He died, leaving behind two unsealed daughters. The Hyuuga leader did not die an old man, he had been forty, in the prime of his life. Maybe that was the reason he had not picked an heir, maybe he thought he still had enough time to decide. He had stopped calling his eldest daughter weak, but his peers heard him acknowledge that she was different. Perhaps unfit. His youngest daughter possessed the natural talent of a main house member, she was skilled in a way he could easily identify. She reminded him of himself. Then there was Neji, the unexpected prodigy. Hiashi was only one man, he could not change the order of things by himself.
'The Main House consists of the leader, the heir and its permanent members. The permanent members can never be heir. Their children will never be sealed. They will never be in a subservient position to main house members. The only ones they have to answer to is the leader and the council. They can enter the council when they have reached the rank of jounin, where they can vote on matters concerning the governing of the clan. However, it is the leader that ultimately decides. Although it is not often that he goes against the majority vote. Only in matters of war and marriage, it is strictly the majority vote of the council that decides. Also, if the leader dies without leaving behind a living heir, it is the majority vote of the council that chooses the next Hyuuga leader from amongst themselves.'
Hinata took a small pause and then continued to explain to her teammates.
'The Branch House consists of a leader and its permanent members. The leader is the oldest of the sealed offspring of the clan leader. For in the Main House, there can be only one heir.
If the current clan leader has no sealed offspring, the firstborn of the current branch house leader will be its heir. Right now, Neji is leader of the Branch House. Either me or Hanabi will replace him after the council has decided who will be heir.' Hinata was crying now. Her shoulders never shook, her voice never broke, she did not sniff. The only thing that betrayed her feelings were the tears that silently trickled down her face. 'The last leader left behind two living offspring, none of them sealed. It is now for the council to decide who will be sealed and who will be heir. I should be heir, since I am my father's oldest child. But he has not sealed Hanabi. The council says it must mean he meant for her to be heir. Since everyone knows I am weak…
They will send me to the branch house.'
'No, Hinata!', Kiba said, 'They wont! You're not weak. You're the strongest person I know. Why would they choose that little girl over you.'
Hinata shrugged. 'Maybe because she's just a kid, easily manipulated, or maybe simply because she's strong and it goes against the Hyuuga pride to have a weak leader.'
Hinata stood up from her sitting position under the great oak tree of the training grounds. She wiped her tears from her face and smiled at her team mates 'I appreciate your concern, Kiba, Shino. It reminds me that whatever happens, I will always have true friends. But you shouldn't worry, I will be fine.'
'Hinata-sama', she turned around to see Neji walking towards her.
'I have a plan', he whispered in her ear.
'Leave the clan?', Hinata was dumbfounded. 'B-but how?' Her stutter betrayed her nervousness. 'Before they have a chance to seal you, you should leave the clan on your own volition.', Neji explained. 'The Branch House members, are sealed at three years old, we never really had a choice. But you have, Hinata-sama. If you are no longer part of clan, they have no say over you.'
'I will no longer be clan? But…to leave everything behind. My family…you?'
Neji sighed, 'Your parents are dead Hinata-sama and the clan has never been good to you. Hinata, you will not be happy among the branched. Don't you see? There's a reason why those of the Branch are sealed at a young age, they are forced into their position with no means to get out of it. If I should ever leave the clan, they would hunt me down and kill me. For all my skill, I will be like a child when they activate my seal. I would not even be able to defend myself against a genin if he knows the hand signs to activate my curse seal. Hinata…maybe this is why your father never had one of you sealed. To leave you...a means to escape.'
'But onii-san, they would not let me leave! The council is too proud for that!'
A flash went through Neji's eyes. 'Their pride be damned. They cannot want, what they don't really want anyway. They can't have you, to simply throw you aside. Besides, I would like to see them defy the Hokage over this.'
Tears trickled down Hinata's face again. 'You would go that far? For me?', she whispered.
'And what about Hanabi?'
'I will protect her with my life as the leader of the Branch.'
Neji stood up and pulled Hinata up with him. Her teammates had left when Neji showed up at the clearing. That was now over an hour ago. She had cried in Neji's arms and he had waited for her to calm down before he told her his plan.
'We must go to the Hokage with this, ', Neji said, 'Right now. It must happen tonight.'
Neji practically carried her to the Hokage Tower, pulling her along, holding her waist. He carried her up the stairs and Shizune let them into the office without a word. Tsunade was standing as they entered the office.
'I've been expecting you', she said.
Neji seemed a bit taken a back by this statement, but took it in stride. 'Hokage-sama, Hinata wishes to leave the clan and she needs your back-up when she does.'
Tsunade reached for the hidden bottle of sake in her desk that everybody knew about anyway and took a big sip. She ignored Neji and focused her attention on Hinata who was hanging limp against Neji's side.
'Hinata', she said, 'What is it that you want?'
'She…', Neji began, but the Gondaime stopped him by holding up her hand . 'Hinata, tell me, what is it that you want.'
Hinata who had been avoiding the Hokage's gaze was trying to pull herself together. 'I…I…'
'I can guess the reason why Neji brought you here. If you are not sure that it is what you want, in fact if you don't know what you want, I cannot help you. If you stand before the council, and state your intention, you must do so with a will and presence that is entirely your own. If you can do that, I will be able to support you effectively. However, I cannot help you if you are swayed by their show of force, pride and arrogance. You know I cannot interfere in clan matters and if you choose to be part of clan I can't save you from the seal. To leave ones clan is a huge decision. A tough decision. Even harder now, that your father is dead. But if you do wish to do it, if you want to leave your clan and if you transfer the loyalty you had for the Hyuuga clan to me, then by the Will of Fire, I will not let them touch you.'
Hinata's mind was in turmoil after listening to the Hokage's words. No longer clan, she thought, if I am not Hyuuga, then what will I be? Simply a ninja of the Leaf. No longer heir or branch or seal. Simply me. Hyuuga Hinata. Or just… Hinata? But…I will be free…
She was no longer leaning against Neji, she stood on her own now. Her eyes were fixed on the Hokage. 'I want to leave the Hyuuga clan.'
'Let's go then.'
Tsunade, Hinata and Neji left the Hokage building via the rooftops. They were heading towards the Hyuuga compound swiftly. Neji noted that Hinata's face had the same look of determination she carried when she first fought him. It was a look that infuriated him back then, it infuriated him because he had known she had a right to wear it and he had known he could not beat it off her face. Hinata was proud in her own way. He smiled when he thought about the blow she would deal the council with her announcement. This is the beginning, he thought, we will all have our revenge through her.
'Neji', Tsunade said, 'the council meeting starts fifteen minutes from now, doesn't it?'
'You cannot enter with Hinata and I. You must go to the Branch and act as if you don't know what is up.'
Neji wore the same emotionless expression he always wore, but there was a glint in his eyes when he nodded at Hinata before he went his own way.
It was only Hinata and the Fifth now. In normal circumstances Hinata would be nervous for being alone with the village leader, but now she could only think off her goal, her means of escape, her quest for a measure of peace in her life.
'Hokage-sama, they will decide today on who should lead the Hyuuga clan. I must make my move before the meeting starts. I…I shall enter…and you will follow me and I will make my announcement.'
The Hokage smiled. 'That's the plan.'
'What if…what if they don't want me to leave?'
'Then that's their problem. Don't worry Hinata, It's your announcement, but I will back you up'
'What about Hanabi? She's…so young.'
Tsunade sighed and a look of sadness crossed her features. 'You know they would never make you heir, but not because you're weak, though that's what they would like you to believe. They would have you caged and your little sister as a puppet. This is a chance for them to hold the power of the clan within their own hands, to twist her mind to do their bidding. Unfortunately, there's not much I can do about that. But I can't let them have their way completely. Your father was a harsh man, but a strong leader. Under him, the council had little effective power. A lesser man would have had one of you sealed by now. Hanabi is only thirteen, though a very talented shinobi. You must be strong, they will most likely try to keep her away from you. All we can do right now is have faith in Neji as her personal protector and in those among the Hyuuga council that held your father in high esteem.'
'I will find a way,' Hinata said more to herself than to the Gondaime, 'I will find a way to change Hyuuga, even though I won't be one anymore.'
The guards at the main entrance of the compound let them enter without showing a hint of surprise. Typically Hyuuga. Hinata knew their face would have the same stoic expression if Lee and Gai sensei would perform the dance of youth, which they had actually done in the past. It used to be a game among the youth of Konoha, to try and change the facial expression of the Hyuuga guards. It is said it only happened once thirty-two years ago. When a young Uchiha Fugaku burned the Hyuuga crest, that was then painted on a wooden frame above the gate, with his grand fire ball jutsu. While hollering the Hyuuga were wussies and then taking off to run for his life. He did it on a dare of course.
It was said the guards raised their eyebrows in disdain, dosed the fire and then took off to chase the Uchiha heir. They did not take well such a direct insult to their pride.
Naturally, there was no one guarding the council hall. It was filled with high ranking ninja who all possessed 360 degrees vision. Hinata waited until she heard the most senior of the Anbu ranked open the meeting, before she entered with Tsunade following her.
The room fell silent upon her entrance. She was met with cold emotionless eyes that were trying to gauge her reasons for boldly interrupting. They were also perhaps more cautious because she was trailed by the Hokage. Above all things the Hyuuga loved order and respected power. The chairman patiently waited until Hinata reached the middle of the hall. There were a total of 324 men and women. It was unsettling to notice that despite that number, all that could be heard were Hinata's and Tsunade's footsteps as they walked to the centre of the dome shaped hall.
'Hokage-sama', the chairman said, completely ignoring Hinata, 'why are you interrupting our clan meeting.'
'She is not', Hinata stated calmly, 'I am.' The chairman who refused to acknowledge her existence before, now looked straight at her.
'Then why is she here?'
'Because I wanted her to.' A short silence followed and Hinata could tell Hideoshi was already calculating several moves ahead for this game of words. She was not adept in the game of the council, she was determined to get her message across as bluntly as possible.
'What do you want Hinata? You want to force us, to make you heir? Surely, you must realize how ludicrous that is. '
'I want no such thing, Hideoshi. Not at all. That would be ludicrous.'
Hideoshi was surprised. He wasn't used to seeing Hinata without her shaking and stuttering with nervousness. In fact, she had never ever looked at him with such a straight gaze. He would be cautious around this Hinata he did not know. He would certainly be cautious around the Hokage, though she had no business being here at this turning point in the Hyuuga clan.
'What is it that you want, Hinata.', he repeated the question.
The question brought her back to the Hokage Tower where Tsunade had asked her the same.
She answered the same as she did then.
'I want to leave the Hyuuga clan.'
It was then that the hall started to buzz like any other council hall. No one had ever left the clan. Hideoshi stared at the young woman with a shocked expression. He had expected a plea to stay free from the seal, never this. The Hyuuga were the most powerful clan in Konoha, and anyone leaving from such a clan was unheard of.
'Leave the clan?' Hideoshi said when the members of the council had resumed their silence.
'You cannot! It is your duty to take your place in the Branch House. We all know you are weak. Since you are of no use to us, we must at least make sure no one will steal the Byakugan's secrets through your weakness. Have you forgotten about your abduction and how it cost a Hyuuga life. Do you want such a thing to happen again?'
Hyuuga were master observers and Hideoshi noticed that Hinata was less steady in her resolve after hearing his words.
'You owe it to that sacrifice to take your place and fulfill your duty.', he continued.
It was Neji who urged me to take this step, I owe it to him to go through with this.
'I…I…w-will not be part of the Hyuuga clan anymore from now on.'
Hideoshi sighed, 'Look at you Hinata, you are young and weak. You can't even speak properly. How will you be able to cope without your clan, your blood to look after you. You need us, Hinata. We all have a duty and a task, we all have the honor of our clan to uphold. Your father is dead, stop acting like a child and do what he meant for you to do. It is time for you to take up your responsibilities as the leader of the Branch House.'
Hinata was shaking now, 'B-but…'
Such a pathetic little creature, Hideoshi thought before he delivered his deathblow. 'But you know what, Hinata, if you truly want to leave , you can go. We will find you an apartment in the town. You could live there and not bother your pretty little head with clan matters. Of course we will have to put the Seal on you first.' His words had the exact opposite effect he intended, instead of turning meek and compliant, Hinata got angry. Really, really angry.
'No!', she yelled. 'No! No! You will not put the seal on me! I am no longer part of the Hyuuga clan. I forfeit all my rights and duties! You have no say over me anymore! I am no longer clan!'
'We cannot let that happen.', Hideoshi said coldly.
'Oh but you can ', Tsunade said. 'You have all heard Hyuuga Hinata's words just now. She is no longer part of the Hyuuga clan. As a shinobi of Konoha, she answers only to me. If the threat of death or injury should follow Hyuuga Hinata from the moment she leaves this clan house, I will dispel it with my own hands. If any of you dare touch this girl, I will have you dealt with.'
This was a direct insult to the clan and Tsunade knew it. Perhaps a mistake, but it was time the Hyuuga were reminded of their place. '
'You put her up to this', Hideoshi said with deceptive calm. 'The Hokage cannot interfere in clan matters, you are not above the law.'
'Of course I'm not', Tsunade agreed, 'and Hinata is no longer a clan matter.'
'Hinata', Hideoshi warned, 'you will regret this.'
Hinata didn't answer, she simply turned to leave. 'Do not longer use the name Hyuuga,', Hideoshi's voice trailed after her, 'you shame us.'
'My name has always been mine. Not even the one who gave it to me can take it back, he is dead now. I am Hyuuga Hinata and I am not clan.'
Tsunade was impressed. The girl has grown a lot, she thought, and she'll only grow stronger.
Hinata didn't move towards the exit though. She went straight to Hanabi's room. She was afraid this would be the last chance in a long time to speak to her without restrictions. She needed to explain, she had to tell Hanabi she didn't abandon her, that she would always love her.
Hanabi wasn't there. There was the bear on her bed that Hanabi had begun to consider a toy for 'stupid babies', even though she seemingly wasn't ready yet to give it up. There was the kunai Hinata gave her when she graduated from the academy, hanging from a nail in the wall. A photograph of the mother Hanabi never knew, next to a picture of her team on the desk. A hairbrush was lying on the ground, complete with wisps of Hanabi's brown hair that resembled Neji's and Hiashi's so much. Where could the girl be at 8 pm?
'We must go now, Hinata', Tsunade said. 'I have a feeling you will not find her here. You will find another way to leave her a message.'
'W-wait!' Hinata ran to her own room at the end of the hall. She grabbed her family pictures a change of clothes and a scroll. She stuffed them in a backpack and slung it over her shoulders.
Tsunade grabbed Hinata's hand. They both disappeared in a puff of smoke.
'She has left.', Hideoshi said to the council members. 'Let us decide on how to deal with her.'