A/N: It's done. Wow, that makes two actual chaptered stories that I've managed to finish. And unfortunately, another has already grabbed my imagination. *sighs* Plot bunnies, I swear... Anyway, I think I've wrapped up all the loose ends with this one, so enjoy. And a final thank you to my reviewers: ChibiAliChan, iNsAnE nO bAkA, InARealPickle, Marz1, Rangerfan58 and WhyMustIWrite. It's been a great ride.
Disclaimer: I own some school books. That's it. If you want to sue, you can have those.
Iruka opened his eyes slowly as he heard the brisk knock on the door to his room. The Chunin sat up in bed, wincing slightly as his leg – broken in three places and splinted tightly – protested the movement. He sat up straighter, eyes widening slightly as the Hokage stepped into his hospital room, followed closely by her assistant and Morino, Ibiki.
"Um, can I… help you?" he asked, confusion evident in his face and voice. He only became even more confused as he noticed the expressions on the three visitor's faces. Tsunade was grinning – always a scary thing, part of him noted – Shizune was apparently trying not to grin, and Ibiki… looked slightly pained.
Tsunade was the one who answered his question, a distinctly mischievous light in her eyes. "I hope so, Umino. You know the civilian kids that let the Rock into Konoha?"
Iruka's eyes flashed with anger, his fists clenching tightly. It had only been two days ago that he had been snatching children away from the Rock's forces, and his fury at the other Village for using children in such a way had yet to cool. "Yes, ma'am." he forced out.
"Well, we'd like for you to come and try questioning them – since we can't seem to get anything out of them."
Ibiki twitched slightly, almost mumbling "They won't stop crying."
Iruka agreed easily enough, but then he froze as the meaning behind those two statements actually registered. He turned wide eyes to the three in front of him – and then he exploded. "You sent Ibiki-san to question children?! What is WRONG with you people?!"
Ibiki twitched again, but Iruka didn't notice. The teacher was too busy reaching for his crutches and scrambling out of bed. Forget the leg, those kids needed him! 'If they weren't traumatized before,' he thought wildly, 'they probably are now!'
Tsunade just laughed, leaning against the wall to keep herself upright.
Tsunade couldn't help but smile softly a few hours later, as she walked in to find a rather cozy little scene. Iruka was sitting on the floor, broken leg stretched out to the side as children clustered around him. The youngest ones were crowded closest, many clutching onto his sleeves or jacket, as he hummed, gently rocking the little girl sniffling in his arms.
It was a quiet, peaceful scene – until the teacher noticed her presence and shot a poisonous glare over the head of said little one. Tsunade couldn't help it – she doubled over laughing again.
Ishiko waited impatiently, humming to herself quietly to relieve the boredom. It had been two days now, the battle should be over. "Come on, dad." she whined. "Come get me already. I'm bored. And I know I can help round up civilians, at least."
The young Genin pouted, idly kicking her feet. She had only been training for this mission her entire life, raised on tales of Konoha's arrogance and taught to hate it from the crib. Her father had been teaching her to fight, to infiltrate and manipulate years before he had gotten their Village's approval for this mission. Ishiko – her very name meant 'stone child' and she had been cheering for Rock's domination long before she even understood what dominance was.
It had utterly thrilled her to be able to do her part in taking down the city she had been taught to hate with an almost fanatical passion since her birth. And now she had to wait, while her 'comrades' – most of whom had never even looked at her – got all the fun parts.
She huffed. "I want to see what's going on over there."
"We can arrange that" a deep voice said from somewhere behind her. Ishiko gasped as she whirled around, but her hands were caught and pinned before she could draw her weapons.
The child kicked and screamed, but she was no match for the two Jounin. For that matter, she was no match for the silver-haired one who simply patted her down for weapons and then threw the girl over his shoulder.
Kakashi smiled cheerfully over the little girl's cursing. "Well, that's got to be one of the easiest apprehensions I've ever had. Don't you think so, Genma?"
The senbon user just shook his head in exasperation as he pulled out a roll of bandages. They were pretty far from Konoha, after all, and he didn't want to have a headache before they got back.
An instant later and both Jounin grinned as the girl's screaming curses became nothing more than muffled shrieks.
The nine Genin – and one Chunin – glanced at each other uncertainly. None of the teens knew why they had been called to the Hokage's office, but they had all been told to report in promptly at four pm. So here they were.
Never one to show fear, Neji strode into the office with barely a nod at the ANBU guards stationed outside. Each of the children stopped short as they took in the crowd gathered in the room. Not only the Hokage, but their teachers and their families were gathered behind the large desk, all wearing disturbingly solemn expressions. Even Kakashi and Iruka were gathered.
Most of the kids gaped slightly, though Hinata gulped nervously and Sakura looked around in confusion. But they lined up before the desk, bowing to their leader and waiting for someone to clue them in on why they had been called.
The Hokage stood, stepping around her desk to stand before the line of teenagers. She folded her arms across her chest and watched impassively as the children showed varying degrees of nervousness.
And then she began speaking. "I have been looking over reports from various teams, and I have found one thing in common with each one of you. You each had orders to get civilians out of the streets and into the evacuation shelter. You did NOT have orders to engage the enemy. And yet I have invariably found that you did exactly that."
"Shino, you took command of another Genin team. Sakura, Ino, you two commandeered supplies and ordered the others at the evacuation shelter until you set up a medical station. Neji and Hinata, you followed orders by taking your Clan's children to the evacuation point – but then you went back out into the streets."
"Lee and Kiba, the two of you requested a Jounin leave a battle instead of letting her handle it and the two of you evacuating the civilians. Tenten, you ordered civilians into a formation to shield them instead of leading them away."
"Shikamaru – I won't even get into you planning all of this with them. You all discovered a carefully kept secret, and instead of just keeping it to yourselves, you planned to take part in the matter when the time came."
Tsunade leveled an unreadable look at the teens. "So, what do you have to say for yourselves?"
Shikamaru's eyes had been slowly widening throughout the Hokage's speech, and he darted a quick look at his fellow teens before he spoke. "In the absence of proper guidance, we did what we felt was in Konoha's best interest, Hokage-sama."
Though none of the teens noticed it, Shikaku and Asuma shared a brief, faint smile as they realized that the Chunin had figured out exactly where this conversation was going.
One by one, the Genin spoke, each essentially backing up what Shikamaru had said. The Hokage paused briefly, letting each of the Genin squirm slightly.
She finally spoke, glancing back at the assembled Jounin, Chunin and civilians gathered behind her. "In other words, they showed courage and leadership that no one expected of them, going above and beyond the duties expected of Genin, and fought to defend this Village to the best of their abilities."
She smiled at the adults. "I think a promotion is in order, don't you agree?"
With those words, she turned back to the Genin. Broad smiles and chuckles broke out among the adults as the teens all gaped. Tsunade laughed again.
"Welcome to Chunin, brats. Except for Shikamaru, you're all promoted."
The children whispered amongst each other again, but the tone this time was of nervousness rather than excitement. The conference room held all of the surviving children who had allowed the Rock shinobi into Konoha. Many were injured, and there were a number of them who would never be there.
But they all fell quiet as the door opened to the room, admitting the scarred Chunin who had been so comforting to them earlier. The man limped to the front of the room, only slightly awkward on his crutches.
The man stopped and faced the children, looking critically over each young face before he spoke. "You should all know, we've been discussing what to do with you. Your intentions were good – most of you said during our interviews that you wanted to prove that you could be shinobi and help Konoha."
The children looked down, at the walls, anywhere but at the kind man who had laid out their deepest desire – and their deadly failure. They hesitantly looked back up as the man spoke again. "Well, we came to only one possible conclusion."
Iruka smiled. "You all have a lot of work to do if you want to be on the same level as the rest of the Academy's students in the fall." There was a moment of silence as the children processed what he had just said, and then one boy whooped.
Iruka laughed in delight as the children screamed and cheered.