Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. I would also like to give a huge shout-out to Francine Rivers for the inspiration of this story. This is a total rewrite that I've been working on for nearly three years, and I'm so, so happy to say that I am finally done. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Thank you.


"She was consumed by three simple things:
drink, despair, loneliness; and two more:
youth and beauty."

Charles Bukowski

prologue: gilded

The day Hyūga Hiashi had shown up at her home had been a dreary one. The sky was bruised a dark grey, the clouds swollen with rain as thunder and lightning choked and disturbed the air. He shook off water from a black umbrella before smoothly removing the patent-leather shoes from his feet. He was tall and broad, with shoulders that could support cities and a jaw that could cut glass. He had dark brown hair, sea-shell white skin, and eyes like slate pieces of smooth pebbles.

And Hinata had instantly loved him.

She had loved him with every fiber of her beating heart.

Her mother, a beautiful woman called Kanna, had thrown her arms around Hiashi as if he were a statue of solid gold, practically worshipping the ground his black acrylic socks touched. She kissed his face, his lips, his clothed chest—anywhere her mouth could reach—and Hiashi had allowed it, taking a hand through her black hair and letting her slump her weight against him.

Hinata swallowed as her mother grabbed either side of Hiashi's face, whispering words too soft to hear. Feeling ignored and slightly embarrassed, Hinata tugged on her mother's dress, and when she spun around to face her, her features turned anxious.

"Okaa-san," Hinata said quietly, and Hiashi did a double-take.

Kanna cleared her throat, hastily grabbing Hinata's hand and pulling her forward. "Hiashi," she said proudly. "I'd like you to meet Hinata. Your daughter. Our daughter."

Hiashi could only stare. There, standing directly in front of him, was a small child with his face. It was as if she were a carbon-copy of him; a stolen, cloned piece of his DNA, and he had never even known she'd existed. Their only obvious difference was the color of their hair; Hinata had her mother's curtain of black velvet.

She bit her lip and then politely bowed before she rammed her frame into his in a tight, desperate hug.

"I've waited twelve whole years to meet you…Otou-sama," she muttered. She looked up at him. He blinked when tears filled those pebble-grey eyes. "I-I missed you."

He turned his gaze to Okaa-san. She pretended not to notice that he was furious.

Hinata gasped when he separated them, holding her back at arm's length, his fingers splayed like the legs of a spider over her shoulder.

"O-Otou-sama?" she said, touching his wrist. He retracted his hand as if the tips of his fingers were ignited in invisible flames, and Hinata had never been more crushed.

"Hiashi!" Kanna screeched. "What are you doing?" She pulled Hinata into her the same time Hiashi took a hold of her hand.

"A moment," he seethed, yanking her away from their daughter.

Kanna threw an apologetic glance in Hinata's direction, but allowed him to lead her into the nearest bedroom, which happened to belong to Hinata. The door slammed closed, rattling the picture frames on the walls, and Hinata sucked back tears before she snuck to the door, leaning down and pressing her ear to the cool wood. At first, she heard nothing; just hushed, hurried whispers and the sounds of their pacing feet, but Hiashi must've said or done something rude, because Hinata could suddenly hear her mother crying.

And then neither one of them were being very quiet anymore.

"A child? Why didn't you tell me you'd had a child, Kanna? Are you that fucking stupid?"

"I was afraid to tell you. I'm so sorry, my love. Forgive me. I'm so sorry—"

"Do you realize just what you have done, Kanna? You've ruined everything."

"Why? Why does it have to be like this? You can grow to love her, Hiashi—"

"No! This was not our agreement. You would have your life and I would mine—"

"How could you say that? How could you say that when you've made me love you the way I do?"

"I have a wife, Kanna." Hinata's breath staggered. "What do you think is going to happen here? That I'm going to pack up and play house with you? Is that what you think?"

"No, Hiashi. I-I know you…have someone…but that does not make my daughter any less your flesh and blood—"

"Don't talk to me about flesh and blood, bitch."

Hinata placed her hands over her mouth to muffle a cry, her heartbeat erratic and unsteady. Who was this man? All of her life, her mother had weaved her this tale of a father who, when they met, would love her more than he loved himself; who would give her anything and everything at the drop of a hat. But the man in her bedroom was not who her mother had described. Not even a little bit. He was cruel. Cold. He was making her mother cry. Hinata felt sick. Ashamed. Fooled.

"Don't you dare speak to me like that," Okaa-san choked.

Hiashi scoffed. "You were my whore, Kanna. Do you not understand that?"

There was a gripping pause, and then Hinata jumped when she heard something akin to the sound of glass shattering. Hiashi cursed, Okaa-san screamed, and then the door was suddenly wrenched open and she went tumbling backwards on her bottom, looking up into the furious eyes of her father. Afraid he would hurt her, she scooted back against the wall, shaking with fear. Hiashi opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but then Okaa-san roughly shoved at his back, and Hinata had to roll out of the way so he wouldn't crash into her.

"Get out!" Okaa-san yelled. Her tan skin was flushed a dark red, her eyes—a color Hinata had never been sure of—swimming with rage and disappointment.

Hinata covered her head as Okaa-san threw another glass object at Hiashi that he easily ducked.

"I'm not going to tell you again," Okaa-san said. "Get out, Hiashi! Get out and never show your face here!"

Hiashi straightened, but what neither Okaa-san nor Hinata had expected was for him to lean down to where his daughter was curled in a ball on the floor and place a gentle hand against her head. She was too shocked to protest as he put his lips against her forehead, not in a kiss, but simply resting his mouth there as if he were trying to memorize the texture of her skin.

When he pulled away, he looked into her eyes and said, very softly, "I'm sorry I couldn't be your father. I truly am."

She reached for him, filled with a confusing mixture of hatred and adoration for a man she did not even know. "Otou-sama…"

"Hiashi!" Okaa-san said, running after him. He grabbed his black umbrella, halting Okaa-san with the tip of it when she got too close to him.

"Don't, Kanna. This is over."

"Hiashi, please don't do this," she sobbed. "Please don't—"

"Let me go, Kanna. Just let me go."

Let me go.

He then shoved his feet back into his shoes, not even bothering to properly pull them over his heels.

Okaa-san shook her head, her fingers knotting together under chin, but she said no more.

Hyūga Hiashi, in all of his glory, casted his child one more glance before he closed the door of their home and ripped himself from their lives. A few minutes passed in eerie silence, and Hinata had finally found the courage to voice her thoughts when Okaa-san fell to the floor in a crumpled heap.

"Okaa-san!" Hinata ran to her side, putting her mother's head in her lap and stroking the hair from her face. Okaa-san's strange eyes opened, and she gripped Hinata as if she would slip away.

"I'm sorry," she said, her voice shaking.

Hinata was crushed. Her father had been an enigma prior to their meeting, and his departure had left her more doubtful of the things her mother had told her than ever before. If she hadn't been truthful about such a huge chunk of her life, what else could she be hiding?

"Why d-did you lie t-to me, Okaa-san?" Hinata wanted to know. "Why does Otou-sama not love me?"

Okaa-san didn't have an answer. She just burst into tears.

Four weeks and three days had passed (Hinata had counted) since Hyūga Hiashi's brief—and very unpleasant—visit. Since then, Okaa-san had become inconsolable. She would not eat, her sleeping habits had become sporadic, and she could not so much as glance at her daughter without sobbing. For four weeks and three days, Hinata had borne the sole responsibility of keeping her mother alive. For four weeks and three days, they both suffered terrible losses. For Okaa-san, it was the love her life; the only man who had the ability to make her feel whole.

For Hinata, it was her childhood.

Eventually, Okaa-san began to notice the strain that her depression was putting on her child, and she'd contacted a woman by the name of Yuhi Kurenai to watch over Hinata until she could get back on her feet. The woman had been an on-and-off nanny of sorts for the better part of three years, but Okaa-san had doubled her bi-weekly pay in order for a live-in arrangement. Kurenai took Hinata to school, picked her up in the early afternoon, helped her with her homework, and prepared her dinner before she tucked her into bed each night.

Sometimes, if the sadness had weaned a bit from her bones, Okaa-san would come into Hinata's room to kiss her goodnight, but the occasion was rare. Okaa-san would have to be in a reasonably stable mood to do as much as shower. So when she came hurling into her daughter's room with pink in her cheeks and a wide, white grin etched on her face, Hinata almost covered herself with her sheets and screamed that there was an imposter in their home.

"Hinata!" she gasped breathlessly, throwing back the covers and settling herself next to the child. "Look, look, look! Look at what your father has sent me!" In her trembling hands, there was a large, white letter. She pressed it to her chest before sighing. "Hiashi truly is a good man. I knew he wouldn't really abandon me—us."

Hinata blinked. "Okaa-san—"

Her mother shoved the rose-scented envelope in her face before she could continue, making sure Hinata could see her name neatly scrawled on the front. "Isn't it beautiful, Hinata? Your father has always had so much class."

Hinata suddenly bolted from her bed and ran to the bathroom to vomit up the contents of her stomach. At the time she wasn't exactly sure what had made her so sick, but hearing the word "father" made her insides churn like a meat processer. Okaa-san ran to her daughter's aid, pulling the hair back from her forehead.

"Oh, my love, are you all right?" she whispered, helping her up to the sink. Okaa-san washed her mouth clean and kissed her forehead.

They walked back to the bed where Okaa-san lied her down and soothingly stroked her hair. Hinata nearly melted into her mother's hold, having been without her affection for weeks, but she was still so confused.

"Okaa-san," she started, but Okaa-san gently shushed her.

"Quiet, now, you obviously need to rest—"

"But, Okaa-san, why would Hi—Otou-sama send you a letter?" She felt that calling him Hiashi would hurt her mother's feelings.

Okaa-san's mouth lifted at one corner, but it was in a sad way. "Your father can be very hard to understand sometimes, but he does love us."

Hinata frowned at that explanation, her hands balling up in tight, sweaty fists at her sides. "But he you called you all those terrible names and—"

"Sometimes adults say things they don't mean, Hinata, you know that."

"Then how do you know he really loves us?"

Okaa-san looked extremely taken aback. The hurt that flashed in her eyes would've made Hinata cry in regret of her words had it not been for the anger that flooded them a few seconds later. "Do not question your mother," Okaa-san said fiercely, squeezing the letter in her hand until it crinkled under her grip.

Hinata carefully pulled herself from her mother's hold, sitting up and away from her. "I'm sorry, Okaa-san, b-b-but Hiashi—he's n-not very nice—"

"He has done everything for us!" Okaa-san said, her loud tone making Hinata's bottom lip quiver. Okaa-san never yelled at her. Never. "He's putting this roof over our heads, Hinata! He's the sole reason we have anything! He would die for us, I know he would!" Okaa-san was shaking, her voice strangled with tears as she gripped Hinata's hand. "You must always respect him," she said, much softer now. "I know…I know he seems a bit unkind, but he is so amazing, Hinata. He is everything I could ever hope to have." Okaa-san stared at the letter in her hands and rubbed the ink of her name.

Hinata gazed at her, mouth slightly agape. Despite being so young, she knew something was amiss with this picture. She had looked into Hiashi's face and seen no love in his eyes; she had wrapped her arms around him and felt no love in his touch. What sort of enchantment had he put over her mother to fool her so?

"I want to sleep," Hinata said, attempting to rid the bed of Okaa-san. For once, she wanted the woman nowhere near her.

Okaa-san nodded. "Okay. But your father is coming back in town this weekend, so make sure—"

"I don't want to see him!" Hinata suddenly shouted, violently shaking her head.


"No! I hate him!"

Okaa-san stood and grabbed her by her shoulders, slightly shaking her. "Take that back!" she screeched.



"I said no!"

Her mother slapped her. It wasn't painful, just extremely shocking, and for a few moments all mother and daughter could do was stare at the other in utter amazement. Okaa-san had her pale hands wrapped vice-like around her mouth, her strange-colored eyes bulged. "Sweetheart," she gasped, her voice choked with guilt. "I am so sorry. I'm so sorry! God, oh, God, I'm sorry! Oh, God. Baby, I love you, I'd never hurt you on purpose! I lo—"

"Okaa-san," Hinata said darkly. "Please. I just want to sleep."

"Oh, Hinata," Okaa-san whispered, reaching for her.

Hinata pushed her hands away when she tried to gently touch the dark pink mark spreading over her cheek. She couldn't look at her mother, burying herself under her covers and softly crying, soaking her pajamas with tears and blocking out her mother's sobbing, apologetic voice. After a few long minutes, Hinata felt the bed shift and she knew her mother had gotten up to leave the room, the letter still tightly in her grasp.

When Hinata had come home from school that following Friday, Okaa-san was gone. Hinata sighed as she took out homework from her backpack and placed it on the kitchen table, smiling when Kurenai sat down a plate a food and a cup of tea in front of her. Only after they had both worked through the take-home assignments and eaten did Kurenai break the tension of Okaa-san's well-noticed absence.

"She's doing a little shopping for your father's visit, is all," Kurenai said softly. "He'll be here later tonight."

Hinata swallowed thickly, her feelings hurt. Okaa-san had done nothing but sulk for weeks, forfeiting her motherly duties to Kurenai, but at the prospect of seeing Hyūga Hiashi again, she was back on her feet, acting as if the man had not completely derailed both of their lives.

"How long is Hiashi staying?" Hinata asked quietly. With Kurenai, she didn't have to act like her tongue was coated in sweetness and sugar. Hinata didn't like him. Kurenai didn't either.

She sighed, putting the dishes on the table in the sink for washing. "Just 'til Sunday."

Hinata didn't say anything, putting her head in her hands where she proceeded to pretend that her twelve-year-old heart had not completely shattered.

"Oh, Hinata," Kurenai said softly, placing a hand on the girl's head. "Hinata, your mother loves you."

"Yes," Hinata said, not in agreement, just signifying that she had heard her.

"Hinata, everything's going to be okay. You know what? Your mother asked me to take you on a little trip while your father is here. We're going to the beach! Just me and you, hon."

Hinata's head dipped even further. "N-Not Okaa-san?"

"Well, no, sweetie. Not this time."

"I don't want to go."

There was a very quick flash of something resembling pity that passed in the nanny's red eyes. "You don't have a choice."

They arrived at Kujūkuri Beach east of the Chiba prefecture with one bag for each of them. Next to the beach was the Kujūkuri Resort, a grand building the same color of the searing white sand. Isumi City of Chiba was very small compared to her hometown of Chiba City, Hinata noticed, when she woke up from her nap and glanced out the window of the car. There was nothing for miles except for ocean.

Kurenai didn't protest when Hinata grabbed her hand tightly as they walked to the entrance of the hotel. Though she was essentially a pre-teen, the girl had no sense of independence. Kurenai largely blamed her mother for that; Kanna had sheltered Hinata to the point of handicap.

"Don't be frightened," she told Hinata softly, giving her fingers a confirming squeeze.

Hinata looked up at her with wide eyes. "I'm fine," she insisted, but leaned further into Kurenai's side. She nearly trusted this woman more than she did her own mother. They checked in with the front desk, Kurenai smiling as the clerk handed her two silver key cards for entrance into their room. She passed one to Hinata, running a hand over her sleek black hair. Hinata smiled softly at the touch, thinking of Okaa-san, and she was quiet as they took an elevator to the fourth floor.

Once they arrived to their room, Kurenai hurriedly pushed the card into its slot, shoving open the door with an excitement Hinata had never seen in her before. She frowned, following her nanny inside when a loud shriek and the sound of their bags being dropped to the floor made her jump. She looked around the corner, her mouth parting slightly at the sight of Kurenai enfolded in the arms of a man she had never seen before. He was tall with skin the color of syrup. His hair was dark, sticking out at odd, wild angles. A lit cigarette hung from his mouth, the smoke clouding bright hazel eyes. Hinata stood by the frame of the door, flashbacks of her mother wrapped around Hyūga Hiashi suddenly picking at her brain.

Almost immediately, tears began to obscure her vision, but she fervently wiped her eyes, too embarrassed to cry.

"Oh, Hinata," Kurenai said suddenly, remembering she was there. She quickly looked from the man whose hand she was tightly holding to the little girl standing in front of them. "Hinata, this is Asuma," she introduced. "He's my boyfriend." Hinata wasn't completely sure if Kurenai noticed it, but at the word "boyfriend" Asuma's nose wrinkled in distaste.

"Close friends," he corrected in a voice laced with cigarette smoke. Hinata watched Kurenai's red eyes quickly go from vibrant and lively to sore and glassy.

"Y-Yes," she agreed, her smile strained. "Very close friends."

Asuma stared at Hinata with a concentrated look of curiousness, his head even cocking to one side. "Pretty thing," he said, taking the cigarette from his mouth and holding it out in front of him. Hinata stared at it fearfully. "Want a hit?" he asked.

"Asuma!" Kurenai whispered, snatching the offensive stick from his hand. "She's a child."

He grinned, his eyes still pinned on Hinata. "Don't make no difference to me." And when he gave her a wink that sent a spur of panic down the length of her spine, Hinata decided enough was enough. She looked to Kurenai for protection, for comfort, for anything, but the woman simply chewed on her bottom lip, the cigarette burning away in her hand.

"Well," she asked. "Do you…want a hit?"

Hinata's mouth dropped open, her eyes suddenly wet. She backed away closer to the door before tearing out of the hotel room, wiping tears from her cheeks and ignoring Kurenai's protest of, "Hinata, wait, don't go!"

Asuma shushed her, mumbling something about wanting privacy anyway, but Hinata didn't hear the rest as she slammed the door closed and sunk to her bottom on the hallway floor. She brought her legs to her chest and placed her face between her knees, crying quietly. She didn't understand why any of this was happening. Kurenai, her sweet nanny who was usually so attentive, was actually some floozy who couldn't stand up for herself. Her mother, usually so collected and rational, had obviously lost her mind. And, for some reason, her father was still trying to worm his way back into their lives. Why? What was the point?

She pulled her fingers through her hair in frustration and then got up from the floor, walking down the hall and to the elevator. As the doors opened and she stepped in, pressing the button for the lobby, she noticed that she had forgotten to grab the keycard to the room, and the realization that she was now locked out made her even angrier than she already was.

Biting her bottom lip until she felt the skin yield under her teeth, Hinata made her way into the lobby where she saw a vending machine in the far corner. She fingered the back pocket of her shorts, thanking God that she'd remembered to stuff money in them. She started walking hurriedly towards the machine, the prospect of something cool to drink in the sweltering heat making her mouth water, when suddenly there was a flash of blonde before her eyes and a loud smack as a body collided with hers.

"Oh, shit! Shit! Sorry, I didn't see you!"

Hinata had fallen on her back, her eyes squeezed tight as pain blossomed in the back of her skull. A hand grappled for hers, and when she was pulled to her feet, she had to put her hands on the person's shoulders to steady herself and get her vision to refocus.

"Hey, you okay?"

She looked up into the unblinking, worried eyes of a boy. Her face reddened. "I-I'm fine," she said, unlatching herself from him, but he held her forearms to keep her still.

"Your mouth is bleeding," he said, brows drawn tight together in genuine concern.

Hinata licked her bottom lip, tasting the coppery sting of her blood. "Oh," she mumbled hastily, wiping the drops of blood away. "No, that was my fault. I'd bitten my lip earlier is all, you didn't do that." She once more attempted to ease out of his hold, and this time he didn't stop her.

"You sure you're okay?" he asked once more. And then a sly grin took the shape of his mouth. "That was a pretty hard fall."

Despite herself, she smiled. "Yes, I'm fine. Thank you." And she didn't know why, but his kindness made her cry. Perhaps it was the fact that she felt trapped with strangers, or maybe it was because she was beginning to think her mother no longer wanted her. Whatever the reason, once she started, she couldn't stop, and the boy carefully pulled her closer again.

"Hey, what's wrong? What's wrong with you?" he asked softly. She shook her head. He wouldn't understand. She didn't even understand it herself.

"Don't cry," he said. "C'mon, crying never makes anything better. Just makes ya more upset."


"You don't have apologize. Here, c'mon, look at me. Look at me, okay?"

She did, her breath hitching. It was then that she took a moment to really evaluate him. He appeared slightly older than her, maybe fourteen or fifteen, with a head of hair that seemed to have been soaked in sunlight. He was tall, thin, and deeply tanned, his skin a few shades lighter than caramel. He had a charming smile and clear, bright, cobalt blue eyes. She swallowed nervously, uninhibitedly staring, but her breath had evened out and she was no longer leaking tears.

He grinned widely. "See? You're okay." He rubbed the rounds of her shoulders. "Just had to calm down a bit, yeah?"

Hinata nodded numbly, still entranced by him.

He smiled again, soft and gentle, before pushing her back to remove something from around his neck. Out of the front of his shirt came a shimmering cerulean jewel attached to a long, thin chain. He looked at it for a moment before he grabbed her wrist and opened her hand, dropping it into her palm. He then forced her shaking fingers to close around it. Hinata blinked repeatedly, her eyes brimming with a second round of tears.

"I-I can't take this," she said, opening her hand to study it. It was the most elegant piece of jewelry she'd ever seen, and probably very expensive. "This is yours," she pressed.

His eyes squinted in another smile. "No, it's not," he said matter-of-factly. "It's yours." She looked up at him, hesitant. "It has, uh, special powers," he pressed. "It'll protect you."

When she shook her head and tried to give it back to him, he placed both hands around hers, looking into her eyes with such determination that she turned a feverish shade of red.

"Just take it, all right? And stop crying." He touched her face to thumb away a tear. "Whatever you're upset about, it's gonna be okay. Promise."

Hinata opened her mouth to respond when the voice of a man rumbled through the lobby.

"Naruto! There you are, ya little shit! C'mon, we gotta go!"

The boy turned his head and growled, waving his fist in the air. "I'm comin', ya dirty old goddamn prick! Gimme a minute!" He turned back to Hinata and gently gave her cheek a pat.

"Naruto!" the man yelled again. Hinata looked over the boy's shoulder and saw who the voice belonged to: a very tall, much older fellow with an outrageous mane of bristling white hair. "Stop flirting and come on!"

The boy, Naruto, rolled his eyes and released Hinata, running back towards the man. Before he got too far from her, he turned around and waved his arms in the air, grinning all the while. "See ya 'round!" he said, and then received a slap to the back of his head form the older man for being late.


Hinata looked at the necklace glinting like a diamond against her skin before she pulled it over her head and dropped the blue pendant into the neck of her shirt.

When she returned to the room a few hours later, she had to carefully knock on the door for entrance. At once, Kurenai swung the door open, hurriedly ushering Hinata in, her voice thick with worry. "Where were you? Where did you go?" she asked, her hands on either side of the younger girl's face. Hinata shrugged, upset with herself that she had put her nanny at such a high level of concern. On the other hand, she was almost happy that Kurenai had allowed herself to become so flustered because surely that meant that Asuma was no longer around.

"I'm okay," she answered softly, looking around the room. "W-Where is…your boyfriend?"

Kurenai let out a puff of laughter. "He's not my boyfriend, remember? He's just this guy that… Oh, Hinata, babe. You wouldn't understand."

Hinata frowned. What the adults in her life didn't know was that she understood most things, like how Asuma was no-good and Kurenai was weak. But she didn't tell her that.

"So he's gone?" she asked, searching through her duffle bag for her pajamas.

"Well, no," Kurenai said nervously. "He's gone to get food. He should be back any second."

Hinata swallowed, holding her nightgown tight against her small frame. Kurenai gave her a sideways glance, and at the sight of tears in her red eyes, Hinata knew that she was ashamed.

When Asuma came back, he instructed that Hinata sleep in the bathtub so that he and Kurenai could share the one bed in the room. He quickly fashioned a sleeping quarter in the tub with blankets and pillows, watched Hinata when she climbed in, and then tossed the fast food he had picked up in her lap. She mumbled a quiet, "Thank you," unwrapping what he had given her and bringing it to her mouth when she noticed that he continued to stare. Her skin prickled at the intensity of his eyes, but she when she opened her mouth to call for Kurenai, he abruptly walked out the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

She sunk into the tub, her breath gushing out of her in relief before she threw the food into the trash bin under the sink, her stomach too clenched to eat.

Around three o'clock that next morning, Hinata heard Kurenai screaming, shortly followed by the distinctive sound of glass shattering. It tore her out of her sleep and when she heard the sound again, this time in sync with a slew of curse words from Kurenai, Hinata felt the stray pieces of glass stab straight into her heart.

Fearing that her nanny was in danger, she scrambled out of the bathtub, throwing the rumpled blankets off and running to the door. When her hand braced the knob, however, she hesitated, Kurenai and Asuma's shouting signaling that they were clearly fighting. Despite her fear that she would be reprimanded for intruding on such a heaty argument, she also knew that adults possessed the cruel tendency to seriously hurt one another, and Hinata desperately loved Kurenai.

Inhaling deeply through her nose, she pushed the bathroom door open, stepping out to cautiously examine the scene before her. Standing on the bed was a stark naked Kurenai, a small, glass vase in her hand. The remnants of two more were scattered haphazardly across the carpeted floor and, Asuma, who was barefoot, cursed as his feet cut into the jagged glass. Their screaming was so frantic, so angry that Hinata could barely register the words they were saying, but when Kurenai noticed her standing at the frame of the bathroom door, tears welled in her red eyes.

Hinata, startled, also found her eyes becoming wet.

Asuma, noticing that Kurenai had gone silent, turned his head to follow her gaze to Hinata. He swallowed, heat pooling in his belly, but Hinata was unaware of his intentions.

Kurenai, however, was not.

"Hey!" she said, recapturing his attention, and when he turned back around she threw the vase. She was aiming for his face, of course, but her arms were shaking and tears were obscuring her vision, so she only managed to clip his shoulder. The vase exploded in shimmering shards, a few pieces embedding their sharp ends into Asuma's skin.

"Get out, you sick fuck!" Kurenai screamed. "Get the fuck out!"

Hinata shrank back as Asuma once more turned to face her, but when Kurenai jumped off the bed and onto the floor, body braced with every intent to cause extensive bodily harm, Asuma straightened, calling her a rude name before he gathered a few articles of his clothing and his shoes and then exited the hotel room. There was a stillness that penetrated the air, suffocating and confusing, and after a few hollow moments Kurenai let out a pitiful sob, collapsing on the glass-covered carpet floor. Hinata immediately ran to her aid, careful to avoid any glass, and crouched down low by her side.

Kurenai was shaken and bruised, deep purple splotches blossoming over the curve of her collarbones and speckled along the indents of her breasts. There were handprints around her throat and nail marks on her face, and Hinata was too young to understand the severity of the situation. What she did understand was that Kurenai was hurt and needed her, and that was enough. Crying along with her, Hinata carefully touched her back, tracing the base of her spine.

"Did he beat y-you up?" she whispered, feeling Kurenai tremble. "W-What happened?" she pressed. "Are you o-okay?"

Kurenai simply reached out to hold her close, and amongst the glass, blood, and bruises, they both cried over things they did not understand.

They left Kujūkuri Beach a few hours later. Hinata did not ask Kurenai what she and Asuma had been fighting about; she thought it better that she didn't know.

But as they placed their bags in the car and climbed in, buckling seat belts and not speaking of the events of that early morning, Hinata sighed, realizing that she did not even get to touch the waters of the ocean.

When Hinata was returned to her mother, she was so overwhelmed with pure, childish joy that she cried. Okaa-san hugged her with arms that trembled, and when she looked into her daughter's eyes, Hinata noticed that there was still melancholy in her features. Hyūga Hiashi, it seemed, had come and gone once more, this time with no intent to ever return.

Okaa-san's heart, from that day forward, remained permanently broken.

Kurenai, dissatisfied with Kanna's recklessness and sick with herself for nearly putting Hinata in grave danger, quit her job as nanny. Hinata didn't understand why, couldn't imagine not having Kurenai in her life, but the decision was made, and on their last day together, sitting in Okaa-san's garden with tea, Kurenai told Hinata that she loved her very much.

Okaa-san sent her on her way, a cold look in her eyes as she bid her farewell. Hinata assumed that perhaps there was some sort of misunderstanding between the two because Okaa-san and Kurenai—now that she thought about it—had never really gotten along. Soon after Kurenai's departure, Okaa-san made it clear to Hinata that they were no longer going to be staying in their home. Hinata panicked, thinking that Hyūga Hiashi had somehow coerced her mother into moving in with him, but when she asked her mother where they would be going, Okaa-san said she didn't know.

"What?" Hinata asked softly.

Okaa-san was standing in the kitchen, slowly washing that day's dishes at the sink. She was sniffling, using soapy hands to wipe away stray tears. Hinata watched her, absorbed the image of her standing there: her long, silky black hair, cascading down her back like a waterfall of spilled ink, her pale skin, her nimble frame, and dark, hazy eyes. Hinata wondered, in that moment, if she would ever truly know who her mother was.

"Your father," she began, "just has so much to pay for right now, so much to do. He was keeping up with the payments on the house, but there's been some…complications."

Hinata looked away. She was the complication.

Okaa-san continued, "The house is in his name and since he's no longer paying, we have to leave."

"Leave," Hinata repeated softly. How could you let this happen? "And go…where?"

Okaa-san took a shuttering breath. "I don't know, my love. I just don't know."

And then she dried her hands, still quietly crying, and sat at the kitchen table. Hinata stood by her side, always loyal, always loving, and got on her knees, placing her chin on her mother's thigh. She stared up at her with wide, trusting eyes and Okaa-san could no longer contain her sorrow. She grabbed either side of Hinata's cool face, her tears staining her skin.

"You really do look like him. You look like Hiashi," she gasped, and then folded Hinata into her thin arms.

Hinata didn't cry. She was exhausted from crying. Instead, she simply turned her head to the side so that she couldn't look at her mother and closed Hiashi's grey eyes, put her hands over Hiashi's pointed ears, scrunched Hiashi's perfect nose, and felt his forehead tighten as well. But her lips. Her cherry-colored mouth stayed the same shape it had been in since that morning: pulled down into a frown.

She wasn't all Hiashi. Her mouth was Kanna's.

The rain pitter-pattered into the tin cups that she had placed under the roof to keep the floor from turning into a pond.

The sky was dark, swirling with the grey of an oncoming storm. Three years ago, it had been in much of the same state when Hyūga Hiashi had stepped over her threshold and smeared a curse across the expanse of her existence. She had not forgiven him. She never would.

At fifteen, she possessed a beauty almost lethal. She was all sharp cheeks and big eyes with an elegant brow and a full mouth. Her hips had swelled, her waist thinned, her chest suddenly heavy with the weight of breasts and a broken heart. Home now consisted of a small, wooden shack on a sandy beach next to a blue ocean with the woman who used to be her mother. After being kicked out of every hotel and temporary residence due to a severe lack of money, this is where they had ended up, and Hinata assumed that this is where they would both die.

The only reason they were even eating was thanks to a man Hinata had come to know only as Kenta. He and Okaa-san had formed a partnership of sorts: fishermen who would dock their boats on the nearby harbor would pay hourly visits to Okaa-san and Kenta would then receive seventy percent of whatever that particular visit had entailed. Hinata was always forced out of the room when her mother had company, and usually she would sit in the sand and watch the waves of a sea too filthy to swim in. When the fishermen had had their fill, they would return to their normal lives, making sure to let Hinata know they would come back whenever it was that she was up for business as well.

She never responded to their promises, simply gave them the coldest look she could muster and returned to the shack. She found herself immensely alone, and dedicated most of her time to collecting sea shells or window shopping in the neighboring village. She and Okaa-san had not spoken directly in weeks, usually relaying messages back and forth through Kenta, who had taken somewhat of a personal ownership of the two women. However, Hinata missed her mother, and as she positioned the tin cups to catch rain she decided it was probably time for them to talk.

"Okaa-san?" she said when she opened the door to the only bedroom. The name was sour on her tongue, almost foreign. Kanna would've sounded better leaving her lips.

Her mother was sitting up in bed, head cushioned against the pillows. Her skin was flushed a dark red with the onset of illness, and since she was sick, there was no money available. Sometimes Kenta would push her to still have company, even when she was coughing too badly to speak, but Okaa-san had become so frail and fragile that Hinata doubted Kenta would make her work.

She looked absolutely horrid. Her waist was abnormally thin and her scent was sickly. She breathed like someone was squeezing her lungs in an iron grip and her cheeks were puffy and swollen. If she tried to talk for a long period of time, she was reduced to a shaking, crying mess from the pain of hacking up phlegm and blood. There was a colorful collection of bruises along her arms and legs from the fishermen, and an even more colorful one on her face and neck from Kenta on the nights when he allowed sake to take all his problems away. And her eyes. Hinata could only describe them as completely hollow. Her mother was the very embodiment of death. Hinata swallowed hard and crawled into the bed next to her mother where she carefully wrapped herself around the older woman.

Okaa-san placed a hand against Hinata's head, threading her fingers through the silky length of hair. Hinata took a deep breath at the contact, nuzzling her face into her mother's chest.

"My lovely girl," Okaa-san said quietly.

"I'm here," Hinata said, looking up to stare into her mother's face. "I'm here, Okaa-san."

"I know you are, sweetheart. You've always been here for your foolish mother." Okaa-san's eyes brimmed with tears. "I'm so sorry, Hinata. For everything. I'm sorry."

"Stop, Okaa-san," Hinata said, the grip on her mother tightening. "You don't have to be sorry."

"But I do—"

"Please, Okaa-san," Hinata begged, and she pressed a long, hard kiss to her mother's sunken cheek. "Just hold me like you used to? Like when I was a little girl?"

Okaa-san smiled, touching the side of her daughter's face. "You're still my little girl. Forever and always, do you understand me?"

"Yes," Hinata said, and she couldn't help but to cry. Okaa-san opened her mouth to say something else, but a coughing fit took the words from her lips. Hinata hurried from the bed to fetch her a glass of water, bringing it to her lips and helping her drink the majority of it. Okaa-san thanked her, patting her hand gently against the dip of Hinata's collarbone. Her fingers traced the outline of the sapphire necklace that was dangling there.

"I've always loved this on you," Okaa-san commented. Flashes of blonde and blue echoed through Hinata's memory. "Where did you get it again?"

"I found it, remember?" Hinata said, cuddling up to her mother once again. "It was just…sitting in the sand."

The boy, Naruto, had been a secret between her and her heart. She had told no one of his existence.

Okaa-san nodded. "Yes, yes, that's right. Remember to not let Kenta see it. He'll try to pawn it."

Hinata then tucked the necklace into her shirt. She rewrapped her arms around her mother's waist, pressing her face into her side. After a few hours of quiet relaxation, Hinata fell asleep, and didn't get up until the next morning. When she peeled herself from her mother she rubbed the remnants of sleep from her eyes before gently patting Okaa-san's arm.

"Okaa-san," she yawned, blinking one eye to stare at the sunlight peeking through the holes in the roof. "It's morning. You have to wake up, Kenta will be here soon."

Okaa-san didn't budge.

Hinata sighed, this time shaking her a bit. "Okaa-san," she said. "Come on. Wake up." When there was still no movement, Hinata frowned. And then she realized exactly what was wrong.

Her mother had turned blue, her skin cold and frigid with the chill of death. Hinata studied her frozen features, both hands coming up to cover her mouth in absolute shock. She saw the way her forehead was creased and how her earlobes were a little big. She saw the awkwardness of her upturned, freckled nose and the way her hair fell in choppy cuts around her. She saw the weird slope of her chin and the too-pointed cheek bones, the deep clavicle and the pasty skin. She saw the short eyelashes and the wrinkled lids. And under them, she saw the strange colored eyes that no one had ever been able to name the color of. They were not brown, blue, green, hazel, or grey, and no mixture.

They were black. Solid, haunting black. And that was when Hinata noticed finally noticed it, her whole body shaking in disbelief.

Kanna had never really been that pretty.

Hinata went half-mad.

The screams she released should have had the entire world in panic, but her pain was confined within the walls of that tiny room. She screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed until her lungs felt raw. She was clutching at her mother, hauling her weight into her arms and cradling her dead body with such ferocity that for a moment she feared she'd broken Okaa-san's spine. She screamed into the empty space, and when she could no longer find the energy to open her mouth, she buried her head in the slope of her mother's bony shoulder and cried until Kenta came home about half an hour later.

He stepped into the room in his usual attire of jeans and T-shirt with a half-naked cartoon girl on it, and when he saw the scene in the bedroom he dropped both the bottle of liquor he was holding and the marijuana-filled joint that was resting between his teeth.

"What the fuck?" he whispered, pressing his palms into his forehead. "What the fuck happened? What the fuck happened, Hinata?"

She continued to bawl, frantically holding her mother against her at the sight of Kenta. With one hand buried in the stringy tuft of Okaa-san's black hair and the other wrapped around her thin back, Hinata protected her, breaking into a frenzied fit when Kenta attempted to pry the dead woman from her child's arms. Hinata was in complete, utter hysterics, desperately trying to stay on the bed, to stay with Okaa-san, but Kenta was much stronger than she. He hauled her to her feet before he pushed her to the ground, quickly straddling Okaa-san's body where his hands pressed against her neck, chest, and wrists for any inkling of a pulse.

Hinata continued to cry from her position on the floor, too exhausted to give Kenta a proper fight.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," he mumbled, removing himself from Okaa-san. Hinata watched with dazed eyes as he pulled the blankets on the bed over Okaa-san's face, and that was the last time she saw her mother. Kenta held out his hand for Hinata to take. "Get up."

No," she whispered. He sighed angrily before reaching down and yanking her entire weight until she was once again on her feet. His thick fingers wrapped around the base of her throat in silent, physical warning. Kenta had always been somewhat of a brute, but Hinata had trusted him because Okaa-san had said to. Now that Okaa-san was no more, Hinata had no obligation to Kenta. He, likewise, felt the same.

"I'm getting you out of here," he said, releasing her and then reaching under the bed where he pulled out a small, tattered backpack.

"And taking me where?" Hinata asked in a small voice.

Kenta began scourging around the room, throwing articles of clothing into the bag. After a few minutes, he shoved the backpack into Hinata's arms and then grabbed her hand, leading her outside where the sand burned her bare feet. Kenta trudged back into the house where he collected her only pair of shoes. He then removed the cover from Kanna's frozen body, reaching into her panties where there was a wad of money. He didn't cover her back up as he left the shack once more, pocketing the money before Hinata could see it. He threw the shoes at her, waiting a few seconds for her to pull them on, and then led them to the edge of the dock where a fishing boat was teetering calmly on the water.

Hinata profusely vomited once they were there, and as she threw up Kenta paid the fishermen to take them into the inner city, claiming Hinata was his niece and very ill. The fishing captain hurriedly agreed once money was presented in the situation, but getting Hinata to board the boat proved troublesome. She made her body dead weight, her form becoming so heavy that even Kenta—in his husky, muscled form—struggled to lift her from the dock. She was deluded to the point where she didn't protest when Kenta insisted that her hesitance was due to fear of the city, but the fishing captain seemed to have no qualms, the money in his possession keeping him empty of concern.

Hinata could only watch through teary eyes as they sailed away from the shore of her dirty little beach, leaving behind both her mother and a large chunk of her heart.

They were on the water for hours before she and Kenta were able to take a train to Tokyo, a place she had only ever dreamed of but never seen. The city was so grand, so full of millions of bustling bodies that Hinata figured she would be struck dead by a meteor before she saw the same face twice in that city. They found their way around easily, as Kenta seemed to be an expert on what made up the vital organs of the city. Eventually, they made it to their destination in Shinjuku, Tokyo, where Kenta took Hinata to small, rundown building littered with graffiti. At the entrance stood two men, and at the sight of the horde of traditional Japanese tattooing peeking out from the collars of the tailored suits they both wore, Hinata's breath stilled.

She had seen enough television as a child and heard enough of Kenta's gossip to know that those specific tattoo patterns were notorious symbols of the infamous, dangerous yakuza. And Kenta was leading her right to them.

Holding Kenta's hand for the first time since they'd met three years ago, she hid behind his massive form, her teeth and hands shaking in a fear so paralyzing that she was sure her legs were going to give out underneath her. Kenta exchanged a few hurried words with the men and then pulled Hinata in front of him, placing his hands against her face and turning her head from side to side for the yakuza to inspect her features, as if he were auctioning her for sale. The men stared at her for an eerie amount of time before allowing them through the door, and Hinata realized that something was terribly, terribly amiss.

Though the building from outside appeared derelict and nearly abandoned, the inside was gloriously intact. The walls were painted a deep, rich purple, the carpet a startling white of soft sheep skin. All the furniture had oak onyx finishing and colorful, expensive-looking paintings hung proudly against the walls. For a moment, Hinata thought she was silly for thinking that Kenta had put her in any real danger.

Until another man came from around a corner, a drink in his hand and a wide, terrifying smile on his lips.

His eyes were glued on Hinata, unwavering even as Kenta left her side to proceed to speak with him. Hinata blinked and looked away from him, though she strained her ears to catch pieces of their conversation. Being fifteen and highly aware of the evils of the world, it didn't take long for her to realize that Kenta had, indeed, intended to sell her. He had set an incredibly outrageous price, it appeared, because the man with the smile and the drink suddenly turned his eyes away and looked at Kenta with a look of pure astonishment. Noticing his fault, Kenta tried to lower the price, but the man simply smiled again and slid his eyes back towards Hinata. However, he was no longer looking at her, but slightly above her head.

She slowly turned to see the two yakuza henchmen standing behind her, and suddenly the man took a loud slurp of his drink before he snapped his fingers. Kenta paled, and even as he raced to get away from the two men, there was no hope. One of them lassoed him to the impeccably white carpet with a thick black cord, yanking his overweight form across the floor until the pressure from the cord snapped his neck. The other branded leather gloves and removed a switch blade from his suit pocket.

Nearly see-through with terror, Hinata started to scream.

"Take him out of here, gentlemen," the man with the drink said. He finished the last bit of what was in the glass and placed it on the nearest table. "And clean up the mess, will you?"

Hinata collapsed to her knees, the weight of all the events of that day becoming too much to bare. She found that her eyes were so dry and tired that they could not even seem to produce tears. The man sighed almost longingly as he watched Kenta's body be dragged into another room, but it only held his attention for a brief moment. He slowly walked up to her, crouching low to her level and tilting her chin up so that their eyes would meet. While hers had melted into a dull, hazy grey, his were such a sharp yellow that her skin prickled in goose flesh.

"Welcome, my dear, to the Snake Room. I'm Orochimaru." He was charming in the way that wild animals were; striking from afar, but deadly up close. His voice was an airy, harsh whisper, and when he touched either side of her face, Hinata noticed he was so pale he was tinging on ash. Long black hair flowed down the length of his back, thin and silky, and he seemed almost entranced by Hinata as he trailed those piercing eyes over every inch of her face and body. Finally, realizing that she was exceptionally doomed, Hinata's tear ducts reactivated and she began to cry.

"Oh, no, no, no, none of that now, love," Orochimaru shushed gently. He left her on the floor for a moment to retrieve a flower from an elaborately decorated vase, leaning back down to push it into her trembling hand. It was beautiful, soft petals of startling white and purple sitting against her skin, but she furiously shook her head, giving it back to him.

His eyebrows rose. "Don't you want it?"

"No," she cried. "I-I want to go home. I-I-I want m-my mother."

He nodded in understanding, taking the flower away. "This is hanashōbu, do you know? The Japanese iris. Very exquisite, you see. Very beautiful."

"Please," she whined louder. "Please let me go home!" His indifference was making her so distressed that she was becoming inconsolable. Her crying increased in volume, so penetrating that it seemed as if the walls had begun to vibrate. Orochimaru crushed the iris in his fist, the ruined petals falling next to Hinata's leg. He suddenly became very violent, pulling her by the ankles until her body fell back and slid towards him. Hinata, startled beyond belief, immediately fought back.

"What are you—? Don't touch me! I said don't touch me!" She aimed a kick at his pelvis but he straddled her hips, pinning her arms down by her sides. When she protested again—very loudly—he slapped her across the face. The impact made her dizzy. It made her go limp. It made her give up.

"You and I are about to be properly acquainted," Orochimaru said from above her, unbuttoning the dress shirt he was wearing. He grabbed her face, his eyes softening. "You, my dear, are an angel." He braced both hands at her thin cotton dress and tore it open. "That's fitting, is it not? You'll be my little angel. My little tenshi."

And there, on the white sheepskin carpet where many a girl had gone to die, Hyūga Hinata gazed up towards the ceiling, tears rolling out of the corners of her eyes. Next to her head, the petals of the Japanese iris had already begun to brown, it, too, stained by the hands of Orochimaru.