Written for iamzuul, because she was having trouble writing Ibiki and mentioned that he likes to people-watch. And because, when I told her I'd write her Ibiki, she asked for Naruto and Iruka as well. The AsuKure is a bonus treat, and the random chuunin are just for me.

(Oh, and by the way. iamzuul declares that the Morino Idate filler arc does not exist. Therefore, thus shall it be written. Thus shall it be done.)


He thinks of it as research.

Certainly not a habit, because good shinobi don't develop habits; habits lead to complacency, and complacency gets you killed. So he varies his route, and the time of day, and if he usually goes to one tea-shop just off the main street it's only because there's only one good tea-shop within walking distance of the ANBU Torture and Interrogation facilities where he spends most of his time. And if he always orders green tea and a plate of gyoza, that's not habit either, it's just that he needs something to calm his stomach after the morning's work, and sake certainly does not fit the bill.

And if he always sits at one table by the entrance, back to the wall, face in shadow but turned so that he can see every patron in the small shop and every person walking down the street…well, that's just taking precautions. And doing research.

It's certainly nothing to do with the tiny muscle that tries to coax his stern mouth into a small smile when he sees Izumo and Kotetsu pass by on either side of young Iwashi, Izumo teasing the boy mercilessly about his new beard (Trying to look as wise as Sandaime-sama, aren't you? Ne, Iwashi, try dying it white, you may not look any wiser but at least it'll catch the girls' eyes!) and Iwashi blushing fiercely as he defends himself (I can pick up girls with or without a beard, Izumo, and at least I'm man enough to grow one!) and Kotetsu sticking his hands in his pockets and pretending to ignore both of them even as a small smile of his own tugs at his lips.

He notes the facts down in his mind as meticulously as he might in a clean notebook, filing away the nervous twitch in Izumo's right hand as well as the good nature of his teasing, the dried blood on Iwashi's sleeve and the empty shuriken holster on his thigh as well as his defensive pride in his new beard, the slight hitch to Kotetsu's step as well as his air of the bored but fond older brother. Just back from a mission, the three of them, and chattering to fill up the silence left by their missing fourth teammate.

He sips his tea and watches them pass on, heading towards the Yamanaka shop to purchase flowers for the Heroes' Stone.

Asuma and Kurenai next, strolling side-by-side as if they've just run into each other and may split apart at the next shop without a sign of farewell. The bearded jounin is smoking, as always, hands shoved deep in his pockets, chin tucked down to his chest. The dark-haired woman at his side seems slight, fragile, beside his broad shoulders and towering height. Her head barely reaches his shoulder. They don't speak.

But their watcher notices how Asuma tilts his head away every time he breathes out a cloud of smoke, and how Kurenai directs a fierce crimson-eyed stare at any passerby who dares to look affronted. He notices how they walk just a little closer than strangers would, and how when Kurenai slows her pace to glance at a display of summer yukata, Asuma slows as well.

Some of the best shinobi, he discovered long ago, are a little too wary of habits to dare even thinking about attachments as well. But even the best shinobi can betray themselves.

A waitress brings him a fresh pot of tea; he glances up at her just long enough to acknowledge her presence. She doesn't flinch from his gaze, just offers him a smile and a cheerful "Good morning, Ibiki-san!" and heads off to take the order of the old farmer who's just come in. The staff here are used to his presence, used to his scars and his quietness and his (not habits) research. They've become comfortable over the years.

They're not shinobi. He supposes they're allowed to become comfortable, although he's not sure if he wishes they wouldn't. Complacency is deadly. He's never liked the shocked stares his scarred head earns, the horrified gasps and the widened eyes wavering between pity and fear, but at least it throws them off-balance and keeps them on their toes.

So he sips at his tea, and he watches the street, and if he doesn't allow himself to relax, at least, watching the bright sunshine spill down on the heads of the people who pass, he lets himself forget.


He tries not to follow a routine, but he knows other people do, and perhaps he's let himself rely on that a little too much. So he's surprised (although he really shouldn't be) when he sees a brown-haired chuunin stop frozen in the street one golden afternoon, arms piled high with the notebooks he was using his lunchbreak to grade, head turning automatically to meet the bawl of "Iruka-sensei!" from further down the street.

Ibiki sets his tea down and watches.

A golden-haired boy comes barreling down the street, dodging (or, in the case of one startled seller of grilled squid, not-dodging) pedestrians and market stalls with equal disregard for anyone's life or limb. "Iruka-sensei!" he hollers again, and as the wide-eyed chuunin turns, he pelts straight into him and knocks them both back ten feet. Books take wing and flap through the air, shedding loose pages on their way. One lands just short of Ibiki's seat by the door of the tea-shop. Sarutobi Konohamaru, the cover says in a messy scrawl, accompanied by a stick-figure portrait of a boy wearing the Hokage's hat and thumbing his nose at a stick-figure man with a ponytail and a scar across his nose.

Ibiki lifts his eyes from the notebook in time to see Iruka pushing himself to his feet and heatedly scolding his attacker.

"—where you're going, Naruto—yes of course I'm glad to see you, but you nearly knocked down that man's stall, not to mention my books—and how was your mission?"

"Great!" the boy says, and if he's not bouncing Ibiki's sure it's not from lack of energy and enthusiasm. "We brought the old lady back and she woke up Sasuke and Kakashi-sensei and she's gonna be the new Hokage and look at this!" He pulls a necklace with a sparkling blue jewel out from under his collar and waves it in Iruka's face for a moment before tucking it back and bashing a fist into his open hand. "And we fought that bastard Orochimaru and that traitor Kabuto and we kicked their asses, and did I tell you Tsunade-baachan is gonna be the new Hokage?"

"Y-yes, you did," Iruka says, looking a little stunned. But a proud smile is fighting its way onto his lips, and he stops dusting himself off long enough to tousle Naruto's hair with one hand. "You've done well, Naruto."

The light in the boy's face is so bright it's almost painful to see. He grins up at Iruka, and for a moment it's just the two of them in the world, sensei and student, older brother and younger, idol and worshipper. Then a passing shinobi kicks one of the fallen notebooks, and Iruka squawks in dismay and darts to grab it. Naruto lunges as well—"I'll help!"—and Iruka pulls back just in time to avoid hitting heads hard enough to knock both of them out. He watches in bemusement as the boy scrambles around, scooping dusty notebooks into his arms, pelting back to hand them off to the teacher, dashing out for more.

The last one lies halfway across the threshold of the tea-shop, two meters from Ibiki's sandals. He watches Naruto plunge across the street to retrieve it, hears the boy's triumphant yell as he snags its cover with one hand, and almost, almost smiles as the boy straightens, takes in the face of the man sitting across the table from him, and promptly drops the book again.

"You!" he says.

Ibiki has collected all sorts of reactions over the years, from the silver-haired one-eyed teenage jounin who blinked at him and drawled, "Heard you got away. Good job," to the pretty little genin who met him on the street last week, took one look at his scarred face, and promptly passed out. (He figured she sat for the chuunin exam he proctored two months ago, and he took the care to drag her out of the main thoroughfare before proceeding on his way.) But he's never had a reaction quite like this: blue eyes meeting his unblinkingly, finger pointed accusingly at his face, free hand fisted on the hip. "You!" the boy says again, and Ibiki thinks that if he were Izumo, he'd probably be laughing his head off right now.

But he's not Izumo (thank all the gods!) and so he simply stares back at the boy and says mildly, "Me."

He's not quite sure what he expects—anything from a wild You killed my aunt's brother's best friend's dog's former owner! to a plaintive Why'd you make that test so hard? Anything, really, from a ninja who's said to be number one at surprising people and who surprised Ibiki himself at the first test of the chuunin exam.

Anything but what he gets: a quick flicker of the blue eyes, a satisfied nod, a stoop to pick up the dropped notebook. And, flung over the shoulder as the boy heads back to Iruka, "I told you I wouldn't back down!"

That's the first Hokage's necklace flapping against the boy's collarbone under the wide loose collar of his jumpsuit.

Somehow, Ibiki isn't surprised.

And this time, as he watches Naruto take half the pile of books from Iruka's arms and head off at what's nearly a skip towards the Academy, jabbering all the way, he lets the little muscles around his mouth have their way.

He smiles.