Link sighed in resignation as he lifted his hands off the Master Sword, the small child's hands that he no longer felt were his own. Not after what he had gone through.
He stepped down the dais, back toward the entrance to the Temple of Time. "Well, Navi, where do you think we should go from here?" Link smiled up at the little ball of light.
Navi fluttered around his head, then moved up toward one of the windows in the holy shrine. "Actually, Link…I've got to go back to the forest."
"Oh. Yeah, you've probably never been out of there for so long, huh? Well, I'll meet you back there, okay?"
"Um…I'm not sure how to say this…" Navi quivered anxiously, back and forth over his head. "The mission the Deku Tree gave me is over, so I'm gonna go back to him now."
"Yeah, I understand." Link waved. "I'll see you there, okay?"
"You're not getting it, are you?" Navi flew down and landed on his shoulder. "We might see each other again, but…" She looked into his earnest face. "Well, you're not a Kokiri, remember? So I'm not your fairy. I gotta go back to the Deku Sprout, until I get assigned to a Kokiri."
Link's face fell slowly as he realized what this meant. "So…you're going away? But…I thought we were friends."
"We'll always be friends," Navi said in a false-cheery voice. You can come visit me in the forest any time, okay?"
With a wave of her hand, Navi flew up to the window and out of the temple. Link stood watching after her for several minutes, then turned around and headed out the door.
I know what I'll do. I'll go talk to Zelda. She's my friend.
He ran through the town square, up to the gates of the castle. "Whoa, there, buddy," the guard laughed as he pulled Link back. "Where do you think you're going?"
Maybe he doesn't recognize me. "I'm the Hero of Time!" Link explained. "I'm gonna go talk to Zelda, 'cuz we're friends."
He laughed out loud. "Hero of what? Oh man, kid, you crack me up every time I see you."
Link frowned, then had a sudden epiphany. Since everything went back the way it was, he probably doesn't remember any of it! But since I do, Zelda would. "Yeah, just a joke," he said, then ran off to the well-worn path he knew would lead to the palace courtyard. He sneaked through with no trouble at all, not after dodging Gerudo guards and countless dungeon monsters.
Zelda stood in the courtyard where he thought she'd be. "Hi!" he exclaimed, waving.
"Oh…hello, Link." She turned and regarded him with sad eyes.
He stopped short. "What's the matter? Did the seal on Ganondorf not work? Do you need me to…"
She held up her hand. "No, Link, nothing's wrong. Everything is the way it should be."
He stared for a moment, then laughed. "Man, you really had me going for a minute! So anyway, I was thinking, there's a great game me and Saria used to play…"
"Link." She cut him off, gently but firmly. "I'm sorry, but we can't see each other anymore."
"Huh?" His face clouded in confusion. "Wh-why not?"
She gave him a sad smile. "I am a princess. You are a commoner. You see the problem…"
"Commoner?" Link scowled. "Why should it matter? Besides, I thought I was the Hero of Time! Or did you forget?"
She did not look at him. "I haven't forgotten. But when I played the Ocarina of Time, everything went back to the way it was, save for Ganondorf's imprisonment. Only you, I, and the Sages know who you are."
"So you cannot be recognized as a Hero. I am sorry, but that is the Hero's burden…"
"I don't want recognition," Link snapped. "I don't care about any of that. But you know who I am. We brought down Ganondorf together. I thought we were friends!"
"We were. But we can't be, anymore…"
"Why not?" Link's voice rose, and he cursed its childlike tone. "Why not, after all we went through together? You remember!"
"I am sorry." She turned away from him. "Impa."
Impa appeared out of nowhere to stand behind Link. "Come with me."
"No! I don't understand why…" He barked in anger as Impa wrapped her arms around him and carried her off. "What are you doing! Let me go!" He had no sword, and his small child's body was no match for Impa's.
She set him down just outside the town square. "I'm sorry, Hero of Time. But this is the way it has to be." And with that, she disappeared.
Darunia answered the knock at his door, to see the child Link standing there. "Why, hello there, Brother!" he exclaimed. On closer inspection, he could see tear stains on the boy's face. "Is something wrong?"
Link looked at the floor. "Darunia, can I stay here? Just for tonight? I don't have anyplace to…to…" Tears welled up in his eyes.
"Oh, oh, of course!" He gave Link a small pat on the back that nearly send the boy sprawling on his face. "I'll set up the guest quarters for you. You can stay as long as you like."
Wiping his eyes, Link cast a look around the guest room where he sat. It was a very nice room, made up for non-Gorons with a soft bed and a pitcher of water on the table. All the other Gorons had been very friendly to him, but the fact remained that he was a guest. He felt painfully aware that he was not one of them.
The next day, he went out for a walk over the country. He did not want to intrude on Darunia's hospitality. Only half paying attention, he found himself wandering in the direction of the Gerudo Desert.
"What do you want, kid?" The guard at the bridge asked.
"Can I talk to Nabooru?" Link asked.
The Gerudo woman gave him a skeptical look. "What would you want with our leader?"
"She's my friend."
The guard threw back her head and laughed. "I'm sorry, kid, but what would our leader want with you? No offense, boy, but come back after you've hit puberty and maybe then she'll be interested. Heck, we all will."
His face burning, Link turned on his heel and walked quickly back the way he came.
Link stared stoically at his reflection in Lake Hylia. A grown man shouldn't cry, but as the Gerudo guard put it, he was still a boy. After a few moments, he finally let the tears fall.
What should I do now? Nobody wants me. Did they only want me around to get rid of Ganondorf? Is that the only reason anybody wanted me before?
Memories of his isolation with the Kokiri cut his heart. He had never felt wanted there, only tolerated. Saria had been kind to him, but he knew she would only say the same thing Zelda did. She had stated when his mission first started that he would leave the forest, and had said it with a state of finality that he didn't understand until now.
A splash in the water startled him, and he looked up to see Ruto there. "Hi!" she exclaimed.
"Hi." He said without enthusiasm.
She stepped out of the water. "Don't be sad. You don't have to be afraid of me. I'm not gonna bug you to marry me."
He glanced up. "You're not?"
"Nah. I know you don't want to."
Blushing, he said, "I'm sorry…I know what it feels like to be…not wanted…"
She put a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay. I know you don't mean it like that. I know you wouldn't be happy in Zora's domain anyway."
He looked up, hopeful. "Really?"
Smiling, she replied, "Hey, I knew it from the beginning. But I couldn't give you the sapphire without a good reason."
Link hugged his knees, staring into the water. "I don't know what to do…my own people don't want me, and I don't fit in anywhere else. It's as if they only wanted me for my role as the Hero."
She nodded. "I know what you mean."
"Yeah…" she sat down next to him. "To most of my own people, I'm not Ruto. I'm the Zora princess. When they come to me, it's usually because they want favors."
Link scowled. "Why are people like that? I wasn't going to ask Zelda any favors. I just wanted to be friends…I mean, after everything we did…"
She nodded. "I understand perfectly. Well, it's her loss. I think, in time, she'll realize what a valuable gift she's thrown away."
Link sulked. "I hope so."
She patted his shoulder. "Remember, all of the Sages are your friends, even though they might not be acting like it right now."
After a pause, he turned and embraced her. "Thanks, Ruto."
"Anytime." She smiled. "Do you need a place to stay?"
"I'm staying at Darunia's place for now."
"Okay. Remember, you're always welcome in Zora's Domain." She nodded at him. "In the meantime, you might think about what you want to do in terms of peacetime work, at the castle town. Once the Hylians get to know you, they'll wonder how they ever got along without you."
He scowled. "Easier said than done."
"I have faith in you."
He gave her a weak smile. "Thanks again."
Link waved goodbye as he walked back toward the Goron mines, his spirits lifting. Someone, somewhere, had to want him for who he was, not just what he had to offer.