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dead is restless, living is burning

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At this hour, what is dead is restless,
and what is living is burning.

The Hour and What Is Dead
Li-Young Lee

 


 

 

There’s something about the way she smiles, the corner of her red lipstick smudged, dark against the faint yellow tint of her teeth. It puts him in mind of demon festival masks, mouths stretched wide open to devour unsuspecting children whole.

“Tell me,” she says, tapping the end of her pen against her clipboard. “How have you been?”

Tenzou sits with his back perfectly straight in the wooden chair, lacing his fingers together. “I’m doing fine,” he says, because it’s what she expects to hear, but not what she wants.

“Any changes?” she asks.

“No,” Tenzou says, perfectly bland.

She frowns, the crimson curve of her mouth turning down, and shifts a little in her seat. She unfolds her legs, crosses them, then switches legs, right over left.

“How about the migraines you mentioned,” she says instead, and makes a little note on her clipboard. “A couple of days back, during your physical. Are they still occurring?”

“I’ve been taking my medication as prescribed.” Tenzou watches her watch him, his face reflected back in miniature, floating in her dark brown eyes.

“Any unusual side effects from taking it?”

“Minor fatigue, but the medic assures me that it’s common phenomenon. I’m as I ever was since we met last week,” Tenzou says.

“Well,” she says, drawing out the word until Tenzou can hear all the things she isn’t saying, floating in the mangled remains of vowels stretched to the point of breaking.

“That’s good, that’s really good,” she says finally and smiles, the corners not quite meeting her eyes.

Tenzou’s not sure what bothers him more: that he can see the lies dripping from her face, voice as sweet as rancid honey, or that they can’t bother to give him someone who will tell him the truth.

 


 

The knock comes when Tenzou’s in the middle of working the dough, sleeves rolled up past his elbow and flour dusting his front, head to toe.

“Come in,” he says, not bothering to raise his voice.

The blinds covering his window rustle, just a touch, before settling down.

A long nose peers over his shoulder. “What is it?”

“Cookies,” Tenzou says, reaching across the counter for a handful of flour. Kakashi shifts accordingly, but his body never strays more than a few inches from Tenzou.

“I like cookies,” Kakashi says, the tip of his nose quivering as he sniffs. “Are you putting green tea in it?”

“I don’t know,” Tenzou says tightly, grinding the heel of his palm into the dough, tendons jumping in his arm as he starts kneading. He moves a little more than necessary, just enough that his shoulder brushes the curve of Kakashi’s jaw.

Kakashi, for once, takes the hint and backs off a little.

“It must not have been a very good day,” Kakashi observes disinterestedly from the kitchen table behind, hip pressed against it on an angle.

“What day is?” Tenzou grunts and gives the dough a final slap before placing it in a bowl and laying a cheesecloth over it. His hands leave sticky white and green marks on the faucet, as he turns on the hot water all the way and dunks his hands under the spray.

“I’d like to think that we’ve had some okay days,” Kakashi says, quiet.

Tenzou scrubs his hands until his skin turns an angry, scalded red, until the hot water stops feeling hot and more like a constant numbness. Slowly, he pulls his hands out and turns the water off, the cool metal of the faucet cutting into his flesh like the razor edge of a knife.

“Why are you here today?” Tenzou asks, suddenly feeling very tired. “Don’t you have better things to do than talking with washed up has-beens, Hokage-sama?”

“Not at the moment, no.”

Tenzou closes his eyes and leans forward over the sink, gripping the edges of the countertop with his hands hard enough that his knuckles turn white.

“I know you’ve had an appointment today with the chakra therapist,” Kakashi says, almost gentle. It makes Tenzou want to throw up.

“Did you come here so you could pat my back and tell me, ‘better luck next time, maybe something will change’.” Tenzou laughs raggedly, staring down into the drain. “Did you come here to comfort me and maybe, maybe think that I would be so upset I would forget the last two months and let you fuck me?”

“Tenzou--”

“You have no right to call me by my name,” Tenzou says viciously.

Tenzou can hear Kakashi’s breath shudder and start from behind him. He bites down on his bottom lip and tastes blood. The silence stretches on until Tenzou can hear his heartbeat rattling around in his empty chest, each beat scoring marks against the fragile wall of his ribs.

“What would you have me do?” Kakashi asks, finally breaking the quiet.

Tenzou grips the countertop even harder, feeling dead wood bite deep into his hands.

“I want you to give me my life back,” he says hoarsely. “I want you to make it so that the war never happened and Kabuto didn’t use my body to create an army of monsters. I want you to fix my broken chakra coils so I can feel the trees growing again. I want, I want, I want--”

His arms start trembling, unable to hold him up much longer.

“I’ve got you,” Kakashi says, his breath hot against the back of Tenzou’s neck.

He closes his eyes and lets himself fall into Kakashi’s waiting arms.