Disclaimer: I don't own anything recognizable of Shigeru Miyamoto or the Legend of Zelda series. Yet.

Warnings: language, violence, implied non-con

Pairings: Link x Sheik

Author's Notes: This is an intermission chapter that takes place during the Imprisoning War from Zelda's point of view. Some things to note: (1) this intermission fic will periodically change tenses/pronouns, and (2) dark!Sheik makes an appearance, AKA the tone here is reminiscent of chapter four. Thank you all so, so, SO much for your support, I love you all, and I hope you enjoy this chapter!

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Intermission

An Excessive Chain, Binding You to Me to You

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Zelda entertained no foolish delusions of having misread Sheik's feelings regarding Link; she knew him too well. And how could she not? She'd worn his aching skin, sunk deep into his convoluted mind, breathed his every jagged emotion. He was the extension of her being, the shadow that licked her heels. He was her friend, her partner.

He was the single reason they had won the war.

Link's desperate and deadly quest across the vast expanse of Hyrule, her own nightmarish descent into the madness that was solely Ganondorf's twisted heart — all for nothing, if not for Sheik.

But Link would never know.

Hyrule would never know.

In the end, all things returned to Ganondorf.

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She meets him on the eve of her father's death. He's a scrawny boy with too bony limbs, too sharp a face, too contemptuous of eyes. Without understanding why, she dislikes him.

"Good morning, princess," he says, and there's something sickeningly baleful in his voice, a voice smooth like velvet. When he smiles at her, it's a smile of knives, saturnine and derisive. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"

Indeed, as if to prove such a claim, warm sunlight floods the corridor and illuminates the blond crest of his head like a blinding crown. It's spiteful.

"No," she quietly disagrees, "it is not." Not when she hasn't slept in days for all the grisly premonitions haunting her closed eyes. Not when Link has yet to return from his mission while Ganondorf steadily gains more and more political leverage. Not when there's an odd, carnivorous-looking boy staring at her like he knows some humorous secret.

He laughs, seemingly amused by her answer. "I suppose it isn't," he agrees easily. "No not at all." Chuckling, he inclines his head politely and brushes by, continuing down the hall. But Zelda doesn't believe in coincidence or chance, feels that this boy is important somehow or someway, and turns around.

"Wait!" she cries, struggling against the shudder that snakes up her spine when he gracefully pivots, as if he had expected her to call after him. "Tell me, what is your name?"

"Sheik," he answers. Red eyes strangely desperate, he smirks and adds, "Sheik of the Sheikah."

King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule is murdered thirty-two minutes later.

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The next time they meet, two years of bitterly incandescent war have passed and Sheik greets her by way of a cursed knife, driven artfully through the tender flesh of her breast. Absently, obscenely, she hears herself wondering aloud if this is how her father died, staring up into the flat, red eyes of a monster wearing a boy's façade. Her fingers feebly grasp at the knife hilt, buried in her with nauseating intimacy, but she acknowledges that it's pointless. And Zelda knows that she will die here on the outskirts of the Sheikah war camps, here in this disease-ridden field where the bodies of the dead have been stacked high to burn, stacked high like her countless failures. She will die here, and maybe her death will be deliverance, maybe it will be punishment, maybe atonement.

Here at the end of a cruel knife of an equally cruel boy, Princess Zelda will die and very suddenly she wants nothing more than the comfort of home.

"I want to go home," she haltingly admits through bluing lips. "P-please, I just want to go back home."

The knife is ripped clumsily from her chest, tearing open once flawless skin now ripe with wet blood. Between his raspy breathing and her cowardly confession, there is a terrible frozen moment where she believes she sees something quite akin to yearning in his expression.

That's when he smiles, very gently like, and responds to her admission by releasing the curse that would kill her.

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Zelda would remember that particular smile of Sheik's, would reflect on the events in her life that had fashioned her into the woman she was today — the sickness eating away mommy's flesh, daddy's cold corpse lying in the pool of blood, the pyre of bodies and the smell of flesh stripped by flames, the knife in her chest so warm and slippery, the broken body of a broken boy not unlike the dolls she'd played with as a child, meeting Ganondorf behind Sheikah eyes, oh gods Ganondorf, Ganondorf, Ganondorf, with his hands on her body on Sheik's body in their body, oh gods oh gods oh gods, please hurry Link — and with that particular smile of his in mind, she knew that Sheik had resented her for having a home to return to.

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"What a view, what a view," Sheik humorously gurgles somewhere close by-far away in the veiled fog of her semi-conscious state. "Just in time for the show, so let's watch Her Majesty die together, shall we, mother?"

There is a sickening crack. He does not speak again.

"Impa, we're losing the princess."

But no, Zelda wants to protest, she's not lost. She can't be lost, because she's returning home. Mother and father are waiting for her with beatific smiles, and she likes to think that maybe Link is as well, with that lopsided, contagious grin of his.

"Improbable. Such high level magic would instantly kill an animal. I also believe that it would be unwise to perform the spell on our own bodies when it is unlikely that the ritual would be successful."

"Agreed. We would not be able to host the princess's soul."

"Ah, but the boy could."

With each agonized beat of her struggling heart, her chest grows tighter and tighter, wrenching taut circles around the gaping hole between her nipples, a parody of a clock, ticking her life away. It hurts so badly.

"Your decision, Impa?"

"…Do it."

It hurts so badly, and she wants to scream, she wants to cry, but she can't remember how anymore in this space of here and nowhere, and she realizes that she isn't going home because she's dying, she's dying, she thinks that she's dying.

Zelda does not want to die.

"W-what're you doing? No. No. Get a-away. Get away from me."

This is the last memory Zelda has of her body: Sheik's blood slicked hands curled unwillingly in hers, his hot, furious tears spilling down his sharp nose and dripping on her pale lips, his expression knotted in malice. He screams hoarsely, "Why do you keep forsaking me!?" but there is no voiced response. Her vision darkens.

When she next wakes up, it's as a sixteen-year-old Sheikah boy.

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It is the second day.

Naked, she stands before the cracked mirror and stares at the reflection. A hand tremblingly reaches up to caress an angular cheek, slides down to touch a flat chest, further down to square hips, to the unfamiliar weight between long legs.

Don't, he bites out, but because she's a child she does it anyway.

Repulsion churns her stomach at the alien sensation of a maturing body responding in ways that she doesn't yet understand. Suddenly, gazing at this reflection, she wants nothing more than to claw the flesh from these bones, to tear the skin from this face and sew her own back on. She is sickened, she is afraid, she is lonely.

"Do you hate me?" she asks.

Yes, he replies, because after all, he too is a child.

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It is the fourth day.

The night is choked with unspoken accusations and still-lingering questions, hovering menacingly over them like a thick, black storm cloud. She lies stiffly on her belly, nails digging angry crescents into her palms, and tries to ignore this body's disquieting, itching urge to roll over into a less vulnerable position. Against the sensitive, paper-thin fabric of her mind, she can feel the tumultuous whiplash of Sheik's emotions, hot and blinding, as he watches from behind her eyes. The vindictive hush of his thoughts frightens her, makes her want to scream to fill the eerie silence between them, and despite her bone-weary exhaustion, she cannot sleep.

Wordlessly, patiently, he waits.

Ultimately, she grows tired of his passive psychological warfare and unsteadily climbs to her feet, swaying precariously for a few seconds as blood rushes from her head. The flap to the canvas tent swishes behind her.

Sometime after midnight, Impa finds the young princess seated on a crumbling dry-stone dyke, arms wrapped tightly around knobby knees, staring up into the heavens with Sheikah eyes. The woman joins the children.

"Good evening, princess," she murmurs, leaning against the stone wall. "Good evening, Sheik."

The impartial greeting startles both children. In a moment of rare vulnerability, Sheik exudes an odd mixture of spiteful suspicion and frantic longing before he clams up, withdrawing into the furthest corner of his mind, snapping and spitting like a cornered animal.

Quite soon, the telling silence becomes oppressively pregnant, laden with tension and suppressed emotions. When Impa curiously cocks an eyebrow, Zelda finally replies, "You would greet my father's murderer on the same breath that you would greet me?"

To her disbelief, Impa's lips quirk up in response. "Ah, but you see, princess," she begins, and her smile is sad, "there are no murderers in war. There are only instruments, and those who play them. It is no less true for you and I."

Zelda is breathless with incredulity.

Then Impa gently asks — and it's awful really, how easily this woman breaks him — she asks, "Play any instruments, lad? You've the hands of a musician."

There is a single shocking moment, quiet and serene and lovely, that the three will share before Sheik reacts to Impa's inquiry. And after the moment has dissipated, he will yank control from Zelda, bare his teeth in a feral snarl, and scream that he doesn't need her manipulative silver lining. He'll scream that he isn't an instrument, that they're fools for thinking that he did not readily participate in this war, and no, he is a murderer you bitch, and don't you dare dress it up and pretend like it wasn't your fault — !

But before that happens, there is a moment where Sheik will pretend that he doesn't remember this woman as his only family, and where Zelda will finally see with her own eyes Sheik for who he really is.

And she will be heartened by what she sees.

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Any attempt to hate Sheik had been, admittedly, pointless. Every day, every hour, every second of time passed was time passed together, and despite tenacious efforts to shield their minds, stray thoughts and emotions continuously leaked through. It had been like absently listening to a foreign language while trying to make sense of distorted images in the corner of your eye, flashing from black and white to color, varying from painfully abstract to too vividly concrete. They had grown to know one another on alarmingly intimate levels, in ways that they had not known themselves.

She would be lying to herself if she claimed she did not miss sharing his body.

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It is the fifth day.

Long after the somnolent sun has set and Impa has retired to bed does Sheik continue to practice with his new harp. Despite the crushing power of the seal, he obstinately refuses to relinquish control of his body to the princess until the melody, which Impa painstakingly taught him, is mastered. Zelda knows that his limbs are quivering under the strain of the magic and tries to understand why this is so important to him.

When at last he perfects the song, he carefully sets the harp at his feet with shaking fingers and then buries his face in his hands. The heel of each palm presses firmly against his eyes, denying the wetness that has collected there.

Sheik, she calls tentatively, uncertain of what to say even as she instinctively reaches through the layers of darkness and tangled thoughts that separate them.

"…You don't understand the concept of shut up, do you, princess?" he remarks wryly, surprising both of them with the lack of animosity in his tone.

Zelda awkwardly half-smiles. Well, as long as we have that established, would you mind terribly if we ate something? I'm quite hungry.

Sheik sighs, but behind the cowl, his lips are twisted into something not unlike a smile.

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It is the sixth day.

"Please, Sheik," she implores, "I need to know. So please, tell me why."

And then? comes his sharp reply. Have you deluded yourself into believing that my reasons will present you with the conviction you seek? That perhaps they'll give you closure? Wake up, princess.

She had been expecting his vitriolic scorn. "Enough! The truth of the matter is that you're just as desperate to know my reasons as I am to know yours; it's only natural, I suppose, considering our situation. Unfortunately for you, I asked first."

He snorts, and she imagines that, if he could, he would roll his eyes. Fortunately for you, he returns with some amusement, I am sealed within my own mind and am currently unable to wring your damn neck. A pause. By the way, what did they do with your original body?

Plucking at a patch of grass, Zelda sighs; she knows him well enough to know when he's deviating. "Sheik, please."

Gods, he mutters, to have this conversation with some twelve-year-something chit. Then, louder — Power, princess.

"What?"

Power, I said. You wanted my reason, didn't you?

"That's your reason."

Was that a question? Oh, you're quite angry, aren't you? He's laughing at her, she can tell. My, my, look at you storming about so dignifiedly. My lord did your country a favor by dethroning you, I think.

They both know that is not what he thinks. Nevertheless, her fists curl at her sides.

Really though, he continues in a more serious tone, what were you expecting? Were you hoping I'd tell you that Ganondorf had extorted me into joining him? That I was coerced into murdering your father that night? He echoes her sigh. What a hopeless little fool you are.

"You're despicable," she informs him through clenched teeth. "You're absolutely terrible. How could I possibly have — " Trusted you, but it doesn't need to be said.

Sheik is uneasily silent.

"Fine then!" she snaps. "Explain to me the logic behind your decision! You couldn't have honestly believed that Ganondorf would share power with you. Gods, don't you see that you're nothing but a tool to him?"

Thank you for enlightening me, dear princess, he drawls, unimpressed. With such wisdom, I can see the error of my ways and cease my evil —

"Stop." His sarcasm is too much right now. "Just, don't."

There is a significant pause.

In any case, Sheik says curtly, I have given you my reason. Therefore, if you would be so kind

Mechanically, she hisses, "Because what Ganondorf is doing is wrong — "

Oh, shut up. I'm not interested in that childish nonsense. If you can't at least be honest with yourself on the matter, you have no right to claim tenure of the throne. Now try again.

Her lips twist in a grimace. "…Because I must avenge my father — "

Princess, please. While perhaps it's true that your father's death may have motivated you in the onset, we both know by this point that, against your better judgment, you no longer seek to extract revenge upon me. And before you respond, do spare me the lie that you're doing this for your people.

"But I — !"

I know, princess. I understand that your devotion to your people and kingdom is genuine. However, I am only interested in your selfishness, you see.

Zelda thinks about the war, about her dead father and her dying people, about her duties as a queen and her pride as a woman-child, about the prophecy and her visions. She thinks about the truths and untruths that her time with Sheik has taught her. She thinks about the ugly desires she has concealed deep within her heart, desires she has pretended do not exist, and the answer is clear, so obvious, but she doesn't want to admit it, least of all to this boy.

"Because I made a promise," she says quietly, feeling sick, "to someone very special to me."

Who?

She smiles and wonders why she feels like crying and replies, "To a hero."

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If only she had known. That breezy morning, as she had stood in the cold, stale sunlight and awaited the report from Impa's regiment, she had spoken honestly with a boy-turned-traitor-turned-prisoner-turned-companion. They had exchanged dark, unpleasant secrets there, and she had not understood.

Because when Sheik's voice had whispered in her mind, Power, princess, she would not realize until years afterward that he had not meant that he desired to possess power, to control, dominate, and exploit like Ganondorf had before him.

No, because when Sheik's voice had whispered in her mind, Power, princess, she would not realize until years afterward that he had meant that he desired to be possessed by power, to be controlled, dominated, and exploited like he had been with Ganondorf.

And this wasn't some flimsy whim. Sheik craved this on carnal levels that would take years and years to break.

Indeed, if only she had known, she may have never brought up the Hero of Time at all.

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"This is insane!"

" — a suicide mission, I would think."

"There is no guarantee that Ganondorf will not notice — "

"Quite honestly, we cannot trust the boy."

" — you know, it's so asinine that it just may work."

There is an immediate halt of the soldiers' protests at a brusque signal from Impa. Standing motionless by the meeting table, she fixes calculating eyes on the princess and asks, "This is your will, Your Highness?"

"Yes," calmly answers Zelda with an air of quiet authority that sobers her men. "I can no longer remain here when my country is savagely ravaged and my people mercilessly slaughtered. It was unforgivable of me to remain here so idly for two years." She evenly meets the surprise of her soldiers. "I will return to Hyrule in this body and hide myself at the breast of the enemy, working from inside Ganondorf's network to end his reign."

"But, Your Highness," weakly argues a young man named Viscen, "if the boy does not reveal your true identity, then surely Ganondorf will know you for who you are. Please, I beg of you to reconsider."

"No," Sheik lowly hisses, and the substitution is physically evident; he holds himself with lofty disdain, staring the men down with narrowed red eyes. "Listen carefully, because I will give you this and only this — " He disregards the horrified cries of the soldiers and the unpleased speculation of the Sheikah, all of whom are appalled and stunned that he is able to overcome the seal. " — I will protect the identity of your princess as so long she upholds her end of the bargain."

Impa's lips thin, but it is another Sheikah woman who speaks. "Bargain? What are the terms of this bargain?"

"I'm afraid," Zelda begins, "that the terms are between Sheik and me. You must trust my judgment on this."

A chair clatters to the floor as the lieutenant stands. "Ridiculous!" he bellows, face splotched red. "That Her Majesty should have to agree to some bargain with a traitor is ludicrous! The scum should be grateful that — "

"Remember this!" snarls Sheik, all figurative raised hackles and bared fangs. "After this war is over, I will owe you fools nothing!"

That was, of course, because by the end of the war they would owe Sheik everything.

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Speechless, she tremblingly sinks to her knees. Slop noisily sucks at her splayed limbs, popping and hiccupping beneath her as it gleefully sullies their clothing, a detail that only Sheik seems to notice. The consternated princess can do no more than gaze haplessly about her, lips parted and eyes wide, unable to reconcile what her vision perceives with what she remembers as home. Permeated with the thick stench of death and decay, the air hangs heavily on her shoulders, bowing her back as she gags, frantically flattening the cowl over her nose and mouth. The deadened earth hungrily soaks up her tears.

You'll have to tone down the theatrics, princess, Sheik reminds her. Ganondorf has eyes in every crook and cranny of this wretched country.

Zelda shivers. All this time, she says in an aching whisper, I've been cowardly hiding in the war camps. Gods, this is my country, these are my people. What has that madman done?

The twisted sky churns suspiciously above them.

Princess

"No," she interrupts, aware of his intentions to take over, "this is my task, Sheik. I must see with my own eyes the product of my failure. If I cannot do even that, I am not fit for the throne."

Sheik's cool, wordless approval warms her. It will only get worse, he points out, not for the purpose of discouraging her, but of preparing her. This is but a taste of what Ganondorf has delivered upon your country.

She stands. "I will do this. I must."

Very well, princess, he purrs, pleased. Do keep in mind that, if it seems to me that you will be unable to fulfill our agreement, I will rip your soul out of my body and kill you myself.

I know, she responds. I promise you, you will meet Link.

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She learns that there is only one truth in this wizened husk of a country. Chillingly pliant, Sheik slowly slides down into a reverent kneel, his burning red eyes gleaming with something fervent, something possessed. He trembles in a mixture of anticipation and rapture, lowering himself until he is bowed over a metal-plated boot, which he kisses. And Zelda understands. She knows now that she will never again so dismissively judge him for his decisions and actions during this war. Indeed, even as Sheik prostrates himself on the ground like some cheap whore, every fiber and cell in her being longs passionately to do the same with an animalistic intensity that terrifies and excites her.

Yes, Sheik laughs, and it sounds more like a sob, really, you see, don't you? You finally see.

She does.

Because kneeling there before the twisted, gnarled throne, no more than a mangy mutt crawling on its belly with its tail between its legs, Zelda learns that one particular truth, and stares out from behind Sheik's eyes into the sunken amber ones above.

She learns that Ganondorf is not a man. He is a god.

"I must admit, Sheik," the King of Evil drawls lazily, and the deep, powerful timbre of his voice resonates through the gaping chamber, sending shivers ghosting teasingly down their spine, "I was beginning to believe that you had abandoned me."

"My Lord," whispers Sheik, and Zelda realizes that she really does understand. She understands what Sheik's doing and why. She understands that she is about to lose everything, from this war to her life to her partner, because she can taste his desperation and despondency on her tongue. He is about to betray her, because betrayal is all he's ever known and it has been the only constant in his life.

But Zelda is not Impa, and she will not forsake him.

Sheik, she screams, and seizes his mind in a clawed vice, pouring herself into him. Sheik, Sheik, I understand, I know. You were orphaned during the Great War and adopted by a Sheikah woman named Impa. You loved her as your own mother. But when she swore fidelity to the King of Hyrule, she made the decision to leave you with a Sheikah couple. You never forgave my father for stealing your only family.

Ganondorf's lips curl into a slow, deliberate smirk. "Tell me," he cajoles mockingly, "where has my little canary been this past week?"

Sheik, I know. You were hurt and afraid and alone. You ran away from Kakariko, and that was when you met a young Gerudo prince. He was strong and clever and confident, and you were searching for unconditional acceptance, frantic for a place to call home and someone to call family. You couldn't have known the dark path that prince would lead you along, and even if you had, you still would have taken his hand. But there's something you don't know, someone who I wish you had met instead, if it had been possible.

"My Lord — "

There was a baby orphaned by the Great War, just like you. His father, a common soldier, was killed in an ambush. His mother, a beautiful noblewoman, died trying to save him. The baby's name was Link, Sheik.

" — there is something you should know. Princess Zelda — "

There was something very special about that baby. He was the prophesized Hero of Time, the one who would open the doors to the Sacred Realm, would take the legendary Master Sword in hand, and vanquish Hyrule's evils. Since I was young, I have seen visions of him in my dreams, but you see, Sheik, Link is so much more than a prophecy or a hero. He's like a gravitational force, drawing everyone in. I think he'd like you, Sheik. I think he'd smile at you and laugh and call you a friend, because that's who he is. He's not a king or a hero or a god. He's just a boy, and he's going to defeat Ganondorf. Did you hear me, Sheik? Link is going to win.

"What about her?" Ganondorf demands dangerously, and the smirk has faded.

We made a promise didn't we, Sheik? We're going to see Link when he awakens.

soon, princess?

No, not yet. But until that time, remember that I am here with you. I won't forsake you, Sheik.

"I must apologize," regretfully replies Sheik, face carefully blank, "but I was presented with an auspicious opportunity to kill the princess. She was alone on the outskirts of Termina territory and although I stabbed her with Koume's knife, I was unable to release the curse before her Sheikah entourage appeared. I have failed you, My Lord."

That's good to know, princess, he weakly quips as Ganondorf's expression twists in frustration and displeasure, considering our souls are bound in the same body.

Thank you, Sheik.

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Many hours after Ganondorf has left, after the sharp pain between her shoulders has faded to a dull throb, and after the semen on the back of her thighs has dried, does she remain naked and splayed out on the dining table.

Princess.

Princess, I warned you that it would only get worse.

Stupid girl, get up.

This is your own fault.

You should have given me control when I asked for it.

Princess, please.

I'm sorry.

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Five years pass.

Zelda has little desire to recall them.

Sheik forces himself to. Penance, he says.

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The Temple of Time is ethereal in its simplistic beauty. Lightly ascending the ancient steps, feet stirring years of slumbering dust, they gaze at the empty pedestal. Her chest constricts painfully at the sight, and breathing deeply to calm herself, Zelda consequently sneezes, breaking the moment. Sheik snorts.

So this is it, he muses. Beneath the surface of their skin, he is restless with despairing expectation and high-strung anticipation, his ragged emotions rolling through her wave after wave. A hero, huh? I wonder, that.

Zelda doesn't respond to Sheik's defensive cynicism. Anxiously, she circles the chamber and calls to mind the vision that had interrupted their sleep only hours earlier. Today, Link would return from the Sacred Realm. Suddenly self-conscious, she fretfully fiddles with a loose wrapping around her wrist, tugging and yanking on it until Sheik snaps at her to stop.

What's the problem, princess?

She chuckles humorlessly. When I saw Link last, I was fleeing my country, abandoning both it and him to Ganondorf's twisted will. Seven years have passed, and yet here I am — a coward hiding in your skin. That nothing has changed, that I am still uselessly

Outside, the wind moans importunately, clawing at the single, stained-glass window.

It pains me to think about how he must see me, Zelda quietly concludes. First, as a silly little girl, then as the neglectful heir to the throne, and now he will only know me as a man named Sheik.

You, begins Sheik slowly, love him?

What a peculiar question, Zelda thinks. Of course she loves Link. She loves his smiling face and his playful laughter and his childlike naivety. She loves his too-big hands and his adolescent clumsiness and his mischievous side. She loves him like she loved her father, like she loves her kingdom, as she loved her family, because he is family, he is a friend and a comrade and a brother.

Once upon a time, she may have entertained idle fancies of romance and marriage, but once upon a time was so devastatingly distant now, and Zelda is no longer the blithe girl from the courtyard.

I see, her partner replies in a tone that indicates he does not. He is nothing more than

The fine hairs on the nape of their neck prickle. Spinning around, Zelda watches in awe as the very air vibrates, humming with arcane energy that floods into the Temple of Time. Powerful magic pools in loose circles around the pedestal, forcing them to their knees with the rippling whirlwinds rocking the small room.

He has awakened, she cries, bracing herself as another shockwave slams into them. Gods, he's finally come!

She's unconsciously expecting Sheik to make a dry remark pertaining to dramatic entrances, but he is uncannily silent. Before she can call out to him, light explodes throughout the chamber with a crack, dizzyingly blinding, and just as swiftly recedes.

And there, stumbling in apparent disorientation, is a young man that Zelda does not know. Heart twisting in dismayed disappointment, she withdraws into the shadows to watch this stranger who wears the mask of an old friend.

The Hylian man, having reestablished equilibrium, studies his new surroundings with a pensive expression, the stiffness of his shoulders betraying his unease. There is a terrifying contrast between her Link's cheery smiles and this man's calculating frown. She recoils from his sweeping gaze.

Absently adjusting his baldric, the man nods to his fairy companion before heading down the steps, pace strangely uneven, as if he were unaccustomed to a longer stride. Slumped wearily against a pillar, she watches him leave.

Who is that man? brokenly whispers Zelda. He is not the Link I once knew.

Get out of my way, Sheik breathes, and it's her only warning before she is roughly flung back, their body jerking in response, as he smoothly slides into his limbs. Noiselessly, he slips into step with the man, expression dangerously intent, and follows him.

Suddenly, Zelda wonders if she is a fool for trusting Sheik.

Petrified, she hurls herself at the invisible wall he has constructed between them, and screams, What are you doing!? Sheik!?

Sheik flicks his wrist; the knife she knows personally is in his hand now.

Sheik!

But the man pivots on his heel just in time, effortlessly meeting Sheik's advance with the silver gleam of the Master Sword's steel. Appraising each other over the blade, Zelda is bewildered to feel her partner's unfurling admiration and approval.

A hero, huh? Sheik softly repeats. The knife disappears back into its hidden sheath. I think I understand, princess. And then, aloud, he says, "I've been waiting for you, Hero of Time."

Hard, cold eyes stare them down. Gently, Sheik leans into the Master Sword's embrace, the blade gliding along the column of their throat, and his own eyes are lidded. Zelda is appalled, because Sheik's masochistic behavior is something she had associated with Ganondorf, and yet —

"Oh, sorry," sheepishly laughs Link in a voice that is coarse from disuse. Sheik shivers, eyes widening in surprise, and the sword is lowered from their neck as Link's entire demeanor easily shifts from detached warrior to friendly acquaintance in a heartbeat. "I'm not late, am I?"

Zelda nearly sobs in relief.

This is your hero, comes the not-question in odd, subdued tones.

"I'm Link," continues the Hylian amiably, proffering a hand.

He'll do. "I am Sheik. Sheik of the Sheikah."

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"Whoa, hold on!"

Sheik rolls an ankle in his haste to do so and pauses, glancing over their shoulder to curiously regard Link. Ganondorf is expecting us, he reminds her unnecessarily. We can't be late.

Zelda is puzzled. Um, yes. Is there a reason why you can't warp to the castle?

"Hey, Sheik!"

Oh, she says dumbly. Well, I doubt he'll hold it against us. We really must be going.

But princess, he

Belatedly, Zelda realizes that Sheik would rather remain here in the Sacred Forest Meadow with Link than return to the castle to Ganondorf, his lord and king. Warmth seeps into her, but instead of the triumph she would have expected, she only feels pleased happiness for her partner.

Link slows to an easy lope before stopping, peering down at them from behind his blond bangs. "Where're you going?" he asks in confusion. "The temple's that way. C'mon."

Sheik almost takes a step forward.

I understand that you would like a chance to talk with him, Zelda murmurs, and I know that it is an unstated element of our agreement, but now is not the time. Ganondorf must not suspect us.

Refusing to meet Link's concerned gaze, Sheik grimaces and warps.

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Unfortunately, Link catches on quickly.

When he slams into them, it is Zelda who is in possession of their body and therefore Zelda who heavily crashes into the ground with an annoyed Hero riding her back. The impact knocks the wind from her lungs and she gasps, blinking furiously through the rising cloud of dirt in the air.

He didn't expect you to lose your balance, chuckles Sheik.

How could he have expected anything less!? He's like a brick wall!

Coughing, she attempts to push herself up onto her arms, but Link is a terrifyingly dead weight pinning her down. Unbidden, she is suddenly reminded of laughing Gerudo women and dining utensils and Ganondorf's breath on her cheek. She panics.

Wordlessly, Sheik takes control.

"What the hell," mutters Link, apologetically easing up on them by sitting on his heels, "is it just me or do you always have somewhere else to be?"

With the grace of a predator, Sheik rolls onto their back and inquisitively gazes up at the Hero straddling them. "I wasn't aware that I had a reason to remain behind," he prompts, intrigued.

Link's honest face is painfully incredulous. "A reason?"

Please don't play mind games with him, tiredly chides Zelda.

I'm not.

Sighing, Link nimbly rolls to his feet before helping the Sheikah stand. "Really, Sheik?" he asks softly, and there's stinging disappointment in those words. Sheik responds emotionally to that disappointment with the perplexed guilt of one who does not understand what was done wrong but would quickly like to make amends. "There're a dozen lives at stake, waiting for us, and you want a reason?"

Sheik eyes Link and points out, "The Goron tribe is waiting for the Hero of Time."

"Since when is it a requirement to be a hero to give others a hand?" balks Link, Navi bobbing in agitated circles around his head.

"It is written that the Hero of Time — "

Link scrubs his face wearily with a gauntleted hand. "Look, I'm just a guy with a fancy sword, so don't make me into something I'm not." Awkwardly, he glances away. "I'm not doing this out of any sense of obligation or…or destiny, you know? I'm doing this because I want to help."

Zelda beams.

Sheik smiles briefly from behind the cowl, eyes lowered. "I can't promise that I will always be able to accompany you into the temples. However…"

Sheik, she chimes in, torn, this may not be a good idea.

"…I also wish to help."

Link's grin is worth it.

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"Sheik," begins Link tentatively, "we're friends, right?"

Uttering a soft exclamation of surprise, the man in question very nearly trips over his own feet. "W-what?"

Quite unhelpfully, Zelda sniggers.

Quiet, you, Sheik mutters.

"…uh, Sheik? We are, aren't we?"

The Sheikah looks up to answer in time to see that Link is about to walk off an invisible ledge. Cursing creatively under his breath, he throws himself into the hero with enough momentum to send them both flying into a wall.

"Okay, I get it!" grouses Link, hurt. "You don't have to answer me!"

"Idiot! How many times do I have to tell you?" Sheik growls, abruptly standing and hitching the cowl up higher. "Do not walk ahead of me!"

Link blinks. "What? Oh. I, uh, almost got myself killed again, huh?" And then he laughs.

That's Link for you, she remarks airily, laughing as well.

"Idiot," repeats the Sheikah in annoyance, but she's not sure who he's addressing.

"You already said that!"

Huffing, Sheik irritably storms off down a corridor, red eyes glowing in the shadows of the temple, and Link surges to his feet, dutifully following with a bright smile.

Zelda listens to her partner's half-hearted complaints about Hyrule's sorry excuse of a hero and hides her own smile.

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Somewhere in between the contorted tangle of ugly lies and necessary secrecy, between the next assassination target and the next slumbering sage, between guiding the Hero of Time and serving the King of Evil, Sheik of the Sheikah will reach a crossroad. Zelda knew this, awaited this, and understood that, when the day came, it would not be a brave hero or a twisted king or a dethroned princess who would chose Hyrule's fate.

In her fluttering, whispering visions, she saw a young man, broken and jaded, forsaken and hated, standing in the center of three opposing forces. Sheik, with his shattered pride and biting sarcasm and wan dreams, would decide judgment day.

And so she prayed that their time together had been enough.

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The scene is surreal.

A strangled sob works its way up their throat as flesh sizzles off the farmhand's raw back in wet, blood-soaked strips. Sheik's frenetic voice does not reach her, has been overpoweringly drowned out by the sharp crack of the whip and the girl's screams. Inert, Zelda watches the nightmare unfold.

Relinquish control of my body immediately, princess. You're

Innocent men have died by their hand. It would have been impossible to carry on this deadly charade under Ganondorf's eye without casualties; she had understood that. And although she had never been the one to draw the knife across her men's throats, although each kill had been delivered as swiftly and mercifully as possible, she also understood that she had had the power to stop each one of those meaningless deaths. Yes, she could have stretched up into their spine, reached down through their muscles, and have stopped that awful knife each time. But she didn't.

Zelda, you see, is just as much, if not more, of a murderer than Sheik.

clearly not handling the situation well —

The ring of death and torture tightens below; the motley crew of brainwashed Gerudo women and treacherous Hylian men hungrily descend upon the rancher and his daughter, grasping at them with smiling sabers and feverishly bright eyes and voracious bloodthirst. Screaming, Link's sweetheart desperately claws the face of the man who tries to rip open her bodice. She disappears under the swinging fists of three men and does not resurface.

mustn't interfere! We mustn't draw our lord's attention before we meet with Viscen!

Ah yes, that's right. Tonight, after five harrowing years, she would finally return to her own body, now completely healed of the knife wound and purged of its curse. Once her soul had anchored itself, her agreement with Sheik would come to an end and he would be free to choose his own path. Tonight, if Sheik did not kill her, she would meet with Link and explain everything to him.

Tonight, they would end this war.

If you reveal your identity, Link will be

The unconscious rancher provides little entertainment for the raid party. He is gutted artlessly before his bruised and bloodied daughter's eyes and then nailed to the side of the barn. Screeching, the filthy crows do not wait for the humans to leave before swooping down upon the unfortunate man.

"How 'bout a round or two, darling?" lowly suggests an ex-soldier as he hikes up the girl's skirts. She doesn't scream. She stares up at her father's hanging corpse and makes these hitched, gasping noises and doesn't resist when the man unbuckles his pants to gingerly stroke himself.

Zelda could end this all now. Wordlessly, she slips off the roof.

Princess, no!

"No more," she says, and the knife she loathes sinks into the unsuspecting man's face. "No more," and she slams the knife hilt into another's temple, "no more, no more, no more." Panting, she stares down into Malon's terrified face and then tremblingly reaches out to the girl.

Sheik screams, You'll ruin Link, you goddamn fool! and tears her out of his body.

Unlike that day in the forest, there is little pain involved; he has cleanly severed her ties to the weakened seal and expelled her. Now she is no more than a vague florescent light, twinkling in and out of existence. She knows that if she does not properly anchor herself, she will become like the poes, wandering spirits trapped in between dimensions. But, unlike that day in the forest, she is strong enough to force her way inside a resisting host with or without a binding ritual — she fastens onto a nearby Gerudo bystander and pushes. Already suppressed by Ganondorf's brainwashing, the woman does not possess the energy to oppose another outside force.

Zelda opens amber eyes.

Smoothly, without disrupting Zelda's previous action in reaching towards the girl, Sheik slides an arm behind Malon's neck, holds her jaw in place, and slits her exposed throat. Zelda bites down on her lip, hard, to silence her cry.

"Oi, oi!" protests a Gerudo in irritation. "What the fuck is wrong with you? It was just getting interesting!"

A man flips the body of the ex-soldier off Malon's lap. "You bastard! You killed him!"

Sheik stands. "Oh?" he murmurs silkily. "I must have mistakenly been under the impression that my lord had informed me that there would be no time to play with the traitors."

The Gerudo woman and Hylian men pale.

"Please, excuse me and carry on," continues the Sheikah in a lazy tone. When several seconds pass without any of his company moving, he cocks an eyebrow. "Ah, have you changed your minds then? Very well." He drops down beside the farmhand's convulsing body and silences his breathy whimpering with the damn knife.

Zelda schools her expression carefully, mind racing, as Sheik's flat, red eyes scan the faces of his raid party. He's looking for me, she realizes, unconsciously swatting away her host's curious mental prodding. Our deal is terminated, but he knows about Viscen and Link. Will he kill me?

"Well!?" he barks, and she is surprised by the anger in his voice. "Finish up here, fools!"

The raid party immediately scuttles to nail the remaining two bodies to the side of the barn with the first. Pretending to help, she studies the distracted Sheik from the corner of her eye and tries to discern his intentions. Now that we're no longer bound together, he could easily sell Link out to Ganondorf and have my body disposed of. I want to believe that he wouldn't but…

"You'll ruin Link, you goddamn fool!"

Zelda inhales sharply and berates herself. Of course Sheik wouldn't betray them; he genuinely cares about Link. And not only that —

Noticing her scrutiny, Sheik's desperate gaze meets her searching one.

— and not only that, but Sheik genuinely cares about her.

Resolved, she looks him straight in the eye and concedes him the tiniest of acknowledging nods. If she hadn't spent the last five years in his skin, she would not have detected the relieved twitch of his mouth before he turned away from her.

"Come," he bids quietly to his company. "His Majesty is waiting."

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"Come!" he snaps harshly. "Ganondorf knows!"

Together, the two youths race across the withered courtyard and crash into the great doors, impatiently shouldering them open and stumblingly into the Temple of Time. Viscen is there, anxiously pacing across the floor, and starts badly at their entrance.

"P-princess!" he calls, mistakenly addressing Sheik. Warily, he frowns at Zelda's host. "Who is this?"

Growling, Sheik shoves the man aside. "There's no time!" Behind the altar, laid out before the Doors of Time like some sacrifice, is Zelda's seventeen-year-old body. The gentle, serene expression shocks Zelda, and for a moment she loiters, staring at this lifeless doll blankly. "For the love of — transfer your soul, princess!" Sheik snarls.

The Gerudo woman crumples to the ground; Zelda sits up.

"Thank gods," sighs Viscen, about to hurry over, but the doors to the Temple of Time are opening again, now to admit the Hero of Time.

"Hero," wearily greets Sheik, shoulders sagging in relief. "Listen to me, Ganon — "

Link's fist drives Sheik's skull into the wall behind them with a resonating crack, his face split in wrath. Eyes rolling into the back of his head, Sheik slumps down the wall, blood streaking, and collapses on the ground. "W-wait," he says, moaning, "Link — "

Link will never know what Sheik had been about to say, but really, how is that any different from any of the other things Link will never know? Indeed, he'll never know that Sheik and Zelda shared a body for five years, or that if Sheik hadn't murdered Malon, Ganondorf would have found and killed Link. And no, Link will never know how much Sheik has done for them, how much of his fractured being he has given, and Zelda thinks brokenly, You'll never know how much he loves you.

Legs buckling, she seizes his arm just as he reaches to draw the Master Sword. "Stop it, Link!" she hoarsely cries, vocal chords shuddering and squeezing unpleasantly.

He glances at her, upper lip curled, and pauses, eyes widening incredulously. "Zelda?"

"W-what's going on?" groans the Gerudo, pushing herself up onto all fours. Her forehead gem is broken. "Where am I?" Wringing his hands nervously, Viscen moves to help her.

Link tightens his grip on the legendary blade, glancing between the fallen Sheikah and the princess in a mixture of rage and incomprehension. "What's going on?" he demands brusquely. The skin around his eyes, she notices in pity, is puffy and red.

"Link, we — "

Sheik's head lolls to the side. "He's here," he whispers.

Her heart careening, Zelda opens her mouth to warn Link, but suddenly she's whirling through the air like a puppet on a string, tendrils of magic draping over her limbs. Before she can lash out with her own magic, she is entombed in a pink prism. "W-what!?"

Viscen shouts in horror, nearly dropping the Gerudo woman, and then Ganondorf's dark voice is rolling over them like thunder. "Sheik!" he hisses furiously. "You foolish traitor! You've betrayed me!"

"Yes, well, it's what I do best," weakly quips Sheik.

And not only Link, but all of Hyrule, will never know what a lie that was.

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The rest, as they say, is history.

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A/N: A few more notes: (1) A line from Zelda's dialogue comes from the LoZ manga, "hide at the breast of the enemy," although in the manga, it's Impa who says it and (2) not mentioned and not really important but Viscen is the one who gives Link the light arrows in JD.

And again, thank you for taking the time to send me feedback! You guys are awesome.