A/N: Um...yeah. This is totally experimental fiction, complete with lack of plot and dripping angst. I wanted to write an ItaHina that was an unhealthy obsession and not a love story, and...who knows what the hell this is...
Enjoy...? And please don't kill me...
She's out in the woods with her sister--replenishing some of her herbal caches, which always run low disconcertingly fast--when he finds her.
She recognizes the cloud-covered cloak before the boy and immediately activates her byakugan, which is a huge mistake because he feels the chakra flare and is on her in a second, slamming her against a tree with one pale hand fisted in the collar of her jacket. Her hitai-ate clinks against his Akatsuki ring. The sound scares her more than anything she's ever heard in her life, because it's just so close--so much contact--such a tangible detail that it's proof she's not hallucinating, and she's tracing the few steps to a dead faint when he says, "Is there anyone else with you?"
A horrible awareness asserts itself, and without thinking about what she's doing, she directs chakra to her throat and screams, "Hanabi! Run!"
She knows Hanabi is uncommonly sensible and will run back to the village for help upon hearing this, instead of tracking her down and facing the attacker herself as a lesser genin would do. She's grateful for it now, although she knows Hanabi's jonin-sensei will lambast her for her lack of chivalry, or bravery, or team spirit, or something else that doesn't really matter when you're about to die.
"Who is Hanabi?"
Slender fingers tighten against her throat. She looks up into a pair of surprisingly calm red eyes.
"…My l-little sister..."
There is a look she can't decipher.
"You gave away our position, Hyuuga-san," he says. "I should kill you."
And he lets her go.
The Godaime takes her debriefing in front of her desk, as always, with her fingers steepled in front of her and a look of extreme displeasure on her ageless face. Hinata knows why the glamour jutsu can be so frightening; she has never been able to come to terms with it, an old woman's fear and bitterness searching for expression on a twenty-year-old's unvarnished face. Tsunade's worries dance across her cheeks like dust motes or fireflies. She rubs a finger against her temple, as if able to sense the cobwebs there.
"It's not unprecedented. No one knows what the hell goes on in the minds of missing-nin, so just…just consider yourself lucky, Hinata."
"I do, Godaime-sama."
"And keep this incident private, please. I don't want Uchiha Sasuke hearing about this and coming back to Konoha with that freak he's run off to tailing his sorry ass." Tsunade's face darkens, obscured by her own personal ghosts for a moment, then bright again with the apprehension she's inherited with the office and the robes she now draws around her like a coccoon. Years of silent observation have honed Hinata's ability to pick up on these fluctuations of raw emotional weather, the flicker of storm-clouds across the unblemished sky, and as she turns to leave, still caught up in this temperamental meteorology, she hears Tsunade's voice.
"A word to the wise, Hinata."
She halts respectfully in the doorway, listening.
"After you leave here, put this out of your mind. I know kunoichi can overthink these...encounters."
"I am simply grateful I was allowed to go free, Godaime-sama," she says quietly.
"Nonetheless, I want to see you back here in two weeks. A psych evaluation is standard procedure in cases like this."
Hinata bows. "Certainly, Godaime-sama."
Outside, the Konoha sunlight is sparkling on the leaves like an infinitely complex tapestry. Kites chase one another into the sky and tangle in each other's strings, their threads wound together and complicating lives as children from different parts of the village run towards one another, pointing to the sky and arguing and laughing and occasionally, making friends. The buildings, arrayed in their jewel-toned splendor, look like rows of sweets lined up in boxes. The sunlight fractures off everything and whirls the day into a kaleidoscope of colors. Hinata watches it all unfazedly; her eyes are good enough, and after years of shying away from light, she has learned not to flinch back from the idea of brightness.
At home in the Hyuuga compound she washes her face in the basin very tenderly, making sure not to touch her eyes with soap. When she looks up in the mirror she finds her eyes wild, the colorless pupils contracted very slightly as if she has been caught unaware by a light brighter than she can stand. She unscrews some jars of ointment and dabs them around the bags beneath her eyes, fumbles with her eyedrops a little to drop cooling solution into the silvery orbs, and when she's done she blinks and touches her temples gently, tracing the veins under the face looks pale and scared.
What did you see, Uchiha Itachi? she thinks. What did you see?
The days slide by like beads on a necklace and she builds up memories like blocks, demolishing them and rearranging them before starting again. The edges of the encounter are already fading, like a photograph held to a candle flame, and she lets her eyes adjust to the dimmer light as she strives to recall what exactly happened.
She huddles against her bedroom wall, eyes shut, recreating the sensation of being slammed against the tree. Was his ring on his middle finger or his ring finger? Why was his collar buttoned so high, in the sweltering heat? Was his hair long? In the darkness of her closed eyes her hand reaches out, unaware, and works itself into a ponytail she sees appear in front of her like smoke emerging from the vaccuum. The pieces of hair, grey-black like soot, fall through her fingers and swing back into the recesses of her mind.
Her scream echoes through her dreams--Hanabi! Run!--and his voice follows, surprised, svelte, rich and full like no voice she has ever heard.
Who is Hanabi?
She asks her father for wartime stories at dinner, which surprises everyone in the Main House, as she normally hates listening to the gory tales. Hiashi's stern face looks momentarily disoriented, but he comes through, proud at his squeamish daughter's interest, and weaves her stories of bloody skirmishes in forests and strange travels in the night under the desert moon. And once, in his recounting of a Kumogakure raid, she feels his voice catch and she knows he has found the encounter in his memory that won't die, the light that burns with its painful glare after all other lights have extinguished themselves in the relentless onslaught of time.
"The eyes of those nin are not like ours, but they see things," he says. "When I was captured, they looked at me without reason--caricatures of men. And there was one man--I remember his face very clearly, and his wide startled eyes that held a cold anger that we cannot imagine, living here in Konoha as we do. It was the first time I understood what the world is like outside the shinobi villages." He pauses, stiffly, a man of few words uncomfortable with his sudden eloquence. "Missing-nin have lost their homes, and so, the link of sanity that binds them to ordinary men. That is why there is no safety among them."
And Itachi's voice, isolated in her memory like a glittering thread in a garment, weaves itself into layers upon layers until it gains a complexity that she will never perceive in a voice again.
Who is Hanabi?
And she hears:
I am searching for a reason to let you live.
Searching eyes, as hers have become now, giving her no respite from the dreams that batter her and the gasping feeling of waking up, as if a cold pale hand with a crimson ring has suddenly released its grip on her throat. At any given moment in theday--weighing a pail of milk at the market, running through a Jyuuken kata with her father, untangling her long hair over the washroom stool at night--that voice invades her consciousness until she can practically see it, with her traitorous eyes that convert chakra and people and sound into light, so that Itachi's voice appears to her as a lightning-bright rope of possibility, snaking its way to another dimension.
The day of her psych evaluation comes and goes. She is pronounced psychologically sound and free of trauma.
A year passes and the memory fleshes itself out in her mind like a ripe fruit come into maturity. She should have known this would happen, since blindness, too, only grows with every day it is neglected.
Four seasons come and mold the village, each cancelling itself out until everything is the same as it was and a bright, many-colored summer spreads its wings over Konoha once again. Leagues to the east, a red-haired boy bows to his people and assumes the mantle of Kazekage. Far away in a country Hinata has never visited and does not know how to imagine, a woman with a braid is struck down by cloud-cloaked men of the organization she knows is making its undaunted way towards Konoha. In a hideout in the dark, a snake-eyed sannin sets down his scalpel and pulls his skin tight over his fingers and smiles, already relishing the nubile grace of a newer form. Neji becomes a jonin and the entire Main House appears at his ceremony, unexpected even to them. And one day, when the summer is at its apex and teeters on the brink of deterioration into autumn, a blonde-haired boy stands on top of the world and announces, "Uzumaki Naruto has returned to Konoha!"
He is gone just as quickly, but when he returns after his two-week mission to rescue the fledgling Kazekage, he meets Team Eight at Ichiraku and treats them all to ramen and recounts of his exploits. She listens with the familiar fondness smoldering in her chest; this is a feeling she can deal with--blushes, stammers, warm flushes in the accidental brushes of glances and limbs; it's a feeling like the noontime sunlight, at this point, expected and pleasant and wholly unthreatening. When Naruto covers his hand with hers, she's so piqued at the contact that she almost misses the and then Uchiha Itachi showed up…
Lightning flashes, and like a dead tree that's been struck, her mind twists and splinters itself to accommodate the sudden surge of energy.
"Sasuke's evil brother," Naruto's ranting, "You wouldn't believe what a fucking nutcase--!" He releases her hand to pantomime a Rasengan and describe something else to his listeners, but she just stands up and makes her way out of Ichiraku and ignores the "Hinata? Hey! Hinata!" that follows from Kiba. She traces a path out into the afternoon sun.
When she closes her eyes she can see her memories as clearly as she did a year ago, and she reflects on how strange it is that it is possible to visually perceive a blind spot.
Her exorcism is angry and vigorous, like rubbing the heels of your hands in your eye sockets to get rid of the last vestiges of a bright light.
Why did you let me go?
She earns her way into the library archives by offering the chuunin on guard duty a glimpse of her Hyuuga eyes, birthrights with more than one sort of usefulness, and combs through the records: old ANBU files, C and D mission records that no one cares about, mundane birth-certificate data on shinobi and their divisions. Konohagakure's housekeeping. A cabinet in the corner is marked with an embossed seal shaped like a fan, and when she pulls open one of the giant drawers, a cloud of dust whirls into the air, temporarily choking and blinding her before dissipating.
She finds what she's looking for at the bottom of the Uchiha, Fugaku family file--a snapshot, two dark-haired boys in full formal regalia posed obediently for the picture at what looks like a very standard festival of the type she and her sister make a habit of enjoying. She recognizes Sasuke's absurd hair and charming baby smile immediately, but the other boy's features make her gasp. Itachi's face is relaxed into lines of earnestness and peace, lines like she has never seen on the face of any shinobi in Konoha, and the radiance from his smile as he grasps Sasuke's chubby shoulder is so dazzling she is surprised she doesn't have to look away.
She is afraid she can see why he let her go, now, and she doesn't want to see it.
With a whimper, she stuffs the photograph into her satchel and leaves. The guard chuunin is absorbed in a game of solitaire and doesn't notice her obvious distress.
The photograph goes up on the notice board in her room, behind mission notes and pieces of fancy stationery from Sakura and Ino, technically out of sight. Yet she can feel its heat and radiance in every corner of her relentless vision, searing through the mundane reality of her life like rays from a bright and terrible sun.
The eight-man squad moves out in autumn of that year.
Pictures of Sasuke and Itachi are distributed to all of them, although Hinata has little need of hers by now. She keeps her byakugan on as they search the northern forests of the Fire Country, afraid of what she will find and worried that one more encounter could cause her to lose her vision entirely. She knows she will keep her eyesight, but she is Hyuuga, and knows at this point that there are layers to sight that run deeper and truer than the mere fact of what the eye can see.
As Konoha rounds away behind their pounding feet, she thinks of her father's story, and understands that they are entering the domain of the missing-nin and no longer have the advantage anymore.
The rest of them are silent, sullen, aggressive and vicious when they encounter anyone with a slashed headband, but Hinata can't think of anything beyond the pale pressure released at her throat and the smile from a photograph, taking as many light-years to reach her as the sunlight does. As she sends chakra pulsing from her fingertips, she wonders--do you have a sister? Would you let me go, if you knew I did?--and Naruto or Sakura yells, "Hinata! What the hell are you doing?" and she executes missing-nin with the rest of them, as they speed towards a destination she already knows won't be there when they arrive.
It's on the eighth day of their fruitless trek when she whirls around in the middle of mundane reconnaissance and comes face to face with him, removing his hat and examining his manicured nails as he waits for her to notice his presence.
She doesn't move, because she can't.
"You're going to Sasuke, aren't you?" she blurts out, not knowing how to tell him that she knows, and she wishes she didn't, but she knows why he let her go and she also knows that no matter why he did it, Konoha will never welcome him home.
His hands pause in their minute movements.
Then he nods, gravely.
"Yes," he says, "To Sasuke," and she wonders why when he says this, his voice breaks into a smile, as if he's being borne away by a great wind--as if he's free.
She knows when he dies, of course. She sees him tap Sasuke's forehead, murmur his words, and then vanish, like the lightning his brother called that still couldn't tear him away while there was reason for him to live. She doesn't tell the members of the squad anything. Her father was right--ordinary men can't hope to understand missing-nin.
He goes out like a supernova obliterating the peripheral considerations of her life, although in reality he makes a graceful fall like any other shinobi, like a man dying a peaceful death, really, and Sasuke's fall next to him is like planets collapsing in the wake of the immense gravity that follows. Light spills across the horizon. She doesn't have to shade her eyes, because she knows the worst has already happened.
She is happy, although she knows that doesn't describe the emotion. Back home in Konoha, she hangs up her jacket and hitai-ate and fields questions from Hanabi and updates her tally of missions on one wall, all the while seeing pinwheels of aftershock dance across the insides of her eyelids. "Exertion," says Neji when she asks, and eyes her suspiciously. "What were you looking at, on that trip?"
She doesn't know how to tell him, so she doesn't.
In the end she knew that she was perhaps the only one in Konoha to understand: that a brilliantly burning light isn't for all eyes, that a light that shines above other men casts them into shadow and makes them fearful, unable to see what is actually there; unable to see that a compassionate boy who loved his brother would let a girl like him go because he could see--a marvel, really, when no one else could see him. Hinata is left shaking after this, because she reprimands herself--she should have known all along that trying to follow Uchiha Itachi was like staring down sunlight, and eventually, after exposure to that terrible beauty, it was a matter of nature that she would go blind.
She puts her head in her hands and for the first time in years, feels tears.