Author's Note: As always , thank you very much to all the readers who have reviewed, favourited, put on alert or just taken the time to read this fic :D This is the penultimate chapter and it's a long one. It's also been very difficult to write in places (sweatdrops). Anyhow, hope you enjoy it :)
Switched Chapter 11
The bright morning sun shone through the windows of the Yamanaka Clan meeting room, illuminating a large wood carving of a boar which took pride of place at the head. Beneath it, Inoichi Yamanaka was muttering to himself and practising sequences of hand seals while his daughter watched him with a nervous expression. Kakashi and Asuma were reviewing a large scroll handwritten by Inoichi, which contained details of previous incidences of body switches, the respective techniques used to reverse them and Inoichi's own analysis of the jutsu. Beside that scroll was a slightly smaller one specifying the counter-jutsu Inoichi had decided upon and the hand seals, chakra ratios and other fine points that its success relied upon. Inoichi's eyes were flickering between the images of the hands on the scroll and his own as he made his final preparations to carry the technique out.
Despite the presence of Team Ten, Team Seven, Inoichi and a few other Yamanaka clan members who had come to observe the rare phenomenon, the meeting room was nearly silent except for Inoichi's mumbling, the occasional sentence passed between Asuma and Kakashi and the rustle of Chōji's crisp packet. Sakura was pacing the room anxiously, while even Shikamaru looked slightly more concerned than usual. Although he had paid Sasuke a couple of odd looks, the Uchiha was extremely relieved to see that his assumption that Shikamaru wouldn't bother to tell his teammates about what had happened at Ichiraku was correct. Naruto was tapping his foot on the ground, clearly impatient but not making any noise as he would usually, his behaviour reflecting how serious the situation was.
"I'm ready to begin when you are," Inoichi announced, rolling away the larger scroll and placing the scroll for the counter jutsu on the table in front of him. The other shinobi gathered a few paces away as Ino gestured to Naruto and Sasuke to stand together in front of her father. The two Genin did as she requested, mimicking the positions they had taken when Ino had first used the Mind Destruction Jutsu on them. Performing a long sequence of hand seals, Inoichi took a deep breath and shot two clear blue bursts of chakra into Naruto and Sasuke.
'It's that strange sensation again…' Sasuke thought as the world became a blurry haze in front of his eyes. At first, he couldn't feel his fingers, but then his arms and legs became numb, causing him to stumble over… and finally, he couldn't feel anything at all, as if he had no body whatsoever…
The odd word was caught by Sasuke's ears as he drifted slowly back into consciousness. He didn't recognise the voices speaking around him- was it the Yamanaka clan members who seemed to be discussing when they would know if the jutsu had worked? Listening more closely, he recognised some familiar voices from Team Ten and his own squad engaged in tense chatter about the result of the technique. As he began opening his sore eyes, the room fell quiet at once, in contrast to the loud outbursts of his fellow Genin when the body swap had occurred. The worried faces of the shinobi surrounding him and his teammate coupled with their silence suggested that they wanted the two Genin to be the first to determine if the jutsu had worked.
Sasuke started trying to move his throbbing right hand, gingerly bringing it towards his face. As his fingers carefully touched the edges of his face, Sasuke felt thick strands of hair brushing the sides of it. An immense feeling of relief washed over him, and as Sasuke forced his aching body to roll over, he saw Naruto's goofy grin back on the face it belonged to.
"YEEEEAAAAHHHH!" Naruto cheered, sitting up and punching the air in his excitement. Sasuke rolled his eyes at his friend's happy outburst but he couldn't help grinning himself.
"Well then, I may be rushing to conclusions but I assume it's been a success," Kakashi announced, his mask failing to hide the smile clearly present on his covered face as Sakura rushed forwards and hugged both her teammates. "I'm so glad you're both alright!" she exclaimed, a couple of tears escaping from her eyes due to her emotion.
Inoichi looked pleased at the results of his work and Naruto and Sasuke turned to him after Sakura released them from her embrace. "Thank you, Inoichi-san," they said gratefully, bowing deeply to him.
"You're welcome," Inoichi replied, a small smile on his face as his daughter rushed up to the two Genin.
"Sakura told me that you've both dealt with the body switch fine but I'd like to apologise again that it happened," Ino said, her voice full of relief. "I promise I won't practise that jutsu on you again!"
"No worries, but I don't think I'm gonna let you practise any more mind jutsu on me and this jerk again for a while!" Naruto teased her gently, with Sasuke grunting in agreement- he was going to make sure his mind definitely stayed in his own body for the foreseeable future.
"Right then, I've got to see Hokage-sama and report to her that you two are back to normal, so we can resume taking higher rank missions," Kakashi informed his team, before disappearing in a puff of smoke.
As the rest of the shinobi turned to leave, Inoichi called out, "Naruto, Sasuke, I would give it at least a day before resuming training or sparring. Your bodies will need time to adjust to being back to normal, and the jutsu I used trades a higher first-time success rate for poorer chakra control when the minds initially shift back. Do some basic chakra control exercises this evening to get used to your own chakra again, then over the next couple of days practise some of your ninjutsu to get your chakra control back to normal. I expect you should both be back to 100% in three days' time."
"Understood," nodded Sasuke and Naruto replied "Will do, Inoichi-san!"
"Okay then. Take care," Inoichi waved as the Yamanaka meeting room emptied out. In the midst of the loud hustle and bustle, Naruto whispered in Sasuke's ear, "Hey, you promised you'd explain what happened with your body when we were fighting the gang on Friday when we've switched back. Can you do that now?"
"Sure," agreed Sasuke, his stomach twisting at having to explain the truth he had been hiding from Naruto for nearly three months since the Chūnin exams. 'Might as well get it out of the way…'
The wind whistled through the trees, stealing a few of their copper-coloured leaves as it passed through. Sasuke had chosen a long abandoned training ground of the Uchiha clan to discuss the Cursed Seal with Naruto, and they were resting opposite a series of faded shuriken targets. It had taken Sasuke nearly half an hour to explain to Naruto the truth of what had happened in the Forest of Death, and how the workings of the seal had led to Naruto's agony when he used too much chakra. It turned out that Naruto had suspected something was wrong with Sasuke when he had seen the curse mark activate during Sasuke's preliminary fight in the Chūnin Exams but had forgotten about it, and had written off the seal on Sasuke's body after his fight with Gaara as one of the jinchūriki's techniques.
After Sasuke had finished his long explanation, interrupted by questions from Naruto every so often, the two companions sat together in silence for a while. The Uchiha had his arms crossed, eyes nervously watching his friend in front of him, waiting for his reaction. Naruto himself was gazing at the floor, a solemn expression on his face as he narrowed his eyes in deep contemplation. Finally, he shook his head as if he was trying to break out of his own thoughts, and spoke.
"So, you told Sakura because she was there when Orochimaru gave you the Cursed Seal and when it first activated, and Kakashi-sensei knew because he put the other seal on it… I was the only member of our team who didn't know! Sasuke, why didn't you tell me sooner?" Naruto asked, clearly hurt. "That wasn't fair on me!"
"I know Naruto, and I'm sorry," Sasuke agreed, wincing at the truth of his teammate's words. "But, I didn't want to make you worry about me. Upsetting Sakura was bad enough… I wouldn't have been able to stand you worrying about it as well."
"I guess in the middle of the Forest of Death, if I'd known, I'd have panicked," Naruto reasoned a bit more calmly. "But I still don't get why making me worried would be so bad for you."
Sasuke looked directly into Naruto's eyes. "Naruto, you're my teammate and… a friend of sorts, I suppose. And in the Chūnin exams, I learned that I don't like hurting my friends, or having them worry about me."
The ends of Naruto's lips curved at the word 'friend', forming a full smile as Sasuke continued. "Yeah, neither do I," he replied more gently than before. Both Genin exchanged small smiles with each other, their making up acknowledged but unspoken, before Naruto's face fell serious again. "Well, I suppose I haven't told you everything…" he quietly muttered to himself.
Sasuke looked at him in confusion. "What do you mean by 'everything'?"
Naruto ignored him and continued talking. "Hey Sasuke, when you were in my body, did you ever experience anything, y'know, weird? Like did you ever feel a strange chakra inside you or did you see an orangey-red chakra at any time?" he asked hesitantly.
"No, why do you ask?" Sasuke replied, slightly puzzled before his mind generated a frightening idea. "Hang on," he started anxiously, "did Orochimaru do something to you as well?"
"No, no way, it's nothing like that," Naruto reassured him, waving his hand before falling sombre again. "I think I may need to talk to you about something later, Sasuke, but not now- I think we've had enough serious stuff for today, dattebayo!" he declared, scratching the back of his head sheepishly.
Recognising that Naruto really did not want to tell him about 'everything' at that moment, the Uchiha decided to play along with him. "Yeah, definitely," he agreed, checking his watch to note that he was supposed to be meeting up with Hinata shortly and extending his chat with Naruto further would likely make him late for seeing her.
Naruto appeared relieved that Sasuke was not going to pursue the topic any longer. "Okay then. I'm gonna go grab something to eat for lunch, wanna get some onigiri with me?" he asked more cheerfully.
"Not today, I've… got to meet with Kakashi to check the seal," Sasuke lied, thinking of the promise he had made to Hinata the day before.
"Alright. See ya!"
"Bye," Sasuke called as the blond haired ninja merged into the golden trees before turning to leave down the worn path. As he walked, the Uchiha reflected on the end of his conversation with Naruto, and his teammate's mysterious questions. 'Hm, I wonder if it's related to his excessive stores of chakra and stamina? Probably, but I still can't figure it out- I'll have to wait for him to tell me. I know I'm not the only person in Konoha keeping secrets, but I can't believe a blabbermouth as loud as Naruto would have any!'
The cherry blossom tree in the middle of the 53rd training ground, so beautiful in the spring, was bare and faded under the autumn sky. As Sasuke walked towards it, he saw the now-familiar figure of Hinata Hyūga, clothed in a light blue Chinese-style top instead of her usual jacket, waiting for him underneath the empty branches. She tentatively began to walk towards him, before striding more firmly until they came face-to-face, the gap large enough to fit another person inbetween them.
"Um, so the c-counter-technique was successful?"
The breeze started to pick up again, rattling the branches of the large tree behind them. Sasuke watched the wind play with the Hyūga heiress' silky indigo hair, before cringing and averting his eyes when he realised he had been staring. Taking a deep breath, he finally spoke.
"I should have told you sooner about the switch. I'm sorry," apologised Sasuke, making a quick bow.
Hinata coolly looked at him, her face firm but showing a willingness to listen to his side of the story. "I accept your apology, but w-why didn't you?" she questioned him.
"Kakashi and Team Ten didn't want anyone else to know about the mistake," Sasuke explained. "If word had gotten out about how Ino had messed up, although it was a total fluke and the jutsu was only experimental, the reactions of other shinobi would have created a lot of stress for her. If ninja employers had heard about it, it could have made them less willing to hire her in the future, or even affect the reputation of the whole Yamanaka clan, since her father is one of its strongest shinobi. Kakashi and the Hokage were also worried that if word got out, there would be a risk that enemies would target me or Naruto since we can't fight very well as each other."
Hinata nodded as she absorbed what Sasuke was telling her. "Th-That certainly makes sense about the Yamanaka Clan's concerns, and your sensei and Hokage-sama were right to think of that problem, especially since you're the Uchiha Clan's heir. B…But you must have known that I would have had no reason to tell anyone else, and wouldn't have done that. So…So I accept your reasoning for keeping it secret, but your reasoning for not telling me isn't good enough," she concluded sternly.
Sasuke winced at her words, forced to accept that what she was saying was right. With her serious features and calm logic, Sasuke felt for the first time since he had met her that he was not just talking to another classmate or fellow Genin but the future head of the most powerful clan in Konoha.
"I could make it up to you if you want?" he suggested. "I can teach you all the shuriken jutsu I know, even fire jutsu if you-"
Sasuke broke off as to his surprise Hinata began giggling at his offer. "Sasuke-san, j-jutsu may be everything to you but it's not to me," she quietly chuckled.
'She hasn't smiled in ages…not since Ichiraku,' Sasuke thought, feeling a little lighter as Hinata collected herself and became silent again. Twiddling her fingers, she asked "Um…Sasuke-san, why did you want me to train with you? Y-you never wanted to before…"
"When you sparred with Sakura last week, I was impressed by your skills, especially your chakra control. After you told me I could improve my own, I wanted your advice and methods on how to do so," Sasuke explained truthfully. "I don't let anything hold me back so being in Naruto's body didn't. I… hope you don't feel like I was using you," he quietly murmured.
"N-No, I never felt like that," Hinata replied, embarrassed but happy at Sasuke complimenting her. "I…I was actually r-really happy that someone wanted to train with me. Only Kiba-kun and Shino-kun ever ask so being asked by someone else, whether it was you or N-Naruto-kun, was very nice."
"That's fine then," Sasuke said. It felt as if the heavy burden that had been weighing on his mind since they had started training together had finally been lifted.
The feeling of relief didn't last long though, as Hinata began probing the topic that Sasuke had desperately wanted to avoid. Her cheeks starting to colour, she stammered "Ah, I-I-I hope you don't mind me asking, but w-why did you invite me to a meal out?"
At this, Sasuke's own face slowly began to burn. "It was just repaying you for the training and bento. It wasn't a date or anything stupid like that," he retorted.
Hinata looked taken aback at the outburst, so Sasuke hurriedly decided to add, "It was a good evening though."
"I… I thought so too," the Hyūga heiress agreed, giving him a shy smile. Sasuke awkwardly tried to grin back at her but when the colour in Hinata's cheeks started to darken rapidly from a dusty pink to a fiery scarlet, he could tell what was coming next.
"Um…uh...umm…" Hinata stuttered helplessly. Reading her mind, Sasuke's cheeks rapidly heated up and his heart started beating faster. 'Oh no, she had to ask. I'll just tell her-'
"It was an accident. I tripped," Sasuke hurriedly explained. "I know you like Naruto, so that's why you kissed me back."
At the revelation that Sasuke knew of her secret (well, apparently not as secret as she thought it was if even the unsociable Uchiha knew) crush, Hinata groaned in dismay, before continuing. "Then why did you…?"
"It was a reflex! A BIOLOGICAL REFLEX!" Sasuke blurted out.
Hinata appeared to take in what Sasuke said for a moment and the Uchiha held his breath- had his excuse worked? 'It makes perfect sense that it was just a reaction… and she doesn't need to know… how I felt about-'
"Biological reflexes are immediate responses that take milliseconds and you hesitated," Hinata interrupted.
She was right.
'So much for your perfect excuse,' his brain mocked him.
"Uh…er…I…errr…ah…" Sasuke began to falter, lost for words. He was pretty sure that he resembled a tomato by now, judging by how his face felt like it had been hit by a Fireball jutsu. And his body seemed to be complying with all those awful clichés from Sakura's shojo manga him and Naruto had read that one time- pounding heartbeat, sweaty palms, stomach flips. 'Is it possible to die from embarrassment?'
Then the Uchiha fighting instinct kicked in. "Hang on, how come you remember it all so clearly?" he argued back defensively, glaring at the girl standing nervously in front of him.
Hinata somehow managed to go even redder, making Sasuke wonder if there was a limit to how much someone could blush before the blood vessels in their face burst from exhaustion. "It was my very first k-kiss!" she wailed. "It was special!"
"So what? It was my first 'real' kiss too!" Sasuke fired back.
Tears began gathering in the corners of Hinata's lavender eyes, causing panic to start rising in her companion. "So you just thought it was nothing? Didn't it mean anything to you?" she murmured sadly.
"…No…it did…" mumbled Sasuke. 'More than I wanted to admit. That's why I was hiding away from it.'
Hinata appeared touched as she wiped away half-formed tears. "Thank you," she whispered, too softly for Sasuke to hear.
For a while, the only noise in the training ground was the wind whistling through the trees and the distant noise from the surrounding fields. Then Sasuke spoke again.
"Hinata, you still like Naruto right?"
The sudden question startled Hinata, and she squeaked at how Sasuke had just bluntly announced her feelings to the world again. 'I know nobody can hear us but it's so embarrassing when he says it out loud!'
"Um, y-yeah," she answered, knowing it was pointless denying it if the Uchiha knew already.
Sasuke sighed. The butterflies in his stomach had flown away and been replaced by lead. 'That was stupid. Of course she still likes the dobe better. That's obvious. But if I'm in my own body now, what does she think of me?'
"What about me?" Sasuke questioned her, crossing his arms over his chest. 'She probably still thinks I'm 'intimidating and aloof' so why did I even bother asking?' he realised gloomily.
"I-I'm not sure- the switch makes everything so confusing because N-Naruto-kun seemed more mature than I thought he was and was interesting to talk with but it was Sasuke-san so… I don't know," Hinata trailed off, shaking her head meekly. "I thought I'd gotten to know N-Naruto-kun a lot better but it was you but you were acting like Naruto-kun so… urgh!" she groaned, clutching her forehead.
"Don't worry, I think it's confused everyone," Sasuke tried to reassure her, putting a hand on her shoulder in an attempt to calm her. Hinata flinched initially at the unexpected contact but then settled. As she looked into her companion's deep black eyes, she timidly said: "Um, Sasuke-san?"
All of a sudden, Sasuke noticed that: one, they had gotten dangerously close together without him detecting it; two, he was voluntarily touching Hinata (why did he keep doing that?) and three, the last time this had happened, it had led to… the incident. Removing his hand and taking a couple of paces back, he muttered "Yeah?"
"I… I would like to keep training with you. O-Only if you want to," requested Hinata, avoiding the gaze of the Uchiha by focusing on his feet. "You're patient…and you always listen to what I say…and you're a nice person. And if you're not in Naruto-kun's body anymore, then w-we can just start from square one so no one will be pretending or lying or confused," she finished with a brief glimmer of a smile.
"Square one? But I thought I'd moved on fully to practising chakra control when using jutsu? And since you've mastered the Shadow Shuriken technique, I was going to teach you how to manipulate shuriken with wires next- wait, why are you laughing at me?" Sasuke cut off as Hinata broke into giggles for the second time. 'I was being serious, not funny!' he growled internally.
"I wasn't talking about jutsu, I meant w-we can begin training properly as me and you, not you pretending to be someone else! You are silly sometimes," Hinata teased him gently, covering her mouth to try and stop laughing harder when Sasuke pouted at her.
"No I'm not! And I knew what you meant anyway, I was just checking," Sasuke retorted, his ego bruised slightly by Hinata's playful comment, but warmed by her earlier compliments.
"Um, since you said you wanted to teach me another shuriken technique, I-I suppose you do want to keep training together?" Hinata beamed at him hopefully.
"Yeah," Sasuke nodded. "I'm not supposed to overexert myself today according to Inoichi but I'll need to practise some ninjutsu tomorrow to bring my chakra control back to normal. Could… you help me with that?" he asked, silently hoping she would say yes.
"I'd like to very much S-Sasuke-san," the Hyūga heiress agreed, looking pleased that her help was being sought after. "I have a D-rank mission with my team tomorrow, but I should be free after four o'clock. W-We could meet at half four here?"
"Fine with me," Sasuke replied.
Hinata paid him a small bow at this. "Thank you. I-I'll see you tomorrow then. Goodbye!" she waved to him, and started to make her way down the narrow path leading towards the end of the field.
Before he realised what he was doing, Sasuke reached out and grabbed her right wrist, causing the heiress to yelp loudly and spin around to face him again. "Eh?! S-S-Sasuke-san? W-W-What is it?" she stammered, weakly pulling her wrist away only for Sasuke's fingers to intertwine with her own instead.
"I…I…I…" Sasuke stumbled for words. He wasn't entirely sure what he was doing or what he was going to say, or even what he wanted to express in the first place. There seemed to be so many questions he wanted to ask her, so many things he wanted to tell her but at that particular moment, his mind had gone utterly blank. "Hn. Forget it," he muttered gruffly, relinquishing his grasp on Hinata's hand reluctantly and taking a step back.
The Hyūga heiress stared at him with a look of total bewilderment, unconsciously holding her released hand against her burning cheek. "Um, if you say so," she replied shyly as the Uchiha turned his back to her and began to walk away. "See you tomorrow, Sasuke-san."
At this, Sasuke whipped his head around to glower at her. "Hinata, if we're going to train together, don't treat me so formally, got it?" he demanded irritably.
"S-sorry! I promise I won't Sasuke-kun," apologised Hinata, startled by how Sasuke suddenly spoke so harshly to her.
"Good," replied Sasuke softly, smirking at her before turning to hide his face as it became a genuinely happy smile. Raising his arm in a wave to match hers as they both left, he thought about how the conversation had gone. 'I guess she was unhappy and got upset, as I thought she would of course, but it wasn't as bad as I expected. She may have called me patient and nice…' he mused, the memory of her words giving him a warm glow, 'but Hinata's the one who's truly a lovely person. Maybe… that was what I wanted to tell her after all.'
Grand finale next time! I'm scared of writing the conclusion, haha XD We'll see how it goes. Also, Story news: I am seriously considering adding an omake chapter, possibly two, to the end of this fic as like a little 'bonus' (or more accurately, because I want to elaborate on a couple of humorous asides from the rest of the fic for fun, such as Sasuke's dream about Hinata in chapter 6). So if there are any further updates after Chapter 12, they will be omake chapters, not epilogues! Finally, if you have any feedback, questions, advice or suggestions, I'd love to hear it :)