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[Naruto Fic] The Fall of Icarus 02

yep. people have only been waiting 7 years for this fic to continue. very least i can do is try to have it out timely-like.

Previously: 01



=========================
The Fall of Icarus
By: Ken
Word Count: 3,437
Began: 09.15.2004
Pairing: Neji x Naruto
Disclaimer: Naruto is a product of Kishimoto Masashi. If i owned it the Aburame clan wouldn't be so woefully neglected. poor Aburame clan.
Comments: with Many Thanks to my beta TJ Dragonblade.
=========================


Chapter Two: Quality Reading

The sands on the banks of the river were cold. The sun had yet to warm the slightly damp dirt and grass. The trees provided ample shade so that it would be noon before any such thing happened. This river was on Hyuuga land; a calm place where one’s thoughts could flow with the current. In his childhood, he would often come here with his twin and they would sit on the banks and fish sometimes. Hizashi didn’t speak unless he was told and he would often look to the sky where the birds flew free. Hiashi hadn’t thought too much of it then.

Hiashi would touch the center of Hizashi’s forehead through the bandages and feel the power in the Seal placed there. He would often make a sad face, replace his fingers with his lips and tell his twin he was sorry, though he hadn’t really considered why he was apologizing. It hadn’t stopped him from Sealing Hizashi at times, and it hadn’t stopped him from doing the same to his child. His apologies hadn’t stopped a lot of things. But for him, who had been the privileged one of the two of them, it had been enough to always have his brother by his side.

It had been many years since he’d had that honor. It had been the only thing he’d wanted since that day. To sit beside his brother again, on the banks of this river, kiss the Seal on his forehead and say he was sorry was all he dreamed of. But not only did he want to apologize, he wanted to understand why he said it; he wanted to mean it.

There were many times in the years since he’d been thrust into the leadership position of the clan that Hyuuga Hiashi felt that a mistake had been made. Some would say these feelings of inadequacy happened all too often. Some would say that good leaders often didn’t feel themselves to be so. Hyuuga Hiashi couldn’t agree with either. He knew it, just knew it without a doubt in his brain, that there was someone more fit for his job. There was someone with the required diplomacy, and rigidity and even frigidity in the clan somewhere that could fulfill the role ten times better than he could ever hope to. Perhaps that was the problem. Hyuuga Hiashi couldn’t find it in himself these days to want to be better than he currently was. He had thought to groom Hanabi in to that person, but maybe that was a problem too.

All he had left of his family was his father, a sister-in-law, a brother-in-law, and two daughters, one of whom he’d failed to acknowledge for many years. His two nephews, both of whom held no love for him, had been placed into the Cage when they were children. His was not a big family as most Hyuuga were known to have. Many times the large family came about through the use of Bunke. More often than not siblings were divided at birth into their classes; it was from the Cage that the majority of children were born. Head Family rarely produced more than two in their lifetimes. Bunke were encouraged to have more.

His wife had been chosen for him by The Elders long before his birth. Hiashi wasn’t sure of the details; a favor, a debt repaid, he did not ask -- he hadn’t wanted to know. But for his brother, Hizashi, choosing his wife had been one of Hiashi’s distinct pleasures. Was she an apology to his brother also? Perhaps. He could not say.

There was a woman further upstream. She was often there whenever Hiashi happened by. She collected the flowers that grew by moonlight and wilted in the sun. He didn’t know what she used them for, but her lone figure in that particular spot was comforting. It was a sign that everything was still the way it was to be; not necessarily the way it should be.

“Master,” she whispered when she noticed he’d encroached. The customary braid of most Bunke that hid her forehead nearly touched the sand as she bowed low, not wanting to meet his eyes.

Was this how it was supposed to be? Something his nephew had said the day before rang through his mind: At least I’m not one of you monsters who do this to other people. At the time he’d thought that the boy was being irrational, his fear and hatred for his father’s lost life goading him to say such things. Perhaps those things needed to be said. Perhaps those things and more should be freely said without Sealing them. These thoughts were what made him an unfit ruler of course.

“Did they bloom well last night?” he asked. It was his way of soothing her. She was always rather jumpy around him, but he supposed that couldn’t be helped.

“Yes,” she answered without elaboration. He hadn’t asked for details, she would not give them. Her forehead still hovered above the sand. There was something wrong with what he was seeing; he knew it deep within his soul. But his soul had disappeared the day his brother had punched him in the gut and went off to die for him. Perhaps that was the reason he returned to the river; to search for that missing component of himself.

“I will not keep you from them then. The sun will destroy them soon.” He continued his walk upstream, but was brought up short after he’d taken eleven steps.

“Sir!”

The woman behind him was on her feet, he knew, her hands fisted before her bosom, her doe shaped white eyes saturated with unshed tears. He merely tilted his head to the side to indicate he was listening.

“Thank you, sir,” she said as her voice cracked. “Thank you for Neji.”

The Head of the Hyuuga nodded and continued to search for the man he should have become.

====~- X -~====


Once the evening meal had concluded Neji was told to remain behind when the rest of the Branch family had been dismissed. This wasn’t new. Branch members were chosen -- seemingly at random -- for the task at least twice a week. Anytime Neji was not scheduled for a mission or recovering after the completion of one, the Elders would ask him to stay and pour sake for them as they discussed clan matters in the way only old people could.

He did not exist, Neji thought as he sat seiza in the corner like an unruly child beside a table holding three bottles of warm sake. When any of the Souke lifted their glass he would shikkou over to them, a relic of the past that stubbornly clung to life, and refill their saucer. He was a servant; he merely fulfilled his capacity as one. Without saying a word, without a lifting a finger, the Hyuuga Elders chastened him. He was Bunke, subject to their whim. He was the most talented Hyuuga alive, and yet he did not exist.

At the head of the table sat the current Hyuuga Head, his Uncle Hiashi, but directly to his right was the former leader. Hyuuga Ichiro, Neji knew intellectually, was his grandfather. His skin was more tan, his face creased with age, his hair gray, and yet his eyes remained shrewd. He sipped his sake, blank eyes darting to Hiashi every so often, likely to gauge his reaction to topics. Once or twice Neji had felt his grandfather’s gaze rest upon him, but his own eyes were riveted to the floor, relying on his peripheral to see if a sake saucer rose or not.

He did not exist. Neji had been doing well to tune the conversation out thus far. None of it applied to him. Hyuuga Ichiro raised his cup and Neji grabbed a sake bottle from the table. His kimono was one reserved for meetings with the Souke. It was of an acceptable quality for a Branch family member without being flashy; a drab green-gray fabric which hid stains well and refuted wrinkles. He was glad he was a ninja academy graduate so he was permitted to wear his forehead protector at all times. He did not care to show his forehead. His prison was well established, the bars were not needed to be on display. That the souke could find no fault in his appearance was what mattered.

To shikkou one needed balance and strength in one’s hips. It was actually a good form of training for the Gentle Fist style and Neji needed to recover time lost that afternoon. Ordinarily he would have spent the day training as far from Hyuuga land as he could be without the benefit of a mission. Instead he had spent most of the day gathering and transporting his meager belongings to an apartment he had rented in town. It could not be done all at once as that would raise suspicion. To be Hyuuga meant to live in a glass house. All could see inside. There were no secrets. Creating reasons to visit his own rooms had raised a few eyebrows from fellow Branch members, but he was not challenged. The members of his Branch knew him well; he did not tarry on Hyuuga land unless it was a mandatory order from the Elders or he was practicing the finer points of the Gentle Fist with Hiashi, who -- for all his faults -- was an apt teacher.

Emotion did not touch his face as recalled the day he’d been medically cleared to practice ninjutsu again after so many months recovering in the hospital from the wound he’d sustained during his fight with Kidoumaru of the Sound. Hiashi had summoned him to the main house, and for the first time in many years Neji had set foot in the Hyuuga family dojo. He’d been told to assume the jyuuken pose of the Sixty-Four palms and without a word more Hiashi had circled him and then corrected his stance.

Neji had not been in awe of the change in protocol. He had nearly died. The Hyuuga Elders had likely decided he better served the clan by learning and growing stronger in secret techniques. He did not exist and yet he was not allowed to expire so easily. He was nearing his sixteenth birthday; he completely understood why they had made an exception in his case.

He poured the sake carefully.

“Then we move on to the matter of Hinata and Hanabi,” Ichiro stated. Neji was too close, he couldn’t help but hear.

Another elder seconded, “Yes, at three Hanabi was more talented than Hinata at eight; it has been proven time and again since. If Hanabi is to inherit despite her being the younger then there should be no more question. Give Hinata the Seal and be done with it.”

There was a chorus of affirmations around the table.

Hiashi took a sip from his saucer before replying, “Hinata has vastly improved of late. If Hinata and Hanabi were to duel it would be difficult to say who would win.”

It was the diplomatic answer, Neji thought as he shuffled back to his corner. What Hiashi had said was true though, Lady Hinata honed her skills daily. She would never be his favorite person, and her tendency to hesitate grated on his nerves, but she could be a decent clan leader if given the chance. The trouble came in not wanting to repeat a past mistake. Bunke could not be allowed to continue to birth exceptional shinobi, and to see the shift in power two generations in a row was cause for alarm. The Elders were not supposed to make mistakes.

“Then what of Neji . . .” an elder began only to be interrupted by another as he warmed to the subject.

Neji did not physically flinch at the mention of his name only through years of practice. He could feel his grandfather’s eyes upon him once more. He held himself rigid; he would give nothing away.

“Exactly. He’s already almost perished once, and now he’s a jounin. More susceptible to dangerous missions . . .”

“He’s of marriageable age -- why hasn’t a wife been chosen for him?” That was the first again.

“He should already have a child on the way,” said a third, who sat with fingers laced before his mouth to hide the disapproving tilt of his lips. “That genius lineage cannot be allowed to simply die off.”

“The real question is what house will she be from? Do we elevate Neji to an honorary position amongst Souke or leave him as he is?” The second’s queries were met with silence for a long moment. The issue was the irreversible Seal as always.

Then Ichiro nodded. “In either case there are only two choices of women with notable ability. That is Souke Kikue who will be twenty this year or Bunke Madoka, who is already sixteen . . .”

Neji closed his ears. A wife, he frowned internally, was just a word synonymous with breeding partner to Branch house members. It was occurring to him that his Uncle Hiashi had known this conversation concerning his future would take place. The Elders had yet to be informed that Neji’s cage had been expanded though it could never be lifted. He was exempt from this conversation. The Elders were merely advisors; their word was not law, only Hiashi’s was.

His uncle was interceding on his behalf.

It was subtle, like a battle employing the Gentle Fist style in an argument, the damage immense though the words simple. Hiashi’s voice carried the weight of authority as he addressed his clansmen. Hiashi’s choice was Emiko. Though she was only twelve she had proven to be proficient in Hyuuga jutsu. When pitted against Hanabi she’d fared better than Hinata ever had. Emiko was barely Souke, but Kikue was too high in the hierarchy and Madoka too low, though he would consider them as prospects if Neji displayed an interest in either. What was four years? Haste was not an ally of the Hyuuga.

Every muscle in Neji’s body relaxed. For a moment he’d been afraid that his uncle would renege, that his newly given freedom would be snatched away to appease The Elders. Really, The Hyuuga was beginning to impress him. He was slowly becoming able to see Hiashi’s quality, a reason why his father had chosen to die for him.

====~- X -~====

Neji cleaned the table of the dishes after the Elders had retired for the evening with a contented smile on his face. It was alright for now. Hiashi had not spared him a glance. He was a servant, he did not exist, and in Neji’s nonexistence there could be no favoritism. Hiashi had played the Elders well in using their own superiority against them.

When the dishes were stacked neatly beside the sink Neji headed for the door. He would not sleep another night in Hyuuga territory while the choice was his. He wanted to shout his joy. He wanted to run in a Springtime of Youthful exuberance that his mentor, Gai, would applaud -- but he wouldn’t do that on principle alone. He wanted to sing but couldn’t carry a tune. He wanted to tell someone, but the only one who mattered wasn’t in the village. He wanted to dance, dance as his father had taught him -- dancing he could do. He had planned to go straight to his apartment, change out of his kimono, and unpack his things, maybe peruse his new book, but instead he modified his course to walk along the wall toward the stream passing through Hyuuga land.

To find The Aviary one had to follow the Tears of the Moon and show them one’s Sorrow. As he walked he couldn’t halt the refrain in his head of wild blond hair and bright blue eyes. Neji didn’t like to think about him when he was near Hyuuga territory, afraid that they would see his delight and somehow discern its cause. They would take it away. But all the same, Neji reflected with a smile, he had meant it. He wanted to tell him that even though he wasn’t Hokage yet, though it was only one person, he had succeeded.

Naruto had once vowed he would change the Hyuuga. Neji had gazed at him with wondering eyes at that time and thought that even if it couldn’t be done, in Naruto caring enough to end his unhappiness the blond already had. Though he hadn’t recognized it for what it was then, that was the moment Neji had fallen for loudmouthed, flashy, horrendously naïve Naruto.

Neji paused; he was barely on Hyuuga land now. He focused on the moon flowers growing at his feet and moved his forehead protector just enough to bare the Seal. The flowers closed; a moment later the earth parted to reveal a stairway. The Aviary was located on the barest dregs of Hyuuga land fifteen meters below the surface. It was a private place for Bunke under a barrier jutsu, undetectable and invisible to any who did not have the Hyuuga curse mark. The Aviary was a place for Caged Birds to fly.

The Aviary was a warm place. The walls were painted in murals of people with wings gliding through a clear sky. There were tables, a bar, a stage, a dance floor. There was always music. Even as he descended the stairs he could hear the beat of a drum and knew Kuji was pounding on them. By the fury of his tempo, he had to have had a lousy day. Kuji was twenty-one and ever in trouble, the only person Neji knew to make a kimono look sloppy. His hair was unkempt and shaggy; he refused to shave the patches of a beard that wouldn’t grow in properly from his chin. His white eyes always looked sleepy and dismissive. The Souke hated his attitude. Kuji was Locked almost every morning -- and he didn’t care.

He entered The Aviary as the song was dying down. Dancers were moving from the dance floor to sip at their drinks. A singer stepped down from the stage as Madoka climbed up and set down her koto. A woman with light brown hair and doe-shaped eyes sat at a table closest to the back pulling the petals from a moon blossom and tossing them into a mortar.

“Neji,” she acknowledged him and indicated the chair beside her.

“Nadeshiko,” he replied and sat down.

“I saw you had the pleasure of serving The Elders tonight. Did they say anything interesting?”

“Do they ever?” Neji rejoined. His eyes strayed to Madoka as she plucked a tune on the koto; her long black bangs covered the Seal on her forehead. Everyone agreed that she was very talented not only as a kunoichi but as a musician as well. If worst came to worst, he preferred her over Kikue.

He recalled the bits of the evening he’d actually paid attention to. “The line of succession is in question.”

Nadeshiko snorted. “Really?” Her voiced dripped sarcasm. “Then Lady Hanabi won’t be joining us. Shame.”

“I feel your heart break, but nothing’s been decided as yet.”

“She grows arrogant,” Nadeshiko stated as she grabbed another flower to strip.

Neji nodded in agreement. Where Hinata would succeed as Clan Head or Branch member, Hanabi had never learned to bow. Her talents had kept her from hardship and she knew she had value.

“Well, what else?” Nadeshiko prodded. She picked up the pestle and began to smash the contents of the bowl. The scent of moon blossoms filled Neji’s nose.

“There could be trouble for Madoka and Emiko.”

Nadeshiko paused for a moment; their eyes met. “And you?” she asked.

“Uncle and I had a chat.” He looked back to the stage. “I’ve moved in to town.”

Nadeshiko almost dropped her bowl.

Neji held up a hand, flexed his fingers, and smiled. “I think I’ll dance.”

Her mouth worked but sound was delayed. “Then I will ask Ozora to sing.”

Neji left his seat and squeezed his way through the audience of Bunke over to the dance space. Bunke dancing had only one rule; fingers remained together and flat, palms open, like a bird in flight. He twirled once, twice, his mind drifted as his body was seized by the rhythm of the drum, then Neji spread his arms as though they were wings. Tonight he was going to fly freely, literally beneath the Souke’s notice.

-----

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
tj_dragonblade
Mar. 31st, 2011 07:05 am (UTC)
This is lovely no matter how many times I read it. The atmosphere in each section just draws me in. ♥
entitys
Mar. 31st, 2011 05:09 pm (UTC)
that's because you're awesome.
tj_dragonblade
Apr. 1st, 2011 02:31 am (UTC)
OMFG your icon.  ♥
entitys
Apr. 1st, 2011 07:25 pm (UTC)
like that huh? made it yesterday morning when the sasuSui was pissing me off.
e313
Apr. 1st, 2011 05:59 am (UTC)
this is so well written; it brings the story to life so vividly!
entitys
Apr. 1st, 2011 07:27 pm (UTC)
thank you very much. i try.
(Deleted comment)
entitys
Apr. 1st, 2011 07:33 pm (UTC)
thank you. i'm hoping so too.

the story is only complete in my head right now, but i'm working on remedying that.

its okay to ask questions . . . i'm pretty easygoing.

Edited at 2011-04-01 07:34 pm (UTC)
drivvenwrinth
Jun. 25th, 2011 01:10 am (UTC)
Interesting build up and very detailed background. Good job.
entitys
Jun. 25th, 2011 06:11 am (UTC)
thank you!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )