Forming the Line
"Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends."
- Shirley MacLaine
Yamanaka Ino stares across the playground, searching for a target. The date is October 7th, a mere two weeks after her tenth birthday, and she has finally managed to convince her (somewhat overbearing) father to let her go to the park unattended. Under the pretense of wanting to play with her peers in an environment where her dad isn't watching her every move, all Ino really wants is to practice the technique she has been learning.
Her father, Yamanaka Inoichi, has been teaching her the most basic of the Yamanaka clan's techniques: Shintenshin no Jutsu, the Mind Body Switch Technique. He has lectured Ino that it is the most fundamental skill their family possesses, the backbone to understanding and learning all of the other Yamanaka clan techniques. And Ino is determined to master it.
The theory behind the Shintenshin seems simple enough. By releasing their hold on their own consciousness, the Yamanakas are capable of overshadowing another person's mind. Inoichi has made sure that Ino knows the risks associated with using the Mind Body Switch unsupported in battle before instructing her in its use. Even then, he has made her promise to not use the technique unsupervised yet.
But Ino has something to prove. If she is able to establish herself as a worthwhile kunoichi-to-be by showing her mastery of her clan's technique, she will be a step ahead of the other girls in her year in the race for Uchiha Sasuke's affections. She already has the looks: shoulder-length, platinum blonde hair; pupil-less baby blue eyes; and clothes that reflect her extensive knowledge of current fashion trends.
She takes sudden notice of a boy walking somewhat dejectedly towards the swing set. The spiky blond hair and orange shirt let Ino know that the figure is none other than Uzumaki Naruto, the Academy's class clown and general outcast of Konoha. Bingo, she thinks.
Naruto is a bit of an enigma. To his peers, he is a third-rate ninja notorious for pulling pranks and not paying attention in class. Ino is honestly a bit surprised that he hasn't yet dropped out of the Academy, but his determination to succeed is strong. She can appreciate his tenacity and fight-hard spirit, even if there's little progress to show for his efforts. To the adults, he is a subject spoken of in harsh whispers and pointed glares, often while he sits alone on a swing outside the Academy.
His pariah status piques Ino's curiosity. Two of the specialties associated with mental manipulations are espionage and interrogation. What she could learn about Naruto – why he trains to be a ninja despite his poor academic standing, why he is an orphan, why everyone seems to avoid him like a plague – firms her decision.
She sneaks quietly through the playground, hiding behind a tree not far from the melancholy blond. From her position, she sees his blue eyes partially lidded with sorrow, and her heart briefly goes out to him. Steeling her resolve, she stretches out her arms, holding her hands out in a rough circle so that the thumbs on each hand touch at the bottom, as do the index and middle fingers at the top. "Shintenshin no Jutsu," she whispers, right before her body slumps to the ground.
Ino comes to a moment later, opening crystal blue eyes to spy tanned hands clutching the chains of a swing. She admires them momentarily, marveling at how much stronger (if dirtier) they are than her own, delicate appendages. The blonde takes notice of the tacky, worn clothes she wears, and she sweeps a hand through the messy blond spikes Naruto possesses. I did it! "Yes!" she cheers. She ignores the mixture of stares and glares shot in her direction, too excited in her success to pay them any heed.
A loud groan catches her attention, and her head swivels towards where she guesses the source of the sound has originated. Behind a large tree, a foot twitches, an arm stretches, and a body appears to clamber clumsily to its feet. There is a sudden growing knot of dread within Ino's stomach as she watches the scene play out, frozen in the swing.
She stares as her own body steps out from the shadow of the tree, and meets the wide-eyed gaze of her own baby blue orbs. Her body's mouth opens and releases a high-pitched scream. Ino's stomach plummets at the shrill sound. Uh-oh.
Naruto isn't entirely sure what has happened. He went to the playground because it was a particularly rough day (the week leading up to the festival celebrating the Yondaime Hokage's vanquishing of the Kyūbi – coincidentally, the same day as his birthday – often sees an increase in the hatred the villagers show him), and he needed to escape from everyone. He remembers rocking rhythmically back and forth on the swing, allowing the repetition of the motion to ease his loneliness, right before blacking out and awakening slumped against a tree.
The blond pariah raises his arms in a stretch and almost instantly notices how different they look compared to what he remembers. The skin is smooth and delicate, the color tone much whiter than he recalls. He doesn't recognize the clothes either: peach-colored shirt with purple trim and the image of a flower in the middle, and green Capri pants. Naruto climbs wobbly to his feet, moving out from behind the shelter of the tree with the intent to find some answers.
He looks up, his vision latching onto the body dressed in a dark blue t-shirt under a sleeveless orange hoodie, pale green shorts, with a black sweatband on each wrist – the same outfit he dressed himself in earlier. Blond hair, crystal blue eyes, whisker marks…he finds himself staring at his own body. Confused and mildly scared, Naruto does the only thing he can think of.
Even the voice is different, he notices absently through the sound of his own screaming.
Ino decides that perhaps mental espionage will have to wait for another time. She focuses on releasing the technique by closing her eyes and trying to cut off her consciousness from Naruto's body as she has been taught. The blonde opens her eyes, expecting to see Naruto, but instead sees only her own body standing in the same spot, mouth open in silent shock, though no longer screaming. She frowns, closes her eyes, and attempts to cancel the Shintenshin again.
Blue eyes reopen. No change.
Not good. The Mind Body Switch Technique is merely supposed to override another person's awareness, not actually switch them, as she suspects has happened. She isn't entirely sure where she has gone wrong in the application of the technique, but it appears as if Naruto's mind has been placed within the vacancy her body provided upon taking over his body.
Mentally, Ino berates herself for her zeal. The traditional method of ending the jutsu is not working, and the blonde knows too little of the Yamanaka clan techniques – or their mishaps – to go about fixing her blunder. She isn't sure of the repercussions of being away from one's body for extended periods of time, nor how long the Shintenshin will last after screwing it up, so she sighs. Now she has to talk to Naruto, to explain everything…
…Except her fellow blond is nowhere to be found.
Ino curses. Little good can come from having Uzumaki Naruto walking around Konoha in her body. She briefly considers going to her father and explaining the circumstances, but then rejects the idea. Inoichi will undoubtedly severely reprimand her for going against his instruction in the first place, and follow that up with some form of punishment Ino would rather not suffer through. Not to mention she will lose all trust her father has in her and thus be subject to his constant surveillance, something she is working on breaking away from.
She will just have to survive until the Mind Body Switch wears off. With any luck, it'll only be a number of hours, tops.
The idea that Naruto doesn't have the slightest idea of how to act like her to avoid rousing suspicion barely even crosses her mind.
Unbeknownst to Ino, Naruto is quickly guided into his new persona. After leaving the playground – and his body – behind, he wanders through town in a state of half-panic, half-wonder. On the one hand, he is clearly in someone else's body (a girl's, if the clothes and voice are any indication); on the other hand, the villagers don't jeer at him.
Lost in this strange dilemma, Naruto hardly notices when a head pokes out from a nearby store and asks, "Ino?" He freezes as the rest of the person becomes visible, the man stepping out from the shop and placing a hand on Naruto's shoulder. "Are you okay, sweetie?"
Naruto mentally snaps out of his petrified state. The name Ino chimes familiar bells in his head of a girl in his class constantly arguing with Haruno Sakura over Uchiha Sasuke. Looking up at the man, he is even able to place him as a parent from the Academy: blue eyes, sandy blond hair held in a long ponytail in the back, and stern features that lighten around his daughter. "Uh, yeah, fine," he blurts. Internally, he winces at how awkward he sounds.
Inoichi doesn't seem to notice (perhaps he's just very attached to his daughter), and instead smiles at the assurance, steering Naruto into the shop he has appeared from. "Why don't you help me hold down the fort here?" he suggests. Naruto nods, not entirely willing to trust his voice again. He glances around the store, his jaw almost dropping in amazement at the sheer quantity of flowers present in such a small area.
Naruto decides to remain uncharacteristically silent during his time in Yamanaka Flowers, scared of saying something inconsistent with Ino's personality; having only had peripheral interaction with the platinum blonde, he is unsure of how to act to not arouse suspicion. Barring this handicap though, Naruto thoroughly enjoys his experience in his classmate's body. The hatred the villagers always show him is nonexistent, and in fact, most of the people who come into the shop smile pleasantly at him and make some comment about how helpful he is. It's a rather surreal experience, one which he is completely unused to, but yearns to experience on a daily basis in his own body.
When the sun dips into the horizon, Naruto helps Ino's father close up the shop. He walks beside the older ninja, keeping pace but also making sure not to take the lead as he has no idea where they are going. It takes only 15 minutes of walking to arrive at what Naruto assumes to be the Yamanaka clan compound.
The Yamanaka complex is somewhat small, at least in comparison to the Hyūga or Aburame complexes. But to Naruto, who has lived in a tiny apartment for the majority of his life, the area is huge. Twenty to thirty multi-story houses sit in a roughly square area whose entranceway is marked by an arch with the Yamanaka clan symbol at the top. Naruto tries not to let the sight of the buildings overwhelm his common sense that Ino has seen this place before, only allowing himself discreet glances at the houses as they pass.
Ino's home is situated in what Naruto estimates to be the center of the compound, a simple two-story abode with flower trellises along the windows and a small garden fringing the front porch. Inoichi slips off his shoes upon entering the household and calls out, "Ino and I are home!" as Naruto removes his own shoes.
"Oh good, I just finished making dinner," speaks a new voice. A woman Naruto assumes to be Ino's mother appears, receiving a peck on the cheek from her husband. She is a stout woman, standing just about five and a half feet tall, with pale blonde hair a shade darker than Ino's and caring hazel eyes. There's a geniality about her that makes Naruto instantly comfortable despite his predicament and the strangeness of the day. She hugs Naruto, and his stomach lurches strangely at the contact.
Ino's parents go through an opening which Naruto assumes leads to the kitchen while he follows slowly behind, lost in thought. Whatever has happened to him, there is something to be said for how he's currently being treated. Naturally, he knows that it's really Ino receiving the attention (to her parents' knowledge, anyway), but Naruto finds he can't argue with the rarely given affection he has just been bestowed or – from the odors wafting around the kitchen – the call of a full, home-cooked meal.
Ramen is still the food of the gods, but there is something nice about having a variety of vittles set out before him to choose from.
Naruto waits until the two adults have taken their own food and started eating before grabbing a healthy amount of edibles for himself. He notices the curious looks of both blonds with something – he isn't even sure what, he just wants to eat – halfway to his mouth; lowering it, he asks, "Um, is something wrong?"
Ino's parents exchange glances. "Well," begins her mother, "we just thought that you were still on a diet. That's the most food you've taken to eat in the past several months."
Naruto blinks. "Oh. Well, uh, I'm really hungry and I decided to stop, uh, dieting." The word feels weird on his lips; despite feeling hunger rather frequently and having to ration how much he eats at times, Naruto can't imagine trying to starve himself by partaking in something as stupid as a diet. And it seems like a crime to waste such perfectly good food.
After a moment in which the adults seem to engage in a silent conversation, Inoichi nods and says, "Well, that's good to hear. I never particularly cared for the dieting idea in the first place. Oh, Keiko," he adds, turning to his wife, "I have to leave for a mission tomorrow morning. It might take me a week or so to complete." The other Yamanaka merely nods, and both adults return to their meals.
Naruto heaves another mental sigh of relief. I can't believe that worked. Hopefully, with Inoichi gone on a week-long mission, traipsing around as a different person will be easier, lessening the likelihood of getting caught being not-Ino. At least until this…whatever it is…wears off.
As he shovels more food into his mouth as civilly as he can, a stray thought goes through the blond's mind. I wonder what Ino's doing in my body…
Yamanaka Ino, for what feels like the umpteenth time that day, curses her rashness in using the Shintenshin. Or, at the very least, using it on Uzumaki Naruto.
Being trapped within the blond's body has so far been a rather terrible, if eye-opening, experience. Ino has already been shooed away from a total of four different food vendors and restaurants – all accompanied by varying levels of uttered profanities and threats – before extrapolating that the stigma of being Naruto will not allow her entrance into most establishments within Konoha.
It's an unusual premise, not only due to the fact that Ino has never been barred from a place before, but because she isn't entirely sure what the spiky-haired boy has done to deserve such treatment. Sure, his reputation as a notorious prankster precedes him, and though much of what he does could be considered juvenile and unnecessary, Ino doesn't believe that the negative attention he receives is fairly warranted as retribution for practical jokes.
Her stomach rumbles, and Ino is forcibly reminded of just why she has been going to food establishments in the first place. Hunger struck her suddenly some time ago, leading her to wandering the streets in the hopes of finding a place to get a meal. Unfortunately, Naruto's reputation makes it so that such an undertaking seems virtually impossible.
Ino looks up at the greeting to find that the speaker is an older man wearing a tall chef's hat, smiling at her from behind the countertop of Ichiraku Ramen. She makes her way over to the stand, the aroma of ramen – a food she usually won't touch because of the calories – simply overpowering to her starving body. Not to mention that the old man is the first person to welcome the sight of Naruto rather than repel him. The chef looks down at her as she takes a seat on one of the stools. "What can I get you today?"
"Um…a bowl of miso ramen, please."
"Just one?" jokes the older man, turning around to prepare the noodles. Ino doesn't respond.
A number of minutes pass before her meal is ready, and Ino tries to use some semblance of manners to not just inhale the ramen. The owner raises an eyebrow at what he finds to be unusual behavior for Naruto, but when Ino finishes the first bowl and asks for a pork ramen next, he merely smiles and sets to work on the bowl. Normally, the girl won't even consider a second helping, but as she is currently inhabiting Naruto's body, there really isn't any harm in eating her fill, especially since she's still hungry.
She pauses with a bite of noodles halfway to her lips. Oh no… Naruto clearly has no compunctions about eating until he's full. What sort of damage could he do to her body? If I've gained a single pound when I get back to my body, I'll kill him!
Ino departs Ichiraku Ramen four bowls later, hunger sated. She wanders into the dim light of the fading sunset as the proprietor bids her a good night and tells her to come back again soon. The disturbing realization that she's still trapped within Naruto's body hours after the botched Shintenshin doesn't fully strike her until she's partway to the Yamanaka clan district. Despite the worrisome situation, Ino's stubbornness prevents her from continuing the trek and asking for her family's help, the consequence of disobeying her father returning to the front of her mind.
Determined to wait out the transition – and hoping that going to sleep will perhaps switch back each person's consciousness – Ino begins to walk in the complete opposition direction before realizing she has no idea where Naruto actually lives. Digging through his most recent memories, she discovers the building and recognizes it as one located in the cheaper part of the village.
She arrives at her destination a short time later, partially distracted by scrolling through Naruto's short-term memories. His life is surprisingly lonely, and Ino again finds herself feeling sympathetic for him despite how obnoxious he always seems in class. Though it doesn't really excuse what the younger boy does, the blonde suddenly understands the motivation behind his actions.
When she enters Naruto's apartment, Ino recoils in slight disgust at the state of the abode. Paint is peeling off the walls, the furniture is in dire need of reupholstering, and clothes and ninja tools are strewn about the common room. Chanting a mantra that her current situation can only last so much longer, she heads into the bedroom, exhausted by the day's events.
It's only as she is preparing to change for sleep – and far away in her room, Naruto gets ready to do the same – when she realizes exactly what being in Naruto's body implies for changing clothes and bathing.
The night is long and awkward for both children.
The next morning, Naruto arrives at the Academy in a rather subdued mood. Ino's father has already departed for his mission, and Naruto had to feign sleep (his rest was fitful at best) in an effort to avoid any unwanted scrutiny when the older man came to check on him. With him gone, Naruto believes it'll be easier to pass as his female classmate, despite how strange it is to live the life of his fellow blonde.
Girls, he has discovered while getting changed, have a seemingly unnecessary amount of clothes. Or perhaps it is a quality only Ino possesses. He's not sure if he can function properly in Ino's body, but he knows he has to try. Otherwise, he'll be forced to face the potential consequences associated with being discovered as an imposter.
When he enters the classroom, his eyes immediately dart to Sasuke and his face settles into a scowl. If Sasuke notices the expression, he doesn't say anything, but Sakura stomps up to him and crosses her arms over her chest. "Don't glare at Sasuke-kun like that, Ino-pig," she reprimands. "You look like Naruto-baka." Then she smirks. "Have you finally decided to give up on Sasuke-kun and let me have him?"
Naruto snorts. "Like I'd ever like that bas— mmph!"
"She doesn't know what she's saying," says a voice Naruto recognizes as his own. "I need to speak to Ino a moment, Fore— er, Sakura." Naruto finds himself dragged forcibly from the room and out into the hallway, leaving the remainder of the class to gossip about when Uzumaki Naruto became so chummy with Yamanaka Ino.
Naruto is shoved up against the wall, and Ino finally removes her hand from his mouth to stick a finger threateningly at his nose. The absurdity of watching his body loom over him momentarily distracts him from Ino's ire. "What do you think you're doing?" she hisses.
"I was giving Sasuke-teme what he deserves. Thinks he's so cool," he mutters.
"No!" she practically screeches, and he notices that his voice is grating on his nerves. Is that what I always sound like? he wonders. Naruto watches as Ino takes a deep, calming breath in his body and opens crystal blue eyes. "Look, we need to pretend to be each other until the Shintenshin wears off—"
Ino returns Naruto's blank stare before burying her forehead in her palm with a loud smack. Naruto's perturbation at watching his own body go through all these strange motions while not under his control only increases, and he misses Ino mutter something unflattering about him. "This," she says, motioning with one hand between the two of them, "was caused by an accident with my Shintenshin no Jutsu. It should wear off soon…I hope," she adds under her breath.
Naruto considers that explanation for a moment before asking, "Wait, why'd you use it on me?"
"That's not important," she dismisses, unwilling to divulge the details. "Just know that we need to act like the other person until this corrects itself. Which means that you have to be nice to Sasuke-kun!"
Naruto growls, but the fierce look in Ino's eyes (my eyes, he reminds himself) forces him to rethink going against his classmate's wishes. "Fine…but then you hafta be nice to Sakura-chan!"
Ino is silent for a moment before nodding her head in agreement. "I can do that. But you better not screw up my chances with Sasuke-kun!" Then she leans in so close their noses are almost touching. "And if I've gained a single pound when I return to my body, I will hunt you down and kill you."
Nara Shikamaru ambles by at that moment, hands in his pockets. He watches Ino nod in terrified understanding, and his dark eyes narrow as Naruto stomps into the classroom in a distinctly angry-Ino-like fashion, merely waving back confusedly when Ino waves a hesitant greeting to him. Weird, he thinks, but just shrugs and follows Ino into class. It's not his business what's going on.
October 10th seems to take forever to arrive, and despite the mishaps of the previous several days, Naruto – for the first time ever – looks forward to the festival. The students have the day off from school, which the blond finds himself immensely thankful for. Pretending to be interested in Sasuke (fawning over him was absolutely out of the question) and keeping Sakura at arm's length has been a rather trying experience.
That didn't even take into account all the glares Ino subtly shot him whenever he was unable to answer a question correctly.
Barring his time spent at the Academy, however, Naruto found that he could get used to being in Ino's body (as terrifying a thought as being a girl for who-knew how long was). Most of his free time has been spent with Ino's mom at Yamanaka Flowers, taking care of the plants and smiling politely at the customers who came in. It was a bit more difficult to remain genial when someone who was particularly mean to him in the past came by, but Naruto weathered the storm with aplomb. After his time at the shop, mother and "daughter" went home and had a nice meal (followed immediately by Naruto weighing himself to make sure Ino won't kill him…girls were scary when they were mad).
Looking through Ino's closet for a nice kimono to wear, Naruto wonders for not the first time what happened to his parents. Every moment spent in the older Yamanaka's company causes him to think that this is what his life should have been like. The fact that this will be his best birthday to date, and he is celebrating it in another person's body, disheartens the blond slightly. What I won't give for a mom…
He removes Ino's robe from his body and quickly slips into a lavender kimono with white flowers on it, ignoring the fact that the girl's body is all but on display for him. It is easy enough to not focus on this fact after having bathed several times already; simply ignoring the knowledge that he is a naked girl is the preferable option to avoid any additional awkwardness this situation has already caused.
Naruto leaves the Yamanaka compound and wanders towards the festivities celebrating his hero's success over the demonic Nine-Tailed Fox. It's his first time going, as the villagers tended to chase him away in previous years, and he is excited to see what sort of activities there are to partake in.
Colored lights make the atmosphere of the festival upbeat, matching the hawking of game managers and salesmen alike. Naruto purchases some daifuku – mochi stuffed with bean paste – and wanders amongst all the different stalls, chewing slowly on his treat. He stops at the back of a crowd gathered around a small stage, where two ninja are reenacting an embellished battle between the Yondaime Hokage and the Kyūbi. A tug on his elbow diverts his attention, and he swings around to find Ino standing behind him.
His body is dressed in a blue yukata with an orange obi tied around the waist, though Naruto is honestly more surprised to see Ino at the festival than he is at the sight of the formal clothing he has never gotten to wear before. "How'd you get in here?" he asks, dragging Ino away from the crowd.
She smirks in response. "Snuck in."
Naruto deflates a little, mildly put out that Ino has adjusted so easily to his body…or more precisely, his life. He brings a daifuku to his lips, then realizes whose company and body he's in and winces. "Er…want one?" he offers. "Sorry…I've just never—"
"No," interrupts Ino. "I mean," she continues quietly, "it's alright. You should enjoy yourself…on your birthday."
Naruto starts at that and almost drops his treat. Aside from Iruka, the Hokage, and the Ichirakus, Ino's admission is the first acknowledgment by anyone else ever that today is his birthday. "How'd you know?"
"I looked through your memories," she admits in the same quiet voice, sounding almost ashamed.
In hindsight, Ino feels quite bad for invading Naruto's privacy, despite that being her original intention when activating the Shintenshin. In sifting through her fellow blond's past, Ino has come to the rather sad conclusion that Naruto's life hasn't been anything even resembling happy. Beatings at the hands of bullies in the orphanage (and sometimes adults on the streets), social isolation within the village he loves, too many days and nights of hunger to count…
And at the end of the day, there is no one at home for Naruto to be comforted by. Not seeing her parents for the past several days has been difficult enough; Ino can't even imagine what lacking a parent's affection must feel like on a permanent basis.
Naruto's life is sad and lonely, and Ino is startled to realize that she wants to prevent him from having to live that way anymore.
A hand clasping hers draws Ino from her musing. "Come on," urges Naruto.
"W-wait! Where are we going?"
Ino watches her body's mouth break into a brilliant smile, one which she has only seen once or twice in Naruto's memories. It's an expression that she wishes she can see over and over again on the face it truly belongs, whisker-like markings stretched wide and crystal blue eyes shining with happiness. "To celebrate!" he exclaims profoundly, dragging her off to play some games.
Throughout the rest of the night, whispers follow the pair of children around, murmurings of how the demon child has corrupted the sweet Yamanaka girl, and why is he even at the festival at all, he should be removed. Both 10-year-olds ignore them, and it isn't until much later, as they are getting ready for bed, that they realize they have just had the best night of their lives.
Ino wakes up the next morning in her own bed in the Yamanaka clan complex. She feels her hair, arms, and legs before getting up and rushing to the mirror to ascertain that her mind isn't playing tricks on her. Concluding that the technique has broken – how, she doesn't know, but neither does she particularly care – she rushes down the stairs and skids into the kitchen, where her father is sitting at the table, writing something. He glances up at her entrance and smiles. "Hi sweetie. I finished my mission a little early, so I came back. Sorry I missed the festival…I know we usually go together."
"Oh, that's okay, Daddy," she replies, chalking up the mission as something her father embarked on while Naruto was in her body. She's also incredibly thankful that Inoichi wasn't home to watch her every move; there's no telling how Naruto would've bungled—
Naruto… Her thoughts turn to her fellow blond and how he must be feeling, all alone in his ramshackle apartment, nothing to eat but ramen (not that he will complain about that)… "Ah, Daddy?"
"Is…is it okay if a friend comes over for dinner tonight?"