The walk back to the Uchiha compound seemed much longer than he recalled. Still, the path was the same. In his mind’s eye, he could imagine a worn path. It was a path he walked alone for many years. That certainly wasn’t the case anymore. No matter how close he came to the compound, people were still on that same path, whether they were coming or going.
As the arch to the compound came into view, it was clear plenty had changed. The Uchiha insignia had been removed. Despite disrupting the flow of traffic around him, Sasuke couldn’t help standing before the arch, staring up at the blank space above the walkway. Unconsciously, his jaw and fists clenched. His entire body was tense.
Immediately, his mind was flooding with anger. He could understand not wanting to waste the land. Sure, they couldn’t maintain an empty compound like a gravesite forever, but they couldn’t leave any trace of them? It was as if the Uchiha clan had never existed. His mother, father, and Itachi’s face flashed in and out of his thoughts as he stared into that empty place.
It was an empty space, not unlike the one that was rooted in him. The open wound with its loose, torn edges was forming tendrils. Those tendrils were reaching and digging around. They were looking for something, and they were growing. They fed on the anger that was boiling beneath it in the pit of his stomach like a fertilizer. The longer he stood, clenched in anger and silence, the further the tendrils reached, entangling themselves around his veins and organs. They were reaching up from his belly, traveling up into his chest cavity.
The tendrils slowed, their goal in sight. They circled the thumping organ in Sasuke’s chest, the sound luring them like snakes. Then, she crossed his view. The tendrils rushed back from where they originated, back to the pit of emptiness. Sasuke blinked, clearing his vision to focus on the path in front of him. There she was.
Black hair swayed down the length of her back, jet black except for the occasional blue that flickered as the light hit it. She was carrying a basket full of vegetables and fruit. Sasuke couldn’t help focusing on them, the tomatoes specifically. They had been his favorite. They were still his favorite. Every weekend his mother would pick up as many as she could, and they’d spend the evening eating them like apples on their pack porch.
Though he knew it couldn’t be, seeing a woman with that hair color, walking into the Uchiha compound with a basket of tomatoes couldn’t help conjuring her face: Mikoto Uchiha. Though the dress she wore was lavender, which wasn’t a color he could recall his mother wearing, she had a cream-colored apron tied around her waist. Despite the logical part of himself telling him not to, Sasuke began to move. He followed a few feet behind her, desperately trying to stop the hope that was thrumming in his chest.
It was difficult, especially since the path she took was the exact same path to his childhood home. With every step and every turn, he could feel the wheels of time turning backward. He shrunk back to a child, chasing after his mother’s apron strings. Sweat was pouring down his face, but nothing could hamper the excitement of the tomatoes. As they neared their home, his mother peered over her shoulder to smile at him.
Something wasn’t right. Sasuke paused in his pursuit. His mother’s face flickered for a moment, her eyes were wrong. He remembered them being black, but these were white. His mother pursed her lips, brow furrowing. Her tone was higher and softer, different than he remembered.
Blinking past the illusion, standing before him was not his mother. Instead, it was another familiar face. Familiar, but not one he could place right away. Her skin was porcelain white, a stark contrast to her hair that shimmered blue and black in the setting sun. However, the most striking feature she had was her eyes. They were even paler than her skin, a pure white without a pupil. It was a characteristic owned solely by the Hyuuga clan. It was then her name came rushing forth.
Her face flushed, and her eyes, though they had no pupil, shifted from his face to look somewhere at his feet. Her eyes had a weight to them. They gave off energy, as though they might swallow you whole. Sasuke hadn’t realized he was holding his breath until she looked away. He tried to casually gulp air into his lungs as Hinata spluttered her response.
“Yes! I didn’t realize you were back. Are you heading home?”
It was then Sasuke realized where they were. Just to their left was the entrance to his former home. Well, ‘former’ wasn’t accurate anymore. It was his home once again. Looking at it, it hadn’t changed much at all. Most of the paint was faded, including the two Uchiha insignias on either side of the front door. It was a sight that warmed Sasuke’s heart to see the village had at least kept those, possibly as they awaited his return.
“Yes. I just made it, but…” Sasuke paused to look at Hinata’s face, “where are you heading?”
Once again, he was met with a shocked glance and a flushed face. It didn’t seem to take much to throw Hinata into a tizzy. She spluttered once more before turning to look behind her, motioning to the house directly next door to Sasuke’s.
“Well, I guess we are neighbors now.”
Sasuke blinked. A map of Konoha appeared before his mind’s eye. The Uchiha compound was directly east to the Hyuuga compound, a much bigger area than even the Uchiha’s. Yet, the Hyuuga princess lived in the Uchiha clan compound? Seemingly watching the wheels turning, Hinata cleared her throat.
“I guess it’s a bit strange, a Hyuuga living here, I mean. It’s a bit of a story.”
Sasuke could only imagine. He peered over to her home, much more modest than his own with only a single story. All the Uchiha symbols had been removed, leaving large sections of the white walls bare. He met Hinata’s gaze and decided her eyes were even whiter than the walls of the house.
“Um, do you have anything for dinner?”
Sasuke blinked, unsure of how to answer. The meeting with Naruto and Sakura replayed in his mind, which stirred the emptiness in his stomach. As a result, a growl erupted and hung in the air between them. Now, Sasuke was the one to splutter as he crossed his arms and looked off into the distance, doing his best to avoid the Hyuuga’s gaze.
Before he could reject her invitation, Hinata began to giggle. Sasuke’s gaze snapped back to see her in the middle of laughing. She coyly hid her mouth behind her hand, her other shaking as she held firm to the basket of bright, ruby fruit. It took everything in him to not laugh along with her. As her laughter subsided, she dropped her hand from her mouth and took hold of the basket’s handle. She lifted the basket with both hands, seemingly offering Sasuke the produce.
“It’s not much, but I’d like to offer you dinner to welcome you home.”
To welcome him home, she had said. Those words rang pleasantly in Sasuke’s ears. They were words he had desperately wanted to hear, though, in reality, he had expected to hear them from someone else. Sakura’s face came to mind immediately. Much to his dismay, a woman he had never really spoken to remembered him before the woman that was on his old team.
As the threads of the invisible wound within himself stirred, he gave a curt nod.
“I’d like that.”