NOTICE: Everyone, I am SO SORRY!!! My no-good piece-of-junk hand-me-down computer spazzed and decided that it didn't like ff net, so it wouldn't let me log in! But it's working again, so here's the chapter - with the corrections.
A/N: Okay, last chapter. And, I hate to do this to you all, but I'll have to skip the fight between the Jounin. My mind just keeps blanking when I try and picture it. Maybe later I can go back and write it as a one-shot or something, but for now you'll just have to use your imaginations. So anyway, thanks to: micah.n10, Akumakami-Jada, xxasianicexx, DarkRavie, iNsAnE nO bAkA, Rangerfan58, The Laughing Phoenix, Melissa, Hiya120, tearfularcher, peppymint, x-smith, mystiri1, KakashiKrazed and Auphora66.
A high, piercing sound was the first thing to register in his mind, followed closely by the fuzzy numbness that told him that he should be in pain, but someone - 'bless them' he thought - had medicated him enough that it wasn't enough to disturb him. He took a deeper breath, only to choke slightly on the sharp bite of antiseptic. 'I'm... in a hospital.' he realized. And then he heard the hitch of a quickly indrawn breath, and the rustle of cloth as someone nearby moved abruptly.
"No, don't!" hissed a familiar voice, clearly trying - and failing - to be very quiet. Iruka concentrated, bending his will to force his eyes to open. Brown eyes opened - and immediately slammed shut again. The teacher carefully took another deep breath, and then slowly opened his eyes again. For the second time in as many minutes, he was nearly blinded by a riot of color. Two blobs of yellow, a blur of orange, a splash of pink and blaze of red, and... relieved, his eyes settled on the figure to the far left.
Brown hair, faded dark green shirt and black jeans. And a startlingly familiar tanned face. "Makoto?" the Chunin questioned, his voice as hazy as his thoughts.
The eight year old grinned, relief washing over his face as he nodded eagerly. "Yeah, Sensei, it's me." A squeal and a blur of movement snapped the teacher's gaze to the other three figures near his bed just in time to see Naruto set a toddler quickly on the ground and both boys try and dash towards him. Keyword, try - because Sakura and Makoto both snatched hold of their respective charges' shirts to keep the overexcited blonds from jumping onto the hospital bed.
"Sensei!" Taro whined, his little hands stretched out towards the bed.
"Sakura-chaan!" Naruto whined, sounding so like the four year old that Iruka couldn't help but chuckle - which promply turned into a gasp as the action shot fire along his ribs. 'Oh, right' he reminded himself, 'I fought Joji, didn't I? ...Yeah, let's never do that again.' Opening his eyes - when had he closed them? - he found the three boys standing still and solemn, and Sakura placing one green-glowing hand over his side.
"Don't overdo it Iruka-Sensei, you took a nasty beating. We stabilized your injuries and put you on a morphine drip, but you're far from completely healed."
"I kind of realized that, Sakura, don't worry. And Taro, don't look so scared, I'm just..." Iruka trailed off, looking between Naruto and Taro as the presence of all four children finally registered. The teacher looked at Sakura, his eyes serious enough to cause the girl to straighten. "I'm in Konoha, aren't I?" The pink haired medic nodded, and Iruka turned his gaze to the boys. "Makoto, why are you in Konoha?"
The eight year old gulped, nearly tumbling over his words as he rushed to explain. "They knew already, Sensei. Shin and Jun had to tell them - Hatake-san and Yuhi-san, I mean - about us to get you back up, and Ai and Arata and Mai had to team up with Yuhi-san's Genin team, and everybody got brought here, so-"
"So I went back to the House and got the younger ones to bring them here while we waited for everyone to recover." The new voice drew Iruka's gaze to the doorway, meeting sixteen year old Ai's hesitant smile. "I mean, our cover was already blown, so I didn't think it could hurt anything. Especially since Naruto-kun's age group have been basically playing bodyguard for us."
Behind the redhead, Hinata spoke up quietly. "You weren't supposed to know about that."
Ai rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on, Hinata-kun. You guys haven't left one of us on our own since we got here. Even Natsu's noticed, and she's six."
Sakura snorted. "Just be glad that Team Gai is on a mission - Lee-kun, and probably Gai-sensei himself, would jump on the chance to guard you guys. And believe me, that's a bad thing for your sanity."
Normally, Iruka would have chuckled at the easy banter between the six children, but his mind was still stuck on the redhead's first words. "Ai, what do you mean 'wait for everyone to recover'? Who else is injured, and how long have I been out?"
The girl took a deep breath of her own, but she straightened her shoulders and met his gaze as she answered. "It's been four days. All of the team except for me got hurt badly enough to need treatment - I just got some bruises. Pretty much all of you had cuts, blood loss, broken ribs and chakra exhaustion. You had some mild burns, a slight skull fracture, a major concussion and your right lung collapsed on the way back here. They just took the chest tube out yesterday - so be careful. Mai has a few broken fingers and her left knee got messed up. But the medic says that it'll heal just fine. Arata had a bad concussion. Shin and Jun got the worst of it, besides you."
The girl stopped and glared at Iruka, pointing a finger as she drove in her next words. "Now don't freak - they're fine - but they took a lightning jutsu strong enough to stop their hearts for a minute. Aside from that, Shin broke his right arm and they both got a touch of hypothermia from the water - you'll have to ask them about the story behind that one. Hatake-san messed up his hand, but I swear that he's happy about it - something about not being able to write reports? Weirdo. Anyway, they just let all of us go home except for Mai. She's got a few more days of bed rest before they'll let her try and walk on that leg. And... the Hokage said that she was going to have to think about what she's going to do with us."
Iruka bristled, immediately struggling to get up. All of the children protested, of course, but he silenced them with a look. "I am going to speak with the Hokage." He declared, his voice deceptively quiet.
His students shivered, Naruto instinctively inching away from his teacher's most dangerous tone. "Yes, Sensei." the blond murmured, his voice obviously cowed.
Kakashi smiled happily under his mask, injured hand carefully wrapped and casually propped on the arm of his chair. His other hand rested on the back cover of the book lying page-down on his lap. As wonderful as IchaIcha volume 3 was - and he had read it over a dozen times through the years - it was currently much more amusing to watch Genma getting the third degree from a bed-ridden teen and her little sister. They had already slammed the man for the intelligence - or lack thereof - of keeping a poisoned weapon in his mouth.
Kakashi snickered. "Yeah, Genma" he added - helpfully, of course - "it's very professional of you."
From the relative safety of her bed, Mai snorted. "Oh, yeah. This from the guy who got told off by a granny and an eight year old."
Kakashi choked on his own breath. 'How the hell did she know about that?!' he wondered wildly. Genma - ever eager for juicy gossip - perked up. "Oh? Re-eally?"
Jun spoke up. "Yeah, and Yuhi-san said that Iruka-Sensei wasn't at all surprised that backup took so freakin' long when he saw who'd come. From what I've heard, the man has such aweful short-term memory that he'd be late for his own funeral."
Genma doubled over laughing. "Oh," the senbon-sucker gasped, 'I'll have to get her to use her Genjutsu and show me that. I'll bet Iruka's face was priceless!" The girls just smirked. Grumbling, Kakashi mentally revised his brat list. Team 7 no longer held the top slots - Iruka's latest brats had usurped them.
Amid Genma's laughter, the Copy Ninja put up his book and slouched casually - he was not sulking, damn it! - out of the room. 'Iruka should be waking up right about now' he thought. 'I'd better make sure that Naruto doesn't re-collapse the man's lung hugging him or something.'
But his lips tugged into a small smile almost against his will as he stepped out. Genma had been a wreck when they first came in, utterly horrified that he'd nearly killed two kids on accident. As annoying at the other Jounin could be, it was still good to hear him laughing again - even if it was at the Copy Ninja's expense.
Tsunade cradled her head in her hands, fighting the urge to pull out her hair as she stared unseeingly at the papers on her desk. "Kids." she muttered, disgust and disbelief warring in her voice. "We've gotten so lax that a bunch of half-trained kids saw it before we did. And we call ourselves shinobi? ...What the hell has Umino been teaching these brats that isn't taught here?"
Tsunade snapped her head up, glaring at the man who dared to interrupt her. Her gaze softened only a little bit as it settled on the bandage-swathed Chunin, but she gestured for him to continue.
"Forgive me, Hokage-sama, but Shizune-san let me in. As for my kids, I teach them respect. To listen to the people around them, and never underestimate the civilians. Sometimes merchants are the first to know about trouble in an area, and civilian children may twist information, but they pick up on a surprising amount because no one thinks anything about talking near them as long as they're playing or something. A lot of times civilians won't talk to shinobi because frankly, we tend to act like we're above them somehow, but you'd be surprised what you learn if you're willing to treat them as equals. We got into this mess because Shin heard about people gathering at night in the woods, but no one mentioned it to Konoha because they had no proof, so they didn't want to look stupid for being uneasy over a rumor. That, and I teach my kids more observation than physical skill. The Academy's curriculum tends to focus more on technique than anything else - even our exit exam can be passed if you're just good at jutsu."
The man had a small, almost rueful smile as he spoke, but then he became serious. "Now, Hokage-sama, about my kids..."
The blonde waved, startling the man as she dismissed his concerns. "Bah. Calm down, Umino. The brats have proven themselves loyal as far as I'm concerned. They can stay. Although, if you're going to be teaching them shinobi skills, I'd rather you do it in the Academy from now on, understood?"
Iruka blinked, but then he smiled widely enough to light up his entire face. "Yes, ma'am. I'll enroll the younger ones, and I'll have the older group caught up in time for the Genin exams this spring."
Taking his leaders' wave for the dismissal it was, the teacher left Tsunade sitting in her office. Finally she chuckled, glancing down at the old report on her desk. "Sarutobi, you old goat. Did you know that those brats would help us, when you let him keep that first one? ...heh, I'll bet you did."
four months later
His children beamed, their smiles even brighter than the new hitai-ates worn proudly around the foreheads of his eldest. Teams Gai, Eight and Ten offered their congratulated the new Genins, completing the group even as they mused on 'which poor bastards will end up stuck with you guys' in Kiba's words.
Iruka couldn't help but smile as his 'ghosts' were finally a part of his beloved Village - and stirring up ten kinds of trouble with their... unusual... viewpoints. According to a snickering Kurenai, the Jounin volunteers all acknowledged the potential of Iruka's family, but they weren't quite sure that they wanted to deal with Genin who - not growing up awed by their reputations - wouldn't hesitate to point out their flaws, and were observant enough to actually notice some of said flaws.
Kakashi and Asuma, while not faced with the prospect of teaching them, still tried to avoid them - especially Shin and Mai, who were quick enough with the comebacks to turn the Jounin's excuses back against them. Gai thought that they were hilarious.
A flare of bright orange caught his attention, and Iruka turned to see Naruto duck behind him as eleven year old Kaya shrieked in outrage. "Naruto, give it back!!!" The blond stuck out his tongue, holding the girl's hitai-ate behind his back as his 'little sister' charged him. Laughing, the boy tossed the cloth to Jun, only to have it snatched away by Arata and returned to the rightful owner.
As everyone finally settled down a little and drinks were passed around, Gai commented - loudly, of course - that Iruka must be 'so beautifully proud of the youthful fires that burn in your children'. Naruto was the first to get over the volume enough to respond. "Yeah, but I feel bad for the mom. I mean, I didn't even know that Iruka-Sensei was married!"
There was a moment of silence as everyone stared incredulously at the blond, and then Sakura rolled her eyes. "Naruto, you're an idiot."
Ai just reached out and smacked the younger teen upside his head, and Iruka couldn't help but smile at how easily the Kyuubi host had been accepted into his family. His precious people were finally together, and his heart was no longer divided. After all of the years of work and worry, and all of the pain of his last mission, all he could think was 'it was worth it.'