Winter is Delight

Naruto, Haku POV.


Winter is delight and I love you, Haku.

His mother liked to say that.

Always in the same breath, a run-on sentence that danced on chill winds and made them tolerable. Broken sounds that mixed together and swirled like the storm outside, fighting to get into your clothes and nose and chest and there live forever. Chant made in this ritual manner kept the cold away; that's what his mother taught him, going over the phrase again and again until the boy could repeat it in his sleep.

In his dreams, the syllables of the sounds rose and fell like the points of a star wrapped around into a circle, ever repeating. Ever endless.

WinterisdelightandIlove

Learning it like that, reciting it in such a way helped turn the season sunny no matter what the temperature struck.

Now that he is older, Haku has learned that the blizzard-rhyme mantra does not always work. But it helps.

He repeats the words to himself now while watching the weather progress, years and a lifetime away from the home where he first heard the pattern. Night deepens through sunset all the way past indigo. It's dark, almost black, and when he lifts his hands up to the sky, Haku's fingernails blend into the bleakness. His knuckles become pale night-clouds. They block out the few stars that manage to show.

Haiku of exhalation strums itself out his mouth. It uncurls from his throat, fogging on the air. The freeze of winter dives within. The warmth of his breath escapes without.

It's beginning to snow.

The first flakes arrive with a lack of fanfare. They sneak in, early visitors hoping to keep from being noticed as they take their seats. A few of them land on Haku's palms uplifted, and by the time he lowers his hands, they have already melted away.

He didn't get to see the snowflakes before his body heat killed them, to examine the way that nature crystallized into impossibly delicate structures. That is the problem with winter. Without a layer to insulate yourself from it--fabric or chakra, glass or glove--you will only destroy what you seek to touch, ruin it by contact with your existence.

Snowflakes require time to study. They are the same as people.

No two alike.

Haku was enchanted by that mystery early on when he was young, while his mother brewed hot teas to keep him healthy from the flu and his father laughed and brought him extra blankets. The windows of their ramshackle home were heavy with frost that year. His parents had insulated the cracks and panes with every scrap of fabric they could spare, leaving only a tiny slice of view for Haku to part the cheap curtains back and peer out at the storm.

Winter is delight, his mother sighed, song-like, touching her slender hand to the windowpanes where it dwarfed his own stubby child-fingers. And I love you, Haku.

His father joined them both then, tucking in the blanket around his wife's shoulders, dropping a fold on his child's head. The coarse weave rubbed against Haku's cheek as he leaned into it. The knobbiness of his father's knee pressed against the boy's back, bringing his limbs into assembly on the bed where they were all seated. With his arms wrapped around his family, the man bent his head to laugh into Haku's hair and watched the evening unspin to midnight.

His mother understood the careful way that snow fell. Haku could see it in her eyes. The reverence of the delicacy of nature, the awareness of the ease of destruction; she knew that what lasted once would never be revived. Only remade at best. Refrozen. Flakes could descend by the thousands and never be individually weighed, buried beneath the shrouds of their companions, but Haku's mother looked intent on memorizing every single one as they descended.

Even when the boy was fighting back drowsiness, lids heavy and head resting against his father's chest, Haku's mother was still touching the windowpane. Understanding.

You couldn't put people together the same way you made ice, pouring water into molds and then sliding the tray into the freezer, timing the whole process with a watch. When snowflakes melted, you could never freeze them back into the same shape.

But you could try.

Haku stands on the ridge tonight as the hour continues to wither. There is nothing for him to fear in such exposure; no rival clans out to hunt him tonight, neither him nor Zabuza. If enemy shinobi approach, they will have to crunch through the fresh layers of snow.

Sound is muffled that way for some, but Haku hears even better in such situations. It's precisely in the softness of the drifts that he finds his own informants, in the way the flakes give underneath a person's footsteps crushing them, betraying weight in groan-whispers that intruders thought too gentle to be dangerous. Too meek.

Normally, Haku is faithful in his attendance to Zabuza. Perfectly so. This is how he knows that a single absence is permissible for tonight, just tonight, while he dares the mystery of one-time creation.

He knows exactly how to start.

A flip of his knuckles, and Haku is shaking his hand clean of the remains of water drops. He mouths a benediction as he does so; there are no prayers that the boy knows but the one taught to him from birth, so the liquid is scattered to the tune of winter and delight.

He hopes that the snow forgives him for that.

Hand seals to concentrate his spirit next, but that is formality. In his heart, Haku knows the real source of his power. The spark birthing itself in his chest, the snap of joy that spreads itself to reach out to the invisible moisture on the air--this is the force which coaxes dampness to collect into drops, and from there into any shape desired. It almost makes him laugh each time he calls upon it and feels the rapport build inside him, build until it almost breaks him through sheer wonder.

You could build a snowflake grand in this manner. Points like a man's arms and legs spread wide as a star, center nexus as wide as a full-grown torso. The biped would be made of ice, thick struts serving as glass limbs, but its details would be no less complex than any other flesh-born being.

Each creation is unique. Even when Haku tries to alter the growth of the flake-branches with the same precise control as he has learned to wield senbon needles, the results are never the same. Tiny imperfections spin out of order. Variances in surface formation are miniscule to start, but from there they rapidly twist into arcs of form, constructions of natural chaos that become things of wondrous beauty.

All conclusions attaining grace. Even if they aren't what was originally intended by their maker.

Calling on snowflakes deliberately is always a failed experiment while trying to repeat a pattern. Rebuild a broken situation, reform the lost past. Restore a person. It never turned out exactly perfect, but one day, he'd find out how to do it right.

For now, Haku lets the flakes fall naturally. His gift urges the small shapes to collect in a greater form, nudging them together with the same minor query of asking someone to remove their shoes before walking on the tatami mats.

The snow listens. It is gladdened to do so, responding to the very birthright that has failed Haku's efforts to be a human being when young. Now it is bent upon its task; cells are brought forth out of single flakes, collect into organs of temporized ice. They solidify. Curves and arches, arms and shoulders. The swan-sweep of the neck. Collarbones, wrists. Ankles. Lips.

It's not easy to resist the temptation to force the storm into memory's obedience. Haku knows better than to give in to impatience. He has learned from past attempts that forcing flakes into growth will only cause the balance to spiral wrong, but history itself refuses to listen to his plea, no matter how many times he asks as politely as he can.

Then he sees her.

At last.

The winds part, revealing pale features, a body slender and perfect in the snow. Porcelain-cup cheeks glisten; her hands are uplifted, displaying the lifeline prints of a mother he knows so well. Palms flat. If he puts his own fingers up, Haku knows that he will finally be able to match her, show her how much he has grown.

It is impossible for his mother's mouth to shape words under these conditions, preserved in ice as it is and kept intact by cold alone, but he swears he can hear the rhythm.

Winter is delight...

And his father is there beside her, arm around her shoulders, his own head half-lowered as if in private joke. Both of them waiting together. Waiting for him.

The blizzard thickens. Haku's feet move before he even knows it, propelling himself forward to chase the sound of his mother's voice. His father's rich laughter is but an inch out of desperate reach. He cannot hurry fast enough after the familiar noises, through the ever-strengthening storm to come closer to the dream perfected and given life once more just for him. Time has mercy, if only for tonight.

Haku runs, heedless of how deeply his feet plunge into the white mire that surrounds him, threatens to suck him down. Arms extended in hope of just one touch.

As he falls through the brilliant nothingness, he hears the rhyme fill his ears to overflowing at last, a hum that banishes all hint of bitter pangs and fills him with utter warmth.

And I love you, Haku.

Hours later when Zabuza finds him, the shinobi has to wipe several inches of drift off Haku's chest and face.

"I shouldn't ask you if you'll die like that, should I."

The man's voice is gruff through his facial wrappings, although his fingers are not harsh while they methodically clean Haku's clothes. Folding the boy's arms at the elbows to encourage circulation to restore itself, Zabuza waits patient until Haku stirs on his own power. Once it no longer feels as if he will physically snap to do so, the boy tries to sit up.

"Do you have an excuse for yourself, Haku?"

The question is harsh. Haku knows that Zabuza does not truly disapprove. The man is mystified of his tool's habits, but Haku is a faithful weapon and knows his own worth.

The boy crinks his hands instead, the fingernails stained dark as clotted blood while he reaches up and feels the chunks of ice that have frozen into his thick locks of hair. His sleeve against his face is ragged, or what little sensation of it he can manage to feel.

"Winter... is delightful, Zabuza, sir."

To which the older ninja grunts, ever practical. Haku continues.

"And..."