Chapter 2: FATE
Hiashi Hyuga took a moment to consider the visitor. The man lounging indolently across from him might be taken for a casual guest, but in truth he was anything but. Hatake Kakashi had made a career out of avoiding situations that could be even tangentially connected to politics, but a visit to one of the great clans was anything but tangential.
Not to mention how wrought with possible subtext Kakashi – of all people – visiting him – of all people! – had to be considered to have.
He raised his tea cup and took a decorous sip. Kakashi had yet to do more than inhale the steam rising from his own cup, declaring it ‘magnificent’. Gazing at the visitor over the cup, Hiashi took note of how… unexceptional he looked. The man was the very picture of a stereotypical ninja. His tall, lanky body was covered almost entirely with an unadorned standard jounin uniform, most of his face concealed by a mask. And of course, only one eye was visible; the other was hidden behind a hitai-ate, jauntily tilted such that the Hidden Leaf emblem was positioned where his other eye should be. His only affectation toward individuality seemed to be the shock of dirty grey hair which rose like a brush from his head.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance in a social setting.” Hiashi began, placing his cup to the side and folding his hands politely in his lap. He sat seiza-style. Kakashi had opted for a slightly less formal yoga-style posture. Even here, in the centre of the Hyuga compound, his attitude was irreverent. A brave front for a man with his reputation. Considering how highly sought after the Hyuga eyes were-
No, even before that, given Hiashi’s own history with eye thieves, it was bold of Kakashi to come alone. Conducting himself in such an impolite way bordered on foolishness.
“Oh, you know me, I drift like a leaf on the wind,” the visitor said. He left eye crinkled, the only visible indication of his smile. “I get so lost that I hardly have time for social niceties.”
Hiashi kept his expression solemn. “It is perhaps understandable.” He made a flowing gesture with one hand. “It has been many years since we have seen a member of the Hatake clan in society. Not since your father, in fact.” Kakashi continued to give him a cheerful look. “Though as the last surviving student of the Fourth, we were all surprised you never showed an ambition to rejoin us.”
For a long moment, the jounin didn’t respond. Perhaps he wasn’t used to this kind of combat. The kind of cuts that were delivered with polite words behind poisoned smiles could sometimes be as devastating as a kunai in the back.
“I’m sorry, did you say something? I’m afraid I was entranced by this magnificent tea.” Kakashi displayed his empty cup. “Do you have another?”
Hiashi hadn’t even seen him take so much as a sip. He allowed himself a tight smile. “Of course.” He gestured and the screen door opened with a hiss of oiled runners before a young Hyuga genin of the branch family came in and refreshed their drinks. Once the girl was gone, Hiashi allowed the silence to surround them for a moment before once more putting his tea down.
“So, I can see these formalities are not to your liking. Allow us to bypass all the social norms.” He lifted his chin. “May I ask to what my house owes the pleasure of your presence?”
Kakashi set aside his own cup. Hiashi didn’t hear any liquid inside. Did he drink it, or dump it somewhere? It was interesting to discover that he could still be challenged when it came to seeing through deception. Of course, if he desired he could peel away all of Kakashi’s illusions and sleight of hand. He could even see straight through that hitai-ate.
But that would not be polite.
“I suppose you’ve heard that I have taken on a genin team.”
“Yes. The last of the Uchiha. Also, the young Uzumaki.” The connection between Hatake and both was obvious. He was, perhaps, the only one in the entire village who could train the Uchiha in the use of his bloodline. He was also the only one Hiashi knew of who might have a chance to restrain Uzumaki if he should get out of control.
“And Haruno Sakura.” Hatake looked at him from beneath his eyebrow.
“Ah. Well, that explains this meeting.” Hiashi’s face remained impassive.
“As a concerned sensei, I of course did a full background check on my new wards.” He flipped a scroll out of one of the pockets on his flak vest. “Including a full medical history of Haruno Sakura.” He turned the scroll around, showing the seal emblazoned across it. “Or that was the plan. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the records were sealed.”
“Yes.” Hiashi looked at the seal. The Hyuga clan crest dominated, of course, but the manji shape of the Caged Bird was also prominent. “Of course. I underestimated your curiosity. Most sensei would stop at the officially published records available to any jounin. Few would go straight to the medical archives and read the original.”
“I was reminded that assumptions are dangerous in our profession.” Kakashi’s visible eye narrowed slightly. “So I looked underneath the underneath. So far as I was aware, the Haruno clan has no particular notoriety. No bloodlines or special holdings, no history of exemplary service or wealth. No connections or techniques.” Kakashi casually twirled the record around as he spoke. “Her parents served with competence but no special distinction.” He tossed the scroll; Hiashi caught it with a snap of his wrist. “So why would one of the biggest clans in the village seal the records of a girl who, for all intents and purposes, is a nobody?”
Hiashi turned the scroll around. “I can see why you would be interested.”
Nine years ago
Hizashi Hyuga needed air. He struggled to retain his composure and to keep his expression placid as he moved through the crowds of Konoha. It was difficult. His head still felt like it was splitting. The light was especially difficult to deal with. The beautiful sunlight that everyone else was enjoying felt like it was stabbing through his eyes, burning away his brain. Yet he kept his expression neutral and stoic, as befitted a proper Hyuga.
Even a branch clan member.
His fists curled. That he could do. His arms were crossed, his hands hidden in the long sleeves of his long green overcoat. The taste of his placidity was bitter on his tongue.
Neji deserved so much more. Neji did not deserve this fate. Neji…
He needed to stop thinking about that. It was just causing his killing intent to rise again. He focused his attention on the crowds. There was a festive atmosphere among the civilians and more than a few of the shinobi as well. Merchants had opened stalls on the street and people moved between them, enjoying sweets and laughing with each other.
Today, a war was ending. No more would the civilians watch their shinobi fathers and brothers leave to fight a distant enemy for distant reasons. No more would kunoichi leave their children so they could die for a handful of dirt or a piece of paper. Friends would no longer say goodbye to friends. There was every reason to be celebratory. Leaf and Cloud, bitter rivals for generations, were finally giving peace its chance.
So why couldn’t he breathe?
With a flicker of pseudo-motion he moved himself to the top of a radio tower, balancing easily with one foot upon the precarious perch. He needed to master this hatred. It was burning in his veins like poison. It turned food to ash in his mouth. Yet no matter how much he meditated or prayed, it would not leave him.
Every night, when he was training Neji in the secrets of their style, it would build. The boy was progressing at an amazing rate. Faster than Hizashi himself had; faster even than Neji’s uncle, the main clan head. For almost a year now, he had been filled with wonder. Yet ever since his niece’s birthday, that wonder had dissolved.
Now he ended every training session feeling nothing but anger. Worse, he could see the effect it was having on Neji. The Hyuga were trained in decorum and self-control. Only once, in the months since he had begun to feel this way, had his killing intent manifested enough for anyone but himself to sense it.
Yet Neji was a genius. More than that, Neji was his son. It was impossible for him not to sense, on some subconscious level, his father’s true feelings. Hizashi had long since come to be at peace with his own fate. But the fate of his son?
Worse, every day that Hizashi spent with Neji he could feel the boy’s own hatred growing. It was a cycle he could not see a way out of. His love for his son twisted his feelings of peace into hatred. His hatred twisted Neji’s love for his family. He needed a solution. A way out.
He took a deep breath. The air here was crisp and clean. The scent of the trees was pleasant. It was also bitter.
He was distracted by a commotion near the gate. It appeared that the ambassador from Cloud and his entourage had arrived. Hizashi was not officially part of the security, but every extra eye helped. It would also hopefully keep his mind off intractable problems.
His hands flashed through hand seals he no longer needed, but aided in focusing his mind. “Byakugan!”
His eyes truly opened. The veins around his sockets bulged. The white pupils and irises expanded. The great bloodline of the Hyuga. With this, he could see everything. Walls faded, secrets were revealed and distance collapsed. The entire world was open to him now. Better still, with this art he could see the chakra of all things: from the pathways of spiritual and physical energy in the human body to the sluggish energy of the natural world all around them. He breathed out, expanding his awareness in all directions-
He barely caught one of the support struts on the radio tower. His presence of mind was only now returning. “What is… this awful presence?!” he hissed. His neck twisted painfully as he turned to face it.
He had never seen anything like this before. There was no way such a thing should exist. It was like no chakra he had ever heard of. It wasn’t even like an emptiness in the chakra. He had witnessed places where it had been depleted or destroyed. Some jutsu he had seen were so terrible they left entire fields as blasted wastelands until the natural chakra slowly recovered.
This was unlike anything else.
His mind struggled to make sense of it. His body recoiled from it. His eyes bulged in their sockets, a reflexive fear reaction he should have been able to control. His fingers shook, his chakra grip slipped and he landed on a roof beneath him with a crunch, barely having enough presence of mind to absorb the fall. He could feel his skin crawling, awful waves of gooseflesh beginning at the small of his back and creeping up his spine and down his arms. His guts shriveled.
If he kept looking, he was going to go mad.
“Release!” he shouted, his voice hoarse. His vision dropped back into the human spectrum. Before it had even fully changed, he was moving. Rooftops blurred by beneath his feet. He flashed across gaps, over alleys and thoroughfares. Once or twice he sprinted along the side of a building to cut a few seconds off his journey, trusting his chakra to keep him adhered to the walls. It took less than a minute for him to reach the location that had been burned into his perception.
It was atop the Hokage Monument that he found it. The four great carved stone faces of the Hokages that oversaw the village from the mountain that protected its back. To the ninja of Konoha, the mountain protected them from attack from that direction. The mountain was like the Hokage himself: a symbol of safety.
For that horrible cloud of unreality to be on it… it was an insult to the village Hizashi loved!
He thought himself ready to face whatever he might find in the centre of the horrific anomaly. Yet, when he arrived, he found himself stunned once more.
“A child?” he gasped under his breath. She couldn’t have been older than his niece; barely old enough to walk – though her standing on her own was not a surprise. In a ninja village, children developed quickly. Her tiny form was clad in a red one piece jumper. Her hair was a bright pink like bubblegum, and fell to her shoulders.
She was staring down at the front gate. Her eyes were intensely focused. She obviously had not seen him, which was not surprising; Hizashi had taken pains to arrive without disturbing so much as a single pebble or leaf. He crouched in the shadow of a tree that grew on the back slope of the monument, studying her.
He flicked his eyes towards where she was looking and resisted the urge to enhance his vision with the Byakugan. Even without it, his vision was sharp enough to easily figure out what she was watching. The delegation from Cloud. Was she some kind of spy? An infiltrator under some sort of transformation or genjutsu?
He turned his attention back to her. Her cute young face was twisted into a tormented expression. Her hands were clenched and her elbows bent, her entire body rigid. The tense stance, expressed through the body of a toddler, seemed disturbing and unnatural. Her chubby fists were clenched so tightly he could see tiny drops of blood dripping between them from where her nails had cut into her palms. Her hair was in disarray, and he saw why when she reached up and ran her fingers through it in frustration, leaving tangles and cowlicks caked in blood behind.
He breathed long and deep, silently focusing himself. If she was some foreign nin in disguise, perhaps that explained that disturbing presence. A transformation could have deceived the physical sense. A genjutsu could have fooled most chakra sensors. The Byakugan, however, would see beneath those to the chakra inside. Any disguise would have been instantly revealed. Konoha was one of the five great ninja villages, famous throughout the elemental nations, and as its greatest clan the Hyuga would surely be well known. It might just be possible to have developed a technique that foiled chakra sight. He wasn’t certain how the Sharingan worked, but it might have a similar effect on them as well.
It almost made sense… except it also stood out across an entire village. As a weapon to foil his senses in combat, it had utility. As a support for a disguise, it was a complete failure. Maybe the technique was flawed? That made sense to him. After all, how could they test such a technique? It was literally like a blind man trying to build a visual camouflage.
He nodded to himself. If it was a flawed technique, then it could be overcome. He made the entire series of silent hand seals and then kept the focusing sign as he slowly eased into the Byakugan. He hadn’t activated his bloodline this slowly since his first days of training, barely younger than his own son.
As he did, he kept his focus on the girl, noting the changes and looking for a weakness. The difference was like jumping into an icy lake versus sitting in a tub of slowly cooling water. With mental preparation and gradual effort, the nature of the baleful presence became bearable.
It was like a fracture. He had seen techniques that devoured chakra, and others that collapsed it into extremely dense concentrations. This was not like those. It was like the chakra around and throughout her body was being ripped into threads and twisted all round. As if some immense force was bubbling out of her body, a violent and chaotic energy that pushed chakra away and apart. There were gaps around her body and through it where chakra simply… wasn’t.
It was as if the laws of physics around her were changing. No, they were being changed. Something inside her was twisting reality itself?
Yet even so, there was still chakra. Whatever was inside her, it was some sort of spiritual force. The air around her, in her lungs, on her skin; it was suffused with the natural chakra of the world. Her skin was made up of matter, like everything else. The natural chakra was still there, but his perception of it was distorted in a sickening manner.
Still, it could be compensated for. And was he not the brother of Hiashi? The famous twin geniuses, they were called. He worked his way through it, allowing his perception to expand more and more as he compensated for whatever unnatural presence the girl had inside her.
Pleased, he changed hand signs and then focused on piercing whatever illusions or disguises she may have wrapped around herself.
From what he saw, only one conclusion could be drawn. “She… she’s not human.” He said it out loud, too low for even himself to really hear.
Hizashi had seen all kinds of bizarre body modifications in his life. There were ninja who embedded tools into their body, either to reinforce it or to give themselves undetectable weapons. Others had their bodies extensively operated on. You could build artificial chakra pathways, change the way joints worked, replace organs or entire limbs.
Virtually the entire body of this girl was modified. Extensively. Her skin wasn’t skin at all. It was… some kind of metal? Her bones were made of some substance he had never encountered before, and their shapes and configuration were not quite natural. Her entire organ system had been changed: every vital organ had been reinforced with some sort of plastic. Multiple redundant organs – heart, liver – existed. There were other novel organs he couldn’t even guess as to their purpose. To make room, her entire digestive system had been removed. Her muscles had been rebuilt. The entire body was threaded through with a vastly different nervous system than normal, and alongside it was a series of wires whose purpose he couldn’t even speculate on.
Even more shocking was her head. Her eyes had been replaced with some sort of mechanical devices. Her ears, under whatever illusion she had cast, were long and funnel-shaped with extensive wire hidden just under the skin. Even her striking pink hair was not hair, but some sort of wire. Beyond that, her brain had been operated on.
Hizashi had never heard of any ninja who had the audacity, much less the skill, to operate on the human brain. This was leaps and bounds beyond even medical theory. Her entire neural structure was different, there were extra lobes and implants all throughout it.
Worse than all that, her chakra system was just… gone. Not atrophied, or malformed. It was missing entirely. That was impossible. In its place there was some bizarre… twisted space. In the navel where the chakra store was placed, there was some sort of device that made his eyes ache just to look at. It was like someone had taken something the size of a refrigerator and twisted and compressed it to the size of a heart. Filaments of anti-chakra twisted out of it through where her chakra system should have been. Where the eight Gates should have been located were more strange pockets of unreality.
“Impossible,” he whispered.
He released his Byakugan and stood up. He needed answers.
He flickered in front of her, appearing in a cloud of smoke. His hand snapped out and grabbed her collar, lifting her off her feet and up to his eye level. Her eyes widened in shock. They were clear and green. They were the eyes of a frightened child. Yet all he could see was those cold mechanical devices he had glimpsed through his enhanced vision.
“Who are you?” He shook her once for emphasis. “What are you?” He had lost his Hyuga decorum, but found he didn’t care. This thing… this infernal machine in the shape of a innocent girl: she could not be allowed to threaten his village! His family!
The girl stared at his face, her eyes wide and shaking. Her chubby child fingers shivered, and all the muscles on her face and limbs seemed to jerk and twitch at once. Finally she coughed, and blood trickled from the side of her lips and her nose.
“H-hyuga?” Her voice had the high pitch of a child, but none of a child’s inflection. “Wait… wait…” Her eyes unfocused for a moment. Then she began to laugh. It was a broken, tormented sound. “Hiashi? Hiashi Hyuga! Haha! I can’t believe it… haha… Hyuga… saw right through me.” Her eyes focused on him again. “No. Not Hiashi… Hizashi? Of course. You’re still alive, aren’t you?”
Hizashi tightened his grip and withdrew a kunai with his free hand. “Is that some kind of threat?”
“Threat?” The eyes lost focus on him, and she continued to laugh. Tears began to trickle from the sockets. “A threat? From me? I’m not the one who kills you.” Her smile was tight, forced, shaky. Her body was twitching. “Or am I? Oh god… I can change it all, right now, can’t I? It really is in my hands…
“I… I…” She clutched her hair, pulling at it. Her pupils had shrunk to pinpricks, but her eyes had widened almost impossibly wide. “I can’t… I can’t do this… The gemu masuta is a bastard… I can’t… why me? I’m not qualified!” She was shouting now, her pitch and volume increasing at a feverish pace until she was shrieking. “I can’t make these decisions! But I have to. I just can’t! Who else can do it? I’m not a messiah, I’m not a god!”
Hizashi had regained most of his composure by the point she grew increasingly hysterical. Either she was a master of emotional manipulation and an actor the likes of which he had never seen, or she was having a genuine complete nervous breakdown in front of him. A little girl, hiccuping and sobbing and babbling insanity to herself as if he wasn’t there at all. As if she didn’t really see him.
He lowered her back to the ground. He found his mind turning slowly and methodically from thinking about what she was and instead to who did this to her. He found his killing intent rising again.
He frowned as she collapsed to her knees the moment he released her. She was shaking and convulsing. Hizashi’s years as a field medic were well in the past these days, but he found himself diagnosing anyway. The way she acted spoke of traumatic stress, and the way her body moved was deeply unnatural, as if all her muscles were triggering at random. Even without his Byakugan, he could see the strain on her body as she lost all control over it.
Two or three times he had had the displeasure to treat those shinobi who had mastered the release of the Eight Gates. Releasing the Gates in sequence could multiply the shinobi’s chakra by anywhere from double to a hundredfold, but the body was not meant to use that full potential. It would tear the user apart. The shinobi who learned those techniques always claimed they just wanted a trump card for a situation sufficiently desperate. In his opinion, such shinobi had a capacity to find themselves in desperate situations all out of proportion to their fellows.
The symptoms here reminded him of the release of the Gates.
“You will come with me,” he said. He placed a hand on her shoulder and they flickered away.
Hizashi still had admitting privileges at the hospital. Getting the girl into a room was surprisingly easy. Avoiding any questions was more difficult. Still, here he was happy to play on the unstated prestige of his family. For the Hyuga, the difference between Main and Branch were all encompassing. For the rest of the village, they were irrelevant.
He had cleaned her and replaced her clothes with a green hospital gown. She had broken down into a series of sobs, incomprehensible babbling and cries of ‘it hurts, it hurts…’ in alternating and random cycles. He didn’t even know where to begin treating whatever had happened to her.
He spent the next few hours running a series of tests and attempting to calm the girl down. He was frowning at a readout on her blood test when the girl finally sat up in the bed he had placed her in.
She held herself unnaturally still. Her rigid posture gave her an almost Hyuga-like air. He tried to smile reassuringly, but from her expression it hadn’t helped much. Bedside manner was for hospital staff, anyway. Field medics were more the ‘on your feet, soldier’ type.
He turned to face her, folding his hands behind his back. “Are you feeling better?”
“I’m in control again,” she said. Hizashi raised an eyebrow. She sighed softly. “No. It always hurts. It’s always hard to concentrate.” She made a sound between a snort and a laugh. “Hormonal regulators, wetware personality grafts, nervous system implants… and none of it prevents me from breaking down like a child.”
“You are a child,” Hizashi said. “You seem less emotionally disturbed then before.”
“Trust me, there are at least seven people having constant freak outs in front of you right now.” Her lips quivered in a fragile smile. “I was the calmest one.” Hizashi raised an eyebrow, which caused her to shake her head slightly. “I’m sorry, I’ll stop talking about things you don’t understand now.” She looked at the wall. “So, is the Hokage himself on the other side of the wall? Or are we going over this again with him later?”
“Nobody knows this is anything but a regular medical emergency,” Hizashi said. He wasn’t even certain why he had not done his duty and reported all of this. But his mind kept going back to that phrase.
You’re still alive, aren’t you?
It kept floating up in his mind again and again.
“You… don’t believe I am a threat to the village?”
“I didn’t say that,” Hizashi responded. He considered what to say next. “What happened to you is beyond anything even speculated on. There is no enemy of Konoha that could have access to the techniques needed to produce your body.”
She laughed and then winced. Her limbs shuddered, and her neck seemed to spasm. “Fuck!” She whimpered. “It hurts…” Hizashi wanted to help, but he had no idea how. He settled for placing a hand on her shoulder. She seemed to calm down at his touch.
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” she said. The admission seemed to humble her. “But what choice did I have?” She looked at him. “Have you ever thought about fate, Hiz… Hyuga?”
His mind flashed back to last night, his body flopping over in an undignified heap as his twin brother punished him for allowing his killing intent to leak from his body. He closed his eyes and sighed. “I have thought a great deal about it.”
“Well, imagine you had the fate of the world, the literal world, on your shoulders. Not some ideological conflict between economic systems. Not some petty border dispute. Not some meaningless struggle over pride.” She looked down. “Imagine becoming aware that the only thing standing between every living person in the world and a fate worse than death… is you. That you have one job, one task you need to do, and if you don’t do it at precisely the right place at the right time… everyone, everywhere, loses.”
Hizashi moved his hand down to her back.
“And then imagine that you know you aren’t the kind of person who can perform it. For some reason, you can’t be that person, no matter how much you want to be. So you try to prepare yourself. To be, if not the right person… a person that may be the right person. To be the One Punch Woman.”
She seemed to find the turn of phrase amusing, despite the tears dripping from her eyes again.
“And one day, in your preparation you look out into the real world again and you see a thing that reminds you there is more than just the world at stake.” She looked at him and her false eyes were full of horror. “You also have the fate of one man in your hands as well. One good man, who dies out of love.” Her voice developed a hitch. “But if you save this man, you could put the world at danger! Because if everything doesn’t go just right, if the plan doesn’t go exactly the same… then the happily ever after you know can happen might be gone, forever.”
You’re still alive, aren’t you?
Hizashi clenched his free hand into a fist.
“But what right do I have to make that choice? I’m not any kind of authority. Nothing can prepare you for this. One man’s life, or the life of an entire world? How do you make that choice?” She smiled. “This isn’t some hypothetical trolley, after all.”
“I…” Hizashi nodded. “I would die for my village, for my family.”
“I’m not talking about you.” Her smile became bitter. “I’m talking about your son.”
Hizashi stared into her eyes. He found no lie there. “Tell me what you mean.” He kept the threat out of his voice with effort.
So she did.
She told him everything.
Hizashi collapsed into a chair, all thought of decorum and composure fled. He clutched at his forehead protector, wanting to throw it through the delicate silk walls. His eyes stared around at the familiar surroundings of his own room, not seeing them.
His tongue felt bitter.
“When will this happen?”
“I don’t know, exactly. As early as tonight.”
Did he believe her?
As early as tonight.
How else did one explain the fantastic things he had seen? No jutsu, no chakra technique, no forbidden surgery could have accomplished what he had seen. Once he had gotten a sample away from her aura of unreality, his Byakugan had been capable of seeing so much more.
The blood. There had been machines in her blood. Tiny machines. Smaller than cells. Working machines. They had been fixing damage and building more of themselves. No technique available to ninja arts could produce something like that, especially as they did not run on chakra.
“Do you believe me?”
“Yes, I do.”
He turned his eyes up to the ceiling. What would his ancestors think if they saw him now? His smile held no joy.
He could change the world now. Intervene in coming events. If he prevented the kidnapping attempt she had warned him about, then he might prevent the death of the Cloud shinobi. With his death prevented, there would be no need of a sacrifice to appease the wrath of a Great Village and keep the peace.
He could live. In the fullness of time, Neji could live.
“He dies surrounded by friends. He dies willingly. He dies with a smile on his face. He dies protecting his friends and Hinata. He dies a hero.”
“Byakugan!” he hissed, and the Hyuga compound opened up around him. He could interfere now. Perhaps as little as standing guard over Hinata’s sleep would be all that was needed to deter the attempt to kidnap her. He looked at his tiny niece.
He felt his killing intent rise in him, and ruthlessly crushed it.
Yes, there was the ‘but’. The last few months had shown him that. The rise of his dissatisfaction. He had long thought he was at peace with the Caged Bird on his forehead. But was he really? Was this anger he felt solely for the death of Neji’s dreams… or the death of his own? Was the hatred he felt for his clan’s archaic laws… or for his beloved brother?
How can one man defy his own fate?
“Neji,” he breathed. His attention turned to the boy. He was in his room as well. Unlike Hinata, who slept all unaware of the weight of destiny turning around her, her cousin was not. He sat lotus-style in his room, his eyes closed and his expression troubled. Hizashi could see the chakra swirling inside him. Even now he was training, seeking to perfect his gift.
Hizashi’s heart swelled so in his chest that he thought it would burst. His pride and love unmanned him. He wept into his hands.
He could also see the hatred on that face. The hatred he had placed there. He wanted to blame it on the Caged Bird. Yet he could not. It was him. It had always been him.
“You’re still alive, aren’t you?”
“As early as tonight.”
“He dies with a smile on his face.”
“Yes, I do.”
How can one man defy his own fate?
“It is done.”
Sakura was alone in the clearing. Her body moved with a jerky kind of pseudo-motion. It was like watching a movie with the Byakugan active. The shutter speed of the film was not rapid enough to maintain the illusion of motion, so he felt as if somebody had cut out pieces of reality. Then the perception collapsed, and her movement returned to normal.
Or normal for her, at least. She still moved with the exaggerated care of an invalid. He crossed the clearing to stand before the tiny girl before she could take more than a step in his direction. He knew that movement pained her.
“You… really did it?” she asked, her voice half hope and half terror.
“No.” He turned his face away for a moment. “Last night the Cloud ninja commander attempted to kidnap Hyuuga Hinata. Her father, my brother, killed him in the attempt.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “Why?” she finally croaked out. “I told you everything. You believed me. Why!?”
“I can not be the man you think I could be.” The admission pained him.
She threw herself at him, swinging her tiny fists. She was fast and strong, especially for a child. But she was still a child. He would have a few bruises. but no more than that. He held her wrists and knelt before her. She was crying, her breath coming out in hiccuping sobs.
“Now nothing will change!” she hissed. “You’ll still die, Neji will still suffer, everything will go the same as before…” She slumped in his grip. “I told you everything, and the future didn’t change…”
Hizashi allowed a bitter smile to form. “No. You can’t blame yourself for this.” She looked up at him, blinking away tears. “I refuse to let you do that. This was not your decision to make. You did the right thing. You gave me a chance to confront my fate. The fate I had been avoiding all my life.” He pulled her into a hug. It was stiff and formal, but it was all he had to give.
“But you must promise me something in return,” he said into her ear. She stiffened, but he could tell she was listening closely. “You must protect the precious things I cannot.” He held her at arm’s length. “I will teach you the ultimate secret of the Hyuga style. This lesson will prepare you for what is to come.”
He released her and stepped back. He assumed a teaching posture, one arm crossed behind his back and the other held up so he could make a seal of release in front of his face. Without speaking in response, the girl slowly lowered to her knees.
“The secret philosophy of the Hyuga Clan is this. One move, one kill.” He opened his eyes. “Do you understand?”
“I… I’m sorry…”
“In battle, as in life, the situation is constantly changing. Position, perception, morale, knowledge. All of these things are like swirling leaves. One must wait and endure. Eventually, the pattern will settle into one you can understand all the pieces of. Then you must strike, and strike true.
“Too early, and you will reveal your strength and expose your weakness. Your enemy could exploit it, or worse yet they could fade away and disappear. Then they could return later… even generations later to threaten the peace you had thought you had created. A patient enemy, one who is willing to act on a long enough time frame, could wait even until a singularly great threat to them has passed.
“Too late, and you will only achieve futility. For the enemy has already put their machinations into motion such that all your efforts are wasted.
“No, one must wait until the perfect moment. To find the exact right time to strike, and in that moment strike with everything they have, holding nothing back. That is the philosophy of the Hyuga clan. Do you understand?”
“Then there is nothing more for me to teach you.” He paused and relaxed his body with some effort. He could almost feel the bags under his eyes growing, the despair in his shoulders and limbs. “I ask in exchange, only that you use this knowledge to save that which is precious to me.”
“I will. I’ll save everyone I can.”
“When my daughter Hinata was three years old, there was a treaty signed between the Village Hidden in the Leaves and the Village Hidden in the Clouds. We had fought a long and bitter war, and the many that died on both sides only served to grow the cycle of hatred.”
Kakashi did not interrupt him, although he probably knew this story better than most others. He probably understood that Hiashi could only approach this obliquely.
“The head delegate of the Cloud Village that came to us to finalise the treaty was the second most powerful ninja of their village, second only to the Raikage himself. In the shadows of the night, he attempted to kidnap my daughter. Long had the Cloud been jealous of the doujutsu of our bloodline.
“I discovered him and slew him. In time we realised who he was, and the Cloud made demands of us to honour the terms of our treaty by turning over the killer to them. It was a bold move, and one we could have refused… but our people were tired of war. In my place, my twin brother Hizashi chose to sacrifice himself – over my objections – so that when he died, his Caged Bird Seal would render his Byakugan eyes useless to our new… allies.”
A moment of silence followed. Twice the bamboo water fountain in the nearby garden sounded off.
“Your brother was a good man,” Kakashi finally said, and now his tone was serious and respectful. “He saved many lives as a field medic – mine and Might Guy’s among them – on a mission during the early days of that war.”
Hiashi nodded. “Before my brother died, he asked two things of my father. The first was to seal the records of a single village girl on the highest authority he had. To affix a cursed seal on them such that any tampering would destroy them.”
Kakashi stroked the chin under his mask thoughtfully. “I spoke with Sakura’s parents. They told me how one day Hizashi came to them saying he had found Sakura in the woods, suffering from her ailments.” He took a moment to compose his thoughts. “Your brother told them he had treated her, and that her problems should resolve themselves as she grew. They were enormously grateful, of course.”
Hiashi allowed a brief smile. “The second thing he asked was that I be given this.” He produced another scroll from the folds of his jacket. It bore an identical seal to the one he carried in his right hand.
Kakashi’s visible eye betrayed nothing, though he certainly understood that Hiashi having the second scroll on his person meant the purpose of this meeting had been known before it began. “What is it?”
“A letter, to me, written by him.” He contemplated it. “With explicit instructions that it should only be opened in the event of the confirmed death of Haruno Sakura, and that if it should ever fall into untrustworthy hands, the seal should be used to destroy it immediately.”
“I am afraid I cannot answer the questions you have, Hatake Kakashi.” He allowed the fountain to sound again before he continued. “All I can say is that my brother was a wise man; wiser than I would have been in his place.” He flicked the medical records back to the other ninja, who caught it so quickly that to his unaugmented eyes there was only a flash of motion.
“Perhaps it is fate that placed Haruno Sakura with you, of all people.”
“Perhaps.” Kakashi stood up, sliding his hands into his pockets. The scroll had disappeared onto his person somewhere. “I enjoyed your hospitality, Hyuuga Hiashi, such as it was.”
He turned to leave, then stopped, his hand lashing out-
-and caught the scroll Hiashi had thrown to him. Kakashi looked from Hiashi to the scroll and back again. There was no seal on this one.
“Before he died, my brother did one final thing. He produced a series of exercises on the development of the Byakugan.” He gestured at the scroll. “Purely theoretical exercises, of course. The phenomena described in that scroll are impossible to believe. But my brother was a genius, and he sometimes spent his time working on purely hypothetical problems.”
“Impossible… to believe,” Kakashi said in echo, mainly to himself.
“If I understand correctly, there is a belief that the Sharingan eye and the Byakugan eye both descend from the same bloodline. That techniques developed for one may be adopted for use by the other. Hypothetically.”
Kakashi rolled the scroll in his palm contemplatively. “Underneath…” He looked at Hiashi and smiled, his visible eye squeezing shut. “Maybe I should learn to look at my students with new eyes, is what you are saying?”
He gave no response, picking up his teacup and sipping. The bamboo sounded once more.
“Thank you, Hyuuga Hiashi.” He waved over his back as he stepped out of the room.