Everybody freak out! Last chapter, yeah! To celebrate, I have totally immersed myself in super old party music. Having a blast!
I hope you enjoy the very last installment of As We See It.
Thou hast call'd me thy Angel in moments of bliss,
And thy Angel I'll be, 'mid the horrors of this,
Through the furnace, unshrinking, thy steps to pursue,
And shield thee, and save thee, or perish there too!
She was 21. He was 22.
"Would you consider marrying our Hinata-chan, Neji-kun?"
How could they do this to him? How?
Had he not suffered enough?
Did they enjoy it, their sick joke? Did they like to wrench his heart, to twist his gut?
Those sick bastards. They were toying with him. They wanted him to hurt. They sucked in every painful moment, relished it, loved it, remembered it.
They knew him too well.
"Neji-kun?" Grandfather prodded, anxious to know his agitated grandson's answer.
Surely he wouldn't let them him win this time. No. He had his dignity.
The world swam, a blur of color and sound and feelings that didn't belong. She couldn't see, couldn't feel, couldn't hear.
This was what she had been waiting for. What they had been waiting for.
Now. Now was the time, the time to turn the tables on the Hyuuga. The time to finally take one family's cruel decision and turn it into another couple's happiness.
It was time to steal their freedom.
He carefully stood, a picture of humble pride and defiant compliance. Looking into his Grandfather's aged, wisdom-wrinkled face, he spoke quietly and carefully his reply.
"Grandfather, my family, I would like to politely decline your request."
A dread-filled silence permeated the room, and several of the elders squirmed in their seasts.
"Neji-kun, the council would very much like for this marriage to take place. It will benefit the clan, and though it is rather unconventional, it will ultimately secure your future place as sole advisor." Grandfather explained methodically, as if to a five-year-old child.
"I understand this, Grandfather," the young man replied, his eyes on the ground, "but I have made my decision. I will not."
It took all she had to not scream right then and there. He had just brushed off their one chance of happiness, their chance to be together, as if it was dirt on his shoe. He had condemned her to an arranged marriage, to deep longing, to eternal unhappiness. His freedom would still be his, but hers would be chained, once and for all.
It wasn't fair. He was the one who had wanted it first. Had he forgotten?
She raised a hand and covered her eyes. The lights were too bright and her eyes were tired, maybe.
No one would see her cry.
"Well then, we have heard his answer. He will not. Hiashi, my son, you have until your daughter's next birthday to find her a match. We wish you luck in this. Since we have no more issues to discuss, we will now adjourn this meeting. Everyone is dismissed," the eldest Hyuuga announced, his voice somber and full of pity for his beautiful granddaughter.
He knew what an arranged marriage was and was not. He could only hope that she was as strong as she seemed to be.
His grandson, however, was a fool not to see the opportunity before him. The council had tried. They had tried to give him a chance. They had tried to give him what he wanted, but he would not accept it.
Perhaps the past still hindered the boy. After all, the beaten dog would not trust food from the hands of the tyrannical master.
Hanabi watched as the Hyuuga filed out of the meeting room, their minds wrought with ghastly decisions and wounded hearts. None gave her a passing glance, save her sister, and the agony etched on her face was something Hanabi could have gone without. Everyone knew that she was always sitting there, listening to things she shouldn't, burning out her childhood, hardening her political heart and crying for determined futures.
Then he strolled out.
Why did her sister still love him so? The law of give and take said she owed him nothing, yet she gave him everything.
"Nii-san," she whispered, catching his sleeve as he passed by. Mustering the last of her worn out courage, she gazed directly into his eyes, a silent plea.
Why did he always push himself into misery? He could have said yes. He could have made so many more people happy.
He looked back into her eyes, a false arrogance gleaming in his pupils.
"Yes, Hanabi-sama?" he questioned, a smirk dancing across his features. He had won.
It was then that she saw his stupidity, brash and obvious. There was no use pleading now. Sighing heavily, she released his sleeve and walked away.
He watched her back growing smaller and smaller as she stepped further and further away. For an instant, a shadow of doubt crossed his mind.
It was only for an instant.
Both sisters sat in their respective rooms, thinking upon the day's events and wishing that tomorrow had already come.
Cocky, arrogant, stupid…
He wouldn't listen. He wouldn't think.
Why would he choose this?
He didn't even look at me.
How could he even look at himself?
Doesn't he remember anything about how it felt before?
Trying to claim her before and just leaving her now…
I can't always rely on him to feel, though.
Everyone already knows. They tried to make him happy!
I…I have to try too.
That idiot, he doesn't know what he's lost.
I need to….I need to talk to him.
I'll talk to him, that Branch house punk.
Their minds were made up. No one would sway them, no one would stop them.
It would be a long day for Neji.
It was a cold, lonely corridor he walked through. The longest in the entire house, filled with pictures of past Hyuuga leaders and prominent family members, including his father. Their solemn faces had haunted him in his dreams when he was a child, but today they instilled a chill in him like no other. With their chalky eyes, they appeared to see right through him, straight through his hideous guise and into his even uglier soul. His breath quickened, as did his footsteps, and he attempted to escape this torture hall, but was stopped by a smaller figure walking in the opposite direction.
"Good evening, Hanabi-sama," he steadily greeted while trying to disguise his irrational fear.
She said nothing and stopped before him. Angry words were on her tongue, ready to escape and wreak havoc, but upon glancing at her cousin's face, they were lost in her mind, swirled with other memories.
Memories of a brother who would always take care of her. Memories of a brother that taught her how to defend herself and stand tall with pride. Memories of a brother that, though he had never shown her affection, she loved and admired.
However, she loved her sister more.
He almost saw it coming, that slap in the face. The splayed fingers, the retracted arm, the sudden growl. He should have dodged it, should have humiliated her. He didn't. He couldn't.
It was a slap to be proud of. The sharp pop of hand meeting cheek, the dazed look in his eyes, the red marks that would last until the next evening. Perfection.
Which was why he was caught off guard when she suddenly wrapped her arms around his middle and drew him into a fierce embrace.
"Nii-san, I hate you," she bitterly sobbed into his chest, pressing him close and hoping to make him remember their childhood happiness, "I really, really, really hate you. You're an idiot!"
He awkwardly placed both arms around his younger cousin, the feeling so strange yet comforting at the same time.
"I know, Hanabi-sama, I know."
"Just go die in a corner somewhere!" she yelled, the sound muffled against his clothing. "Just go and die because I hate you!"
The tightening grip around his waist told Neji otherwise.
"Shut up, Nii-san!" she screamed, still muffled and bringing him one notch closer, "Why don't you ever listen? Why don't you ever think? You're supposed to be the genius! Why do you always, always make other people miserable? You could have been happy too! You know it! You're just so stupid, so, so stupid! I hope you die!"
"Do you, Hanabi-sama?"
The sobbing stopped.
"You idiot," she softly finished, releasing him from her clutches and wiping her watery eyes, "You're the worst brother ever."
"I'm not your brother."
"You are, and you suck at it."
And with that, Hanabi exited the way she entered, slowly, proudly, albeit a bit more tired and teary.
He wondered how a sixteen-year-old could act so immaturely, yet still teach him more than his elders.
The portrait of Hizashi stared at him, expectant, solemn and still. Neji hated this picture of his father. It had always given him a sense of uneasiness, as if his father were waiting for some kind of great change to be seen in his only son. As if he was waiting for his son to finally become the greatness that the entire earth had predicted.
There were so many definitions of greatness, he thought, yet he matched up to none of them.
But there she appeared, at the other end of the hall, stiff, anxious, tired, shoulders slumped in a signal of defeat, and she was greatness. More than he would ever be, he figured. He turned away, ashamed to see everything he could not become.
"Neji-nii-san," she whispered through the air, her voice soft and inexplicably fine.
He knew his impertinence to not turn and face her, but his body would not permit him to do so. Not now.
"Neji-nii-san, I suppose you have not changed your mind?"
Did she want to kill him? If she continued like this, his heart would burst from the tension.
"Oh," was her slightly higher pitched reply, along with the sound of a shoe lightly scuffling against hardwood flooring.
"Then Nii-san, I ask you to…to reconsider."
He was listening.
"We….we have our chance. This is…. this is it."
This was not coming out how she had wanted it too. Taking a deep breath, she tried once more.
"Nii-san, this is our chance. We can do this. We can do everything we wanted to! We can change the Hyuuga, like Naruto-kun said. We can get rid of the curse seal. We can throw away arranged marriages. We'll even burn the old tradition scrolls, if you want! We can… we can be free, Nii-san."
Something inside of him snapped. This was exactly what he thought would happen. What did she know of the true feeling of freedom? She had been free all her life, never before caged…
"Freedom? Freedom, Hinata-sama? What they give us is not freedom! They are chaining us! Chaining us together, without so mush as a thought as to whether we desired it or not! You are the fool, not me, to believe in such a thing."
Shocked and speechless, she stared at him, eyes wide. She didn't think he would have become angry at her, but he wasn't expecting it from her either.
"Nii-san, that isn't fair!" she called, her voice rising in volume as she continued, "You can't say that! You only think that way! For so long, you have put yourself above me, and now you think that I will hold you back, don't you? Is that not what you feel?"
For the first time in her life, she had read him incorrectly.
"No!" he roared, finally turning to face her, "I have never been above you! I have always been beneath, along with the other Branch members. Now they are gluing us together, and I will always have to stay with you! I will never be able to do what I wish; I will always have to follow you and serve you!"
"Did you not promise that very same thing to me many years ago?" she inquired, her voice finally cracking, "Were you not the one who wanted it first?"
"I was stupid. I did not know what it meant."
"You do not trust me enough to know that I would have given you whatever freedom you wished had you chosen me? I have always given you the choice to l-l-leave!"
She's stuttering again…
Hinata knew she had won this one. She had left him defenseless, and took a small sort of sick joy in seeing his defeat. After wiping her eyes, it was time for the final bomb.
"What do you fear, Nii-san? Why will you not accept our match?"
Why would she not leave him alone? Why, why did she always have to go and twist the truth out of him?
"You know exactly what it is."
"I would not ask if I already knew, Nii-san."
Swallowing a last gulp of air, he prepared for his final argument.
"You lie, Hinata-sama. You always know...but if you wish to humiliate me further, so be it. They will not force me to do anything. I will choose my own path, as my father did. That is what I want. That is my fear! That I will not be able to choose who I will be with, what I will do, that every single decision of my life will be affected by the Hyuuga! That I will choose you, not because it was my wish, but because our family wanted it!"
He looked at her face once more, expecting to see more screams or despair. It was not so. He was greeted with a tiny grin, and her eyes sparkled with something other than tears. She was mocking him again, wasn't she?
"Now if you will excuse me, Hinata-sama, I have much work to attend to," he weakly ended, orienting himself towards his bedroom. Maybe he could just fall asleep. When he woke up, the whole thing would just be another nightmare. A nightmare that he could forget.
There was that whispered name again. How it tore at him, practically forcing him to obey! Yet he continued to walk. For once, his name on her lips would mean nothing. He continued on his path and was almost at the end of the hallway when the familiar tup tup of running feet sounded behind him. She was coming.
It was almost like magic, what happened next. The sudden weight he carried, her front pressed against his back, his arms wrapped around her legs, the arms that wound around his shoulders, her face gently cradled in the back of his neck. So long ago had carried her like this, when she was three and injured, when he was four and innocent. So long ago.
He had almost expected this to happen.
"Nii-san," she murmured, soft and warm, "Why do you confuse yourself so?"
There was that ever present 'why' again.
"For so long you thought that the clan would only drag you down. But now, just now, you said 'our family' did you not? You have changed, Nii-san, I've changed, our family has changed! You see that, but you will not accept it! So…so Nii-san, trust to it! Believe in it! Accept that maybe our family wants us to be happy. Accept that they want you to love them. Accept their apology!"
Hot, fat tears descended upon his neck, sending a cold chill through his spine. God, it was those tears again. Simple drops of water that created and destroyed lives. Her timid voice appeared again.
"But if you choose not to believe this, then that's alright too. We can pretend, but we will know the truth," she mouthed against his neck, sending a completely different kind of shiver through him, "They are for politics, we are for each other. So Nii-san, would it be so bad? Would it be so bad if we stayed together our entire lives? Would it be so bad to wake up next to each other, to share the same sun and sky? Would it be so bad to stand next to me, to guard me as you always have? Would it be so bad?"
She was always right, wasn't she? Gently setting her down on the floor, he turned to face her, radiant and beautiful as her personality.
"How do I refuse you, Hinata-sama?" he croaked, dropping on his knees before her and bowing low, "How do I say no?"
"You will stay with me?" she asked, voice quivering, her heart beating in her ears.
"Yes, Hinata-sama, yes."
Yes. The magic word that made everything that much more wonderful. Her heart felt its burdened lifted, and a smile instantly appeared on her lips.
"Please stand, Nii-san. You do not bow before me."
Standing tall, he pulled her close and whispered heavily into her ear, "No, Hinata-sama. I will always bow before you, for I serve you and you only. You are my master and I am your servant, as it has always been. It is how I have loved you."
Taking advantage of the silence that followed afterward (Hinata was quite occupied with blushing, she had never thought herself as his master) Neji lightly took her hand and tugged her towards the wardrobe room. There was much to do in preparation for the marriage, the first task being the choosing of the wedding day garments.
Upon entering the wardrobe room, the couple was met with a sniffling Hanabi desperately trying to rid herself of the last few tears. She sat, perched comfortably in a nearby chair, several layers of fresh green silk in her arms.
"I… uh, I um, oh God," she shakily whispered, holding out the richly-dyed cloth while tightly embracing her sister, "I, ah, t-took the liberty. Green's not really…uh, not really conventional, but uh, yeah."
To their mirthful eyes, green was beautiful. Green was for renewal, for spring, for fortune, for prosperity, for them.
It was for everything.
"Were you also at the wedding?
Of course, I was there in my finest attire. I had my hair powdered with snow, but the sun came out and melted it. My dress was made from a spider's web, but when I passed through some bushes, the thorns tore it apart. My shoes were made of glass, but then I tripped over a stone, and they went 'clink!' and broke in two."
- The Brothers Grimm
Hans Gets Married
Hoped you like the ending! Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed, I truly appreciate it. I couldn' t have done it without you.
I think I'm going to take a huge break now.