Snow by ACM a.k.a. Annie May
Naruto stared into the bottom of his empty glass. The last twelve years had left him dry. His energy and his optimism had faded with time and he now found it difficult to believe that things would resolve themselves as he had wanted. Still, he didn't want to burden his friends with his pain. Now he drank with Sakura or he drank alone. This little bar in the Waterfall Country was his only solace and he came to it whenever he had a moment free from ANBU.
At the other end of the bar, a pretty girl caught his eye. She was petite with long, dark hair, neat but unstyled. Her skin was very pale and her eyes were grey as steel, yet they held a soft light which Naruto found compelling. Her lips which were curled in a smile of mild amusement. To his great surprise, she slid over onto the seat next to him.
Naruto, taken aback by her forwardness, only smiled.
"I thought since you'd been looking at me for so long, you might like to know my name. And I'd like to know yours. It's not often I see a foreign ninja in here."
Naruto looked a little sheepish.
"My name is Aino Yuki. And yours?"
'Yuki…snow…' Naruto thought.
"Uzumaki Naruto," he said, bowing slightly in acknowledgement. "I'm sorry I was staring…you look very familiar…"
Yuki looked puzzled for a moment, then said, "Well, everyone says I look just like my mother. It's true, except for the eyes. Her eyes are hazel. Everything else is the same," she laughed.
Naruto shook his head.
"Yes, that makes sense. Since you are a shinobi, it's more likely that you knew my father, Momochi Zabuza."
Naruto stared open-mouthed at the comment, then recovered his manners and said quietly, "Yes, I knew him. Um, I wasn't aware that he had a daughter."
Yuki smiled understandingly.
"My father was only a visitor to the Country of Waterfall. He came for a few months every few years and stayed with my mother, while going out during the day and at all hours of the night to do God-knows-what. My mother says she knew he was some kind of criminal, but she still found him irresistible. It's a quiet life here for the most part, so that's understandable," Yuki laughed. "During one of his visits, twenty-one years ago now, she discovered that she was pregnant. She was afraid it would upset my father but she knew she had to tell him."
Yuki looked down at the counter and ran her right hand lightly over the wood.
"When she finally told him, he didn't seem angry, just…overwhelmed. Maybe a little disappointed…I suppose it's not something that he would have wanted, with a lifestyle like his."
Naruto smiled bitterly at the irony of that statement.
"He was kind to her, though. He stayed for another month, but said he would soon have to leave. When that day came, he kissed her cheek and said that if I were a boy, I should be called Haku, and if I were a girl, Yuki."
Naruto's face showed surprise and then he lowered his gaze sorrowfully.
Yuki paused for a moment, then put her hand on his left shoulder. Naruto looked up in surprise.
"You knew my father. I never did. He never came back after that day. If you don't mind, what was he like?"
Naruto sighed. That question was almost unanswerable and he hated that its answer was likely to cause Yuki even more pain than she had already suppressed over the years. The earnest look in her eyes gave him assurance that she understood the risks of asking such a question and was willing to hear the answer anyway.
"I knew your father for about a week, just before his death."
Naruto quickly realized that Yuki might not have been aware that her father had died, but she looked neither shocked nor bereaved, so he continued.
"He…was a criminal. He had the ambition to take over a country with a military coup, but he failed. Because of that, he became a mere thug for a greedy man who wanted to take over a country economically. I don't know all the details here, but it seems your father always traveled with a boy, who was fifteen at the time that we met. He's the person that you look like and the reason I was looking at you. His features were fine and I mistook him for a girl at one time, but he did not seem insulted by that. His hair was long and dark and his eyes were hazel…just like your mother's. His name was Haku."
Naruto paused a moment to let that sink in. Yuki was staring once again at the counter and it was difficult to read her expression.
"I was with Zabuza because my team and I were fighting him, defending the Country of Wave. This was a long time ago, when I was only twelve years old and a Genin in rank. I was fighting with Haku while my teacher fought Zabuza…your father. We couldn't help him because Sakura had to guard an important man we were protecting, and Sasuke…"
Naruto bit his lip. It was now so much more painful to think of Sasuke there, laying in his arms and nearly dying…
"After a long battle, my teacher, Kakashi, had succeeded in trapping Zabuza and generated a very powerful special attack to kill him, like a bolt of lightning channeled through his hands. At this point I had, somehow, defeated Haku…He had very low self-esteem…From what I understand he was an orphan, a beggar, who had been trained by Zabuza from a young age to believe that he was nothing more than a useful tool. So, when I defeated him, he begged me to kill him. I raised my knife to do it but at the last second he stopped me…"
Naruto almost choked on his next words.
"It seems he…threw himself in front of Zabuza at the last moment, so Kakashi killed him instead. Haku had said that all he wanted was to protect his important person…he died doing that."
Naruto tapped the bottom of his glass on the counter, then set it down.
"After that, the battle was different. Zabuza wouldn't admit that he was upset by what had happened. He wanted to think that Haku was just a tool to him…but he couldn't fight anymore. He had lost the will to fight."
"Finally, his boss and all of the other thugs showed up. That man had the nerve to insult Haku…he poked at Haku's dead body with his cane and he scolded Zabuza for his failure. Zabuza was stoic…I was so young that I couldn't understand what was happening. I yelled at Zabuza, tried to explain to him how Haku felt about him, how he had been willing to die for him…Finally, he cried. He asked me for my knife. I knew he was going to kill himself, so I hated to give it to him, but I did. His arms had been injured during the battle and he could no longer use them, so he caught it in his teeth…"
Naruto paused, remembering the quick and shocking scene that had taken place next.
"To be honest, I have no idea how it happened…Somehow he got through the crowd…There were at least twenty of them and they were all attacking…They say he was like a demon and he moved so fast…Some how he charged his boss, stabbed him with the knife in his teeth and knocked him off of the bridge."
Naruto paused, sadness reflecting in his eyes.
"Zabuza…your father…he had been wounded many times in the fight…" Naruto avoided telling the more graphic details so that he would not upset her unnecessarily.
"He was dying. He fell…He wasn't bitter and wouldn't regret what had happened…He asked Kakashi to carry him to Haku and he did. Zabuza killed and died for Haku…He died there beside Haku as snow started to fall…He thought it was because Haku was crying. Although his arms were horribly damaged, he touched Haku's face before he died…He…I think…I think he…loved Haku."
Naruto gulped, realizing what he had said. He looked at Yuki, a desperate apology in his eyes. She was still looking down at the counter.
"I'm sorry…I shouldn't have said that. I mean, your mother…"
Naruto stopped. There was nothing he could say that would be both comforting and honest.
Yuki tapped her right index finger on the counter a few times, then stopped. She stared at the counter for a few more seconds, then looked up at Naruto. Her eyes were closed and her smile serene. She slowly reached up and gently ran her right hand through Naruto's hair, then placed it on his shoulder. She opened her eyes and smiled again, in what Naruto considered a perfect imitation of Haku. The only difference was the grey eyes, just like Zabuza's…In appearance, she was their child, just as Zabuza would have hoped. She looked at him with compassionate acceptance and moved closer to his face as she spoke.
"I understand, Naruto. We all need someone sometimes."
Naruto's eyes widened in shock. The words went right to his soul and it was clear that Yuki understood…everything. Zabuza's pain, his pain…the pain of loving someone and knowing that it is impossible...the need for comfort, for closeness, for love, even if it meant making someone else feel that same pain, it was worth it. It was too desperate to ignore.
Naruto laid his head on Yuki's shoulder. She stroked his hair with one hand as she set down the cost of their drinks on the counter. After a few more moments, she pushed Naruto away and got to her feet, then took his hand and led him out of the bar.