Note: Written at 3 AM for Sasuke's and my birthday, since we have the same one. XD
It takes the twenty-third day of the seventh month to remind Sasuke that he still has vestiges of family residing in the village.
He waits for them, sitting at the kitchen table and swatting at the fruit flies that seem to thrive on the humid, July air.
It's not as though he's looking forward to their visit or anything—it's just customary. They come, they give, they leave. It's always been that way and Sasuke doesn't expect it to change.
But despite its triteness and the awkward civility that comes with it, Sasuke can't help but look forward to when his cousins visit.
The Hyuuga are worlds apart from the Uchiha. But vestiges of an aged, shared blood flow through them, making them similar, making them family. Sasuke remembers when his mother would prattle on about his future marriage to Hanabi and Itachi's with Hinata, smiling with total conviction.
Sasuke remembers this as he sits and waits at the kitchen table, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly at the memory.
And although he and Itachi are the only ones remaining of the Uchiha clan, his distant family makes it a point to acknowledge their blood ties, if only once a year. The Hyuuga are rooted in tradition and they continue to honour this one, checking in on him routinely to see if he's well, to see if he's there, to see if he's alive.
Sasuke is not bitter when it comes to this annual checkup. A childish part of him likes to think they do it because they want to.
It's monotonous and almost unfeeling, and yet he can't help but look a little forward to it.
His foot abruptly stops tapping when he hears a knock at the door. It's always the same, it's always formal, and yet he feels something akin to anticipation when he approaches the door.
When the door slides open, Neji stares at him expressionlessly before bowing low, murmuring a greeting. Sasuke returns the greeting, just as he has since he was eight, once to Neji and once to Hinata, whose knees are slightly bent and whose hands are forming a meek barricade before her lips.
"Hiashi-sama sends his greetings," Neji says, presenting Sasuke with a large basket.
Sasuke accepts it and looks down at it momentarily, finding clean linens, a blue, silk kimono, wrapped delicacies, calligraphy tools, a letter, some hand-written, leather-bound books, and a new set of porcelain bowls, each hand-painted and emblazoned with the Uchiha fan.
Sasuke thanks them and just as always, there's an awkward moment of silence.
It's surprisingly Hinata who speaks first.
"N-Neji-niisan and I…would like to invite you over for some…um…" her face is blazing red when he looks at her.
"Tea," Neji finishes curtly. "And training, if you're up for it."
"Will it be with you?" Sasuke replies, just as curtly, and Neji's lips curl into a wry smile.
"Hinata-sama will join us, as well."
Sasuke looks at her and she's wringing her hands and staring a hole into the ground.
He turns momentarily to set down his gift basket and beckons offhandedly at the living room.
"Would you like to come in?"
He knows what Neji's answer will be but it amuses him to see the Hyuuga forcing out an apology.
"Sorry, but we must be going," Neji said. "Maybe next time."
"Next time, then," Sasuke echoes, and they bow to each other once more before Neji turns to leave.
Hinata takes one step to follow, then hesitates.
"Neji-niisan, I'll catch up to you in a minute," she whispers, keeping her eyes on the ground. "I just have to…um…to Uchiha-san…something."
Neji somehow seems to comprehend her incoherency and saunters off to go wait by the gate.
Sasuke is surprised. They've never broken their routine before and Hinata has never said more than four words in his presence. He waits patiently for her to speak, vaguely wondering if she wants him to give Naruto a letter or some sappy message for her.
"I…um, have something for you," Hinata finally says timidly, fingers pressing into a steeple.
"You already gave me something," Sasuke says tactlessly. "You don't need to give me anything else."
Hinata's blush deepens and her legs buckle, as though she's suppressing the urge to turn tail and run.
"But…Naruto-kun…we talked and he mentioned you," Hinata says meekly, eyes rising in trepidation. "He mentioned some things."
Sasuke feels himself grimace, wondering what on earth the blonde idiot blabbered to her.
"You like…" Hinata pauses, swallowing hard. She looks at him shyly and pokes her fingers together again, smiling slightly.
"…tomatoes? You like them, r-right?"
"He told you that?"
"I-I don't know," she mumbles, almost nervously.
He sees her anxiety and lets his brow relax, his expression becoming neutral once more.
"Yes. I like them."
She smiles again and this time it reaches her eyes. She shuffles her feet a little before reaching for her knapsack.
Her movements are hurried and almost panicked as she unzips her bag, reaches inside, and thrusts two items in his face.
"Tomatoes," she practically gasps, sounding both euphoric and terrified.
Sasuke blinks and reaches out to lower her hand so he can get a good look at what she's holding.
In her right hand is an already opened, rolled-up packet of seeds. In her left is a dirty spade that still has some soil clinging to it.
"Tomato seeds," she breathes, smiling brightly now at his dumbfounded expression. "For your birthday."
Slowly, he accepts the two items from her, stares at them, then gives her an odd look.
She blushes because she can hear the confused appreciation in his voice.
"It's not too late to p-plant them," she says quickly, pointing at the seeds so he won't look at her.
"Plant them now and…you should have a lot in September. If the weather's good. If it rains," she blurted.
Sasuke is ruthless and looks straight at her, ignoring the way she wilts visibly beneath his gaze.
"Why are you giving this to me?"
"B-Because," she stammers. "It's your birthday."
Sasuke gives her a look. "Before"—
"I didn't know then," she cuts him off, shocked at her own audacity and inability to run away. "I didn't know…what you liked. Naruto-kun told me…this time. I i knew /i ."
Sasuke thinks she's being silly.
"Why didn't you just ask?"
"Why didn't you just tell us?"
He closes his mouth at her blurted response, miffed because he doesn't really have an answer.
Hinata is much nicer than he and spares him a game of twenty questions. Instead, she merely smiles again and looks back at the ground.
"Come over sometime…and we'll train and um…have…if you want…"
"Tea," Sasuke finishes for her.
"Yeah," she nods, already backing away from him. "Happy birthday, Sasuke-san. Um…bye."
She turns away from him and runs back to the gate where Neji's waiting. Sasuke is holding the seeds and spade up in both hands and watches them leave, unaware of how strange he looks.
Quietly, he closes the door and carries his seeds and spade over to the kitchen, setting them down on the counter.
Over the next few days, he makes use of the gift basket, replacing his worn linens and eating the wrapped food for when he's feeling too jaded to cook.
He uses everything and even tries the kimono on out of sheer boredom on a rainy day. The seeds and spade remain untouched.
A few days later, Sasuke's eyes blink open in the darkness, foggy and dark with the remnants of a nightmare. He's gotten too used to them to truly be frightened, but knows that he won't be able to go back to sleep.
He ventures into the kitchen and drinks a glass of water. He opens the fridge, stares inside and closes it again.
Sasuke contemplates pacing when his eyes fall on the metal spade that's glinting faintly in the moonlight.
He's restless and discontent as he approaches the two items. He's almost annoyed and almost scathing as he picks it up. He's vaguely aware that his mood doesn't coincide with what he's doing when he slides open the back door and heads into the backyard.
It's humid and dark but the moon is bright, casting an ethereal glow on the sparse vegetation. Sasuke wanders over to the forgotten vegetable patch and stares down at the weeds and crumbling soil.
Kneeling, he begins to dig.
Thirty minutes have passed by the time he pats soil onto the last and eleventh mound, his breathing slightly laboured in the sticky air. Rising, he stares down at his work, then turns and walks into a nearby shed.
The sound of sloshing water fills the still, quiet air and his footsteps are heard padding over the grass as he returns to his fledgling tomatoes.
He waters them until puddles form and he's sure that even the ants have drowned, then drops the watering can near the weeds. The water glistens in the moonlight and he watches the soil float and swirl on the glassy, brown surface.
Sasuke looks up when a cricket chirps, as if startled out of a reverie. He blinks, as if he's realized that he's in his backyard, barefoot, in the middle of the night, planting tomato seeds in a patch of weed-infested soil.
He heads back inside and falls asleep the instant his head hits the pillow.
The next day, he grabs his kunai and goes back into the yard, digging and pulling at every weed till his hands are scratched and bleeding.
A week passes, and he waters his seeds religiously, staring intently into the sea of pitch, searching for a hint of green.
Almost a month passes and Sasuke wanders out into the backyard after a heavy storm. He's unsure of what his face looks like as he stares at the dark, rich soil and sees a bit of green poking through, the leaves tender and small.
His face feels…weird, almost tense.
A moment later, he realizes that he's smiling.