It was only fitting that Haku left him in the winter. It had been cold for weeks, and Haku had been hoping and praying that the cold weather would have a freezing effect on his young, tender heart, but it did not. In the end, it only caused the heat of his love to burn through the cold exterior, and he felt he could no longer ignore it. Rather than be expelled from his misfit family of sorts, he chose to leave it.

He packed his few belongings (which really only included his senbons and one change of clothes) in a tiny rucksack and set off at dusk while Zabuza was sleeping soundly. He left only one thing behind: The pink yukata that Zabuza had bought him with their meager savings after their last assignment. They had gone hungry for over a week after spending their money on such an unneeded extravagance. Haku still felt guilty for that, although it wasn't as if he had begged for the clothing. He had simply mentioned briefly that he would love to have something so fine and silky as they passed the store window. The next morning, he spotted the very same yukata spread over the end of his bed.

He wasn't sure exactly why he was leaving behind something that was so very precious to him. He told himself that it was because of the cost of the item. If Zabuza ever came upon hard times, he could easily sell it in the nearest merchant town. Deep down though, Haku knew there was never a lie so obvious as that.

More than anything, Haku wished that Zabuza would remember him fondly. In a twisted, convoluted way, Haku believed that if he left behind his most precious possession, Zabuza would understand that Haku hadn't wanted to leave. Haku wanted nothing but to stay with Zabuza until the end of time. But that was exactly why Haku felt it necessary to get out while he still could.

Zabuza sensed the loss the second Haku crossed over the horizon. He rose from bed like a ghost and floated across the room to where Haku should have been sleeping. Feeling as if he was still in a dream, Zabuza curled up on Haku's bed, draping the pink yukata over his prone frame. Though he would never admit it to anyone, and he would've killed anyone unlucky enough to have witnessed the moment, Zabuza buried his tan face into Haku's pillow and cried.

When Zabuza woke again, delirious and so, so sad, all he noticed was the fragrance of peaches and herbs and roses and just an overall sweetness characteristic of his darling Haku. His tool. His follower. His friend. His love. Yes, Zabuza claimed that the dear boy was nothing more than a tool to him, but if he ever admitted Haku was more than that, Zabuza wouldn't be able to allow the boy to fight for him any longer. Even being the Demon of the Mist, Zabuza had some morals.

He clutched the pillow closer and closer to his face until he was all but inhaling the fabric, and tucked the yukata around and underneath him, crying himself to sleep yet again. After hours of sleeping on and off, wrapped tightly in the pink yukata, Zabuza finally rose from the bed. Rage overtook him, and he nearly tore the yukata to shreds. Moments before such a disaster could occur, he got a hold of himself, though this was after he had ripped apart everything else in the campsite, including his own clothes. He couldn't bring himself to destroy the little bit of Haku that he had left. As long as he kept that yukata, Haku would never truly be gone. And if he ever came back, which Zabuza sincerely hoped he would, he would need something beautiful to wear. Zabuza believed nothing was ever good enough for pure, innocent Haku, but that yukata was as close to perfect as Zabuza had ever been able to afford.

He couldn't keep himself from tearing the smallest bit of fabric off the sleeve of the outfit, however. This, he attached to the inside of the bandages making up his mask. He wished for Haku's scent to be with him, always and forever.

That day, the last snowfall of the season came to a close.

It was only fitting that Haku returned to him in the winter. After a full year of traveling on his own, Haku had been unable to stop wishing that he'd never made the mistake of leaving his beloved Zabuza. He missed the awkward motions Zabuza always made, as if he were about to clap him on the back or ruffle his hair, but thought better of it before the two had touched. He missed the sweet things Zabuza did once in a blue moon, like rescuing Haku's old pet bunny when he ran away. He missed having another warm body close by when he was scared or lonely and just needed to know someone else was alive in that cold, cruel world.

Haku always knew he loved Zabuza. It was the reason he left in the first place, and now it was what was bringing him back. He left because it hurt more than a kunai to the face when Zabuza referred to him as his "tool." Thinking so highly of and caring so much for Zabuza, yet knowing at the same time that Haku meant no more to Zabuza than a simple shuriken tore through Haku's heart more thoroughly than the slaughter of his parents. Haku was tired of the sadness. Haku was tired of only feeling he was someone of worth when he was training or fighting. Haku was tired of laying in bed at night, gazing longingly at the broad muscles of his mentor and wishing he could run his fingers over them in addition to his eyes.

He hadn't really planned his return. He knew since the moment he left that he should never have gone in the first place, but by the time he reached their old campsite again, all he found was a destroyed cabin and cloth strewn about the field, giving the impression that a tornado had thoroughly ravaged the place. Zabuza was nowhere in sight. Haku searched in vain for the smallest piece of his old pink yukata, feeling that that certainly had been the first thing Zabuza had destroyed in his fury, but he hadn't found even a sign that it had ever existed in the first place. Perhaps Zabuza had burned it or chucked it in the river a mile away. Why would he ever want a reminder of his faulty tool, after all?

Haku gave up hope after that. Even if he found Zabuza, who's to say the man would allow Haku back in his life? It was more likely that he'd do nothing more than remove his sword from his back and use it to neatly separate Haku's head from his body, as if Haku were nothing more than another assignment.

It was during the first snowfall of the year that Haku happened to wander right into a campsite that looked strangely familiar. The makeshift shelter appeared to be the handiwork of one Momochi Zabuza before Haku had come along years ago and officially took over the duties of cabin building. A quick analysis of the sounds coming from the area around the campsite told Haku that Zabuza must not be near, must be out hunting, and he'd be safe snooping for a bit.

Entering the cabin brought tears to Haku's eyes. Everything inside was just so Zabuza. Nostalgia and regret broke the dam, and miniature rivers of sorrow flooded Haku's cheeks. Vision too blurry to observe much else about the main area, Haku dragged his feet onward to where Zabuza preferred his sleeping quarters.

And there it was. His pink yukata was as clean and soft as the last time he had seen it, despite the fact that it was spread over Zabuza's sleeping bag as a blanket. It appeared to be the most well-cared-for item in the entire shelter, and seeing it made Haku long for his love even more.

Though Haku feared Zabuza would be murderous when he realized Haku had invited himself back into the family, he decided that death would be a fair price to pay for his betrayal, should Zabuza find it necessary to relieve him of his life. Haku lifted the yukata and pulled back the blanket underneath, snuggling deep into the sleeping bag and shoving his nose into the pillow. The smell of wood and smoke and blood and something undefined that Haku couldn't describe as anything but wild and feral assaulted his nostrils, soothing him into an immediate and deep sleep. He would be seeing his love again soon.

Zabuza knew something was amiss the moment Haku set foot on the campsite, despite the fact Zabuza himself was miles away stalking a deer simply because he was bored and restless. Not understanding exactly why his heart began beating at the speed of light and his mind started racing, Zabuza could think of nothing but getting back to camp as soon as humanly possible. Whether the change in the situation was good or bad, Zabuza couldn't say, but he felt it needed to be assessed regardless.

Within a mile of the site, Zabuza knew it was Haku. How he knew was a mystery, but he knew and sped up his frantic walk to a sprint. Entering the shelter, his eyes roved wildly for the slightest glimpse of the beautiful boy, and they landed on his hair, tied back in its trademark bun, barely peeking out from under the yukata draped over Zabuza's sleeping bag. His Haku had returned.

Zabuza had the slightest bit of meat left over from a recent kill. It wasn't enough for the both of them, but he couldn't bring himself to leave Haku again to retrieve more food. His fear of Haku disappearing into the night once more should Zabuza leave him alone was too great, so he cooked the food he already had. Though he tried to be as quiet as a mouse, the smell of the spiced meat cooking roused Haku, and he exited the shelter just as Zabuza was pulling the pan off the fire.

A twig cracked, alerting Zabuza that Haku had awoken at last, and he spun around and flew to the shorter boy. No words were spoken between the two, yet they understood each other perfectly. Haku was apologizing over and over with his chocolate brown eyes and begging Zabuza's forgiveness. Zabuza was giving that forgiveness and begging Haku to never leave him again. Haku gave Zabuza one nod in thanks, acceptance, and promise and turned to eat, but Zabuza's hand on his shoulder halted him.

Zabuza reached out hesitantly and tugged on the pouch of cloth holding Haku's hair in a tight bun. The cloth gave way, Haku's long, dark hair tumbling down about his shoulders. Both Zabuza and Haku were surprised at the Devil's next action, when he pulled gently on Haku's hair, urging him to come closer. Once Haku was chest to chest with Zabuza, the assassin wound his strong arms around Haku and simply held him, fingers running unconsciously through Haku's smooth, luscious locks. Both men were relieved to have their love by their side again. Snow began to fall from the heavens above.

There were changes after Haku's return. They were subtle, but they were still there. Most noticeably, Zabuza never again referred to Haku as his tool. Haku was an equal now. A friend. They fought together, Haku more often than not fighting for Zabuza, yet Zabuza never pointed this out. He never forced Haku to fight. After all, they were equals now.

Zabuza also became less wary of touching Haku. A hand on the shoulder here, a pat on the back there. Zabuza's new favorite activity had quickly become brushing out Haku's long hair before bed, whether with a hairbrush or with his fingers. They never spoke about this new habit; it simply became a part of their lives. It was as if it had always been a part of their routine.

Lastly, they only ever set up one bed at their campsites anymore. Zabuza insisted that he was so very worried that Haku would leave him again should he ever get the opportunity, that Zabuza wished to prevent it. If they were in the same bed, there would be no possibility of Zabuza sleeping through Haku running away. Though it was often odd and very warm with two full-grown men sleeping in a bed barely big enough for one, Haku wasn't complaining. He got to be deliciously close to the one he loved. He didn't dare say anything for fear that Zabuza would start setting up a second bed.

As time went on and both men grew older, Zabuza took less and less of the jobs offered to him. Haku didn't know why this was; he never bothered to ask. But on his eighteenth birthday, he got an idea as to the reason.

They had made it a habit early on in their strange relationship to never celebrate anything. Not victories, not holidays, and especially not birthdays. So when Zabuza presented Haku with a small square of cloth that looked to be the missing piece from the one scraggly sleeve of Haku's old pink yukata, Haku was mightily confused. Zabuza gave no explanation, however. He just handed over the cloth, mussed Haku's hair in an almost fatherly manner, and left to cook dinner.

It wasn't until that night that Haku received the rest of his present. Zabuza brushed through his hair before bed again. That night was a fingers night: Haku's favorite. The soothing motion nearly put Haku to sleep, but Zabuza abruptly stopped much too early for the boy's liking. Confused, Haku turned and was met with a tortured gaze from the now-maskless Zabuza. Wanting nothing more than to erase the misery in those dark brown eyes, Haku grabbed the man's face without so much as a thought and drew him into a long, luxurious kiss.

When Haku imagined kissing Zabuza in the past, he had always imagined the man to be violently dominant, always trying to overtake Haku, who would be all too willing to be the submissive one. Kissing him in reality was far from this fantasy. Zabuza helped Haku along in the kissing process (after all, that was Haku's first kiss), but seemed to prefer when Haku dominated. The kiss was slow and sweet and secure, and Zabuza kept himself in check so as not to push Haku into anything he wasn't ready for. Haku set the pace and Zabuza went along with it without so much as a whine.

When they finally broke apart, there were many questions in the eyes of both men, but it was late and they were tired. Without saying a word, they came to a mutual agreement that they would discuss it in the morning, and instead contented themselves with curling up under their shared blanket, Haku's head resting heavily over Zabuza's heart, hair fanned out over the pillow. Zabuza wrapped his arms around the thin boy and pressed a quick kiss onto the top of Haku's head before tilting his own head and placing his cheek on the spot his lips had been.

Both men weren't completely sure what the morning would bring, but they were positive of three things: Whatever happened, they would always stick together. Whatever happened, Haku would never leave Zabuza's side, and Zabuza would never send him away. Whatever happened, Haku would always love Zabuza and Zabuza would always love Haku. Outside the sturdy wooden shelter, snow began to fall.