Title: Rosemary For Remembrance
Unhelpful Summary: Hyuga is a house with many rooms. A Neji & Hinata-centric fic. Expect madness, love, sex, and murder.
Rating: G for this chapter; eventually up to NC-17
Genre: Het, I suppose. Drama/Angst. Yaoi will be mentioned. Various pairings t.b.a.
Archive: Scimitar Smile
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Notes: The Prologue is a series of vignettes that gets the readers up to speed on the characters lives before the actual story begins in Chapter 1.
Prologue – The Color of Water
Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall.
– Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
One of Hinata's very earliest memories was the feel of the earth beneath her bare knees and the overpowering scent of a hundred different herbs as she helped her mother work in the private garden. It was one of the few memories she had where her mother was not conspicuously pregnant with Hanabi. During that time, when Hinata was five, Hyuga Himiko always had to work around her unwieldy stomach and to stop often to rest. In this memory though, her mother was slender. Her hands – still wearing the Hyuga heirloom ring before it had to be cut off her swollen finger just before Hanabi was born – glided deftly over the plants, bending a stem here, plucking a leaf there. Sometimes she would snap a bud off of its stem and place it in her mouth. Hinata would mimic her, and she would learn when a plant was ready for use, not just by sight, but by taste and touch and smell. Later in this memory, she would follow her mother to the shed where she kept her drying racks. Some herbs, like dioscorea and ginseng root, would go into the oven to dry out, while others were merely hung upside down from the rafters. Fresh mint would go into Okaasan's apron pockets because Otousan liked it in the tea.
But what Hinata remembered most about that day was how her mother had stopped to watch two birds splash in the birdbath. It was a hot day, and Okasaan had removed the band she usually wore around her forehead. She wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand and Hinata caught a glimpse of something beneath her mother's bangs.
"Are you hurt, Okaasan?" Hinata had asked, and then she had reached one small finger up to touch it. Her mother had pulled back, as if slapped, and then hastily retied her headband.
There were many rules in their household, many things not to touch, or see, or speak of, but before, Hinata could always count on her mother to guide her through the maze of decorum that bound much of the Hyuga Compound.
"It's nothing," her mother had said, hastily, and then smiled down at her. Her white eyes did not crinkle up at the corners though, and so Hinata knew that she had done something wrong. She wanted to cry, but knew that that was not allowed either. Still, her lip had trembled and her mother had noticed.
"Hinata!" she had said, sharply enough that Hinata's head whipped around to look at her.
Her mother regarded her for a long moment and then shook her head. "I apologize for shouting, but it worked, didn't it? You're no longer about to cry."
Nodding, Hinata realized that this was true.
"A woman does not have the luxury of crying, ever. Remember that." And Hinata had.
She had followed her mother's gaze to the house, then, just in time to see her father come outside. He saw his wife and daughter regarding him and he nodded before continuing on his way. It was Wednesday afternoon, and Otousan would be going out. On Wednesday nights Hinata and Himiko ate dinner without him. Hinata would never admit it, but she looked forward to Wednesdays. They usually ate in the kitchen, and she did not have to mind her manners quite so much.
Okaasan watched Otousan go, and Hinata watched Okaasan. When he disappeared from view, Okaasan turned back to her. The two birds had left the birdbath when her father opened the fusuma and now the water was a still pool.
"Hinata," her mother said, and her voice was suddenly urgent. "I need you to listen to me now. What color is the water in the bird bath?"
Giving the question the serious contemplation that she gave every question, Hinata spent a long moment examining the water before finally answering, "Green."
Her mother had nodded and then taken one of her small hands and led her up to the porch where they could look out at the Nakano River. "What color is the water in the river?" she had asked.
Going inside, her mother had turned on the sink and they both watched the stream trickle from the faucet.
"What color is it?" her mother had asked a third time.
"It's clear," Hinata had answered, and by this time she was genuinely perplexed.
"That's right." In the kitchen, with the water still running, her mother had knelt down until they were face to face. "Water has no color. The water in the birdbath is only green because the bird bath is green. The water in the Nakano River is brown, because of the mud in the river. Water is passive. It takes on the color of its surroundings. Do you understand?"
Even though she was not sure, Hinata had nodded.
"You and I," her mother had continued, "have to be like water. Remember that, Hinata. Be the color of water."
Hinata had nodded again, even though she was more confused now than ever.
"Heir or not, it's the only way for a Hyuga woman to survive," her mother had said softly. Hinata would never be sure if she was meant to hear or not.
The first time Neji saw his cousin Hinata he thought she was cute like one of the stable kittens that he had not been allowed to take home, and said as much to his father. He was four, and it was one of the last times he ever said exactly what he felt without meticulously weighing the words.
His father had been silent for a long moment, the droning sound of his Ojisan's speech supplying background noise. Finally he had bent down to Neji and said, "It would probably be easier if you didn't think that way."
Still, the speeches had gone on forever, and he found his eyes drawn back to the little girl who alternately stood stiffly between her parents and leaned tiredly on her mother's leg. Soon she began to watch him watching and then they got into a staring contest of sorts. She had then raised one tiny hand and wiggled her fingers a little, and he did the same. Then she had smiled at him just the tiniest bit before burying her face in her mother's kimono. He had smiled back, and then looked up at his father for approval.
Otousan was paying no attention to him, though. Instead he and Himiko were having a staring contest in much the same way that Neji had had with his cousin except that they did not wave and they did not smile.
Later, Neji would not remember the day this way. It was the day Hiashi hurt him, though truly the pain did heal after a few days and at the time he had not realized what it meant when they said that the mark on his forehead would be with him for the rest his life.
Two or three days, less than a week, after the day of the speeches and his cousin and the painful mark, he had met Hinata again. They were in the dojo to watch her train, or, as his father put it, "See what this little mouse is capable of." This time, Neji had waved to her, and she had waved back but then hastily hid her hand behind her back when his father had given them a disapproving look.
After that, he had been especially attentive because his father told him that he was sure to learn something important that day.
"How will I know what's important?" he had asked as they both sat unobtrusively watching Hiashi train Hinata. So far he was putting her through a simple form, a baby's pattern that Neji himself had mastered long ago. Still, he felt sorry for her when Hiashi barked, "You're footwork is sloppy!" for the third time and she cringed away from the harshness in his voice.
"You'll know," his father had answered calmly, and he had taken a deep breath before activating his Byakugan. When he was younger Neji had had nightmares about the Byakugan. His dream self would wander the Compound and around every corner would be someone he knew, the enlarged chakra coils around their eyes transforming them into monsters that chased after him until he teetered on the bank of the Nakano River.
But now, he was learning to activate the Byakugan himself. Otousan would hold up the mirror so that he could see how chakra slightly swelled the coils around his own eyes. His technique was imperfect, though. His vision would become fuzzy and he could not take more than a few steps with the Byakugan activated before he would become dizzy and fall down. Still, his father often told him that he had been blessed with more of the Hyuga natural ability than anyone in a thousand years and so Neji trained every day until his stomach turned over from dizziness and his special eyes watered and ached.
"Listen, Neji. This Hinata-sama of the Main Family, you will live to protect her and the Hyuga blood. Do you understand?"
He had nodded, eagerly. She looked like someone who needed protecting. At first he thought that this must be the important thing that he was to learn.
But then it had happened.
His father had clenched his fists tightly and then narrowed his eyes to slits as he watched the little girl work her way through her forms. He chuckled a bit when she stumbled again and Neji might have had grasped the beginnings of a thought that this was very rude but then his uncle had shouted something and his father suddenly fell to the ground clutching his forehead.
Neji had looked to Hiashi for help, but his uncle had only knelt with his hand wrapped around the back of his cousin's neck, holding her head steady, forcing her to look.
"Watch closely!" he had barked, and both children had obeyed as his father's suffering continued on and on.
Neji would always regret that he hadn't found the courage to tell his uncle and cousin to turn their faces away. Didn't they know that pain was a private thing?
But he never forgave either of them for witnessing his father's guttural cries of agony, the white flecks of foam that collected at the corners of his mouth or the undignified way he clutched his forehead where the jinjutsu had turned black and angry
When he grew older he would come to realize that there had been no need for his father's display in the dojo that day. A week later he was attending a funeral with no coffin and that was all the demonstration he needed that his life was in their hands.
The Byakugan is hard on a woman in many ways. For instance, a mother carrying a child who will possess the Byakugan almost always has a difficult pregnancy. Hyuga family legend holds that this has always been so.
Himiko insisted on explaining this to Hinata herself when the midwife had to be called in for the third time in as many weeks. The baby wanted to come early, she told her daughter. But this was good news, because it meant that the child would also most likely be blessed with the Hyuga's special eyes and Otousan would be pleased.
She did not explain how the cotton root extract she took in her morning tea had somehow failed to prevent the conception, or how, if the baby survived, she would have to live and die with the knowledge that one of her children was destined to be marked with the same cursed seal she wore on her own forehead. She did not explain how she had noticed the correlation between Hiashi describing Hinata's training sessions as "a disappointment" and the frequency with which her husband turned to her in the night.
And she would never explain what she was doing the day four months ago when Hinata had walked in on her making tea with the wild cherry bark she collected ostensibly to poison the wild dogs that sometimes invaded the Hyuga compound in the winter time.
That day, Hinata had clutched the cloth of her thin yukata in both small fists as Himiko flung the tea, kettle and all, into the Nakano River.
"You see, Hinata," she had concluded, both hands resting on her cumbersome stomach as she sat up in the bed, "The Byakugan is hard on a woman in every way. It is difficult to possess eyes like ours, especially when so much of a woman's life depends on her turning her head and pretending not to see."
Himiko never knew how much of her teachings Hinata truly took in, but just then the baby kicked again sending a blinding pain radiating out from her lower stomach, reminding her of her destiny.
Hyuga married young. It was the duty of the Main House to maintain a pure Hyuga line, as it was the duty of the Branch House to protect that line. Since all the younger siblings from the Main House were bound with the Hyuga's cursed seal, it only followed that the Branch family was much larger than the Main. Most marriages within the clan were arranged, and it was tacitly understood that as the Branch Family's generations began to grow and diverge away from the Main Family that they would marry those with normal eyes until the Byakugan was bred out of their line. This way, those who possessed the Byakugan were closely bound by blood ties and there was always a pool of distant Byakugan-blessed relations for the heir to pick from as a spouse likely to breed a worthy successor.
These marriages were not love matches. Himiko had never known Hiashi outside of family functions until their betrothal was cemented when she was nine and he was thirteen. He later confessed to her that he could not remember seeing her before they were introduced at the ceremony where her father gave her over to the Main Family's care. After that he was trained to be a Great Man and she a Great Man's wife.
Hinata knew all this because her mother told her when they lay in her futon at night awaiting the birth of the baby. Her mother would whisper it into the shell of her ear, along with the strange, disjointed bits of advice about never crying and the color of water.
And turning her head and not seeing.
One Thursday morning in Hinata's first year at the Academy, they had gone to the market on a fieldtrip. The point of the exercise was to learn to observe their surroundings unobtrusively. Sensei had chucked her under the chin and commented that she should be especially good at this, which had called attention to her in front of the whole class and caused her to hide her face behind her hands. She only belatedly realized that Sensei had been referring to the alleged exceptional observational skills of those with the Byakugan and not the fact that Hinata had become adept at not being seen.
They had been put to work observing Craft Street where the air was thick with sawdust and the unique smell of cedar. Sensei pretended to give them a lecture, when in reality, they were supposed to observe as much about the street that they could and report when they returned back to school.
Back at the Academy that afternoon, Hinata forgot to report the shopkeeper who had sat in front of his shop with a poorly concealed clay jug behind his back or the markings on the cat that had jumped from a third story window ledge onto the butcher's awning.
And even when Sensei said in front of the class that she would fail the assignment if she did not speak up, she could not bring herself to report how she had saw her father step out of a doorway that she would later find out led to an apartment above a woodworker's shop. She did not report the black-eyed woman who followed him out, or the way Otousan had brushed his knuckles across her pale cheek before turning and walking toward the bridge that would lead him over the Nakano River and to the Hyuga Compound. She did not report the way the woman watched him go until he was out of sight, her hand curled around a pendant that hung down over her heart.
Hyuga married young. These were not love matches.
Neji's mother had died giving birth to a baby boy who had never drawn breath. He knew that she was named Reiko, that she had had brown eyes and that her ashes had floated down the Nakano River to the sea long ago.
Now Neji accompanied his guardian, his aunt Toshiko, to the market because, if he was worth nothing else, he did have a strong back and Obasan was nursing her new baby, which apparently meant that it had to come with her wherever she went.
They had just crested the hill that conveniently hid the market from the Hyuga gates when Obasan thrust the baby into his arms and barreled down the hill, frantically waving to catch the attention of a peddler who was leading his lone ox toward Konoha's main gate.
Startled, Neji grasped the baby tightly in both hands, and held it stiffly in front of him. It began to stir then. Fearing that it might do something like wake up, or worse, cry, he tried to arrange the baby boy in his arms the way he had seen Obasan and the other women do it, nestling the head with its white stocking hat in the crook of his elbow and using his other hand to support its tightly swaddled body.
From the bottom of the hill, he heard Obasan shrill, "Stay right there, Neji! I'll be right back."
Nodding, because even at seven years old he would never yell across public space like that, Neji bent his head down to study his charge further. In his haste to situate the infant, he had skewed its little white hat. When he tried to right it, his thumb brushed over the perfect forehead. The forehead that, in a few years, would not be so perfect anymore. He hadn't understood it when Ojisan broke open a bottle of champagne to celebrate the fact that their baby was born with Byakugan, even though Obasan did not carry the trait herself and she had married outside the clan. He traced a pattern – the shape of the cursed jutsu – onto the tiny immaculate forehead before tugging the hat back into place.
He would be doing the baby a service if he snapped its spindly neck right now.
It opened its eyes then. And for some reason that he couldn't quite explain the milky gaze reminded him of the time driving rain had caused a dove to become trapped in the courtyard and unable to fly. It was after his father's death, and he was to attend a family dinner that night at the Main House with Obasan and Ojisan. The Gardener, who had been covering up some of Himiko's useless plants, caught the dove and was about to wring it's neck. Neji had caught the bird's eye, then. Large and opaque they were so trusting, even with the Gardener's rough hands poised around its throat. Neji, much smaller then, had begged until the Gardener promised to let it go. The old servant had taken it around back to release it and his father had called him inside to dress for dinner.
That night, at the Main House table, one course included a portion of meat in a white wine sauce.
"This is delicious, what is it?" Hiashi had asked one of the kitchen staff.
Of course it was. This was the Hyuga, after all. He hadn't needed his special eyes to see that coming.
The baby's wide, round eyes were like dove's eyes. Like his hated cousin Hinata's eyes when, even at four years old, she had pushed her plate away and asked timidly to be excused.
The next time they met, Hinata waved to him and Neji turned his back to her.
Thus the years passed.