Title: Something To Talk About
Chapter: 04 All You Wanted
Summary: [AU/Futurefic] Hanabi and Hinata have never gotten along, living side by side, as strangers rather than sisters. When their father dies, Hanabi is left in control of the Clan: just in time to deal with a highly sensitive political issue that may rip Konoha apart. And to make things worse, Hinata chooses to be on the opposite side of the same issue…
Disclaimer: Naruto doesn't belong to me. It's Kishimoto's and I just play with it. Part 4 of ? Unbeta'd.
"Hinata-sensei," Shikamaru said, still a bit bemused over the fact that not one, but two of their class had wound up teaching, and knocking on the door-frame of the half-opened door. He watched as the kunoichi righted herself, looking a bit tired even as she smiled and focused on him. "Do you have a minute?"
"Shikamaru-sensei," she said, standing and setting aside her pen as she matched him in formality, "of course. Please come in. Is there anything the matter?"
He stepped inside the room, noting the casual disarray—nothing out of the ordinary, to his eye, though not quite so neat as you'd think of a Hyuuga. "Nothing wrong," he said, answering her question and moving to take a seat in one of the chairs she indicated. Shikamaru lifted the sheaf of paper he held, setting them down on the desk. "Just some routine paperwork for next year's teaching schedule--it's your first year here, so I thought you might appreciate a hand in going through it." Well, he'd been talked into it, but Shikamaru had to admit that he hadn't put up as much of a fuss as he could've.
It wasn't like talking to Hinata was a big thing, really. Though these days there were all sorts of comments flying around about her involvement in the bill that was rumoured to be under consideration. He watched to see her reaction, and wasn't surprised when she frowned slightly.
"Can I see the forms?" she asked, reaching one hand out for them. Shikamaru gave them to her without another word and watched as she read the first page. "Isn't is a bit early," Hinata said quietly, "to start planning for what goes on next year? It's barely half-way through this one."
"And we've already got a full set of applicants for the beginner classes," Shikamaru said comfortably, used to these questions--they were some of the ones he'd asked a few years ago after all. So far nothing unreasonable. "No point in keeping registration open past that, though there's still the waiting list."
"So many children," she murmured, searching out the tentative class lists and placing it on top of the pile to study while she resumed her seat. "How many of them, do you know, are from shinobi families?"
"89% of them," he said promptly. It was always calculated. "Which is about the average number for a class in peace time. The ones we'll be getting from the civilian families will either be kids who desperately want to be ninja, or those whose parents used to dream of it, and think it'd be a good match for their child."
She nodded, turning the page and murmuring names under her breath, before pausing and flushing slightly. "My apologies," Hinata said, setting the paper down, "I didn't ask--did you want anything to drink?"
"I'm fine," he said, waving it off with one hand. Shikamaru didn't care much about how polite she was--it wasn't like she was annoying or anything. "You look tired though, a tea might do you good."
Very tired, and from the state of her office it was clear that she'd been using it far more frequently than most sensei did, even in a ninja village. The dark circles under her eyes were hardly noticeable, he doubted barely any of the kids would notice, but he'd known her from all the way back from when they'd been in the Academy. Even if you weren't friends with someone, that much time led you to pick up a fair number of cues about them.
Hinata flushed slightly. "I've been working hard," she demurred, "ah, about this bit, could you explain--"
Turning back to the work, Shikamaru allowing himself to be diverted, they spent a good forty-five minutes going over the basics of how the class set up would work, and who was likely to be in which class, what the evaluations they did at the entrance to the school were meant to accomplish.
He answered her questions with the same thoroughness that he would have expected if he'd been the one on the other side of doing this for the first time--and, indeed, last year it had been him on the other side and asking the questions. Not the same ones, but most of them were close enough and all the information was covered in a manner that he felt was enough to get by.
Which, really, was good enough for him. Shikamaru wasn't particularly detail oriented when he didn't have to be--just because he remembered it didn't mean he wanted to actually deal with it. Answering her questions though gave him more time to study Hinata, pick out little details in how tired she was and the way she phrased her questions was interesting too.
"Shikamaru-sensei," she said finally, glancing up from the last form, "this is all, as you said, precisely the same as what had been done last year?"
Ah, that question. He'd expected it, and was mildly amused that it had taken longer than he'd guessed for it to come up. "Exactly the same," he agreed, setting aside one of the spare pages he'd been using to explain the details of another question.
Her brow furrowed. "The Academy is planning for the graduation age to remain the same." Hinata didn't sound pleased--not surprised, but not pleased all the same. As if she'd hoped for something better, but had not really expected it.
"The Academy is set up for graduation at twelve," he said patiently, half of him wishing he was home, or teaching the kids, or something other than having to be here right now, and the other half sitting up and paying attention because this was, in fact, really interesting to him. "Any reform, especially mandated reform will take years to fully implement. It's severely unlikely that any change could be made that would be in effect for this next class."
She shook out her hair, and when she glanced up at him, her expression was almost serene. "What do you think of the reform? You've been hinting at it around the edges since you got here. Nara has a whole has said nothing either way."
"Nara," he drawled, "will keep to that stance. Our opinion will stay our own for the moment. Transparency, though, is important for an issue like this, Hinata-sensei. If you're going to be serious about this, then I advise that there's no surprises, or midnight secret meetings," she flushed and he noted that, "because that will only bring your case down. And that's more trouble than it's worth, having an opinion on."
Hinata stared at him for a moment. "Thank you for the information, Shikamaru-sensei. If that will be all...?"
The funerals had been quick—routine, almost, and Hanabi was one of the last there in an hour or two. For the most part, death was an expected part of life as a shinobi. Everyone knew the odds, that it could happen at any time, that no one was entirely safe.
"I think," she observed, almost clinically, "that if it were possible, we'd all spend more than half our lives in mourning." Hanabi fought down a shiver, feeling cold in her black mourning clothing, though it wasn't all that chill outside.
"Probably," Konohamaru answered her, getting up from where he'd been putting a wreath of flowers down. One for each of the dead. Hideki-sensei, Tomoe, Maki. "That's why we forget, in time, how it hurts. Living in pain only traps us as well as them."
Wind brushed by her, tangling in her hair as she stepped over to consider the flowers. Hanabi didn't really see them. Konohamaru beside her looked older in black. It didn't suit him. For a moment she wished he'd smile. Something normal. Something better. "But you can't fully forget," she said. "Otherwise there's no point in ever caring."
He glanced at her—she didn't look away. Her face was dry, and voice remote. Hardly the face of a classical mourner. But then, looking cold as a stone didn't mean she felt that way.
"There's always a point in caring," he said, with a smile that held no amusement in it. "If only so the dead are not forgotten."
Hanabi considered that, and shook her head, long hair flying around her head like an unruly halo. She shrugged slightly, only the smallest uplift of her shoulders. Even now, appearances mattered. A moment of consideration was spared toward the idea that, perhaps, 'cold as stone' in this situation wasn't the best appearance, but it was too late for her to change it. As with everything—what was done, was done.
They could only change the future. The past was untouchable, and she resolved not to worry about it. "I don't think I'll forget," she said, her voice quiet enough that, if she were lucky, only Konohamaru would catch it. "I learned a lot from them."
Of course there was more to it than that, but some things were better left unsaid—at least in public, no matter how they were working on changing the public's perception of her. Her information network had reported a positive upswing in opinion over the fact that she'd gone to the play. Perhaps Konohamaru had a point. It still seemed silly.
"You can learn a lot from everyone," he said, and that sounded a bit more like him. Hanabi was grateful for that, even as she raised one quizzical eyebrow. "Well you can," Konohamaru said, not shifting under her gaze, "it's just, the lessons that are really important are the ones you remember even after the people who taught you them are gone. There are a hundred thousand stupid little lessons to be learnt, every day, but only a few stick longer."
She nodded. "I can agree with that," Hanabi said, after a moment to consider it. "No one person can be the sum of everything that happens to them. Even if we don't mean to, we pick and choose."
"What do you think you'll pick and choose from all of this?" he asked, closing his eyes briefly and looking into the wind for a moment.
She shrugged, not wanting to dwell. "I don't know," Hanabi said. "I don't decide, especially not right now, what I'll remember two, three, however many years down the road. Just that I know I will remember something of this. You don't spend years of your life working with people just to forget them because they no longer come around."
"You don't," he said, knowing that for the truth. "And for that, it's a good thing. People don't deserve to be forgotten so fast. Without our memories, we'd never learn anything."
Hanabi's laughter was a fragile thing, something that sounded close to the edge of breaking even though her eyes were clear and there was no sign of tears to be found. "And without our memories there'd be precious little point in anything at all," she pointed out, "not even in getting out of bed--if you wouldn't remember anything of what happened when you got out of bed the day before, then why would you keep on doing the same thing over and over? You'd go insane without your memories."
Konohamaru took her by the elbow, gently moving them away from the graves and for a while, half an hour, an hour, they didn't really keep track of time, just walked down the back paths and through the parks of Konoha, letting the cool air rush through them, tangling their hair, and if Hanabi didn't notice the way people gave them considering looks and smiles as they passed, well, Konohamaru did. He returned those that he noticed, but for the most part they were content to pass the time in silence.
"I didn't even get the chance to ask them about all of this," Hanabi said eventually. "Not their opinion on my becoming Clan head, or on the Academy age issue. I'd wanted to see what they thought. Even if they didn't agree, or if they did, I wanted to ask them the 'whys' of their reasoning."
Konohamaru sighed, he could see where her thinking was coming from. "They were out on missions for most of the last few weeks, right? And you were busy in meetings and barely had time to breathe as everything got sorted out." Small words, they sounded like excuses and were, even though at the time they'd been perfectly valid ones--you couldn't just ditch a meeting when you wanted. Then, in thinking that 'they'd always be around to ask later' it was alright to put it off for a few days.
Only a few days had never come...
"Exactly," Hanabi said, her lips twisting slightly. "And now there's no more chances. I suppose it doesn't matter, does it? My position is the same as it has been from the start."
"You could always ask other people," he said, considering that. "There shouldn't be a meeting about it for another few days at least, if you wanted to see if you could find time to come with me while I track down Moegi and Udon--you could see what they had to say."
A faint smile. "Use your team, instead of mine?"
"They won't mind," Konohamaru said confidently. "Let's go grab something to eat."
"I'll think about it." Hanabi said, not really happy sounding, but Konohamaru was willing to settle for 'less morbid' than she'd been at the start of the funeral, and left it at that. The little steps counted too.
Overhead, the sky grew dark with storm clouds.
The sky was so dark that even though it was not long into the afternoon the whole city was wreathed in twilight that called to mind much later hours. The illusion of no one else existing was only heightened by the way that the rain pouring down, bringing the gray with it, forced people inside. Lights in windows, muted yellow glows, were the only real indication that there was more than was visible.
Kiba stepped along the slick wood of their back porch, the overhang keeping most of the rain from hitting him for a few seconds longer. He glanced around; Akamaru was sleeping just inside—close enough to be within easy distance, but out of the wet and cold entirely. It wasn't Akamaru he was looking for though, and his target was sitting on the bottommost step, soaking wet and shivering.
"Hey, Kuromaru," Kiba said, sitting down two steps up, heedless of the rain that was sheeting down from the sky, and resting one hand on the large sad looking dog. "How's she been today?"
Kuromaru whined, a rumble of his old confidence still clinging to his voice—old times, when he'd been stronger, faster, better—and let out a sigh. His tail flopped against the wet wood of the porch. "About the same."
Kiba's sigh echoed his, casting a glance over to where Akamaru was half-asleep, just out of the rain, and his eyes, so used to knowing every shift and twitch in his dog's mood easily picked out the stress and unhappiness. But then, information like that was writ across his body and face too, if you knew how to look.
"She'll get better," he said, forcing himself to be confident about it. If he admitted defeat, then Kiba didn't know what he'd do. "Soon, she's got to. Hana's... not coming back, and—," he swallowed, "she's just going to have to start dealing with it."
Kuromaru—his mother's dog, and older than he was—shifted to rest his giant head on Kiba's lap. Absently, Kiba played with the soft, wet fur. The smell of dog barely registered as anything other than 'home'.
"She's not been getting better," Kuromaru rumbled, distressed. "She doesn't even talk to me these days. She used to, not that long ago. What if she's getting worse?"
He winced at that, it was true enough, but hard to wrap his mind around nonetheless—the idea of not talking to Akamaru, not having him around, or outright ignoring him made his stomach twist unpleasantly. A bad sign too. He ran his hand through Kuromaru's thick fur and tried to give reassurance.
"I know," he said, glancing up into the rain, letting it get in his eyes, trickling down his face and taking a moment just to feel as it soaked through his t-shirt. His nose was filled with the scent of wet dog, wood smoke—they had an old-style fireplace, and he'd made sure it was burning well before coming outside—and, distantly, and only noticeable if you had an Inuzuka's nose, the scent of alcohol. Depressingly common these days, and he'd never minded drinking before. Kiba doubted he'd ever want to drink again.
Bad enough that one of them was living in a liquor fog. The family didn't need two of them like that. And he refused to bring the family down even further. "I know she is," Kiba repeated, wishing he had something better to say to Kuromaru, and knowing the dog would sense any attempt at prevarication that he made. "Do you think there's anything we can do for her?"
The dog huffed, his breath hot and warm against the cool skin chilled by the rain. "Take away the bad stuff?"
Kiba's laugh felt rusty in his throat, though it came out normal sounding enough. Enough to pass, that's what he spent most of his time doing lately anyway, so that wasn't a big shock. "We've tried that," he reminded him, "and she just goes and gets more. We'll have to try harder; I'm not sure how mum is sneaking out like that."
But then, Inuzuka Tsume had been a Jounin before he'd ever been born--the number of tricks she knew, coupled with her level of experience, was a formidable barrier to overcome. Even for someone as determined as he was.
"I can help," Kuromaru said, lifting his muzzle and looking a bit more cheerful. "I can keep guard and make sure she doesn't get past me at all."
Kiba shook his head, not in negation, just to shake out the water that was accumulating in his hair. "That's an idea," he said, a bit more confidently. "Between you and I, if we're on our guard even more, then it'll be a lot harder for her to get anything past us."
An addiction like that could be a pain to sustain when there were people around who could smell it on you. Kiba counted Akamaru and Kuromaru amongst the people of their family--there was no other word for it. Physical shape didn't matter where he was concerned. "Akamaru will help out too," he said, smiling for Kuromaru's benefit. "And we'll get her through withdrawal and back on her feet with no one the wiser."
Kuromaru's tail swished back and forth, a solid thwack against the deck with every movement as his tongue lolled out. "She'll be grumpy." And that, they both knew, was the pure and honest truth. His mother was going to be miserable.
From his place, warm and dry, Akamaru looked up with a sleepy cast to his expression and glanced out at the area for a long moment, ears perked before shaking his head, as if dislodging something, he put his head back down and sighed.
"We'll be grumpier," Kiba said, keeping his eye on Akamaru, and making a note to ask him about it later. See if it had just been a dream jitter, or anything more. "I don't know about you, but I've got a lot of grumpy kicking around lately. Everyone's in a bad mood, and there's too few targets to take it out on."
Kuromaru licked his face. "You can do it," his mother's dog said, "I believe in you. Tsume'll be back to normal soon."
It was odd how something so prosaic as merely a change in location could make someone look smaller. Odd, but that was his first impression upon seeing Hanabi--Hyuuga-sama, as he'd so lightly called her the last time they'd talked--standing to one side on the west bridge and just staring out over the water. She looked smaller, a bit tired, and being all in black didn't suit her nearly as well as the white of her usual robes. The soaking rain, and the way it plastered her hair to her head only furthered the impression of smallness. He wondered what she was doing out in the rain.
Shino kept his observations to himself--she would not appreciate them--even as he drifted over out of some half-formed curiosity. "Hyuuga-sama."
She glanced sideways at him, her professional mask slipping back over her face with the ease of someone who'd done it so many times that they didn't even have to think about it any longer. "Aburame," she said, her voice cool, nicely remote and Shino took a moment to appreciate that. "How can I help you?" Never mind that it was pouring. Business was the only thing that showed in her voice.
"Indulge an idle curiosity," he said evenly, resting his arms against the thick red railing of the bridge and glancing down. The water, this time of the year, looked more slate gray than blue, but that too would pass. It always did. "What is Hyuuga Clan's leader doing all by herself," he'd not detected any guards, which was a rarity in and of itself, so either she was all alone, or the ones she had were especially good and he'd been slacking in his training, "all by herself, out on a bridge, just past high noon?"
Hanabi laughed, a small sound, one that would have gone unnoticed had he not been so close. Shino wondered if she always laughed so. "Saying farewell," she said, "and wishing old dreams well." Thunder cracked over their heads, he was soaked and she looked moreso.
People who said his family was enigmatic had not been talking to the right people. Shino attempted to recall a time when he'd given an answer so unhelpful and found himself failing to do so. "Are they dreams you will miss?" he asked curiously, though only the slight lean to his shoulders showed his interest. The question as well, of course.
"Who knows?" she asked, her gaze going upwards, letting the rain hit her face. "Not I, though I wish them the best. They deserve it."
"Some would say that most dreams deserve the best," Shino observed. "And that they should be given all the time in the world to grow."
"You sound like my sister," Hanabi said, bringing her gaze down to fix him with an indecipherable expression.
Shino let a faint smile touch his lips--it was not as if anyone would see it, not behind the high collar of his jacket. "I would agree. Hinata does sound much like that on occasion."
She shrugged. "I disagree with sentiments like that."
And yet, Shino thought, she stood all alone on a bridge and remembered to say good-bye to them. Not unfeeling, though her detractors would insist she was as such. "What do you agree with then?"
"That some dreams will come to fruition," she said quietly, "that others will die before they're given a chance. That some that come true won't be for the best, and that some that die would've changed everything. That's how it really works. We can only give breath to so many dreams, help so many find their way to fly, and then it's up to the dreamers to see how far each dream goes."
"And when the dreamers fall?" he asked, pleased with her answer to that question—it was an interesting answer, and Shino was rather fond of those.
Hanabi glanced over at him, eyes sad for a moment, before regaining their usual frost. He suspected she would deny any change in expression, and good manners forbade him from commenting on it besides. "Then we mourn, learn from their mistakes, and move on to others who're still doing their best to fly. If all you do is concern yourself with who crashed and burned, then you'll never see who made it work and how far they flew."
"As in all things," he interjected smoothly when she paused to consider her next few words, "in all things moderation is key. Forget too much of those who crashed, and you repeat their mistakes, but dwell too long on them and you'll never dare to reach the heights others have already made."
Her smile that time was appreciative, if small. "You're an interesting man, Aburame."
Shino permitted one eyebrow to inch upwards fractionally. "Interesting is an unusual turn of phrase when referring to another person."
"Not really," she said, smug undertones running through her voice. "You have eyes, Aburame, so I'm sure any chance for misinterpretation was neatly negated by supplemental information."
It was a rare time when he was moved to laugh, even when he was amused—too many years of being quiet and contained had that sort of effect—but Shino let a small huff of laughter out at that. "And how shall I take that, I wonder?"
She sniffed. "Big words can hide a small brain," Hanabi informed him. "And can further misinformation farther than words that are spoken plainly. What I chose to use and what I comprehend aren't the same thing at all."
"You yourself, in turn, are proving to be interesting," he noted. True though, that people could not be judged solely on what words they chose to express themselves with.
Her lips curved into half a smile. "I shall endeavour to take that as a compliment."
He'd meant it as one. Actually saying so would upset the precarious balance they were creating though. They had never been friends—Shino was well aware of the fact that, too, Hinata might take it as a betrayal if he were to get along better with her 'little sister' than herself.
Which had little to do with anything, past or present, when the 'little sister' was stepping so admirably into the role her father had given her. The fact that Hyuuga Hanabi was an engaging conversationalist had no bearing on Hinata. "The simplest conclusion is also the correct one in this case."
She just laughed, and they let the rain fall down around them.