Iruka stretched carefully, the not-yet-healed wound on his back complaining as he reached full extension. That the Hokage had ordered the medics to not hurry the healing along was as good a declaration of the old man's displeasure as an official scroll. He probably could have taken another sick day, but he couldn't afford to lose another day's pay or to let anyone think that he had been badly wounded; more importantly, he couldn't afford to let any of the other teachers assign the genin teams, not now that he'd passed Uzumaki Naruto.
So Iruka took another deep breath, walked into his classroom, and noted with satisfaction that all nine students quieted immediately. He read the assignments with his usual combination of good humor and sternness. The first two groups didn't worry him -- no even half-way sane jounin would fail clan heirs, and as tough as the tests could be -- or as simply unwilling to teach as a jounin might be -- no jounin truly insane was ever offered a genin team. Konoha might be hard on its genin, but it needed them sane.
It was the third group he feared for, though he kept that buried so deep he was barely aware of it himself. The Uchiha were gone and, since Hatake Kakashi bore a sharingan eye, the only overwhelming reason to keep Sasuke alive would be to breed, and his very presence in the Academy said the Elders weren't pursuing that option. Uzumaki was doubly-cursed -- the container for the demon fox kept alive solely because his father had been Hokage. The village couldn't execute the boy without reason, but the elders wouldn't hesitate at the slightest excuse. Haruna Sakura had no family name to protect her and only her quick wit to recommend her. Iruka hoped she'd be able to keep Sasuke and Naruto on task long enough to be passed. Being a genin was dangerous, of course, but once a jounin accepted the team, they'd be fairly safe from dying until their Chunnin Exams, and they'd have more than one opportunity to pass that test.
He gave all three teams their instructions and left for his usual shift at the Missions Desk, drawing the persona of a reliable, if hot-tempered, chunnin around himself. He needed the old man to assume that Iruka was adequately cowed by the still-healing wound on his back, and the best way to do that was to visibly avoid taking on any jounin today.
He wasn't sure if it had worked, for the Hokage had ordered Iruka to take tea with him the day of the team tests. Iruka bowed deeply, as if honored, and ignored the glares aimed at his back during his exit from the Missions Room. Fools, could they not see that Iruka had been invited to a test as potentially dangerous as those his newly graduated students would be undergoing?
And test it was, as the Hokage made him read the history of each jounin currently testing a new team. The first two were much what Iruka had expected, but the old man was using them simply to withhold the name of Naruto's jounin-sensei. When that book was pushed across the table at him, Iruka made himself hesitate before reaching for it.
"Hatake Kakashi?" he asked.
"I thought he might be helpful to the Uchiha boy, if he passes them."
"Oh?" Iruka looked at the record and let out a shocked exhalation. "He's never passed a team."
"No, he hasn't." The Hokage met Iruka's eyes. "He's been known to take his time with the ... exam results." Meaning that the failed students had not died quickly. "You'll be given the results tomorrow. Have a pleasant evening, Iruka." And Iruka fled, in a controlled walk that told the man watching him that the point had hit home.
Iruka returned to the Mission Room, noted that there were plenty of chunnin to handle the desk tasks, and let himself be cornered into doing the back-logged filing. Nobody volunteered to do the filing, as it was a sign that you'd never rise to the rank of jounin and so, in Konoha, were consigned to an uncomfortable second-class position in ninja society. Iruka, however, found it soothing, and it offered lots of opportunities to memorize the foibles and weaknesses of Konoha's more active nin. Right now, he needed the excuse it offered to learn more about the jounin testing teams that day.
The Hokage, it turned out, was wrong. Iruka learned the results that night when Naurto brought his entire team, including their jounin-sensei, to dinner. Iruka brought out his best tea set and pulled Kakashi's favorite tea from its most recent hiding place, smiling at Naruto's recounting of the day's test from the next room.
As he set the tea on a counter that could not be seen from either the next room or through the window, a larger body pressed his against the bank of cabinets. Kakashi held Iruka's head tightly, his masked lips against the other man's ear. "He says he's going to be Hokage one day, sensei, and we're going to make sure he does."
Iruka nodded nearly imperceptibly and was released to continue making tea. He might never make jounin, but he was perfectly placed as a chuunin. When Kakashi felt Naruto was ready, Konoha would be theirs.