The Office

Chapter Three

Sakura sighed. Not even her drive to get things done would get her out of having to work an insane amount of overtime. She was just sitting innocently at her desk, playing Spider Solitaire, when it happened. Her boss had called Sakura into her office to talk.

At first, Sakura panicked. Had she done anything wrong? Judging by her boss's smooth but firm tone, something was on her mind. Sakura had had a sinking feeling; she wasn't going to like this.

To her immense relief, she wasn't fired. Instead, she was faced with a mountainous load of work all piled onto her at once. It would take a shovel made of pure determination to dig her out if it.

Her boss had assigned her three projects. Three! And all of them had deadlines so close that Sakura got cross-eyed just looking at them.

So for the first time in months, she was working late. Her shift usually ended at six, yet here she still was, hunched over her desk and staring at the impossibly complex tasks before her. Aside from the dim glow of her desk lamp, her computer screen bore the only light in the room. She hadn't bothered to turn the main light on; Sakura supposed her office closely resembled Sasuke's at the moment.

Sasuke. Ugh. Sakura did not want to think about him. Sasuke had withdrawn into his office again that day, not even bothering to talk to her until he found out that one of the projects assigned to him had been assigned to her as well. Even then, all he had done was shove basic contact information at her, in case she "felt the need to disturb him after work hours." Translation: Sooner or later, they would have to tackle the project together, so if it had to be outside of work she'd now know how to reach him. Indirect and rude. Still, he was the only person who once in a while saved her from workplace boredom.

After hours of seemingly unproductive work, Sakura set down her mug of now cold green tea and rested her forehead on her palm, loose strands of hair spilling over her fingers. It was nine fifteen; time to finish up. Actually, she should have finished up a long time ago.

Carefully sweeping her array of papers into one disorganized pile, she attempted to put some of them in order. She turned her briefcase on its side and placed her papers on top of it, balancing her tea mug haphazardly on the fluttering white stack. Lord knew how she was going to get this out the door. Poor Sakura had to grip it all on one arm while fumbling with her keys to lock her office. The janitor had already shut off half of the lights in the building, and this only made it increasingly more difficult to see the stubborn little keyhole.

Maneuvering her pile of work out to the car made her wish she had been born with the grace of her sisters, instead of with the clumsiness she so dangerously possessed. She unlocked her car and swung open the car door, and winced as her tea mug finally toppled off the top of the stack and crashed to the ground. Crap. Sakura had to admire the large navy shards it shattered into; she could attach an emotion to each of them. That one's for my frustration with my sudden workload, she thought. And that one is the despair I feel about making those deadlines. That one's for my stress, and that one's for how tired I am… She deliberately stepped on the pieces with the toe of her high heels, gaining a strange sort of satisfaction from the crunching sound they made beneath her foot. Abandoning the pieces and sliding into her car, she set her pile of work down and started the ignition.

Vroom, splutter, splutter.

Oh, no, not now.

Vroom, thwacka thwacka.

"Come on, baby, don't do this," she pleaded with her car. She tried starting it again, but no success. Sakura groaned, resting her arms on her steering wheel and staring out the windshield.

"What am I gonna do now?"

Sasuke Uchiha rubbed a towel vigorously through his dark hair, beads of water dripping off his bangs onto his shirt, the fabric soaking up the moisture. He closed the bathroom door to hear the professional jingle of his cell phone traveling from the nightstand. Who could be calling now?

"Hello?" Sasuke said gruffly, cursing as the phone nearly slipped through his wet fingers.

"…Mr. Uchiha?" a tentative voice spoke, sounding feminine and worried.

"Miss Haruno?" Sasuke could not hide his surprise that she of all people would be calling him.

"I know it's a lot to ask, but…are you busy?"

If Sasuke didn't know better, he'd have thought she was going to ask him out.

"My car broke down."

Oh. "Where do you need to be picked up?" asked Sasuke, running a hand through his damp hair.

Sakura smiled. He was always straight to the point. "I'm still in the parking lot. I worked late, so…"

"You couldn't have called your family?" Sasuke questioned rudely. There he went again, thought Sakura.

"They'll be sleeping right now. Your number was on that contact sheet you gave me, and I couldn't think of anyone else."

Sasuke decided not to point out that the contact sheet she had received was supposed to be for business purposes only. "They fall asleep before nine? That's strange."

"You don't know my family." Over the phone, Sasuke could hear Sakura exhale sharply.

"I'll be there." And with no further questions, he hung up.

Sakura stepped out of her car and shut the door, leaning against the side. She was alone in the dark parking lot, with only the dim shine of the streetlights to keep her company. Somewhere far off to her left, a dog barked.

There is absolutely no point in staying here, Sakura thought. Sasuke won't be here for a while, and I'm craving something stiff. The small, devastatingly old bar down the street caught her attention, as it was the only place still open on the block. Everywhere closed early these days. Sakura's first instinct was 'No.' The bar looked like a slight breeze would end its existence entirely. The painting on the loose boards was peeled beyond repair, the windows were cracked…oh, for Pete's sake, both of the 'r's on the "Joe's Bar and Grill" sign were out. But the other side of Sakura's mind was crying out for a calming drink, and in her state alcohol was too tempting to pass up.

Sasuke swung the door to the little tavern open so forcefully that he was afraid it might fall off of its hinges. Wouldn't take much, he thought, noting the quality of the place. The inside of the bar was just as grubby as the outside, but the customers didn't seem to mind. Or rather, the burly men in the dirty dark corner table didn't seem to mind. The rest of the establishment was completely devoid of people, except for the person sitting on a barstool at the counter. Sasuke breathed a sigh of relief.

"Sakura," he called. She turned to look at him, a dopey smile plastered across her features, mug in hand.

Oh, no.

"Heyyy, you found me!" Sakura responded cheerfully, swinging her legs back and forth on the stool.

"You're drunk," Sasuke stated obviously.

"Nooo," Sakura answered, flicking her wrist in his direction as if the idea was ridiculous. She tried to stand to go meet him, but she stumbled. Sasuke immediately rushed over to catch her, but slightly off timing resulted in him grabbing her arm and shoulder and her knee banging on the floor.

"Owww," Sakura moaned. "Why'd you do that?"

"You fell, Sakura," Sasuke said, using her first name and talking to her as if she were a naughty third-grader.

"I'm not drunk," Sakura said, trying to reassure him, but the slow, uneasy sound of her words may have given her away.

"Sure you're not," Sasuke replied sarcastically, wrapping an arm around her shoulders to steady her. "Good lord, woman, it didn't take you long, did it?"

"To get drunk? Nah, took about twenty minutes." Sakura stopped and looked at him. "I'm not drunk."

"I'm getting you to the car."

Sakura giggled hysterically at everything as they made their way out of the bar. The fact that she couldn't seem to walk only made things funnier to her. Sasuke opened the passenger side door of his sleek black car (Sakura couldn't identify the model) with his free hand and plunked her down on the seat, shutting the door behind her.

"Thanks for coming," Sakura said as Sasuke started the engine, sounding like a game show host. "If you hadn't come, I would've been stuck." She said the word "stuck" like a six-year-old might have said "muck," like it was exciting and gross at the same time.

"Explain to me how you ended up drinking so much," Sasuke said in monotone. To his displeasure, Sakura started giggling again.

"W-well…my car died, I walked into that dump (Sasuke guessed she was referring to the bar), and told the person that I wanted something strong. Whatever it was, it was good, so I ordered three more…"

Sasuke sighed. She was hopeless.

"By the way, you look good, your clothes," Sakura commented. Sasuke flinched at the unexpected compliment.

"Kinda dressed like an overgrown teenager."

Well. There went any warm feeling Sasuke might have had. He glanced down at his apparel. Loose-fitting casual jeans paired with a black T-shirt to match his hair. Oh, lord, she was right. This was the first time Sakura had seen him outside of work, and she was just drunk enough to fully speak her mind.

"Hey Sasuke-kun?" Fresh giggles erupted from her mouth. "Sorry. Carol calls you that when you're not around. I thought I'd try it out." Seeing Sasuke's puzzled expression, she added, "I take it you don't like it?"

Sasuke said nothing. He now had yet another reason to hate Carol.

"Amnyways," she continued, stumbling over her words, "what I wanted to ask was, why are you always so cold?"

Sasuke stiffened. "What do you mean?" he asked uncertainly.

"You know," Sakura said casually, swaying slightly. "The way you're always so gruff and distant. Even when I bring you coffee you barely say thanks or anything."

Sasuke felt a twinge of guilt, but didn't mention it. "There's no reason," he said defensively.

"Of course there is. I've been…speculating for a while now (Sakura giggled at the big word), and I have a few guesses, but I don't really know."

The male next to her sighed. She's not likely to remember tonight anyway, he reasoned. No harm in opening up just a little. I may owe it to her a little, seeing as she's obviously hurt by my actions around her.

"It's hard to explain."

"I'm still listening." Sakura propped her head on her hands, her elbows resting on her knees as she stared intently.

Sasuke coughed. This would be awkward, not to mention difficult. He reminded himself to breathe, telling himself that it would be okay. Talking about it after years of keeping silent was something he just had to do eventually.

"I…I was married three years ago."

"Sasuke Uchiha, married?" Sakura said incredulously, her eyes wide.

"Yes. She died of leukemia that same year."

Sakura's face twisted into a pained expression, and she placed a hand on Sasuke's arm. Sasuke gently moved his arm out of her reach. He kept silent, but the air was too tense for the conversation to be at an end.

"There's more, isn't there?" Sakura asked seriously. Even when she was under the influence, Sasuke noticed that she was still incredibly perceptive.

"Well, my parents eventually called, two months after it happened." Sasuke's tone turned bitter and resentful. "And all they called for was to express their disapproval of her anyway, and…" He took a deep breath and released it. "And that they hoped I wouldn't make the same mistake next time."

"Oh, Sasuke."

Sasuke avoided her sympathetic gaze and instead focused his eyes on the road ahead. He couldn't handle her sympathy.

The car slowed to a stop in front of Sakura's apartment, and the two sat there in silence.

"Well…thank you," Sakura said. She giggled sheepishly. "I promise this won't happen again."

"It better not," Sasuke warned, taking off his seat belt. "Because next time I might not rescue y—"

Sakura had worked free of her seat belt and had leaned over the stick shift, and had captured Sasuke's lips mid-sentence with her own. At first she was shy and cautious, but as soon as she was sure he wasn't pulling away she kissed him harder, resting her weight on her arm to keep herself upright.

For a moment Sasuke could only sit there in shock, all too aware of Sakura's glossed lips moving against his. And then he was responding, lifting his hand to the base of her neck and pulling her closer. He opened her mouth and she grabbed a fistful of his overgrown-teenager shirt, leaning on him and running the fingers of her free hand through his hair.

This is Sakura, Sasuke's conscience reprimanded him. You can't do this, She's your co-worker. Besides, she's drunk.

Oh, God, she's drunk, he suddenly remembered. He was stupid. He could even taste the alcohol on her tongue.

Grasping her shoulder, Sasuke firmly pushed her back. "That's all you get," he told her. She let out a small whimper of disapproval and reached for him again, but he shoved her back harder, ignoring his own guilt and disappointment.

"Sakura, you're drunk. Think about what you're doing."

"I'm not drunk," she insisted, but Sasuke had already exited the car and was opening the passenger door for her.

"Try to make it up to your room on your own, okay?" he instructed. "You're going to have a hell of a hangover tomorrow. Good thing it'll be a Saturday."

Sakura pouted, managing to get herself out of the car and onto the sidewalk. "Okay," she mumbled grudgingly.

Sasuke gave her one last concerned look before getting back into his car. Sakura watched him drive off, looking sad and exhausted.

Sasuke hoped she wouldn't remember anything come tomorrow morning. The still had a project to work on. Speaking of…I'll have to call her tomorrow to see if she's well enough to work on that, won't I? he rationalized, smirking. That ought to be fun.

The next morning, Sakura was roused from her sleep by a shooting pain in her head. Groaning, she rolled over in her blankets as she realized she was horribly hung over. Through the hazy fog of her thoughts, one memory drifted to the front of her consciousness.

She immediately sat up, and then wished she hadn't after her head started spinning. Her neighbors woke to an ear-piercing shriek emitting from Sakura's apartment

"Good God, I kissed him!"