Warning: Possible OOC, angst? Any misspellings or wrong grammar is unintentional. I am my own beta. I could have missed some stuff.
I do not own Naruto.
In many ways, Tenzou was a replacement.
During his last year at the academy, his batch graduated an even number. He wasn't a brilliant student, not like the legendary child of Hatake Sakumo or the well renowned children of the Uchiha clan. Tenzou was average-smart, did his best, studied well enough and hadn't discovered his full capability yet. The even number was stamped over his name. Tenzou knew that he had no place in the newly formed genin teams but because his average was fairly low amongst the graduates, the academy-council and Hokage decided that it was probably best he graduated the year after. Children back then, graduated extra early.
What they didn't foresee was that one of the children who graduated was ill and would not be able to remain with her teammates.
That was the first time Tenzou was used as a replacement.
His instructor was the one who discovered his vast capability of controlling water and earth elements which months later brought forth his special skills with wooden-element. This wasn't such a big deal though, since he wasn't given extra training or extra attention. He was always the backup of the team, unable to match the wits of an Uchiha and the skills of a Hagane. Tenzou wasn't a flashy person after all. He was like nature and preferred to blend with it; it didn't make him stand out much.
However, when his Uchiha teammate was pronounced dead due to a clan-training accident, Tenzou took his place in his instructor's eyes. He was the one who worked as bait during missions, he was the one who moved forward first rather than staying behind as backup.
Tenzou didn't really care about being a replacement back then; he was busy thinking of getting to the next level and perfecting the control of his newly discovered skills.
As a chuunin, Tenzou began to bloom like spring blossom on a aged tree. No longer tied to being in a genin team, Tenzou utilized his skills and polished them with as much B-ranks and C-ranks he could get. His skills sharpened, he became what some might say, a diamond in the rough. It wasn't so bad for him, personally. He worked in his own time, earned his own pay and he didn't have to replace anyone.
During the third year of his chuunin days - with his C and B-rank missions reaching impressive numbers for someone his age - the Hokage himself approached him and informed him that a team was in need of an experienced field-chuunin since the other one died in the line of duty. The platoon was a member short. Tenzou didn't really want to accept the mission, the thought of filling someone else's shoes irking him. But there wasn't much he could say to the Hokage, so he agreed.
That A-rank mission was a failure.
Tenzou knew that their team dynamics was a reason why the mission failed so spectacularly. He tried to convince himself that his incompetency to tolerate being treated below jounin rank was not the cause of the failure. He knew better of course, got quite a earful for it from his superiors. He couldn't help it that he was a person too.
That was the last time Tenzou ever failed an A-rank. Replacement or no replacement, he didn't want another ugly spot on his record. So even if he was a replacement in teams or platoons, Tenzou took it with a smile, a shrug and quiet indifference.
It was a summer's afternoon when an recommendation letter signed by Sandaime himself was delivered to him. Tenzou was being offered a pass to enter the jounin exams because his skills and talents were finally recognized. He didn't even have to think twice and six months later, Tenzou was donning the jounin vest and carried a new title. The war that took place against the Kyuubi then only made Tenzou try harder, to defend his village, to live up to the shinobi codes, to fight for peace and prosperity.
It was also during the war did he discover that he wasn't just an orphan like everyone else from the previous war. He was a mere survivor of an illegal and inhumane experiment in what was meant to recreate the skills and attributes of the first Hokage.
Tenzou was sure that the tightening in his chest and feeling of despair was just a side effect to the amount of funerals going on around him, along with the despair and great sense of loss. It wasn't because he was meant to be a replacement for someone bigger, stronger and better.
At the age of thirteen, Tenzou was offered an ANBU mask along with the code-name Cat. It wasn't easy to obtain the mask. He had to undergo severe training like he never experienced before he was deemed worthy enough to really shoulder the task of being in the ANBU force. It wasn't until he managed to earn the mask, name, vest and sword did he discover that the reason they picked him was because they were already short on ANBU members from the war that took place with the Kyuubi.
Tenzou decided it would be good for his career. It wasn't because he was trying to prove to them that he was more than just a replacement. ANBU, after all, was an elite squad. It was going to be very, very good for his career.
When he first stepped in to ANBU, Tenzou was - so to speak - the youngest. Everyone was more experienced, knew better than him, picked on him, bossed him around. He didn't think it was a problem. He heard the rumors that new comers were always treated this way. But somehow, despite knowing that, he couldn't help but feel that ANBU wasn't going to be any different than his genin, chuunin or jounin days.
He wasn't big like everyone else, he was small, short and 'looked like a girl'. It didn't help that his shoulder length hair further punctuated the teasing-names thrown his way. Indifference could only get so far because he was right about one thing. ANBU was definitely elite. And when it was elite, brawls tended to be slightly more different than normal. A teasing session on the very first day gone too far finally snapped Tenzou's patience cleanly in half. It was one thing to pick on his person but completely another to pick on his background.
The sound of nose breaking and bones snapping never satisfied him before then. Boar, as it were, was immediately put out of the active roster and given a penalty for starting the fight. Tenzou was put immediately under probation of his captain and didn't exactly escape the brawl unscathed. Two broken ribs, multiple bruises, a sprained wrist and the loss of his hair. Tenzou knew that he looked hilarious with one side of his head having long hair and the other a mess of short spikes. Boar wasn't very kind with the kunai and because things got dirty, Tenzou's hair suffered as well.
"You look pathetic." His squad captain said, looking down at him from behind the porcelain mask and ANBU cloak. It was the first time he was meeting his captain too.
Tenzou couldn't help but feel stupid that his first impression to his captain was him sitting in the ANBU-clinic cot, looking like utter crap and voice hindered from his swollen lip.
"Thank you, captain." He replied, knowing that politeness was probably the best way to end the whole conversation. He didn't know who his captain was, except that he was supposed to be under Hound's squad. They were supposed to meet that morning but Hound never showed up. Apparently this was normal.
"You know, you probably shouldn't speak. You sound stupid."
Tenzou stared at the holes of porcelain mask with dark, seething black eyes. He didn't like being told he was stupid, or slow, or not good enough. He got that enough during his genin and academy days. He didn't need it from the pompous bastard standing before him.
"You kinda' look like a cockatoo with the hair-cut though." The porcelain mask tilted a bit. "Only from a terrible angle. It's very becoming of your owl-like features."
Tenzou knew amusement and he knew teasing. But then and there, with his pride wounded beyond repair and just about fed-up at being poked fun at, he couldn't care less what his captain was saying. He was not pulling back. "Shut your pie-hole, asswipe, if you can't do better than that."
"That's no way to speak to your senpai."
"Go to hell." Years later, Tenzou decided that his behavior back then was because he was still a child, who knew too much and yet knew nothing. His temper - it seemed - was also to that of a child along with his rebellious nature.
"I can have you removed from the squad for lack of respect you know?"
"Do it!" Tenzou glared up, looking nothing like a girl or a wuss, hardened lines of his young face becoming more pronounced, a steely edge glowing in the infinite dark depths of tired and very, very sad eyes. "Go on! I dare you! Kick me out of your stupid squad! It's not like it's going to make a difference anyway!" He wasn't scared of the mask, or the taller man or how he leaked of power and authority. He was just very hurt because he was never treated like a proper person. He was very hurt that his hopes of being in the elite squad would gain him some positive notes was never fulfilled.
"I'll be moved to another squad, I'll replace some dead person or sick person, or who knows what person." Tenzou couldn't quite keep the bitterness from his voice nor the slight despair. His voice was still scratchy, young and not thick yet. He didn't hit puberty yet so he sounded like a whining brat. "It's not like that's something new. So go ahead. I don't care." Tenzou looked away, like the person standing beside him didn't matter.
"You want to be kicked out?"
"What does it matter?" Tenzou was wondering if using the IV stand to ward away his captain was going to be a bad thing. The man was annoying.
"Answer the question."
Tenzou kept his lips firmly sealed. He answered his captain with complete silence. He liked to think that he didn't care, that being kicked out wasn't going to hurt him. It wasn't like it mattered anyway. He could easily do A-ranks even as a jounin.
"You really think keeping silent is going to make things easier for you?"
Tenzou flicked a glance at his captain, from under the messy fall of his long hair and glared. He was not expecting the man before him to pull up a chair and sit down, nor was he expecting to see the silver thatch of messy hair defy gravity as the hood was pulled down. He also wasn't expecting the porcelain mask to come off and stare at a pair of mismatched eyes.
He was never expecting - he never even dreamed of the possibility - his captain to be the legendary Sharingan Kakashi.
This time, his silence was genuine surprise.
"First things, first, Tenzou." Kakashi spoke, voice still slightly muffled by the fabric of his face mask. "You're under probation. You do look like a girl, you are here as a replacement."
Tenzou - at the age of nearly thirteen - felt utterly useless. It was also the first time in a long while did he feel his eyes prickle with tell-tales of tears that he refused to acknowledge. He said nothing and merely glared with all the defiance of a lost child. The tears never fell. If anything, it made his dark eyes look wider, softer and possibly just a bit more 'girly'.
"What you're going to do is that you're going to stay by my side at all times, cut your hair and wear it short and start with milk. It helps." Kakashi said in a dry tone. Whether he was oblivious to the glassy look in Tenzou's eyes was up to anyone's guess. "And while you're at it, work hard, train harder. You're not here to fill anyone's shoes. You're here to follow my orders and serve Konoha."
Tenzou stared at Kakashi - his captain, Hound - with very surprised eyes at his words.
"We're a team, first and foremost. We will function as one. Remember that. Now, if you can't keep up, then I'll really think of kicking you out of the squad, hmm?"
Tenzou never got kicked out of Hound's squad.
At the age of twenty, Tenzou was one of the best of the best, possibly right after Kakashi himself. He never had to replace anyone for anything while under Kakashi's command and those years of blood and gore felt insanely human to him like never before. ANBU was never easy business but because Kakashi treated him as an equal - with also the fair amount of teasing - Tenzou really didn't care what took place around him. When the time came for Kakashi to step down from his command of his own decision, Tenzou was once more a replacement.
He never liked it, fought against it, rebelled and disagreed.
"I chose you because you're the only one I've met and worked with who will make a good leader. Perhaps not just in ANBU, but more." Kakashi said when Tenzou all but demanded why he picked him and why not one of the other squad members who were better, had more experience and were more than willing to take his place.
Tenzou didn't open his mouth and nodded meekly.
Even long after Kakashi left and finally passed his first genin team, the ANBU squad remained as Hound's Unit. It was never Cat's Unit.
Tenzou will also never admit that he sometimes missed Kakashi's jibes, his air of command, his lazy persona and ability to hold the team together effortlessly. He wished he could be more like Kakashi but knew that was down right impossible. So he remained in ANBU, strangely sane for a job so dirty with enough capacity to break a man a thousand times and leave them irreparable.
At the age of twenty-six, Tenzou was pulled out of ANBU by the fifth Hokage and assigned a new code name. There was never a need for him to be anyone's replacement when he commanded Team Hound. But after so many years, he was being asked to replaced the very man he admired and respected once more. He told himself that he should be honored, because he was also given the responsibility of taking care of Uzumaki Naruto, the legend whispered amongst ANBU because of his potential.
Tenzou never expected the role of Yamato to be easy.
But sometimes he really wished that he wasn't just a replacement. Because despite what other may say or think, he was still replacing Kakashi in more ways than one. He wasn't very pleased with it, but if Kakashi approved, who was he to say no to the man? If Kakashi asked, how could he say no? He owed the man that much at least.
Tenzou liked to think that he was serving a greater purpose. That all the efforts of replacing people and then Kakashi was going to lead to an unknown door that can perhaps finally shape him to what he truly can be. Sandaime, after all, once said, "Your time will come" and always repeated those words when he looked troubled. Because to him, Kakashi had it all and he never had to replace anyone. He had his team, his reputation, his ANBU squad that wasn't even his anymore and a lover one can only wish to have during the upcoming dark times. Sometimes - and these were rare - he wished he was Hatake Kakashi. Most of the time, he wished he had what Kakashi had.
Now, years later after the great war and Akatsuki's struggle for power was over, Tenzou found himself sitting beside a hospital bed, delivering news of the death of his ex-captain to the one person he knew mattered to Kakashi more than anything else. Iruka never took the news well, and Tenzou doubted he ever hated being a replacement the way he did then and there, when tanned, slender fingers gripped his in a tight and desperate hold for comfort. It wasn't him Iruka wanted to hold, or needed. It wasn't him that needed to be there.
He knew that well.
He hated it and hated himself just a little bit more.
Three years later, Tenzou found himself staring at the bedroom window, back against the headboard and a sleeping academy instructor curled against his side. Iruka was his now, or so the chuunin says. He took care of him, as Kakashi would, met his needs, respected his distance and privacy. Tenzou was, so to speak, a good lover. But on nights like these, when Iruka remained asleep beside him, he couldn't help but wonder if all this was really indeed his. He thought of his life and the years he watched passed by, staring at the Hokage monuments through the misty glass of the window. Softly and almost tiredly, he asked Sandaime:
"When will my time come?"
Tenzou long ago lost his mind. XD