The Reluctant Hokage

by aishuu

Note: This is a divergent canon. I will be utilizing elements from the manga, but this will be going strongly AU as the Chuunin exams hit.

Part 16: Necessary Evils

There are no prisoners today. That means it's a good day to clean the essential equipment for the T&I division.

Being an efficient person, Morino Ibiki has already completed his preliminary work for the first Chuunin exam. Unlike a certain Special Jounin he can name, he doesn't believe bitching is worth the effort when all it takes is a bit of patience to sit down and crank out the paperwork. Not procrastinating leaves him plenty of time to attend to his real job.

While many people – including most shinobi – find his work distasteful at best, Ibiki takes professional pride in his skill. His ability to extract information is hard earned, and although it may be unsavory, wars are won or lost on the quality of intelligence.

Ibiki doesn't favor any form of interrogation over another. Every subject is unique, and what makes him the best is his knack of figuring out what method will work most quickly. Pain is a good motivator, but it must be applied correctly to get accurate intel instead of whatever the subject thinks the interrogator wants to hear.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of his methods is that it does make a mess. Ibiki's most frequent torture is the thousand cuts methods, which (depending on the resilience of the subject), can lead to lots of blood and open wounds. The chances for infections spreading are high, which is why Ibiki keeps his equipment and space hospital-clean. Control is essential for good T&I, and illness causes a breakdown. Sure, he could always summon a medicnin to help fix things, but they're usually his sharpest critics.

He sits in his office at the work table and flips through the few unsigned reports regarding the village's security. There's nothing that surprises him, which is as it should be. The most important intel is rarely written down.

Rather, the reports contain the run of the mill intelligence on the status of the village. Some of it's personal – knowing who's sleeping with who is essential for predicting potential in-village conflicts – but a lot is rumor. Ibiki recognizes the mutated tales that T&I has sent out, and makes a mental note to offer yet another commendation to Yamanaka Inoichi. Spreading misinformation is one of his main responsibilities, and he's damn good at it. Controlling the rumor mill is impossible, but adding to it is one way to distract from the less pleasant truths.

Nothing requires Ibiki's immediate attention, so he moves to collect the tools of his trade. The interrogation rooms are sanitized after each use by the six genin lifers attached to his unit. Ibiki keeps an eye out for older genin who've washed out of the Chuunin exams multiple times. Some people aren't meant for leadership roles, but they still can be useful. Working with T&I is ranked as a long term C-level mission, so it's an appealing option for Genin with the right temperament. There's no way Ibiki is going to let civilians into his domain, but someone needs to do the scrubbing and upkeep the division requires.

Despite the genin workforce, Ibiki insists that each torturer be responsible for his or her own tools. Sometimes in heat of the moment in a session, an interrogator might start to enjoy the work. Forcing them to sit quietly offers a chance for reflection. It's a rule that Ibiki followed himself, because he is always walking the line between necessity and cruelty.

He's just sitting down at his work bench when the door opens on silent hinges. He tilts his head, knowing who the unannounced intruder has to be. Only one man aside from himself is keyed to all the wards in Ibiki's office. He would prefer to be the only one, but meetings with Godaime are best kept secret.

Sandaime always had Ibiki report to his office; Godaime always visits T&I personally. Godaime's preference arises from curiosity, since T&I's location shifts at irregular intervals for security, but Godaime's actions are always more complicated. He never does one thing without having five reasons.

Ibiki likes that Godaime doesn't avoid getting his hands dirty.

The Hokage, dressed in dark blue like most of the village's jounin, sits down on the bench across from him and picks up a cloth to sharpen one of the knives sitting on the table. His head tilts down, long lashes shading his dark eyes. From many people, the refusal to look Ibiki directly in the eyes would have appear submissive, but Godaime is an Uchiha.

It is a great sign of courtesy. Ibiki has only been caught off-guard by the Sharingan once, but that is enough for him to appreciate the respect Godaime was offering.

Neither of them bother with pleasantries.

"Have you had a chance to review the Wave Country report?" Godaime asks.

"With an end result of the Great Fishcake Bridge," Ibiki says. "It's lucky Kakashi was there."

Ibiki and Godaime don't say what they both know: if it had been any other jounin instructor, the ending would have been tragic. Kakashi's skills rival that of a Kage, and no other jounin instructor could have kept his team together while taking out one of the Seven Swordsmen.

"It will not happen again," Godaime states levelly.

Ibiki trusts that. The punitive fees Konoha will extract over the next decade will tie Wave to them, and none of the other Hidden Villages will interfere. It's in all of their interests to make sure that no one attempts to mislabel the difficulty of a mission. The taxes needed to pay won't be crippling for Wave's newly reinvigorated economy, but it will add up to at least ten times the cost of an S-Rank mission.

Wave is getting off lightly. If Team Seven had died, Wave would already be destroyed. Ibiki makes it his business to know what makes people tick. Had Uchiha Sasuke died, Godaime would have engulfed Wave in a cataclysmic inferno.

Godaime flips the knife he's working on with an easy hand so he can sharpen on the other side. The thin knife has to have a razor sharp edge for Ibiki's purposes. "Have we confirmed that Shukaku's host is entering the Chuunan exam?"

"All three of the Kazekage's children are slated to participate as a team," Ibiki reports.

Secrets can be valuable, but so can hints of the truth. When the tailed beasts were scattered among the nations, Suna was gifted the One-Tails. It has been over a decade since word "leaked" that the son of the Kazekage is the current vessel. For him to be coming now...

"We're going to have to enter our own jinchuriki," Ibiki continues, shuddering as he thinks of the blond menace. Ibiki doesn't have anything against the boy for carrying the demon; he dislikes the boy because he is a constant pain in the ass for village security.

Godaime's hands still. "I hadn't wanted to enter any of our rookie teams this year. Another year will allow their teamwork to improve."

Ibiki keeps quiet, knowing Godaime will reach the inevitable conclusion he already has. The Chuunin exams are a form of psychological warfare. Konoha has the home-field advantage, but it also has the most to prove.

"We'll have to guard them well. I don't want any deaths that should have been avoided," Godaime says finally, his fingers moving the knife against the sharpening stone with more vigor.

Ibiki isn't a person to offer reassurance. He's one to supply solutions. "I'll be able to eliminate them in the first round. That demon brat doesn't have the brains to pass my test. They'll participate, and the brat's resemblance to his father is undeniable. It'll remind the others that we have the Nine Tails."

"Wave now possesses a Bridge named after said brat. The mission's success wasn't all Kakashi," Godaime points out.

"He made it on sheer balls. He doesn't have it in him to be subtle. His potential is staggering, but his brain still needs work."

Godaime's lips make a slight curve, but he changes the topic instead of arguing. "I haven't heard anything else about that rogue group with the red clouded-cloaks. Do you have an update?"

Ibiki sets aside the kunai he's working on, since he doesn't want a weapon in his hand as he gives this report. He doesn't want to risk losing his temper.

"I've sent out feelers, but we're only picking up echos. I would be inclined to dismiss the rumors, but one of my lieutenants had an interesting encounter. There was a missing nin that came through the Land of Rivers that Ushio happened across, and he dragged him to our nearest outpost per standard procedure. He started a T session to see if it would be better to disappear him for information, or to claim the bounty from Mist.

"The missing nin was carrying a piece of origami that caught Ushio's eye since it was embedded with very strong chakra. It had to have been created by a jounin at least, maybe even someone approaching Kage level. Ushio asked him about it, and the man started to choke on blood. He'd been sealed quiet about it, and died within a minute.

"The most curious thing is that the body and paper dissolved instantly, and there was nothing left. Everything was just turned into dust."

Godaime is quiet as he considers the incident. He always thinks before speaking, and never wastes a word. "And you believe this is related to the Red Clouds?"

"I don't have any evidence, but I don't trust coincidence. There's something there, something we need to know. River is right next door, and I'm concerned about the timing with the Chuunin exam. That together with the whispers of mysterious nin wandering the country makes me think it's going to fit together."

"Your instincts are unparalleled," Godaime agrees. He flips the knife back and forth, checking the balance. The blade under his hand has been meticulously prepared, and is ready for the next thousand cuts session Ibiki will engage in. "I'll engage an Anbu team to see if they're able to find things, and we'll work together on this."

Ibiki's responding smile is one only the head torturer could produce. Years in T&I have made Ibiki incapable of feeling anything but apathy to most members of humanity since he has seen the worst of everyone. Some days, the only thing that keeps him going is sheer stubbornness that refuses to let his Will of Fire be extinguished.

Other days, he remembers that there are other people in this village who do what needs to be done. Godaime is a different sort from his immediate predecessors, never giving away his discomfort. He understands necessity, and his Will of Fire isn't constrained by the idealism that had marked Sandaime and Yondaime. Ibiki's read on him is that Godaime sees the world as it is, and not as it should be. Despite that, Godaime is doing everything he can not to fight for a future he wants rather than declaring the battle not worth fighting.

If Ibiki had been inclined to like anyone, it would be someone like Godaime.