He kept them all in his memory, close to his heart. They all represented someone. Someone he knew and cared about. The Prelude to Light was Sheik's song.

Link closed his eyes as he played and strained to remember the accompaniment. For one frightening moment he thought that he couldn't remember how it went, but then it came. The soft strains of the harp. He could practically hear it. Suddenly the same feeling enveloped him. It was that feeling again. There was nothing but his music and the harp's. It was there, carrying him along. He could feel the intensity of the melody wash over him.

His eyes flew open suddenly and he broke off playing in the middle. And the harp- Yes! The harp continued without him for a measure or two before coming to a slightly surprised stop. Link was almost afraid to look. But this had never happened before. It was the exact same feeling. The *exact* same!

Tentatively he looked over his shoulder.

There he was. Standing there, holding the harp, looking at him curiously, probably wondering why he had stopped. Link scrambled to his feet, turning to face the Sheikah.

"Sheik!" But even as the name left his lips, he remembered. Not Sheik. Zelda. He was unable to keep the disappointment from showing on his face.

Sheik put away the harp and walked towards him. "Link?" he asked. "What's wrong?"

Link shook his head. "Zelda," he said dully, "why are you doing this to me? What's the point in coming to me in a disguised form?"

Sheik raised an eyebrow. "Oh yes, I suppose I ought to give you benefit of my true appearance, shouldn't I?" He raised one hand to his face, removing the white cloth and letting it hang around his shoulders.

Link gaped. This was definitely not Zelda. This was a very, *very* good-looking man. With red eyes. The same intense red eyes.

He was still gaping when Sheik closed the distance between them, and very suddenly his mouth was being crushed under another that was very definitely *not* feminine.

Link felt like he was melting. He had been kissed before, but not like this. For the first time, he felt like he could completely give up control. If he fell, he would be caught. There was no need to be a hero...

The thought turned his mind to Zelda. She was a master of disguise magic, he remembered. No matter how good this felt, it could still be her.

Reluctantly he broke the kiss and too a step back. He shook his head. "Who... who are you? You're... are you Zelda? Or not?"

Sheik shook his head. "You know who I am, Link. Do you honestly think Zelda kisses like that? No, I am most definitely not her."

Link nodded. His knees felt very weak suddenly. This was Sheik? Really Sheik? He felt dizzy. Surely this had to be a dream?

Link felt his legs giving way under him and almost instantly Sheik was at his side, supporting him. 'Ah,' thought Link, 'I was right, he did catch me.'

Link blinked up at him. "It really is you. Sheik. My God, you're real. How... why are you here now?"

Before replying, Sheik gently set Link down on the ground, allowing him to lean on the Master Sword, this time on the other side. Sheik sat on the stone next to him and made himself comfortable. Only after they were both settled did he answer the question. "If you mean why did I come, then that's simple. I needed to see you again. If you mean why didn't I come sooner, then, well, that's a bit more difficult. I wanted to, but I also wanted to be the same as you remembered me. This seemed more right, somehow. I'm willing to bet you've been training every day since as well."

Link nodded and blushed. This was true. He was regaining his bearings a bit. "I'm glad you came. I missed you."

Sheik smiled, not needing to reply. His gaze fell on the sword that Link was leaning against. "Were you going to pull that out?"

Link looked at the sword. He had been. Suddenly he wondered why. "No. I don't want it. If I had it then I'd have to be the hero again. And I hate being the hero."

"Really?" Sheik looked surprised. "I thought you lived for it."

"No, I- well, I guess hate is the wrong term. I mean, I'm always the hero because I have to be. But it's so tiring. I hate being the one who has to protect everyone else all the time. I hate how I'm the one who's expected to hold people when they cry. Is it really to much to ask to *be* held for once? I don't really need it all the time, I just..." He trailed off. It ocurred to him suddenly that he didn't really know Sheik that well. After all, he had only met the man a few times. He felt kind of foolish for admitting so much to a near-perfect stranger. But Sheik didn't feel like a stranger at all. He felt like home.

Sheik put an arm around his shoulders. "I don't think it's too much to ask. Not at all. In fact, I think it's too much for them to ask of you. You're only mortal."

Link leaned his head against Sheik's shoulder. This felt nice. This felt safe. Link wasn't sure if he had ever really felt safe before.

"Sheik?" he asked suddenly.

"Hmm?" came the contented reply.

"Can I ask a request of you?"

Sheik turned his head to look down at Link. Link didn't meet his gaze, but blushed slightly. He hurried on before he could lose his nerve. "Would you... kiss me like that again? No one's ever kissed me like that before."

"That," said Sheik solemnly, "is a great tragedy." And then Link found himself on the floor on his back, being very soundly kissed.

Maybe he didn't need to draw the sword after all.

Oh God, that was hideous. Take me back.
Oh God, that was hideous. Let me complain to the author.