Warnings: Depression and self-harm, character death (original)
The sky burns red and gold the night Zelda's father dies.
Link stands in knee-deep grass and gazes up at the town in flames, a dripping wet ocarina clutched in his white-knuckled hand.
Sheik watches Link watching the town from the shadows, brow furrowed as he stares at the boy his Princess says will be a hero.
Zelda rides and ride and rides, and never looks back.
Sheik and Zelda spend seven years together, running and hiding and protecting. Her heart and soul is in his hands, a princess sometimes gazes out of a Sheikah's eyes. But Zelda does not sit back passively - Sheik spins songs from fingers on golden lyre strings, and Zelda's hands itch as they yearn to follow. Sheik learns to ride a horse, to swim in the lake, and her muscles are tired and dormant - but the memory remains.
Conversation becomes unnecessary, thoughts exchanged like words, and Sheik's eyes are distant as the real world is ignored in favour of spending time with his Princess. Why would he ever need someone else? All he's ever wanted is here with him.
But whe the time comes, they go. Identical thoughts drift across a shared mind as they watch the Hero descend from the Heavens, a shared glance at the boy who became a Hero.
Zelda urges him onwards, and Sheik obeys without second thought.
Link and Sheik weave songs together, are brothers in arms as the world falls around their feet. Link's hands, wrapped around a sword, destroy. Sheik's hands, plucking melodies on old lyrestrings, create.
When night falls, their hands are the other's consolation - little touches as they prepare the campfire for the night, glimpses of the other over a firelight meal. As the fire dies and the stars rise, touch becomes their anchor - Sheik can sleep easily with his hero by his side and his princess in his heart, Link finds the nightmares will not touch him if he can only touch Sheik.
Zelda and Link are touched by destiny, children of fate, and Sheik can only watch as Ganondorf seizes her for his own. Link barely looks surprised when Sheik emerges from the shadows, shaking as a seven-year duality is whisked away like smoke in wind - he'll find her for both of their sakes. Sheik cannot continue on with him - only the Hero is permitted to save the Princess - but he can still guide him, advise him as they run hand in hand.
He cannot interfere, now. The Hero and the Princess - destiny calls for them, and not for him. Neither wish to send Link back, now - it's a selfish desire, but one they will not compromise on.
They've become fond of him.
When the castle collapses and Ganondorf falls and Ganon rises, when the blinding light of the Sage seal dazzles him and the blue sky chases the clouds away, Sheik is there waiting for them. Link and Zelda, facing each other, hand in hand - they both reach out to him, and he joins them like it's the most natural thing in the world.
When the sun begins to sink and the sky is painted red and gold, Sheik remembers an evening seven years ago. If that was a start, then this must be an ending - but no, not even that is correct.
Perhaps this is another beginning.
The bed in Impa's old house is small, but somehow, the three of them manage to squash themselves in. Zelda sleeps secured in Sheik's arms like the seven years she had spent secured in his heart, Link wraps his long arms around the both of them, breathing in the scent of Zelda's hair, combat-rough fingers drifting across Sheik's cheek as if to reassure himself that he's still here.
They fit well together.
Together, they find the morning together - limbs warm and tangled, the warmth of summer heat like a reassuring blanket. For a long moment, Sheik considers staying there forever.
Zelda greets the town and she's calm and cool and sweet. With her Hero and her Protector at her sides, she gives promises and reassurances, speaks of her plans to restore Hyrule. To anyone else, it'd be an empty promise - only Link and Sheik know that she will find a way to make it true, to wrap Hyrule in her hands, nurture it like a small, sad seedling.
One day, it will be a mighty tree. For now, it is barely holding on. Sheik and Link know that if anyone can do it, their Princess can.
Their Princess soon becomes their Queen, and a new castle rises from the ashes of the old one. Surprising no one, Link becomes Zelda's knight - nothing will see him parted from his Queen now. But behind closed doors, it's three, not two - seven years bind Sheik to Zelda as firmly as any vow to serve, and Link will not sleep without Sheik by his side.
There are rumours, certainly. The maids find the three of them tangled together comfortably in the big bed, and whispers about how Zelda will soon choose one to marry and break the other's heart begin to echo through the castle.
They do not realise that it's not merely romance that binds the three together - but something stronger, something stranger than that.
A knight at the Queen's right hand, a protector at her left. A hero who fights for his loved ones. A silent shadow who will not be parted from his light.
How could the three of them ever part ways?
They are unconventional in every sense of the world.
Zelda has never sat on a horse before, not with her own feet in the stirrups, her own hands on the reins. They race, and Link only barely manages to beat her - Sheik brings up the rear, watching in amazement as her muscles move as his once did.
As theirs once did.
Link's spelling is appalling, his handwriting even worse. Sheik patiently watches him write line after line, the words slowly shaping into fluid form and not ugly scratchings. Zelda scours the new library and finds books for him - adventure stories, history lessons. Neither forget that he is still new to Hyrule proper.
When Link writes his first poem (to Sheik and to Zelda, those who he'd fight for to the end), they don't publicly celebrate it. It remains in a chest in their room, to be read over fondly in quiet times.
Sheik was never particularly fond of sword combat - he prefers to move swiftly, silently, to take out a target and move on. Zelda must be kept safe at all cost, after all. But with Link, he is able to face an opponent without fear of endangering her - Zelda's courtyard rings with the sound of clashing steel. Sometimes, even she joins in - she is swift with a blade, her movements quick, Link's strong, Sheik's accurate.
He never says why, but Sheik throws himself into learning how to defend the ones he loves.
Zelda eventually begins to search for a husband - an heir to the Royal Family must be produced, and her knight and her protector survey every potential suitor with a scrutiny that scares the more feeble-hearted off.
Of those that remain, it's a prince from a far-off kingdom that finally wins the Queen's hand. Zelda gives him her personal stamp of approval, and Link and Sheik quietly determine that he is kind and gentle and understands that they will not be parted from her.
The wedding is spectacular. The wedding night is awkward to a point that they will later look back and laugh about it. Link and Sheik silently steal out so that the deed may be done, then silently steal back in afterwards. The new king finds himself lying bemusedly at one end of the bed while the queen settles down once more with her boys.
Eventually, things settle into a pattern. When privacy becomes a necessity, Link and Sheik retreat to the room that connects to hers, playing cards, playing songs to pass the time, sharing glances that speak volumes - things are changing, and yet they will not be parted from her.
When Sheik finds himself a lover amongst one of the the castle musicians, and when things turn sour two months later and he reluctantly ends things with her, Zelda is the one who notices the Sheikah's diminished mood and who enlists Link in an intervention. She is the one who personally attempts to heal Link's wrist when it breaks in combat - the castle healers take up where she leaves off, but she is still the first to attend to him.
The message is clear. Marriage or not, they still have their Zelda.
The baby comes into the world with a mother, a father, two sworn-fathers, and a kingdom practically already in love with her. Now, four in the room become a practical necessity - when she cries at night, only one is required to slip from the warmth of the blankets, and the new princess grows strong at her mother's breast and on bottles of Lon Lon Milk.
It's Link who volunteers to do the daily run to the ranch to collect the castle's milk, and Sheik and Zelda wonder why until they see the way his eyes light up around the ranch girl, Malon, and are glad when she, too, understands.
Slowly, their cocoon is starting to open up.
It's all of them that come together when the nightmares when the sky is dark and the dark thoughts when the sky is light begin to overtake Sheik. Seven years of war, of uncertainty and insecurity and fear, are beginning to catch up to him.
Zelda is the one who murmurs to her husband to keep a watchful eye on him. Link is the one who wraps his arms around him and holds him until he stops shaking after the disastrous training session - the one that ended with a wounded soldier and Sheik's bloodied, broken hands trembling as Malon carefully picks the splinters out.
After that, he is rarely left alone. His days are spent with Link, humming new songs for Link to play as he steals covetuous looks at the lyre going unused until his hands heal. Evenings are given over to Zelda, watching as the young princess plays with her toys, a faint smile crossing his lips as Zelda presses a healing hand to her rounded belly. Sometimes, it's both, Zelda and Malon asking their input on baby names as Sheik rests his head against Link's shoulder and listens to him breathe.
These days, Link rarely leaves his side - he, too, knows the nightmares well. It's hard on Malon, and unfair, certainly - but the selfish part of his mind insists that Sheik had him first, that he needs him more than she does. It's a dark thought that does not help, and he's grateful when that thought begins to slip away.
His hands heal, and although the scars across the back of his fingers do not, everyone is relieved when his mind begins to heal as well.
When the little prince does not make it, this time, it's Zelda they come together for.
There are few allowed in the Royal chambers, these days. Link cradles his son close and pretends not to see the despairing envy in Zelda's eyes when she looks at him, Malon smooths her sleep-rumpled hair. Sheik plays song after song, plucking melodies that Zelda loves until his fingertips turn raw, the king hovers beside her and tries to answer their daughter's questions.
When her biographers ask her in future years how she copes with the death of her son, she will answer that her knight and her protector helped her without a second thought.
Where once the three moved as one, now they move as three.
Zelda has her kingdom to rule - seven years of hurt do not heal in an instant, and there is her daughter to consider as well.
Link spends his days at the castle and his nights at the ranch, his son growing into a strong young man (and when the boy finds himself taken with the princess, their parents chuckle and nudge each other in amusement).
And Sheik drifts behind his Queen and his Princess and keeps them from harm, loving both as his own family, loving the man he meets amongst the guards as something else. It's another whose touch soothes his scarred hands, now.
These days, the bed in the Royal chambers feels practically empty.
But time and distance and other commitments still cannot erase the bonds between them.
They still ride across the plains and fields of Hyrule, and Zelda still almost wins.
They still go for expeditions through the libraries, and Link invariably still finds the best adventure stories.
They still practise swordplay in the courtyard, and Sheik still manages to hit the mark with unerring accuracy.
They've changed, and yet some things remain eternally.
Once a year, every year, the King and Malon and the guard understand that their loves need a day to themselves. It's rare that the Queen makes an appearance on the anniversary of Ganondorf's fall, although she is at the celebrations the next day without fail. Her precise location, however, is known only to very few.
Behind the castle where once another stood, where a fortress had been built atop it, where it later crumbled into ashes, is a small, private lake.
The chasm that was once filled with burning magma is now surrendered to pure, clean water. Thick, clean-smelling grass covers the ground in a green swathe. Trees, regrown against the odds, surround the odd basin. From the nearby fountain, countless fairies drift in the breeze.
It's here that things begun, and here that things ended, and here that things began all over.
And it's here where they allow themselves to heal.
Just the three of them, they sit and watch the sun burn the sky red and gold. They talk, they remember, they cry. They are children of war, all of them, but seven years were just the beginning, and although love and duty has made them drift apart, it's love that will bind them forever.
They watch the sun set, and they let sleep take them. Zelda sleeps secured in Sheik's arms like the seven years she had spent secured in his heart, Link wraps his long arms around the both of them, breathing in the scent of Zelda's hair, combat-rough fingers drifting across Sheik's cheek as if to reassure himself that he's still here.
They fit well together.
And together, they will find the morning together - limbs warm and tangled, the warmth of summer heat like a reassuring blanket. For a long moment, Sheik will consider staying there forever - and he will rise for a new day knowing that forever is exactly what he has.