Disclaimer: If Naruto were mine, Hinata would get more love and attention than she's gotten so far.

Author's Notes: Gratitude to link no miko, whose initial story image (now considerably tweaked) resulted in the final scene of this story.


Hyuuga Hiashi is intimately aware of Fate. She is the fickle goddess of his clan: her right hand bestowing blessings while her left rains curses. The Hyuuga worship Fate out of necessity, not faith. They must believe that she exists because only then can they call their fragmented bloodline a clan. Only then can they accept the seal that holds more than half of the clan hostage to Death.

Hiashi believes in Fate because he must. If she actually exists is a separate question and one to which he does not want an answer. As long as he doesn't know, he can both question and blame her on the off chance she is the one controlling their destinies.

He questions Fate today, not for the first time, and not for the last.

Hinata pivots on her right foot. "Hakkeshou kaiten!" Her chakra shoots out of her tenketsu in great uneven swathes, whipping the autumn leaves from the forest floor into the fitful lashes of swirling blue chakra. The leaves twist and crumble in Hinata's flow of energy, and when she ends the jutsu the fragments of leaf drop into her small crater like dry rain.

Neji's kaiten is so controlled that he can catch the leaves up in his swirl of chakra and not crush a single one. Hanabi's kaiten is at least complete, without the appalling gaps that chronically plague her older sister.

Hiashi signals for Hinata to try the jutsu again as he has done every day for the last two weeks since she's been home. Every day she shreds the leaves into dust.

And every day Hiashi asks Fate why his blood, the blood of the Main Family, is so weak in comparison to the Branch Family, his brother's blood. Why couldn't Neji have been Hiashi's son? Or at least why couldn't Hanabi been born first?

"Hakkeshou kaiten!"

Yellow, orange, red, purple, brown. The leaves hold their shapes for but a few seconds and then are shredded into a colorless mass of stardust. Hinata inhales some of it when she slows her spin and begins to cough.

Fate will not answer his questions. She never does. Hiashi isn't sure if it's because she doesn't exist or because he already knows the answers.

She is always in the garden, and Hyuuga Hanabi hates her for it. Hanabi watches Hinata spend hours mucking about in the dirt, flitting about her patch of weeds with an intent gaze that should be reserved for a jutsu scroll or checking weapons.

Hanabi cannot fathom how Hinata can kneel in the dirt instead of train, especially when it becomes clearer every day how easily Hinata is being shown up by her younger sister. If their roles were reversed, Hanabi knows that she wouldn't let anyone show her up, the Heir of Hyuuga's noble clan.

But Hinata waters the pitiful green shoots, as if their insignificant lives actually matter to anyone else but her.

They aren't even useful plants, Hanabi thinks scornfully. Not a single poison can be derived from the flowers Hinata is taking such meticulous care of. While the Hyuuga gardens are beautiful, they are practical. Every kind of plant in the gardens can be useful in some way, either as a weapon or a cure. Hinata's plants are a waste of soil.

Hinata starts coughing then, and Hanabi can't help but think that the girl before her is nothing more than a waste of a blood-line and training.

One week later, dressed in mourning-black, Hanabi cuts through the gardens on the way to the memorial ceremony.

The little green shoots are already starting to wither.

Hinata died a less-than-honorable death, and Hyuuga Neji knows that most of the clan blames him for it. It was his rage and despair that caused him to damage her heart and her lungs with his Jyuuken, so badly that her relapses were frequent and frightening.

So it wasn't such a surprising thing that Hinata's heart would give out while she was sleeping.

It will not be surprising to Neji if some of the Elders now look at him with less loathing than normal. They have the sister they want as Heir now, and it wasn't them that had to sully their pale hands with Hinata's blood.

The Main Family is arrayed in rows before the newest grave marker; as always the Branch Family is in the rear. Neji can't even see the marker from where he stands, not without engaging his Byakugan. At least Neji is allowed to attend. Inuzuka Kiba was outraged at being forbidden to come. Aburame Shino said nothing, but Neji knows that the chuunin's kikai bugs are in the Main Family's cemetery now.

Neji lets the eulogy of the speaking Elder pass through him, unheeded. The words are empty, sounds without sincerity, and there is no point in comprehending them. Before long, the Hyuuga family files past the marker, dropping white chrysanthemums carelessly on the ground like forgotten toys.

That night, when all but a few members of his clan are asleep, Neji guides Kiba and Akamaru to the grave marker.

The Inuzuka leaves a white rose. And he is the only one to cry.