Ruto X Link chapter, written by Insane, Certifiably

The water was calm after the storm yesterday, that freshness rain always brought still hanging in the air. She was lying on her back in the water, flicking a fin every so often to keep herself from drifting away. Link was perched on the dead tree sticking up out of the water, fooling around with his ocarina.

"You've seen my home," Ruto announced suddenly, breaking the unrelated streams of notes, "what's yours like?"

"I- Kokiri- wasn't- heights," the words tripped over each other.

The zora slipped out of the water to press herself to his side and find his hand with one of her own. She didn't say anything, but nothing needed to be said. Link squeezed her hand in thanks and took several deep breaths.

When she'd first met him, she'd taken his silence to be one of arrogance and treated him horribly because of it. Once he'd actually opened his mouth, she had realized he didn't keep silence out of arrogance, but rather difficulty. His words had a nasty tendency to trip over each other if he wasn't very careful or so angry he couldn't speak without effort.

"I've never had a home," he managed out, "Kokiri forest was never home."

"I wasn't like the others," he clarified when she nudged him, silently prompting for more, "Kokiri are born, every so often, only one at a time. Mido had been born only a year before when I appeared. I think that's part of why he was so- so jealous. I stole his spotlight as youngest."

"The other part?" Ruto prompted. She had heard about Mido, spent an afternoon dragging the story out of him, how he had bullied the year-younger boy.

Link paused a moment, collecting himself. "I don't think- nobody really- they didn't believe I'm one of them. I didn't have a fairy, and it was too soon for another Kokiri to be born. They tolerated me, but never truly accepted- Saria was the only one who was nice to me."

"That's her ocarina?"

Link nodded, looking down at the simple wooden thing clutched in his hands. "She didn't go up- They played in the trees," he confessed, "I couldn't. I'm- heights are scary."

"Well they can run around their trees all they like," Ruto announced matter-of-factly, "we'll go swimming."

She shoved him in the water and giggled as he came up spluttering, slipping in after him.

"Link!" she demanded, planting her hands on her hips. He didn't turn around or even show any sign he'd heard her at all, so Ruto sighed and leapt through the waterfall to land next to him.

"Link!" she repeated, "I don't like being ignored!"

He sighed, but still blue eyes didn't lift to meet hers. "Please leave Princess," he said with slow care so his words didn't trip, "surely you have better things to do than talk to common Hylians like me."

She huffed in annoyance and crouched down next to him. "You've been listening to the old codgers again, haven't you?" she asked.

"I'm a Hylian, you're a Zora," Link replied at the same hesitant cadence, "I have no parents, your father is the king. You're a princess, I'm a commoner."

Ruto's fins flicked madly. It was a habit her father reprimanded her about, but she still couldn't stop it. Whenever she became emotional, her fins flicked like ripples under the waterfall. "The codgers are stupid," she said, "Now stop moping and come back inside."

He may as well have been carved from stone from all the yield he showed when she tugged on his arm. Even now, he was stronger than she would probably ever be. Giving up on force, the princess sank down beside him, dangling her feet off the edge, and stared off down the river. The water flowed relentlessly from behind them, masking the entrance to the Domain off until it vanished around a corner.

"Giving you the stone was my decision," she said quietly enough he had to crane to hear her over the waterfall's roar, "I would never have trusted it to anyone who was the least bit unworthy. I proclaimed you worthy! Why isn't that enough?"

Slowly, he turned to face her. "What do you see in me?" the boy asked.

"I see a hero," she answered plainly, "and someday the rest of Hyrule will see it too. Now come back inside."

This time, he accepted the hand she offered and allowed her to lead him back into the Domain.

"Winter is soon," Link commented one night as they were laying on their backs on the top of the Domain, watching the stars shoot by.

Ruto made a noise of assent, not moving her eyes from the display above them.

"I'm leaving," he tried again.

The zora princess sighed and turned her head towards him to find he had done the same. "I don't want you to go," she confessed, "do you have to?"

He nodded wordlessly.

"Of course," Ruto said sulkily, "the pass will ice up and you won't be able to make it through if you wait any longer." She rolled away from him. "You won't be able to get back to your precious princess and complete your quest."

A gentle hand found her shoulder and tugged, guiding but not forcing her to face him once more. The gentleness with which he treated her was so different from the ferocity with which he had slain the monsters in Jabu-Jabu's belly, and she had always found the contrast fascinating.

"I'll come back," the green-clad boy promised, and for once the words were smooth, "when winter ends, I'll come back to you. I swear."

Her smile rivaled the moon above them. "I'd like that," she told him.

"This is 'when winter ends'?" Ruto demanded, arms crossed as a shield between them. Ruthlessly, she suppressed the part of her that was gloriously happy to to see him and only wanted to hold him tight and never let go. Instead, she held onto the anger and pain of being abandoned, remaining furious at him.

"I- sleep- sword-" the words stumbled over each other worse than ever, not at all helped by the underwater setting. Ruto scoffed and gestured jerkily upward, indicating they should leave the water.

Link bent to fiddle with his boots and she launched herself stiffly upward. She was aware there was anger etched in her every movement, something that the future ruler of the Zora should not demonstrate, but for once she didn't care.

He broke the surface and she didn't even give him a chance to clamber to the edge before she was laying into him.

"Seven years!" she yelled, "You left for seven years, Link! You promised and you broke it! No word, no reassurance, you could have been dead for all I knew! And then you just show up one day and expect everything to be the same and-"

He cut her off, stammering and stuttering out a tale too fantastic to be true, of swords and sages and shadowy warriors.

Ruto turned her back on him, drawing on every bit of her royal upbringing to appear cold and indifferent. "This way," she ordered, starting forward without looking back to check if he was following.

She couldn't quite blot out the bitter taste that she was worse than Mido in that moment.

"Link," she called desperately, staggering forward to stop him, "stop." The Hero froze in the doorway, tensing under the hand the zora woman laid on his shoulder.

"What?" he asked, and it was testament to how badly she'd messed things up that his voice did not shake. It only stayed smooth when he was extremely comfortable with both his surroundings and the company or too angry to talk without needing to think over ever word.

"I should have believed you," she got out, "in the Water Temple. I shouldn't have gotten so angry, shouldn't have said what I did, but I was scared for my people, for my life, for you, and I felt betrayed."

"Why?" Link asked, still not turning away from the door.

"I thought you'd abandoned me, forgotten your promise," Ruto told him, "I was terrified when you didn't turn up at first thaw and..."

"No," he interrupted, "Why tell me now?"

"This place," she waved a fin around their surroundings, "it's bleeding dark emotions. You can feel it already. It will take any opportunity to turn us against each other if we're not careful. We can't go into a fight against Ganondorf if we're divided. He'll crush us unless we stand together."

She applied gentle pressure, guiding him to turn around but not forcing, as he had done seven years ago for her, barely months for him. "I'm sorry," she said when blue eyes finally met hers, "maybe after all this is over, when Ganondorf is dead, we can start again? Without any quests or sage duties or a seven-year sleep to come between us? We can have a life, together?"

His hands, roughened by dungeons and uncountable fights against monsters, came up to take hers. He smiled, and it lit the room like the sun.

"I'd like that."

She was struggling with a particularly heavy bucket of fish, not fully re-accustomed to her child body, when hands closed over hers over the handle, taking some of the weight.

Her head shot up and she met piercing blue eyes restored to a youthful face that didn't quite fit them anymore. He smiled at her, a hopeful grin that threw her. She thought he'd forgotten with everyone else when Zelda turned back time.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, almost demanded, in surprise.

The small, hopeful smile that had taken residence on his face dropped off as surely as if she'd thrown the bucket at him. "I was- I'm sorry- I didn't," Link babbled, "you said- I mean- start over- if you-"

Ruto was staring at him, she couldn't help it. He had never been so bad, not when he was talking to her. Even when she was obscenely rude in Jabu-Jabu's belly, his words had not tripped so badly over each other.

"I should go," he finally managed, staggering backward. He turned around, boots slipping on the slick rock, and Ruto lunged forward to grab his wrist, not wanting him to go again. He met her eyes, curiosity and a tiny spark of hope a glimmer in his eyes before he directed them to examine his feet.

"You don't have to go," said Ruto, "I said we could start again and I meant it. You can have a home here."

"I've never had a home," Link said softly, amazement tingeing his voice.

The zora smiled. "Yes you did," she told him, "you've always had one. Right here, with me."

And he finally realized she was right.