Sakumo Hatake – The Tale of the White Fang
The Hitai-ate of Konohagakure
Sakumo Hatake was five years old when he first entered the newly found Academy. Years later the only thing he’d still remember from those first days would probably be how thoroughly unfair he had thought it was. He had spent all those five years prior to visiting the Academy learning the Ninja Arts from his father, his mother and grandfather, the same way his brother had learned them, and the way his parents and his ancestors had learned them from their parents. He was five years old and he thought he was surely on par with all those young Genin of Konohagakure. Up until then it had been common practice to present the young children aged 6 to 8 to a group of Konoha’s Jonin and the Hokage to show off their skills and be rewarded with the Hitai-ate, the forehead protector of Konohagakure to forthwith carry the rank of Genin and Shinobi of the Hidden Leaf. That had been the common practice for as long as anyone remembered – even before the villages had been founded, though of course back then there was no Jonin-council and no Hokage and the kids would just be sent to fight without a real evaluation of their skill. Only four years prior his own elder brother had been made Genin at age 6 just like that. Of course, Sakumo didn’t remember, he’d been only one year old after all, but he knew it had happened that way.
Now, he was five years old and like all children from the Clans of the Hidden Leaf he’d just been waiting for his sixth birthday to be finally made a Shinobi, too. Because for a young child finally becoming a Genin was the first step to their dreams coming true, to become the renowned heroes they all wanted to be, to fight and protect Konoha, its people and their comrades.
But he had no such luck and he thought it was just unfair. For, when he turned five, the Shodaime Hokage had died and his brother Tobirama Senju, the second Hokage, for all the obligations he had as a Hokage, for all the wars he had to fight, for all the Shinobi he had to lead, still made it his first priority to build an Academy for children aged 6 to 12 to enter and learn what it meant to be a Shinobi, instead of just becoming Shinobi. It was unfair, because Sakumo was as good if not better as his brother had been, when he had been given his Hitai-ate. However Sakumo would not get the Hitai-ate. He’d have to visit that blasted school first.
He was young for an Academy student, he knew. Normally, children were invited to enter at age 6 or 7 if they had not been made Genin, yet. His parents made him enter at age 5, because they had gone to war and his old grandfather had grown too frail to train him anymore. So, for them the Academy was probably a godsent. For him however...Trained to become a Genin at six, now made to sit in school with children his age of whom many had been born to civilian parents and didn’t know the first thing about chakra control ... Of course, he was not the only one who suffered that injustice. There were Hyuuga and Uchiha and Yamanaka and Nara and many others in his year who probably thought just like him how unfair all of this was.
However, he was young and a prodigy despite his youth, and while most Hyuuga or Uchiha – even the good ones – normally only ever learned to use their Kekkei Genkai at age 10 or beyond, he was a genius without Kekkei Genkai and he felt that he more than anyone deserved to become a Genin. So, at first, he thought this Academy only really existed to annoy him personally, to hinder him in his growth. The Academy was a great thing – for civilians who wanted to become Shinobi or for orphans who had nobody else to train them in their early years – not for him.
Anyway, at his first day in school it was one of those days for celebration. They celebrated the foundry of the Academy with food and drink and speeches. And back then he had thought, maybe, the Nidaime Hokage would explain himself to them, would tell him his reasons why he would so unfairly hinder Sakumo from becoming a Genin the same way his brother had. He knew, all those years before, the Shodaime Hokage had held speeches and talked to newly recruited Genin of the village, so he thought it was just natural that his brother would speak to the Academy students and their parents.
He had been wrong. There were speeches, of course. But Tobirama Senju unlike his brother was not a talker, not a man of many words. He sat quietly throughout the ceremony and the only one who spoke who was not soon to be Sakumo’s teacher was Sarutobi Hiruzen, a student of the Hokage and already said to be the best candidate for the title of Sandaime. And while the Sarutobi spoke, the Hokage kept quiet, arms crossed in front of his chest and with a solemn glare as if in his mind he was already somewhere else entirely.
Mother told Sakumo that he shouldn’t be mad at the Hokage for seeming so absent because the man was still mourning his late brother, but Tobirama Senju didn’t look like a man in grief.
As the new Hokage in times of war he had other duties to think about, his father said.
And Sarutobi Hiruzen had asked to talk, because had he not already have his hands full with his own Genin-team and the war effort, Sakumo’s grandfather told him, he probably would have liked to train the young pre-Genin himself. Sakumo didn’t quite believe his grandfather, for who in his right mind would enjoy teaching little children, if he could also train Genin or do something worthwhile for the village? Well ... maybe his grandfather was right after all, because Hiruzen seemed to enjoy himself a lot with the children.
He spoke of the Will of Fire. A belief, that the village was like a big family and that every Shinobi of the Hidden Leaf would fight for the village, its people and its Shinobi the way one fought for his actual family. That they’d love and protect and respect each other. It was that what made them powerful, what made Konoha the place it was, he said. Peace through love … It was the one thing of many things spoken that day. Something Sakumo Hatake would forever keep in mind.
Later, in the Academy, they didn’t talk much about the Will of Fire. The last years of the Great Shinobi War raged on bloody and cruel and nobody had time to preach to the children about ‘peace through love’. Instead, they learned the duties of the Shinobi, the rules they had to live by. The same rules his family already lived by and died for in generations:
A shinobi must always put the mission first.
A shinobi must never show their tears.
A shinobi must follow their commander’s instructions.
A shinobi must never show any weakness.
Soon, he was six years old and he wondered where in all of this the ‘Will of Fire’ fit in.
The Academy wanted to keep him there for six years. The children should become Genin at age 12 – that was the intention – and he thought it was just a big waste of his time, and everyone else’s. He was sure he already had the necessary knowledge. Soon, he’d be good enough to make it to Chunin, but instead he was wasting away in the Academy.
Later, he’d find out it wasn’t quite as bad. If you had talent, if you were a genius, and especially in times of war, there was always need for young shinobi, and there was a possibility to skip classes and finish Academy early. In his case all three conditions were met. The great war was over, but there was always conflict and never peace. He was a genius beyond his age. And after mastering Raiton, he already learned his second element: Doton. He’s special, but he’s not the only one.
He was eight years old when he was first given the chance to take the Graduation Exams early. He and three others from his class. A nine-year-old Hyuuga, a nine-year-old Inuzuka and ten-year-old Uzumaki, one of Lady Mito’s nephews who lived in Konohagakure with her. They were ready and by now they knew more about the basics, about chakra manipulation, about weapons and strategy than any Genin had known before them. Arrogantly, he thought they already had the knowhow to become Chunin, not just Genin.
For all four of them it was a surprise when Tobirama Senju invited them to talk to them. He hadn’t lost a word at their enrolment into the Academy, but he wanted to talk to them before they’d finally leave it. Sakumo had never heard the man speak and had been sure he didn’t like to talk to people. He was Hokage but compared to his brother Tobirama was a rather private person.
Nidaime told them about his late brother’s dreams. About a world in which children would never die in battles again, would never fight in the wars of previous generations. He told them, if they were to become Genin, he’d treat them as such and send them to the battlefield as shinobi of the Hidden Leaf. He wouldn’t disallow their participation at the Exams, because all of them had the abilities despite their age, but his brother had built this village so that kids like them could be just that: kids. So, they could be children before they were made soldiers.
Tobirama Senju was not a good speaker. He didn’t share his brother’s famous talent or his childish excitement or spirit or wisdom. Even young Hiruzen Sarutobi or Sakumo’s old grandfather were better talkers. Maybe that was the reason none of Sakumo’s class mates listened to him. Maybe, it was the fact, that all of them felt insulted to be called children, or they were just so ready to go to war – had been ready for years, really. Sakumo and the Hyuuga were quiet, solemn children, who knew their duty and wanted to fight for their village. The Inuzuka and the Uzumaki were loud and outgoing and ready for the next big adventure. Nothing short of a miracle could have stood against their excitement. Still, in Tobirama’s words was a seriousness and logic that at least Sakumo couldn’t argue against. So, he decided to wait another year and maybe the Academy wasn’t quite that bad of an idea.
There was no stopping his three classmates, though. They graduated this year – the first graduates from the Academy ever – and the next year they were sent to war and two of them would not come back.
He was nine years old when his brother died. Or rather...He didn’t exactly know for certain if he was dead or not. His brother’s commander and Sensei, Shimura Danzo, a renown shinobi and a potential candidate to become the next Hokage, had left his brother behind in enemy territory, wounded and weakened but not dead. They had a mission to complete. He died for the village, for the mission. He was a hero. Everybody said so, and nobody seemed to fault Danzo for leaving his brother behind. He cried hot tears when he heard about his brother’s death and again at the funeral with an empty casket. His mother was distraught, crying to the heavens. His strong mother, who never cried. His father’s face was drawn and pale and his sister … maybe she didn’t understand, she was only barely three, after all. Yet, nobody blamed Danzo, not even his parents did, because Danzo had followed the rules. Sakumo, of course, knew the rules too, yet still, he was angry, hated the rules. He didn’t understand. Where was the Will of Fire? Weren’t they all family? Then that meant they were all siblings and Sakumo would not leave a sibling behind. That was what it meant to be family, he thought, to fight for each other and to not just leave somebody behind. Sakumo knew his place and understood the rules, but the thought, that nobody had turned around to save his brother or just bring his body back home … it left him just so bitter.
This year, when he was given the choice to graduate, he remembered the Hokage’s words and he was still bitter, so he didn’t participate at the exams again. He was more than ready – in terms of skill, he had been for years. But now, he had a depressed mother at home who never quite moved on from her son’s death, a little sister, too young to care for herself, an old grandfather, old and frail and dying, and an absent father who still fought in war no matter how war-worn he was. He still remembered the Hokage’s words, if he were to become a Genin he’d be sent to fight and then, who’d be left at home to care for his family? It put a bad taste in his mouth, and his chest compressed painfully at the thought of leaving his family as they were. So, he chose his duty to his family over his duty to his village. He was only 9 years old and as long as his father still represented the Hatake Clan for Konoha on the battlefield, Sakumo's duty to his village didn’t weigh quite as heavy. He was not yet 12, not yet expected to graduate.
With ten years, however, there was no excuse. His grandfather had died. Konoha needed more shinobi. His father had returned from the battlefield injured badly enough that he would never be able to fight again, but not quite bad enough that he couldn’t take care for his family. So, there was no Hatake left to represent their Clan in Konoha’s service. Sakumo knew then, that it was his duty to take up that role. His duty to his village, but also to his grandparents and parents and his brother who had all sacrificed so much for this village.
He registered his name for the Academy's Graduation Exams and nobody even tried to stop him. Tobirama Senju had died one year prior and the new Hokage, Sarutobi Hiruzen, desperately needed new shinobi to fill up the ranks. Sakumo was by far not the youngest to graduate this year, but he was top of the class. They told him, if he kept this up, he’d be Chunin in no time.
He was put into a four-man-squad. A sensei and two fellow Genin from his graduation class:
Uchiha Yashiro had just turned nine years old and knew the rules of the shinobi inside out. He was like a walking, talking rule book. Sakumo wondered, whether Yashiro Uchiha had ever actually been a child and he remembered that five years prior, Sakumo had been the same, before the Nidaime Hokage had offered him to enjoy his childhood. Yashiro was nine years old and proud as all of them to tie the Konoha Hitai-ate around his forehead and Sakumo was sure he was more than willing to give his life for Konoha. He had never been a child. Sakumo silently mused, whether he himself had ever actually been a child, even if he had tried to. Every time he watched civilian children play, he realized how different they were. Shinobi children were harder, colder, more serious ... Yet Sakumo was not quite as hard, cold and serious as Yashiro.
Then there was Akane, who had lost her civilian parents to war. She had blonde hair and red eyes. He assumed she was named after her eyes – Akane meant ‘dark red’. She was 12 years old and absolute average. He also assumed it made an enormous difference in skill whether you had a Clan or parents to train you before and during their years at the Academy or whether the Academy lessons were all the knowledge you had. Akane knew the basics but compared to Yashiro who was about to perfect his Katon and had Chakra reserves that made most adult shinobi blush, who’d soon activate his Sharingan, and Sakumo who already knew two elements, learned his third and was proficient with the sword his father had passed down to him, Akane didn’t even know her chakra affinity.
Their Sensei was one Kagami Uchiha. One of the few Uchiha, as Sakumo would later find out, who was absolutely loyal to the village above their Clan. A friend to the Hokage, and a trusted companion to the Nidaime, Kagami was one of those legendary shinobi you’d look up to for your entire life. Even long after their death, after meeting stronger shinobi, and even after your own legend outshines them.
Their team hadn’t yet existed for two months when a dispute erupted between the two Uchiha of their team. Kagami had started explaining the abilities of the Sharingan, so that they knew how to perfect their teamwork with two Uchiha. He didn’t go into too much detail, but he thought it necessary that they knew about the Sharingan’s powers in order for their teamwork to function. Yashiro had been furious. He had insulted Kagami for betraying his Clan by giving away their secrets. After that incident Sakumo wasn’t sure anymore if little Yashiro was actually willing to die for his village, or if his loyalty was to his Clan first and foremost.