It’s so quiet.
The compound was leveled after Pein’s invasion. The rubble was removed, the area left as little more than a flat expanse of dirt and withered grass. No houses, no senbei shop, not even streets. Just a patch of land as dead as the people who once lived there.
But it’s home.
After his return, only a few months into his pilgrimage, Sasuke uses part of what was still set aside as the clan’s funds (a miracle they still existed - Konoha had taken everything else) to build a small, traditionally-styled home. Not much, but something to live in - something to spend his downtime when not on missions…of which he had many. Mostly as a distraction and a way to keep out of the village. The money didn’t hurt, either.
He’s encouraged, however, to get back into his year’s social circle. Reconnect with his old classmates. Try to reintegrate.
…it’s not easy.
They all look at him funny. Even Sakura, even Naruto. As though they all fear one wrong move will send him back over the edge. It’s annoying, uncomfortable, and only makes him want to be all the more reclusive.
…but there’s one who doesn’t.
Her clan is as mighty and renowned as his own was, once upon a time. She, like him, has had difficulties with her father. Drama within her kinsmen. Lost the person within her family most precious to her…and regained him, as he has. So when Hinata looks at Sasuke…there’s none of that suspicion. Of that animosity. Though it might not be complete…it’s a look of understanding.
It…unsettles him. He doesn’t know her personally. They were both solitary in the Academy - both outcasts in their own way. He avoided everyone, and everyone avoided her. Even as genin they interacted little, on separate teams and rarely having a reason to speak to one another. He knows her best for her infatuation with his teammate, which appears to have yet gone unaddressed.
But she’s the only one who smiles at him and doesn’t look forced. Invites him to sit with the rest of them without seeming patronizing. She wantshim to fit back in, even if he might not know why. Is it because he’s Naruto’s best friend? Or is it because what she knows means seeing their parallels and trying to build on them?
Either way…he appreciates her quietude. She’s not loud like his teammates, nor nosy, nor overbearing. No walking on eggshells, no regarding him like a bomb. She just…treats him like a person.
He doesn’t seek her out. Not consciously. But her company is the most enjoyable of his agemates, so running into her seems less like a chore and more like a pleasant surprise. Sasuke finds himself falling into step with her without realizing it. And she doesn’t seem to mind - welcoming, as always.
Unfortunately, the others take notice.
Naruto pesters him, alluding to a crush. Sakura seems to try and redirect his attention…but eventually gives up. Hinata’s teammates give him squint-eyed looks, as though searching for some angle he’s playing, like he wants something from her.
But he’s not playing at anything. He was told to make friends, and he’s doing so. What’s wrong with that?
Noting the observations to her once, Sasuke gives her a glance as she laughs softly into a hand. Her reply is simple: they’ve all got reasons to wonder. And people thrive on gossip. He growls it’s invasive - he wishes they’d leave him alone. She advises he ignore them - it’ll be old news soon enough.
But then it hits him out of nowhere.
He’s taking a stroll in the rain, a habit he’s come to enjoy. The weather clears the streets, and he can go unmolested. On a run for a few home supplies, he’s on his way back when he sees her.
The Yamanaka’s display is in full bloom, leaves bounces with each impact of rainfall. Under a lilac umbrella, her other hand tucks hair behind an ear, leaning in to sample the scent of a blossom. Eyes close, lips lift. He once saw his mother do the same thing.
Like he’s slugged in the gut, Sasuke stumbles back half a step. Since when?! He’s never -! She’s not -! But like a film set in fast motion, his mind takes him on a journey through everything he remembers about her. Everything he’s learned. And just like that, he blinks, and sees her in a new light.
He loves her…doesn’t he?
…he never thought he’d do that.
Unfortunately, his existential crisis lasts a moment too long, and she catches him standing still in the downpour, bag of groceries starting to soak. There’s a perk, mouth an o, and a dash to help shield him from the weather.
He asks if she’d like some tea.
She’s never been to his house before. And he’s not had many guests beyond teammates and the few scraps of family he’s got left. To his surprise, she shoos him off to rid himself of wet clothes, insisting she knows well enough how to make tea. There’s a pause, and then he does as she orders. As though there’s no saying no.
She’s done by the time he reemerges, handing him a cup without a word. They sit at his table, and she offers quiet conversation about the few things they care about: family, mostly. Friends. Futures. So they talk. And they drink. And every long, rain-muffled pause feels…normal.
It’s so quiet.
But that’s how he likes it.