A/N: If anyone wants to argue with me that Hiashi is out of character here, go for it. I'm ready for you.
I've had this sitting on a drive that I lost for like...ever. Then, yesterday, I found it. Did some minor editing and wrote the last couple of paragraphs today.
On that note, I'm throwing an OC in here. And giving Hiashi and Hizashi's father a name. If you don't like OCs well…sorry. They are necessary to fill things out.
Title comes from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It isn't actually about twins, but close enough. To save you the trouble of looking it up, it goes "…So we grew together/ Like to a double cherry, seeming parted/ But yet a union in partition, / Two lovely berries molded on one stem."
Curry of Love
Neji was all up for a good laugh every now and then, despite popular belief, but really enough was enough. If his obnoxious cousins, Daiki and Kin, thought they could get away with gluing all of his weapons to the table they'd been drying on, they had another thing coming. His retaliation, however, would not come in the form of something they could so easily dismiss, oh no. He was going to make absolutely sure that his Uncle put them on babysitting duty for a month. No, two. Two different months, so they wouldn't be together to plot. That sounded like the best idea.
With thoughts of his brilliant revenge distracting him, it wasn't until he turned down the hallway to his Uncle's office that he heard the raised voices. Neji knew, of course, that he should walk away. If someone was arguing with his uncle it really wasn't any of his business. In fact, it would probably be the safest thing for him to turn tail and head back the way he came.
"It's been almost ten years now, Hiashi." It was his grandfather, Hinoiri, speaking, and Neji picked up his pace. His grandfather put the purity of the Hyuuga line above almost all else, and was one of the loudest voices against integrating the two houses. "It's time to let Hizashi go. He wouldn't want you to live like this."
At the mention of his father's name, Neji froze, his heart suddenly ringing in his ears with fury. It had taken a while, but he'd finally gotten some of the people who had been there that night to confirm what the note told him. Even fill in some of the details. He knew now that it been his grandfather that suggested the body trade, against Hiashi's wishes. That he'd been so willing to trade one son for the other, with no remorse, and have the gall to say his name now made Neji's blood roar.
Apparently, he wasn't the only one to feel this way. "Don't you speak of him like you knew him at all." Hiashi's voice had a low, deadly quality to it that Neji could never remember having heard before. Not even when he'd been using the seal on his father—an event Neji found even more confusing now than he had in the past. There was something about his Uncle's voice that made it clear that if this conversation continued, someone would die. Frightening as that was, Neji found himself creeping closer instead of away, and slowly he peeked through the crack in the door, unwilling to activate his Byakugan and risk discovery with the chakra spike.
Hiashi was standing behind his desk, head held as high as ever and back just as straight. His anger was visible, however, in the way his fists were clenched on the desk's smooth top, and the firm set of his jaw.
Hinoiri was standing across from him, a diminished form when compared to the imposing figure his uncle created, with his dark hair now a dull grey and his eyes completely white. He'd retired from clan head once he lost his sight.
Much to Neji's surprise, there was also the large girth of his great uncle Hotaru, making his grandfather look even smaller. Hotaru was his grandfather's cousin, and had been the heir before he'd voluntarily given up the position and Hinoiri had taken his place. Easily in his seventies now, Hotaru had been forced into retirement by an injury to his leg that had decreased his mobility greatly, but not his appetite. He was the largest Hyuuga that Neji had ever seen—easily three or four times as wide as Neji himself was. How he fit through the compound doors was a mystery the young Hyuuga genius had resigned himself to never figuring out.
Hotaru's face was kind, but his voice stern, as he stepped forward. "Hiashi, we know you miss him. We all do, but you can't…"
"Do not tell me what I can and cannot do." Even from here, Neji could see his uncle's finger nails digging into his palms. "I am the head of the clan. I am the law here."
"They're mirrors," Hotaru continued, gesturing around him vaguely at the bare white walls. "I know we can see three hundred and fifty-nine degrees, but is that really justification for making it so no one in the whole compound can see themselves?"
That gave Neji something to contemplate in the ensuing silence. He hadn't ever really thought much about the absence of mirrors in the Hyuuga compound. As much as TenTen liked to tease him about the pride he took in his appearance, he really didn't care too much for looking at himself, and so he'd never really missed having a mirror around at home. Besides, he spent as little time in the compound as possible, so it's not like it affected him much.
Now that he thought about it, though, it seemed odd. He couldn't remember there ever being mirrors anywhere in the house. Not just mirrors, really, but any surface that was reflective. No shiny metals or glass at all aside from the windows—most of which were often kept shut. The only thing that came to mind was the koi pond in the gardens, and he'd never once seen his uncle out there even though Hinata and Hanabi spent most of their free time in them.
How had he not noticed this before?
"I've tolerated this nonsense for a decade," Hinoiri said gruffly, tapping his walking stick on the ground as if that would give him a return the authority he'd given up years ago. "I understand you miss him, but I insist this childish behavior stop now."
Neji shivered slightly as the temperature of the very air around him dropped into the icy range. "Do not pretend to me, Father, that you understand. You never have and cannot. It was you who insisted on placing Hizashi in the branch family. You who always emphasized the difference between us. You who came up with the ludicrous idea…"
"I told you then," his grandfather's tone matched his uncle's in loathing, "that is the Hyuuga destiny. That is why we have the branch house."
"It should have been me, we both know that. You could have killed me and removed my eyes yourself, for all it mattered. It was my mistake to pay for, not Hizashi's."
The regret and genuine sorrow in his uncle's voice made it suddenly difficult for Neji to remember how to breathe. He knew that pain. Knew the deep longing ache for what you wanted more than you wanted your heart to keep beating the next minute. Something, anything, to make the sick cold emptiness inside go away, if only for a moment.
That feeling he got every time he went to the Hyuuga shrine, knowing his father's ashes were not there among the ancestors. When he walked into the empty family quarters where he lived, and watching the parents of other children pick them up after school, kiss their bruises and cheer their accomplishments.
When he watched Lee and Guy-sensei together, laughing about some shared joke between them that only they understood.
How had he not noticed that same ache in his uncle before?
"I know it's hard to loose a sibling," Hotaru, ever the peace maker, said softly, "and I remember how close you and Hizashi were as children. It can't be easy for you, but it's been so long. They are just mirrors, and it's not like we're asking you to put one in here. Just to allow them again."
Hiashi raised an eyebrow in a look Neji was all too familiar with giving others. "And if I refuse?"
Neji watched his grandfather pull out a scroll and, with a strangled noise of frustration and a puff of smoke, a large mirror appeared in his hand. He watched as his grandfather placed it down on the desk so that Hiashi's reflection would be staring back up at him. It was fascinating to see how white his Uncle's face turned. "Hizashi is gone, and sooner or later you must accept this and move on."
Somehow the air around him seemed to weigh more than it had before, and Neji backed up a little to the room across the hall. It was empty this time of day, and he adjusted the door so it would hide him without blocking his view while whatever happened next unfolded. All he knew was that he didn't want to be visible while it did.
"Get out of my office," Hiashi's voice was quiet and hollow, echoing oddly in the corridor between them, "or I will have you both execute for planning to overthrow the clan."
Stunned silence, and then Hotaru spoke, voice less confident than before. "Hiashi, you can't be serious. This is a trivial matter…"
"My brother's death will never be a trivial matter." Hiashi's yell startled Neji enough that he winced. No matter the trouble he had caused the clan, this was the first time the young Hyuuga could ever remember his Uncle losing so much control. "The suffering I caused him will never be forgotten. The mirrors will remain down. Get out of my office."
"Hiashi," his grandfather tried again, stepping forward. Neji saw what was going to happen seconds before it did, but wasn't sure how to stop it. All he could think to do was stare, open mouthed, as Hiashi snatched the mirror from his desk and threw it between the two old men like a shuriken. It missed them both by millimeters, shattering into a hundred deadly shards as it hit the door.
In probably the first wise move Neji had witnessed, the two elders retreated from the room with low bows. As their footsteps faded into the maze of the house, Neji watched, transfixed, his uncle step out from behind his desk and drop to his knees among the shattered glass.
With trembling hands, the older Hyuuga began to pick up the shattered fragments of the mirror, collecting the large ones in a pile on his hand. To Neji's horror, he could see tears as fragile as the glass in his hands leaving small broken trails on his Uncle's face. There weren't many of them, but their very existence was upsetting enough.
"I'm sorry, Hizashi." It wasn't a sob, but there was a distinctly fractured feel to his Uncle's voice. "I am always sorry, for all of it."
He shouldn't be watching this. Neji knew it was an intensely private moment for his Uncle, and his very presence just felt wrong. The thing was, he couldn't bring himself to leave, either.
How many times had he dreamt of scaring his uncle in some way, changing his face, so he wouldn't see his father staring back at him every time the older man looked his way? How often had he wished his death and ruin because that was his brother and he never seemed to care a bit that he was gone? That he never showed any emotion about it, and had not even attended Hizashi's funeral?
This was someone that was hurting as much as Neji ever had. The grief, still raw and bleeding, was evident in every move and every stray tear that managed to squeak passed now that he thought no one was watching. And Neji wondered; had his Uncle ever wanted to change Neji's own face, so he would look less like what he had lost? Had he ever resented the fact that Neji could display his hurt so openly, while he had to maintain what had cost him most dear?
Small droplets of blood splashed against the floor, tiny rivers forming from small cuts his Uncle didn't seem inclined to acknowledge. They weren't much, or life threatening, but Neji knew they must sting anyway. Altogether, Hizashi was quite a pitiable sight. Such a far cry from the terror of Neji's childhood, and the powerful leader he was revered as.
Right now, it seemed to Neji, he was just a lonely and broken man.
Stealing himself for any possible reaction to what he was about to do—up to an including his possible death for so far overstepping his bounds—the fourteen-year-old stepped forward silently until he was standing in front of his Uncle. Neji could see himself, looking just a little pale, reflected in his Uncle's eyes as he knelt down and picked up a few pieces of the shattered mirror too.
"I'll help you."