Prove it, the council meant.
Prove you're the clan leader, that you see the fire and the will of the clan leader before you, that you move and speak with his will and his hands are yours. That the entire line of clan leaders lives within you.
Justify your bloodline. They must have told her father this many times. And he had done what he had- what he had to.
The truth was that in the moment she just did not think, so maybe it was true. Maybe she was-
-'acting like a possessed person', as Neji would probably say, and even he would be shocked at what she'd done.
Hinata knelt by the wall. Her family was in an uproar.
Her house was full of noise and voices and it was her fault.
As usual. But this time it was different. She looked down at her hands, finger-laced tight with anxiety, but they did not shake.
She thought that this was like that other time, at the chuunin exam. And that time later, when she'd leapt upon that strange Akatsuki invader who was hurting Naruto. The one that was almost like a corpse.
Or was, really, given the white shriveled look around his eyes, and the way they gleamed like rotting meat. That greasepaint formaldehyde smell he had, that shadow of mold, queasy purples and greens. You had to get close to him to see it.
Her family had yanked her away from the medics as soon as they could. They burned incense and hung shrouds and called priests to cleanse the house and ink-seal her hands and burn pots of herbs around her and somehow blow away the horrible cloud of the omen that was then upon her.
She had touched something dead, and the day was particularly inauspicious and worse- it was Hinata herself. That she was the clan heir- that had something to do with it. But she sensed more in it. It was that she was thought of as especially vulnerable to evil spirit and curses and omens. Born in the winter. Blue hair like her mother rather than a classic Hyuga. Not as perfect as the others.
And now her hands burned with the sympathetic fire of the seal. Had her father felt this way-
-when he used it?
Neji's face had frozen into indifference, and that little tinge of anger under it, like the flash of a koi tail under thick ice. He said the family were faithful Shinto Buddhists when it suited them only. He said it was a lot of show.
But her father's anger, nothing for show about that at all.
She hadn't cried when he yelled at her for touching the Akatsuki invader. She'd told him it was her choice. Even when they said that Naruto was just as cursed, just as filthy as the dead horror of the Akatsuki ninja, who was using dead bodies as weapons.
"We are Hyuga. We don't involve ourselves with demons." Her father had said sharply. He stood before her like a white pillar of cloud. Immaculate, not a hair out of place.
And the way he'd said it, hammer-chiseled exactitude on every syllable.
"We are not Uchiha."
They were Hyuga, and they did things the right way, which was to say- the proper way. Which was the traditional way. Which was the clan's way. Which was what she had done, because she was the clan leader. And now as she watched the council look over the body, arrange it as if it were a handful of flowers, as if it were a ritual sacrifice…
What did she feel?
What had her father felt at this moment? She had wanted to be like him so much, she had wanted to become him. Maybe this was what they meant when they spoke of the chain of stars.
Her family being roused all over the house, all around her. Like the pillar of flames that had shot up in front of her.
It's amazing that a little blue mouse could cause so much trouble. The elders had said, on that day she saved Naruto.
Or tried to.
"She's done it." they said now.
And: "Call the priests. And notify the village."
And "No, this is a private Hyuga matter."
And: "It's her right. The spirit moved her hand."
And Hanabi "That's not true! There are no spirits! That stuff about the sun is all made up! " She was shocked and white-faced and her fear had collapsed into anger.
"Neji-niisan says it's all made up!" she continued, but no one was paying attention.
She huddled near Hinata, and her little arms were amazingly strong.
"Don't be mean to my sister!" And "No!" when they shushed her.
Her grandfather laid his outer robe over the body of her great aunt. Her face was white and still. And more than that- untouched. She had worn nothing on her forehead.
Which meant that it had been on her heart. And when Hinata reached for it, the chakra like fishhooks, jumping current from her fingers-
-it warmed to her hand, like a weapon made for her alone, like a key slipping into a lock and turning, smooth as satin. The feel of her great aunt struggling on the other end of the seal, its chakra forcing blood out of her heart.
The feel of everyone watching her.
The feel of seven Hyuga elders who terrified her suddenly falling silent, like the whole world stopped and looked- and she was not afraid, because her hand was on the seal and her hand was a chain of stars, and the fire leapt between them and now her great aunt was dead.
Show me that you're serious, her great aunt had said.
Show me that you deserve to lead this clan.
They all looked at her differently now.
"It's a ritual killing. A purification." Her grandfather said. "As clan heir and leader, as grandchild of fifty Hyuga clan leaders, it is her right."
It was like that other time, and she felt nothing. Amazing that she felt nothing.
Afterwards she felt nothing.
Yes, something had changed.
Sasuke could feel it. He was calm. More clear-headed. He was not exactly as he had been, lost in anger and blindfolded, attended by ANBU and lead by them.
Now it was days later. The interrogation was over, and he remembered little of it. There was a small needle scar on his arm where an intravenous line had been taped in. He remembered that, and Kakashi's voice and no one's lips moving, as if he had been speaking with ghosts.
And, he reflected, in a way he had been. In that file Kakashi held were the answers. The secrets. The weight of hidden and dangerous information he'd felt pressing down upon him from the moment, the second he'd crashed headlong into his house, this village, this girl's family.
Hyuga Hinata. A moment to reflect on it, the sound of her name. It was early afternoon and outside the sun was clear and bright.
And maybe he really did love her. He'd told her… well, that this was a possibility.
If he was capable of love then maybe he might love her.
Well, it was the best he could do. He didn't dislike her, at least. And there were very few things he liked.
He wasn't all that fond of Kakashi at this moment, for instance.
Four days of drug-laced questions and little sleep and Kakashi was being annoying. Sasuke cast pointed looks and curt gestures and finally muttered at Kakashi to open the file, tell him what was in it.
"Eat first." Kakashi said, indicating the little tray of tea and onigiri.
Sasuke had basically ceased being hungry- ever- the day he saw his mother's blood soaking into the wood fiber of the floor. But Kakashi said that the drugs would wear off faster if he ate something, and Sasuke didn't feel like talking. It was hard to argue if he weren't going to talk.
So he obediently forced half of one rice ball down his throat.
Watched the sun on the bare branches outside, the chilly bright blue of the sky, the tiny little green pokes of budding leaves. Springtime. Cherry blossoms soon, maybe within a few weeks. Would Hinata like them? Probably.
Thought about her. Love, maybe. But the problem, as always, was himself. You couldn't love anything when all you had was a clenched fist in your chest.
And a shattered mirror for a head, empty sockets for eyes…
Kakashi was slowly turning the file's pages. His small grey eye scanning carefully. His manner, in fact, was not as relaxed as Sasuke had first thought.
Not anxious either, not exactly. That was not Kakashi's way. But there was something in that file that gave him pause.
"All of it," Kakashi said idly. "All the food. You need to build your strength, we used a very high dose."
And Sasuke scowled at him, but complied.
It was really ANBU's fault for using scopolamine in the first place. And probably a good wallop of hallucinogens too, judging from those needle-sharp visions, those fever-bright colors. That was interesting, drugs like that were really more Orochimaru's style. But the ninja world was a dirty one, and nothing succeeded- and spread- like a really dirty trick. Orochimaru had been a Konoha-ninja once. He had worn that ANBU mask-face. Then painted his own, built his own empire of deceptions, retreated to the countryside to brew his poisons in peace.
But it was funny, wasn't it. Konoha's protestations of their, how should Sasuke put it?
Their moral superiority.
There was nothing like a ninja, an assassin, someone too low to even be a citizen and contracted to do the filthiest work imaginable putting on those airs. That moral superiority.
And so many of the unclean spirits of Akatsuki, of Orochimaru's torture chambers, seemed to hatch in leafy, sunny Konoha, didn't they? Funny, that.
But he did feel different, that much was true.
So he ate, drank the tea, and waited.
Sound magic had figured out Kakashi at last. It felt out his soft voice, his offhand manner, his depressive tone and body language, his low-energy sounds and energies. Even his chakra was grey and low, like a heavy overcast sky before a lightning storm. Sound magic spelt him out, you just had to realize that every note was a minor key.
"I'm going to tell you three things." Kakashi said.
"Tell me all of it." Sasuke grumbled.
"You can have the file afterwards."
"It's it ANBU property?"
Kakashi didn't answer, he just closed his eye. Bowed his head slightly.
"And why can't I remember?" Sasuke said, frowning now. This really wasn't fair. "I should know, I told you everything in that file."
And why was Kakashi acting this way? Mournful, almost. Like he had a heavy secret of his own, and he didn't know how to approach it really. And it was pissing Sasuke off, being stuck here like an injured child in the hospital, while his former sensei sighed and rubbed his eye and seemed to not know how to get to the fucking point already.
Sasuke contemplated darting out of bed, snatching the file. He'd go out the window, easy and swift as an escaping bird.
A hawk. Yes, he'd always liked that image. Lions, hawks. Snakes.
"Sasuke." Kakashi sighed. "Hear me out. You'll understand why when I'm done."
Sasuke glared at him over the rim of his teacup. But he stayed quiet.
And after a moment, Kakashi spoke.
"You reported extensive physical and sexual assault-"
Sasuke almost choked on his tea.
And he almost laughed in Kakashi's face, for that matter.
"So what?" he said.
Kakashi only regarded him with a slow grey-eyed stare.
It prickled him, made him flush. Which really annoyed him, because he was not ashamed, he had no reason to be. He folded his arms.
"It was like any other part of the training."
Kakashi only raised his eyebrow slightly, as if saying this wasn't any kind of training he was familiar with. Infuriating.
"A ninja can be captured and tortured at any time." Sasuke told him.
And must be prepared for this, in fact.
Kakashi nodded and sighed. "True, true."
"You lead me into danger yourself." Sasuke informed him, feeling better now. "You have no room to, to…"
He frowned, not wanting to continue. To acknowledge it. He liked it how it was now, being able to pretend that Kakashi was just being stupid, compassionate, unfit feelings for any shinobi in fact, and weak-
"I may not have the right to feel sympathy for what you went through," Kakashi began.
Sasuke turned from him and kicked off the covers. He got up- too fast, his head pitched wildly with the remaining drugs. His hand shot out for the wall, found it- steadied himself.
"You couldn't prevent it either." he taunted, when he had his balance again. Sneered, then caught his reflection in the windowpane, imprinted by the sun.
Orochimaru's face, serpentine white. Twisted by hate.
Turned his stomach and shot his flinty little pride to pieces.
And for a long moment, Kakashi said nothing, Sasuke turned his back, busied himself with getting dressed. What would he do after this? Figure out what was in the file. Deal with it- with more dignity.
More than this.
"I may not have the right," Kakashi said quietly. "But I have the right to wish I'd prevented it, "
It was unbearable, the sound of his voice.
"-that I could have gotten through to you, somehow." Soft like he expected Sasuke to argue.
His sigh like he knew it was pointless to even try.
"And that I could have protected you."
Hanabi explained- to Neji- because Hinata was useless.
She felt useless, as ineffectual as a bent arrow. Like the day had literally deformed her, bent her out of shape.
So that she didn't even recognize herself. That dizziness, the faintness, the black spots that danced on her vision when she was taken to her room, finally. And when she broke from her guards to look in the mirror.
The younger one held her up when she swayed on her feet. The elder one stood silently behind.
And behind them both, breathing hard still, her eyes bright and her face flushed, was Hanabi. Filling up the room with her nervous angry defiant sun rays of chakra. Her black sun halo all around her dark gleaming head. Hinata looked at her sister, framed the unbroken whiteness of her forehead, of the blood vessels and nerves and coils of her skull and brain behind it, all the tight little pieces that her father must have felt when he felt for the seal.
Killed Neji's father with it, and Hinata studied the wholeness of her sister's face, the place where the seal was not and would never be now. Now that she was the clan leader. Thought about how it was so strange. So unexpected. She had thought a forbidden jutsu would be hard. It would resist you. You'd have to brace your body into it and force it to turn like a rusted waterwheel.
But it wasn't like that. It leapt to your hand, it coiled around your wrist, it slipped into your palm and it fit perfectly there, it was so elegant and so intoxicating, it warmed and you never wanted to let it go.
Her head swam a little, the black spots pricked like raindrops again. It was like she'd drank- too much and very quickly, foreign liquers that were full of sweet fruit and heavy strong alcohol. It was like she couldn't think of anything else.
Killing Neji's father must have been like a knife through butter. Like snapping a nut husk open in your fingers. Satisfying.
Hanabi was uncomfortable with her stare and let her know it. But she yelled and gestured and stomped her foot and still, Hinata couldn't stop staring.
"You're acting ALL WEIRD RIGHT NOW!" Hanabi exclaimed, hot points of color in her cheeks now, pacing Hinata's bedroom. "You're acting really weird!"
The guards watched her. And in their peripheral vision, Hinata knew they watched her too.
She could only put her hand over her eyes and rub her eyelids. The dizziness danced all around. Like funeral pyres. Was she dreaming? She was dreaming. She was dreaming of her father's smile, the celestial curve of it. Like the long open bowl of the horizon. The sky and it's millions of points of light.
"I don't even know what's wrong with her, she's acting weird. Way weirder than when the mean boy came, or even when she was acting weird after the funeral. " Hanabi muttered to Neji, when he arrived.
"And.. um.. Neji-niisan?"
She must have leaned in close to Neji's ear, tried to make it so Hinata couldn't hear her whisper.
"Um. I'm scared."
"Wish all you like." Sasuke told him.
He used that voice he had used on Naruto many times. Iron, deeper than his usual tone. No. Arguments.
Kakashi took it like nothing had been said. He just sighed, as if he were scratching the back of his head, considering an afternoon of tedious but unavoidable work.
But he did care, he was just able to act like he didn't.
No- not even that. To just exist with his compassion and his concern, as if in Zen serenity. He didn't have to apologize for it, to pretend it wasn't there. He simply felt it.
Sasuke grumbled, insulted still. Somehow.
"I guess you don't want anyone to feel anything for you," Kakashi said. Mused. No particular inflection.
Didn't perceptively care when Sasuke glared at him.
"I told you all to leave me alone." he said.
Let the silence itself carve out the massive crushing understatement of this.
Kakashi probably smiled, but his mask hid his smiles, made his face into a puzzle.
"…you know we can't do that." he said. When he gestured for Sasuke to sit down, maybe not worry, maybe relax, maybe realize that he wasn't actually being attacked here..
…well, Sasuke considered it. His shoulders stiffened. He clenched his fists.
He sat down on the edge of the bed.
"I guess," Kakashi said, as he turned pages. "that you don't want to exist at all, really. You can't stand to see yourself in the eyes of others."
Sasuke graced him with a single, brief, ricepaper-thin knifestroke of a smile. A small bitter one, a bitten-off lemon rind.
"I want you to tell me about the file." he said. Never mind the rest of it.
Never mind Kakashi's psychological profile, his professional fucking opinion as the ANBU case officer, his stupid feelings.
His stupid feelings.
"I never asked anyone to feel sorry for me." he snapped.
At the unreadable blankness of Kakashi's face. His- in fact- very professional maner. His effortless easy fucking calmness, the fact that he'd managed to reduce Sasuke to shouting twice! Fucking twice!
So Sasuke huffed and snarled and glared and Kakashi weathered him like he was a miniature storm, a tiny little lightning bolt that Kakashi effortlessly held in his hand.
Balanced there. Like when he'd taken Sasuke up to the high place in the mountains, where the trees were sheared apart by the windspeed and eagles nested. Where he'd showed him the secrets of chidori.
Thousands of screaming birds.
"You don't have to ask." Kakashi said, reasonably.
Unsaid: I'm your sensei.
And also: I know you better than anyone. Differently than your teammates.
Made Sasuke twitch. Made him feel ashamed of twitching. Made him hope Kakashi hadn't noticed while knowing that Kakashi would have noticed from fifty fucking paces away. And Sasuke knew his training. He knew to keep calm. He knew also to show minimal emotion, to control his breathing and force his heartbeat down. It was best to acknowledge the reality of the situation, and as fast as possible.
As Kakashi spoke, and turned the pages of his file, Sasuke watched the cherry blossoms. They were new and white against dark fingers of branch and a burning blue sky. No leaves yet, but still. Familiar. Konoha.
"Tell me now." he emphasized to Kakashi, but nothing was moving fast enough,
And maybe he really didn't want to know.
"There's a lot to take in here." Kakashi mused, his slow laconic voice unrolling like a scroll.
So Sasuke watched the branches sway in the wind, and thought about the sky in Otokogure. Grey like a concrete bunker. Sodden somehow, like the entire country was soiled from the groundwater up. Like it had mildew growing on it.
"Tell me." he said.
"….where to start…" Kakashi sighed to himself.
"Tell me." Sasuke said, his voice a tangled, drugged, disoriented skeleton of itself.
"You went AWOL from Konoha to join with Orochimaru."
Sasuke was clear on that.
"You served under him and he taught you forbidden techniques."
"You witnessed several acts of extreme torture."
Sasuke looked at blossoms. White and clean and untouched.
"And you were coerced to participate by Orochimaru. Upon failing, you were punished."
So what? He thought. Ninja ran the risk of torture and imprisonment.
"In particular an incident where a kidnapped child was harmed."
"Murdered," Sasuke said flatly.
Kakashi paused, his flat eye raised.
"She was murdered." Sasuke repeated.
His eye went down to the page. He didn't miss a beat. "An incident where a kidnapped child was murdered."
Sasuke nodded. To himself.
When he looked hard, the sky would burn around the flowers, show itself to him as the real picture in negative space.
"And many incidents involving cats, which troubled you due to having pet cats as a child."
"Not relevant." he said. Didn't look at Kakashi.
Didn't see what look Kakashi gave him as he paused.
"Keep going." Sasuke said.
"You reported that you were tortured as well."
"Including sexual assault."
Like any ninja could be, it was normal.
"On several occasions. Including what we would consider extreme use of psychological torture."
I went of my own will.
"Beyond what is considered acceptable practice in Konoha."
"Konoha shouldn't talk." Sasuke said abruptly.
He didn't deign to look, but his other senses told him that a significant glance had been thrown his way. As delicately as a senbon flicked and zinging past him.
And Kakashi had all the answers in his lap. He knew everything.
"Keep going." Sasuke said. His throat felt dry.
The Hyuga clan. A sun that burned patiently while the Uchiha clan fanned the flames. And when the Uchiha took the dark road of the Tengu, of blood sacrifice to demons, to the Kyuubi, to killing it's own, the Hyuga turned towards the sun.
Endlessly followed the sun, their own trail of stardust. Hinata's hands delicately curled in her lap. One into another, white like the crescent moon.
Hinata had seen her father's writing in those horrible letters he wrote to Uchiha Fugaku.
Without us, without the sun, there could be no will of fire. he had said.
There could be no Uchiha clan.
And that when Hyuga killed their own, when Hyuga worshipped a sunny vision, when Hyuga found that the sacrifice came so easily, it was right and good.
That made sense to her now. Somewhere in the bright lights flashing behind her eyes. Miya had come in, looked her over.
This was normal for upper house Hyuga who used the seal. The chakra recoiled on them a little. It was like hitting someone and hurting your own hand.
"Rest, stay off your feet today and you'll be fine." Miya said gruffly.
Hinata looked at her and the black spots swam.
Can't you see how different I am? she thought. To think of change, to dream about change, to wonder if maybe she had changed just a little- all her life. And now, to change in this dizzy run of blood. In this single gleaming stroke, like from a golden sword. Like how you imagined it would be, when you first took up the wooden practice sword. When you raised your arms to practice the form. When she watched Sasuke do swordwork drills, saw the flashing arc of his blade, ringed like the corona of the sun.
Using it felt like that.
Using it felt like a seal burned itself into your heart. Changed you.
Made you Hyuga.
The star was in you after all, maybe. It was the mark the seal made on your own heart. You became Hyuga- and maybe her father had smiled because of this. Because he was out of his body and away from his human heart and his hands that had used the seal and branded it into small children and finally killed people- more than one, Hinata's mother had died this way- he didn't have that inside him anymore.
Maybe his smile had been sad because he'd known. Being a ghost, being outside of time, he must have seen that Hinata would know this too. Soon enough- within days. She too would become Hyuga- the way he had been. The way he'd always seemed so cold and angry. The way his heart had finally burned itself out completely, rotted right out of him.
She couldn't believe she was thinking this. These thoughts. These memories, his body in the coffin, not decaying yet but soon- within days.
So they'd burnt him. And he was freed. His heart was gone.
The seal was gone.
The star was inside her now.
Show me, her aunt had said.
And now everyone could see.
They acted like it was absolutely plain, the way they were looking at her. Like she was finally what she was meant to be.
She looked down at her hands.
Didn't look at Neji.
Neji was talking to Hanabi instead. Or- at least- Neji was trying to find out why Hinata wouldn't say anything, and Hanabi was just talking, because Hanabi had been there and seen everything.
But they sat away from her now. Not just the physical distance. The sunlight that fell between them drenched their feet, poured into Hinata's bedroom down from the blue sky. The very first convincing day of spring. And she had used it to kill her great aunt.
Done exactly what was asked of her.
And now, well. Hinata had to pause, had to feel herself breathe, make sure she was still alive, she wasn't turned to ice and stone, to white eyes and senbon glances and her father's long sword.
The sword he'd leaned on that day in the dojo. The day he finally realized that she was useless, that he didn't care what happened to her. When he'd told her sensei to just take her away, Hyuga was disowning her.
Was he thinking of this moment?
She couldn't stop thinking that he'd approve.
That he wanted this. Because she wanted it.
Wanted it. And now it was hers.
Orochimaru's antics could fill ten files, Sasuke thought. A hundred.
"I know what he did," he snapped. "Skip it."
"It's valuable intel," Kakashi sighed. It was hard to tell with most of his face hidden. But when Sasuke deigned to look at him again, he saw dark circles under Kakashi's eye.
"Your memory will be fragmented for a few hours. You've been under a forbidden genjutsu and the drugs haven't worn off yet."
Kakashi didn't look at him again. He turned pages and his eye skimmed long lines of ink. Sasuke watched him for a moment longer. Silence gathered and dropped.
"We should try to get through this." Kakashi said.
"Why don't we talk about Hyuga Hinata?" he said.
That wasn't any of Kakashi's business.
"She's a strange choice for you." Kakashi talked about this like it was nothing. "But.." a vaguely self-depreciating gesture. Minor key voice. "I had a hard time picturing you with anyone."
Sasuke would have only grunted, had he felt this deserved any response at all.
He wondered vaguely if Kakashi was going to lecture him on ignoring his problems. Everyone, he thought, knows about the White Fang. Everyone knows that story.
"It must be that you don't have to pretend with her." Kakashi was saying. Drip by drip, like water torture.
"Because you have no history with her."
I'm tired of having a history.
Tired of being nothing but history.
Or maybe just wanting to entirely be history, still so ashamed that he had survived rather than die- properly and with some dignity. Go into the tomb, the hidden cavern and it's secret scrolls, go deep down into the earth and out of the reach of the clan's dirty secrets.
Maybe he was just tired of all that.
"You know that Orochimaru didn't put that sword wound in your side." Kakashi said.
It wasn't a question, either.
"Tell me," he said again. Tell me, tell me, tell me. Tell me so I can be free of this. This crushing weight of dead bodies, clan history. That trail of blood unwinding through the house and past the dead and to Itachi's feet. Tell me.
So it can come to an end.
A/N: This is just a mini-chapter, kind of a test run to see if I can keep on with this story. As I noted on my author page, there are some canonical problems with this story just because I began writing it back before Sasuke killed Itachi and Orochimaru. But given how crazy the current canon is, I'm sure I can splinter off from canon if necessary. What's most important to me in writing this story is how Hinata and Sasuke sort out their emotional issues, not exactly whom Sasuke kills off in what order. And while I don't want to rag on Kishimoto too much, he really doesn't always address all this stuff in his conclusions. So I guess, consider this story a divergent 'what if' kind of plot.
Anyway, I'm amazed and flattered that people are still reading this story more than a year after my last update! :D I'm glad you guys are enjoying it enough to put up with me being flaky and losing inspiration when canon was too ridiculous to take seriously. I have a pretty intense work schedule, but I'll do my best to continue on. Thanks very much for reading!