Author Notes: Hello, everyone! This is a little something I've been meaning to write for one of my favourite Naruto pairings. It's a two parter and not related to my Characters Rescue Shelter series. Enjoy :)
General Warnings: Spoilers for Naruto Episode 19 (The Demon in the Snow). The words in italics are taken directly from it.
Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto.
- Story Start -
"You were always at my side... the least I can do is to be beside you... at the end... I know it cannot be, but... I wish I could go to where you have gone. How I wish I could join you there... Haku."
"He told me where he came from, it was always snowing," Naruto said, sniffling, "all the time."
"Of course," Kakashi agreed. "His spirit was as pure as the snow. You never know, Zabuza. Maybe you will join him there. Who's to say?"
The villagers including Inari and Tsunami were leaving the bridge, triumphant and relieved that they were no longer under Gato's rule. Slowly, Tazuna approached Kakashi and his team, his gaze straying to the two prone shinobi at their feet.
"I'll help you bury these two," he offered in a gruff voice. "Least I can do after Zabuza took down Gato himself."
"That's alright," Kakashi said. "I'll take care of it."
He turned to his team.
"You three go with Tazuna and check out the village thoroughly. Make sure there are no more thugs hanging about the place."
Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke stared at him and then frowned at each other.
"But sensei," Sakura began, "you're injured. We should help you dig the graves first."
"It'll be much faster," Naruto agreed, wiping his eyes on his sleeve.
Sasuke nodded in agreement.
Kakashi shook his head, his visible eye straying to the bodies of Zabuza and Haku before he looked at his team again.
"I've got it. You three need to safeguard the village. Go now."
It was an order even if his voice stayed gentle. Shrugging at one another, the three genin obeyed him and left with Tazuna.
- o -
Three years later…
It was a beautiful morning in the Land of Waves.
Naruto Uzumaki strolled through the woods, hands in his pockets, enjoying the soft warmth of the early sunlight filtering through the leaves and the sound of sweet birdsong. He had returned to the Hidden Leaf village two days ago. Grandma Tsunade hadn't given him a mission yet so he decided to catch up on old friends he had met on his earlier missions... starting with Inari and his grandfather, Tazuna, the master bridge builder.
A girl stepped out from behind some bushes some thirty feet away, her pink kimono and waist long black hair making Naruto stop short. Something about the graceful way she knelt on the ground stirred a distant memory in his mind.
She looked up as if sensing his scrutiny or his presence, large brown eyes in a pretty face widening in surprise.
"Hello, nee-san," Naruto greeted. "What're you doing here?"
She smiled at him.
"I'm just gathering some herbs to make medicine," she replied, indicating the basket at her feet.
"Right." Naruto walked closer. He was sure he had seen her somewhere before, she looked so familiar. Then it hit him. He had seen her in this exact same woods three years ago! Only she was-
"Haku!" Naruto burst out. "It is you!"
Haku gave a merry laugh and stood up.
"So you do remember me," he teased.
Naruto rushed towards him, blue eyes wide with disbelief.
"But you're dead!" he burst out. "You died that day... didn't you?"
Haku shook his head, face turning serious again.
"No, but I was prepared to," he said quietly.
Naruto stared at him, recalling that fateful day. Haku had only one dream and that was to make Zabuza's dream come true, whatever the cost. He thought nothing of sacrificing his own life to save Zabuza's, thought nothing of taking Kakashi-sensei's Chidori right through the chest.
Like an old movie, the aftermath of that fight played through Naruto's mind, but it came to an abrupt halt at the point where Kakashi-sensei told him, Sakura and Sasuke to go off with Tazuna. Then something clicked... as if the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle had just been slotted into place.
"So that's why Kakashi-sensei didn't want us around," he said slowly. "He didn't need help burying you and Zabuza because you two were still alive."
"Just barely. When I woke up, I found Kakashi had brought us to a small hut just outside the village. He treated our wounds and brought us food and water. He also promised not to say anything if we kept a low profile and never killed for money ever again."
"He said that?" Naruto was surprised... and then impressed... and finally indignant. "He should've told us! We could've helped him, helped you two. We three can keep a secret, you know!"
Haku gave an apologetic smile.
"I'm sorry, Naruto. Zabuza had, and still has, a large bounty on his head. The less people know about us, the better."
Naruto gave a reluctant nod. He couldn't argue with that. He also wanted to clap Haku on the shoulder, but it just didn't seem right assuming such familiarity, not with Haku dressed in a pink sleeveless kimono that left his neck and slender arms bare. He had grown even more beautiful if that was at all possible.
"I'm glad you two are still alive. So, where's Zabuza?" Naruto asked, looking around as if expecting the tall, muscular and scowling ninja to pop out from behind a bush.
Haku's smile widened.
"He's somewhere in the village," he said. "That's where we live now."
"What? But what about the villagers?"
"They've accepted us," Haku said simply.
Naruto stared at him, guessing there was a lot more behind that simple statement than those four words implied. He was no stranger to prejudice himself. It was an uphill climb to change everyone's opinion of you. One slip and you would be even more mistrusted than before. It can't have been easy for Zabuza who had made his first kill when he was twelve.
That reminded Naruto of how Haku had always viewed the Demon of the Mist.
"Hey, if you don't mind my asking, do you still see yourself as a mere tool to Zabuza?"
Haku shook his head, cheeks turning pink.
"No. He has taught me we are equals and I... we - we are closer than ever now."
The meaning behind that pretty blush and hesitation was unmistakable. Naruto felt his own face grow hot. He gave a sheepish laugh, rubbing the back of his head.
"Uhm... that's great!" he said. "Anyway, I'm here because I wanted to pay Inari and old man Tazuna a visit. Haven't seen them in three years."
"I'm sure they will be glad to see you, Naruto. They're our friends too. Please excuse me, I need to gather these herbs before the sun gets too hot."
"Of course." Naruto's mind was still buzzing with a hundred questions, but he forced himself to continue walking. "So, I'll see you around then."
Haku's smile widened.
"I'm sure you will."
To be continued...