He first sees her in the gardens, small and pale and blonde, a nervous look and a steady gaze wrapped up in her princess finery. She looks at him like she can see through him, like he's made of glass and she can reach out and touch what's inside.
He knows he'll do anything to help her.
She speaks of her dreams and her nightmares, and for a moment, he too is afraid. With a promise and a note, he leaves, and when he looks back, he can see her watching, small and pale and with blue eyes that go through him.
She's crying and afraid, because he's dead and she's failed and it's all gone bad, and Impa is carrying her away to where it'll be safe. But she doesn't deserve to be safe, it's all her fault, she was foolish, foolish, foolish...
And they work their way through the foothills to find the other entrance of the Shadow Temple, and there she's laid flat on an altar. And for a moment, she thinks that she's to be sacrificed here, an appeasement to the spirits for her failure, but Impa reassures her, no, she'll be safe, she'll sleep, she'll awaken when the time comes.
And she can feel sleep begin to take her, and through the darkness she can see a pair of red eyes that aren't Impa's, and she knows she is in safe hands.
He's lost in the darkness, and he always has been and always is and always will be. Nothing penetrates the gloom, there's no salvation through the light to find him and save him, simply dark and whispers and the sound of the bell.
And then there's light, again.
A small and pale face with wide blue eyes, gazing up in wonder and surprise, wisdom in their depths even as they slip shut. And then her light surrounds him, and he can feel her small limbs shift to his bigger ones, her body changing and warping to fit him like a glove.
Blue eyes closed - red eyes open.
"Do you know who and what you are?" the woman demands of him, and he looks at her with newborn eyes.
He nods, just once, and says, "I am Sheik. I will protect her with my life."
The woman smiles.
There's dark, but sometimes there's light.
There's silence, but sometimes there's noise.
There's sleep, but sometimes there's lucidity.
The darkness is sometimes impenetrable, but sometimes she is aware.
A glimpse of her reflection as her body moves without her bidding, and she sees tanned skin and red eyes and a young man's body instead of her own. And the reflection breaks, and she can feel cool water against her skin, and she knows that something is not right.
Someone calls her name, and she calls back.
There's a stranger in his body - or perhaps he is the stranger.
He feels her emerge, little pinpricks of consciousness beneath the background noise of his own mind. Swirls of cleanliness amongst the muck that he craves and cherishes and longs for. And her answering call is a beacon to him, something he can never refuse.
She grows and she changes and she awakens, and her miracle mind purifies his own. They're working as one, now, not just Zelda and Sheik but Zelda-and-Sheik, the respective centres of each other's worlds, two bodies caught in a binary orbit.
And it's not quite complete, and it's not quite normal, but it's right.
It's soon, and she is nearly a grown woman and the sleeping hero is nearly a grown man, and soon they can free Hyrule.
It's soon, and then Ganondorf will be dead.
It's soon, and she both craves it and hates it.
Because it means returning, and seeing the world through her own eyes, and walking on her own feet, and reaching out to touch with her own hands.
Because it means that her return to life means Sheik's return to death.
Because it means both a return to herself, and the loss of the other part of her soul.
She craves closeness, now, mind filling with images from Sheik's long-past memories, the two of them together in a way that isn't possible, and she know that he wants this too.
And she does the only thing she can do, her movements but his hands over his body, and she fills his mind with the things she wants and craves and needs.
And when he cries out and squeezes his eyes shut and practically sobs her name in his release, breathy declarations of impossibilities, she decides that she will save him.
He moves like a newborn foal, all uncertainty and too-long legs, and Sheik watches him with a hunger he's felt for very few before. A newborn Hero, a young man adapting to his body and his beauty, tall and pale and blonde and swathed in green.
And Zelda watches him with fascination, marvelling at how a boy turned in to a Hero, at how a child turned in to a man, a metamorphosis as he emerges from his Sacred Realm cocoon.
Sheik speaks to him of duty and daring and destiny, and Zelda urges him silently onwards, and Link fights and wins and grows. There is poetry like a song on the wind, and quiet moments between battles, and all the while they watch as Link fulfils his destiny.
It's close, so very close, and he fears it, and she weeps over it, and he has no idea that it's ever approaching. But perhaps something in him knows, because he looks at Sheik with lake-blue eyes and pulls his mask down, and the way he kisses him is like he refuses to let go for fear that he'll never see him again.
And grass forms a background of green against tanned skin, their coupling desperate and needy and far from perfect. Sheik's talented fingers draw music from harp and hero alike, and Link claims his body like it's a battle he refuses to lose, and later they lie in the grass and murmur things that mean everything and nothing.
And she watches, and she plans.
He waits, and she dreads, and he comes to them without knowing what is to transpire. And there's more poetry, and his red eyes are closed, and his blue eyes are wide open as if he realises what is to come.
And he steps forward to claim his hero's lips once more, and he lets gold-white magic overwhelm him, and he disappears like a song on the wind.
And she is left there, tears running down her cheeks as she whispers, "He loved you, he loved you, he loved you," like a mantra.
They sit and they watch and they wait, the silence between them stretched taut like a bow string, the silence of the battle field deafeningly loud. There is one single question on both of their lips.
"Did you love him?"
"Yes. Did you?"
She sits and she watches and she makes up her mind, and she reaches for his hand. "Follow me," she says.
And because he'd follow her in to hell, he does.
It's a world of shadow and darkness and fear, and knowing that this is where he was returned to drives an icy tendril of fear down his spine. He doesn't fear for himself, he does not fear for her, but he fears for him, for those lost to this place, for those he hopes to regain.
And a sacrifice is demanded of them in payment for what they want, the essence of a hero and the blood of innocence lost, and when she realises what it means, she does not hesitate.
But she still shakes as she rakes her skirts up, and she still shrinks away in fear when calloused hero hands touch her, and she still closes her eyes so that she does not have to watch.
And he whispers, "Pretend it's him," and that makes all the difference.
They find him washed up on the shore of death's river, returned to them but pale and still and motionless. And a touch is enough to make red eyes open, and his tunic and her cloak draped over his cold skin is enough to bring warmth back to his icy limbs, and the embrace of two is enough to make his frozen heart begin to beat again.
"Did you bring me back so that I may die again?"
"No. We brought you back so that you may live."
And it means a change in everything he's ever known, and for them, he will do it.
She's crowned before she's eighteen, and she starts to rebuild her world, and it's not long before they begin to ask for a king. And she has her hero and she has her shadow, and she loves her shadow but the union is not allowed, and so she asks her hero for his hand.
It isn't romance, it isn't passion, but it is love, and it means the three of them locked together forever, and the wedding that Hyrule holds is the biggest in memory.
And her shadow, her protector, mouths the words she says to her hero, and her protector, her shadow, mouths the words her hero says to her, and the near-identical ring that she and her husband slide on to her protector's finger after the ceremony cements the bond forever.
They depart for bed as king and queen, and they arrive there as husband and wife, and a third party that is waiting for them both. And he is the one they are determined to bring to the brink of pleasure and over it as well, the one whose bare skin begs to be explored and touched and caressed, the one they they've both loved and wept for and waited for.
The king and the queen take their lover to bed, and the queen breathes declarations of things that are no longer impossibilities, things she's wanted and craved and needed, things that she intends to do now that new avenues have been opened for them.
And the king watches in awe, and the king reaches for his lover and buries his face in his hair, and the king vows that he will never let him go again.
The kingdom waits, and the kingdom plans, and the kingdom celebrates, for the queen is expecting an heir.
And the kingdom doesn't know that the queen's husband is not the expectant father.
The king and queen sit in their bedroom, and the king and queen's lover asks if it is true, and the king and queen's lover holds a hand to the queen's belly and weeps because he never thought it possible.
And if the midwife wonders why the newborn prince closes red eyes and opens blue, and why the lingering sense of magic seems to pervade the air, and why the queen hands her newborn son to her bodyguard and not to her husband, she never tells.
The prince is the perfect heir - he has his mother's wise gaze, and his father's blue eyes, and if anyone puzzles over his resemblance to the queen's bodyguard, it goes unsaid.
And the king and queen are married to their kingdom, also, and so the bodyguard becomes a third parent, and dotes on the child like he is his own, and when the child's very first babbled 'Dada' is directed to the bodyguard, it's simply understood as a quirk of upbringing.
And no one but the king and queen sees the way the bodyguard smiles at every 'Dada' and every held hand and every wide blue gaze staring back at him.
The prince is a boy now, and a boy who enjoys running and jumping and hiding. And Sheik, the third parent, watches after his son and ensures he's safe always, and happy, and wants for nothing.
And he has Link, and he has Zelda, and they have each other, and there is mutual understanding that he is a part of their family. But none but they know how deep it goes, what the ring on Sheik's finger means, that his embraces of the queen and brushed hands and shared looks with the king go further than what is on the surface.
And perhaps their son knows, and perhaps their son looks up with wide blue eyes and knows that things aren't as they seem, and perhaps their son will be the one who learns the truth.
"Who do you think you are, my father?"
"...Oh, dear thrice."
And the prince knows now, and the prince sits in his mother's study and stares at his hands, and the prince's true father and his official father lock their hands together like they're each other's lifeline. And the queen merely waits and watches and keeps a worried eye on her boys, and the king looks away because he's hated lying to him even if he isn't his biological son, and the bodyguard watches him and silently pleads for acceptance.
And the prince turns to the bodyguard, and silently reaches out for a hug, and when he murmurs the word, "Father," not one of the three look dry-eyed.
And once all that is resolved, the queen tells all three that she's pregnant again.
The princess is born, and she has strawberry-blonde hair and Link's nose, and she is undoubtedly the king's daughter. And she grows to be a handful and a tomboy and a fan of fighting, and the king teaches her swordplay in the gardens and the prince takes her on as a partner in crime in miniature, and the ladies-in-waiting in the court tut disapprovingly but can't deny that the girl has skill.
And slowly, the prince and the princess and their three parents change the minds of Hyrule.
And when the princess grows and is seen hand-in-hand with a girl, when she learns that her three parents don't hate her for it, when she decides to invite her companion to her brother's wedding, the kingdom doesn't even raise an eyebrow.
The wedding that Hyrule holds is the biggest in memory. Their crown prince and his new bride are joined in marriage, and the prince's bodyguard winks at the new princess and she winks back at her, and his parents see and nudge each other and laugh.
Sheik asks Zelda to dance and she does, and Zelda laughs and suggests that the king might have something to say about that, and Sheik grins and says he'll make it up to him later. And he does, Sheik's hands in Link's when the music slows and the guests trickle out, a dance that turns in to an embrace that turns in to more, and an invitation for their queen to join them.
And Zelda smiles as she joins her boys, because she loves them and they love her and they love each other, and that's all they need.
And not even love offers immortality.
But there's no need to grieve, because even death is a part of life, and for him it was a long one. And he's had his king and his queen, and his son and his daughter, and it's no jarring clash of notes interrupted but a coda that brings his life to a conclusion.
Sheik drums his fingers to the melody of Zelda's lullaby - one-two-three, one-two-three, and when she and Link next reach for his hands, they are still.
And sometimes, ends are beginnings, too, like a song on the wind.