So, Mudora asked me a question on the FSConnect forums:
"You know, all this talk about grandchildren has put another question in mind... a point of interest to me is Brayden and Natalia.
How much does Brayden miss her? I'm assuming lots... but... I'd like an in depth thing here. :P"
And this was my answer. :)
Takes place not long after the end of the Return.
P.S. Before I am asked: No, I haven't given up on Reconciliation, no I don't know when the rest of the current chapter/next chapter will be up, yes I am very very very sorry it's been so long.
P.P.S. THANK YOU ALL for continuing to read/favourite/review even though I've been SUCK at updating. You are much loved (seriously, I have no words).
I don't know why I agreed to come here.
A stifling desert wind trips and tumbles around me, worse up here on the tower than down below on the sands. It brings with it what it always does: too much dust and absolutely no respite from the biting heat. I tighten my shawl around my face, conscious of the looks the Eye on the front of it earns me from the guards lining the wall to either side of me.
They don't know why I agreed to come here either. For most of them I'm still an enemy – the enemy, no matter what their alarmingly progressive King might say. Progressive is a new word for these people, and I don't think they've quite caught on to the concept yet. They say it like it's a disease, or terrible loss, you know? Like someone's just died and it was progressiveness that killed them and it's all very sad. Or rage-inducing. This is the Gerudo Fortress after all.
Hmmm…maybe my son's more progressive than me too. But old wounds are hard to forget. They only hurt while they're fresh, but they itch and ache and keep you limping for the rest of your life; always there to remind you of the hurt; always there to remind you who hurt you. It's hard to be progressive when you spent your whole life hating a thing, only to have someone tell you that it's not okay to do so anymore. Hate is like a wound sometimes. Hurts while it's fresh, but itches forever.
Too many memories here, that's the problem.
Maybe that's a strange thing to say – I would imagine I'm the only Sheikah in existence (prior to a month or two ago) who can actually make that claim – but sometimes the strangest things are the truest. A half-Sheikah raised Kokiri with the Hylians is the King of Gerudo. Just one example. You get the idea.
Too many memories.
I'm doing my best not to look at them, or the thing which may as well be them. I am religiously keeping my blank gaze on the desert below, expanding in all directions like a vast, dead sea. The wind whips it into dunes and banks and waves of sand, and I know for a fact there are places out there you can drown in. Maybe it's not that different than the ocean in the end. But I'm not actually seeing any of that right now, no matter how hard I'm staring at it.
Behind me, out of my line of sight, is a taller tower than the one on which I stand. I don't know what it is now – I haven't asked. My son may be known for his courage, but I've never denied the fact that I can be a damned coward sometimes – but a long, long time ago now it was full of interrogation rooms. That's what we would have called them – the Sheikah I mean. We had them too. Interrogation rooms, where you would take enemies and lock them up and ask them questions. Really polite questions. Just like having tea, only with weapons and violence and a whole lot of hurt. The Gerudo didn't call them Interrogation Rooms. They called them Torture Chambers, because the Gerudo are a very blunt, no-nonsense people with a disturbing habit for calling a spade a spade. They don't soften anything for anybody, least of all themselves. We thought they were monsters for it.
But there are no lies in the desert. The wind strips you of everything but your core. You find out who you are out here, everyone does. If you don't like it, that's your problem.
The Gerudo don't have the time to lie. They're too busy surviving.
All of that to say that even though I'm not looking at the tower, I'm seeing it anyway. I'm seeing it as it was years ago, looming large in my memory and darkening my heart with its shadow. I still have the scars…
I remember…I remember being brought in here, barely conscious. There had been a battle not far from the Fortress – a failed attempt to sneak in and attack the Gerudo directly, where we figured they'd be weakest. Critical miscalculation on our part. The Gerudo are strongest here, in the desert, where they're fed by the sand and the wind and the hardship. Their history rises up around them here, their ancestors fight with them, their shared purpose, their collective belief in themselves, all of it is here. They've never been defeated on their own turf. I don't think they ever will.
They destroyed us.
Those of us who were still alive they threw into a cart. I was somewhere in the middle of the heap, and by the time they were dragging us through their gates, it had become more of a pile of corpses than a pile of wounded. I guess they figured if you weren't strong enough to survive the trip, you weren't strong enough to survive the questioning, so what good were you anyway? They're not big on delaying the inevitable, less so back then. Before Link. Back in Ganondorf's days.
All scars. Every one of them. I knew those people, I'd grown up with them, I'd trained with them, I'd fought with them. I kept a tally. I counted our dead and I put that number on the heads of the Gerudo and I blamed them for all of it, and I hated them. I hated them for killing us, I hated them for beating us, I hated them for being better, and for being women, and for having red hair and dark skin. I hated them because I had to hate somebody, because if it wasn't their fault it had to be ours, and I couldn't deal with that.
So I hated them until the hate hurt worse than the wounds and I blacked out under the weight of it.
I woke up in those chambers. The Gerudo Interrogation Rooms – because the Sheikah in me still won't let me call it what it was. And oh I was high and mighty. Insufferably morally superior. As though the Sheikah didn't do the same things. As though the mere fact that we were Sheikah meant our interrogation rooms made us heroes, and the mere fact that they were Gerudo meant that their interrogation rooms made them monsters. Hate does funny things to a person. War too. It's like a dream, where it all makes sense in the moment, but then you wake up and have to look back at what you did and that's when you realize it was a nightmare.
She walked in, I remember that. She walked in, dressed in white, her long hair pulled back into a pony-tail. It was the colour of fire. It caught the sunlight from outside in the hall and practically glowed. I knew what the pony tail and the uniform meant. It meant this was Natalia. It meant this was the leader of the Gerudo. It meant I was in trouble. I also saw the scar on her side – a very distinctive zig-zag scar from a very unique Sheikan interrogation technique and even through my pain-addled brain I understood that meant I was very likely in trouble the likes of which I had never known – and I am my son's father after all. I had seen a lot of trouble, even back then.
Our eyes met, and in her eyes I saw it. I saw the same thing that was in mine. She hated me because I was Sheikah and I was male and I was blonde and pale and the enemy. She hated me because hating until it hurt was easier than just hurting. She hated me because I was there, and I wasn't her, and really that's all that mattered. I hated her for all the same reasons, flipped on their head. We spent a lot of time, those first few weeks, hating each other.
I was angry, still. My pride was hurt from having been beaten so badly (in my defence, it was Nabooru who took me down, and she's not exactly a pushover, not even back then when she was as young and stupid as I was), the pain of my wounds, the grief at my losses, and the hopelessness of my situation weren't helping me out either. I was in a foul temper, and in walked this woman like she owned the place – like she owned me – to do whatever terrible thing it was that the Gerudo did to their prisoners, and I was sure I was going to die anyway – in fact had decided I would make them kill me rather than let them break me – so I did what any self-respecting, stupid, young male would do in that situation.
I hit on her.
And she beat me until I blacked out again, and I remember being offended that she didn't even ask me any questions.
And that's more or less the story of how I met Natalia.
And now I want to cry.
I tighten my shawl again, cough into my hand, and turn around toward the ladder.
I can't stay out here anymore – too many memories.
I don't know why I agreed to come.
At some point, things shifted between us. Subtly, gently, irrevocably.
Not that I'm thinking about it. Because I'm not. I don't want to think about it. This, in case you couldn't tell, is me not thinking about it.
I know when it was, too. It was the day she came in – I don't know, about three, maybe four weeks into my imprisonment. By this point I had been forced to admit that the Gerudo methods were much cruder and less elegant than Sheikan methods, but no less effective. I had also been forced to admit that for all our secrets and sophistry, Sheikans were easier to break than Gerudo. I'd already seen or heard no few of my friends give in. Once broken the Gerudo used them until they couldn't be used anymore, then discarded them, like so much garbage.
Even now I have to remind myself that we were doing it too. That we were no better. That I shouldn't get righteous and high and mighty because the Gerudo weren't the only ones using people until they had nothing left to give. Breaking them so irrevocably that I don't even know if you could call them people anymore.
Sometimes Link looks at us – at the older ones – and I know he sees it. I know he sees the tension between us, and the history, and the wounds, and the shared sense of having been wronged and wanting someone to blame. And he always gets the same expression. Sad and uncertain and confused. He doesn't understand, and he can't understand because he wasn't there, he didn't go through it. It's not something you can know, just something you have to live.
I could drop to my knees and kiss the ground the Goddesses made in thanks for that ignorance. I couldn't stand to look in his eyes and see it in there. He's got his own scars, but I'm so unspeakably glad that they aren't born of this. I don't want him to ever understand.
Not that I'm thinking about it.
She had become my world.
I lived in that cell. Endless hours I spent in there, no window, no room to move, nothing to look at except the bedpan and whatever counted for food in a place where nothing grew that didn't have teeth and claws and poison. Even the plants were deadly. For a long time I didn't eat anything, and was so proud of myself for it too. For my little displays of defiance. Thought I was sure showing them. Showing those Gerudo who was boss.
I was locked in a tiny cell and starving myself. What the Hell did I think I was showing them?
It was these kinds of things she started breaking first. The beatings were just distractions, I think, to blind me to the actual breaking. The breaking itself happened in other ways, little ways. Every day they refreshed the food, whether I'd eaten it or not. I thought I was strong. I thought I could hold out. I thought I had power over that small part of my life, if no other. One day they put the food in, days and days after I'd started my hunger strike, and I couldn't take it any more. It was there. It looked disgusting. It smelled foreign and harsh. All I could think about was eating it. All I could think about was eating SOMETHING. It was gone before I'd realized what I was doing. Self-preservation kicked in, the part of my brain responsible for my defiance shut down, and I destroyed that plate of whatever-the-Hell like an animal. Betrayed by my own biology.
She said nothing when she came in, right on time as always. Didn't even remove the empty plate. Her lack of acknowledgement made it worse somehow. Like my defiance had been nothing to her, and my defeat had been nothing either. I was nothing to her.
But she was everything.
I counted my days and hours by her coming and going. She was the only person I had access to, the only human contact in my life. I knew there were guards outside, but I never saw them, never spoke to them. There was no window in my cell to give me a sense of days and nights, a sense of time passing. I counted my life in beatings and questions. I set my clock by her. I started to look forward to her "visits". What the Hell else did I have? At least it was something to do.
I hated her so much, but had become completely dependant on her existence.
When I told this story to Bruiser – the only one I've ever told this story to – he said, "Is that when you fell in love with her?" and I laughed in his face. I didn't love her, not yet. I hated her even more. I hated her for making me so dependent on her, I hated her for not caring about my petty displays of defiance, or about the fact that they'd stopped, I hated her until it became an all-encompassing thing, the deepest, darkest shadow of my heart dragged screaming into the light.
In those days, I may as well have been Dark Link already.
I can't think about this.
There are times when I still hate the desert.
I wasn't joking when I said it strips you of everything but your core. It takes most people years to dig down inside themselves, to peel away the years of dirt and experience and pretence and find out what you're made of. It's almost impossible to do. Most people go their whole lives and never really know themselves.
The desert, though…
The desert doesn't waste time.
The desert doesn't care if you're a Hylian Princess, or a stupid kid not nearly long enough past his Quisros who wanted to play with the big dogs and be a hero and save the world from the monsters threatening its existence.
Farore, I was stupid in those days.
The desert showed me that.
She showed me that.
When I realized what she was doing…what she was showing me…
That was when I fell in love her.
She came into the cell, like always, but not like always. She wasn't armed, but she never was. She never needed anything more than her hands to beat me, and that, if nothing else, never changed. She closed the door behind her, just like always, she crossed the floor to me, just like always, and I stared her down, the black flame of hatred eating away at me, just like always.
But she didn't hit me.
And she didn't ask me any questions.
She got to her knees, in her pristine white uniform, on my dirty cell floor. Then she reached for me, took my face in her hands, and stared at me.
It was different enough to panic me at first, and I struggled against it, but her grip was iron, and I was malnourished, weak, and in no position to fight her. I looked everywhere but in her eyes. That black flame wouldn't let me. I couldn't meet her eyes. She was a demon, a monster. She had no soul. I couldn't meet her eyes. I dredged my sluggish mind for something to say, something stupid and spiteful no doubt, but before I could utter a word, our eyes met at last and it died on my throat.
In her eyes I could see the desert wind, and it blew through me and my resistance as though I was nothing, and at last I understood that I was. All my defiance and pride and hatred were nothing, meant nothing. It stripped me of the last vestiges of resistance and history and identity. It stripped me of memory and thought and humanity. It snuffed the black flame as though it had never existed, and showed me that what I had thought made me strong, was nothing more than weakness, deeply ingrained and treacherous.
It left me nothing more than what I was, and in her eyes I saw it. I saw what the desert had made of me – or rather what I had always been, stripped bare and left exposed.
I was small and frail and fallible. I was too much anger and hard-headed impatience. I saw my youth for what it was, and I saw my foolishness for what it was, and I saw my hate and my rage and my overwhelming hypocrisy for they were, and then the wind blew all of that away too, and at last I saw her.
She was just like me. The desert had long ago stripped her as I had just been stripped, and she had taken it with far more grace than I. She was small and frail and fallible, too, but she was also strong. She had rejected those parts of her that were not necessary. She had moved beyond the limitations the desert would not allow. She had made her core her whole, accepted it for what it was, and built on it. This was why the Gerudo were harder to break than the Sheikah. You can't break someone if you can't take their self away from them. And the desert had already done that to the Gerudo. It had broken them down to their essence, and rebuilt them in its own image. This was who their Goddess was. This was who they were. A sacred pact, and symbiotic bond, ancient oaths made of flesh and bone and sand and wind.
And she had brought me into it.
She had made me one of them.
She had let the desert loose in me, and I knew I would never escape it. It would forever scrape away at me, eroding my being always, never allowing me to be anything more or less than what I was.
"I see the Goddess in your eyes," she whispered at last. "You are the only one of your companions left."
Then she let me go and left, and I stayed where I fell and didn't get up.
She didn't come back for a long time.
I don't know who decided to build that stupid tower where it is, but it makes it really hard not to look at it. I'm making a valiant effort, mind you. The Gerudo must be wondering if there's something wrong with my neck. It's just so…visible no matter where I am in the fort. Somehow every window faces it, every courtyard opens up to it. No matter where I turn, it's there, throwing its monolithic shadow across me, burying me forever in memories I don't want to relive.
"It's just a building, Sheikah," Nabooru says flatly, the only one here who maybe understands what I'm not doing and why. "Mortar and stone and dust, like everything else."
The desert wind hisses its agreement, and I turn away abruptly, hating them both.
Who asked her, anyway?
It became of those weird situations in life, where absolutely nothing changes, but everything does. She still came at the same times. She still beat me. She still asked me questions. But little things had changed. I ate my food when it came now, and spent a lot more time thinking than I had before. Sometimes I tried to conjure that black flame from before, but I couldn't. I would think of her eyes and it would sputter and die. I couldn't call on it for false strength. I couldn't build myself up on it.
She was different too. She looked at me now, instead of through me, and I looked back, and that wind would blow through both of us, and neither of us would try to stop it.
I always thought falling in love meant thinking a girl was pretty and bringing her flowers and telling her nice things until she liked you back. Stuff like that is one of the first things that wind strips you of. Flights of fancy and baseless speculation, romance and dreams and fairy tales.
I fell in love with her a little more every time she hit me. She fell in love with me a little more, every time I laughed in her face. I stopped denying what the wind had showed me. I accepted my black temper and recklessness. Embraced them even. I let it show, didn't bother hiding it. I got angry with her, let myself get enraged. No shame, I realized. No shame in being who I am. She loved me for it.
I realized that Gerudo can smile, because she smiled. Always crooked, always only half of her mouth, but it was a smile. It was mocking and open and bright. She told me I was stupid with that smile. She told me I was weak. She told me she thought she was better than me. I loved her for it.
It was horrible. We were mean, and harsh, and violent with each other, but it was all part of it. It was not what it was supposed to be, it was negative and hurtful and angry. It was perfect. It was all part of the wind wearing at our edges, eroding the rough surfaces of who we were, leaving us naked before each other, to judge and be judged.
We fell in love. In spite of it, because of it, I don't know, but we did.
One day I told her. She had me by the rags I wore, pressed up against the wall. Her teeth were bared in a snarl, she had that look where she was debating killing me, and I said, "I love you", and I leaned in and kissed her before she could do anything about it. She kissed me back before I could do anything about it. Everything from there is kind of a blur, and incredibly private besides, but she left some time after and we both knew we were truly, royally screwed and she didn't come back for a long time and the lack of beatings was harder than anything I'd been through to date.
Seriously, why did I come out here?
I should have stayed in the Sheikah Caverns, or Castletown. Bruiser always needs help with the Shop, I should be there, not here. I don't belong here now, any more than I did then. It's not even like Link needs me, or has all that much time to spend with me. He's a bloody King, for Din's sake. Sometimes I'll catch a glimpse of him, running around like a chicken with his head cut off, usually yelling or laughing, and I make up my mind to go and tell him I'm leaving, and I'll see him back in Castletown, but then he'll pause and catch my eye, and half his mouth slides up into a crooked smile and my heart physically aches and so many of my old wounds start itching I wonder if I've got fleas, and I smile back and sit back down and wonder if I'm getting old.
He's outside right now, but I can hear him, his clear, open voice carried through the window by the wind. He laughs at something and it's the most beautiful sound in the world, and I just wish Natalia could be here to hear it. To see him. To know him. To know her King.
To know her son.
The last time she came to me was undeniably different. She wore a dark cloak over her uniform, a heavy cowl pulled up over her hair, and hooding her eyes. She was armed, two wide scimitars at her waist. She carried a second cloak in her hands, as well as several of my knives and my sword. I stared at her uncomprehendingly, the answer to what she was doing so obvious as to be completely impossible.
"They will execute you," she said tersely. "At dawn. I could not delay the decision. The King—" she trailed off and her dark face lost some of its colour, and that alone was enough to terrify me. I had never seen Ganondorf, only heard stories, but if he was enough to frighten even her…. "You are leaving, now." She handed me the cloak and weapons and went to the door to peer outside cautiously. "Quickly."
I snatched up the weapons and began slipping them into my belt. "Are you coming with me?" I demanded in a whisper, grabbing the cloak and throwing it around my shoulders.
"No," she responded, her mouth turning down just a touch into a frown. "I will not abandon my sisters. Bad enough I have betrayed them." This last was a whisper and nothing short of Sheikan training allowed me to hear it. I paused in the act of tying the cloak around my throat, and she glared so fiercely at me that those lovely self-preservation instincts kicked in again before I could stop them and I finished fastening the cloak and moved after her.
"What's going to happen to you?" I demanded as we moved out into the hallway and stepped around the massive bodies of the two moblin guards she'd killed.
"I imagine I will be executed in your place," she said flatly.
"Did anyone see you?" I hissed at her, the thought causing me do small mount of distress. "Does anyone know it was you? You could—" but she whirled around and stopped me in my tracks with a hand against my chest. Her face was angry and righteous.
"I will not lie!" she all but snarled at me. "I do what I do by my will alone and I will not hide that! This is what I choose, this is the death I have chosen for myself, I will not deny it!"
I stared at her eyes and the wind was still there, moving between us. I remember wanting to tell her to run. I remember wanting to tell her to run with me. To leave. To hide. To lie. To do any of a thousand things that would keep her alive – preferably with me, but I would have settled for alive and alone. But I didn't. I didn't because I knew there was no point. She could no more deny her honour than I could deny my temper.
That's why I still hate the desert sometimes.
It frees you of all your illusions, but binds you to yourself.
I had to let her go.
I don't know why I came here.
Not to the desert. I still don't know why I came to the desert, but I'm talking specifically about the tower. I still can't really look at it. I focus on the door, directly in front of me, instead. I think about how fascinating wood is, about how if you look really closely you can see the way it grows, the way the grain flows. You can almost see how it used to be a tree, and you can think about how much you like trees, and how if you were a smarter man you could be sitting beneath a tree right now instead of standing where you are, staring at a wooden door like it's the most fascinating thing on earth, when, in fact, it's just a stupid door, on a stupid tower, full of the stupid memories of a stupid man.
Sand whips across my face, stinging and harsh. The wind hasn't stopped since I came here. It's trying to get into me again, I know it is, but the gate's closed. It can blow all it wants, but there's no one to let it in this time.
She's dead. She died in the woods, under a tree.
A tree made of wood, like this door. This beautiful, beautiful door, which really, honestly is the most fascinating thing in the world.
I mean it.
Just look at the…at the grain…and…the colour…or something…
Nabooru was waiting for us, at the same gates the cart of bodies had come through when I first arrived. I didn't know her at the time, I didn't even recognize her as the one who'd beaten me on the field. She was a Gerudo like any of the others. What did I care which one she was?
I heard Natalia hiss, like a cornered rattlesnake, and she held out a hand to stop me, then moved forward.
"Nabooru," she said, and there was steel in her voice. I had forgotten over the long weeks that she was leader of the Gerudo, but this little fact came rushing back in when she spoke. Her tone would have worked on me, but Nabooru didn't flinch. Her face was stone and her eyes were dark. "Go back to your room."
"I just want to know one thing," Nabooru replied, and I remember being shocked at how raw her voice was. There was actual emotion in it. She was hurt, and sad and terrified and angry all at once. Natalia actually jerked to a stop at the sound, startled. "Is it worth it? Is his life worth that much to you? That you would betray us? That you would give up your uniform and your sisters and your life? That you would…that you would give up me?"
"Nabooru—" Natalia tried, her tone softening, but Nabooru went rigid, fists clenched at her sides.
"Answer the question!" she snarled, and Natalia paused, staring at her. Their eyes locked, and I understood instantly that the same wind that blew through Natalia and I, blew through Nabooru as well. They stood bare before each other, and there was no room for lies. Natalia's shoulders sagged almost imperceptibly and she responded heavily.
"Then get him on his horse," Nabooru responded, and I was shocked to realize that she was almost crying.
"Nabooru," Natalia said again, and the overwhelming relief in her voice almost broke my heart. She turned to me, and before I could so much as open my mouth to warn her, Nabooru moved. She darted forward faster than lightning and struck at the back of Natalia's head. I had just enough time to gasp as the woman who had become my world toppled forward into me, unconscious. I caught her and held her up as best I could given my own condition, not understanding what had happened, and then Nabooru was there, pulling her off.
"What are you—"
"Don't talk to me," she snarled, and I saw in her eyes the same black flame that had been in mine not so long ago. "Get on your horse. I'll hand her up to you."
I wasn't exactly in a position to argue. I climbed up onto the stallion and Nabooru lifted Natalia's limp form toward me. Between the two of us we managed to get her onto the horse and secured so she wouldn't fall off (I didn't trust myself to be able to hold her). I looked helplessly down at the woman – barely more than a girl – who'd just apparently saved my life and Natalia's.
"Just go," she responded, unable to keep from crying now. I didn't understand at the time the sacrifice she was making, and what her betrayal of Natalia's honour was costing her. "Take her and go and don't come back. Don't ever come back or I'll kill you. Both of you."
And like before there was no room for lies between us.
I believed her.
I dug my heels into the horse's side and it leapt forward into the night. I swore I'd never come back.
Yet here I am.
They've changed it, and that alone is enough to make me want to turn around and leave.
I don't know why I thought it would be the same. The war's been over for years, Ganondorf's been gone, and Link is King now. Times are different. What would they need interrogation rooms for?
But still, I thought it would be the same.
There's a window now, and as I cross the dirty stone floor to peer out it, I realize that I actually would have had a gorgeous view. The sun is setting in the distance and the desert has turned to glass. From this high up I can see the Spirit Temple nestled serenely among the dunes, Natalia's Goddess in the Sands, and I can see the mountains that hem us all in. A lone hawk swings by, soaring easily on the wind, its piercing, defiant cry an echo of something inside me. Something that never broke. Something that never will.
But then the hawk is gone, and so to is the moment.
I hear footsteps from down the corridor outside and I don't have to ask who it is. For a moment, I panic. I don't want him to come here, or see me here. I don't want him to see this. As though he'll somehow glean the entirety of what happened in this room just by looking at it. As though he's not entitled to know.
The panic is a fleeting, selfish thing and leaves me feeling shamed on top of melancholy when he rounds the corner and pauses in the doorway. Eighteen years of blue eyes, bright laugh, and impish smile, and again I feel my heart ache that Nat didn't live to know him. He was her world. When she woke up and realized what had happened with Nabooru, she was devastated. There were times I thought she'd never get over it, it destroyed her so completely. But when Link was born…I remember, she looked in his eyes for a long, long time, and after that…she was whole again. Everyone said being a mother will do that to a person, but it wasn't that. I don't know what it was, but it wasn't that.
"Hey," he says, and the memory is broken.
"Hey," I respond simply.
"Mind if I join you?"
"It's your Kingdom," I respond with a shrug and a forced smile. He raises an eyebrow at me, but comes in anyway, moving over to stand beside me and stare out the window.
"This was one of those places they didn't want me to come," he says thoughtfully. "Like Ganondorf's room. This was one of the places they tried to hide from me." He smiles ruefully. "They think I'm soft, you see. They don't think I can handle some of the stuff that went on here in the Fortress. They're trying to protect me. It's kind of endearing in an incredibly offensive sort of way. I told them it's just a building, and maybe if they'd open the windows and let some air in it wouldn't be so bad. I was trying to be deep and metaphorical, but…," he gestures at the newly installed window and shrugs. "Sometimes they're really literal."
He falls silent, waiting for me to comment, or laugh, or say something, but as hard as I try, I can't. Not here. I can't muster the strength to speak. For a long moment we stand and look out the window in silence and I try desperately to find a way to make everything okay. To just talk to him or something. To at least convince him I'm fine when we both know I'm not. Before I can, he sighs and turns his face toward me.
"Dad," he says gently, and despite myself I look up and meet his gaze.
In his eyes I see the desert wind. Just like in his mother's. It drives the air from my lungs in a rush and leaves me feeling like I've been punched in the stomach. I can't look away, and before I know it the gates are open and the wind is blowing through me once more, stripping away all pretence and denial and fear, leaving nothing but the bare bones and the core of my being. The wind knows me as I am, remembers me from before. It surrounds me, whips at me, lifts me above my self-pity and sadness, above my grief and loneliness. The wind doesn't have any more patience than I do, really, and it burns all these irrelevancies away.
This, I realize, is what Nat saw in her son's eyes when he was born. What tore away her weakness and gave her the strength to continue living, a lone Gerudo in hostile lands. This is why the other Gerudo follow him, though he's nothing like them at all.
Because in the end, he's exactly like them.
He is the desert wind, the same as they are. The same as I am. It's been so long I'd forgotten…forgotten the things the wind had shown me…I let that black flame consume me again, I let it shut out the wind and sap my strength until I was helpless against it. Until I'd forgotten who I was. But I can see it now. I stand, once again, naked and exposed, and I know myself.
I am Brayden of the Sheikah, husband to Natalia of the Gerudo, and father of the Hero of Time. I'm a man who gave his life for his family. I'm a man who lived his life for his family. I'm a man who found love in a Torture Chamber and almost lost it there again.
At long last my old scars are peeled away, and I remember who I am.
At long last I laugh – it feels like the first time in ages – and grab my son by the back of his neck, pulling him close so I can thunk my forehead against his. His mouth unfurls into the same sarcastic, crooked half-smile that made me fall in love with his mother.
"Link," I say, and kiss his forehead. "I'm glad I came."