Her house, especially in comparison to the Uzumaki household, was much more heavily decorated. Shelves lined the walls, and on each one were various knick-knacks and potted plants. Leafy, green vines grew wildly along the walls. They reached toward the floor and ceiling with reckless abandon and even grew towards one another, grasping out to form nests of tangled brush. If he hadn’t known any better, he might have thought the entire house was held up by the vines.
Between them appeared to be ceramic statues of various animals. Owls, foxes, cats, and wolves were in different poses, scattered along the shelves. Even the traditional tea table that Hinata escorted him to had a cat and wolf frolicking in a little vine as a centerpiece. Despite the decorations, somehow, the room felt emptier than the Uzumaki household had been. He just couldn’t put his finger on why.
“Please make yourself at home.”
With that, she bowed and scurried off to the kitchen, setting her basket of red fruit on the counter. The home was open, the living room leading into the open kitchen. Even though she was technically in another room, she was still completely visible, minus the island counter that separated the two. On the counter, two purple orchid plants framed either side. At the base of their pots, a sleeping wolf at one and a sleeping cat at the other. She seemed to favor those two animals.
She wasn’t in the kitchen long. The familiar clanging of a teapot and stovetop switching on broke the comfortable silence that settled in the house. As soon as she had the kettle on the stove, she turned back to face the basket, and Sasuke took this opportunity to sit at the tea table. He watched her eyes, studying as their blankness reflected the shimmering red of the fruit. Their movement was almost imperceptible. It was haunting, and the more he watched them, the more he realized they were an identical shade to the ceramic animals she surrounded herself with.
Hinata quietly began plucking the fruit, eyeing each one carefully before selecting a handful that she then dropped into her skirt, which she held up to form a makeshift sack. Once she had collected her chosen tomatoes, she then grabbed a plate and knife from somewhere beneath the island and scuttled back into the living area. With great tenderness, she set the ceramic plate down on the table, just to the left of the centerpiece so either side could reach. However, with the tomatoes, she was much less gentle. She held the fruit over the plate and deftly sliced, with the blade going toward her thumb.
Sasuke couldn’t hold back his wincing as he watched, the knife pressing into her thumb. However, somehow she knew just the right amount of pressure, and never once did she cut her own flesh. In mere moments, all of her tomatoes had been sliced. Before she allowed them to be eaten, she quickly arranged them in a line, overlapping one after the other. Only then did she motion toward Sasuke.
Enjoy, he did. He wasted no time as he plucked the closest tomato slice and popped the whole thing in his mouth, seeds and all. He let the subtle flavor rest on his tongue before taking his first bite. Though it was sliced, the fruit flooded his mouth with juice. Even the stoic Sasuke couldn’t hold back a hum of pleasure as he drank it down.
Similarly, Hinata couldn’t hold back a giggle as she plucked her own slice from the plate.
“I’m glad to hear you like it. You know, I’ve never been fond of tomatoes, really.”
Even as she said that her pale lips parted, and she took a lean nibble of the tomato. She took her sweet time chewing, which gave the fruit enough time to fight back, dribbling down her hand before dripping into her lap. The juice left a red-tinted streak across her porcelain skin, which drew Sasuke’s eye. Though he didn’t consciously imagine it, an image of himself taking her hand in his own and lapping up the stray juice fought its way to the forefront of his mind.
Unfortunately, this resulted in him inhaling a few of the tomato seeds. He pursed his lips, trying to hold back the cough that erupted in his chest. Hinata’s eyes flickered up to meet his, even as his own vision started to blur with tears.
“Are you alright?”
Sasuke feebly shook his head and pounded his chest to ease the coughs, but which ultimately allowed the rest of the fruit to slide down without any further trouble. Trying to clear the erotic image from his mind, he coughed out:
“Fine, fine. So,” Sasuke took a moment to clear his throat before continuing, “why did you buy tomatoes if you don’t like them?”
Hinata fell back into her comfortable silence as her eyes drifted back to the limp slice she still held in her hand.
“I don’t really know… well, I think I do. They’re really pretty.” Her face grew flush, matching the red tint of the tomato juice that continued to flow down her hand. “I know this sounds stupid. I just like having a little pop of color, I guess. It helps fill the room.”
Though Sasuke couldn’t help thinking it was a little stupid, it revealed something to him. He peered around the room again, taking in the lush, greenery, filled with pale ceramic animals. That was why it seemed so empty. She was trying to surround herself with life: fake animals, ever-growing vines, and even bright red tomatoes. She was lonely, and that was something Sasuke understood all too well. The open wound, as if on cue, stirred back to life, rumbling deep inside of him. He clutched the front of his shirt as if that would stop it from growing.
“What made you move into the Uchiha compound?”
Hinata jumped as if he had startled her, resulting in more flecks of tomato falling onto her apron. Her pale gaze bore into him as she studied his face. It was almost as if she was looking for an ulterior motive, like this was some kind of mocking joke, but when she found no evidence of such, her eyes seemed to grow dim instead.
“I guess you weren’t here at the time, um…” her eyes drifted back down to the tomato slice, which then conjured a distant memory of a girl at the edge of every room, tucked away as if she feared being seen
Sasuke realized then why he had never really spoken to her. She never stood out, not that she couldn’t, but simply because she didn’t want to. Even now, rather than go out and surround herself with friends or family, she chose the company of things that couldn’t judge her: plants and ceramic animals.
“I gave up my… position in the clan. I decided it’d be best to leave so Hanabi had more room to grow since she’ll be taking over the family.”
“You gave it up? Why would you do that?”
As the words tumbled gruffly from his mouth, he realized how wrong his assumption was, but by the time he realized it, it was too late to take the words back. Though Hinata’s expression didn’t really change, something about her face withdrew. She seemed miles and miles away, somewhere Sasuke couldn’t reach her. What Sasuke had failed to realize in time was that she hadn’t willingly given up her position. She hadn’t voluntarily left, either. She had been pushed out to the edge of the only life she knew.
Unlike Sasuke, she didn’t choose to be alone and left behind. She had been forced into it, and all she had left were the plants, the fake animals, and now him. Even together, it was clear, they were both painfully alone. Suddenly, the sweetness of the tomato was sour.