The mood in the Hyuuga dining area was festive.
Hiashi had shown a rare spirit of ebullience, throwing a clan get-together in honor of Hinata and Neji.
Hinata's patience and persistence had paid off. She had made chuunin during the last testing period. Even more notable, last week, she had learned the final family jutsu that her sire had to teach her.
Neji's rare talent and intellect had previously earned him the title of jounin. Two days ago, he was designated a special jounin.
The dinner had been splendid, catered by the best cooks that Konoha had to offer. As it was a clan affair, many families took the occasion to announce weddings and births.
By all accounts, the tribe was prospering, despite the troubles that plagued the village.
"Here, Hinata. Choose one!" Hanabi held a bowl up to her sister. "Hurry up! Everybody had to get one!" The younger girl stood on one foot, and then the other.
"Fortune cookies?" Hinata asked. They seemed a bit out of place at this kind of event.
"Yes. Come on, already. Over here, Neji!" Hanabi's shout had her sister wincing. "Take one, big sister. The woman at the shop said these had real fortunes!" She stamped her foot. "Even Father took one…."
"OK," Hinata said, taking a cookie. Her sister was in a very extroverted stage. Extroverted, vocal, and insistent.
"Here Neji," Hanabi ran to her cousin and held up the bowl. "Take one. Even Hinata took one…." She grabbed a handful and shoved them in one of Neji's pockets, whispering "You can pick the best message."
"Alright," Neji said. He knew that his cousin idolized him. Without saying anything more, he performed Byakugan. "This will help me find the best fortune." He was only joking.
Hanabi pulled the bowl away. Smiling, she ran over to the next group of clan members. "Neji's cheating! Hey everybody, Neji's cheating!"
Hinata smiled. It was good to see her sister acting so spirited. She had always been so quiet before. When Hyuuga Hiashi had healed the wound between the Main and Branch families… and had made it a point to be more accepting of his eldest daughter…he had also relaxed his expectations for Hanabi.
Little by little. Hanabi was coming out of her shell. Rolling the cookie around in her palm, Hinata sighed. She wished that she could say the same.
Despite the best efforts of her friends and teachers, she was still so quiet and shy.
Bowl empty, Hanabi came running back. Tugging on Neji's sleeve, she jumped up and down. "Well…… what are you waiting for…… aren't you going to open it?"
It was Neji's turn to sigh. "Yes. Certainly. Though, I do not believe in fortunes, just as I no longer believe that we are each of us bound to any one Destiny."
Neji's words had Hinata looking down at her feet. They reminded her of Naruto, and his fight with her cousin. Neji had been a bird in a cage, until the noisiest ninja had defeated both him, exposing the fraudulent nature of Neji's fiercely held beliefs.
Naruto was back in Konoha again, but she had not had much of a chance to see him, much less talk to him
"Well, what does it say?" Hanabi asked.
"Here, you read it for me," Neji said, handing the cookie to Nanabi.
"It says 'You are especially qualified for the task at hand. Perseverance brings success.' See. See. It's right!" Hanabi shook the small strip of paper at Neji. "Your turn, big sister!"
Hinata cracked her cookie open, then pulled the tongue-like message out. Reading it, her fingers twitched. The paper floated down to the floor.
"Got it!" Hanabi grabbed it, then sat on the floor reading aloud. "Hmmmm. 'Opportunity is slipping away. Act now or relinquish your dream.' Ooooooh. What's your dream, Hinata?" She had the look that usually meant she intended to wheedle a secret out of her big sister.
But, seeing that her father had cracked open his cookie, Hanabi's attention switched elsewhere. She scampered off.
"Perhaps we should find her stash of cookies and remove them from the house," Neji suggested.
"Yes," Hinata nodded. "But, she would probably buy twice as many."
Things had quieted down after that. Formal desserts were being served, and that usurped Hanabi's attention. Hinata looked at her message a number of times, feeling foolish. She knew that a piece of paper couldn't possibly have an effect on her life. It had been pure chance that she had picked that cookie.
She couldn't help but think about Naruto, however. If what Kiba and Shino had said was true, Sakura had been paying him a lot more attention than she had before. She had gotten in the habit of telling people that naruto was 'amazing'. As the pink-haired girl had been far from complimentary in the past, the change was rather noteworthy.
After all of the guests had left, Hinata had intended to take a long bath, thinking about her future. Neji was well along the path that he had chosen for himself. Even Hanabi had her goals mapped out for her.
Hinata still wasn't certain exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
Hanabi ran and grabbed her hand, nearly dislocating Hinata's shoulder as she pulled her through an archway into the main sitting room. "Father's going to tell us about Fortune Cookies!"
Hinata looked over at Neji, who shrugged.
"For many centuries, the great nations of the north have marked special occasions and festival times such as harvest and New Year with the giving and receiving of Moon Cakes. Those were made of Lotus Nut Paste." Hiashi looked to see if everyone was attentive, or were just humoring him.
Hinata paid attention politely. Her father seemed so stern and uncommunicative at times, but that was just his outer persona. He was a wealth of information, and was always eager to share it with his family.
"But what about the messages!" Hanabi said, squirming around at the corner of a large divan.
Hiashi stared at his younger daughter, who suddenly sat up straight, an angelic look on her face.
"During the 13th and 14th centuries, one such nation was occupied by fierce invading hoards. When plans were made for a popular uprising to oust the invaders, much thought was given how news of the date of the uprising could be circulated without alerting the invaders. The story goes that the interlopers had no taste for Lotus Nut Paste, prompting the oppressed people to hide secret messages inside the cookies. One patriotic revolutionary took on the disguise of a priest and entered occupied walled cities, handing out Moon Cakes. Inside were the instructions to co-ordinate the uprising which successfully formed the basis of one of the greatest dynasties."
"Father, aren't moon cakes prepared in the shape of the moon and filled with sesame seeds, ground lotus seeds and duck eggs?" Hinata had cooked something very similar in the past.
"Honorable Father……" Hanabi started off dignified, with perfect diction. But, the pressure was too great. "That doesn't matter…. Whataboutthefortunesinside."
"The origins of the Fortune Cookie as we know it today were laid down by workers who toiled to clear the way for the great roads that connect the nations. Life was very hard for them, and pleasures were few in the isolated camps they lived in. When the Moon Festival came about each year, the only thing those workers had to exchange were biscuits. They put happy messages inside those to brighten the day. Touched by their plight, a baker in our village made cookies, put inspirational messages in them, and gave them to the hungry." Hiashi folded his hands in his lap. That was the story.
He braced himself, knowing that his youngest wasn't through yet.
"But how do they know what to write on the messages?" Hanabi asked. "How do they make them come true?"
Hiashi looked over at Neji. "It is very difficult being clan leader. But, at times, it is more difficult being a father. That is our lesson for the day." He turned to look at Hinata. "I never appreciated your habit of quiet and solicitude. My apologies." Then to Hanabi he said "There is no magic or jutsu involved with fortunes."
Hanabi set her jaw and narrowed her eyes, a look she had seen from her father during training.
"Neji's fortune said 'You are especially qualified for the task at hand. Perseverance brings success.' Well, he worked hard to become jounin. And, because he is so good, he is a special jounin." She took out her own strip of paper. "Yours said 'Rejoice. Life brings good things to celebrate.'" Her look said that even an idiot could recognize the truth there. "Mine says 'You are faced with a mystery. Perseverance brings an important discovery.'"
"Hanabi, did you take time to think that the mystery might not be the origin of the messages?" Neji hoped that challenge would have his cousin thinking in quiet.
The younger Hyuuga daughter glared at her cousin, then frowned for a few moments. When a smile replaced the frown, she turned to look at Hinata.
"Big sister, you fortune said 'Opportunity is slipping away. Act now or relinquish your dream.' So…tell us… tell us…what is your dream?"
Hinata began rubbing her fingers together without knowing it. She couldn't look at her father, Neji,or Hanabi.
"Is it a boy?" Hanabi asked, her eyes lighting up.
Hinata swallowed hard. Even though silence would be like a red flag to a bull, she was not about to answer. Especially not in front of her father.
The look Neji gave Hinata clearly said 'I'm sorry.'