Title: Amateur Psychology
Pairings: Neji/Hanabi, Hanabi/Hinata?
Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi.
Summary: Mycenaean feminist theory. Nihilism. Selective blindness as an art form.
Hanabi has beautiful hair—long, glossy, and of such a deep rich tint that its brown brings to mind the scattered earth chopped up beneath a garden hoe in spring, tender and secretive, full of a winterbred life. Since the nebula known as her toddler years, her sister has brushed it out for her every morning like a ritual, raking the teeth of a tortoise shell comb through its aching length in one hundred careful strokes and smiling as she buries her nose into the soft warm tresses, inhaling the deep sleepy scent that lingers there waiting to be chased off by the summer sun.
"You have such wonderful hair, Hanabi-chan," Hinata says, mild and sincere. "It is just like how mother's used to be."
They are both motherless children, but in some ways Hanabi is more so than her sister, for she does not remember their mother. Hinata is the one with all the memories, all the lullabies and grainy photographs boxed away in the quiet attic of her mind; she remembers what their mother looked like, how she smelled, the way she did her hair in the morning. Hanabi has nothing, but she doesn't begrudge her sister these dust-worn keepsakes, for they are the only things Hinata has: without them, she would be a person who has no people.
Sometimes, Hanabi tries to find these same traces of Mother in the deep water of Father's eyes, but she has never succeeded.
Father, on the other hand.
Father is Hanabi's alone, and there's not a person in the world that can dispute this. At six years old, she thinks it is the fact that she is without memories of her mother that makes it so. She is pure Hyuuga steel, untempered, and Father has eyes only for her deadly knife-edge, showing more clearly each day. This is her territory, and she guards it jealously.
This is fact: Hiashi no longer trains Hinata in person.
This is what she knows best: the view from the smooth waxed floor, with the long grimy tendrils of her loosened hair hanging all over her face, obscuring her vision, sweat searing her eyes.
"Get up, Hanabi."
It's a long way up, and as she rises to her full height, a knee-knocking, back-shaking journey of her spine uncurling and her legs locking beneath her body, the face of her father is the Face of God, hanging impassively above her, an untouchable entity. Hanabi is in awe of her father, of the even broadness of his back as seen from behind when she tags behind him through the sprawling corridors of their ancestral home, the comforting weight of his hand on her shoulder when they appear side by side in public.
The gentle knead of his fingers, applying healing balm to each and every one of her injuries at the end of a training session. "You are adequate," he tells her. It is the only thing he ever says.
Well, this one time, he says, "If only your mother had given me a son…" but Hanabi's pretty sure that's more like an accident, because Father never talks about Mother when he means to.
Hanabi doesn't know much about sons and boys, but since she started school she's learned a few things about them, like how on Tuesdays and Thursdays the boys get an extra kunai-throwing session in the afternoon period while the girls are shepherded off to learn about flower-arranging with the specialized kunoichi. If that's what it means to be a boy, Hanabi thinks, then she doesn't see what the big deal is. Her marksmanship's better than everyone else in her class anyway.
So, that one time, she says, "Father, I can be your son."
The brief flicker of a smile is like sunlight tracing the edges of her father's lips.
In the garden, Hanabi trails after her sister with a hand basket as Hinata wanders from row to perfect row, picking out fresh materials for their Ikebana session later that afternoon. The sky is a sun-blistered blue, threaded through with wispy clouds, the heat deceptive.
Hanabi's busy staring at a green, green caterpillar scrunching its way down a lush stalk of camellia, which is why she doesn't register that grey blur at the corner of her eye, which is why she doesn't notice Hinata stopping in her track and rams straight into her. How embarrassing.
"N-neji...niisan," Hinata stutters, and automatically, Hanabi frowns.
"Hn," says the boy in question. Not just any boy, mind, but the hailed and mighty prodigy of the Hyuuga Clan, like that means anything at all. Hanabi scowls, thinking, I can take him, watch me claw my way into his clothes and beat him blue and black, but her father has forbid it.
"H-how are you today?" Hinata soldiers on, and takes to staring down at her hands. From a few steps away it looks like she's being polite but up close Hinata's fingers are white and shaking and so knotted the skin looks to be flaking off her flesh, and Hanabi feels sick because whether she hits Neji or not at this point won't mean a thing.
It's nothing short of amazing, the things that her sister just doesn't get.
Neji walks off without a word, and Hanabi glares after him. Then she turns to tug at her sister's kimono sleeve, only Hinata is still staring at her hands intently, so intently. Her sister is curled up, covered in fairy dust and caught between a thumb and forefinger; she won't even look at Hanabi, and suddenly everything is rubbish, and the garden is rubbish and Ikebana is rubbish.
The basket goes flying and the flowers go flying and the lilies and rhododendrons land at Hinata's feet but the peonies scatter and their white and pink petals flutter recklessly in the still air. Before her sister's shocked eyes, Hanabi spins on her heels and stomps off. At the end of the path, she screams over her shoulder, "And I can brush my own hair!"
She storms into the backyard where she finds their ten-year-old cousins Hiroshi and Toru play-fighting, and demands to be included in their games. It's rough but she's used to pain, and that night, when both her knees are scraped and her cheek is purple and she gets dirt on the sheets trying to get into a comfortable position, the taste of satisfaction coats her tongue, sugar-sweet.
Flower-arranging is for the birds. Neji, in fact, if he were ever reincarnated as a bird.
The next day, in training, Hanabi executes all the intermediate forms of the Juuken in a perfectly fluid sequence without once making a mistake, and when she is finished, the grip of Hiashi's embrace is sudden and fierce.
As she grows older, her body loses its childlike roundness and tightens in on itself, all sinews and muscles. Her hair loses all its glossy vibrancy and she doesn't care, but she's still not her father's son, so there's a logical fallacy in her existence.
In her very limited spare time, Hanabi frequents the vast libraries of her family. She has to dodge Neji, who is there every other day making stern, constipated faces at obscure texts, and her sister Hinata, who lingers there like a ghost and pours drawn-out sighs over their mother's old medical journals, but eventually she manages to work out a schedule that allows her to be alone, and then she spends many an afternoon drenched in slanting bars of sunlight and inhaling the bright gold dust that shimmers through the quiet stacks.
She ignores the scrolls that trace the history of the clan's genetics. Hard sciences bore her, and the implication that everything is an accident—albeit, wonderful accidents, like how every evolutionary advancement is a result of a fluky mutation—rankles a little too close to home. She doesn't need to be thinking about the accident of chromosomes that made it impossible for her to win her father's love, a war lost even before the first battle was played out.
Hanabi studies patterns of psychological behaviorism in the traditional extended family, and is surprised to find that the Hyuuga Clan, despite their elitism and eccentricity, is archetypal in the finest sense, a mad aesthetic. It's a good thing their brand of controlled idiosyncrasy is extremely well-documented.
Clan dynamics remind her of lion prides—the throwing of the young into the proverbial abyss and standing by to watch for the survivors who clamber back up worn and bruised and slightly worse for wear, for example. So she reads on and this catches her eye, Many generations of cubs may be sired by a single male.
At once Father and Grandfather? Hanabi mulls over the concept, and without thinking her hand squeezes around a pen someone has forgotten on a shelf. She writes in the margins of the text:
How to be truly motherless: given the right motivation and a certain amount of effort, can one succeed in becoming one's own mother?
Of course, the moment she finishes the sentence she realizes it is erroneous and scratches it out, but its essence is indicative of a breakthrough, like something that needs nothing, a person with no people, a film grade idea sliding into the empty spaces of her life like it will fill them up.
The following day, when she passes by a group of Branch Family members in the hallway and happens to look a little too closely, she is startled to find that her kinsmen are nothing like the proud cats she has imagined. Instead, in their drawn, severe faces is the starved, roving look of purebred wolfhounds whose nervous, restrained sort of energy resonates only with the small beady eyes that are always slitted and alert, and the fangs just skin-teeth beneath the surface and ready to tear at paunchy fleshy throats.
She remembers, with a jolt and a sinking feeling, that pillars always survive what they support.
The best of minds can dismantle the mechanics of humanity and lay them bare-boned and bloody in an instant, but that doesn't make them any less victim to them.
Hanabi doesn't remember the exact moment—what instant of what hour of what unremarkable day—that she became obsessed with finding out the meaning of everything, but the fact stands. She takes to carrying around a notebook. Unobtrusive thing, neither a scholarly journal nor a teenage girl's diary. When her classmates tease her about it she orders them to stop, and they do.
It's a year after Hinata's second (and successful) Chuunin Exam, and four since the garden incident, and Hanabi still hasn't had a real conversation with her sister, even though she's had to admit that Hinata isn't nearly as ridiculous as she thought. It's time, she supposes, to amend that. She wonders resignedly if, for once, they might manage to slog through a conversation without getting lost in the semantics of meta-memory.
"Tell me about Mother," she says without preamble, marching into Hinata's room and sitting down next to her sister on the bed.
Hinata stares at her, wide-eyed, and lays down the book she's reading—"Journal of Clinical Investigation"—but processes the situation quickly enough to recognize Hanabi's awkwardness as a clumsy sort of offering. Soft and soft-hearted, is her sister. "W-what would you like to hear?"
Tell me how it feels to have a start and an end. Tell me if letting her ghost fill you up makes it any easier. Tell me… "Anything."
So Hinata gives words, and if Hanabi were at all emphatic, she'd absorb them like this:
A wandering mist of feelings clears to reveal the sky, blue and drowning and shockingly endless, and the soft brown veil of a woman's hair along her thin shoulders, shimmering with the fracturing of the sun. The memory is perfectly close and weightless, pressing against the glass wall with infinite insistence, and because Hanabi is so dizzy and light, it takes a moment for her to realize that Hinata is absently carding her fingers through her hair.
"What is your obsession with my hair?" Hanabi interrupts, and she says the word obsession like it's nothing, as if there weren't any weight attached to it at all.
Hinata removes her hand guiltily, and Hanabi stares straight ahead, willing the illusion not to shatter. "It's just," Hinata says. "M-mother always said that a woman's hair is the secret to her femininity. In the day it is up and unobtrusive, but at night when it comes down it is as though she is uncurling herself as well."
"You should grow out your hair, then," Hanabi ventures. "You'll look good with it longer."
And maybe it's the wrong thing to say after all, because Hinata stares at her with her mouth open for a long time, and then bursts out crying, in a horrible, shuddering, shaking way, tears like pearls of condensed memories filling up her eyes and pouring down her face, and as Hanabi sits and watches, she has the sudden impulse to lean over and lick them off.
The next day, Hanabi goes into the library and vultures the aisles three times before she finds a small book lost in the stacks of crumbling, yellowed scrolls. She removes it and and flips it open to the intro.
Motherhood, she reads, is one of the sacred threads that make up the foundation of our society.
Always with the sacred feminine, she thinks with a roll of her eyes. Meanwhile, girls are still giving themselves eating disorders, destroying their bodies trying to live up to impossible standards of beauty. Girls are still getting raped and killed in the lonely places of the world, and kunoichi as a category remains resolutely unsung and unrecognized. Hanabi is ten and has her Byakugan fully activated, and her cousin Neji is the genius of the clan.
She remembers the feel of Hinata's fingers in her hair, arbitrary and absentminded, and for no particular reason, she thinks: surrogate mother has such a dirty sound to it.
Girls who form premature attachment to their father in early life will often place his image before the ones they love.
Words, like: castration anxiety.
This emptiness is symptomatic of expectations, of a desire to be filled with a certain something that one inherently lacks.
Hanabi is fourteen when she is recruited into the ranks of the ANBU, and when she runs into her cousin Neji in the hallway at headquarters for the first time, she purposely veers in her path and blocks his way, and when he stops she leans in close, close enough for their breast armors to clink against each other and for him to feel her breath when she says, "How about it, Neji-niisan? A match, just a friendly match, there's no one here to stop us, how about it or are you too scared?"
The situational irony is kind of beautiful and unspeakable. Deep down inside, Hanabi has always known that she cannot get the better of Neji if he's really fighting, and this fact resonates on the same level as the knowledge that Hanabi stands for everything Neji hates, Main House and privileged and bigoted and arrogant and accepted, which is how she knows that when he fights her he will really fight, just for the satisfaction of rubbing her nose into the dirt.
Later, she fucks him up against a tree, the rough bark wearing down on her skin like topographical rainmarks. It's her first time with a man, and the pain is brutal and sudden, like her body being axed down the middle and the pieces dragged apart, but this only makes her rock her hips harder against him. She is trying to take something from him, and for this she pays with the warm blood that streams down her legs.
This is of course what Hanabi is all about: give, take, fair trade.
And Neji. Neji, Neji, Neji.
Neji is beautiful, a perfect specimen of manhood if Hanabi must say so herself, and she can find no other word for this other than: appropriate. The long column of his neck is white as an ivory tower, exposed as he tosses his head back and thrusts into her, all adrenaline. Proof and paradox float around them as words pressed into the caverns of her mind rise to the surface of her lips; she breathes them into him like an airborne virus, filling the vacuums displaced by that which she is sucking out, like soul-smoke escaping through your mouth.
She wonders if this is some sort of triumph for him, a sneaky one-up on the Main House that he can secret away and take out to gloat over in moments of solitude. If so, he is even a greater fool than she previously thought, and as he climaxes inside her, making small, guttural animal noises into the hollow of her neck, she snatches the hitai-ate from his forehead and scrapes her teeth across the inkmark of the Curse Seal, sneering at his shudder of surprise.
"What," she whispers into his skin, the salt of his exertion tangy on her lips, "does this mean for you?"
She can tell he doesn't understand her question by the expression of revulsion etched across his face as he walks away from her. Left alone, Hanabi leans back against the tree, still weak-kneed and dizzy from the starburst glow on the back of her eyelids. She takes her reward, the mysterious gift she has lifted from her cousin, and examines it, rolls it around her dry tongue for a taste, as though trying to confirm something, and finds it…
So not long after, when Hanabi finds herself looking at a girl for the first time—the first shard of excitement when her thighs clench and the back of her shirt sticks suddenly to her skin—she is convinced that this is not a dent to her theory, but only the next in the series of ever growing proofs, another link in the chain leading to the elusive truth she's been chasing after all her life.
It's like an insatiable hunger of the worst kind, and everything she takes, all the loots of her greed for meaning, they lose their substance upon joining her, like food that has weight sitting in your mouth and sliding down your throat but disappears in the hidden dark of your stomach.
There is a new word now, and it echoes through the empty libraries of her mind. She writes it down with a flourish.
In her head, the word has a strange, jarring sound, like it clashes with all her other theories, but at the same time, seems to compliment them somehow. Suddenly, every line of reasoning she has considered up to this point becomes dependent on this Catch-22, and she is at a standstill, unable to move forward or go back until she has solved this conundrum, the lady or the tiger.
That night, when Hanabi slips two fingers beneath the elastic band of her underwear, she thinks of…
...Tenten, perhaps. Neji's former teammate, and now the only woman besides Hanabi in the ANBU. Soft brown curls unbound and tumbling, spread across a pillow perhaps, fluent Japanese spoken with a Chinese accent, quaint, very quaint. No shy violet, this woman wraps her tanned legs around Hanabi's waists and digs her nails, plain and gritty and jagged, into her hips, gives her a necklace of bites...
...or someone else, maybe that flower girl from her sister's Academy class, all soft and pliant and vast expanses of vanilla skin, long white fingers fluttering against her. That long coil of pale hair for her to tug on, breasts small and pert and sweet as cream, the delicate arch of the spine and the generous curve of the mouth, all these things that put Hanabi in charge, that mean she's in control and she can do. Just. About. Anything...
...or, perhaps, perhaps...
She comes, writhing against her fingers, and the white hot sparks of freedom blind her and there is no more doubt.
As Hanabi watches Hiashi and Hinata talking in the hallway, she realizes two things.
One, her sister has changed. Her expression is as carefully blank as ever, but it's different, and it shows in the steady set of her shoulders, the even tilt of her head, the calm acceptance. Even after all these years, Hanabi still finds it difficult to look their father straight in the face, fearing the sun burning her sensitive retina, but Hinata has no such qualms, and that is how Hanabi knows that her sister too is Hyuuga steel, thinner, invisible, water-slick. She is what they need.
Which brings her to the second point: her father doesn't get it.
And it's dangerous, his lack of understanding, because it means he's too comfortable, too assured by the trust he has in the weapon he has been honing all these years. He doesn't see the things that parade before his eyes, and that's dangerous because complacency is a disease, like a slow disintegration that starts from within and eats its way outward. Stronger structures have been corrupted by it. And because her father is blind and her sister is unseen, it is up to Hanabi to make it happen, to bring about a change, but when she looks down at her small, thin, sixteen-year-old hands, she realizes they couldn't move mountains, much less her family.
There's a difference between seeing too much and seeing it all before. This isn't about becoming her father's son, or being her own mother anymore.
The lady, or the tiger?
Hanabi is a motherless child, and it is partially for this reason that her father's opinion has always meant everything to her. His image is tantamount to the Face of God, a fact that she finds terrifying as well as awe-inspiring. But her father is no more God than her sister Hinata is her mother, and this is the thought Hanabi tries to keep at the forefront of her mind the night she informs Hiashi that she will not be accepting the appointment as his heir-apparent.
Her father looks startled, as though he has been dealt a fatal wound. Then he looks at her for a long moment, and says, "You are sure about this?"
She is. She has thought long and hard on the issue, and it has occurred to her that, barring everything else, this is something she can do. They might not be happy about it, but this is her decision alone.
Hiashi doesn't speak. The silence stretches; Hanabi counts it in her head, like drops of falling water, collecting.
Finally, "Then you know there is only one course of action left."
The day they brand Hanabi with the Curse Seal, Hinata is away on a last-minute mission, and has no knowledge of the undertow that will soon change the future of her family, that will carry her to an uncertain destiny. Hanabi thinks she prefers it this way.
Every clan member is invited to be witness to the affair, and when Neji steps into the room following the rest of the Branch House delegation, his eyes light upon Hanabi in surprise. Hanabi fears he will say something—it is just the kind of foolish thing he might do—and angles him a silencing look. This is her moment, she will guard it jealously, and eventually, his eyes falter and he gives her a small nod. She smiles back thinly.
No second thought.
She accepts the pain with accustomed dignity, manages to stay on her feet throughout the entire ordeal, and as she struggles with the welling whirl of dizziness in the aftermath, she hears her father's voice, pronouncing a cold sentence.
"Your resignation from the ANBU has already been announced to the Hokage. You will commence your duties as a member of the Branch Family tomorrow morning. Taking your capability into consideration, you have been assigned the position of heading the clan's northernmost outpost. It is a ninety-mile journey. Be ready to leave at first light."
Hanabi swallows the bile that threatens to choke her, and looks up at her father's face one last time, but Hiashi has already turned away from her.
She parts her bangs and studies her reflection in a mirror, runs her fingers over her new marking, a telltale line in poison green drawn across the smooth skin of her forehead, and feels it throb and sting at the center, like a tiny, pulsating heart. Members of the Branch House cover up their Curse Seals with gauze and headbands, because they are emblems of shame, but for Hanabi, the mark she bears represents a sacrifice, the right choice.
There's no need to hide that, she thinks, fingering the slick strands of hair.
Later, she takes a razorblade to her scalp, and it feels like a more visceral part of her is being sheared off as well, an arm or a leg or, most likely: a self unfulfilled, some dormant potential she has never lived out and now is being discarded before its time, but that's only an illusion. There is no time to ponder on the various possibilities, not when every choice you make knells with the finality of things that cannot be reversed.
When the severed locks lie scattered around her feet, the door slides open and Hinata bursts into the room, red in the face and shaking and furious, saying, "I've just been informed—this is unthinkable—Hanabi, come with me right now, we can undo this, make them take it back somehow-"
Hanabi turns slowly to face her sister, hands full of loose curls, and Hinata grows silent, staring.
"What—what are you doing?"
"It's only symbolic," she says, and gestures with the razor towards a sad tuft at the back where she couldn't see enough to reach. "Help me get this, will you?"
She shakes her head firmly, willing Hinata to get it, and finally, she does. She gets it. She steps forward, and takes the razor from Hanabi. Her hand is steady, whiteknuckled around the handle.
"How does that look?"
The razorblade falls to the floor and clatters away to land purposelessly at the foot of a silk screen as Hanabi leans over for a kiss, shivering so hard she has to curl her hands into Hinata's hair for leverage, and when her sister gasps in surprise and makes to pull away Hanabi holds on tighter, shuddering and clinging and laid open and bare, the white cloud of her breaths pooling through her parted lips like her soul being stolen, and in some ways, it's true.
"Please," she whispers, and is surprised when it comes out sounding more like a sob, hot and jagged and desperate against Hinata's mouth. "Just a moment. I only have one night. Please."
A moment only, and Hanabi allows years' worth of condensed memories to pour down her face, her sister's hand cocooning her just-shaved head. The winter air is frigid around them, but Hinata's palm is warm, and it warms her.