Written for LJ's LGBTfest with the prompt, "Zelda never realised that being a man would feel so right. What happens when the lines between male and female begin to blur? Zelda as genderqueer." If you don't want to read about a genderqueer!Zelda, then... don't. As a side note, first time I've ever written Zelink or Zelda-as-Sheik!
He's playing outside, a clumsily-made wooden sword in one hand, sparring against invisible enemies. There's a grin on his face even as he shoves blonde hair out of blue eyes, ducking beneath the swing of a monster and striking back, lightning-fast.
He's a soldier, a warrior, and no enemy will stand in his way. He can take care of himself, and woe betide anyone that threaten him, and he might not have many (any) friends, but one day it'll all be worth it.
Battles concluded, breathless, he flops on his back and watches the sky. The clouds drifting overhead reveal stories of their own - there, a fish flies through the water, there, a lizard scrambles up a cloud-wall. There, an ugly duckling is warped and changed by the wind into a swan, and he wishes it could do the same for him.
It's a lonely existence, his world of sky and grass and pretend battles. He longs for change.
"Zelda!" comes a sharp call, and, reluctantly, he sits up. "Zelda, where are you?"
Maybe he can hide, make the afternoon last a little longer. There, in the bushes - there's a chrysalis practically hanging in his face, and dirt smearing itself into his knees, and he doesn't care, but it's too late - Impa is already there, pulling him out and to his feet. "Zelda, your dress is filthy," she tells him, tone like steel with silk beneath. "What have you been doing out here, you naughty girl?"
Girl. His shoulders slump, and he looks up at her again, once more the one he's supposed to be. "Nothing, Impa," he says, whisper-quiet.
Something in Impa's red eyes soften. "Go and clean up," she instructs him, "Dinner will be soon." Zelda nods, head hanging low, and trudges off to be the Princess once more.
When Zelda next emerges into the Great Hall for dinner, dressed in a neat gown and hair neatly curled and brushed, the expression on his face is forlorn, pinched. He hates the dresses, hates having to pretend, hates having to be something he's not.
And he'll never say it. He'll just curtsy and take his seat and not complain. Because now he has to be a girl, and he has to pretend, and he has to be the good little Princess Zelda. Never complain, never let anyone know, never pretend that half the time, his entire body is wrong.
They eat and drink and talk, and Zelda tucks himself up close to his father and lets his big warm arm keep her warm. It's okay, isn't it? Not perfect, but tonight his body doesn't make her want to scream how wrong it is, the facade of the princess a little closer to real. She doesn't react when his father says how she's so intelligent, or how she looks so pretty in her new dress, and it's only when he calls her his favourite girl that he flinches.
"Don't call me that," Zelda whispers, and his father glances down at her with a frown. He knows that his daughter sometimes likes to be his son, and he is not fond of the idea.
"But you are my favourite girl, sweetheart," he says, but his voice is cold and Zelda knows he's just saying it to cover up in front of the nobles. "You're my daughter. My beautiful princess. My sweet, beautiful, dainty -"
"Stop it! That's not true!" he almost screams, and flees, sending cutlery flying in his wake.
Impa is the one who finds him, curled up and crying in the library. It always was one of his favourite places, aside from his garden - the books didn't care that she was weird, that sometimes she was a girl and sometimes he was a boy and sometimes she just wishes he was neither or both.
She stands there silently for a long time, then kneels at his side.
"Daddy will be mad," Zelda tells her, a ten-year-old's voice stiff and weary and old.
"That he may be," Impa confirms.
Zelda sniffles and wipes his nose with his sleeve, and Impa lets out a sigh, carefully wrapping her arms around him. "Zelda, do you see yourself as a boy?"
Zelda looks up, startled, tears stopping through sheer surprise. No one has ever asked him that - it's always, 'Zelda, why are you pretending to be a boy?', or 'Zelda, why do you think you're a boy?'. But this is... simple, unjudgmental - the gentle question of whether she sees herself as a boy.
"Sometimes," he admits, eyes downcast, fiddling with his skirts before she adds, "Not always. Sometimes I'm a girl, sometimes I'm a boy. Sometimes I'm... I'm not really either." She shrugs, flushing at his inability to describe it properly. "I'm just me."
Impa frowns at him thoughtfully, and Zelda frowns back. "Do you think I'm strange?" she asks hesitantly.
The Sheikah doesn't answer straight away, and Zelda feels his heart sink. Does that mean he is? Did that mean she's something abnormal, that he isn't right in the head? He dreads the idea that Impa is judging her after all.
"Perhaps a little," Impa finally concedes, and Zelda gives her an outraged stare. She's not supposed to say that! But then she continues - "But a little strangeness isn't necessarily a bad thing. People say I'm strange because I have red eyes."
Zelda blinks a little, raising a hand to touch the white markings beneath those red eyes. "I like your eyes," she says sincerely, "They're a nice colour."
Impa gives him a rare smile and a squeeze of the hand. For a moment, princess and guardian are silent - and then Impa turns to look at her. "How would you like," she starts carefully, "To start learning some Sheikah magic?"
Zelda stares. Impa begins to explain exactly what magic she means. And Zelda smiles.
There's fire, and there's rain. Impa has a steel arm digging into Zelda's ribs and the horse is jolting beneath them as they flee. There are tears on Zelda's face, because the king is dead and that makes Zelda a queen, but a queen in exile, and there's a boy in green who's almost trampled beneath the horse's hooves, eyes wide and horrified and overwhelmed.
Zelda twists around and hurls the ocarina as hard as she can, and then closes his eyes and lets Impa take her away.
The first thing Zelda does when he and Impa arrive at the cave is strip off his dress and headdress and slippers, curling up into a miserable ball, head on his knees. The smock he has beneath his dress is neutral, plain white, nothing to show him as a princess or a girl or herself.
If only he could escape. Not the cave - it's sanctuary now, shelter from the storm that's brewing outside. But escape from himself - from the girl who failed, who thought too vastly and who singlehandedly sent her country into ruins. This is her fault, and he hates himself for it.
Impa kneels before him, a hand on his shoulder. He doesn't look up.
"I don't want to be Her Highness Zelda, Princess of Hyrule, any more," he tells her, whisper-soft.
Carefully, Impa gathers him in his arms. "Then don't be," she says simply.
And he can feel the Sheikah magic starting to warm his veins. Zelda seizes it, wraps his hands around it and helps it grow, nourishing the flame that turns his skin dark, his hair golden, his eyes red. Beneath his skin, a metamorphosis is taking place, stealing away the princess and her dresses and replacing it with something... else.
It's something unlike anything she's experienced before. It's something he never thought he would experience. It's...
No longer a girl, lean arms and legs and a torso with no sign of developing breasts and hips, Zelda looks up at Impa and finally smiles.
Of course, it's not perfect. Impa and Zelda (now Sheik, Impa's nephew, a Sheikah boy from the borders near Kakariko) are on the run, and slipping into new identities like slipping into a new set of clothes becomes a way of life.
Sometimes, he is a boy, and that's alright. Sometimes, he has dark hair and eyes like rich red wine, or white hair and pale eyes, and sometimes he is Hylian, and his blonde hair and blue eyes make him wonder about the boy in the green tunic.
Sometimes, she is a girl, and then it's not alright. Before, he was a boy in a girl's body, but being a girl in a boy's body is equally as troublesome. But it's not safe to be a girl, now. A girl on the run could be a princess in hiding, a girl could be vulnerable, a girl could give them away where a boy might go unnoticed. Zelda stares at her reflection in a mirrored surface and craves to see curves, and a boy stares back with unforgiving eyes.
Zelda - Sheik - longs for compromise. He wants narrow hips and she wants breasts and he wants tunics and leggings and she wants skirts and to put her hair up and it's a battle that will one day tear him in two.
Seven years pass in a moment. Link is soon to wake up. And Sheik is waiting.
He's perched in a high-up alcove with a view of the chamber where he will appear, legs folded beneath him and grateful for the lack of skirts. They'd only get in the way, hinder his movements, disguise the body he's fought to have.
It's a body that feels like mostly his, now. One Sheikah identity for now, one disguise out of a million potentials that, some days, feels more like himself than he ever did as the princess.
And then there are the days where he longs to be her, again. Those are the days that Sheik hates, when he longs for curves and skirts and no longer feels like his skin fits her any more.
But for now, it will do. And Sheik will wait, and dread the day where he has to be Zelda again.
In a blaze of blue, he appears. And for a long, long moment, Sheik watches. A boy, unsteady of gait and uncertain of face, a boy holding a sword that still seems to big for him, a boy that has metamorphosed like he has.
The boy turns to leave. A butterfly spreading its wings, Sheik jumps. And in a voice that's half his and half the princess's, he says, "I've been waiting for you, Hero of Time..."
It's a two-way metamorphosis, Sheik decides as he watches a dripping-wet Link be deposited on the island above the Water Temple. In the blink of an eye, Link's body has gone from a boy's to a man's, and his mind soon to catch up. And Sheik... well, he stares out at the lake with a young man's eyes. He is hardly the princess he was seven years ago.
"...Hey," Link grins as he hurries to his side, the rising sun sending their shadows long and tall across the water. "Princess Ruto wanted me to say thanks."
"I see," he smiles - the Zora Princess, the Sage of Water, the one who had flinched back when Sheik had pulled her from the ice before understanding had dawned. She had sensed it then - the essence of the Seventh Sage swirling in a Sheikah's body.
Then she hadn't told Link. If ever he saw her again, he would have to thank her.
Link gazes out at the lake, and the rising sun sends gold through his hair. Sheik gazes at him for a long, long time, and takes a step back.
And Link whirls around and grabs his wrist. "Wait," he says hoarsely, "Wait."
For a long, long time, Link gazes at him. Then he drags Sheik's mask down and kisses him until they both can't breathe.
He's waiting, again. Waiting and watching and nursing the bruises gained from trying to protect Link from that thing and ignoring the smell of damp burnt wood and trying to ignore the sick, uneasy sensation in his stomach, because she's sent Link into the worst place imaginable and it's all his fault.
And, of course, she feels sick for another reason. The kiss, that kiss at the lake, the one Link had started but he hadn't exactly protested - did that mean Link liked men, and would turn his back as soon as - and there's yet another thing that makes him feel sick - as soon as he's forced to revert to the role of Hyrule's Princess? She's positive she likes men, but if she's a man as well, does that make him - and Link - as perverted as the men he hears whispers of in the towns and hidden places of the world?
Gazing at the back of his right hand, he can't help but wonder if the Hero of Legend and the Princess of Destiny can be anything but right - but what if the Princess of Destiny isn't right herself?
What if Impa is wrong, and a little strangeness is a bad thing, and Link turns his back?
What if she's right, and he doesn't?
Sheik doesn't know which outcome is worse. Because he can cope with being condemned herself - but to drag Link into that as well is unconscionable.
But what if he wants to...?
So instead, she keeps waiting. And watching.
He doesn't run away in the desert - doesn't flee like she wants to, to disappear into the sands and make Link think that Sheik is nothing but a dream.
Instead, they find themselves sheltering from the sandstorm in the temple, a little patch of serenity before the storm. Link plays the song he's just learnt and Sheik ponders its meaning - a requiem, a song for the dead.
The next time they are to meet, Sheik is to die and Zelda is to be reborn. Returned to a life of dresses and crowns and no escape from Princess and my lady and soon to be Queen and even as she welcomes it, the idea still makes him scream.
To be Zelda. Not the Princess, not the Sheikah. Just Zelda, who can see the future and use a blade and play faltering notes on an ocarina and stronger ones on a lyre and disappear into the wind and who is falling dangerously in love with an innocent Hero. If Zelda has that, then perhaps some happiness can be found.
But for now, with freedom slipping away like a butterfly taking its first flight, he clings to Link in the shadow of the temple and lets Link cling back in return. There is no question in Link's mind, and Sheik can push away the sickness she feels at the lie he's told him, and Link's hands are as gentle as they are inexperienced.
Their coupling is almost urgent, exploring new terrains of skin. Sheik's hair is tousled, Link's is sticking to his forehead. The fairy has disappeared off to places unknown. Sheik doesn't know whether he wants Link to take him as a man or a woman, doesn't care, doesn't want to let go.
Because letting go means...
They play the Requiem once more together, Sheik nestled against Link's chest. Then he kisses him again, and walks away.
He doesn't want to go. She has no choice. His duties have to end. Her destiny has to begin.
All Zelda ever wanted was freedom.
He has to break Link's heart. She has to mend it.
Behind Sheik's cowl, behind the wild shock of golden blonde hair that is utterly unbefitting of a princess, tears are dripping down tanned cheeks. An unsteady voice tells the story of the Triforce. And a light begins to shine on a gauntleted hand, and when it fades, a girl stands there.
And he's almost glad when Ganondorf's prison takes him away, because it means not having to see the betrayal on Link's face.
The battle is over. The Hero of Legend and the Princess of Destiny have fulfilled their role. And all that's left are Link and Zelda, settled on the broken rubble that was once a castle, watching as the sky turns blue.
"Was it you all along?" Link asks, and Zelda nods.
"I'm sorry I had to deceive you."
The Hero shrugs. "It's okay. I know you had to protect yourself."
Zelda laughs shortly and hangs her head, letting his loosened hair shield her from view. "If only it were that easy," she murmurs, and there's a crunch as booted feet cross before him.
Link's gauntleted hands settle on her shoulders, slipping beneath the useless armour. "...Are you okay?" he asks gently, and that is all it takes.
"I just want to be me," he chokes against Link's shoulder some time later. "That's all. Ever since I was small. Not the Princess, not the Sheikah." She sniffles, wiping her nose on her gloved hand in a matter most un-princess-like. "Just myself."
And Link sits back on his heels. "Then... do that."
Startled, Zelda glances up at him, then nods shortly. "Do you prefer," she starts, "For me to be a boy or a girl?"
For a long time, Link doesn't answer. "I'd prefer you to be you," he eventually says, and finally - finally, after seven years and running and hiding and freedom and imprisonment and skin that's always not quite felt right - finally, Zelda gets it.
It's not as violent as the first time, a soft faint glow that overtakes the features of the princess. The hips and breasts she had longed for as Sheik begin to grow less obvious, slimmer. Boy's hips, like he had wanted as a child, narrow but rising to a girl's waist.
Still blue-eyed, still with strawberry-blonde hair, but this time it's shoulder-length and neat. The Princess's crown - that remains, but the gown is gone - instead, it's changed, not quite a princess's dress and not quite a prince's tunic, hanging almost to knees clad in white leggings.
For a moment, Zelda stares at booted feet, then up at Link. The face that looks back at him is still Zelda's, yes - blue eyes, fair skin, pink lips that are parted slightly in a question. But there is a softer version of Sheik's jawline, the lines of his nose, his cheekbones - no longer a girl, no longer a boy, but something in between, undefined, something unique.
"Link?" And the voice, too, is different - a quiet alto, a perfect balance between Sheik's light tenor and Zelda's soprano. "Link, please, say something. I - how do I look?"
Link simply gazes back for a long, long time. Then he smiles, offering a hand to Zelda. "I think you look good," he nods, squeezing a hand that's still slender and fine-boned, but somewhere between Sheik's musician's fingers and a princess's delicate ones. "How do you feel?"
For a moment, Zelda's eyes close. "I think..." And, impulsively, the Princess-turned-Sheikah-turned-Princess-turned-Zelda spreads new wings and leans up to press a kiss to Link's lips. "I think... I'm finally myself."
Behind them, the sun is starting to emerge. And a new day begins.