fleets: I'm so sorry about this huge delay but! It's done! I'm alive! The story isn't dead!
Some characters kind of derailed my initial chapter plans which also took a wee bit more time in writing but. We're here, we're done, and if you're reading this thank you so much for waiting :'')
(special thanks to kaze for helping me come up with a title for this chapter)


Chapter 17: Clarity

It was always the same.

Always the same.

Always.

Everything was a tortuous repetition, including that voice in his head. His own voice, repeating itself, shouting, anything to keep the emptiness and silence at bay. The void that cycled, revisiting him with every failure and now, after he thought he'd escaped it he was back here again. How? Why? He wasn't calm enough to remember. He could feel himself breaking, splintering, and slipping away, the pieces of himself that he'd somehow managed to put together coming apart like shattering glass.

But then something reached him through the darkness. A weight of a hand on his shoulder, firm. Real. The voice in his head repeating itself in panicked breaths gradually faded when his focus momentarily moved to the touch on his shoulder. Before, he would have reached for the panicked voice again, because it was still better than the unbearable silence, but this time he allowed it to dim to an echo, the weight on his shoulder a comfort he'd missed.

Vaati waited, holding his breath, aware that he was waiting for something to appear from the darkness but not entirely sure of what. A few minutes (or seconds? hours?) passed and a splash of color appeared in the center of his vision, and footsteps echoed over the sound of muffled voices while the weight on his shoulder slipped away. His eyes greedily took in the new contours and color after being starved for stimuli in the darkness, and it took him some time to realize the colors he was watching had blossomed into a familiar scene.

He was standing (or floating?) inside Zelda's apartment, but he was actually there this time, physically, instead of observing through the lens of the SS. A lot of the colors were blurred like his eyes couldn't focus on them clearly, but there was one section that pulled his attention with sharp clarity and detail. It was the door into the apartment, and there was a soft beep and a click as the keycard opened the lock. The person who stepped through surprised Vaati, for he recognized Zelda, not as the Zelda of "this era" but as the one he'd encountered time and time again throughout the ages. She was wearing a beautiful dress, simple but elegant with its deep pink satin that swirled around her ankles when she walked. Her hair was still tied up in that same pony tail, but this time it was pulled together with a matching pink bow that she somehow managed to make it look youthful but not childish. He had seen this all before, he thought, hundreds of years ago…

Except it was different, too.

"Did you enjoy prom?" Nohansen asked from where he sat in the living room. Zelda tugged her heeled slippers off and shoved them nonchalantly in the corner while responding to her father with a noncommittal grunt. Nohansen watched her with a burdened smile. "You look just like your mother…"

And then Vaati saw her freeze, not long enough for it to be obvious, but long enough for him to notice that something was wrong. He could see her thoughts racing behind her eyes before she slowly closed her eyes and took a breath to compose herself. When she opened them again, she looked up at her father, beaming with a calculated, carefully crafted smile. "Yes," she said.

He'd seen that expression before, a long time ago before his last slumber. It was the smile of someone who'd learned to shoulder the burden of being someone they were not for the sake of those around them.

As Vaati watched the scene, he had a passing thought in the back of his mind, wondering why he was watching something from Sheik's past. Just as he turned that thought over, the colors faded and his eyes snapped open, bringing him back to the waking world.

He was lying on his side, his cloak draped over his shoulders like a blanket. The earth was cool next to his cheeks, suggesting that it hadn't been too long that he'd been in this position. In front of him, someone had stuck a single torch in the ground to stave off the darkness, and whatever firelight that hadn't been swallowed by the endless void danced across his weary face. As soon as he noticed the void, his fingernails dug into the dirt and he immediately sat up, tense. He could hear the voices in his head begin to clamor again, demanding him to tell them if he knew what was real.

But then one voice cut through the darkness, silencing the others briefly. "Vaati, are you awake?" He snapped his head around to see Sheik crouched by the fire beside him. The other boy almost blended in with the surroundings in his black rogue's armor, and the sorcerer wondered how long he'd been there.

What does it look like, his own voice snorted in response.

I don't know, am I? another added apprehensively.

Instead, Vaati bit his lip and looked around at his surroundings more carefully instead. His eyes were drawn to the fire flickering around the torch while he tried to remember what had happened to him. His thoughts were distracted, and he had trouble focusing as his mind kept wandering back to the stifling darkness surrounding them. Eventually, however, he managed to find some stability in his thoughts when he returned to thinking about the torch instead of trying to remember how he'd gotten here.

Where had the torch come from? It hadn't been there before.

"I had to log out for a short while to take care of myself in the other world, but I'm back now."

Vaati wrenched his gaze away from the torchlight reluctantly and turned back to Sheik. It took him a while for him to make sense of Sheik's words, and the rogue's worried, hovering demeanor. It almost felt as though Sheik was afraid of leaving him alone, like he was some… scared child who needed comfort.

Irritation rose in Vaati's chest, but it was quickly dulled as he gradually began to remember what had happened before Sheik had arrived. The irritation twisted into a sickening knot in his stomach when he remembered what it was that had gripped him with fear. He remembered how he'd promised Sheik that he wouldn't wander off without him, but when dull hours passed where his promise bound him from making progress, he'd been gripped with a listlessness he'd been unable to ignore. He'd convinced himself that, despite what had happened with Mothula, he didn't need to wait for Sheik like he needed some kind of chaperone. He was the Sorcerer of Winds. He was capable of making progress on his own.

He'd stepped into the dark tunnel.

And then he'd been back, trapped inside the sword.

It was the sword, wasn't it? He knew this boundless void. It had to be.

Soft leather brushed against his fingers, and he felt Sheik wrap his gloved hands around his, breaking him out of his thoughts. The rogue was studying him with a concerned gaze. Normally, Vaati might have pulled away from his grasp, but he could feel his throat closing and instead, clutched his hands tightly around Sheik's. The sensation of something solid in his hands served as a reminder that this was not the same prison as the empty void of the sword. Vaati remained tense and unmoving for some time, pushing down the familiar panic that was beginning to rise in his chest as he forced himself to focus on the touch of Sheik's hands in his. Once or twice, Sheik seemed to make a move to reach for his shoulder in concern, to comfort him, but the sorcerer's nose wrinkled into a snarl to stop him. He didn't need help, he just needed time.

After what seemed like hours to Vaati, he managed to control the flighty feeling clamoring in his chest, and silenced the distressed, incoherent thoughts scratching at his mind. Eyes closed, he took a final, long and slightly tremulous breath and counted to five. When he opened his eyes again, he was back to his stoic, calm, unreadable self, though he still appeared hesitant at letting go of the one reminder in his hands that this void was not the one from the sword.

How much did he see? Vaati wondered coldly as his eyes traced the concern etched into Sheik's face. Knowing the answer to his question, he angled his head away from the rogue's gaze. Sheik's expression was unbearable; he could only imagine how he judged him for how pathetic he'd become.

No.

No, it wasn't that. Sheik wouldn't judge him, and that somehow made it worse. The rogue wouldn't think he was pathetic, he'd feel sorry for him. Pity him, see him as something that was powerless to do anything against something as silly as darkness. He'd seen that look on Sheik's face before, the same look on some wizened old man who'd thought himself a mentor. It was the look of someone who believed him to be a child who couldn't be left alone, lest he hurt himself. Patronizing.

They were just worried about you.

The whisper of logic only frustrated him further. Was he truly angry at that old fool, or at Sheik, or was he simply projecting his anger surrounding his own incompetency? He wanted to pull away with a scathing remark, to let it be known that he was angry, but the fear hiding beneath the surface of his anger held him back. His hands in Sheik's shook with rage, but they remained frozen where they were.

He'd completely lost control, and it… scared him? Angered him? It was a confusing mess of fear and anger, just like he was some kind of small, terrified, cornered mouse snarling at everything because it was afraid. And the fact that he was lucid enough to recognize this angered him even more, and worse still he had nothing tangible to direct his anger to. This wasn't who he was, he wasn't supposed to be like this. He used to be so much more, just –

Fearless. Confident.

He remembered back when Hyrule was still Hyrule and people feared his name. He'd had grand visions and he'd had an almost naïve arrogance that he could do whatever he set his mind to, because he was in control. He'd never doubted anything he'd set his mind to, because he knew himself.

He'd probably laughed more often back then.

Vaati took another quiet breath, and then wordlessly stood up, unable to acknowledge Sheik's presence in shame at what he'd allowed the other boy to witness. Still holding on to Sheik's hand, he pulled the rogue up like he was taking the lead, even though he could feel himself waver upon facing the void once again. Vaati reached into the embroidered bag hanging from his waist for the compass and held it out in front of him. The needle pointed deeper into the darkness, and there was a small twitch along his brow as he stared at the vast lightless expanse.

There was a soft sigh beside him and firelight flickered nearby, indicating the rogue had picked up the nearby torch. "Why did you leave without waiting for me like you promised?" Sheik asked.

Vaati gritted his teeth.

Because time spent waiting is time wasted. Because I can do this on my own. Because I am tired of having to depend on you to be able to accomplish anything.

And because if you meet Ganondorf…

Vaati maintained his stubborn silence, refusing to answer.

"After everything we went through and talked about, you recklessly went off on your own."

Berating me like a child.

Vaati's fingers clenched around the compass tightly, claw-like, knuckles becoming white from pressure. His one eye unhidden by bangs suddenly glinted with an enraged ferocity in the darkness. "I can do this on my own," he hissed. There was a lapse into silence, and he could feel Sheik's eyes on the back of his head, waiting expectantly. Vaati tried to will his legs to move forward to continue onwards with or without the rogue, but he found himself petrified. His feet were rooted to the earth.

Behind him, Sheik watched the sorcerer for some time before he finally said, "You can't."

The words, simple and blunt, hit Vaati like a sack of bricks. He turned his head sharply towards Sheik, eyes wide in disbelief and wondering if he'd misheard him. He'd never expected Sheik of all people to say something so tactless to him. Color began to creep up along Vaati's neck in fury.

Sheik continued with the same level, merciless tone. "You're shaking in your knees, don't tell me you're okay because you're not."

And indeed he was. There was a tremor in his legs that he couldn't stop no matter how hard he willed it. To deny it would have made him look more of a fool, but to have Sheik address so plainly what he'd been avoiding admitting was too much. "I'm… you…" Vaati spluttered, completely losing the composure he'd regained moments before. He tried to find his aloof, disinterested mask again, but Sheik gave him no breaks this time.

"I saw you earlier, Vaati."

To have the calm, gentle, patient Sheik who had, until now, continued to respectfully give him space, corner him like this was jarring and upsetting. His gaze wavering, Vaati tossed back the only words he knew to say when he was unwillingly pushed to an emotional cliff. "You wouldn't understand," he snarled. He dug his heels into the ground, compelling his unsteady legs to stand firm, and dared Sheik to disagree.

"Of course I wouldn't."

Vaati blinked, the words like a swift punch to the gut.

Huh…?

Sheik hadn't raised his voice, but it had been stern enough to shut him up and listen. It had been stern, but not unkind; firm, but somehow as gentle and infuriatingly patient as ever. Vaati felt a tug on his hand, and he realized he was being led forward in the direction the compass had pointed by the hand he'd been holding this entire time.

"You never tell me anything," Sheik said, walking him forward without looking back over his shoulder at him. The rogue spoke softly, repeating the same words he'd spoken as Zelda back when they had been together at the park. At the same time, there was still something different about Sheik, like a rigidness that hadn't been there before. Was he…

Was Sheik angry…?

It hadn't ever occurred to him that Sheik would ever be angry at him. It should have been expected of course, but it was just that the blonde had been so tolerant of everything from the very beginning that he'd… well…

Taken it for granted, perhaps?

More than once he'd griped about how Sheik was so trusting of him when he knew nothing about him, and every time he'd brought it up Sheik would just smile and wave his words away. Now that the rogue was no longer smiling and seemed somewhat upset with him, Vaati wasn't entirely sure how to react. The kind of anger directed towards him wasn't one he was used to, either. He was used to people hating him and denouncing him as evil, but this? It felt uncomfortably similar to something from the depths of his past, like he'd disappointed someone who had –

cared about him.

His train of thoughts confused him, and rather than snap at Sheik, Vaati allowed himself to be led forward into the darkness with little resistance. Tired from falling apart, tired from anger, tired from thoughts that made little sense to him, Vaati's brows knitted together in the middle of his forehead and he murmured under his breath defeatedly, "I was the most powerful sorcerer in the world." The words were only a half-hearted attempt to convince the rogue that he was wrong for accusing him for being weak. They were mostly spoken as words Vaati clung to like a child and his blanket, afraid of the dark. "I should be able to do this on my own."

"A person who can't ask others for help isn't strong at all."

The tiredness was pushed away from Vaati's expression once more as he took offense to what seemed like an accusation that he was weak. Sheik's words had hit a nerve, and a malevolent shadow passed across Vaati's face. "Other people will always disappoint you in the end." The sorcerer elaborated no further, but there was a weight to his words that suggested they drew from experience. Old, jagged scars cut deep by betrayal, hidden under a cloak of anger. He wrenched away from Sheik's hand, his fingers balled into fists as he stared after the rogue who continued to walk onwards without looking back.

"And that's why it takes strength to ask for help. It's not easy to place your trust in someone when they have all the power to betray your hopes. It isn't weakness to rely on someone, Vaati."

The sorcerer stormed after him, his wrath returning. "I don't need help when there is no one who can do what I can do better."

There was a barely audible sigh from Sheik as he kept walking in the direction of the compass's arrow, and for a few seconds there was only the sound of their footsteps in the dark. He seemed to be mulling over whether or not he could temper his patience for a while longer. And then, "Do you know where you would be right now, without me? Not here. Not in Asphodel. You'll be in an SS with its batteries slowly draining with no way of charging the device yourself." The words poured, but were delivered in the same soft tone as before, not unkind but stern and unwavering. It was a brutal honesty that cut the quiet, retired air like the crack of a whip. "Do you know what would happen If Caph didn't help you? You wouldn't be able to use me as a ticket out of your SS."

Footsteps faltered, before they pushed on, somewhat shakily like they had difficulty following the one whose words cut deep. Until now, Sheik had done nothing but step around Vaati's insecurities, being careful not to overstep to the point it was almost coddling. Now, however, there was no such sensitivity, instead striking with but a few words where it stung the most. It could have been called vicious, if it weren't for the fact that there was always still an undertone of kindness and residual concern. It was confusing, and Vaati had never felt so bewildered and shaken that the conversation seemed to be slipping through his fingers. A part of him that had taken Sheik for granted, a part that he would never admit to having, whispered dumbfoundedly that this was not what Sheik was supposed to say. They were supposed to be supportive, never attacking. Where was this coming from?

And when Vaati finally spoke he surprised even himself, for it was not his usual self, the one he prided as being strong and confident, but the voice of someone who'd never been told to take a good hard look at themselves by someone who truly saw him for what he was. "What do you want, Sheik?" he snapped. Angry. Defensive. "Do you want me to tell you how broken I am, is that it? Do you take joy in taunting me about what I've been reduced to? Do you think I don't know what I must look like, now?"

Sheik ignored him, walking forwards without so much as acknowledging the sorcerer behind him. Enraged with wounded pride, Vaati fumed after him, counting the seconds as he waited for a response. Just when he'd run out of patience on waiting out the tortuous silence that the rogue seemed to have condemned him to, Sheik slowed his steps, and then turned around to face him. "I just want you to be honest with me and also yourself. You endangered us both today."

And then there was a crack in Sheik's stern expression, until it broke and turned into a smile like the light breaking through the void just behind him. Vaati blinked, completely taken aback by everything: the words, the smile, and the light he hadn't noticed they'd found since he'd been too preoccupied by his own emotional turmoil.

Sheik laughed lightly at Vaati's expression, and then nodded towards the light seeping through a break in the darkness, like a doorway that hadn't been shut closed properly. They'd made it through the void without him falling into another panic attack. In the last two-thirds he'd made it with his own feet. Vaati blinked again, speechless at Sheik. Did he -

Did he just distract me with anger to get through the darkness…?

And yet, it hadn't simply been words to make him angry, no. Sheik's words stung, but he knew deep down that he was right. They weren't petty insults of the sort Veran tossed at him, or criticisms that aimed to extinguish his self-worth like those an old hat had once cawed. It was personal, like he'd been hit with words spoken by someone who actually knew him and saw him as he was, because they had taken the time to pay attention to him. The thought was humbling enough to shut him up.

He saw Sheik reach for the light, preparing to leave the void, and the conversation. He'd taken too long to respond.

No.

He couldn't leave it like this. It wasn't that Sheik had expected a response, but he deserved more than his stunned silence. He pushed away his impulse that told him scornfully how he owed the rogue nothing, that he shouldn't stoop to saying the words he'd never offered to anyone else in his entire life.

"Sheik." Vaati reached for Sheik's hand, holding it firmly in his grasp. Sheik whirled around in surprise, though not before his own fingers grazed the light seeping through the crack in the darkness. As soon as Sheik touched the break, color rushed around them both, brilliant blue of a summer sky blooming above them and painting light over miles of lush, windswept plains. Beautiful flowers that mirrored the sky dotted the fields with blues. The place looked like the fields in Asphodel, but it was more vibrant and alive. Vaati took a deep breath, sunlight dancing across his face as he looked Sheik in the eyes. "I'm sorry."

He slowly let go of the rogue's hands, having said what he'd meant to say. However, he was surprised once again when he felt a pull and found his fingers entwined in the others'. He was met with the same expression of gentle, kind patience that had frustrated him before, but this time he wasn't frustrated.

All this time he'd misjudged Sheik.


fleets: I don't have a whole lot to add, except to say thank you very much for being patient with me! This chapter in particular went through a couple of changes. Originally it was going to be a fluffy chapter without conflict, but Vaati has, frankly, been a very rude self-interested asshole who was too busy moping about himself to appreciate Sheik's infinite patience with him. He needed a stern talking to hah.

Kaze Hana: Thank you haha that is a mood

Meta-Akira: Nothing so sinister, it just turned out that Vaati was a big dummy haha. Sorry about taking so long but I will confidently say that I will not abandon this story :)

Ai Star: SOMEONE NEEDS TO PINCH HIM. He didn't listen and that was an epic mistake. Typical Vaati.

Apocalypse-Mage: I'm also sorry I'm late ahhhhh busy month over here for me too, no worries!
Your comments always makes me smile without fail no matter how many times I come back to them, so thank you so much for that? And whoo boy yeah it's a pretty big contrast to how he was. He knows it too… might bite him in the ass later

Mari: Thank you so much ahhhh I'm happy you like it so far!