Crossed Wires

No, this fic isn't dead. And what's even better? I HAVE A TIMELINE FOR THE PAST NOW. So this means instead of "oh, I thiiiink Sasuke was a cop at some point, and er, obviously he has to know Kakashi if he's using his last name, and. Uh. I guess Naruto and Tsunade have X connection...", I have a list of dates and stuff that happened, with the Uchiha units, with the Hyuuga corporation, and with Naruto, that goes back to at least twenty years before Naruto, Sasuke and Neji themselves even existed.
I still don't really know for sure what will happen in the fic itself, seeing as my method of writing for this universe seems to be "throw events into motion and watch where they crash into each other", but at least I have a much clearer idea of the undercurrents, which, for a fic that relies on mysterious pasts, is prrrrobably a must. XD;

Neji : Chapter 9

Neji's room is white and gray and black. Mostly white. His drawstring sweatpants are white, too, as are the bandages around his shoulder and upper chest.

He doesn't match anymore, despite his smoke-gray eyes and coal-black hair. The ugly yellow-purple-green bruises really stand out on his pale skin, as do the red blisters on his hands.

He takes comfort in the fact that his hands still hurt. At least he didn't damage his nerves, and the doctor who treated him tells him that the bioelectrical implants won't need any special care. There isn't much else to take comfort in. He's been put on leave from security work while he recovers, and strongly encouraged to avoid all exercise; they tell him that it's for his own good, but he knows it's punishment.

In their eyes, he should have been silent and obeyed his captor to minimize injury and keep Hyuuga investments safe -- his datajack's entry port had to be replaced, which is costly enough for all its relative simplicity. His bioelectrical implants are state of the art, but they only work as long as his hands aren't a charred mess, and his cracked skull could have damaged his neural net and attached biochips. The Hyuuga corporation has their own surgeons, of course, but that doesn't mean they think nothing of sending their spare puppet in for repairs.

Hah. Like Neji got himself beat up just for the pleasure of getting more brain surgery.

The council is a bunch of paranoid old bastards, and for once, they're right; he's hiding something from them indeed. Neji mentioned the threats to Hyuuga personnel, but he hasn't said a word about the blackmail. He still doesn't know what he's going to do. The idea of bowing to blackmail makes him sick with anger; but there are people the assassin will target who have never done anything to Neji. If all that's asked of him to keep them safe is some information about people who aren't working here anymore...

He'll put those other people in danger, though, and he isn't sure they deserve it either -- even though that one lab assistant with bristly, pony-tailed hair and too many arms really deserved the punch in the throat Neji gave him. Being a smirky asshole isn't a hanging offence. Neji needs to know what they were working on. There had to be something for them to interest the assassin.

Except he doesn't have the clearance, even on a normal day. Being officially on sick leave, he doesn't have any clearance at all. And he's not about to go snooping around blind, either, with his injuries and no idea where to start. There isn't anything he can do, but sit on his bed and wait. And wait.

The sound of his door opening is a welcome interruption, but only until Neji recognizes his visitor.

"Stay seated."

"Sir," Neji says, as he gets up to stand at attention anyway.

The Hyuuga CEO is alone; that's somewhat unusual. Even inside the compound he rarely walks around without at least one advisor or secretary.

They double as bodyguards. The Hyuuga clan gets paranoid at the idea of losing Hyuuga Hiashi.

There have been times Neji has thought about killing him himself; but the second Hiashi's thought process stops, Neji is the one who will die, and he hasn't yet found a loophole for that.

"How are you recovering?"

Neji doesn't blink. He knows that Hiashi could read the doctor's report if he felt so inclined, but that's a conversation opener like any other. "Well enough. I expect my hands to be healed in a week." The rest is nothing but minor annoyances, more visually impressive than truly hindering. It still burns a little when he breathes, but that doesn't matter.

Hiashi nods in acknowledgement. He stares at Neji with too-pale eyes; he should be blind, but that's what corrective gene therapy is for. Neji's eyes were fixed the second he was old enough to tolerate the procedure.

"Was there something you wanted?" Neji prompts. He doesn't feel like waiting. "If it's about the intruder, I haven't remembered anything new yet."

Hiashi is watching him, thoughts hidden behind his customary stern expression. "I don't doubt that you would have informed someone had it been otherwise."

That wasn't a question, so Neji doesn't reply anything; but he's starting to get a little more wary than he usually is around the Hyuuga CEO.

Hiashi is still just as direct when he continues, but there's an oddly quiet nuance to his voice now. "They're thinking of making another spare."


Oh. Neji is becoming too divergent for his original purpose. Too divergent to merge seamlessly with Hiashi's thought process. Too divergent for that strange headspace, that mental perspective Hiashi triggered in himself, that makes him so invaluable.

... It's good, isn't it? Neji was right. He's different. He's his own person. It's good.

He's not sure how much longer they'll find him all that useful; he's a good security agent, he'd make a competent bodyguard if he was allowed to take risks -- the other spare still has to grow up. Fifteen years, at least.

Fifteen years of proving his usefulness and loyalty to a corporation he hates, a family he only belongs to on his fake papers. Fifteen more years of being the spare, the empty puppet.

It's not long enough. It's never going to be long enough. The uncertainty was bad enough; having a timeframe is worse.

"Are they --" sure that he's that bad off? Well of course they have to be damn close to sure. "--There haven't been any tests."

"They don't need to."

"I wasn't aware the divergence was that bad." Neji is proud of the way his voice barely cracks.

"You haven't made it a secret."

Neji flinches, just a little. It sounds like a reprimand. "... My attitude hasn't been the best," he admits coolly. "But surely you went through puberty too."

Hiashi shakes his head, slowly; at first Neji thinks his original means that he never rebelled, and it's hard not to call him a liar to his face.

"You know I am the only person I cannot see."

Neji stares at the man. For a second he wonders if he heard the odd declaration right -- or if perhaps Hiashi feels like philosophizing today. But philosophy isn't something Hiashi has ever been very fond of discussing with Neji, and his tone of voice is as no-nonsense as ever. No, Hiashi is talking about a quantifiable aspect of reality, and Neji is pretty sure that he isn't saying that his eye surgery is having the oddest malfunction Neji's ever heard of.

He's talking about his other kind of sight.

"And yet."

He's seen. He -- what did he see? What does he know? Does he know that Neji lied, does he already know what he's going to do? Neji hasn't even decided anything yet.

"Do you --" Neji can't breathe; his throat is dry. "The choices...?"

Hiashi gives a curt shake of his head. "You're still too indistinct."

Neji doesn't know if he should apologize, confess, deny, pretend he doesn't have a clue. He doesn't have to figure it out; Hiashi turns away.

At the door, he pauses, turns his head just a little, doesn't quite look back.

"I know that the only safe choice is the one you won't make. Tread carefully."

The white door closes, leaving Neji alone in the white room with nothing but white noise for thoughts.

When his fist hits the door, the pain flashing up his arm to flood his head is as red as the smear of blood on the panel.