Title: Two In The Garden
Author: creepycrawly
Characters/Pairings: Hyuuga Hiashi, Hyuuga Hinata, Hyuuga Neji. Gen.
Rating: PG
Warnings: None, really.
Disclaimer: No own. No money. No shame.
Summary: One bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, right?

Everyone thought that he must have been happy to have two clan members in the Chuunin Exams. Akamichi Chouza congratulated him when he brought the monthly delivery of little teacakes his wife made. Xaoi Meihao would talk about nothing else when he brought Hanabi to buy her first kunai and shuriken. And Gai…well. He was…Gai about it.

But Hyuuga Hiashi was not happy. He was not happy at all. In fact, having two clan members in the Chuunin Exams was not something he wanted. He did not want Hinata going into the Forest of Death, let alone making it to the sparring matches. And he did not want Neji to make chuunin.

(Not yet, too young, too good, too perfect, too strong.)

Neji reminded him—painfully—of Hizashi. Much like Neji, Hizashi had been born into the wrong family at the wrong time. Much like Hizashi, Neji was much too powerful for the seal put on him, stronger even the heir. Like Neji, Hizashi had been angry, had hurt. Like Hizashi, Neji was the kind of man who turned that hurting anger into something much, much more dangerous.

And, like Hizashi, Neji was being suggested for ANBU status before he'd even made chuunin.

Hiashi had been fighting to keep his nephew out of that snake's den for years. When Neji was three, ANBU had tried to take official custody of him, to raise him as their own, to train him from the get-go. Though Hizashi had fought it tooth and nail, the Clan Head had approved, as it would bring the Hyuuga Clan a little more status, a little more pride. Going directly against his father's wishes, Hiashi had taken advantage of his position as heir and backed up Hizashi's protest, allowing him to keep control of his son just a little longer.

(They tried to get his beloved 'Zashi, too, but it was too late—he'd been sealed three days before, his legs jessed, his wings clipped.)

As for his daughter… Hiashi had never shared the common belief that his eldest was unfit to be an heir to the Hyuuga name. Hinata was powerful in her own right, dangerous and strong. She was the type of strong that her mother was, the kind that hid behind silk and flowers and the beauty of candlelight flickering. Hiashi saw that in his gentle daughter, saw the fire and the strength and the poison that lurked behind her pale eyes and blushing face.

But he doubted that the chuunin examiners would see the same things, and he doubted that, even if they did, they would know what to do with them. Girls with Hinata's strength did not come along frequently, and when they did, it took something special for their strengths to shine. Hinata's own mother, Hiashi's beloved Yuuni, had been an ANBU spy for years, until she became pregnant. It wasn't until Hinata was born that they had even been sure that she was actually Hiashi's child.

(The world wasn't ready for that type of strength, and Hinata wasn't ready for that type of world.)

It did not surprise him at all that both children made it through the first exam. Hinata always had been talented with subterfuge—a frighteningly intelligent mind lurked under that stuttering, wide-eyed façade. As for Neji…fool boy probably knew all the answers without assistance. Neji always had been more intelligent than people gave him credit for. His genius wasn't just in fighting.

The trip through the Forest of Death hadn't surprised Hiashi, either. Hinata was strong in her own way, yes, but one of her greatest strengths was in relying on her teammates when she needed to. Neji…Hiashi knew his warrant had been signed and sealed the day the boy stepped into the Forest. ANBU had their eyes on him from the very beginning; the Forest of Death gave them the opportunity to test his skills without the Hyuuga Clan Head's consent.

(He had never doubted either one of them, but he feared for both.)

The final part of the exam was the worst. Having the secret strength of silk (holding together, holding together, always holding it together), the beautiful poison of flowers (smile, shimmer, kill), and the violence of the candlelight (never tamed, always wild, always dangerous) did not equate with success in the final round of the chuunin exams. Though she did well—so well!—against Neji, Hinata was not made for that kind of fight. Not yet.

Hiashi hurt, watching Neji fight. It was like watching Hizashi fight, his anger and his hurt becoming something that was beautiful, even in the breakdown. Seeing the talent that Fate had cursed, Hiashi was reminded—painfully—of how strong his 'Zashi had been. There was never any question between the two. Hizashi had been the talented one. Hiashi had been the older one.

(Hinata was the one blessed to be born to the powerful twin. Neji was the one cursed to be born to the stronger twin.)

The aftermath was almost as bad. Hinata was ill, injured, his precious flower wilting beneath his gaze. Still, the candlelight had caught something else on fire in her, and Hinata began to burn with an anger and strength that Hiashi had never suspected lurked beneath her skin. It was a frightening thing, seeing his daughter burn with all the fury he had only ever seen his brother and his nephew. Whether she saw the ANBU watching her or not, Hinata never said anything, just continued to train.

Neji, on the other hand, seemed to fold in on himself, to withdraw. His anger—that which had once sustained him, given him purpose, given him reason—suddenly crumbled, leaving confusion in its wake. Too, his injuries were more severe than they had seemed, and Neji spent days trying to recover strength and health. Still, he was together enough to turn down his promotion to chuunin, leaving no one but Hiashi the wiser.

(And through it all, Hiashi watched, listening to the whispers of the Hyuuga clan's flaws and thinking to himself that he much preferred two birds in the garden to one in the hands of ANBU.)