The Evolution of Team White Fang

Sakumo Hatake shoved his hands deep into his pockets and kicked at a stone on the road. He'd never been so bored in his entire life, and he knew that if he wasn't assigned a mission soon he'd likely go insane...which would definitely not be good for the Village. It wasn't normal for the Sandaime to keep him on the inactive list for so long, especially since he'd been injured far worse than this before.

Of course, normally he'd have Tsunade around to just patch him up, but the old man had already sent her, Jiraiya and Orochimaru off on some long-term mission two weeks ago, so he was stuck in the care of Kfonoha's hospital staff. He frowned. It wasn't that they were incompetent, but after being tended to by Tsunade's skilled hands for so long, he found himself losing patience when it took others three times as long to mend even the simplest injuries. He'd checked himself out of the Hospital earlier today, against the orders of the Doctor in charge of his case, and now he found himself with absolutely nothing to do.

Well, there was always one thing he could do to relieve the growing frustration of not having a! So Sakumo headed toward his favorite training grounds with the hopes of working out a few of the kinks he'd gained from being cooped up in the Hospital for the past four days. It was located at the northeast corner of the Village and had the added benefit of being close to a secluded spring-fed pool just a short distance into the woods that bordered the area.

A smile crossed Sakumo's face at the thought of how cool the water of the pool would feel after he had spent a few hours working up a sweat while running through a series of kata and some serious taijutsu routines. Maybe he would even find the time to figure out a way extend the chakra he fed into his tanto so it would extend its reach beyond the blade.

He looked up to spy the post marking the entrance to Training Field 12 and stopped short when a squad of four ANBU appeared in his path. Sakumo took another step forward but the foursome didn't move. He frowned in contemplation. Perhaps the Hokage sent them to assign a mission? No...sending a four-man cell for such an act just wasn't done. There was only one way to find out why they were here.

"What brings four ANBU out of shadows on such a sunny day, hmm?"

Sakumo noticed all four masked men tense at his words. The tallest of the group took a single step forward and bowed his head slightly to him before responding to Sakumo's inquiry.

"Our apologies, White Fang, but the Hokage has ordered that this training ground is off limits until further notice."

Sakumo narrowed his eyes at the man wearing a stylized tiger's mask. "And is that order pertaining to all Konoha shinobi?"

He held his breath when the ANBU didn't respond right away. Perhaps it really was an order for all shinobi. But that hope crashed to the ground with two little words spoken from behind the mask.

"No sir."

"I see. And what would happen if I decide to entertain myself using one of the other training grounds?"

"You would be similarly intercepted."

Sakumo frowned. "And if I resist?"

Another one of the ANBU – this one in a cat mask – stepped next to the first. "It would be better for you if you did not."

Sakumo closed his eyes. He knew that voice...even muffled from behind a porcelain mask. After all, it was very difficult to miss the arrogance that seeped into every syllable of an Uchiha. And it was obvious to Sakumo that this particular Uchiha would take great pleasure in keeping him from entering this, or any other training ground. He still couldn't believe that clan held a grudge against him for something that happened when he was a genin.

Sakumo ran one hand across his jaw before moving it up to pinch the bridge of his nose, feeling the beginnings of one hell of a headache. He seriously considered pushing his luck and challenging these fools, but if the truth be told, his body just wasn't up for it yet. He moved his hand up and ran it through his hair before returning it to his pocket and shrugging.

"As much as I'd love to play with you boys, I think I'll just head back to grab some lunch instead. Sorry to be a bother."

Before any of the ANBU could make another comment, Sakumo gathered a bit of his chakra together and formed the hand sign for the teleportation jutsu that would carry him from the outskirts of Konoha into the hall just outside of the Third Hokage's office. He hadn't even lowered his hand from the jutsu when the guard opened the door and motioned him through.

"The Hokage's expecting you, White Fang."

Sakumo rolled his eyes as he shoved his hands back into his pockets and walked by the guard. "Of course he is."

-- --

Hiruzen Sarutobi had seen a lot in his lifetime. He'd witnessed the birth of Konoha when he was just a boy. He'd seen war...and its aftermath. He'd seen the sorrow in the eyes of young and old at the loss of friends, family, and lovers over the years. He'd witnessed the power and compassion of the First and Second Hokage, and he'd witnessed the miracle of birth amidst the devastation throughout the years. But in all his time within the walls of Konoha, this was the first time he could honestly say he'd never seen a sight to compare with how Sakumo Hatake looked as he crossed the floor of his office.

Although the man's hands were in his pockets, and his shoulders were slumped in an almost lackadaisical manner, the muscles along his jawline showed just how tense he was, and there was a coldness in those steely-gray eyes that made Sarutobi swallow back the humorous greeting he'd originally intended. Instead, he placed his pipe down on his desk and folded his hands before addressing the jonin.

"I was wondering how long it would take before you came to see me, Sakumo. Your doctor informed me earlier that you have refused any further treatments from his staff. Is this so?"

Sakumo's eyes narrowed and the man pointedly shifted that gaze toward the large crystal sphere sitting atop a small red pillow on the edge of his desk. "I'm certain you had a front-row seat for all of it, Hokage."

Sarutobi frowned and tried to cover his embarrassment by tapping his pipe against a dish on his desk to knock out the old tobacco. He then concentrated on refilling that pipe while he addressed the young man in front of him. "Ah, now Sakumo...don't be that way. You know I would never use this jutsu for anything like spying on you."

Two large hands...far paler than most residents of Konoha...came into Sarutobi's line of sight as Sakumo leaned over the desk. "So then just why is that thing out at all, Hokage?"

Well, this left him in an awkward position. Yes, he could pull rank as the Hokage and tell him it's none of his business, but perhaps he could use this as the perfect opportunity to bring another of his plans into action. A slow smile pulled at his lips as he pulled the clear glass orb over until it was positioned between them. He introduced a small amount of his chakra into the object and thought about what he wanted to see. A fine white mist swirled within the globe until it was no longer see-through, and then that mist slowly settled to the bottom revealing a scene that was one Sarutobi had taken to peeking in on more and more this past week.

Sakumo's voice betrayed his confusion...and his curiosity. "Is that...the Academy?"

Sarutobi leaned back in his chair as the scene within the globe solidified until the play yard outside the Academy came fully into view. "Yes, is."

One of the hands on the desk was shifted to rub at the back of Sakumo's neck. "I don't understand."

This time Sarutobi chuckled at the man's reaction, earning himself another glare from the jonin. "What's to understand, Sakumo?"

"If you weren't watching me, then why were you expecting my arrival?"

As though on cue, one of the three genin Sarutobi had sent out earlier in the day to track down Sakumo came stumbling into the office, gasping for air...sweat plastering his light brown hair to his face. "Lord Hokage...we thought we found Training Field 12...but it wasn't him..."

He watched Sakumo stand to his full height and turn to tower over the exhausted boy. The genin's dark eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open in the perfect imitation of a fish on dry land. "You're him!"

Sakumo chuckled while Sarutobi tried not to laugh outright. "Am I?"

"You're THE White Fang! You really ARE in the Village! We figured the Old Man was just trying to pull our leg again."

Sarutobi was about to reprimand the boy, when Sakumo leaned down until he was face to face with the youngster. "Is that any way to talk about your Hokage?"

Sarutobi watched the young boy pale at Sakumo's words and take a step or two back. The lad looked as though he might pass out at any moment, and that was definitely not something he wanted to explain to his wife tonight.

"Ah, Sakumo...don't mind Chuuseki. Sometimes he forgets that even my children should remember to use my title in the office."

Sakumo stood back up and glanced over his shoulder toward the desk. "This is one of yours?"

It was Sarutobi's turn to rub at the back of his neck. "Guilty as charged, Sakumo."

The jonin made a show of looking back and forth between father and son a few times...likely comparing the boy's light brown mop of hair to his own dark brown. Sakumo crossed his arms in front of him and smiled. "I see he takes after your wife, Hokage."

Sarutobi rolled his eyes. "In more ways than you'll ever know, Sakumo." He turned his attention back to his first-born. "Chuuseki, where is the rest of your team?"

The young chunin kept staring at Sakumo while answering him with a shrug. "How am I supposed to know, Old...umm...Hokage."

Sarutobi sighed and leaned his chin onto the palm of his hand. "I believe your sensei placed you in charge of this particular mission, did he not, Chuuseki?"

His son frowned and shifted his gaze to the floor self-consciously. "Yes sir."

He was about to lecture the boy...again...on the role of a leader, when Sakumo stepped up behind the boy and placed one hand on top of his mop of hair. "Don't worry too much about it, Chuuseki. I've been known to misplace my team from time to time too."

A smile stretched across Sarutobi's mouth when his son's mouth dropped open in shock. Once Sakumo released the boy's head, Chuuseki tipped his neck back and gazed up at the jonin in absolute adoration. "Really?"

Sakumo shrugged and shoved his hands into his pockets. "Sure. It's bound to happen to the best of us. The trick is making sure you find them once you realize you've misplaced them. Do you think you can do that?"

Sarutobi watched as his eldest son grinned like a fool and then shoved his hands into his pockets in an obvious attempt to imitate the famous White Fang...although he looked far too excited to truly be able to pull off Sakumo's carefully schooled look of indifference. "Of course I can! Just watch me!"

With that, Chuuseki pulled his hands out of his pockets and gave a quick wave to them both before running out of the office. A low chuckle passed Sarutobi's lips, earning him a curious look from Sakumo.

"What's so funny, Hokage?"

"I was just thinking how very good you are with children, Sakumo. Perhaps the counsel was right."

That brought a frown onto the jonin's face. "What does that stuffy group of busy-bodies have to do with any of this, Sarutobi?"

"Come now, Sakumo. Don't be like that. Some of those busy-bodies are actually my friends."

"You can't be serious."

Another laugh bubbled past his lips. "Quite serious, my dear boy. Anyhow, you came up in our last meeting and the counsel pointed out that you aren't exactly getting any younger."

Sakumo raised his eyebrows. "You needed the counsel to figure that one out, Hokage?"

"Not exactly." He took a long draw on his pipe before moving the conversation where he needed it to go. "But they did bring up a valid concern regarding your age."

Now the jonin's eyes narrowed. "And that would be?"

"That you are well beyond the age that most of your compatriots have already started their families."

Sakumo's face was the picture of disbelief. "You have got to be kidding me."

Sarutobi leaned back in his chair and took another draw on his pipe. "Why would I be kidding, Sakumo? Don't you want to settle down?"

He watched the jonin cringe at the turn of words and, in that instant, he knew the man would play right into his hands. Sarutobi just needed to make sure to phrase this the right way so that Sakumo would think the entire idea was his in the first place. He set his pipe down and leaned forward in his chair.

"You are quite the eligible bachelor, you know. I'm certain any number of women would flock to be the means for you to expand your clan. After all, it isn't like you have anything better to do with your time while you're healing, right?"

Sakumo growled. "I wouldn't have to bide my time healing if you hadn't sent Tsunade away on such a long-term mission."

Sarutobi smiled coyly. "It was a team mission, Sakumo. You know how she is about sending those two fools out into the world without her by their side to keep them in one piece."

Sakumo frowned, looking more miserable than he'd ever seen him. "I won't be pushed into mating just because your friends think twenty is considered too old to breed."

Sarutobi had to hold back a chuckle, knowing it wouldn't win the jonin to his cause. "Are you trying to tell me that none of the women in Konoha have caught your eye, Sakumo?"

The jonin finally sat down in one of the chairs in front of the desk. He looked far older than his twenty years at that moment, and Sarutobi was beginning to realize that perhaps it had been too long since he'd checked up on the White Fang's personal issues. Sakumo sighed.

"You should consider yourself lucky that you found your wife before gaining the title of Hokage."

Sarutobi was actually surprised by that comment. "Why would you say that, Sakumo?"

"You have no idea how hard it is to live up to the hype of being Konoha's White Fang. It tends to make even the sanest women turn into bumbling bimbos before we even make it through our introductions." His hands moved into his thick mane of silver hair as he lowered his head and sighed once more. "I have yet to meet anyone who isn't just looking to hook up for the night so they can have bragging rights to bedding a legend."

Sarutobi's eyes went wide. He'd never expected such a problem for this young man. "I see how that might put a wrinkle into finding a wife."

Sakumo groaned. "Isn't there something you can do to get the Badgers off my case, Hokage?"

Smirking at the thought of his clutch of counselors being referred to as badgers, Sarutobi was pleased to finally have the opening he'd been carefully angling for. "Well...I suppose if I could show them that you had another commitment...I might be able to keep them quiet for awhile longer."

Sakumo met his eyes with the glimmer of hope in his face and Sarutobi knew he'd won even before he laid out the final piece. "What do I need to do, Hokage?"

He waved one hand toward the crystal globe that still lay on the desk. The scene within was still focused on the Academy yard, and Sarutobi allowed a small smile to grace his lips. "All you need to do is take on a genin team until they become chunin."

He watched Sakumo's eyes narrow in disbelief. "How would that possibly keep your friends at bay?"

"Being in charge of a genin team would require you to spend the majority of your time with the children. You'd need to devote every waking hour to shaping them into formidable shinobi of whom Konoha can be proud. The counselors know that such a task would make it impossible to court anyone until the team reached chunin level."

He watched Sakumo's mouth stretch into a grin as he glanced into the image shown in the globe. "And I can choose any group I want?"

Sarutobi sat back in his chair with his hands folded in his lap. "Well, not exactly, Sakumo. After all, the majority of the teams have already been set up. If I had known earlier that you would be interested in taking on a team I would have gladly allowed you to select the children yourself. But I'm afraid there is only one group left that doesn't have a jonin sensei assigned to them yet."

Sakumo frowned. "Why didn't anyone choose them? Are they deficient?"

Sarutobi laughed. "Hardly. In fact, I imagine that if anyone would be able to bring out this trio's potential it would be you."

Sakumo's gaze turned back toward the globe. "So which three are they?"

Sarutobi leaned forward and glanced into the image as well, pretending to try to locate them when he already knew exactly where they'd be. He directed Sakumo's attention toward the tree on the far side of the Academy yard. "That's them...sitting under the tree."

Sakumo frowned. "Aren't they a bit old to still be in the Academy?"

"Ah, yes. About that...these three were held back a time or two. But they have all passed their graduation exam this time around, and I'm sure you'll find them quite charming."

He watched Sakumo peer into the mist once more. "What are their names?"

"The one eating the chips is Choza Akimichi. The one napping against the tree is Shikaku Nara. And the one over there, picking the bouquet of flowers, is Inoichi Yamanaka."

Sakumo made a derisive sound through his teeth. "Just how old are they?"

"All three are nine years old."

"Hmm...they look older."

Sarutobi chuckled. "Well, technically Choza will be ten next week, Inoichi will turn ten two weeks later, and Shikaku is ten one week after that."

Sakumo was silent for quite some time before he finally lifted his dark gray eyes to meet Sarutobi's gaze. "Do I have to decide now, or am I allowed to meet them before I make my choice?"

Sarutobi smiled. "They are supposed to meet their jonin sensei tomorrow morning. I'll give you until tonight to do what you must."

"Fair enough. Thank you Hokage."

"Whatever for, Sakumo?"

The young jonin stood up and smiled at him. "For not thinking of me as a breeder like your friends do."

With that said, he watched Sakumo raise his hand into a familiar hand sign and disappear in a whirl of gray smoke. Sarutobi looked back into the globe at the three boys who he was certain were far better than any of their Academy reports showed. He'd been watching them over the course of their schooling, and he'd seen something in how they interacted with each other that he was certain would catch Sakumo's curiosity as well. But only time would tell.

-- --

Sakumo spent the first half of his day of observation perched in a tree high above the Academy yard. Official classes were over and most of the students were spending the free time before they met their jonin sensei sharpening their skills. As he watched, different groups had formed and were focusing on everything from shuriken throwing to taijutsu. A small group by the stream that ran through the yard were actually attempting small scale water jutsu.

Sakumo frowned. Why was it that he couldn't have those kids to teach? No...instead he was here to concentrate on the only students in the yard who were not training. The trio was pretty much in the exact same position they'd been in while he had spied on them in the Hokage's office...six hours ago. He ran a hand through his hair as he watched the chubby kid open up his twentieth bag of chips. Maybe being a breeder wasn't really a bad thing. After all, it wasn't like they were picking the girl for him, right? He frowned. Or were they? He hadn't really talked much about the Badgers' Breeding Program with the Hokage. With his luck, Sarutobi's cronies had already lined him up with some insipid bimbo whose only ambition in life was to stay at home and pop out little Hatake geniuses for the next twenty years...thus ensuring Konoha's safety.

A shiver went up his spine at that thought and Sakumo returned his attention to what might be his only way out of such a fate. Surely there had to be something worthwhile in this trio of misfits...he just needed to look underneath the surface. He scowled when he noticed that bag number twenty-one had been opened by Choza, the Nara boy rolled over and started snoring, and the blond settled into a seated position with an armful of brightly colored flowers.

Sakumo scratched at the back of his head. maybe he'd need to look underneath the underneath before he found anything of value with these three. He was about to call it a day when a sound below him caught his attention. It appeared that Shikaku Nara had finally woken up and was now stretching his body until a series of small pops could be heard from his joints..

Inoichi's voice floated up the where Sakumo was still perched. "Is he still up there Shikaku?"

Sakumo's eyes went wide as he glanced down to where the young boy with the long blond ponytail was calmly arranging the blooms in his lap.

"Unfortunately yes, Inoichi." The dark-haired boy was now twisting his body side to side showing Sakumo he was much more flexible than he'd originally given the boy credit for.

Choza tipped his head of unruly reddish brown hair back to scan the tree branches, but it was obvious the kid hadn't seen where Sakumo was standing. "You don't think someone caught me sneaking out with the chips, do you?"

Inoichi snorted at that. "Give me a break, Choza. When food's on the line I doubt that even the White Fang would be able to detect you."

That caught Sakumo's attention. Had they actually figured out that it was him up here? No way. This was likely just another of the reasons his life was currently such a mess. His name was enough to make most kids dream about being a famous shinobi, and most women blush shamelessly. Still, it was interesting that Choza's friend felt he was that good at being stealthy, despite his rather generous size. Meanwhile, the Nara boy obviously sensed him standing in the tree.

Sakumo decided to test that theory and hid his chakra signature, which up to now he hadn't bothered doing...after all, these kids weren't even officially genin yet. Once he did, he noticed Shikaku seemed to relax even more...confirming Sakumo's theory that perhaps the Nara lad was a bit sensitive to chakra.

"It doesn't matter any more, because I think that, whoever it was, they've left now." The boy turned toward where Inoichi was separating out his flowers. "Have you gotten enough for your research yet?"

Sakumo raised his eyebrows in surprise. Research? What research could possibly be done with a armful of flowers? He took a closer look at what blossoms the boy had chosen and a small smile crept over his lips. First he noticed the dark full-finger gloves on the boys hands, and then he recognized that more than a few of the brightly colored blooms were actually those of rather poisonous plants.

Inoichi sighed. "I still can't find any white Higanbana, but that doesn't really surprise me."

Choza pushed himself up to standing. "Why can't you just use the red ones, Inoichi? They're everywhere you turn!"

Surprisingly it was Shikaku who responded to the question. "The properties of the red bloom's bulb are already fully documented, Choza. So even though it's likely to mean more boring days traipsing through the underbrush, we need to find some with white blooms so Inoichi can compare the toxins in the two bulbs side by side."

Inoichi rearranged his day's pickings and got to his feet as well. "Besides Choza, the last time I tried to dig up one of the red-flowered Higanbana your grandmother nearly bit my head off because she thought I was destroying your reincarnated grandfather."

Once Shikaku joined the other two, the trio made their way out of the Academy yard and into the Village. Obviously these three shared a strong bond of friendship already. That was definitely something Sakumo could work with, and was the first step toward true teamwork. He smiled to himself. The sun was just starting to set by the time he reached the Hokage Tower, and he wasn't surprised at all to find Sarutobi was waiting for his report.

The older man had removed his usual white Hokage robes and conical hat and was lounging in his office chair with his feet up on the desk and his pipe firmly clenched within his teeth. Sakumo smirked at the idea that the usually stoic man could actually be laid back, and he found his appreciation for the man increase greatly.

"Have you made your evaluation of the boys?"

Sakumo rubbed a hand across the back of his neck and moved to take his seat in front of the desk. Sarutobi remained relaxed, but his eyes did seem to sparkle a bit with his obvious curiosity.

"I did, Hokage. The boys' hidden talents have indeed caught my interest."

A sly smile crept over the older man's face and Sakumo got the sinking feeling that he'd been duped into this right along. Still, it would fill the time until his friends returned from whatever hellish mission they'd been sent on, and if it kept the Badgers off his back about mating for a while, then it was all good in his book.

The Hokage slid his feet off the desk and leaned forward, pulling the pipe from his lips at the same time. "So will I need to spend my night finding another jonin sensei?"

Sakumo chuckled. "No, Hokage. I will gladly take on the challenge of the trio. I have a sneaking suspicion that these boys will make an unstoppable team...once I convince them to take a little initiative."

He saw Sarutobi's eyes narrow. "And just how do you intend to accomplish that, Sakumo, when their Academy instructors have failed that task for the past four years?"

Sakumo grinned deviously as he stood and prepared to leave. "Simple, Hokage. I intend to test their mettle in the Forest of Death."

He just made out the look of shock on the Hokage's face as he finished his hand sign and teleported out of the office. After all, he had a lot to prepare before he'd be ready to give the three boys a test designed to allow them to see the potential he'd already recognized in them. Suddenly, Sakumo found himself looking forward to becoming a jonin sensei.

Author's Note: This is the first of many stories revolving around what will be known as Team White Fang. It is a collaborative effort/challenge that my friend Fallen Angel Kakashi (formerly LostOverlord) has asked me to engage with them. The basic concept is that we will build stories (one-shots or short chaptered pieces) off of each others work centering on the concept of Team White Fang and their adventures.

So with this one-shot I have gone about the task of introducing the concept and reasoning behind the creation of Team White Fang. Fallen Angel Kakashi will now have the dubious challenge of showing us just what the genin test will involve. You will need to check out Fallen Angel Kakashi's profile to see when that story posts.

Once Fallen Angel Kakashi posts their piece, my job will be to read it and build on the storyline from there with a new story on my profile. Then it goes back to Fallen Angel Kakashi, and so on...until we get to the breakup of the team...sometime after Kakashi's birth.

We both hope you will find this as interesting and entertaining an experiment as we do, and I thank you for kind indulgence.