I hopeswartzwald is reading this. I’m also more comfortable with humor, just like you, but I found your plot very intriguing. Hopefully, 16 months of ficcating inactivity will not make the chapter too boring. ^^;
TITLE: The Catalyst
RATING: T for theme
GENRE: Romance, General (Series)
SUMMARY: Changes do not just happen. Something, or someone must make it happen.
The regal Hyuuga compound, a territory that had always inspired a mixture of reverence and fear among the Konoha locals, was a place that Hyuuga Neji regarded rather ambivalently. The place represented the claustrophobic, painful memories of death and persecution, which fuel his very existence up to this day.
Yet as he scanned the nearly-empty yard and hallways, taking in the silence that dully reverberated in the spaces in between, he could only feel pity at the moment. Despite the concealment that the polished wooden walls and paper doors offer, he could see the grim expressions of the many Hyuuga faces he had seen and loathed practically all his life.
The morose Hyuuga elders, who once wore disdainful looks on their wrinkled countenance, while he and his fellow Branch Family relatives entered the exclusive Main Hall on their way to the adjacent Training Hall.
The distraught faces of the Hyuuga wives and concubines; those who lavished upon themselves the wealth and luxury affordable only in his young mind’s wildest dreams, never caring about the dire situations that other women and children in the lower ranks experience.
The Hyuuga men, who in hushed circles concur that something was wrong in the ways of the family, but could not stand up for this conviction because they fear to lose the esteem and status they and their families enjoy.
Pride and pity. For the family that once served as the founding clans of the Konoha society that it is today.
Pride and pity. A disparate yet appropriate combination, much like the flavor of his favorite tea.
He felt another man’s presence not to far away from where he was seated. He did not make any motions of acknowledgment though—his uncle was a good man, but very much like any Hyuuga, a proud one at the same time. This was one of the better opportunities to show that currently, their statuses are not very much different from each other.
Hyuuga Hiashi gazed at his nephew quietly. Like a little boy showing off in front of his friends, Neji chose to play the I-don’t-give-a-hell game. At twenty-six, Neji was still prone to immature acts, which relieved him. At least, Neji still retained a sense of humanity within him, despite the anger that hounded the young man nearly all his life.
“That’s your father’s favorite game, too,” he began, making his nephew turn to him. Neji gave a practiced courteous bow, which made him almost smile. Hyuuga Hizashi’s genes were undeniable on their clan prodigy.
“Which one, Hiashi-sama?” asked the younger Hyuuga politely.
“The game, ‘Let’s Pretend’.” Now he couldn’t keep himself from cracking a smile. “’Let’s pretend Koto-sensei does not exist!’,” He raised his index finger and explained, “Koto-sensei was our first taijutsu teacher.”
Neji nodded, somewhat fascinated to hear something—anything—about his deceased father.
“We also do that when we get visitors. ‘Let’s pretend Sarutobi-san does not exist!’ It definitely kept people from drawing close to us, lessening the distractions. But Hizashi is certainly better in playing that—I reckon that’s why he became a much better fighter than any Hyuuga during our prime.” He turned to his nephew and smiled. “You are truly your father’s son.”
As he watched the flicker of emotions on his lonely nephew’s son, Hiashi sadly wondered how different things could have been for all of them had the life and ways of the clan been kinder to them all.
Neji’s fists clenched involuntarily. He had forgiven, but it was hard to forget. His uncle meant no malice in bringing up the happier times, but he hated how these sent his control spiraling out of his hands. He exhaled sharply. It was time to talk about the business at hand.
“Hiashi-sama, you are well aware of what is happening to our clan,” he began.
Tenten placed her pen down, exhausted even if it has been merely 15 minutes since she strode into her office. Three or four scrolls of mission details organization and she was ready to burn the entire cabinet of mission archives in the office.
She cupped her chin. Now THAT would be exciting. Arson is a crime, and when it involves practically the entire history and secrets of the Konoha government, it becomes a high crime.
She imagined herself fleeing from the village, like the blasted Uchiha brothers who ran away to wallow in their murky depths of gloom and tragedy and joined questionable organizations to get equally miserable companions.
But she would do that alone. Hiding from ANBU, donning disguises, training in secret arts and getting her hands on high-powered weaponry…all to keep herself safe from entities who wish to bury their clandestine corrupted transactions and decisions with her in her grave. She would be come the Fire Country’s most wanted, and soon, other countries would cooperate in turning her over.
Her daydream went on. Bleeding heavily after being cornered by the numerous squads sent by Konoha and the other villages, she would write her last will with her own blood. She would ink them on her own torn scrolls and seal them permanently on paper for every Konoha child to read in lieu of their ABCs.
I love my village. I can think of nothing more glorious than to embrace Death for the sake of the strong, resilient Leaf.
She would then tuck a more personal note on one of her holsters.
Rock Lee, I leave you with my weapons. Please shine them properly; there is no need to sterilize them like what you did last time. Do this four times a day in my loving memory. Please be gentle with them.
Gai-sensei, please do not clothe me in green jumpsuit for my funeral. I am dead and therefore unable to defend myself.
Hyuuga Neji, remember what I told you before when you were in the same situation? I—
She did a double take, and then looked up. Tsunade-sama, the strong-willed Fifth Hokage, was leaning down on her, one hand on the stack of her nearly-forgotten paperwork. The woman was peering down at her curiously.
Pulling her face away from the gorgeous woman’s chest that threatened to constrict her oxygen, she attempted to make a dignified clearing of her throat, and then greeted the strongest woman in the world nervously. “Good morning, Tsunade-sama.”
“Haven’t you signed the papers yet?” Tsunade looked surprised.
Tenten sighed, seeing the scenario exactly how Haruno Sakura described it would be prior to taking off for her maternity leave. “Tsunade-sama, I could not help but notice that some of the papers here actually require your signature.”
The blonde woman grinned cheekily. “As my prodigy was not helpful enough to teach you how to forge, I’ll have the loudmouth brat teach you the fine art one of these days.”
“He might be busy,” she commented dryly. The loudmouth brat that became the village hero countless of times was out training his own prodigy, Konohamaru Sarutobi.
“Not for me, no.” She straightened and motioned her to follow. “We have a meeting.”
She nodded and picked up her trusty notebook and pen.
The Hyuuga family, once again, was at the crossroads. Not enjoying anymore the old privileges and clout accounted to the clan in trade and in government positions, the clan had callously resisted every bill and law presented. The Fire Country got tired of the clan’s whims and instructed the removal of the Hyuugas from some of the more well-known posts in the leadership.
This incited the clan’s anger and led to the infamous decision of marrying the eldest daughter of the Main Family to the Sand Country’s Kazekage. Beneath the decision lay hundreds of political machineries all reeling into life, even when the wedding failed to materialize. It began the shadow of doubt that Konoha started to have on the Hyuugas. It also signaled the beginning of the downfall of what was once the most prominent clan in the village.
This was the reason why Neji hated politics. Yet he was compelled to make this offer to his uncle today because he honored the great love his father had for their family name. “Think about it, Hiashi-sama.”
The old man did not heed his advice. He shook his head. “Giving you the headship of the clan will not amount to anything, Neji.”
His anger rose, but he kept his tone composed. “Hiashi-sama, we are no longer trusted by the people. I am most willing to win that trust back. However, it seems I haven’t won yours yet--”
“You are mistaken.” Hiashi’s tone was hushed. “At this point, I can only trust you to be the one strong enough to shoulder this burden. This is why I requested to see you today.”
Neji grew silent.
“Once you assume leadership of the clan, you will become yet another scapegoat, simply because you are from the Branch family. It will seed more hatred; it will not cease the cycle, Neji.” Hiashi looked up at the sky’s horizon overhead. “No, I want you to do something else for me.”
“What is it?” the younger Hyuuga relented.
“Dispose of me.”
Neji’s head turned violently towards his uncle. “Hiashi-sama!”
“Like a forest that burns down and makes the soil more fertile, more capable of bringing fuller life to its inhabitants.” Hiashi smiled sadly. “I want to do the same for the clan, but it won’t be easy while I am still here.”
Neji knew exactly what his uncle meant. Break down centuries of antiquated traditions and start a new way of life. It would not happen easily if the representation exists for people to look up at. Yet, a death wish?
“I am unable to break free from its chains; I’ve been living with them for so long. But you are different, Neji, and I can entrust only you with this task.” The elder Hyuuga stood up, not without a laborious sigh. “Please come to me when your decision is made. You and Hinata must prepare.”
“She will not approve,” he reminded his uncle stoically.
“She, too, has a role to play.” Hiashi started to walk away. “She will play it best by not knowing what it is.”
Neji was left sitting quietly, his distressed silence blending with the false calm of the mansion.
To be continued