by Aoi Kami Sarah

          "Suimasen! Excuse me!" Anko called as she knocked on the door. "Anyone home?" She looked again at the number on the house and at the scroll in her hand. "It's the right place…" she grumbled and knocked again. "Suimasen!!" The Jounin pressed her ear to the door. "I can heeeeaaar youuuuu!" she wailed.

          A neighbor poked her head out of the window next door. "Ano, are you looking for Ibiki-san?" she asked.

          Anko beamed. "Yeah! Know where he's at?"

          "He's there, just let yourself in." The woman muttered something to herself and ducked back in the window. Anko blinked a few times, shrugged and opened the door.

          "Ibiki?" she called, stepping into the entryway. On a coat tree were a large, black overcoat and a Konoha forehead protector. Anko shuddered and gripped the scroll tighter. "Ibiki?"

          "Who is it?" called a deep, booming, but not unfriendly voice from inside.

          "Suimasen. It's me, Anko. Your neighbor lady said I could just come on in…" The living room was clean and neat and not overly cluttered. A few magazines and remote controls lay on the coffee table. A total of four, nearly six foot windows were open on the opposite wall, letting the soothing April sunshine and refreshing cool breeze into the apartment. Classical music played on a stereo in the living room in front of her, the radio blared an annoying commercial jingle from somewhere down the hall to her left and from the kitchen to her right, a woman's voice on the television gave the forecast.

          "Oh, yeah. Sorry bout that…" He poked his head around the corner. Anko let out a grateful sigh at the red handkerchief he wore over his scarred cranium. "Did you bring the reports I'm supposed to look over? I'm sorry, but I'm up to my elbows mochi gome, can you just leave it on the table over there?" He motioned with his chin.

          "Mochi?" Anko's eyes glazed over. "You makin' dango?!"

          "No no, it's far too early for dango!" Ibiki laughed at her hurt expression. "It's still spring. I'm making Sakura Mochi."

          She popped her head around the corner and sure enough, the little kitchen was steamy and sweet-smelling. Ibiki sat back down and continued to finish off the pink rice-cake confections. "Would you like one?"

          "Would I!?" she asked and happily popped one into her mouth. Her humming and grinning told him they were good. "The report's on the desk out there…" Anko semi-shouted over the din from the television on top of the fridge. "Damn, Ibiki, you hard a hearin' or somethin'?"

          He scooped out another ball of glutinous rice and without looking up replied, "I don't like the silence."


          It wasn't quite absolute silence. The buzz of the fluorescent light was ever-present. Only just in the last few hours had he lost track of time. The regular fluctuation in the power supply, causing the light to flicker once every 15 minutes had been an excellent guide, but he could no longer remember if it was 1700 hours or 0500 hours. Not for the first time, he slumped forward as sleep dragged him down, but the cuffs bit into his wrists and the muscles in his arms cried out with the effort of holding his body up. They had been kind enough to leave him his pants, but the cold, narrow, metal chair never seemed to warm with the contact of his flesh. He straightened up and let out a slow, measured breath.

          The lock rattled and the door whined open - the first sounds other than his own breathing he had heard in more than 30 hours. He was uncuffed from the chair and led down the hall into another room with another uncomfortable chair. He was seated and a huge white light was shone in his face.

          "Name?" a voice from behind the light asked.





          Again, nothing. A pencil scraped across paper. A throat was cleared.


          After a half an hour he was sent back to his fluorescent light.

          At 17, Morino Ibiki was as green as Jounin come. Thrown headfirst into the Ninja World War, he was almost completely unprepared for what lay ahead of him. His war training had been basic. How to survive, to fight, these were all things he had already learned as a Chuunin. War was different. War was a mission that wasn't over when a simple task had been completed. This war in particular showed no signs of ending. The missions kept coming and coming. He had fulfilled more than a dozen already and like the other shinobi on his team; in his head were the names, ranks and plans of at least five top-ranking Konoha strategists. The other members of his team were dead. They didn't have to worry about leaking information to the enemy. Ibiki did.

          About 24 hours later, he was taken from the white room and its fluorescent light and placed in a much smaller, cement room, cuffed to an iron ring in the corner and doused with water. He was surprised to then be left alone in the darkness for another stint. Just when he was almost dry, a man came in and doused him again. The cement was smooth, but clammy and not at all a pleasure to sit upon. The ring was just low enough that standing was impossible and just high enough that sitting was uncomfortable. There he remained, wet, cold and alone for nearly a day before he was dragged in for questioning once more.

          The same voice asked the same questions, this time over and over again like a broken record. Suddenly, the voice would ask something odd, like what his favorite color was, or what his mother's maiden name was. After a half hour of the barrage, Ibiki shouted at the voice to be quiet. When it didn't stop he screamed in rage and madness until his voice cracked. Red-faced and exhausted, but victorious, Ibiki was led back to the cement room. He wished he could have seen the interrogator, but could only imagine the frustration he must have felt painted comically across his face. Ibiki laughed, but was interrupted as the guards came back in.

          Cigar smoke billowed from behind the bright, white light. "Name?" a new voice barked.


          The guards moved in and hefted Ibiki off the chair. Startled by the action, but still alert, he struggled against them. He was bent over a table and his right hand stretched out and held down.

          "Name?" the man asked, coming out from behind the light. He was short, squat and greying. He had lips that were just a little too red and a nose to match. He took a drag off the cigar, savored the flavor of the smoke, the brought the cherry down to the back of Ibiki's hand.

          It was so startling that he let a cry slip which made the interrogator's cherubic lips curl up in a sickening smile. "Name?" he asked again, the voice soft, almost sweet as if he were simply cooing to a child.

          "Go fuck yourself," Ibiki hissed and grit his teeth as the cigar pressed into his flesh again.

          "Well, it speaks!" the interrogator cheered. "Name?!"

          Without bandages or treatment of any kind, the ever-uncooperative Ibiki was thrown back into the cement room and doused with freezing cold water once again. Still, he had not given anything up.


          Anko shifted her weight and bit her lip. Her brain flipped through a book of things she could say, but nothing came to her. The weather forecast for tomorrow was clear and sunny, 'high of 65' said the woman in bright yellow on the TV. Anko's eyes were glued to the Mochi and the hands that crafted it. His scarred, powerful hands looked more like those of a man in his 40's, not someone only a few years her senior. The circular scars might have been burn marks, but what made a burn in that shape, she wondered? A commercial for a luxury car blared on after the newscast and an idea rescued her.

          "Hey! I got an idea!"


          The days blurred into each other. The Cigar Smoking Man didn't re-appear. The Calm Man and his associates questioned him relentlessly, but Ibiki's lips were sealed. At one point, just as the guards were coming to drag him out of his cell again, he heard voices echoing from a good distance down the hall…

          "…my prisoner and I will interrogate him to the best of my abilities, Kubaraki!" the Calm Man's voice shouted at someone.

          The man referred to as Kubaraki giggled, an evil, yet child-like giggle that sent a chill down Ibiki's already numb spine. This had to be the Cigar Smoking Man.         "You're methods are all politically correct and well-intended, Jyoji-san," he sang, "but the information we hope to gather is of a time sensitive nature and any level of coercion in order to get it is necessary."

          Jyoji went quiet as the guards resurfaced with the prisoner.

          The Calm Man, Jyoji folded his hands in his lap and fired the usual questions off at Ibiki, but in a new way. He stated facts and asked for a yes or no answer.

          "Are you a Konoho Shinobi? Is Konoha moving against the fortifications at Gumon?" The first set was all shot-in-the-dark type questions, but the line of questioning suddenly shifted and made Ibiki's blood run cold. "Are you seventeen years old? Did you only just recently become Jounin? Is your name Morino Ibiki?"

          Although he remained silent and tried not to react physically, the scratching of the pencil on paper made Ibiki certain that the interrogator had gotten the information he wanted.

          "We have gotten much useful information already from your comrades," Jyoji leaned forward, his blond hair only just visible from behind the blinding light. "If you help us, you will be rewarded."

          Still the Jounin stared at the floor and said nothing. He was questioned for another twenty minutes, and just before he was sent back to the white room, Jyoji closed his notebook and simply said. "You will be executed tomorrow."

          Sometime just as Ibiki was drifting off to sleep, his arms already well on the way without him from straining against the handcuffs and the back of the chair, he was shaken up, a burlap hood was placed over his head and he was dragged from his cell. His bare feet slapped down the hall, around corners and down stairs. He stopped trying to memorize the course after the first twenty minutes of twists and turns. A large metal door sighed open and a rush of cold air and precipitation flew at him. The rain bit at him as he made about 500 paces from concrete to grass. His toes felt over-turned earth, soft and inviting and at last the hood was removed. He was a bit stunned to find that it was night time.

          Not surprisingly, the first thing before his eyes was the shining blade of a katana which quickly dove down to his neck and hovered there. The man behind him pressed it to his skin and hissed in his ear. "Will you help us?"

          Ibiki looked down. In front of him was a ditch, perhaps five feet by two feet deep. The wind and rain swirled all around him, matting his hair to his face and dripping into his eyes. "No."

          "Why do you want to die?" the soldier demanded, pressing the sword so that it sliced into the skin enough to cause pain.

          "If I must, I must," he answered plainly. "For that is my Shinobi way."

          A beat of silence followed in which neither man breathed. "You will not be executed," the soldier stated and the hood went back on.

          Ibiki slept that night for the first time in days.


          Anko beamed and put her hands on her hips. "There's this band playing at the bar I… I mean this place down town tonight. They really rock, you wanna come out?"

          Ibiki stopped pressing the rice into little balls and looked up at the woman with an expression of both exasperation and puzzlement. "Out?"

          "Yeah, you know? Out? With other people? How bout it? Plenty a noise there, trust me. And drinks too!"

          He snorted a sort of astounded chuckle and looked down at his rice covered hands.

          "You're sucha serious guy all the time. Don't you ever lighten up, have a little fun? Work's not everything you know…"

          "I'm sorry if I seem that way," he answered and continued to make little mochi balls. "Konoha is my life and I take my job very seriously."


          "Get up." Cigar Man Kubaraki said flatly and kicked him again.

          A guard started to step forward. "Sir, I don't think he can…"

          "You will keep your mouth SHUT!" he barked and rather than lash at the guard, took another good chunk of flesh out of Ibiki's back with a whip studded with sharp metal studs.

          "Pick him up." Kubaraki sneered and wiped the sweat from his upper lip. "You Konoha piece of shit, you tell us where they are! Where are they headed? You know you little bastard. Don't you want me to stop?!" he shouted in Ibiki's face. "I will if you talk!"

          "Fu…" he spit, the blood and swelling getting in the way of the curse. "Fuck… you."

          "Do you think this is a game? That your silence will win it? The game is life my friend, and you are about to lose, big time. What is more important, hm?"

          "Ko… noha…"

          Kubaraki frowned even deeper. "Bring me the screws."

          "But Sir…" one of the guards tried to speak up, his voice tinged with worry.

          "Do NOT argue with me!"

          Ibiki closed his eyes and tried very hard not to scream.


          "I… do to… but…" Anko shifted her weight and tried to think of a way out of the room that would least embarrass them both but the window was the closest exit and she wanted to be able to fly out of it very badly just then. She watched his face as he molded the mochi and shook her head. "I think you need a good time. Come out tonight. Please?"

          His head slowly lifted and a soft, thankful smile spread across his face. "Ok. I will."

          Anko beamed. "Hey! You're not such a hard nut to crack!" He laughed a little, further reassuring her. Anko said her good-bye and let him get back to work. Ibiki dumped the finished balls into some boiling water then went to the sink and washed his hands. Every time he touched his scars, the memories came flooding back, but today, his head was filled with anticipation and wonder and it helped cloud the images, soften their sharpness.

          Ten years ago, Morino Ibiki was captured during the Ninja Wars and tortured for two weeks before an Anbu team took the installment and freed him. He was the only member of his squad who survived. He went on to become a Jounin Specialist in the interrogation division. He studied the tactics of famous interrogators the world over, including Jyoji Jeiri who was well known for his success rate and humane treatment of his subjects and Kubaraki Notobu, infamous for the worst sorts of medieval torture and executed for high crimes against humanity just one month after Ibiki's release.

          Ten years later, for once, Ibiki wasn't thinking about Jyoji or Kubaraki, he was too busy worrying if he should bring a dozen Sakura Mochi with him to a bar.


Dedicated to former US Army intelligence officer John Dunn who lived some of this story and survived. 113003120103