All of the Lights
It was almost blinding. The irregular spin of multicolor lights and strobes flickered across Sasuke's face as he watched the figure onstage. Already the crowd was chanting her name, their voices a wave of physical sound. And she loved it.
He could see the perfect white of her smile, snowy against the explosion of color that was her set. She was a born performer, Sasuke knew.
The gaudy sparkle of her studded mic caught his attention and he felt his heart lurch in anticipation as she sighed her first note. A roar of approval from the stadium washed out her voice for a second, then she was in full swing. On fire.
Her hand went high above her head as she dove into the hook of her newest party anthem. The hover cams whizzing around the arena were projecting a tight close-up of her smiling. When she caught a glance of the shot, she winked cheekily.
Ruffling her hair, she softened her knees and began to dance. Sasuke watched, oblivious to the crush of the crowd behind the barrier at his back. Sakura let her eyes slip closed, never missing a note. The enormous screens overhead caught the diamond-dust glimmer of her heavily made-up eyes and the glimmer of her lipstain.
Her voice rolled out, amplified until it thrummed in Sasuke's veins. The words of this particular song were a little brainless, something she had probably jotted on a napkin over a lunch. But he knew she loved to dance, and the beat was perfect for that. Her slim body rocked steadily, rhythmic as she belted the chorus.
Sakura's signature pink mane bounced along behind as she lapped the expansive stage. Her dress' flirty hem flounced too, lurid colors flashing against her lightly tanned legs. Sasuke wondered if she had been vacationing in the sun before the tour kicked off. Who had gone along? She loved toting friends all over the map.
Suddenly the lights drew down, throwing the stage into monochrome as the strobes took over. Sakura looked like a stop-motion film as she hopped up and down, psyching up the crowd in the flashing light.
Sasuke jerked, pulled from his thoughts by his partner's voice. Suigetsu's barking tone blared into his ear from a concealed wire. "Oi, boss! Big man's coming up now! You got a visual?"
Grunting an affirmative, Sasuke turned to keep a line of sight on the real reason for his presence at the concert. A new song started, a rock band rising from a hidden platform at the back of the stage. The guitar whined and a loud, unmistakable voice blared, "Hey, Sakura? You ready?"
Her laugh trilled and she turned to hail the smoke-clouded figure high at the back of the auditorium. Shading her eyes with gaudily jeweled sunglasses, handed off from a back up dancer, Sakura replied, "Oh, I'm ready!"
Crossing her arms in a cutesy imitation of acting tough, the pop queen turned to the crowd, "I know you don't know this one! Do you wanna hear a world exclusive?" Sakura turned her mic to the fans, cupping one hand around her ear.
They went wild, mixed screams for both of the celebrities carrying up onto the stage until the noise was a physical throbbing.
"Alright, let's go!"
The main stage went dark, aside from roaming beams of white and black light that combed the audience. In the temporary pause, Sasuke knew Sakura was making a speedy wardrobe change. He also was being paid to keep an eye on Naruto as he skipped down the main aisle, lit by an enormous spot light. But it was difficult.
Old habits died hard, he reasoned. He was used to watching over the popstar, rather than his new ward. That was all. The instant knots in his shoulders every time a fan tossed flowers and gifts onstage were just a routine response that hadn't run itself out quite yet.
Either way, Sasuke was gritting his teeth the entire breadth of time it took Naruto to reach center stage and cue the lights back up. When Sakura was back in his line of sight, Sasuke released a breath he didn't realize he was holding.
Sakura raised her mic and crooned the chorus. Her other hand propped out in front of her, holding steady as she rocked her hips. She had shed her feminine dress, slipping into high-waisted short shorts and a sequined bikini top. The long fall of her hair was caught back from her face by a knotted, brightly patterned scarf and her eyes were still hidden behind her shades. Couture kitsch, she used to say-drawn like a magpie to the gaudiest baubles she could find.
Sasuke just thought she looked like summer personified.
Naruto was crouched at the edge of the stage's catwalk, reaching out to touch the hands of his fans. His blond hair was in artful disarray and his features crumpled in a permanent grin. The mixture of their voices was amazing. Sakura's deeper tone and Naruto's raw emotion made for something unusual. The single was going to conquer the charts.
As Naruto's gravelled voice reached the chorus, Sasuke noticed a familiar silhouette waiting in the wings. Sakura glanced the same direction, cued by a voice in her ear piece perhaps. A new, wide smile spread across her face as a third voice erupted into song. Sasuke felt a sense of dread settle on his shoulders. Eyes searching for the surest sign that his suspicion was true, Sasuke cursed when he noticed a puff of smoke in the darkness behind the figure. Shikamaru was here, chain-smoking as usual. That could only mean. . .
Strutting confidently, signature high-note still holding steady, Ino Yamanaka arrived onstage. One hand purposely placed to make her already tiny waist seem even slimmer and perched confidently on impossibly high heels, the heiress was every bit the powerhouse Sasuke remembered.
When her pale eyes swept the front row, he sighed. She wasn't looking into the crowd. Ino was scouring the space between the lip of the stage and where the audience began. She expected him to be there. The roars of the crowd began to at last creep in on Sasuke, pounding in his temples and sewing what would become an epic headache.
Her blue eyes scanned one more time, catching sight of his dark-clothed and unassuming presence at last. The cat-eyed slant of them, already extenuated by black liner, turned almost predatory as they narrowed angrily toward him.
Her portion of Sakura and Naruto's duet was a simple assist vocal, but the tune had changed again. This one was a crowd favorite from the previous summer. One Sakura and Ino had written together about a woman scorned. Ino's expression was almost gleeful as she belted a snarling, angry strand of epithets to the catchy beat pulsing from the amplifiers.
Sakura slinked over to her best friend, moving along to the upbeat synth sound of their song. Ino turned to face her at last, leaving Sasuke to watch Naruto grab a second mic from a stage hand. Pocketing the regular one, the blond took a deep breath and jumped into a goofy rap. The new equipment altered his voice to something comical and in-keeping with the song's silly, retro sound. His tight jeans and obnoxious orange belt only added to the moment, Sasuke snorted to himself.
Watching his new assignment as he was, Sasuke missed the silent exchange between friends that must have occurred. But when he looked again to Sakura, her apple green gaze barreled right back at him. The weight of her attention was almost a physical touch. Before Sasuke could think much more on it, though, she had turned away to play to her fans once more.
The rest of the show passed in a blur and Sasuke could feel his apprehension build. He would have to meet Naruto backstage and escort him to whatever after party or hotel or liaison he had decided on for the night.
Sakura might also be there. Waiting. Or maybe they would just see each other coincidentally. Or passingly. Fuck, Sasuke didn't know. He just had a thousand and one possibilities rolling around, loose in his head.
Eventually his stalling became obvious. Suigetsu's salty personality cut him no slack. "Hey, boss? You gonna be helping the cleanup crew or some shit? Cause if you could put down your broom or whatever-the-fuck, I'm swamped back here."
Pressing at the wire curled around the shell of his ear, Sasuke barked back, "Coming." But almost as soon as he mounted the stage and moved to the wings, headed for the dressing rooms, Suigetsu's voice crackled again.
"Big man wants ta talk to you, I'm gonna let him have the mic." Sasuke opened his mouth to tell Suigetsu to make an excuse, but it was too late. Naruto's overly loud voice poured into Sasuke's ear, making him freeze in place to dig at the device before he was deafened.
"SASUKE? CAN YOU HEAR ME? YOU THERE, BRO?" Thankfully, his partner must have cut in to let the rockstar know just how sensitive the sound equipment was because Naruto had quieted down when he spoke again, cutting straight to the purpose of his impromptu contact. "Hey, I just ran into Hyuuga back here. I've been meaning to catch him, so we're gonna head back to the bus together. You stay and enjoy."
Sasuke felt a black scowl spread over his face. "That's not necessary-"
"I mean it. Stay. I, uh, I'm giving a thumbs-up but you can't, you know. . .see it. But good luck!"
Naruto had handed off the headset again before Sasuke could salvage the situation. There was just static as Suigetsu rearranged it, entirely too smug when he cut back in, "Have fun, loverboy. I'mma tag after and make sure he doesn't get into too much trouble."
"I hear ya, I hear ya. I'm off."
Left standing awkwardly in the wings, Sauske felt his annoyance rise. What was he meant to do? Obviously Naruto intended for him to talk to Sakura. But the question was rather she was wise to the plan, or if Naruto had taken the entire thing upon himself.
His question was answered almost as quickly as he thought it. The heavy clack of heels against the stage flooring was his only warning before a sweet-smelling body launched itself into his arms. Then Sakura's face was still pressed hard into his chest, her patterned hairband bright against her rosette hair.
Her beaded top was digging into his skin, but he couldn't find it in himself to pull away. Rather he let her be. She was still warm from the stagelights, Sasuke realized. Someone in her vast entourage had made an "artisitic decision" to oil her exposed skin as well.
The proximity was making memories swirl back into focus. Little details about her were rushing back.
Sasuke released a slow, measured breath. The scent of Sakura's newest signature fragrance wafted up to him in waves as she simply stood in contact with him. It was an almost unbelievable mix of everything Sakura: warmth, spices and a heady floral note.
A trigger flipped somewhere in his brain at the scent. Bits of the past flashed back into vivid color, oddly distorted by time. Sasuke saw the drunken glow of a high-class hotel suite, a full-throated giggle and an enormous bouquet of poppies. . .Sakura's skin and-
"I've missed you."
Screwing his eyes shut against the vulnerable note in her voice, Sasuke mumbled something in reply.
Her big green eyes were staring up at him as she tried to lighten his tense expression. "So you finally made it to a show, huh?" Rubbing at her bare arms, Sakura trailed off, "It's been an age since you've seen me live."
"Yeah." Sasuke frowned at the simple response. Something was making his tongue heavy and clumsy, pinching at his lungs when he tried to draw a breath to speak.
Sakura could sense his discomfort and rocked back on her stilettos, tucking her hands into her back pockets nervously. "So. . .um, what did you think of the new set?"
Swallowing hard at the first impulse to say nothing at all, Sasuke forced himself to speak. "It was good." When her expression began to falter at his lackluster tone, he added, "The new single will do well."
A little smile crooked her lips as she nodded. "Naruto's brilliant at writing hits." Shrugging one shoulder, Sakura glanced in the direction of his dressing room. "I'm sure we'll work together again after this. Maybe on the new album I'm doing after the tour wraps."
Sasuke tried to squash the surprise and annoyance that welled at the idea. He had been unaware that she was working on new material and that was still something he was getting used to. Not so long ago, her entire world had been run by him first. But now, the possibility that they would be in the same studio or arena was cause for anxiety.
Even as he nodded politely, his fist was clenched at his side. It was a conscious battle not to tug the ugly bow from her hair or to tell her to take the ridiculous shoes she was wearing off-he knew how they tortured her feet. But the familiarity their time together had bred was unprofessional. . .and it had culminated in something forbidden.
Sakura seemed to notice a shift in the air between them and stepped close again. One of her bright-tipped hands fluttered up to his face. Sasuke was perfectly still. She ran her thumb then forefinger over his cheekbone, not quite caressingly-too firmly to be affectionate but not quite brisk enough to be strictly impersonal.
Pulling her hand back, Sakura flashed him a glimpse of her fingers before scrubbing them against her jean shorts. "Glitter," she said a little apologetically and a little teasing. "Probably from the cannons at the start of the show. . ."
Frowning at her thought and the conclusion it brought about, Sakura tilted toward him and asked, "Why were you in the security pit during the opening?" When Sasuke's expression closed and he refused to answer, she clicked one sharp heel against the floor in annoyance. "Sasuke," she began in a low, terse voice, "Naruto's feature wasn't until the back half of the show. You could have come in at intermission-easily!"
When a fragile hope began to light her features, Sasuke calmly smothered it. "Sakura, it's just glitter." Focusing on a point somewhere above her head, he quietly explained, "It could be from anywhere, or anyone."
Sakura reeled back, as if the words had physically struck her. Crossing her arms tightly across her chest, sequins digging into her skin and reddening it in a splotchy blush. "Right. You're right, of course." Her lips thinned and whitened with tension. "I-"
"S'krah!" A heavy arm constricted the starlet's middle and pulled her back, unbalancing her.
Sasuke moved before he thought. The frustration bubbling under his skin spilt over, boiling into a furious set of commands. "Hey! Hands off, fucker." Grabbing the man away from Sakura by his hair, Sasuke shoved the smaller male roughly to the ground.
"-tha fuck? I was jus, jus comin to see my muse!" Staggering to his feet, the drunk bellowed obnoxiously, "Do you know who I am?"
Sakura was shouting something from behind him, still tottering unsteadily on her heels. She had been pressed behind Sasuke as he immediately moved to protect her-and she knew better than to move until he gave her permission.
Sasuke remembered precisely who the little lush in front of him was, of course. A designer of some sort. One of the hundreds of hangers-on Sakura had accumulated. "No and I don't care. ID and backstage permission pass. NOW!"
When the man continued to sputter, unable to form a coherent thought, Sasuke advanced on him. Towering over the drunk, Sasuke's hand trailed toward his concealed weapon. "I said NOW! Until you show me what I ask for, you're a threat. Do you know what I do to threats, asshole?"
When he actually drew his gun, raising it but not yet pointing it at the intruder, Sakura began to scream in earnest. Her hands found his shoulders but all Sasuke could see was red. Tunnel-vision zeroed in on the rapidly cursing and apologizing man who had made the mistake of manhandling Sakura.
"Uchiha." A cool voice sliced in, "I can handle it from here."
Slowly, a sense of reason filtered back into his head. Sasuke felt his shoulders hunch in yet more tension as the reality of what he had done began to sink in. Shoving the pistol back into its holster, he backed off.
With one last glance at Sakura, Sasuke strode away.
Word travelled fast in their world of celebrities and gossip. The backstage fiasco was prime material. It probably was leaked to his client before Sasuke even made it to the hotel where they were based for the night.
The aftermath was almost instantaneous. He wasn't surprised at all when Naruto's manager suggested strongly that he take some paid leave. Maybe for the rest of the month. His career was fairly well fucked.
But three burbons and two vodka sours later and he still couldn't banish the sight of Sakura's wide-eyed, pale face. She had looked honestly afraid of his unstable behavior. If Hyuuga hadn't shown up, would he have done something stupid? It was impossible to know.
Standing and stumbling as the room tilted, Sasuke made his decision. With a surprisingly steady hand, he scrawled his signature on a stack of forms for Naruto's manager, Kakashi. A few emails later and he had done it. Resigned. Permanently.
Collapsing back into the stiffly starched armchair of his hotel suite's sitting room, Sasuke poured another glass and wondered where he had fucked his life up quite so irreversibly.
Experimenting with a new style, making some of Sasuke's thoughts and transitions choppy to add an overall tone and foreshadow Sasuke's meltdown. . .not sure if I love the result but i DO love this !verse. Speaking of, I have at least two more of this !verse planned.
Previews are up on LJ, you can find the link on my bio page.
Thanks again for reading!
Music list, for those interested, as follows:
All of the Lights by Kanye West (title credit goes to this piece)
Marvin's Room by Drake
Flashing Lights by Kanye West
Dinosaur by Kesha
1+1 by Beyonce