Disclaimer: Naruto is owned by its creator, writer, and illustrator, Masashi Kishimoto, and I am not attempting to make any money off this fanwork.

Naruto: 12

Iruka: 24

When Nakamura Naoto unceremoniously quit his position days before the Academy was due to reopen, Iruka fueled the gossip fire not only by applying, but by being accepted. It would be the last time his unassuming maturity shocked anyone.

The Hokage issued a mandate that all teachers would progress with their students from then on, and return to teach first-years when their brood had graduated. Even if by the skin of his teeth and at the bottom of every class, Naruto passed each year as normal under Iruka's tutelage. In another five years, he would graduate the way he did everything else: unconventionally.

The next morning, after assigning teams to the genin he had taught for most of his chuunin career, Umino Iruka was called to Council.

It had been three hours since he arrived, but Iruka was not surprised to still be waiting: he had come prepared to be humbled. Given the sheer size of the village headquarters, like the Hokage Tower laid sideways, he'd already been moved nearly a dozen times.

Not escorted. Moved.

"We need this room for a meeting. You'll have to wait on the second floor; the receptionist will direct you."

"This room is only for file storage—go back and ask for another."

"We reserved this room for rations-pickling."

Iruka fell back on old habits and was all smiles as he limped to his next destination. The hallways were full of staff muttering about their suddenly missing files and supplies, accusations flinging left and right. A small part of him was amused.

The rest of him was shattered.

His best friend had turned traitor, and insult to injury, he had been taken completely by surprise. It wasn't as though he had a multitude of friends to keep track of, and he had spent nearly every day of the last six years with Mizuki.

Not once had Iruka called Mizuki's loyalty into question, whether to himself or the village. Not even when his friend had come to alert Iruka of Naruto's theft. Thanks to his blindless, Naruto's very life could be in danger.

And the secret was out forever. Its ruthless reveal weighed heavily on Iruka; it would take more than ramen to fix this, and Naruto would soon be out of his sights.

Had Iruka known Naruto would graduate, he would have placed him on Team 8, rather than Kiba. Yuuhi Kurenai was renowned for her ability to see to the heart of even the most obfuscating of people; given the circumstances, her insight and even-handedness would be even more crucial. Naruto's unwitting tendency to galvanize others would also have been a good match for the shy Hinata and passive Shino, even more so than Kiba's affinity for teamwork.

"Umino-san," a man said, standing tall in front of him, "you may follow me to the Chambers, now."

Iruka nodded and rose to follow.

"Daisuke, you pervert!"

"That—that isn't mine, I swear!"

The doors closed on the chaos behind him. The jounin and council members turned as one to face him, but Iruka only gave his most disapproving gaze in return. Unlike the Academy students Iruka faced every day, no one here would throw shuriken at his back, hide itching powder in the chalk dust, or circulate crude drawings of his underpants.

His chair seemed specifically designed to set his injuries on fire. The Hokage, in his own balcony, met his gaze for a second, before returning to the wider audience. Sandaime could not help him here. Iruka couldn't find it in him to be disappointed. If the Hokage could support Naruto openly, this farce of a trial would not even take place.

Iruka stood to be addressed, but he refused to crane his neck. "Umino Iruka," Mitokado Homura, high councilor, began. Sandaime had always spoken well of him, but Iruka could only see ruthlessness in the man's expression. Koharu Utatane, the other high councilor, sat at his right. Together, they were an imposing set of bookends; the antique kind that were once considered beautiful and were presently just creepy. The other council members were seated to either side, on a bench that was almost eye-level. "Do you know why you have been called before us today?"

It wasn't an extension of courtesy; it was a chance (the first of many, he thought nastily) for Iruka to hang himself. He bowed, ignoring the sensation of his wound reopening. "I was told that the Council required my account of last night's events, Councilor-sama. I am honored to be of service."

"Yes, the theft has left us in a rather precarious position."

Mitokado's loaded statement made Iruka's hair stand on end, like weapons at the ready. He tried to bury his indignity with the memory of that fierce, jubilant pride he'd felt tying the hitai-ate in place, but it only made him more aware that he was facing the Council without it.

"Chuunin of seven years, Academy instructor for the last six," Koharu continued. "But your first mission had been at the Academy as well. As a teaching assistant. Could you elaborate on your termination?"

Funny how the rejection could sting so badly so many years later, when at the time he had only shuffled guiltily. "My superior disagreed with one of my tutoring methods. He thought it best not to renew my position, Councilor-sama."

Mitokado raised Iruka's record and scanned it with deliberate care. "Is that so? Here it has been filed as 'insuboordination'. Providing unfairly advantageous learning aids to a student without the instructor's knowledge."

"The child in question had a damaged textbook. I did not believe he could have understood the material without possessing the material, and I provided nothing more than what was accessible by other children. It was my error that I did not seek my instructor's approval first, Councilor-sama."

"Yet, not six months later, you impersonated several ANBU and threatened a small group of civilian children," Koharu continued with fake concern, "on behalf of this same 'child in question': Uzumaki Naruto."

The chamber acoustics were phenomenal: the hisses and murmurs rumbled like a faraway avalanche. Iruka didn't dare turn to look.

"You are correct, Umino-san," Mitokado said, "we are in need of your account of last night's events. You have clearly gone to great lengths for this child. Considering how your colleague and the Nine-tails vessel nearly escaped with one of Konoha's most forbidden scrolls, it has become paramount that you explain why."

Iruka had expected the accusation, but it still sparked a manic urge to sew stinkweed into the man's robe collection.

He'd rehearsed answer after answer in the hospital, his apartment, and his long, shuffling wait, but the stitled words he'd coaxed to life seemed determined to stay in his mind. What could he say that wouldn't chafe later? He didn't want to face Naruto with yet another regret.

"Maaa, am I late?"

There was a certainty level of insanity expected of all jounin, particularly the special ones like Sharingan Kakashi, but they usually manifested in flamboyantly obvious ways that somehow worked to everyone's advantage but the enemy's. Not direct insuboorindation to some of the most powerful figures in the village.

And like most special jounin, Hatake Kakashi was so far above him in level, he could probably kill Iruka by dropping a penny. It was a mark of Iruka's skewed survival instincts that this was not what put him on edge.

Iruka had known Naruto—no, not just known, but paid attention to Naruto—for a long time, and he'd never seen Hatake near him, nor heard of him in conjunction with Naruto's name.

Not for the first time did Iruka wonder what twist of fate had made Naruto such a friendly boy, so eager to see the good in people. Met with a potential ally, Iruka could only brace himself in suspicion.

"I'm sorry, Councilors," Hatake said sunnily, not sounding very sorry at all, "I was told last night that I would be assigned a team of cute new graduates, but someone must have forgotten to tell me that one of them was on trial!"

"It is Chuunin Umino Iruka that is on trial," Koharu said cooly, eyes narrowed, "on suspicion of conspiracy of treason against the village."

"That sounds very serious," Hatake said, "but I hope you'll forgive me when I say it's also dead wrong." He slipped his hands back in his pockets, and his visible eye went droopy again. "I admit that at the time, I hadn't understood Yondaime-sama's last wish."

Last wish? Iruka thought. He didn't remember any last wish, but then, he didn't remember learning about Naruto's sealing, either. It felt like something he'd always known, even though losing his parents was a perpetual surprise.

"But to think that you would charge the one person that has kept us from failing him as a village, with treason..." Hatake tilted his head and reverted to his cheery, one-eyed smile. "Well, it sounded so absurd, I just had to come down here to see it for myself!"

The trial concluded with astonishing swiftness.

"Hatake-san!" Iruka called, walking up to the other man. He ruthlessly crushed the paranoia that Hatake had put the jogging distance between them on purpose. He stopped dead when Hatake turned to face him, the sight of a porn novel in the elite ninja's hands causing his mind to stutter. He was even more mortified to feel a blush burst across his face, which did not help him regain his train of thought at all. "Thank you," he blurted, "for saying all that about Naruto."

"I didn't say anything about Naruto," Hatake replied. He looked up from his book without tilting it downward. "It was about you."

"Nothing in that room was really about me."

"What I said was," Hatake said, eye sharp, but it was hard to take him seriously when he was still holding up a neon sign of perversion. Iruka desperately hoped this conversation wouldn't be miscontrued by passerbys. "I'm sorry I was late. Thank you for watching Naruto."

He knew Hatake had been the Fourth's student, everyone knew that, but anything about a last wish for Naruto's well-being had been buried in that first wave of hatred and grief, twisted like burning paper. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask why Hatake had said nothing of it in the last 12 years, but such an admonishment would be monumentally hypocritical. Naruto had never asked Iruka, and even if the thought filled him with guilt, thinking of the boy's magnanimious nature made him smile.

"Then...I am glad to know that you'll be taking care of him next, Kakashi-sensei."

"Hmm, yes, I suppose I should go meet them now."

Iruka's jaw dropped and his sudden magnanimity evaporated. "I assigned teams almost four hours ago. What were you DOING in all that time?"

"Well, I was passing by the zoo when the electrical wiring shorted and the cages—"

"Stop," Iruka managed to say through gritted teeth. "Like you said, perhaps you should go meet them now."

"Calm down, Iruka-sensei," Kakashi drawled. "A ninja should learn to be patient." He looked back down at his glaringly orange, widely perverted book, but met Iruka's eye before he had turned away completely. "I would suggest you get some coffee, but I hear some deviant has pickled all the beans."

Iruka spun to walk in the opposite direction, flushing red, but by the time he had found Sandaime-sama, he was smiling.

Maybe Naruto wouldn't be his student anymore, but at least he had someone to keep him out of trouble.

Major, major apologies for the delay; writing this chapter was like trying to yank out a molar.

I think the real fourth turning point would be Iruka taking a kunai in the back, but I was hoping to fill in the aftermath that canon wholly ignored. Adoring thanks and swooning love to everyone that's left feedback and followed this little fic through. A sequel is in the works, but I'm lacking a timeframe.