It took a fair bit of rearranging his theory, a short time to explain to Sakura, and a longer time to wait for her to beat the idea into Naruto's head. Despite the fact that he had kidnapped them in the first place, both children were certainly willing to do what was necessary to get back into their original bodies.
"Good," said Naruto firmly. "No more diapers."
Sakura slapped him upside the head. "Napkins, Naruto! Sanitary napkins!"
Kabuto was silent as he watched them bicker back and forth. For Naruto, it was two-sided. Sakura, however, had a three-way going on just in her mind alone, and from the sounds of it, she was probably losing. 'Tis a sad thing, indeed, when one loses to the voices in one's head, but Kabuto wisely kept his own thoughts silent.
Once they agreed to the jutsu, more time passed as he and Sakura worked out a formula of chakra to funnel for the jutsu. She felt up to doing it, despite how she didn't quite have a stable grasp on two simultaneous sources of chakra.
When the nine-tailed fox decided to nudge her while Kabuto was performing the jutsu, the resulting explosion was spectacular to see. However, being caught in the middle of it often leaves one unable to express much gratitude or appreciation.
Naruto sat upright with a groan, shook his head, and then opened his eyes. His vision was blurry, but when he reached down to check which body he was in, he was delighted to find that he was male. "All right!" he cried, pumping his fist in the air. "Er…" He blinked at the sound of his own voice, reached around to the back of his head, and fingered a ponytail. He hung his head and groaned again.
"Hmm." Kabuto poked at his newly-possessed breasts. "Interesting." Then he prodded other bits. "Naruto-kun is right. This is a diaper."
Sakura, the only one who hadn't really gone anywhere, jabbed Kabuto viciously in the side.
"I see that we shall have to make some corrections to our calculations," Kabuto said hurriedly, rubbing the spot Sakura's elbow had inflicted its blow.
Kabuto's body blinked in puzzlement, before it turned to face Sakura-as-Naruto, who impatiently tapped her foot against the ground. "Papa?"
The stuffed purple monkey managed an impressive glare. "All right. Who sneezed at the most inopportune time?" it demanded, fuzzy little paws resting on what could theoretically be called hips.
Naruto, once more in Sakura's body, sheepishly raised his hand. "Er, sorry about that."
Tsunade had just settled herself in her seat, ready for another day, another job. She glowered at the stack of paperwork that had somehow managed to breed in the nine hours she was gone. Paper may come from trees, but forms, she was almost positive, came from rabbits. With a resigned sigh, she reached for one stack and pulled it close.
The door to her office crashed open with enough force to smack the wall opposite of it. Tsunade glared at the intrusion. Anko stood in the doorway, looking stunned. "O-Orochimaru—"
Tsunade was instantly on her feet, concern flashing across her face as she made lightening quick calculations of the number of ninjas in the Hidden Village that could rally and—
—and furnish a funeral that… "What?" Tsunade stared at him. Anko stuttered for a moment, shell-shocked at the news she bore. Anko looked torn between laughing and crying, and wasn't quite sure which she should settle for.
"Uzumaki Naruto and Haruna Sakura have arrived. They said that Orochimaru is dead. That traitor Kabuto is with them, and willingly entered the custody of our ANBU."
Tsunade sunk down into her chair. "Well," she said. "Well. Send Sakura and Naruto right in," she commanded. Anko nodded stiffly, and then retreated. Moments later, she shepherded Naruto and Sakura into Tsunade's office. Both looked like they had survived an explosion, their hair singed and standing on end, skin covered with dirt, bruises, and scratches, and their clothes certainly worse for wear.
"How is it that Orochimaru is dead?" she demanded in disbelief.
Sakura and Naruto exchanged a long look, the silence between them more expressive than possible words. With a nearly identical shrug, they turned back to her and Sakura said, "He laughed himself to death."
She had heard of people laughing themselves until they were sick and she herself had laughed until she cried; she knew it was possible to kill somebody with comedy (all is fun and games, as the saying goes, until someone loses an eye). But she was finding it difficult to imagine her former teammate asphyxiating himself from too much laughter.
Tsunade studied them, cataloging their body language, as Sakura and Naruto launched into a story that started in an attic they were cleaning, and ending when the trunk, attracted by the spectacular explosions, chased them back to Konoha. She shuddered to think of such a creature roaming free in the woods outside their village, but couldn't really think of what to do. The story she was told sounded too amazing to be true, but Sakura and Naruto often cut in with reminders of what happened, or their individual experiences in a single event. In many ways, the story was funny, and she thought the possibility of these two looking back on these past few days and laughing was generally high.
But Tsunade had difficulty enough cracking a smile at their story, let alone dying from laughter.
To think that such a thing took place in her village without her knowing … Tsunade felt strangely vulnerable. But she couldn't bring herself to reprimand them for not telling anyone as they should have. By the expressions of different emotions Sakura and Naruto showed on their faces as they relegated what they went through, Tsunade had a feeling this was an experience both learned a lot, and were unwilling to repeat. Once was one time too many, some could say.
She looked at Sakura as they finally trailed into silence, unable to say anything else. "So you know," Tsunade said, "about the nine-tailed fox."
Sakura snorted. "Probably more than I wanted to know."
Tsunade caught a hint of something that Sakura and Naruto had somehow refrained from telling her, but she allowed it to slide. "What are you going to do now?" The two shrugged; Tsunade couldn't blame them. She certainly didn't know what to do with them. "You are, of course, not permitted to tell of the kyuubi to anyone. It is forbidden to discuss it."
Sakura glared defiantly. "But everyone hates Naruto for it. Naruto and the fox demon are two different persons. Er, creatures."
"They will," said Tsunade with a peaceful voice, her gaze settling upon Naruto and his look of unhappiness, "eventually forget. Those who cannot forget will come to know Naruto for Naruto, and not Naruto for the kyuubi. The memory of the generation who knows will fade, and Naruto can forge his path through the following generations." It sounded ideal, Tsunade knew, but that still didn't mean the boy hadn't a hard journey before him still. "The path is narrow and rocky, but I don't think, having just gone through what you've been through, that it will break you."
Naruto grinned. "If I can put up with bleeding for five days without dying, I can put up with anything!"
Sakura jabbed him in the side. "I do that once a month and you only had to do it one day!"
So do I, thought Tsunade, although she kept it to herself.
She dismissed Sakura and Naruto, and had Anko bring Kabuto in for questioning.
"So what is your excuse?" Tsunade's expression was stern as she leaned back in her chair and studied Kabuto, who stared back with a level gaze. The last time she had seen him, he had done a fair amount of damage to Naruto and her. She propped her elbows on her chair's arms and laced her fingers in a bridge to rest her chin upon. "Why did you betray the Hidden Leaf Village for Orochimaru?"
"I was the victim of bad companionship?" Her expression went from stern to dark. So it wasn't the best answer he could fabricate. "Um, you know how it is when everyone else is doing it and they expect you to do it too, and you'll do just about anything to be accepted."
"That's it?" she asked in disbelief. "You helped kill our Third Hokage, destroyed Konoha, and was the right-hand man for a destructive, probably insane wretch who orchestrated these events, nearly killed Naruto, tried to kill me, because of peer pressure?"
"Oh, come now - what do you expect?" Kabuto asked in exasperation as he spread his hands wide in question. "You Leaf ninjas killed my family, adopted me, took me in, expected me to assimilate into your culture, never really trusted me, blamed my village for the destruction caused, never bothered to see if I was well-adjusted, turned blind eyes when I was bullied by the children orphaned by the same battle as I, and you're shocked – simply shocked! – that I would take up with someone who wanted to get rid of the whole lot of you?"
"Ah." Tsunade couldn't help but squirm self-consciously in her chair. It's hard to dispute someone's hatred when it was created from that much cause and effect, and she owed him for switching Naruto and Sakura back. "Point taken. Do you still want to go with being the victim of bad comradeship?"
He shrugged. "It works for me."
"Very well." Tsunade stood up, better to leap across the desk and grab him if she had to, and asked, "Were you an unwilling accomplice to Orochimaru?"
Kabuto removed his glasses and cleaned them with his shirttail. His question was well-guarded and not easily asked. "How will my answer effect your judgment?"
"Were you, or were you not?"
"Orochimaru's propaganda was very convincing."
Tsunade fought the urge to smack Kabuto soundly across the head. Since the impact would make his head burst like a melon, she forced the urge away. She wasn't truly sure what to make of him, but she also wasn't truly sure if he was better off dead or not. "Was it by your own free will that you entered Orochimaru's services, and did you freely attack and invade Konoha?" Give me an opening give me an opening give me an opening...
"Ah." He put his glasses back on. "You know, everyone thinks that being the right-hand man to Orochimaru was the greatest thing to ever happen. Sure – if you like being a minion to a sadistic, slightly unbalanced unpleasant man whom you have to wonder what his parents were doing when he looked the way he looked. If you were an underling, it wasn't so bad; there was the medical coverage – which was me – and the dental coverage – which was also me – but I never got any vacations or bonuses. That implies he actually paid me. The only thing I got out of the deal was a comfortable bed, but it wasn't like I got to sleep in it or anything, because there was this entire village demanding medical and dental appointments, not to mention the duties assigned to me by Orochimaru."
"Where is this leading?" Tsunade demanded impatiently as he paused to take a breath. He continued on as if she had never spoken; it wasn't often that someone actually took the time to sit down and listen to what he had to say, unless it was something along the line of, Take this X times a day.
"Truth is, I never wanted to be a medical nin. I wanted to be a magician! But noooooo. I had to be put through the academy and I had to put up with medical school, and the fighting and the blood and all those sharp weapons! I was coerced into it against my own will! I had no choice!" Kabuto lowered his voice. "Eh. Sorry about that."
Tsunade's lips quirked. "A magician?" Kabuto glared defensively.
"When I was but a babe, I remember my mother – at least, I think it was my mother, it's hard to say at this point – telling me never to run with scissors, because I could fall and poke out an eye. And what do you people do but destroy those fine family values I was taught! You handed me a kunai and told me to go play!"
Tsunade's eyebrow twitched. "A magician?"
"And I did rescue Sakura and Naruto from Itachi and his companion, brought them back to Konoha safe and sound, and reversed whatever made them cross bodies." Kabuto made no mention of how it was he who had taken them directly to Orochimaru right after rescuing them from Itachi.
"Yes. For that, you have our gratitude and is the only reason why I haven't killed you." Tsunade tactfully avoided bringing up the very point that Kabuto avoided. She lifted an open hand to hide her mouth in an attempt to appear as if she were contemplating a grand idea, when they both actually knew she was trying to hide an amused smile. "How's this for a proposal?" she began carefully, still hiding her mouth; Kabuto leaned forward to catch her words. "I'm getting mixed messages here, but we'll just say you were under the influence of Orochimaru, against your will and ability to defend against such influence. After all, he had been known to hypnotize people. However, there must be a suitable punishment that will appease the people of Konoha. For the next ten years, you are exiled from the Fire Country, though you may be monitored by Leaf shinobi. I would like to say you are forbidden to use any of your ninja or medical skills, but I realize how unpractical that is when you can use such skills to protect yourself and others, and I loathe wasting good med-nin skills. However, should you willingly decide to use your skills against Konoha ever again, your life is forfeit. Should you enter Konoha before the ten years is up, your life is forfeit. Do you accept these terms?" Her lips quirked again. "Think of it as an opportunity to practice your skills as a magician," she added snidely.
Kabuto glared at Tsunade for a moment, and then sighed in defeat as his shoulders sagged forward. "Done. I accept your terms with one request: May I write letters to people here?"
Tsunade felt her mind stutter to a quick halt in surprise. "Who would you write letters to?"
"Oh, you know how it is. Iruka-san was an older classmate of mine, and I actually got along with and liked him. No; that's a lie because he picked on me too, but every now and then he'd treat me to ramen, which I don't even like but then again no one ever thought to ask me what I would have liked, but I guess it's the thought that counts. I think it'd be nice to know what is going on after I spent so long spying on Konoha. After years of knowing the dirt on everyone, it would be a shame to miss out on all the gossip."
Her eyebrow twitched, this time not in good humor. "Gossip?"
"Oh sure; regular soap opera you've got going on here in the village. I'm still waiting to find out if Ibiki will ever tell Kurenai that he's been in love with her since she became a Chunin, or if Genma's next door neighbor's wife really is pregnant with his child — Genma's child, that is, not the next door neighbor's, and I would hate to miss out Iruka's reaction when he learns his stalker is actually Asuma."
Tsunade fought down the urge to slap her forehead. "Don't tell me most of the time you were spying for Orochimaru was actually spent gathering gossip!"
"Okay. I won't tell you. But if you ever need blackmail material, I'm your man!"
She pointed at the door exiting her office. "Out! Out out out out!"
Kabuto, his back stiff with dignity, walked to the door. With his hand on the doorknob, he turned back to her and said, "Does this mean I can't write and learn about what is going on?" He ducked under the bronzed paperweight she threw at him. It made a large hole through the wall, as well as the three walls beyond.
"One letter to one person per month! Now get out of my office!"
Dressed in corduroy and his tell-tale silver hair tucked under a fedora, forehead bare of any protector, Kabuto sat upon a rock and looked over Konoha from the distance. He was thoughtfully silent, contemplating only thoughts that he knew, and unmindful of how the shadows lengthened steadily, soon to meld into the shadow of night and form one large, lurking beast of darkness.
The bushes rustled, and only his eyes shifted toward the rustling. Out of the bushes shyly crept the trunk, two stuffed monkeys, animated against all reality and reason, perched upon its back and peering curiously at him with flat eyes made of glass. All three of them watched Kabuto warily.
He sighed as he turned his head fully toward them. "Come along, then," he said. "I could use a good opening act and you're the best I can get until I actually learn something beyond the ol' pull a coin from behind the ear trick."
In ten years, his exile would be up. But anything could happen in ten years; Akatsuki was still after the kyuubi, Sakura was growing into skills and talents she had never before explored, Sasuke may or may not be an avenger. In Naruto's quest to become Hokage, anything could happen. The objects in the attic had yet to be touched by another person; they were a disaster just waiting for some misfortunate soul to happen to.
As Kabuto stood up and dusted himself off, he planned his progress. Learn tricks. Break into show business. Become the best of the best. In ten years he could return; maybe, with all luck and good fortune, Hinata would be free for the taking. He would hate to have to kill Naruto should that boy ever get in his way. If all went well, he could marry into a fine, solid family that would allow him to continue his own quest of vengeance. No one would ever suspect the sweet-tempered magician.
No one could ever search the trunk for bodies, much less be able to get near enough without being eaten themselves.
And if worse came to worst... Well, there was always eloping into the sunset, which he was fairly sure had a suitably romantic appeal that most girls were attracted to. Something about the forbidden, and love continuing through adversities, and other such junk. He didn't have a horse to ride on, but he was sure he could sweet-talk the trunk into giving him a lift.
But that is a story for another time, and there are still many more to tell...
One lone Sound-nin overlooked Sasuke's window. "Okay, so what do I do now?" he asked no one in particular as he scratched his head in confusion.
Against the wall, almost in the middle of the attic, was a bookshelf with various items arranged on it, all covered with dust. At the very top of the bookshelf was a smiling Buddha statue that seemed innocent as any other Buddha statue. Except that it possessed an aura of evil too great that even dust refused to settle upon it. So it waited.
The score so far – Statue: 2, Genin: 0.
"What are we supposed to be doing again?" Ino demanded as she looked around at the dust. Kiba remained silent, hugging Akamaru close to his chest lest he lose his best friend again.
The score to follow: Statue: 5, Genin: 0.
If anyone had ever truly explored the contents of the attic, they might have realized that the floorboards could be lifted up to reveal stashed documents and books, among of which was the picture album of the little old lady who always requested for the attic to be cleaned. Exploration of the photo album would have revealed pictures of one sallow-skinned, slant-eyed boy who would later become very famous, or notorious, depending on what sort of person he killed came to mind. It could be said that, having lived in a household as what this attic contained and no doubt having lived through most of what the items of the attic contained could do, was it any wonder how Orochimaru turned out as he did?
Would you be sane if you had stuffed, animated monkeys clinging to your leg and calling you brother? Surely, lack of sleep from always warily watching for a trunk would drive anyone crazy.
And in the living room on the first floor, a little old lady rocked in her rocking chair, cackling sinisterly under her breath. As far as she was concerned, revenge tastes best when no one knows who is cooking.
Itachi scowled coldly at the wall as another Akatsuki member added to the list of complaints he had against Itachi: Itachi's failure, Itachi's partner ("And will you please make him refrain from humping you in this briefing! Is it too much to ask? Un."), and everything else under the sun that had to do with Itachi, "And another thing, is it too much to ask if you'd remember to turn off the damn coffee pot before you leave? Is it, un? You ruined a perfectly good pot! Un."
Someone was going to die a pleasant death. Pleasant, at least, for Itachi. He could make no promises on the emotional state of the person who'd be doing the dying. And, he eyed Kisame, he knew precisely where he was going to start.
Behind its bars, the kyuubi paced restlessly, grumbling under its breath. There was no point in being quiet; without Naruto seeking it or its power, the demon could not be heard or felt. When Sakura had been in Naruto's body, Inner Sakura had served as some bizarre bridge between the conscious and the subconscious.
You miss them, said a voice suddenly, reverberating through the darkness. Like the kyuubi, it could neither be heard nor felt by Naruto.
I do not!
Oh, come now. There's no point in denying it. Even I will admit that the female company was enjoyable, not to mention cute.
I did not enjoy them because they were cute, I... Oh, damn it.
Now that this has been resolved, I'm bored.
This is the second time in thirteen years you've made yourself known, not including that time you stunned me when I called the Third a worthless shlump, and you're just now admitting to being bored? There was a bit of resentful mumbling from the kyuubi that sounded suspiciously like, Typical that you entertain yourself and leave me here to my misery.
It wasn't a stun; it was a pinch. Besides, Naruto isn't that bad.
You're not the only one who is stuck in this body.
Unlike a certain someone who is strapped across the barrier, I did not willfully choose to throw away my life in a desperate suicide attack, because I lacked other resources and ideas to accomplish a much-neater defeat. I wasn't even asked!
What would you have done if you were me?
There was a lengthy time of silence. And then, Well, it wouldn't have been the hyperactive loudmouth.
Sure, someone cute, like Sakura, I suppose.
That vixen's forehead is too large and she has a split personality.
Why do you always refer to these human girls as vixens?
Another lengthy time of silence.
Getting back to that bit about being bored, would you like to play a game of Go Fish?
I most certainly would n—
So the demon thinks he cannot beat a puny human at a mere card game?
If you're so clever, then how does one play this game of cards without cards?
There was shimmering inside the cage. An ethereal figure formed before the gigantic fox demon. The blond man in a white coat stood before the demon with a sardonic smile, and held up the pack of cards.Show-off.
author's notes: Twelve chapters, sixty thousand words, and approximately one year later, I have finished. Truth be told, I had more fun writing this than should be considered healthy for most people. However, it has been scientifically proven that laughter is good for the heart, as well as the soul. So, for those of you who are now at a lower risk for heart attacks having read Switched, go out and spread the good news!
At the very end of a story, I kind of like to see the author put in a note about the history and making of a story. It's kind of interesting to know about the background, to see past the story to the twisted mind from which the story sprang. It all started with a crack idea, what would happen if Inner Sakura and the nine-tailed fox demon met? I consider these two my OTP-on-crack pairing for the Naruto series. However, I am realistic: there really isn't much of a way the two could meet, unless Inner Sakura somehow got into Naruto's head (or belly button). Sakura and Naruto would just have to switch. Between then and the time I started, I saw two other stories on emerge that utlized the idea of switching bodies. Alas! They all lacked basic elements like, I dunno, a semi-comprehensible grasp on the English language, characterization, and plot. Plus, no Inner Sakura and kyuubi. :( Le sad Minnionette.
I'm the sort of person who believes that if I want something done right, I may have to do it myself. This idea could have been written seriously, because admittedly Naruto and Sakura were both in a miserable situation, or it could be written humorously. So I employed my usual tactic of humor: gathering together as many cliches in the fandom that I could find, and making fun of them.
Thus: Go Fish, a trunk, love potions, crack pairings, yaoi, angst, misery, laughter, love, learning, manipulation, stuffed monkeys, growing up, overcoming adversity, how to kill without violence or hatred, rare speckled underbelly squirrels, and friendship. This became a story about life. So, it's not exactly my life, and most of you can probably say it's not exactly your life either. But these are the qualities that great memories make.
And admittedly, where else is anyone ever going to find a plausible Inner Sakura/nine-tailed fox demon pairing ever again?
There were more ups than there were downs when it came to writing this story. I found a lot of support from my lj-friends, my real-life friends, and my little sister, who is quite disgusted with me for writing about the Facts O' Life and basic biological functions. Hey, whatever the plot demanded and wherever I could slip in a good joke, right? I would like to thank everyone who ever left a review, because I did derive satisfaction from knowing that this much humor crammed into a story is welcomed and enjoyed to no end.
I shall return in the future with more stories involving our friends from the Naruto world. Some things are just too good to let go. However, returning to the actual universe in which the events of this story took place is highly unlikely. This is the last chapter for Switched!. There will be no installments, and no sequels. The story is as wrapped up as I'm going to get it, and life is about continuum. I will, of course, in the next few months come back now and then with a few changes in the chapter, mostly pertaining to corrections in grammar and story structure. I find it easier to make the corrections after I have distanced myself from the story and can return to it with a fresh outlook.
If anyone has any questions about the story that was not answered in this last chapter, feel free to email me at minnionette or leave your email address with a review. Also, if anyone could write a really good Kabuto/Hinata story as well, I'd muchly appreciate it. (Hey, I know there is no reasoning for this relationship, but it's not like other pairings on have much to go on, either.)