Torikaeru (Exchange) by Morta's Priest
Extended Summary : Uzumaki Naruto, Konoha's most surprising ninja, disappears the day he's supposed to join his genin team for the first time. His would-be sensei and the Hokage fear the worst. Simultaneously, a man struggles to awareness, his wayward memories convincing him he's died - and yet, he's alive. The Hokage and others take stock of the confusion, while a long-time enemy comes knocking. Some seals aren't meant to be broken.
Significant Characters : Namikaze Minato, Hatake Kakashi, Nara Shikamaru, Shizune, Nara Shikaku, Sarutobi Hiruzen.
Awareness was the first to return, like needles under the skin, sharp and terrifying. Fuzzy shapes whirled before his eyes, indistinct, and he could not make out what they were supposed to be. Sounds haunted him, and his hands felt numb, useless. Attempts to vocalize just led to barely audible murmurs.
A spike of fear lanced down his spine, then. He might not be alone out here.
The sound of moving water reached his ears, after a long while. A stream, perhaps. Slowly he managed to drag his arm to the side, as brownish locks obscuring blue eyes fell away. He hacked and coughed harshly, his hands digging into the dirt. He briefly considered that he had never felt this awful before, and then shoved himself onto his back. The sky was a dull blue, though he closed his eyes almost immediately, and saw no more of it.
He woke up again much later, when it was evening - perhaps on another day. His head pounded as if he had drunk a dozen bottles of sake. His arms still refused to work properly, though he managed to prop himself up awkwardly, his muscles protesting against the stress. A hitai-ate had fallen off his forehead. He was not sure what it meant. There was something wooden at the far end of the clearing, something manmade, but that observation fled again when he became unconscious once again.
It was morning, now. He wasn't quite sure if it was only the next day, or if more had passed. His headache had finally lessened, though he remained only intermittently lucid and capable of considering such things. Determining his location was difficult, though the conclusion that it was not where he should be was immediate and obvious to him. He chided himself over that observation - he should figure out where he was, not where he was not.
The blond took a good look at the forehead protector - it bore the symbol of a leaf – Konahagakure. He remembered that place now – it was where he lived. Pondering what the odds were of a nin passing nearby to take him home, he distractedly ran his hand across the metal. A sense of unease crept up on him, of wrongness.
He managed to finally stumble to his feet an hour or two later, his legs shaky. A small bush was nearby, bearing bright red berries, and he dragged himself over step by step, gorging on them as if starving. The sound of water, it turned out, came from a stream through the little valley he occupied.
He almost fell into the stream. That was stupid. He dragged himself back to the clearing he woke up in, focusing on regaining his bearings, on determining what he should do next. His limbs behaved better now, though his eyes remained painfully poor, refusing to focus properly. As far as he could ascertain, he had been wearing a vest and coat, though they were thoroughly rotten. At least he wasn't naked. Six kunai, short ninja knives, hung loosely on his belt, ready for use. He doubted he could hit a barn right now, but it was something.
Quite suddenly, he realized he could not sense his chakra.
It took hours more for his head to finally clear up a little. His mind was no longer quite so fuzzy, though strange ideas kept running through his head in a way they really shouldn't. He was not quite sure who he was, even now, as memories were slow in coming, and the feelings that they induced were not very pleasant. He carefully bandaged his wounded feet, since he managed to tear them up pretty bad during the time he dragged himself along with his bare hands, having long since lost his sandals. The makeshift pads of leaves bound to the soles of his feet should be sufficient to keep the worst of the dirt out for now, though visiting a medical-nin as soon as possible was probably a clever idea. Perhaps he could visit Tsunade?
It took a few minutes to realize that he had no idea who Tsunade was. Bits and pieces of memory were returning along with coordination, and when he threw a few kunai, he got pretty close to his target, even considering his awful eyesight. That, too, seemed to be improving , as the world was showing more colours than bleak yellow, red and off-blue.
Pain. He hadn't noticed it before, but he hurt all over, and deeply. Bones felt like they were made of knives, and they kept cutting into him. The blond doubted any of his stumbling was responsible - it was like he had not used his muscles in months. He guessed idly that it might be his pain receptors re-connecting, which would imply he probably took quite the nasty hit to the brain. That would explan the memory loss as well. He tried to concentrate on breathing steadily as the sharp knives in his joints were slowly replaced by pins and needles.
The next time he woke up, the pain was gone – there was vague strain in his extremities, but a few experimental punches seem to cause no excruciating sensation any longer. His hair was constantly hanging in his face – annoying – so he bound his hitai-ate back onto his forehead to keep it out of the way. He tossed away his cloak, since it was ripped to ribbons and far too flashy in case he was in enemy territory. The man suppressed a shudder at the thought of being stuck, sick and confused, in the middle of the Land of Earth.
Iwagakure. The very word sent a shiver down his back, as it called forth visions of blank-faced warriors wielding Earth jutsu with expertise, their leader soaring high above, defying gravity itself. A wave of melancholy made its way through the amnesiac, though he didn't know why. He lingered on the question, but no answer came to him. Just a deep resignation.
It was that afternoon that the blond decided to leave his safe haven. Having stripped his berry bush of most of its fruit and what remained looking far from edible, he needed to find a new source of food anyway. He took a quick bath and rinsed out his clothes, and with a long sigh he set out on feet that still required more guidance than they should – He dared not risk taking to the trees and there were not enough here to make any speed.
As he walked, he realized the landscape was painfully familiar, and he quickly decided that wherever he was exactly, he was on friendly soil. The Land of Fire, no doubt about it, which was a relief. Now he had to figure out which part of it he was in, of course. His brain refused to recall a map of the region, though he distinctly remembered Konoha being fairly central. Of course, that told him nothing, so he continued to wander, grabbing anything edible he could to sustain himself - pained muscles slowly got used to moving again, though they were far from restored just yet.
A town loomed in the distance, at long last. He could tell by the sun that he was going southwards, so if he could deduce which town this was, perhaps he could use that to identify which direction to go for Konoha. His hair once again fell in his face, since his hitai-ate's band was badly worn and kept loosening, even with multiple knots. He gathered his hair together in an untidy mess and bound it together with a strip from his pant leg, the thick mud that refused to come out even after multiple baths staining it a strange brown. He felt bad about not showing his village symbol any longer, but at least he could keep it on him, in case he needed it. He was finally starting to feel himself again, whoever that was, and he smiled congenially at the people passing; a few of them gave him a pecuar look, though nobody stopped him.
Many hotels and entertainment venues passed by as he crossed the streets of this town, or city, and it didn't take him long to catch its name. Otafuku Gai. The name sparked a memory or two, though he was not quite sure whether he'd ever been here before for any length of time, or had just read about it. He did, at least, remember quite clearly that it was near Konoha on the map. He strode into the nearest shop, waving at the clerk.
"Can I help you, Sir?" The civilian asked, a happy smile plastered on his rather large head, a strange sombrero-like hat balancing on it.
"I need directions. I've been wounded in the field and I need to get back to Konoha." He attempted to look embarrassed, which was not very difficult. "I seem to be a little lost."
"Ah, you're a ninja, aren't you?" the civilian asked in surprise.. The blond shoved the clerk a few coins for a map, though the man seems confused by why a ninja would need one. His trip out of the town was as quick as his entrance, and he rapidly found himself back out in the uncharted regions of the Land of Fire that made up a good chunk of it, impossible to identify precisely because of few recognizable features. He kept the town of Otafuka Gai in sight, and finally deduced from the position of the sun which direction was towards Konoha. Then, he walked.
His chakra returned after a day; it hummed under his skin, ready to be used. He didn't know how much he'd missed it until it surged back, as the blond shinobi felt ten times better already, much more healthy. He realized that he could not really have had no chakra, since he would have to have been dead if that were the case. He had to have simply been numbed to it, his coils overloaded. He had lost control of his chakra sense, and essentially been a civilian, even though he had never considered that as a possibility. He could feel that his reserves were far from full, and they'd had some days to recover already, but without proper food and rest he probably wasn't helping matters. He resolved to concentrate on getting home first, before anything else. It was important.
Reaching the outskirts of Konoha by nightfall, he whistled - the walls in the distance, hidden behind a thick forest, beckoned him closer, and he could feel a certain nostalgia even from here. He smiled softly at the fitting name of the town – the Village Hidden by the Leaves. It would be some distance yet before he would be able to make out the gate or the Hokage monument; he was pretty sure that word signified the leader of the village. He had the sudden urge to call out that he'd be Hokage one day, though he was not entirely sure why. Childhood dreams? No matter.
He felt filthy, even though he knew he had looked terribly since the start. He had not been able to wash since the stream, and walking through the forests around Konoha didn't help things, as twigs and dirt attached themselves wherever they could. His hair was matted and full of entirely too much dirt, and he kept sniffing uncomfortably – probably a cold. He had expected to arrive at the town the day before, but underestimated the distance – or he'd been walking in circles.
Regardless, one of the gates finally came in sight, and apparently the blond shinobi had missed out on quite a wide path leading to it. Just his luck. Despite all the grime on him, though, the man felt quite fit – no more vertigo, and no trouble manipulating his chakra – it came natural. Two ninja were stationed at the gate, though neither seemed particularly interested in his approach, looking on with bored expressions.
"What are you doing here, stranger?" One asked. The blond man blinked as he stopped before them.
"I am returning from a mission. I'm pretty sure things went wrong, and I'm still a bit fuzzy upstairs." He pulled out his hitai-ate and show it to them. "I could probably use a bath and a trip to the hospital."
One of the shinobi took him by the shoulder and led him towards the town – evidently he still came across as quite shell-shocked. The blond didn't attempt to dissuade the man, as he was having enough trouble remembering where everything was. The familiar shapes of Konoha's buildings finally appeared before him, and he sighed contentedly in recognition.
"Must've been away for a long time to have such a reaction," said his guide, a man wearing a bandage over his nose and smiling brightly. The blond nodded distractedly in response, drinking in the familiar sights. There, in the distance, was the Yamanaka Flower Shop, wasn't it? Weren't the Hot Springs over on the side? Might he find sensei peeking at the ladies there?
He toyed with one of his kunai as he trounced after his guide – lobbed a few into the wall they passed and quickly retrieved them – the guide didn't seem to mind. He flung a few high, and all but one returned. Darn, he only had six on him. He'd have to get new ones at the armory, if he could remember where those were.
"We're nearly at the hospital. You can check yourself in, can't you? Better make sure you check in with the Hokage too, don't want anyone thinking you're a spy." The guide smirked, and the blond man give a meaningless smile back. Before he could do anything more, the guide had already jumped away across the nearest roof in the direction of the gates he'd left. The blond froze in shock as his eyes caught a familiar sight.
High above the village, clearly visible from here, was the majestic Hokage Monument. It stretched out across the rock wall, giant stone faces with serious grimaces, holding vigil over their town with solemnity.
Shodai Hokage - Senju Hashirama. Nidaime Hokage - Senju Tobirama. Sandaime Hokage - Sarutobi Hiruzen. Yondaime Hokage - Namikaze Minato.
He remembered now.
"Namikaze Minato... that's my name."
His eyes rolled up as he collapsed.