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Neji's rage is, he knows, an ugly bitter thing that no one likes. It makes his throat ache sometimes, and his hands shake and people frown silently down at him, like he's a clock they can't get to tell the time. Sometimes, when Lee smiles extra wide and Gai-sensei ruffles his hair and Tenten shows a new move with a weapon, he tries. He tries to squish it down into the deep deep dark where it can be forgotten. Away from his face and hands and throat, but it lingers all the same.

 

He gives up, anyway, because they don't even notice him trying. One day, when he's biting down on the urge to lash out because Lee keeps throwing this one punch wrong no matter how Gai-sensei explains it, Tenten huffs and puts her hands on her hips.

 

“Why are you such a grump?” she asks, and Neji just scowls to cover the fact her censure stings some stupid part of him. He scowls harder at Gai-sensei's thoughtful gaze, and goes back to practising his high kicks, back turned to them.

 

It frightens Hinata, he knows. When they pass each other on occasion, or when their eyes meet, she quails, looking away or down. Once Neji would have helped her, maybe, but now he just growls and keeps moving. Hinata's fear isn't any better than his rage, but at least his doesn't make him weak.

 

No, in fact sometimes his is the only thing that keeps him going.

 

It lets him stay up, practising things he shouldn't, reaching higher than people approve of. It lets him then go to practice and spar and win. Again and again. His aunt used to look at him, full of worry, but his aunt is dead and no one worries about Neji now except Gai-sensei.

 

Gai-sensei is easier to hide from, but only because he's not allowed in the Hyūga compound anymore. Neji never asks why that is, Gai-sensei never mentions it.

 

His uncle doesn't look worried. In fact, his uncle doesn't look at all. He rarely deigns to acknowledge Neji, instead he talks at him, if he speaks at all. He doesn't talk much to Hinata, either, unless it's to outline a new set of failures, or just remind her of old ones, and he rarely speaks to their grandfather either. Just listens as the old man drawls on and on.

 

Sometimes, when he's feeling very introspect and more calm than usual, Neji might wonder what it is that sits in the back of Hiashi's throat. Anger? Fear?

 

But then Neji thinks, his uncle hasn't earned those things.

 

As Neji stands across from his cousin, waiting for the fight to start, he feels it there and thinks maybe he should push it away. Hinata is pathetic, but it's not her fault, and nothing works to make her less pathetic anyway so why bother trying. He thinks, briefly, maybe he should just win and leave it at that. Knows it's what he should do, certainly.

 

Except Neji is ruled by shoulds. Neji never gets to do what he wants, can't afford it and now he's spent so much time ignoring what he can't have that he doesn't even know this part of himself. He wants someone to suffer, maybe. Or see he's suffering. Maybe he wants help or just to lash out and for once not have to look over his shoulder for a familiar hand seal.

 

As he stands there, several teachers having appeared to stop him, Neji knows one thing.

 

His rage is ugly, yes, but at least it's his.