Lessons in Living: Chapter 3 Home Isn't A HouseSeries:
Tenzou & Sai and other men in my Monoshizukanohi 'verseWord Count:
THIS chapter: Language, adult situations, angst, ghosts, references to BDSM imagery, and violence. Spoilers:
A year ago, Tenzou lost the only man he ever loved, and the only man he believes he ever will love. So when an artistic prodigy many years Tenzou's junior enters his life with determined demands for love, play, and safe harbor, Tenzou is forced to face his past, remember his promises, and challenge his presumption that forever after is final.
"Explain what?" Sai asked, burrowing deeper into his coat without taking his eyes off Tenzou.
"Let's start with why I thought your name was Danzou," Tenzou answered. A car rolled by, the headlights gleaming on the wet bricks and concrete. They lit up Sai's face, made the boy seem preternaturally still and shady.
"Probably because that's what everyone believes."
Tenzou grunted, unimpressed by the direct but vague answer. He rocked back on his heels, and something about the move made the boy panic. "Don't go," Sai -- or whatever the hell the name was -- said.
"Why not?" Tenzou asked.
"Because I'm trying to explain, but I…"
Tenzou sighed through his nose, the adrenaline of the chase gone and patience wearing thin. "Get lost, and if I catch you again, I won't be so forgiving." Tenzou started to turn, and Sai wrapped himself around Tenzou's arm.
"I'm bad with people," Sai said, practically shouting and obviously desperate.
A dog barked, a horn blared in the distance, and the lonely landscaped trees rustled. Tenzou's heart dropped into his gut. He didn't like the boy touching him. At all. But he'd asked the question, demanded the effort of an answer, and Tenzou would allow the strange man a chance. "I'm listening," Tenzou said evenly, jaw flexing around the bitten admission.
"I… I…" Sai searched Tenzou's shoulder, the sidewalk, the air around them, looking for the words and still struggling. Tenzou was facing the kid with a hand on Sai's arm before he could think better of it, because the boy was just that: a boy. Tenzou's anger was stale and rehearsed. He wondered if it was even anger at all; more just the motions of the feeling. A tactic to understand what the kid was doing here so that Tenzou could cut Sai off with the most efficiency.
"Autism?" Sai said, and it was a question.
"What about it?" Tenzou replied.
Sai chewed on his lower lip, skin too pale in the dim city lights. "He says I have it. High functioning. And Asperger's, though I don't believe him." Sai stared into space, his eyes like stars fixed on points that Tenzou couldn't see. "And he says that people are cruel, and I should stay pure for the art."
"People can be vicious," Tenzou agreed, wondering about abuse, thinking about social services, wishing he knew how old this man-child was.
"You're not," Sai said, and the conviction was terrible. A life's sentence.
Tenzou held his arm away from his body and made a few intuitive leaps across the broken trails of information. "Danzou told you all that?"
Sai nodded. "He's my guardian."
"Danzou -- he was the old man at the show?"
"Yes. He says he's me."
"Says he's..." Comprehension dawned. "Danzou pretends to be you, the artist?"
Another nod, and even though the kid still hung on to Tenzou like a life raft, he met Tenzou's gaze. "He says it's for my own protection. That this way, I can walk among people who love my work if I want to or stay out of the way if I prefer."
"I see," Tenzou said, though, in truth, he didn't. "Where are your parents?" The wind howled, and freezing droplets struck Tenzou's skin.
"In graveyards," Sai answered simply and with a completely straight face.
"I'm… I'm sorry…"
"I've never told anyone that I'm the real Sai," the kid said, rushed, and his breath fogged in thick plumes. "Just you."
Tenzou shivered, and it had nothing to do with Sai's deep voice or with the sleet making icicles in his hair. "You should let go of me."
Sai stared at his own arms still clinging to Tenzou's, mouth a thin line of despair. "I can't."
"Yes. You can." Tenzou shook Sai off, thankful when the boy didn't use any fast maneuvers to resist; just let his hands fall limply to his sides.
"I came out here for you," Sai pleaded. "To find you."
"Look," Tenzou tried. "If I've given you some sort of false impression, Sai, I'm sorry, but--"
"I can't stop thinking about you. About what you said."
Tenzou thought he might come out of his skin: that the flesh along his spine would rip, expose him and tear him asunder, and Tenzou nearly went nuts for an instant before he got himself under control. "I'm not interested in you or your art, Sai. You need to--"
"You're lying," Sai declared, face screwed into a fierce frown.
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are. You liked telling me about your past."
"No, I just--"
"And you like it when I touch you."
Outrage began to boil, and Tenzou shut up the voices in his head that told him the anger wasn't born from Sai being wrong
. "No I--"
"Enough!" Tenzou called, slicing the air with the blade of one hand. "I'm not standing on this street playing games with you, Sai or Danzou or whoever the hell you are. You… you don't know me." Tenzou tried to be as gentle as he could while panic made him dizzy and memory made him sick. "You don't know anything about me." Speaking the denial helped Tenzou's resolve reform, and he knew he had to get away from this odd boy, this strange child full of the kind of darkness that Tenzou found fascinating but couldn't, shouldn't, seek to understand. He didn't have any light left to shine into those pits and bring them into acceptance. He didn't have any energy left to manage even this conversation. Already he was tired, wary, worried.
"I want to know you," Sai said, and the honesty confounded Tenzou. It was so damned pure as to be heartbreaking. "I think you're beautiful."
Tenzou didn't know he was walking backward until Sai gave chase. "We've not having this conversation," Tenzou declared, spinning to find an exit route.
"Yes, we are," Sai insisted, falling into step next to Tenzou. "I spoke to your friend about you. I looked you up online. I know you're one of the owners of Bliss and Break. You know Neji. I wanted to paint for Neji. He's exotic and powerful and pretty."
"Stop it," Tenzou commanded.
"Talking about Neji? Okay. I can--"
"No! Stop following me," Tenzou said, nearly frantic, and, God, but this was a bad dream, wasn't it? Surely he wasn't trying to sidestep and escape a boy a third of his size in front of a cheerful apartment complex beneath the branches of dormant trees? It wasn't actually him
trotting away, breathing too hard for no good reason and feeling Sai's fingers tug at his coat like hot pokers jabbing him through every joint in his body. This was stupid. This was crazy. This was wrong
"Go home!" Tenzou roared, wanting to die for being so awful to someone so young and so perfectly screwed up, and wishing for a sword onto which he could fall when Sai didn't seem fazed in the slightest by the outburst.
"Home, noun, the place where one lives," Sai recited, calm and placating and like he wasn't engaging a man who was dangerous in grief, training, and temporary insanity. "Home is where the heart is, home is where your loved one resides. Home is family. Hearth. Safety."
"Get away from me," Tenzou said, shaking all over and unable to stop staring at the boy's lips.
"I don't have a home," Sai said.
"What?" Tenzou whispered.
"I have walls, floors, a basement without windows where I work, but I don't have a home
." Sai was too close, now, almost pressing against Tenzou, reaching again and making Tenzou's back slam into the trunk of a tree. Tenzou wheezed a gasp, and a distant part of his mind reminded him that he could kill with his bare hands; that he carried a piece in a holster beneath his coat, could use it, could call the cops, could call Kakashi, could break this child into pieces. Would
break Sai into pieces if the kid didn't get the hell away.
"Do you?" Sai asked, head tilted. "Have a loved one? A person you call home?"
Tenzou shoved off the slumbering bark, grabbed Sai by the lapels and nearly lifted the kid off the ground with a brutal shake. "I don't want to hurt you," Tenzou snarled. "But you come near me again, and I will." Tenzou threw Sai aside, watched thin arms and legs tumble into a heap, and Tenzou was running through rain, snow, ice to get to the subway. Down the stairs, onto the platform, into the first train that wasn't even the one he needed. Tenzou didn't mind, so long as it took him far, far away. He sank into a plastic chair next to a woman with a fake fur coat and overflowing shopping bags, and he put his head between his knees.
"Are you all right?" the woman asked, uncharacteristically kind.
"I'm never all right," Tenzou muttered, and the woman changed seats, doing the smart thing by putting space between herself and the crazy man.
And when the train reached the end of its line, Tenzou finally stopped hearing Sai say, over and over in a melodious whisper: "Beautiful."~*~
Tenzou slammed the front door, threw the locks, and reset the alarm. He didn't know what time it was, didn't care. The house he'd built for himself and the love his life was pitch dark, silent, and smelled like lemon polish. The grandfather clock that Tenzou had made by hand ticked in the parlor, echoing the pattern of Tenzou's heart, and Tenzou sank to the floor. He threw his packages, heard them hit walls, contents scattering. He yanked at his hair, curled in on himself, and only the thought of what Kakashi would think of Tenzou like this made him finally rise. Tenzou couldn't bear the pity, couldn't breathe under the disgust, couldn't cope with the guilt.
Shedding his coat, Tenzou let it drop onto the rug he'd bought with Jack when they were traipsing through India. They'd gotten the thing for a mere forty bucks in a market, had to lug it back to their awful hotel that smelled, according to Jack, like a camel's ass.
"Been sniffing a lot of camel's butts, have you?"
"Yes. It's my new thing. And Jesus Christ, this rug weighs a ton!"
"Set it down! Wait! Not on--"
"Just a toe. I've got ten."
"I fucking love you."
"Apparently, you love me more minus one pinky toe."
"I'll make it up to you."
"How's now suit you?"
Tenzou dug at his breastbone, scratched lines even through layers of clothing. At the top of the stairs, he caressed the banister he'd carved in the shop he'd built to make furniture for their home and for their play. He stumbled into a table that had belonged to Jack's mother. It needed to be refinished. Tenzou had kept promising Jack he'd do that and had never gotten around to it. Tenzou walked by the painting Jack had done of the meadow behind their house. He knew every brush stroke by heart, could recall the exact line of Jack's body as his lover stood at an easel and made canvas come to life with watercolor. Tenzou stripped out of his shirt in a hallway next to a spare room that was supposed to be for the child he and Jack would eventually adopt. Jack wanted a little girl to put in dresses and to teach how to play the piano. Tenzou just wanted Jack's happiness to be eternal.
The pain was too familiar to make tears, the rivers Tenzou had wept were all dry, now, to their cracking dirt beds. By tactile memory, he found the handle on the door leading to the apartment suite over the garage, and he stepped inside the room where Jack had died while Tenzou had held Jack's hand, every single item inside preserved and unmoving since the day after the funeral.
"I'm home," Tenzou croaked, and he waited, sweating and shivering. He stood in a long, narrow room that was supposed to be the living and dining area. On the far side was a full kitchen and wet bar. They'd built the house with the apartment attached as a mother-in-law suite. Tenzou's mother had a heart attack the year before the house was completed, and never in his life did Tenzou think his mom would be alive and healthy while his lover lay fallow in the earth. Turned out, the only time his surviving parent had stayed in her quarters was to hold Tenzou and bring him food that Tenzou never touched.
"Jack?" Tenzou whispered. "You… you here?" Instead of sofas and couches, though, this room contained a hodgepodge of canvases and boxes: Jack's hobby and Jack's things. The sink dripped, moonlight drifted through the windows, and without the aid of a breeze at all, the door behind Tenzou closed with a soft click.
"Oh," Tenzou said, sighing. "There you are."
A rustle in the dark, and Tenzou walked quickly through the front room, past the bathroom on the left, and into the bedroom. In the dimmest gloom, Tenzou's eyes spotted the hospital bed, cleverly disguised by quilts, throws, and colorful sheets. Dead flowers in vases stood on every surface, twisted blooms and bedraggled ribbon fallen to tabletop and carpet. Cards gathered dust, shelves full of books and gifts loomed in the corners, and the wide bay window's curtains were drawn. Again, Tenzou waited until a wash of frigid air caressed his bare skin for a mere instant. Ice touched his lips, and, just as quickly, the sensation was gone.
"Been a while since I came up here," Tenzou said, rubbing his arms. He caught a flicker out of the corner of his eye, kept staring at the ground, smiling. "And I know, I know… last time you told me to get lost." The closet hinges creaked, and the next time Tenzou was bathed in frost, it was more forceful, damned close to a shove.
"Something happened tonight, Jack," Tenzou said, and the pushing stopped, the room suddenly too still. Listening. "I… I don't even know…" Tenzou shook his head, hugged himself tighter, tucked his chin to his chest. "This stupid kid chased me though Chinatown."
A clatter made Tenzou flinch, and a teddy bear fell off the top of the tall table that used to serve as a nightstand. A glass, now empty of the water it once held, glimmered like quicksilver with light that didn't exist, and Tenzou saw Jack's last kiss caught on the rim. "No, he wasn't trying to hurt me. I don't think. I met him at an art show that Kakashi talked me into attending. He's young. Dark. Paints pictures. You'd love it." Tenzou's throat temporarily forgot how to swallow, and he panicked and recovered in a flash. "He's awkward, sheltered, I think, maybe not all there or maybe just too
there. He chased me down because… Well. I don't even know why. Said he wanted to know me better. I told him to leave me alone."
The room went from chilly to hot in a flash, and Tenzou gasped. "I can't," he said, shaking his head and crossing to the bed. He half-sat and half-fell onto it. "I know you think I should, but I can't, Jack. I miss you too goddamned much. It's… Jack, I'm not strong enough for anybody, much less this… this kid. He's a boy
, Jack. And so lost. Remember those days? When we thought nobody would ever understand, ever want us?" Tenzou realized he was crying when he had to sob for breath. The heavy drapes billowed, tried to reach for Tenzou, and Tenzou leaned to let the very edge flick against his chin before the curtains drooped into place once again. "There's honesty and innocence and need in him. His eyes… they remind me of yours. And it just… I think it'll kill me if…"
The cold was everywhere, and it stayed until Tenzou's teeth chattered and tears finally stopped. Tenzou grabbed a blanket from the bottom of the bed, draped it over his shoulders. He sat for a long time, breathing moist and labored. "He quoted the definition of home to me. Asked me if I had one. Said he didn't. I wanted to… I wanted to hold him? And I…" Tenzou put the back of his hand to his mouth, and then let it drop like a lead weight to his lap. "And all I could fucking think was how you'd read that damned book, Where The Heart Is
, every damned summer. Made me watch that movie until my eyeballs bled. Jesus." Tenzou wiped his nose on his arm. "Anyway. I know you only hang around this place because of my sorry ass. I know it's been over a year. I know every goddamned thing. But I just…" Tenzou's breath left him like it'd never return. And he hated it when, after less than a minute, his lungs forced him to suck wind.
"I can't." Tenzou let defeat and cowardice slice him into smaller, fragile, pieces that he wished he could permanently lose. "Jack... forgive me... but... " Tenzou's voice cracked. "I can't do it. What you asked..." He shut his eyes. "I just can't."
There was nothing; no stirring, no temperature change, no answer. Tenzou curled into a ball on the bed on his side, hollow like a gourd; carved out and left to decay, the dead among the living. "I'm sorry," Tenzou whispered. "But I have to stay here tonight. Just tonight. I'll go in the morning. I promise…" Tenzou felt a touch to his forehead. Felt the sadness in every pore, felt the disappointment, the heartache, and knew he deserved every ounce of it and then some.
"I promise I'll go," he said again, and shut his eyes on the world.~*~A/N:
To see Tenzou's House Plan, check out the extras on the Main Story Entry by clicking HERE