Foreword: Written in under three hours. Soundtrack is basically just Linkin Park's My December(or any remix of it).
The Hyuuga Estate is really more of a self-contained village within Konoha. Its walls are thirty feet high, and at its center lies a stately mansion that may as well be a small castle. Around that lies a small, tight-knit community of men, women and children with manji emblazened on their foreheads. All of them live in fear for their lives, but they get by as best they can.
Every year, around the time when autumn changes to winter, the Hyuuga heiress walks through these streets. She does so alone, untended by any bodyguards and with her head bowed low. The locals regard her with a mixture of resentment, curiosity, pity and something close to sympathy. She wears a white yukata and zori sandals, and for the past two years running, she's made it a point to wear her hitae-ite where it belongs: On her forehead.
She wears it like this because she doesn't like standing out any more than she has to. It hides the fact that, alone among all of these imprisoned people, she lacks the manji seal on her forehead. In many ways, it shows a measure of respect and humility that none of them are used to seeing from their vaunted superiors, and they're not quite sure how to react to it.
The walk is always quiet. No-one greets her, no-one smiles and children have the habit of running out of her way. She doesn't mind though, because after six years of doing this, she's become used to it.
As she does every year, she stops at a little flower shop near the Southern wall. The owner, who seems to be either completely broken or completely in denial about the seal on his forehead, greets her with a polite nod and a barely there smirk that looks like it desperately wants to be a smile. As he does every year, the man tries to give her what she wants for free. When that fails, he tries to give her a discount. When that fails, he finally accepts full payment for a bouqet of flowers.
His daughter briefly peers out from behind a curtain as they make the transaction. The little girl has choppy black hair and milky white eyes, but her forehead is bare and unmarked.
For the briefest of moments, Hyuuga Hinata sees the little girl as her younger sister. Then it passes and she sees the little girl as herself.
Then she turns away and leaves with her head down and her shoulders slumped. She makes a note to herself that, if she isn't killed somehow before she can become the head of the main family, she's going to change the Hyuuga. Neji has mentioned things to her, about Naruto wanting to do the same when he becomes Hokage, but Hinata doesn't really know if she can wait that long. In her heart, she doesn't want to see another child screaming in pain from having the cage seal burned into their forehead.
As she walks to the North side though, her mind wanders from the little girl to the fact that it may actually snow this year. From what she's been told, the last time it snowed in Konoha was the day she was born.
Which, according to what else she's been able to learn, was less than three months after the Nine-Tails butchered the village.
Hinata is not as dull as her father believes. While her skills as a fighter are still only average, her mind is as sharp as a razor, and it has a way of cutting into the things that fascinate her. Speculation is the name of the game that she plays as her hobby, and she's gotten good enough at it to know that the same boy who wants to change the Hyuuga was born within a week of the Kyuubi's rampage. She also knows a little of the things -- the people -- called Jinchuuriki. It was gleamed from an off-chance encounter with the Kazekage, Gaara.
He has a demon inside of him. He has no problems letting people know, if they're smart enough to simply ask him about it. Neji asked. Hinata was just there to hear him speak of it.
Gaara never stated it clearly, but he implied things and Hinata did the rest on her own. She now thinks that she and Neji are the only two people under the age of twenty who know the truth about what happened to the Nine-Tails, and why so much of the village despised Naruto for simply existing.
Rather than frighten her, the truth has actually made her like him more. Neji, who's become close enough to her that they really do treat one another as siblings, has given her a stamp of approval. Not a spoken one, but the look he gives her when she mentions the boy is good enough.
Her musings about demonic boys with hearts of gold and should-be siblings are brought to an end though.
Hinata comes to a stop. She stands at the edge of a four-way crossing on the mansion's Southwest corner. A hand-drawn carriage is waiting for her to pass.
Politely, she bows her head to them and motions for them to go ahead. The two men pulling it stare at her for a few seconds, then each other. Then they move along without a word.
The rest of Hinata's walk goes without incident. It's a straight shot for the most part, involving only two turns. One to the right when she passes the mansion, the other to the left to carry her North again.
She stops halfway to her goal, pausing outside of a small store. Then she steps inside, willfully making use of her status to ignore regular drinking laws as she purchases a bottle of sake. The clerk doesn't seem to mind, but then, she's probably too scared of Hinata to actually make a complaint. She sells the bottle, bows her head and says nothing whatsoever. Unlike the man at the flower shop, the woman takes full price, but Hinata knows that she's just going to throw it into the trash can. Like most of the people living outside the mansion, this woman hates the main family.
Hinata wonders, at times, if the woman hates her as well.
More often than not, she agrees with her that she probably deserves it.
With that, she steps back out onto the sidewalk and continues onward.
The Hyuuga Estate is mapped like a grid. All of the buildings, barring one or two, are square. The turns are almost always right and the streets are clean to the point of spotlessness. Birds fly overhead in summer, but they're not here right now. Without them, and without Neji by her side to converse with, the whole miniature town is stone silent around her. Unless she gives the order or has specific business to tend to, none of the branch members are going to speak to her. Gawk and stare, yes, but never will they say a word to her.
She doesn't hold it against them.
A while after she purchases the sake, she stops just short of her final destination and buys a small fan. It's shaped like a circle, colored completely red with white tassles. Not what she really wanted, but it would do.
A few minutes later, she arrives.
At the center of the Northern section of the Hyuuga Estate is a large graveyard. Like the rest of the micro-town, it's mapped like a grid. Here, even in death, branch and head family members are segregated. Branch members' bodies are incinerated, kept in urns within tombs that resemble walls of post office boxes. Only head family members are actually buried, with their coffins aimed feet-down and their tombs marked by unusually humble stones. If they were ninja, their hitae-ite are usually nailed to the headstones.
Every year, around the time when autumn becomes winter, Hyuuga Hinata treks here. She comes alone, though in the back of her mind, she thinks it would be nice to bring Hanabi with her someday. Maybe Naruto as well, if...
But that thought is put away for the moment. She files it into the back of her mind and takes note of the chill in the air.
As she has every year for the past six years in a row, she walks a straight line and finds herself within a few yards of the Northern wall. She turns a sharp left, taking care to avoid stepping off of the path until she arrives at her true goal.
It's a simple rectangular headstone, lacking a hitae-ite and marked with the years of birth and death according to the Hyuuga clan's internal calendar. If one were to take the calendar as the truth, the person standing beneath the ground would have lived a mere six years.
It's the main reason Hinata didn't bother using the internal calendar for anything. It lies more than most ninja.
The name on the tombstone is Hyuuga Beniko.
"Sorry I'm late this year," she said, finding it a bit difficult to talk from how long she had been quiet. Clearing her throat, Hinata speaks again, "But I have a lot to... A lot to talk about. And I hope you can forgive me for not getting you a better fan, but this was all they had."
With that, she kneels down, popping open the bottle of sake and sticking the flowers into its mouth one by one. After that, she lays the fan across the stone and took a deep breath. The air is even colder now than it was before.
"Um... Where do I start..."
So much to say, but for all the times she rehearsed this in her head, she could never do so clearly.
"I guess the most important is... Um... I'm a Chuunin now," she says, blushing to the roots of her hair. It doesn't matter that anyone was there to see her do it or not. "I... I was actually the last person standing at this year's exams..."
Drawing in another deep breath, Hinata begins to explain. It takes her half an hour to go through the details, giving her mother a blow-by-blow account of everything. She starts with the whirlwind trek across country, and how long it had taken to get to the Hidden Cloud Village. She skips over a few details here and there, promising instead to visit them later on in her story. Then she details how the actual Exams had gone, starting with the way Kiba had actually aced them through the written exam and Sakura had saved their lives in the underground labyrinth that the Cloud used as their equivelent to the Forest of Death.
When that's done, she explains how the tournament had gone. It had been a quasi-team event this time around; every team started out full and as the tournament ran on, members were eliminated until they were all gone. In the end, Hinata is completely redfaced to admit that she had bested a Cloud-nin with a sword to help her team achieve victory. It was due, in no small part, to Akamaru tearing the guy's ankle to shreds at a critical moment, but...
But it means something to her. She's proud of it.
"And... And when the Hokage presented us all with our flak jackets, she actually singled me out as an example of a talented kunoichi..."
Much to Kiba's howling amusement. Sakura had been a different case -- in between sharing Kiba's enthusiasm and cursing her head off for being taken out early on, she had looked slightly jealous. Even so, the other girl was no less supportive.
When it's all said and done, Hinata trails off and tucks her hands into her sleeves to try and keep them warm. Her cheeks are starting to sting from the cold.
There are details she's left unsaid. In a way, she's no longer sure if she should actually share them at all.
Beniko was not originally of the Hyuuga. The name on her tombstone is not the one she was born with.
In the Hyuuga, there are rules. Women don't marry outsiders unless necessity is involved. Men are free from this kind of obligation. Hyuuga Beniko's true name -- the one that Hinata has so often tried to refer to her with in-mind -- is Uchiha Akaihane. From the records that Hinata's been able to dig up through the years, most recently with Sakura's help, the woman was actually cousin to Uchiha Sasuke's mother. In the Uchiha clan, where rules weren't so strict, she had been free to pursue a relationship with a man from the Hyuuga.
His name was Hizashi.
He was Neji's father.
Akaihane was Neji's mother.
In the literal sense, Neji really is Hinata's brother. They share a mother, and their fathers were twins.
Unfortunately, the clan head took a shining to her, and the moment she married Hizashi, she was a Hyuuga. The head -- Hinata's grandfather -- split the couple up within a month of Neji's birth, then wed the woman to Hiashi, in the hopes of blending the errant Sharingan back into the Hyuuga family's lines.
It was a miserable failure. Hinata's father was displeased with the arrangement, and shortly after Hanabi was born, Beniko died.
That is why Hinata felt guilty about what she is about to say. It feels like she's taking her mother's misery and rubbing her face in it.
"I... I saw..."
She chokes back a moment, then screws up her courage and continues.
"I saw Naruto again. He wasn't at the Chuunin Exams, but... But I saw him. He told me something too," she begins, thinking back and pulling the words from her memory. It's easy to do so -- they're burnt into her thoughts so well that she dreams about them at times.
"Walk your own path, with your head held high. That's what he said."
She pauses, shifting uncomfortably from one knee to the other.
"I didn't actually speak to him, and he didn't actually say that to me, but..."
She trails off again. As she did at least once every time she comes here, Hinata bows her head apologetically. Shortly afterward, she says she's sorry for being a bad child, then asks for forgiveness.
As always, there's no answer.
In the silence to follow, Hinata has the time to let her mind wander once again. As they do every so often, her thoughts move to the most vivid memory she has of her uncle.
In it, she's a little girl, not even six years old. Her mother has just died, and she sits in the lap and the arms of a man who, by all rights, should have been her father. Looking back on it now, she wonders if Hizashi was bitter just having to provide comfort to her. After all, she can easily remember that it was her father who ordered him to do so.
But she remembers the only time he spoke to her that evening, and she remembers it with crystal clarity.
"She's free now, Little Lady. Don't mourn for her," he had said to her. It was the only time Hizashi ever referred to any of the main family with such a nickname, and the only time she can recall him ever speaking to her with warmth in his voice.
Not too long after that, Hizashi was killed. Hinata still remembers the look on her father's face that day. In some ways, she wishes Hiashi had been the one to die, because even in death, Beniko and Hizashi have been seperated. His body is somewhere in the very village where she became a Chuunin, perhaps still being picked apart by the very men and women who would've torn out her eyes and used her as breeding stock to obtain the secrets of the Byakugan.
"Why did you do it, Mother?" She asks. "Hanabi and Neji needed you..."
"But," she reminds herself, "It's not like you had a choice..."
As cliche as it sounds, the doctor who delivered Hanabi had once told Hinata that Beniko literally died of a broken heart. Hinata believes it. She knows that she couldn't survive that way either, bearing children for a man who's uncomfortable just being around her and prevented from being involved with the one she actually loves. It must have been nightmarish, and it's part of the reason that she inwardly cringes every time she thinks about Naruto using Kage Bunshin. At an irrational level, she associates the clones with twins, and the idea of twins invariably leads her back to her father and uncle.
Regardless, she soon wills herself back from despair. As she has every year since she learned that Neji was Akaihane's son, Hinata decides to include him in her update.
"Father is... Father. He's still instructing Neji, and still tells me that my footwork is lousy. I've caught him drunk twice lately, and... At times I think I should just let him stay that way," she admits, glad to be alone right now. "Neji is still growing. He's a Jounin now, and his favorite outfit looks like something a Samurai might wear. You'd be proud of him, Mother. He's very handsome, and from what I've seen of his mail, he gets six marriage proposals every week. That Rock Lee boy I told you about recently managed to beat him for the first time -- they actually got drunk and... Well, I don't know the exact details, but from what their teammate, Tenten, tells me, the ending involved a public toilet, Initial Lotus and lots of screaming."
"The Godaime actually let them off without so much as a warning. She said it was its own punishment."
After a moment spent trying to suppress a snicker, Hinata continues.
"Hanabi's moving along quickly in the Academy. She says she's going to graduate early, and I believe her. She's talented, Mother. Less than Neji, but still far more than me. The one time I've sparred with her since coming back from the Hidden Cloud Village, I actually had to use Kaiten against her to win. She bounced back like it didn't even hurt, then passed out," she explains, then sighs. "You'd be proud of her too. She's a tomboy now, but she's still beautiful. Her Byakugan is maturing faster than mine did, and she's already at the top of her class."
Hinata pauses again, taking the time to look up at the clouds. They're thick, grey and dingy. They match her mood perfectly, and in some ways, it's comforting to her.
"I... Don't really have anything else to talk about unless you want to hear about my friends," she says, looking back to the headstone and grimacing to herself.
A few seconds later, she feels a flake of snow land across the back of her neck. It melts against her skin, and the drip runs down the back of her yukata and forces her to fight back a cringe.
"... I saw a little girl today, Mother," she says, abruptly. "She was young. A Branch family child," she explains. "And in a few years... She's going to have that seal burned into her forehead."
Her mouth twitches.
"I hate that seal," she says, and means it. "I hate it and I hate whoever came up with it. I hate everything about it."
It's an admission she knows she shouldn't be making out loud. But she says it anyway, and if anyone were to hear her, she's just going to ignore them.
"Mother... When Naruto becomes Hokage," she begins. To her, it's not a matter of if, it really is a matter of when. "He's promised Neji that he's going to do away with the system of the Cage Seal. He's going to change the Hyuuga, Mother."
She smiles, sadly.
"Even if it's too late for you and Hizashi, and maybe even that little girl from earlier, I want you to know that... That I'm going to help him. If I become the Head, I'm going to do away with that... Thing. If I have to do it before he becomes Hokage, I will," she says, and there's a fire in her gut that tells her it's the right thing to say.
With that, Hinata stands up and looks to the sky again. Snow is falling now, coming down lightly. The sun isn't piercing the clouds, but she doesn't mind. Over time, her smile becomes a look of hardened resolve, and although she would never think herself capable of such, it's a look befitting the Heiress to the Hyuuga clan's power and stature.
"I won't go back on my word either," she promises. "That's not my ninja way."
And when she looks back down at the headstone, for the strangest reason, she's struck with an image of her mother. The only real image she can clearly recall: That of Hyuuga Beniko sitting against a windowframe, smiling at her.
Ten years removed, Hinata smiles back.
Then she turns...
"I'll be on time next year. And I'll bring Hanabi and Neji with me."
And quietly walks away.
This was basically the result of five seconds of a single visual, then three hours-or-less of actually writing. It can be read as a semi-sequel to Indirect Approach(as evidenced by a few specific tie-in lines), but for the most part it's a standalone piece.
And Beniko was mostly a make-it-up-as-I-go tie-in. I already had a framework in-mind as I was writing the bits about Hinata's mother and why she never shows up in the series, but it was mostly just a coincidence that she turned out to be an Uchiha. I was originally thinking of a woman who just happens to look a lot like Kurenai(hence the title, Red-Eyed Hyuuga). In spite of Beniko being an Uchiha though, her potential with the Sharingan was nonexistent, and the gene failed the manifest in any of her children. Don't expect me to ever cop to a Sharinbyakugan hybrid-wank in any of my stories, not unless it appears in the manga first.
And just to clarify: There actually isn't a timeline inconsistency to speak of. I simply stretched out how long it took for diplomatic wrangling to lead to Hizashi's sacrificial lamb act(which happened not too long after Hanabi was born in this story). Sorry for not mentioning it in the actual story.
That all said: Kudos folks. Hope you enjoyed the brain candy.