College is hard. /self explanatory
But summer is upon us at last, and I have a week and a half to hustle before summer classes start.
With that, I hope you enjoy this next chapter.
Thanks for the support! :D
4. Wheat Wishes
A month passed, and still—nothing.
Neji found that Hinata's absence affected him in the strangest ways. He found it slightly jarring not to hear her soft voice, or feel her footsteps as she moved around the manor, or even see her dark hair. It wasn't that he was particularly close to her physically before—it was how the sheer proximity of their lives seemed to rely on each other's presence. It surprised the man on how much of his daily experiences relied on her, subtle as they may be.
For example, he had to procure food for himself on Friday mornings.
Usually Hinata made bento for him on those days. Her other days were filled with the pursuit of her personal studies into Konoha Hospital's medical library, and looking through teams of children that may one day become her own charges. Fridays were when she made bento for Hanabi as well, and the day started with good food always tucked into their packs because of that little attention.
The first time he left the house without bento was a draining one.
A very, very, (very!) solid slam to the corner of his jaw rattled him out of his reverie, and his dodge wasn't enough to fully avoid the blow. There was a flash of white, and certainly a tingling, spreading pain shooting up the side of his skull. A little more to the left, and Rock Lee would have punted Neji's head past Konoha's horizon.
A moment later he was flat on his back, wincing and cursing under his breath. He didn't even bother trying to get up; he figured that the other sounds and colors around him were too stupefied wondering about what happened to him. He felt stupefied as well, although it might have just been the concussion that Lee's foot gifted him.
So faintly out of tune he was that Tenten had declared him as a case of "the affliction of love-sickness". She grinned at her teammate's slight splutter and scolded him to eat more before he would "faint" in the middle of practice. Lee had declared amidst fountains of noble tears that the successful attack was nowhere near fair, for "pains of the heart outweigh those of the body!", and resolved to go all-out only when Neji's "affliction" had passed. Might Guy was overjoyed and almost began to blather on about his Neji "creeping close to the flowering of youthful love" had the said Hyuuga not remained decidedly flat on the ground.
A heavy mark at the side of his chin made him sigh, and think about weighted-down orange leg warmers and the later prospect of no bento.
Another (more pressing) thing was the unsettling whispers of the Hyuuga elders. They always talked behind others' backs, about Hinata most of all. He wasn't rash enough to confront them, though it always bothered him how they spoke of everyone (him as well as her) like that.
With her departure, however, Neji felt himself prickle at every murmur of his fiancée's name on their lips.
(Things were never meant to be as they are.)
"It is possible."
(It was a trifle really—the younger Hyuuga cousins had been Hinata's care for a few months in preparation for her ascension as head of the households, and as she wasn't there Neji had to tend to them. There were a good number of them today—abrasive Hiro, amiable Hideaki, quiet Haru, the twins Hinako and Hanako, retiring Hotaru.
It was Hotaru that asked him to fetch something from the small shelf perched high in the nursery—a china figurine of a bear, painted in black and white to resemble a foreign panda. Neji had thought nothing of it, and retrieved the ornament from the room, passing by the tearoom as he did. It was when he reemerged again did the young man pay attention to the conversation.)
"It hasn't been proven yet…we shouldn't be so hard to judge the children." Hisae was a mild-mannered elder, and the most tolerant (if not the most supportive) of Hinata and the new generation of liberal Hyuuga. "And if tradition is to be considered, isn't Neji a fine husband for Hinata? Why, he puts many of the main house males to shame. He has also grown close to the heiress, so their relationship would be amiable at the very least. It makes no sense for her to leave."
"But their household will be one of conflict—I fear the heiress will be the unsuitable one," the elder with the gruffest spoke up. "Even oaks wilt when clinging ivies drain their strength. Wouldn't it have been nice if Neji were the main house member? Then we wouldn't worry so much about the administration of the clan."
"Perhaps that is why she left—she senses her inadequacy and wishes to improve?"
"Bah, it's just as likely that she wanted to escape," an ill-tempered elder mumbled."That girl's just like her mother—a weak-willed pushover only good for housekeeping. Why her father permits her to be a ninja after all these years is a mystery to me…"
"But—it will be scandalous to let this outside the clan!" A particularly waspish elder clucked and drank from her cup. "This is nothing short of scandalous for a Hyuuga, and more so from the heiress! She must own up to her responsibilities."
Another ascetic elder spoke with finality, and a sharp tone. "Do not start, Honomi. All there is to it is this—Hinata may have decided to run away from the marriage. Why else would she leave without a proper explanation? It is only a matter of time until Hiashi installs Hanabi as the new heiress."
"And who will be her husband, Hayate? She is not the most harmonious of Hyuugas."
"Neji still remains the best choice—we can let him marry her. Two strong heads for the clan…that would be most suitable. They would have strong children."
Hisae had a tinge of exasperation in her voice. "What of Hinata? When she returns to find her fiancé wed to her sister, and her position as heiress forfeited? You are all forgetting that Hinata will return!"
"You overestimate her, Hisae. If she does not return, she will be summarily disowned by the clan. If she does return, and Hanabi has been made heiress by then, then she will be delegated to the branch house and branded. That's how we've always done it. Let's forget about this nonsense in the meantime and have some tea."
(Neji heard a sharp crack, and turned his attention back to his suddenly clenched fist for a moment before padding away from the tearoom. He returned to the courtyard to apologize to Hotaru for failing to find her precious trinket, and promised to buy one for her as soon as he could.
It was most curious for Hanabi to find her cousin plucking out shards of ceramic from his palm with tweezers, and staining his immaculate robes red.)
It became a habit for him to pass by the great gates of Konoha every morning and evening.
He almost expected a familiar pale figure to leap from the trees at any moment and get through the gate safe and sound. He might have imagined a woman with night-blue hair passing through the great passageway into the village. Perhaps she would appear with an escort or two - but really, Neji half-hoped that she needed no one to bring her home.
(That was his responsibility.)
The change in route from his daily training hours was small, and no one really took notice of the young man watching the gate at dawn and dusk every day, save for the birds perched upon the power lines.
He heard a white one bid him farewell, and walked on.
It had been a month, and there was still nothing.
Hinata had wrestled with herself that morning on training. Her palms were getting quite callused from travelling and practicing on trees and rocks that she encountered at her campsites, having forgotten to pack any lotion. Lotion wasn't really a necessary item, but the lack of it afflicted her feminine side. She sighed and decided to wrap them in thicker bandages this time, and pulled out a roll of white cloth from her pack.
For weeks she had been on guard as the bandits that robbed travelers became more common. Being non-shinobi combatants, it was relatively easy for her to avoid and disarm them, but she had to be careful not to let her training as a kunoichi become too evident. She trained in the fields where no one would see her, and improved upon her flexibility and speed.
She even worked on making her chakra hidden with the Byakugan activated. It was difficult to disguise such a prominent and valued kekkei genkai—bloodline limit—with the chakra gushing through her ocular vessels until they raised the flesh near her eyes. Her delicate vision was painfully obvious to detector-type ninja—if she could remove its chakra signature, she would have at least contributed to the Hyuuga style in some way.
It was on these days when Hinata let her mind wander back to her genin days, practicing against posts. She wasn't much of an achiever back then, but her efforts were in earnest. Some nights she remembered staying up putting salves all over her hands to heal them. Now that she was older she knew better, and began wrapping her hands and forearms in bandages. It was more practical, and protected her hands from the roughness of battle.
It also reminded her a bit of Neji, which was good. She wondered how he and Hanabi were, and found herself worrying in a most irrational manner. Her fiancé and sister were hyper-competent, after all! Virtually every Hyuuga was, aside from her anyway.
The heiress did wonder whether she was missed or not when she went to sleep, and was embarrassed at how…vain that sounded, somehow. But it was natural to wonder, and Hinata reminded herself of this.
"That's enough of that!" She said to herself out loud (she did this quite a few times, now that she was alone), and prepared to sleep on her bedroll. The girl had camped close to a wheat field to hide her from view, and the air was cool and clear. She could feel her eyes grow heavy, and close.
A snap had come, loud and clear, from the trees by the wheat field.
Hinata rolled from her sleeping place, chakra accumulating to her eyes. Her eyesight began to sharpen when she remembered about the distinct chakra pulsing through her orbital area. She concentrated for a moment, trying to match the hyper-stimulated flow of energy to her own chakra signature until they were as indistinct from one another as she could make it.
Her eyes spotted trees, and the field, and everything within a 50-meter radius. She was correct in her guess—another bandit lay hidden behind some branches, not too far away from her campsite. It was no normal bandit, thought—the chakra running under his skin was too active to be a non-shinobi. Hinata crept to her pack to grab a kunai, turning her head away from her opponent.
Instantly the figure burst from the trees, forming hand seals. The thief vanished, and a sharp pain burst through Hinata's body. She stumbled and dropped to her knees, keeping her eyes trained on where her opponent was. Only he was no longer there.
All of a sudden, there was an unearthly wail.
Hinata felt her hands fly to the sides of her head, covering her ears. The voice was not coming from her lips—it bounced inside Hinata's head. The heiress was horrified that she could recognize those who owned the voices.
A howl of rage came from Kiba. A rare growl escaped from Shino.
(You're a weakling, you're worthless. We thought we could rely on you. We thought we could trust in you.)
Hanabi was spitting and shouting. Her father roared in her ears.
(You're spineless. You have done nothing but wrong to the Hyuuga. You will lead us to ruin.)
Please…I didn't do anything wrong…
Neji's snarl echoed in her head.
(I knew it all along—you're pathetic. What happened to your beliefs? What of your nindo now?)
Hinata gasped for air in the pre-dawn cold, feeling her vision swim with brightening blues and yellows of the clouds. The waving wheat stalks hid her from the view of the road.
She was alone.
(And it hurt to be.)
~~to be continued~~