Summary: Naruto has been living under a mask for as long as he can remember. Hiding behind a smile to protect the cracks in his broken mind. But when the villagers take it too far, three people come to his aid and try pull him from the darkness. Seeing past his façade, they are determined to help Naruto like he helped them all those years ago. Graduation is the least of their worries now, not when Naruto might not make it past the week before breaking down.


Italics = thinking or emphasis on certain words to stress importance

Rating: K+

Word Count: ~2,600

Warnings: Use of curse seal, angst, cruel Clan Elders, not a very well written chapter

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto... maybe I'll be more creative with this disclaimer in the future XD

Notes: I have tonnes to tell you! See notes at the bottom for more.


Chapter 6 - Sparrow's Return

Kantai stirred from her perch in Hiashi's private garden. Tilting her head to the side, she felt a familiar chakra signature come within range. It was strong and light but it wavered ever so slightly. Her heart clenched painfully at the thought of her dear Sparrows pain. Knowing that she had to leave and watch over her Eyas, she opened her wings. Flying towards the entrance of the compound, she circled around the pathway leading up to the clan walls until a child came into view in the pale morning light. Giving a cry of greeting, she swooped down and flew past him. Raising his head to watch her as she left, grateful for the small gesture of comfort the hawk wished to convey.

A small pained smile ghosted across Neji's face as Kantai's call stirred him from his thoughts. The walk back to the Hyūga compound had been nothing more then mindless movement, thoughts somewhere far away from his current position. He knew that his sudden departure and his refusal to return home would spark a number unavoidable questions. But that was not the only reason he was worried. After everything that had happened, Neji had taken to bottling up his emotions and the inevitable breakdown loomed over him.

Hesitating a few metres before gates that led to Hyūga owned land. Neji took in a wavering breath, the only sign of how fragile his composure was. Stepping forward, he passed through the gates.

The Hyūga compound was simply a very large traditional Japanese building that stretched out to the side of an open expanse of land, roughly the size of a training ground. Inside, the house was a maze of corridors, inner gardens with both individual and family spaces. The communal kitchens, and laundry had their own area. Private training grounds as well as a large public one lay in different areas of the compound. Most importantly however was the divide. The innermost parts of the house were surrounded by many gardens that held both water and stone displays alongside what you would originally expect.

The main house residence was held in this very centre. These areas were more ornate than other parts of the compound aside from a large meeting hall that faced out towards the grounds, where the whole clan would gather for formal discussion and celebration. The main house also protected the entrance to the Hyūga library where history, Clan Jutsu and secrets were kept. There were some areas that were restricted to even some main house members.

The branch house was in charge of the upkeep of the compound and lived in the rooms around the centre areas. They too had their own training grounds and gardens but the decor was not as expensive. A large wall just higher than a person wrapped around the clan grounds. Not high enough for protection but more for privacy. There was however seals built into the very walls to prevent unwanted shinobi from passing through.


Tomoya Hyuga was one of the branch house's newly appointed tokubetsu-jonin. For the past few hours, it had been his turn to guard the entrance to the compound. Even though they were amongst allies, it was tradition to have one or two of each clan to man the gate. His partner on duty had been called away on an emergency mission and so Tomoya found himself wishing for the minutes to tick faster so he could swap with Anzu. After scanning the area and verified that there was no one nearby, he rolled his shoulders and let them droop slightly, losing his formal posture to relax. A sigh escaped his lips as last night's commotion came to the forefront of his mind. The other day, Neji Hyuga, nephew of Hiashi-sama, and son of the former branch house head, had been invited to a formal meal with the main house. Being the prodigy he was and in the branch house no less, Tomoya as well as the rest of the clan believed that Hiashi was just monitoring his progress. However when killing intent could be felt from the room, those nearby had started to believe something was wrong, the few curious elders who had been sent away came hurrying back only to hear Neji's raising voice and temper flaring. The boy had shunshined away without so much as an apology. Tomoya winced, What were you thinking Neji?

The elders than approached Hiashi-sama afterwards saying that they felt killing intent and came to investigate. Demanding that such disrespect should be snuffed out and punished, the elders argued with him, stating their reasons and personal anger towards the situation. Discipline was extremely important in the eyes of the elders. The Hyuga Clan hierarchy was built off fear and domination. The Elders with their old fashioned views and paranoid thought process believed that should even the smallest act of disobedience by a branch member go unpunished would result in the entire system breaking down.

Tomoya suddenly straightened again as he felt an incoming signature. To his surprise, it was none other then the boy himself that came into sight. Standing aside, he watched as the genin hesitated suddenly before continuing through the gates, apparently too caught up in his thoughts to notice Tomoya standing slightly to the side and not at all hidden.

"Neji-kun!" Tomoya called out. Said boy stiffened in surprise at not noticing the guard.

"Tomoya-san." He inclined his head in greeting, mask firmly back in place.

"Be careful." Neji's eyes widened in understanding before a grim acceptance settled over his features. Nodding in thanks, the genin continued down the path.


Too close.

He hated this feeling. The feeling of being trapped. The thin rice paper walls turning into iron bars. The small four walls he call his own were nothing more than a glorified prison.

The walls again seemed to draw in closer, the cold chill in the air refusing to subside. He could hear nothing in the frozen silence, not even the frantic beating of his heart as he became trapped once more.

"Explain."

It took all of Neji's integrated emotional control to not flinch when his uncle broke that damned silence. Rising his head from his bowed position on the floor, Neji looked into his Uncle's eyes and froze. Once again he was that little boy, afraid and alone. Lost and bitter. Drawing into himself, Neji failed to see that while Hiashi's face was stone cold and smouldering with an untold inferno behind his stoic mask, his eyes showed only heavily guarded fear.

"There was an urgent matter in which I could not avoid."

"You have said this much already Neji. Again I will ask you and if you fail to respond, your punishment will be twice as harsh." The bite and terrifying edge to the Clan Head's voice, coupled with the sudden release of thick, blood curling killing intent sent Neji's hands shaking with small tremors. Unwanted memories flooding his mind. Willing himself to answer Neji spoke, resisting the urge to screw his eyes shut as last night came back in startling clarity;

"Blood," He hesitated remembering the horribly warm pool he had knelt in for hours, "A friend was loosing blood and suffering from broken bones. I had to stay the night in order to make sure they survived." Deciding that keeping any secrets or lying would be foolish he continued on, "I have... a seal wrapped around my upper left arm. They were to activate it when in need to help, it did so during dinner last night Hiashi-sama."

"Who is this friend and why did they not go to the Hospital?"

"A student, still in the Academy. He is not a threat nor an enemy."

"Do not make me repeat myself again. Who are they? And why did they not go to the Hospital?"

"I cannot say anymore Hiashi-sama. It is classified under order of the Hokage." It wasn't a lie, the Hokage knew that Naruto spent a large amount of time with the three of them and any information regarding the blond could be considered to be kept under the statue of secrecy regarding Naruto's unique position.

"And your proof?"

"I have none."

Hiashi sat in his raised position and looked down on his nephew. So it was a child whom Neji felt the need to protect. But Hiashi couldn't help but feel he was missing something. Blood and broken bones. A child of Konoha was attacked last night and so activated a seal in order to gain Neji's aid.

He thought back to Kantai's words. There were four of them. Sunlight, the one Neji sees as a leader and a brother must have been that friend. A boy still in the Academy with serious injuries and for some reason could not go to the Hospital. Such a boy's absence would not go unnoticed. He also wanted to know the identity of this Eyas, Shadow and Shadow Elder. Shadow… A Nara possibly.

"Who else was with you?" Neji's eyes widened in shock, he was fully expecting Hiashi to activate his curse seal then and there for his last comment. Instead he simply asked another question in his icy tone.

"My friend gave two others one of the seals. They also responded to his call for help. I can not tell you who."

"Classified?" Hiashi asked, his voice like steel.

"Yes." He stiffened waiting for the blow.

Once again Neji was surprised when his seal wasn't activated only to have a simple thought hit him. Hiashi had only ever activated his seal twice. Once when he tried to prevent his father's body being taken away and secondly when he lost his temper and wounded one of the main house children in a spar resulting in the boy nearly losing an arm. All the other times, it had been activated by an elder or another member of the main house.

Neji shook himself. He was acting skittish and on edge as if his very breath would result in punishment. He needed to get a grip on his emotions. It was as if he had been thrown back in time to the place he was before Naruto.

Walking through the halls of the compound. Neji quickly found himself face it face with an anxious Kazue Hyuga, a retired Chunin who had practically raised him after his Father's death.

"Neji-kun! What were you thinking running off like that?" Her tone was almost frantic and extremely worried.

"It was an emergency Kazue-san. I had no choice." He was upset that he made her worry after everything she had done for him but he didn't regret leaving the compound in such a manner no matter the consequences.

"You foolish boy. Are you injured? Where did you go? The Elders are searching for you. Hiashi-sama has ordered you to be brought before him as soon as your return."

"I'm not hurt, just tired. A friend needed my help."

"Friend? Oh never mind. Go hurry before the Elders find you." Neji nodded and made his way towards the inner courtyards.

...

Hizashi was quite outspoken with his hate towards the main house.

The Elders were angry with the fact that he didn't give his life for the Clan and it's future but for something as foolish as sentiment, treating his death as a final act of rebellion towards the system. They were determined to prevent this from happening again. Set upon instilling fear into Neji's heart to remove any inkling of rebellion lest he become like his father. In their eyes, Neji's reaction against his Father's sacrifice proved to be more than enough proof of his defective nature.

A tool gone wrong.

Of course Neji knew none of this.

Their anger increased when Neji continued to prove himself superior in all his actions be it school or combat prowess then Hinata. They were resolved in making Hanabi the next clan head and not that weak and defective heiress. Every time Neji defeated a main house member they would take him aside and punish him for cheating and the like.

The Elders held much influence over the Clan, it was tradition and tradition was something that never changed. So lost in their own worlds, bent on keeping things the way they always were and blind in their arrogance; The Elders failed to see past their clan walls. Segregating the two houses where other clans had brought them together. Failing to see the power and strength that many in the branch house possessed. They saw Neji as nothing more than a nuisance, a threat to the 'peaceful' workings of the Clan. It was this view perhaps which drove them to such lengths to make his life miserable.

The Elders found him before he reached Hiashi's quarters. They took him aside and activated his curse seal for several minutes as punishment for his actions. They didn't bother asking him where he had been. Content to set an example to the rest of the branch house so that such actions would not be repeated. This had sent a number of unwanted flashbacks entering the front of his mind, derailing his composure.

So when he had seen the anger in Hiashi's face, he quickly retreated into his mind, drawing into himself, remembering all that Naruto had tried to heal. The compound instantly became another cage and he felt trapped once again. He hated feeling trapped.

After entering the room where his Clan Head was waiting for him. Neji unsuccessfully hid the shaking to his hands from the stress of the seal. He bowed on the floor and waited to be addressed, completely missing the concern etched into Hiashi's eyes as he saw Neji's state of shock and pain.

He silence that soon followed only caused to increase the unease in the genin. Silence meant solitude, loneliness. He hated silence, it served only to remind him of his cold desolate upbringing.


Hiashi was at a loss. He didn't know what to do. He didn't have much information and it was clear that Neji already had the curse seal activated upon his arrival. He would have a word with the Elders later, he had instructed them that he would deal with Neji and they went against that. What ever had happened to this friend seemed to have derailed Neji significantly and as much as clan tradition stated punishment was in order, he was reluctant to do so. I pained him terribly every time shock and surprise flashed through his nephew's eyes who fully expected to be punished for his 'insolent' words.

He knew he had done little to have Neji trust him, the Hyuga Clan was not one built of love and compassion like the Akimichi or the Inuzuka. It was cold and structured, affection expressed through stiff words of praise at the completion of a new kata or a promotion in rank. He knew that the branch house were not as formal as that of the main house, often showing their emotions freely and kindly but Hiashi was not a branch house member, from a young age he had certain responses and formalities drilled into him. He wanted so much to just ask Neji what was wrong but years of habit were difficult to break and there was little chance he could start now. Seeing the faint bags under his eyes, Hiashi made his decision.

"Leave and return to your room, I will send someone for you in six hours. This conversation is not over." Neji once again was shocked however was quick to comply. Bowing once more, he left the room.

Four hours later, Hiashi walked down the empty area of the compound where Neji stayed and opened the door to his brothers old quarters. Passing through the small living room he stopped before Neji's door, frozen in place as he heard an unmistakable sound. Eyes wide with shock Hiashi realised that he had greatly underestimated just how disturbed upset Neji really was. Unsure what to do, Hiashi silently left. His mind whirling with thoughts and theories. He needed to find out exactly what had happened to his nephew last night. Still in faint shock and disbelief as he remembered the broken sounds from behind the genin's door. A cold feeling settled in his chest.

Neji was crying.


So... 9 months... he he he... In my defence I have school and exams and life and stuff. Yeah reality sucks but never mind. Thank you for all of you who have read my fic. This Chapter in my opinion is subpar to past updates. I really want to rewrite this but I've been trying to for a while and can't seem to get it right so here you have it :D

I was going to include Shikamaru's return home as well but I haven't finished it and I'm not sure when that'll happen. I've written bits and pieces of later chapters but nothing's really coming together. Anyways here's a really tiny chapter to notify you that I haven't died or something :D

Thank you all who have commented. It really brightens my day when you do so. See you all next update! Which should ideally happen before the apocalypse.

Have a great day/night/life :)