Sasuke is five when he sees a dark stamp of color amongst blues and greens. His mother likes gardening and is always on the lookout for new plants to add to her own personal garden. It is small, just encompassing their own backyard, but the flowers are fragrant and his mother lets him lay amongst them, as long as he promises he won’t step on anything or crush any of the delicate flowers that line the edge of their property.
The blooming flowers are new additions, bought from the Yamanaka’s flower shop, and they are large all over, from stem to flower. The green and blue flowers are taller than Sasuke, reaching for the sun. There is a dark spot, however, if one where to look close enough between the stalks of the high flowers. In the back, towards the fence that closes off the garden, there is a shorter flower, though it seems to be several inches wider in diameter than its taller brothers and sisters. Its petals are black, a maroon tint gracing the petals when it is directly under the sunlight. It’s big and beautiful. Sasuke learns that the flowers are called dahlias.
It’s merely a curiosity, this black flower amongst a sea of color, and he doesn’t associate it with anything besides a mild want to know how this black dahlia had come to them when all the others they own are blue and green. He even forgets about it eventually, once faced with a wash of blood red and burning betrayal.
Afterwards, when he is the only one left alive in a large compound, he seeks relief in his mother’s garden. Itachi’s words ring in his ear as he lays there, gaze dull and unfocused as the soft moonlight shines down on him. There’s a kunai at his side, sharp and dangerous as it glints against the silvery light. He nicked it from his parents’ room, teary eyed and hyperventilating. His tears are dry now, his breathing more centered, as he looks at the stars and contemplates whether he wishes to live or not. Itachi told him to get stronger, that he was too weak to stop him or avenge their parents. Sasuke should be feeling determined and angry. Instead, Sasuke feels panicky, anxiety choking him as he fingers the kunai clumsily, the hard metal cold under his touch. He could do it, he thinks. He could end the life Itachi refused to snuff out.
That thought finally sparks the anger that he was hiding, the raging inferno of disbelief and desperation. It consumes him, that feeling, and soon enough he is stomping throughout the garden, high-pitched anguished screams following him as he destroys every flower that surrounds him. Bright pinks and red are crushed under his heavy, stiff stomps, while yellows and blues are strangled and mangled by grasping hands. He leaves no flower or bush untouched, destroying everything in his path of destruction. He falls into a heap once he’s done, the flowers that were taller than him now crushed beneath his fury. He’s breathing heavily, his eyes red and his throat sore, as he takes in his carnage. The sun is rising behind him, rays of golden light emerging over the house to light the yard, and he is face to face with that forgotten black dahlia. It was black in the night, so his gaze had not seen it, thus it escaped the destruction that befell all the other dahlias in its vicinity.
He stares at that black dahlia, transfixed, as his heart aches. It’s petals are maroon now, the light behind him highlighting the hidden undertones of the dark spike like petals.
He has to get up eventually, making his way into the house in a daze. He can’t, for the life of him, give a reason why he goes back to his parents’ room, body and heart numb as he digs through his mother’s book shelf. Towards the middle of the shelf, tucked on top of several other children books, is a book titled, “Exotic Flowers & Their Meanings.”
She’d shown it to him a few weeks ago, their shared time in the garden making her look for ways that they could continue to bond over her flowers. She was curious about tulips, she had told him, and she knew how much he liked the dahlia bush in the corner of the yard. She had seen the children’s flower section in the Yamanaka flower shop and immediately knew she had to get it for them.
He drags the book out of the room, unable to stand and leaf through his dead mother’s book in a room he was never allowed in when she was alive. He heads back outside instead, the sun now higher in the sky. He flips through the pages, searching, until he finds what he’s seeking. ‘Lasting bonds’, ‘major life changes’, and ‘commitment to one’s ideals’ strike him with harsh blows. It’s when he sees color meanings, each word color coded in correspondence, that he feels his heart sink and his stomach heave.
“Black dahlias—a warning for a possible betrayal.”
He takes in the words, eyes finding the warning he was deaf to. He reacts, reaching out and plucking the flower off of its stem. He places it right over the words, a cold feeling slowly spreading through him. He closes the book, gently pressing the flower between its pages. The flower is big, but the book is even bigger, text large, as it is in most children’s books.
He tucks the book away, hidden in the floorboards beneath his bed. He can feel the ice in his veins burning, frostbite nipping at his skin. He goes back outside, picking up the kunai on his way, before he starts doing katas in the destroyed garden. He doesn’t eat that first day, just keeps moving and training, frosty expression and frozen heart encasing burning hatred and unbelievable loss.
Hinata spends a lot of time in the gardens located in the back of the compound. Started with a few gifts from the Yamanaka clan around Konoha’s founding, the garden is now sprawling with budding flowers and beautiful ferns. They are a rainbow throughout the day, bugs buzzing and butterflies fluttering around the flowers as the sun shines brilliantly down. Hinata, however, prefers the garden at night time. The moon gives off a silvery light, giving everything in the garden an otherworldly glow. There’s one particular flower, however, that is the true cause of Hinata’s late night wanderings.
The garden expanded to be large enough that there is a small path that leads through it. Shades of off whites and blueish-purples are the most popular in the garden. The flowers are pretty and delicate and they all give off floral smells. If one were to stray from the designated path, however, one would find an older, dingy looking pergola. Flowers that grew tall, as well as blossoming trees, manage to hide it from view, leaving it forgotten. Hanging from the ceiling are wisteria vines that shimmer a light royal purple in the moonlight. There are small gaps in between the vines and ceiling that allow slivers of moonlight to shaft through and reach the ground. There, located in only a small bushel of foot high stems, is what continues to capture Hinata’s attention.
A deep, burgundy maroon stains the bottom of the flowers, eye catching during the day, but dark and almost unseen during the night. The tops of the flowers, a bright, snowy white, seemed drowned out during the day, but stark with the moon’s rays lighting them during the night. They are not particularly special, as there are others flowers that are brighter in saturation, or bleached even whiter. There’s an orange flower, towards the front of the garden, that reminds Hinata of Naruto’s bright jumpsuit; it should hold her attention, make her blush whenever she sees it. Instead, she wonders past the flower that blooms during the day, making her way down the path, then off, always finding herself sitting beside the small grouping of night phlox, their honey-almond vanilla scent helping calm Hinata’s growing-by-the-day anxiety. They remind her of two boys, both down a path of vengeance, that hid from the light in an attempt to keep others away from them.
The white top of the flower reminds her every time of how she found this little grove. Laughter and giggles as two children raced through the garden. Smiles and love, before both of their mothers are gone from the same sickness. Fathers together, complete, no resentment felt. They’re just two children, playing tag in a voluminous garden. She darts ahead, tiny feet sweeping across the plush grass, as she bursts through a flowered bush, finding herself underneath the pergola. She is tagged from behind, a cheer meeting her ears as a young boy grins at her. He looks like her, eyes pupil less, but filled with affection and mirth. He takes after their twin fathers, long dark brown hair, while her shimmery dark blue hair is more akin to her mother’s. This is before fighting, before death, and they lay together in this newly discovered grove, night phlox around them, as they hold hands and catch their breath.
“I want it to always be like this,” Neji says, his voice soft as he turns his head to lock eyes with her.
Hinata is just a young girl, unaware of the reality that will come for her in only a few short months, and so she turns to look at him and says, “It can be,” believing the words that leave her mouth.
They are children, so young and innocent. They do not understand. When she turns on her side, giving a shy smile, she knows in her heart that she will always want Neji at her side. She falls in love then, with a little boy whose forehead is covered by a bandage that hides nightmares and horror. She kisses his cheek, is graced with a blush, and she promises him that she won’t let him ever be punished like his father was when disobeying. That when she becomes the head of the Hyuuga clan, she will never let the boy she loves be hurt by their dumb practices. He believes her.
They have to get up eventually, the sun long set as the moon rises. Their mothers know where they are, anyone with a byakugan can see their tiny chakra pathways amongst the garden, so no one has yet to come looking for them. Now that the moon is out, however, their mothers will not be as patient. It is either their bed time, or close to it, because the moon is out and they both do not want to get in trouble. They stand, hand in hand, and leave their grove. They promise to keep this place to themselves, to make it their own little get away. They are too young to be in love, but that’s exactly what Hinata feels when she looks at the white tops of the flowers and then at Neji’s lovely form.
Neji’s father is killed a few months later as compensation and he no longer looks at her with any type of affection. He seems to forget her promise, forget his love for her, for he is now only full of disdain. She waits for him at their spot, years spent sitting next to night phlox as the sun sets and the moon emerges. She sits there, waiting, instead of training like her father tells her to. It shows. Hinabi, who Hinata also loves dearly, just in a different way, has no such hang ups. She trains when their father tells her to. She executes the Hyuuga style perfectly. Hinata, still lost under that dilapidated pergola, does not stand a chance.
She loses her first love easily. She never forgets, however. How can she, when she sees him train and fight, anger burning with every strike? She can’t let this fire consume him, she thinks. She must get stronger to make him see.
Sasuke trains every second he isn’t at the academy, katas and blunted kunai flying as his determination eats away at him. His senseis only see his progress, only see his genius, and so they encourage him. They don’t see the darkness, the growing pit that’s left unfilled. They encourage him to pursue whatever goal he is chasing without ever asking him what the prize at the end is. With their ignorance assured, Sasuke knows he can meet his goal.
And then he is assigned a team, a fangirl and an idiot, along with a lazy, porn reading sensei with too sharp eyes and a fake smile. He asks about their dreams, looks at Sasuke like he can see through him, and it makes him angry. He snaps at all of them, fuming, when they pretend to give a shit. They don’t. Sakura is a superficial harpy, Naruto is the dead last loser, and Kakashi is a chronically late buffoon. They can’t help him get stronger.
He walks home alone after another day full of useless D-rank missions, his hands calloused from menial labor. His hands are fists in his pockets, his brow scrunched up into a scowl, as he refuses to meet any of the eyes that track his movements. He can usually take it, the admiration and curiosity that follow him whenever he’s out in public, but he can’t today. He feels itchy, like his skin is crawling with a number of unseen bugs. He’s starting to twitch with anxiety, so he abandons his usual path home and takes a long detour, heading out towards the training grounds instead of the straight path back to the compound. The sun is setting, a warm orange glow, so most will have gone back home by now. He can circle around the center of town through the training grounds and make it to the west entrance of the compound instead of the main gate.
He hears the harsh breaths and feminine grunts before he sees her. He remembers her purely for the fact that she always left him alone. He couldn’t point out half of his graduating class, nor could he remember their names, but he knows her. Hyuuga Hinata, clan heiress. Her fawn coat has been shed, left sitting on the ground a few feet away from her. She’s practicing katas, striking motions that Sasuke know must be the Hyuuga style. It’s different from the Uchiha’s style, more abrupt striking where the Uchiha style is a flickering, dancing flame. It’s a random observation, something that doesn’t hold his attention for long. He keeps walking, already dismissing her, when she gives a pained grunt and collapses.
Sasuke hesitates. Years later, when everything is said and done, he’ll hate himself for it. Hesitating while someone else is suffering, while you’re the only one around to help, is something only an awful person would do. Here and now, Sasuke hesitates because he still doesn’t care. He doesn’t care if this girl is hurt. Helping her won’t make him stronger. It will cut into his training time, ultimately making him take longer to reach his goal.
Hinata doesn’t stay down, however. She lifts herself up without help, sweat visibly dripping down her forehead, eyes almost glazed over in exhaustion. She doesn’t give up. She starts jerking around again, katas stilted and weak as she forces herself far beyond her limits. It’s when she collapses the second time, eyes rolling backwards and knees buckling, that Sasuke finally acts.
He doesn’t rush forward. He takes his time getting to her. She was far enough away that even if he ran, he wouldn’t reach her before she hit the ground, so he doesn’t try. When he does reach her, however, he grabs her jacket, balling it up into a vague pillow shape, before he bends down and gently lifts her head, slipping the jacket underneath. She is still breathing, breaths gasping from her heaving chest, so Sasuke simply pulls out a scroll and opens it, releasing the prepacked contents. He hates doing dishes, finding it bothersome, so he started buying sealing scrolls from the store specifically created to hold food like a packed lunch. It takes up less space and it means he can train wherever he wants at any time without having to go home to eat.
He places the water bottle next to her unconscious form, looking down at the small container in his hand. He hates sweet things. He prefers sour or acidic things, they’re far more pleasing to his pallet, but it’s always a good idea to eat some type of sugar after training. When he learned this, he begged his mother to teach him how to cook something he could snack on afterwards. She had smiled at him and agreed. When asked what he wanted to learn how to make, his decision was easy. Itachi had given him a rare smile, eyes soft as he ate the misshapen dango from a broken stick. Itachi made Sasuke promise that the next dish he learned to make would be Itachi’s favorite non-desert meal: cabbage with rice balls. It’s the only things he learned how to make before he was the only one left.
He sets it down, fingers ghosting over the opaque tupperware. Hinata hasn’t twitched since he arrived, exhaustion leaving her knocked out for the time being, so Sasuke simply straightens up and leaves, not caring if he ever got his container back. He doesn’t want her to know he was the one that helped her; the one that cared even a little bit. If she did find out, if she asked him why he stopped and helped her, he might be tempted to tell her the truth: he knows that face, the determined one that shadows a hidden, shameful pain. He sees it every day in the mirror.
She is rescued by Naruto, sometime after Neji abandons her for vengeance, and she is smitten for a short time. The sunshine boy with a smile and heart of gold. He is so alike to a young, untarnished Neji, that it makes Hinata’s heart beat faster. Her illusion is shattered, however, when she sees Neji once more, his dark hair and pale skin a reminder that he is not the bright, tanned Naruto. The faster beat in her heart slows then, the hearts in her eyes once again sober as she compares the two. Admiration, she finds, is not the same as infatuation. She admires Naruto, the little boy who is treated like dirt. She longs for Neji, however, the little boy who can not find it in himself to give her the time of day.
She still blushes and stutters around her golden boy. He is her hero, the idol to which she looks up to, and she can’t help being shy around his untapped brilliance. He is the orange flower in the front of the garden, big and bright enough to hide the white topped night phlox under the broken pergola that is her heart.
All of the orange and white brilliance work in tandem to hide the even more hidden maroon that lays on the underside of the night phlox. Orange for admiration, white for love, and maroon for a secret kept between two souls so very much alike.
Hinata catches him the third time she collapses after pushing herself too hard. She had been confused and ashamed the first time she awoke to water and food beside her. Who had discovered her weakness? Why had they attempted to help her? To aid her? She takes the containers with her, telling herself that she will clean them and then hunt for the owner. Instead, she is met with silent disapproval when she returns home, forehead creased with a frown as her father stares down at her in disappointment. She forgets about the containers and her mysterious helper.
The second time, she wakes up soon enough to see someone disappear in the distance. Her eyes are still blurry from overextension, so she can’t see anything but a vague dark shape. It’s still light out, so she gathers herself up, collecting the goodies left for her. She staggers back home, weak limbed and shaky. The dango is sticky and the water cool.
She doesn’t collapse the third time. She chooses to fall down, resting on the cold, damp ground. The rain had stopped thirty minutes ago, but she is still soaked through with water and sweat. She hears them coming up to her this time and she cracks her eyes open.
Uchiha Sasuke meets her gaze, his eyes smoky and calculating as he takes in her damp form. He doesn’t startle when he sees she’s awake, just continues to evaluate her with his gaze. He tilts his head before jerking it to the side, looking off towards the direction he had escaped in last time.
“I have towels at home,” is the only thing he offers. He waits there for a moment, letting his question sink in, before he stalks off, leaving her to make a decision.
She thinks of sticky sweet food and the two containers located in her jacket pocket. She struggles to stand briefly, her muscles achy and burning, but she gathers her coat and slips it on, uncaring if it gets damp. She follows him slowly at first, breathing harshly between clenched teeth with ever sore step. Her feet are blistered and she can feel a particularly bad one threatening to pop on her right big toe. It distracts her long enough that they reach the gates of the Uchiha compound without her taking in any of their journey there.
Sasuke lets them in, leading them through a deserted compound. Now that Hinata is paying attention, it’s spooky, how quiet the streets are in this ghost ridden place. She does her best not to think about the bodies that must have littered the streets the night Sasuke became an orphan. She doesn’t quite manage.
They enter through his front door and he leaves her in the kitchen, water logged clothes dripping onto the wooden floor. The house is dark, softly lit by a lone light in the corner of the room. Sasuke emerges from the dark hallway and silently offers her a fluffy dark blue towel.
She takes it, hands shaking, as she dries her hair off. He doesn’t offer any clothes, nor does she ask for anything. It would be suspicious for her to show up back home with the Uchiha clan symbol on her back. She stays in her damp outfit, taking a seat at Sasuke’s kitchen table when he directs her there. He sets a familiar looking container in front of her and she doesn’t hesitate to open it, dango sticky against her mouth. He’s eating some too, she realizes, though there is a slight grimace on his face as he ingests the sweet treat. Hinata remembers faintly that some of the other girls in their academy class had stated that Sasuke didn’t like sweet things, so it was curious to see him willingly eating something he supposedly doesn’t like.
Hinata doesn’t ask. She simply eats what was provided for her, sipping from the cup he had pushed towards her. When she finishes, she pulls the other containers out of her pocket, cleaned thoroughly by her, and she places them on the table.
“Thank you,” Hinata says softly, shy in both action and voice.
Sasuke hums, not meeting her eyes as she stands from the table. She hands the wet towel on the back of the chair, too awkward to ask what he wants her to do with it, before she bows to him, blush staining her cheeks. She escapes after that, chilled by the wind as she hurries home.
This becomes their routine.
One evening, after Hinata has collapsed and Sasuke has wandered over, he sits instead of walking away. The grass is dry beneath him, rainy spring turning into sunny summer. It tickles at his exposed legs and he finds himself plucking at it, ripping grass up as he shares a silence with a girl he doesn’t know how to classify.
He’s not sure what prompts her to speak, to break that fragile quiet, but she does it, a secret whispered to him during a forgotten evening.
“I love him,” Hinata says, her voice a tremble as she confesses.
Sasuke glances at her, though she won’t meet his eyes. He’s not sure he cares about what she has to say. He doesn’t have friends, nor does he want any, but if he had to call anybody one, it would be either Hinata or Naruto.
“Who? Naruto?” Sasuke finally speaks, shifting so he too is laying on the grass, gazing up at the pink tinged sky. He’s not blind, he thinks, as he watches the clouds lazily float by above them. Anyone with eyes can see that Hinata is incredibly flustered by Sasuke’s teammate.
“Yes,” she says, quietly, “and also no.”
This catches Sasuke’s interest. He looks over at her again, surprised to see her already looking his way. Her eyes are darker than usual, like her very body knows that her thoughts are dark and something that should be kept hidden.
She tells him then, the story of a little boy and girl, a game of tag in a magical garden, and the promise that the girl has never managed to forget. She whispers to him about a forbidden love between cousins that is so unrequited one wishes the other dead in front of them.
The ice around Sasuke, the sheet of frozen tundra he keeps wrapped around him, cracks at her words. He needs the cold, needs the frost, to keep him focused. Without it, he thinks, the warmth can seep back into his skin and remind him of better times and soft smiles. He feels himself choke on words he tries to force down. He’s never told anyone his truth, the hated secret that he iced over years ago, and he’s horrified that it’s clawing its way up his throat. And yet, he can’t stop himself.
“I know what it’s like not to be good enough,” Sasuke starts, eyes burning. “I know what it’s like to love someone who looks down on you, who thinks you’re less than dirt.” Sasuke hasn’t cried since the night he destroyed his mother’s garden. He can feel it now, that anger and confusion from that night. The hopeless longing that he refused to acknowledge. That utter devastation that Itachi had made him feel when he left the village and didn’t take Sasuke with him. “I once told Itachi that when I grew up, I was going to marry him.”
Hinata looks at him, eyes uncomprehending.
“I hate that I still feel that way,” Sasuke finishes, letting his tears fall.
Her hand reaches out then, wiping at his face. Her own tears have returned, and now they’re both crying in an abandoned training ground, bodies curled towards each other as the sun sets below the tree line. They are so young, Sasuke can’t help but think. They’re both so young, only twelve years old, and yet they are already destroyed by unrequited first loves. Sasuke is left abandoned by a brother who committed genocide. Hinata is forgotten by her cousin who has become consumed by his hatred towards his clan and its traditions. They are both lost souls, struggling to reach goals that currently far exceed their current capabilities. They lay under the moon and weep.
It’s dark out, when Hinata senses him enter through her window. She doesn’t jump, not when she sensed him coming. Instead, she glances over her shoulder, turning away from her reflection in the vanity in front of her. He has a packed bag on his back and his expression is somber as he stares at her. She takes him in, the clenched jaw and smoldering gaze catching her attention, before she too stands, still silent as she approaches.
She searches his gaze for something, trying to find what she knows he must be feeling. Instead of finding it, she gets distracted when he pulls a children’s book out of his bag. He thrusts it out, forcing her to take it.
“Phlox has two separate meanings,” Sasuke tells her, his voice quiet as she reads the title of the book. She swallows thickly, eyes glues to the title. “One is ‘we think alike’. The other is ‘our souls are united’.”
Both meanings send a shiver down her spine, the white top of her favored flower singing out in her mind, while the maroon bottom pulses understanding. She can feel her arms shake as she grips the book to her chest, finally glancing up through her hair to look at Sasuke.
His face is bared to her, no ice hiding how scared he is, as he nods towards the book and says, “Page twenty-four.”
She pulls the book away from her chest, pages flipping open until she gets to the desired one. She is startled then, when she’s greeted with falling petals. It’s a dried-out husk of a flower, black petals now browned and wilting. She has to lift the bottom of the book so the dried and pressed flower doesn’t fall from in between the pages.
“I found a black dahlia, hidden among others when I was younger,” Sasuke explains, shifting on his feet. “It’s the only one that wasn’t destroyed later on.”
Hinata doesn’t ask how the others were destroyed. She just stares down at the dead flower with understanding. She closes the book, hands gentle, before she walks towards Sasuke, bypassing him to go to the window he had come in from. Below it sits a simple pot, unassuming in appearance. Hinata bends down and plucks a stem off, offering it to Sasuke when she turns around to face him.
He takes it after a moment, fingers light as he twists it between them. He takes in the light scent for a moment, eyes hooded. He doesn’t smile at it, but his eyes are soft nonetheless. He doesn’t stay open, however, the thawed ice freezing over once more. He is careful to stick the flower on the top of his packed contents, gentling closing the top and zipping it closed.
They stare at each other after that, dark meeting light, as the silent night surrounds them.
“Do you think this will help?” Hinata asks, suddenly desperate to know. She needs to know what Sasuke thinks, if he believes that killing his brother will erase the feelings that haunt him.
“I have to,” is Sasuke’s answer, voice monotone. Hinata can sense how lost her friend is. He doesn’t know either, she thinks hysterically. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, nor does he care. He needs to leave, to escape the place his nightmare took place, and he doesn’t care what he has to leave behind. It is thoughtful though, that he chose to stop by and let her know he’s leaving. It shows that he too got something from their acquaintanceship.
“Goodbye,” she whispers to an empty room, Sasuke streaking past her as he makes his way out of her home and into the quiet night.
She leaves her room then, careful to lay her feet down where no sounds will be made. She stops, briefly, when she sees a glowing lantern in the compound training grounds. She can faintly make out the shapes of Neji and Hanabi, both up late as they train under the clan head’s thoughtful eyes. It causes a pang to go through Hinata’s chest, so she continues on her nightly stroll, making her way to her only sanctuary.
She sits under the pergola that night, surrounded by almonds and vanilla, as she reads a children’s book about flowers. ‘Inner strength’, she reads, hands light as she traces the words. ‘Following your own unique path’, she contemplates, a soft hum rising from her as she reads. ‘Staying kind despite being tested’, she mouths out silently, closing the book softly before she leans back and lays on the ground. She observes her night phlox plant, alive and thriving unlike the dead thing that occupies the pages of the book beside her. Coming to a decision, she plucks a single flower from her plant and slips it into the page on phlox plants, resting her hand on top of the large book. She closes her eyes, curled up on her side as she listens to her own heartbeat, the closed book smooth under her small hand.