Title: Something To Talk About
Chapter: 01 Miss Independent
Disclaimer: Naruto doesn't belong to me. It's Kishimoto's and I just play with it. Part 1 of ? Unbeta'd.
Sixteen was too old to stumble on her way out of the too hot room where her Father was… was dead and Hinata was crying by his side. Hinata's team—the burly Inuzuka, and the intense Aburame—were keeping an eye on Hinata. Hanabi was alone. Her team was out doing other things and she hadn't asked them to come. This was a Clan matter, and none of their concern.
Hanabi, therefore, didn't stumble. Refused to stumble. Had her pride hold her up, keep her head straight and her eyes clear as she left the room with a nod to the attendants. They would take care of her Father now. And there was no time for her to grieve over the dead. Besides, she thought, Hinata would do enough of that for the both of them.
Outside the air was chill. Refreshing. A brisk wind whipped her hair, tangling the strands and Hanabi couldn't find it in her to care enough to tie it back. Even just being outside made her feel less… disconnected; disjointed. A little bit broken, a little bit raw.
He was gone, and she'd have to deal with that. Somehow.
Hanabi leaned against the railing and surveyed the compound. Father was dead. Gone. Not unexpectedly, not after the last few years, but all the same… for some reason it was, deep down, a surprise.
She hadn't really thought that he'd ever leave.
Even after the doctors and the medic-nin had said the same thing. Incurable. Slow-acting.
She still hadn't really believed it. Hokage-sama was supposed to be able to cure anything like that. And both her and her apprentice had tried. Now, Hanabi was finding that she had to believe it—it had already happened—and she didn't like it one bit.
Quiet footsteps jerked her out of her thoughts and Hanabi glanced down the balcony. "Oh," she said, "it's just you."
His shoulders stiffened slightly, and she knew that what she'd said bothered him. "Hyuuga-sama," he said in his precise voice, a trifle cool, "your sister is looking for you."
Hanabi winced at the title. That's right, it was hers now. "She wouldn't have sent you, Aburame-san, if she'd really wanted me found. Nor," Hanabi continued, her voice sharpening, "does my sister have any right to try and order me around."
Not any longer.
Even if it had never been that effective in the first place. Hanabi was too strong willed, unafraid to be defiant, and scornful of her sister for Hinata to be able to order her around easily. The five years gap between them had not held much sway over her.
"I did not say she'd sent me to find you." He came to a stop not far from her. "Rather, I merely informed you of Hinata's movement."
She eyed him. Never mind that his glasses made it all but impossible to tell what his expression was. "What does she want?" Hanabi asked finally.
There was the faint sense of him shrugging. "Presumably she wishes to speak of your Father's last decision."
"There's nothing to speak of," she said, "he named me leader of the Clan. Hinata will just have to accept it."
It wasn't like it was a surprise or anything. Hanabi had been sure he'd name her the leader since as long as she could remember.
He let that one pass. She wondered if he'd expected her to answer anything else.
"You weren't surprised, I noticed, by the decision." It wasn't a question.
She glanced sideways at him. "Of course not," Hanabi said. "He's only been training me to take over for the Clan since before I was a Genin."
He nodded. "That was my assumption."
Hanabi wondered at the implications of that. "You didn't assume Hinata would be chosen?" If anything, she'd rather thought that might be one of the few things he'd have assumed.
"I didn't think that Hinata would be named as such by your father," he said, slowly, as if considering his words carefully. "Knowing what I did of the climate of your clan, you were the more likely candidate."
Hanabi shrugged, forced nonchalance though it looked real enough. "I know he softened up a lot towards her," she noted. "Some people thought that was indicative of him reconsidering his options."
"I," he said, and this time there was no mistaking the coolness in his voice, "am not just anyone."
Oh, he had an ego. She smirked slightly, at the sound of him so annoyed, and shook out her hair. "I wouldn't know," Hanabi pointed out. "I'm hardly going to hang around with her crowd. Five years younger, and unfavoured by her friends. Not to mention Uzumaki…"
She felt rather than saw his frown. "He's a good ninja, and faithful to the village," Hanabi elaborated, wondering why she felt the need to justify her comments to him. "But he's a bleeding heart. To him, everyone can be redeemed; every bad guy ought to be given another chance." A pause, then she continued on, "every Sasuke must be brought back into the fold."
He couldn't argue with that, and so, as she expected, didn't. No doubt he remembered better than she what had happened to Uchiha when Uzumaki had refused to give up and accept that the other was the enemy now.
"If you've such training as you say," he said after a few moments, "then you are aware of what issue will likely be your first as head of the clan to deal with in council."
Again, it wasn't a question. Hanabi was getting the impression that he didn't ask many questions. Not unless he absolutely had to.
She looked at him sharply; frowning. "Excuse me?"
There was the impression of a sardonic smile. "I, too, am heir of my clan," he reminded her crisply. "My father furthermore is an active shinobi still. It would not be prudent to find myself less than completely conversant with the pertinent information of matters at hand."
"Then I can admit to knowing about the motion to raise the graduation age of the Academy," Hanabi said, not acknowledging her lapse while, at the same time, acknowledging that he was right in his reasoning.
She kept the scorn from touching her voice, though it was well enough evident in her expression. The motion had been petitioned to be brought before the council by the Hokage, no doubt who was doing it as a favour to Uzumaki, and she felt her lip curling. "They'll kill us all."
"You think so?"
She shook her head. "I feel so." There was a difference, albeit subtle. "They're only seeing the present and assuming the future will continue to be so prosperous. We'll only be weakened by this idea if it goes through."
A moment then of silence as she wondered what he was thinking and just as he might have spoken, there was the quiet hush of measured footsteps and then Neji was turning around the corner. Shino seemed to withdraw further into himself, becoming taller and more distant.
"Hanabi," Neji said, almost severely.
Trying not to wince at how his voice seemed to cut through the night, she straightened her shoulders, spared a moment to wish that she could have heard Aburame Shino's answer, and met her cousin's eyes. "Neji," she said, calmly, "what is it?"
She watched him take in the fact that she'd been conversing, alone, with someone and saw his eyes narrow very slightly. All he said though, perfectly polite, if curt, "Your sister requires your attendance."
Hanabi shook her head. "My sister," she said sharply, "doesn't command anything from me."
"And yet," Shino's voice came softly, hardly above a whisper, and she wondered if Neji could sense the amusement in it, "we should attend."
That made her pause, coming up short on the retort that had been about to pass her lips, as she quirked an eyebrow at him.
He just bowed his head. "Hyuuga-sama."
More amusement, but now Hanabi wondered if she were the target for his humour, or if it were Neji. She couldn't decide which it was that made her lips twitch into a faint smile.
"Lead the way, Aburame," she said disdainfully, purposefully leaving off the honorific with a toss of her head.
Her father was dead. She was the head of Hyuuga. Hanabi wrapped those two thoughts around her and kept her back straight, her eyes clear as she followed Aburame Shino down the hall. Neji paced behind her, steps smooth and measured.
She had the oddest feeling that the Aburame approved.
The halls were quiet. Hinata had taken herself off to bed hours ago and the Inuzuka and Aburame had been shown out. Even Neji had retired, murmuring something about a mission tomorrow. Servants would see to her father's body, there was no need for her to be there.
Instead, Hanabi walked, her steps silent and each one measured as her eyes traced the line of the walls, the ceilings, the curves in the floor. Much like a child exploring for the first time a place that was new. Well and true—was this not all new to her? It was her responsibility now.
Silently, and glad for the peace, Hanabi drifted almost without purpose through the halls of the compound. The few servants she passed bowed their heads and stepped to the side. She nodded graciously to them, and left the silence unbroken.
It was without surprise, and yet the faintest sliver of something much like it, that she found herself, at last, standing outside the door to her father's study. Before she could think better of it, or before anyone saw her and wondered at her behaviour, Hanabi pushed the door open, slipped inside, then closed and locked the door behind her.
Only then did she allow herself to pause and breath. The room still smelled of him, and it was not the sweet sickly smell that he'd been adorned with in the last few months. It was a warmer scent, a bit of spice, hardly noticeable but unmistakably present.
More than anything else that evening, it made her miss her father. Hanabi took a seat in his chair, remembering how he had spent hours leaning just so, as she stood and listened to what he was explaining to her solemnly.
"Hyuuga's duty is the same as it ever was," he'd said once, "against the progressives, we remind them all that there is strength in tradition. Our strength is in tradition, and what change comes must come slowly."
She'd nodded then, memorizing the words. Now, years later, she could understand better what he meant. Tradition had its own dangers, of course, but it had become tradition by working.
Only a fool did not change at all. But equally a person was a fool if they thought to be nothing but change.
"As you said," she murmured, speaking to her father though he was dead. "I will be the balance to the changes that are coming." The ones that Hinata supported. "I won't fail, Father."
Let that stand as her way of mourning. She had no time for tears.
Days passed, preparations were made, and almost before she knew it, it was the night before her first council meeting. Hanabi supposed, vaguely, that she ought to be more panicked about it than she was but instead, as she brushed her hair out in preparation for bed, it was almost a let down. She knew what she would have to do, where she would have to sit, and already planned what she'd chose.
There was always a chance, of course, of her changing her mind after hearing it out in person, but from the materials she'd found on her father's desk detailing the motion... well, she would not be changing her mind. That, at least, would not be a let down. Not with a discussion topic like that. That was quite interesting, and if she'd already had her mind made up, it would be the reactions of others that would hold her attention there.
She surveyed herself in the floor length mirror that had, once upon a time, been her mother's before it had come to her, and studied her reflection. Young, she thought, and nothing could be done about that. Make-up would only make her appear as if she had something to hide. And young though she was for a Clan Head, Hanabi would not be childish. The figure she cut was not one that would dishonour the Clan. That would more than suffice.
A soft knock sounded on the door. Hanabi tucked a bit of hair behind one ear, setting her hairbrush to the side and sitting up straighter. "Come in."
Hinata slipped into the room, clad much as she was in a loose robe and hair unbound. Hanabi had to suppress a sigh. Must she deal with this right now? She'd been successful at avoiding Hinata for the last few days, a task made easy by the many things she'd been dealing with that had fallen to the side with her father's long decline.
"Hinata." Her voice was cool and effortless, a simple imitation of father. Hanabi watched Hinata try not to flinch at that. So easy to set her off balance still, Hanabi wondered if it was because she missed father, or because bad memories of him still cut. It didn't much matter to her. "I've only a few minutes." So speak up.
"You know what the council means to speak about tomorrow," her sister said after a moment, almost defiantly.
That made her pause. "I do." And, her thoughts continued, you shouldn't. Uzumaki couldn't keep his mouth shut again, no doubt. The Hokage favoured him ridiculously. Hanabi forced the irritation away for now, keeping her face serene.
The lack of further response made Hinata flustered. Perhaps she'd expected a cutting remark? Or a disdainful one. Hanabi watched dispassionately as she gathered her thoughts, marshaled her opinions. "What do you mean to vote?"
Hanabi raised her eyebrows incredulously and kept her silence. Which way do you think? There was only one vote that made sense to her, the other was a fools dream. But then, of course, Hinata always had had a soft spot for one fool in particular, and was tenderhearted enough to truly believe that this mad idea of Uzumaki's was a good one.
Hinata flushed. "It's just… we were talking…," and 'we' in this case meant Hinata and Uzumaki, that was clear.
"Talking," Hanabi said, letting the faint sarcasm come through.
"Yes, about... the council..."
"You don't have a vote," Hanabi said, deciding that it was best to shut down that trail of thought quickly. "Nor do I remember informing you of what the meeting was to be about." Hanabi knew, had she wished, she could, in fact, do far worse that a mild reproof of, "I will take it into consideration your opinion, but I will not vote your way just because you were thinking so."
"Hanabi, I…" Hinata was staring at her, eyes wide, and Hanabi wondered if her sister had really thought it would be so easy to get her to do what she, and Uzumaki, wished for. On this issue especially. Or if her sister had not realized what rules she was already breaking just by knowing about the meeting and the contents thereof.
"Is it understood?" Cold, she could be cold. And she was angry—this bill was something that had been cooked up by Uzumaki, she understood that. Hanabi even understood the reasoning behind it; it made sense, if you took Uzumaki's limitations into account.
She said none of that though. Admitting that she'd given it much thought would only serve to make Hinata think that she could be swayed. There was no time to sway her. "I'm retiring for the night," Hanabi said, turning away from her sister smoothly. "Tell Haruko that she's to ascertain I'm not to be disturbed for unless it's an emergency."
It was a dismissal. Had it been the other way around, Hanabi would never have stood for it. Hinata did, and left.
Neji arrived with a lone knock on her door and her permission to enter. She smoothed down her robes of office, much like her usual robes, only the fabric was richer, and tucked her hair behind one ear. "Neji," she said, "I called for you fifteen minutes ago. Is everyone who will attend assembled?"
"Hinata was unsettled," Neji noted mildly, and that was answer enough, "and your counsel is ready."
"Let us go then. Hinata was questioning things she shouldn't have knowledge of," Hanabi replied, as they left her rooms and headed through the compound, unsurprised that her sister would have gone babbling to someone. "Uzumaki may be a fine ninja, but he cannot keep his mouth shut. I did not appreciate her attempts to tell me how to make up my mind."
That, she knew, Neji could not argue with. However large his respect for Uzumaki, she spoke only the truth and a well known one at that. "I was unaware that she had knowledge of it beyond the rumours circulating," he said instead, as they walked.
Hanabi tucked a bit of hair behind one ear again and nodded. "More than a rumour, I would say, from her general demeanor. Her opinion on it is about what was expected. Always the bleeding heart, and sweet on Uzumaki as well."
Neither, in her opinion, was a good thing.
They were silent as they made it to the Hokage Tower and were admitted into the Council chamber by two Chuunin she didn't recognize on sight. She made a note to remember them for the next time and then Hanabi went unerringly to where Hyuuga Clan was given seats and, without pause, took her place in her father's chair. Why would she hesitate? This was what her father had wanted her to do. To guide Hyuuga and keep it strong and safe.
It was early yet; Hanabi had timed it deliberately so she might see the expressions on other Clan Head's faces when they realized who they were dealing with.
Not Hinata, as rumour said. But Hanabi. She'd not made an effort to dispel the rumours, they'd amused her, and it made the reactions far more interesting. They'd come prepared for a sheep, and they got a fox. Hanabi wanted to grin when Hinata's Inuzuka all but tripped over his feet when he saw her. She didn't though; it would have been unseemly to do so. Aburame, looking much like his father, the Aburame, nodded slightly to her. A nod just as slight was her response to that.
"Come to order," Hokage-sama's voice rang out in the room, shushing the murmuring and then waiting while the seats were settled down in.
Hanabi didn't move. Hyuuga Clan was already at order, Neji to her left and a few of the Elders behind her. In the end though, anything that was said, was up to her. She could ask their opinions, of course, but doing so—today—would only make her look weak. And that was not going to happen.
Although her father's notated copy of Uzumaki's plan to have the graduation age of the average academy student raised from twelve to fourteen had given her a solid grounding in what to expect, she listened intently as it was laid out formally to the council.
Uzumaki himself was there, looking nervous, though he wasn't the one speaking. She wondered at that, idly, as she listened. Should he not be speaking? It was his idea, that much was clear, but instead the one speaking was a man she didn't recognize. A quick note, all of two seconds in writing, and then it disappeared into Neji's hands, gave orders for someone to find out who the spokesperson was.
He should do it himself, she thought, that was only right. Bring something stupid before the council and you deserved to be proven stupid without deflecting blame onto others. Hanabi almost pitied him, so far over his head he was.
It was well researched, to a degree, she decided as the meeting went on. Certainly, the statistics said quite a bit about the dangers of allowing twelve year olds into battle. The numbers of the dead spoke loudly. But, also, rather inaccurately. She fought not to show her frown as Uzumaki's spokesperson went on outlining the data. There was no doubt that they believed their work, and that there was enough truth in it to sound reasonable to nearly anyone.
Until you stopped and recalled the history behind the numbers. The class of nineteen students that had all been killed twenty years ago--that wasn't because they'd graduated early and been Genin on active duty. That had been a skilled ambush by Kumo, and the students had only been out learning the basics of camping. Who had been the one to teach him history? It was covered in the Academy—every student since the incident had been told of it.
All around the room people were looking thoughtful. Some, like her, nearly frowning, others were leaning over to murmur to their heirs. Eventually, though, it wound down and Hokage-sama was standing as Uzumaki's spokesperson stepped off, and out of center floor. Uzumaki himself looked, in the quick glance she afforded him, almost worried. She wondered if he'd expected a different reaction from the quiet murmur of voices and the plethora of frowns.
"As custom," Tsunade said, and Hanabi wondered if the Hokage even realized the disdain she put into that word. Custom, as everything, had its place. It was important. "Votes will be cast in Clan Order. Begin."
Oldest Clan to youngest. Once upon a time Uchiha would have gone second. Hyuuga had always been first though. Hanabi stood, stepping forward so that she was clearly visible to everyone in the room.
A moment then, before she spoke. "Hyuuga; against." Her voice was clear and cool, and she felt rather than saw Neji's approving nod. In this, she could not afford weaknesses, especially not in her demeanor.
Let them not find Hyuuga weak just because a child was in command. At sixteen, having been on active duty since ten, she was no child. If Neji did not care for her decision, well, he would not say anything in so public a venue. That was well enough for her, though Hanabi rather thought that he'd refuse to commit himself either way. Too many loyalties to choose from, he would sit on the fence and try to keep to himself.
As silence spread throughout the room, Hanabi kept her eyes steady, and her face impassive, as she focused on the Fifth Hokage, not looking around to the expressions. She'd get the information, the impressions later. At the moment she had to look every inch the serene, imposing, Clan Head that she could.
Hokage-sama nodded, and Hanabi sat gracefully, back straight and eyes straight ahead as a soft susurrus of whispers raced through the council room. Where they evaluating her? Of course they were. They could afford no less.
Hanabi listened attentively as other Clans cast their votes. She noted the way their eyes flicked to her, but didn't outwardly react. Be as ice, her father had said not even a year ago when he'd permitted her to accompany him to a meeting much like this. Be cold, and don't let them rattle you.
She wasn't rattled. Her head felt clear, and her hands were steady. Underneath it all Hanabi felt almost exhilarated. This, she thought, was why her father hadn't minded as much as he might have when he'd become head of the family and removed from missions.
This was just like a mission. Only words instead of kunai, facial expressions rather than Jyuuken. This was something that needed the same fearlessness mellowed with caution that a mission required. Different stakes, but it was the same game. It might have deserved laughter had she not been where she was.
Aburame was against. Inuzuka; for.
She wondered what her sister would have to say about that.