Anything and Everything
Hanabi kicked hard at the water.
Water sprayed in a sheet out from the sole of her bare foot, and after a short distance, the surface tension would condense it to little spheres. Each droplet randomly sloshed back and forth in slow motion in the heightened vision of her byakugan, as if part of it strained to be free from the rest, yet could not escape.
Thin projections of chakra from the tenketsu in her fingertips slashed through the droplets as her hands moved with blinding speed.
Be free, she thought, her eyes burning with shame and frustration.
But she'd kicked too hard. There were too many big, fat drops of water flying through the air for her to reach them all in time, and with the burning, not quite crying sensation in her eyes growing with each one she missed, Hanabi eventually had to give up on catching the last ones.
She stood still on top of the small pond in the newest, as yet uninhabited section of the Hyuga district, breathing heavily. Water shone on her pale skin in the light of a waning moon, mixing with the sweat of her exertions to fall off her naked body with a rhythmic drip-drip. Hanabi wore nothing at all, following the directions of her sister as she ran through the same practice used to create the Shugo Hakke Rokujuyonshou.
Thinking about her sister brought fresh pain.
Hinata. Blushing, eager to please Hinata.
The heir to the clan.
And she, Hanabi, who had always been praised as the one with real talent, was going to be sealed and placed in the branch family.
She knew it was tradition. Hinata was born first, and they didn't have any brothers, despite how much her mother had tried, was still trying, even. But at this point it didn't matter anymore. Even if her mother did manage to get pregnant again, and it was a boy, the age gap was too great. Hinata would be the new clan leader, and she… she would serve, just like Uncle Hizashi served her father.
Just like her cousin Neji had served Hinata and her. Would still serve Hinata.
The final decision, appropriately enough, had been made after Hinata had demonstrated her new technique, the first she'd ever made, the one Hanabi was now trying to learn.
She hated it.
But it was a good technique. Despite the bitter, hot disappointment that boiled in the pit of her stomach, Hanabi recognized the strength of the technique. For women, especially young girls like her sister and herself, the Kaiten required too much chakra to really be viable, and was also vulnerable to a number of counter techniques in the first motions.
Hinata's technique did not have those flaws, for all that it covered a much smaller area.
So Hanabi practiced.
Alone, in a deserted portion of the growing Hyuga estate, at three in the morning.
Where no one could see the anger and despair written into her every movement.
She was meant for so much more than this!
Had she not learned to walk on water at the age of eight? Was she not the best student of any age in the Academy, beating out even the three Uchiha children?
She was not meant for a life of humble support for her sister!
A wordless cry tore from her lips as she kicked out again, sending more water into the air, which she tore apart with uncommon savagery. Over and over she kicked and slashed, twisted and stepped. Hinata described it as a dance, graceful and free, protecting even as it attacked. What Hanabi created was more like a massacre, brutal and violent.
Finally spent, Hanabi collapsed to her knees in the middle of the pond, then, as her concentration wavered and her chakra ebbed, she slipped deeper and fell backwards, floating nude, just her face and breasts breaking the surface.
For a time all she could do was breathe and fight the urge to scream.
Hyuga did not scream.
They did, however, occasionally pray.
"Please, Kami-sama, Buddha-sama, anyone who will listen…" she whispered quietly, "I'd give anything to be free from my family."
There was silence, marred only by the soft rustle of wind through the leaves.
"Well now," a smooth, cultured voice broke in, the tones just a bit too deep to be natural, "that's an interesting way of putting it."
Hanabi whirled, springing to the surface of the water, her hands at the ready. She had no tools, but a Hyuga was never without weapons.
There was a man on the shore. Tall, well built, with blond hair made pale by the moonlight and thin brown slashes on his cheeks, like scars, or birthmarks. He wore a suit, a business suit, impeccably tailored to fit his frame, which shone like well brushed wool.
He wasn't a civilian, though. Only a ninja could be that silent, and stand that still.
"Who are you?!" she demanded, activating her byakugan with a thought. "This is Hyuga land, state your business or leave at once!"
He chuckled, the sound rich and menacing. "So eager to leave her family, yet so quick to call on its protection. Young girls are always so… contrary." His eyes gleamed. "As to my business, young princess, I could not help but notice that you were upset. I am, by nature, drawn to those in distress." He paused just long enough for her to tense, then continued. "And I heard your prayer. I heard you beg." His perfectly even, white teeth gleamed in the faint light. "I have come to deal."
Hanabi gasped and blushed, horrified that her moment of weakness had been witnessed. In a clan of dojutsu users, Hanabi was far more modest about her pain than she was her body.
"Who are you?! Some pervert out here spying on me?! Leave! Leave my family's lands!" she demanded.
The blond man laughed again. "Ah hah hah! Such a misunderstanding! Do those much vaunted eyes truly see? But yes, a man with an unclothed young girl might be construed as unseemly. Pardon me, I simply felt the form suitable for the occasion. Perhaps something closer to your own age?" He shrank before her eyes, not even appearing to use hand seals, and his chakra didn't even seem to flicker. He stopped when he was much younger, perhaps around her sister's age, perhaps less. Instead of the dark wool suit, he wore a fine summer yukata, white with elegantly embroidered scenes of running foxes and flowering orchids. He wore it open with one arm out of its sleeve, revealing his bare chest.
Before, she would have sworn he was in his natural form. Now he seemed even more real, if such a thing was possible. Yet, she was equally sure that it, like the one before, was just a veil over something else.
He stalked forward onto the edge of the water, revealing bare feet that rippled the surface as he stepped.
Hanabi backed away, so that the entire pond was between them.
"This should be better," he said, and his voice had changed, becoming lighter and softer. It was still almost musical to the ears, but it no longer had the deep, reverberating tone that had once marked it. "As I said, I heard your plea. And I am here to answer it." He cocked his head slightly in question. "Why do you fight? What could make a young girl train so desperately so late at night?"
"My business is my own," she informed him frostily. "I said leave, before I call the guards."
He shrugged eloquently, his one bare shoulder rippling with the movement. "Actually, I already know your business, I simply wanted you to think about it. You are Hanabi, second daughter of the current head of the Hyuga clan, and you will soon have a seal placed on your forehead that will forever make you a slave of your sister." His voice growled on the word 'slave'. "You have trained because they told you to. You have trained because you hoped that, if you could prove yourself enough, you would be made heir and your sister would be the slave. But you were not strong enough to overcome tradition… and now you train because you have nothing left. No power, no options."
Hanabi opened her mouth, but the strange blond boy cut her off.
"I am here to give you options. I am here to give you strength." He smiled at her, bright as a sunny day.
"I am Hyuga. I am already strong," Hanabi replied, her chin lifting with pride.
"And yet, you were willing to offer anything and everything to anyone that could help, because you know wishes always have a price. You know what you want. You know what you were willing to give in return." He leaned forward and crouched, one hand touching the water as he looked up at her.
"You presume to offer me power? Who are you to interfere in the business of the Hyuga clan?" She tried to remain haughty, but…
He was offering her everything she wanted most. It was almost certainly a trick. A cruel joke of the gods, a lie by an enemy, almost anything but what he said it was. And yet… and yet she listened.
He smiled. Leaned back, took his hand off the water. "Call for a guard," he offered. "You are still of the main family. They will listen." He smirked. "For now."
Warily, never taking her attention from the boy, she did as he bade. "Guard! I need a guard here! Attend me!" she called, projecting her voice loudly.
It was but a few seconds before an older Hyuga man, a jounin, joined her by her side, angled so he faced both her, as was polite, and the blond intruder who claimed so much. He took in her state of undress, the presence of a young boy, and his muscles tightened.
"Hanabi-sama," he answered, bowing his head slightly.
"We have an intruder on the grounds," Hanabi said, gesturing at the boy.
"An intruder of sorts, yes," he agreed with a laugh.
Hanabi's eyes widened as her guard, a jounin who had experienced many threats, paled. For the first time, he got a good look at the intruder.
"You…" he breathed.
The Kyubi smiled, gently reminding the man that in many animals, baring the teeth is a threat. "Yes. Fetch Hiashi. We shall be waiting." He noted the hesitation, the moment of insecurity as the man struggled with his desire to do what he was told and his duty to protect the daughter of his leader. Kyubi waved his hand negligently. "Go. She is safe with me." He chuckled at the irony. "Safer than anyone else in the entire world."
Giving his ward one last regretful look, the man hastily disappeared, running as fast as he could to inform his leader of this new and terrible development.
Hanabi took a moment to carefully examine him, slowly letting her defensive stance relax, so that she stood straight. When he didn't react, she cautiously circled him, trying to reach the neatly folded pile of clothes she'd left on the shore.
"Actually, there is something appropriate about you being bare for this meeting," Kyubi said, startling her. "Stripped of the trappings of the clan you are no longer bound to. Naked before God."
She froze in indecision.
"I want you to watch carefully when your father arrives," Kyubi said in a conversational tone. "Watch his eyes. I want you to tell me what you see there." He rolled his head and stood in one smooth, effortless motion. "And I suppose you should have my name. Once, I was supposed to be called Naruto. But you may call me-"
"What are you doing here, Kyubi?!" Hiashi demanded, suddenly appearing on shore between the monster and his daughter. Four of his strongest guards flanked him, all looking grim and apprehensive.
Kyubi glanced at him, then looked back at Hanabi, grinning and showing a lot of teeth. "Timing, as they say, is everything."
Hanabi, true to the order Kyubi had given her, watched her father carefully. She saw the way his hands trembled, his muscles tensed. She saw the way his eyes darted, widening, flicking to her to check her condition, then focusing on the intruder he called Nine Tails.
"Tell me, girl. What do you see in your father's eyes?" Kyubi asked, his tone light.
"Fear," she said in wonder, with a tiny quiver of answering fear that quaked in her gut. Her father, always her strongest protector, was afraid. It shook her world. "I see fear in my father's eyes."
"Damn you, Kyubi! What do you want with my daughter?!" Hiashi demanded, his hands clenched, but not, Hanabi noted, held in the deadly form of a ready juken strike. "There are laws! You made a contract!"
Kyubi smiled and scratched his bare chest lazily. "I made a new contract."
Hiashi's breath sucked in with a hiss, and he looked back to Hanabi, standing there naked, still damp from her dip in the pond.
"What have you done, daughter?" he asked, his voice anguished.
"Very little you should be concerned about, actually," Kyubi replied indifferently. Suddenly, he transformed once again, dropping the fragile illusion of humanity as he fell to all fours, growing and stretching until he was the height of a man at his front shoulders. His face elongated, becoming vulpine, with long slender ears pricked upright, deep red-orange fur, almost black in the night, and nine long, fluffy tails that flicked and danced independent of one another.
"Except she is now mine, of course," the nine tailed fox added with a carnivore's grin.
Someone gasped. Hanabi thought it might have been her.
He really was the Kyubi, spoken of in whispers about the village. The Kyubi that nearly destroyed the village because of manipulation by the traitor Madara Uchiha. The Kyubi that the Hokage had brought to its senses, and made a deal with so that it became a protector of the village… at the cost of the life of his newborn son.
She had made a deal with that Kyubi, the Kyubi that could do anything, but always took a life in payment.
For the first time, she really believed that she would not be sealed and made to serve.
There was a sudden flash of light and a crack of displaced air, and the Hokage appeared, striding forward angrily. "What is the meaning of this?" the Yondaime demanded, staring down the huge fox demon.
The Kyubi gave him a fox like grin and immediately shifted back into the form of a young blond boy, so similar to the legendary hokage that he might well be-
"His son," Hanabi whispered, shocked.
Kyubi spared her a naughty grin before he turned big faux innocent eyes on the Hokage.
"Oh no," he cried, "Daddy-sama is angry with me! Don't hit me, Daddy!" He mock cringed, throwing both hands up as if to ward off a blow as his mouth twisted into a cruel smile.
Minato twitched, but that was the only reaction he would give the demon fox that had killed his son and wore his appearance as a constant reminder.
"This is breaking our deal," the Yondaime warned. "You are not allowed to eat important Konoha citizens, and you are not allowed to trespass on clan grounds!"
"Mmm, yes… Important citizens, true…" Kyubi agreed, its voice deepening again as it turned and began a long, slow circle of the Hokage. "But she is not so important, it seems, that her own family will not make a slave of her."
"Our family protects our family. Everyone has duties to the clan, and the clan has duties to everyone," Hiashi countered, but stopped when the Hokage held up a hand.
"She is still an important citizen, and you may not eat her. That is the deal and the contract." Minato's eyes bore into the laughing blue ones of what should have been his son.
Kyubi laughed, genuinely amused. "The old 'every citizen is important' argument already? Spare me your platitudes." He grinned. "Besides. I never said I wanted her to eat."
Hiashi made a strangled noise and would have lunged forward, but his guards had the presence of mind to grab and restrain him.
Kyubi laughed long and hard. "Ah hah hah! You humans are hilarious! As if I wanted to mate with some underage monkey."
Hiashi was able to calm down enough that his guards let him go, though they still watched him carefully. Their job, first and foremost, was to guard him, not his daughter, and even though the Kyubi clearly had no intention of attacking directly, even the Hokage himself couldn't save Hiashi if he attacked it first. It was well known for its love of baiting people into doing just that.
"No, my dear father…" Kyubi drawled. "I have made new deal. A deal with her. And none need fear for her in my presence. She is mine, and under my protection. Let none touch her who wish to live. I will leave her for now, though I will watch, and I will return when she first bloods." He stroked his cheek as he looked at her, an odd move for a human, then smiled once again. "As for the trespassing… Well, my business here is done, and the girl herself ordered me from these grounds."
Quick as a wink, the human form was gone and a normal sized fox, albeit one with nine tails, scampered away, only to pause beside a bush.
"You can ground me later, Daddy-sama," he taunted in a childish voice, then disappeared.
There was an immediate rush of quiet words and worried glances, her father talking to the Hokage, the Hokage listening carefully, and the guards spreading out to see if the demon truly had left.
Alone of the group, even as one retainer draped his happi coat around her nakedness and another found her clothes, Hanabi was relieved.
Her prayers had been answered.
There followed a period of questions. At first, all the adults who question her are scared, which they hide by being stern and angry. Then, as they realized that the Kyubi came to her because she did not want to be sealed into the branch family, the questions became more pointed. Disappointed. Cold.
The Hokage stopped and questioned her for a while. She'd met him before, of course, but this was the first time he'd ever really talked to her, or at least, asked her anything. She explained that she'd been out training, and Kyubi had appeared out of nowhere. She hadn't even known she was being watched.
"What did he promise you?" he asked.
Hanabi hesitated a moment. Truthfully, he hadn't directly promised her anything, merely claimed that he accepted the terms of her prayer, and her offer. Somehow, though, she knew that he'd understood everything. She told the Hokage.
"He promised freedom. That I would never be sealed as a branch Hyuga. That no one could ever trap me into a situation I did not wish to be in. That I would never be anyone's slave."
Minato nodded and looked serious. "But he didn't say that, specifically, did he?"
Hanabi nodded. "Yes, sir. It was as if he'd already knew what I wanted."
The Hokage looked grim and distant. "Yes, that's how he does it. As if he can see into your heart." He paused and shook his head before returning his attention to her. "What did you promise in return?"
"Anything," she whispered.
"And everything," Hanabi reluctantly added, fighting the urge to cringe under the man's disappointed stare. "I was desperate."
He sighed, nodded, then gently patted her on the shoulder.
"I know, Hanabi-chan. I know." He stood and prepared to leave, then stopped and turned around to look at her again. "Just, one thing."
"Yes, Hokage-sama?" she asked.
The man's blue eyes were hard.
"He can't read your mind or your heart. Not really."
"Still… he knows more than you would think, for all that. He's evil. He delights in carnage and suffering. Never underestimate him."
"Yes, Hokage-sama," she swore seriously.
But there was one more thing that weighed on her.
"Ano, Hokage-sama?" she asked quickly, before he left.
"Can I still be a ninja?"
He gave her an unreadable look which even her byakugan training couldn't decipher.
"…we'll see," was all he said.
Her father and her mother were next in line to sit down and have a talk with her.
Or, mostly a staring contest, at least after Hanabi, in short, concise sentences, explained why she'd been willing to make a deal with the Kyubi and the terms of the deal, basically repeating what she'd told the Hokage, who'd already talked with them.
Her mother frowned a lot and hugged her, radiating motherly concern and disappointed anger in roughly equal amounts. Worry, yes, worry for her daughter. But she was badly shocked that Hanabi would choose some nebulous freedom over duty to her family and clan.
Clearly, she felt as if a stranger had replaced her youngest daughter, someone she couldn't predict at all, and didn't trust in the least.
Her father was much harder to read, but, of course, as the leader of the clan and its strongest protector, he was much better at concealing his thoughts.
He gave her a short speech on responsibility and a few questions about 'do you understand the consequences of your actions?' that were obviously rote, with no real thought put into them.
She replied with appropriate answers, at least as much as she could think of 'right' answers to tell her parents, one of whom was also the leader of the clan she'd basically betrayed.
After an awkward period, they sent Hanabi to bed.
Her sister came in and cried at her for a while.
Hinata always was a soft heart. Hanabi loved her, but she'd never really respected her, and never been very warm to her, either. She was a rival. A rival who, despite being inferior in every way, had the stronger position simply because of a head start.
And she'd ultimately won.
Now, here she was, obviously not in possession of all the facts, crying and hugging Hanabi and telling her it would be okay. Hanabi let her, of course, sitting on her bed, upright, not blinking very often, as Hinata wrapped her arms around her shoulders and cried so much her neck felt wet even through the cloth of her shirt.
As if that helped.
As if that made Hanabi feel better.
Every now and then, she'd pat Hinata on the back and murmur something soothing and indistinct. It wasn't like she was a monster. She loved Hinata. It was impossible to work up even the smallest bit of hatred for someone so devastated by the thought that a monster was going to come take her away.
Unlike the rest of the family, who were upset because of the loss of face, or anger at Hanabi's rejection of them, Hinata was the only one that Hanabi knew for a fact thought of her first and her position in the family last.
There was something comforting about that.
But then Hinata blindsided her.
She said something that shook Hanabi to the core.
"Why didn't you come to me first?" Hinata asked, sniffling. "If you hated it so much that you would rather run away than be sealed, why didn't you come to me? I would have asked Father to pick you over me." She dabbed at her eyes. "For you, I would have insisted."
Hanabi turned to look at her, astonished.
"I know being sealed is a scary possibility," Hinata continued. "I've worried about it myself, especially since you were always so much better at our arts. But for you, I could have done it. I would gladly have chosen to be sealed than have you taken from us."
Hanabi sat there, stiff and unmoving for several minutes as Hinata looked at her, her pale eyes searching Hanabi's face for any trace of emotion, any clue as to what she was thinking.
Hinata was right, Hanabi realized. If Hanabi had told her that she couldn't stand the idea of being sealed into the branch family, Hinata would have insisted that Hanabi take her place. And… if Hinata had always been weaker, or at least, less talented and less determined, she did have the kind of strength that would have allowed her to survive the loss of prestige and position.
Hanabi did not. She knew she did not, that was why she'd promised anything and everything to the first power that could deliver her from her family.
Hinata saw it in her eyes as Hanabi finally realized that someone loved her so much that she would gladly have sacrificed everything she had just so Hanabi wouldn't have had to make a deal with a demon. She read every emotion, every thought as Hanabi's fragile control over her expression faltered.
And then, Hanabi crawled into Hinata's lap and cried for the last time.
They fell asleep together in the same bed, a memory that Hanabi would secretly cherish for the rest of her life.