"Jounin Hatake," the Sandaime said when Kakashi entered his office a mere thirty minutes late.
Kakashi raised his gaze from his book and put it into his vest, giving an almost insultingly casual bow as he said, "Hokage-sama." But they both knew his true show of respect was in remaining so relaxed and putting his book away.
"You are due to test a genin team tomorrow. Team Seven this time. I trust you are aware of the members."
"Good, good. I do not need to tell you to give them a real chance?" the Sandaime raised a loaded brow as he lit his pipe.
"All my teams have an equal chance. They simply fail to take it," Kakashi replied laconically, both of them knowing what that surface-compliant statement meant.
"I have been asked to pass on the Council's high expectations for this group. They trust a Team 7 will join the ranks tomorrow. Though I know it is foolish, I also hope that these three will prove themselves."
"I see Hokage-sama. I hear and obey you, Hokage-sama," Kakashi eye-smiled before bowing again at the quick dismissal.
Back in his office, the Sandaime watched him go with regret. Naruto would be crushed at having to go back to the Academy, even after all this, but shinobi like Hatake Kakashi did not take well to the idea a half-civilian council had any say in shinobi matters.
Nor did he, for that matter.
Kakashi eyed the waiting trio from under his concealment jutsu. He had been disappointed yesterday. It was like a fractured mirror of the old Team Seven and there was no way they would pass. But that was probably just as well, he was no Minato-sensei and had failed his teammates enough as it was. No need to drag down three innocent genin with his curse.
Now, though, he was grimly content with the team's intractable nature. When the Hokage had called him to his office yesterday, he had expected a semi-subtle guilt trip to get him to more seriously consider passing the brats. He had not expected the revelation that the Council was completely overstepping their bounds, or the tacit permission of the Hokage to completely disregard those out-of-line orders. This team's complete failure to mesh only made their rejection legitimate enough he couldn't even be reprimanded for it.
Dropping the jutsu, he strolled over with two lunches, a clock and two bells, grinning under his mask at the so sweet shrieks, "YOU'RE LATE!"
Sorry brats, he thought as he gleefully explained just how they were going down, It's for the best.
Immediately after the exam…
Of all the cursed luck, Kakashi swore mentally as he walked away from a tied-up Naruto. He needed to report to the Hokage, after he told Minato-sensei about his son passing and figured out how the hell he was going to do this.
"Minato-sensei," he greeted, standing on the Yondaime's head, very aware this was Naruto's favorite spot for hard thinking, he had been an ANBU watcher for years after all.
"So the brat's passed, legitimately," Kakashi grimaced, "So now the civilians are going to think they have power over the internal workings of the shinobi forces, because no one is going to believe those three passed a teamwork test, not as is."
Hatake Kakashi stared out over his village, mind jumping in a million different directions as he let his full genius bear down on the problem at hand. The solution he came up with was easy in concept but execution was a whole different batch of kunai. Handling this was going to be a lot of work, and if anything, it was a good thing two of the three had only the bare basics, because he'd be building them from the ground up.
They wouldn't pass a teamwork test as is? Fine. He would make them the definition of teamwork.
"Thanks sensei," he said aloud, turning to leave, "Pray for your son. He'll be needing it before I'm through with him."
"Good morning mina-san!" Kakashi beamed exaggeratedly at his next project.
"YOU'RE… on time?" Naruto blinked at him, the other two equally confused and surprised but unwilling to admit it.
"Don't get used to it," Kakashi chirped, "Now listen closely little ducklings. You are caught in a political tug-of-war and will be torn apart, probably one of you dead by the end of the year, so shut up and listen."
Naruto opened his mouth, probably to shout something, but Sakura slapped a hand over his mouth, eyes wide as she stared at Kakashi. Sasuke tried to act nonchalant but he had obviously tensed at the statement. Good. It'd be up to the next bit to sell it to them all.
"Good, you can learn," Kakashi let his merry tone drop as he stared down at the genin sitting on the bridge.
"You should all be aware that though the Hokage has final word on all decisions there is a Council made up evenly of civilians elected in and shinobi, most also Clan Heads, which assists and advises him. Unless the Hokage wants to have to micromanage everything—which, I assure you, he does not—he must allow the Council some word in his decisions. This results in situations like the one you now face."
"Certain parties on the Council believe they have the right to manage the internal workings of the shinobi forces, which they do not. Unfortunately, due to your little last minute team effort, entirely unintentional I am sure, you have strengthened this belief."
Naruto was staring with wide eyes, Sakura's hand still clamped over his mouth. Sasuke was about to speak, but Kakashi silenced him with a look, continuing, "I have never passed a team, because none of the teams I have been assigned have acted as a team. This means when I was assigned you the council assumed I would fail you as well. They…decided… to pass on the extremely strong suggestion that I pass you no matter your ability to work as a team."
"They wanted you to cheat?" Sakura asked, aghast, but flushed at Sasuke's withering look. Kakashi cut the boy a sharp glance even though he agreed with the sentiment.
"They wanted me to pass a sub-par team for no reason besides their fan-crushes on the idea of an Uchiha in the shinobi forces again," Kakashi said bluntly.
Naruto was waving his hand in the air frantically and Kakashi sighed, "Yes Naruto?"
Sakura removed her hand as the boy burst, "But we did pass, dattebayo! We worked as a team!"
"I know. But no one else does and no one else believes because that was an isolated coincidental incident. Your teamwork is deplorable."
"Deplora-what?" Naruto asked, confusion clear.
"It sucks," Kakashi said flatly.
"Well maybe if Sasuke-teme wasn't such an arrogant asshole—"
"Well maybe if you weren't such a moron—"
"DON'T INSULT SASUKE-KUN—"
"Guess I'll start on your eulogies then," Kakashi cut in happily, "How's 'they died as they lived—in ignorance'."
They all shut up and Kakashi took a moment to enjoy the silence, "Much better," he said happily.
"Now I don't like giving certain people the idea they can control the Hokage's commands to his shinobi. It's wrong, stupid and annoying."
"Yeah! No one's the boss of the Old Man!" Naruto shouted, Sakura slapping her hand over his mouth again.
"So I get to prove that you three can do teamwork and can do it well. Because if you don't, the Council will think they can jerk us around as they please and you will be torn apart by it," Kakashi's smile was a tooth filled thing that carried to his eye as predatory glee, sending a shiver down his student's spines. "Welcome to hell, brats."
A/N: Started as a one-shot, but is now a multi-chap fic. Hope you enjoy! Cross posted on AO3