Disclaimer: Naruto is the intellectual property of Masashi Kishimoto, Shueisha, VIZ Media, et al. No money is being made from this story and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: This is a sidefic for "What Isn't Broken (Can Still Be Fixed)." It starts the day after Sasuke is brought home - in other words, shortly after the end of "With a Vengeance" and around the time Sasuke wakes up in his holding cell. The title is half a quote from Henry Ward Beecher.
Summary: Iruka never wanted to get involved in Konoha's politics. Unfortunately for him, sometimes the Rokudaime Hokage needs an incorruptible man.
More Sins Than Condemnation
The meeting has been running for hours, to no apparent purpose. The various clan heads, the department heads, and the two councilors are arguing as fiercely as ever, talking over one another and either misinterpreting or simply refusing to listen to each other's words. In Sarutobi's day, or even in Tsunade's, they would have been restrained somewhat by the formality of kneeling before the Hokage's desk under the councilors' intimidating stares, but Kakashi threw out the councilors' seats when he was invested as Rokudaime and neglected to set out mats for anyone to sit or kneel on this morning. Consequently, everyone is standing in a muddle as confused as their conversation.
Iruka is sure this is intentional. He's less sure what the purpose is, and not especially interested in waiting until Kakashi stops pretending to doze and finally calls the meeting to order.
Iruka sits on the sill of the open window, his back to the late morning sun, and refuses to fidget. He spoke briefly with two of his former students: Nara Shikamaru, promoted too young because Konoha couldn't afford to waste his mind, and Hyuuga Hinata, standing in for her father. He exchanged polite formalities with the department heads and nodded respectfully to the clan heads. The councilors ignored him and he gladly returned the favor. He withdrew from the crowd nearly an hour ago. Nobody seems to care.
He wonders if anyone would notice if he set up a sound-nullification ward around himself. It isn't as if he'd miss anything important, and Kakashi probably ordered his presence as part of the man's ongoing campaign of petty annoyances rather than for any important reason. There is no reason for Iruka to be here, after all. He taught Sasuke, but that was years ago. He's possibly the closest thing Naruto has to a father, but this meeting isn't about Naruto.
Iruka resists the impulse to turn and look across town, past the rubble and construction sites, toward the hospital. Sakura is with Naruto. They can take care of each other for now.
The jumble of voices rises again, both in pitch and volume. Iruka is about to cast caution to the winds and escape out the window when a whirlwind of illusory flame sweeps through the office, just hot and bright enough to catch attention without triggering a violent response.
"I believe I've heard enough," Kakashi says into the ensuing silence. He adjusts his official hat and straightens in his chair, raking an unnervingly serious gaze over the room. "There are only two practical options. Either we execute Uchiha Sasuke for crimes against Konoha, or we parole him and wind him into the fabric of the community - properly, this time - so he'll have too many connections here to betray us again. Indefinite imprisonment won't work. Halfhearted parole won't work. Either we make him one of us in spirit as well as in name, or we kill him now."
The two councilors, Homura and Koharu, exchange grim looks and move to stand at either side of Kakashi's desk where they can face both him and the gathered powers of Konoha. "He's blind and his chakra is bound," Homura says bluntly. "I don't know why you're convinced he'll escape if we don't coddle him."
Shikamaru snorts, drawing sharp looks from the councilors, who both disapproved of his appointment as the head of foreign intelligence and border security. "You don't know Sasuke," he says, slouching against the doorframe. "He's as stubborn and crazy as Naruto. If he wants to escape and strike at Konoha, he'll find a way. He won't care about the price. Rokudaime is right. Either we kill him or we change what he wants."
"Then we'll execute him," Koharu decides. "He should have died years ago; this is simply tidying up a loose end."
Iruka wants very badly to hit her. Children are not 'loose ends.' Children are people. If Sasuke had been treated with kindness instead of indifference - if the councilors had put aside politics and seen him for who he was rather than what his family had once represented - they might not be in this mess now.
"If we want to convict him as a traitor, it will have to go to trial," Kakashi says idly. "I revoked full martial law last night."
He is suddenly the focus of two dozen intent stares, ranging from disbelieving to murderous. Iruka frowns, wondering what the cagey bastard is up to.
"What?" Koharu says, just as Homura says, "Why?"
"I revoked full martial law," Kakashi repeats, sounding bored. "The war is over. Sasuke was the last major threat on our books and he's in custody now. There's no reason to stay at red alert."
"His status as a traitor isn't in question," Morino Ibiki says. "Why a trial?"
Kakashi simply shrugs, as if the answer should be obvious.
Unexpectedly, Hinata answers. "Because he- Sasuke-kun, I mean- he is a clan head. Technically. The Uchiha were never stricken from the listings. I think nobody thought it was necessary? But a clan head cannot be convicted without a trial before his or her peers. And, um, anyone else that he requests to be present. Which could be the entire village. If he wants." She presses the tips of her fingers together and looks as though she wants to sink through the floor, away from the pressure of people's attention.
"In other words, Sasuke has the right to explain, in as much detail as he wants, the truth behind his clan's deaths, since that incident is relevant to his decision to leave Konoha. He will, of course, be notified of his rights should trial proceedings begin," Kakashi clarifies, sounding far too cheerful for the situation. He leans back in his chair. Iruka thinks he might be smiling underneath his mask.
There is a brief, unpleasant silence as everyone contemplates that scenario. Not everyone is privy to the details of the Uchiha clan's tragedy and the ignoble role Konoha's government played in it, but Madara dropped enough hints before his death to make it clear that the truth paints nobody in a favorable light. And the last thing Konoha needs now is more internal division.
"You mentioned parole as another option," Koharu says. "What exactly did you have in mind?"
Now it's impossible to miss Kakashi's smile. "We give him a week or two in the holding cell to let the reality of his situation sink in. Then we release him into the custody of a trustworthy Leaf-nin and begin letting him have social contact with other people he knew before he renounced his loyalty. After a few weeks we assign him minor tasks around town, to habituate him to useful work and accustom civilians to his presence. I'll think up a more permanent job while we see how the initial phases go. The ultimate goal is to remind him that Konoha is his home and the home of the people he once cared for. We need to replace his family as the primary seat of his loyalty and obsession."
"...Please don't tell me you're putting him into Naruto's custody," Shikamaru mutters.
Kakashi pretends to look insulted. "Of course not," he says. Then he gestures sideways toward the window where Iruka is sitting. "He'll be living with Iruka."
Iruka misses the next several seconds, his mind whited-out with shock, then growing anger. He's not a jailer. He's not a surveillance and intelligence specialist. He's a teacher, an administrator, a member of the village defense squads. There's nothing in his background that suggests he has any relevant skills for watching Sasuke.
He never agreed to this. Kakashi never even asked him.
"-be Iruka," Kakashi is saying, his voice thick with annoyingly overblown patience. "First, Sasuke already knows him and had a decent relationship with him. I can't say the same for any of you or the candidates you're trying to propose. Second, Iruka is excellent at reading people and dealing with emotionally immature brats, which Sasuke is. Third - and I would like you to reflect on this very carefully - it's only thanks to Iruka that Uzumaki Naruto decided to give his loyalty to Konoha rather than meeting the hatred and neglect of our citizens with hatred and vengeance of his own. So Iruka's already managed the trick we're trying to pull off. If you know anyone else who can say the same, please tell me. I'd be fascinated to know."
To hell with the difference in their skill levels and the chaos the Hokage's death would cause. Iruka is going to murder Kakashi.
Except the clan heads and the other ninja are looking thoughtful, and vaguely embarrassed, and murmuring in agreement.
"I see it's useless arguing with you," Koharu says in a sour tone. "However, I insist that the parole be strictly limited. Should Uchiha Sasuke ever strike a Leaf-nin or a civilian, that will count as an admission of his guilt and a renunciation of his right to a trial."
Kakashi looks less happy at that, but once again the gathered powers of Konoha are murmuring their agreement. "You can't keep giving second chances forever," Mitarashi Anko points out with a certain schadenfreude. "Some people are beyond redemption, no matter how many wishes you make. The threat needs to be as real as the bait, unless you want to wind up like Sarutobi-sama and let a monster gut the village from within because you're too blind to see his true face."
That is a low blow, Iruka thinks as Kakashi goes utterly still. But it needed to be said. Everyone in Konoha failed to see or respond to the warning signs in Sasuke's behavior. They cannot fail again.
"Fine. This is his last chance," Kakashi says. Then he smiles, sharper this time. "One more thing. Ibiki, when Naruto tries to sneak in to see Sasuke before we announce his parole, let him. If nothing else, he's very good at provoking Sasuke into unguarded responses."
Ibiki looks even more murderous than usual, but nods in understanding.
Kakashi claps his hands. "Thank you. Dismissed." He vanishes in a swirl of leaves. His hat and his robes of office hang in the air for a moment, then collapse into his now-empty chair.
Iruka swings his legs out the window and flees before anyone can corner him to offer quietly threatening 'advice' about his new assignment. He is going to kill Kakashi for dumping him into the middle of this. Blind or not, traitor or not, Sasuke carries the weight of one of Konoha's great founding clans and all the political maneuvering that implies. If Iruka becomes his caretaker, everyone interested in Sasuke will suddenly be interested in him.
He doesn't want the clan heads and the councilors taking notice of him. It's already bad enough that Kakashi pays attention to him.
Iruka befriended Naruto because he saw himself in the boy - lonely and lashing out because any attention was better than none. He didn't realize until years later how much his occasional encouragement and his willingness to listen had meant to Naruto. If he somehow inspired Naruto to believe in Konoha's best potential rather than its worst reality, he has no idea how or when he tipped that balance.
He never reached out to Sasuke because he never saw Sasuke asking for help. He never learned to read past Sasuke's blank glower and single-minded insistence on perfection. Why does Kakashi think he'll do any better at recognizing Sasuke's hidden needs and goals this time around?
Iruka leaps down from the roof of a four-story apartment building and lands in his garden. The grass is liberally mixed with clover, violets, and various low-lying weeds. There are no flowers, and the gravel walk around the perimeter is choked with weeds. He should probably take better care of it, like his mother and his great-aunt did, but he never seems to have the time.
He never seems to have time for much of anything these days. Konoha has suffered too many casualties, and he's doing work that would have been split among three people just a year ago. He would prefer to be doing the work of three teachers rather than three administrators, but unfortunately his security clearance is high enough that he was roped directly into mission planning and analysis and told to run all the cost-benefit assessments, with no support staff, because he has more practice at mathematics than most career ninja.
Iruka loathes math. If he'd wanted to be an accountant, he wouldn't have bothered attending the academy.
He pulls a few weeds from the gravel, gathers them into a pile, and incinerates them. It doesn't do much to help his frustration, and the newly bare patch of gravel is insignificant against the swathes of green-infested walkway. He might as well not have bothered for all the difference he can see.
Iruka sighs and dusts off his hands. He should make himself some lunch before he tracks down Naruto. He unlocks his back door, and stops in blank surprise.
Kakashi is waiting in his kitchen, sitting at the table with Jiraiya's last book propped open in front of him.
Iruka nearly throws a kunai before he recognizes the other man. Then he almost throws the kunai anyway, but he manages to rein in his temper. He opens his mouth to say- something, he's not sure what. Maybe a refusal of the impossible mission Kakashi is trying to foist on him. He can't deal with Sasuke. He's not trained for it, the job is too big for him, and the consequences if he fails-
"I'm sorry," Kakashi says, closing his book. "I would never ask this of you, but I had no one else I could trust." He raises his face, his one visible eye catching and holding Iruka's gaze. He's not smiling.
Iruka closes his mouth, his anger quenched as the situation rearranges itself in his head. He slides the kunai back into its holster and sits down at the small table, across from Kakashi. "If I don't do this, the councilors will make sure Sasuke is placed with a person out to sabotage him," he says. It's not a question.
Iruka sighs. He's still the wrong person for this job. And he doesn't want to get involved in politics - there's more than one reason he keeps refusing to become Kakashi's official aide. But at least if he's watching Sasuke, he'll try to listen and make a connection. He can try to fix all the things he left undone when Sasuke was his student. There's no guarantee anyone else would even be trying.
"You have a gift for seeing people as they truly are, not as rumor or common knowledge report them to be," Kakashi says. "I don't expect miracles, but you're the only person I can think of who might give Sasuke the time and space to fix himself."
"And the only one who won't mind Naruto barging in day and night," Iruka adds wryly. Because Naruto will do exactly that, as soon as he learns where Sasuke will be living.
Kakashi coughs, clearly covering a laugh. "Better you than me! We'll probably let him out in two or three days. You might want to clean your house a bit before then - there's no point going through all this if he dies of mildew poisoning or trips on your loose tatami and bashes his head open when he falls."
This time Iruka does throw the kunai.
Kakashi ducks easily and swipes his book off the table. "I can tell when I'm not wanted," he says. "But seriously. Thank you. And I apologize for not asking first."
Iruka shrugs. "Who else is there?" Because Kakashi is right. There's no one else they can trust with this job.
Sasuke was never his favorite student, never a child he paid much attention to. But Sasuke is a citizen of Konoha, no matter how much he denies it. Sasuke is as alone and wounded as Naruto ever was. And Sasuke deserves a second chance, like all people deserve second chances.
Naruto would give him third and fourth and fifth chances as well. Iruka is not that trusting. But the least he can do is reach out and hope.
He closes his back door behind Kakashi and begins to clean his house.
AN:Thanks for reading, and please review! I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.