For all that he’s nominally a Konoha shinobi, the vast majority of Tenzō’s life has been spent outside of Konoha, wither in secure Root bases or on missions. He doesn’t expect ANBU to be much different, but—well.
A lot of what Tenzō expected in life is turning out to be wrong. Some of it pleasantly so, and some of it not so much.
This, Tenzō thinks, definitely falls under the ‘not so much’ category.
“Kawarama!” an excited voice cries, and Tenzō flinches, a deeply-seated instinct to bolt surfacing. It is, he thinks, rather like a mouse hearing the hunting cry of a hawk, only this hawk is less claws and stabbing beak and more…boisterousness and cheer.
To be completely honest, Tenzō thinks he would prefer the claws.
Thankfully he’s alone in the training ground, with no witnesses to see him instinctively dodge the tackle-hug and squawk, “Shodaime-sama!”
“Brother,” Tobirama admonishes, shimmering into existence just in time to grab his older brother by the hair and reel him back in. “That won't do any good. Didn’t the last hundred times you tried prove anything? You are intangible.”
“But maybe this time it will work!” Hashirama says brightly, undeterred even as he’s hauled backwards by the scalp. He beams at Tenzō and waves enthusiastically, as if trying to convey all the joyful affection he can't pass on through the hug in that motion. “Kawarama, I'm so glad you're back safe! That was a long mission, wasn’t it?”
“It’s Tenzō,” Tenzō says, a little helplessly, because it’s what he says every time the former Hokage show up.
“It is now,” Tobirama says, offering a faint roll of his eyes as he releases Hashirama to cross his arms over his chest. Tenzō isn’t fooled by the stern expression, though; he can see Tobirama’s eyes do a full-body sweep, carefully checking for injuries.
“I'm fine,” he reassures the Nidaime, a touch awkwardly. He’s still entirely unused to people concerning themselves with his help beyond the scope of mission readiness, and having the ghosts of Konoha's first two Hokage worry about him is enough to make him want to sit down and put his head between his knees.
He’d think he was going crazy, but he’s already checked. Both Tobirama and Hashirama have told him things he couldn’t have known previously that Sarutobi had then confirmed. It’s fairly airtight, as far as proof goes.
(That does not, of course, stop Tenzō from twitching every time they turn up, which is practically every time he’s within Konoha's borders. Someday someone is going to catch him talking to them, and then everyone else will think Tenzō is crazy. It will probably be a nice change from thinking himself crazy, but it’s still definitely not ideal.)
“Did you get a chance to try out that jutsu?” Hashirama asks, something closer to seriousness coming into his face. He takes a seat on one of the rocks, patting the space next to him with a welcoming smile.
With a glance at Tobirama’s faintly amused expression, Tenzō sinks down beside the Shodaime, twisting his fingers together in his lap nervously. “Hōbi? Yes. It saved my charge’s life, but holding it for too long is…very tiring.”
Hashirama’s smile is bittersweet, even though it’s still warm, and he lays a faintly translucent hand just above Tenzō’s shoulder. “Kawarama,” he says gently, ignoring Tenzō’s muttered ‘It’s Tenzō’. “It might be hard for you to remember, but I struggled a lot as well when I was a child. You’ll improve, I promise. You're already far better than you were three months ago.”
Tenzō flushes, ducking his head, and tugs on his long hair. It’s because of them, though he doesn’t say as much. When Danzō taught him, everything was based on a child’s distant, fuzzy memories of the Shodaime’s skills at the height of his power, and Tenzō had done the best he could to improvise and work around techniques that required far too much chakra and a much deeper understanding of Mokuton.
With Hashirama actually here, able to coach him through techniques with a patience and empathy Tenzō has never encountered in anyone before, he’s practically flying forward instead of crawling, and it’s exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure.
“Thank you,” he says, faintly sheepish, and glances up to meet Hashirama’s understanding gaze. “For—for everything.” He catches Tobirama’s warm, tolerant gaze as well, so unlike the Nidaime’s frosty exterior, and adds, “To both of you.” Because Hashirama does things on instinct, carried by his genius, but while Tobirama is a genius as well he has near-perfect understanding of the technical aspects, able to break things down to their simplest terms and explain why something works the way it does. Tenzō wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far without him, even with Hashirama’s help.
Something like sadness slips into Tobirama’s face, though there's a trace of fondness as well. He reaches out, not quite touching, to frame Tenzō’s face with a hand. “My brother is a buffoon,” he says, ignoring the immediate loud protests it earns him. “But he’s also correct in this instance. Whoever you are now, I am absolutely certain your soul was once Kawarama’s, and that makes us family.”
Tenzō’s never had a family. He’s not entirely sure what to do with it now that he does, because it’s a family of ghosts and he’s the only one in all of Konoha who can see them.
That doesn’t mean he would changing things for the world, though.
Tobirama must see something of that in his face, because he nods once, sharp and satisfied, and pulls away. “Good,” he says, and red eyes narrow. “Now that you’ve mastered Hōbi you are almost ready to assassinate my former team member.”
Tenzō squawks, almost falling off the rock. “What? No! We discussed this! I'm not assassinating Danzō!”
The absolutely reasonable statement gets him a roll of Tobirama’s eyes. “Why not?” he asks, as if he’s the reasonable one here. “If I were able to interact with living matter, I would do it myself, as he has gone far beyond the boundaries of reason. It is a shame, given his brilliance, but you are proof enough that he cannot be allowed to continue.”
Before he can quite help it, Tenzō flinches. The second he sees it, Tobirama visibly winces, taking a step back. Before he can say anything, though, Hashirama makes a soothing sound, leaning forward as if to drape an arm around Tenzō’s shoulders.
“Easy,” he murmurs gently, and when Tenzō casts a wary look at him he simply smiles, sad and fond. His eyes are old, older even than the Sandaime’s for all that he died younger, and there's a thread of tired compassion in them that makes Tenzō itch with the need to explain his refusal, even though it’s already entirely justified.
“I—I can't go back to being a traitor,” he whispers, and watches surprise flash across the brothers’ faces. “I almost killed Kakashi-senpai once already. I don’t want to kill my comrades. I can't.”
“You are—” Tobirama starts, voice sharp, but he breaks off on a sigh, rubbing the bridge of his nose. More quietly, he finishes, “—very like Kawarama. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise.” He rubs a finger along the edge of his faceplate, a nervous tic Tenzō has seen whenever he’s thinking deeply, and then says carefully, “At some point, when one betrays their ideals enough, even in the name of those ideals, they cease to be one of those they seek to save. Danzō was my student, and I cared for him, but he has taken what I taught him to an unfortunate extreme. I am sorry to ask you to correct a mistake I made, Tenzō, but as I am now I have no choice.”
“Besides,” Hashirama adds, cheerful tone breaking through the tension like a misaimed wrecking ball, “if someone questions you, you can just tell them the Hokage ordered you to do it!”
Tenzō gives Tobirama a look that can probably be summed up as Is he honestly an actual human being and not a plant? Are you sure?
Tobirama’s grimace answers, Results inconclusive—equal amounts of data for both hypotheses.
“The dead Hokage,” Tenzō says, just to make sure they're on the same page. It’s a very short page. With very big letters. In an entirely foreign language, as far as he can tell. He likes to call it logic.
Hashirama seems to only have the most passing sort of familiarity with it.
“Well, of course!” Hashirama agrees, looking like he hasn’t a care in the world. “It’s not as if we aren’t here, and we’re still Hokage!”
Tobirama makes a very quiet sound like he’s dying. “Brother, shut up.”
Hashirama sulks like no one Tenzō has ever seen. It’s fascinating, in the same way some of Genma's particularly gruesome poisons are fascinating.
Still, even that isn’t quite enough to distract from the topic at hand. Tenzō takes a breath, presses a hand over his faceplate and rests his fingers against the engraved leaf there, then nods. This time when he thinks about Kakashi in the darkness, helpless and unconscious, he remembers his determination to save the older boy no matter what. Danzō was the reason he had to make the choice at all, and maybe…maybe that’s reason enough.
“I’ll do it,” he says, and the brothers’ bickering immediately cuts off. “I’ll assassinate him.”
“Who are you going to assassinate now?”
Tenzō squeaks, and this time he really does fall off the rock. Hashirama lunges to catch him, seemingly forgetting yet again that he’s a ghost, and the icy shock of him passing right through Tenzō’s body has Tenzō bolting to his feet. He spins around, only to find himself nose to nose with an Uchiha boy a little younger than him.
Well. Nose to eyebrows, because the Uchiha is definitely taller than him.
“Kagami's grandson,” Tobirama says, suddenly far more interested than Tenzō has heard him since their first meeting. “He’s become quite the fine shinobi—”
“I think you’re biased, little brother,” Hashirama says, and that’s the first time Tenzō has ever really heard him sound like Tobirama, but that thread of dry amusement is definitely the same. “Given how you felt about Kagami—”
Tobirama harrumphs, looking pointedly away, but there’s red on his cheeks that’s not just from his markings. “That,” he says, just a little too quick for composure, “has nothing to do with—”
“Hellooooooo?” The Uchiha waves a hand in front of Tenzō’s face, and he flinches back to awareness, ignoring the Senju brothers.
“No one!” he says quickly, flailing desperately in the hope it will make him even slightly more believable. “No one at all, it was just—metaphorical! It was metaphorical assassination, not actual, I'm—I'm not going to assassinate anyone!”
Tobirama mutters something under his breath that sounds like Absolutely without a doubt that is Kawarama talking, but Tenzō ignores him.
The Uchiha blinks for a moment, brows sliding upward. “Well, that might be a bit of a problem, don’t you think?” he asks, and there's poorly-buried mirth in his voice. “You know, given your job.”
“Job?” Tenzō squeaks, and he cannot have been caught already there is simply no possible way—
“ANBU,” the other boy says cheerfully. “I saw you in the barracks the other day. Uchiha Shisui, nice to meet you!”
“Tenzō,” Tenzō answers, relief leaving him a little weak in the knees. “It’s—”
“You know you can introduce yourself as Kawarama if you want!” Hashirama offers brightly, right in his ear, and Tenzō flinches.
“He doesn’t think of himself as Kawarama, of course he shouldn’t—”
“But he is Kawarama, and he doesn’t have a birth name of his own—”
“His soul is Kawarama’s, idiot, that’s hardly the same thing—”
“Of course it is—”
“Nice to meet you,” Tenzō finishes a little desperately, and wishes with all his heart that he could kick both of the former Hokage in the face. “You're—you're Uchiha Kagami's grandson?”
The moment he says it he’s absolutely certain he’s overstepped, because Kakashi is his only other real point of interaction and he definitely doesn’t like discussing family connections. But before he can panic and offer an apology, Shisui's face breaks into a wide grin.
“I am!” he confirms. “Most people forget about him even though he was totally awesome. How did you know?”
“He has Kagami's eyes,” Tobirama says, apparently having abandoned his attempt to beat logic into Hashirama’s skull. Not that Tenzō can blame him for that. He can blame the Nidaime for the tone that is almost soppy given his usual reticence. “And Kagami's charm. He’s certainly handsome like his grandfather. With his skills, that’s quite the combination.”
Tenzō’s face is absolutely turning red, but there’s nothing he can do to stop it. “I—like learning about the previous Hokage,” he says, and if it’s a little weak he thinks he can be excused, because Tobirama is practically looming. It’s like Shisui is his grandson by proxy, and that—that is not something Tenzō wants to think about at all.
Even so, that gets him a beaming smile. “Kagami was the best, wasn’t he?” Shisui asks enthusiastically. “He and the Nidaime were really close, and Tobirama was awesome—”
“He is,” Tenzō says faintly, and when Tobirama’s eyes widen as they fall on him, he wonders if one of the Doton jutsus he’s learned will let him literally sink into the ground and never come up again. “So—so is Hashirama, though?”
“Kawarama—” Hashirama starts, looking like he’s about to cry with joy, and Tenzō winces, preparing to sidestep. Thankfully, Tobirama catches his brother by the collar of his robes as he lunges and hauls him back.
When Tenzō belated remembers that he’s not alone with the two ghosts and hurried looks up again, Shisui is watching him with something close to bemusement. “You're kind of twitchy, aren’t you?” he asks.
Tenzō absolutely wants to die.
With a groan, he slaps his hands over his face and just manages to get out a garbled, “I'm so sorry.”
Long, gentle fingers curl around his wrists, tugging lightly, and Tenzō reluctantly allows Shisui to pull his hands back down. The Uchiha is smiling, slightly softer than before as he looks Tenzō over. “That’s okay,” he says, still cheerful and warm. “I know I'm way too fabulous not to have a crush on, so it’s hardly your fault. Also, you are way too cute. Just so you know.”
Tenzō makes a sound like a dying kitten and wonders if it’s possibly to faint from all the blood rushing to his face.
“Well.” Tobirama sounds both surprised and satisfied. “There are far worse partners, statistically speaking—”
“Noooo!” Hashirama wails, making to lunge at Tenzō again. “Kawarama, you're too young for romance! Don’t let him corrupt you!”
Tenzō squeaks, dodges his ghostly arms, and feels entirely justified in his decision to just…keep retreating.
Discretion is definitely the better part of valor.