A House without Doors
Short fic, pre-Chuunin exams, spoilers. Hyuuga-centric. Inspired by Shizumaru.
In a house without doors, certain practices become superfluous.
One of them is direct eye contact. The Hyuugas are learned in common body language, remnants for when they are placed in public schooling classes, but they forget it when they are immersed in the rest of the family. Eye contact in the Hyuuga household is used merely as punctuation. It is a device.
In a house where stone is as transparent as glass, and conversations become just as easily performed with all participants facing in different directions, certain habits become useless.
They are discarded. They are not of the blood.
In the Hyuuga house, there exists a cant all its own. Spoken. Words are common, gestures are heavy. Perceptions will capture every covert motion your muscles make, measure the rate of your heart beating in its chest and the way your spit slides down your mouth if you swallow, nervous. Spasmodic. Everyone will see it. Everyone will know.
There are no doors you can close.
Turning away from a person does not save you. Because of this, the use of Hyuuga body language is rife with overt meaning, trebling the weight of physical motions and hunting down subtleties with the same precision as target practice. Deliberate statements become powerful. Glares and stares and narrowed eyes--all these are extraneous, coupled with the internal changes of adrenaline gates and nerves firing, so to apply them is as good as a shout.
Some members of the blood have entirely forgotten how to speak the dialect of Konoha Village. Others engage it daily, and know it better than their birth. Inside the home, the accents of socialization mix and fight, until they eventually settle down to the default tongue. Hyuuga.
There are other customs which are changed because of the Byakugan. A person always knows when it is their turn for the bath. Restroom collisions are never accidental. Knocks are not performed, save to remind the person on the other side that you wish entrance. Directions are handed out precisely when using words such as right or left, and most resort instead to landmarks as a form of spatial orientation.
Modesty is a byword.
Members of the blood forget to pull their rooms shut sometimes when they are changing, or sharing an intimate moment with someone close to their heart. Sometimes they remember to yank the screens out as a token sign that they do not wish to be disturbed, but there is no effort made in pretending that mere layers of wood and paper can be used to hide your crimes.
Handling such topics is a matter of blunt pragmatism. There are no illusions of privacy.
Everything is exposed within the Hyuuga household.
Because of this, Neji does not conceal his hatred for the Main House. He does not even try.
As a member secondary of the Hyuuga blood, Neji is expected to guard the Main House with his very life, eternally ready to throw himself away if it buys a few seconds longer for even the most worthless of the Main. The bargain has always struck him as unfair. It claimed his father's life and it will claim his own, no matter how hard he struggles.
In the meantime, Neji practices the motions of his taijustu, melting from form to form as if he could become the embodiment of a stance and thereby transmute himself.
None of them can break him free of his cage, but he remains in shape. It's expected. Members of the Branch House are required to take alternating shifts as they patrol the wide grounds of the estate, once a week during times of peace, more if there have been signs of other shinobi on the move.
Hiashi can see who is and who is not attending simply by strolling down the halls.
Personal space is destroyed within the Hyuuga house. People know if you have been skipping meals. They know if you have bitten your tongue, and why. They know how many bones you have fractured in your hand while throwing punches at the trees of the training grounds; they know if you are unable to sleep, restless, and have gone down for late-night practice under moonlight.
At breakfast, everyone is aware of what everyone else has been up to. The rice bowls are passed hand to hand among the Branch after the Main have finished their portions and left, and no one speaks aloud.
Like cattle, Neji thinks, between accepting the soy sauce and pouring it. Bred and raised and slaughtered for the Main House's whim. Branded, so that we cannot escape.
The dark sauce oozes over the shallow dish, and he hands the bottle to the second-cousin down the line without looking.
We are trapped in a house of open windows.
It is a simple matter to identify those regulated to the Branch. The sacrificial members of the family are unified by the way they are the only ones with the Byakugan to practice the art of concealment while still at home. Bound foreheads, covered brows--like petitioners humble, but the religion enforced. Dictated by decree.
In the event of visitors, the Main House would like the truth of the seal arrangement to be hidden from non-milk eyes.
The other members of the Branch Household are, by and large, accepting of their fate. They might hate it, might mutter to one another as they walk the patrols around the family grounds, but no amount of bile will erase the marks upon their foreheads. Soap and water do not work, and the effort itself of washing endlessly at the bath is always noted by Hiashi if not by the rest of the clan. Hiashi customarily mentions it over breakfast the next day, a dry line of, someone's trying another useless effort again, and then those assembled for the meal turn and look at the offender.
All those faces pointed in one direction. The gesture, ceremonial.
Neji practices the regimented exercises in the morning with the rest of the Branch House. He wakes up at dawn. The expressions of his disposable relatives are resigned as they prepare themselves, tightening limb-wraps and holsters for their kunai. Speech, stilted.
Neji does not look at the other Branch Members as he engages the routines, just one figure in the row of many, and they do not glance directly at each other.
In a house without doors, no one needs to turn their heads in order to see. Everything is exposed. Rooms open themselves up to the Byakugan as easily as if the walls had never existed in the first place, but access to the chambers remains limited to the Main House's permissions. Discussions are held with closed eyes. Family body language reigns.
Those of the Branch walk the hallways with cloth-covered stigmas, and everyone notices without having to look.