A/N: A thousand apologies for how long it keeps taking me to update. I haven't forgotten about this story! It's just been put on the side-burner by Life. I appreciate all my faithful reviewers...for without you, I would not have the strength to keep this story going! Finally, here's a brand new update for you all, proving that patience does pay off! I really hope you enjoy. As always, review, please...but no flames as I have lost my Goron tunic. +wink+

Disclaimer: I do not own anything...but that won't stop me from manipulating! Bwa hahaha...ahem.

Chapter 16: A Step in the Wrong Direction

"Are you sure about this, Link?" Malon questioned. "Last I heard: the Kokiri did not like strangers."

"They don't."

"Well, that's a relief," Malon mumbled sarcastically.

Link smiled. "Relax, Malon, you're with me...they won't mind."

Malon let the subject drop, wrapping her arms tighter around Link's waist, as they both rode on Epona, slowly growing closer to their destination. While she was anxious at entering the Kokiri Forest--mainly because of all the stories she'd been told as a child--Link seemed completely at ease. However, despite his easiness, Malon still had doubts. This was the first step towards the end, she knew, but that wasn't what worried her the most.

What worried her most was that she didn't know the end that they were heading towards.

What would happen to Link? What would happen to her? What would happen to the love they shared? Could their love survive against all odds...was it strong enough to stand against the King of Evil? Or would they both simply perish into oblivion, their love becoming no more than a fond memory? So many questions, and Malon could not answer any of them.

The red-haired woman's fear was almost palpable, and Link could sense it. "Malon?"

"Yes?" she answered sweetly, trying to keep the self-doubt out of her voice.

"Is everything alright?"

"Fine, Fairy Boy," she replied with a forced smile. "Why do you ask?"

He raised an eyebrow, glancing back towards where she sat behind him. "Because you're practically squeezing me in half right now."

Malon's grip lessened immediately. "Sorry," she murmured, blushing faintly.

A grin escaped the Hero of Time. "Don't worry, Malon, the Kokiri are friendly. I--"

"That's not what's bothering me, Link." She frowned, gazing away from him at the trees that slowly meandered by.

Link kept his gaze ahead, hands tight on the reins, but questioned, "then what's bothering you?"

"It's nothing."

Link halted Epona and looked back at her. He noticed all the subtleties in her pretty face. Her brows were furrowed in thought, while her eyes were almost glazed over as if she wasn't really here but lost in a memory, and she was biting her lower lip. If Malon wasn't nervous, than he was Ganondorf.

"Malon," he began.

She turned her face from him, resting her head on his back to avoid having to meet his penetrating gaze. "Please, Link, don't worry about me. We have far more important things to do."

He paused for another moment, not satisfied with her answer, but ushered Epona into a gentle trot again. "If something was bothering you--"

"--which it isn't," Malon interrupted.

"But if there was," Link continued. "You would tell me, right?"

The woman's face wrinkled up, feeling guilty about lying to Link. She really should tell him what was bothering her, but their relationship was still new, and she wasn't sure if she was ready to burden him with even more concerns of the future. The Hero of Time had enough to worry about without having to worry about her, too.

"Of course," she lied, a frown on her lips.

Link couldn't see her face, and her tone implied confidence, so he believed her. "Good."

The rest of their journey was silent, both of them lost within the trappings of their own thoughts. Their minds were a mess of confusion, concern, and worry, but neither was willing to voice what was troubling them so. To do so would be to admit weakness to the other, and that was a great fear of the both of them. Malon wanted to prove to Link that she was someone deserving of the great hero's love, while Link wanted to prove to Malon that he was strong enough to protect her.

The air began to smell fresh, crisp, and the trees began to become more and more thick, packed into clumps around the small path they were taking. Link knew the way, so Malon was not worried about getting lost. They reached a small bridge, and Malon thought she saw Link pause with a peculiar look on his face, one of nostalgia and remembrance...but it disappeared almost as quickly as it had come.

While he was glad to be visiting his old home, a part of Link didn't feel like he belonged there anymore. Growing up as a Kokiri, he had always felt isolated and different. Mido and other children picked on him for his lack of a fairy; Saria had been his only friend...and even then, he hadn't felt as if he belonged. It would only be years later that the truth of his ancestry would be revealed, explaining why he was so different from all the other Kokiri. The answer had been because he wasn't Kokiri: he was Hylian. Therefore, he'd never really belonged in the forest.

At the time, it'd caused certain questions to surface in his mind. The most prominent of these was: where did he belong, then? The life he'd known was a well-crafted lie, a secret hidden from even him, and the life he was living had almost been forced upon him. He would not lie and say he did not like adventuring, because that calling was in his blood, it was a part of him. He loved going on adventures, but one could not live in peril for all their life, it just wasn't realistic.

And then Malon had come into his life.

He hadn't realized it at the time, or even a considerable amount of time thereafter, but Malon was probably the most important thing in his life. If it weren't for her, he would have been dead by now. If it weren't for her, he'd be a lot lonelier. If it wasn't for her...well, he couldn't imagine a life worth living without the fiery woman. She was passionate, loyal, and everything that Link could ever want. Sometimes, he felt as if he didn't deserve her.

If Malon had been able to hear his thoughts, she would have disagreed wholeheartedly to Link not deserving of her. She had loved her Fairy Boy the moment she'd met him in the Castle Town. He had been different, much like herself, and he had become her only friend. She owed him more than she could ever say. When he disappeared for seven years, it had felt as if there was a whole in Malon's heart, unable to be filled by anything. When he'd returned, she'd realized that time does make the heart grow fonder.

She sighed inwardly. She wished she could do more than simply provide Link with company; she wished she could fight, and she wished she could help him in some way. The farm girl wasn't after fame, but she did want to be remembered...if only for the great love that she showed the Hero of Time.

But that train of thought led her right back to her previous concerns, and she bit her lips again to keep from voicing them.

Likewise, Link had hit his own mental roadblock. His thoughts had ultimately led to the terrible idea of what would happen to Malon should something happen to him? He led a dangerous life, and Malon--much to his distress--kept getting swept up in it, despite his best attempts to keep her safe and out of it. What would happen if he were killed? If he died, what would Malon do? She was perfectly capable of handling herself, but if she loved him as much as he did her, it would be no less than a crippling blow to the woman. The thought of making Malon miserable left him with an ill feeling.

"Malon--" he began suddenly.

Just as abruptly, Malon began with a similar, "Link--"

They both looked at each other for a moment.

Epona snorted and continued on the path.

"You first," Malon told him quickly.

"After you," Link replied smoothly.

She took a breath. She had to tell him what was bothering her, or else it would eat her up from the inside out. "Link, I--"

But before she could utter any more words, Epona stopped suddenly, and Link was forced to look forward at the gate that was blocking their path.

He frowned. "I don't remember this gate being here..."

"Maybe it's new?" Malon provided.

"Maybe," Link agreed. He then raised his voice. "Hello there! Anybody there?"

It was eerily silent for a moment before a small slit in the gate opened and two emerald eyes peaked through. "Who goes there?"

"It's Link," stated the Hero of Time, and then casually glanced at Malon. "And a friend."

"Link?" The voice sounded surprised.

The gate opened, revealing a small girl with vibrant green hair and deep green eyes. Link recognized her instantly. "Saria?"

The girl smiled. "It's good to see you again, Link." She then noticed Malon. "And you, too, Malon. I've heard a lot about you."

Malon's cheeks heated up. "Oh?"

She looked at Link suspiciously. He held his hands up in defense. "Don't look at me."

Saria giggled, and it was a very light, carefree laugh that brought Link back to his childhood in Kokiri Forest. "The Sages have been keeping a close eye on you, Malon. You are more special than you know. And we owe you many thanks for rescuing our Hero."

The Forest Temple Sage's words were confusing to both Malon and Link, but she smiled all the same. "It was nothing. I was just protecting someone I loved."

Link smirked at that, before turning his azure gaze back to Saria. "But Saria, what are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be in the Sacred Realm?"

For the first time since Link had seen her again, the girl's expression faded. "There's a lot that we need to discuss, Link."

Link and Malon shared a look before following Saria into the sanctuary that was Kokiri Village.

-----

"So the Sages were forced to disband?" Link asked, eyes wide with disbelief. "Has Ganondorf grown that powerful that he can sever the ties between the Sages and the Goddesses?"

Saria nodded sadly. "I'm afraid so, Link. Our power is like nothing to him. We're no more than children playing in his sandbox."

Link's frown deepened. "There has to be some way to stop him." He thought for a moment, and came up with nothing, which caused his disposition to fall even more. "If he's so powerful, than why hasn't he made his move? What could he be waiting for?"

"Those are the same questions that we came up with, but we could not find any answers...not even old Rauru could come up with any logical explanation," Saria explained. "I fear that he's siphoning power from somewhere, but how and why...I'm not sure."

"Wait," Malon interrupted then, having sat idly by listening to the conversation for the past hour or so. "So, if we were somehow able to sever his connection to whatever is granting him power, we could destroy him once and for all?"

"I fear it would be more difficult than that," Saria replied. "But put in simplest terms, yes."

Link shook his head. "He's still got the Triforce of Power, though, and with that, he's immortal. Correct?"

The green-haired girl nodded an affirmative.

"This just keeps getting better and better," Link said through gritted teeth.

Malon placed her hand within his. "You'll find a way," she told him in a quiet, almost reverent tone. "You always do."

This caused Link to smile. "I'd be lost without you, you know that?"

The red-haired woman grinned teasingly. "Then it's a good thing you have me."

Saria watched the two and smiled inwardly. She was very pleased that her good friend had found someone that made him happy. Link deserved some long denied happiness. She only hoped their love would remain strong and true throughout the trials that they would no doubt endure in the Hero of Time's attempt to thwart Ganondorf's evil reign.

After a few moments of silence, Link's eyes unable to move away from Malon's, Saria cleared her throat politely, bringing them both back to the present.

Link looked at her. "Well, first thing is first, I suppose: we came here to seek the help of an old friend."

Saria quirked her head to the side quizzically. "Oh?"

"We're here to speak with Navi," Link explained.

"Oh." Saria's face fell.

Link suddenly got a very bad feeling. "Where is she, Saria?"

"Link, I'm so sorry," Saria told him quietly. "Navi's dead."

"What?"

"We would have sent for you Link, but it happened so fast, and we didn't know where you were..."

Link blinked, taking the news in. Navi was dead? Impossible. He looked to Malon who looked upon him with a sympathetic and pitying expression. She placed her other hand on top of his comfortingly.

"Oh, Link," Malon breathed.

"How?" he asked, his tone cold and dark.

"We're not sure how it happened," responded the Sage. "Strange occurrences like this have been happening all over Hyrule, and even farther. Navi wasn't the only one to succumb to these disturbing times. I think it had something to do with Ganondorf's growing power...fairies are very attuned to darkness like that. I believe that the darkness just became too much and overpowered her in the end. I'm so sorry, Link."

He opened his mouth to say something, but couldn't find his voice and the expression on his face betrayed how he felt. Malon let go of his hand as he stood and briskly walked out of the small tree house--the tree house used to be his but Saria had adopted it as her temporary home--without saying another word. The two females watched the Hero of Time leave, and both understood what a blow it was to Link. Navi may have annoyed him at times, but there was no denying that he'd cared for the little fairy. In fact, she'd helped him out countless times; though he was usually loathe admitting it.

Saria looked at Malon. "I didn't mean to upset him."

"I know," Malon assured her. "It wasn't you. It's just been...a very long week."

Saria nodded in understanding but still felt she was to blame. "Maybe there was something I could have done to help Navi..."

"I'm sure you did the best you could."

"Sometimes, one's best isn't good enough."

They were quiet for a moment as both reflected on the Sage's words. Finally, Saria spoke again.

"You should probably go check on him."

Malon looked towards the empty doorway through which her hero had disappeared. "I don't know...I've never seen Link so...defeated, for lack of a better word, before. Maybe he just needs some time--"

"He needs you," Saria stated with vehemence.

Convinced, Malon stood and walked out the door.

A/N: You know the drill by now. More reviews equal quicker updates! Constructive critiscm is welcome, flames are not. Thanks!