Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or the characters contained therein, they belong to Masashi Kishimoto who is kind enough to let fans write fiction. I make no profit from this nor do I intend to.

A/N: Please forgive any indiscretions that I may make into the Naruto Universe. I love reading the fiction but I can't honestly say that I have seen too much of the anime or read much of the manga. I am just writing on a whim and think that Ibiki is a cool guy. So please excuse any literary license that I may take – no offense is ever intended. ;D

Re-write as of 10/2012

Chapter One

~Viva la difference~

It was a small artisan's community set in the North Eastern section of Konoha. It was filled with vibrantly multi-colored homes and apartment buildings, and with inhabitants that were just as colorful and eclectic as their domiciles. Most, if not all of the people living in this little village within a village were in one way or another an integral part of the Arts Community. They ranged from painters and sculptors, to metal workers, actors, musicians, and the odd writer or two. Most were considered to be strange and perverse (even amongst themselves), but that was acceptable to a certain degree. It was all part and parcel of living in and around those whose talents lay not in their physical prowess (such as their Nin cohabitants of Konoha) but rather in their artistic creativity. Being eccentric and wayward was not only expected but it was something to almost strive for. Normalcy held no functional place in their lives or community. In fact, some would even shudder if you were to pigeon hole them under such a category. The word 'normalcy' was almost akin to the state of being 'inartistic' or 'unimaginative'. It was certainly not a worthy endeavor or anything to strive for.

So it was here in the small, unofficially dubbed artistic community of Hiraku that Morino Ibiki chose to live. At first glance it may seem odd that such a man would choose to live around such surroundings. A stoic and austere man that was always dressed in dark clothing living amid vibrant colors and personalities would at first seem odd and highly out of place. Add to that his job as commanding officer of the Konoha ANBU Torture and Interrogation Force and the mind really starts to boggle at the idea. But in fact, he fit in perfectly with his neighbors. Oh, they didn't know exactly what he did, but they did know he was a high ranking Nin of some sort. You couldn't mistake him for anything else. With his battle scars and imposing physical presence there was never any doubt as to his profession. However, just by not being like the others it made him just like the others. His severe and obvious difference (even to the non-artistic) was the key factor to his acceptance into their community. If you asked him (or anyone he worked with, or better yet on) he was in his own way an artist. He could stretch, manipulate, and re-shape the human psyche and body as if it was no more than soft clay in his capable hands. As some artists used paint or wood to express their creativity he used mental manipulation and physical intimidation as they were his true mediums, and he was within his own chosen profession a Master. He accepted their eccentricities and they accepted his, and both lived comfortably together.

Walking back home after a long and mentally challenging day (his prisoner interrogation was a bit more demanding than most lately) left him feeling slightly tired and off. He got what he needed, but not until after a long and somewhat physically strenuous period. He mentally rolled his eyes while re-playing the day in his mind, and wondered why some people had to make it so hard on themselves. Though he enjoyed the confrontation (and he couldn't suppress a slightly evil smirk from forming at the idea) it really was nothing more than a lesson in futility for them. Unfortunate for the prisoner that he expired after the grueling session, but Ibiki looked at it that it saved the village the expense of a trial and then room and board for a convicted spy, so he really hit two birds with one stone. In the end it was a job well done in his book.

His apartment lay at the end of a shady cul-de-sac that was lined by large, old trees and probably the most colorful of all the houses in Hiraku. Some of the homes bordered on being gaudy while others teetered on the edge of insanity. Yet the walk home, especially this last part was a sort of balm to his soul. After hours of being in a cold and sterile building this obvious change of venue was a bit of a welcome. As he walked up the steps to his apartment building he almost laughed at the idea of his peers seeing where he lived. His two apartment domicile was bright green with black and mauve (he refused to think that it was pink...) trim, and run by the widowed Fujiwara-san. Fujiwara-san (when she wasn't puttering around the building) was a metal worker ("I am an 'Aluminiferous Artiste' dearie" she once told him gimlet-eyed) and that meant that the place was littered with her metal sculptures. Many of the pieces had a lot of sharp edges and were really quite dangerous looking, and some could even be categorized as just down-right scary. So he knew the minute that he answered the ad that he had come home.

The door opened before he had a chance to open it himself, and there stood his Land Lady in all her glory; she looked like an amalgam of a city street worker and a city street walker. Her feet were enclosed in large steel toed boots, and she wore some kind of well-worn, thick overalls and shirt. From the neck down she looked like she might be a street cleaner or ditch digger, but from the neck up she looked like a trollop on her last leg. Her lips were bright red and her eye shadow was bright blue with cat-like black eye liner elongating them. Her hair may have once been naturally red when she was younger, but she firmly believed that just because you were sixty doesn't mean that it still can't be, so it was dyed and teased into an unnaturally bright red bird's nest in homage to her eternal youth. Add some large, dangly earrings and a bit of attitude and there you have it: Land Lady a la Loon. Though Fujiwara-san may have worked in metal and at times was just as hard (he more than once wished that he could have integrated her and her art into his interrogation technique) she really was a kindly woman – deep, deep down inside somewhere.

They stared at each other, neither saying anything. He loomed over her with his impressive 6' 4" and she stood straight and proud in all her 5' glory looking up at him like a Queen Royal; imperious, commanding, and about to give no quarter. Neither said a word and neither budged. It seemed like minutes ticked by and still neither gave way.

Fujiwara-san's eyes flashed angrily. "Do you plan on standing there like some mute and buffoonish parody of the Angel of Death, or will you step aside and let me pass?" she hotly retorted.

Ibiki just raised his eye brow and stayed silent. His face showed no emotion. He just stared back at her unblinking. This just seemed to enrage her all the more, but before she could utter whatever was swirling around upstairs he very slowly bent down until he was almost nose to nose with her (he was so close that her eyes started to cross he noticed with glee) and whispered in an almost lover-like voice, "Well, if I was the Angel of Death it would appear that I have arrived at just the right time, since you apparently seem tired of living".

After a few seconds of silence Fujiwara-san just rolled her eyes and smirked. "Good grief boy, it would take more than the likes of you to send me to the Other Side", and slapped him on the arm.

Ibiki returned her smirk and nodded sagely. "Yes, of that I have no doubt" he replied, and cocked his head thoughtfully to the side and added: "but I wouldn't mind giving it a try sometime none the less..."

That made them both laugh – hers was more like a cackle and his was like a deep, whooshing of air out his nose.

"I left you some bread outside your door – you don't eat enough" she said authoritatively in parting as she walked away to her studio shop.

Ibiki physically cringed at the thought of her cooking. She treated everything and everyone like her metal – with heavy hands and rough manipulations. Her bread was most probably heavy enough to use as cannon fodder...

He was right as he tossed the bread onto his dining room table. It was so heavy that it skidded across the table and landed with a dull thud on the floor. Ibiki shook his head at the sight. It's hard to always be right all the time, he thought. After grabbing a beer from his fridge he walked through the apartment back to his bedroom. Like the man the apartment was austere and with no frills. His bedroom could almost be considered spartan; there were no memorabilia or mementos anywhere. The walls were plain and unadorned, and only a few pieces of furniture broke up the monotony. The one thing that it did have were ornate glass doors opening onto a small balcony. From that balcony he could look out over into his next door neighbor's back yard, and that was all he needed. He didn't really know that much about his neighbor, as the house had just recently been sold and the new owner and their tenant had just moved in. Since his hours at work varied he hadn't really caught a glimpse of them, but he had noticed with a certain amount of interest the slow revival of the home and its back yard.

Standing on the balcony and taking a long pull from his beer Ibiki looked curiously at his neighbor's yard. The backyard had once been probably pretty impressive, but over time and neglect it had grown decrepit and into a mini-jungle. But every day when he came home and stepped outside he noticed that more and more of the old yard was slowly being transformed. Weeds and dead plants were slowly being pulled up while it seemed that the old koi pond was getting dredged and cleaned up as well. Besides the monumental work needed to the yard the house itself was also in need of repair. Paint was chipping all over and the roof (from his vantage point) was badly in need of repair. If the inside was as shabby as the outside then the owner was in for one long, hard, and most probably costly battle.

It was then that he noticed movement and heard noise coming from the far side of the house. He could hear clattering and banging, and a whole lot of swearing. He started to grin but was immediately brought up short when he saw the origin of all the din: a young woman with a mop of unruly and curly hair was trying to carry a ladder over one shoulder and a box of tools over the other. It was the unbalanced load coupled with the woman's inability to carry both at the same time that caused Ibiki to stare in wonder.

She was a walking disaster. The ladder seemed to be an unmoving and detrimental piece of anatomy. Every time she moved it would swing out wildly in counter measure and hit something, and the following shock effect would cause her to curse loudly. And that happened a lot. She finally reached the back of the house and dropped it all with a loud bang (and with a lot more cursing because the ladder seemed to have gotten caught in a tangle of hair). He watched with some amusement her trying to put the ladder up against the house, and when that was finally accomplished (after almost taking out the back door and a window) she seemed to look at it all speculatively.

She scratched her head and shuffled a foot. She then walked away and turned suddenly back to it. More looking and pondering ensued. It all ended with her looking down at the ground with shoulders slumped in defeat.

He was broken out of his momentary musings when a voice like brass thundered out: "Hiroshi, get your lazy ass up on this ladder and shimmy on up to the roof!"

A young man about twenty-five slowly sauntered out the back door, and leaned languidly against the frame. "Oh no, no, no kitten, and for two reasons: one, I am just your tenant and NOT your slave. Two, I won the coin toss so that means that YOUhave to shag your ass up there yourself," and with that he waved a few fingers and sashayed back inside.

"Fine!" she said with clenched fists, a show of teeth, and a girlish stomp with her foot. "I hope you're happy with yourself! If I fall off this roof it will all be your fault!" she declared almost spitefully.

"No, it will be yours because you lost the coin toss!" came the muffled reply from inside the house.

The woman scowled and flipped the inside occupant the third finger.

Ibiki started to grin as he watched her almost pound up the ladder rungs, her anger fueling her momentum upwards. It wasn't too terribly high as the house was really no more than a one and a half story cottage and the girl quickly reached the summit. He watched as she swung onto the roof and become still.

Ayumu sat on the roof and got her bearing while trying to fight down her anger and fear. It was anger at Hiroshi for winning the bet, and fear for being up on the roof. Both she and Hiroshi were afraid of heights. Of course fear was too gentle a word for it really – they were both pissing in their pants terrified of heights, hence the bet. The looser had to buck up and get a look at how much real repair the roof needed. She knew that the roof was going to need some sort of upkeep to it (the man who sold the house called it 'minor maintenance') but once she really got a good look at it she blanched in horror. Her fury was such that she shot to her feet and raised a fist to the Heavens, almost as if it was their fault and not her own.

"That Bastard lied to me! He calls this 'minor maintenance'?! I'm putting out a hit on that piece of shit!" With that cathartic expulsion out of her system she then was able to get a true look at her current situation: she was standing up high and on a faulty roof. She felt her legs shaking not in anger anymore but fear, and the beginnings of vertigo start to set in. Before her terror of falling off (or worse yet through) the roof became too much she slowly started to crouch down in an almost supplicant and subservient manner. She even went so far as to lie partially on her sides and death-gripped the roof with all she had.

Shit, Fuck, Fire...I am going to die! Were the only thoughts that she had, and they ran in a constant loop through her head. Ayumu could not only feel her limbs start to shake uncontrollably, but she could also feel the beginnings of a possible loss of bladder control episode start to creep in...She held on to the roof (and her bladder) with everything she had, and slowly pulled her head up. Her head could go no farther than shoulder height, and it took all her will to move her eyes even farther up. She opened her mouth to scream for Hiroshi, but found that her mouth felt like it was filled with sand. Nothing came out. That was when she lifted her eyes and met the dark stare of a man on the balcony next door.