The beams of dawn danced in lines across stiff white sheets, twisted in knots around the gently stirring form. A shrill cry from the digital alarm clock resounded through the room, ended abruptly by a heavy thump on the reset button. Two legs swung over the edge of the bed, feet touching lightly against the dingy blue carpet.
Routine steps brought the young man from the bedroom across the short span to the living room. He flipped the television on to the morning news and poured a glass of orange juice, downing it as he watched the weather report. Rinsing out his glass, he walked to the bathroom and squeezed toothpaste onto his toothbrush.
As he brushed his teeth, the solemn voice of the news anchor drifted from the other room of the small, single tenant apartment.
"—has been missing now for three days. The chief detective on the case said in a press conference this morning that they're working now to determine the last person to see the young woman before she disappeared. Anyone who has any tips as to the whereabouts of Usagi Tsukino should call the tip line on the screen." The handle of his plastic toothbrush clattered noisily against the white porcelain of the sink. Sasuke stared at his reflection in disbelief for a few seconds before he retraced his steps to the tiny living space of his one bedroom apartment.
The picture of the blonde smiled out at him from the small television screen, the aforementioned phone number printed across the bottom in scarlet red digits. It only lasted for a moment before the anchor reappeared and moved on to the next story. Sasuke reached for the remote and switched it off, his mind reeling. He replayed Friday afternoon in his head, Usagi laughing as she got into her small silver Honda and drove away. Before he could move forward through time, a knock at the door brought him crashing down to the present, loud and strong.
He glanced down at his attire of boxers and a t-shirt. Retreating to the bedroom, he threw a pair of jeans on as fast as he could and returned to the door just as the knock sounded again. He opened it to a middle-aged man in a suit, readjusting his dark blue tie as he pegged him with a frigid, brown eyed gaze.
"Sasuke Uchiha?" The dark haired male nodded, but didn't move to invite the man in. He kept his expression neutral as he waited for him to go on. "I'd like to take you in for some questions."
"I didn't wake you, did I?" The question was fired off with a pointed look at his disheveled head of hair, but Sasuke just shrugged.
"I'm late for work." Was the reply he chose as he glared at the cup of coffee on the table his right hand was wrapped around, quickly losing its warmth. He knew that the detective was trying to get under his skin, to get some sort of rise out of him, and as much as he hated to admit it, it was starting to work.
"I'm sorry about that. Just bear with me a little while longer." The detective was named Kenji Hanako, a strangely feminine contradiction to his tough exterior and fierce stare. He reached for the manila envelope that had been perched on the edge of table for the duration of the interview, previously untouched. "You've told me that you were unaware of the fact Usagi Tsukino was missing until the news broadcast you saw this morning. The last contact you had was Friday evening when you both left work."
Sasuke had already reiterated these two things so many times that he didn't bother responding. His dark eyes followed Kenji's hands as they withdrew the papers from the envelope and placed them on the desk. "That's all well and good, but this is what has me confused. According to the phone records we received from Usagi Tsukino's cell phone company, the final call she made was to your phone number, a call that lasted the duration of 47 seconds."
Sasuke froze in his seat, suddenly remembering. He probably would've recalled on his own when standing in the living room of his apartment had the detective not interrupted his concentration. Early Saturday morning, around two if he remembered the brief glance at his alarm clock correctly, his phone had gone off. When he saw Usagi's name on the screen, he'd bristled and answered, intending to be angry.
"I thought I heard her say my name, but it was muffled at best so I couldn't be sure. There were some shuffling noises and static-y sounds for a bit. I tried to say something to her but she didn't respond. Then the line went dead and I went back to sleep." He finished recounting the memory in full to the detective and frowned in the face of Kenji's disbelieving expression.
"So you got a strange call from a friend in the dead of night and thought nothing of it. You went right back to sleep."
"You don't know Usagi. She has a habit of calling out of the blue, blurting something ridiculous, and hanging up without even waiting for a response." he shrugged as he continued, "I just figured she'd been partying and decided to call for no reason."
"So you found Usagi annoying?" Sasuke really did bristle at that question, and shifted his glare from the neutral coffee cup to the man sitting across from him, the undercurrent of smugness in his face glaringly obvious.
He took a deep breath before responding, "Yes, at times Usagi was annoying, but I didn't kidnap her, or kill her, or whatever you think I did."
"I don't think you did anything, did I say that?" Kenji collected the papers and placed them back in the envelope without showing them to Sasuke. "I'm only trying to establish who was the last person to see Usagi Tsukino, who as far as we know is still alive. Unless you have some reason to believe she's been murdered?"
"Are we done here?" Sasuke set his jaw and didn't react to the obvious prod.
"You're free to go, Uchiha. We'll be in touch." Without a word, the fuming Sasuke rose and left.
Falling into the chair of his cubicle, Sasuke closed his eyes and sighed, ignoring the papers piled neatly across his desk. He should be working on the article he was due to submit before the next issue went to print, tomorrow. Sure, he was mostly done; all that was left was a comb through of the material and the type up of the final draft. Right now he was too frustrated by the number of people who had stopped him on the way here to drown him in sympathy.
"Hey, sorry man," Sasuke was jolted by the sudden hand that clapped him on the shoulder, and turned to glare at the blonde man behind him. Naruto Uzumaki raised his eyebrows at the apparent hostility, his look of concern briefly wavering. Sasuke just grunted noncommittally and turned back around to shuffle through the documents in his work space. "I just saw the news about Usagi this morning."
"What does that have to do with me?" Swiveling in his chair once more, the dark haired male observed Naruto's reactions closely. He'd been puzzling over everyone's sudden concern over him all morning and was hoping that Naruto could elaborate. Confusion clouded his blue eyes and his face drew into a frown as he studied Sasuke's expression, realizing that he was completely sincere.
"Well, I mean...you two weren't together?" Sasuke's eyebrows shot upward, inadvertently, before he could suppress his shock. Naruto went on before he could say anything, "I just assumed you know, since you guys were together all the time. You go to lunch together every day, and leave at the same time. You don't even hang out with me that much and I'm your best friend." He twisted the last bit into the prod of a joke, flashing one of his signature grins, but Sasuke's mind was elsewhere.
Was that really true? His dark eyes travelled to the cubicle wall on his right, the one that separated his cubicle from Usagi's. He knew without looking that her desk was a whirlwind of chaos, papers scattered everywhere, the polar opposite of his.
In the two years he had worked at this magazine, he'd grown used to the blonde girl's constant chattering, the background noise of her radio that she sometimes sang along with, loudly and off-key. One day she had invited herself along to grab lunch with him, at a café across the street that he visited every day like clockwork, and had accompanied him every time after that. Near the end of their work day she usually gave up on working and hovered around his cubicle asking questions until he grew exasperated and decided to leave for the day.
Somewhere in that time she had managed to acquire his phone number. He pulled out his cell phone and opened their conversation history. The pattern was easy to see: she sent long, rambling texts about something he usually had no interest in and he responded, usually in one word. He leaned back in his chair, frowning, wondering why the past two years of his life suddenly felt like a dream he was just waking up from.
"Uzumaki, what are you doing here?" Sasuke glanced up as his boss and editor joined the two of them, his one visible eye looking over at the blonde man. He remembered being somewhat unnerved by the fact that Kakashi Hatake had kept most of his face covered all the time when he'd first started working there, but now he was used to it.
"Just checking up on Sasuke, ignoring my deadline," Naruto offered another grin before he retreated. He worked for the newspaper that also operated out of their office building and was frequently responsible for the front page stories, though he had a bad habit of turning in his work with minutes to spare. Kakashi turned back to Sasuke and eyed the papers on his desk.
"You aren't finished yet?"
"Something came up this morning." When he felt himself being observed by the man's frustratingly penetrating gaze, Sasuke frowned and swiveled back to his work, powering on his laptop. "Give me an hour."
"Not what I meant. The press has been calling all morning wanting details about Usagi. Since she hadn't turned in her advice column for the week, I want you to cover it. Write a short bio piece to go over her column including the tip line information." Sasuke froze in his seat, and then turned to look at his boss in disbelief. Kakashi looked unaffected as he held up the object in his hand, one that Sasuke had just noticed. It appeared to be a gift basket full of chocolates and stuffed rabbits. "This arrived for Usagi this morning from one of her readers. Her mother is distraught has refused to speak with the press thus far. This is your peace offering."
Kakashi placed the basket on Sasuke's desk and hovered for just a moment, hesitating. He truly would have been shocked had the older man decided to offer him some sort of compassion as well, but the moment passed and Kakashi shrugged before moving away.
"Why me?" Sasuke couldn't stop the question as it bubbled up in his throat. "Sakura was her friend, shouldn't she do this instead?" He was referring to their pink haired coworker who occasionally stopped by Usagi's cubicle to gossip. Whether they hung out elsewhere or not, he couldn't say. They always seemed to have a weirdly tense relationship to his observances.
Kakashi paused in his steps but didn't bother to look at him again. "Do you really have to ask?"
Scowling, Sasuke circled the block again trying to find a place to park his car amid the swarm of press and news vans. Twenty minutes later he gave up and parked three blocks down. He released his seat belt and sat, idle in the driver's seat, steadying his nerves. Obviously as soon as he approached the Tsukino house the press outside would go into frenzy. He wasn't even sure if Usagi's mother would let him in, and if she did, he was sure to be bombarded on his way out.
Eyeing the basket perched innocently in his passenger seat, he finally steeled himself and grabbed it, exiting the vehicle. The walk from his car to the walkway that led to the Tsukino door seemed to occur in an odd hyper speed, but when the moment came that the first reporter noticed his approach, it grinded to a painfully slow crawl. Setting his jaw with determination, he strode passed the somewhat dumbstruck group without as much as a glance, his expression hard. By the time they regained their senses, he'd made the turn to head up to the door. None of them dared to follow him.
Sasuke knocked briskly on the door and waited. No part of him was keen on the idea of having to turn around and face a crowd of reporters, but as the seconds of silence dragged on, his nerves began to fray.
"Go away," The voice that echoed from the other side of the door was gruff and obviously male, and it surprised Sasuke. He knew that Usagi's father had passed away some time ago from an unexpected heart failure caused by a defect that none of his checkups had ever caught. They didn't even know he'd had it until the autopsy report.
"I'm a friend of Usagi's." The words felt strange leaving his lips. He wasn't really sure if he considered himself that much, but he had a job to do. Part of it he attributed to the discontent he felt at knowing such an intimate detail about the blonde girl's life. "I have something for her mother."
He heard shuffling behind the door, and inwardly breathed a sigh of relief when he heard the click of the lock. The door swung inward, revealing a boy as tall as he was with sandy blonde hair and a glower across his features. Behind that, Sasuke could detect the traces of exhaustion in the dark circles under his eyes and the slight slump of his shoulders.
As he observed the dark haired man across the threshold, his harsh expression slowly faded into one of recognition. The boy appeared to be in his late teens, and Sasuke knew he must be Usagi's younger brother, though he should have been on the other side of the country attending college. Again Sasuke felt that surreal feeling that he knew far too much about Usagi.
"You're Sasuke Uchiha." Sasuke raised his eyebrows and the boy shrugged at the unspoken question. "Odango never shuts up about you." While the older man processed that, Shingo moved aside and tilted his head, an invitation for him to come in. Sasuke did so, glancing around at the neat and well-kept home, suddenly more nervous than before. "Don't tell me you made that."
Turning, he realized Shingo was looking over the gift basket in his hand. "No, it came for Usagi this morning. It's from a reader." He followed Shingo back toward the kitchen and declined when he offered him something to drink. "I'll be honest, I came hoping to talk to your mother. The magazine wants to run a short biography on Usagi with the tip line information. I wanted to ask her a few questions."
"I don't think she's up to it." Shingo sighed, looking degrees more tired than he had when he first opened the door. "She's pretty messed up. It hasn't been that long since dad died, and now this." He turned his brown eyes to Sasuke, looking earnest, making him feel all new levels of uncomfortable. "You don't know where she could be? The way she always talked about you I thought you two must be close."
"I wish I could say. I never saw her outside of work." Shingo nodded, sighing with his disappointment. It made Sasuke feel a tad bit guilty, but he brushed it off.
"I'll go ask mom if she'll talk to you." The boy grabbed the gift basket and left the room. Sasuke heard his footsteps as he ascended the stairs to the second floor. Now that he was alone, Sasuke found the silence in the house somewhat unnerving. He was almost expecting to be able to hear the conversation going on upstairs, but the walls and floors provided too much of a muffler.
He felt the buzz of anticipation when the footsteps coming down the stairs some moments later were doubled. Shingo appeared at the entrance, his face scrunched with concern as he hovered beside the petite woman next to him. She had a shock of dark blue hair that was pulled back from her face, more oval shaped than Usagi's heart-shaped face, and a set of kind brown eyes that were set directly on him. Sasuke could detect little in common between her and her blonde daughter aside from their petite frames.
"Sasuke Uchiha, it's good to finally meet you. Usagi told me so much about you; it's nice to have a face to go with the name. I'm Ikuko Tsukino."
"It's nice to meet you too." Sasuke was suddenly nervous, unsure of what to say to the woman across from him, smiling softly with eyes that were tinged pink and slightly swollen from crying. Ikuko turned and gestured for him to follow her into the living room. He did so, sinking into the blue couch and glancing around. Pictures covered much of the walls and table space in a timeline of Shingo and Usagi's childhoods; he found the sight somewhat overwhelming, or perhaps it was the whole situation.
"Usagi called everyday even though she only lived across town. Whenever she mentioned work she talked about you. She said you were a very good journalist." Sasuke turned back to the woman, surprised yet again. This feeling had come over him too many times today, when he was used to being immovable in most every situation.
Reaching into the inside pocket of his jacket, he removed his small notepad and pencil. He preferred old fashioned note taking to recordings. He knew the more times he recopied and reiterated his notes, the more polished and fine the details would become in his finished product. Gently, still plagued by some vague feeling of guilt that he was taking advantage, he implored Ikuko, "Tell me more about Usagi."
Sasuke stood on the tiny balcony that extended from his one bedroom apartment, watching the sky gradually getting dimmer. The space was barely large enough for the single chair that occupied it and his own legroom, and as he looked out across the smog-filled city skyline, he recalled the ad in the classifieds that had claimed a 'panoramic view.' All he could see was the jagged rise of skyscrapers and a few dirty alleyways. Not that any of that stuff mattered to him.
No, that's more Usagi's thing, I guess. He thought it before he could catch himself. The steam rising from the cup in his hand suddenly reminded him of the coffee he was holding, and he took a sip, thinking. His dark eyes found the notebook that was resting in the chair, the nearly completed article about the spirited blonde who worked in the cubicle beside him. But was she more than that?
Everyone else certainly thought as much. Sasuke had to admit to himself that the past two of his twenty five years seemed to have been lived on some sort of autopilot on his part. As he scanned the broad scope of memories from that time, he could seldom pick out one that didn't involve Usagi Tsukino. Setting his mug on the rail, he withdrew his hand slowly to make sure it retained its balance before picking up his notebook and settling into the chair.
Sasuke leafed through the pages of notes and polished paragraphs that would make it to the final piece as is, marveling at how quickly he'd finished all of it, how easily the smaller details came to him as he wrote. Perhaps there had been a legitimate reason behind Kakashi choosing him to cover the story.
The memory popped up suddenly in his conscious mind, a byproduct of concentrating on the recent past, and he smiled ever so slightly. The blonde in the cubicle next to him, sniffling over the letters that had came in that day. He saw himself leaning around the cubicle wall to tease her for being too emotional. She had scrunched up her face in a ridiculous mimicry of his stoic expression and asked, 'Should I look more like this?' They had both laughed.
Sasuke returned to the present, his notebook slipping from his slack fingers. He quickly stomped his foot down on it before it could slide under the rail and tumble off of the balcony, but he couldn't shake the sudden unrest that came over him. He'd grown accustomed to her, being there all the time, always chattering, making faces, following him to lunch and being overemotional in nearly every situation. He felt suddenly pained at the thought that he might never see her again.
Abruptly standing, he snatched up his coffee cup before it too tried to take a death plunge from the balcony rail and collected his notebook. He needed to finish the article and push the blonde girl away from his thoughts. When he handed the finished product to Kakashi in the morning, he could return to some sort of normalcy.
Little did he know, the whole situation was about to get much more complicated.
I know. Don't say it. I have no business doing this. My time is stretched thin between work and homework. Microbiology is really kicking my ass. I should be working on two assignments that are due in three hours, but somehow I couldn't stop typing.
This revised version of this story is much better than its original, and I'm quite happy with it. Since Storm, several people have asked that I do another story with Sasuke/Usagi. While I am working on developing Storm into a full story, the project is a bit more overwhelming than I have time for right now, so you get this instead.
Whether I make time to continue this really depends on interest. I have enough to easily make the next chapter, but from there it's pretty open. So if you want more, review. (: