Chapter Three: Redemption

Fate is a complex thing. It sweeps across the lives of men without care for plans or expectations, and even when it seems so cruel, it works in balance. Fate is a wheel- acts of greed and selfish pride are punished with loss and humiliation; acts of giving and humility are rewarded in kind. Martyrdom begets glory, lies lead to pain.

Fate may claim the life of a youth through an act of love; it may claim a grown man through grief. There are only two consistencies in fate- the acts of balance, and death.

Sometimes the balance is difficult, and these difficulties frame the questions of human faith: Does love really transcend all boundaries? When can forgiveness be given?

Can a sinner be saved?

Questions of faith rely on faith for their answers. No question is answered easily, and no two people share the same outlook on the 'correct answer'. In the end, only fate can decide who's truly forgiven. Only fate places the souls to salvation or damnation.

Only fate can redeem.

Though he'd given up to darkness in the cold, and he woke in warmth. Not the burning heat he would have expected, but the calming warmth of another person's skin near his. He didn't hurt, but his joints felt loose, disconnected… similar to the way he felt when he woke up after Haku's needle attack.

He sat up on his elbows, looking around the room. It was like his own, but somehow not, and as the sheet slid from his chest to his waist, he was struck by how cold the air was. He breath exhaled in little clouds, and frost was creeping up the windows. No, this was not his room; wherever it was, it was far too cold to be his home. And in any case… wasn't he dead?

Returning his attention to the bed, he smiled to see Haku, still curled up under the sheets. The smile quickly faded to a mild frown, slight puzzlement crossing his face. They were dead, yes; but how could they remain together? His hand, without conscious order, rose to brush several strands of ebony hair out of the boy's face, and his smile returned when Haku nuzzled against that warmth, still sleeping.

Nothing made sense here, and yet Zabuza couldn't deny that it all felt right. Even this bitter cold meant something, it tugged at his mind though he couldn't quite fit it. He swung his legs from the bed, noting dimly that he wasn't wearing anything. Absently he reached down, finding his pants among the clothing tossed about the floor. He'd pulled them on and was looking for his shirt before he realized that the clothes were entangled much as they had been on the morning of his death.

It was only slightly warmer in his clothing, as he walked slowly from the room and into a short hall. The house was not his, and yet it felt similar nonetheless - it felt as lifeless and unused as the one he'd shared with Haku, and the deadness of the home was highlighted by the freezing cold. The floors were creeping with frost in some places, and every window he passed was blurred with ice.

Zabuza found himself sitting in the chair from which Haku had observed his last sunset. On the table beside him he wasn't surprised to find the book his student had been reading, marked with a thin strip of fabric that felt suspiciously like part of his bandaging. He picked it up and held it in his lap, watching the snow fall outside the window, trying not to think about where he was and what it meant. Trying to resist praying that he wouldn't wake up from a dangerously hopeful dream.

How long he sat, numbly watching the snow swirl down, he wasn't sure. It was the soft sound of bare feet on hard wood that brought him from his thoughts. Looking up into Haku's smiling brown eyes, he silently opened his arms. Haku wasted no time moving into the embrace, fingers wrapping into the fabric of Zabuza's shirt. With the boy in his arms, he found himself almost clinging to the smaller frame, trying to convince himself that they were really both here. It was reassuring that Haku held just as tightly to him, pressing their skin together so Zabuza forgot the cold, forgot death, and thought only of his student.

When they pulled away, it was only to readjust into more comfortable positions, so that Haku sat mostly in Zabuza's lap, both curled together on the chair. The older man held the boy securely, one hand tangled in the long strands of black hair, soothed by the hands locked behind his neck. Haku rested his head against his master's chest, his arms still wrapped around the bigger man.

"I'm sorry," he said after a long time. "I let my fear for you get the better of me."

Eyes narrowed in something very near confusion, Zabuza looked down at the boy. "I was afraid I'd never see you again, and you apologize for something neither of us had control of."

Quiet laughter from the younger male. "I can't help it. I… I was scared that you would die."

Zabuza raised on thin eyebrow. "Haku… we're both dead."

"Of course. I know." At this, the boy seemed to cling a little tighter to his teacher, and the older man ran his fingers through the long strands of hair. A silence stretched between them, until Haku finally ventured to speak again. "Zabuza-san…?"

The swordsman grunted in acknowledgement and pulled away just a little. The eyes turned up at him were wide almost nervous, and Zabuza felt an odd tightening in his throat.

"Is… now okay?"

For a second the words made no sense, but quickly enough he remembered. Haku still looked up at him with those almost desperate eyes, and instead of trying to speak, Zabuza did what felt right. The lips against his own were as soft as he remembered, parting in a little gasp that was too convenient to waste. There was no reason for shyness here, and the older man let this first kiss in their strange new home be as deep and full as he could. Because he loved the boy, and it was okay now.

Whispering the words right into Haku's ear, he could feel the slight shiver that ran over the tracker's skin. "I love you, Haku."

He could feel the smile on his lover's lips, and the softly murmured response was somehow more moving than he would have thought. Hearing those three little words did something for him that he just couldn't explain, and in truth, he doubted it needed an explanation. It was enough to get to hear them. It was enough to get to hold Haku's slim frame, and know that this was everything.

Giving his life to avenge Haku's memory, to rid the world of that pestilent, foul little toad; dying in the way he'd chosen had been Zabuza's act of contrition. With Haku in his arms, there was no doubt in his mind that this was heaven. Even later, when he saw the scar that was left from the boy's fatal wound, the mark left to remind him of what he had put Haku through, he didn't doubt. He had eternity to atone for any wrong he'd done. They both had eternity… and they both had been redeemed.

-END-

(A.N. Well, there you have it. For all of you who reviewed, thank you! And for those who read... you should review, but eh. If I realy did make you guys cry, I'm sorry... that wasn't my intention...)