Kakashi walked into the Hokage's office and looked around. All of the Konoha teachers whose students were taking the first part of the Chunin exam were gathered around Tsunade's desk. The Hokage crystal globe was on its cloth on the desk and people were leaning forward in order to see it.
"Did it start yet?" Kakashi asked, confused.
"Ah, Brat, you're finally here… on time?" Tsunade said from her place behind the desk.
Kakashi shrugged. "I wandered over."
"Well, it seems that Iruka has taught most of the Konoha Genin taking the exam at one time or another," Tsunade said. "They've formed a sort of group around him and he's chatting with them a little with some superficial bull. The Mist and Sand ninjas are looking pretty pissed, but Iruka hasn't really done anything yet. He's about to…"
Kakashi had walked up to the desk and leaned forward to see into the crystal ball. Sure enough Iruka was in the middle of a gaggle of Genin, Naruto and Sakura being the closest to him. The picture in the ball was a little distant, taking in the whole room on its five-inch surface, and the rounded edges put the walls of the room a little out of focus. Iruka quickly moved out of his little group and made his way to the front of the room where he called everyone to order.
"Okay, everyone, find your seat. Each desk has a nametag. Please sit at the desk with your name on it," the academy teacher said to the room with ease. There was some brief shuffling as everyone made their way to their seats before Iruka said, "I'm going to pass out the test. You have one hour to finish it. No cheating, kids, or I'm keeping you after class to do lines…. Wait, you're not my Pre-Genin class." Several people in the room chuckled, mostly Konoha Genin. "If I or one of the ninja around the room catches you cheating you will be removed from the room and you will automatically fail the Exam."
Kakashi could spot the people taking the Chunin exam for the first time because of the looks of shock on their faces. Naruto looked a little peeved, so Kakashi assumed that the blond had forgotten that particular rule from last time. What a knucklehead!
He watched as Iruka passed out the single sheet of paper that was to be the "test." Iruka looked normal, like he hadn't been nervous all the previous evening and throwing up from nerves that morning. As it turns out the teacher was at home in a classroom. Who'd have thought?
"Begin," Iruka shouted, and the Great Writing and Cheating commenced.
Some of the attempts at cheating were very, very obvious. Iruka called the perpetrators up to the desk, took their tests, and sent them out. Then he caught a few others and sent them out. It was a pretty steady stream of test takers that Iruka spotted cheating. The Chunin around the edge weren't catching any more cheaters than Iruka.
Through it all, Iruka was calm. He sat behind the desk watching the students take the test. His expression didn't even change when he failed students, and that was the part Iruka had been stressing about the most. It was particularly odd to see, especially when Kakashi remembered that Iruka always showed emotion. He was happy around Naruto, grouchily affectionate with the Shinobi in the Mission Room, and angry and pleased at turns with his students. It was one of Kakashi's biggest criticisms about Iruka, but here the Chunin was completely emotionless. Empty.
Then it struck Kakashi – Iruka trusted Konoha. When he was home doing his jobs or shopping or hanging out with his friends, he left his defenses down. He was surrounded by ninja he knew – ninja he'd trained! He was comfortable enough with the Jounin to occasionally blow up at them when their reports were sub-par and safe enough to know that, aside from a few pranks and maybe a couple of rumors started in spite, there would be no serious retribution because of it. Then again, Iruka was always surrounded by the walls, the Chunin guards, and the best Jounin in the village. He was safe.
Well, Iruka had been safe… until he said, "All right, time's up. Now, you all fail."
What the hell was Iruka playing at?
Iruka was met with dead silence for a good long time. Even the teachers watching from the Hokage's office froze and watched with baited breath. Then there was uproar.
"What do you mean we all failed?"
"Who do you think you are to fail us?"
"What the F…"
"Okay, kids, calm down! Calm down! We can discuss this," Iruka said, using his Placating Teacher Voice. Slowly the Genin started to quiet down and settle back into their seats, although the looks of murder on their faces were still there. Once they were quiet Iruka opened his hands in an inviting gesture and said, "Okay, convince me that you're worthy of becoming a Chunin."
The Genin seemed to look around before Naruto jumped up and said, "Iruka-sensei…"
"Naruto!" Iruka snapped and Naruto jumped back in his seat and raised his hand like the well-trained student he was. "Yes, Naruto, what would you like to say?"
"Iruka-sensei, you can't just fail us like that for no reason! I mean, you failed me on my Genin exam, but I was really bad at my shadow-clone jutsu back then. You had a reason. But Sakura, Sai, and I have been working super hard with Kakashi-sensei, you can't just fail us! I mean, Sakura-chan's almost a doctor now, so she needs to have the rank so she can get better hours at the hospital and work in the administration part and give other people orders! Give her a chance!"
Kakashi beamed at the little ball on Tsunade's desk with pride. Of course Naruto would be the first one to speak on his teammates' behalf, even if he really was only defending Sakura. Iruka, however, didn't even blink. His eyes just roamed the classroom full of test-takers until another hand went up.
"Iruka-sensei," Hinata Hyuuga said tentatively. "Kiba-kun has really improved on his techniques with Akamaru since last time, and he's much better at teamwork with humans. Shino-kun is also better at manipulating his insects and controlling his temper when Akamaru pees on his anthills."
The boy with bright red tattoos on his face – the one that fought Naruto during the elimination round last time, Kakashi recalled – slammed his hands down on his desk and stood up as he shouted, "And Hinata-chan beat up that bastard Neji-sama once during their sparring, so since he's a Chunin now she should be, too!"
Iruka's face never changed expression and his voice was as cold as ice when he said, "Kiba-kun, sit down and raise your hand when you wish to speak. I taught you better manners than that." The boy's face turned red as he sat down angrily.
"Um… Iruka-san?" a boy from Mist asked tentatively as he raised his hand. "I have improved a lot over the last two years since I became a Genin. I used to be really bad at my stealth moves – I always seemed to find a branch to step on, even if we weren't in a place with trees. Now I'd say that I'm stealthy enough to set any trap in any terrain, even if nobody falls for the trap!"
Iruka nodded sternly at the boy and nodded to a girl from Sand whose hand was raised. "I've been following the teachings of my Sensei. She's really helping me to improve on my technique. My teammates won't tell you, but she's been helping them to learn some self-control. Pakka-kun still tries to kill Tam-kun, but his temper's getting better. Temari-sensei says that we really remind her of her brothers."
One by one Iruka acknowledged the students and they told Iruka how they and sometimes their teammates improved. Iruka's expression never changed, no matter how close Tsunade zoomed in on his face. Kakashi, with all of his experience, had never seen anyone but Ibiki manage to face so many personal tales of trials past and passed without even an eye twitch to give away their thoughts. Eventually every student had spoken. Sakura told Iruka to please give them a chance because Naruto's been like a crazy man obsessed with this test and Sai had been trying to be nice and help them train. Even Sai said, "Dickless isn't so bad. He's been working hard for this."
After every person had said their piece Iruka stood up from where he'd perched on the front desk and started calling out names. Kakashi didn't recognize any of the names that Iruka called, but he did recognize a few of the people who stood as Konoha Genin. After a tense pause Iruka said, "I'm sorry, but I am failing you. Before you leave, I feel you deserve to know why
"You whose names I've called only think of yourselves. When it was your turn to speak you made no mention of your teammates or your teachers or anyone who helped you to make it where you are. This is a trip that no Shinobi takes by themselves, and when you are on missions you are never truly alone. Even on solo missions Ninja have gone before you to lead missions, gather intelligence, or put together the plan you are to follow. Your life is in their hands, just as their lives are in your hands. If you don't understand that, then you do not deserve the honor of leading them. Once you learn this lesson, please feel free to take this Chunin exam again."
With a gesture the other Chunin in the room started guiding the failed students out. After a moment of stunned silence Iruka broke his stern façade and smiled at the Genin still in the room. "That means that the rest of you passed the test. Please toss your tests in the trash can on your way out."
Kakashi stood in the entryway of the apartment as Iruka came through the door. Iruka just looked at him and sighed tiredly before he leaned down and took his shoes off. "So, how did I do?" he asked.
When Iruka stood up Kakashi was right there slouching forward so they were almost nose-to-nose. Before Iruka could unfreeze from his surprise, Kakashi leaned forward and placed his cloth-covered lips above Iruka's in a kiss.