Lessons in Living: Chapter 4 A Friend in NeedSeries:
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. A/N:
Trying to do regular updates on this one. Next post will be slightly delayed by Valentine's, so look for next chapter around 2/16/12. <3
The first package came a week later to Tenzou's house. It was Saturday morning, and Tenzou's breath fogged the air as he turned the final corner and jogged down the narrow, two-lane private road leading to the dead end circle that joined his driveway. Two other homes occupied fifteen-acre lots next to Tenzou's, and he waved to Mrs. Danison, who stood at the end of her drive with her irked toy poodle draped over one arm and a stack of mail in her hands.
"Morning, Mr. Asashi," said Mrs. Danison, artificially blonde, truly blue-eyed, and chronically flirtatious with her gay widower neighbor.
"Good morning," Tenzou answered, trotting up to the heavy, metal mailbox set in a stone tower next to the curb. He pulled out a collection of bills, advertisements destined for the recycle bin, and one large, unmarked manila envelope.
"How've you been?" Mrs. Danison -- Diane -- pestered.
"Nice to see you," Tenzou said by way of reply and started jogging down his driveway and away from Diane's wandering stare. The last half mile of Tenzou's morning run was lined with bare trees and landscaped patches of mulch that he paid people to maintain. He felt almost good, nearly invigorated. Tenzou always did better in the mornings, and with a sheen of sweat coating his skin beneath his Underarmor and with his lungs singing from the foggy, crisp air, it was simple to let his mind drift, peacefully empty.
A van painted with the garish insignia of a cleaning service was parked under the covered portion of the rounded drive, in front of the main entrance into the house. Tenzou ducked by Mark and Katherine, the husband and wife team who managed Tenzou's home twice a month, and headed for the kitchen and a smoothie. He dropped his headphones and iPod onto a counter, laid down the mail in a new pile next to the others, and set about making breakfast. The comfort of the mundane made Tenzou hum, and in fifteen minutes he had a dirty blender, a cutting board of discarded fruit husks, and a glass of blended sweetness that he sipped through a straw.
A vacuum whirred, and Tenzou started sorting some of the paperwork amassing in its usual place. Tossing the junk aside, Tenzou picked up the oversized envelope, which had to have been delivered by hand, as there was no address and no stamp. ASASHI was written in a block script in ballpoint on one side, and for a moment, thoughts of anthrax made him consider throwing it out without opening it. He snorted at himself, gulped some banana-cantaloupe-wheat-germ, and turned the mystery letter over. He pushed up the metal tabs and yanked out the contents.
On a piece of thin but serviceable canvas was a painting of a young man lying on his side in a wide bed. The covers lay low over the subject's hips, revealing pale, unblemished skin. Daintily pink nipples stood out like blooms on the narrow chest, muscles that looked like they would start to move with slow, even breathing at any moment curved and contoured across shoulders, on abs and along arms, one of which snaked beneath the blankets and was very obviously attached to a hand forming a loose fist around what Tenzou supposed was an erection that the viewer could not see. The man's eyes were at half-mast, lashes touching delicately flushed cheeks. Behind the bed was a wall of stone painted with a wash of firelight that enlivened the man, the sheets, the entire image; turned it into a fairy tale, a sweet dream.
Tenzou stared for an age at the depiction of Sai, of the man who'd chased Tenzou, accosted him, and whom Tenzou had yelled at and shoved aside. Sai: who had not left Tenzou alone in his thoughts, but who was far, far better off without Tenzou anywhere nearby. The broken could not fix the shattered; it was the blind leading the sick through a gauntlet. It didn't matter that Sai's eyes appeared every time Tenzou closed his. The fascination would pass, the stroke to his ego at gaining the interest of someone so interesting would fade, and this... token was nothing but misguided affection. Surely and absolutely and with finality: a mistake.
Tenzou put the portrait onto the countertop, dropped it like it might be a bomb about to explode. Carefully, and with a shaky hand, he twisted the other piece of paper that had arrived in the packet aright to read the words scrawled across it:
Rest. Noun. 1. An instance or period of repose or a reprieve from strenuous enterprise. 2. The remainder of something.
There was a line, the ink digging into the page in an unforgiving scratch that carved a runnel into the paper, and, beneath it:
1a. What I do not get now that I know of you. 2a. What I think you are.
Tenzou traced the letters, confused and strangely heartbroken, but a screech interrupted Tenzou's blank reverie. He jerked, pulse leaping into an erratic beat, and he ran through the dining and living rooms into the reception hall, stopping next to the stairs leading to the second floor. A young girl in jeans and a sweatshirt collapsed against the railing, a full black trash bag held clenched and closed in one white fist.
"Madeline?" Katherine called, running to the girl and grabbing her by the shoulders. "What is it? What's--"
"H-haunted!" Madeline stammered. "Oh my GOD, but that-that room's--"
"You went into the apartment?" Tenzou bellowed in a flash of panicky rage. Both women flinched.
"I'm sorry!" Madeline wailed, her eyes wide, green, and shining with unshed tears. "He said I should, and I don't wanna mess up on the first day, so--"
"What's going on?" Mark asked, stalking into the room and looking from Katherine to Tenzou to Madeline.
"She went into the apartment," Katherine explained.
"What?" Mark cried. "I told you that room was off limits."
"But then you told me to go in there, anyway!" Madeline trilled. "You said I should clean out the roses! I heard you!"
"What are you talking about?" Mark asked, and everyone began speaking at once. Tenzou slowly swiveled his neck to watch the railing on the second floor. Nothing moved, nothing stirred, but it was as though the house held a collective breath.
"Enough!" Tenzou called, and three heads turned to him. "Mark," Tenzou said, forcing himself to look at the man he questioned. "Who is this girl?"
"She's my sister's kid," Mark answered.
"Why is she in my house?" Tenzou asked, trying to remain calm and tensing every part of his body to stop trembling.
"She's in school," Katherine answered. "Needed a job to help pay for her tuition, so--"
"And you told
her the rules, I assume?" Tenzou said.
Mark swallowed, nodded, and couldn't meet Tenzou's gaze. "I did, sir. I swear it. Told her not to go near that door on the second--"
"But you did
!" Madeline said, wrenching free of Katherine's hold. She dropped the trashbag and put her hands on her hips. "You said to throw away the roses."
"I said no such--" Mark started.
"When?" Tenzou interrupted. Madeline looked at Tenzou, fierce but terrified. She shoved a piece of curly brown hair over her ear toward her ponytail, crossed her arms over her chest.
"When did he tell you that?" Tenzou asked as levelly as he could.
"I was upstairs dusting one of the rooms like Aunt Kathy said," Madeline explained, stabbing the air with one finger to indicate direction. "And Mark knocked on the door, said I should go down the hall and clean out the roses in the room, last on the right."
"I was polishing the tile in the entry," Mark said, exasperated. "I no more went up there than I freakin'--"
Tenzou held up a hand to shut Mark up. "Did you see him? Your uncle? When he told you to do that?"
Madeline's mouth opened and closed. She frowned. "Well... no. I just heard him, right? But..." The girl wrung her hands, as though realizing what had happened and trying to rationalize it. Faint flutters of sympathy swirled within Tenzou, but very distantly. When Madeline continued, her voice was tremulous. "And I got a bag, went down the hall, and I found the room." She paused and went pale about the mouth.
Nausea crested on a low tide, and Tenzou's reality started to recede. "Then what happened?" he asked.
"I-I found the roses," Madeline said. "All... these... there's like a ton of dead..." She pursed her lips, bent, and grabbed the trash bag. "I put 'em in here, and I tried to open the curtains to see? 'cause none of the lights would freakin' work, and they... they shut... like..." She waved her hands toward one another, clapped them with a sharp report. "And I heard this... like... sigh
"My God," Katherine said.
"That's the craziest thing I've heard all year," Mark muttered.
"I'm sorry," Tenzou whispered, unable to tear his eyes away from a broken stem jutting up out of the black garbage bag. "But you need to get out. All of you."
"Mr. Asashi? I'm so sorry," Katherine said, approaching. "It won't happen again, I--"
"Leave, please," Tenzou repeated, trying to be civil, trying to be polite, but all he wanted to do was run into the kitchen, grab the goddamned portrait, dip it in lighter fluid, and watch the whole world burn. He couldn't even make the connection between dead flowers and fresh paint, but he knew there was one. Knew that he simply didn't want to see the obvious; didn't want to know or to understand.
"We're not quite through, yet--"
"No," Tenzou said, attempting to override Katherine's cautious composure. A chill arced through him like an electric current. It was a warning, and Tenzou ignored it.
"--but I'm sure we can--"
"I said get out of our house
!" Tenzou roared, and the cleaning crew took a collective step in retreat. Tenzou's ears rang with adrenaline, there was a quiet crash, and in unison, everyone craned to look up the stairs. A picture in a frame flung itself off the wall, a table next to the banister warbled, wobbled, fell over, and a dervish of wind without source blew across the open landing, picked up momentum, rolled down the steps, and filled the entryway like a fist, knocking not into the gaping family, but into Tenzou. A shove, a hushed human screech over the rising discord, and Tenzou bent at the knees while skidding across the floor.
"Holy shit!" Madeline screamed. She bolted for the door, Katherine hot on her heels. Mark started backing up slowly, and Tenzou lost the fight and fell onto his ass with a harsh grunt. An anvil weighed heavily on his chest, tried to crush his lungs, and he threw an arm up to block his face from a set of teeth that snapped in a gray blur of silent complaint. Profanity darkened the air, Tenzou's or Mark's, Tenzou didn't know.
"Mother of God," Mark said, crossing himself, and a moment later, Tenzou heard the sound of the van's engine coming to life over the howl of an impossible hurricane.
"I'm NOT fucking apologizing!" Tenzou yelled into the whipping chaos. It shook Tenzou like a rag doll. "They need to go!" The gusts picked up Madeline's trash bag and dumped the contents into the cyclone.
"Oh, now that's goddamned mature of you!" Tenzou said, struggling to stand and getting tossed onto a rumpled rug. "You think making a mess will make me change my mind?" Tenzou raged. "Make me chase them down and tell them to keep ripping you to shreds?" Dried twigs, leaves, thorns, and painful memory burst to life, cracking in the gale and cutting Tenzou's hands and cheeks.
"Raise all the Cain you want," Tenzou said, curling onto his side. He ducked his head between his knees to protect himself from the pummeling remnants of bouquets, and he panted like a sprinter on the final leg of a race. "Won't matter. Nothing ever does."
Windows opened, shut, opened, and the wind became flavored with frustration. Jack's cologne assaulted Tenzou's nostrils, made him weep. A vase fell, a glass broke, a door banged against the wall with a boom, and a vacuum cleaner toppled and scraped across the floor. Tenzou rolled out of the machine's way, weathering the storm, bleeding and shivering with the arctic chill. A mirror cracked and fell, shards tinkling, and Tenzou backpedaled away from the pile of makeshift daggers.
And as suddenly as it began, it stopped. Tenzou sucked a hiccoughing breath that was in chorus with the whisper of collective debris falling to gravity's will. After a few seconds, he dared to lift his face, wipe the tears out of his eyes. A shape stood in the open doorway highlighted by the early morning light. Not quite a man, not quite a shadow, and gone, regardless, in a blink. On silent hinges, the front door closed with a forlorn click.
Tenzou sat in the foyer surrounded by broken fragments, twisted gnarls of stems, and cupped wrinkled palms of petals, choking on gasps that were half sob and half manic laughter. He thought of Sai, and collapsed in a heap, too weak to do anything but lay in a mess he knew only he could clean.~*~
"Thank you, Neji," Tenzou said into the phone. He bent a paperclip in two until it snapped and jabbed himself with the brittle end. "I do appreciate it."
"Of course, Tenzou," Neji replied, smooth voice low and sleepy. "Anything I can do to help is most welcome. Rosemary's been my housekeeper since I moved out of Father's house and into my own. I trust her recommendations of the service industry implicitly."
"As well you should," Tenzou agreed, reclining in his chair in his office at the Asashi Firm. It was Wednesday, it was snowing, and Tenzou didn't think the end of this conversation was ever going to arrive. There was a tap at the door, and Tenzou covered the receiver with a palm. "Come in," he said.
"I have to say, I'm a little surprised," Neji continued while Aadi snuck in and dropped off a stack of forms, a proposal, and pertinent mail into the box on Tenzou's desk. Tenzou smiled at the boy and nodded in dismissal. "I thought you were pleased with your cleaning team."
"Family troubles," Tenzou said vaguely, thinking of Mark's gruff exterior when the man had come back to reclaim the abandoned equipment. The exchange had been brief and had culminated in Tenzou handing over a check that was well in excess of what he owed. Mark took it and left. "Disagreement of sorts, I think. Not really my business."
"I see," Neji said, as though the beloved brat did, indeed, understand far too much of the situation. He usually did. There was even a time Tenzou could vaguely recall when Tenzou had enjoyed that kind of insight. Had helped Neji tune its strings, and delighted in being witness to Neji's improvement.
Tenzou repressed a sigh. "I'll give your Rosemary a call and get names. Nice to chat with you."
"This was a chat?" Neji asked, dryly.
"Good bye, Neji." Tenzou hung up and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"Excuse me, sir," Aadi said, poking his head and nothing else around the door once again. "Can I get you anything?"
"No, Aadi, I'm fine, thank you."
"No, Aadi." Tenzou shuffled paperwork in a self-important sort of way, hoping the boy would take the hint.
Aadi cleared his throat. "Er, there's a, uhm, group of us going out for, ah, drinks? This evening? And--"
"And as the new man in the building, they put you up to the task of asking the ogre if he wanted to go?" Tenzou said, kindly, but feeling every one of his thirty-six years.
"I don't think the term 'ogre' was used, precisely, sir," Aadi said, smile flickering.
Tenzou grunted and sliced into an invitation with a metal opener. A fraction of Aadi's head withdrew from the office, and Tenzou told himself chuckling over such a sign of intimidation was inappropriate. "Tell them the answer is still no, but I appreciate the monthly attempt."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
The door closed, and Tenzou scrapped the scrawling invitation and dragged the proposal closer. He could get through it today, see if it was a viable project at all and review the outlined time frame to check for insanity. He picked up the tome and yanked an oversized envelope out from underneath it, but stopped himself before flicking the latter into the inbox.
ASASHI was typed, this time, but it was the only label. No stamp, no address, and when Tenzou squeezed the item inside, he knew exactly what the letter contained. There was another one still lying on the kitchen island at his house. Tenzou had eaten out for every meal since the first package had arrived. He knew it wasn't fear. No, that was just silly. He simply didn't want to face the damned thing. Gift or curse or reminder or whatever in the hell it was. Tenzou had enough problems sweeping an endless track of plant matter out of his entryway, thanks much. He didn't have time to deal with infantile, though creative, stalkers.
Tenzou raked fingers through his hair, dragged the blunt nails to scratch, and sat with the painting at his fingertips for a long time. The fish tank behind him burbled, the snow outside fell in fluffy sheets, and Tenzou wished his phone would ring or Aadi would come back or his laptop would ding to remind him of a meeting he'd forgotten.
There was no reprieve, however, and Tenzou picked up the metal opener. For a crazy instant, he thought about stabbing the package over and over; just to make sure it didn't bleed. The temptation to stab himself for the same reality check would be too much, though, Tenzou knew. So instead, Tenzou ripped the heavy paper, the tearing obnoxiously loud and slow, and he removed another piece of canvas, letting it fall to rest on the blotter.
This time Sai sat cross-legged on a stone floor. In his hands he held a massive, ancient book. The edges rested on his knees and the pages were thick and wavy and edged in gold. The tome was opened to the middle, and brilliant, red-orange light erupted from the paper. Words danced off the very pages, images entwined with them: an impossible flying creature with beak and elephant trunk, a naked woman with knives in her hair, a monkey holding an umbrella, a fish with a pig's snout, a chained dragon, a kneeling man with a blindfold made of barbed wire, and a hundred other little things. The pictures wrapped around Sai's bare shoulders, slithered across his temples, hung from the tips of his bangs. His eyes glowed by the light of the book, and his lips were parted in awed fascination.
The scrap of paper that came with this painting had the same hurried handwriting of the other, and a similar theme:
Knowledge. Noun. Information gained through education and/or experience.
And, lower, under another engraved line:
What I want and need of and from you.
Tenzou smacked his lips, nodding at absolutely nothing. He tipped to the side, retrieved his phone from his pocket. He hit two buttons and put the thing to his ear.
"Hey," Kakashi said, a second later, warm and affectionate.
"You working tonight?" Tenzou asked.
"I can be, why?"
"Good. I'll see you in an hour."
Tenzou cut Kakashi off with a harsh tap to the screen. He gathered the painting, its envelope, and the threatening definition and left without a word of explanation or a backward glance.~*~
Many years ago, Tenzou had asked Kakashi why his bar was called "Glow". It wasn't the strangest name for a bar that Tenzou had ever heard -- that award probably went to Brown Bare Ass -- but it wasn't terribly typical, either. Kakashi had shrugged, glanced around his home away from home, and smiled. "A bar should be a place of refuge," Kakashi had said. "An oasis with more than water. A beacon, but one that doesn't warn ships or call down superheroes in bad capes. Just a place with friendly people who treat you like family, good beer, better food, and an atmosphere that lights you up on the dark days."
Kakashi could be a truly poetic sap, but Tenzou had to admit, Glow was more often than not a safe haven; one of the only places in town where Tenzou could go for a drink or a bite and not feel immediately overwrought and claustrophobic.
Tenzou exited the train and quickened his steps once he got to street level, passing the clothing store, James, and the assortment of shops selling everything from diamonds to Italian sports cars to body wash made from yak's urine or whatever the hell the latest trend was. Tourists oozed along Twenty-Second Avenue, which cut straight through the heart of Monoshizukanohi's Fashion District and led toward the upscale housing on the far side of the quarter. Glow stood on the corner of Twenty-Second Avenue and Winchester Street, its wooden doors tall and imposing with shining golden handles. Tenzou stood aside while a couple entered ahead of him, and then Tenzou stepped into the heated warmth of the bar.
Pool tables clacked to Tenzou's left, and in the back near the kitchen, Tenzou saw Gaara at a makeshift DJ booth, setting up to spin. Tenzou had been on the very periphery of the happenings between Gaara and Kiba and the rest of the bunch, but even he could tell that Gaara seemed... as close to the word "happy" as Tenzou had ever witnessed. Apparently all it took was one stubborn man, some gunfire, and a near-death experience. Tenzou made note.
Kakashi was behind the bar, polishing the wood with a cloth towel. It was only a little after six, but already it was setting up to be a busy one at Glow. Kakashi set a drink down in front of a man with long, white hair, smiled, and waved to Tenzou. Heather, Kakashi's second in command, swooped out of the kitchen followed by two serving girls in jeans so tight they should be illegal.
"Hey," Kakashi said, drying his hands with lifted eyebrows. "You want to...?"
"Office?" Tenzou asked, hugging the paintings tucked under his arm tighter.
"Sure." Kakashi gestured toward the swinging door leading into the kitchen, and Tenzou stalked ahead.
"Tenzou!" Asuma called over the sizzle of searing steak. "Good to see you!"
"Asuma," Tenzou returned, nodding to the other man just before Asuma smacked a busboy on the back of the head in admonishment for some slight. The busboy cried out, Asuma barked orders, and Tenzou shouldered his way into Kakashi's office, practically falling into one of the chairs on the guest side of the desk.
"What you got there, chief?" Kakashi asked, shutting them into the room and sitting across from Tenzou.
"I'm not sure," Tenzou said. He gingerly set the paintings down and shrugged out of his coat.
"Oh good. A mystery." Kakashi smiled what had to be the world's most aggravating knowing grin. "Is this going to be like Twenty Questions or Russian Roulette?"
"More the former, I hope." Tenzou sat rigidly straight and filled Kakashi in on the art show, the strange conversation with the boy who claimed to be the real Sai, the chase through Chinatown, the argument, and the arrival of the two paintings. He left out the bits about Jack's ghost. Kakashi really didn't need another reason to remind Tenzou that there was medication for everything these days, spectres to depression to IBS.
"Huh," Kakashi grunted, rocking and swiveling thoughtfully. "It does sound like you've got a bit of a situation."
"Good of you to recognize a pattern," Tenzou echoed.
Kakashi winked and rubbed his chin. "What are you thinking?"
"That somehow this kid got my home address and knows where I work," Tenzou groused.
"The magic of the Internet," Kakashi said with a sweep of his arms. "It'd be pretty easy to track that down, Tenzou."
"Maybe for him," Tenzou grumbled.
"For you, too," Kakashi said. "It's called Google. I think it's even been officially added into the dictionary as a verb."
"That's the other thing," Tenzou said, stroking the manila envelope. "He sent these notes with the paintings."
Kakashi leaned forward. "Notes?"
"Yeah. Here." Tenzou laid out the paintings and placed the slivers of rough-handled paper on top of each. He watched Kakashi closely: saw the slight parting of lips, the tiny ring of white appear around pupils, the tightening of shoulders.
Kakashi wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "These are incredible," he said, indicating the paintings. "Probably worth a fortune."
"If they're the real deal," Tenzou said.
Kakashi looked up. "You don't think they are?"
"I don't know what the hell to think." Tenzou touched an edge. "I don't know who this kid is, why he's doing this, what he wants. I don't even know if the boy I met is the same person who's painting this shit."
"It's not shit," Kakashi said, soft but pointed.
"You're right," Tenzou conceded. "I'm the pile of shit, here, not him."
Kakashi sighed, and his chair squeaked with his lean. He yanked open a desk drawer, lifted a false bottom, and slapped a green folder in front of Tenzou. "That your boy?"
With one finger, Tenzou encouraged the file to fall open. Paperclipped to a pile of forms and typed data was a sheet of digital prints, all in miniature to fit on the page. Tenzou drew it closer and held his head in his hands. There was Sai, impossibly young, getting out of a limo. Sai, entering a huge house that looked more like a castle than anything else. Sai, standing next to Danzou, and even though the kid's expression was a carefully crafted neutral mask, Tenzou could see sadness pull the corners of Sai's mouth south.
"When did you take these?" Tenzou asked.
"I didn't take anything," Kakashi corrected. "But if you think anybody just gets to waltz onto Neji's, my, or our property to slap paint on a wall in the middle of the night without being investigated, you have
"He's so young."
"He's nineteen there," Kakashi said. "Twenty-two, now."
"Jesus," Tenzou whispered, and he traced photographed air next to a two-dimensional Sai.
"I pulled the file after I saw you talking to the kid at the show, and after he came to me asking questions."
"You're a fucking bastard, by the way." Tenzou shook his head violently, his fingernail following the miniscule curve of Sai's lower lip. "Shouldn't be encouraging such things."
"He asked your name, Tenzou. I didn't think it was a state secret."
"Proving yet again, that even you can be wrong."
"That's a matter of piss-poor opinion," Kakashi said. "'Sides, the boy looked like he'd just met Santa Claus and would sob all over me if I didn't say the red suit was at the cleaners and the sleigh was parked out back."
"Damn it," Tenzou muttered, clasping his hands and ignoring how they tingled. He had a scratch on a knuckle from a splinter. He picked at it. "What else do you know about the kid?"
"It's all there," Kakashi said. "And that's your copy of the file if you want it."
"Give me the abstract, would you?"
"Gone soft and
"Kakashi," Tenzou said in a voice meant to be a snarl but came out a whisper.
"Sai Tamazaki," Kakashi dictated without further prompt, "born October 17th, 1989 right here in Monoshizukanohi General. Middle class parents, owned a restaurant. They died in a car crash when Sai was only two. A guardian, one Danzou Muro, gained custody thereafter. Danzou used to be involved with the Japanese government, retired here with dual citizenship some twenty years ago. Sai made it to kindergarten art class before a teacher spotted talent. He was deemed a prodigy, had his first art show when he was six years old. He was a millionaire by the time he was ten. Danzou and Sai moved out of their humble abode and into an old castle that got imported here from overseas and abandoned when the original family passed away. The true definition of fixer-upper, really, but they must have gotten it livable, because that's where Sai and Danzou now reside." Kakashi shrugged, hands behind his head and foot propped on the desk.
Tenzou clasped his hands tighter. "No other family?"
"Tutors." Kakashi's lips formed a smile's demented cousin. "Danzou's a bit overprotective."
"Any mention of abuse?"
"No," Kakashi said, frowning. "You know something I don't?"
"Not a goddamned thing." Tenzou scrubbed at his face. "And even if I did, the fuck would there to be done about it? Kid's of age, now. Danzou's not even technically his guardian anymore, right?"
"It's true," Kakashi stated in that modulated tone that meant he was trying too hard to be amenable.
"What?" Tenzou snapped.
"Nothing," Kakashi said. "Just that I've not seen you this interested in anything or anyone in a long time."
"I'm not interested
," Tenzou hissed, a wash of fear dousing his insides. "I'm being targeted by a boy who's become fixated on me for some stupid reason."
"What? I'm fucking agreeing with you!"
Tenzou tried to recreate the scent of primer, gloss, and stain, but he was too addled for tranquility exercises. He snatched the file, snapped it shut, shoved it into his armpit. "I don't need this." He grabbed his coat.
"You're right," Kakashi said, and the tone shot a shaft of ice up Tenzou's spine. Kakashi stood, swift and sure, and picked up the paintings.
Tenzou lunged across the desk, palm smacking laminate, and grabbed Kakashi's wrist. "What are you doing?"
"Getting rid of what you don't need." Kakashi regarded Tenzou with a perfect poker face. He tried to get away, and Tenzou tightened the grip.
"How?" Tenzou demanded.
"Dunno," Kakashi said, casually. "Lock it away. Burn it. Hell, I could probably sell it for a mint."
"No," Tenzou rasped, an ancient well starting to fill within Tenzou and weeds beginning to burst from dry, crusted dirt. Tenzou wrenched the image of Sai in the bed out of Kakashi's clutches and hugged it to his chest. He couldn't fucking breathe
, the room was spinning, he didn't know what the hell was going on, but Kakashi couldn't
"Easy there," Kakashi said, tender and quiet and with a palm on Tenzou's heaving shoulder. "You'll bend it. Let me help you?"
Numb with guilt, terror, anger, and hopelessness, Tenzou allowed Kakashi to repackage the paintings in their original wrapping. Kakashi was gentle with the art, loving, even, and he put the notes on nouns in with the canvases, stacked the two gifts with care, and put the file about Sai on top.
"I have to stop this," Tenzou said, miserably.
"You have all the tools you need to do it," Kakashi said, and the smarter part of Tenzou knew the man wasn't agreeing with Tenzou in the slightest.
"It's too damned strange."
"I've seen weirder," Kakashi deadpanned.
"He has no idea what he's doing."
"Then perhaps you should clue the kid in on the action?"
Tenzou shoved his arms into his coat when Kakashi held it for him. "It's just wrong."
"Usually," Kakashi said, nodding.
"This isn't the way it should be."
"Only if you say so." Kakashi was the epitome of sympathy, the embodiment of rationale, and when Kakashi tried to hug him, Tenzou shoved his friend and made for the exit and the escape.
"Good luck, man," Kakashi called.
"No such thing," Tenzou said, but too weakly to be convincing to anyone at all.~*~