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Tried and Tested

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Iruka is in Kakashi’s office when the runner from the Council arrives. It’s pure coincidence, but later, in retrospect, it feels incredibly fitting. He’d come over to give Kakashi a piece of his mind about the latest redevelopment efforts in the next block over from the Academy and the messenger had seemed both apologetic and terrified to interrupt. 

He was a little surprised by the strength of the messenger’s reaction, since it hadn’t even been one of their loud arguments, which tended to clear the whole floor in the Hokage’s tower, complete with battle hardened jounin slinking off with suspicious excuses about the Mission Desk and other forms of cowardice. 

“Hokage-sama,” the runner says, miserably. “The Council requests your immediate reply. My apologies, Iruka-sama.” 

Iruka is deeply embarrassed every time someone calls him “Iruka-sama”—and whenever he complains it always leads to Kakashi giving him a leer and saying it’s only appropriate to address the Hokage’s spouse with all due forms of respect. 

“Well, then,” Kakashi says, accepting the scroll. He then immediately puts it down on the desk and turns back to Iruka, patiently waiting for Iruka to resume their argument. The messenger looks like he’s considering jumping out the window.

Iruka rolls his eyes. “Don’t be a brat, he’s waiting.”

“If you say so, dear,” Kakashi says, sighing and performing the necessary handsigns to unlock the scroll. 

Over the course of their relationship, from bare acquaintances to uncomfortable allies in raising Naruto to war-time lovers to unnervingly settled and married adults, Iruka has learned to read Kakashi’s face in increments. After starting out with only a quarter of a face to go off of, seeing Kakashi’s whole, stupidly handsome face was like finding the key to a cipher. And having a whole third of his face, two expressive gray eyes on display these days, to interpret from sometimes feels shockingly transparent.

As Kakashi reads the scroll, the faint twitch of his eyebrows as his eyes widen, then narrow, then a bare hint of a shift from his lips moving under the mask all reads in a riotous shout of surprise, suspicion, and unholy glee. The fine hairs on the back of Iruka’s neck stand up.

“Please tell the Council that I will immediately seek to rectify this situation,” Kakashi says solemnly. 

The messenger nods gratefully and vanishes out of the room in a pile of anxious-looking leaves. 

Iruka can tell Kakashi is dying to have Iruka ask what that was all about, probably so he can say that it’s above Iruka’s clearance, because he likes getting yelled at. So Iruka just crosses his arms and waits.

It only takes Kakashi 48 seconds to crack.

“As Rokudaime Hokage, it is my responsibility to indicate a successor to the Council, prior to my retirement,” Kakashi says, steepling his fingers together like he didn’t take office under the promise and threat of Nanadaime Hokage Uzumaki Naruto. “Upon formally submitting his candidacy, the Council’s responsibility is to vet the candidate for suitability and liabilities.”

Iruka wants to gesture for Kakashi to get on with it and stop being so dramatic about information Iruka already knows, but is aware that will only extend this further. 

“The Council has determined that Naruto is unfit to take on the office of Hokage,” Kakashi says.

There’s a seething, red-tinted quality to the spike of rage Iruka feels—that after all this time, after all Naruto has done for this village, after saving the literal world, the Council is still blind to Naruto as anything other than a vessel for the Kyuubi. He’s momentarily mute in the rush of things he wants to say, frozen by his desire to physically go throttle someone, which is why Kakashi can continue. 

“Because Naruto is still a genin.” 

Iruka’s mind is totally wiped blank. “What?”

Kakashi shrugs calmly, but he is clearly dying from how funny he thinks this is. “There’s apparently a footnote in the succession documents. The Hokage has to be a jounin. Naruto is unfit to become Hokage because he is still a genin.” 

“How—what—how did we not know this?” Iruka asks, reeling into one of the chairs in front of Kakashi’s desk. 

“It’s never been an issue before, as you might imagine,” Kakashi says. 

“I-” Iruka starts only to stop again. Of course the Hokage has to be a jounin. It makes absolute sense. A genin can’t be Hokage. “But!” 

“I know what you’re going to say,” Kakashi says with a nod. “Naruto is essentially overqualified to be a jounin. But the fact remains that he never passed his chuunin exam and is therefore still technically a genin.” 

Iruka feels like Naruto not passing his chuunin exam wasn’t exactly his fault, but that’s not an argument that’s going to hold any weight with the Council. “Couldn’t you just—do a field promotion to jounin?”

Kakashi tilts his head to the side. “There’s no mechanism to do a promotion from genin to jounin. The necessary qualifications a chuunin must meet to be considered for field promotion are strictly outlined.” He smiles like the devil under the mask. “Also, it would smack of favoritism, wouldn’t it, sensei?” 

Pushing down on his immediate reaction to Kakashi flirting with him at a time like this, Iruka counts to ten and doesn’t throw something at his husband. “So, what—what then?” 

“The chuunin exams are in Sand this year, aren’t they?” Kakashi muses. 

“Oh my god,” Iruka breathes out. 

Konoha is never going to live this down.

Their imminent utter shame doesn’t matter, because Naruto is going to kill them both first by dint of being unbearably obnoxious. 

“Can’t you just promote me?” he whines, in a way deeply unbecoming of a father of two and potential leader of the whole village. 

Kakashi smiles as he affectionately pats down Himawari’s cowlick. “Nope!” 

Hinata puts down the tea she had graciously offered when Iruka and Kakashi had shown up out of the blue on a Thursday afternoon, because she’s too good for all of them. “But surely he could just take… a written exam?”

Iruka winces, thinking of the description of Naruto’s previous “written exam” he had received from Morino Ibiki in the grocery store all those years ago and the way he’d wanted to melt into the center of the earth in terrible, semi-parental embarrassment. It sounds like Hinata hasn’t exactly forgotten it either. 

They all turn and look at Naruto who folds his arms over his chest defensively. 

“Maybe not,” Hinata acknowledges. 

“He has to take the whole exam again,” Iruka sighs out. 

Naruto, given the slightest provocation, will make a loud proclamation about anything, still. It is — unfortunately — one of the things Iruka loves about him, despite the probable damage it’s done to his hearing. “Well, I would have passed if it wasn’t for — you know — and I’ve only gotten stronger since then! Nothing’s going to stop me this time, you’d better believe it!” 

Kakashi smiles. “That’s the attitude, Naruto-chan. Just keep that in mind on your way to Sand.” 

Naruto turns to Kakashi, dawning horror on his face. “The exam… is in Sand?” 

“I have a feeling that there will be a lot of interest amongst ANBU for serving as my protective detail,” Kakashi says earnestly. 

“Sand,” Naruto says in a whisper. 

Hinata places a hand on Naruto’s shoulder sweetly. “Do… do your best, Naruto-kun.” 

For a Hidden Village that makes a significant part of its living by keeping secrets, the news about Naruto’s impending examination is public knowledge in an embarrassingly small amount of time. Iruka strongly suspects Kakashi’s hand in this. 

Iruka knows that all of these people know because no one will stop:

a) talking to him about it
b) begging to go with them to Sand. 

“Please,” Ino cries. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted.” 

“I just wanted some flowers for Anko’s birthday,” Iruka sighs. 

“Get her a knife,” Ino says, shoving a pre-made bouquet into his hands. “C’mon, Sensei. Stupid Shikamaru is going!” 

“He’s in Sand because Temari is having a baby,” Iruka points out. 

“Convenient cover,” Ino hisses. 

“I really don’t have any say in the mission roster,” Iruka says. “And if you hadn’t been so quick to skip out on taking a genin team in the last few classes of graduates, maybe you wouldn’t be having to ask.” 

Ino makes a face. “Pass.” 

Iruka shrugs, tucking the flowers into the crook of his arm, shifting his grip on the groceries. “You can ask Kakashi, then.” Since their relationship had become public, there’s been no shortage of people trying to get around asking Kakashi for things by asking Iruka to ask Kakashi for things. Iruka absolutely has no compunctions about exploiting this behavior to his own ends anymore, because if they’re foolish enough to think he can make Kakashi do anything, they deserve to be taken advantage of in whatever way Iruka sees fit.  

Ino’s expression sours further. “I guess Chouji isn’t getting to go either,” she mutters. 

“That’s the spirit,” Iruka says. 

In the course of running the rest of his errands, three more people ask him about going to Sand for the exams. By the time he’s sheepishly putting away the lukewarm groceries that need to go in the refrigerator after finding Kakashi sprawled attractively by the kotatsu and getting somewhat distracted by that, he’s ready to complain about it. 

“Honestly, I shouldn’t even be going,” Iruka acknowledges. “The vice principal is doing me a favor by covering while I’ll be gone.” 

Kakashi, who has in no way bothered to zip his pants up correctly, like he’s trying to start something — again grins. “You couldn’t possibly send your precious only son off without family support,” he says, mockingly solicitous. “Not for his big exam.” 

“You say that like you didn’t rearrange a meeting with the Raikage to be able to go,” Iruka points out. Kakashi likes to pretend that Naruto is his annoying stepchild when he is just as much of a parent to Naruto as Iruka. And just as much to blame for the fact that their precious only son is the way he is. 

“Our trade agreement with Sand needs to be revised,” Kakashi says, grinning his most shit-eating grin. 

“That’s not your job,” Iruka further points out. 

Kakashi’s smile tips over fully into starting something . “The Hokage should take a vested interest in every aspect of the village,” he says.

“I’ll show you a vested interest,” Iruka mutters. 

They have to make dinner at 10:40 pm. 

“We’re too old for this,” Iruka says, blushing as he throws the slightly wilted greens into the frying pan to disguise their texture. “And it’s a school night.” 

“This is why you should retire, too,” Kakashi says from where his chin is hooked over Iruka’s shoulder, making it hard to stir without elbowing him. 

“One of us has to have a job,” Iruka teases. 

“If you say so, dear.” Kakashi’s tone is light but Iruka wonders. 

He has no idea what Kakashi wants to do with his retirement, really. He’d honestly be surprised if Kakashi knew either. Iruka can’t deny that it feels like the right time — Naruto has grown into his power and matured, more or less. And Konoha has asked so much of Kakashi for so long. He’s due a nice, peaceful retirement. Iruka’s never given much thought to retirement before — most active duty shinobi, if they live that long, tend to retire in their forties, so it’s not that unusual. Although, it’s not like teaching or being an administrator has a physical cap to it the way being an active duty shinobi does. But thinking of it in this context, having nowhere to be but with Kakashi, being able to spend more time with Boruto and Himawari…it’s appealing, certainly. 

“Well, there’s no sense in getting ahead of myself,” Kakashi muses, tucking the cold tip of his nose against Iruka’s throat. “Maybe Naruto-chan will fail the exam again.” 

Iruka huffs. “I really don’t think the first go around counts,” he says. “No one passed.”

“Shikamaru passed,” Kakashi corrects him.

“That - ” is correct. “Was a technicality.”

“Yes, dear,” Kakashi says, kissing Iruka’s throat.

“We need to eat,” Iruka reminds him, even as he finds that he’s tilting his head to allow Kakashi to kiss his way up to the spot just behind his ear that makes him shiver. 

“Yes, dear.” 

The greens are overcooked. 

It isn’t until they’re meeting for the jounin sensei to nominate their teams for the exams that several horrifying things become clear to Iruka.

Genin have to enter as part of a team. A whole three-person cell. And their jounin sensei has to nominate the team. 

“This whole process is cursed,” Iruka whispers. 

Upsettingly, Kakashi seems to not only have realized all of these things, but doesn’t even seem bothered by them.

“Well, he has a jounin sensei, at least,” Kakashi says. When Iruka raises his eyebrows, Kakashi just smiles and points to himself. Of course

“That can’t count,” Iruka says automatically. 

“I don’t see why not,” Kakashi shrugs. “I’m a jounin, I’m his sensei.” 

“You’re the Hokage!” Iruka hisses. 

“I suppose the bigger question is who we’ll get to fill the third position on their team,” Kakashi says, completely ignoring Iruka’s point. 

“Who’s filling the second position?” Iruka demands. 

Kakashi’s smile is truly awful. “There are two people on Team 7 that haven’t passed the Chuunin Exam,” he says, adjusting the fall of his robes. 

It takes a second. “No,” Iruka breathes out. 

“Really, it’s past time,” Kakashi adds. “And it was embarrassingly easy to get him to agree.” 

Iruka is about to ask what exactly Kakashi wrote to Sasuke when Tenzo calls the meeting to order. He spends most of the meeting staring at Kakashi, waiting for him to address the elephant in the room—and if the surreptitious glances from everyone else are any indicator, he’s not alone in that. 

When one of the newer jounin sensei explains that two out of his team had been promoted at the last exam and he’s seeking a team for his student, Iruka immediately turns to Kakashi, who just smiles back like fortune’s favored son. 

“Ah, Maeno-san. I have just the solution for young Kentarou-kun,” Kakashi says, eyes curved in sheer joy. 

Iruka says a prayer for Takeda Kentarou, who has no idea his Hokage has just consigned him to hell.

To his credit, Kentarou, who Iruka remembers as a middling but sweet student who graduated three years ago, accepts his fate with more grace than Iruka would.

“I will be honored to be allowed onto Uzumaki-san and Uchiha-san’s team,” he says, bowing low over the table where he and Iruka are seated. Across the room, Naruto is violently whining at Kakashi, who had theoretically called a team meeting, but is making no effort to actually lead said meeting.

“I-” Iruka starts, only to break off, wincing, as Naruto reaches a particularly strident pitch. “I’m sure you’ll be a credit to them.” 

Kentarou turns red, then white, and visibly swallows. 

“I seem to recall someone saying that they would become Hokage, no matter the obstacles in front of them,” Kakashi says, barely containing his amusement. 

“Now he knows too,” Naruto howls. 

“Honestly, he’s taking this better than I expected,” Sakura says, sitting down gracefully next to Iruka. Kentarou scrabbles to quickly bow to her too. 

“I was surprised you didn’t ask to come too,” Iruka says. 

Sakura rolls her eyes. “I’ve already passed my exam,” she points out. “And I was there the first time. I don’t need to relive my youth that badly.” 

Iruka is more surprised she hasn’t asked to come since it’s become apparent that Sasuke is going too, but her extremely confusing marriage is her own business. “I wouldn’t say this is making me feel any younger,” Iruka says, even if he’s feeling a very nostalgic urge to grab Naruto by the ear. 

“Well, someone is having a good time at least,” she says, tilting her head at Kakashi. 

“He’s absolutely reliving his youth,” Iruka sighs, before craning his head to bellow at Naruto. “Sit down, come talk to your teammate, who you owe a tremendous debt and need to thank!”

Kentarou flails his hands. “No, no, Iruka-sensei, I’m sure it’s the other way around,” he says, even as Naruto finally tears his attention away from complaining at Kakashi to come sit down. 

“Iruka-sensei,” Naruto warbles at Iruka. “Tell your awful husband to quit ruining my life.” 

“This is what you deserve,” Iruka says, as severely as he can manage. “Now, Kentarou-kun, we’ll leave you with Naruto and Kakashi to discuss your team. It’s… unfortunate that Sasuke can’t join us, but I’m sure Naruto can answer any questions you have about him.” 

He stands up, as does Sakura. Kentarou looks a little bit like he’d rather be left in a pit of snakes, but nods bravely as Iruka slides the door shut behind them. Iruka hopes, for his sake, that he passes this year. 

He follows Sakura out onto the engawa, where they can see Sarada gamely playing tag with Himawari and the ninken. Boruto is taking a nap against one of the pillars under the Hokage’s robe, which explains a question Iruka hadn’t thought to ask when Kakashi had wandered in with Naruto, dressed just in his blacks and vest. Iruka feels an intense, almost painful wave of emotion and swallows quickly before inviting Sakura into the kitchen for tea and snacks. He’d never anticipated that this would be his life—the sprawling grandeur of the Hatake compound, a courtyard full of children he loves as his own, a husband who is as good as he is terribly provoking. And even his two most wayward students taking another step toward fulfilling their destiny as ninja.

“We’re very lucky,” Iruka says, smiling even as Sakura looks at him like he’s insane. 

Iruka takes back every charitable and sentimental thought by day two of the trip to Sand. He’s had to stop Boruto from touching three different types of poisonous things in the last four hours, Naruto has been sullen since they lost tree cover, and Kakashi has absolutely been egging both of these behaviors on. When they break for the night, Iruka contemplates walking into the desert in any direction and waiting for death.

Which is, predictably, when Sasuke shows up. 

He’s in the other room of their tent when Sasuke arrives—and Iruka doesn’t know what he expected, but the wave of killing intent so strong he instinctively freezes for a second checks out, honestly. 

After the surprise wears off, he walks in to find the ANBU standing down but still bristling, Naruto laughing himself sick on the floor, and Kakashi looking far too pleased with himself. Sasuke is wearing an extremely dramatic coat and is still faintly shimmering with rage. 

“You said there was a mission of the utmost importance to the future safety of the village,” Sasuke says. “That Naruto’s life was at risk. That my participation was required for success.”

“I did,” Kakashi confirms, nodding.

“I abandoned a promising intelligence gathering opportunity in Mist to make the rendezvous you indicated,” Sasuke continues. 

“You made very good time,” Kakashi acknowledges. Naruto is crying and wheezing. Iruka reflects that he really should have asked more questions when Kakashi had said Sasuke agreed to take the exam.  

“So you deliberately misled me,” Sasuke concludes.

“Maa, Sasuke-kun,” Kakashi says. “It’s not untrue.” 

Sasuke looks like he wants to strangle Kakashi, which would be more concerning if Sasuke had two arms, and yet still manages to be a plausible threat with only one. But instead he just kicks Naruto in the ribs in a way that’s almost sweet and storms out. 

“Ah, I’d better grab him before he fucks back off to Mist or something,” Naruto says, still chuckling as he rubs his side, and slips out of the tent. The ANBU also take this as their cue to leave, or at least resume their watch less obviously. 

“Are you happy?” Iruka asks, though he’s sure his tone isn’t anywhere properly near mad. 

Kakashi rises from his chair and walks over to Iruka, bringing his hands up to tenderly stroke his thumbs against Iruka’s cheekbones, brushing their noses together before kissing him sweetly. “Extremely,” he says, once he’s completely derailed Iruka’s train of thought. “I can only hope Naruto-chan has this much fun being the Hokage.” 

“You’re a menace,” Iruka says, smiling in spite of himself. 

“I’m just fulfilling my duties,” Kakashi replies, kissing Iruka again. 

Against all odds, whatever Naruto said to Sasuke worked and so when they arrive in Sunagakure the next day, it is with eight complete genin teams. Kakashi is spirited away to meet with Gaara upon arrival, which is why he misses Rock Lee cry for several minutes as he wishes Naruto and Sasuke every success. 

“To think you will both complete this journey together, after all these years!” Lee sobs, clasping them both on the shoulders. 

Naruto pats Lee’s back awkwardly. “Yep, it’s something, alright,” he says. 

At that point, Shikamaru and an enormously pregnant Temari walk in and Iruka has to seriously worry that they’re going to accidentally induce her labor as she laughs at them. 

“This is — great,” Temari gasps, as Shikamaru bolsters her with an arm around her waist. “I think I peed a little. Worth it.” 

Lee has let go of Naruto and Sasuke to be able to push Metal toward Boruto and Himawari, embracing Hinata fondly. All of the other genin look absolutely staggered--which Iruka can sympathize with, but if they can’t handle this, they’re going to do very poorly on their exam. 

“It’s good to see you, Sensei,” Shikamaru says. 

“Likewise,” Iruka says, before laughing. “Ino sends her regards.”

Shikamaru winces. “I’ll bet.” His eyes widen. “Does Gaara-” 

No sooner said than the man himself walks in with Kakashi, making a beeline for Naruto. Kakashi has an unseemly spring in his step as he approaches, settling at Iruka’s side.  

“Naruto. The Hokage said you had come, I am glad you did,” Gaara says. He blinks, noticing Sasuke. “Is this diplomatic training?” 

Naruto winces. “Not… exactly?” 

“Kankuro is going to be so mad he missed this,” Temari whispers. 

Kentarou comes up, holding some papers, before stopping dead in his tracks and turning around. Iruka supposes knowing when to retreat is a valuable quality in a shinobi. 

Lee bounds over, slipping his hand into Gaara’s. “Gaara, isn’t it wonderful? Naruto-kun and Sasuke-kun are here to complete their path to becoming chuunin!” 

Gaara stares at them. Naruto is a concerning electric pink and the tips of Sasuke’s ears are red. Kakashi clutches at Iruka’s arm in ecstatic joy. 

“I don’t understand,” Gaara says. 

Naruto mumbles something that sounds like it’s equal parts sheepish agreement, dire embarrassment, and invective directed at the Council and Kakashi. 

“Dobe here has to become a chuunin so he can become a jounin so he can become Hokage,” Sasuke translates, folding his arms defensively. 

Gaara turns to look at Kakashi. “Is this a punishment of some kind?” 

“It feels like it!” Naruto yells. 

Kakashi widens his eyes in an extremely fake rictus of surprised hurt. “Of course not. I’m helping Naruto achieve his dream.” 

There’s an appropriately judging silence as their little audience digests that statement. Probably the most upsetting thing about it is that it’s technically true. Gaara turns back to Naruto and Sasuke. 

“Does this seem fair?” he asks. 

“Yeah, it’s super unfair!” Naruto agrees, but Gaara just shakes his head. 

“No, I mean for the children,” Gaara says, which — most days, Iruka barely thinks of them as adults, but looking at Naruto and Sasuke, who are two heads taller and more than a decade older than half of the teams, Gaara has a point. 

Naruto and Sasuke look at each other. 

“I guess I could take my arm off,” Naruto says, after a moment. 

Sasuke scoffs. “I can kill you with one arm, that’s not a handicap.” 

Before Naruto can inevitably say I’d like to see you try , Iruka decides Kakashi’s had his fun and he can intercede. 

“The proctors have agreed that there will be no use of senjutsu, period,” Iruka says, holding up a hand to forestall whatever Naruto opened his mouth to say. “And that both Naruto and Sasuke can only use techniques that they could use when participating in their original exam.” There had been a huge fight about it, spanning weeks, but Iruka will allow that if you’re trying to remotely level the playing field between a 13-year-old and the two most powerful ninja on the face of the planet, you have to be a little creative. 

It’s ridiculous, because Iruka is pretty sure that they could use rasengan and chidori at that point — which is appalling and typical that Jiraiya and Kakashi thought those techniques were fine to teach to 12-year-olds with zero impulse control — so even with those restrictions they’re still wildly, absurdly lethal. Besides, the amount of stupidity required to not recognize either of them, or to recognize them and try to kill them anyway, would be a pretty solid indicator that the person in question should not be a chuunin. 

“That seems… insufficient,” Gaara says, but shrugs. Considering the number of people Gaara killed or tried to kill during his chuunin exam, up to and including the person he’s now in a relationship with, any consideration for fairness demonstrates incredible personal growth, as far as Iruka is concerned. “Please avoid killing any children.” 

Naruto puts his face in his hands. “Wasn’t planning on it,” he mutters. Sasuke rolls his eyes. 

Iruka thinks it’s far more likely that they’ll probably prevent any fatalities from happening, rather than being the cause of them. But. 

That’s if they make it to the combat portions.

In some respects, it’s like they’re on vacation. It’s very sweet to watch Metal and Shikadai introduce Boruto and Himawari to the different foods in Suna and it’s a nice change of pace from Konoha’s incipient winter to feel the strong sun on his face — it’s even fun that everyone universally gives up in the middle of the afternoon when the heat is at its worst and rests. 

On the other hand, he has to drown himself in a toilet if Naruto fails the written exam, so it’s like a vacation with the specter of embarrassment beyond his wildest dreams. 

That Naruto is an incredible ninja is obvious. That Naruto is capable of displaying that in written, quantifiable ways? Less clear. He doesn’t think Naruto will be able to essentially bluff his way through the exam with his infallible spirit twice, after all. Then again, Naruto is a grown man now. He’ll surely pass.

Iruka spends the day of the written exam in a cold sweat. 

“Iruka-sensei?” Hinata asks gently, like it’s not the first time she’s tried to get his attention. 

“Ahh, sorry,” Iruka says, focusing. “What was that?” 

Hinata smiles after a moment. “You don’t need to worry about Naruto-kun — he’ll find a way to surprise us,” she says. 

Iruka dredges up a smile. “Of course,” he says. He does believe in Naruto. He does. 

He also graded all of Naruto’s homework and tests. 

So when Naruto bursts into the series of apartments near the Kazekage’s residence they’ve been set up in for the duration of the exam, Iruka finally exhales upon seeing the wide grin that must mean he passed. 

“Stage one, cleared!” Naruto cheers, as his children fling themselves at him bodily. 

“Barely,” Sasuke says, appearing behind him. “The kid scored higher than you.” 

“He scored higher than you, too!” Naruto yells. 

Sasuke tsks. 

So not ultimate embarrassment, just regular embarrassment. 

With the written exam over, it’s surely all downhill. Gaara had, thank any gods listening, insisted on an abbreviated schedule compared to the exams of old, with the goal of getting everyone in and out of Sand in about a week. A day for the written exam, two days for the open melee/retrieval exam, and three days for the one-on-one fights. Also, this time, Orochimaru probably won’t show up. 

Of course, Kankuro is in charge of the next stage, so Iruka can only imagine whatever awaits them in the desert is perverse, cruel, and probably very funny. 

He’s been out somewhere that Gaara refers to as “boring” and Temari refers to as the “infernal sand plains,” which is horrifying, but everyone is allowed to accompany them out a few hours to the point where Kankuro and the other proctors are waiting. From their vantage, the sand seems to be sloping into a crater that is so large the scale of it implies something deeply traumatic occurred in the past, with all kinds of strange shelters set up in it. Iruka thinks he sees places where the sand looks like it’s writhing. He keeps one hand on the back of Boruto’s jacket. 

It also means that Kankuro has no idea one of the eighteen teams waiting to enter his hell pit is most of Team 7 until they stand in front of him to receive their mission parameters. 

“Are you two holding places for your students?” Kankuro asks. 

“The mission parameters,” Sasuke says, holding his hand out. 

Kankuro stares at him for fifteen seconds, an eternity to a ninja of Kankuro’s ability, before laughing. “I have to go get Karasu,” he wheezes out. 

“Temari said you aren’t allowed to give them special treatment,” Gaara says. It’s telling of their childhood that using advanced ninjustu to attack someone qualifies as “special treatment.” 

“Aw, c’mon, it’ll go too quick if I don’t try a little harder with them,” Kankuro says with a grin. 

“It’ll be over quickly anyway,” Sasuke says, gesturing with his open hand.

“You’d better believe it!” Naruto crows. 

Kentarou looks like he’s hoping the sand will swallow him whole. 

“Come back safely,” Hinata says kindly. 

“Come back safely!” Himawari parrots after her. 

“Have fun, don’t get eaten,” Kakashi says with a wave. 

“Kill stuff!” Boruto cheers. 

Iruka holds in a sigh. His family. “Good luck, you three.” 

“Watch out for the worms,” Gaara says. Iruka doesn’t want to know. 

Unfortunately, Boruto does, so they spend the entire trip back to the village listening to Gaara patiently telling him about the eight species of sand worms that could be eating or poisoning or suffocating the exam takers at this very moment. He knows every Hidden Village has their own problems — they have a Forest of Death — but Sand is gross. 

There’s really nothing for them to do but wait. Even Kakashi’s paper thin excuse of trade agreements has been resolved. That night, Iruka feels… restless. He knows the level of danger it would take to pose a serious threat to Naruto — especially with Sasuke with him — but there’s a part of him thinking about cursed seals and unknown threats leading up to terrible loss. 

“I don’t think you need to be worried,” Kakashi says, unerringly reading his mood. He tucks a piece of Iruka’s hair behind his ear. “Well. No more than you usually worry.” 

They’re settled together in a little loveseat in the seating area of the apartment, unwinding before heading to bed. Iruka slides even closer, until they’re pressed together shoulder to shoulder. 

“I’ll worry about Naruto even when he’s the Hokage,” Iruka admits. “Probably more.” 

“You can’t help it,” Kakashi says, which is probably as close as he’ll come to admitting he worries about Naruto too. “But you’ve done well with him.” 

We’ve done well,” Iruka corrects, taking Kakashi’s hand.

“I’ll be glad, when he takes over,” Kakashi admits, flexing his fingers against Iruka’s. “Not just because — I’m not like Naruto. I never wanted to be the Hokage. But it was a responsibility I could take on until he was ready.” Kakashi sighs nearly silently. “His parents would be proud.” 

Iruka lets his head drop onto Kakashi’s shoulder. Kakashi almost never talks about the people he’s lost — his parents, his teammates, his mentor — and when he does, it feels like Kakashi is having to pry the words loose. “You should tell him that. It would mean the most coming from you.” 

Kakashi nods. 

“And even if you didn’t want it, I think you’ve done a pretty good job,” Iruka says, raising their hands so he can press a kiss to the back of Kakashi’s knuckles. “If nothing else, you’re the most handsome face on the mountain.” 

“That’s not saying much, they did a pretty bad job with Sensei,” Kakashi says, but there’s a hint of a smirk in the corner of his mouth. 

“Though I still think it’s a shame you made them do it with the mask on,” Iruka adds, for the sake of the argument. Kakashi leans in to press that smile against his cheek, kissing his way across to drop a kiss on Iruka’s nose. 

“I’m saving my handsome face just for you,” Kakashi says. 

“Aren’t I lucky,” Iruka whispers before bringing Kakashi in for a kiss. 

They do finish far earlier than the time limit — filthy, but otherwise unharmed. After a day and change in the desert with them, Kentarou looks like every bit of hero worship has been beaten out of him and all that’s left is incredulous amazement that they’re still alive. Iruka is familiar with the feeling. All three of them are summarily sent to take a bath before everyone sits down for a late breakfast. 

“We would have been done sooner but someone kept saving people from the hazards,” Sasuke says, reaching for the tamagoyaki. 

“They were kids!” Naruto yelps. “It was a sandworm the size of Gamabunta!” 

Sasuke makes a noise that is just shy of disapproving. 

“I can’t believe that Kankuro thought there needed to be more obstacles than the worms. There were so many worms,” Naruto complains. “Also, when I killed the giant one, the kid yelled at me . He told me to mind my own business!”  

“To be fair,” Kakashi says. “If someone had tried to stop you from fighting a giant worm when you were his age, you would have said the exact same thing.”

“I would not!” Naruto lies passionately. 

“You would have begged me to let you fight a sand worm at 12,” Kakashi says.

“And you shouldn’t have let me!” Naruto insists, before putting his face in his hands. “They looked like they were Boruto’s age!” 

Boruto looks up from shoveling food into his mouth to make a series of noises that Iruka strongly suspects translates to another Uzumaki who would absolutely fight a giant worm before hitting puberty. 

“I’m very grateful for you,” Iruka tells Himawari, putting another piece of salmon on her plate. 

The one on one fights take place the next day, with a number of the teams looking distinctly worse for wear. Iruka can see the wisdom in this — in teaching the candidates the boundaries of their stamina and skill, in evaluating how they perform working back-to-back missions — but he can’t help but feel a little bad for some of the teams that just scraped by on the time limit for the previous test and are now jumping into an unknown fight. Or he does until he notices the feral gleam in most of their eyes as they stare down a completely oblivious Naruto and Sasuke. 

“Is it my imagination, or does it seem like these kids want to fight Naruto and Sasuke?” Iruka asks as Kakashi sits down next to him. The battle arena is in a different terrible crater that’s had bench seating carved into the steepest sides and Iruka is absurdly grateful for the small amount of shade provided by Kakashi’s hat. 

“Not your imagination,” Kakashi says cheerfully as he passes Iruka a canteen that is still cool. 

“Why?” Iruka asks, absolutely baffled. He’s certainly been in situations where he’s faced down a stronger enemy, but what had kept his feet planted was the stakes of loved ones and the safety of the village. He’s not a pushover, but he can be honest about where he ranks in terms of sheer chakra, firepower, and lethality. He’s never looked at the walking embodiment of “do not engage” and thought I would like to fight that for no reason in front of my friends, family, and superior officers.

“Sometimes you just want to bark at the bigger dog,” Kakashi says with a grin under the mask. 

Iruka shakes his head. “You’re all crazy.” 

Kakashi turns to fully look at him, backlighting him against the sun, the Hokage’s hat haloing his stupidly handsome face. “People called you crazy for taking Naruto in,” he says. “Crazy makes the best ninja.” 

Iruka can’t help but smile and hope he doesn’t look too embarrassingly in love with his husband. 

He’s distracted by the sound of shouting and glances down to see Naruto holding one of the other genin, who is fully half his size, at arm’s distance with a hand on their face as he gesticulates wildly at the Sand jounin who is refereeing the matches. 

“Why do I have the feeling this whole debacle is going to result in a generation of ninja in every village with a vendetta against Leaf,” Iruka says, half-tensed to get out of his seat as the scuffle seems to be getting bigger, not breaking up. 

“C’mon, this is a time honored tradition,” Kakashi says, putting a gentle hand on his arm. “I’m surprised it didn’t happen earlier, honestly. Naruto and Sasuke got into at least three fights before the exams even started the first time around.” 

“I didn’t get into a single fight before mine,” Iruka points out. 

“Time honored for Naruto and Sasuke, at least,” Kakashi amends. 

“The worst part is, I still think he’s the best choice for your successor,” Iruka says bleakly as whatever was happening seems to be happening less, finally. 

Kakashi hums in pleased agreement. 

Much like previous exams, there’s going to be totally random match-ups. Konoha has done well, with three of the remaining eight teams. At this point in his teaching career, even if Iruka wasn’t directly their sensei, it’s unlikely to find people up for promotion to chuunin that he’s not at least a little familiar with through hearing their teachers complain about them. So he cheers especially hard for the first two matches, each featuring a Konoha genin against a Sand genin. They both do very well, even though neither of them win; Iruka is pleased enough with their performance. Kakashi is surprisingly quiet — Iruka had expected some kind of hilariously rude running commentary, but he’s actually very focused. 

They watch politely through a unfortunately imbalanced match between one of the three genin left from Rain and his opponent from Sand who grinds him into the dust quickly, before there’s a long match between two long-distance ranged fighters from Grass and Rain, who have a drawn-out, theoretically-interesting but practically-boring match. 

The next match draws two Konoha genin against each other, though for once it doesn’t seem to be some sort of Fated Match of Principles or Fated Match of We Have Always Wanted to Kill Each Other. It’s an Inuzuka versus an Aburame, who seem to know and like each other well enough to actually high five before splitting into their respective starting positions. 

“Nice to see the children getting along,” Kakashi says, in an oddly sweet and pertinent echo of Iruka’s own thoughts. “Makes me wonder what I did to deserve having both Naruto and Sasuke on the same team.” 

“Anyone else would have killed them,” Iruka acknowledges. Kakashi also keeps a picture of Team Seven on his desk so he’s not fooling anyone. 

The fight is both interesting and good, both of them fighting to an almost-draw until the Aburame does something bug-technical and probably gross to temporarily paralyze his opponent. They laugh their way off the battleground too, and Iruka spares a moment to think maybe these kids are too laid back. There’s only one more match before the midday break, which ends up being a just-okay fight between a Sand and Grass pair. It’s a sort of boring note to end on, but Hinata is politely waving to them where she’s been occupied stopping Boruto from jumping over the rail into the arena, so they make their way down. 

“If you’re not otherwise engaged, I packed lunch,” she offers. 

“You’re too good to us, Hinata-chan,” Kakashi says. 

“Thank you,” Iruka adds pointedly. 

“Of course,” she says, motioning them over to a little spot where the angle of the sun and the topography has made a small area of shade. It’s roughly 80 degrees cooler and Iruka marvels all over again how Naruto managed to acquire them such a nice daughter-in-law. “I also told Naruto-kun, if they could get away, to join us for lunch.” 

Naruto does show up a few minutes later, dragging Sasuke and Kentarou along. Kentarou looks equal parts embarrassed and touched to be included, though Iruka remembers being faintly embarrassed by everything at his age. Naruto has clearly just taken to treating Kentarou like one of his kids, which is incredibly patronizing and extremely funny. 

“Ah, finish your vegetables, you’ll need the energy,” Naruto says, nudging Kentarou, before filling up Himawari’s cup. 

Iruka feels a strange moment of joy and incredulity that Naruto has grown up enough to remind other people to eat their vegetables, before he notices that Naruto hasn’t eaten anything other than the yakisoba out of his. Iruka takes great joy in nagging Naruto into eating half of the weird nopal side dish. 

“It’s slimy,” Naruto whines. 

“You’ll need the energy,” Iruka teases him. It’s totally lost on Naruto, but Kentarou catches his eye for a grateful-looking second before getting embarrassed and looking away. Iruka does not miss being a teenager at all. 

Lunch is loud, rowdy, and happy and Iruka is both full and full of goodwill to now sit through another six matches of genin attempting to stab each other in the face. They have to go back to sit in their official seats, which hopefully have cooled off a little, but as Iruka turns to walk back up the steps, Kakashi catches his hand. 

“Just a second, dear,” he says, taking off his hat to motion Iruka close like he has something he wants to say quietly. 

Iruka should know better and yet he’s surprised when Kakashi holds the hat up to effectively screen their faces from the rest of the group and steals a kiss. 

“Kakashi,” Iruka hisses after, admittedly, letting himself get kissed. 

“Ah, thank you for the meal,” Kakashi says with a grin, as he pulls his mask back up. Iruka shoves him. 

Boruto seems to have been the only one to notice, but he just rolls his eyes and makes a face. Someday, Boruto is going to like someone and Iruka is going to truly relish every moment of making his life miserable about it.

The seats are no cooler and Iruka would normally give Kakashi grief for a stunt like that but sitting immediately next to him is the only way to take advantage of the mild shade he provides. The first match after lunch is Rain versus Sand again, but better matched, which results in a lot of quicksand and damage to the arena. While some Sand jounin are repairing the damage, the next match up is called with a Grass ninja being paired against Kentarou. Iruka cheers loudly as they finally take their positions. 

“You’re going to give him a heart attack,” Kakashi says, smiling. 

“Nonsense,” Iruka says. Children need encouragement and Kentarou does look nervous, if determined. 

He does well, pressing his advantage from the get-go and not giving his opponent much to go off of. They seem to be evenly enough matched in terms of taijutsu and neither seems to have any sort of unique family jutsu to throw the other off balance. It mostly comes down to stamina and focus and Iruka is proud when Kentarou manages to force a win. It’s a good fight and he’s overall pleased with how Konoha has performed so far. 

However, as the next few matchups play through—a Yamanaka versus a Sand nin, two Sand nin against each other—the elephant in the room is becoming increasingly obvious. 

The last two other remaining competitors are standing by Naruto and Sasuke, all of them waiting on the sidelines for the second to last match to be called. The genin from Sand looks like he’s calculating the odds of his imminent death and the other genin from Konoha is staring anywhere but at Sasuke. 

There’s a long moment as the random combinations click through, somehow taking longer than the other times, even though there are less candidates, before finally landing on the names of the other two genin. There’s an almost audible relieved exhale from several people around them. 

Iruka can’t deny this is probably the best course of action. There’s no way Naruto and Sasuke should be fighting any of these kids one on one. After all, the last time Naruto and Sasuke fought each other, they almost destroyed the Valley of the End and each blew an arm off. 

It’s this thought that has every iota of diplomatic training immediately vanishing from his body, leaving only twenty years of teaching experience, and finds him immediately standing and yelling, “The rules still apply! You’re not allowed to blow any more arms off,” at the top of his lungs at his two former students. 

He can see Naruto bodily wince and nod and Sasuke puts his hand on his hip and looks away, which Iruka has accepted as a yes since Sasuke was eight. 

“They’re still going to kill each other, aren’t they,” Iruka sighs as he sits down, vaguely embarrassed but at least feeling like he did his best.

“Oh, probably,” Kakashi says. 

The other fight takes place quickly, with the Konoha genin just barely losing out to the Sand genin, but both of them seeming so relieved to be fighting each other that they walk off the field smiling. 

Iruka is barely suppressing the urge to watch through his fingers as Naruto and Sasuke square up. He can hear Boruto yelling and Himawari cheering and a noise he suspects is also Lee yelling. The barometric pressure in the stadium drops like a hurricane is about to blow through. Kakashi sits up a little straighter. 

The jounin refereeing the match brings his hand down for them to start and they’re off in a blur, almost faster than Iruka can track, trading blows in an almost elegant call-and-response. It’s objectively incredibly impressive and every cell in his body is yelling at him to run as fast as he can in the opposite direction. Naruto and Sasuke have been sparring for decades and it absolutely shows—they know exactly how the other will move, and the next five moves after that. The atmosphere is oppressive, the ground and air shaking with the overwhelming amount of chakra they wield, but Iruka can tell this is them barely being serious.   

There’s no edge of raw hostility that he remembers from their fights as children, so Iruka gives himself leave to try to watch the fight objectively, not as a sort-of-parent or educator, but as a ninja—and it’s clear that they’re in a class of their own. The battle between them is so well-matched that it almost feels like a privilege to watch it. It feels like it could go on forever at this rate, an almost mesmerizing give and take.  

No sooner has Iruka thought this then there’s a tremendous cracking sound and the two of them go flying apart. He can’t tell what’s happened, or even really what Naruto is yelling at Sasuke, but he can tell that Naruto is pulling his own arm off.

Sasuke smirks. 

“Oh no,” Iruka breathes out. 

He had thought he had run out of opportunities for them to embarrass him during this exam, but truly nothing had prepared Iruka for the sight of his next Hokage throwing his arm at his best friend and rival. 

“Oh yes,” Kakashi says gleefully. 

Sasuke not only catches the arm, he runs straight across the arena and smacks Naruto across the face with his own hand.

Iruka is forced to take back every kind thought he has had about them, their growth, their new-found maturity, as he watches a fight equal in sheer petty idiocy to any they had committed under Iruka’s nose at the Academy all those years ago. 

“I’m going to kill them both,” Iruka mutters, instinct taking over as he moves to go down there and make them form the unity sign like they’re actually ten years old. 

“Come on, let them have their fun,” Kakashi says, but doesn’t actually do more than catch at Iruka’s sleeve to stop him. 

He turns to give Kakashi a piece of his mind first when he catches the faint glow of orange and purple out of the corner of his eye and hears a piercing whistle. 

Naruto and Sasuke stop dead, the crackling lightning around Sasuke’s hand sparking out and the piercing blue of the rasengan fading into swirling white. 

“Candidates Uzumaki and Uchiha are disqualified, per competition rules,” the jounin says. 

“What!” Naruto whines, loudly enough for Iruka to hear all the way up where he is. 

“Use of senjutsu is not allowed in the examination,” the jounin says, standing firm. 

“I told them,” Iruka growls, sights set again on the two miscreants. Surprisingly, no one else is moving, which makes it very easy for him to drag Kakashi after him and make it down the arena floor in good time. 

“I cannot believe you two,” he says, as soon as he’s in earshot. 

Naruto flinches and actually moves to hide behind Sasuke, which is appalling cowardice. And also not going to stop him from getting yelled at. This is probably also in violation of twenty other diplomatic rules but Iruka figures the damage is done at this point. Boruto and Himawari are playing catch with Naruto’s arm. None of the other villages are going to respect them anyway at this point. 

He yells until he’s good and done yelling, well after the arena has cleared out. Kakashi has been grinning the whole time, but he’s going to get his later. 

“Have I made myself clear?” Iruka adds, wrapping up with a section on serving as a role models for their children and the children of Konoha, following the sections on personally embarrassing him, forgetting rules of engagement in the face of their childish rivalry, and being stupid. 

“Yes, Sensei,” Naruto says, meekly enough to be sufficiently cowed. 

Sasuke looks away but actually nods. 

“Good. And to prove that you’ve understood the implications of your actions, you’re both attending the state dinner tonight. You are both going to represent your village to the best of your abilities,” Iruka says. 

Naruto opens his mouth to complain but clearly thinks better of it, which is correct. Iruka is sorry to rope Hinata into it, but she’ll have to get used to things like this soon enough, anyway. Though—

Boruto runs up, clutching Naruto’s arm to his chest. “So did that mean Dad failed?”

Oh god, they can’t have actually failed. Can they? 

In unison they all turn to look at Kakashi, who is…smiling. Oh no. 

“Technically, the decision whether to promote candidates at this stage falls to the Hokage,” he says. 

Iruka will kill him. He’ll kill both Naruto and Sasuke. He’ll walk into the desert out of shame. This has to be over. 

“So congratulations, you’ve both passed, you’re proud chuunin of Konohagakure,” Kakashi says. Iruka’s knees nearly give out from sheer relief. “And for that matter, for meritorious service in the field, you’ve both been promoted to jounin. I’ll expect you both at the quarterly meeting.” 

There’s a moment of stunned silence but then Boruto cheers, throwing Naruto’s arm into the air, where it lands with a thud several feet away. This is typical Kakashi, and Iruka can’t help but laugh at the expressions on both Naruto and Sasuke’s faces. 

“Congratulations,” Iruka echoes, and in the kind of emotional whiplash Naruto has always inspired in him, he clutches Naruto close in a giddily happy hug, reaching out a hand to clasp Sasuke on the shoulder. He feels the impact of Boruto and Himawari adding themselves into the hug, laughing as it slowly dawns on Naruto, who hugs him back fiercely as best he can with one arm. 

“Told you I’d do it, didn’t I?” Naruto says, grinning. 

Their final obligation in Suna is to attend an ostensibly celebratory state dinner, and then in the morning they’ll finally be able to go home, and Iruka can begin the process of trying to forget all of the finer details of what happened, like childbirth. State dinners have been an irritating but necessary part of his life since marrying Kakashi instead of pretending they were just having an exceptionally poorly hidden affair. Iruka had firmly refused most of the duties of the Hokage’s spouse on grounds of his work at the Academy, but had not been able to worm out of the dinners with the other Kage and Daimyo. 

They’re usually boring, more so than anything else, but Iruka still feels a little ridiculous getting dressed up, all these years later. Doubly so since it’s essentially to have dinner with Gaara and Lee, this time. But soon enough it won’t be his responsibility any more, so he goes all out, fussily arranging the comb in his hair that Kakashi had brought him from Shimogakure for their fifth anniversary and making sure the folds of his hakama are crisply in place, the ties of the haori falling neatly against his stomach. 

“Ah, Iruka, are you ready-” Kakashi breaks off, pausing in the doorway behind Iruka, eyes wide. 

Iruka smiles, slipping his feet into his zori. “Yes, I’m ready,” he says, fighting the urge to grin. 

“Is that,” Kakashi says, stepping close to be able to press a finger to the crest just below where Iruka’s hair falls at the nape of his neck. He clears his throat. “You look very nice, Hatake Iruka-sensei.” 

He figures getting a new set of montsuki made up with the Hatake family crest was maybe unnecessary, but he likes to make Kakashi happy. 

“You don’t look too bad either, Rokudaime-sama,” Iruka says, looking at the picture the two of them make in the mirror, all black and white and the red of the Hokage’s hat. Not bad at all. 

“Am I just supposed to go to dinner like this? With you looking like that?” Kakashi asks plaintively. 

Iruka turns around to face Kakashi, tugging the mask down and leaning in to whisper “yes,” against Kakashi’s lips before walking out into the apartment. “Come on, we’re going to be late!” 

Kakashi tries to get them to skip out on the dinner five times in the three minute walk to the Kazekage’s residence, which Iruka takes as a compliment. 

It’s for the best that he didn’t take Kakashi up on the offer, because over the course of the night, several people mistake Sasuke for Naruto’s wife, Lee and Naruto almost arm wrestle, and Gaara asks him about their plans for retirement. It is — politely — a shit show. 

It’s still the most fun Iruka has ever had at one of these events. Their ties to Suna are strong — forged in battle, cemented in friendship, and now, several inter-village marriages, too. There’s little to worry about in terms of how utterly appalling Naruto’s diplomatic skills are, in Sasuke wearing that ridiculous cape as formal wear, or Iruka’s ongoing fear that Temari is going to give birth to the latest evidence of the very close relationship between Leaf and Sand in the middle of what is basically a family dinner featuring an astonishing number of bureaucrats. He passes Hinata another glass of wine. 

“I don’t know if I should,” she demurs, glancing at a rosy cheeked Naruto laughing with his arm around Gaara’s shoulders. Gaara is holding up surprisingly well and unmurderously. 

“Tonight you definitely should,” Iruka says. 

Hinata accepts the glass of wine and takes a good swig. She’ll be just fine. 

Iruka contents himself with putting a hand on Kakashi’s thigh underneath the table while he’s making inane conversation with the head of Sand’s agricultural program, because if everyone else is going to act like a lunatic, he should get to, too.

That’s not fair , Kakashi writes in field sign against the back of Iruka’s hand.

So? Iruka signs back with his pinkie.

It’s late enough into the evening that their leaving is just rude, not inexcusable, though Sasuke narrows his eyes at them as Kakashi makes their effusive goodbyes for the evening. But that might also be because Kankuro has been talking at him about puppets for the last forty minutes. Either way, it is officially not Iruka’s problem — his problem is making sure they actually make it back to their apartment before he lets Kakashi fuck him in all of his nice, fancy clothes.

It’s a close call.

He hides the montsuki at the bottom of the pack with all of their clothes in it in a combination of intense satisfaction and preemptive shame in having to take them to the cleaner when they get back to Konoha. Maybe he should burn them and buy new ones, honestly. 

Gaara comes to see them off at the gates when they head out early in the morning, which is surprisingly nice. He shakes Naruto’s hand and exchanges some nice official pleasantries with Kakashi. After all of the anxiety, the whining, and the complaining, it wasn’t a bad trip, all in all.

That being said, the three-day trip back from Sand isn’t any less irritating than the one there—Sasuke disappears halfway through, Boruto tries to smuggle a scorpion in his jacket, and Iruka gets a sunburn. It’s a relief to make it home, finally, where the air is cool and has the appropriate amount of humidity, where their refrigerator has nothing but pickles in it, and where dog hair manages to be absolutely everywhere. 

Even with Naruto finally making jounin—which finally makes him the same rank as Konohamaru again—there are plenty of pieces that need to be put into place before he can become Hokage. After all Iruka’s been building it up in his head, it’ll probably be more than a year before Kakashi officially hangs up the hat for good. But on days when they barely see each other besides a quick hello in the morning and crawling into bed at night, it’s a thought Iruka likes to linger on. 

It’s also become enough of a reality around the village that people take to asking him what Kakashi is going to do with his retirement. Iruka still doesn’t think Kakashi has a plan, but that’s okay, he’s made plans of his own. 

On a rare and lovely Sunday when neither of them have other obligations, Iruka makes Kakashi go grocery shopping with him so Kakashi has to provide his vague and noncommittal answers in person when old Ebihara-san at Iruka’s favorite vegetable stand asks what Kakashi is going to do when “that Naruto-chan” takes over. Iruka notices Kentarou across the street in his new chuunin vest and waves while Kakashi says something about the road of life.

He carries his bags of groceries in one hand so he can take Kakashi’s hand as they walk home. 

“I suppose the better question is what are you going to do with my retirement?” Kakashi asks with a friendly leer. 

Iruka hums. “Well, I do have a fairly long list of things that need to get done around the house, and I’ve been thinking about a nice hot springs vacation,” he says. Then he takes a breath and adds, “But you’d better make me cutting back to part-time worth it.”

Kakashi’s stride checks for just a moment, before he swings their hands together. “I can think of a few things I might try,” he says. Iruka glances over to find Kakashi smiling at him in a way that still makes his heart pound after all these years. 

“I’ll try too,” Iruka says, thinking about promises made in the registrar’s office on a dreary Tuesday morning because Kakashi had asked and Iruka had said yes.

Kakashi stops in the middle of the road and kisses Iruka. He doesn’t say ‘thank you,’ but Iruka can hear it loud and clear.


“You did what,” Iruka says, staring at “Naruto.” 

Kakashi holds a hand sheepishly against the back of his neck. “We couldn’t postpone the ceremony any further.”  

“I don’t think it was legally binding, anyway,” Shikamaru says, like that makes any of it any better. 

“Sorry, Sensei,” Konohamaru says, in Naruto’s voice, shrugging Naruto’s shoulders. 

Iruka can’t believe he stood there in the crowd thinking about how proud he was of Naruto for finally achieving his dream of becoming Hokage while Kakashi and Shikamaru were using Konohamaru to dupe the whole village into thinking that Naruto actually showed up for his own investiture. 

“Does anyone know where our Hokage is, then?” Iruka asks. “Konohamaru, drop the jutsu.” 

“Hinata said she was going to check at home,” Shikamaru offers.

One of the ANBU flickers in and salutes briefly to Kakashi. “Sir, Uzumaki Hinata informs us that the Seventh is fine but unconscious. Uzumaki Himawari accidentally struck him with the Gentle Fist technique.” 

Iruka puts his face in his hands for a moment and breathes in deeply before crossing his arms. He looks at Kakashi who just raises his eyebrows. “No. You’re retired.” He turns to look at Shikamaru. “He’s retired. He’s coming with me right now and you’re going to sort this out.” 

Kakashi shrugs and grins as Shikamaru looks at him hopefully. “I’m retired,” Kakashi says. 

Shikamaru lights a cigarette and sighs. “What a pain.” 

“Complain to the Hokage,” Iruka suggests, taking Kakashi’s hand and going home.